Thursday, December 10, 2009

What would Winston Smith be saying?

Above is my copy of 1984. You cannot have it--in fact nobody can have it. If you want it, you will have to fight me for it. More importantly, if the government, police, some internet company, et cetera want it, they will have to forcibly attempt to enter my home to even get near it--and they better bring plenty of ammunition.

With that said, the first of the web destinations I visited for my presentation, was an entry on Jonathan Zittrain's blog, and was entitled "Orwellian Indeed." Basically, the article, or blog entry, or whatever the proper term is, is about Amazon's ambiguous--yet potentially ominous--faux pas with, ironically enough, George Orwell's 1984, and Animal Farm. We have talked about this enough times in class, so I shouldn't have to get to far into what Amazon did. It should be enough to say that some Kindle users had these two--fitting--and incendiary classics deleted from their "readers." Zittrain's blog entry briefly discusses some of the different implications of a company like Amazon being able to do something like this, and of course, the implications of institutions beyond Amazon being able to do something like this. For instance, he writes: "Another fascinating aspect of the Cloud [his term for the intangible world of all things "virtual"]: everything is rented rather than owned, and can be taken away with only a refund to show for it." Awesome!

He then includes a response he elicited from Amazon's Director of Communications, Drew Herdener (which might attest to Zittrain's qualifications and credentials), alleging that the were removed due to copyright issues--basically he says that the books were put in Amazon's archives (Jesus, is that the right word?) by "a third-party who did not have the rights to the books." Herdener says that the deletion was the only way for them--under the current circumstances--to deal with the situation, and concludes by assuring Zittrain that they are attempting to change things, so that they will not have to delete people's books in the future. Kind of sketchy if you ask me.

The last entry pertaining to Amazon's ominous imbroglio, that Zittrain posts, is the extremely humble and self-deprecating apology that Amazon's founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos made to the public. "Our 'solution' to the problem," Brezos says at one point in the apology, "was stupid, thoughtless, and painfully our of line with our principles." To this, Zittrain writes that it is "hard to ask for more than that." I do not know if I agree, because that just sounds like an ingeniously crafted act of PR.

The site that this article is found, is basically a site dedicated to Zittrain's book, The Future of the Internet: And How To Stop It. In the brief description of the book's content on the home page, Zittrain refers to all of the novel little gadgets that we have today, as increasingly being "tethered appliances." This means that they are increasingly becoming "products that can't be easily modified by anyone except their vendors or selected partners." Of course, the other--perhaps primary--concern is the increasing ability of "Big Brother" to look into our private lives. The site seems fairly well up to date, and all of the links are current and operating (if that too is the right word?). Zittrain's list of credentials is fairly voluminous, and includes a number of formidable scholarly positions and achievements, so in addition to the "domain" being a ".org," this site, book, and article seem to be fairly dependable. And with regards to being able to contact him, well, there is a blog, and an ongoing discussion, so I would say accessibility to the author is pretty much unlimited.

My second web destination is an essay entitled "Is the Internet the Harbinger to Orwell's Nightmares?" It was written by what looks to be a freelance "web developer" named Peter Braden. The essay is convincingly argued, and highlights a number of different ways that the internet seems to be manifesting circumstances--Orwellian circumstances--seen in Orwell's 1984. The essay is separated into five different sections: "Censorship," "Rewriting History," "Privacy," "The Internet Against Orwellianism," and the conclusion. He begins each section with a passage from 1984, and then discusses a modern circumstance that is similar to something that Orwell is describing in his book. For instance, he starts the section on rewriting history, which focuses on what something like Wikipedia is doing to the validity of information, and how corporations and the government get "in there" and tamper with stuff, with the following passage from Orwell's book:

"If the Party could thrust its hand into the past and say this or that even, it never happened--that, surely, was more terrifying than mere torture and death."

I don't know about that though. As we all saw in the filmic adaptation in class, it is quite literally a "no-holds-barred" torturathon when the Party wants it to be (that rat scene bad enough in the book). 

