Monthly Archives: November 2017

Greg Marnier’s ‘Innocent’ Racism in You Don’t Have to Live Like This

An initially romanticised look towards living in new conceptions of ‘small-town’ America comes loaded with all the societal baggage that that entails, including the inevitable parallels easily drawn between gentrified Detroit and the first landings at Jamestown, especially for their racial context.

A family try to sell some snacks amid the debris of modern Detroit

A family try to sell snacks amid the debris of an impoverished neighbourhood of Detroit.

Benjamin Markovits’ novel throws the reader into a world filled with divisions that characters are trying to eradicate using overly ambitious quick-fix solutions, based upon self-satisfying opinions loaded with an all too convenient prejudice. What it results in is a sharp and critical look at the blurring of lines between an embedded race and class system in America that many are too quick to deny or conveniently forget. Like many of the novels and secondary readings previously examined on this course, You Don’t Have to Live Like This utilises a well-trodden narrative system that structures itself around notions of precariousness, marginalisation and disasters waiting to happen. In this case, accidental or ill-informed, slightly racist ideas play a major role.

However, the sticking point of the novel is that narrator Greg Marnier is a character who simply fails to understand identity politics, due to a self-reinforcing system of tokenism carefully and deliberately constructed by Markovits in order to emphasise a form of societal ignorance. There are so many characters with differing opinions on racial identity in the novel (Tony perhaps being the most openly racist) but given the brevity of this blog it is Marnier who we shall focus on, because he is most striking for the way Markovits presents his frequent bouts of ignorance in a veiled form of innocence. In many ways, Marnier is in effect fulfilling Franz Fanon’s ideas of racial stereotyping: ‘a man who has a language constantly possesses the world expressed and implied by that language’ (18). His approach to black identity and society is borne out of creating his own narrative which then gives his ideas a personal sense of legitimacy, even when being presented to the reader in a pastoral manner.

https://hipsterracist.files.wordpress.com/2013/08/hipster-go-home.jpg

In real life, some people feel Marnier-types are evil hipsters.

So, how does Marnier do this? You Don’t Have to Live Like This is packed with examples of Marnier trying to confront his opinions on race in a manner that ultimately comes across as a form of tokenism, of finding quick-fix solutions to racial issues in the same way that Robert James wants to find a quick-fix for Detroit’s poverty. Take Marnier’s relationship with Gloria Lambert, a black high school teacher. When he meets her for the first time, it is the colour of her skin that is emphasised first with an uneasy tone of fascination: ‘a ripe coloured black woman, almost eggplant coloured’ (72). In many ways, the narration of his relationship is presented to us as more of a way for Marnier to educate himself about black issues: ‘I started reading a lot of African-American literature…..I figured I may as well educate myself’ (203). What this really seems to imply is that while Marnier is aware that he doesn’t entirely understand race issues, he frequently equates all black individuals as being part of the same collective plight, which to some extent undermines their humanity.

Other interactions with black characters reinforce this idea, but emphasise Marnier’s sheer naivety in trying to find a solution. When he shares a car with his neighbour Nolan’s friends, we get a real sense of how far this goes: ‘the two guys in back with me were Marcellus and Taequan. “Is that like Tae-kwon-do?” I said and he wrinkled his nose like something smelled bad. With these people, you figured, you have to give as good as you get’ (145). By describing Nolan’s black friends as ‘these people’, there is immediately a sense of division presented to the reader, but the reaction of Taequan is used by Markovits to demonstrate just how ridiculous Marnier looks at times to other characters.

It is all too easy to jump to the basic conclusions that Marnier is ignorant because of his obvious privilege and background, but from a literary perspective the effect of this is reinforced through Marnier’s often bland, this-then-that-then-this style of narration, tainted with a deliberately placed ignorance presented as innocence. He comes across as trying to connect with his black neighbours and friends, but is left looking rather foolish.

Markovits himself has argued writing Marnier in the book ‘felt uncomfortable…I wanted to write from the point of view of somebody who was a bit off the ball about race. It is very easy to write a racist because we would all understand that I [a writer] was different from them. But if I write from the point of view of someone who misunderstands some things…it seems to be an interesting discomfort to explore’. It is this discomfort that the reader feels many times reading the thoughts of Marnier, and perhaps it has more of a sense of realism because Marnier really doesn’t wish to offend anybody with active racist speech. Instead, he makes a series of small ignorances that present him as somebody that just really doesn’t truly understand why he is irritating the people around him.

