Thursday, August 28, 2008

Regulating Aversion: Tolerance in the Age of Identity and Empire.

Here my the notes to the first chapter of Wendy Brown’s Regulating Aversion: Tolerance in the Age of Identity and Empire. Because of its similarity with Lefebvre, I am tempted to argue that Brown’s critique of the ubiquitous and vacuous term, tolerance, is a fitting example of a critique of everyday life.

These notes outline her argument. In the next few days, I will work on comparing her with Lefebvre, by discussing how the factors Brown attributes to depolicization mirror Lefebvre’s categories outlined in the earlier post of what should be critiqued. I will also try to draw both out into the concrete contemporary examples.

I post these notes in hope they will provide a general framework for discussing important matters and in hope they will encourage people to use these theories to construct their own critiques.

Chapter 1 Tolerance as a Discourse of Depoliticization.

Brown begins by posing the question “how did tolerance become a beacon of multicultural justice and civic peace at the turn of the twenty-first century?”

Following a discussion of how historically anomalous this is, ( ex. The civil rights movement was not concerned with tolerance ) and how tolerance is widely hyped and ambiguously used, Brown introduces her jargon laden hypothesis; “that the semiotically polyvalent, politically promiscuous, and sometimes incoherent use of tolerance in contemporary American life, closely considered and theorized, can be made to reveal important features of our political time and condition”

Thus, the central question of the study is…”what kind of political discourse, with what social and political effects, is contemporary tolerance talk in the United States? What readings of the discourses of liberalism, colonialism, and imperialism circulating thru Western democracies can analytical scrutiny of this talk provide? The following chapters aim to track the social and political work of tolerance discourse by comprehending how this discourse constructs and positions liberal and non-liberal subjects, cultures, and regimes; how it figures conflict, stratification, and difference; how it operates normatively; and how its normativity is rendered oblique almost to the point of invisibility.”

Brown then introduces her theoretical methodology. She will use Foucault’s political and historical notion of governmentality, which argues that governmentality “organizes the conduct of conduct at a variety of sites and through rationalities not limited to those formally countenanced as political.”

This is followed by a discussion of the history of the writing of the book. Originally Brown intended to focus on the domestic discourse of tolerance. But 9/11 and the “War on Terror” led her to expand it to examine the international discourse of tolerance. Her investigation led her to discover affinities between domestic and international forms of tolerance;

“Tolerance as a mode of late modern government that iterates that normalcy of the powerful and the deviance of the marginal responds to, links and tames both unruly domestic identities to affinities and non-liberal transnational forces that tacitly or explicitly challenge the universal standing of liberal precepts. Tolerance regulates the presence of the Other both inside and outside the liberal democratic nation-state, and often it forms a circuit between them that legitimates the most illiberal actions of the state by means of a term consummately associated with liberalism. “ 8

Brown then shifts to the next section where she lays out

Tolerance as a discourse of power and a practice of governmentality

The utilization of her critical and theoretical framework “ aims to comprehend political deployments of tolerance as historically and culturally specific discourses of power with strong rhetorical functions. Above all, it seeks to track the complex involvement of tolerance with power. As a moral-political practice of governmentality, tolerance has signifigant cultural, social, and political effects that exceed it surface operations of reducing conflict or of protecting the weak or the minoritized, and that exceed its formal goals and self-representation. These include contributions to political and civic subject formation and to the articulation of the political, the social, citizenship, justice, the nation and civilization. Tolerance can function as a substitute for or as a supplement to formal liberal equality or liberty; it can also overtly block the pursuit of substinative equality and freedom. At times, tolerance shores up troubled orders of power, repairs state legitimacy, glosses troubled universalisms, and provides cover for imperialism. There are mobilizations of tolerance that do not simply alleviate but rather circulate racism, homophobia, and ethnic hatreds; likewise, there are mobilizations that legitimate racist state violence. Not all deployments of tolerance do all of these things all the time. But the concern of this study is to consider how, when, and why these effects occur as part of the operation of tolerance, rather than to ignore them or treat them as ‘ externalities’ vis-avis tolerance’s main project. 10

With this definition of how the discourse of tolerance stated, Brown moves to discussing Tolerance and/as depoliticization;

For her “Depoliticization involves construing inequality, subordination, marginalization, and social conflict, which all require political analysis and political solutions, as a personal and individual on one hand, or as natural, religious, or cultural on the other. Tolerance works along both vectors of depoliticization- it personalizes and it naturalizes or culturalizes- and sometimes it intertwines them. Tolerance as it is commonly used today tends to cast instances of inequality or social injury as matters of individual or group prejudice. And it tends to cast group conflict as rooted in ontologically natural hostility toward essentialized religious, ethnic, or cultural difference. That is, tolerance discourse reduces conflict to an inherent friction among identities and makes religious, ethnic and cultural difference itself an inherent site of conflict, one that calls for and it attenuated by the practice of tolerance. “


“Depoliticization involves removing a political phenomenon from comprehension of its historical emergence and from a recognition of the powers that produce and contour it. No matter its particular form and mechanics, depoliticization always eschews power and history in the representation of its subject.”

Not realizing this leads to essentiaism.

Another linked definition of depoliticization is; “that which substitutes emotional and personal vocabularies for political ones in formulating solutions to political problems.” 16

ex when a “justice project is replaced with a therapeutic or behavioural one.

However, tolerance is not the only discourse of depoliticization. Here are the others. Please note they are remarkably similar to the catergories Lefebvre outlines as the target for his Critique of Everyday Life!

Liberalism: “ The legal and political formailism of liberalism, in which most of what transpires in the spaces designated as cultural, social, economic and private is considered natural or personal ( in any even independent of power and political life), is a profound achievement of depoliticization. Liberalism’s excessive freightining of the individual subject with self-making, agency, and a relentless responsibility for itself also contributes to the personalization of politically contoured conficts and inequalities. These tendencies eliminate from view various norms and social relation- especially those pertaining to capital, race, gender, and sexuality- that construct and position subjects in liberal democracies. In addition, the reduction of freedom to rights, and of equality to equal standing before the law, eliminates from view many sources of subordination, marginalization, and inequality that organize liberal democratic societies and fashion their subjects. Liberal ideology at its most generic, then, always, eshews power and history in its articulation and comprehension of the social and the subject. 17-18

Individualism; “The American cultural emphasis on the importance of individual belief and behaviour, and of individual heroism and failure, is also relentlessly depoliticizing. An identification of belief, attitude, moral fiber, and individual will with the capacity to make world history is the calling cared of the biographical back stories and anecdotes that so often substitute for political analyses and and considerations of power in American political culture ( her ex are demonized welfare mothers, Jessica lynch etc. but we should also include mccain and obama. Just watch the democratic convention and the perpetuation of obama’s biographical narrative) we are awash in the conceits that right attitudes produce justice, that will power and tenacity produce success, and that everything else is, at most, background, context, luck, or accidents of history 18

Market Rationality “The saturization of every feature of social and political life with entrepreneurial and consumer discourse…When every aspect of human relations, human endevour, and human need is is framed in terms of the rational entrepreneur or consumer, then the powers constituve of these relations, endevours and needs vanish from view. As the political rationality of neoliberalism becomes increasingly dominant, its depoliticizing effects combine with those of political liberalism and cultural narratives of the individual to make nearly everything seem a matter of individual agency or will, on the one hand, or fortune or contingency on the other. “ 18


“Tolerance as depoliticizing discourse gains acceptance and legitimacy by being nestled among those other discourses of depoliticization, and it draws on their techniques of analytically disappearing the political and historical constitution of conflicts and subjects….like above factors….tolerance masks its own operation as a discourse of power and a technology of governmentality. Popularly defined as respect for human difference there is no acknowledgement of the norms…no avowal of the means by which certain peoples, nations, practices or utterances get marked as beyond the pale of tolerance, or of the politics of line drawing between the tolerable and the intolerable, the tolerant and the intolerant. 18“

Contemporary culturalization of politics reduces non-liberal political life (including radical identity claims within liberal regimes) to something called culture at the same time that it divests liberal democratic institutions of any association with culture. Within this logic, tolerance is invoked as a liberal democratic principle but for what is named the cultural domain, a domain that comprises all essentialized identities, from sexuality to ethnicity, that produces the problem of difference within contemporary liberalism. Thus, tolerance is invoked as a tool for managing what are construed as (non-liberal because ‘different’ and non-political because ‘essential’) culturalized identity claims or identity clashes. As such, tolerance reiterates the depoliticization of those claims and clashes, at the same time depicting itself as a norm-free tool of liberal governance, a mere means for securing freedom of conscience or (perhaps more apt today) freedom of identity. 24.

