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Derrick Jensen: Lives Less Valuable

By David
WritersCast
April 4, 2010

Derrick Jensen is one of the most intelligent nonfiction writers around.  His intellectual ability, brilliant writing and passionate voice for nature, for the powerless (not just people, but our fellow plant and animal species), and for the wounded, have made him a hero for many who oppose the structures of modern society.  I was not familiar with his fiction before reading Lives Less Valuable.  It’s very difficult to write fiction with a political message, but Jensen succeeds here.  Even though the reader knows there is a political subtext, the story and the characters work well, they’re both believable and instructive.

The story centers on Malia, an environmental activist in a modern city where people are dying from a toxic river.  The corporation that is at the root of the problem does everything possible to maximize its profits and does not care about the environmental cost borne by the poor people of the city.  She is drawn into a complex web of events that forces her to make choices about her beliefs and what she must do to make meaningful change, and when she does, the effects of her choices resonate through the lives of many others.  And they do make a difference.

Talking to Derrick Jensen was a great experience for me.  He has so much to say about human beings, our relationship to nature, and the meaning of political action, not to mention writing and story telling.  In this interview he talked about many subjects, including the nature of activism, the difference between writing fiction and nonfiction, and the details of the writing of this book.  He’s as eloquent and brilliant a speaker as he is a writer.  Derrick Jensen truly is one of our great public intellectuals.  Please note that this interview is longer than usual at 32 minutes, but should reward the listener with a worthwhile experience.

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Outspoken Authors in Short Takes

Left Left Behind

By Gary K. Wolfe
Locus
April 2010

PM Press is a small, radical Oakland publisher which seems to be striving for a vaguely samizdat ambience and whose mission statement is so idealistic it almost sounds nostalgic ("We seek to create radical and stimulating fiction and nonfiction, books, pamphlets, t-shirts, visual and audio materials...We aim to distribute these through every available channel," etc.). In recent months they've begun a series of short books highlighting "Outspoken Authors", often featuring one or two stories plus an interview, and among the first authors featured are Terry Bisson and Kim Stanley Robinson. SF has always had its share of committed leftists, but -- as with talk radio and TV -- the most visible ideologues in the genre have tended to be Libertarians or conservatives (or in some cases, advocates of bizarre political philosophies of their own making). Bisson and Robinson, though, have never hesitated to make their positions clear, and it would be hard to think of two better choices among living SF writers for this series. Bisson is the more aggressively anarchic and broadly satirical of the two, and it's likely the story and short play in his The Left Left Behind are less familiar to SF readers than Robinson's selections ("The Lucky Strike" and "A Sensitive Dependence on Initial Conditions"). Bisson leads off with a sharp parody of the "Left Behind" series of fundamentalist apocalypses, showing how -- tribulations notwithstanding -- the world is actually better off after the believers get sucked out of their plane seats (neatly folded clothes left behind). The style of the piece is so bluntly simplistic -- tiny chapters with headings like "Moments Later" or "Suddenly" -- that it takes a few beats to realize he's parodying LaHaye and Jenkins, who he seems to have actually read (I haven't, which is why it took me a bit to catch on). The second piece is a play called Special Relativity, in which Einstein, Paul Robeson, and J. Edgar Hoover somehow get resurrected during preparations for an anti-Bush rally and are stunned to learn what the world has become. As funny as both these pieces are, it's not all comfort food for liberals; in both pieces, for example, Bisson includes Israeli militarism among his targets.

Robinson's "The Lucky Strike" and its semi-nonfiction companion piece "A Sensitive Dependence on Initial Conditions" are more widely familiar, with "The Lucky Strike" having achieved near-classic status among alternate-history fictions and "A Sensitive Dependence" remaining one of the most incisive and provocative discussion of what alternative history is good for in elucidating our understanding of historical processes. The lynchpin event (or "divergence point," in Connie Willis's term) of "The Lucky Strike", and the central hypothetical example of "A Sensitive Dependence", is an aircraft welder whose faulty weld on a B·29 causes the plane that was to be the Enola Gay to crash, killing Paul Tibbets and the crew and resulting in the Hiroshima mission being given to a crew that includes Frank January, who in turn decides to delay releasing the bomb, causing it to explode away from the city itself and radically affecting the next few decades of history. It's still a compelling story, but so widely available that the chief attraction of the book is likely the interview that takes up nearly a third of the volume and includes some provocative points, such as a ringing defense of what Robinson sees as the badly misnamed infodump (Bisson's interview is quite a bit shorter, and seems to be conducted by someone not deeply familiar with his work, though it does add usefully to our understanding of his political background and brief imprisonment.) Both compact and attractive volumes also include bibliographies which seem to be reasonably complete.

For more on Bisson's Left Left Behind | For more on K.S. Robinson's Lucky Strike




Peter Kuper’s Oaxaca Diary

By Kevin McCloskey
CommonSense2 Journal
April 2010

As a kid, my favorite part of Mad Magazine was a miniature comic relegated to margins called Spy vs. Spy. For years the dueling spies were drawn by the late, great, Cuban cartoonist, Antonio Prohias. Since 1997, Spy vs. Spy has been drawn by Peter spy-vs-spy.jpgKuper. Prohias’s Cold War satire was literally, and metaphorically, a black and white affair. Kuper has maintained the classic spies’ wide-brimmed hats and their manic energy, but he’s added shades of gray to the endless duel. Kuper’s gritty shadows look as if they were stenciled on the page with a half-empty can of spray enamel.

