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Building Bridges at the U.S. Embassy in London: Akbar Ahmed on the Huffington Post

by Craig Considine
The Huffington Post
December 26th, 2012

If there is one person in the world today that could ease the conflict between America and the Muslim world, it is Ambassador Akbar Ahmed, the former high commissioner of Pakistan to the U.K. and current Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic studies at American University. On Nov. 28, he was invited to screen his documentary, "Journey into America," at the U.S. Embassy in London, in which he was introduced as "one of the greatest scholars of Islam in the world today" by Minister Barbara Stephenson, the former U.S. Ambassador to Panama. In attendance was the who's who of Britain's Muslim community, among them Lord Gulam Noon, a British businessman from Mumbai, and Imam Qasim Rashid Ahmad, who had founded IQRA television, one of the U.K.'s leading television stations for Muslims.

Ambassador Ahmed's "Journey into America," which I had the privilege of directing, documents our travels across the length and breadth of the U.S. For more than a year, we traveled to more than 75 cities, visited more than 100 mosques, and talked to thousands of Muslims and non-Muslims. We discussed America's relationship to Islam with intellectuals like Noam Chomsky and Hamza Yusuf, and politicians like Congressman Keith Ellison and former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff. We also discussed the nature of American identity with people from the roughest parts of Detroit, Mich., and with people in corporate boardrooms of Texas; with descendants of Muslim slaves on Sapelo Island, Ga., and in the sacred groves of the Mormon community in Palmyra, N.Y.

One of the first points that the audience picked up on was the diversity of Ambassador Ahmed's team, which was comprised of largely young non-Muslim Americans. Abid Hussain, an employee of the Arts Council of England, reflected upon the importance of the team when he stated that "Journey into America" changed his perception of America by showing him that there were indeed "advocates for the Muslim experience within the non-Muslim community." For Hussain, "Journey into America" also confirmed the importance of "having conversations and brokering relationships, as we can only distinguish between fact and fiction thraough dialogue with the other."

For other members of the audience, "Journey into America" cut straight through much of the pseudo-intellectual drivel of the post-9/11 era. The scene when the team went to Arlington National Cemetery to visit the gravestones of Muslim American soldiers, who died in the Iraq War, was particularly symbolic for one Muslim Metropolitan police officer. He said that he was able to relate to this scene on a deeper personal level: "When people see me in the street there are all sorts of stereotypes that are invoked," he said. "Sometimes I'm called names such as terrorist or bin Laden. As someone who has been a police officer working in counter terrorism and subject to the risks that we face, in particular as Muslim officers, this is particularly difficult to swallow." The officer continued: "By actually meeting people -- both Muslim and non-Muslim -- and sharing their views and experiences, you get an idea of how people actually feel opposed to the rather dangerous and frightening perception created post 9/11."

Another scene in "Journey into America" -- our visit to Arab, Ala. -- followed one of our female team members, who was dressed in traditional Islamic clothing, as she interacted with the locals. Though they were unsure of who she was or where she came from, the people of Arab were not hostile and, in fact, were quite friendly. For Laura Martin, an American student at the University of Edinburgh, the Arab scene was one of many in "Journey into America" that could help "create a framework upon which to build a necessary and critical dialogue both in reference to Muslims as well as addressing our American perceptions." The dialogue between Americans and Muslims must start somewhere, Martin added. "This film is a good starting point."

Given my experience as the director of "Journey into America," I am in a unique position to initiate the dialogue that Martin yearns for. For this reason I introduced to the audience my new One Film 9/11 interfaith initiative, which was created on Sept. 12, 2012. The goal of One Film 9/11 is to use "Journey into America" to counter the recently released anti-Muslim film, "The Innocence of Muslims," which depicted the Prophet Muhammad as, among many things, a child rapist and mass murderer. One Film 9/11 has the aim of building bridges between Muslims and non-Muslims by screening "Journey into America" around the Muslim and non-Muslim world on Sept. 11, 2013. To help drive One Film 9/11, I have created a blog and Facebook profile, so others can get involved and help us build bridges.

The importance of One Film 9/11's use of film and social media was echoed by Abid Hussain, who said that by combining these two resources, we can establish "a really powerful means to shaping and changing viewpoints." Hussain also stressed that One Film 9/11 can present "a counter narrative, which is critical during difficult and challenging political times where so many people form views not through direct interaction but through what they see and hear through the media."

In a world where ideologically driven commentators, self-interested politicians and religious fanatics fan the flames of misunderstanding, One Film 9/11 can serve as another means of building bridges between Americans and Muslims worldwide.

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Every Town is a Company Town: The Housing Monster

by Garrett Wright
War Resisters League
Winter 2012

This small book is crammed full of powerful critiques of the financing, production, and consumption of housing under capitalism. Similar to other publications authored by, the text is accompanied on every page with striking black-and-white drawings that flesh out the authors’ arguments.

The Housing Monster is at least partially an effort to make key concepts of Marxist economics more accessible to contemporary readers. We are led through an analysis of the labor theory of value, capital accumulation, and crisis through examples such as the exploitation of wage labor in the construction industry and the economic booms and busts of the housing market.

The roles of different kinds of capitalists (contractors, developers, landlords, and bankers) are discussed in detail. While sharing a common interest in making the maximum profit off of either exploiting or ripping off the working class, these different kinds of capitalists are also frequently at odds with each other. Employers might support demands for affordable housing—not because they have genuine concern for their employees’ welfare, but because lower rents allow bosses to pay lower wages.

The working class is also shaped by various forms of difference and riven by internal contradictions. Skilled workers who are homeowners may believe that they have more in common with their boss than with workers who experience more precarious employment and housing situations. People displaced from their neighborhood due to super-gentrification may find themselves actually becoming gentrifiers in another neighborhood.

However, there are major problems with the book’s discussion of identity and difference amongst the working class. The U.S. working class has always existed in relation to a specifically white supremacist (and patriarchal, heterosexist, nationalist, and ableist) capitalism. Unfortunately, the book tends to treat these interlocking systems of oppression just as differences hindering the ability of the working class to unite and struggle against their “real (capitalist) enemy.”

A contrasting organizing strategy is examined in Michael Staudenmaier’s “Truth and Revolution,” which details the work of the Sojourner Truth Organization (STO) in the 1970s. The STO was a predominantly white revolutionary organization that focused on building militant workers’ committees, while striving to challenge racism and white privilege among white workers. For the STO, such antiracist organizing was intended to combat white supremacy everywhere, which they viewed as a necessary part of any effort to build a multiracial anti-capitalist movement.


The book would have also benefited from more attention to the ways that racism and capitalism have constrained housing opportunities for people of color. As one example, when the federal government began intervening in the home mortgage market during the Depression, it exacerbated racial inequalities through the greenlining of mortgage guarantees for whites while redlin- ing communities of color. New homes that were only available to white purchasers reinforced what George Lipsitz has termed the “possessive investment in whiteness,” as racial exclusion was utilized to increase property values.

I also took issue with the authors’ treatment of patriarchy, sexism, and gender. Sections of the book do discuss how contractors benefit from macho culture among construction workers by getting them to take more risks, as well as some of the ways in which remnants of pre-capitalist patriarchal structures interact with newer forms of capitalist patriarchy in the domestic and public spheres. But these discussions are brief and lack the insight found in the works of autonomous Marxist feminists such as Silvia Federici.

The book does strongly make the case that capitalism will never tolerate housing reforms that truly threaten capital accumulation. In chapters on public housing, rent control, collective living, and unions, the authors acknowledge that working-class movements have, in certain times and places, been able to achieve improvements in their standards of living. But so long as the economy is structured around the principle of surplus value extraction by capitalists, the interests of the working class will continue to be undermined.

