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Some Thoughts on Synthesis and Political Identity

By Abbey Volcano

Theory in Action Special Issue: Building Bridges Between Anarchism and Marxism, William T. Armaline and Deric Shannon (eds.) Vol. 3, No. 4, October 2010

A Review of Wobblies & Zapatistas: Conversations on Anarchism, Marxism and Radical History, by Staughton Lynd and Andrej Grubacic

Wobblies & Zapatistas is a long and inspiring conversation between Andrej Grubacic, an anarchist historian from the Balkans, and Staughton Lynd, a longtime Marxist organizer from the U.S.  The conversation veers between many controversial and relevant topics for contemporary radicals. In this review, I will write about a few that stuck out to me for one reason or another.  Regardless of any criticism in this review, the book, overall, is very good and highly recommended reading for contemporary believers in other worlds organized more sanely and compassionately than our current one.

A major theme throughout these conversations between Grubacic and Lynd is the notion of a “synthesis” of anarchism and Marxism that will hopefully be able to revive and rebuild a radical Left movement in the States.  Grubacic writes, “We have insisted on the usefulness of reviving a synthesis between anarchism and Marxism that should combine prefigurative direct action and coherent structural understanding.[i]”  With this notion, the authors set the stage for anarchism to be articulated as a theory that lacks a “coherent structural understanding.”  “Anarchism” needs to be qualified here. After all, anarchism has been used to describe very different theories and practices that articulate their “anarchism” quite differently. The anarchist milieu is filled with many competing tendencies that are often at odds with each other: insurrectionary anarchism, green anarchism, primitivism, anti-civilization, individualist anarchism, social anarchism, class-struggle anarchism, pro-organizational anarchism, etc. The authors of Black Flame[ii] respond to this hodge-podge of theories by recognizing this problem and arguing for a “broad anarchist tradition” which places anarchism as a social movement that has its roots in the mid-19th century socialist Left, with writers such as Bakunin and Kropotkin. Interestingly, the authors of Black Flame have a fairly narrow definition for their “broad” anarchist definition which displaces (precludes?) figures such as Proudhon, Stirner, Tucker, and Tolstoy since they did not employ a class-struggle anarchism based in social movements.

Perhaps Lynd thinks that anarchism lacks coherence since the term can be used to describe so many different (anarchist) theories (although having points of unity such as anti-capitalism and anti-statism). That may be a valid point, but since there are so many different “anarchisms” then one cannot really write about “anarchism” as a monolithic and coherent theory and then try to critique it. Anarchism needs to be qualified in this sense. For instance, Lynd implies anarchism is merely anti-state:

…”anarchism” is an inadequate term to describe what the new movement, or movements, affirm. Like the Haymarket anarchists, like the IWW, those who travel long distances to confront the capitalists of the world at their periodic gatherings, are not only opposed to “the state.” They are equally opposed to capitalism, the wage system, and corporate imperialism[iii].

What distinguishes anarchism from other radical political theories is its rejection of hierarchy in and of itself. Anarchism is not merely anti-state or anti-capitalist. We are against domination, coercion and hierarchical control in all of their (sometimes invisible) manifestations. We struggle against white supremacy, patriarchy, heteronormativity, etc.  Anarchism calls for change on the structural, cultural and conceptual levels—of course we aim to destroy the state and capitalism, but we also aim to contract different and egalitarian social relationships that would make racism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism, etc. things of the past. We also create new social relationships, ones that mirror the future society we wish to live in, inasmuch as we can while living under the institutions that we have inherited. Conceptually, we aim to kill the cop in our head—a la the famous Situationist slogan.

Lynd explains why anarchism needs Marxism, but much of his argument is based on the misconception that anarchism is without theory and disorganized.  For instance, Lynd writes, “…I am worried that in the absence of theory, many of those who protest in the streets today may turn out to be sprinters rather than long-distance runners.[iv]”  In many instances Lynd would be correct, but his analysis erases certain strains of anarchism that are deeply committed to structural change and have coherent theories. Strategy is complex when it comes to anarchism. Unlike vulgar Marxism which has a clear trajectory and steps to arrive at “The Revolution,” anarchism is known for its self-reflexivity and our constant task of reassessing and, when in need, reformulating our goals and tactics and strategies to arrive at them. In this sense then, anarchism is in many ways experimentation, which does not translate into “theory-lessness” or incoherence.

Lynd supports the idea of experimentation in relation to social movements and their tactics, but at the same time, he insists that this experimentation needs to be “supplemented” with a structural analysis, by which he means that anarchism (the experiment) needs Marxism (the structural analysis): “As the new movement grows in dozens of scattered settings, so the anarchist mode of putting down roots in a variety of locations will need to be supplemented by structural analysis that helps us to prioritize, to concentrate resources, to abandon unsuccessful experiments without condemning persons who undertook them on behalf of us all.[v]” This is problematic because it paints anarchism as a nice idea that needs help to function. This is the synthesis of anarchism and Marxism. Anarchism is the free-spirited idealist that has a big stake in making our means consistent with our ends (i.e. focusing on prefigurative politics), but we are vague and theory-less and therefore “require” Marxism, the theory-giver and strategy-maker (which is the point Lynd is making when he writes “…I am convinced that anarchism needs Marxism.[vi]”)

The main point I’m making here is that there are articulations of anarchism that have a strong structural analysis and visions for a future society and how to get there. I would name these articulations class-struggle, pro-organizational anarchisms that employ an intersectional analysis and that struggle against domination, coercion and hierarchical control on the structural, cultural and conceptual levels. I’m not sure why these articulations of anarchism would “need” Marxism.

A more interesting question is, Do we need to frame the debate in this way? Queer theory has shown us that identity is complex and not always useful or liberatory. In many ways, identity constrains us. For example, in the realm of sexuality, we are given three boxes with which to understand our sexuality: hetero, homo and bi. The confusion and angst experienced when one tries to “figure out” which box they belong in can be dismantled when we remove these boxes as well as the desire to have such boxes. For instance, there are many types of sexualities that are erased when we are (only) given these boxes to choose from. Some sexualities are organized around desires that aren’t necessarily gender-based (i.e., BDSM, non-monogamy, fetish-sex, etc). As well, we come to identify ourselves through our erotic (gendered) desires. Instead of sexuality being something you do/act/perform, it becomes something we are. We are lesbian, gay, or bi. Instead, we could be people that happen to perform certain sexual acts at some points and other sexual acts at other points—those acts need not define us. This is the difference between saying “I am” and “I do.” There is a huge potential for liberation and freedom within the seemingly simple change in orientation from “I am” to “I do.”

How does this pertain to Marxism and anarchism you may be wondering? Similar to the ways we’ve learned to identify (i.e., create static boxes that cage us and our potential) by our sexuality, we have also learned to identify by our political “identity.” The dialogue in Wobblies & Zapatistas uses a discourse where anarchism is put neatly into a box and Marxism is put neatly into another box. In reality, it is much more complex than that (just like with sexuality). What does it mean to say “this is anarchism” and “this is Marxism”? Doesn’t this just create neat little boxes with political identity now? Grubacic and Lynd are calling for a synthesis of the two traditions. This does bridge them, but it also reifies the rigidity of political ideology. In many ways, pro-organizational class-struggle anarchism is already doing what this synthesis calls for.

