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E. Ethelbert Miller on Writerscast

by David Wilk
June 21, 2012

E. Ethelbert Miller is a writer and literary activist. He is currently the board chairperson of the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS). Since 1974, he has been the director of the African American Resource Center at Howard University.  Ethelbert is also the former chair of the Humanities Council of Washington, D.C. and a former core faculty member of the Bennington Writing Seminars at Bennington College. He's published more than ten books, in both poetry and prose, has edited a number of anthologies, and his writing is widely anthologized. He's won all sorts of awards and recognition for his writing and for his longstanding work in support of writing as a community and cultural effort. In addition, for several years he hosted the popular weekly radio program Maiden Voyage on WDCU-FM, as well as Vertigo On The Air on WPFW.

Ethelbert has long been a favorite poet of mine, whom I got to know years ago when I lived in Washington, D.C., where Eth still resides. We're of a similar age and share various passions, not the least of which is baseball.

So it is no wonder that I jumped at the chance to read his memoir, The Fifth Inning, and then to talk to him about it on Writerscast. This is a terrific book, unusual in its shape and structure, which is both poetically charged and carefully built.  Ethelbert allows himself to write honestly and purely about his own life, his insecurities, pain and suffering, but without ever becoming self indulgent or overwrought.  There is always hope, and the sense that something good, or even great, will come from all this "stuff" we go through in life.

Thinking of a baseball game, the fifth inning out of nine is, of course, the turning point. After the fifth inning, a game can end early but still be considered an official game—a life lived, though abbreviated. So here he is, in the fifth inning of his imagination, looking back at the beginning of the game, and at the present where it's about to start the last stretch toward the end and the final score. It's a good time to take stock and get ready to see what you can do to get past the hitters coming up to bat. When you're pitching, you need to pace yourself, remember what worked and didn't work in the early innings, and use what you have learned to keep the hitters off stride and getting the outs you need to win the game.

Poets' memoirs are sometimes brittle and too carefully built to sustain a personal story.  Ethelbert is not that kind of poet. He's active and alive in every moment, and brings his readers right into his head and heart. This is a beautifully constructed and written piece of personal writing that I hope will find a audience far beyond the literary community. What Ethelbert has to say about being human and growing older is important for all of us to hear.

Ethelbert's website is here, well worth a visit. And I wanted to mention that this is a Busboys & Poets book published by PM Press, a publisher I hope readers will learn about and support.  Buy the book direct from the publisher to support independent publishing and alternative culture.

Buy this book now | Download e-Book now | Back to E. Ethelbert Miller's Author Page

London Peculiar in Loccus Online

by Paul Di Filippo
Locus Online
June 24, 2012

Let me illustrate how prolific and magnificent the nonfiction career of Michael Moorcock has been.

In 2010 Savoy Books published a wonderful, ginormous hardcover (over 700 pages) by Moorcock titled Into the Media Web: Selected Short Non-Fiction, 1956-2006. Compiler John Davey told us in his "Editor's Introduction" that he had culled 150 items from "maybe four to five times that number." It was a marvelous timetripping lineup of brilliant insights and entertainment, and you can read Gary Wolfe's review of the volume right here at Locus Online. But from what I can research through Google, the book is currently unavailable at any price.

So now comes a shorter anthology of Moorcock's nonfiction prose, from the bold and challenging and ambitious PM Press. Is it a distillation of the larger predecessor? No, there's hardly any overlap of content! It's almost 400 pages of newly collected essays for your enjoyment, making a total of almost 1100 pages of Moorcockiana now dug from his trove. Who's to say there are not more worthy items to be excavated in future volumes?

Because these pieces are mostly quite short, this book represents a browser's paradise. You can dip in anywhere for a quick and tasty morsel. But editor Allan Kausch has gone to the trouble to organize the work by topics, so we'll have a gander using his schema.

Two autobiographical essays open, introducing the reader to Moorcock the man. The longer piece, "A Child's Christmas in the Blitz," is melancholy, elegiac and still celebratory: sheer joy to contemplate and share.

Next comes a section devoted to "London," the city that has occupied a central place n Moorcock's life and fiction. A piece such as "Introduction to Gerald Kersh's Fowler's End" does double duty by serving not only as a meditation on the fabled UK capital, but also as a guide to lost masterpieces of literature. So many of the essays here have a similar function, whatever their ostensible theme happens to be. In fact, a sympathetic reader could use this volume to guide a wonderful course of self-education in a panoply of offbeat literature, from the Victorians to the ultra-contemporary.

The next heading is "Other Places" in which Moorcock gives first-hand and vicarious impressions of global venues. This is followed by "Absent Friends," heartfelt tributes to many of the writers, now deceased, with whom Moorcock had intimate ties or peer-to-peer friendships. SF readers will be particularly interested in his observations of Thomas Disch, Barrington Bayley, Angela Carter, and J. G. Ballard.

Moorcock has had a long and fruitful affiliation with the musical world, and the pieces under the rubric "Music" include thoughtful appreciations of everyone from Jimi Hendrix to Mozart, as well as a memoir of his own band, the Deep Fix. Surprisingly, the next section—on "Politics"—is the smallest, with only three items, but of course still good.

Then comes what is arguably the core of the book, "Introductions and Reviews," 150 pages of Moorcock's witty, informed, illuminating mashnotes to many of the books and authors whom he has loved and bonded with. While quite a few of the pieces are just three pages or so, journalistically efficient, the longer entries-such as those on Leigh Brackett, R. C. Sherriff, Rex Warner and Robert E. Howard-are lush, oeuvre-surveying expeditions. Sadly, so much of what Moorcock observed in the past remains pertinent today. "In the last ten years, as the popularity of this genre [SF] has grown, the number or writers supplying it has risen accordingly. Now, like battery hens, they produce regularly and reliably and what they produce is virtually without flavour or value of any kind." That's from a 1976 review of Again, Dangerous Visions.

Moorcock's prose is as limpid and fluid as a mountain stream, carrying the reader along effortlessly, while still achieving poetic effects that a lesser writer would strain for with pyrotechnics. Frequently he will employ a kind of "Martian observer" cold-blooded objectivity to good use. "Clinical technicians observing on screens London's wired-up sleepless-sufferers from apnoea [sic], insomnia, and night anxieties-are sometimes shocked at the level of terror or rage they find." ("City of Wonderful Night.") At other times he makes pronouncements or coins maxims that are more personal and judgmental. "Authoritarianism stops time. It corrupts history. The best artists working under dictatorships either escape time altogether, into fabulism, or move into an imaginary future or idealised past." ("A Review of Another Fool in the Balkans.") In all cases, his voice rings out with sincerity, forcefulness, authority and passion. But he's never dismissive of the viewpoints of others or caustic, but rather simply affirmatory of his own visions and stances.

The book constitutes not only the record of a wide-ranging, probing SF intellect, but also a mini-history of "Things that Mattered" in the past seven decades of Moorcock's bountiful life.

Paul Di Filippo has been writing professionally for over thirty years, and has published almost that number of books. He lives in Providence, RI, with his mate of an even greater number of years, Deborah Newton.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Michael Moorcock's Author Page

Cook, Eat, Thrive in VegNews Magazine

VegNews Magazine
July/August 2012

First-time cookbook author Joy Tienzo makes the process of enjoying food blissfully simple with Cook, Eat, Thrive. In her short description of food language, she says, "Many cookbooks use words like 'cheeze' or 'mylk.' You won't find that here. First, those words are silly. Significant movements don't fuss with terms that merit ridicule." And then she's off and cooking. It's easy to picture Tienzo as a modern day Julia Child, picking a dropped piece of seitan off the floor and calmly replacing it on the serving platter with a fresh one. Channeling The French Chef a bit further, Tienzo takes classic recipes and occasionally dolls them up a bit. Her recipe for Tofu Brouillé-a scramble made silkier with the addition of vegan yogurt-will have you asking for more, tout de suite. Tienzo tackles dishes that might make other cooks quiver in their whites, such as a veganized version of Puerto Rican Mofongo and Sage-Ricotta Gnocchi. Lavender Rice Pudding Brulée with Blueberries? There might be no finer way to finish a meal. From simple dishes such as Strawberry Spinach Salad to complicated culinary treats (think Caramel Almond Bread Pudding), Tienzo makes vegan cooking accessible and engaging. Fingers crossed for a second course (and by "course," we definitely mean book!).

