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Diario De Oaxaca: A Review

By Geoff Gossett
World Literature in Review
Nov/Dec 2010

Since 1997, Peter Kuper has been the sole artist behind MAD Magazine’s Spy vs. Spy series as well as myriad other illustrative projects over several magazines and publications. Kuper also happens to be the artist behind the first and only comic to ever run regularly in the New York Times, and accomplishment rounding out a prolific career.

In 2006 Kuper took his family on sabbatical to the sixteenth century town of Oaxaca in southern Mexico to take a break from the sort of omnipresent Bush-era Americanism that was dominating his home country at the time. Diario de Oaxaca is the culmination of all that Kuper recorded during his stay. The book is what one would expect from a professional artist of Kuper’s caliber spending quality time taking in and recording the lush, vivid topography of a tropical paradise that remains relatively untouched by modern consumerism.

Despite its ability to offer sanctuary, Oaxaca happened to be connected to one of Mexico’s most turbulent conflicts in recent years. As one of the main contributors involved in World War 3 Illustrated (1989), Kuper is no stranger to political strife. The book doesn’t come off as preachy or heavy-handed toward one affiliation or another, however; rather, it turns into a purely journalistic account of what was happening, by a stranger in a strange land. The watercolor paintings and pencil sketches of old buildings and desert flowers are peppered with scenes of riot squads, armored cars, and smoldering aftermaths so that the nature of the struggle is felt and naturally integrated into what is otherwise one man’s documentation of a journey.

Outside of the clashes, Kuper managed to put together a beautiful collage of all the southern Mexico has to offer. In the hands of an illustrator with such creative gifts, Oaxaca is a brilliant dreamscape whose bugs and vegetation are as visually appealing as its protest graffiti and wild dogs. Journal entries, sketches, field paintings, and photographs culminate in an experience that few people get the chance to have, and which most miss when they do.

Buy book now | Download e-Book now | Back to Peter Kuper's Page




Don't Mourn, Balkanize! on Znet

By Andrej Grubacic
Znet
November 15, 2010


1. Can you tell ZNet, please, what Don't Mourn Balkanize! is about? What is it trying to communicate?
 
Don't Mourn, Balkanize! is a chronological selection of various commentaries, interviews and essays written for ZNet and Z Magazine “after Yugoslavia” and between 2002 and 2010. Some of these essays and conversations were written in Yugoslavia, others in the United States. All the essays have been originally written in Yugoslav languages. It is important to read these essays chronologically so as to see how movements and ideas mature. The reader will find me contradicting myself, as well as making mistakes and trying to correct them, all of which reflects my own development as a protagonist, propagandist, and essayist. This book is not a scholarly volume, it is not a piece of investigative journalism, and most emphatically it is not a work of theory. It is a selection of commentaries and conversations in the long tradition of Balkan socialist propaganda.

The first part, “Balkanization from Above,” follows the farcical trial of Slobodan Miloševic; the assassination of Zoran Djindjic; the “humanitarian” occupations of Bosnia and Kosovo by the “international community”; and the privatization and neoliberalization of the Serbian part of Yugoslavia. The other part of the book, “Balkanization from Below,” consists of essays and conversations related to the possibilities of anticapitalist, pluricultural resistance in post-Yugoslavia. Essays collected in this book reflect the possibilities and limits of this process today, and specifically in the Serbian part of former Yugoslavia.
 
I wish I could say that there is an abundance of revolutionary projects and multitude of exciting, utopian moments ready to capture the imagination of American militants. I am afraid that readers won’t find Argentine-style horizontalists or Mexican-influenced Zapatistas in fragmented, postwar Yugoslavia. What they will encounter, instead, is a socio-political landscape of desperation, destitution, and collective disappointment. They will meet hungry workers who lost their factories; angry students unable to afford privatized education; refugees still living in “temporary” camps; Kosovo Roma deported from Germany and other countries of the civilized world, and simply dropped in the middle of transitional poverty. An American activist who recently visited Kosovo told me that she had never been to such a place. She stood on every barricade from Oaxaca to Genoa, and in every war from Iraq to Lebanon. But she never experienced anything quite like Kosovo. This is a country of an absolute defeat, she told me. The words are well chosen.

However, we cannot lose hope entirely. In the midst of this rather discouraging social scenery, one can see hazy contours of new “balkanotopian” projects and new possibilities of resistance. In the Serbian part of ex-Yugoslavia, as in the rest of the Balkans, with the remarkable exception of insurrectionary Greece, we can discern a very slow but promising awakening of resistance to the post-state socialist regimes. These scattered islands of unrest and self-activity have explicit or implicit anarchist sensibility. I am very grateful to my comrades from Pokret za Slobodu (Freedom Fight Collective), Globalni Balkan (Global Balkans, at www.globalbalkans.org) and Voice of Roma (www.voiceofroma.com). Their sustained and courageous work is an important inspiration behind this book.
 
 2. Can you tell ZNet something about writing the book? Where does the content come from? What went into making the book what it is?

I grew up in Belgrade—or, more precisely, between Belgrade and Sarajevo—but I always considered myself Yugoslav. I do not see any reason to stop doing so now. Yugoslavia might not exist anymore (after all, this collection includes, as its subtitle, the words “after Yugoslavia”), but Yugoslavia for me, and for people like me, was never just a country—it was an idea. Like the Balkans itself, it was a project of interethnic coexistence, a transethnic and pluricultural space of many diverse worlds. The Balkans I know is the Balkans from below: a space of bogoumils—those medieval heretics who fought against Crusades and churches—and a place of anti Ottoman resistance; a home to hajduks and klephts, pirates and rebels; a refuge of feminists and socialists, of antifascists and partisans; a place of dreamers of all sorts struggling both against provincial “peninsularity” as well as against occupations, foreign interventions and that process which is now, in a strange inversion of history, often described with that fashionable phrase, “balkanization.”
 
My family was a microcosm of this deeper Balkan reality. My grandparents were socialists, partisans and antifascists— dreamers who believed in self-management and the Yugoslav “path to socialism.” This idea—and especially the Yugoslav and Balkan dream of an interethnic, pluricultural space—was dramatically dismantled in the 1990s. That was the beginning of my struggle to understand my own identity and the problem of Yugoslav socialism. I went on to look for another path toward what my grandparents understood as communism. It seemed to me that the Marxist-Leninist way of getting “from here to there”—the project of seizing the power of the State, and functioning through a “democratically” centralized party-organization—had produced not a free association of free human beings, but a bureaucratized expression of what was still called, by the official ideology of a socialist state, Marxism. Given my distrust of bureaucratic Marxism, I became an anarchist very early on. Anarchism, in my mind, meant taking democracy seriously and organizing prefiguratively— that is, in a way that anticipates the society we are about to create. Instead of taking the power of the state, anarchism is concerned with socializing power—with creating new political and social structures not after the revolution, but in the immediate present, in the shell of the existing order. The basic goal, however, remains the same. Like my grandparents, I too believe in and dream of a region where many worlds fit, and where everything is for everyone.
 
