Have you noticed what’s happened to the daiquiri? It’s been reinvented, by the Teen Literati. Now, it doesn’t seem fair to blame the Industrial Revolution for what happened to the daiquiri, or to Writing in America in the 1990s, but the Industrial Revolution is to blame for most things — the steam engine, World Wars, radiation poisoning, filter-tipped cigarettes, Mickey Mouse, germ-free hamburgers and air travel holidays for the working family. And the Industrial Revolution was kick-started by the bourgeoisie.
That’s right: you people, the Middle Class.
You invented it, you kept up with the maintenance and the home improvements, and I know it wasn’t easy: the construction and populating of the vast, scattered and bewildering country of Suburbia, the restless perfection of the Assembly Line, the kinky idea of clothes that decorate and strangle: the necktie for men and the bra for women.
Cranky Karl Marx and his spoilt wife came from the Middle Class. So did Mao Zedong and Jane Austen and Fidel Castro and Virginia Woolf and the Red Brigades and Patty Hearst. Even Clark Kent, who came from a dirt poor background, aspired to the Middle Class: he wore a suit and a necktie to work.
Everyone knows that International Communism wouldn’t have made it off the ground without those egocentric kids forming political discussion groups and teaching the peasants to shoot each other. Our literature would be similarly impoverished today if it hadn’t been for Watt and Stevenson, and the profits from the factories their steam engine made possible. We’d have nothing much worth reading, probably. Chaucer, Shakespeare, Montaigne, Marcus Aurelius and his tedious meditations. That’s about it.
We wouldn’t have any of these dazzling novels about bright young things quoting Foucault and farting and spewing in the back of a taxi, or apprentice stockbrokers beheading smelly old derelicts and eating rats. After the steam engine, people began to thirst for literary experiences, and eventually a vast mass of consumers appeared like pigeons in a park when you throw breadcrumbs. Isn’t history wonderful? The process of satisfying these greedy souls developed into a whole industry, like Interior Decorating.
In fact it is Interior Decorating: just as ideas furnish a mind, so literary experiences furnish a soul. Shopping for a new frock or a Porsche gives you a conceptual thrill that the actual purchased object is only the memento of. Literary Shopping has its thrills, too, and more enduring ones than Macy’s can offer. When you buy a Bloomsbury Hardback exemplar of the current trend, you feel in the swim and up-to-date, but there’s more.
More? What’s the extra kick, the octane boost?
Ironically, spanking the bourgeoisie! From the Romantics to the Punks, from Percy Shelley to Oscar Wilde, from Allen Ginsberg to Kathy Acker, wearing weird hair, fucking with Bad Types and skewering your parents is central to the Literary Act.
We shouldn’t be surprised: lots of people pay good money to get a spanking.
But I digress ... I was talking about brand identification. Before the modern period, literature had no idea of how to use brand names effectively. How could it? There weren’t any. If you wanted, say, a suit of armour, you asked somebody to make you one, and that was it. You got to show it off to your friends, but you didn’t get the fun of browsing through a Bloomingdale’s catalogue looking for something in stainless chain mail by Armani or Zegna.