Despite my strong differences in opinion with portions of the book’s analysis, I would recommend it to anyone interested in housing issues. It is a valuable contribution to current debates on revolutionary alternatives to the unending housing crisis that is a permanent feature of life under capitalism.

Garrett Wright is an attorney at the Urban Justice Center’s Community Development Project, where he provides litigation support to community-based organizations that are fighting against gentrification and displacement and for the realization of housing justice. Garrett is also active in the National Lawyers Guild-NYC Chapter and is a proud mem- ber of UAW-National Organization of Legal Services Workers (Local 2320) and the Industrial Workers of the World.

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We, the Children of Cats in The Complete Review

by M.A.Orthofer
The Complete Review
February 21, 2013

We, the Children of Cats collects five stories and three novellas published by Tomoyuki Hoshino between 1998 and 2006; a lengthy afterword, 'The Politics of Impossible Transformation' by Brian Bergstrom, also provides a useful overview and introduction to the author and his work. 

Several of these pieces have some basis in real, highly public and often traumatic events, from attacks on Japanese schoolchildren to the hostage-taking at the Japanese ambassador's residence in Peru in 1996-7 (which also features in, for example, Arnong Grunberg's Het aapje dat geluk pakt), but Hoshino is not interested in presenting documentary fiction, instead merely using these events (or variations on them) as a foundation. For Japanese readers, the resonance -- echoing the familiar-from-the-news events -- is no doubt unavoidable, but the stories do not rely particularly heavily on any basis in fact -- and, indeed, Hoshino even goes so far as to remind readers that, as one his characters notes: "We mustn't let facts deceive us". Here and in the more freely imagined pieces there are also surrealistic elements, as Hoshino rarely presents a stable, easily graspable world. 

The written (and, to only slightly lesser extent, the spoken) word are important for writer Hoshino, but he repeatedly suggests they must be handled with care. As is noted at one point, "Humans thrive on words and are destroyed by words."

Opening this collection with the story 'Paper Woman' with its striking imagery (and tragic end) and featuring a woman who wants to become not a novel but paper itself, reinforces the sense of primacy of the written word -- but also it limits -- that follows. In this opening piece the protagonist is a writer named Hoshino, and while he doesn't put himself as front and center in the others, several of them do feature writers.

Beyond that, the pieces are noteworthy for the characters' efforts at creation -- not just in writing but in other ways, including in negation. So, for example, 'The No Fathers Club' features both a game of "No Ball Soccer", in which the players (and spectators) follow an entirely absent, imaginary ball, as well as a club that imagines absent fathers. In another story, a character describes the "hallucinatory penis" she finds herself with -- a sort of phantom limb -- and encounters a man who finds himself with an "air vagina"; their sense of identity as she describes it is one that seems to be shared by many of Hoshino's characters: "Counterfeit but real."

Hoshino is dealing with Japanese particulars in many of the pieces -- devastatingly so, for example, with a mass-poisoning at an elementary school in 'Sand Planet'. As a character who has moved to Peru explains in 'Treason Diary,' "Broken people are like fictions in Japan, everyone pretends they don't exist, but here in Peru I can have a real existence, and when I realized that, I decided to come here."

Many of the characters in these stories are broken in one way or another. Some try to make themselves whole, or recreate themselves -- turning themselves into paper, imagining new sexual organs or people, attempting suicide, even ... writing -- but their efforts rarely meet with full success. Indeed, perhaps the most representative scene in the entire collection is in 'Air', when Hina describes, "I plunged my air penis into his air vagina."

Even this most fundamental kind of union is here presented as complete negation: "As the two winds sounded their unbearably high-pitched notes in unison, their melting liquid bodies vaporized completely, billowing out the window into the boundless sky outside to evaporate into thin air."

The lesson Hoshino of the opening story learns is that "novels are already meaningless, that their meaning has always been illusory." Nevertheless, Hoshino the writer continues to write -- if not to find meaning so at least to capture and present, at least momentarily, the illusory.

With its very different stories -- of varying length (several are, after all, even billed as novellas) and intensity -- the collection can feel a bit unwieldy and is perhaps best read intermittently, rather than in one go. Nevertheless, We, the Children of Cats is an interesting collection, and certainly a good introduction to an interesting writer.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Tomuyuki Hoshino 's Author Page

Anarchy Comics in In These Times

by Kristian Williams
In These Times
March 5th, 2013

A new volume revisits the series that breathed new life into the genre

In the late 1970s, mainstream comics were a dull affair, dominated by superheroes and still bound to the politically conservative and culturally puritanical guidelines of the Comics Code Authority. Maus, Watchmen, and The Dark Knight Returns—along with the broader recognition that comics “aren't just for kids anymore”—were still almost a decade away. The Underground Comix scene, like the hippie counterculture with which it was associated, had peaked a few years earlier and badly needed a new direction. Then, in 1978, came the first issue of Anarchy Comics. Thank god for punk rock.

Anarchy Comics, which appeared four times between 1978 and 1987, published by a collective in San Francisco, represented a unique collision of Underground Comix sensibility, punk aesthetics and utopian politics. On its pages, radical history, autobiography, poetry, satire, cultural criticism and gag cartoons gathered together promiscuously. Art and pulp, fiction and nonfiction, idealism and cynicism didn't merely appear alongside one another but often intermingled, and even blended together. The result was cacophonous, more chaos than order, closer to the antics of the Sex Pistols than the philosophical reflections of Kropotkin.

Now, PM Press has collected all four issues into a single volume. In addition to reproducing the content of the original comics, Anarchy Comics: The Complete Collection also includes color reprints of the covers, unpublished sketches, archival photos, a long introduction from editor/contributor (and former In These Times cartoonist) Jay Kinney, a short preface from historian and comics scholar Paul Buhle, and a recent story by one of the original contributors, Sharon Rudahl.

Anarchy Comics was in many ways an obvious product of its time. The Cold War, the possibility of nuclear annihilation, the ascendancy of neoliberalism, and the Left's increasingly sectarian and politically-correct self-isolation, all form part of the background of the publication. Aesthetically, as well, Anarchy Comics reflects the moment of its birth. The irreverent playfulness of the Underground Comix era carries over into many of the pieces here, but they also incorporate a punk aesthetic (or anti-aesthetic) and thus feel hastily, or almost indifferently, slapped together. Some of the pieces make ready use of clip art; some pages are almost illegibly crowded with images or text; much of the art is aggressively crude; and several stories halt abruptly, without resolution, at the end of the page. As a result, much of the work seems unfinished, fragmented or abandoned, though this effect sometimes also provides a daring, experimental, spontaneous feel—like a flash of pure creative energy, brilliant for a moment but impossible to sustain.

The best qualities of the volume are represented by the contents of the second issue, which included an autobiographical tale in which Steve Stiles is interrogated by Army Intelligence about IWW activity; a punk-inspired Archie parody titled “Anarchie in Problem Child”; and lush, grotesque, erotic images paired with quotes from Emma Goldman. Some of the art, such as Clifford Harper's cubism-inspired illustrations for Brecht's poem “The Black Freighter,” is so striking that the word “cartoon” will not even come to mind.

Perhaps the most interesting element of Anarchy Comics is its roster of contributors. Featuring talent from throughout the U.S., Canada and Europe, the comic ranged freely across subjects, styles and outlooks. Altogether, the collection includes more than 65 separate stories from 30 cartoonists who as a group represent both the past and the (then-)future of anarchist cartooning.

Contributions from figures from the Underground Comix era—like Gilbert Shelton, the creator of the “Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers,” Greg Irons and Peter Pontiac—give the book a sense of lineage, and help to position it at a pivot between two counter-cultures—the bleary hippy scene before, punk aggression after.

