What does it mean to live a radical life? I wouldn’t know. That is something foreign to my otherwise middle-class suburban existence that I’ve enjoyed for the greater part of my life. My understanding of its meaning is not particularly accurate or useful. And, quite frankly, I doubt I have the wherewithal and intelligence to live the way that previous radicals have, from V.I. Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg, to Fred Hampton and Angela Davis. However, I can do something meaningful to change not only my own self, but others as well. I can change my thinking. I can struggle intellectually to further my understanding of political economy, and how it affects our everyday lives. I can also be more involved in my local community and to help establish a worker-centered organization, despite how uncomfortable that may or may not be for me to accomplish. Not only that, I am a person, and individual. I have desires and wants and ideas that, because they are not profitable, do not afford others the time to let me do them. So, I must secure these things. This means doing the science—linguistics—that I want to. This means watching the movies that I want to. This means reading the books that I want to. This means grasping those things which make us human and make us feel alive. What follows is not revolutionary by any means: I have no claim to such an adjective. I want to, though. I want to say, as Fred Hampton famously had people say, “I am a revolutionary.” These are some things that I hope will get me to that point, not within the next year, which would be too ambitious, but at least closer than before.
Read Karl Marx’s Das Kapital: Volume 1
This is something that I have been wanting to do since 2016. Unfortunately, it is a lengthy book. Not only that, there’s two more volumes! If possible, I would like to read through these as well (if I can). Das Kapital is critical to understanding Marxist thought, and while there have been many developments, I hope to gain some better understanding of some of the foundational ideas laid out in this volume. To help me with this, I will also be making use of readings of Das Kapital to aide me in my journey, most notably the companion that David Harvey has written and his lectures on the subject. There are also some additional readings of it, which I will try to get to after finishing: Representing Capital, by Fredric Jameson; Reading Capital from Verso Books; and Reading ‘Capital’ Today from Pluto Press.
There are other foundational readings that I hope to go through, however it may or may not be this year. Some of these would include The Complete Works of Rosa Luxemburg Volumes I & II, as well as V.I. Lenin’s collected works (not to mention his more famous book Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism). Socialism has a long history, and many texts which make up its foundation and course of thought. It is not a race to me to finish all of these this year. But, kicking it off with Das Kapital seems to make the most sense.
If you are interested in reading along with me, please do hit me up via my email or twitter.
Das Kapital is not the only thing I will be reading this year. I have a problem that the Japanese have aptly named tsundoku, or buying books and adding them to ‘the pile.’ But, I have a few that I feel I should read, though the practice of dedicated reading lists is not something that I wholeheartedly endorse, and to be honest this list should be taken as tentative. With that, here are a few of the works I hope to get through:
- The Meaning of Marxism by Paul D’Amato
- Working the Phones by Jamie Woodcock
- From Marx to Gramsci by Paul Le Blanc
- Capitalism’s Contradictions by Henryk Grossman
- Academic Capitalism and the New Economy by Slaughter and Rhoades
- Kindai Nihon no Nashonarizumu (Modern Japanese Nationalism) by Osawa Masachi
- Syntactic Anchors by Juan Uriagereka
- The Primacy of Grammar by Nirmalangshu Mukherji
- Computational Phenotypes: Towards an Evolutionary Developmental Biolinguistics by Guillermo Lorenzo González
- Recursion: A Computational Investigation into the Representation and Processing of Language by David Lobina
- The Fall Revolution Series by Ken Macleod (and maybe some other non-fiction scifi)
- Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit by Nahoko Uehashi
This is a small but ambitious list. Much of it is heavy material. Hopefully, though, I get to move through what I have now with the conviction I hope to foster. I have somewhere in the range of 300-400 books in my pile, so it is about time I began approaching this not as only an academic task, but a self-help and self-actualizing one.
I have had a hard time sitting down and writing anything. Even getting this together is a day later than when it should be. One of things that I told myself when I started this blog was that it wouldn’t be serious or formal. However, I have been trained from years in school (except for Dr. Seely, who tried his hardest to get me to quit that) that I should carefully plan and execute the act of writing. I even advise students to take a careful, structured approach to writing. But, it is a lot messier a process than what is portrayed in Little Brown Handbook. This is why my most spectacular miss, the ill-fortuned series on information structure that I was going to write, was stalled and ultimately forgotten. I have the materials sitting in front of me, but I have no confidence in putting them down in any meaningful fashion. I also, after almost two years (wow), am losing confidence in my ability to engage linguistics, quite simply because I do not practice, read, and write about it nearly as much as I used to. Frankly this annoys me, and so one of my goals is to simply write. I may not get it right most of the time, but I need to realize that planning it out won’t necessarily make me get it right.
