Friday, May 25, 2012

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

I've had this one on hold at the library for months so when it finally arrived yesterday I reluctantly put aside my other reading material to make sure I could get through this one and pass it on to the next person who has been waiting to read it for months. What started as a chore quickly became a joy as I found myself reading the book in two sittings in less than 24 hours unable to put it down, utterly transfixed.

It wasn't that I liked the characters…in fact they kind of got on my nerves…and at one point I remember thinking maybe I shouldn't, by my own criteria, like this book as much as I do. Like…it's a book about a kind of pathetic middle class retired man having a mid-life crisis, obsessing over his past failed relationships and not being very self-aware and kind of pathetic and whiny, which usually would just sort of annoy the shit out of me…yet the story is told in such a way as to draw you in completely. I sort of figured out the "secret" to the plot early on but wasn't totally sure how it would reveal itself so I had to keep turning the pages, like it was a mystery, because I needed to know what happens in the end. But it wasn't just the thrill of the story that drew me in…it was the way Julian Barnes uses a story about someone's past coming back to haunt them as a device to talk about the nature of time and memory and history and storytelling and discuss philosophical questions about the meaning of life. I will definitely read more of his books in the future.

The Time of the Doves by Mercé Rodereda

The Time of the Doves tells about the Spanish Civil War from a working class female point of view using stream of consciousness prose and grippingly vivid storytelling that assaults the senses. It takes place in Barcelona and was written in Catalan. This is maybe the best novel ever, even in translation, like Woolf meets Stein crossed with Graham Greene. Rodoreda seems to carve words as if they are made of physical material to construct a place and time that make you feel you can see, hear and taste the world her characters live. The sadness of history is captured here; you will cry real tears. I've never read anything quite like it. Utterly beautiful and profoundly moving. Life and Death and Love and War.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Violence Girl by Alice Bag

Alice Bag wrote her memoir Violence Girl as a series of blog posts. She doesn't consider herself a writer. In that sense, this is a DIY punk book!

Growing up in the 80's hardcore era, The Bags were not well known to me for some reason. I don't know if their records were out of print or what but I don't remember hearing them until after Bikini Kill started. At the time, the NW was extremely isolated and there were huge gaps in my knowledge of punk history, which was not yet well documented and largely accessible only through private collections and oral history. I don't remember The Alice Bag Band from The Decline of Western Civilization for some reason either. I saw the movie a few times as a teen, once when it showed at Evergreen before I started going to shows (possibly when it came out?) but I mostly remember Darby and Black Flag. In the late 80's/early 90's Olympia got a video store and suddenly you could rent a handful of punk movies, which we circulated to no end (along with Over The Edge, which we watched constantly.) When I interviewed DC punk/artist/photographer Cynthia Connolly for Jigsaw in the mid-90's she talked about going to shows in LA and raved about how influential Alice Bag was. That's when I started wanting to know more about The Bags and more about some of the female contributions to the early LA punk scene that I had missed out on by being too young and not living in California. So this book was a revelation to me. I wish it would have been around when I was a kid but it's really cool that it's available now.

Violence Girl doesn't talk about punk until you are already over a hundred pages into the story. I remember yelling on the couch: "SHE IS TALKING ABOUT PUNK ROCK!!!!" But the build up is great and the book totally pays off. Up until that point we get to know her as a misfit Elton John freak growing up in East LA not fitting into the Chicano/a community she was born into and we get the complicated story of her family, which was loving but also filled with violence. She writes about her experience with candid honesty, wisdom and humor. Another aspect of this book that I appreciated a lot was getting to hear about Alice Bag's life long interest in philosophy. One of the most exciting moments of the book for me was hearing her recount her falling out with Darby Crash, for philosophical reasons, who made fun of her because she believed in god. (She was raised Catholic, he was a Nihilist). When she performed and read from her book at the Olympia Timberland Library I hoped she would talk more about this but recognizing that someone probably doesn't want to talk about their dead friend in a public setting I didn't really want to bring it up in the Q&A so I just asked her to discuss philosophy a bit and she talked about how she has always been a very philosophical person, interested in exploring ideas and really analyzing what things mean. This tendency really comes through in her book, which is constructed as a series of anecdotes that are insightful as well as entertaining.

