31 May 2008

Billy Bragg, The Nation, Property Rights, and Cynicism

"I don't mind being labeled a political songwriter, . . . What upsets
me is being dismissed as a political songwriter." ~ Billy Bragg*

Well, The Nation has instituted a really terrific new bi-weekly feature "Back Talk" and handed it over to Christine Smallwood, their Associate Literary Editor. (Smallwood co-edits The Crier in her spare time - or is that when she works at The Nation? Whichever is the case, this new enterprise is a very good idea and she's pulling it off with aplomb.) I posted recently on the first of these columns that I'd noticed: a little interview with Tod Papageorge.** Well, now Smallwood has done yet another little interview, this time with Billy Bragg - you can find their exchange here. One of the interesting bits is the way Bragg identifies "cynicism" as the common feature of capitalism, conservatism and racism.

Bragg has a new album Mr. Love & Justice out on Anti; I've not listened to the whole thing through (a sign of my age, no doubt, that I would even contemplate listening to the entire record instead o f downloading select numbers from iTunes), but the snippets I have heard sound good. And he recently penned this Op-Ed for The New York Times on the predicament of musicians and artists whose work is underwriting social networking sites but who receive no remuneration for their work. Smallwood and Bragg pursue themes from the Op-Ed in their discussion.

As a good Marxist, of course, Bragg should know that what we have here is a clear instance of a broader irresistible pattern in which of the advancing means of production (technology ~ read, the internet) are coming into conflict with existing relations of production (property rights of various sorts). And moral suasion of the sort in which he engages in his essay will have no significant impact on how that conflict plays out. Right?
* The source of the quote is here.
** It turns out that the Papageorge conversation was the 3rd installment of Backtalk. Smallwood had already had similar conversations with Nicholson Baker on writing 'amateur history' and with John Turturo on playing Hamm in Beckett's Endgame.

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