I survived the violence of the Yugoslav wars and NATO interventions, but in the end it was my political work in Belgrade—in the country that I still refuse to call by any other name but Yugoslavia—that made it difficult for me to stay there. With the kind help of many generous friends, especially those from Z Communications, I found refuge in the United States. Although I moved to the United States in 2005, I was already a foreigner well before that moment. I became a foreigner in the early 1990s, when the political ideas of interethnic cooperation and mutual aid as we had known them in Yugoslavia were destroyed by the combined madness of ethno-nationalist hysteria and humanitarian imperialism. Being here, on the other side of the world, away from home and reading news from Yugoslavia—or whatever other name local elites and foreign embassies now use to describe it—was then and remains now equally disconcerting. The new, former state-socialist republics were neoliberalized, privatized or colonized and caught in an uneasy tension between sclero-nationalism and neoliberalism. A foreigner with papers to prove it, I remain an outsider trying to make sense of what has happened to the idea of the Balkans and to the country I came from. At the same time, I have and continue to find myself to be a Yugoslav, a man without a country but also, as an anarchist, a man without a state.
 
I feel absolutely no loyalty to Serbian, Croatian, or Bosnian national causes. I have no other emotion but utter contempt for people who helped destroy Yugoslavia, and I feel the same about the people who are now selling what is left of it. I stand equally distant from the traditionalists and from so-called transitionalists. As you will hopefully discover through reading this book, I believe that the obligations and responsibilities that stand before us (all of us who believe in this deeper conception of the Balkans) are to restore and to revive the idea of Balkan federalism; to infuse it with a new, contemporary meaning; and to fight against the interconnected impositions of Euro-American imperialism and provincial ethno-nationalism. In other words, we must simultaneously and passionately struggle for another, balkanized Europe and a different, balkanized world. The future of Europe, should there be one, is in the Balkans, not the other way around.
 
3. What are your hopes for Don't Mourn Balkanize!? What do you hope it will contribute or achieve politically? Given the effort and aspirations you have for the book, what will you deem to be a success? What would leave you happy about the whole undertaking? What would leave you wondering if it was worth all the time and effort?
 
In Don't Mourn'Balkanize! I make a distinction between two kinds of "balkanization." First one is what I call "balkanization from above.” I use this expression to describe a project, remarkably consistent in history, of breaking Balkan interethnic solidarity and regional socio-cultural identity; a process of violently incorporating the region into the system of nation-states and capitalist world-economy; and contemporary imposition of neoliberal colonialism. Both Europeans and local self-colonizing intelligentsia have in common a contempt for everything that comes from this “wretched peninsula.” The events described in the book are nothing but the most recent phase in colonial ordering of the Balkans and its “retorted creatures.” The history of the Balkan peninsula is written in blood of the Great Powers’ attempts to prevent movements towards Balkan unity. Although essays in this book cover only the latest manifestations of elite balkanization, my contention is that the destruction of state-socialist Yugoslavia was a project of the same century-long process of balkanization from above. In contrast, Socialist Yugoslavia was a result of a long tradition of movements for Balkan unity, a manifestation of balkanization from below. After the defeat of real existing socialism, the Yugoslav state, with its indigenous socialism, and its global south, nonaligned orientation, could no longer be tolerated. Through the historically well-established pattern of imperialist intervention and local collaboration, this typically Balkan experiment has been destroyed in a series of bloody ethnic wars. Europeans and Americans have successfully blocked every peace initiative during the conflict. Balkanophobic racism in “the civilized world” has diverged into “paternalistic balkanism,” reserved for the helpless and childlike Bosnians and Kosovars, and “raw balkanism,” meaning the evil Serbs. Former Yugoslav republics were immediately transformed into veritable laboratories of “state-building,” “multiculturalism,” “truth and reconciliation,” “democracy-promotion,” and economic privatization. Political choices became restricted to local chauvinist and pro-European options. Alternatives were declared non-patriotic or anti-European. The so-called non-governmental organizations and other organs of civil society, that monstrous creation of American democracy- promotion, joined hands with nationalists and outright fascistic extremists against the pro-Balkan Left. The International Tribunal in The Hague was established in order to promulgate and further refine the official (European and American) truth of humanitarian ideology. Intervention on behalf of this ideology (“humanitarian intervention”) was wildly popular among Euro-American elites, and subsequently used as a justification in every imperialist adventure from Iraq to Afghanistan.
 
These imperial and colonial attitudes still define the terms “civilized world,” “international community” and “civil society.” Balkan people were never too impressed by civilization. As early as 1871, the founder of the Balkan socialist movement, Svetozar Markovic, ridiculed the entire “civilized world,” from Times to the obedient Serbian press. The civilized world, he wrote, “was composed of rich Englishmen, Brussels ministers and their deputies (the representatives of the capitalists), the European rulers and their marshals, generals, and other magnates, Viennese bankers and Belgrade journalists.” Markovic was an anti-authoritarian socialist who believed, as do I, in a pluricultural Balkan Federation organized as a decentralized, directly democratic society based on local agricultural and industrial associations. This is the kind of antinomian imagination that needs to be rediscovered: a horizontalist tradition of the barbarians who never accepted the civilized world that is now collapsing.
 
The second kind of balkanization is "balkanization from below." We might describe it as a tradition and narrative that affirms social and cultural affinities, as well as on customs in common resulting from interethnic mutual aid and solidarity, and resulting in what can be termed an interethnic self-activity, one that was severed through the Euro-colonial intervention. I maintain that in the Balkans this pluricultural reality finds its political expression in the anti-authoritarian politics of local self-government, communal use of the land, and various movements for Balkan Federation. The latter project included, in its most expansive and most inspiring proposal, all countries of former Yugoslavia, Albania, Bulgaria, Romania, Greece, and Turkey. It is necessary, today more than ever, to see a lively debate between utopian proposals that dream of the libertarian organization of the society, always in thoughtful dialogue with local institutions and traditions.
 
As a disciple of Svetozar Markovic, our Balkan Mariátegui, I am convinced that every such proposal must blend with the local conditions and particular local institutions. According to Markovic, who lived in 19th century, local conditions will determine the nature of new society that the working class will establish in each country. The problem of bread, he wrote, is a problem of direct democracy. It is hard not to see the similarity between Markovi?’s eclectic, ethical socialism—which he defined not as a new economic system, but a new way of life—and proposals arriving from contemporary peasant movements gathered around Via Campesina. In a dialogue with Marxism, he sought a balkanized socialism based upon communal institutions and instincts rather than upon inexorable historical laws. He argued for socialist movements that are not only anticolonial with respect to the West and the East, but also revolutionary with respect to the Balkan past. His balkanized socialism was ethical and visionary, eclectic and humane, and on all accounts unacceptable to his state socialist critics who dismissed him as “utopian socialist.” His aim, he wrote in 1874, was internal social reorganization on the basis of sovereignty and communal self-government, and federation in the Balkan Peninsula. Herein, in his federalist plans, lies what is perhaps his greatest contribution: his feverish attempt to subdue the separate nationalisms of the Balkan peoples in favor of all inclusive, directly democratic federalism. This anti-authoritarian eclecticism, itself a most precious feature of Balkan societies and their revolutionary tradition, ability to connect local and global, subaltern and modern, is what I advocate under the name of balkanization of politics.
 
Svetozar Markovic died at the age of twenty-eight. His death was a result of years spent in exile and prisons of the Serbian state. One of his last acts before his death was to help found the first school for women in Serbia. He was buried on March 16, 1875, in the presence of thousands of peasants, some of who shouted at the police assigned to maintain order to remove their hats in the presence of the saint.
 
Many decades after the death of Svetozar Markovic, on July 15, 1924, a new publication, La Federation Balkanique, appeared. This was a fortnightly periodical published in Vienna in all the Balkan languages as well as in German and French. In a spirited editorial the program of this publication was defined as follows:
 
"The principal task of our publication as its title has already shown, is to propagate the idea of liberation and the right of self-determination of the Balkan people as well as that of federalization . . . We wish that they may cease to be the common pray of European imperialism and Balkan chauvinism: that they may cease to be the arena where the latter settle their disastrous internal quarrels . . . The working masses will finally be eager to unite its forces into single Balkan front directed against chauvinism and conquering Imperialism from whatever quarter they may come. We want liberty and peace for our countries and our peoples! We know also that this liberty and this peace are not graciously granted but must be conquered by a desperate struggle! And we are beginning this struggle!"
 