If you don't know about her Women in L.A. Punk site you should totally read everything on it, it's completely great and inspiring.

The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton



The House of Mirth (1905) by Edith Wharton centers on Lily Bart, a woman who is disempowered by society but tries to use her femininity to get what she wants. In that sense, the plot evokes the question so famously posed by Audre Lorde: Can the master's tools be used to dismantle the master's house? Although I agree with Lorde's anti-racist critique of feminism, I have never quite made up my mind about the usefulness of this metaphor: isn't it possible that a house could be dismantled using the same tools that built it, even if those tools were not meant to be used for that purpose?

Those who find Lily Bart unlikeable or weak or think the story is out of date may not view marriage as an economic institution or identify with the plight of a woman who is at the mercy of her reputation, which often determines her relationships to the men in her life. I sympathized with her situation and felt great empathy for her failed struggle to overcome her material circumstance.

The House of Mirth is a study of manners and a critique of society. In that sense it is about power. Wharton wrote with excellence and command and at times this book is amazingly hilarious. I also found it extremely sad and depressing. It kept me up late one night crying and crying and crying in some kind of recognition of eternal female suffering. As fake and superficial and ridiculous as Lily Bart is, I felt the sadness of her life as totally real. The ending is unbearable.

This is as good if not better than anything I've read by Jane Austen or the Bronte sisters. It takes place in 1890's New York. Highly recommended.

The Gospel of Anarchy by Justin Taylor

The Gospel of Anarchy goes from a sexist softcore porn male fantasy tale of dumpster diving Floridian punks in Gainesville to magical realism...that centers around a cultish version of anarchist-Christianity...? After taking that turn it gets really boring. Like Jonathan Franzen or Mary McGarry Morris, the writing style is bleak, dystopic, vacant…not so much my thing...if this is a critique or depiction of the vast American suburban emptiness and alienation of sprawl, then ok but it feels sort of cheap, cliched and cynical. The characters are hopeless and don't seem fleshed out. Like, if we live in a giant hamster wheel of chain stores along the interstate…we are still human right? So where is the humanity in this story? As far as dystopia goes, I like Stepford Wives, because at least there is an analysis of power happening and it's funny and clever. I don't know if the mysticism of this book really gets to anything real. When I looked up the author it seems that he is kind of a poseur who doesn't get it...like alternative rock representing the underground to the mainstream…he lives in Brooklyn and supposedly no one in Gainesville has ever heard of him but he seems to get ok reviews and know a lot of MFA-ified literary people? As much as I hate to give a book a bad review in its entirely, I guess I have to give this one a thumbs down. I really didn't like it. Another reason to seek out punks who write fiction I guess.

Cambodian Grrrl by Anne Elizabeth Moore

What happens when punk rock feminism travels across international borders?

Cambodian Grrrl: Self-Publishing in Phnom Penh tells the story of Anne Elizabeth Moore's trip to Cambodia to teach zine making to teenage girls. I saw Anne read at the Olympia Timberland Library before I read Cambodian Grrrl. I remember feeling like the audience for the book was white, privileged Americans and wondered if her reading would have differed had the crowd at the library been more diverse. Reading the book, I questioned how the teenage girls in the book would represent their own experience of the zine-making workshop. Most of all, I wanted to read the zines the girls had created. My favorite part of the book was the epilogue where Moore includes writing by the girls about zine-making.

I came away from the story feeling like zine making as self-publishing is a cultural practice that travels across international borders well because it encourages each person to represent themselves on their own terms. I guess this could be seen as a form of individualism, in that it focuses on art/media/culture as self-expression, but I don't think there is anything necessarily inherent about self-publishing that requires zines be personal. I was drawn to Moore's political writing most of all. As a result, I ended up doing some research on Cambodian history, specifically the Killing Fields, which Moore discusses in the book. The oral history of the Khmer Rouge she captured was powerful.