Kuper is a writer, educator, graphic novelist, and successful illustrator. His best known works include a graphic novel version of Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis and the award-winning children’s book, Sticks and Stones. He’s done covers for Time and Newsweek and won a gold medal from the Society of Illustrators in 2004. He was also among the first cartoonists to draw a comic strip for the New York Times.

At the top of his game in July, 2006, Kuper decided to take a sabbatical. Few illustrators, apart from those who are also academics, take sabbaticals. His father was a university professor, however, and Kuper had fond memories of living abroad during his dad’s sabbatical year.

He chose the beautiful city of Oaxaca, Mexico for its colonial charm and history. He also wanted his nine year-old daughter, peter-kuper.jpgEmily, to be immersed in another culture. He had no idea Oaxaca would be convulsed by strikes, barricades, riots, mayhem, then a crackdown by the ‘federales’ that would leave at least 20 protesters shot dead.

“I wasn’t looking for trouble. On the contrary, I was hoping for some escape. Escape from the United States under Bush’s administration, escape from my workaholic schedule, escape from the consumer culture and a ceaseless barrage of depressing news stories. ”

Kuper and his family were in Oaxaca through the most tumultuous days of 2006 and 2007 and he kept a remarkable sketchbook diary. The full title is Diario de Oaxaca: A Sketchbook Journal of Two Years in Mexico. Mostly pictures, it is perhaps 15% text, and the text is presented in both Spanish and English. Diario is being simultaneously published in Mexico, so there is a practical reason for the bilingual format. The format, however, also demonstrates Kuper’s evident respect for the language and culture of Mexico.

Kuper became a cartoonist imbedded in history. Oddly enough, there is a tradition of cartoonists as witnesses to history. Art Spiegelman’s Maus and Marjane Starapi’s Persepolis, graphic memoirs based on their own familiy histories are well-known. Joe soldiers.jpgSacco’s Palestine is first-rate cartoon reportage. Readers should search out the work of the British cartoonist, Ronald Searle, who at age 20 was interned in a Japanese POW camp. Keiji Nagazawa drew Barefoot Gen based on his childhood memories of the atomic bomb blast in his hometown of Hiroshima. These examples, with the exception of Searle’s work, were published in traditional graphic novel format. Kuper’s Diary is not your typical graphic novel, a few pages do contain comic strips, but more overflow with impressions, sketches, color notes, even some photos and photocollages.

Kuper writes, “My eyes constantly watch for new subjects, and drawing in my sketchbook has become a daily obsession.” He describes how his senses became heightened by the experience of being a witness, not just his vision, but his hearing, even his sense of taste and smell.

One might ask, what is the point of sketchbook journalism in a digital age? Fair question. As an illustrator myself, and familiar with Oaxaca, I found Kuper’s diary profound and moving. One day in 2008, when I was in Oaxaca, there was a small demonstration on a street corner. I watched it unfold. David Venegas, a charismatic young radical, was denouncing injustice to about thirty people through a bullhorn. Two blocks to the east, pickup trucks filled with armed riot police were at the ready.  A few graffiti.jpgyards in the other direction was a covey of photojournalists. The photojournalists wore their standard uniform, multi-pocketed khaki vests, shoulder bags, and cameras with enormous telephoto lenses. This was a tiny peaceful demonstration and it ended without incident, nothing like the chaos Kuper witnessed in 2006.  An American standing near me gestured toward the press photographers and said, “This will look like a hell of a confrontation in tomorrow’s newspapers. With those telephoto lenses it will look like the police were toe to toe with the demonstrators.” He was right.

The camera’s image, even without Photoshop, can distort the truth. An artist’s sketch, on the other hand, makes no pretense of objectivity. Seeing the actual marks a person makes on a page alongside their written words affords the reader a special insight.  We get the sense that we know Peter Kuper, that we are in the company of a friend, and that our friend is a reliable witness to history.

At one point Kuper experiences an earthquake and notes “Living in Oaxaca during the political upheavals of 2006, and seeing how those events were covered by major news outlets, I’ve come to believe that most news is all sizzle without the quake. If we are not witnessing an event first hand, then we have to accept hearsay and a tremendous amount of that hearsay is misinformation and sometimes even outright lies. Yet we clutter our minds and discussions with the endless stream of inaccurate or useless information we receive.”

Kuper’s Oaxaca Diary isn’t news. It is something different, an intense meditation, a fascinating testimony, and work of art.

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




PM Press: 1st year at Wiscon!

But it won't be the last we promise you that. WisCon is the first and foremost feminist science fiction convention in the world. WisCon encourages discussion, debate and extrapolation of ideas relating to feminism, gender, race and class. WisCon honors writers, editors and artists whose work explores these themes and whose voices have opened new dimensions and territory in these issues. And, oh yes, we also like to have fun while we're at it.

Join PM, Eleanor Arnason, Terry Bisson and Rick Dakan from May 27th through May 31st, in Madison, Wisconsin.