Protesters in California marching against gentrification.

Lastly, and most obviously, is Marnier’s status as one of the initial residents of the gentrification plan, because one of those with capital seeking to change the established (albeit impoverished) population of Detroit. Naomi Klein references such goings on in America in relation to a form of capitalist colonialism where those with capital can claim territory by the chequebook rather than the gun (50). The disaster of poverty is Detroit is perfect ground for such a plan, and from the racial context Markovits is acutely aware of this; when the gentrified neighbourhoods are planned out, maintaining a proportion of black residents is emphasises to present an image of racial diversity: ‘we sat around all day looking at Facebook, deciding who would get to join our village. Like a bunch of assholes’ (57). Yes, the prejudice may be more veiled, but it exists through a faux-humane system. However, at one stage of the book it is agreed by many of the gentrification movement of Robert James that the black residents of these neighbourhoods should keep quiet because white people are driving up their property values. Sometimes Markovits lets the prejudice show its teeth.

Ultimately, Marnier is an embodiment of the contemporary face of misunderstanding. He tries to ‘solve’ problems that are often just too complex to fix by a single person, and as a result leaves us as readers looking at our own perspectives towards frequently sensitive issues.

References:

Images: https://www.detroityes.com/mb/attachment.php?attachmentid=28123&d=1443022560, http://www.latina.com/sites/default/files/slideshow/2015-10-19/gentrification.jpg, hipsterracistfiles.wordpress.com/2013/08/hipster-go-home

Texts:

Fanon, Franz. Black Skin, White Masks. Pluto. 2008.

Klein, Naomi. “Disaster Capitalism: The New Economy of Catastrophe,” 2007, PDF provided on QOL.

Markovits, Benjamin. Interview for Jewish Book Week. http://www.jewishbookweek.com/past-events/2599/video

Markovits, Benjamin. You Don’t Have to Live like This. Faber & Faber. 2013.

Capitalism and the American Dream in You Don’t Have to Live Like This

The story of America’s once popular city, Detroit, is plagued with extreme poverty, capitalist schemes, and blatant racism in Benjamin Markovits’s You Don’t Have to Live Like This. Detroit, once termed the “Motor City”, was a thriving metropolis entirely dependent on the Big Three car companies stationed there. After Ford and the like shut down their plants, those living in Detroit were uprooted and their lives destroyed. The city lay derelict, waiting for an economic boom. That is where Robert James, Marney’s friend from Yale, comes in. After much conspiring behind the scenes of the novel, Robert wants to create a utopia with a new population that are trying to restart their lives. Marney, the historian, is recruited to be a scribe of America’s new, perfect city. Robert’s veiled motives to create the American Dream unravel as race and capitalism become uncontrollable social forces.

 

A photo of a bald eagle looking disappointed in modern day America

A key component of the American Dream is the right to liberty, to trust the systems put in place by the US Constitution; we must trust the President (LOL), the Senate and House, and the Judiciary system. The United States has a systemic problem within the justice system; according to the NAACP criminal justice fact sheet, “African Americans are incarcerated at more than 5 times the rate of whites” (naacp.org). In a normal, working system there should be an equal incarceration rate. When something is so skewed in favor of white people, it is hard for them to understand the problem and the privileges they have and hard for African Americans to trust the system. Later in the novel, Astrid shows Marney a film about racism in Detroit. In it, children are playing basketball; one of the children gets angry, attacks another child, and then stabs him. When interviewing one of the children on why he ran away instead of help, he says, “if the cops come, everybody guilty” (255). The distrust of the law and justice system in Detroit shows the fallacy of the American Dream in You Don’t Have to Live Like This.

Another component of the American Dream is the ability to achieve economic success in the beloved capitalist system. Marney doesn’t buy into this idea of monetary success as the only way to live- at first. Marney moves into neighborhood where, “we had time and didn’t need that much money” (126), but he doesn’t quite understand the capitalist framework of their “Groupon model for gentrification” (17).