Moore's recent iteration Independent Youth-Driven Cultural Production in Cambodia (IYDCPC) seems to show the project evolving beyond the per-zine:

"(IYDCPC) is an international institute based in Phnom Penh that encourages multidisciplinary creative responses to issues related to popular culture, with a particular focus on media, advertising, marketing, youth, gender, democracy, human rights, and globalization in Southeast Asia"
I look forward to seeing what happens next and hope to read Cambodian zines someday.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Jimmy James Blood by Missy Anne

The best novel about working class northwest youth.
Jimmy James Blood by Missy Anne is a self-published first novel from a local Mason County author. The Total Bummer Bookclub called Jimmy James Blood "Shelton, Washington's version of Bastard Out of Carolina" and that's pretty accurate. It is a coming of age story that uses the natural landscape of the pacific northwest to explore the theme of poverty and environmental destruction familiar to those of us who grew up in logging/timber towns. In that sense, it is very similar to The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy but also reminds me of Winter's Bone or maybe The Beans of Egypt, Maine. There's a little bit of S.E. Hinton or Over The Edge at work too but without the sappy romanticism. For me it evokes the heartbreakingly tragic Jon Jost movie The Bed You Sleep In most of all, which remains the harshest yet most true-to-life portrayal of the northwest I have yet seen captured on film. The book really takes it to another level when Vera Violet escapes to St. Louis where she learns about urban poverty struggling to survive working at an inner city school in a low income neighborhood that resembles an industrial wasteland not dissimilar from Mason County.

Shelton is just up the highway from Aberdeen. Missy Anne is the literary voice of the dispossessed NW youth that we've come to know so well through song. Intrigued? You should be! This is a fantastic book. I read the entire thing in one sitting. I still can't believe I know the person who wrote it.

Summertime by J.M. Coetzee

I guess I'm supposed to know who this writer is since he won the Nobel Prize for literature in 2003 but really I don't know, I just happened to pick up the book for some reason and decided to read it on vacation. I wish I could say that I'm up on contemporary fiction but actually I'm not. I remember thinking I should probably be paying attention to small press fiction instead of wasting my time on stuff like this. It wasn't that memorable, other than that it takes place in South Africa and the main character is named after the author. This was kind of pretentious/narcissistic or whatever but also what I liked most about reading the book. It sort of inverts the narrative structure of The Sorrows of Young Werther, in that it tells the story of a man's life from the point of view of three women who are remembering him in terms of their relationship to him. This is what the story is about really. In Werther, Goethe never lets Charlotte act on her own, the reader only knows her through Werther's eyes, but that is not a part of the storytelling I don't think, it just sort of is. Man = actor Women = object that is acted upon, Etc. Using the device Doris Lessing made famous in The Golden Notebook, the reader also reads Coetzee's notebook entries and ends up having to piece together different perspectives to complete the picture.

Salvation CIty by Sigrid Nunez

This is the first novel Sigrid Nunez has written from the point of view of a male character and, while she does a great job, there are so few fiction writers that are as good as she is at writing female characters that I felt a little sad to be missing out on that aspect of her work this time around. But so what, right? She is a writer and her job is to tell stories and this proves that she is getting better at it all the time. Salvation City takes place after a flu pandemic that wipes out a bunch of people. Cole is a teenage boy whose parents die. He ends up living with some wing nut Christians who want to raise him in accordance with their belief system. He tries it out for awhile. A bunch of stuff happens to make him understand how the world actually works and he grows up some. Watching Take Shelter and then Melancholia sort of reminded me of Salvation City...maybe cross that with Naked if it had been created by Flannery O'Connor instead of Mike Leigh.