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Joy Tienzo's Author Page

A Life in Writing: Selma James

By Becky Gardiner
Guardian UK
June 8, 2012

"By demanding payment for housework we attack what is terrible about caring in our capitalist society"

Selma James describes the frustrations of women’s lives.

Photograph: Eamonn McCabe for the Guardian

The last time Selma James was interviewed by the Guardian was in 1976, by the feminist columnist Jill Tweedie. At that time, James was a household name—in feminist households at least—and this is how Tweedie began: "To many women in the women's movement, the Wages for Housework campaigners come over like Jehovah's Witnesses . . . Selma James and her sister enthusiasts . . . harangue conferences, shout from soapboxes, gesticulate on television, burn with a strange fever . . . On the street corner they go down well. Within the movement … they set up a high level of irritation. Eyes roll heavenwards, figures slump in seats as yet another campaigner leaps for the platform."

Many years have passed, and James has long since been dismissed by many of her feminist contemporaries as an irrelevant, or even ridiculous, figure. Her work has been neglected; her key demand—wages for housework—written off. And yet James herself has neither stopped, nor slowed down for a moment. When we meet, she is fresh from a trip to the United States. There to promote the new anthology of her writing, she became embroiled in a row that rocked the presidential race. One of Obama's team said Mitt Romney's wife Ann, a mother of five, had "never worked a day in her life," and in a flash, there was James, gesticulating on television again (the Amy Goodman show this time), explaining, yet again, about the significance of women's unwaged labour in the home. The gleam is still in her eye, she still burns with a strange fever. She is eighty-two.

The anthology, Sex Race and Class (Merlin) is a collection of speeches, articles—mainly from now defunct leftist newspapers—and essays originally published as campaigning pamphlets.

Every piece is rooted not in academic study but in activism: a campaign to defend family allowance (1973); an occupation of a church to defend prostitutes against the police (1983); a speech about Jewish anti-Zionism (2010); an account of her work with death row prisoner and "jailhouse lawyer" Mumia Abu-Jamal (2011). In the first essay, "A Woman's Place," James describes the frustrations of women's lives as housewives, mothers and workers, and ends with the words: "Things can't go on the way they are. Every woman knows that." Written in 1952, it is a prescient piece of work.

Her campaigning and her writing—the two are indivisible—spring from one central insight: that "housework" (not just vacuuming, but all the work involved in meeting the physical and emotional needs of others, from cradle to grave) is central to the reproduction of humanity, and therefore to capitalism. By focusing on the unwaged, Wages for Housework revolutionises our idea of what work is, and who the working class are. It allows us to see the potential collective power of those who are most isolated and seem powerless: women stuck at home changing nappies. And it goes straight to the heart of a dilemma that still plagues many women: "I started," James says now, "as a housewife refusing housework. As a mother, doing this work that is so central to society, I was locked in and impoverished. But this work is not like other work: we hate it, and we want to do it. By demanding payment for housework we attack what is terrible about caring in our capitalist society, while protecting what is great about it, and what it could be. We refuse housework, because we think everyone should be doing it."

She was born Selma Deitch in Brooklyn in 1930. Hers was one of four working-class Jewish families who lived in a house on the corner of Ralph Avenue and Dean Street, where the Jewish ghetto met the black ghetto: "Our front door faced on to the black street, but our address was on the white street. By the time I was six I understood a lot about racism. I could smell it in the people I knew." From day one, anti-racism was central to James's feminism. So, too, was the left. "The movement was everywhere," she remembers. Her truck-driver father was a trade unionist when that meant beatings from the mafia and regular spells in jail, her mother a housewife who struggled to make ends meet and battled for justice for the welfare mothers on her street. Aged six, James was combing the streets with her sisters, collecting foil cigarette wrappers for the Spanish Republicans: "We'd roll them into these huge bullets. What they used them for, I don't know."

When she was still a girl, James joined a splinter group of the Workers party (WP) called the Johnson Forest Tendency. The group's leader was the Trinidadian historian and anti-colonialist, CLR James. It was a tiny group, at war with the WP leadership. At its height, there were only 70 Johnsonites: "Seventy people scattered across a big country—not a lot. But the leader was a black man, an immigrant from the West Indies and a historian; his two closest colleagues were women, one a Russian immigrant, the other first-generation Chinese-American . . . We were multiracial. We were confident. We felt we were 'going somewhere' . . .  building not a vanguard party so we could one day be the state, but a movement."

James started attending CLR's classes in slavery and the civil war and he noticed her: "He said to my sister: 'When I mention the dialectic, your sister's eyes light up.'" She was fourteen when they first met; he was forty-four. It was CLR who persuaded her to write, to speak up. "He shaped my mind. But it was the mind I wanted. I always wanted to know how to think, and there was this man who knew."

At seventeen, she married a fellow factory worker; by eighteen she'd given birth to their son, Sam. The marriage, she says, was over before it began, and they eventually separated four years later.

By then, McCarthyism was in full swing: "phones tapped, mail interfered with, visits from the FBI. Some of us lost our jobs (I lost mine), some were blacklisted." CLR James was sent to Ellis Island, where Selma wrote to him regularly; slowly, they fell in love. On his release, and fearing deportation, CLR left for London. Selma and her son went with him and shortly afterwards, they married. What was it like, being in a mixed-race marriage then? Finding a flat was difficult, she admits, but London in the mid-50s was not as racist as it later became:
"You'd see mixed marriages all the time. Working-class people found their way to each other, and there was not a problem."

They were together for almost thirty years. Ostensibly, he was the intellectual, she his audiotypist (she typed Beyond a Boundary so many times, she says, that she could recite the entire book from memory) but she always held her own. Journalist and activist Darcus Howe, CLR James's nephew, remembers "this tiny white woman" working alongside black people, and "always asking so many profound and serious questions." She was formidable, he says: "That finger-pointing, those eyes flashing!" Was he intimidated? "Oh, no. I liked her very much."

In 1958 James went with CLR to Trinidad, where he edited the pro-independence party's newspaper. She fell in love with the West Indies. "What the people did with the language was Shakespearean! They opened the language, transformed it." Even now, her Brooklyn accent is softened by a West Indian lilt, as if she absorbed the essence of the place. But she was not impressed by those who led the independence movement: "I saw the state close up. It was an enormous education. Almost all of them were awful. It is the ambition, it makes people awful." By the time she left, she had "had enough of the middle class, of the intelligentsia. I thought, I am going to be with working-class people from now on."

She arrived back in London in 1969, just as the women's liberation movement invented itself.

The British feminist, Bea Campbell—no friend of James—remembers it as "a torrid, marvellous time, with groups being formed suddenly, and everywhere." Campbell was twenty-two, and recalls a movement as "full of women in their 20s". Enter James: "She was forty, fully-formed, fortified," says Campbell. "She knew how to do battle. A small Trotskyist sect formed her, and she has remained schismatic ever since. Schismatic, sectarian, polarising: Selma got on women's nerves."

That's not how James remembers it. The schism was not about age, she insists, but class: "I brought a reality to the movement they didn't want to acknowledge: that there is a struggle going on, and we have to decide whose side we're on." And all that talk of liberation through work! James had spent years working a double day in a factory and as a housewife: she knew what working-class women felt about factory work: "They walk in, they run out." Too many women in the movement simply "didn't know anything about the world".

And it was about race, too. James was living "a double life" at that time. Her best friends were not white feminists, but the West Indian nurses she knew though her anti-racist activism.

Selma remembers the time her great friend, Earla Campbell met Juliet Mitchell, the eminent feminist psychologist: "It was one of these early women's liberation demos, and I took Earla along. Afterwards, she said to me: 'Do you know how much Juliet's shoes cost? Fifteen pounds!' Earla was making £15 a week. She said, what are you doing with these people?"

James is on a roll now, finger pointing, eyes flashing: "When Michael [Rabiger, a BBC producer] asked me to make a film about the women's movement, Juliet Mitchell was horrified. She said to him: 'Not Selma! She'll make a film about black power!' The idea that, because I was part of the black movement, I could not at the same time have as my focus women is beyond belief stupid. But that's who [the leading 70s feminists] were. They objected to me because I was standing in the way of what they wanted their political direction to be."

The 70s was a productive period for James, albeit one punctuated by fighting. A collaboration with the Italian feminist, Mariarosa Dalla Costa, produced The Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community in 1972, published first under Dalla Costa's name alone, but claimed by James in the anthology as a joint work. The two later fell out, for reasons that are unclear. The same year James wrote Women, the Unions and Work, Or . . . What Is Not to Be Done. This pamphlet, written in four hours, Xeroxed, and distributed on the coach up to the 1972 Women's Liberation conference, contains six demands, beginning with "We demand the right to work less," and including, for the first time, "We demand wages for housework."

