It was a dark and stormy night. Hugo Chavez and Konstantin Levin stopped to debate crop yields

This was the comandante’s strategy in a nutshell : Whatever the problem, tell a story. Turn a problem into a narrative, make the country an audience, and hold its attention. Cuba , he said, had lent cloud -seeding equipment that would make it rain. “We’re bombarding clouds. We have some planes there, and some equipment that Fidel and Raúl sent us.” He suggested he would personally fly the planes . “Any cloud that comes in my way, I’ll hurl a lightning bolt at it. Tonight I’m going out to bombard.”

He turned the electricity crisis into a near-daily performance. The drought continued, but instead of focusing on energy policy blunders, everyone pictured Chávez in airman’s goggles blasting pellets at the sky. He made fresh headlines during a televised cabinet meeting by urging the nation to shower in three minutes. “Some people sing in the shower, in the shower half an hour. No, kids, three minutes is more than enough. I’ve counted, three minutes, and I don’t stink.” He wagged his finger. “If you are going to lie back in the bath, with the soap, and you turn on the, what’s it called, the Jacuzzi . . . Imagine that, what kind of communism is that? We’re not in times of Jacuzzi.” Now everyone was talking about how long they spent in the shower and whether Chávez really did scrub in under three minutes.

He took his spiel about capitalism’s destructiveness, a favorite leitmotif, to a climate summit in Copenhagen. “What we are experiencing on this planet is an imperial dictatorship, and from here we continue denouncing it. Down with imperial dictatorship!” The dignitaries applauded and cheered. “The rich are destroying the planet. Do they think they can go to another when they destroy this one? Do they have plans to go to another planet? So far there is none on the horizon of the galaxy.” No matter that Venezuela lived on selling oil to the Yankees, or that Chávez’s subsidies made its gasoline the world’s cheapest, he got a standing ovation.

Rory Carroll, Comandante: Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela

There’s a certain sort of globalizing novel I crave reading and they seem to be in low production. By globalizing, what do I mean? Power, money, in the abstract and as active forces, and not so much with the kitchen sink, perhaps.

Literary expression often lets people play with concepts they experience in the real world in a variety of more or less plausible, more or less weird guises. So you might be a little kid, and you might read Eloise, and imagine what it is like to be a rich kid with sparse parental supervision. Or you may want to cheat on your spouse, so you read Updike, and while enjoying his prose, speculations are nourished, perhaps.

But, for example, macroeconomic decision making/analysis is a real world activity–like being six or being adulterous– and a lot of people but a lot of effort into it, but there really isn’t that hell of a much of a literature of it, is there?*

I’ve expressed a fondness for the intimate psychologizing of Henry James but similar efforts can feel suffocating when produced by the less inspired. And self -appointed social/political novels can be worse:the personal is the political taken under the most insipid reading possible (my shopping list is the universe).

So where is the world outside?

Sci fi novels sometimes deliver a few pages of what I crave but generally don’t manage more before devolving into bland adventure story.

So for a person of somewhat literary bent, I don’t read that many novels anymore. But sometimes I read about Venezuela.

Political novels, emotional novels… I’m going to let my now well-established retrograde tendencies fly for a bit and suggest those Famous Fat Russian novels as the ones that really balance out the full range of novelistic potential. How else can a novel maintain the reputation for tragic passionate bosom heaving when all the text is about agricultural policy, both, sure, as an analogue to broader social issues, but really plenty much both on it’s own merits as well.


At the end of September the timber had been carted for building the cattleyard on the land that had been allotted to the association of peasants, and the butter from the cows was sold and the profits divided. Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

*One obvious explanation for this: if one can spin compelling yarns based off of macroeconomic time series data sets, one could have a nicer apartment working for McKinsey than writing unpublishable novels.

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