Friday, May 28th

10:30-11:45 am - Conference 3

Consciousness

Peter Watts’s Blindsight and John Scalzi’s The Lost Colony both feature alien races that have evolved intelligence but not consciousness. What is consciousness, exactly? Philosopher Daniel Dennett took a shot at it in Explaining Consciousness, but the concept is still maddeningly hard to grasp. We all understand that it’s not exactly the same as intelligence or self–awareness, but beyond believing that it requires a large, complex brain, we still don’t have a very good handle on it.

M: Susan Ramirez. Ruthanna Emrys, Rick Dakan, Lettie Prell, Tracey Callison 

Saturday, May 28th

1:00-2:15 pm - Wisconsin

Left of Center Science Fiction & Fantasy

What are the left of center SF/F books, authors, trends?

M: Eleanor A. Arnason. Liz L. Gorinsky, James Frenkel, Eileen Gunn, Jef a. Smith 

 

Sunday, May 30th

9:00-11:15 am - Conference 2

Aqueduct Press Reading

Reading by Aqueduct Press authors.

Suzy Charnas, Andrea D. Hairston, Eleanor A. Arnason, Nisi Shawl, Claire Light, Timmi Duchamp 


9:00-11:15 am - Caucus

mile zero thumbTerraforming, a Workshop: What to Bring on the Generation Ship

There's an Earth–sized rock with water and an atmosphere with carbon dioxide and nitrogen: what do we need to make it into a planet we can live on?

M: Suzanne Alles Blom. Rick Dakan, Adrian Simmons, Jacquelyn Gill, Amy Thomson 


1:00-2:15 pm - Senate A

Once Upon a Time

Pro writers use the card game "Once Upon a Time" to tell half–baked fairy tales for laughs. Find out what happens when four panelists play tug–of–war on a story, trying to bend it towards wildly different endings.

M: Vylar Kaftan. Sumana Harihareswara, Richard Chwedyk, Ellen Klages, Terry Bisson


4:00-5:15 pm - Conference 2

Desert Dames

Words! Sentences! Paragraphs! Time travel! Chocolate! Dessert in the desert! Dry wit, salty expression, and far fewer exclamation points than we have used in this description! Free dessert with every dame!

Terry Bisson, Karen Joy Fowler, Pat Murphy, Eileen Gunn, Carol F. Emshwiller 


4:00-5:15 pm - Conference 4

Is Science Fiction Keeping Up with Science?

Are we as Science Fiction writers keeping up with science or are we only following older models of science fiction? Can we have space travel without instant FTL?

M: Liz L. Gorinsky. Eleanor A. Arnason, Joyce Frohn, Mary Robinette Kowal 


8:45 pm -3:00 am - Room 634

Eleanor Arnason Publication Party

A publication party for Tomb of the Fathers, a novel authored by Eleanor Arnason and published by Aqueduct Press, and "Mammoths of the Great Plains," a chapbook authored by Eleanor Arnason and published by PM Press.

Monday, May 31st

11:30 am -12:45 pm - Capitol/Wisconsin

The SignOut

Come and sign your works, come and get things signed, come and hang out and wind down before you leave.

John Joseph Adams, Alma Alexander, Eleanor A. Arnason, F. J. Bergmann, Kat Beyer, Alex Bledsoe, Richard Chwedyk, Rick Dakan, Alan John DeNiro, Lori Devoti, Moondancer Drake, Timmi Duchamp, Carol F. Emshwiller, James Frenkel, Greer Gilman, Seressia Glass, Hiromi Goto, Anna Black, Eileen Gunn, Andrea D. Hairston, Karen Elizabeth Healey, N. K. Jemisin, Ellen Klages, Mary Robinette Kowal, Claire Light, Kimberley Long-Ewing, Kelly McCullough, Mary Anne Mohanraj, Sarah Monette, Nancy Jane Moore, Pat Murphy, Nnedi Okorafor, Sarah B. Prineas, Madeleine Robins, Benjamin Rosenbaum, Catherine M. Schaff-Stump, Fred Schepartz, David J. Schwartz, Nisi Shawl, Jennifer K. Stevenson, Caroline Stevermer, Cecilia Tan, Lynne M. Thomas, JoSelle Vanderhooft, Suzy Charnas, Patrick James Rothfuss 




Community & Resistance Tour 2010

PLEASE BRING THE COMMUNITY AND RESISTANCE TOUR TO YOUR CITY


The COMMUNITY AND RESISTANCE TOUR seeks to communicate about current struggles for justice and liberation, from nooses hung in the northern Louisiana town of Jena to women organizing inside prisons, from resistance to school privatization to post-Katrina community organizing and cultural resistance. The tour also seeks to connect communities of liberation, and to build relationships between grassroots activists and independent media.

This tour is for anyone interested in issues of health care, education, criminal justice, housing, or the ways in which systems of racism, patriarchy and other forms of oppression intersect with these struggles.

Sponsored by Left Turn Magazine, Haymarket Books, PM Press, and other radical and independent media projects from around the US, the COMMUNITY AND RESISTANCE TOUR is an exciting movement-building opportunity. Beginning August, 2010, the tour will bring performances, workshops, and inspiration to towns and cities in across the US.

Featured Speakers include Jordan Flaherty, Jesse Muhammad and Victoria Law (see below for bios).

For more information on the tour, including how to bring the tour to your city, please email neworleans@leftturn.org or nick@haymarketbooks.org. You can also check out the tour website at http://floodlines.org/?p=209.