Many women were hostile. "One woman asked, will it institutionalise women in the home? I said, I don't know. It hadn't crossed my mind. But I said to myself: 'Maybe it will. Wouldn't that be wonderful!' I thought, if it did, I could stop typing and listen to my music! Some said women must go out to work to raise their consciousness. But others said: 'No, my mother's been out working for twenty years and she wants to come home.' And I said, this is it! This is Wages for Housework."

These arguments are rehearsed by Tweedie in her 1976 Guardian article, in which she questions, with great honesty, her own irritable reaction to Wages for Housework. "What do I feel?" Tweedie asks: "The horrid resentment of the mind bred to slavery and faced with freedom."

In the wider women's movement, though, James lost the argument. Women coalesced around other demands, the first of which was "equal pay for equal work." Middle-class women began to enter male professions. A wrong turn, according to James: "Every time we build a movement a few people get jobs, and those who can get the jobs claim this was the objective of the movement."

James, meanwhile, spent the first few years of the '70s living on grants, benefits and typing, and talking about Wages for Housework: "Increasingly I found out what Wages for Housework was." It was not simply a demand at all, but "a political perspective, a class perspective that began with the unwaged rather than the waged. There was no section of the working class that was left out of this perspective, neither in the third world nor in the industrial world. I thought: look what was in it! I never knew! By 1975 the debate was over for us; it was time to put the perspective into practice."

Her Crossroads Women's Centre began as a squat in a red-light area near Euston station in 1975; in May this year it moved to smart new premises. In the years between they have faced eviction several times, but the centre was always saved—on one occasion by squatters, including Bengali families, who had received support from the women there. It is, as far as James knows, the oldest surviving women's centre in London, if not the UK, and it is currently home to more than fifteen groups, including the English Collective of Prostitutes, Legal Action for Women, Women Against Rape and—naturally—the International Wages for Housework Campaign. Links have been made with domestic workers in Peru, Trinidad and Tobago, rural women in India and Uganda, and sex workers in the Philippines.

There have been struggles, and triumphs, some of which are documented in Sex, Race and Class. "The UN Decade for Women — An Offer We Couldn't Refuse" tells the story of a painstaking ten-year struggle to force the UN to recognise women's unpaid work. "Hookers in the House of Lords", an account of a prostitutes' occupation of a church in 1982, is a hoot, and has clear parallels with contemporary occupations: "We were very sorry to leave . . . We were physically exhausted and we craved a bath and bed. Yet we were loath to re-enter the flat atmosphere of daily life. In masks [worn by the occupiers to protect the prostitute women's anonymity] we had glimpsed what could happen: we created change. Taking off the masks, our collective power was as hidden as the reality it had penetrated . . . It was hard to remember we had won."

A new generation of feminists is discovering James's work. Academic Nina Power and writer and blogger Laurie Penny, for example, both cite her as an influence. In a recent article in the London Review of Books, Jenny Turner launched a serious reappraisal of James's campaign.

Meanwhile, James's call for a guaranteed income, her insistence that a post-work world might be possible, finds echoes in contemporary movements, from Occupy to the Pirates party. None of this is lost on James. The Occupy movement delights her, and she was an enthusiastic participant in last year's feminist Slutwalk, where she strung a placard around her neck with the words "Pensioner Slut" scrawled above a little red heart.

Today she seems happy. She lives with her fellow campaigner and partner of nineteen years, Nina Lopez, in a modest flat in London. A bronze head of CLR James looks down from the mantelpiece, surrounded by photos of James, Nina and their collie dogs. Her son, Sam Weinstein, is a radical trade unionist in America, and she is fiercely proud of him. She remains actively involved in the Crossroads Women's Centre and is busy, always. The movement, as she would say, is everywhere.

The final essay in Sex, Race and Class is called "Striving for Clarity and Influence." It is a fierce defence of CLR James's political legacy against those who would see his achievements in purely literary terms. In it she writes: "Politics, if it is fuelled by a great will to change the world, rather than by personal ambition, offers a chance to know the world, and to be more self-conscious of the actual life you are living rather than being taken over by what you are told you should feel: a chance to live, in other words, an authentic life. Such politics are a unique enrichment, not a sacrifice."

For anyone interested in CLR James, the essay is fascinating. But when I read it, I think of Selma.

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

A Red Robin?

by Albert Ruben
Monthly Review 64, no. 1
May 2012

In his estimable Robin Hood: People’s Outlaw and Forest Hero, it is Paul Buhle’s contention that in the almost eight centuries of his legendary existence, Robin has had his time come periodically but seldom more than now. With barbarians, foreign and domestic, at the gates whenever they are not in the palaces, the need for heroes to rise from the ranks of the masses is at least as urgent as it was in Robin Hood’s day.

According to Buhle, Robin Hood has two defining identities. The foremost is the bandit who robs from the rich and gives to the poor; close behind is the denizen of the forest. How, then, does a venerable literary figure defined in these ways meet current social needs? On the one hand, it is because of the maldistribution of wealth that is an increasingly glaring feature of late capitalism. On the other hand, it is because of the global assault on the environment.

To his credit, Buhle acknowledges the difficulty of fitting the ballads out of which have sprung the many tales of Robin and his merry men into the neat construct he would prefer. “The saga of Robin Hood is not a metaphor easily adaptable to Marxist (or anarchist) formulation,” Buhle concedes. “Rather, it opens up badly needed areas of discussion after the collapse of Russian-style Communism and the near-collapse of capitalism’s self-confidence, amid crises in the global economy and worse crises in the planet’s ecosystems.” It is difficult not to wonder what the areas are that Buhle alludes to here, areas that not only have not been thoroughly discussed since the fall of the Soviet Union but that await the benefit of further examination through the prism of the Robin Hood legend.

Awaited or not, Buhle embarks on his investigation with a will and makes a fine job of it. He traces the salient elements of the narrative to fourteenth-century England (the first literary mention of the name Robin Hood appeared in 1377 in the poem Piers Plowman). For common people in the countryside, Buhle relates, conditions were hard. The king’s deer, for example, were plentiful in the forests, but the penalty for killing one could be death. And so local balladeers sang of heroes who gave slain deer to villagers and provided aid and protection in other ways. The Childe Ballads ring with the name Robin Hood. He was a hit. Songs and stories about him spread. He was given a supporting cast, and Buhle thoroughly examines and embraces wherever possible the deeper significance of Maid Marian, Friar Tuck, and Little John. The question for Buhle becomes why this legend took such firm root and has had such lasting appeal.

He locates both in two places. The first is in the class conflict that over the centuries has never been far beneath the surface of the tranquil countenances societies put forward to conform to their existential myths. “Capitalism,” he holds, “was unimpeded, relatively speaking, but never unresisted.” As for the ways this resistance propelled our hero, he traces the beginning to an English rebellion in 1381 that “foreshadowed the uprising against Church and ruling classes of the next three or four centuries across the continents but also prepared the ground for the popularity of the Robin Hood saga.” Buhle elects to ignore the problem of locating Robin among an early 99 percent in most popular tellings of his tale. In them, Robin has hardly been forged by the hardships of a downtrodden class. He is Sir Robin of Loxley, a devoted subject of “good” King Richard, who in turn is off crusading in the Holy Land—which is to say plundering while putting infidels to the sword.

Buhle’s second explanation for the continued popularity of the Robin Hood narrative is on the firm ground of how readily the band of merry outlaws lends itself to media exploitation. His account of the many renderings in literature, in motion pictures, and in television is thorough and admirable. Plainly, his favorite was the 1950s British made TV series, The Adventures of Robin Hood. Buhle gives me generous credit for my role as story editor during the first two seasons of that series. I was living in London and was hired by the American producer Hannah Weinstein (not a “former theatrical lawyer”) for the, in that agonized period, good and sufficient reason that I was politically trustworthy.

Hannah had a singular idea: many first-rate Hollywood screenwriters were at the time blacklisted as leftists and so were unable to work. She would hire some of them under assumed names. They would be able to pay the rent; she would get, for television, unusually well-written scripts. My job was to communicate with them by airmail, an awkward process made necessary because the writers were, in a sense, political prisoners: the State Department refused to issue them the passports they needed to travel to work with us in London. I knew the identity of each writer, but Hannah insisted that was a secret between her and me; they must not know I knew. They signed their letters to me with pen names. For instance the team of Ian Hunter and Ring Lardner, Jr. signed “WS/FT,” for Will Scarlet and Friar Tuck. Strange, absurd times.