Fascinating too are the contributions from artists who had yet to reach their prime. Sharon Rudahl, who began in the 1970s Underground scene, went on in 2007 to publish a book-length comic biography of Emma Goldman called A Dangerous Woman. Her growth as an artist is on display in this volume as well, with a lovely short bio of Victoria Woodhull (from 2010) contrasting markedly with the competent but uninspired historical pieces from the first couple of issues. Meanwhile, “Quotes from Red Emma,” along with a firsthand account of facing censorship, illustrations accompanying a pair of Benjamin Peret poems, and the feminist fable “The Quilting Bee,” are all the work of Melinda Gebbie, who would later become notorious as the co-creator (with Alan Moore) of the self-consciously pornographic three-volume comic Lost Girls. Her Anarchy Comics contributions, while less constrained and less refined, are clearly the work of the same artist, and these early pieces—especially with their themes of free love, free speech and feminism—provide another point of comparison for her later, better known work.
Clifford Harper—who would become famous for his bold, dark, woodcut-like images, his anarchist portraits, and for Anarchy: A Graphic Guide—contributes a piece to every issue collected here, each in a startlingly different style.  The illustrations for “Owd Nancy's Petticoat,” in the first issue, resemble early nineteenth-century woodcuts; the Brecht illustrations in the second issue are nearly cubist; the ones accompanying Proudhon's “What is Government?” in issue three are softer, with rounded edges and gray shading; and by the last issue, his illustrations for “On the Night of March 3, 1982” finally achieve his characteristic high-contrast, block-print style. To encounter these decades-old works, knowing the artist that he would eventually become, is interesting, and even revealing.

Of course, alongside these works are other contributions which seem, at least in retrospect, silly, pointless, crude, or—perhaps worst of all—dull. It’s tempting to wish that the volume had been edited differently, offering the best works from the original issues and discarding the weak, unfinished or dated. But in fact Kinney has done us a favor in offering a facsimile edition. The raw, confused feel of the work included here—along with its uneven quality, and the occasional obvious failure—offers an honest picture of culture as it is created, and of politics as it is practiced. Neither masterpieces nor revolutions arrive fully formed. They arise, instead, haphazardly, from messy social circumstances, caught within the tensions of their time. To cut out everything embarrassing or regrettable would be to misrepresent the past, to lead us toward nostalgia rather than history.

Such an approach would also misunderstand the virtues of Anarchy Comics as a project. Considered in its context—born in the midst of the punk era, after the disintegration of the New Left, before “graphic novels” gained respectability—the effort seems bold, audacious, even foolhardy. The crass, awkward, ugly, amateurish elements are all a part of that. They remind us that success and failure are often twins—arriving in the same moment, emerging from the same process—and that continuous failure is sometimes a necessary accompaniment to the maturing of success.

Anarchism may be utopian, but, as Anarchy Comics reminds us, it has never been perfectionist.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Jay Kinney's Author Page

Burn Collector Recommended on Boingboing

Burn Collectorby Brian Heater
February 14th, 2013

A Dozen great zine anthologies

Those with a moderate knowledge of this site (or, for that matter, who have spent any mount of time on its Wikipedia page) can tell you that Boing Boing (nee bOING bOING) came into this world as a zine -- "The World's Greatest Neurozine,” no less. It’s genesis into a popular blog is certainly something of a rarity, of course. In a certain sense, the two mediums feel at odds -- the physical and the virtual -- particularly as one seems constantly under threat from the success of the other.

But as zines suffer at the hands on the online self-publishing explosion, there’s been a push in recent years to collect some of the best representations of the medium, to counteract their nebulous, dissolving nature with bound collections. While these don’t have the same thrill as newly printed single issues, it’s impossible to overstate the value of these volumes, which help to preserve a rich culture history that would otherwise vanish with the disappearance of their remaining copies.

Of course, not every zine is a masterpiece, but the great ones hold work on-par with the best professionally published books. And thankfully, publishers like Microcosm are doing their damnedest to preserve as many as possible. Below you’ll find some personal favorites. It’s hardly a complete list by any measure, but these are the ones I keep pulling off my own bookcase shelves to read and re-read.

Add Toner, by Aaron Cometbus. (Last Gasp)

I don’t know what to tell you beyond the fact that Aaron Cometbus is one of the best writers of the past 50 years. I believed this when I was a 13-year-old living in the East San Francisco Bay, and I believe it to this day. There’s a lot of catching up to do, if you’re not a frequenter of the zine sections of anarchist bookstores, much of which is out-of-print. This is probably the best possible place to start, a 368 page collection of the best zine that ever was. 2002’s Despite Everything is much more comprehensive, at nearly double the size, sure, but much of that collection is devoted to a writer attempting to figure out precisely what he wants his zine to do.

Also worth mentioning is the fact that the relatively recent issue 54 is easily one of the series’ best, a story of growing up, diverging paths and traveling Asia and playing Scrabble with his old childhood buddies, who are now one of the biggest rock bands in the world.

Scam: The First Four Issues, by Iggy Scam. (Microcosm)

Totally, totally essential for anyone with anything approaching a punk rock bone in their body. In more recent years, Iggy has contributed to This American Life and written a politically-minded tome featuring a back quote by none other than Howard Zinn. To those of us who know it, however, Scam will always be his legacy. This collection of the zine’s first four issues features plenty of types on how to live for free, chronicles of questionable police authority and honest-to-goodness music reviews, all alternating between type and handwritten text.

The sporadically published zine just celebrated the release of its ninth issues, an extended cut of the Black Flag oral history the author wrote up for the LA Weekly. For those with even a passing interest in the band and the hardcore scene, it gets the highest possible recommendation.

The Encyclopedia of Doris, by Cindy Crabb. (Doris Press)

Just about everything you could ever want from a zine collection: reproductions of hand-photocopied layouts, the typewritten lists, scribbled comics about bugs and stuff, feminist politics and memoir all rolled into one. Oh, and an alphabetical arrangement of the contents collected herein. I think what really enamored me to Cindy Crabb’s much-loved zine, however, is the author’s laying bare of her own struggles in politics and empathy.

“I have not always been a good transgender ally,” she writes. “I have been frightened by the implications of people born girl, deciding they are not that, and afraid that somehow that would undermine my struggle. It’s smart writing, obviously, and it’s clearly from the heart. Most importantly, it’s the words of a person with a lot to teach, still concious of the fact that she still has things left to learn.

Burn Collector: Collected Stories from One through Nine, by Al Burian. (PM Press)

Al Burian’s name invariably comes up in every list of great zines. And there’s no question why, really -- he’s one of the most talented writers ever to sit down and bang out a zine. Unlike most authors in the medium, there’s no shortage of ways to get Burian’s work, but this collection is really the most logical, for that rare series that came into the world mostly fully formed. And, unlike many of his contemporaries, who are hesitant to jump into the digital sphere, you can even buy the whole damned thing as an e-book. Those that kind of feels like cheating, no?

One More for the People, by Martha Grover. (Perfect Day Publishing)

Perhaps setbacks aren’t the sole source of inspiration. Maybe purpose can just as often arise from positive change, but it’s hard to argue the point that most great art is born of the unfortunate. None of this is to suggest, of course, that Martha Grover’s life is ultimately tragic, but this collection of eight year’s worth of Somnambulist is evidence of a writer finding literary purpose in adversity.

Her early family memoirs are terrific (“March 1, 2009: The [family] meeting is canceled because everyone has strep throat”), but One More for the People explodes with life a soon as “81 Symptoms” begins, chronicaling her diagnosis and eventual coming to grips with Cushing’s Disease, including, as advertised, a full catalog of the strange and potentially fatal disease’s laundry list of indicators.