American capitalism, like gentrification, thrives on the oppression of people of color. Robert wants the “old” Detroit gone, to make room for the “new” Detroit; “Nolan stood for the old black Detroit… I stood for the new guys” (326). The black man has to leave to make room for the white man, much like the original settlers of The United States. The original settlers stole and sold Native American land and later, their grandchildren sold africans as slaves.

Brad said, “They want to make money, and they want to make more money than their neighbor does. That’s how you know you’re winning. And you’re kidding yourself, Greg, if you think that Americans want to help each other out” (268).

Although the New Jamestown residents are varying in race, sexuality, and political leaning, they are all foreigners invading an already occupied territory.

Nolan said, “You people are the problem- goddamn colonizers” (266).

The parallel between the original American settlement of Jamestown, Virginia and this New Jamestown Community is not lost. Much like the original settlers, the Jamestown residents are intruding into a new land, changing the physical landscape, imposing white culture onto Detroiters, and threatening the safety of African Americans. The New Jamestown is still monetizing racial oppression for the sake of wealth: true American Capitalism.

 

An artist’s rendition of white people stealing Native American property

The people with money were the sellers, not the sold. The people with money are the powerful. American Capitalism helped sustain racial inequality with inequality of wealth.

In Disaster Capitalism: The New Economy of Catastrophe, Naomi Klein discusses how wealth affects an individual’s outcome after a cataclysmic event such as a natural disaster or war. Klein states, “I’ve come to think of these Green Zone/Red Zone worlds as something else: fast-forward versions of what “free market” forces are doing to our societies even in the absence of war…The end result is the same kind of unapologetic partition between the included and the excluded, the protected and the damned” (48-49). Historically, the protected have been the powerful, and the powerful in America have been white. Therefore, the protected are wealthy white in the Green Zone and the damned are all impoverished people of color in the Red Zone.

The Green Zone is New Jamestown after initial settlement and the Red Zone is the rest of the city. Robert James and his settlers have the economic freedom to protect themselves with road blockades and hired security. The blockades create the Red Zone and the damned, effectively keeping out African Americans that are perceived to have “a very forceful personality”(237).

The book ends with the black man in jail and riots in the street causing most of the settlers to flea to suburbia, leaving Detroit with garbage where there were once homes. The city empties its trash.

“Maybe my brother is right, you need to build fences… you worry about money. Worrying about money is what you pay for. It stops you from worrying about everything else” (391).

The American Dream is a cesspool of racial discrimination and capitalist mayhem. The novel offers no solution nor conclusion. Capitalism can’t sustain the American dream or solve racial inequality, but what else can you do? It turns out, you do have to live like this.

Works Cited

Bald Eagle – Google Search, www.google.co.uk/search?q=bald+eagle&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiC9aT1v-HXAhVMIsAKHf5ADjwQ_AUICigB&biw=1440&bih=803#imgrc=SCE3QBs4QHolIM:

Historic Jamestown Va – Google Search, www.google.co.uk/search?biw=1440&bih=803&tbm=isch&sa=1&ei=enQdWqXvFaeDgAbw2ILgAw&q=historic+jamestown+va&oq=historic+jamestown+va&gs_l=psy-ab.3..0j0i24k1.8297.12335.0.12662.19.16.3.0.0.0.100.1236.15j1.16.0….0…1c.1.64.psy-ab..0.17.1113…0i13k1j0i67k1j0i8i13i30k1.0.S-5vpDp-JPM#imgrc=ko_HWgNgNK9jGM:

“Criminal Justice Fact Sheet.” NAACP, www.naacp.org/criminal-justice-fact-sheet/.

Klein, Naomi. “Disaster Capitalism: The New Economy of Catastrophe,” 2007, PDF.

Markovits, Benjamin. You Don’t Have to Live like This. Harpercollins, 2016.

 

Neoliberalism and the Information Age Immigrant Family: Subverted Roles in Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story

The present moment is witnessing a shift in familial relations that is perhaps unique in human history: the traditional mode of parent-child relations is being overturned (Shifflet-Chila 6). Our understanding hitherto has been that parents hold knowledge which is valuable to their children and which will help them navigate their lifeworlds when it is disseminated throughout childhood, adolescence and beyond. But a new generation of ‘digital natives’ are coming of age and stretching into a future to which their parents’ knowledge is inadequate. The natives are lighting the way for their digital immigrant relations.