A singularity of the period is that TV shows were sponsored, that is to say an entire season of weekly episodes was purchased in order to pitch the sponsoring company’s products during commercial breaks. Through publicity executives and its advertising agency, the company kept close watch on every aspect of any show it sponsored. As a result, we on the production team of The Adventures of Robin Hood took care to avoid alerting agency, corporate, or network executives to the hotbed of subversives they were employing. Buhle is certain that episodes of our series were often slanted leftward and liberally salted with “socially conscious” dialogue. If he is right, it is sobering to think that the nation’s security was entrusted to such incompetent guardians.

The final arrow in Buhle’s quiver hits the bull’s eye. Linking the legend to the current environmental movement, he proposes, is Robin’s residence among the greenery and the creatures of the forest. A possible association of Robin with an English folk figure, the Green Man, is explored, and ultimately the case Buhle makes for an environmentalist’s embrace of Robin Hood is persuasive.

Finally Buhle argues that the world needs Robin Hood now more than ever. “We need Robin because rebellion against deteriorating conditions is inevitable.” Plainly, he issued the prediction before the advent of the Occupy movement. The reader, nonetheless, takes away from Buhle’s book a strong sense that the author must surely discern in that movement fertile soil for the many Robins he is convinced we are all desperately waiting for. It makes for a thought-provoking conclusion to an exhaustive study of tales that, whatever their radical credentials may or may not be, is an informative and entertaining examination of an enduring folk hero.

Robin Hood is subtitled not only People’s Outlaw and Forest Hero but A Graphic Guide as well. The Guide comprises four brief sections, each made up of graphic pages, three in comic book style. The artists are Chris Hutchinson, Gary Dumm, and Sharon Rudahl.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Paul Buhle's Author Page

12 Children's Picture Books That Challenge Traditional Gender Roles

by Marsha
Human Connection Blog

June 11, 2012

Each May and June in the United States, we celebrate Mother's Day and Father's Day. Moms usually receive pretty, smelly, "girly" stuff, and dad's get yet another manly tie, cologne, or something to BBQ. Just one of the countless ways we perpetuate the stereotypes and biases about what women and men are supposed to like and be like. And our media, marketing, language, and culture about these expectations and assumptions filter down to the youngest of us.

Research shows that even young children can quickly fall into these sex-based stereotypes and prejudices. In honor of celebrating our gender diversity, here are twelve children's picture books that challenge traditional gender roles.

    1.    Ballerino Nate by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. 2006. (32 pgs) PreK-2.
 When Nate discovers dance, he knows he’s found his passion, but his brother’s assertion that “boys don’t dance” causes him to have doubts.

    2.    Sometimes the Spoon Runs Away with Another Spoon Coloring Book by Jacinta Bunnell. 2010. (40 pgs) PreK-2. 
While actually a coloring book, the diversity of interests by these characters (such as the prince who wants glass slippers) is perfect for celebrating and exploring gender variety.

    3.    The Basket Ball by Esme Raji Codell. 2011. (32 pgs) Pre-K-2. 
When the boys won't let Lulu join their school-yard basketball team, she hosts a "Basket Ball" where girls from all over trade-in ball gowns for b-ball gear & show off their stuff.

    4.    Oliver Button is a Sissy by Tomie dePaola. 1979. (48 pgs) Pre-K-3. 
Oliver has to deal with classmates who harass him because he prefers activities like painting, reading, and dancing, instead of playing sports.

    5.    10,000 Dresses by Marcus Ewert. 2008. (32 pgs) Gr. 1-5.
 Every night, Bailey dreams about dresses. But in the daytime, his parents tell him he shouldn't be thinking about dresses because "You're a boy!" Then Bailey meets someone who is inspired by his passion.

    6.    The Sissy Duckling by Harvey Fierstein. 2002. (40 pgs) Gr. K-3.
 Because Elmer has different interests than the other male ducks, they taunt him and call him a sissy. When Elmer saves his Papa, the other ducks come to realize that Elmer’s specialness is something to celebrate.

    7.    The Princess Knight by Cornelia Funke. 2001. (32 pgs) Gr. Pre-K-3. 
King Wilfred teaches his daughter the same knightly skills he taught his sons. But when she turns sixteen, the King insists on a joust, the winner of which will win Violetta’s hand in marriage. Violetta has other plans.

    8.    Elena's Serenade by Campbell Geeslin. 2004. (40 pgs) Gr. K-4.
 A young girl in Mexico wants to be like her papa and become a glassblower, but such things are traditionally only for boys.

    9.    I Look Like a Girl by Shelia Hamanaka. 1999. (32 pgs) Gr. K-3. 
Each girl imagines herself a wild animal and dreams about what she can be.

    10.    My Princess Boy by Cheryl Kilodavis. 2010. (32 pgs) Gr. PreK-3.
 Dyson loves pink, dresses & his tiara. He also likes to climb trees. He's a Princess Boy, and his family loves him exactly as he is.

    11.    The Paperbag Princess by Robert Munsch. 1992. (32 pgs) Gr. Pre-K-3. 
Princess Elizabeth rescues her prince, who has been nabbed by a dragon, only to discover she's better off without him.

    12.    William’s Doll by Charlotte Zolotow. 1985. (32 pgs) Gr. Pre-K-3. 
William doesn’t want the train or basketball his dad gives him. He deeply wants a doll. No one understands—some even call him a sissy—until his grandmother steps in.

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A History of Pan-African Revolt in Insurgent Notes

by Matthew Quest
Insurgent Notes
June 3, 2012

A small and dangerous volume, this republication of C.L.R. James’s A History of Pan-African Revolt is a concise survey of Black freedom struggles in the United States, the Caribbean, and on the African continent from 1739–1969. A product of two periods in his life and work, his first British years (1932–38) where he emerged as the author of The Black Jacobins, the classic history of the Haitian Revolution; and his second American sojourn (1969–79) where he was a mentor to Black Power activists who had been members of SNCC, the Black Panther Party, and the League of Revolutionary Black Workers; this book documents famous and obscure race and class struggles in two parts written from the vantage of 1939 and 1969 respectively.

While some scholars have misunderstood this slim text as perhaps among James’s least original works for its dependence on his past Haitian Revolution research, comrades in the International African Service Bureau such as George Padmore, Jomo Kenyatta, and Issac Wallace Johnson, and silent reliance on W.E.B. Du Bois’s Black Reconstruction and other’s scholarship; those who repeatedly have commended it as timeless have arguably not assessed properly the innovative power of the book either.

Pioneering in how it depicted intellectual and social movement history among peoples of African descent, it was not without its limitations. However, what makes A History of Pan African Revolt enchanting is the thread of speculative philosophy that holds the assorted anecdotal historical commentaries on labor strikes, anti-racist rebellions, heroic personalities, and anti-colonial events together. A vision of Black autonomy, James depicts peoples of African descent thinking and acting for themselves as they pursue their own emancipation through movements of their own invention. From a contemporary perspective, we must be careful that this is not received by readers as a cheap platitude.

First written at the dawn of modern anti-colonial revolt for Africa and the Caribbean, it is true that this historical work was distinguished by a collection of ideas ahead of its time. The first incarnation not only anticipated his famous speech “A Revolutionary Answer to the Negro Problem in the USA” (1948) which inspired the African American autoworker James Boggs, and later led white socialists to identify with Black Nationalists such as Robert Williams and Malcolm X. For those familiar with James’s Notes on Dialectics (1948), and its survey of the Puritan, French, and Russian Revolutions, in an attempt to sum up the spontaneity and organization of the toiling masses in socialist and democratic movements in Europe; A History of Pan-African Revolt, without the abstract discussion of Hegelian categories of cognition, might be re-evaluated as a dynamic kindred work.

Early (and even contemporary) studies of people of color tended to struggle to break away from racial categories of contempt and pity (and preoccupations with what white people were doing and saying—whether nice or not nice—and how Black people were to react). This often led to an impediment—the specifying of autonomous criteria for valuing the beauty in Black cultures and the content of people of color’s self-government was often neglected. That all Black people must do is “stay black and die,” while a common refrain, cannot be the basis for such assessments. Neither that Black people always had their own philosophies and cultures and were thus human. Something else was required.