Out of the Vinyl Deeps: Ellen Willis on Rock Music

this book review was published in maximum rock-n-roll may 2012

Ellen Willis was a feminist and a rock critic back when rock-n-roll and feminism were generally thought to be opposed to one another. Growing up in the 70's and 80's, I remember this dichotomy well. As a teenage punk rocker I went through a heavy rock-n-roll stage in the mid-80's -- Black Flag had long hair, Red Kross and The Melvins covered Kiss, Saint Vitus were ripping off Black Sabbath and I was learning to play drums -- pretty soon I was skating to Led Zeppelin and Cream instead of JFA and The Big Boys. Maybe not coincidentally this is also when I started to question sexism within punk. I stumbled upon a used paperback published by second wave feminist Shelia Rowbotham called Women's Consciousness, Man's World (1973) that provided a feminist analysis of the 60's counterculture. Playing in an all girl band at the time, it didn't seem like the 80s punk scene was all that different in terms of male domination. I loved rock-n-roll and punk but there were not enough girls in bands and way too many in behind-the-scenes support roles (not to mention the groupie economy). I was totally boy crazy yet wanted a girl revolution and I didn't want to have to take sides! I started my fanzine Jigsaw as a possible solution to this impossible conundrum. Discovering Ellen Willis reminds me that criticism is a means of resistance, a way to change society by asking questions and writing yourself into existence. Her voice is essential to those of us who negotiate our love of music with our feminism.

This is not to say that Out of the Vinyl Deeps is full of political diatribes about gender/power. That just happens to be part of what Ellen Willis writes about here. Mostly, this is a book of stellar rock criticism by a super smart, aesthetically engaged music fan that happens to be a feminist and loves to dance and hang out and listen to records. Her ideas are complex but she is clear and not fancy or academic. Her writing voice is analytical and inward.  Some of the hippy vernacular is there but she generally doesn't write in a conversational way; she's an essayist, so there's a traditional literary form to most of her pieces. Contrary to the narcissistic, kinetic, explosive style of some of the male rock writers at this time, she's self-aware, reflective and careful with her choice of words but her writing loses none of its urgency. Instead of telling her readers what to think, she offers her perspective, grounded in her experience, all the time questioning what things mean and why. I imagine her spending a lot of time being social and then purposively isolating herself in order to distill her experiences into thoughtful critique. The time spent alone necessary to write seems to have given her the space to be both a feminist and a rock-n-roll fan. The result is compelling and necessary. You get the feeling that her work truly mattered and made a difference in people's lives. It definitely enhanced the cultural narrative of her time, leaving us with a document that reflects both cultural struggle and aesthetic lineage, making it excellent for anyone interested in the history of feminist thought and rock-n-roll/youth culture.

Reading this book, I'm certain that it was necessary for Ellen Willis to write in order to exist. I'm not talking about survival in terms of food and water and paying rent, but cultural survival, carving out a space to breath in a world that hates women and spreads misogyny into every aspect of our lives, including our personal relationships, fashion, politics and even our favorite songs. By publishing her thoughts instead of keeping them to herself, she helped move things forward. In that sense, this is a radical book. I hope it inspires more feminist music criticism. We need it.

Sempre Susan by Sigrid Nunez

Sigrid Nunez is one of my favorite living novelists. It turns out she briefly dated Susan Sontag's son David when they were very young. Her memoir of that time is fascinating and lets you get to know Sontag more than reading Sontag's own diary does, which is stiff and does not feel true to life or intimate in comparison. The glimpse into Sontag's character was memorable but this is mostly interesting to me in terms of Nunez's own journey whose accomplishment as a writer of terrific fiction grew to overshadow this moment in her life.

She Came To Stay by Simone de Beauvoir

“Each conscience seeks the death of the other" - Hegel
She Came To Stay by Simone de Beauvoir uses the love triangle to explore the philosophical concept of The Other. People, maybe especially feminists, seem to find it annoying. The main character, Francoise, loses her mind when her partner, Pierre, falls for Francoise's attractive young student Xavierre, even though Francoise and Pierre are in a committed open relationship. The self-destructive romantic obsession Francoise experiences as a result is described in horrible detail. There is no happy ending. Confession: I've read it three or four times already and I'm sure I will again.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Alice Walker on The Sisterhood

From "Outlaw, Renegade, Rebel,Pagan", an interview with Amy Goodman from Democracy Now (2006) in Conversations with Alice Walker

Amy Goodman: Alice, I want to ask you about the Sisterhood. Who was this group of women writers in the 1970s that you gathered with?

Alice Walker - The Sisterhood was the brainchild of myself and June
Jordan, because we looked around one day -- we were friends -- and we felt that it was very important that black women writers know each other, that we understood that we were never in competition for anything, that we did not believe in ranking. We would not let the establishment put one of us ahead of the other. And so, some of us
were Vertame Grosvenor, Ntozake Shange, Toni Morrison, June Jordan and myself, and I think Audrey Edwards who was at Essence, and several other women that I don't tonight remember.