FEATURED SPEAKERS INCLUDE:

Jesse Muhammad, affectionately called Brother Jesse, is a journalist, blogger, experienced community organizer, national motivational speaker, and social media strategist. Brother Jesse has served as a writer for The Final Call Newspaper since 2004 and receives rave reviews for his reporting on hard-hitting stories that impact the community. He gained worldwide recognition for his consistent coverage of Hurricane Katrina survivors and was credited with bringing national and international attention to the case of the Jena Six.

Brother Jesse developed a passion for blogging and walked away with three honors from the 2009 Black Weblog Awards including Blog of the Year. He is a guest blogger for GlobalGrind.com and HoustonBelief.com. His news articles and blogs have been featured in numerous print and online publications. Brother Jesse is a weekly news commenter for several radio shows including Sound of Soul (S.O.S.) Radio hosted by DJ Zin on Houston KPFT 90.1FM. He has been interviewed on FOX, ABC, NBC, CNN Radio, Black Entertainment Television (BET), The Cliff Kelly Show, Front Page with Dominique DiPrima, The Stevie Wonder Show, The Roland Martin Show, Hard Rock Radio with Davey D, Sons of Afrika Radio, KJAMZ with Sonny Mac, Suavv Mag Radio, ConversationsLIVE, The Sankofa Experience and more.

He is a husband, father, artist, and budding photojournalist.a Renaissance brother.


Victoria Law is a writer, photographer and mother. After a brief stint as a teenage armed robber, she became involved in prisoner support. In 1996, she helped start Books Through Bars-New York City, a group that sends free books to prisoners nationwide. In 2000, she began concentrating on the needs and actions of women in prison, drawing attention to their issues by writing articles and giving public presentations. Since 2002, she has worked with women incarcerated nationwide to produce Tenacious: Art and Writings from Women in Prison and has facilitated having incarcerated women's writings published in larger publications, such as Clamor magazine, the website "Women and Prison: A Site for Resistance" and make/shift magazine. Her book Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women (PM Press 2009) is the culmination of over 7 years of listening to, writing about and supporting incarcerated women nationwide and resulted in this former delinquent winning the 2009 PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award.

RBBcover

In 1995, she became involved with ABC No Rio, a collectively-run arts center on New York's Lower East Side, a move that resulted in changing her lifestyle from delinquency to social justice with an arts focus. In 1997, she organized a group of activist photographers to transform one of No Rio's upstairs tenement apartments into a black-and-white photo darkroom for community use. She has also participated in and curated numerous exhibitions at No Rio's gallery, many with themes addressing social and political issues such as incarceration, grassroots efforts to rebuild New Orleans, Zapatista organizing, police brutality and squatting.

In 2003, she collaborated with China Martens to create Don't Leave Your Friends Behind, a workshop addressing the specific (and often unacknowledged) needs of parents and children in radical movements; and has co-facilitated discussions in Baltimore, New York City, Providence, Montreal, Minneapolis, Detroit and Boston. They are editing a handbook for allies of radical parents by the same name.

 

Jordan Flaherty is a journalist and community organizer based in New Orleans.  He was the first journalist with a national audience to write about the Jena Six case, and played an important role in bringing the story to worldwide attention. His post-Katrina writing in ColorLines Magazine shared a journalism award from New America Media for best Katrina-related coverage in the Ethnic press, and audiences around the world have seen the news segments he's produced for Al-Jazeera, TeleSur, GritTV, and Democracy Now. His new book, FLOODLINES: Community and Resistance from Katrina to the Jena Six will be released this summer from Haymarket Press. For more information on the book, see floodlines.org.

Jordan has appeared as a guest on a wide range of television and radio shows, including CNN Morning, Anderson Cooper 360, CNN Headline News, Grit TV, and both local and nationally-syndicated shows on National Public Radio.  He has been a regular correspondent or frequent guest on Democracy Now, Radio Nation on Air America, News and Notes, and many other outlets. As a white southerner who speaks honestly about race, Jordan Flaherty has been regularly published in Black progressive forums such as BlackCommentator.org and Black Agenda Report, and is a regular guest on Black radio stations and programs such as Keep Hope Alive With Reverend Jesse Jackson.

Jordan is an editor of Left Turn Magazine, a national publication dedicated to covering social movements. He has written about politics and culture for the Village Voice, New York Press, Labor Notes, Radical Society, and in several anthologies, including the South End Press books Live From Palestine and What Lies Beneath: Katrina, Race and the State of the Nation, the University of Georgia Press book What is a City, and the AK Press book Red State Rebels.




Real Cost of Prisons Comix in the Prison Legal News

Real Cost of PrisonsBy Gary Hunter
Prison Legal News
April 2010


Three stories, 90 pages, and infinite information about how rampant prison construction is destroying America. That's what The Real Cost of Prisons Comix brings to the table.

The impact of unchecked prison construction has been a blight on American society for the past three decades. From 1975 to 2005, the number of citizens imprisoned in this country rose from under 300,000 to over 1.5 million. With 2.3 million men and women currently behind bars, "Šthe U.S. incarcerates residents at almost seven times the rate that Canada sends people to prison, 5.8 times the rate of Australia, 8.6 times the rate of France and 11.9 times the rate of Japan." These are just some of the staggering statistics that have the U.S. simmering at critical mass both socially and economically. All of this information is found on just the first page of the introduction to The Real Cost of Prisons Comix.