This is the struggle and the principle that a new generation of Balkan revolutionaries must begin anew, with the same passion, but in a contemporary context, with new organizational forms, new political sensibility, and new language. Balkan Federation: with no state, and beyond all nations.




Buy this book now | Download e-Book now | Return to Author's Page


Al Burian Interviewed on Creative Loafing

Burn Collectorby Shawn Goldberg
Creative Loafing
November 30, 2010

Out of sheer curiosity, I contacted Al Burian. What happened? Where’s the new album? It’s absolutely shocking how long it’s been since we’ve heard anything new about this musician.

Burian, the singer/guitarist of two of my all time favorite punk/hardcore bands Milemarker and Challenger, currently resides in Germany and agreed to an interview, one question at a time, that took place over the first three months of 2010. When the interview began, I completely forgot that Burian also writes a ‘zine called Burn Collector, which consists of ridiculously entertaining autobiographical accounts of his travels and living situations in various metropolitan burgs across America. I was even more surprised to find the candidness and honesty reflected in those writings manifested itself in his emailed responses to my queries.

Recently, Microcosm Publishing released the newest edition of his zine, Burn Collector 14, and this fall PM Press re-printed a book containing Burn Collector Volumes 1-9.

Burian also sent along a photo to accompany the interview, along with the following message: “Myself inside the coliseum in Rome. Behind me you can see the arena where they used to feed Christians to lions.”

CL: What are you doing in Europe? How long have you been there?

Al Burian: I’m just doing my usual thing. I have German citizenship so staying here is no problem. I moved to Berlin last spring, in a pretty spontaneous decision. I found myself here and with no job or place to live back there. I had a moment where there was a flash of realization: that I could just stay. And so I stayed.

What’s your “usual thing?” And what are you doing for money? You can’t survive on your good looks alone like Henry Miller, can you?

Whenever I meet artists, I tell them I’m a musician and whenever I meet musicians, I tell them I’m a writer, and so on — so I guess my “usual thing” is trying to stay productive, do what I want, and not feel boxed in. And you are right, it is hard to find gainful employment with that attitude. I’ve always managed to scrape by somehow, but, for instance, one of my goals with moving to Europe was to get some health insurance, which is a luxury I could never afford in the USA. Socialized medicine in Europe, right? No, unfortunately. It turns out the health care situation in Germany is only slightly less of a mess than in USA. But I did end up wrangling some insurance out of them, as well as a few other benefits. Right now, I’m gainfully unemployed, getting my basic expenses paid by the state. The downside of the German system is that the job center seeks out jobs for you. They could call me at any moment with a job offer, and I have re-occurring nightmares about getting a call where they’ve lined up something for me as a car mechanic or a lifeguard. So far, no calls, and I’m spending my aimless days trying to get some writing done.

I’d spent a good amount of time in Germany before moving here, so it hasn’t been a total culture shock. My mom is German, and I grew up speaking it, so language barrier is no problem. Though, I will say, there is a certain longer-term strangeness that seeps in as time goes by — not so much a sudden culture shock, more a slow blooming realization of the subtle differences. When I went to Japan, my first impression was that it wasn’t very different — sure, I couldn’t read the signage, but I could recognize, OK, this is a grocery store, this is someone’s apartment, this is a kitchen, etc. and it all seemed about the same. After about a week of having the subtle differences compound themselves, though, I felt like I was tripping on acid. Everything, all the little details, seemed totally, mind-bogglingly weird. Germany is a lot closer to the US in many ways, plus there is no language barrier for me, so the differences have crept up very slowly. It took about four months before I felt like I was tripping. German society in general is very ordered, very regimented. The common example that people point to is how no one will cross the street if there is a “don’t walk” signal, even if there is no traffic in sight. As a wild-west American, your first impulse is to brazenly march across the street, you know, show some autonomy, be an individual, it’s common sense, there’s no cars coming. You feel smug about showing the herd how herd-like they are. But after a while, like having a mohawk as a teenager, you just get tired of people staring at you all the time and giving you weird looks, so you try to fit in. And what I found, at that point, was that it is actually pretty hard to re-socialize yourself into cultural norms you are not familiar with. I constantly find myself in situations where I realize that I am acting really weird, and that there is no way I can shut it off, in fact I can’t even quite exactly figure out what I’m doing wrong. It’s actually a quite similar feeling to being mentally unbalanced.

What are you writing? Songs? Essays? Stories? What are they about?

I’m working on a new zine, focusing around Berlin, that I hope to put out later this year. The last thing I did (Burn Collector 14) was very Chicago-centered, and between sending it off to the publisher and getting it back from the printer, I had moved out here. So now it feels strange to have that as my newest object to show for myself; it feels out of date to me already. I want to get something done that’s more representative of now. Otherwise, I’m working on another, longer story, generally about nervous breakdowns. And I have a couple of side project writing plans, so going back and forth with it all is keeping me pretty busy. I’d like to work on some more comics this year too. As far as music, I haven’t done too much of it since I’ve been here.

It seems like you’ve written stories about nervous breakdowns before. What fascinates you about nervous breakdowns? What’s the protagonist going through? Do you do any psychological research to study up on how one acts during such a spiral? How low does he go? I only ask this because I was today captured by a strange old memory. I was 6 or 8, and during that time my dad worked at the mall selling suits, and in passing he mentioned one of his employees (who must’ve been 45 or so and I was friendly with) had “suffered a nervous breakdown.” Being a kid, I didn’t really understand what those strong string of words meant and in a random moment of having nothing to chat about I asked the guy what that was like, having a nervous breakdown. I don’t remember his response but I remember the terror stretch across his face as he walked away. Weird that you reference nervous breakdowns, something I never think about, on the morning this memory came to me for the first time in almost 20 years.

The topic has come up before in stories I’ve written, although in recent years I’ve had some experiences that have made me realize that I didn’t know what I was talking about at that time; my definition of “nervous breakdown” was a pretty lax. A lot of people exhibit aberrant behavior within the punk scene and get away with it because it is more tolerated in that social context; I’ve taken advantage of that myself, and gone to some mental brinks while still blending into my surroundings. The last couple of years I was living in Chicago, for instance, I played in a band that was playing shows constantly, and I refused to carry any equipment, own a guitar amp, or put any effort into organizing ones to borrow. My attitude was, if there is an amp there that I can use, I’ll play, if not, too bad for you all. I was having some kind of deep crisis about music and expressing it in this weird denial of the physical objects associated with it. My band-mates, rather than kicking me out or recommending me a psychiatrist, just considered it a funny quirk of mine.