The very first meeting was at June's apartment because it was the
larger of -- I had moved out of my marriage house into basically two
small rooms. And so June had this beautiful apartment with lots of
space, and the women gathered there, and I remember at the first
gathering -- I had bought this huge red pot that became the gumbo pot -- I made my first gumbo and took it to this gathering of women, all so different and all so spicy and flavorful like gumbo. And we have this photo. There is a wonderful photograph that someone took of us gathered around a large photograph of Bessie Smith, because Bessie
Smith best expressed our feeling of being women who were free and women who intended to stay that way.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

King Kong Theory by Virginie Despentes

On recommendation of both Kanako and Tobi I read this book. As of late with the mass media look back at riot grrl I've been wondering what feminism in punk rock is today. Does it exist? Is there a purpose? What is it's function? Is there a cohesive movement?

Judging by critics and sound bites this seems to be being hailed as the new punk feminism. It's got some good points, it's got some bullshit. Through the intro and first chapter I hated it. The writing struck me as that of a rebellious teenager trying to go for ultimate shock value, the content read like an overly wordy rip off of the SCUM Manifesto.

The second chapter deals with rape. This is the point where I started understanding the book. Despentes brings about several points: we are at our most feminine when being raped, rape is thought of as this huge life shattering thing that we are powerless against, men are really good at excusing themselves out of being rapists. There were other themes but these are the ones that stood out to me, especially the idea that rape is this huge life shattering thing that we are powerless against. As in the book, I am in no way trying to diminish the effect of rape on our lives, but it made me think of something a friend once said "women get raped, then they get over it". Casting rape as this huge horrible unimaginable thing not only prevents us from talking about it, but prevents survivors as permanently damaged creatures, rapists as horrible monsters you can spot from far away, and streets as places that innocent young girls shouldn't tread. At one point in the book Despentes talks about after getting raped while hitchhiking she continued to hitchhike. If she didn't continue to hitchhike she would have stayed at home, scared and closed off from existing in the world - this is such a hugely important point - giving into the fear of rape, whether that it might happen or might happen again - makes women cease to exist.

The rest of the book seemed to wander back into the same territory as the beginning of the book. A lot of it was also incredibly heteronormative, which at this point with the intermingling of feminist and queer theory seems like an outdated path to take. There seems to be a lot of time taken casting femme girls into a shameful light, which really just seems kind of juvenile to do. Though there are femme girls out there that seem so complacent that I do wonder if they've ever had a critical thought in their life - to sit around and say that femme girls=useless fucked up enemies, which is what she seemed to be implying a good amount of the time is pretty fucked. To imply that somehow being a femme girl myself somehow ousts me from outsider status and dumps squarely into playing the game of normal society is pretty absurd.

Then the worst of it reared it's head at the end. Despentes wraps up the book by talking about becoming a figure in mass media through her banned movie Baise Moi and how because of it she temporarily became more of a feminine woman and became quieter and more complacent - and that her savior out of this was Courtney Love? Don't get me wrong, as a teenager Love was somebody I looked up to in a way (I was more into Kat Bjelland) but keep in mind, I was 13 and it was 1995. If anything Courtney Love demonstrates the villanization you come into as a woman in the spotlight, I wouldn't really see her as someone who exists as both a more masculine leaning female and respected in media. Despentes goes on to end the book with some gender role switching - for example taking a break up letter by Antonin Artaud and replacing all uses of "woman" with "man". I really hate this strategy of switching genders to prove points because it doesn't make sense, it completely denies the power dynamics of society.