One More for the People is strong and funny and ultimately hopeful, and Grover continues her honest-to-a-fault explorations in the final segment, “Personals,” closing the book with the wonderful list, “Fifteen Things I’m Not Putting on My OK Cupid Profile,” a section that opens with the pitch perfect, “This morning I put my iPod on shuffle, and strangely, the first two songs I heard were both about murdering women.” It probably says more about my own neuroses that I think that’s a perfect opener, right?

On Subbing, by Dave Roche. (Microcosm)

Along with fellow Temp Slave and Dishwasher, this one gives me great joy, as someone who’s lived his own personal Factotum in early post-education life. There’s no greater well of zine fodder than the dead end job, and Dave Roche’s a master catalogger of his struggles to engage a classroom full of children with special needs. Every bit as entertaining as it is heartwarming. I think I’ve accidentally purchased a couple of this over the years, and they were both worth it.

Ghost Pine, by Jeff Miller. (Invisible Publishing)

Old Erick “Iggy Scam” Lyle calls this one “Canada’s longest running and best punk zine.” I’m struggling to argue the point, but I’m not sure I can. On the former front, I can’t thing of anything I can claim to any of value I’ve performed consistently since the mid-90s. As for the latter, well, Jeff Miller spins an entertaining true life tale, especially when discussing his suburban punk rock youth.

This collection, clearly, is an attempt to highlight the literary merits of the long-running zine, collecting, non-chronologically, the best of the title into a prose volume that shares none of the aesthetic properties of the punk zines on which we were weaned, saved for the screen printed cover. But hey, entertaining writing is entertaining writing, bad photocopy or no.

Absolutely Zippo: Anthology of a Fanzine, by Robert Eggplant. (Benny & Son)

Now this is how a punk zine looks. And maybe it’s partially the fact that I purchased a used copy, but this feels like it’s going to fall apart in my hands every time I open the damned thing -- not like those loving compiled and beautiful bound collections we’ve seen from some of these folks. The glue holding together this volume undoubtedly has far less reinforcement than the staples that held the original issues together. And maybe there’s something to be said for that -- the etherial nature of fanzines. Not everything is meant to last forever, right?

But while some of the contents included herein no doubt hold some embarrassment for their creators in the decades that have since passed, there’s a lot to be said for the essential nature for all those harboring even a passing interest in 80s/90s punk rock. Between Eggplant’s own musings and contributions from the likes of Aaron Cometbus and Larry Livermore (whose “scene reports” seem to always include mention of just how hastily they were written), this is, perhaps, the definitive documentation of the Lookout / Gilman East Bay scene.

Touch and Go: The Complete Hardcore Punk Zine, by Tesco Vee and Dave Stimson. (Bazillion Points)

This collection happily skirts the line between the two, maintaining, for better and worse, the original layouts of the 22 issues it compiles, while creating a volume that’ll play nicely next to your fancy pants coffee table art books. Bazillion Points outdid its here. Every page is a hardcore show flier come to life, featuring interviews with and works by most of hardcore’s definitive icons, including Ian MacKaye, Keith Morris, Henry Rollins and, of course, the Meatmen’s Tesco Vee, who would go on to found the record label of the same name with co-author Dave Stimson and Necros bassist Corey Rusk.

This 575 page collection is important as more than just its insight into the label -- it’s a key document of one of the most powerful music movements of the past 35 years. And hell, who doesn’t want to look at full-size reproductions of early Black Flag concert fliers?

Schism: New York Hardcore Fanzine, edited by Chris Wrenn. (Bridge Nine Press)

Speaking of Hardcore, if you can find a reasonably-priced copy of the Schism hardcore fanzine collection by Bridge Nine Press, don’t hesitate. That book’s currently fetching more than $100 over on Amazon, which certainly feels like a lot to pay for a book that’s a fraction the price of the Touch and Go collection -- one that originally carried a $14 cover price at that. But the pictures and oft-lighthearted interviews with the likes of Agnostic Front and Gorilla Biscuits are pretty essential readings for anyone who live through the era -- and those who wished they had.

The Simple History Series, by J Gerlach. (Microcosm)

Like Howard Zinn broken up into bite-sized, Cliffs Notes volumes, this unbound collected series chronicles a diverse array of historical moments into easily digested. There’s ten books in all, and once you’ve finished the first issue on Columbus on your bus ride to work, there’s no getting out of this things they didn’t tell you in school history series. The day after getting this in the mail, I shot a letter to the publisher asking when volume two is set to arrive. The answer is eventually. But not soon enough.

Skate Fate: The Best of Skate Fate

Easily the best compilation I’ve seen of an 80s skate zine. And damned if it doesn’t make me happy, with its badly drawn comics and goofy interviews with folks like Lance Mountain. Nostalgia for the era has never been stronger, thanks almost single-handedly to the cinematic output of Bones Brigade founder Stacy Peralta. As great as his recent documentaries have been, however, there’s something to be said for the raw document that is this collection, with its hand-drawn ads, collections of abandoned logos and sometimes questionable grammar.
More than just about anything I’ve come across over the past couple of years, this thing makes me want to jump on my board. But, as I’m sure is the case with its creators more than 30 years after its inception, my knees just ain’t what they used to be.

Brian Heater (@bheater ) is a senior editor at Engadget and the founder of indie comics site, The Daily Cross Hatch. His writing has appeared in Spin, The Onion, Entertainment Weekly and The New York Press. He hosts several podcasts and shares an apartment in Queens with a rabbit named Sylvia.

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We Made Ugliness Beautiful: Punk Rock: An Oral History on Pop Matters

by John L. Murphy
Pop Matters
July 30th, 2012

Imagine 150 pioneering musicians, managers, artists, and fans settled into a commodious pub. The oldest are well into their 60s, the youngest have recently passed 50. Their spiky hair might be grey, if they still sport some. They tell one by one (if such order might be imagined in politely logical, topical and chronological sequence) of what they heard in the ‘60s and ‘70s on vinyl, and the singers they watched on television. Gradually, they speak of their involvement in what would be peddled—if not in British cities and on tabloid and official media until the summers of 1976 or 1977—as punk.

This scenario came to mind as I read over 500 pages of John Robb’s lively volume. As a member of a minor band, The Membranes, and then as a music journalist, he’s well placed to listen. Jon Savage’s England’s Dreaming for over two decades remains deservedly the standard narrative, also by one who was there, but as Robb notes in his introduction: “It’s not just a bunch of Bowie freaks creating punk whilst hanging around the Sex shop. It’s not just the Clash’s heroic quest. It’s also the foot soldiers of the revolution: the smaller groups, the less-hip groups.” It’s also the kids, the energy, and the dream of liberation from a dismal future and a stagnant present across Britain and Ireland. For Robb examines the reach of punk beyond London, which dominated Savage’s telling.

Therefore, Robb begins with Elvis, rockabilly, the Beatles, the Stones, The Who, and mixes these familiar influences with those who tell of their love for music-hall and comedy routines as well as popular televised and printed entertainment. A hundred pages of such memories, spanning postwar popular culture before the rise of glam rock, enrich the context with a timeline stretching back from the usual Velvet Underground-David Bowie-T. Rex-Roxy Music-Iggy Pop-New York Dolls-Ramones opening gambit common to punk histories. The Damned’s comic foil Captain Sensible frequently emerges as one of the more eloquent and witty tellers of such monochrome or psychedelic times. His affection for Syd Barrett endures. he laments how today’s sponsored idols will never produce a Crazy World of Arthur Brown with its lead singer proclaiming “I am the god of hellfire”, hair set ablaze.