But that’s what I’m interested in, the idea of sanity being a social construct. In the story you are recounting, for instance: say a 45-year-old man walks into his job at the mall one day and announces, “I’ve been wasting my life selling suits! Don’t you people see how meaningless this all is?” Maybe the security guard escorts him away, and he gets fired, or even taken to a mental hospital if he won’t calm down. But is what he’s saying totally crazy? The other salesmen are obligated to think so, otherwise they cast their own lives into doubt, and that is the path to unraveling. If only this poor guy had been a 20-year-old with some crimethink literature! Then his actions would be pretty normal for his social context, and what he was saying would make sense to everyone around him. I had the reverse problem: when I finally started coming to an active crisis about my life in Chicago, it ruptured the social fabric I was in. My bandmates were much happier rounding me up an amp than debating the fundamental futility of our motivations. I don’t know if you’ve run across a lot of people who are losing their minds, but my experience is that they often have a lot of lucid, intelligent and insightful things to say, and that bums people out considerably. People get medicated and put away all the time, not because they stop being able to think clearly, but quite the opposite, because they start thinking too much, they can’t bottle up their feelings anymore, and eventually they make others feel and question in ways that are counter-productive to daily routine. In some way this is the extreme front line of the battle between the individual and social institutions.

It sounds like Milemarker/Challenger are on definite hiatus. Will you ever make new records again? When I last saw Milemarker live, maybe three or four years ago in Gainesville, you guys played mainly older songs; it was like a collection of greatest hits. Were you even aware back then (before your aversion to amps) that your interest in making music was dwindling?

The last couple of Milemarker tours we did (in the US and then in Europe), we did self-consciously play a sort of “greatest hits” setlist. That was partially a bit of self-irony (since, as you alluded to earlier, we were often perceived as being indifferent or openly hostile towards audience expectations), and partially because if someone recognized those songs, it was a way of hopefully communicating: thanks for paying attention, thanks for sticking with us.

It’s actually pretty possible that either or both of those bands will make another record. All of the principal players are still friends, still creatively active, and still in communication, so I could easily see it happening. I would probably not be the one actively pushing for it, but if it happened, I would be glad to participate; making music is fun, and it’s a good social outlet, a good way to hang out. The part I’m not that into is the pressure from labels, the stress of touring, the investment of self that leads to bruised egos and personal conflicts. I guess it is not exactly a dwindling interest in making music per se, more a lack of interest in the identity of being a musician. I don’t really sit around and “write” songs. For me music is more about the collaboration. Until I find some people who I am motivated to make music with, I’ll probably stick to other things. I’m a little confused about what the end result of music is supposed to be anyway: a good show? A good record? A Myspace site? I think music is in a strange period right now, as a form in general.

It’s funny you mention the end result of music. Especially that one of the ends is that you distill it down to such a cynical common denominator as a Myspace page. More often in interviews, I’ve sensed the confusion, and in this context the musician sometimes mentions his apprehension for the record album. Yet every week I purchase and listen to albums, and listen to them all the way through, side A and side B. If more people were more vocal about their love of the album as a whole, do you think you’d be so confused? Not everyone has an iPod and downloads music and visits social networking sites. And I wouldn’t describe those people as stubborn, either. Has your perception of the listener changed? With the sort of music you make, did you ever really care what the listener thought? And if ‘n/a’ to those, then what’s your predominant trepidation in the current climate of music?

I grew up, of course, listening to music on LPs, and my motivation for producing music was to make LPs. A-side, B-side, cover art — I was into the whole package, it made sense to me, and a good all-around record is a pretty satisfying object to make. It’s interesting to realize, though, that the format which you and I grew up taking as the norm is a relatively recent phenomenon. Recorded music hasn’t existed that long, and it wasn’t until the 20th century that you could mass-produce slabs of plastic that you insert into an appliance and it plays any type of music you can imagine. The idea of the album was a not-quite one-century blip in the formatting history of music, and dictated by market and technological forces, not by artists’ innate desire to write concept LPs. We just happened to grow up within that blip, so we see that as the natural way music should be presented. Contemporary (21st century) music seems completely defined by its adjustment to the paradigm shift of the digital age. That goes for how it sounds, who is making it, who is consuming it, and how they get access to it. I don’t think it’s bad, but I’m still waiting to see how things re-align themselves. In the meantime, I guess I just don’t have a strong urge to participate.

You said before that you’re trying to find a job through a state-run service. Have you found one yet? What sort of jobs are they offering you? I was also wondering what it’s like not to have a job in another country, since I kind of know what it’s like to not have a job in America. At first, it’s a good time, and then you have no money and a realization of squandered time begins to take hold. Do the differences of Germany allow that time to at least be more interesting? Is there anything in Germany that’s a surprising phenomenon?

I’m on unemployment, basically, on German welfare. The way that the system works here is, you sign up at an office and give them a list of your skills, degrees, and experience, and then they are supposed to try to match you with a job. Meanwhile, all of your basic costs are covered. I guess I have a weird and pretty unmarketable set of skills, so I am still waiting for them to call me. Germany is not that different from the US, basically a well-off first world country, and able to put more of their resources into creating a minimum social safety net for their citizens, since they are not investing huge portions of the GNP into fighting wars abroad. The current state of things does seem long-term untenable, though. An odd economic quirk in Germany is that there is no minimum wage. So many jobs pay ridiculously low wages, where working full-time you don’t make what you would for being on unemployment. Where’s the incentive to get a job?

Now that you’re in a place where no one knows you, and music is no longer a focal point of your daily efforts, are people often surprised by your past? I mean, Milemarker has its own Wikipedia page (which I doubt you contributed to). Do you ever show people your old music? Are they surprised by the covers? Like the Anaesthetic one for example? (And on a side note, what’s the inspiration behind that album cover?)

It surprises me how many people I meet who were at a show we played sometime in the last decade, and the vivid memories they’ll have of it. It makes sense, because Milemarker played in a lot of small towns all over Germany, and a lot of the kids at those shows have ended up moving to the big city a few years later, and if I go to shows and such I’ll run in to those people there. It always does surprise me though. I guess I didn’t register how many people we actually played to in the time when we were really touring a lot.

I’ve got no clue what was going on with that Anaestheic cover. The record had an original title of “Rise Up Friends” and was supposed to be kind of animal liberation themed, with all the songs about different animals, etc. Somehow all that ended up left over from that idea was the winged Pegasus. Then we tried to do packaging where the lyrics would be printed on the inside of the inner record sleeve, so you’d have to rip open the record sleeve to read the lyrics. Despite specific instructions, the printer, of course, folded the jackets so that the lyrics were readable on the outside. They probably figured we were just high when we wrote out the instructions or something. Anyway, overall Anaesthetic is not the most cohesively executed record of all time.

What do you think is your most cohesive artistic endeavor? In writing and music?

It’s hard for me to judge; I tend to be pretty self-critical, and only more so as time goes by and I look back on things. In a way it’s the dissatisfaction with past efforts that gives me the drive to do something new, to try to redeem myself. Also, when I think of projects that seemed to have turned out well or held up over time, it seems kind of arbitrary. There seems to be no formula to it. The Milemarker record Frigid Forms Sell, for instance, was no less haphazardly put together than any of the others — there are three different drummers on it, for instance — but somehow that one seems to have the most solid aesthetic and message, to communicate something specific and un-convoluted. Burn Collector #8 was the first long-form novella style of writing I did, and the first zine I put together that pointed to maybe being able to do something more ambitious with writing — and yet, I wrote it in a few weeks while crashing on someone’s couch in North Carolina; I didn’t even have a computer at the time. I think with creative endeavors you just have to do your best, try to supersede yourself a little every time, and accept that, as Haruki Murakami said, “they can’t all be winners.”

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Teaching Rebellion in Anarchist Studies Journal

Teaching RebellionBy Brian Martin
Anarchist Studies Journal
Vol 18, No. 2
University of Wollongong, Australia

In the south of Mexico lies the state of Oaxaca, poor, exploited and seemingly unremarkable. Then, in 2006, state government forces brutally attacked striking teachers.