James, while emphasizing people of African descent, even under the status of slaves, “brought themselves” to the Americas, recognized Black people brought notions of moral philosophy, family forms, languages, and artisan and agricultural skills with them and learned to innovate under adversity in the face of new technological challenges and cultural environments. At its best A History of Pan African Revolt, informed unevenly by his affinity for direct democracy and worker self-management, takes a bigger leap forward than most realize. It traces ruptures not merely with mischaracterizations of Black humanity but also with nation-states, ruling elites, and ordinary party politics.

Repeatedly, James shows political treachery, in the age of white supremacy and empire, was not a monopoly of the white race alone. He anticipated the post-colonial moment where some people of color saw their new role in hierarchal representative government as the culmination of what for them was perceived as otherwise an already satisfactory existence without disturbing the empire of capital. James also saw Black freedom struggles as necessarily making evaluations not just on the terms of Black autonomy but the potential of multi-racial alliances.

A sharp reading of James’s A History of Pan African Revolt reveals that his outlook on direct democracy and national liberation struggles at times intersect. Where they do not, that in its own way is an education in history and politics. James was willing to stretch his categories of radical political thought to accommodate Black mass movements and rebellious expressions that the average Marxist or historical materialist (and even himself) might be uncomfortable with. Still, at his best, James rarely did this without criticism of past historical movements or the political thought of others. By this means he advanced these struggles or their representative power as historical lessons. Yet he did not do this as an innovative “Black Marxist” to break with the limits of European socialism around race matters—for that is to reduce James to a fragment of the man.

James, a dynamic partisan of world revolution, constantly made strategic and philosophical adjustments in how he evaluated Russia, Britain, France, Germany, or the Age of the CIO to point the way forward for American and European workers’ self-emancipation, as distinct from people of color, as well. James was not a narrow expert on what was once called “the Negro Question” but told European socialists when he thought they were wrong about the self-emancipating nature of their own working class and the democratic legacies of their own civilizations (of both of which he was quite fond). Not a hegemony theorist, James never spoke of the false consciousness of toilers—regardless of color. He believed recognizing what he termed mass movements’ “partial mistakes” allowed for the later completion of insurgent historical moments which at times became derailed for a decade or even an epoch. To be sure, he did not advocate these delays, but saw himself as facilitating the overcoming of the next social hurdle. Let us take note of these dynamics as they function in this fine work.

The Stono Rebellion of 1739 of South Carolina, which was ultimately defeated, is an opportunity for James to evaluate a slave revolt where white slave masters were killed (but a kind one was allowed to live), property was burned, a military garrison is seized, and a strategic plan to flee across the international border with Spanish Florida where Angolan ancestral affinity is a potential motivation for an alliance. The Haitian Revolution is recognized as an inspiration to a slave revolt which failed to take place in Louisiana of 1795, where whites were allies from the beginning and disputes over strategy and method made the specter of it memorable. Gabriel’s Revolt, a slave insurrection outside Richmond, Virginia, gathered thousands of slaves who, with clubs and sharpened swords, intended to massacre the whites. But it was decided to exclude Frenchmen and Quakers for their perceived politics and strategic sympathies. Elements of contingency, chance storms which flooded rivers and tore down the bridges impeded events. James always depicted slave revolts as not embarrassing outbreaks of anger and violence but the work of African Americans who had original organizational and strategic capacities and moral philosophies. Importantly, he did not manufacture a cheap heroism to justify future capitalist politicians in their civil rights and welfare policies. For James could see how this suppressed more contemporary visions of Black self-emancipation.
Denmark Vesey and Nat Turner are seen as theologians with different political implications. Vesey is seen as having a prophetic vision that insisted all those who opposed the uprising must be killed and who was betrayed by collaborationist house servants. Turner’s revolt, which massacred women and children, is viewed as having linkages to rebellious poor whites. James sees Harriet Tubman’s Underground Railroad as a change in tactics which anticipated the success of the Union Army in the Civil War.

James is innovative in highlighting labor strikes in Sierra Leone and South Africa.
He unevenly recognizes, but was far ahead of his time, aspects of religious rebellion in the Congo’s Simon Kimbangu or the John Chilembe led rising in Nyasaland (later Malawi). He seems to minimize aspects of the spirit unnecessarily in a nevertheless intriguing materialist reading of Kenya’s Harry Thuku Revolt of 1921 as a general strike. He shows famous statesmen such as Kwame Nkrumah and Jomo Kenyatta being pushed from behind by the African masses’ self-organization, compelling colonizers to release them from jail to govern, even where the colonizer militarily defeats profound insurgencies such as the Mau Mau rebellion (1952–56) led by Dedan Kimathi. He does not let on that British colonialism also disoriented Nkrumah’s Positive Action campaign of 1950.

We might rethink the notion that the British were forced to release Nkrumah and Kenyatta from jail. Just as the case of Nelson Mandela’s later release from prison and collaboration with F.W. DeKlerk, they lifted the struggle to the moral plane emphasizing they “suffered without bitterness.” But they also propped up Black capitalism each in their own way (in collaboration with multi-nationals) at the expense of insurgent Black workers and farmers. James never highlighted that Mau Mau leaders like Kimathi and Bildad Kaggia, who was a defender of the landless, were betrayed by Kenyatta at the post-colonial moment. Further, that Nkrumah early on in state power purged radical labor leaders such as Pobee Biney of the Sekondi-Takoradi dockworkers, who really pushed Nkrumah from behind into the Positive Action campaign. Biney later inspired the 1961 general strike against Nkrumah’s regime. This labor action, and the mass discontent it represented, should have revealed a reassessment of Nkrumah’s regime, long before the 1966 coup often blamed too narrowly on the CIA, elite Ashanti ethnic leaders, and a military plot alone.

James’s discussion of the period of the great strikes across the Caribbean from 1934–39 is interesting for its highlighting of Adrian Cola Rienzi (Krishna Deodarine), an Indo-Trinidadian, as a major labor leader of the era which should be brought to the attention of Pan-African audiences. His more famous Afro-Trinidadian comrade, whom James was to valorize later in his sojourns in Caribbean party politics, was Uriah Butler.

James’s discussion of the Marcus Garvey movement is profound for his capacity to tease out the kernel of desire for provisional government that this huge Black mass movement represented while discarding the conservative and capitalist tendencies of its leader. He accomplished this in an era where the standard approach of socialist people of color toward Garvey was to viciously denounce the personality allowing for little validity of the independent self-mobilization behind it.

Robin Kelley’s introduction to this volume shows the evolving publication history from A History of Negro Revolt to A History of Pan African Revolt in global social movement context and highlights some interesting dynamics. He restores James’s pioneering leadership as a coordinator of global resistance to the Italian invasion of Haile Selassie’s Ethiopia (1935–41) as a major context for the first crafting of this volume in 1938–39. Yet close readers will observe remarkably that James did not write an Ethiopia section for the part which discussed Africa, with these events seemingly fresh on his mind. What are we to make of this? In a brief instance, in the part on Caribbean revolts, he acknowledged that the plight of Ethiopia heightened the consciousness of militant labor action against empire in Trinidad. James underlined that the majority of peoples of African descent everywhere had the mistaken conviction that Ethiopia was treated badly on account of race. Certainly, James was aware that colonialism had racism and capitalism intertwined as causes for the denial of self-government. But this fragment suggested James held deep beliefs, with complex nuances, on how national liberation struggles were to be understood, that are still not grasped by most scholars and activists who are fond of him.

Kelley’s approach, which seeks to reconcile James, the anti-Stalinist and libertarian socialist, and African American and Caribbean communists affiliated with Moscow through a “Black Marxism” framework around the Ethiopia Question cannot principally highlight James’s ultimate clash with his associates in Pan African activism over the need for “workers’ sanctions” (not League of Nations or later United Nations sanctions). Peace, James insisted, unlike Popular Front communists, could not be genuinely sponsored by imperialists such as Britain or the United States. Dockworkers and maritime workers regardless of race, like his comrades the seamen from Barbados, Chris Jones and Arnold Ward, could implement their own embargo against Italian trade and goods through direct action.

It would be a mistake to assume that “workers’ sanctions” uncritically borrowed from a narrow European Marxism. All over the African world, people of color volunteered, including James, to go to Ethiopia to fight the Italians, as a group of multi-racial volunteers did in the Spanish Civil War. However, Ethiopia was not for James a matter of a thin Black solidarity. James assessed Selassie and his foreign minister, Dr. Martin, as selling out the popular self-mobilization of the Black masses on a world scale for an alliance with the European and American imperialists. It is true the imperialists made a mockery of “collective security,” and degraded the Ethiopian regime as less than their peer, and made them wait to have their rights, as a manager of Black labor, restored.