But such invention simmered. By the mid-‘70s, bloated Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd appeared as corporate monoliths and concept albums shunted out every year or so to arenas and mass adulation. For a few, such spectacles soured. Careers in short supply, economies in decline, cities in decay: John Lydon positioned himself among the discontented youth. “Out of that came pretentious moi and the Sex Pistols and then a whole bunch of copycat wankers after us.”

The rise of the Pistols under manager Malcolm McLaren, designer Vivienne Westwood, and the crew at their shop will be familiar to any student of this era. But how many remember that at their first concert, the lead act, a covers band, was fronted by the singer who would become Adam Ant?  McLaren captures the grunginess of the setting in which punk sparked while pub and prog rock blazed in 1975 London in such unpromising circumstances as an stageless, open common room on the fifth floor of an art college. “It was not necessarily a plan to play art colleges first and avoid the pub. I hated beer. And that’s all you got in those stinking pubs in Anglo-Saxon land. Art school preached a noble pursuit of failure. It was part of the legacy laid down by William Morris: art for art’s sake. which we attempted to create and indeed succeeded at one level. We made ugliness beautiful.”

At one level: this phrase reverberates. Filmmaker and d.j. Don Letts discusses the transition that bridged the hippie vision to the punk potency, with McLaren and the equally clever and conniving manager of the Clash, Bernie Rhodes. “They could see the idea manifest itself before its musical expression,” adding the strategies of the Situationists and artistic calculation to target visual appeal and media attention. The two masterminds sought a third band to make a movement. That proved the Damned. The year 1976 opens as others read in the NME of guitarist Steve Jones’ boast after an February Pistols show: “We are not into music. We are into chaos.” Some readers form their own bands, first in Manchester, then Birmingham, and across the sea in Derry, Dublin, and Belfast.

In Bristol, Mark Stewart watches the Clash’s new bassist Paul Simenon (chosen more for looks than talent) play onstage with letters stuck on his instrument to guide his fingers. “It’s not the arrogance of power, it’s the power of arrogance.” For Stewart, Simenon’s stance symbolizes the do-it-yourself spirit that animates ambition and rewards commitment, not by those who could already play, but by those who could not—those whom punk inspired to learn three chords, and to form a band.

Poly Styrene finds encouragement, and after a failed reggae (a genre with considerable overlap on punk, as interviewees attest to repeatedly) single, she turns away from the Zep and Floyd and Yes and Genesis offerings sold to her generation as art. She comments how before punk, rock musicians resembled classical musicians, patrons of the French aristocracy, marrying into royalty and acquiring country estates. No room for the likes of her opened in the music business, so she created X-Ray Spex. Her song “Oh Bondage, Up Yours!” was penned before punk, as a paean to spiritual liberation, but in its release in the punk boom, it was seen understandably in a different interpretation. The associations of punk, Lydon notes wryly, with the “bum bandit” of an American prisoner came into British parlance and musical attribution later than they had for the Ramones and the New York scene.

Such ties, as media attention grew in the wake of a November 1976 televised appearance by the Pistols when profanity was said to have been uttered, linked punk with outrage. Gavin Friday over in Dublin, fronting provocateurs The Virgin Prunes, summed it up: “Punk looked like the abortion Ziggy [Stardust] had.” The glam predecessors beloved by many fans merged with the considerable poverty most punks endured, and a fashion sense emerged, if very quickly co-opted by the likes of a Zandra Rhodes safety-penned dress selling for a thousand pounds. Lydon snipes that if people wanted a uniform, the army makes the best ones. The bandwagon assembled, and opportunists flocked—what he derides then as now as “sheep”.

However, the impact of how punk looked rather than how it sounded mattered to the Pistols and their manager, as well as their sneering singer. A year after the Pistols’ debut gig, their skilled bassist Glen Matlock would be shoved out for the more photogenic and parodied Sid Vicious. Matlock uses the television debacle as a milestone. Before that, the music; after that, the media. Punk had turned, rapidly, into a caricature, and Sid’s sad fate represents the pivot around how rapidly a more individualistic, idealistic subculture turned into hype, as the image replaced the invention, and the ideas collapsed into imitation, as Lydon laments often. A movement, he jibes, might look great, but it generates too many pedestrians.

Robb patiently allows each side its say. He keeps his own asides to footnotes, but he places congenial and dissenting recollections side by side adroitly. His questions hover as invisible—unlike those which controlled Savage’s “director’s cut” when he published the original transcripts of his book as The England’s Dreaming Tapes. So, Robb’s version feels less top-down as the received wisdom from London than Savage’s, and more spontaneous. Both journalists sought a wide range of respondents, and their accounts intertwine, but Robb opts for a more pan-British and Irish coverage.

This edition (neatly indexed and with far fewer typos than many music-related volumes, even if some misspellings persist) does not keep each interviewee separate in his or her own chapter. This structure conveys a live feel, open to counterpoint and debate. For instance, Lydon and McLaren bicker (if safely via their paired explanations) on how the band or the shop should take credit for the Sex Pistols’ moniker. In turn, Lydon sides with Wire’s Colin Newman against the Clash’s slick first album’s sound on a major label, while impresario Tony Wilson and a footnoted Robb defend the distribution by CBS of an album that merited sales in far-flung places outside London, as a way to get punk’s message out to the masses. This then flips a few pages on as the Ants’ Marco Pirroni and the Prefects’ Rob Lloyd (both steady voices well worth including) square off over the Pistols’ own major-label signings first to EMI and then to Virgin!

These signings gained prominence as “God Save the Queen” appeared the summer of the Queen’s Jubilee in 1977. Guy Trelford in Belfast recounts how two of his mates in a Loyalist pub rose to sing the Pistols’ version rather than the traditional anthem rendered at closing time, and the sectarian reaction. Robb’s incorporation of such perspectives highlights the predicaments in which the few punks in public met a difficult time in sinister situations. Billy Bragg notes how you could be beaten up for not wearing flares. Violence began to follow some punks, from those who hated their sight.

As the punk energy sputtered amidst the weariness of repetition and the lack of innovation among those copycats the Pistols and their ilk spawned unwittingly, the scene fragmented. Musicians tended to revert back to what they heard before punk, and to blend that. That might be reggae, ska, dub, goth, power pop, New Wave, and post-punk: all gain attention here as 1978 signals a dramatic shift. The Pistols open the year with Lydon’s departure; The Damned break up (if not for long), and soon a second wave of street-wise, inner-city London, and “dole-queue” punk and Oi will confront new policies of Margaret Thatcher and the Tories. Politics enters this punk movement more forcefully. Penny Rimbaud of the anarchist collective Crass articulates the enduring hope of the progressive resisters to the norm, and how punks and hippies have in common a positive notion of a more uncompromising refusal to capitulate. Many admire Crass even if few can meet its exacting demands. The left sways punk’s majority, but some on its extremist right drift toward fascist and racist banners.

A teenaged Bragg comes from the provinces to London and finds himself at a Rock Against Racism concert to counter a Nazi-affiliated skinhead faction, and he cherishes more than any song there the sight for the first time of men kissing openly as Tom Robinson’s “Glad To Be Gay” plays. Sexuality gains furtive glances here, often, as in the early Adam and the Ants or those who would front Frankie Goes to Hollywood, more of a suggestion than full exposure. Many punks, it seems, in their defiant appearance, felt grateful for whatever affection they could grab in a dismal time, often cold and lean.

Lydon holds his own throughout, one of a large crowd he helped create. He keeps the last word. Don’t copy, think for yourself: these are the truest of punk’s transmissions. “You should make your own of everything.”

