Monday, October 28, 2013

ModPo 2013 #51 The American Dream Eats Up the World: On Climate Departure and Ashbery's "Hard Times"

Image of climate departure from

John Ashbery, "Hard Times" (1981)

Trust me. The world is run on a shoestring.
They have no time to return the calls in hell
And pay dearly for those wasted minutes. Somewhere
In the future it will filter down through all the proceedings

But by then it will be too late, the festive ambience
Will linger on but it won't matter. More or less
Succinctly they will tell you what we've all known for years:
That the power of this climate is only to conserve itself.

Whatever twists around it is decoration and can never
Be looked at as something isolated, apart. Get it? And
He flashed a mouthful of aluminum teeth there in the darkness
To tell however it gets down, that it does, at last.

Once they made the great trip to California
And came out of it flushed. And now every day
Will have to dispel the notion of being like all the others.
In time, it gets to stand with the wind, but by then the night is closed off.

I like how this poem captures hard times. I look at this from 2013 lenses and I think of a global nightmare like climate departure. I am deeply concerned about it. It's not just a national problem (the context for the poem above) and a question of the rise of conformity...but it is a global problem that has arisen from such conformity. I mean, literally, the world is going to hell and maybe people will be calling the Philippines where a lot of the world's customer services calls terminate and we'll be answering from the most scorched cities on earth.

I hate sounding like an alarmist (as Ashbery must have hated sounding like one too, given that he's not too political in terms of his leanings). But he does protest. And he paints a picture of a hellish future where no one's sure what the message is but that it's arrived too late. That's how I feel about global warming. We're all doing our little thing here and there, helter skelter, all too little,  all too late, really. There are even people who deny it's happening.

"Dispelling the notion of being like all the others" and still being like all the others has actually caused such waste, such profound waste. This may be about individuality but it's also about the consequences of economics (national and global). At some point we might find our backbones....but as O'Hara eerily then the night will be closed off. And we will be standing in our own living hells.

You know what's so funny? The American Dream. Because it's not just an American Dream for Americans. It's an American Dream for the world. Especially Filipinos. That's why Daly City is crammed with Filipino Americans. And the American Dream comes with a price. It comes with the price of conformity and it also comes with the price of rapacious economic growth.

Those aluminum teeth that gnash at all hours? Those are the factories that never sleep. The factories that have been outsourced to China and Bangladesh and Laguna and Vietnam. The American Dream actually eats up the world. I'm not saying America. No, I'm just talking about the American Dream. It's the dream of plenty. The dream of plenty that you have to throw out burgers into the trash. And that dream is the dream of every developing country.

The thing is we can't change. And Ashbery puts it so well: "That the power of this climate is only to conserve itself." It's like a big joke that Ashbery knew all along. And we went chugging along, all the way to 2013, all through the climate summits in Kyoto and Buenos Aires and Copenhagen, and it's still the same. It's always been the same. And very soon we'll be running on empty.  It's enough to make us weep. Except we don't.

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