Culturalization of Politics.

“more then being merely ambiguous, tolerance today is often invoked in a manner that equates or conflates non commensurable subjects and practices, including religion, culture, ethnicity, race, and sexual norms. In toleranc talk, ethnicity, race, religion, and culture are especially interchangeable.” 19

ex. A film on terror at the Simon Wiesenthal Museum of Tolerance conflates religion, ethnicity and race by moving from “islamists” to “racial and ethnic profiling”

“Fundamentalism as one name for the post-cold war enemy of the “free world” is assigned a shifting site of emanation that floats across culture, religion state, region and regime.” 19

Brown argues this is a result of the “culturalization of politics” which is “the assumption that every culture has a tangible essence that defines it and then explains politics as a consequences of that essence.”


“This reduction of political motivations and causes to essentialized culture ( where culture refers to an amorphous polyglot of ethnically marked religious and nonreligious beliefs and practices) is mobilized to explain everything from Palestinian suicide bombers to Osama Bin Laden’s world designs, mass death in Rwanda and Sudan, and the failure of democracy to take hold in the immediate aftermath of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq….the culturization of politics analytically vanquishes political economy, sates, history, and international and transnational relations. It eliminates colonialism, capital, caste or class stratification, and external political domination from accounts of political conflict or instability. Instead their culture is summoned up to explain the motives and aspirations leading to certain conflicts (living by the sword, religious fundamentalism, cultures of violence) as well as techniques of weapons deployed (suicide bombing, decapitation)… the West’s cold war reduction of political conflict to ideology has been replaced by its post-cold war reduction of political conflict to culture.

But crucially Brown sees an orientalist facet to the culturalization of politics’ “culture is understood to drive Them politically and to lead them to attack our culture, which We are not driven by but which we do cherish and defend.” 20

Thus ironically; “This division into those who are said to be ruled by culture and those who are said to rule themselves but enjoy culture renders culture not simply a dividing line between various peoples or regimes or civilizations, and not simply the explanation of political conflict, but itself the problem for which liberalism is the solution.” 21

This works because of the uniqueness of liberalism. “Liberalism…presumes culture and politics to be fused unless culture is conquered- politically neutered- by the universal, hence noncultural, principles of liberalism” Without liberalism, culture is conceived by liberals as oppressive and dangerous not only because of its disregard for individual rights and liberties and for the rule of law, but also because the inextricability of cultural principles from power, combined with the nonuniversal nature of these principles, renders it devoid of judicial and political accountability. Hence culture must be contained by liberalism, forced into a position in which it makes no political claim and is established as optional for individuals. Rather then a universe of organizing ideas, values, and modes of being together, culture must be shrunk to the status of a house that individuals may enter and exit. Liberalism represents itself as the sole mode of governance that can do this.” 21-22

Ex. Liberal governance imagined to be free of capital and cultural values. Thus human rights is free from stigma of cultural imperialism allowing them to be evoked to protect culture

But Liberalism is cultural …..”the theoretical claim here is that both the constructive and repressive powers we call those of culture- the powers that produce and reproduce subjects relations and practices, beliefs and rationalities, and that do so without their express choice or consent- are neither conquered by liberalism nor absent from liberalism. Liberalism is not only itself a cultural form, it also is striated with nonliberal culture wherever it is institutionalized and practiced…it is impure, hybridized, and fused to values, assumptions and practices, unaccounted by it and unaccountable within it. Liberalism involves a contingent, malleable, and protean set of beliefs and practices about being human and being together; about relating to self, others, and world; about doing and not doing; about valuing and not valuing select things. And liberalism is always institutionalized, constitutionalized, and governmentalized in articulation with other cultural norms- those of kinship, race, gender, sexuality, work, politics, leisure and more. This is one reason why liberalism, a protean cultural form, is not analytically synonymous with democracy, a protean political practice of sharing power and governance. The double ruse on which liberalism relies to distinguish itself from culture- on the one hand, casting liberal principles as universal; on the other, juridically privatizing culture- ideologically figures liberalism as untouched by culture and thus as incapable of cultural imperialism. In its self-representation as the sole political doctrine that can harbor culture and religion without being conquered by them, liberalism casts itself as uniquely tolerant of culture from its position above culture. But liberalism is no more above or outside culture than is any other political form, and culture is not always elsewhere from liberalism. Both autonomy and the the universality of liberal principles are myths, crucial to liberalism’s reduction of questions about imperial ambitions or practices to questions about whether forcing others to be free is consonant with liberal principles. “

In sum;
“The contemporary culturalization of politics” reduces nonliberal political life (including radical identity claims within liberal regimes) to something called culture at the same time that it divests liberal democratic institutions of any associations with culture. Within this logic, tolerance is invoked as a liberal democratic principle but for what is named the cultural domain, a domain that comprises all essentialized identities, from sexuality to ethnicity, that produce the problem of difference within contemporary liberalism. Thus tolerance is invoked as a tool for managing what are constituted as (non-liberal because “different” and “non-political” because “essential”) culturalized identity claims or identity clashes. As such, tolerance reiterates the depoliticization of those claims and clashes, at the same time depicting itself as a norm-free tool of libral governance, a mere means for securing freedom of conscience or (perhaps more apt today) freedom of identity. “ 24

Brown then unveils the standpoint of her critique;

“This book seeks to lay bare this political landscape. It contests the culturalization of politics that tolerance discourse draws from and promulgates, and contests as well the putatively a-cultural nature of liberalism. The normative premise animating this contestation is that a more democratic future involves affirm rather then denying and disavowing liberalism’s cultural facets and its imprint by particular cultures. Sucn an affirmation would undermine liberalism’s claims to unversalism and liberalism’s status as culturally neutral in brokering the tolerable. This erosion, in turn, would challenge the standing of liberal regimes as uniquely, let alone absolutely, tolerant revealing them instead to be self-affirming and Other-rejecting as many other regimes. It would also reveal liberalism’s proximity to and bouts of forthright engagement with fundamentalism. ….this…..makes explicit the inherent hybridity or impurity of every instantiation of liberalism, it underscores the impossibility of any liberalism ever being ‘only liberalism’ and the exent to which both form and content are potted, historical, local, lived. It reveals liberalism as always already being the issue of miscegenation with its fundamentalist Other, as containing the Other within, and thus as having a certain potential for recognizing and connecting with this Other with out. In this possibility may be contained liberalism’s prospects for renewal, even for redemption, or at the very least for more modest and peaceful practices.” 24

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Exciting Readings

If your in the Seattle area mark these dates on your calendar. The entertaining, thought provoking and occasionally brilliant Slavoj Zizek will be speaking about violence on Sept 8th and the street fighting writer/ editor and all around leftist icon Tariq Ali will be speaking on Sept. 24th. about Pakistan. Zizek is better live then on record and Ali's talk on Pakistan at the Left Forum in March was great, so do try to go. They will be informative and stimulating and miles better then the other readings with the hackneyed folkysism of Garrison Keiler or the latest reactionary liberal twaddle by Bernard Henri-Levy.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

about what i'm reading

i have been reading Jacqueline Carey's "Kushiel's Legacy" series since February - 6 giant books, all told over 5000 pages. I am almost to the end of the 5th book. It appeals to the same part of my readerpersonality that enjoys Anne Rice books. She definitely knows how to keep you turning the pages. In addition to just being good escapism and pure reading enjoyment, it is one of the most interesting "alternate history" scenarios I have encountered - a Medieval France whose nobility are the descendents of "Elua," a deity who was the son of Jesus and Mary. Christians are the stubborn hebrew minority who maintain their traditions no matter what country they live in. Rome is ruled by a senate, as there is no pope, of course. lots of other interesting minor and major variations from "actual" medieval european history. really fun to read.

elsewise i have been reading a lot of periodicals and non fiction. i will post more about that later.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Vivre sa Vie

The more one talks, the less words mean.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Critique of Everyday Life

Historically speaking, Henri Lefebvre’s three-volume The Critique of Everyday Life was a great influence on the New Left, ’68 and all that. Lefebvre also continues to be an influence on the work of David Harvey, Fredric Jameson etc. Rather then discussing Lefebvre’s historical importance, this summary will outline Lefebvre’s argument and emphasizing The Critique of Everyday Life’s contemporary relevance.
Lefebvre’s premise is that “the only real critique was and remains the Critique of the Left…Because it alone is based on knowledge.” Lefebvre acts on this premise by arguing for a Marxian endevour at odds with the vacuous formalism of the official Stalinist Marxism of his time. Emphasizing the sociological basis of Marx’s thought and the central importance of Marx’s concepts of alienation, fetishism and mystification, Lefebvre’s argues these categories should by used to critique everyday life.
These extended quotations demonstrate how Lefebvre conceptualizes and formulates the critique of everyday life.