There are two issues with this synthesis. First, anarchism is being discussed as though it is a monolithic political ideology that is essentially anti-state and not much else. Secondly, borders are being erected as to what anarchism and Marxism are and are not, and then it is concluded that they “need” each other. If we learn anything from queer theory it’s that identities are fluid and this includes political identities. What does it mean to have a bounded “Anarchism” and “Marxism” when these are ideas that already bleed into each other in practice? Furthermore, we need a bunch of theories to pull from if we are going to be able to address and struggle against the complex problems in today’s society. We will need to pull from queer theory, feminism, critical race theory, radical environmental theories, disability studies, etc. Grubacic touches on this when he writes, “…this would mean accepting the need for a diversity of high theoretical perspectives, united only by certain shared understandings.[vii]” As well, we can see with Staughton himself that a good deal of anarchist prefigurative politics and experimentation has bled into his Marxism when he writes, “Accordingly, we should be gentle with ourselves if solutions to such problems do not emerge overnight. A period of experimentation, of trial and error, seems to me inevitable[viii]” and “We must allow spontaneity and experiment without fear of humiliation and disgrace. Not only our organizing but our conduct toward one another must be paradigmatic in engineering a sense of truly being brothers and sisters.[ix]” So too, many of Lynd’s responses to Grubacic’s questions incorporate a heavy reliance on anarchist prefiguration: “You have asked me to set out my thoughts about, How can we rebuild the movement today? I do so with humility. The answers will be demonstrated in practice.[x]”

An important aspect of anarchism is, perhaps, best articulated in the old IWW axiom “building a new world in the shell of the old”. This is crucial for a couple of reasons. One, we need to experiment with new relationships and structures in the here-and-now so we can see what works and what doesn’t—what is useful and what is not.  In the same light, why would anyone fight for something they did not have faith in? The first question I get from people who ask me what anarchism is or what it means is usually “But, how would that work? What would that society look like?” After I give a few examples, the follow-up response is usually, “How would anything get done without someone being in charge?” This communicates two very important things. One, we need vision. Two, we need proof, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, that organization and decision-making is best left in the hands of those who are affected by the decisions. Lynd shares this sentiment well:

               Additionally, I believe passionately that it is unfair and unrealistic to expect poor and oppressed people, or, for that matter, anyone else, ardently to desire and sacrifice for something they have not experienced. We learn, as the poet John Keats once said, from what we experience “on our pulses.” How can we expect people to hunger and thirst for something new and different if they have never even had a moment to experience it, to taste it, to live inside it?[xi]

               I agree that there is needed a “vision,” but I do not think ordinary persons bleed and die for a vision that they have not experienced. I think the vision must be rooted in daily life, and if it is not, nothing will happen. If the vision is the seed, daily life is the soil.[xii]

Lynd gives some beautiful responses to complex questions from Grubacic about how to rebuild a relevant and revolutionary movement today. Lynd writes, “Lastly, something that neither Marxists or anarchist have been very good at: We need to proceed in a way that builds community.[xiii]” It is stressed throughout this conversation that what we need, as Marxists and/or anarchists, is to organize locally and relevantly in mass-oriented and diverse ways… something far beyond summit-hopping[xiv]. Another stressed notion is that of a need for a coherent and shared vision of a future society[xv]. Not shared as in “uniform,” but shared as in “diverse and complementary.”

Other themes visited throughout this conversation between Andrej Grubacic and Staughton Lynd are the notions of accompaniment and the role of radical intellectuals, the role of women in radical movements, class unity that sometimes exists despite white racism, etc. The book is packed with conversations about issues that directly impact modern radicals and visionaries. For this alone, it is well-worth the time investment to read it. The text is mainly Lynd answering difficult and relevant questions that Grubacic has posed with storytelling. We are lucky that someone has captured the stories of Staughton and Alice Lynd, two lovers who shared amazing experiences organizing and struggling along with thousands of other folks throughout the 1960s and into today. We have a lot to learn from Grubacic and Lynd, despite, perhaps, taking issue with their proposed synthesis.

[i] p. 103

[ii] Michael Schmidt and Lucien Van der Walt, Black Flame: The Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism (Oakland, CA: AK Press, 2009).

[iii] p. 19

[iv] p. 42, emphasis added

[v] p. 114

[vi] p. 46

[vii] p. 43

[viii] p. 105

[ix] p. 115

[x] p. 104

[xi] p. 50

[xii] p. 99

[xiii] p. 114

[xiv] p. 88-90

[xv] p. 98


Buy this book now | Download e-Book now | Back to Andrej Grubacic's Page | Back to Staughton Lynd's Page


The Angry Brigade on Living Scotsman

Living.Scotsman.com
By GAVIN BOWD
12 October 2010

It is said there are three things that the British do worse than their continental cousins: railways, fascism, and porn.

To the list could be added terrorism. This re-edition of Gordon Carr's history of the Angry Brigade, Britain's first urban guerrilla group, plunges us back into a time when a group of middle-class drop-outs thought that bullets and sticks of dynamite could rouse the western working class from its slumber.

Between 1970 and 1972, the "Angries" targeted government ministers, police stations and army barracks, embassies of 'oppressive' regimes, a Biba boutique and the Miss World contest. Only one person was hurt, and sometimes the damage was so minimal that, in the case of the London embassy of Franco's Spain, the alert was only raised by a cleaning lady some days later. The ambition of this home-grown group was, however, melodramatic and megalomaniacal. In one of their communiqués, they declared: "We have sat quietly and suffered the violence of the system for too long. We are being attacked daily." This campaign was masterminded by former members of the Kim Philby Dining Club at Cambridge University, who graduated to squatting and stealing students' cheque books.

The "Stoke Newington 8" were soon arrested. But despite their hatred of "the system'" they hid behind claims of innocence, exploited legal technicalities and, thanks to the very British leniency of the judge, turned the longest criminal trial in this country's history into a political circus where they could throw insulting remarks at the "pigs." It is the latter who emerge as the real heroes of this story, as Carr describes in detail the painstaking way in which they prepared and obtained convictions. Indeed, the only positive contribution made by the Angry Brigade was the creation of the Bomb Squad, which would be of great use against the infinitely more deadly threat of Irish republicanism.

Britain's urban guerillas never enjoyed the doomed chic of the Baader Meinhof Gang and the Red Brigades, who attracted genuine sympathy for their struggle against a state machinery still steeped in fascism. Unlike some of their continental counterparts, they did not go on to make an impact in mainstream politics. Under an adopted name, Anna Mendelson has received considerable acclaim for her poetry, but her cultural impact cannot rival that of another Kim Philby diner, one Tony Wilson, late owner of Situationist-inspired night club, the Haçienda.

In a self-serving addendum, Stuart Christie remarks that at least he and his comrades were not "Bolshevik psychos." But on Clydeside in 1972, Jimmy Reid and his fellow "psychos" had the gumption and guts to achieve something more lasting than anything that emerged from a dope and dole-dependent hippie commune in London.

Buy book now | Download e-Book now | Back to Gordon Carr's Page




Tunnel People on [tk] reviews

Notes From the Underground
By Jessica Freeman-Slade
[tk] reviews
Issue VI, October 2010

When in 1906 the journalist Upton Sinclair released his novel The Jungle, critical of unsafe labor as well as meatpacking practices, he found himself disappointed by its reception: reform came not for the workers, but for the meat. Sinclair discovered readers were more interested in the bestseller’s exposé of unsanitary meatpacking practices than its searing portrait of the horrors of factory life; he noted, “I aimed at the public’s heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach.” When faced with exposés such as Sinclair’s, or Teun Voeten’s Tunnel People (PM Press, $24.95), it often proves less difficult for readers to stick with the unsightly details than to confront the book’s larger, more terrifying issues. Yet in Voeten’s book, whose central focus is the humanity of the tunnel people, it is impossible, dishonest, and ultimately the reader’s loss, to look away.