Before the 1980s, small towns mostly eschewed proposals to build prisons in their areas. Large-scale political and social mismanagement coupled with tough-on-crime policies now have small towns offering incentives to prison builders. These towns are led to believe that prisons are a good source of jobs and economic stability. In truth, "80% of new prison jobs go to folks who don't live, or pay taxes, in the prison town." Seldom do imported prison workers buy homes in the towns where they work. Divorce rates climb. Juvenile jails tend to grow, and local populations sometimes suffer shortages as prisons take priority in water and electrical consumption.

Large cities don't fare much better. Parts of Brooklyn, New York cost the government $1 million a year on law enforcement alone. Non-violent drug offenders account for 58% of all U.S. prisoners. Eighty-seven percent of U.S. prisoners are people of color. A picture-graphic pie chart unfolds the chilling reality of how blacks compose 13% of the U.S. population, account for 13% of all drug use, 35% of all drug arrests, 55% of all drug convictions and 74% of drug-related prison sentences.

The Real Cost of Prisons Comix reveals how nearly two-thirds of female prisoners have children. More than 50% have been physically or sexually abused or both. In the state of New York, 79% of the female prisoners are black or Hispanic and 93% of the women incarcerated for drugs are black or Hispanic. Yet blacks and Hispanics, male and female, make up only 33% of the state's population.

One in every 50 black women in the U.S. has permanently lost the right to vote due to a past criminal conviction. In some studies the mental illness rate for incarcerated women is as high as 25%.

From a political standpoint, no administration or political party is guiltless. From the Rockefeller laws in New York to former Governor Pete Wilson's 3-strikes law in California, politicians of every ilk have infected our society with a malignant lock-em-up mentality. From Reagan to Clinton, our highest elected leaders have marginalized minorities and eroded human and constitutional rights with the hue and cry of the "war on drugs" and the "war on crime."

The Real Cost of Prisons Comix also educates readers as to how sentencing alternatives have been effective at reversing the rampant deterioration inflicted by tough-on-crime politics.

Placing juveniles in community service and allowing communities to determine how funding is distributed in their neighborhoods has had a positive impact on what were previously high-crime areas.

Lois Ahrens had a vision. Use "comic books ... and plain language to explain complex ideas." Her concept ushers in a visionary view for impacting social dynamics. People scurrying day-to-day to earn a living have little time to invest in ongoing formal education. Leisure hours are spent relaxing, not trying to change the world. Few people spend free time reading sociology books, but a comic book can be read in minutes. Give that comic book some teeth and those minutes might translate into major social change. In short order, ordinarily disinterested people become armed with life-changing information.

In The Real Cost of Prisons Comix, writers Ruth and Craig Gilmore, Sabrina Jones, Ellen Miller-Mack, Susan Willmarth and author/artist Kevin Pyle help Ahrens bring elementary explanations of extremely complex social systems to ordinary people. This is because real-world solutions require intervention by real people, and such intervention can't be born from ignorance.

The Real Cost of Prisons Comix offers a substantive and sensible response to a troubling trend of incarceration and social injustice. Knowledge is power. Empower yourself.

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

Source: www.realcostofprisons.org
 
Paul Wright, Editor
Prison Legal News
P.O. Box 2420
West Brattleboro, VT 05303
802 579-1309
pwright@prisonlegalnews.org
www.prisonlegalnews.org
 




Printmaking as Resistance?

By Eric Triantafillou
Brooklyn Rail
May 2010

Grace à Josh MacPhee. His latest book Paper Politics: Socially Engaged Printmaking Today (PM Press), is a treasure trove of prints expressing a wide range of social and political sentiments from do-it-yourself printmakers in the U.S. and abroad. It is also a window through which one can begin to see, from the standpoint of Left artists, some of the problems that arise when attempting to construct radical politics from everyday art practices.

(“Direct Action,” Molly J. Fair, , 2009, screenprint, 14.5×11.)

Two things set Paper Politics apart from other collections of political graphics. First, as MacPhee states in the introduction, “Every print in this book was printed by human hands.” Many were also disseminated in public spaces by these same hands. Why is this significant? “We rarely see any evidence of the human hand in our visual landscape, just digitally produced dot patterns and flickering electronic images,” says MacPhee, “handmade prints [have] affective power…they jump out at us because of their failure to seamlessly fall in line with the rest of the environment.”

Second, MacPhee has asked many of the artists in the book why they continue to print by hand and included their answers alongside reproductions of their work. These short texts are illuminating. They offer the reader a glimpse into the desires, motivations, intentions, joys, frustrations, and self-understandings of Left printmakers. But more importantly, perhaps, they outline a conception of oppositional politics from the standpoint of “engaged” cultural producers. Although these texts were written by individuals with differing levels of investment in, and views about, the relationship between art and politics, several express the belief that the process of printing and disseminating by hand constitutes an act of political resistance.