Robb, in an ambitious compendium, with brief forwards by Michael Bracewell and (not Rancid’s Lars Frederiksen as originally promoted for this US release of a 2006 British publication but) Black Flag’s Henry Rollins, provides those who were there and many of us who listened from a distance in time or space the sensation of freedom. When so few chances to hear this music in its original setting were present, a radio’s sudden song or a concert’s rare opportunity revealed the promise of transformation. Those gathered here reveal once again how exciting the sporadic connections to a bold and strange music carried fresh ideas and odd choices that many of us, teenagers across the world in the late ‘70s, never would have conceived. Robb’s collection of spirited voices will remind readers today to become listeners to these tellers.

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The Bankruptcy of Doom and Gloom: Catastrophism in The Brooklyn Rail

by Robert S. Eshelman
The Brooklyn Rail
March 2013

The Bankruptcy of Doom and Gloom

When University of Texas journalism professor Robert Jensen claimed in a recent Truthout op-ed, “We are all apocalyptic now, or at least we should be, if we are rational,” his aim was to alert his readers to a litany of ecological transformations brought about by humans: aquifer and topsoil depletion, aquatic “dead zones,” rapid extinction of the earth’s flora and fauna, and more frequent and intense extreme weather events. It’s a daunting list of crises, but speaking apocalyptically, says Jensen, “can focus our attention on ecological realities and on the unjust and unsustainable human systems that have brought us to this point.”

Jensen hews closely to the long American tradition of fire and brimstone oratory and the promise that on the other side of disaster lies paradise. He acknowledges such tendencies in his essay. But, he says, his form of apocalypticism parts ways with the Book of Revelation because it is based on peer-reviewed science, rather than religious narrative.

Yet how does echoing Biblical narratives about a new society rising from the wreckage of the old transform America’s hapless consumers, disenfranchised poor, and duped middle classes into agents of a more just world? Moreover, are apocalyptic political frames politically biased—that is, does framing world events in catastrophic terms benefit the political right or the left?

Secular predictions about the demise of one form of unjust social organization and the imminent arrival of another, more socially just one, certainly have been commonplace on the political left and within the environmental movement in the past several years. Catastrophists assume that as conditions get worse the likelihood that they will get better improves. In their view, wholesale social or financial collapse is the disease but also the cure.

Sasha Lilley, for one, disputes the catastrophist teleology. In her introduction of Catastrophism: The Apocalyptic Politics of Collapse and Rebirth (PM Press, 2012), the Berkeley-based writer and radio host argues that an “awareness of the scale or severity of catastrophe does not ineluctably steer one down the path of radical politics.” Catastrophism, in other words, hinders, rather than hastens, political action on climate change or the development of a new economic system. Not only does it paralyze, says Lilley and her co-authors, but worse yet, it often echoes the right’s theories of population bubbles—i.e. that the increasing number of poor in the darker nations of the global South are to blame, rather than carbon-intensive lifestyles of people in richer nations.

Crises, whether economic or ecological, rarely produce the profound change promised by the catastrophists. Lilley observes that while the New Deal did, in fact, originate in response to the Great Depression, the great American strike waves of 1898 to 1904 and 1916 to 1920 occurred during periods of relative economic prosperity. Both periods of labor militancy led to large wage increases and improvements in working conditions. During later periods of economic contraction, elites blamed the troubles on the rising power of workers. The recession of the 1970s ushered in the economic policies of Paul Volcker and, across the Atlantic, those of Margaret Thatcher.

Conversely, China’s economic growth in recent years has consistently been above 9 percent, even during the global recession. Yet amidst the generalized economic prosperity that has improved the economic conditions of millions of poor Chinese, wildcat labor strikes break out on a daily basis, bringing to a grinding halt production of all sorts of consumer goods driving international trade. As things get better economically, workers’ power improves.

A new financial order has not emerged from the human misery left in the wake of millions of jobs lost and millions of homes foreclosed upon in the U.S. Since the collapse, Wall Street has rebounded. Banks now hold two trillion dollars in cash reserves, and the top investment firms are once again issuing bonuses on a scale rivaling those of the years prior to the Great Recession. (“We actually benefit from downturns,” JP Morgan Chase’s Jamie Dimon boasted the other day.) When unemployment goes up, employers often find the leverage to discipline workers, fearing that slightest of workplace violations could mean lost wages, fewer scheduled hours, or termination. It doesn’t take a Foucault to see the myriad methods for discreet control that become available to the bosses when an economy is in free fall.

The Occupy movement reminded laid off workers and anyone who defaulted on a mortgage that they weren’t at fault but were the outcome of an economic model that works in opposition to their interests. Occupy turned private struggle into shared, public debate. Individual voices—and stories of hardship—were amplified by the power of a collective, antagonistic body. It wasn’t narratives of catastrophic collapse and rebirth that brought people to encampments across the country but the fact that for a moment—one that lasted much too briefly—the commonsensical idea that free markets equal free people was shattered.

Discussion of climate change is where catastrophism has taken hold the most. Scores of environmental writers, Jensen among them, are merchants in the commodity of doom and gloom. Let’s be clear: climate change most certainly represents an unprecedented ecological threat. Jensen’s list of changes to the oceans and atmosphere brought about by human industrial, agricultural, or consumptive patterns, makes the problems abundantly clear.

But as Eddie Yuen says in his essay in Catastrophism, “[E]ven when dire environmental prognostications are accurate … it is often the case that knowledge of ‘the facts’ does not lead to an increase in political engagement.” And, he continues, prophesies of collapse elide the discussion of the everyday catastrophes that climate change is already delivering to Indian farmers, Mexican fisher folk, coastal dwellers the world over, and even to meatpackers in Plainview, Texas, where 2,200 Cargill employees were laid off because there are not enough cows to keep their plant operating.

For Jensen, “To think apocalyptically is not to give up on ourselves, but only to give up on the arrogant stories—religious and secular—that we modern humans have been telling about ourselves.” By contrast, Catastrophism’s authors say that such a view amounts to surrender. It’s a politics of despair, rather than ambition. “[It’s] one way,” says James Davis in Catastrophism, “to shift the focus from the essential questions of public policy, democracy, equality, access to education and health, environment, etc. and onto abstractions about civilization, culture, and threats to the prevailing social order that promises instability and worse.” The doomsayers, you might say, will continue to get what they wish for.

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Barred For Life in Black Book

by Victor Ozols
Black Book
March 12th, 2013

Check Out Barred For Life, a Book About People Who Have Tattoos of the Black Flag Logo

An interesting book landed on my desk the other day: Barred for Life: How Black Flag's Iconic Logo Became Punk Rock's Secret Handshake by Stewart Dean Ebersole, with photos by Ebersole and Jared Castaldi. For those of you who aren't members of the club, Black Flag was (and sometimes is) a band that started in southern California in the late 1970s and is credited with pioneering the hardcore punk genre. There's not much else I can say about Black Flag that its fans won't argue over. Suffice it to say, they're an easily-agitated, often-alienated, always-opinionated bunch, but they're also united in their love of the band and its DIY ethos, if not its individual members. You see, throughout its tenure, Black Flag cycled through numerous singers and musicians, the most famous being Henry Rollins, who went on to some degree of fame as a spoken word artist, writer, actor, and crank. Ebersole's tome gets into the history, joys, and sorrows of the band's years, landing on the one point every fan can agree on: their awesome, four-bar logo that so many have had permanently inked onto their bodies.

It's probably the most recognized logo in all of punk rockdom, four simple black bars that represent the waving of a black flag, signifying attack rather than surrender. You could easily call it a marketing success story, though marketing is the antithesis of what the band stood for. Regardless, legions of fans, probably numbering in the thousands, have inked their bodies with it, at once becoming members of a fraternity recognized around the world. I'm no fan of tattoos myself, being of the belief that putting an image on your body doesn't necessarily mean you're more hardcore about what it means than those who didn't (star-bellied sneetches and so forth). After all, some people live and breathe the collective works of Shakespeare, but see no need to tattoo the Bard's name to their biceps.