This outraged the populace and triggered an uprising that shows the capacity of communities for self-organisation in the most difficult circumstances.

In Oaxaca, the government had long been both corrupt and repressive.

The people’s uprising challenged both the corruption and the repression. The initial response was defending the teachers; support for them increased dramatically after they were attacked. This soon evolved into challenges to government functions and setting up people’s alternatives.

Most local government officials were pawns of the corrupt state governor. The people set up their own organisation, a people’s assembly. The police neglected their normal duties; many of them joined plain-clothed paramilitaries who threatened, beat and shot at people at the barricades. So the people set up a de facto police force, to defend protesters and deal with common criminals.

The book Teaching Rebellion tells the story of the Oaxaca people’s movement in a highly engaging and informative fashion. The bulk of the book is two dozen personal stories told by participants.

The editors have done a wonderful job in grouping and editing these stories so that each individual voice is distinctive, yet the collective picture of events comes through very clearly. The stories are grouped chronologically and thematically, with perspectives from different sectors of the community successively presented, for example artists, technicians, journalists and priests.

To take an example, one of the perspectives presented in the book is that of women, who had long been oppressed in Oaxaca. The popular mobilisation empowered women to oppose both state government repression and local patriarchy. On one occasion, women were called on to join a march and bring along pots and pans for making noise. The women spontaneously decided to take over the radio station,
which was a propaganda tool of the government. For three weeks, they occupied the station and learned how to do broadcasting. They were assisted by many others – women and men – who provided food, child care and other needs.

The story of the radio station occupation is told initially by Tonia, in a simple and moving fashion. The editors give a one-paragraph introduction, and then it is Tonia’s story. A few excerpts:

At first I didn’t sympathise with the striking teachers. On the contrary, I was annoyed with the sit-in in the center and felt like the teachers just repeated the same thing every year. But everything changed after the brutal repression that the government unleashed against them. It made me put myself in their shoes … For a lot a people, the violence of June 14th was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

The situation in Oaxaca is unbearable. Rural communities live in extreme poverty … Yet Oaxaca is rich, full of natural resources. If it wasn’t for all the money the governors are stealing, we’d be better off than the countries in the North … What really impressed me was when they started to announce the March of Pots and Pans of August 1st. ‘How is this possible?’ I asked myself. I come from a village, and in a village, a woman is worth nothing. In a village a man drinks milk, a woman doesn’t. She doesn’t have that right. The man washes himself with soap.

The woman doesn’t, because she is a woman … The August 1st march was organized by a group of women who were participating in a sit-in at the Finance Department … when I heard on Radio Universidad that they were inviting women to a march, telling them to bring pots and pans and whatever they could use to make noise, I was the first in line (pp.131-133).

The text is supplemented by numerous photos of people and events. Appealing in both content and appearance, Teaching Rebellion is a model for presenting an indepth treatment of a people’s movement through the eyes of participants.

The overall story is both inspiring and distressing: inspiring in showing the people’s capacity to run their own communities without rulers and distressing in the measures taken by rulers – including arrests, frame-ups, beatings and shootings – to repress the movement. Repression was the trigger for mobilisation but also the key force restraining it, raising the question of how to promote self-rule without repression to ignite outrage.

Given the importance of the struggle and the need to take the message to wider audiences, I could not help reflecting on the limitations of the traditional printed book for communication. This sort of high-quality material needs to be available on the web as well.

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The Turbulence Collective's "What Would it Mean to Win?"

Groundswell
By James David Morgan
November 18, 2010

The wonderful folks at Turbulence were gracious enough to send a review copy of What Would it Mean to Win? our way.  What follows is a much delayed review of the book.  Should you want to spend some time with the text yourself, which we recommend, PM Press has copies.

To ask what would it mean to win, as the Turbulence Collective has, is precisely to avoid stating what it would mean to win. There is no coherent articulation of victory in these pages, and Turbulence does not want to proscribe a teleology to the movement of movements from which they draw. What Would it Mean to Win? stays true to the interrogative form used in its title; it presents a series of propositions and visions, each offering an opening, a new possible direction for movement. The results are rewarding, productive, and graciously aware of their own limitations.

What Would it Mean to Win? is a book about the counter-globalization movement, though it aims to contribute to anti-capitalism more generally. Its players are happy to participate in the kaleidoscopic recomposition of social life, and Turbulence raises the question in order to cajole them beyond what the collective sees as a potential impasse. In recent years, the movement has slowed, even stagnated, or at least morphed into something unrecognizable. Counter-summit mobilizations are frequently the subject of criticism, referred to as a coalesced, predictable, even routinized practice, rather than the rupture they once were. It’s possible to tell a history of these events, which Turbulence does, that begins with the acceleration of the counter-globalization movement and the affect of winning that characterized that time.  The history moves through the movement’s fits and starts, minor successes, defeats, and cooptions, eventually landing in the present, where that momentum is fraught with ambiguity, and feels more tired, much more like defeat.

This change in affect is Turbulence’s call to action. The group first noticed it in 2007, and brought the issue to the fore with their essay Move into the Light?, also reprinted in the book. Appropriately, the essay surfaced at the mobilization to shut down the G8 meetings in Heiligendamm, Germany, and prompted us to probe the dark corners where the movement had overlooked a potential turn (or, alternately, potentially overlooked a turn it could have taken, or still ought to take.)

Turbulence’s new book asks essentially the same question as then. It shouldn’t be seen as a criticism to point out that the question is being repeated; the editors themselves anticipated that they’d have to revisit it periodically, and they eloquently describe the necessity of addressing historical contingencies that shape our ways of making movement today. In short, it’s important, maybe even imperative, that we take up these questions regularly, that we test the bedrock assumptions on which our actions lie.


The text, for the most part, sticks to the time period between the publication of Move into the Light? and the printing of the book in 2010. There are obligatory references to the happenings in Seattle, 1999, and to the Zapatistas and New Left, but unlike so many of their contemporaries, Turbulence isn’t interested in turning their question into a historiography. As such, there’s no quibbling over the movement’s slowing, over who or what was responsible. In fact, there’s a flat out rejection of that kind of consequentialism and a poking fun at “those strange political groups of yesteryear, arguing about history as worlds pass by.”
The project also succeeds in avoiding a common pitfall of not writing a history, that of being a temporally-bound survey, a snapshot (to use Turbulence’s word) that would be irrelevant as soon as it was published. With the complexity and momentum of a movement of movements behind it, the fragments chosen to be included here comprise a wide conceptual frame, and the play (or discord) that happens between them is where we can learn, and what the book emphasizes.

If there is a temptation to which Turbulence submits, it’s a general one that can characterize many attitudes about social movements. If a linear history isn’t desirable, then its most viable alternative, a sort of networked version of the same, might be better. It has been assumed that taking this form, since it provides the most flexibility and fluidity, even if it is subject to overcoding and other weaknesses, is the best possible shape of resistance.

It’s surprising to find the same glorification of the network form in these pages because Turbulence is aware that the acceleration of the counter-globalization movement was concurrent with, and even contingent upon, the global expansion of capitalist communications networks. What’s more, they are clear, even insistent, on the point that we may not yet have found a workable organizational form for anti-capitalism. But the word that comes repeatedly to the fore is network. Perhaps it’s just an abuse of rhetoric, a shorthand way of describing the nebulous micro-politics in question, but an essay near the end of the collection takes a step further and makes a metaphor of complexity theory. Describing how scientific understandings of dynamical networks can offer insights into social organization doesn’t help to reveal new ways of being together in the world (even if it does make a fair bit of sense and may help us to anticipate them.)