“We need to think about what is happening around us, within us, each and everyday. We live on familiar terms with people in our own family, our own milieu, our own class. This constant impression of familiarity makes us think that we know them, that their outlines are defined for us, and that they see themselves as having those same outlines. We define them. and we judge them. We can identify with them or exclude them from our world. But the familiar is not the necessarily known. “ 14-15

“For us, in our society, with the forms of exchange and the division of labour which govern it, there is no social relation- relation with the other-without a certain alienation. And each individual exists socially only by and within his alienation, just as he can only be for himself within and by his deprivation (his private consciousness.) 15-16

“To sum up, work, leisure, family life and private life make up a whole which we can call a ‘global structure’ or ‘totality’ on condition that we emphasize its historical, shifting, transitory nature. If we consider the critique of everyday life as an aspect of a concrete sociology we can envisage a vast enquiry which will look at professional life and leisure activities in terms of their many-sided interactions. Our particular concern will be to extract what is living, new, positive—the worthwhile needs and fulfilments- from the negative elements; the alienations.” 42

“so to reach reality we must indeed tear away the veil, that veil which is forever being born and reborn of everyday life, and which masks everyday life along with its deepest and loftiest ambitions” 57

“The true critique of everyday life will have as its prime objective the separation between the human (real and possible) and bourgeois decadence, and will imply a rehabilitation of everyday life. 127

To undertake this Critique of everyday life, Lefebvre articulates how the critical knowledge contained in six Marxian categories can be utilized as a “beacon” in the critique of everyday life. These six categories are still issues of utmost importance in contemporary theory. They are of contemporary relevance and share striking affinities with Wendy Brown’s contemporary work Tolerating Aversion. Following my posting of notes on Brown’s work, I will compare Lefebvre and Brown and discuss why they are remarkably relevant and important.

A) Critique of Individuality. (Central theme; the ‘private’ consciousness’)
“And nowadays we are still struggling with this deep- in other words everyday-contradiction: what makes each of us a human being also turns that human being into something inhuman. More biological than truly human, this organization ( i.e. capitalism ) smothers the individual, dividing him and stunting his development at the very moment it is striving to create him as a human individual….How can this organization be superseded? By practical and theoretical participation in work and in the knowledge of work, in the social and human totality. If the world is to be transformed, this is one of the fundamental problems…we must supersede the “private consciousness.” 150

B) Critique of Mystifications (central theme: the ‘mystified consciousness)

“the private consciousness and the mystified consciousness go hand in hand, reinforcing each other and becoming increasingly entrenched as a result of instabilities which have their origins in real life and not in pure ideas” 153

C) Critique of Money ( central theme: fetishism and economic alienation)

“Although deprivation and alienation are different for the proletarian and the non-proletarian, one thing unites them; money, the human being’s alienated essence. This alienation is constant, i.e. practical and everyday.” 161

D) Critique of Needs (Central theme; psychological and moral alienation)

Consumpton does not satisfy a need. Nor do the needs the culture industry creates.

E) Critique of Work ( Central theme: the alienation of the worker and of man)

“Analysis must therefore distinguish between the real ‘human world’ on the one hand, the totality of human works and their reciprocal action upon man, and, on the other, the unreality of alienation.

But this unreality appears to be infinitely more real then anything authentically human. And this appearance contributes to alienation; its becomes real, and as a result a great abstract ‘idea’ or a certain form of the State seems infinitely more important than a humble, everyday feeling or a work born of man’s hands. “ 169

F) Critique of Freedom (Central theme; man’s power over nature and over his own nature)

The Marxist definition of freedom is concrete and dialectical. The realm of freedom is established progressively by ‘The development of human powers as an end in itself)…it is won progressively by social man. For Power, or, more exactly, the sum total of powers which constitute freedom belong to human beings grouped together in society, and not to the isolated individual….in the realm of necessity, human needs become degraded…they just keep on working, and their lives are spent just staying alive. This, in a nutshell, has been the philosophy of everyday life—and still is.
Freedom needs;

(a) “the associated producers must…govern the human metabolism with nature in a rational way, bringing it under their collective control instead of being dominated by it as a blind power.”
(b) The material and moral parameters of practical (everyday) life, which are determined by private property, must be transformed.
(c) Through activities devoted to satisfying and controlling immediate necessities, there must be a growth in the sphere of ‘the true realm of freedom, the development of human powers, as an end in itself, [which] begins beyond it, though it can only flourish with this realm of necessity as its basis.’ This sphere, this ‘spiritual’ domain of man, consists in the first place in a social and rational organization of free leisure. As Marx asserts in Capital; ‘ the reduction of the working day is the basic requisite.’

This utilization of Marx results in Lefebvre’s programmatic sketch for a critique of everyday life;

(A) It will involve a methodological confrontation of so-called ‘modern’ life on the one hand, with the past, and on the other- and above all- with the possible, so that points or sectors where a ‘ decadence’ or a withdrawal from life have occurred- the points of backwardness in terms of what is possible- the points where new forms are appearing, rich in possibilities can be determined.
(B) Studied from this point of view, human reality appears as an opposition and ‘contrast’ between a certain number of terms; everyday life and festival- mass movements and exceptional movements- triviality and splendour- seriousness and play- reality and dreams, etc.
The critique of everyday life involves and investigation of the exact relations between these terms. It implies criticism of the trivial by the exceptional- but at the same time criticism of the exceptional by the trivial, of the ‘elite’ by the mass- of festival, dreams, art and poetry, by reality.

© Equally, the critique of everyday life implies a confrontation of effective human reality with its ‘expressions’; moral doctrines, psychology, philosophy, religion, literature.
From this point of view, religion is nothing but a direct, immediate, negative, destructive, incessant and skilful criticism of life- skilful enough even to give itself the appearance of not being what it really is.
Philosophy was an indirect criticism of everyday life by an external (metaphysical) ‘truth.’ It is now appropriate to examine the philosophy of the past from this perspective—and that is the task facing ‘today’s’ philosopher. To study philosophy as an indirect crticism of life is to perceive (everyday) life as I direct critique of philosophy

(d) The relations between groups and individuals in everyday life interact in a manner which in part escapes the specialized sciences. By a process of abstraction these sciences infer certain relations, certain essential aspects, from the extraordinary complexities of human reality. But have they completed this task? It seems that once the relations identitifed by history, political economy or biology have been extracted from human reality, a kind of enormous, shapeless, ill-defined mass remains. This is the murky background from which known relations and superior activities (scientific, political, aesthetic) are picked out.
It is this ‘human raw material’ that the study of everyday life takes as its proper object. It studies it both in itself and in its relation with the differentiated superior form that it underpins. In this way it will help to grasp the ‘total content’ of consciousness; this will be its contribution towards the attempt to achieve unity, totality—the realization of total man.
Going beyond the emotional attempt by philanthropists and sentimental (petty-bourgeois) humanists to ‘magnify’ humble gestures, and beyond that allegedly superior irony which has systematically devalued life, seeing it merely as back-stage activity or comic relief in a tragedy, the critique of everyday life- critical and positive- must clear the way for a genuine humanism, for a humanism which believes in the human because it knows it.” 251-252

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

laila lalami

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this novel by moroccan american, laila lalami, follows the story of four moroccans attempting to emigrate from morocco. i loved this book.

lalami used to live in portland and we were lucky enough to get her to do a reading and signing here at olympia a few years ago. she now lives in l.a., a professor at the u.c.l.a., and before that she was in morocco for a year, as a fullbright scholar, working on her second novel.

she also writes one of my favorite lit (and culture and politics) blogs:

lalami also wrote an important article/review of Ayaan Hirsi Ali's book "Infidel" and Irshad Manji's "The Trouble with Islam Today".