All and all, if I had this to read when I was 15 it would have blown my fucking mind, and there were parts that did blow my mind now. Even though there are things in this book that wander into juvenile shock rock and its overall tendency towards heteronormity, even though there were multiple times I wanted to throw this book against the wall, I am glad that this voice exists. Even though I feel her writing has a tendency to shock to be shocking rather than prove a point that anger is real and not surprising that it exists and I am glad it's articulated in some way. The majority of the bare bones ideas in this book are really good, I hope people can discover them.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Hi Bumpidee Readers, it is 2011

hello readers...I am going to try and be better about updating the bumpidee reader in 2011, I read a lot last year that I didn't review here and I need to stop doing that! I often don't read a whole book and am always reading more than 5 books at once...maybe I have A.D.D., maybe I should read a book about it! or A.D.H.D. or whatever it is...but guess what? NO EXCUSES!

here's a short list of stuff I'm reading now, for my obligatory january post:



culture clash: dread meets punk rockers by don letts...don letts hung out with the clash, managed the slits, djed punk shows, makes films, was in big audio dynamite and was a part of the kings rd proto-punk anti-fashion scene...this is a great book, read it if you are interested in cultural history, racism, punk, reggae, post-colonial london or the politics of style.



a tale of two cities
by charles dickens. started this before xmas because of oprah (for real) but also because I'm about to go to london and paris. i read this book in 9th grade, but it's not my favorite dickens, it's got less humor and more streamlined storytelling. it's reminding me a little bit of nathaniel hawthorne, who I'm not super into...it's good though, gotta hurry up and finish so I can move on to great expectations...I read the first half really fast and then got interrupted by the holidays and then chaos at work aka inventory...so this is what I'll be reading for the next few days...I am realizing all my ideas about the french revolution come from this book, so that needs to change, but it's a vivid, fast-paced class-struggle-themed political drama/romance...on the side I am reading a book by peter ackroid about c.d. and also reading a little about him in some london travel books.
at one point I was going to london a lot and got really obsessed with peter ackroyd in the way you do when all these coincidences start happening that seem to connect with the book you are reading and things get weird. actually the last time this happened I was reading a dorothy sayers mystery on tour and stayed the night at my friends parents house. we arrived at night via amsterdam I fell asleep reading about a murder that took place in epping forest, which I thought was in london. over breakfast I asked "where's epping forest" and the people we were staying with informed me that we were in epping forest and in fact it was across the street from their house. I'm sure if you live in london (or new york or l.a.) you are used to stuff like this happening, but nothing ever takes place in olympia..so this is something that is really cool about travelling, getting all caught up in the literary landscape and history of a place, uncovering multiple layers of narratives embedded in the geography of a city.


king kong theory by virginie despentes...I asked for and got this book for xmas, since kanako said she might start a book club. I read the first and last chapter and skimmed the rest. that's usually what I do with theory, a habit from school, where you try to figure out what the thesis is and evaluate whether or not it's argued coherently. so far it's more poetic than I expected and rebellious in an in-yr-face punk style, which is rare these days. in that sense it reminds me of s.c.u.m. manifesto by valarie solanis, which I'm not a big fan of although I recognize its historical impact was major --it helped inspire the women's liberation movement for example--but I never got totally into the poetry or rhetoric of solanis like some of my friends did.
I don't know too much about virginie despentes other than that she is a filmmaker. I've heard her compared to catherine breillat. I know some people think her movies reinforce patriarchy in their depiction of violence against women, even though that is not her intent. she's provocative and controversial and seems to be more of an artist than anything. she's interested in power...the weak and the strong...she evokes some of nietzsche's ideas in the genealogy of morals/beyond good and evil... also: lydia lunch helped translate this book.
I'd like to read some contemporary feminist criticism of king kong theory to see how people have reacted to her work. there seem to be some possible limitations here repeated from early 'radical feminism'...radical feminism in the sense of feminists who believe that gender oppression is primary and trumps class or race...that despentes has a class analysis and talks about economics and capitalism is relevant here, but so did many "radical feminists" and as invigorating and influential as a lot of those early texts are, they are limited in scope and have been widely critiqued. I'm not saying king kong theory is necessarily fucked up in the same ways, just that I'm questioning a lot of her claims and some of my thought process is the same as what happens when I read a lot of what is known as radical feminism from the late 60's/early 70's...I am questioning a lot of her generalizations and broad sweeping statements and wishing for more specificity.
these are my initial impressions, which will probably change as I read more. I want to finish this before february so I might actually go ahead and read it this week...but maybe that is just wishful thinking...so far I'm not super into it, but I can see how it might be totally inspiring if you read it in the right time and place. it's got a lot of anger and vision to it. it's cool to hear someone say "fuck you, this world is totally fucked but I am not". it's a bold thing to say and something that women need to hear. there is a lot of resistance and courage in this work. it's visceral and descriptive.