First published in Amsterdam in 1996, and now available in its first American edition, Voeten’s book details his experiences of cohabiting and corresponding with the residents of New York’s Amtrak tunnels from 1994-1996. Beneath Riverside Park, Voeten is led through the underground by a handful of guides. Its denizens become as familiar as family: most memorable are the affable Bernard, “New York’s most famous homeless man,” and the poetic Julio, who defends his albums of Beethoven, Mozart, and Tchaikovsky from marauding rats. Not every figure in this world is endearing—Voeten takes great pains to describe the ominously absent Bob, an insatiable speed addict whose vacated tunnel abode Voeten uses during his reporting, and the elusive Kool-Aid Kid, who leaves a trace of green Kool-Aid in every camp he vandalizes. Most of the people Voeten meets are far from caricatures: Frankie and Ment, two teenage boys who greet him with a baseball bat yet quickly decide to share their dinner, and Kathy and Joe, one of the few couples in the tunnel community, who carve out a domestic life in the most unlikely of circumstances.

When early stories emerged about the tunnel people they were labeled “mole people” and “CHUDS” (cannibalistic human underground dwellers). As Voeten notes, “There were urban legends about subway maintenance workers who had disappeared without a trace, having met their final destiny on the roasting spits of starving savages.” Yet Voeten’s subjects are anything but monsters, or even case studies: they are his neighbors. Voeten is humane and sympathetic at every level of his reporting, never patronizing, always aware of the choices these people have made. (Though he does not shy away from identifying the crack and heroin users in the bunch, he never attempts to change their stories or convince them to quit.) These are vibrant, funny, and often deeply self-aware people, cognizant that their situation is one they’ve created for themselves. Bernard, a philosopher to his very core, says, “One thing made me really sad—in the tunnels I never encountered a real human that accepted his fate. Most people here allow their past to haunt them. . . . I never saw here any spiritual growth.”

Voeten’s extraordinary tunnel photography demonstrates the macabre, labyrinthine quality of these quarters and this life, but nothing in his portrait is sugarcoated. Voeten details the disparity between what he found in portrayals of the homeless by mainstream media and reality:

The slapdash folder of the Coalition mentions that:

•    One out of five homeless people has a job but cannot afford housing.
•    One out of three homeless is a veteran.
•    Women and children are the fastest growing segment of the homeless population.

    From my own experience and from what the tunnel people have told me about their fellows, combined with data from sociological research and literature, I reach different conclusions:

•    More than fifty percent of all homeless have some kind of criminal past, are on parole or are fugitives.
•    Most homeless who say they are veterans have hardly seen a battlefield, or have been discharged from the service for all kind of reasons.
•    Ninety-five percent of the money you throw in that paper cup will be spent on crack.

It’s hard to read this book without getting mired in the thought that hundreds of thousands of people today have recently begun to think of themselves the way the tunnel people do—as on the fringe, better off scavenging for what they can get, with nothing significant on the horizon to keep them afloat. In light of the recession’s effects, and with the number of homeless families skyrocketing, tunnel life still seems a viable alternative to life on the increasingly crowded streets. As Voeten notes, then as now, it is nearly impossible to get a real sense of the homeless population—“families who are camping out in the highly crowded rooms in welfare hotels but still have some privacy are technically not homeless. The alcoholics who live in cheap motels in rooms of thirty square feet, or the poor black families who are cramped into squats are also not considered homeless. Overlooked in most studies and surveys are the ‘couch people,’ those who have lost their homes and are staying on the couches of friends or relatives.” In a study conducted in 2009, the Department of Housing and Urban Development found that on a typical October night, there are as many as 730,000 homeless people on the streets. That’s up from the 1996 statistic of 444,000 people, the year Voeten concluded his research. There’s nothing to suggest that the problem is abating—if anything, it’s exploding. And though the tunnels may have closed, their former residents seemed to anticipate this problem. “Bernard gazes up toward the grate. ‘Here it was a Heaven of Harmony. It became a Heaven of Headaches,’ he says dramatically. The sunlight falls down and lightens up his silhouette against the dark tunnel walls. With his high forehead and bald patch, his straight nose, and his powerful chin he looks like a stern prophet from the Old Testament. ‘But who am I to complain about chaos? Even God has to accept the existence of chaos.’”
    
In the summer of 1995, the tunnel people were evicted by Amtrak, once seemingly unconcerned so long as the trains continued to run on time. With the American edition, Voeten has added an epilogue updating us on his main characters. Some have restarted their lives, kicking drug habits and finding apartments through the Housing Works program. Others have died, horribly, of AIDS, violence, and continued exposure to street conditions. And some are still roaming, their whereabouts unknown. It is hard to know if any of the many reporters covering the tunnel people invested as much as Voeten in these people’s futures, “canning” with them, defending them against investigations by social services, and even smoking crack with them. Voeten’s journalistic objectivity can be questioned, but not his commitment to this story and these people. He seems to understand, perhaps better than his readers ever could, just how much these underground safety nets can mean to the people who benefit from their shelter. But more importantly, he has found a way to show us the tunnel people not by their statistical trademarks—drug addiction, alcoholism, crime, and AIDS—but rather through their humanity, their talents, their extraordinary attitudes of good humor and hope.

Buy book now | Download e-book now | Back to author homepage




North American tour raises awareness of successful social justice organizations

Community and Resistance tour stops in Greensboro
The Pendulum
by Marlena Chertock
October 5, 2010

On the night of Sept. 30, students from Elon University, Guilford College and UNC Greensboro and local social justice activists gathered in a community center in Greensboro to hear two traveling social justice organizers speak.



The discussion by two participants of the Community and Resistance Tour, which works to raise awareness of social justice organizations' successes, was held in the Hive, which serves as an office and event space for several Greensboro social justice organizers.



The tour started in August and has visited 65 cities in 80 days. It will continue through mid-December, according to Vikki Law, one of the tour's main speakers.



"We've been doing a city a day," Law said. "In the past week we've gone from Milwaukee to Atlanta and up to the Durham/Greensboro area.

"

The other speaker, Jordan Flaherty, explained the tour's goal.

"The idea is we want to spread stories of people coming together, the ways in which people have actually been successful," Flaherty said.

"We know the problems, but there is not a lot of talk of what solutions are.

"

Law agreed with Flaherty.



"We're trying to share stories of social justice struggles and also the victories," she said.

"We don't, as a movement, savor our victories."

The mission is to spread and multiply the success, according to Flaherty.



"Hopefully we'll inspire people to document and share these stories of resistance," Law said. "It shouldn't just be a handful of people. It should be spontaneity, people rising up together, solidarity."



Law got involved in social justice work while researching women's prisons. She said most of the information she found was about what male prisoners were doing to resist.



"I started asking around, 'What are women doing?'" Law said. "The answer flabbergasted me. People told me women in prison aren't resisting, aren't organizing. I said this can't be true.

"

She said she researched more and found that women prisoners actually do organize, but there are efforts to silence them. The women prisoners organized most strongly against sexual abuse in prisons, according to Law.



Law gave several examples of women prisoners driving their guards out and demanding better living and working conditions, demanding to be treated as humans.

Many women prisoners would scream at the guards to leave a fellow inmate's cell, Law said. 

Law described one extreme circumstance where Joan Little, 21, stabbed a guard to death when he demanded she perform oral sex on him and threatened her with an ice pick.

According to Law, many of these events happened in North Carolina women's prisons.

"These women prisoner stories connect people on the outside," Law said.

"People start to see what was going on on the outside was exacerbated inside (the prison). Prisons are these exaggerated mirrors of what we're fighting on the outside."



Flaherty got involved in this kind of work when he lived in New Orleans.