Shteyngart-sub-articleLarge (1)

‘Meanwhile…the Abramovs keep leaving all these desolate messages on GlobalTeens with illiterate subject lines reading “me and momee sad” and “me worry” and “without son laif lonely”’ (74). Sketching an anxious picture of his mental state which includes a looming financial crisis and fears over his ability to retain the mercurial Eunice’s affections, Lenny mentions his parents in a hasty afterthought. His filial obligation is a problem. Ensnared in the high-speed, technically-challenging world of Post Human Services, coupled with the prospect of negotiating the murky waters of a digitally-mediated relationship, his parents are not only useless to him. They are another thing to worry about.

Shteyngart ‘dramatizes the tension between what Werner Sollors calls “consent” and descent”, between those elements of our identities that we choose and those that we inherit’ (Trapp 56). Lenny struggles to forge a future for himself in the new America, a future which requires him to leave the descent elements of his identity behind. ‘A father should never outlive his child,’ (125) Lenny believes. His plans for eternal life do not include the parents who left Russian life behind to give him a better life. Lenny has only visited their homeland in the works of Chekhov and other literary masters.

‘I have to be a “roll model” according to Mom,’ (168), Eunice tells her sister, Sally. Eunice’s playful/cruel imitation of her mother’s patchy English highlights the scorn she feels for her parents, and suggests her desire to be liberated of the pain of her family’s turbulent daily life, and especially her father, ‘the violent podiatrist’ (35). More than this, she wants to leave behind her ‘unnecessary shell (the human body) and focus on the rarified human essence (its mind or soul)’ (Malewitz 113). Rather than treating her raw historical wounds, she wishes to escape the body which is emblematic of that history entirely. She immerses herself in digital culture.

Eunice’s mocking of her mother’s language use suggests that the native-immigrant gap between them extends beyond the realm of the digital: Eunice believes herself to be better-equipped to meet the demands of American life than her mother, whose language immediately marks her as an outsider. ‘I’ll keep Mom safe,’ (71), her sister repeatedly reassures her. The émigrée has left her life in Korea, rendering her isolated and therefore additionally vulnerable to her husband’s rages. Her daughter feels obligated to protect her.

Ironically, while the daughters hold cultural capital in their savvy knack for America-navigation, they still require their parents for actual capital. There develops a parasitic relationship which complicates the underlying emotional problems Eunice tries to eschew: ‘So because we leave for you everything behind, you now have big responsibility to Daddy and Mommy and Sister. J’ (45) Part of the rhetorical impact of this simply-expressed statement stems from the sender’s glaring misapplication of a smiling emoticon – a promise of financial capital accompanied by evidence of deficient cultural capital. Shteyngart uses Eunice’s dearth of alternative sources of income to dramatize the conundrum to which swathes of the digital native population are susceptible – a kind of status-disorientation stemming from simultaneous feelings of superiority and dependency.

Citing Illouz, Richardson explains ‘emotional capitalism’ (Richardson 76) as the diffusion of market-based logic and language into emotional life. Neoliberalism has seeped into the contemporary consciousness so profoundly that characters shrewdly calculate the potential losses and gains of emotional involvements. ‘Love is great for pH, ACTH, LDL, whatever ails you,’ Joshie tells Lenny (64). Enduring relationships are only useful insofar as they translate into ‘biocomputational success’ (Malewitz 116). Shteyngart asks us to assess our values and subject the motives that underlie our most intimate decisions to greater scrutiny.

neoliberalismo-ideia

When crisis strikes, Lenny, like Eunice, demonstrates ability beyond his parents’ to navigate the complexity of the new American reality. Using his connections to reach them after the economy’s collapse he finds his parents starving and afraid, ‘secretly hurt and ashamed that they could do less for me than I could for them’ (285). The unspeakable truth of their reversal of roles charges the whole encounter with a strange intimacy: Lenny experiences a paradoxical determination to be close to them while retaining his sense of personal liberty, fleetingly indulging in a rare moment of true contentment with his parents while simultaneously trying to escape ‘the burden of the emotional implications’ (Agamben 53). As in Eunice’s family, Lenny’s relationship with his parents is problematized by a delicate tension between directly oppositional affects generated by a subversion of the roles and attributes they expect of one another.