a strange stirring: the feminine mystique and american women at the dawn of the 1960's by stephanie coontz...i got a review copy of this in the mail this week and have been reading it today...it's excellent....read johanna fateman's review here...I am forcing myself to put it down until next month...if anyone would like to read this book and meet up to discuss it I would be totally into that, so let me know! it's a nuanced, social history of betty friedan's the feminine mystique, but it doesn't seem to be just for theory-nerds or womens studies majors; this book is for anyone interested in having a clear understanding of post-war 20th century American history.
coontz has a race and class analysis of the feminine mystique , but persuasively argues that it is worth a deeper look, not a quick dismissal. I read the feminine mystique when I was 18. I wasn't a 50's housewife or mom, I was a teenage girl in a band in a male-dominated punk scene struggling not to be defined as "someone's girlfriend", and it resonated with me at the time. I look forward to reconsidering it in its social context.

other than this, I'm reading a lot of travel books about london and paris but that will soon stop and I will be there! I think I'm going to have to return everything else to the library and save it for another rainy day. I'm sure there are plenty to look forward to.

what should I read when I'm on my trip? that's the real question!

WOMEN OF UNDERGROUND MUSIC interviews by Zora von Burden

I picked this up in the hopes that it would be similar to re/searchs ANGRY WOMEN, which is one of my favorite books ever, and was sadly disappointed by this. It has an amazing line-up of interviews - Laurie Anderson, Nina Hagen, Adele Bertei, Deanna Ashley, Patricia Morrison, Moe Tucker and the list goes on. It's pretty interesting but it's more because of the subjects rather than how the subjects are handled. There are some highlights - the Teresa Taylor (Butthole Surfers) and the Sean Tseult (White Zombie) interviews were good - but beyond that and even with those overall I was kind of disappointed. The type of interviews I like to read are more like discussions rather than question and answer. The interviewer comes off as cold and scripted for the most part, like she's doing an interview for food stamps or something. Really stand-offish. There's a lack of inquiry and a lack of opinion input from the interviewer. It's almost like a sales call for creative people. Luckily, the women featured in this book are really interesting, and honestly the most exciting parts of the book were when the interviewees veered off course and just started talking about whatever they wanted to. On top of that it seems like the interviewer wasn't exactly a fan of most of her subjects, but rather just picked them out because they are considered "underground women" - what I mean is there was a lack of excitement and enthusiasm, and a lot of the topics seemed to be gleened from internet research rather than actual fandom. It just seemed incredibly disconnected. Overall, this is a book about some of the most rebellious and rule-breaking women of the underground - yet it manages to stay incredibly sanitary.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Marx at the Margins

It is one of history’s ironies that in some ways it took the death of Marxism as an orthodox political movement for scholars to undertake serious philological study of all of Marx’s work. There are, of course, notable exceptions to this characterization. But in many ways, the work on Marx that has taken place since the 60s has been marked by the first attempts to provide an understanding of Marx based on a scrupulous philological attention to his writings. The ongoing Mega2 Project- started as a follow up to the MEGA1 project which was aborted following Stalin’s purge of the editor- will eventually publish every known piece of writing by Marx including all of the notes for, drafts of, and editions of his published works, has been an invaluable aid in this enterprise, providing sources previous scholars did not have access to. Such work has already cleared up a number of myths and legends and given new insight into Marx’s thought.

The Marxist humanist scholar Kevin Anderson’s newest work, Marx at the Margins, utilizes this Marxological approach to tackle the nature of Marx’s thought on nationalism, ethnicity and non-western societies. In doing so Anderson utilizes a host of neglected sources to call into question the popular perception that Marx was a deeply ethnocentric thinker who held a Eurocentric and uni-linear model of historical development. Instead Anderson aims to show that Marx’s thought evolved into a multi-linear theory of history with a complex global critique of political economy.