"If you look at New Orleans in the last five years, it faced all these bigger issues on hyperspeed," he said, referring to the area post-Katrina.



Flaherty explained how the infrastructure collapsed. Teachers were fired overnight, the public hospital closed, the housing and health care system weren't functioning and the first city function to restart was a prison.



"Every single check and balance in the city failed us," he said. 



Police brutality became extreme and the police officers would plant evidence and hold secret meetings to rewrite stories, Flaherty said.



The media, coroner and government failed to investigate crimes and lawyers weren't representing their clients, he said.



Katie Yow, a community organizer in Greensboro, is one of the local organizers for the tour. She helped bring Flaherty and Law to Greensboro.



"Creating spaces to share work, history, stories and ideas between movements and between communities is a vital part of building our own communities' work, and building strength with each other on a national level," Yow said.



Elon's chapter of Students for Peace and Justice attended the Greensboro stop of the tour. SFPJ president junior Claire Healy explained why the group attended.



"The tour will educate SFPJ members on social issues and the tools of activism, allowing us to build upon our methods of making change at Elon," Healy said.

"I also expect it will provide inspiration and momentum for our campaigns this semester."



Healy said she believes it is crucial for SFPJ to make connections to communities and organizations like those in Greensboro because they are actively promoting peace and justice.



Law gave a helpful way to look at social justice work. She said there are intersections between different issues that should be looked at.



"Don't have to take on whole other social justice issues," she said. "These struggles aren't all these separate things in a vacuum. They are all larger struggles."



Flaherty suggested bringing local social justice organizations together once a month to eat. He proposed an organizer's roundtable, a place and chance for people to share what they're doing, he said.

Law said it has to be seen as a process.

"You're not going to build these ties overnight," she said.



Law also talked about having children grow up learning about social justice as a way to build a nationwide movement.



Law explained how the Zapatistas in Mexico inspired her.

The Zapatistas are a revolutionary group, formed in 1994, who work nonviolently for equality and solutions to poverty.

She said they would hold discussions while their children would run in and out of the meetings.



"So the children would grow up in the movement, with dialogues and conversations about social justice," she said.



She called this learning by osmosis.



Law said Greensboro has so many families involved in social justice.

The social justice community should support the families, so both kids and parents can be involved, she said.




Community and resistance tour speaks to need for systematic change

By Amanda Dahill-Moore
The Guilfordian
October 8th, 2010

On Sept. 30, downtown Greensboro's HIVE buzzed with activity.

"Welcome friends," said Katie Yow ‘08, as she opened the Community and Resistance Tour with a wide sweep of her hands.

"The HIVE is a radical community space," said senior and art major Hillary Flint. "It's a great way to connect to people outside of Guilford."

Opened in 2007, the HIVE seeks to provide a space where different communities within the Greensboro community can learn from one another, exchange ideas, and share stories and resources. The acronym stands for History, Information, Vision, and Exchange.

The Community and Resistance Tour unites activists, artists, and authors across the nation who address the necessity for systemic change in corporate media, prisons, and institutions of thought that perpetuate social injustice.The tour emphasizes community-building similar to establishments like the HIVE. Through open dialogue, the tour also seeks to connect grassroots organizations with independent media.

Jordan Flaherty and Victoria Law are two of the five speakers on the tour that is scheduled to stop at 65 cities in 80 days.

Flaherty, a journalist and community organizer, took the stage first. His main topic was in revealing the untold stories of institutionalized racism that threatened and destroyed lives in post-Katrina New Orleans.

"Seventy-five percent of African Americans displaced by Katrina say they want to come back, but feel ‘kept out' because of economic barriers," Flaherty said. "How did organizing fail? And what does it mean?"
Flaherty recounted stories of police brutality that claimed the lives of African Americans in the aftermath of Katrina.

According to Flaherty, the true stories were not told by mainstream media and it took three years for the work of grassroots organizations to hold the media and other institutions accountable.

"Part of the tragedy of Katrina is that the voices have been silenced," Flaherty said. "I want to amplify and multiply those voices."

Law, a writer and artist whose primary focus is justice in women's prisons, spoke next.

Law pointed out that injustice in areas as diverse as housing, education, and prisoner and women's rights all spring from the same flawed system.

"Keep in mind that prisons are an exaggerated mirror of what we are fighting for on the outside," Law said.

One of these issues is the chronic sexual abuse that occurs when women prisoners are under the complete power of male guards.

Like Flaherty, Law emphasized the need for voices to be heard. According to Law, silence and the fear of speaking out perpetuate these problems.

Programs are needed that "allow women a space to tell their stories, validate their existence," Law said.

In 2009, four women in Raleigh, N.C., filed a lawsuit saying that they had been raped, groped, molested, and threatened in prison. They filed a Class Action lawsuit, meaning that they would be able to speak on behalf of countless other women who had similar experiences but were afraid to come forth.

Many of the approximate 3,000 women incarcerated in North Carolina have a history of abuse and most come from the lowest economic rung.

"They need support and allies on the outside," Law said.

The evening came to a close with community members sharing their projects. Some of the projects and organizations included the Spectrum Doula Collective, a North Carolina project that provides care to any person experiencing any pregnancy outcome, and Queer People of Color (QPOC), an organization that supports LGBT people of color.

Isabelle Moore, a drummer for Cakalak Thunder, also talked about her experience "drumming for social justice."

"These struggles are inter-connected," said Flaherty when asked how people could unite their different causes. "There is huge power in people coming together."


Livro: Punk para o Povo

A História dos Crass traça a história criativa e as raízes de um ativismo social dos punk rockers do Reino Unido

By Stefan Christoff

A cultura Punk Rock é diversa, desde os okupas anarquistas mais radicais aos sucessos de rádio de um punk-pop adolescente, e dentro desse panorama não existem dúvidas que o lendário coletivo britânico Crass deixou a sua marca na história do punk rock.

Os Crass apareceram na cena punk britânica nos finais dos anos 70, dotados de um som e de uma prática política que desafiou e transformou o gênero. Letras flamejantes apontadas ao Estado e às autoridades políticas superaram interpretações artísticas mais vagas no som do punk rock, ao mesmo tempo que membros do coletivo Crass se juntavam ativamente a lutas populares da época, levando as letras à prática enquanto ativistas sociais.

The Story of Crass (A História dos Crass), de George Berger, oferece uma impressionante e profunda descrição sobre a formação e trajetória dos Crass. Para além do punk, o livro oferece uma visão importante sobre o contexto político nas Ilhas Britânicas durante a era pós-hippie e de depressão econômica dos finais dos anos 70, que alimentaram o aparecimento da cultura punk no Reino Unido.
A icônica meditação do dramaturgo Bertolt Brecht "a Arte não é um espelho onde a realidade se reflete, mas um martelo que ajuda a dar-lhe forma", apropriadamente inicia um capítulo chave: a arte, para a banda, é vividamente descrita nas páginas biográficas como um processo criativo diretamente ligado ao confronto com as injustiças sociais compreendidas na época.

A sua forma singular de assumir uma cultura punk, granjeou ao grupo um estatuto permanente na história contemporânea do punk, ainda que A História dos Crass aponte para a rejeição do estrelato por parte do grupo, especialmente no seu auge, assim como aprofunda as origens de uma prática de rejeição publicitária de coletivos musicais revolucionários reconhecidos tais como os Godspeed You! Black Emperor, que continuam a desconcertar a imprensa musical ainda hoje.