Ultimately, What Would it Mean to Win? does justice to the question mark. A popular Zapatista phrase is repeated throughout – caminar preguntando – to walk while questioning – and this is precisely what Turbulence does. It may typically be victories that offer a chance for the political imaginary to expand, but with What Would it Mean to Win?, Turbulence proves that the same can happen at moments of deceleration, or at any other strange moment in the life-cycles of social movements.

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Red Pepper Book Review: Turbulent Tome

By: James O'Nions
Red Pepper Magazine
Dec/Jan 2010

Since 2007, the Turbulence Collective has produced five issues of Turbulence: Ideas for Movement. It’s a newspaper-format journal of political theory, reflections on organising and debate that comes unmistakably from the recent anti-capitalist or alterglobalisation movement. Indeed, the first issue was produced specifically for the big mobilisation around the G8 summit in Heilingendamm, Germany in July 2007. It’s that issue of Turbulence that is reproduced in this book.

So why publish in book form something that was produced for a particular moment three years ago? There are undoubtedly some valuable articles here. The collective’s politics are the kind of ‘new anarchism’ that has enlivened the alterglobalisation movement – drawing strongly on autonomist Marxism, post-structuralism and the practice of the Zapatistas. Yet the articles don’t remain on a plane of complex theory but, in the main, relate this to concrete problems of organising. They range from a conversation between two union organisers in the US about the ‘Justice for Janitors’ organising model of the Service Employees International Union to analyses of the idea of a basic citizen’s income, solidarity economics and the intriguingly titled ‘politicising sadness.'

On the down side, the authors (both of this book and other issues of Turbulence) are largely based in the academy, which sometimes produces language that’s obscure to those not steeped in theory. This book also contains only one contribution by a woman, which is partly written to address the issue that she is the only woman contributor.

It’s possible to read most of this book online (www.turbulence.org.uk), though the interview with two of the editors at the end, which wasn’t in the original publication, is a worthwhile addition.

I did wonder why they didn’t put together a collection drawn from all five issues so far – after all, the theme running through this one is fairly loose. Nevertheless, the Turbulence project is a thoughtful and valuable contribution to the radical libertarian left and the practice of movement-building, of use to open-minded leftists across the spectrum.

James O’Nions is co-editor of Red Pepper.

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Arrested Development

The incredible shrinking legacy of a 1960s culture hero

Bookforum
By Kerry Howley
Dec/Jan 2011

Almost everything written about Paul Goodman refers to him as a "man of letters," a designation interesting only in that it indicates a terrific triumph of self-branding. Goodman very much enjoyed calling himself a man of letters, or sometimes an "old-fashioned man of letters," so stated with an air of declinist resignation, and could be counted on to complain if described as anything less. He produced essays with titles like "The Present Plight of a Man of Letters," the gist of which was that the plight was rather taxing, and that they don't make 'em like Paul Goodman anymore.

Perhaps they don't. Few today would call themselves playwright, poet, novelist, urban planner, media critic, classicist, activist, and primary-education expert, though it is Goodman's insistent sexuality that places him so singularly in the 1960s. Too disruptive to be long attached to any university or institution, Goodman is principally remembered as the author of Growing Up Absurd (1960) and as a cantankerous Jewish intellectual of the New Left. There was a time when he was everywhere, often as one among many in some literary salon, occasionally playing the role of leading man. On a 1966 episode of Firing Line, a deadpan Bill Buckley introduced Goodman as an "a bisexualist, a poverty cultist, an anarchist." Shrouded in ribbons of pipe smoke, ruffled like a runaway child, he objected—mildly—to "poverty cultist" before proceeding to argue for the abolition of public schools.

I saw that Firing Line bit in a trailer for a 2010 documentary called Paul Goodman Changed My Life, produced by Jonathan Lee and populated with reverent souls who feel he has been unjustly forgotten. The man did, after all, hang around plenty of people—Norman Mailer, Mary McCarthy, Grace Paley—better served by historical memory. Susan Sontag called Goodman "our Sartre," though he was unfailingly rude to her, civility never having been his strong point. The anarchist Dwight Macdonald reports that at parties Goodman would scout the crowd for "young fans" and "bathe in their naïve adulation," while spurning the company of everyone his own age.

Gracious guest or otherwise, Goodman was someone you invited to your party, just as you sought his presence at your protest and asked him to speechify at your sit-in. To consort with the author of Growing Up Absurd was to suggest that you, too, were your own person, beholden to no convention, tied to no tired establishment consensus. Said to be the only book regularly quoted by UC Berkeley protesters during the free-speech movement, Growing Up Absurd inspired fierce gratitude in university students of the '60s, who took the attack on the "organized system" to be an intellectual defense of their rebellion. To the charge that disaffected youth simply needed better socialization, a fifty-year-old Goodman asked, "Socialization to what?" To ten hours a day with a sloganeering team of corporate puppets? To participation in the "world-wide demented enterprise" known as the American military? Having failed to justify their ways to young men, Goodman argued, grown-ups had cultivated the very anomie they so loudly lamented.

Students eventually turned on Goodman, perhaps because they made the mistake of actually reading, rather than simply quoting, Growing Up Absurd and found its normative view of a meaningful life unduly constrained. But what they initially saw, and quite rightly admired, was a man who refused to accept life's choices as they were given. Asked to choose between a war-addicted democratic establishment and Soviet Communism, Goodman chose anarchism. Asked to choose between men and women, he elected to marry twice—while continuing to proposition attractive young men. Asked to give a talk to the National Security Industrial Association in the State Department auditorium, a forum in which even most antiwar types might begin with some pretense of courtesy, Goodman chose to address his crowd as "you people":
You people are unfitted by your commitments, your experience, your customary methods, your recruitment, and your moral disposition. You are the military industrial of the United States, the most dangerous body of men at the present in the world, for you not only implement our disastrous policies but are an overwhelming lobby for them, and you expand and rigidify the wrong use of brains, resources, and labor so that change becomes difficult. Most likely the trends you represent will be interrupted by a shambles of riots, alienation, ecological catastrophes, wars, and revolutions, so that current long-range planning, including this conference, is irrelevant.

As a libertarian in unlibertarian times, Goodman feared war, bureaucracy, and what he called "acquiescence to the social machine." Process is a verb one comes across frequently in Goodman's writing. Governments process full-bodied humans into soldiers; corporations process them into personnel. Public schools process children into obedient cogs. Individual initiative, he believed, was nearly always wasted, and technocracy threatened to waste it ever more expeditiously in the service of the state. The town meeting championed by Thomas Jefferson and the kind of mutual exchange championed by Adam Smith were, in his view, beautiful instances of human flourishing, but both the market and the government had become so complex that individuals were lost, squandered, processed. Everything, Goodman was fond of saying, had sprawled beyond "human scale."

Goodman had a lot of ideas, dozens and dozens of books full of ideas, about how to reclaim human life from the haze of bureaucratic abstraction. Many of these verged on the crackpot—though when Goodman gave up prescribing and stuck merely to describing, he could articulate a clear-eyed vision of a life well lived. Somewhere he describes a decent community as one in which a crazy old lady can wander the neighborhood without fear of being put away, which is as good a description as I have read. He longed to replace process with emotion: more fistfights, more orgasms, more draft cards lit afire in a show of public rage. Most everyone, he thought, could benefit from more casual sex, especially adolescents, who suffered from "excessive stimulation and inadequate discharge."