This resistance takes the form of embracing what MacPhee calls “anachronistic” printing methods: e.g., screen, relief, and block printing, lino and woodcut, monotype, intaglio, lithography, etching, engraving, stenciling, and letterpress—all printing technologies that were developed before the 19th century. As relics in the twilight of analog reproducibility, these older methods are seen as running counter to ubiquitous digital technologies and logics of mass communication—billboards, bus ads, television, the internet. While the conceptions of printmaking as resistance vary, they arrive at similar conclusions. For example, Matthew Curran writes, “When I’m cutting out stencils I’m resisting the machine.” Dylan Minor substantiates this claim: “In a world of late capitalist consumption, where mass-produced commodities and highly designed products are naturalized, the creation of hand-made objects becomes an overt act of resistance.” In these and similar statements in the book, resistance is rooted in the idea that the processes of producing and disseminating handmade prints, and the social relations these activities engender, are somehow at odds with capitalist social relations and modes of production.

(The cover for Paper and Politics.)

For many of the artists in Paper Politics, art is politics. “I see my art-making practice as the embodiment of my politics,” writes Dylan Minor. But there are clearly differing ideas about the relationship between art and politics and what constitutes resistance. Dan Wang hints at a conception of resistance that puts some distance between art-making and politics. “In a world in which capital dictates obsolescence,” he writes, “any practical grasp of that which has been shed by the industry of mass communication seems at least contrarian. And, depending on what one prints, of course, contrarianism can very quickly become resistance.” He seems to locate the resistant capacity of hand composition, printing, and dissemination, not in its aesthetic dimension (its form), or even in the different social relations these processes might engender, but in “what one prints” (its content). This suggests an art that is instrumentalized—propaganda—the means-ends dimension of art. This is a conception in which art-making is not the embodiment of politics, but rather, a means to an end, an instrument that is used to reach a particular goal or set of goals.

Whether it is in its form, content, or the tension between them that hand printing and dissemination are understood as resistant, for many of the artists in Paper Politics the horizon of this resistance begins in the field of cultural production. Referring to the money, greed, and materialism of the art world, Sam Sebren writes, “Artists themselves must take responsibility for breaking down this system.” And Dylan Minor refuses “to acquiesce to the dominant modes of contemporary art.” But resistance is not limited to the world of art. For example, Claude Moller says that his prints “act like guerilla PR generating publicity and power for low-income activist groups,” and “use readily available resources, audacity, and improvisation to flip the weight of the system against itself.” The intent here is clearly that the work can have broad implications across diverse social contexts.

In order to better understand some of the internal logics of printmaking as resistance, I think it would help to look at the ways hand printing and dissemination function in relation to three categories: quality, quantity, and accessibility. Think of these as conceptual tools. None of these categories function in isolation of one another—they are all interrelated.

Quality

Printmaking as resistance is understood as a qualitatively different activity that uses qualitatively different tools to intervene in the physical world. These activities and tools are used to create new objects and new meanings in order to establish new relationships that are qualitatively different than the relationships and products that result from working with digital processes. The physical qualities of hand composition are seen as being a more direct, less mediated, and thus more authentic expression of lived experience, particularly in their ability to express affective qualities. For example, Sam Kerson writes how the sensitivity of linoleum “takes an impression of our feelings, our emotional state, and our mood.” Elka Kazmierczak describes how the temporal dimension of hand processes can be therapeutic: “The time it takes to carve a meticulous design is my time for self-reflection, meditation, and healing. I enjoy thinking with my hands.” The tactile, visceral, and permanent qualities of hand printing, in which the medium is the message, are opposed to newer, mass-oriented, virtual forms of communication. “Why do I still etch when I could just use the Internet, Twitter, and YouTube?” asks Reynolds, “My rage is inscribed line by obsessive line in a matter that is as lasting as the history it depicts.” And Dylan Minor writes, “Unlike the ‘aura-less’ reproductions that Benjamin described…I turn to the hand-printed image to confront an ever-increasing digitized environment.” These last two statements suggest that the digital processes of mass-produced forms of communication efface the trace of the human touch. It is this trace—the ability of older, analog print media to register the artist’s temperament through direct handwork—that these printmakers inscribe with resistant qualities.

Quantity

The category of quantity in printmaking as resistance functions in two related ways. First, it is related to the number of prints that are produced, and second, to the work’s intended or potential audience—the number of people the work reaches. Jesse Goldstein explains that because we live in a culture that privileges the “one” (the artist-as-genius) and the “many” (the market), printmaking is the art form that is best suited to the “few” (one’s friends or community). He goes on to say, “Making 30 or 40 or even a hundred prints for an event is a nice way of being part of a shared space. This is production at a human scale.” Dylan Minor echoes this: “Although the print has the potential to be either a reified fine art object or a mass-produced commodity, my own work is printed in small (often unnumbered) runs, creating a body of accessible, yet non-elitist images.” And Brandon Bauer, working against the elitism of the single art piece, experiments with various print media to explore the idea that “the use of multiples in art making is an egalitarian or democratic practice.” Because they rely on hand processes, analog printing methods are limited in their capacity to produce large quantities. These built-in limitations are seen as antithetical to the hegemonic logics of mass state or corporate communication. An advertising agency whose goal is to reach as many people as possible is unlikely to print an etching 500,000 times by hand when they could scan the original and offset print it in less time for less money. Conversely, printing small quantities by hand is understood as resisting art as mass-produced commodity and its logics of mass communication. Printing small quantities by hand is also understood as countering the cult of the lone artist producing a single, unique piece.