Despite what seems like it would have the potential to be an acute instance of "technophobia" (any time I see the word "Orwellian,' I figure the potential for fanaticism is there), this essay is fairly positive, and definitely pro-technology. Braden just seems to show a sincere concern for warning signs that the abuses are indeed possible--if not inevitable. 

With regards to the credibility of the site, well, it is basically a really fancy blog--the domain is the U.K.'s version of our ".com." The site includes Braden's photography, a number of other completely unrelated essays, and his resume--in other words, the site is a fairly unapologetic display of "fawning self-promotion." Which is fine, I guess. This like the other web destination that I am looking at, do not contain any of those little advertisements that one finds at the New Yorker's site or anything...but...both of these sites are basically commercials for Braden and Zittrain. Other than that, the only money anyone is looking for, is, funny enough, a link to Pay-Pal on Braden's site, so you can "Buy [him] a drink." This site, like Zittrain's, contains updated links, that all seem to connect (damn, once again, is that the right word?) to the site that they are supposed to link to.

Despite the fact that Braden's site is in a "domain" equivalent to our ".com," his essay is thoroughly and convincingly argued," and despite any questionability of the source, a well formulated and argued assertion is difficult to ignore.

Friday, November 20, 2009

"...a trooper's life for every worker killed..."

This week's blog is going to be a bit of a history lesson (if you will), and perhaps a rough draft of what might turn into the introduction and historical contextualization of the movement and union whose art, songbooks, posters, buttons, handbills and leaflets, and newspaper I plan to be examining for my final research paper--the Industrial Workers of the World (or, the Wobblies). I say lesson only because not only have I found that many people have never heard of the IWW, but they are viewed rather negatively by many historians because of their radicalism, and are often ignored. Keith and Sarah's comments regarding how completely useless and emasculated (in fact, often counterproductive and detrimental) modern labor unions have become, gave me the idea to work this out a little, "in here," via this forum.

Labor and class history have been a passion of mine since I was about 17 or 18 (as should be the case for any self-respecting Marxist), and before I go any further, I would like to give a really concise explanation of an event that I read about back when I was 17 or 18 that struck me to the heart, forever stirred my mind and my spirit, and is one of the primary reasons that the IWW in particular, and labor and class issues in general have remained so important in my studies. The event is often referred to as the Ludlow Massacre, and is one of the most lucid examples of the kind of shameless, indiscriminate, and vicious strike-breaking tactics used--without the slightest blink of an eye--by the industrialists and politicians of the twentieth century (in this case, the Rockefellers and Woodrow Wilson).

The Colorado coal strike of 1913-1914 was officially sparked as the result of the murder of a worker by a hired thug of the Rockefeller's Colorado Fuel and Iron Corporation, and what the workers were striking against, in historian Howard Zinn's words, was "low pay, dangerous conditions, and feudal domination of their lives in towns completely controlled by the mining companies." Basically, they just wanted enough to live with a little happiness, health, and dignity and not in a slave-like state. The IWW led the strike.

As soon as the strike began whole towns of workers and their families were evicted from "their shacks" in the corporation's towns, and moved into giant shantytowns (or colonies) of tents in the hills. Throughout the strike, the Rockefellers sicced the Bladwin-Felts Detective Agency--with their Gatling guns and rifles--on the colonies (full of women and children), and so there were repeated shoot-outs between the strikers and these thugs, resulting in far more striker's deaths, than anyone else's. Regardless, the strikers persevered. When the strike had made it through the winter, the Rockefellers and the government decided they needed to take some kind of "extraordinary measures," and on the morning of April 20, 1914, these measures were taken against the largest tent colony of "a thousand men, women, [and] children."