In service of this point, he regularly seduced his male students and proudly admitted as much. He would, as the composer Ned Rorem tells it in the film, make "passes at literally everybody. I mean everybody—men and women and people's mothers and the president of the university." The essay "Being Queer" is, if anything, more subversive today than it was in 1969 when Goodman wrote it, declaring that the teacher-student relationship is inherently erotic in character and that anonymous sex is a healthy pursuit. "Although I wish I could have had my parties with less apprehension and more unhurriedly," he writes, "yet it has been an advantage to learn that the ends of docks, the backs of trucks, back alleys, behind the stairs, abandoned bunkers on the beach, and the washrooms of trains are all adequate samples of all the space there is. For both bad and good, homosexual life retains some of the alarm and excitement of childish sexuality. It is damaging for societies to check any spontaneous vitality. Sometimes it is necessary, but rarely; and certainly not homosexual acts which, so far as I have heard, have never done any harm to anybody."

The anarchist-friendly publisher PM Press has reissued a number of books authored by Goodman—an indiscretion that his fans have long feared. "Certainly," wrote critic Kingsley Widmer in his 1980 book on Goodman, "a complete collected works could only be an embarrassing exposure before entombing."

Either more or less kindly, Mailer compared "the literary experience of encountering Goodman's style" to "the journeys one undertook in the company of a laundry bag." Judging by New Reformation: Notes of a Neolithic Conservative (1970), Drawing the Line Once Again: Paul Goodman's Anarchist Writings, and The Paul Goodman Reader, plodding through Goodman is considerably less fun than that. When he comes across an interestingly subversive thought, he takes it prisoner, interrogates it endlessly, and tortures the joy out of its expression, leaving it so disfigured as to be unrecognizable to all but the most patient reader. Out of concern less for Goodman's reputation than for the future of American letters—bad prose is catching—I cannot recommend cracking a single spine from among these works, which include plodding, bafflingly structured essays, tin-eared poetry, and didactic plays. Better to read others on Goodman—rarely in history has such a long list of luminaries come together to apologize for a single body of work.

"Though he was not often graceful as a writer," Sontag observed in tribute, "his writing and his mind were touched with grace."

The opening essay in New Reformation takes as its subject the perversion of scientific discovery by government, for example in the Manhattan Project. By turns maddeningly vague and pointlessly specific, the piece begins with a dry description of some then-recent university protests, proceeds to the surprising observation that "for three hundred years, science and scientific technology had an unblemished and justified reputation as a wonderful adventure," identifies technology as a "branch of moral philosophy, not of science," and goes on to demand that technologists get into the business of telling people when to renounce their infatuation with technology, as with the overabundance of cars. Space exploration is encouraged ("It must be pursued"). "A complicated system," we learn, "works most efficiently if its parts readjust themselves decentrally"—though then again, "usually there is an advantage in a central clearinghouse of information about the gross total situation." All told, "the most efficient use of Big Science technology for the general health would be to have compulsory biennial check-ups"—though more tonsillitis cases, it is suggested, should be treated in the home. Also: "A question of immense importance for the immediate future is: Which functions should be automated or organized to use business machines, and which should not?" The remaining third of the essay draws a painful analogy to the Protestant Reformation, with tangential references to the "dissident young" and their inability to focus on "the underlying issues of modern times."

Goodman's most passionately held positions—his distrust of the "hidden government" composed of the CIA and FBI, his refusal to trust any party when it came to waging war or safeguarding civil liberties—have, in the abstract, held up very well. But in their execution, his arguments are strangely mimetic of his greatest anxiety—the dissolution of good will under conditions of unmanageable complexity, the ever-growing distance between good intentions and their consequences. The aforementioned essay wants to make a point about the simple romance of human discovery and the way sclerotic institutions pervert that romance. Instead of gently bringing life to the idea, Goodman lurches forward and processes the thought out of existence. He comes across a sun-burnished clementine, disappears into his office, and emerges with a lukewarm glass of SunnyD.

New Reformation
records Goodman's break with the student movement—he found college kids increasingly ignorant and ideologically brittle, and they found him excessively bourgeois. But the views he expresses in the book are little different from those he belabored a decade before in Growing Up Absurd. He was never so much supporting university students as psychologizing them, attempting to diagnose what he took to be their monstrous alienation from modern life. In various works, he describes Beat poetry as incompetent, On the Road as artless, and hipsters as the detritus of a civilization bereft of meaning. (If today's student population can learn anything from reading Goodman, it's that hipster-hating precedes them by many years.) In New Reformation, he refers to the students' music as "terribly loud."

Is this the Goodman who mattered? That he was never the genius some took him to be is obvious from a look at any one of these works. He was a guy who wore a lot of tweed, smoked a corncob pipe, and played the part of a serious man. His rumpled outline and earnest demeanor met with some notion of how a public intellectual ought to look, how he ought to behave, what dark soulful depths he ought to plumb while staring meaningfully into the distance. And for a number of people, several of them interviewed for the documentary, Goodman's thoughts converged with their own vague misgivings and validated their refusal to accept the world as it was given them. "I was living in a small Texas town," says a Goodman admirer named Jerl Surratt as he recalls his first encounter with the man's work. "And if I stayed in Texas it just wasn't going to work for me, I had to break away. Paul Goodman was someone who helped strengthen that resolve in me, that ambition." By the time Goodman died, Surratt was already in New York: "I'd read that there was going to be a memorial service. And to be sitting there with his family and people who had also known him intimately, who were men, was a very moving experience, and reinforced for me that I'd made the right decision. I was in a city where these things were possible. Where a life like this could be led."

The sentiment is not Surratt's alone. The most rewarding bit of Drawing the Line Once Again turns out to be editor Taylor Stoehr's introductory reminiscence. Stoehr relates how he found in Goodman a man who had found "another way to live," a man whose refusal to conform could shock a young mind back into its best instincts. Here was "an attitude toward life and the world" that got "into your own bones" and left you transformed. "As if in dialogue with Socrates," he writes, "you felt you were in touch with your own wisdom, like a kind of memory, for the very first time."

Socrates, you will recall, never wrote anything down, while Goodman, in lieu of electing a Plato from among his admirers, spent a lifetime anxiously asserting himself as a writer first and an eccentric second.

It is no small thing to have been so consistently contrary to the social and intellectual sweep of one's time. But if it is simply as a man of letters that we must remember Goodman, we won't remember him at all.

Kerry Howley is a senior editor of the literary magazine Defunct and an MFA candidate at the University of Iowa.

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When John Brown Won

By Scott Borchert
The Indypendent

November 17, 2010

Near the end of Terry Bisson’s utopian novel Fire on the Mountain, one character, Yasmin, receives a book of alternative history. Titled "John Brown’s Body," the story is as absurd as it is unsettling. The militant abolitionist Brown fails in his raid on Harpers Ferry and is captured and executed; after a brief civil war, the U.S. capitalist class unites, conquers much of the continent, and gradually asserts its influence over the entire planet. War, exploitation and oppression follow.

Yasmin’s daughter, Harriet, shivers and says, “That’s why I don’t like science fiction. It’s always junk like that. I’ll take the real world.”

After all, she knows better: Brown and his co-commander Harriet Tubman didn’t fail at Harpers Ferry in 1859 but successfully escaped into the Blue Ridge Mountains. There they launched the Army of the North Star, and night after night, their enormous bonfires could be seen raging high on the mountaintops, calling others to join the guerrilla war against slavery. And join they did — from enslaved Africans to white abolitionists, from Italian and Mexican republicans led by Giuseppe Garibaldi to English workers led by Karl Marx. What began as an anti-slavery struggle developed into a war for independence and Black self-determination, and, eventually, the land south of the Mason-Dixon line became a new nation, Nova Africa. Not long after, Nova Africa embarked on the road to socialism. And 100 years later, in Harriet’s “real world” of 1959, Nova Africa’s neighbor to the north, the U.S.S.A., has followed.