James unlike most Black communists and Pan Africanists wished to expose and encourage not merely the overthrow of Italian colonizers, but as well Emperor Haile Selassie, who would later be viewed as omnipotent by the Rastafarian movement. James could not stay loyal to a Black-led state power, whatever the insults of white imperialism, where it was not perceived by him as consistently cultivating mass development and unleashing the popular will. James was so disappointed with the Pan African movement’s inability to look for the self-organization of the Ethiopian rank and file, in contrast to the personality of Selassie, he never directly addressed that solidarity movement in this narrative.

Ethiopian solidarity does shadow the conclusion to James’s The Black Jacobins, written the year before, and his sarcastic depiction of Dessalines being crowned emperor, a proxy for Selassie’s coming restoration, with the assistance of the forces of Anglo-American capital in Haiti. As a foreshadowing of a self-emancipating future for Africa in 1938–39, James looked to obscure Africans’ mutinies and general strikes, linking up with Black and white workers abroad, seemingly beyond nation-states and their aspiring rulers.

The Ethiopian context of A History of Pan African Revolt can only be easily incorporated into a unitary framework of “Black Marxism” by willfully ignoring, if documenting at times, James’s political differences with George Padmore, Jomo Kenyatta, and Ras Makonnen within the International African Service Bureau, but also Paul Robeson’s and W.E.B. Du Bois’s Council on African Affairs, on how to approach national liberation struggles in the 1930s through the 1950s. For example, Padmore’s advocacy of class struggle in Ethiopia against Selassie before the Popular Front era and James’s criticism of Padmore after the Popular Front, for changing his view, and looking for “progressive” opinion among the imperialist rulers is documented by Kelley. Yet, this for Kelley, does not make the paradigm of a Black radical tradition, which purportedly never minimized Black rank and file resistance in contrast to European Marxists, implode on itself. Revisionist accounts, while not always bad, can minimize important facts. Of course, James in his elder years was silent on these differences over Selassie’s Ethiopia, partially as a result of his strategy of triangulation between statesmen and radical activists to build the Sixth Pan African Congress in Tanzania, and thus his experience of Ethiopian politics in the 1930s could not even be amplified even from the vantage of 1969 for this study.

At times, Kelley asks challenging questions that the reader should consider carefully. Indeed, James’s valorization of Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere as making the greatest contributions to radical thought on peasants since Lenin is very peculiar on a number of levels. These include, as Kelley points out, ignoring labor revolt and radical dissent suppressed by Nyerere’s regime including the most autonomous Ujamaa village councils, such as the Ruvuma Development Association. But also Nyerere can truly be said to have an affinity for Lenin’s last writings on the peasantry, as James underscores validly. Yet James and Kelley overstate the value of Lenin’s writings and obscures how dictatorial the Russian leaders’ policies actually were toward workers and farmers.

James, as a writer of Caribbean short stories and his novel Minty Alley, published before the first edition of the classic under consideration, highlighted the self-activity of unemployed and low wage single mothers, their theologies and interaction with patriarchal forces. Between the two editions of Pan African Revolt, James did some interesting theorizing which began to see the power of Ghana’s market women and Kenya’s peasant women behind Nkrumah’s and Kenyatta’s shadows. He attempted to present their own terms of being and ways of knowing as self-emancipating processes that audiences of so-called modern politics, in their backwardness, still strain to comprehend. We must note that, except for brief mention of Harriet Tubman, Black women’s role in the process of Black self-emancipation was underrepresented in this particular volume.

James’s brief survey of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Little Rock school desegregation, Greensboro’s first lunch counter sit-ins, Dr. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael and SNCC, and the Black Panthers places their politics on the world stage of historical significance without offering the type of insight he more silently shared with younger colleagues in that generation. James is at his most bold and transparent when he looks at the meaning of the urban uprisings of 1964–68 culminating in the rebellion in Washington, DC.

After King was assassinated, the US military defended key government buildings but otherwise conceded the burning city to the insurgent Black masses. James concludes that, despite fear of a conservative white backlash against Black Power, the American rulers could not consistently mobilize white racism against the just demands of Black radicals and the white youth and students who were their allies. In 1969, in this text, he does not speak of white workers as allies—it was becoming increasingly unfashionable. James insisted to suppress the Black movement in its totality is to destroy the American nation root and branch. Of course Black freedom struggles were attacked, officially and unofficially, but James’s diagnostic analysis of the mode of rule in the United States of 1969 concluded correctly that soon a more ethnically plural and multi-cultural approach to managing the crisis of race and class struggles would emerge. In the meantime, he marveled at the advance in Black political thought among the masses which rising up against police brutality suggested, while most at the time could only see embarrassing “riots” and “racial disturbances.”

Kelley’s suggestion that James evolved from an emphasis on Black labor revolt in the 1930s to a more heterogeneous emphasis that included Black middle class forces and intellectuals in the Black Power era is prescient on one level. However, the publication date of the revised edition in 1969 by the Center for Black Education and Drum and Spear Collective in Washington, DC, led by Jimmy Garrett and Charlie Cobb, veterans of the Black Panthers and SNCC, predated the emergence of the League of Revolutionary Black Workers (LRBW) in Detroit the same year.

We might conclude by placing this work in conversation with that movement and moment.
James was very influential on the LRBW but the terms of how he came to be are still obscure. James’s comrades George Rawick and Martin Glaberman, and his former comrades James Boggs and Grace Lee, did facilitate study groups and mentor the core of who became the leadership of the League. While his vision of workers’ self-management and rejection of vanguard parties are often seen as the basis of James’s influence, prominent LRBW leaders overwhelmingly did not share those politics, despite being against capitalism, managers in industrial workplaces, and white-led trade union hierarchy.

Instead, James influenced more marginal members and secondary leaders of the LRBW to approach his more advanced direct democratic perspectives through their Pan-African cultural nationalism, which in the late 1960s and early 1970s was perceived by many falsely as inherently in conflict with class struggle perspectives. Critiques of European arrogance or ignorance of African ontologies, philosophies, languages, and history need not be a façade of Black capitalist politics whose adherents masquerade as advocates for the welfare of the masses of the Black renters and wage earners. Not incompatible with a vision of workers control, reconfiguring one’s identity and psychology out from under white supremacist degradation is not a small matter for all human beings.

In fact, the LRBW members James influenced toward direct democracy, such as Modibo Kadalie and Kimathi Mohamed, saw in the earlier part of James’s Pan African Revolt a vision of independent labor which was “black enough” and spoke to their needs in a way that his uncritical valorization of Huey Newton in this same book did not. James once lectured an LRBW audience in 1971 where Kadalie and Mohamed were present. James was explaining his own unique understanding of dialectic, and how this was the method he used to come up with “the Revolutionary Answer to the Negro Problem” in 1948.

James pointed out in 1948 the instinctive proclivity of African Americans for independent politics inspired the most radical among the industrial working class. Black folks’ elemental political drive called into question capitalism, imperialism, and the neutrality of the state.

James said few back then saw the merit of the perspective he had worked out through proper observation and speculative method. One can say the same thing for this classic on Pan African Revolt under consideration.

James underscored, in his lecture to LRBW cadre, everyone was impressed with his analysis of 1948 in 1971—but this evaluation was a breakthrough decades ago. James told them, they would have to work out their own perspective for their own historical moment. This implied those old categories of thought, even James’s own, could not properly explain the post-civil rights, post-colonial moment which was emerging. If one desired to have dynamic and current political thought, James’s philosophical method for interpreting history, he emphasized, may be of value.

When the meaning of Kadalie’s purging from the staff of the LRBW, and Kimathi Mohamed’s writing in 1974 of the neglected classic Organization and Spontaneity: The Theory of the Vanguard Party and its Application to the Black Movement Today (which was dedicated to Mzee CLR James—Mzee is a Swahili title for revered elders) is properly considered, the intellectual legacies of A History of Pan African Revolt become larger.

This concise classic speculative philosophy and historical narrative placed in the service of Black revolution will charm scholars and activists, despite at times being inconsistent in its post-colonial criticism, and introduce new readers to a worldview that still can disturb authority and inform a new beginning.