"Talvez tenha passado despercebido aos membros dos Crass que a sua deliberada política de anonimato, misturada com estórias sobre uma remota rocinha no campo, lhes tenham emprestado uma certa mística dentro do circuito punk", escreve Berger. "Toda a gente quer saber a resposta a um segredo, tal como qualquer mágico de palco ou fisiologista amador poderá testemunhar".

De fato, um dos muitos segredos abertos dos Crass, como nos diz o livro, é a sua expressão de uma honesta fúria popular contra as injustiças sociais da era Margret Thatcher. Ao unir a música, o ativismo político e a experimentação artística durante um período em que a agitação política abundava, os Crass deixaram a sua marca na história cultural contemporânea.

O livro vai para além dos chavões, para detalhar as múltiplas influências artísticas da banda, que conhecidamente combinava uma colagem do som, projeções ao vivo, guitarras ruidosas, vocalizações punk rock e amostras de som ainda antes da música feita por computador. É certo que a ressonância dos Crass está também ligada à sua experimentação artística inovadora, já que o coletivo orquestrava não apenas um som único mas também alguns dos primeiros projetos de graffiti no Reino Unido.

"Outra linha do assalto multimídia dos Crass à conformidade apareceu no fórum sobre a campanha do graffiti de stencil", descreve em linhas gerais Berger. "A febre do graffiti de stencil tornou-se uma pequena revolução no Reino Unido durante algum tempo, já que as pessoas seguiam a iniciativa dos Crass ao longo de todo o país, usando os seus slogans políticos, subvertendo anúncios ("Sub-vertising") e a sociedade por todo o lado". A História dos Crass aponta também para uma duradoura influência cultural dos Crass na arte de rua, citando artistas conhecidos a nível global tais como Banksy.

A História dos Crass tenta seguir o rasto à cena cultural punk que deu origem aos Crass através de sub-culturas dos finais da década de 60, quebrando um tabu da sub-cultura punk ao destacar uma trajetória-história entre a época hippie e a do punk rock, que faria Sid Vicious dar voltas no túmulo. Mas a tentativa dos Crass de articularem sonhos revolucionários, na ação e na música, vai para além de rótulos culturais como o do punk rock. Fundamental para a compreensão da contínua relevância dos Crass ainda hoje é a natureza universal das idéias anarquistas que alimentaram o grupo.

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Jim Nisbet's noir detective knows why the book biz is fading

By Jonathan Kiefer
SF Weekly
Wednesday, Nov 3 2010


The San Francisco poet and novelist Jim Nisbet's new book is an old book, reportedly conceived in the mid-1980s as he was making a name for himself with crime novels while also feeling disgusted by the marauding prosaicism of detective fiction. From necessity, he came up with a different kind of noir-pulp novella: literarily neurotic, self-deconstructing, hardboiled private-dick lit. Perhaps to cover his tracks, Nisbet also took the trouble of rendering the thing obscenely hilarious.

Aptly, he called it A Moment of Doubt — a short moment at just over 100 pages, yet long enough to have stayed timely until its publication this month in a joint effort by the East Bay's PM Press and San Francisco's Green Arcade. It qualifies as a local-publishing event, if this town nowadays can accept as much from a writer who's inclined to make his protagonist another writer who's inclined to liken his penis to Coit Tower at Christmastime. (Yes, as A Moment of Doubt hotfoots its course, from anticipated junk-needle jab to a breakthrough of consensual sodomy, pricks will abound.)

This increasingly anguished narrator, toiling away in the '80s himself, is one Jas Jameson, "detective writer, a name that bears the onus of years of fictional violence, of sexual outrage, and lately of fraudulent endeavors." Habits include contorted, toilet-rattling sex with his landlady, skulking around vestigial Cow Hollow sleaze pockets in a bleary-eyed fog of depressive paranoia, and confusing familiar barflies with his own fictional creations. As regards the fraudulence, that refers both to the whole of Jameson's literary oeuvre — which contains some conspicuously familiar titles from Nisbet's own backlist, plus a few other invented doozies such as So Long, Pockface — and to the dubious means of his recent bestselling eminence. Jas has just discovered "the marvelous labor-saving capacities of modern word processing," through which the hack becomes a hacker, tinkering with his publisher's mainframe and turning its business operations to his own advantage.

"I'll even give you a hint, dear reader," he warns early on, "right now, right this very moment, as you're buying, holding, reading, thinking about this text, you're deep, deep within a SUBMIT routine, conceived, written, and implemented a long, long time ago, by me. Your dear chickenshit author. And as of now, because you found out about all this too late, you're lucky I'm benevolent. Consider."

Only gradually does the irony dawn that A Moment of Doubt isn't just about genre fatigue in general; it actually anticipates the Kindle-tested, microblogger-approved technological horror that's palpably underway in the book business now — with deep reading ditched for mobile-upload synopsis skimming, author confidence shot and the whole organism of literature apparently sickened nearly to death. Or as Jas Jameson put it more succinctly some 20-odd years ago: "A pre-ulcerous condition loomed. Automation became imminent."

Under the circumstances, Nisbet seems remarkably magnanimous. One might almost weep with gratitude for the vigor he puts into even the most quotidian descriptions, the way of mocking writerly indulgence while also delighting with it. He's like a more hetero Burroughs, or a more companionable Mailer, or both at once. His avidity is touching, and rewarding.

This has been a productive year for Nisbet, with the publication of his novel Windward Passage and reissues of The Damned Don't Die (known originally as The Gourmet) and Lethal Injection. Maybe it'll even be productive enough to release him from the qualification that although many Americans still don't know his work, he's huge in Europe. If anything, A Moment of Doubt reminds us that he's been doing right by the reader from moment one.

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Panitch and Harvey Provide Essential Primers on the Financial Crisis

By Ed Walsh
Irish Socialist Network
October 20th, 2010

I’ve always found the economic side of Marxism to be a bit of a chore, really. Whether it’s the great bearded one himself or such notable followers as Rosa Luxemburg and Ernest Mandel, I’ve tended to skip the weighty volumes they delivered with Capital or Capitalism in the title and go for the sparkling political essays that don’t mention the organic composition of this or the falling rate of that. Every now and then I’d dig out one of the books recommended as an accessible primer on Marxist economics, struggle my way through it and forget much of what I’d read within a few weeks.

Eventually I decided it was time to get my head around this stuff properly and clear up my ignorance of what’s been happening to global capitalism over the last few decades. Handily, I had started to get my teeth into it just when the great financial crash began. If anyone tries telling you that nobody predicted what was going to happen, don’t listen: the Marxist economic analysts whose work was derided or simply ignored by the wise men of the mainstream had their eye firmly on the ball. Here’s one random example from an essay published in 1999 by the Spanish economists Jesús Albarracín and Pedro Montes:

“The magnitude of the financial problem surpasses that of any preceding historical period, including the years preceding the crash of 1929. Considering present conditions - capital’s internationalism, decomposition of the international monetary system, deregulation of markets - the house of cards erected through financial and credit expansion is highly unstable and runs a risk of collapse which is not easy to dismiss. Before the initiation of another expansive cycle similar to that of the 1980s and above all before the initiation of a lasting phase of recovery, a cleansing of the system which destroys part of this financial capital seems necessary. No firm recovery can take place with the burden of the current financial hypertrophy and degeneration.”

Not bad for “dinosaurs”, eh?

Now that the crisis has actually hit us, it might be a good idea to check out this deeply unfashionable school of economic thought, among whose English-speaking vanguard the authors of In and Out of Crisis and The Enigma of Capital rank very highly.