Two national guard units fired machine guns indiscriminately into the colony, from hills overlooking the colonies. Although the miners fired back, they were completely outgunned, and positioned in utterly vulnerable locations. I'll use Zinn's words to explain the most deplorable aspect of this massacre:

"The women and children dug pits beneath the tents to escape the gunfire. At dusk, the Guard moved down from the hills with torches [and] set fire to the tents....the following day, a telephone linesman going through the ruins of the Ludlow tent colony lifted an iron cot covering a pit in one of the tents and found the charred, twisted bodies of eleven children and two women."

I wanted to include this to offer an idea of what it meant for workers to try to gain anything for themselves in the early and mid twentieth century. In this environment, the IWW stood out as a fierce and steadfast enemy to families like the Carnegies and the Rockefellers. In fact, the IWW stand out as perhaps the most revolutionary, egalitarian, and sincere union in America's history. They are considered an "anarcho-syndicalist" movement. This basically means that they felt--and I agree--that the only solution to poverty and privation is putting the means of production and distribution in the hands of the people. At a time of increasingly virulent racism and sexism, they welcomed every race and every sex, and equally assigned all tasks and responsibilities--women were some of the most powerful orators and fighters amongst them. And when many unions were exclusionary, and only allowed skilled workers, the IWW was all inclusive, and included all industrial workers.

When one studies about any of the different individual labor revolutionaries, activists, and agitators of the early to mid twentieth century, and sees that at one point or the other he or she have belonged to the IWW, than one automatically knows that she or he was fearless and wholeheartedly committed to "the one big union," which is the only kind of union that will probably ever be able to change things for the masses. That he or she was one of those radical individuals that wasn't afraid to strike back when struck--in the face of the kind of indiscriminate and malignant tactics described above, they "promised to take a troopers life for every worker killed."

The IWW did not sign contracts, and looked at each separate strike as but one battle in a class war whose ultimate goal is the means of production, in the hands of the people. A short passage from their founding constitution seems to say it all:

"The working class and the employing class have nothing in common. There can be no peace so long as hunger and want are found among millions of working people and the few, who make up the employing class, have all the good things of life.
Between these two classes a struggle must go on until all the toilers come together...and take and hold that which they produce by their labor, through an economic organization of the working class without affiliation with any political party..."

Just as World War II, and all of the nationalist fervor and cracking-down on "un-American activities" spelt the end of leftist labor activism (and to say something to Keith's comments from last week, this period as far as I have studied, marked the end of labor's strength and value for good) in the U.S. at mid-century, World War I was used by the government and industrialists as its excuse to attack and--almost completely--destroy the IWW. Literally, almost every IWW union hall was simultaneously attacked and raided, and about a hundred of its key figures arrested all in one day. Leftist ideologies and Communist party connections and refusal to fight in World War I were the excuses.

OK, I know this is getting long, and I am thankful to any of you who have taken the time to read everything thus far--I'm almost done. So, as I stated, the IWW relied greatly on print technology to agitate, educate, inspire, and organize through posters, buttons, leaflets and handbills, a newspaper, and most importantly, what came to be known as The Little Red Songbook. Singing songs was a fundamental aspect of organizing and striking for the IWW, and aside from being an utterly efficacious way of emboldening men and women in the face of often fierce enemies and dire circumstances, and showing solidarity, I feel that it is one of the aspects of the IWW that illustrates what a genuinely civilized and human institution it was.

The two satiric cartoons included above, are extracted from Franklin Rosemont's comprehensive study of Joe Hill and the IWW, The IWW and the Making of a Revolutionary Workingclass Counterculture, are just a hint of the kind of imagery and messages of the print-culture of the IWW, and are perhaps two of my favorites. The first is by IWW cartoonist, Charles E. Setzer, and it seems that the image is clear enough for you to be able to read it. I chose it because it illustrates the way the IWW supported black workers against things like Jim Crow laws, and the "color bar" in the craft unions--few if any other unions did at this time. The IWW knew that without total solidarity among industrial workers, labor would just remain fragmented and unable to defend itself.