Readers though must bring an outlook, which James strived to promote, that starts with the achievements of past freedom movements, the highest standards they set, and inquires about past mistakes made, to understand properly where to begin anew. A History of Pan African Revolt provides a foundation.

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Breaking Free: An Introduction to Mervyn Peake’s Titus Alone: A Selection From London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction

Weird Fiction Review
June 12, 2012

Michael Moorcock is one of the most famed writers and editors in science fiction and fantasy history, a key figure in the British New Wave movement in the '60s and '70s, which itself held a strong influence on modern weird fiction.

Moorcock is famed for his stories detailing the adventures of Jerry Cornelius and Elric of Melnibone, among many other acclaimed and award-winning works, and also for his editorship of the British science fiction magazine New Worlds, which published the work of groundbreaking writers such as J.G. Ballard, M. John Harrison, Harlan Ellison, and William Burroughs. In his writing and his editorial work, Moorcock has challenged preconceived notions of speculative literature and often pushed genre writing into fresher, more progressive territory.

In March of this year, PM Press published a collection of Moorcock’s nonfiction, London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction. Selected from over fifty years of his writing, this collection ranges from recent pieces for the Los Angeles Times and The Guardian to more obscure and – up until now – unattainable work. We’re delighted to reprint an essay from London Peculiar for our readers, courtesy of the author and PM Press: “Breaking Free,” which Moorcock wrote as an introduction to the Klett-Cotta (German) edition of Mervyn Peake’s Titus Alone. Those already familiar with the content of The Weird may recall that Peake’s short story “Same Time, Same Place” is included in that anthology. This essay serves as a sterling example of Moorcock’s nonfiction writing, offering a unique and sympathetic read of an under-appreciated work and a moving eulogy for a master of the Weird. - The Editors


In many ways Titus Alone is for me the most interesting of the three books Mervyn Peake wrote concerning the young Lord of Gormenghast, even if it lacks the compelling plot of the first two. For a number of years Titus Alone was considered the weakest because an uncomprehending copy editor cut it to pieces while Peake was in the first stages of the Parkinsonism which would take his life. In its restored form the novel proved far better than critics originally supposed.

If Langdon Jones, the composer, then assistant editor of New Worlds, had not been leafing through Peake’s original manuscript and noticed serious discrepancies between it and the published version, we might never have had the far more complete version. It took Jones the best part of a year, making line by line, page by page examinations of text and manuscripts, to restore the novel as closely as possible to Peake’s original version. The editor had made a bewildering number of unnecessary changes and few would have been capable of the intellectual intensity and powers of concentration displayed by Jones in his great labour of love. Happily, he finished in time for his version to be published in the definitive Penguin ‘Modern Classics’ edition and it is the translation of that which you have here.

Titus Alone was Peake’s attempt to take his character and method out of the hermetic world he had created in Gormenghast and Titus Groan and make it confront not only issues of identity, time and human interaction but the problems of modernity and even post-modernity—the world as it emerged from terrible, unprecedented conflict, confronting the Cold War, nuclear weapons and new forms of authoritarian dictatorship springing up like weeds from the ruins of the old world. In following this path Peake recognized the limitations of the form he had developed with such genius and was consciously seeking a means by which he could expand it to expose his protagonist to the twentieth century in general and the second half in particular.
Peake’s instincts were, as always, towards actuality if not towards realism as it was then understood. In this, he was perhaps the very first English "magic realist" and an inspiration to the so-called New Worlds group which saw him, Vian, Kafka, Borges and William Burroughs as models to emulate in steering imaginative fiction away from nostalgic escapism and obsession with the supernatural towards examination of our common psyche and shared experience.
When I first met Peake he was in the last stages of completing Titus Alone. Both he and his wife Maeve were distracted by the mysterious symptoms which would be properly identified only after his death. He had already written his play The Cave, tackling the subject of nuclear war, and discovered that the majority of people at that time did not want to examine the issues, certainly in the form he chose. He was depressed and disappointed in a large public’s lack of interest in his work but at that point I had no idea what he was going through. On that afternoon and in the course of many others he gave me far too much of his time and I fully appreciated his charming generosity. That generosity was to be his most enduring characteristic. I think it was what also sustained him through the writing of his great Titus Groan sequence, that wish to give his readers everything he could imagine and describe.

As the earlier books were dominated by Steerpike, that embodiment of rage against the establishment who, even at his most wicked, still keeps our empathy if not our sympathy, so Titus Alone is dominated by Muzzlehatch, Titus’s mysterious half-mad mentor and guide to the world beyond Gormenghast’s walls. We don’t have quite the same range of comic and grotesque characters here but we do have another cast of gorgeously different women—Juno, who elects to become a kind of guardian, the Black Rose and Cheetah, femme fatale daughter of a wealthy industrialist. But Titus, who scarcely featured in the earlier plots, here begins to come into his own, an innocent, a naïf in comparison to Steerpike. This is far more Titus’s book.

Some readers were originally disappointed not to be given another Gormenghast in Titus Alone and missed the castle’s claustrophobic atmosphere. Muzzlehatch’s vibrant beast of a car, the references to helicopters and other modern inventions, the obvious images reminding us of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp which Peake observed at first hand when sent there as a war artist to record, were not at all what they were hoping for. Some of us welcomed these developments, however, as well as the continuation of the absurdism which is perhaps at its best in the court scene where Titus reveals his father’s fate. This shows Peake working in that great tradition of Sterne, Peacock, Carroll, Lear and Firbank, the same tradition which infuses his nonsense verse and informs so many of his drawings in his Grimm, for instance, and in the most recently published The Sunday Books.

Peake was incapable of resting on his laurels and it is a mark of his genius that he continued to expand his range as a poet, draughtsman and novelist even as that terrible illness, exacerbated by doctors ignorant of the advances we have since made in diseases affecting the brain and nervous system, consumed him.

I saw Peake regularly during those years and was astonished by how rarely his wit deserted him, even when his memory failed. I remember taking the cover proofs of this book to show him at the hospital, knowing that his understanding had almost entirely deserted him. He did not recognise his own work but he did sense that his wife Maeve was distressed. Obviously in an effort to cheer her up, he rose shakily and tried to embrace her. That was the clearest memory I have of his final days, reaching towards his beloved wife and attempting to comfort her, his own work ignored. It remains one of the most moving and significant moments of my life and was typical of his generous nature. His mind had almost completely deserted him, but his humane heart beat as steadily as always.

As it will beat forever, here and through the rest of his magnificently varied work.

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London Peculiar Reviewed in New City

by Paul Durica
New City
June 2012

Recommended: Michael Moorcock is a difficult fellow to pigeonhole. He’s won practically every award given to writers in the genres of fantasy and science fiction (or speculative fiction, if you prefer), including the Nebula and Bram Stoker Award. As the editor of New Worlds, he helped shape the course of science fiction writing in the mid-twentieth century. Then there’s his career as a musician and as a historian of London. Recently, he wrote a “Doctor Who” novel. Who else could claim friendships with figures as divergent as Woody Guthrie, William S. Burroughs, Arthur C. Clarke and Alan Moore? Who else would begin life in the East End of London during the Blitz, and end up spending his golden years in the hill country outside Austin, Texas?

London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction” does a good job of showcasing the artist’s far-ranging tastes and farther-afield experiences. Readers are given a mix of autobiographical essays, eulogies for departed friends, diary entries, cultural critiques, book introductions and reviews—lots and lots of reviews. If there’s a drawback to the collection, it’s the reliance upon introductions and reviews to plump up the volume. Putting Moorcock’s astute critical observations aside, one is left wondering how useful and interesting is a review for a book one hasn’t read? It’s to Moorcock’s credit that after reading his reviews one is tempted to pick up the book under critique, whether it’s Tony White’s “Foxy-T” (2003), Michael Chabon’s “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union” (2007)—Moorcock places Chabon in the “top rank of living American writers”—or the novels of Jack Trevor Story (best remembered by Americans for having written “The Trouble With Harry,” upon which Hitchcock based his film). Moorcock clearly loves books and is amazingly eclectic in his tastes and egalitarian in his attitude toward literary genres. And he also loves people: the essays collected within the section “Absent Friends,” about Story, Clarke, JG Ballard, Andrea Dworkin and Angela Carter among others, are genuinely moving without being sentimental.