One thing that I am really hoping to improve is organizing. Last year was the first time that I really tried to get people together, talk about, and do socialism. However, it is a slow, and admittedly frustrating process. People are busy; I am busy. But it’s a struggle, not a picnic. 2018 is a critical year though, if there ever were one. With the tax bill likely getting signed in the next few days, and with Republicans and the right gunning for the basic protections of the poor, PoC, and women, not to mention workers, I must use the privilege that I do have to do my part. I may feel tired, I may feel bored or frustrated, or I may be exhilarated—it’s not about me, however. I hope to take this and move forward with vigor and righteous anger.
Take care of/towards others
In Buddhism, there is the concept of ‘right speech,’ which is one of the eight practices in the Noble Eight-fold Path. In the Triptaka, the Buddha has discourse with Prince Abhaya where he lays out what ‘right speech’ means. The Buddha explains to the Prince, when he asks whether the Buddha would say something “unendearing or disagreeable” that speech should be determined worth saying if it is true, beneficial, and with “the proper time for saying them.” This is, “because [the Buddha] has sympathy for living beings.” In the same way, I hope to approach people more sympathetically. Socialism is a positive vision, one which has a horizon for us to strive and struggle towards, for the betterment of people. The stakes are very high for many people, and it can lead to quarreling, bad attitudes, and generally poor reactions in day-to-day life. I have, as many probably similarly experience, increasingly frustrated and demoralized not only by the political situation and our ability to fight back, but also by everyday issues and struggles. My hopes for graduate school are slowly diminishing, my career options are increasingly more narrow or obsolete, my future is something I no longer feel I “know” (however much I knew it before, of course). With that, a general disagreeable demeanor can come about. I hope to shed this negativity and to approach people as people, with no preconceptions of judgments. It is knowing whether something that is true should be said, and whether it is the right time to say it. If it is not true, beneficial, or nice, then it has no value in discourse. This is being comradely, which means being sympathetic to one’s acquaintances and fellow human beings.
Take care of myself
I think everybody includes working out and exercising on their resolutions. I have always had the need to exercise, however, so it is not needing to be stated. Whether it happens or not is less my interest or amenability towards doing so, but the time that I spend. Time is important, especially when one devotes 40 hours a week to work, an hour to commuting, and at least 49 hours towards sleeping. What about the time in between? There is much to be done. I think the more important aspect of this resolution is not the actions in and of themselves: it is the mindset (and no, not the Gorilla kind). Taking care of oneself in a capitalist world is an affront to that system. Much of the media we are exposed to, the food we are expected to eat, and the activities we are expected to perform are all meant to keep us in a relative state of disequilibrium and poor mental/physical health. In this sense, it is radical to go out and do what you feel like doing, whether that be working out outside, reading a book, or even painting and writing poetry. All of these things are what drive the physical and mental gears within us. So, this extends beyond simply exercising, but having the will to do and the mindset to consider taking care of oneself a radical exercise.
Is having a reading list and writing some stuff radical? No, not in itself. It is the goal, the ends for which these things stand. It is the mindset and ethics that practice cultivates. It is discipline to act against the status quo and to endeavor for a different future: one which results in a positive transformation. If we are to exit capitalism and enter socialism, then one day these things will be second nature. For now, it is a struggle to achieve and maintain what should be our very nature. In that sense, it makes these goals radical. I leave with one of my favorite quotes from Marx, which I think gets at the heart of the matter (as usual):
The less you eat, drink and buy books; the less you go to the theatre, the dance hall, the public house; the less you think, love, theorise, sing, paint, fence, etc., the more you save – the greater becomes your treasure which neither moths nor rust will devour – your capital. The less you are, the less you express your own life, the more you have, i.e., the greater is your alienated life, the greater is the store of your estranged being. Everything which the political economist takes from you in life and in humanity, he replaces for you in money and in wealth; and all the things which you cannot do, your money can do.
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