In their short, accessible primer, Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin set out to dispel some naïve and woolly thinking about the crisis on the Left. They challenge the common view of neo-liberalism as an ideology pure and simple, describing it instead as a class project which aimed to reinforce the social power of capitalist elites in the global North. This brings into question the idea that 2008’s meltdown - and the massive state intervention which followed - marked the demise of neo-liberalism. The ideology has certainly been rendered laughable, but then, it was never meant to be carried out in practice. Reagan, Thatcher et al never had a problem with state intervention as such. In fact their project required it, on a vast scale. It’s not a question of whether or not states should intervene in the economy, but how and on behalf of which social interests.

Panitch and Gindin also question the widely-urged remedy to the financial joy-riding which has marked recent economic history: more and better regulation. Such calls overlook the class nature of the state in a capitalist society, which renders it unsuitable for the task of bringing finance capital to heel:

“The fundamental relationship between capitalist states and financial markets cannot be understood in terms of how much or little regulation the former puts upon the latter. Neo-liberalism brought a change in the mode of regulation, but there wasn’t less regulation. Moreover, freer markets often require more rules, if nothing else to protect the property owners who are in the market, to lay the rules under which they can sue each other and go to court when they are not able to make their obligations. It is certainly possible to say that the regulatory agencies should have developed forms of controlling some of the rampant speculative and fraudulent activities. But regulatory agencies weren’t interested in that. Their role was developing the kinds of regulations that would promote financial innovation. And the resultant financial speculation has been central to the kind of dynamic globalisation that capitalism produced to the cost of a great many people around the world.”

There will have to be a major renewal of working-class political organisation if this comfortable relationship between capitalist states and capitalist markets is to be challenged; Panitch and Gindin have some useful reflections on the impasse of North American trade unionism which can easily be linked with experience on this side of the Atlantic, and conclude with “strategic considerations” for the Left and ten theses on the crisis that deserve careful study.

Like Eric Hobsbawm and Frederic Jameson, David Harvey has managed the impressive feat of establishing himself as the pre-eminent scholar in his field despite remaining loyal to Marx throughout a resolutely anti-Marxist age. Harvey’s reputation is founded on an awe-inspiring grasp of factual material and social theory, in tandem with a lyrical prose style that recalls the best of Marx himself. Try this for a taster:

“If we could somehow map the movement of capital occurring in different places across the globe, then the picture would look something like the satellite images taken from outer space of the weather systems swirling across the oceans, mountains and plains of planet earth. We would see an upswelling of activity here, becalmed zones there, anticyclonic swirls in another place and cyclonic depressions of various depths and sizes elsewhere. Here and there tornadoes would be ripping up the land and at certain times typhoons and hurricanes would be coursing across the oceans posing imminent dangers for those in their paths. Refreshing rains would turn pastures green while droughts elsewhere leave a scorched earth brown.”

The Enigma of Capital is a remarkably clear and readable analysis of the factors that cause capital to break its cycle, generating the crises that have wreaked havoc across the globe since the birth of industrial capitalism. There’s no point trying to sum up Harvey’s argument in a few sentences: I’ll just concentrate here on one of his points about the origin of economic crises. Marxist economic theory has often been divided into camps grouped around three “crisis theories”: “The profit squeeze (profits fall because real wages rise), the falling rate of profit (labour-saving technological changes backfire and ‘ruinous’ competition pulls prices down), the underconsumptionist traditions (lack of effective demand and the tendency towards stagnation associated with excessive monopolisation).” Harvey believes that we need a more pluralist approach to crisis theory that combines the insights of different schools:

“The analysis of capital circulation pin-points several potential limits and barriers. Money capital scarcities, labour problems, disproportionalities between sectors, natural limits, unbalanced technological and organisational changes (including competition versus monopoly), indiscipline in the labour process and lack of effective demand head up the list. Any one of these circumstances can slow down or disrupt the continuity of capital flow and so produce a crisis that results in the devaluation or loss of capital. When one limit is overcome accumulation often hits up against another somewhere else. For instance, moves made to alleviate a crisis of labour supply and to curb the political power of organised labour in the 1970s diminished the effective demand for product, which created difficulties for realisation of the surplus in the market during the 1990s. Moves to alleviate this last problem by extensions of the credit system among the working classes ultimately led to working-class over-indebtedness relative to income that in turn led to a crisis of confidence in the quality of debt instruments (as began to happen in 2006). The crisis tendencies are not resolved but merely moved around … it is also vital to remember that crises assume a key role in the historical geography of capitalism as the ‘irrational rationalisers’ of an inherently contradictory system. Crises are, in short, as necessary to the evolution of capitalism as money, labour power and capital itself.”

John Waters of the Irish Times recently launched a particular ignorant and senseless (even by his standards) attack on “gobshite-Marxism”. While we have to admire his pioneering use of the word “gobshite” as an adjective, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Waters just didn’t have a clue what he was talking about. There’s been plenty of gobshite-neo-liberalism in the Irish media since the crisis began, however. It would be nice to imagine one of the pundits who froth at the mouth when talking about public-sector workers delegated the task of rebutting Harvey’s argument, on pain of losing their access to the opinion pages and having to go around in public with a trade union pin on their jacket if they can’t get to grips with it. We’ll be waiting a long while for that to happen, of course. But in the meantime, do yourself a favour and check out both of these books: even though they barely mention Ireland, you’ll learn more about where we might be headed than a year’s subscription to the Irish Times or the Irish Independent would divulge.

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Dancing With Myself

Benjamin Whitmer Interviews Benjamin Whitmer
Nigel Bird, Sea Minor blog
23rd October, 2010

I'm just back from the Lake District. For those who haven't been there, it's a truly beautiful part of the world and it rains a lot.

On the motorway, just before our final turn off, the last services available were at a place called Killington Lake. I like the idea of using that for a name of a character at some point, but if you want to get there first, go ahead - just make sure I get to read the tale.

Being with the family has been a real treat and there's also been something of marathon running in there (now I know how the bloke who walks it wearing a deep-sea divers suit feels). Great to go, great to be back.

I've missed posting interviews very much.

Delighted then that, as I come up for a lungful of air, tonight I can put up this piece by Benjamin Whitmer. The air around him smells fresher and cleaner than the Lakes, at least that's the way I imagine it from all the way over here.

Here's something about his novel that I ripped from the ever reliable Spinetingler:

“This is nightmare, hunker-down-in-your-soul, how-deep-can-you-dig, release-the-fucking-bats territory.”

If that isn't enough for you, read the rest of the review at:

http://www.spinetinglermag.com/2010/07/22/pike-by-benjamin-whitmer-review/

Dig the cover, dig the title and dig the interview:

Benjamin Whitmer one and all...


So the first question has to be one that I think we’ve all had on our minds: how the hell did Pike manage to get published?

Well, it started with getting an agent. After I finished Pike I made a list of Manhattan agents and sent out a bunch of straight cover letters asking them to please represent me. I got nowhere, so one night after a few drinks, my wife and I decided to have a little fun with the process. I don’t remember all of what we came up with, but the bio ran:

“I've been a bar-brawler, a factory grunt, a vacuum salesman, a convalescent, a high-school dropout, a graduate student, a semi-truck loader, a small-time drug dealer, a protestor, a gun nut, a squatter, and a petty thief. Right now I'm teaching Ward Churchill's classes at the University of Colorado, and I could stomp a mudhole into James Frey's ass on the best day he ever had.”

All of it was true, of course, and It seemed to work. I sent it out to a five agents on a Wednesday, and by the next Monday I had one phone message and two emails.

Boxers or briefs?

Barbed wire.

Have you ever considered who might play the title character in a Hollywood adaptation of Pike?