The second is by one of my favorite Wobblies--the labor martyr, Joe Hill, whose famous last words before his assassination, "Don't waste time mourning, organize," remain an inspiration to many in the struggle. I like it especially because it illustrates how important, valued, and equal women were in the movement. Just in case the text is too small for you to read, the homeless man is saying "Gee my feet are sore," and the prostitute is saying "Come inside kid," and underneath it says, "He can't afford to have a home. She never had a chance. That's why they are both selling themselves: the highest bidder."

"If the workers of the world want to win, all they have to do is recognize their own solidarity. They have nothing to do but fold their arms and the world will stop. The workers are more powerful with their hands in their pockets than all the property of the capitalists..."

Friday, November 13, 2009

Sniffin' glue, abscessed anal fistulas, pornographic coloring books...

...and the effects of common pharmaceuticals taken in excessive quantities, are just a few delicious thematic drops in the infinitely eclectic and boundless ocean of topics, themes, digressions, concerns, and tangents in the zines that I have encountered thus far in my research.

The image above, is extracted from Liz Farrelly's graphic anthology of zines, imaginatively titled, Zines (I hope the image is big enough for you all to read the text and see the little stars). It is a page from a zine entitled Kachina, made by someone who goes by the--I'm assuming, pseudonymous--title of Mona Weiner, is produced here in the good ol' U. S. of A., and the material that this particular issue of Kachina is made out of, is cartridge paper.
The subject matter in Kachina is what some people might call, incendiary--maybe even downright dangerous. I love the little amerikkkan flags, made of stars and text which communicates different damning truths about this "culture" of ours, as it slips into a state of terminal decline. 

I figured I'd include an imaginal extract or two from the zines that I am encountering, because I do not plan on focusing on layout, artistic attributes, or formal and technical qualities of zines--it will be hard enough to fit what I have already compiled in 10 to 12 pages, just focusing on the political, social, and cultural issues surrounding zine publishing. So, out of the innumerable quantity of cool, stirring, inexplicably original, astoundingly creative imagery and formats (I have found zines that come in little wooden boxes, and some whose covers are made of materials such as fake fur, foil, and plastic flowered shower curtain rings), I figured I'd at least share one of my favorites, and it is that page full of those dangerous little amerikkkan flags, included above. Since part of zine-making is stealing things from wherever one sees fit, I'm assuming my reproduction of the above page from Kachina is--with regards to matters of copyright--safe, appropriate, and encouraged. 

With material like the page included above, it is pretty easy to argue that there is indeed a continuity in subject matter and intent between modern-day zines, and something like Thomas Paine's pamphlets The Crisis  or Common Sense--likewise, between zines and the radical songbooks of the IWW labor union.

 The sad thing is, my research concerning the many ways the radical, early twentieth-century labor union, the IWW (or the Wobblies) used print technology to organize and agitate, might become my whole topic, and I might be giving up on the zine aspect. Dr. Maruca, upon reading my research plan and how much material I have already compiled, said what I have is more of a senior thesis--not a 10 to 12 page paper. The Wobblies used leaflets, handbills, satiric cartoons (fucking with bosses, strike-breakers, and Pinkertons), and songbooks to agitate, organize, educate workers, and in general, cause a whole shitload of trouble for the malignant industrialists of the early to mid twentieth century. 

The more radical the subject matter, the more irresistible it is...I can't help myself...

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Compared to most of this semester's blogathon...

...these blogs focusing on the research for the final paper/project, seem kind of boring. Shit, I do not have to worry about offending anyone with any of my foul language, or any of my acutely subjective broadsides, or any of my damning condemnations of this university's student-body. B...o...r...i...n...g!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

With that said, I do indeed believe I have decided to focus on my 'zine idea, and have found a few sources to deal with, outside of the punk-rock and skateboarding worlds that comprise most of my material up to this point.  One book I found is entitled--creatively enough--Zines, by Liz Farrelly. I haven't had a chance to get to deep into it...but...I am afraid that it is especially focused on layout and other formal and technical aspects of 'zines, and not the social, cultural, and political aspects and relevance that I had hoped to focus on. Although, some of the first 'zines she shows the covers of include some typically incendiary and silly titles, that I have come to love and expect from subversive 'zines--such as Maximum Speed; Crust; Plotz; Cheap Date; Come On In, The War's Fine; Temp Slave; Monk Mink Pink Punk; and of course my favorite, Sniffin Glue. 