Silently fuming in a church, surrounded by Eunice’s family, Lenny composes an imaginary sermon:

‘Throw away your ancestors! Throw away your fathers and the self-appointed fathers that claim to be stewards of God…Accept the truth! And if there is more than one truth, then learn to do the difficult work – learn to choose.’ (188)

For Lenny, the pains of family life can be erased by the simple truth of a mutual obligation he and Eunice have formed together. Demonstrating the affective impact of familial role subversion, Shteyngart speculates on whether its presence in the consciousness alongside neoliberalist logic will culminate in a far-reaching renunciation of familial obligation. His novel does not provide an answer – neither Lenny nor Eunice is ever truly able to disentangle the knots that keep their parents close to them. Which forces are most capable of keeping the family together? Which are most valuable as foundations upon which a decent human society can be built? Which of them could erode, and which of them could contemporary American reality already be eroding?

Works Cited:

Agamben, Giorgio. Nudities. Translated by David Kishik and Stefan Pedatella.  Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2011.

Malewitz, Raymond. “‘Some New Dimension Devoid of Hip and Bone’: Remediated Bodies and Digital Posthumanism in Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story” Arizona Quarterly 71 (2015): 107-127.

Richardson, John M. “The Promposal: Youth Expressions of Identity and ‘Love’ in the Digital Age” Learning, Media and Technology 42 (2017): 74-86.

Shifflet-Chila, Erica D. et al. “Adolescent and Family Development: Autonomy and Identity in the Digital Age” Children and Youth Services Review 70 (2016): 364-368.

Shteyngart, Gary. Super Sad True Love Story. London: Granta Books, 2011.

Trapp, Brian. “Super Sad True Melting Pot: Reimagining the Melting Pot in a Transnational World in Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story” MELUS 41 (2016): 55-75.

Images Cited:

Metcalf, Stephen. “Neoliberalism: The Idea that Swallowed the World.” The Guardian. 18 August 2017. Accessed 11 November 2017.<https://www.theguardian.com/news/2017/aug/18/neoliberalism-the-idea-that-changed-the-world>

Shteyngart, Gary. “Only Disconnect” The New York Times. 16 July 2010. Accessed 12 November 2017. <http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/18/books/review/Shteyngart-t.html>

Bus station or Guantánamo Bay?: Biopolitics, bare life and Camp Greyhound in Dave Eggers’ Zeitoun

Dave Eggers’ account of Abdulrahman Zeitoun’s experiences during hurricane Katrina and its aftermath sheds light on the sinister and authoritarian state forces at play in Bush administration America. Zeitoun is a first-hand witness to, and victim of, what Naomi Klein calls a “thriving disaster economy” in which the corporate replaces the democratic and the biopolitical is enacted on New Orleans’ displaced citizens (Klein 58).

Zeitoun, a hard-working Syrian-American contractor and family man, follows a calling from God to remain in his storm-stricken hometown to salvage what he can of his properties and help those most vulnerable. While his wife, Kathy, who forms the other half of the narrative, evacuates along with their children, Zeitoun provides a stoic resistance to the “obsidian sea that had swallowed the city” (162).

A neighbourhood east of downtown New Orleans. 30 August 2005.
A neighbourhood east of downtown New Orleans. 30 August 2005. (Click to enlarge)

He is very much presented as the ‘all-American hero’ through his courageous acts on his second-hand canoe, from rescuing the elderly to feeding forgotten dogs. However, he quickly becomes embroiled in a Kafkaesque nightmare and is entrapped as a Guantánamo-style prisoner, devoid of all human rights.  What began as a natural disaster had anything but natural consequences for those left in New Orleans. Zeitoun recognises that although the floods rose slowly where his family home rested, others closer to the breaches, in less affluent areas, would have been quickly overwhelmed. Already this alludes to the systemic forces and government negligence at work here. With state capital pumped heavily into policing and the military, the public sphere (and public good) is left unattended and unprotected in a city that has experienced these disasters for over two hundred years. Infrastructural protections such as levees and water systems failed and the poorest suburban areas suffered most.