I particularly enjoyed the pieces in the section “Other Places.” Moorcock wrote a series of “diary entries” for the Spectator and the Financial Times from the early 2000s into the present, and they offer an outsider’s view of life in the United States, particularly Texas, during the Bush years. Moorcock isn’t de Tocqueville but nonetheless manages to make observations that, while kind in spirit, still remind Americans of how far we’ve fallen from the ideals of a common good and shared responsibilities. Writing about the tendency to turn one’s past to profit, Moorcock observes, “Every small town in the US nowadays has to have some ‘historic’ monument to attract tourist money, in order to support the kind of civic infrastructure people used to take pride in paying for.” Moorcock doesn’t tell us what became of this “pride,” but he doesn’t need to. After all, he’s living in Rick Perry’s Texas.

Moorcock’s critiques are often like the one above. He never bellows or rages; he simply points out sad realities of the contemporary moment and reminds readers of the alternatives offered by careful reflection upon the past or speculation about the future. He also sustains an outsider’s faith in the potential of the United States and for Americans to put some good into the world. His wife is from Mississippi, and they chose to settle in Texas in part because of Moorcock’s lifelong love of American music. My favorite essay in the collection is his tribute to the songwriter Phil Ochs. Ochs’ music helped Moorcock keep the faith back in the 1960s and sustains his generosity in the present. “Despite the conservatism of its rhetoric,” Moorcock writes, “the American public is at heart tolerant and wants a just society. That public finds a voice in the musicians and performers from folk to rap who provide real evidence to the international community that maybe one day America really will walk the democratic walk as well as talk the democratic talk. It is the voice I heard as a kid when we were worried that US belligerence would get us into World War Three, when John Wayne was fighting communism and black people were denied the vote. It is the voice of the best America can be. It can’t be silenced. It is the voice of Phil Ochs.” At a moment when so many of us have lost faith in our country and our ourselves, it’s nice to have a science fiction writer from the UK remind us that a better world is still possible and ours to make.

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The New Reformation Reviewed in The Fifth Estate

by Paul J. Comeau
The Fifth Estate

June 2012

Although Paul Goodman established himself as one of the most influential thinkers of the twentieth century, by the end of his life the anarchist philosopher felt dissatisfied with the direction of the political movements his writings had inspired.

In New Reformation: Notes of a Neolithic Conservative, his last book of social criticism published two years before his death in 1972, Goodman attempted to resynthesize his theories with a wider scope, and address the problems he saw in the movements of his time. In many ways it was an update of his “May Pamphlet,” a manifesto written in 1945.

In New Reformation, Goodman makes the argument that for much of society, youth in particular, science has become the new religion. “It is evident that . . . we are not going to give up the mass faith in scientific technology that is the religion of modern times; and yet we cannot continue with it, as it has been perverted,” he writes in the Preface. What he proposes is a “New Reformation,” along the lines of the Protestant Reformation, to restore faith in the sciences.

Goodman begins his analysis from the perspective that much of this change must come from the sciences and professions themselves. If science is a religion for modern times, he argues, then “technology is a branch of moral philosophy, not of science.” Technology’s current place in the realm of the sciences, both in “the universities, in funding, and in the public mind,” is a bastardized position, devoid of what it needs most: moral perspective.

Relying on technologists to enforce morality within their professional sphere makes sense not only from a utilitarian perspective, he asses. The more over-used a technology gets, the less productive it ends up being, and from an environmental perspective, as well. In order to ensure the survival of ourselves, and the planet, a more responsible and modest approach to technology is necessary.

Goodman is quick to dismiss the idea that science and technology are “value-neutral,” arguing that it is scientists and engineers, the creators of the technologies themselves, who are best equipped to judge the merits of what they create and the best ways to put them to use. While critics may claim that these ideas lead to non-egalitarian technocratic social structures, Goodman’s idea of a new branch of science, which would focus on the responsible application of technology, makes sense in the context of the future anarchist society that Goodman envisioned.

In his ideal society, as explicated here, our existing hierarchical social structures are replaced by egalitarian guilds based on people’s professions, and how they contribute best to society. Interestingly, he calls this sort of organizing, where professions are organized and make decisions about their work output, “guild socialism,” though it is on par with what anarcho-syndicalists have not only envisioned, but practiced.

The emphasis of much of Goodman’s writing is on youth and their social conditions, and in the second section of New Reformation he focuses on the problems of youth, exploring the causes of, and possible solutions to, the problems he perceives with the youth movement of the 1960s.

The problem, from his perspective, lies with the education system. Schools are less about education than they are about indoctrination; something youth of that era had come to realize, and ultimately reject. According to his critique, incidental learning offers better instruction than formal learning. “My bias,” he writes, “is that ‘teaching’ is largely a delusion. People do learn by practice, but not much by academic exercises in an academic setting.”

The solution, as Goodman saw it, was to put education back into real world settings, encouraging the natural inclination to learning through lived experience the way a formal education doesn’t. “Our aim should be to multiply the paths of growing up, instead of narrowing the one existing school path,” Goodman writes.

The education plan Goodman proposed involved, first shifting the purpose of elementary pedagogy, through age twelve, to “delay socialization, to protect children’s free growth,” to allow children to “learn to learn.”

“They must be encouraged to guess and brainstorm rather than be tested on the right answers,” he writes. Further, Goodman advocates the transforming of educators, away from enforcers of indoctrination, and towards enablers of education, as companions on the educational paths not as authoritarian rulers.

As children grew and could not only engage in enquiry and discussion, but contribute meaningfully to their society, the time was right for them to begin thinking about professions. Here, Goodman’s model for the ideal anarchist society, organized into professional guilds, meshes perfectly with his ideas of anarchist education.

Instead of plodding the existing path from middle, to high school, to university, a robust system of internships and apprenticeships would exist where children would have the opportunity to first discover, and then pursue their life’s calling.

One of Goodman’s most important points is his emphasis on the importance of reading and the value of literature, not merely  as a means of communication, but as one of the truly beautiful and valuable acts of human existence. For Goodman, there was a real fear that not just reading and literature were being co-opted, but that the whole of language itself was under threat.

“The most dangerous threat to humane letters,” he writes, “[is that] language is reduced to be a technology of social engineering, with a barren conception of science and technology, and a collectivist conception of community. This tendency has been reinforced by government grants and academic appointments, and it controls the pedagogy in primary schools.”

In order for language to be truly free, writing, and reading has to be brought out of the education system and into society where they can flourish naturally through active use.

In part three of New Reformation Goodman attempts to tie in all the theoretical ideas he has developed, with the realities of the present at the time in which he wrote. His examination focuses on the legitimacy of the state and society, but he also critiques the efforts of the student movement to rebel against both, and the legitimacy of those efforts.

Part of Goodman’s critique of the contemporary youth movement of the 60s is that many were losing political perspective, and most had no sense of economics. While this is a harsh view when we take into account The Port Huron Statement, On the Poverty of Student Life, and numerous other radical critiques coming out of the student movements themselves, there is a cold rationality to Goodman’s criticism.

What primarily discouraged him is that very few embraced anarchism, which Goodman saw as the only truly revolutionary path. “Of the political thought of the past century,” Goodman writes, “only anarchism . . . the philosophy of institutions without the State and centrally organized violence has consistently foreseen the big shapes and gross dangers of present advanced societies.”  Those that did call themselves anarchists had a “problematic character . . . [coming] from the fact that the young are alienated, have no world for them,” he writes.
This leads them into a confused state, expressed in “their self-contradictory amalgam of anarchist and Leninist thoughts and tactics, often within the same group and in the same action.” 

Where this takes them is not towards the building of a new anarchist alternative to society, as Goodman would have liked to see them go. Instead, while “their frank and clear insight and their spontaneous gut feelings are anarchist,” he writes, “their alienation is Leninist, bent on seizing Power.”

Goodman devotes the rest of this section to arguing for the anarchist alternative, specifically the anarchist-pacifist alternative, to Marxist-Leninist ideas generally, and to calls for armed struggle specifically.

In Goodman’s anarchism, revolution is not merely about seizing power, but about doing away with power completely. For him, revolution “means the process by which the grip of authority is loosed, so that the functions of life can go on freely, without direction or hindrance.”  It is towards that end that he seeks to inspire readers in the remainder of this section.

As a whole, New Reformation is in many ways the culmination of Goodman’s writing, a synthesis of his ideas, tempered by both age and experience. With the revival of popular interest in his writing, many of his ideas are slowly gaining traction with a new audience. 

As the Occupy movement ushers in the next upsurge of politically awakened youth, Goodman is well poised to take his place as one of the most important thinkers of the past century, and to influence yet another generation of radicals.

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