Thursday, February 3, 2011

So what's gonna go first, capitalism or the English language?

Marxism, or Real Life?

I ignored Marxism in university, happy to thoughtlessly mimic Paglia's scorn for tenured professors' faux solidarity with "the working class," which, anyway, I never planned to be (I planned to be a tenured professor, or failing that a "classless" bohemian artist). Even the non-academic jobs I did work at, retail and service, seemed distinctly middle-class to me, in orientation if not in earnings. Definitely not "working class," which, like the middle-class brat I was, I associated with manual labour, like ditch digging or plumbing.

But now that I've been out of university for scarce a year, and out of academe altogether due to budget cuts to sessionals, suddenly the Marxist explanation of labour and capital seems less like a radical theory and more like a simple, non-contentious description of my life and that of everyone I know and most people I see, regardless of industry or household income. This long but lucid London Review of Books article by Benjamin Kunkel on two recent books by David Harvey explains Marxism, with application to the current economic crisis, in terms even an ignoramus like me can understand (I'm confident I got about 80 per cent of it). The upshot: high wages mean loss of profit, low wages mean lack of a market. So, capitalism doesn't work. Credit scotch-tapes it together, but not indefinitely. Yet to find new markets and sources of labour, it will go on (capitalism, that is) until every last nook and cranny of the globe has been turned to its purposes, and every area of human endeavour, including those once considered sacred, such as higher education. (Incidentally, I'm not proposing an alternative, such as communism, for instance. That hasn't turned out too well in practice and I'm not sure that human nature can support it. I'm simply pointing out that late capitalism, if these are in fact late days rather than early ones, is extremely gross, in so many ways.)

Texting Revisited

In other news, I asked my 20-year-old sister/roommate what sort of language she uses when she texts. "Full sentences, with punctuation," she replied instantly, adding that she will tolerate poor grammar and spelling in texts she receives, but doesn't like it. My sister is a big reader, though not generally of "literature" (with the exception of Oscar Wilde and sometimes Kafka), not a university student, and not a writer of any kind, and her response shows up the pretension (with its faux solidarity with the youthful masses) of my defense of "texting lingo." I don't own a cell phone in any case, but if I get one for work and start texting I will no doubt use ordinary sentences, just like my friends do when they send a text message to my e-mail, although I will no doubt use "lol" a lot more. (I can't do without it, or WTF, which makes me ROFL.)

My sister's response also, however, flies in the face of Zadie Smith's worry that kids who grew up with text messaging do not view texting as a continuation of pre-online forms of communication. As long as kids are educated in elementary and high school to use standard English, presumably they will continue to recognize texting and online language (like verbal slang) as a deviation. Anyway, it's kind of sad when someone only... WTF, Smith's only two months younger than me? ROFL... when someone that young feels such fear of young(er) people. Perhaps it's because I live with a 20-year-old and often talk to her friends that people that age don't seem like aliens to me (or only when they rave about Lady Gaga). But then Smith is a teacher... if she wants to know what the texting habits of 20-year-olds are like, why doesn't she just ask them?

Oh, those ellipses above were me looking Smith up on Wikipedia. If that sort of online behaviour still needs explaining.

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