And yet, the Black Flag bars feel like the exception to the rule. It does have meaning. It's a signifier that unites the band's diverse group of fans, spanning ages, races, genders, and backgrounds.  And so it's with fondness and occasional sympathy that I flipped through the pages of this book and read the stories of the dozens of fans who proudly show their body art for the camera. Each portrait includes the subject's name, age, home, occupation, favorite Black Flag singer, favorite Black Flag song, and favorite Black Flag album, along with a quote about what the band means to them. Many of the stories involve not fitting in as a youth, and finding strength and affirmation in the band's music, which encourages listeners to be themselves and reject the mainstream if it's not working for them.

Among those featured: my friends Seth Fineberg and Marissa Levey (above), true punks if they ever existed. Seth's in one of New York's most enduring punk rock bands, Blackout Shoppers, and the fact that he has a day job doesn't take away his punk cred. Blackout Shoppers are gigging constantly, and if you want to get a great feel for the high energy and fuck-it-all attitude of an old school punk rock show, you should see them.

Among those not pictured: Me. Okay, I don't have any tattoos, but I did go to high school in the '80s, when there really was a difference between the jocks and the skaters and the punks, and the term "alternative music" actually meant something. While the girls who wouldn't date me were woo-hooing to "Living on a Prayer," I was blasting "Rise Above" out of the tinny speakers of my car stereo. The music had power. It spoke to me where hair metal failed to. It felt real.

And so does Barred for Life. It's a book with heart. It also avoids the trap that similar single-subject photo books fall into. There's actually a narrative arc, thanks to a series of interviews with former band members (though not founder Greg Ginn or Henry Rollins) interspersed throughout, telling the story of the band and its fans. The book will be released on April 1, 2013 and you can pre-order it here.

And if it inspires you to experience the punk scene, go check out a Blackout Shoppers gig, or just hang out at New York's punk-friendly bars, like Otto's Shrunken Head, Double Down Saloon, Trash Bar, Manitoba's, and the Second Chance Saloon. See you in the mosh pit. (I won't be in it, but I'll see you there from the bar.)

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Revolution at Point Zero in Mute Magazine

by Joshua Eichen
Mute Magazine
22 November 2012

In 2012, we all pay at least lip service to the entanglements of class, gender, and race when not also struggling to incorporate other threads into our explanatory frameworks and actions. So when you come across clarity of vision that precisely explains those relations, one can only marvel that it was written 37 years ago and try not to be too dismayed that it isn’t more widely known. Hopefully this new collection of work by Silvia Federici will change that.

They say it is love.
We say it is unwaged work.

They call it frigidity.
We call it absenteeism.

Every miscarriage is a work accident.

Heterosexuality and homosexuality are both working conditions... but homosexuality is worker's control of production, not the end of work.1

So opens the first essay in this necessary collection of Federici’s writings. It includes essays from two periods and is organised into three sections: the first as part of her work with the Wages for House Work campaign and in dialogue with the feminist movements of the time; the second covering social reproduction since 2000 and the rise of the Movement of Movements; and the final part on the reproduction of the commons and communing. The constant optic running through her work is the centrality of social reproduction to production, and women’s labour at the heart of that reproduction globally. The first set of essays, written at the height and in the afterglow of the social struggles of the time, posit the demand of wages for housework and explains the logic behind it, drawing attention to the impossibility of production without reproduction, particularly its affective dimensions, or as she writes in the preface, 'nothing so effectively stifles our lives as the transformation into work of the activities and relations that satisfy our desires.'2 In the later sets of essays, her optic is expanded to reflect the changes in the international division of labour and unalienated forms and communities of care.

As part of the Wages for Housework campaign, and as part of the generalised struggle against work, her writings lay bare the connection between waged labour, the unwaged labour necessary to reproduce it, and its international dimension. Taking an Autonomist Marxist line against the dominant liberal and socialist feminisms of the time, these essays argue two points.3 First, that women are already part of the working class and the tasks labeled 'housework' produce and reproduce both the current and the next generation of labor power that is required by the ever expanding circuits of capital, making money from their 'cooking, smiling, fucking'.4 Second, bringing women into the factories was no more of a victory than bringing factories to the 3rd world. And that going to work in a factory was a defeat in itself, or as the Marxist groupuscule propagandises at the beginning of Elio Petri's 1971 La classe operaia va in paradise [The Working Class Goes to Heaven], to the workers as they go into the factory on a bright winter's day, 'today the sun will not shine for you'.

As the book’s introduction notes, her life's work had its genesis in the matrix of 1960s Italy, in the social struggles of the time and the insights and problematics of operaists and autonomists, particularly Mario Tronti's seminal Operai e capitale. Wages for Housework engaged with Tronti’s notion of the social factory, that at a 'certain stage of capitalist development capitalist relations become so hegemonic that every social relation is subsumed under capital and the distinction between society and factory collapses', that an increasing reorganisation of social space is and has taken place for the needs of capitalist production.5 For Federici and the other members of the Wages for Housework campaign, the heart of this reorganisation is in 'the kitchen, the bedroom, the home', where the labour of social reproduction is performed and given a much more concrete reading, and more importantly, a much more concrete demand.6

Federici's success as a writer and theorist is in the grounded nature of her proposals and her irrefutable axiom that if we weren't fed, able to sleep and make ourselves presentable, we wouldn't be able to sell our labour power. The demands of Wages for Housework are an argument against housework, its invisibility, its gendering and its devaluation and ultimately, for wages. Wages that could be used to refuse other work, that receiving a wage for the work would no more guarantee its performance than the union contracts of the 1970s prevented widespread absenteeism, and that is the first step against struggling against it. It is a revolutionary demand, 'not because by itself it destroys capital, but because it forces capital to restructure social relations in a way more favorable to us and consequently more favorable to the class.'7

