The monthly “Lee On Literature” blogs of 2012 utilized teachings of quality literature--past classics and hidden gems--to provide understanding of current trends in American and world culture. 2012 was a year marked by a “pushing back” against homogenizing corporate hierarchies of the world. This increased resistance appeared within the US presidential election, management of the US economy, American social trends and political movements outside US borders.
The first “push back” came with the reelection of President Barak Obama by a margin of 126 electoral college votes and nearly five million popular votes. The campaign of Mitt Romney had resurrected worship of top industrialists, the John Galt of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, “objectively” defining them as the “makers” against a population of “takers.” As spin grew in both political campaigns, Romney’s campaign accelerated into a fantasy world of visionary schemes, a world that Samuel Johnson warned against in his 1759 classic, Rasselas.
Fundamental practices in three key areas of the American economy came under increased scrutiny in 2012. First, an unsuccessful attempt was made to dismantle the Affordable Care Act via the Supreme Court, where Chief Justice Roberts cast a surprising vote upholding the landmark healthcare legislation. Unlike the moral and apolitical acts detailed of Profiles in Courage, Roberts’ decision was politically driven, a long-term limit upon Congressional power wrapped in a short-term concession. Two other key areas, automated trading and military spending, saw no formal limitations in 2012 after gargantuan amounts of money were squandered within very short periods of time by Knight Capital Group, Inc. and the US Department of Defense. Kurt Vonnegut provided lively ideas about automation in Player Piano, while Ernst Junger’s WWI memoir, Storm of Steel, showed the futility and danger of obsolete military philosophies.
Continuous pressure by the top American power brokers to remove health care, streamline financial fortune building, and overfeed a military complex, resulted in notable social impacts. The unemployed college graduates of Occupy Wall Street rebellion got citizens thinking, and then were coldly swept under the rug like the cockroach of Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. Overconcentration of capitalist, male power effected women by distorting their relationship to nature (The Black Swan) and pushing their sexuality toward a zone of unattainable standards (Madame Bovary).
Men lower on the social ladder also experienced psycho-social tremors in 2012. Multiple mass shootings and the senseless death of Trayvon Martin point to the systemic societal problems, limits upon opportunity, and feelings of low self-worth that James Baldwin brilliantly portrayed in his classic 1957 short story, “Sonny’s Blues.”
This “pushing back” extended beyond the borders of America in 2012. The totalitarian government of North Korea could not “redefine” a rocket launch that failed in April. The internet circumvented government information control, the Orwellian oppression of 1984. The same technology was also fundamental to the Arab Spring movement. Across the Middle East, decentralized bands of revolutionaries temporarily joined forces via social media to end corrupt economic exploitation of dictators and foreign corporations. Events of the Arab Spring are strikingly similar to the Moroccan revolution in the early 1950s that Paul Bowles carefully explored in his story, The Spider’s House. Western nation-state hierarchies were superimposed upon a tribal, decentralized Muslim society, a post WWII imposition that finally crumbled in 2012.
As the year ends without apocalypse, start your 2013 book list by reading (or rereading) a lost classic like The Spider’s House or “Sonny’s Blues.” These stories provide vital understanding of unique events of the past, critical perspective upon events of 2012, and key insights to the future.
Lee Miller is the author of the Bengali novel, Kali Sunset (www.clovercreekpress.com), the story of a traditional Hindu mother, Mrs. Sona Choudhury, raising her family amidst the rapid transformation of 20th-century India.