Swans Commentary » swans.com June 3, 2013  



The Non-Drumbeaters And Non-Axe-Grinders


by Gilles d'Aymery





(Swans - June 3, 2013)   The age of globalization and highly technologically complex structures is an age fraught with instabilities. History has been filled with notable ages, most notably in the past 200 years, a period of astonishing changes and upheavals, by nature unstable. People took side with idealism and often fury. The novelist William Styron (Lie Down in Darkness, The Confessions of Nat Turner, Sophie's Choice...) made use of these two words -- the non-drumbeaters and non-axe-grinders -- in a "Letter to an Editor" published in the Spring 1953 introductory issue of a literary magazine, the Paris Review. The ambition of the Review was, and remains, to promote good writers, observers, fiction, and poetry, not recurring critics, drumbeaters, axe-grinders. It took but a few short years for the Cold War to follow WWII. In 1948, the USSR organized a violent coup in Prague. When Styron wrote that editorial the Korean War had not ended (it still has not). He could not have been aware of Stalin's death (March 5, 1953), which buried the collectivist experiment at an extraordinary human cost and incidentally laid to rest socialism. It would take another 20 years for people to realize the slow agony of a regime and its concomitant ideology and doctrine. Yet the drumbeaters and axe-grinders keep having a field day.

Jacques Austruy (1930-2010) was a professor of political economy at the University of Paris II, specialized in economic development. He tended to shy away from the ideological skirmishes between East and West and for that reason was not a bona fide member of the who's who of the Parisian salons. But he had a fair following thanks to his 1967 seminal Le scandale du développement and his institute, Centre d'Etudes du Développement International et des Mouvements Economiques et Sociaux, CEDIMES (in English), which had and keeps having an influence on (what used to be known as) the Third World. Professor Austruy often marveled how the word "economy," which etymology was based on "savings," had turned to be interpreted as "spendings"...the influence of Keynesians, monetarists, libertarians, and corporate titans perhaps.

One of Professor Austruy's idiosyncrasies was the recurring advice he gave his students, assistants, and audiences: Stay away from, never join, any chapel, he would counsel. He did not mean religious chapels, though he included them with respect and discretion. He was talking about the protesting crowds, the political, ideological, and doctrinal apparatus, whose raison d'être was to attack whatever side was not theirs. To him, they would beat drums, grind axes, and criticize everything and everyone that would not sit well with the truth to which they were beholden. Eventually, they would turn against each other.

Western civilization has been running on empty of late like a hollow ship with little sense of direction, silently grave-digging its way forward. With no clear compass and so many reefs abounding, churches have become a new sanctuary from which a modern age will bloom out of blood cleansing and millenary modeling, all in the name of democracy. Professor Austruy would have suggested that from Tunisia to Yemen, including Syria, the Arab Spring had little to do with authoritarian regimes and corruption but with extreme water shortages, food scarcities, and growing populations. Facts mean so little. Deep feelings do. So does ignorance, which is a commonly shared attribute.

Bill Styron concluded that if a writer could not stay away from the insecurities of his times he'd rather pawn his Underwood "or become a critic." Few people but old geezers and collectors are aware of that typewriter. Technology has moved on. Machines have taken control. Engineers try to keep up. Nanoseconds or picoseconds?, that is the question. Ideologues too have a challenge, poor Bill. Communism has bitten the dust somewhere in the late 1960s. There is absolutely no socialist government in the world -- ask the French. Even the president of the U.S. is considered a socialist. Marxism is relegated to a few vapid departments of universities that are bankrolled by corporations, and to the utterly ignored fringes of society that pray on the altars of their revolutionary icons (there are many), spending most of their time grinding axes among themselves. The drumbeaters can be found in parliament, dismantling social services, empowering the wealthy few. Television caresses the masses with subliminal bromide and value-added commercials. The critics are aplenty.

As the night goes along the spirits taste better and hopefully everything will go on cheerfully, as one said.

Spring from nothing. Do nothing. Be nothing. (*)


(*) H. de Montherlant in pantin-parisien, translated by Pierre Conrad as The Pantin Cemetery, 1953.


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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
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Published June 3, 2013