Funny you should ask that. About a year ago my editor at PM Press asked me to write up a Hollywood pitch for Pike. She had a bead on an independent crime movie director who was looking for new material. He’s somebody whose movies I like quite a bit, so I had a couple of drinks and banged something out. For the lead character, Douglas Pike, I wrote: “Mel Gibson (with his beard), hopped up on cocaine, booze, and self-hatred, with strict instructions to tap into his inner Nazi.”

The director liked the pitch well enough that he requested a copy of the book, but, as of yet, he hasn’t read it. He’s on a pretty grueling directorial schedule, I hear. Which, as I told my editor, is just how I want it. As long as he doesn’t read it, he can’t reject it, and I get to brag on ever barstool in town that my first novel’s being considered for a Hollywood film.

I’m starting to notice a common theme. If you don’t mind me asking, what’s your favorite color?

Alcohol.

And since we’re on the subject of things writers love to talk about, what kind of music do you listen to when you’re writing?

Waylon Goddamned Jennings. Just in case you couldn’t tell. I have my own sense of what is and what’s not country music, and it runs from The Louvin Brothers to The Drive-By Truckers, but all of it revolves around Waylon Goddamned Jennings. Even the other shit I listen to, like blues or punk rock, all of that is contained within the mighty spirit of Waylon Goddamned Jennings. So when people ask me what I listen to, that’s what I say. Waylon. Goddamned. Jennings.

Glock or 1911?

Why choose?

Back to Pike. You got some great blurbs on the book. Were there any that you wished you’d gotten but didn’t?

Actually, now that you ask, my agent had a contact who knew Harry Crews, so he hit him up for a blurb. Crews’ response was perfectly appropriate, something to the effect of: “I’m 74 years old and got my own fucking books to deal with before I die.”

My wife says I should have called him up and said, “Yeah, well my first choice was Larry Brown, but he’s already dead.”

A serious question: was there any one book you read that made you want to start writing?

Actually, yeah, there was. And, more impressive, I even remember what it was. It was Islands in the Stream by Hemingway. I was semi-homeless in my late teens and I had a friend who was starting off playing blues guitar who I stayed with a lot. After reading that book I did nothing but write really fucking horrible short stories and read them aloud to the poor fucker. He was kind enough to never bludgeon me to death with the guitar. He was a hell of a lot more talented than I ever was.

Another serious question: did you know where you were going with Pike before you started writing, or did it just kind of evolve?

I had no idea where it was going. I mean, I thought I did, but I ended up throwing away probably eighty percent of what I wrote in the early stages. That’s part of why it takes me so long to write a book. Better writers can plot stuff out, make plans, do it right the first time. It takes me a lot of rewriting to get anywhere near to whatever initial thought or feeling it was that made me want to write the book in the first place.

One more question. What would Chunk Norris do?

Probably stomp a mudhole in my ass on the best day I ever had. Rightfully.

http://benjaminwhitmer.com/

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Pike's Peak

By Jed Ayres
Hardboiled Wonderland
Friday, October 29, 2010

Benjamin Whitmer’s novel Pike is the most exciting, kick ass debut of the year. There, I said it, the book backs me up. Set in the harsh wilds of rural Kentucky, Ohio and on the streets of Cincinatti, Pike bristles with danger, menace and mortal volatility. The bleak, rugged physical terrain mirrors the psychic and emotional interiors of each character who have been put through hells as diverse as the intentions that paved the way.

At the book’s opening: Douglas Pike is a hard bitten old timer who grudgingly takes custody of the twelve year old granddaughter he’s never met on occasion of her mother’s death. The girl is as hesitant to go with him as he is to take her, but neither has many options in life. A bent cop named Derrick Kreiger murders a kid in broad daylight and incites a riot on the streets of Cincinatti. When he's suspended from the force, he goes on an end fastening mission that leaves more than a couple bodies in its wake.

The characters Whitmer assumes you'll love as much as he does, do awful things. They have terrible lives and bloody comeuppance, but his skill and compassion as a writer wont let you dismiss them as irredeemable. The ferocity of this book is something special and signifies the arrival of a major new talent and voice in fiction. Put Whitmer's next one, whatever it may be, squarely at the top of my anticipation list.

With little fanfare, PM Press's Switchblade line has carved out a niche for finely crafted, hardcore crime fiction with a social awareness, and Pike ought to win them a lot of attention. Benjamin Whitmer, graciously gave his time to answer a few questions:

First off, I know it's a line in the book, but it's also the title of your blog and the name on your Twitter account - Can you explain the significance of the phrase 'Kick him, Honey'?

It's just a stupid joke with myself. It was the first of many laugh-out-loud lines I hit in Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian, and I think at one point I had some cockamamie plan to include it in every book I ever wrote. Y'know, to ensure thematic unity through my work.

Now I've just decided to kill a dog in every book instead. I hate dogs.


Reading your author bio, it sounds like you grew up looking at the world like it was wide open - still wild - and I'd say the characters in your book do as well. They treat societal laws as either ignorable irritants or hostile encroachments on their existence, how much of the author's worldview do they represent?


That’s a great question. Growing up, my mother definitely placed a premium on freedom. I had a lot of elbow room, and there was no censorship when it came to books or ideas. She also had very little interest in arbitrary societal norms -- she’s probably the least judgmental person I’ve ever met. She’s an amazing woman, and those are the greatest gifts she gave me. But, of course, that freedom came with a cost. We were very poor, and there were chunks of my childhood where we didn’t have electricity or running water, let alone health insurance or any kind of financial safety net.

For all the talk that goes on in this country about freedom, there ain’t much to be had. There’s no aspect of our lives where we’re not subject to regulation and control, and, as everybody knows, we’ve got more people in prison than any country in the world, and most of them for victimless crimes. No matter how you look at it, when it comes to tangible freedom, the kind that allows us to live how we want to live, we’re one of the least free people around. That’s something my characters grate against, and I absolutely share that with them.

But then I think of before Colorado became a state, when it was pretty much a free-for-all for white settlers. And I think of when white Denverites were worked into a frenzy against the local Indians, and the First Regiment of Colorado Volunteers massacred hundreds of peaceful Cheyenne and Arapahoe camped along Sand Creek. And I remember how when they returned to Denver with scalped women’s genitalia stretched across their saddle pommels and Indian fetuses paraded on sticks, the whole town turned out to cheer them on. That’s a kind of freedom, too. And that tension about freedom is something that's been on my mind a lot. I tried to keep it in play throughout Pike.


So was Douglas Pike based on anyone in particular? Or Derrick for that matter?

Well, Pike was based on a few people, none of whom I should I probably name for pissing 'em off. But I did actually have a kind of model for both Pike and Derrick -- somebody I could imagine when I came to a mental block.

In Pike's case it was Steve Earle, circa Transcendental Blues. Earle was just out of jail, and was looking big and burly and full of menace to prove himself. For Derrick it was Waylon Jennings back in his cocaine and speed days, around the time of Honky Tonk Heroes. Honky Tonk Heroes is one of the greatest country albums ever released, but you can tell it almost killed Jennings to make it. You look at pictures of him from that time and he’s drawn thin, strung out, at the absolute stretched-out end of reason.

Those were only a kind of body double for the characters, though, if you know what I mean. I didn't try to base the characters on them or anything. It was just a way of getting myself back on track when I needed to. I probably listened to those two albums, Transcendental Blues and Honky Tonk Heroes, three or four thousand times when I was writing Pike.

What importance did the geographical setting have?