Hundreds of military officials and private contractors descend on the city almost immediately. This is an example of what Zygmunt Bauman describes as the territorial wars of modernity, in which oppressive state officials “have their own ability to descend from nowhere without notice and vanish again without warning” (Bauman 15). The flood zone begins to look more like a warzone. Large fan boats packed with military personnel patrol these flood zones, in aim of regulating the population and locating the ‘unlawful enemy combatants’ who have ‘chosen’ to stay. Eggers’ offers up a frightening indication of the new, “tightly controlled visual landscape” that exists in the drowned metropolis. (Giroux, 306).

U.S. Army National Guard presence, downtown New Orleans. 3 September 2005.
U.S. Army National Guard presence, downtown New Orleans. 3 September 2005.

“though they had been led to believe their entry would be met with something like guerrilla warfare, they had found no resistance whatsoever – only exhausted and hungry people who wanted to leave the city” (146). 

Zeitoun and his companions, Nasser, Todd and Ronnie, are arrested along with hundreds of other inhabitants on charges of looting and other misdemeanours. With the addition of Nasser’s duffel bag containing ten thousand dollars, and the state officers racial profiling of Zeitoun and Nasser, these charges are swiftly raised to suspected terrorism and the four men become the fictionalised enemy, a requirement of the post-Katrina paranoia that permeated officials.

It is on arrival at Camp Greyhound, a makeshift prison built around the local bus station, that the biopolitical agenda underpinning the occupation becomes realised. Taking first Michel Foucault’s notion of biopolitics – here we see the sovereign power moving from the control of territory to the control of a population. Overnight Greyhound becomes a space that can operate outside the normal rule of law (what Carl Schmitt terms ‘the state of exception’), a de facto juridical operation that acts as the interstitial processing zones where residents become imprisoned as stateless refugees.

The station’s entrance and ticket office represent the threshold beyond which the state decides who is ‘bare life’, in other words, who ceases to exist legally and politically. Giorgio Agamben grounds this concept in the Roman figure of homo sacer, one who can be killed without the commission of a crime. What is most disturbing about applying these theories to the events post-Katrina is that in Roman law this figure was completely excluded from the structures of society. However, Zeitoun illustrates that there is no room for manoeuvre outside the modern nation-state and the sovereign state power that hovers over it. It becomes increasingly difficult to “distinguish between the normal functioning of capitalist democracy and the state of exception as they increasingly collapse into one another” (Behrman).

Capt. Kevin Green of the Louisiana Dept. of Correction at Camp Greyhound, New Orleans. 9 September 2005.
Capt. Kevin Green of the Louisiana Dept. of Correction at Camp Greyhound, New Orleans. 9 September 2005.

Zeitoun takes on many characteristics of homo sacer, he is dissolved into the dehumanising sovereignty project, and into conditions he compares closely to those of Guantánamo Bay: “it was a vast grid of chain-link fencing with few walls, so the prisoners were visible to the guards and each other” (229). The displacement of peoples (many innocent) in New Orleans reaches completion through the territorial fragmentation of Greyhound with its mini borders and isolated prison cells. The systems of violence are prevalent; the prisoners are beaten, pepper-sprayed and left with nowhere to sleep or defecate.

We can also take Achille Mbembé’s concept of ‘necropolitics’ and, in particular, compare his analysis of ‘the colony’ to the prison camp. For Mbembé, the colony is the “location par excellence where the controls and guarantees of judicial order can be suspended – the zone where the violence of the state of exception is deemed to operate in the service of ‘civilization’” (Mbembé 24). Zeitoun and his company are reduced from citizens to inmates, their right to live removed, and with seemingly no end to their position of disposability. Days before a community saviour, Zeitoun considers himself “no longer part of the world” (266). Camp Greyhound is just one very real example of how manifestations of state power, especially biopower, have the ability to regulate, control, and dispose of populations in the wake of disaster by means of a ‘shock doctrine’ (Klein).

To attempt to end on a more positive note, what visions of hope do we have for a future beyond such a neoliberal agenda? After entering a maximum security prison and being subjected to more torturous circumstances, the name Abdulrahman Zeitoun eventually resurfaces to society and he is located. His citizenship is returned, and his family with it in an enlightening end to an emotional tale of catastrophe, isolation and violence. Hope seems to lie in moving away from the blurred distinction between the rule of law and the state of exception under neoliberal capitalism, in an attempt to avoid the instrumental exploitation of human life under its demands.

