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MIKE DAVIS FLANEUR OF LIBRARIES A \(though he dislikes using the Internet for research, author Mike Davis consent ed to a brief e-mail interview with Brant Bingamon for the Observer. Texas Observer: How many hours and days of research does Late Victorian Holocausts represent? Mike Davis: I began research on LVH in late summer 1998 and finished the manuscript two years later. It incorporates three or four thousand hours of work. Like most pen hacks past middle age I write best in the morning. With teaching and publishing \(I am a senior editor an average American work week of 45 hours. TO: Are you still living in Hawaii? Do you miss Southern California? MD: I am married to the Mexican artist, Alessandra Moctezuma. Our permanent residence is in Papaaloa, 25 miles north of Hilo and 3000 miles west of LA on the Big Island. We have a utopian porch and wonderful neighbors. Of Southern California, I miss most the union demonstrations downtown, Tommy’s hamburgers, and the smell of the chaparral after a rain. TO: How did you become interested in Indian history? MD: My best friend, Mike Sprinker, who died two years ago, decolonized my understanding of world history by introducing me to the spectacular work of South Asian Marxists. TO: How is Marxism different from Utopianism? MD: Utopian thought is essential to all humanist resistance against the carnage of history. Marxism is about necessary utopias. TO: Do you enjoy being referred to as a Prophet of Doom? MD: Prophet of Doom? Too silly for words. TO: Who are you favorite historians and what are your favorite books? MD: My LA books draw their deepest inspiration from Emile Zola, Carey McWilliams, Raymond Chandler, Walter Benjamin, Carlos Monsivais, and an incredible Welsh historian, Gwyn Williams. If any book has been my real compass, it is Victor Serge’s Memoirs of a Revolutionary. Woody Guthrie’s Bound for Glory is a close second. TO: Are you interested in Mexican history? MD: Mexican history exerts a considerably greater fascination for me than U.S. history. Of recent work, I especially admire Fredrich Katz’s magnificent biography of Villa. TO: Did being a butcher bother you? MD: Why would being a butcher bother me? Unlike so much of academia, it is socially important, skilled labor. TO: Do you have long -term goals? MD: My long-term goal is to be faithful to Joe Hill’s death wish. [“Don’t mourn-organize!”] TO: What is your opinion of Noam Chomsky? MD: I have never read Noam Chomsky. TO: What is your favorite library? MD: My favorite book temple is the Southern California Library for Social Research in South Central LA, although I am unhappy that they have recently removed the huge nude statue of Karl Marx that used TO: How much useful information do you collect online? MD: I dislike the net almost as much as the telephone. I am a flaneur of libraries: which is to say, I love nothing better than to roam randomly and luxuriously through the stacks. What treasures I have found! haven’t recovered today. “When the sans culottes stormed the Bastille,” he writes, “the largest manufacturing districts in the world were still the Yangzi Delta and Bengal,” with other areas of China and India right behind. That’s why Marco Polo wanted to get there in the first place. Davis quotes the economic historian Paul Bairoch as saying that as late as 1850 “the average standard of living in Europe was a little bit lower than the rest of the world.” Some 150 years later everything is radically different, but Davis argues that Asia didn’t merely stand still while the Industrial Revolution transformed Europe and the U.S. “From about 1780 or 1800 onward, every serious attempt by a non-Western society to move over into a fast lane of development or to regulate its terms of trade was met by a military as well as an economic response from London or a competing imperial capital…. The Victorians resorted to gunboats on at least seventy-five occasions,” the most infamous being the Opium and Arrow Wars in which the English forced China to buy opium. “If the history of British rule in India were to be condensed to a single fact, it is this: there was no increase in India’s per capita income from 1757 to 1947,” writes Davis. But, of course, India did generate great amounts of revenue during this period. “Britain earned huge annual surpluses in her transactions with India and China,” says Davis, and those surpluses were crucial to delaying the decline of English supremacy. But being force-marched into the global economy on the prejudicial terms demanded by England drained the wealth of India and China and burned out their infrastructure. Once again, Davis has proven himself to be a master of synthesis. In so doing, he provides an alternative answer to the question of how “the West,” \(i.e., Western Europe and more of the world in the nineteenth century. At a time when we are being bombarded with cultural explanations a la Samuel Huntington about clashing civilizations, Davis’s provocative history goes far to show why the world looks the way it does today. It also proves that famine in modern history is largely a matter of economics. His dire warning is that humans will be to blame for the next one. Brant Bingamon is a writer living in Austin. 11/23/01 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 19