Accessibility

Hand-printing processes, small print runs, and local distribution are ostensibly more democratic because they are accessible on multiple levels. As Sam Sebren writes, “It is hands-on, real work. It is affordable to make anywhere, anytime, with few materials. You don’t need an expensive computer, printers, and inks.” And Claude Moller says, “It is a cheap, accessible, and participatory way to compete with corporate and government propaganda.” Most hand printing methods are fairly easy to learn, can be self-taught, and use inexpensive materials that don’t require a lot of space or machinery. For example, you can rub cooking oil on a paper drawing to get it transparent, expose it on a screen using sunlight, wash out the screen in a sink, and print on the floor. Because handmade prints can be fairly cheap to produce, many artists either give them away or sell them for very little. Accessible also means who gets to see them. A lot of the images in Paper Politics are, as Nathan Meltz says, “handmade papers adhered to walls, stencils spray painted on concrete, and flyers stapled to telephone poles.” That is, they’re publicly accessible, both physically and at the level of comprehension, in a way that galleries and gallery art are not. Resistance as printmaking is an attempt to create new conditions under which others can access art. It is also about breaking down the dominant logic of exchange that dictates the division between the producers and consumers of art, while increasing possibilities for expression, communication, and participation.

Concrete Labor vs. Abstract Society

Several artists in Paper Politics express the idea that processes of hand printing and dissemination constitute a potentially liberating form of labor. It is as a qualitatively, quantitatively, and accessibly different form of labor that these processes are understood to be resisting capitalist society. For example, Dylan Minor writes, “Through the creation of the artisanal craft of the relief print, I begin to escape this colonizing space via an act of emancipation.” Jesse Goldstein says, “When you operate at the human scale, other non-commodity logics become possible…instead of speaking to a market, you might choose to speak with/in a community.” And Claude Moller claims that, “With control of production in the hands of creators, the [screen printing and dissemination] process is also very empowering, a good example of unalienated labor.”

Statements like these clearly express a desire to overcome the dominating character of a commodity-producing society. They locate this potential in a transformation of the way value in a capitalist society is socially produced and consumed, and aim to redirect their own labor toward more “human” ends. This is done by opposing the abstract character of capitalist society with concrete counter-principles. When Jesse Goldstein writes that printmaking functions on “the level of community…friends…people you share some parts of your real life with. Not an abstract whole, but a more modest some,” the idea seems to be that the “abstract whole” is being resisted from the standpoint of the concrete “some.” The abstract qualities of capitalist society (digital processes, mediated relations) are opposed by concrete qualities (analog processes, immediate relations), while abstract quantities (the masses, the market) are opposed by concrete quantities (friends, community). The abstract is understood as false, unreal life, whereas the concrete is authentic, “real life.”

One way of understanding this attack on the abstract from the standpoint of the concrete is through the concept of commodity fetishism. First developed by Marx, commodity fetishism refers to forms of thought that remain bound to the forms of appearance of capitalist social relations. [3] When Dylan Minor writes, “The tactility and expediency of the [handmade] print is paramount to its capacity to circulate within wide audiences, without being contained by capitalist social relations,” we can see how the immediate (unmediated) thingness of hand printing is seen as being that which renders it non-capitalist. Hand printing is seen as a natural, purely material, creative process that is not socially and historically mediated. Because of this, hand printing (concrete labor) is understood as being separate from or outside abstract, artificial capitalist social relations. However, Marx showed how the commodity contains an abstract dimension in the form of objectified social relations. The commodity is both a thing and a form of social mediation. It is the concrete and the abstract dimension, which, in a constant state of tension, constitute the social dynamic of capitalist society. This means that when the artists in Paper Politics champion the concrete and identify capitalist social relations with the abstract alone they are seeking to overcome the existing social order from a standpoint which actually remains intrinsic to that order.

(Chris Rubino, Old Ideas Happen in Old Buildings, 2004, screenprint, 18×24.)

Paper and Politics

We can see how the concrete is understood as a counter-principle to the abstract in the images in Paper Politics. For example, Chris Rubino’s print “Old Ideas Happen in Old Buildings” at first appears to be inverting the logics of printmaking as resistance by locating the source of the problem (“old ideas”) in old forms (the Capitol building). The idea that politics can come from sites and sources other than the federal government is conflated with the idea that thought can be liberated simply by a change in one’s settings—in this case literally one’s concrete settings. Another example is the print “Direct Action” by Molly J. Fair. In it two birds transport a wrench with a piece of string. The wrench is a tool associated with human hands and manual labor. It is a consummate symbol of the concrete. It is used to fix a problem—immediately, spontaneously—free of any mediation that would abstract its value or purpose. Direct Action uses an object of analog labor to symbolize an activity—a politics—that is meant to be qualitatively and quantitatively different than an activity that is mediated and indirect (e.g., electoral, representational politics). These two images also suggest a concretely accessible politics. Whereas the Capitol building might symbolize the abstract inaccessibility of representational politics to all but the anointed (e.g., politicians, corporate lobbyists, etc.), the wrench is an infinitely accessible tool that requires little foreknowledge and can be used by just about anyone. It symbolizes a do-it-yourself politics.