Some of the tiles from skateboarding 'zines are just as awesome--if not better--than many of these punk-rock/political titles. For instance, dimentia, Skate Fate, acid love, dancing skeleton, contort, smelly curb, Kill Rocco 'zine, and My Head Size (just to name a tiny little few).

Speaking of skateboarding 'zines, Thrasher Magazine (which many consider the bible of skateboarding, and which started out as a 'zine, and for many years was made of newsprint that turned your fingers black), to this day, does a monthly 'zine round up. Wez Lundry is the dude that does the review, and one of his...uh...barometers for judging the length and depth of 'zines, is the amount of visits to the "throne" that the 'zine will provide entertainment for. In other words, one 'zine might be worth--and I'm quoting here--"a couple of turds" worth of reading (yeah, so much for not offending anyone), or some longer 'zines might even be worth "two or three visits to the shitter."

Another funny part of Lundry's review section, are the little extracts from the 'zines, that he fills the page with. One of my favorites is as follows: The image is of a punk-rock looking guy with a microphone in his hand, who is being choked from behind by a huge bouncer-looking fella', and is surrounded by a bunch of other angry looking fellas' who look like they are trying to get the microphone out of his hand. The caption attached to this photo says: "But the sign out front said open-mike night!"

I guess you had to be there.

Anyway, the other tome I found on 'zines looks to deal with more of their social, political, counterculture qualities, which is what I wanted to focus most of my attention on--especially if I am going to try to illustrate some continuities between punk-rock/skateboarding 'zines, and something like Common Sense  from Thomas Paine. I see many parallels regarding the ways in which they have been published and distributed, and the underlying theme of social, political, and cultural subversion. This second book is entitled Notes From Underground, by Stephen Duncombe, and the epigraph is as follows:

"wandering between two worlds, one dead,the other powerless to be born"

I guess I'll see soon enough if this seems as helpful as it looks like it might be. I told Dr. Maruca that I was a little discouraged about finding sources that would help me to draw some kind of line between early subversive pamphlets and publications in this country, and the 'zines that I have contributed to, and which I have been reading since I was given my first copy of the Anarchist Cookbook and GBH's album City Baby Attacked By Rats by the older punk-rockers and anarchists that got a kick out of stirring my adolescent mind, when I was about twelve years old or so (when I first started listening to punk-rock, I still played with Star Wars figures, and since my folks wouldn't let me leave the house with my mohawk standing up, I would stand it up with Aqua-Net, just to listen to GBH, the Stooges, and Black Flag, and play with my Star Wars figures in the house). Dr. Maruca said something along the lines that I may be wandering in uncharted territory of a sort, which excites me.

I also thought of looking for continuities between 'zines, and the literature and leaflet-making of the communistic and anarchistic labor unions of the early twentieth-century--especially the IWW (the Industrial Workers of the World), or as they came to be known, the Wobblies. They relied greatly on leaflets and small song-books to organize, and I see a definite similarity.

Well, that's enough for now. I'll--of course--keep at it. As always, if anyone has any advice, comments, insults, et cetera, please send them along...

Monday, November 2, 2009

Both of the topics that I am considering...

...involve countercultures that I have been immersed in for well over twenty years now. Likewise, both topics will--albeit in varying degrees--deal with subversive and independently produced literature, social and political critique, and art.