All the importance in the world. I had the characters of Pike and Wendy in my head for years but I had no idea what to do with them until my wife and I moved to Cincinnati chasing a job. My daughter was born within a couple weeks of the move, and she had colic pretty bad. We were living in a tiny two-room apartment, and my daughter would cry for four or five hours at a clip, so when I was home from work I'd take her for walks -- it was about the only thing that would calm her down -- and let my poor exhausted wife get a little rest. We ended up walking all over the city at all times of day and night. Where we lived wasn't a real bad area, but we were bordering a lot of neighborhoods that were, so I'd throw a handgun in my diaper bag and we'd just roam for hours on end. It was then, walking around and looking at the city, that the story started to fall into place.

I always tell my daughter that she can't read Pike quite yet -- she's only six -- but that she's already been to all the locations. I don't think it's done her too much damage, anyway. She asks me for Cincinnati stories almost every night after storytime.


The beginning of the book places us secure in our sympathies with Pike and set firmly against Derrick, but by the end of the book, Pike's character and history challenge our loyalties to him while Derrick's revealed motives endear him a little bit. In your mind was one character clearly the sympathetic one?

No, not at all. I feel like I probably shouldn’t say this in polite company, but I love them both for exactly who they are. As I see it, that’s one of the differences between crime fiction and police procedurals, forensic whodunits, lone hero serials and all the other stuff (some of which I very much enjoy, for the record): with crime fiction, there don’t have to be good guys and bad guys. Instead, you can put motivation at the forefront and make crime a part of character, creating – at least in my mind – much richer, if maybe more disturbing, stories.

I know there are certainly times in my life when I haven’t been at my best. And I know plenty of people who managed to fuck themselves up real good and/or destroy the lives of those around them. But I’ve never met a single person who set out to do so. Every major fuck up I ever met was the product of poor circumstances, bad choices, and whatever flaws and damage they carried with them. I’m not sure you can pinpoint those bad choices or that damage, and in the case of fiction I don’t have much interest in trying – I’m not real interested in writing psychological whydunits, either – but it’s always there.

Those are the kind of people who interest me: heavily flawed, complicated, violent people, doing what they can with what little they have. Straight good guys and bad guys may exist, but I’ve never seen them outside of comic books. (And, come to think, most comic books are more complicated than that these days.)


Is Crime Writer, a tag you're happy to wear?

Yessir, no doubt about it. My next book actually won’t be a crime book; I’m co-writing Charlie Louvin’s autobiography for Igniter Books -- which is about as exciting as it gets for me, being a hardcore country music fan. But after that I’ve got a second novel just about done, a third half done, and I’m researching for the fourth, and they’re all crime novels. They may be a little off center -- at least I hope so -- but they’re definitely crime novels.

Besides which, one thing I’ve learned over the past month is just how generous the crime fiction community is. I’d probably go broke if I tried to buy Keith Rawson and Brian Lindenmuth all the drinks I owe ‘em. Not to mention Switchblade editor Gary Phillips, who I just got to meet in person, and the rest of the folks at PM Press. And, of course, all the people who've been kind enough to contact me and give me their reaction to the book. I've been blown away, and there’s no way I’d want to jump ship.

And, not to be snide, and I hope it doesn’t come across that way, but if you set copies of the latest releases from, say, Jonathon Franzen and James Ellroy in front of me, I’m reading the Ellroy first. I may very well like the Franzen, I may even think it lives up to the reviews, but I’m reading the Ellroy first. I know that crime fiction’s one of the few places left in literature where we can still talk unironically about things like class, race, corruption, the meaning of violence, the consequences of history, and all the other stuff that moves me, so I’m reading the Ellroy first.

So, yeah, the crime writer tag is something I’m more than happy to wear. I’m very proud of it, and I just hope I live up to it.


How did you get hooked up with Louvin? And not to sound grim, but is there a rush to finish the book or a contingency plan in place if he doesn't see it to completion?

It was actually out of nowhere. Igniter Books is an imprint of HarperCollins run by Neil Strauss and Anthony Bozza, and they wanted to do a Charlie Louvin book, so Strauss contacted my agent and asked if he had any writers who’d be interested in the project. I, of course, jumped at the chance, and we sent Strauss and Bozza some excerpts from Pike. Long story short, they said lots of really nice things about the book, and the job was mine.

As to contingency plans, I don’t think there’ll be any need. Charlie and I have been working really hard and talking a lot, true, but he has more fight in him than I ever thought possible. I mean, it’s pancreatic cancer, so it’s a rough deal, but with the grace and strength he shows every day I have trouble believing he’s going anywhere soon. Maybe I’m fooling myself, but he’s pretty amazing.


Two of the characters in the book are a little pre-occupied with pedophilia - Wendy as a threat and Derrick as a flashpoint for violence - yet the closest thing to a healthy relationship described in Pike involves a grown man and an underaged girl. Care to unpack that a little?

I'm not sure I can, it's just kind of the way the story played out. One thing I would say is that I'm not sure that relationship is very healthy. I don’t want to give anything away for those who haven’t read the book, but that grown man has his own past he’s trying to redeem. Redemption, at least as it gets presented in a lot of fiction, looks like a tremendously violent process. It’s almost like an act of consumption. I mean if you’re redeeming your own fuck ups through the figure of someone else, you’re basically devouring them into your own life story, right?

Certainly the relationship would still be a stumbling point from any reader's point of view, but in the context of the world of the book, of where the characters come from and what they've dealt with, it holds the unique position of not already having destroyed those involved. It seemed to me one more instance of these characters' disdain for the law - of society of the heart - whatever. And how about the law - Jack, the sheriff? What kind of sympathy or esteem do you as the author have for him?

Ah, I got you. Yeah, I think that’s right. Pike certainly thinks that if the relationship is helpful to the grown man and the girl than society has no place getting involved. And that makes sense. As a society we’re real good at shoveling people into prison, but we have no interest in taking care of kids who are abandoned, abused, or starvation-level poor. It just doesn’t come up in the national discourse, except in the breathless horseshit that runs out of 20/20, Oprah (there goes the book club), or whatever. When you’re down to that level, you survive any way you can, and I think Pike would find passing judgment to be hypocritical at best. Of course, Derrick, he’s not real good at nuance in this case – like most people, I suppose – but sometimes things are more complicated than they look from the outside.

As to Jack, the Sheriff, he’s made his own poor choices, I think. Like the rest of them, he kind of blundered into who he is, and now he’s paying for it. I found him sympathetic, for sure. He’s done the best he could with what he had, it's just that what he had turned out to be inadequate. Which, I guess, it usually is.


How did you become involved with PM Press and the Switchblade line?

It was just good timing, really. My agent had been sending Pike around for awhile, and we couldn’t get anyone to bite. We got lots of really nice rejection notes, but they all ended with “way too dark for us.” I have a friend, however, who knows Ramsey Kanaan, the founder of PM Press, and he knew they were looking for books in the vein of Pike. I passed the information on to my agent, he sent it the manuscript off to the folks over there, and they took it. I was really, really excited, of course, and more than a little relieved. I was starting to think it was going to end up collecting dust in the bottom drawer of my desk for the rest of my life.

How long was it between finishing the book and seeing it published?

It was a while. I think three and a half years, maybe a little more.

And in the meantime what kept you occupied?

Well, I’ve got two small children, so that means I’m pretty much always occupied. But I also just kept plugging away. I wrote a second novel, and accidentally got about halfway through a third, and then for the last couple of months it’s been all Charlie Louvin all the time. My career plan as a writer is to make up for my deficiencies of natural talent with pure tenacity. I just figured if I kept grinding away, sooner or later somebody’d want what I was writing. Or, if not, than no harm done, because it gave me something to do that was reasonably harmless – depending on who you ask, anyway – and which I love doing. Some people live for racing cars, some people for building guitars, some people for cooking, this is what keeps me together.

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