"These days, being a Muslim woman means being saddled with what can only be referred to as the "burden of pity." The feelings of compassion that we Muslim women seem to inspire emanate from very distinct and radically opposed currents: religious extremists of our own faith, and evangelical and secular supporters of empire in the West." full article here

what are your favorite lit blogs?

Parable of the Sower & How to Cook Your Daughter

i just finished two books in the past week or so. the first was Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler, which i'm reading for my 2-person bookgroup. i've read a couple other Octavia Butler books (Kindred and Fledgling) but this is the one that everyone always tells me i should read. I like Butler's writing because it's conceptually really deep and whole, and structurally it just moves and moves. this is supposedly science fiction but there's nothing very far-fetched in it, it's just about the u.s. (california in particular) after shit has really started to fall apart - economic and environmental collapse, severe food and water shortages, most people are living/dying on the street, etc. the main character is a teenage girl who is working really hard to describe what is real for her, to find words for something that she can believe in, and share it with other people who might be open to it. she has a 'disorder' they call 'hyperempathy syndrome' which means she feels other people's pain. which is too bad for her because she lives in a seriously violent world. i like the part where she wonders if things would be different if more people felt each other's pain. in the end i thought it was a good book and good metaphor (or is it even a metaphor? maybe i should say 'extrapolation') but i had a hard time really attaching emotionally to the characters and the storyline, maybe because there was so much death, maybe because the religious framework she creates (and the 'logical' conclusion she draws from it) felt kind of cold and almost anti-earth.

the second book i read is called How to Cook Your Daughter by Jessica Hendra. her dad was a semi-famous comic writer and actor in the seventies and eighties (he played the band manager in 'Spinal Tap'). he wrote a book a few years ago that became a best-seller, which was supposedly a 'confessional' and a 'spiritual memoir,' but conveniently left out the fact that he molested his daughter. so Jessica wrote her own book. i'm proud of her for telling her truth and giving up on the hope of ever getting him to acknowledge and deal with their past. i appreciate the complicated way she tells the story - how much she loved him, how much hope she had that things could be resolved, the pain she went through in finally facing the damage he did, and the enormous risk she took by going public with her story. of course he publicly denies it but what do you expect. the title actually comes from a pedophilic article he wrote for the National Lampoon a couple months before he first molested her. the writing itself is nothing spectacular (she had a ghost writer to help write it) but i thought the story was powerful and relateable, and this was the right time for me to read it.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Light Summer Reading

I just read a novel by my friend Stephanie Kuehnert (pronounced Keenert) called "I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone". Some of you may recognize the title. It's lyrics from a Sleater-Kinney song. The novel is very well written and it's about these two young girls, Emily Black and Regan Parker. Their epic journey into young adulthood as punk rock girls in the small town of Carlisle, Wisconsin carrys them from high school into their young adult lives as they become semi famous punk rock stars. All while Emily searches for her mother, Louisa, who left her and her father Michael when she was just four months old.

Emily almost ruins her punk rock career as she goes on a search for Louisa for a year, travelling the country on a drug bender going from city to city in search of the mother she never knew. Leaving behind her band, She Laughs at the height of their smashing debut as punk rock newcomers in the Chicago scene.

Of course there are love stories entwined in this fascinating tale as Emily gets mixed up with an abusive and stalkery boyfriend who rides on her coat tails as a flailing musician. And Regan and their bandmate Tom successfully have a happy relationship together.

I won't give away the ending but it's not altogether happy. But it is kind of a twist.

This book is a good light summer read for those of you reading all these heavy political books. Stephanie has produced several feminist zines in her day and was a Riot Grrl. She still believes in the power of grrls. This is her first novel. You can get this book almost anywhere because it is out on MTV Books. I highly suggest it.

An Interview with Vijay Prashad

"The importance of Vijay Prashad's book, The Darker Nations: A People's History of the Third World, lies in its ability to trace the trajectory of the "Third World Project" - its genesis, growth and crisis - amidst the cacophonous range of local political economic structures and their varied articulation with global capitalism and the metropolitan world. "The book shows us that beyond the simplistic orientalist image of the Global South as just being on the receiving end and reactive, there has existed definite protagonism with all its contradictions grounded in the peoples' struggle against domination, oppression and exploitation. The following discussion with the author of The Darker Nations is an attempt to retrieve some of the salient insights in this formidable work."
click here to read an interview with Vijay Prashad:

third world history blog

Monday, August 18, 2008

From Brussels to Baghdad

From my notes on the second chapter of The Darker Nations:

1927, Brussels: League Against Imperialism and Colonialism Conference held
attended by 200 delegates, representing 37 states, 134 organizations

This was a formative event in Third World history; a foundation for solidarity between colonized people struggling for independence. they determined they had the right of self-rule, passed resolutions and set up a program for working collectively to resist imperialism.

The fact it was in Belgium was ironic/strategic. Here's why:

1884-5-The Berlin Conference
14 European powers (including the US) got together with Otto von Bismarck, leader of Germany and divided up Africa between them

Belgium, a consitutional monarchy became the 6th largest economy in the world by exploiting the labor and stealing the resources and land of the Congo, which was named "the Congo Free State" by Leopold II, the monarch. They stole 2.3 million square kilometers of land from the people of the Congo.

In order to get the people of the Congo to work for them, the Belgians cut off the hands and heads of people who didn't meet their quota and/or refused to work. Another strategy was rape and genital mutilation in front of family members.

Between 1895-1908 the population of the Congo declined by half: the Belgians had massacred 10 million people.

Here are some quotes:

"The lazines of the colored races is a kind of genetic burden" --from a 1923 Belgian manual

"To open civilization in the only part of our globe which it has not yet penetrated, to pierce the darkness which hangs over entire peoples, I dare say, a crusade worthy of this century of progress"-Leopold II on the Belgian occupation of the Congo

any of this sound familiar? it should. don't let that make you immune to this horror. this puts what we are doing in Iraq right now in a historical continuum. we need to familarize ourselves with the history of colonialism in order to understand our current era of neo-colonialism and then apply this understanding to an economic analysis.

that's part of why i'm reading this book.

there's more, but it's late. i'm gonna post notes for each chapter because there's so much information that is new to me that i need to do it that way.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

FAB-R: Feminist Action Brigade Book Club

Inspired by BISAR (and several women's only book clubs) as well as by riot grrl, Ladyfest and BAB (Bands Against Bush), I started FAB, which first stood for Feminists Against Bush but ended up being called Feminist Action Brigade.

In some ways FAB was an experiment that failed, which I won't go into great detail about here, but basically we were trying to incite a DIY network of feminist activism that was political beyond the personal (without discrediting the personal) and wasn't just about culture, but also addressed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and 'our' place in the world as feminists living in the US, an extremely rich, imperialist nation. The urgency of the presidential election of 2004 was the immediate impetus.