The first topic that I am considering (and the one that I am most probable to choose) would be an examination of the fanzine (or 'zine"), and the vital and irrevocable role it has played in the subversive worlds of punk-rock and independently released music, and skateboarding--skateboarding and punk-rock being fairly synonymous for as long back as one cares to remember. I am told that there exist something called "e-zines." These are by no means what I am talking about. What I am talking about, is the myriad of underground, often anarchic, independently produced periodicals from deep within the bowels of the worlds of skateboarding and punk-rock, that genuinely embody the DIY, independent ethos behind these countercultures. These 'zines are often nothing more than 81/2" x 11" paper printed on all sides, folded in half, and stapled, but they are the primary forums for many "scenes" throughout the world, and are vital in this way. In fact, many "scenes" radiate outward from 'zines. The terms "copy and paste," or, "cut and paste" come from making 'zines, because, when one makes a 'zine, generally one literally cuts and pastes. 

That is my attempt to concisely describe what these independent, underground periodicals are--I think I failed, because they encompass so many things. Nevertheless, aside from dealing with 'zines themselves, and the roles they play in "scenes," what they are comprised of, et cetera, I would like to attempt to follow their evolution back to early revolutionary periodicals and pamphlets of subversion and dissidence, that also--of pure necessity--have been independently produced and disseminated, such as, for instance, Common Sense by Thomas Paine. I feel 'zines are yet another generation of the underground press in this country. 

I am a little worried about sources. I have not had a chance to research this much, but I have contributed to a number of 'zines in the Detroit area (and in the other cities I have lived in), and I hope that my experience will help guide my research. Oddly enough, and to give an idea of how eclectic some of these 'zines have been, I have written articels on American history for a 'zine that was primarily a skateboarding 'zine--I am especially proud of an essay I wrote on the Ludlow coal-miner strike of 1913 and 1914, which ended up being called the Ludlow Massacre. 

OK--the other topic I am considering, as I have already stated, also deals with a subversive counterculture--graffiti. Although I have never "painted" myself, I have been a bit of a patron to the world of graffiti, especially in the city of Detroit. For a few years I was the owner of a skateboard company (it seems funny calling it a company) called, Mother. All of the art on our boards and shirts was done by two of the most prolific graffiti-kids in the city at the time (meaning they were up everywhere), Mesh  and Dibs. Not only this, but after the first run of decks, we stopped having the graphics screened on the boards, and instead, Mesh and Dibs hand-painted them all. I would bring boxes full of blank boards to their apartment at Forest and Second, give them money for supplies and food and rent, and they hand-painted all of them. What's funny is, no self-respecting graffiti-artist actually pays for their spray-paint or markers, so despite me giving them money for supplies, they still stole them anyway--yes, truly subversive indeed.

Anyway, despite being utterly esoteric to the untrained eye, graffiti--whether it is the sophomoric characters painted by gangs, or the elaborate works of art by graffiti-kids--is indeed its own written language. It is a truly anarchic activity, in its utter disregard for the integrity of "property." With this in mind, I would like to focus on--among other things--how it is now, that graffiti artists  are being paid massive amounts of money, and being regarded as "true" artists, with shows in galleries and all that. I guess you could say, I am planning to examine the attempted confinement and trivialization of it--or you could say, how the main-stream is attempting to co-opt and control it. This would include examining how the underground world of graffiti is responding--mainly, how graffiti-kids who paint anything other than buildings, trucks, overpasses, et cetera lose respect and venerability the more they paint pieces for galleries and exhibits.

Yeah, the above descriptions of my topics are admittedly real broad and general, and I plan to start narrowing them, and focusing on one or the other this week.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Creativity, Censorship, and...Hitler?

"They will draw a sigh of relief and express their joyous agreement with this purification of art."

Adolph Hitler

After my insurmountable boredom with, and consequent inability to muster any kind of scholarly, insightful, or even sarcastic response to last week's readings, Doctor Maruca's essay on "Women in the Eighteenth-Century Text Trades" is more like it. Hell, by the end of the second epigraph I was already stirred, because the issue of how exactly censorship and creativity work together--or more aptly put, work against each other--is a very delicious topic to me.