 

Works cited:

Agamben, Giorgio. “Life That Does Not Deserve to Live.” Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998

Bauman, Zygmunt. “Wars of the Globalization Era”. European Journal of Social Theory. Vol. 4. No. 1 (2001) 15.

Behrman, Simon. “Giorgio Agamben in perspective”. 7 October 2013. Accessed 13 November 2017. <http://isj.org.uk/giorgio-agamben-in-perspective/#140behrman_15>

Eggers, Dave. Zeitoun. London: Penguin, 2010.

Giroux, Henry. “Violence, Katrina, and the Biopolitics of Disposability”. Theory, Culture & Society. 24. (2007): 305-309

Klein, Naomi. “Disaster Capitalism: The New Economy of Catastrophe” Harper’s Magazine (October 2007): 47-58

Mbembé, Anchille. “Necropolitics”. Public Culture. Vol. 15. No. 11 (2003): 11-40.

 

Images cited:

Downtown New Orleans: http://edition.cnn.com/2013/08/23/us/hurricane-katrina-statistics-fast-facts/index.html

National Guard: http://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/article/Hurricane-Katrina-Sept-3-2005-in-photos-6464897.php

Camp Greyhound: http://www.sfgate.com/crime/article/LAW-AND-ORDER-IN-NEW-ORLEANS-The-city-lockup-is-2609603.php#photo-2096356

“One thing was certain: they were the winners, them, the other side.” Capitalism, Corruption and Culpability in Dominique Manotti’s Lorraine Connection.

 

Dominique Manotti’s Lorraine Connection can be read as a denouncement on the contemporary mode of capitalism and an exposé of the negative impact of the neo-liberal agenda. Functioning within the Detective Fiction genre, the novel is riddled with violence, murder, arson, and criminality. The criminality featured is deliberately provocative and allows Manotti to voice the social injustices of the subjugated factory workers and expose the illegitimate connections between politics and business and the justice system and its influencers.  As Gerard Meudal suggests, “Lorraine Connection reads like a novel, the true novel of the economic world in which we live.” I believe that the truth Manotti exposes through the novel is the dark reality of corruption, depravity, and marginalization that inevitably comes alongside the capitalist ideology.

Through adopting a tone of “violent realism” and a “polyphonic narrative”, Manotti creates a sharp contrast between the luxurious environments inhabited by the white-collar employees of the multi-national corporations and the destitute conditions of the migrant, blue-collar workers on the factory floor. As a direct result of the neo-liberal agenda, the migrant factory workers have become a cog in the capitalist machine, both their working and private lives are plagued with feelings of “anomie, anxiety, anger and alienation” commonly associated with the ‘Global Precariat’. The factory workers are conscious of their underprivileged but dependent status, therefore, it transpires are more likely to overlook deplorable working conditions and the dubious nature of ‘accidents’ in the workplace.

10696419._UY475_SS475_This is exemplified in the expectation placed upon Aisha to continue work “as normal” (13) despite her shock at witnessing the decapitation of a fellow worker. Additionally, the women who were working alongside Émilienne when the fateful electrocution occurred, were ordered to “get back to work” (7) despite the obvious danger the machinery posed and the traumatic scene they had just been exposed to.  Véronique Desnain reflects how Manotti’s “focus on the factory workers and their lives…effectively illustrates how the conditions of the workers’ existence are affected by the economic and political decisions of people who see them more as mere parts of the system.” As Desnain suggests, we can see clearly that in order to maintain output levels, it is essential that the production line must continue despite its drastic interference upon human life. The level of output by the factory workers is prioritized over their welfare and consequently, they are considered simply as components of the production line. This reduces the workers to holding the same significance as the machinery, therefore, they are dehumanized and become solely disposable objects to be used as deemed necessary. If these “bloody Arabs and women” (5) had been considered as more than “dross” (5) then perhaps they would have felt confident enough to exercise their human rights and appeal for their working conditions to be in conjunction with the European Health and Safety requirements. Unfortunately, this is not a freedom applicable to these workers, as the fear of losing their job takes precedence over ensuring their safety. Rolande’s thoughts after being fired capture this social anxiety, “work, pain, broken body, hands numb, hard, yes, but better than no job.” (9) The workers remain mindful that the loss of their job will strip them of economic significance altogether.