My outrage at what was going on in the world collided with my background in "cultural activism"(Bikini Kill, Ladyfest Etc) and experience of the hardcore scene during the Reagan era to inspire me to get a bunch of people together in Olympia to start Bands Against Bush, and Pogo for Peace (a series of shows the publicized anti-war actions)....on a personal/local level, this was a response to Rachel Corrie's death, on a national/international political level, it was to protest the wars in Iraq/Afghanistan...basically all this stuff was a way of responding to the US government's repression and violence after 9/11. When the war was starting in March 2003, we didn't see the punk scene here as being overtly political, and we wanted to change that; especially because, more than ever before, we had access to our own media, resources and distro: from shows to flyers to zines to websites to self-made and produced movies to youtube to community radio to pirate radio to public access tv to PA systems to house shows to xerox machines to scanners to all the local record labels, bands and festivals that are known internationally and constantly going on tour and doing interviews and selling merch and talking into microphones to audiences and staying up late on tour having conversations with people they just met all over the world--we really were in a position of cultural power as members of the Olympia music scene. We wanted to use this power to spread dissent. In the face of what was happening in Iraq we felt it was our responsibility as US citizens to try to use these resources to speak out and organize a resistance movement against our government's policies. We got pretty far with it and then it stopped. I honestly don't know why exactly.(Please write in with your take on this)

We worked really hard and did a bunch of stuff but both of those organizations/tactics were sort of losing steam as people got more and more depressed after our big event in October 2003... then Fallujah happened...."beers against bush" went from a bad joke to a way of life for many friends... by the time Bush was re-elected I was ready to try something else. We were all really depressed so it took awhile. I had decided to go back to school to study US history, and was losing faith in the idea of culture as political terrain. Maybe being in a band, writing fanzines and holding benefit shows wasn't enough anymore... Plus all those meetings were starting to make me go insane. I wasn't writing songs or articles, I was just posting organizational emails to countless list-servs. Still, we had to do something, right? So we kept at it and FAB was born.

FAB was something we (me, maggie, amy and wendy yao) had thought of while eating dinner the day after the 2000 presidential election, but nothing really came of it at first (other than a few signs at anti-war protests). By November 2004, it seemed like nothing was going to happen with FAB unless we made an effort, so the idea we started with was 'baby steps', so I suggested a feminist theory book club that would meet locally but also have an online presence.

Rather than to have it be 'women only', we invited people of all genders to participate but then on the side also had a lady's book club where we read mostly fiction. The reason it was open to everyone was because Feminism For Everybody by bell hooks had just recently been published and it made a persuasive argument that men should be included in feminism; ie Feminism is not for Women Only. I was a little nervous about including men in the group, but as it turned out only one or two guys were interested in coming to meetings (big surprise) and their inclusion seemed to pose no problem (none that I was aware of anyhow, although men did dominate the list-serv, making many women hesitant to post).

FAB-R (the R stood for readers) was short lived in it's initial form, but had a lasting impact locally. Besides reading feminist theory together, we also networked with local feminist organizations by attending, promoting and participating in a locally held Feminist Summit, which was really informative/inspiring and put us in contact with a diverse group of feminists in our own community who were of different generations and who were utilizing different tactics. We organized two events, one being a panel discussion at Ladyfest on 2nd Wave Feminism, featuring local women who had been involved in the women's liberation movement; the second was a book reading by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, author of Outlaw Woman, a book we read together (thanks Kanako!) We also managed to make two zines and a website, thanks to Marissa Magic (thanks Marissa) and brought them on Spider and the Webs tour, where we used the merch table and the microphone as a platform to get the word out about FAB. On top of this, we went to anti-war protests together and helped organize/participate in a counter-action to an anti-abortion rally. I think we did a few other actions, but I really can't remember right now.

There's a lot more to say about why FAB failed to turn into an actual Feminist Action Brigade, as well as why Ladyfest succeeded and what happened with BAB. This is something I'm interested in documenting, as we need to write our own history of resistance as we are participating in it--Erick Lyle's On the Lower Frequencies: A Secret History of the City being a recent example of how effective this can be. It's important to talk about what didn't work as well as about what did work. This is how we learn not to repeat our own mistakes. I know first hand that riot grrl could have gotten a lot further had the second wave histories that have been written since the early 90's been available to us then.

On a personal level with all this stuff, when FAB began I really didn't want to start a new organization from scratch--I kind of wanted to check out what groups were already working in our community and try and help them with publicity and outreach. I had realized I had a lot to learn from older, more experienced organizers and really did not want to be in any kind of "leadership" role. Still, I did (and do) want to use the public voice I have and resources I have access to for political purposes. So in the face of this personal situation, I wanted FAB to be more of a network, rather than an actual organization. I guess we weren't really sure how to do this or what we wanted to do exactly and it turned out not to be such a good strategy, as there wasn't really a basis for our platform, or even a means of developing one collectively, we were just individuals without any kind of structure for action reading books and doing stuff we felt like doing when we felt like doing it. There wasn't accountability and since people are busy, things don't usually get done unless people feel like they've made a commitment to follow through. I think if we had made a magazine together that came out regularly, or even just a blog or a website that was more interactive it could have gone to Tacoma.

Writing about this is something I have started working on and will continue to so contact me if you'd like to contribute your perspective on this history. For now, inspired by Slim's BISAR post, I will leave you with a short list of books FAB read in the first six months or so of our existence, as well as a long list of books I wish we had read together.

Here's what we read:

The F-Word: Feminism in Jeopardy; Women, Politics and the Future by Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner
The War on Choice: The Right-Wing Attack on Women's Rights and How to Fight Back by Gloria Feldt
Feminism is for Everybody by bell hooks
Daring to Be Bad by Alice Echols
No Turning Back: The History Feminism and the Future of Women by Estelle B Freedman
Outlaw Woman by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
Blues Legacies and Black Feminism by Angela Y. Davis
Quiet Rumours: An Anarcha-Feminist Reader
Dear Sisters: Dispatches from the Women's Liberation Movement ed by Rosalyn Baxandall and Linda Gordon (i think this was extra credit,we just passed around a copy at the meetings)

Looking at the FAB-R email archive, it looks like a small group was reading the Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir over the summer, while most of us were swamped with organizing Ladyfest and stopped having regular meetings. At the end of the summer Kanako held a second meeting for new recruits who had read Outlaw Woman after we had already met about the book, and that's when we held the event hosting Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. By this point I was in school full time and I'm not sure if the book club continued or not -I think it did, but under a different name?

Here's a list of books I would still like to read in a Feminist Theory book club-this is up for debate, should a book club actually form:

Where We Stand: Class Matters by bell hooks
North/South: The Nawal El Saadawi Reader
Inessential Woman by Elizabeth V. Spelman
Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture and the Body by Susanne Bordo
Scattered Hegemonies: Postmodernity and Transnational Feminist Practices by Inderpal Grewal and Caren Kaplan
Ideas of Action by Cynthia Kaufman
Women, Gender and Islam by Leila Ahmed
Thinking Class: Sketches of a Cultural Worker by Joanna Kadi
Transliberation: Beyond Pink or Blue by Leslie Feinberg
Black Feminist Thought by Patricia Hill Collins
Vindication of the Rights of Women Mary Wollstonecraft
The Orgins of the Family, Private Property and the State by Friedrich Engels
This Bridge Called my Back & Borderlands/La Frontera by Gloria Anzaldua
Female Masculinity by Judith Halberstam
Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity by Judith Butler
"Can the Subaltern Speak?" by Gayatri Chakrovorty Spivak (maybe more in the Spivak Reader)
Global Woman: Nannies, Maids and Sex Workers in the New Economy ed Arlie Russell Hochschild and Barbara Ehrenreich
Women and the Politics of Class by Johanna Brenner
Women, Race and Class by Angela Davis
Capitalist Patriarchy and the Case for Socialist Feminist ed Zillah Eisenstein
Anarchism and other essays by Emma Goldman
Feminist Genealogies, Colonial Legacies, Democratic Futures ed Chandra Mohanty
Without a Net: The Female Experience of Growing Up Working Class Ed Michelle Tea
Global Sex Workers: Rights, Resistance, and Redefinition by Kamala Kembadoo .
Dangerous Liaisons : Gender, Nation, and Postcolonial Perspectives. by Anne McClintock, Aamir Mufti and Ella Shohat
Third World Women and the Politics of Feminism by Chandra Mohanty
Color of Violence: the INCITE Anthology
The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex INCITE

More on Darwish

This article is excellent:

The story of the Palestinian people since their nakba is a story of unfulfilled desires: the desire for normal life, for justice, for national independence and freedom, but even Mahmoud had to come to this cheerless conclusion: "I thought poetry could change everything, could change history and could humanise, and I think that the illusion is very necessary to push poets to be involved and to believe. But now I think that poetry changes only the poet."