According to Doctor Maruca's second epigraph, Lord Chesterfield declares that despite the admitted plausibility of the eternal insistence of many, "that arts and sciences cannot flourish under an absolute government; and that genius must necessarily be cramped where freedom is restrained," Lord Chesterfield insists that this "is false in fact." No, no, no, according to Lord Chesterfield, artists and scientists should always be able to flourish, because, "the despotism of government" notwithstanding, artists and scientists will always, in some confined, imprisoned, suffocated, unrealistic way, be able to find "subjects enough to exert genius upon." Awesome...piece of cake!

The first thing the aforementioned imbecilic balderdash  from Lord Chesterfield brought to mind, is a book that I have dealt with entitled Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics, by Frederic Spotts, and in particular, chapter eleven of said book, entitled "The Failure of National Socialist Realism." Now, despite the ways in which Doctor Maruca illustrates how "eighteenth-century English censorship, rather than being purely repressive, was productive of certain types of discourse," the other 99% of the time, the imbecilic balderdash of Lord Chesterfield is as wrong as wrong can be. And the aforementioned chapter from Spotts' book, lucidly illustrates one example of how.

Basically...well...aside from being the eternity-wide poster-child for pure, unadulterated human malignancy, Adolph Hitler was also a patron of the arts--in fact, he was an artist himself, albeit a misunderstood and undervalued one. Anyway, after the capitulation of the Weimar Republic to the murderous force of the SS juggernaut around 1933, Hitler, among many other acutely nationalistic endeavors, sought to show the world the brilliance of the art of the Third Reich. So in July of 1937, at his garishly constructed House of German Art, he had the first annual Great German Art Exhibition, "simultaneously and right across the street from" what was referred to as "the degenerate show." In other words, across the street from the show of artists who were not Nazis or Nazi supporters, which included according to Hitler, "Modernist, Bolshevist, [and] Jewish influences." Hitler liked the century old German Realism of "the fatherland," which included subjects like "landscapes, flowers, animals, family scenes, [and] portraits," not "sloppy paintings where you cannot tell which is top or bottom." And he had his first exhibit right across the street from, and at the exact same time as "the degenerates" to show "Germany and the world" the supremacy of  the art of the Third Reich.

Hitler's whole exhibit quickly became an enormous and humiliating fiasco, complete with him repeatedly throwing pitiful--yet obviously ominous--temper tantrums, that would ultimately result in the resignation of his head curator, Gerdy Troost. Aside from the modernist influences that unavoidably found their way into his exhibit, the bottom line was that the massive amount of art that he commissioned, plain and simply sucked. As Spotts writes, Hitler "erred in thinking that by getting control over artists he was getting a grip on the arts...he soon learned that even totalitarian power has its limits...

...It can ban and burn art, and imprison and kill artists, but it cannot incubate talent."

Which in some cases, is Some despots and dictators are fine with failure and people that don't listen to them...psych! To follow Lord Chesterfield's line of reasoning to its logical conclusion, we need only examine Hitler's response to the failure of the artists in Germany to succumb and acquiesce to his ideas of art. Or to put this in Lord Chesterfield's words, we need only examine Hitler's response to the artists in Germany who refused to confine themselves to what Hitler thought was "subjects enough to exert genius upon." To these artists Hitler warned:

"By standing foursquare on the principle that someone who considers himself a painter but submits some kind of garbage is either a swindler, therefore belonging in prison, or a buffoon, therefore suited for an insane asylum, or, if his mental state is confused, a concentration camp to be reeducated, the exhibition will be a real terror for the incompetent."


Saturday, October 17, 2009

This has nothing to do with our readings and will inevitably piss someone off.

Disclaimer: The following contains coarse and vulgar language. Those with fragile temperaments, sensitive ears (eyes), and/or who do not get out of the house much, should probably abandon ship right here...seriously.