During the occupation of the factory, Aisha recounts that “We all started walking around the factory, freely…I thought I’d go mad with joy. I felt as though I existed.” (107) The poignancy of the short-lived freedom experienced by Aisha, the literal “embodiment of tragedy” (13) resonates with the reader as we know she pays the ultimate price for that freedom. The worker’s decision to strike, to demand their bonuses and the reinstatement of an employee unfairly dismissed was also a plea to attain that feeling of existence and worthiness. Unfortunately, the strike was in vain. The demand for equality was considered too much of an interference to the matra-daweoo alliance and the decision to torch the building was made, followed by the decision to murder those wrongly implicated in the corporation’s crimes. Ultimately, resulting in a literal non-existence for too many of the factory workers. The decisions made consolidate the perceived non-essentialism of the factory workers and the omnipotent nature of the white-collar businessmen. As the workers gazed upon the burning factory they watched as their livelihood and importance literally obliterated.

 “This is it, now, the explosion, the anger, my years of dread, the other side is so much stronger, they’ve always won, they always win. Lambs to the slaughter.” (31)”

Furthermore, within Lorraine Connection, Manotti exposes the unfavorable effects of capitalism upon the judicial system and suggests that the state is incapable or unwilling of combating a global ideology that devalues human life and creates plentiful opportunities for discrimination and criminal activity. This bleak suggestion is played out within the novel, as there is no justice for any crimes committed. The murders of Émilienne’s unborn child, Étienne, Aisha or Rolande’s grandmother are never brought to justice nor thoroughly or appropriately investigated. There is no further mention of Nourredine who remains accused of committing arson despite those in power having found substantial evidence of his innocence. The factory workers are offered no resolve, there is no reinstatement of jobs nor payment of owed bonuses. Though Rolande gains a considerable sum of money from the fake company account held in her name, this gain was obtained through the same cunning and deceptive means exercised by those of the multi-national corporations, therefore this gain should not be conceived as justice on a broader level and can only be regarded as a personal gain. Evidently, the justice system represented by Manotti exhibits an inability or perhaps reluctance to protect the weak in their society.

corruption

The novel concludes with Montoya, the private detective, finding the essential information to overthrow the President’s decision on Thompsons’ privatization. Ironically, the information discovered by the detective is “so big;” (183) that the Alcatel Group are unsure of how to use it, as “the situation would run out of control.” (183) Despite the heinous corruption and crimes committed by members of these corporations and the state, those involved are not reprimanded nor held responsible. Their culpability for these crimes is not a decision made and enforced by the judicial system, instead, it is used as a means of blackmail for one corporation’s gain.  It is clear that Manotti depicts the relationship between these multi-national corporations and the state as a reprehensible collusion that facilitates the abuse of power and financial manipulation.  Manotti clearly details the unethical but ensured protection of those in significant power and exposes the state for not being the sovereign body it is presumed to be.

Bibliography

Belhadjin, Anissa (2010) ‘From Politics to the Roman Noir’, in (ed.) South Central Review, Volume 27, Numbers 1 & 2, Spring and Summer. : John Hopkins University Press, pp. 61-81.

Berlant, Lauren (2011) Cruel Optimism, Durham and London: Duke University Press.

Desnain, Véronique (2016) ‘The State We’re In: Global Politics and Economics in the Novels of Dominique Manotti’, in Pepper, A and Schimd, D (ed.) Globalisation and the State in Contemporary Crime Fiction. : Palgrave, pp. 79-98.

Manotti, Dominique (2006) Lorraine Connection. Trans. Hopkinson, Amanda, and Schwartz, Ros. London: Arcadia Books.

Standing, Guy (2011) The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class, London: Bloomsbury.

Images Used

Crime and Corruption: Accessed Online on 06/09/2017 < https://www.smu.edu.sg/news/2014/01/07/corruption-among-officials-china>

The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class: Accessed Online on 06/09/2017 <https://www.amazon.co.uk/Precariat-New-Dangerous-Class/dp/1472536169>