This is the premise of Bisson’s Fire on the Mountain, released in a new edition by PM Press. Al-though originally published 22 years ago in France as Nova Africa, it is a book that continues to provoke questions about how and why our world is the way it is — and how it might be different.

Bisson relates his alternate version of history through several perspectives: the written testimonial of a teenage slave who joins Brown and Tubman’s army; the letters of a white abolitionist doctor who is radicalized by the uprising; and a third-person narrative that follows Yasmin and Harriet in 1959 as they bring the aforementioned testimonial (written by their ancestor) to Harpers Ferry on the centennial of the raid. Such a structure suggests that history itself is better understood as a multiplicity of narratives, generated by the distinct but interwoven experiences of many people as they navigate the shared, fundamental contours of their world. Bisson’s technique allows us to glimpse these fundamental contours — slavery and capitalism, war and revolution, socialism and national liberation.

In his introduction, Mumia Abu-Jamal praises the vision of this novel as “one born in a revolutionary, and profoundly humanistic, consciousness.” Indeed, there is something revolutionary about re-imagining the past, turning history inside out and extracting visions of a different world. Fire on the Mountain does all of this in a way that is engaging and often inspiring — but this is no mere exercise in radical fantasizing. Rather, by considering what has been, and creating a narrative of what could have been, Bisson reminds us that what is yet to come remains unwritten.

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Hindsight and Tunnel Vision

By William Meyers
December 4, 2010

Teun Voeten: Tunnel People

Umbrage Gallery 

111 Front St., Ste. 208,
Brooklyn, NY

(212) 796-2707

Through Dec. 30

"Tunnel People" is a social documentary project, in the tradition of Jacob Riis's "How the Other Half Live" and Dorothea Lange's "American Exodus": It exposes us to people in straitened circumstances and advocates for their relief. Teun Voeten's tunnel runs under the esplanade in Riverside Park on the Upper West Side. Mr. Voeten, who studied anthropology and philosophy in the Netherlands, lived, worked and slept in the tunnel for five months in 1994. These 25 pictures were shot during that period and after the tunnel dwellers' eviction in 1996.

The primary function of a documentary photograph is to convey information. Mr. Voeten shows us the shadowy underground world his people live in, their proximity to the Amtrak trains that speed through the tunnel, their makeshift quarters, and the rubble that is everywhere. He also follows them as they collect the empty cans and bottles to redeem. There are pictures of them at the community agencies trying to integrate them back into society. Beauty is beside the point, but the shot of a distant subterranean figure caught in the light of a ventilation grating is quite striking, and the faces of many of these men are rendered memorably.

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Acquitted “Stoke Newingon Eight” anarchist life story to be told in film

By Emma Bartholomew
Hackney Gazette
21 November, 2010

Acquitted Stoke Newington Eight member, anarchist Stuart Christie, who tried to blow up Spanish dictator General Franco aged 17, talks to Emma Bartholomew about how he found last week’s political protests “reassuring” and a forthcoming autobiographical film.

Acquitted Stoke Newington Eight member, anarchist Stuart Christie, who tried to blow up Spanish dictator General Franco aged 17, talks to Emma Bartholomew about how he found last week’s political protests “reassuring” and a forthcoming autobiographical film.

The education riots at Tory HQ Millbank last Wednesday, for which 57 people have been arrested, has brought “direct action” politics to the forefront.

Christie himself was arrested in 1972, along with the “Stoke Newington Eight,” for having taken part in Britain’s first urban guerilla group The Angry Brigade - blamed for 25 bombings against the British Establishment.

Christie, who was acquitted of any involvement in the conspiracy, says he finds it “reassuring that people can still get angry about politics.”

“It shows that plus ça change - times change, but the focus points of protest and anger are still there, and when you push people hard enough and they are angry enough, they become frustrated and take direct action.”

“It’ll be interesting to see how that growing anger develops – and manifests itself,” said the 64-year old who now lives in Hastings on the south coast.
“Every generation finds its own way.”

In 1971-1972, The Angry Brigade targeted what the radical left regarded as symbols of capitalist repression - banks, embassies, the 1970 Miss World event, homes of Conservative MPs, corporations and government offices.

No one was killed, although one person was slightly injured - but the security breaches were a serious embarrassment to Edward Heath’s government.

After a lengthy investigation, on August 20 1971 a police squad raided the upstairs flat of 359 Amhurst Road, inhabited by four university “dropouts” - John Barker, Jim Greenfield, Hilary Creek and Anna Mendleson – and couldn’t believe their luck.

They allegedly found a small arsenal of weapons and explosives and a John Bull children’s printing set, which had been used to authenticate Angry Brigade press releases.

Police hid out in the house and arrested two more suspects the next day, activist Chris Bott and anarchist Stuart Christie.

In the following months, dozens of arrests were made, but only two people were linked to the six already arrested, art student Kate McLean, and telephonist Angela Weir, better known as Angela Mason OBE, director of the gay equality group Stonewall.

The group became known as the Stoke Newington Eight, and the longest trial in British history ensued, lasting over six months.

Barker, Mendleson and Creek, all younger than 24, chose to conduct their own defences, and the group succeeded in casting serious doubt on most police evidence against them - including the Amhurst Road arsenal, which they claimed was planted.

During their trial, protests were held asking for the release of the Stoke Newington Eight thousands of badges were sold saying, ‘I’m in the Angry Brigade.’

None of the defendants were ever convicted of planting explosives - but the four Amhurst Road’s residents received 10 year sentences for ‘conspiring to cause explosions likely to endanger life or cause serious injury to property’.

In a review of a book about the Angry Brigade, John Barker since wrote, “In my case, the police framed a guilty man.”

A collective vow of silence was taken by those involved in the trial, still upheld this week by Christie, who would only describe the period as “interesting.”

The Glaswegian has certainly had a colorful life, and his life story is set to be told in a film next year.

In 1964 aged 17, he was arrested in Spain carrying explosives, on his way to assassinate General Franco.

“That’s what 17-year olds do, it’s when people tend to do radical things and become immersed in radical politics, when they have fire in their bellies and in their hearts - and at that time there seemed a different possibility,” he explained.

“The political scene was shaking, and it seemed as though it needed a final push, and it almost succeeded – but you win some and you lose some.

“It was an educational experience, and it stood me in enormous good stead in terms of learning about people and things, like that life wasn’t black and white,” he added.

In his autobiographical book, My Granny Made Me An Anarchist, Christie talks about his earliest influence, who inspired him with her “ideas of injustice and doing the right thing.”

The follow-up, General Franco Made Me A Terrorist, tells of the three and a half years he spent inside Spanish gaol, where he was trained in printing.

“It was a stupid thing for them to do because anarchists were always involved in printing, ever since the 19th century,” he said.

He continues his anarchist struggle through the written word nowadays, and he has his own publishing house, ChristieBooks.

“My main focus is on writing and publishing and educating, raising consciousness and awareness of a different perspective,” he said.

He was instrumental in getting Gordon Carr’s comprehensive account, The Angry Brigade - first published in 1975 - republished this year by PM Press.

Christie is sceptical society has seen any improvement since the Angry Brigade’s time: “Things are just the same as they ever were, there’s no change and basically there’s no final solution, there’s will always be something to struggle against.”

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