This time he was wrong. This man's poetry has changed the language of Arabic writing and shifted readers' conceptions of resistance poetry. The drums receded to give way to the harp and the flute. Single-coloured khaki poems full of slogans gave way to rainbow-intertwined shades. Even the physical image of the victimised and the oppressed had to give way to Mahmoud's unmatched elegance in dress and in daily conversation alike.


A while back I started a book club called "Books I Shoulda Already Read." For 6 books' time, it was a group that met face to face, had spirited meetings and sometimes watched the movie version, but Ulysses kind of killed it. So I then moved it to an online group.

The idea was to read "classics" from the "canon," whatever that means. Personally, I was looking for a motivation and a social element to help me get around to reading a lot of old books that I had always been curious about.

The group still technically exists, but we have been on a looong hiatus from reading books together. Here is what we read before it petered out:

The Sorrows of Young Werther - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Winesburg, Ohio - Sherwood Anderson
Mrs. Dalloway - Virginia Woolf
The Picture of Dorian Gray - Oscar Wilde
Middlemarch - George Eliot
Ulysses - James Joyce
To The Lighthouse - Virginia Woolf
Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
The Analects - Confucius
The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
Bound For Glory - Woody Guthrie
Don Quixote - Don Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
A Confederacy Of Dunces - John Toole Kennedy
Alice In Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass - Lewis Carroll
Gulliver's Travels - Jonathan Swift
The Age Of Innocence - Edith Wharton
Giovanni's Room - James Baldwin
Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
Sometimes A Great Notion - Ken Kesey
Justine - Marquis de Sade
The Third Man - Graham Greene
Little Women - Louisa May Alcott
The Sound and The Fury - William Faulkner
Tess of the D'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
Sister Carrie - Theodore Dreiser

My favorites were Sometimes a Great Notion, The Age of Innocence, Anna Karenina, and Middlemarch. I had a very strong negative reaction to Faulkner but enjoyed most of the rest.

Books I Wish BISAR had read before it fizzled:

Vanity Fair
The Scarlet Letter
The Thousand and One Nights
Moby Dick
The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn
The Trial
Aesop's Fables
Grimm's Fairy Tales
Les Miserables
My Antonia

Friday, August 15, 2008

Robert Rauschenberg: Combines

I am not exactly reading this book. I am just sort of staring at it and meditating. This book focuses on Rauschenberg's combines, which are like paintings that have other stuff combined
in them, like newsprint stuff collaged in, or some are more sculptural and some are like puzzles that open up. The combines are so beyond language to me, funny, kind of stoner and, tauntingly "too much". His work brings the notion of time into focus, in a much quieter way than someone like DeKooning did. This is slower moving, more about the tiny performances inherent in everyday life than big bold drunken gestures. What I mean to say is that I can picture the apartment they were created in and feel the decision being made that it is okay to err on the side of beauty. To give in to total pleasure. Sex. Food. Moments. It is hard for me to sit still and enjoy them because it is just so overwhelming. I guess that is part of my interest in them. They function like miracles.
Rauschenberg died 3 monthes ago, but not before dropping the following gem on us, "Being right can stop all the momentum of a very interesting idea.”

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Historical fiction, Julia Child and Spanish History

On my way back from London in June I caught The Other Boleyn Girl
a movie I so thought I would hate. I ended up loving it and on an impulse bought one of the lady who wrote its other books The Constant Princess before a flight home from LA. I became obsessed with Catherine of Aragon and luckily I have a ton of Spanish history books already on my shelves so I can compare truth and historical fiction side by side. It's been fun! In one of my internet trolling moments I realized the NYC public library down the street has original manuscripts you can look at and now I can read Spanish written in the era of Ferdinand and Isabella and of the great and horrible colonizing empire that was Spain.

The other thing I can't stop re-reading is Julia Child's My Life In France which is her account of her life before and discovering her obsession with food. It totally changed my life and every time I'm bored with a current book, I just read a chapter and her voice in my head and true positive passion just makes me psyched. I've read some biographies too which are interesting. I thought it was hilarious today when I saw on yahoo news that she was outed as a spy. DUH!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Loggers, Vampires and Werewolves

Did you know
Forks, WA is the new North Bend?
I just put in a request for Twilight by Stephenie Meyer at the local library, but I'm number 326 so it could be awhile before I'm down. All I've been told is, there are vegetarian vampires and tweens flocking to Forks, the former "Logging Capitol of the World" a.k.a. the town where it doesn't stop raining....and they are looking for Werewolves.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

From the Desk of Sarah Utter: Sam Mcpheeters Reading Tomorrow at 7PM (Accompanied by Tara Tavi)

from the desk of sarah utter: "hi friends! wednesday, 8/13 my pals Sam and Tara will be doing a free in-store at Phantom City! Sam will be reading selections from his new magazine 'Clog', and Tara will be playing classical Chinese pieces on her hammer dulcimer. For those out of the loop, Sam is the multi-talent behind the bands Born Against and Wrangler Brutes, he also runs Vermiform Records and writes crazy stories/essays. Not to be missed! You can sample some of his writing at Tara Tavi, besides being Sam's lovely and talented wife, spent time in China studying music and is a multi-instrumentalist in the band Amps for Christ. Please come by and check it out! Also, feel free to forward this to any pals who might be interested. 7 pm, Phantom City Records, 306 4th ave., FREE! xo s.u."

the americans by robert frank

it is possible that i'm just the last person on earth to know about this book, but just in case you didn't already know...

the americans by robert frank is pretty amazing.

if you're in to kerouac (daddio)... he happened to write the introduction. i don't personally give a fig about kerouac but the photographs in this book are mind-blowing.

it was published originally in france in 1958 and then in the u.s. in 1959.

the library has an edition from the 1990s for free.

if you want to know about the new edition, you can read about it at powells.

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juke box and kids...

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Gore Vidal & Amelia Earhart

Every summer I read a different book by Gore Vidal when I go to Lake Chelan for my family vacation. Besides the lucid wit and vivid description, Gore Vidal's calm tone and uncompromising voice make it easier to put the family dramas that sometimes occur at a necessary distance.

This year I brought Point to Point Navigation, his second (final) memoir,which I'll be finishing up in a few days.

It's pretty astonishing how many influential 20th century figures he crossed paths with over the years. A few examples include Jackie Kennedy, who he shared a step-father with; Eleanor Roosevelt, who he admired and sought political advice from; Jack Keroauc, who he slept with; and Greta Garbo, who shared his early morning dog-walking duties for a general he hung out with lots of politicians, hollywood and tv people, novelists, playwrights, historians, artists and a fair number of hot ballet dancers...not to mention Princess Margaret.

Here's one I was surprised to discover: Amelia Earhart and his father were very close at the time of her death, and as a child he wished she would become his step-mother.

Who wouldn't want that?!!


I got interested in a pseudo-genre known as "mannerpunk," or "fantasy of manners" The idea is SF, especially Fantasy, that focuses on characters and their social and political relationships. The ideal would be something like Jane Austen meets JRR Tolkien.

I have read lots of SF that focuses on the "what if" aspect of the genre, and more recently lots of SF that focuses on the internal world and thoughts and motivations of the characters, but not as much that focuses on relationships, intrigue, social politics, culture, social constraints, and romance.

Ellen Kushner and Mervyn Peake are two writers who are considered pioneers of the genre. I have been delving into it a bit, but I am looking forward to a lot more.

Venice Beats

Did you know there were beatniks in Southern California at around the same time beat scenes were developing in SF and NY? It's a long forgotten history and since I'm in L.A. now I decided to do some research on it recently. I knew that Venice was where they had congregated oh so many years ago, so I took a drive there to walk around. I thought of J&T and it made me a little sad as I walked along the idyllic Venice canals. Things seemed lost in another time there. Aside from some nearby building development and gentrification, not much seems to have changed. It has a different feel than contemporary North Beach or Greenwich Village...more seedy and bohemian.