The rest of the book collects a subsection of her interventions in the debates on globalisation and the commons, or commoning from the point of view articulated during her time with the Wages for Housework campaign but expanded to reflect the changed dynamic of the international division of labour.8 The articles are strong but lack the urgency that informs the first section of the book. Overall the shortcomings of the book are minor but threefold. There is a dark age, a lack of biographical information and a lack of in-depth theorisation about the relation between housework and the possibility of unalienated communities of care work, which she deals with in her essay 'On Eldercare and the Limits of Marxism', but not to the extent one would like. The dark age consists of a fifteen-year gap from which no writings are included. Given the strength of the rest of the material, the fact she was publishing during this time as part of the Midnight Notes Collective, and the marked difference in tone between the two periods, albeit not the analytic lens, at least a small sample of the period would have been appreciated. Finally, a lacuna of biographic information hurts the collection. She draws attention to the fact that second wave European feminists grew up in the rubble of the Second World War and the effects it would have on the idea of choosing or not to raise children after having spent a childhood in such marked scarcity and destruction. Beyond that, there is still a great history to be written on the social nexus of a small but vital section of the Marxist U.S. Left starting in the 1970s and continuing to the present. The lines running through the Wages for Housework campaign, the short lived journal Zerowork, the Midnight Notes Collective9, the publishing house Autonomedia, Federici, Peter Linebaugh, Harry Cleaver, and George Caffentzis, among others, deserves to be examined. Autonomists posited the theory of the circulation of struggle, that forms and discourses of struggle travel. The inverse, the circulation of strugglers, needs to be investigated as well. (The circulation of defeats is also worth investigating, and perhaps more critical in understanding working class defeats globally in the era of neoliberalism, but a much less happy point to reflect upon).
Finally, since at least 1968, social movements have been struggling with their relation to the state. Federici offers a useful insight into the nexus between social movements, the state, and how values are encapsulated in every demand and in the organisation to achieve it:
It is one thing to set up a day care center the way we want it, and then demand the state pay for it. It is quite another thing to deliver our children to the State and then ask the State to control them not for five but fifteen hours a day. It is one thing to organize communally the way we want to eat (by ourselves, in groups) and then ask the state to pay for it. It is the opposite thing to ask the State to organize our meals. In one case we regain some control over our lives, in the other we extend the State's control over us.10
“The Commoner.” Web. 17 Oct 2012. .
Federici, Silvia. Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction, and Feminist Struggle. PM Press, 2012. Web. 13 Oct. 2012.
“Midnight Notes Collective.” Web. 17 Oct. 2012. .
Petri, Elio. La Classe Operaia Va in Paradiso. 1971. Film.
Wright, Steve. Storming Heaven: Class Composition and Struggle in Italian Autonomist Marxism,
Pluto Press, 2002. Web. 16 Oct. 2012.
“Zerowork.” Web. 17 Oct. 2012. .
1Federici 17.
2 Federici 3.
3 Steve Wright's Storming Heaven: Class Composition and Struggle in Italian Autonomist Marxism remains invaluable for understanding the history and theoretical debates of the period.
4 Federici 19.
5 Federici 7.
6 Federici 8.
7 Federici 19.
8 The Commoner web journal is a good place to familiarize oneself with the commons and communing.
9 Most content of both journals are available online.
10 Federici 21.

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Epiphanies for characters, readers

By Paul McCarthy
The Japan Times
January 19th, 2013

WE, THE CHILDREN OF CATS, by Tomoyuki Hoshino, edited and translated by Brian Bergstrom with an additional translation by Lucy Fraser. PM Press, 2012, 266 pages, $20 (paperback)

In a moving preface to the English translation, author Tomoyuki Hoshino speaks of his love for the stories (five in all) and novellas (three) included in this volume.

He gives the reader a valuable clue to understanding his fictional world by declaring that they are about characters who are marginal (“share a certain measure of minority”). They may not be obviously in the minority, but they see things in a different manner from the approved, “normal,” common-sensical way; and their principal weapon against a world that has excluded them is imagination, through which they create spaces for themselves.

Hoshino worked as a journalist in the Kanto region for some time (Brian Bergstrom’s detailed and analytic afterward specifies the Urawa area of Saitama Prefecture, which is the partial site of the novella “Sand Planet,” together with Tokorozawa and Sayama, also in Saitama) and lived for some years in Mexico, studying Latin American literature.

The story “Treason Diary” is set in Peru, and is clearly inspired by the takeover of the Japanese Embassy in Lima by a leftist guerrilla group some years ago, in the Alberto Fujimori era.

Similarly, the long novella “A Milonga for the Melted Moon” is set in a Latin American country, and centers on a professional knife-fighter/killer and a bar hostess, who wander about a fantastical city engaging in a passionate if often cryptic dialogue, undergoing multiple transformations, psychological and, it would seem, physical as well.

One of the challenges for the reader is to determine who is speaking, the knife-fighter or the bar hostess, or perhaps a new character who is a melding of both.

The point is not that Hoshino is writing autobiographical or “engaged”political fiction, but rather that he writes of what he knows, whether the setting is Japan or Latin America, Urawa or Lima. He takes what he knows and frees his imagination to create mostly “outsider” figures confronting extreme circumstances and reacting to them in startling ways. His favorite devices include hyperbole, radical ambiguity, paradox, and the coincidence of opposites. He may remind some readers now of Jorge Luis Borges, now of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, those two great Latin American writers; but Kenzaburo Oe, Japan’s Nobel Prize-winning author, has given him high praise, and Hoshino makes the point in his preface that his stories, whatever the setting or the ethnicity of the characters, are “minor Japanese realities.”

The novellas are long, exceedingly complex tours de force, and I will touch only on a few of the short stories here, for reasons of space. Even with the stories it is difficult to summarize, and probably pointless as well. Better to present some of the images, quasi-miraculous happenings and epiphanies that they present to the reader. I use religious language here not because I think Hoshino is a conventionally religious writer but to signal the intensity of his vision and his fundamental seriousness, no matter how strange and outrageous the worlds he is creating. He seems a kind of modern Dante who travels through Hell and Purgatory, never reaching Paradise.

In the course of his wanderings he, and we (Hoshino sees reading as potentially as transformative a process as writing), encounter the “Paper Woman,” who writes a novel about a woman who eats only paper, and turns herself into it. The woman-writer meets and marries a male writer named “Hoshino,” who writes on her skin in brush and ink, and finally inscribes a tattoo of portions of Don Quixote on her. She ends by setting herself on fire in the presence of her husband and child, ecstatically crying that at last she herself has become paper.

In “Air,” whose title alludes to a posthumous work for flute by Toru Takemitsu, we see a man and woman who experience shifts in gender identity, each developing fantasy organs of the opposite sex. A man who has lost his lover begins by mutilating his genitals (a variation on the wrist-cutting not uncommon among troubled young Japanese women) and attempting to create female genitalia in his own body. Meanwhile, a young woman finds herself developing what she calls “an air penis” on crowded trains, thereby gaining an insight into the feelings of the male molesters who appear on the nightly news from time to time.

These two troubled young persons meet at a social event and dance the night away together. They end by making love with their fantasy organs, and the story climaxes with their own, described in terms of breath moving through a flute: “As the two winds sounded their unbearably high-pitched notes in unison, their melting, liquid bodies vaporized completely, billowing out the window into the boundless sky outside to evaporate into thin air. … Even now, the intermingled sounds of the dual wind continue to play their hoarse-throated ‘Air’. ”

Fantasy organs are replaced by fantasy persons that gradually become “real” in “The No Fathers Club.” Starting from the idea of a soccer game played with an imaginary ball (“No Ball Soccer”), a group of fatherless high school students join together to create fantasy fathers. After a year, the less committed fall away since the rules are so strict: unwavering maintenance of the fiction of fantasy-fathers. When one of the founding members decides to leave, he gives as his excuse that his father (a purely fantasy figure) has died: “I don’t want to live with a fake father forever. So, I quit. Say hi to your dad for me.” (Hoshino’s tales are full of paradoxical, black humor, which is one of their charms.) Only one boy and his girlfriend are left, and then the boy begins to hear his fantasy-father speak, and they hold conversations. Soon, they’re all getting together as a foursome — the boy, his girlfriend, and their two fantasy-fathers: “Just as Kurumi had predicted, our fathers got along swimmingly,” the narrator-protagonist tells us.

The idyll is short-lived: The boy’s father turns out to be abusive, slapping him so hard that he draws blood from his son’s mouth. As the boy and Kurumi reveal more about their relationships with their respective fathers, their friendship ends in mutual recrimination: “As a parting shot, I said the line I’d forbidden myself from uttering: ‘Say hi to your dad for me.’ Kurumi’s final words to me were, ‘I’ll pray for your father’s health and happiness.’ It was like attending my own funeral.”

Every story and novella in this collection startles, confuses, yet finally energizes the attentive reader. The style of the translation is, as I hope the above quotes reveal, lively and realistic in dialogue and beautifully lyric in description when that tone is called for. The editor and translators are to be congratulated on presenting us with such an impressive sample of this brilliant contemporary writer.

Paul McCarthy, Ph.D. from Harvard, has taught language and literature at universities in the U.S. and Japan. He is a literary translator and writer.

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