To prove this thesis Anderson provides a diligent exegesis of Marx’s writings on nationalism, ethnicity and non-western societies from The Communist Manifesto to copious as yet unpublished notes Marx took on writings on non-western societies at the end of his life. Anderson then tries to relate these varied sources, which also include Marx’s journalism and other under utilized and unpublished materials, to Marx’s theoretical writings on political economy—The Grundrisse and Capital.

In the course of this exegesis Anderson covers some very interesting ground. He unpacks Marx’s writing on a host of non-western areas like India, China, Algeria, Poland, Ireland and Russia as well as Marx’s article on the American Civil War, demonstrating that there was a development in Marx’s thinking following the Manifesto.

Since the particular development that Anderson traces in each of these topics is too detailed to give a short recap, I will focus on the ones I found most interesting. In the case of India Anderson shows-- that in contrast to Edward W. Said’s portrayal of Marx in Orientalism-- Marx’s later writings on India, Algeria and Latin America possess a “harsh and unremitting condemnation of colonialism” that appreciates how “communal forms of property were directly tied into anti-colonial resistance.”

In the case of Marx’s writings on The Civil War and Ireland Anderson also shows how Marx attributed racism as a divisive and retarding factor for the Labour movement. In the case of the USA this caused Marx to presciently predict that the failures of reconstruction would “drown the country in blood.” In the case of Ireland it led the English workers nationalism to side with the English Ruling class leading Marx to argue that revolution in Ireland was a necessary lever for revolution in Britain.

Anderson relates these writings to Marx’s theoretical works by arguing that they informed important changes in Marx’s critique of political economy. Anderson argues that this can be seen in the multi-linear history that Marx provides in the Grundrisse. He also argues that “almost all of these considerations” found their way into the French edition of Capital, which Anderson argues is Marx (not Engel’s) definitive edition of Capital as subthemes. ( This is because it was the last edition Marx edited from which Engels excised 70 printed pages worth of material for later editions of Capital.) Here Anderson argues the multi-linear model of history can be seen in Marx’s statement that primitive accumulation only applies to Western Europe as well as highlighted how Marx’s example of India and Ireland portray the heinous affects of capitalist development.

Finally, Anderson closes by emphasizing Marx’s late interest in Russia, whose communal villages, led Marx to argue that Russia might transform into communism provided it had technological assistance from the West.

In all, by it diligent examination of what Marx actually wrote, Anderson’s work successfully revokes the popular conception of Marx’s ethnocentric and uni-linear idea of historical development. This puts beside other recent and important works that provide serious studies of Marx

There are, however, a number of potential criticisms of the work that might be raised.

The first has to do with the status of sources that Anderson uses, particularly the later notebooks, which were taken by Marx in his later years, which many Marxists discount as a time of intellectual decline. While Anderson acknowledges this belief he dismisses it rather then refuting it. This may be because Anderson believes the notes will speak for themselves, but if this is the case he doesn’t tie them back in to refuting this perception, which becomes problematic when Anderson speculates that these notes might form the basis of an even later and more open development of Marx’s thought.

The second has to do with Anderson’s interpretation of the nature of Marx’s critique of political economy, which outside of a few references and footnotes is largely absent. Although Anderson designates the orientation a dialectical form of a universal critique of political economy with particular examples, this omission leaves the question of how Anderson views the theoretical orientation of Capital—which many read as Marx’s attempt to depict capital in an ideal abstract form- and how it relates to the historical examples Marx somewhat unresolved. On this question a discussion of Michael Heinrich’s argument that MEGA shows that “The different drafts” of Capital “ have to be recognized as different layers of an ongoing and unfinished research process” might also prove interesting and fruitful.

Never the less, Anderson’s work does much to refute many of the leading misperception about Marx’s supposed ethnocentric uni-linear social theory. His closing argument that what he has uncovered provides a diverse truly universal critique of capital which realizes difference that can be used in three potentially fruitful ways- as (a) a multi-linear dialectic of social development (b) a heuristic example that offers indications about the theorizing of today’s indigenous movements in the fact of global capitalism (c) theorization of class in relation to race, ethnicity and nationalism—also provides grounds for an interesting and important project that I hope he will continue to develop.