After this excursion, I went to the library and found:

Venice West: The Beat Generation in Southern California
John Arthur Maynard
Rutgers University Press, 1993

Wow, what an eye opener. I had no idea that the concept of "dedicated poverty" came from the Southern California beats. It's why you don't hear about them as much as the more famous beats (Ginsberg, Burroughs, Kerouac, Whalen, etc.). Aside from the older Lawrence Lipton, who pseudo-documented the scene in The Holy Barbarians (1959), the only other successful poet was Stuart Perkoff. And unfortunately, he was a junkie. It's clear from reading this book that there was a connection in the minds of the Venice beats between living freely and living in poverty. Yet the ones who really dedicated themselves to asceticism were able to do so because they had family or spousal financial support. In any case, their whole idea - very novel for the time (when consumerism was on the rise in suburban America in the '50s) - was that the only way to be free to create would be to work as little as possible and form few material attachments.

Lipton was a colleague of Kenneth Rexroth who was a big influence on the Northern California beats. Rexroth was more academic, though, and didn't approve much of the Venice West lifestyle. The book compares and contrasts Lipton and the Venice writers with Rexroth and the SF writers. There's a bias against Lipton, warranted or not, due to the belief that he was somewhat of an opportunist and took advantage of his younger protégés. Many of the younger poets later resented him for publishing The Holy Barbarian, which is really interesting to me since I think a lot about how culture is documented. Lipton's book was sensationalistic, but it brought California beats to the attention of the rest of America. It made the American media take serious note of the ideas and creative works that were flowing freely out of the minds of an underground community.

Would it have been better if Lipton's book had never been published? Venice West's author, John Maynard, does a good job at critiquing the many issues and personalities at play. I really enjoyed reading this book. But it made me realize that I don't believe in dedicated poverty, because I no longer buy into the romanticized

Mahmoud Darwish RIP

The great Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish has passed. Edward Said argued that the predicament of the Palestinian people is a universal crime, which Darwish's great poetry captures, making us all witnesses.

From Today's Guardian;

None of us really thought he'd die. Our loss is great, we tell each other. In our minds we think of

Edward Said, of Haider Abdel-Shafi, of Faisal Husseini, and even - yes - of Yasser Arafat. The "big men" of Palestine. And now, Mahmoud Darwish.

I Come From There by Mahmoud Darwish
I come from there and I have memories
Born as mortals are, I have a mother
And a house with many windows,
I have brothers, friends,
And a prison cell with a cold window.
Mine is the wave, snatched by sea-gulls,
I have my own view,
And an extra blade of grass.
Mine is the moon at the far edge of the words,
And the bounty of birds,
And the immortal olive tree.
I walked this land before the swords
Turned its living body into a laden table.

I come from there. I render the sky unto her mother
When the sky weeps for her mother.
And I weep to make myself known
To a returning cloud.
I learnt all the words worthy of the court of blood
So that I could break the rule.
I learnt all the words and broke them up
To make a single word: Homeland.....

Monday, August 11, 2008

david b.!!!

parisian graphic novelist, david b., will be speaking at the seattle public library THIS SATURDAY. if you read and loved persepolis then his book "epileptic" will probably look very familiar to you as his work has been a great influence on marjane satrapi.

2 p.m.
saturday, august 16th

david b. wrote

more info on the event here:

francophones: david b. will be speaking in french with an interpreter.

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what? it has to be about books??

i only read blogs. Although i have been looking at a Louise Hay book in the bathroom and am trying out her suggestions. like looking in the mirror and saying "I am awesome, I am awesome". I think it's helping. - donna

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Neanderthal Murder Mystery

What fascinates me about the latest news in evolutionary biology, is not that scientists have discounted one theory that explains the Neanderthal's extinction, but one of the remaining leading hypotheses.

What The Guardian explains; " Theories of what drove the Neanderthals to extinction range from an inability to adapt to a quickly changing environment, to genocide by early humans. "

The Independent elaborates;
"Professor Chris Stringer, head of human origins at the Natural History Museum in London, believes that the long period of separation – and genetic isolation – between the Neanderthals and early modern humans meant that profound physical and mental differences had evolved between them.

"The question then is whether, when the populations met, they regarded each other as simply people, enemies, aliens or even prey," he said. "We simply don't know the answer, and the answer may have varied from one time and place to another, especially given the vagaries of human behaviour."

We may never know what happened when modern humans came to live in the same space inhabited by the Neanderthals. They may simply have avoided one another, with Neanderthals retreating to their last stronghold in Europe – a cave system in Gibraltar where the most recent Neanderthal bones have been found.

Or the two species might have engaged in the sort of brutal conflict that has been the hallmark of human history throughout time.

What Interests me here is the assumptions that mediate the "genocide" hypothesis. Stringer implies that there is not enough empirical evidence to answer the extinction question. This allows the assumptions that frame the empiricism to stand on their own. While Stringer is tentative to make any general assertions, the unnamed advocates of the "genocide hypothesis" are not. For them human nature, from its origin in primordial history, must be seen as inherently murderous. Human history then, rather then culminating in the genocidal 20th century, is a continuous eruption of genocide.

Critical theory would move against the genocidal hypothesis by attacking the mediating assumptions. Scanty evidence, or any empirical evidence for the matter, is framed by our immanent discourse. The genocidal hypothesis, then, is not historical. Instead it reveals the genocidal impulse that is immanent to our culture. An impulse enacted by our society, and the encounter with "the other" is reflected in "human nature" as self-preservation.

While the later is certainly true, should the "genocidal hypothesis" be proven, it will have enormous philosophical repercussions. It will also serve as yet another reminder that the time to leave what Marx calls the realm of necessity, is long overdue;

The realm of freedom actually begins only where labour which is determined by necessity and mundane considerations ceases; thus in the very nature of things it lies beyond the sphere of actual material production. Just as the savage must wrestle with Nature to satisfy his wants, to maintain and reproduce life, so must civilized man, and he must do so in all social formations and under all possible modes of production. With his development this realm of physical necessity expands as a result of his wants; but, at the same time, the forces of production which satisfy these wants also increase. Freedom in this field can only consist in socialized man, the associated producers, rationally regulating their interchange with Nature, bringing it under their common control, instead of being ruled by it as by the blind forces of Nature; and achieving this with the least expenditure of energy and under conditions most favourable to, and worthy of, their human nature. But it nonetheless still remains a realm of necessity. Beyond it begins that development of human energy which is an end in itself, the true realm of freedom, which, however, can blossom forth only with the realm of necessity as its basis. The shortening of the working day is its basic prerequisite. (Marx Capital Vol III, 820)

reading and/or rereading

Wanderlust: A History of Walking Rebecca Solnit

Experience & Education
John Dewey

Pedagogy of the Oppressed Paulo Freire

Anni and Josef Albers: Latin American Journeys Bernard Danilowitz and Heinz Liesbrock (Eds.)

Friday, August 8, 2008

Explorations of the faith-based economics of pro-war pulp.

I've been trying to figure out what ties together the array of reading that I've been doing lately...I mean, after all these years of punishing excursions into the writing of power-obsessed megalomaniacs, dictators, werewolves, sociopaths and others that wield their power like a unyielding, telekinetic my real reason "Know thy enemy? Or is like when people that find epiphanies in the writing of the disenfranchised because for the first time they hear own their story being told? Hmm...maybe then, it is in dwelling amongst the words of the mountain sages, transcribed in the rarefied, frozen world where only the exalted and strong can survive that I find myself at home?...but it occurs to me...maybe not everybody considers the Fort Lewis Ranger and the Weekly Volcano (the South Puget Sound Arts and entertainment weekly) important, quasi-essential reading... But in the attempt to understand the situation that I find myself in,(my real motive for reading!) I feel that I must consider all things in their context including myself...and I, am in the South Puget Sound Area, down the road from a very active air force and army base that ships military vehicles covered in Iraqi dust and depleted uranium in and out of the Port down the street...and there are army helicopters and planes droning a time of war...and then I realize what ties together all the reading I'm doing lately is that it is about Now. Even if now began in World War two or the reading the articles in the local weekly papers about government compensation for sexual dysfunction in war-wounded veterans, I feel like I'm reading the clairvoyant litanies of like, oracles, who, speaking in riddles and burdened by the their gift of sight...reveal, cryptically, the big forces moving just below the surface...the Fort Lewis Ranger reporter's unflinching eye that gazes equally upon the cataclysmic and mundane, always seeing the one in the other. I'm tentative at times like these, afraid to cause ripples in the information-pregnant air in the room all around me as I read on...that these ripples would cause irrevocable mayhem at their furthest extension. And so pulling reality inside, I read more, learning but not really understanding...triangulating my position but like, two-dimensionally...still missing the z-axis, the third dimension, and frozen there while the world goes on all around. I now know for instance, the Weekly Volcano says that the best costumed karaoke in Tacoma is not the Java Jive but some other place...but that doesn't help me understand the loaded gesture of people coming back from the Port of Tacoma protests singing 'Rock the Casbah' with a recently divorced 18 year old Iraq War Veteran...and that this all happened before, in 1991! Besides the local weeklies, this summer I've been reading these books:

On the Lower Frequencies, a Secret History of the City by Erick Lyle
Beyond the Green Zone by Dahr Jamail
Falling Man by Don Delillo
Jihad vs. McWorld by Benjamin R. Barber
Baghdad Burning by Riverbend
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
Terry and the Pirates ('43) by Milton Caniff
The Film Factory edited by Richard Taylor and Ian Christie

The Brian Jones Story

Published in 1982, Death of a Rolling Stone: the Brian Jones Story by Mandy Aftel claims to be the first biography of Brian Jones ever written. As avid readers of the rock-biography genre know (hello Jessica Espeleta and Chris Sutton!) the first well-researched, critically acclaimed book tends to get repeated over and over again in subsequent retellings. It is therefore always wise to read them in chronological order.

I have read at least three other Brian Jones biographies over the years as well as countless Rolling Stones books/articles/liner notes and know his story as well as any amateur rock historian does: he was pretty and tragic; ugly and violent; insecure yet immensely talented. As the Rolling Stones got more famous, Brian's precarious role in the band and infamous "inner-demons" collided head on, driving him into a successful execution of out-of-control self-destructive behavoir. He stopped being cute, then he stopped being pretty, then he stopped being alive.

The official myth goes like this: As the founding member of the Rolling Stones, Brian Jones failed to live up to his self-designated role of band-leader. When Mick and Keith emerged as a world-class songwriting team, Brian's ego couldn't take it. He wasn't a part of their duo. He was shut out of his own band, the only thing that gave him a positive sense of self. He went insane, taking huge amounts of all kinds of drugs to excess, getting even more ugly and violent in his personal relationships with women and eventually becoming so paranoid he couldn't function well enough to be a part of the group. When the British authorities decided to make an example out of him and send him to prison for minor marijuana possession, Brian's doctor testified that he would not survive incarceration. As most people he was close to seemed to have foreshadowed, he did not have long to live and was soon found dead floating at the bottom of his swimming pool, drowned after consuming a lethal combination of drugs and alcohol. The house he was living in had previously belonged to AA Milne, author of the children's classic Winnie the Poo and Now We Are Six. He was 27 but only a boy; he never grew up. Bill and Charlie were the only Rolling Stones to attend his funeral.

This book tells that story well. Mandy Aftel manages to get lengthy interviews with several of Brian's girlfriends (he fathered at least three illegitimate children) and several of his close friends, including Keith Richards. It's the first book she ever wrote and you can tell she is more than a little star struck. To her credit, she doesn't try to make Brian Jones into a saint. She doesn't apologize for his violence but she doesn't condemn it either. Her tone is one of acceptance: Brian was Brian and this is his story.

Long before I had ever met anyone as fucked up as Brian Jones or known anyone in a band who had gotten famous and hated it, this story resonated with me. I decided he was my favorite Rolling Stone as a young teen when I first played guitar to early Stones and 80's Kinks records on repeat. Like Brian, England's Newest Hitmakers is my favorite RS record followed by Beggar's Banquet, particularly the songs he plays slide guitar on--Salt of the Earth, No Expectations, Jigsaw Puzzle. The other thing I dug about the mid-late 60's stones was the groovy instrumentation. Legend has it, Brian could learn to play any instrument in an afternoon and is responsible for all that weird stuff on Aftermath and the beginning of 2000 Light Years from Home and Child of the Moon.

According to the end of the official myth, when Brian Jones died, the Rolling Stones played a previously scheduled concert in Hyde Park. In memory of Brian, they had planned to release butterflies at the beginning of one of their songs. The butterflies were supposed to fly away, up into the sky, free and fading. Instead they had suffocated in the stifling container they had been kept in, like those live lady bugs they sell in gardening stores; perhaps a more fitting eulogy.Marianne Faithful couldn't take it any more. She was breaking up with Mick and recovering from her own suicide attempt. When the butterflies failed to escape, she couldn't stop crying. The girls still cry for Brian.

Will we ever stop telling this story? What is it really all about? Why do some of us feel like we understand and identify with him and not with the women he allegedly abused? Internalized sexism? I'd like to think I'm smarter than that at this point in my life, although this is a question worth exploring for sure. Romanticism? My younger-self's fascination with tragedy faded when people I loved started dying young.

Watching early Rolling Stones footage, Brian Jones appears to be the wild one, but at the same time he seemed so sensitive and hurt, like a vulnerable "bad girl" who cares so much she doesn't care. Maybe that's it--the Brian Jones story as rock-n-roll allegory that bad girls can identify with? Surely we aren't given a place of our own in the rock-n-roll pantheon. Unless we seek out writers like Mandy Aftel who interview the former girlfriends of rock stars, we rarely even hear the voices of any women who were participants in the 1960's rock scene. With very few exceptions, our voices weren't documented. Girls have to identify with what little there was (is) and make do by twisting things around in our own heads; reconfiguring all the "she's" to "he's" in pop songs, reversing gender roles in our minds, creating ambiguity & fluidity -- recreating ourselves by actively making new meanings, like little girls making their Ken dolls have sex with each other and cutting off all Barbie's hair. If we are artists, we sometimes do this by mining pop culture for fossils we turn into broken mirrors we use to cast new reflections with.

This could explain Patti Smith's fascination with Brian. Both were androgynous: Brian wearing lady's jewelry and decorative dandy clothing and growing his hair long; Patti staying thin like an adolescent boy without any hips even after she gave her baby up for adoption. Patti read poems to Brian on his birthday after he died and talked about him at length in interviews.

I tried to put on Beggars' Banquet the other day and it was too heavy. I couldn't take it. At some point in the 90's I stopped listening to my favorite Rolling Stones records and started listening to post-Brian Jones records exclusively. They are less sad, more easy-listening. Some Girls is still the record I listen to the most today. Despite my fascination with Brian, I usually want escape, not murky sadness. Still, I sleep with a picture of Brian Jones over my bed, next to a portrait photograph of the real Christopher Robin. Images of eternal youth? Perhaps. Simply Romanticism? I don't think so.

Mandy Aftel chooses this Schopenhauer quote to commemorate Brian with in her preface:

"To have fame and youth at once is too much for a mortal".

Surely any woman who ever had a bad reputation in high school knows what that feels like.

I know I will never forget.

RIP Brian Jones.

Disaster Capitalism, States of Extortion

In Disaster Capitalism, States of Extortion, a recent article in the Nation, Naomi Klein writes:

"It's been ten months since the publication of my book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, in which I argue that today's preferred method of reshaping the world in the interest of multinational corporations is to systematically exploit the state of fear and disorientation that accompanies moments of great shock and crisis. With the globe being rocked by multiple shocks, this seems like a good time to see how and where the strategy is being applied.

And the disaster capitalists have been busy--from private firefighters already on the scene in Northern California's wildfires, to land grabs in cyclone-hit Burma, to the housing bill making its way through Congress. The bill contains little in the way of affordable housing, shifts the burden of mortgage default to taxpayers and makes sure that the banks that made bad loans get some payouts. No wonder it is known in the hallways of Congress as "The Credit Suisse Plan," after one of the banks that generously proposed it."

Read the full article Here


Capital vol. 1 is all its cracked up to be, and more. Its a remarkable, rich, work that is much more complex then the reductivist Marxist schema you may have encountered as an undergrad. I am on my lunch break now, so I will post more about its complexity and contemporary relevance later. Until then I encourage everyone to watch noted Marxian scholar David Harvey's lectures on Capital and check out the rough theory blog. Both offer brilliant close readings from different perspectives demonstrating the full range of Marx's genius.

Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven's portrait of Marcel Duchamp, c. 1920

Hopefully Gallery Caprice to follow...