Looking at the art in Paper Politics, it is clear that analog printing techniques are exceptionally good at expressing affective qualities. Reading the artists’ statements, it is also clear that these printmaking techniques and the social relations they ostensibly engender are understood as forms of self-liberation. If an artist chooses to compose and print a small number of pieces by hand, and then give them to friends and neighbors, there is no question that s/he is engaging in relations that are qualitatively, quantitatively and accessibly different than those of the dominant art market and the larger society. There is also no doubt that these do-it-yourself activities allow one to preserve some semblance of immediacy and connectedness in a society that is increasingly mediated and alienating.

Embracing “anachronistic” print media and dissemination while disavowing digital processes and mass dissemination may be a way of saying NO! to market logics. But beyond this negation, it is not entirely clear what effect these acts of disavowal have on capitalist production and social relations. If the concrete dimension is the standpoint from which do-it-yourself printmakers claim to resist capitalist social relations, and, as I have briefly outlined above, that standpoint, contrary to being outside them, is actually an integral part of constituting those relations, then what exactly is being resisted?

While it is difficult to imagine what a political art practice that was able to escape the fetishization of the concrete would look like, or if this is even possible—and while this problem may only be resolvable in theory—at the very least, some attempt could be made to explain, as opposed to simply valorizing, hand composition, printing, and dissemination. If the claims of printmaking as resistance in Paper Politics are to gesture beyond an individual’s feelings—if prints on paper are to express a politics of social liberation—it would help to better understand the limits of these artists’ claims by explaining how do-it-yourself printmaking functions as a form of value-producing labor in capitalist society.

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For more from Summer Brenner:

 

Spoken Word

2004 Because the Spirit Moved.
A CD of poems, sitar, percussion, and guitar. In collaboration with Arundo Salon’s poet, GP Skratz and musician, Andy Dinsmore.


Forthcoming

Brenner, Summer. Nearly Nowhere, PM Press.

Brenner, Summer. My Life in Clothes, Red Hen Press.


Additional Articles, Essays, and Poems

Writings have appeared in numerous anthologies, including: Wreckage of Reason: Anthology of XXperimental Women Writers Writing in the 21st Century; Petaluma Poetry Walk; American Poets Say Good-Bye to the 20th Century; The Unmade Bed; Cradle and All; The Stiffest of the Corpse; Deep Down: New Sensual Writing by Women; American Poetry Since 1970: Up Late; Rising Tides: 20th Century Women Poets, et al.

Essays, poems, and stories have appeared in journals, including: Beatitude, Big Sky, Carbuncle, Contact Quarterly, Dance Scope, Exquisite Corpse, Ginosko, Northern Lights (London), notus, Pangolin Papers, Poor Magazine, Processed World, Shuffle Boil, Stooge, Three Penny Review, WebDelSol, Woodstock Journal (October 2004 Surprise), Y.A.W.P., Yellow Silk, Zyzzyva, et al.


Theatre and Performance

Theatrical and performance work include three professional readings of The Missing Lover (directed by University of California-Berkeley professor, Peter Glazer) in association with Z Space and New College.

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Bolivarian blasts

By Ian Sinclair
Peace News
April 2010

Venezuela Speaks! attempts to counter the one-dimensional focus of the Western media on president Hugo Chavez by highlighting the central role that grassroots social movements have played in pushing the Bolivarian Revolution forward.

As one activist explains: “With Chavez or without Chavez, it is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees.”

Edited by three Venezuela specialists, Venezuela Speaks! is made up of in-depth interviews with 29 radicals and activists – from women’s groups, the indigenous movement, student groups, community media and trade unions.

By working in communal councils and cooperatives, building education centres, taking over factories and conducting land occupations, these people have forced the profound changes that have occurred on Chavez’s watch.

Their impressive gains include cutting extreme poverty in half, reducing the infant mortality rate by 40%, recognising the economic value of housework, a literacy drive that taught 1.5m people to read and write and the introduction of free higher education.

The dominant thread running through all the testimonies is the critical relationship between grassroots movements and a sympathetic government.

Interviewees continuously refer to the problem of what they call “the bureaucracy”, that is, conservative forces still in the government who are either deliberately or inadvertently slowing down the country’s transformation from a representative democracy to something approaching a participatory democracy.

Encyclopaedic in scope, with a superb introductory history, extensive footnotes, a helpful list of abbreviations, explanatory maps and photos, Venezuela Speaks! caters equally to newcomers and those with a pre-existing knowledge of the subject.

Activists working for change in the developed world will no doubt be inspired by the personal accounts of struggle. There is certainly much to learn, especially the realisation that the social movements that propelled Chavez into power were decades in the making.

However, the book also raises an uncomfortable question: if often poor and uneducated activists in Venezuela can make such radical changes in the face of such powerful and repressive forces, why can’t we do the same in the relative freedom of Britain?

An astonishing achievement, Venezuela Speaks! deserves to become a landmark study of contemporary Venezuela.

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Sober Living in Beats, Breaks and Big Smiles

Beats, Breaks and Big Smiles
April 09, 2010 

Even if hardcore punk nor straight edge is your cup of tea, I totally recommend you to read Sober Living for the Revolution: Hardcore Punk, Straight Edge, and Radical Politics by Gabriel Kuhn. It's a surprisingly critical and interesting read about sobriety, straight edge and politics. Here you get to hear both positive reports as well as quite negative tales about straight edge and about sober living in radical groups.

And if you live in the Gotenburg area I think you should come to Nordengården on April 28th, when Gabriel Kuhn will come and talk about the book. More about that event here.

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