This week's readings bore me. I do not want to write about either of them. And seeing as I am ahead on points, and have plenty of weeks left to fulfill the 100 possible points for these blogs, I am going to write about something that pisses me off, concerns all of us here at Wayne, and will probably piss at least one of you off (at me, I mean). How does that old saying go? "Tell people lies and they will build monuments to you, tell them the truth, and they'll kill you for it," or something like that. Anyway, although there is a particular incident that the following broadside is pointed at, this incident is merely one foul manifestation of a much broader debacle. I've wanted to say something about the following incident to someone...anyone, for a while now, and since I have come to respect many of you--my dearest classmates--through this forum and our class discussions, I figure who better to share my concerns with?

So, to get right to the heart of the matter, and to introduce the wretched hyena of a problem that my grievances are directed towards, I will starkly and simply state...

...fuck "Midtown"!

Fuck Starbucks. Fuck condos and $100,000.00 lofts right next to squalor. In this respect, fuck the expensive gated-community on Alexandrine, between Second and Third. And fuck what has happened to what used to be a Dally in an alley.

"Midtown" is a fatuous, public-relations, marketing euphemism for what is, and always should be the Cass Corridor, and the complex mixture of human beings that the Cass Corridor has always been comprised of. I like how all of these hipsters, artists, yuppies, intellectuals, and affluent eccentrics, who all think they are the most progressive and conscious individuals in town, think that you can turn the Cass Corridor into "Midtown," and not have it be at the expense of a whole community full of poor people. For as often as these urbane people decorate their progressive, conscious outlooks with impressive and lofty ideals that condemn ignominies like blatant, cruel, and unapologetic gentrification--or even more fitting to what is happening to the Cass Corridor, sterilization--they sure don't mind that it is exactly this sterilization that has made it safe enough and clean enough for them to move "to the city" to reinvent themselves as the hip, urbane, conscious city-goers that they--for now at least--fancy themselves as. Never underestimate the power of denial.

Wayne State is an open sore... a good friend of mine once said, "it is the meeting-place of the haves and the have-nots." It is a section of this area, where one daily witnesses disheartening manifestations of what it takes to turn the Cass Corridor into "Midtown." It is the most rigid police state that I have had to deal with on such a consistent basis. One particular incident that I had the misfortune to witness, aptly illustrates one aspect of the problem.

One morning, on a weekday, a few weeks before the end of the summer semester, I had been skating downtown all morning, and around 11:00 or so, I was skating north on Cass, back up to my apartment at Antoinette. An ambulance, heading north, rushed pass me around Willis or so. As I approached Warren, I got off of my board so as to walk across Warren. Ahead, in front of the science building, and across from La Pita, the ambulance had stopped, and I saw a couple of cop cars as well. All of a sudden, I saw someone attempt to run away from the cops and the paramedics, just to fall to the ground in the street, at which time I heard the unmistakable, nauseating, and troubling sound of a taser. 

The man was black, and from what little I saw of him, looked like he was probably homeless.

As I was about to jump back on my board, once I had crossed Warren, this random bunch of frat-boy-looking white males were passing me, who had just witnessed this shit situation, and they were joking and fucking laughing about it. One looked at me, with an infuriating shit-eating grin on his face, and exuberantly told me that "they tased him!" I guess he expected some kind of empathetic response from me to his jovial approval of the aforementioned man's tasing, because this frat-boy-looking white student--along with most of the group that was with him--looked fairly confused when I growled back at him...

..."and you motherfuckers think that's fucking funny?!" 

The whole scene was the foulest thing I witnessed all summer, and as far as I am concerned, aptly illustrates what kind of deplorable circumstances surround turning the Cass Corridor into "Midtown." As I skated by the cops, the paramedics, and the man that had been tased, I didn't look, because I am cool enough with myself, and life, that I don't need to gawk at this kind of treacherous shit. What I couldn't help to catch, were the smirks on the paramedics (for crying out loud); the man still laid-out groaning on the concrete; the smiles on random passers-by; and most of all, the elation and pleasure and entertainment a bunch of jackals and hyenas across the street at La Pita were having over this man's problems, while they ate tabouli and hummus at the sidewalk tables, on this otherwise beautiful summer day.

I don't--necessarily--blame the cops, because I did not witness what led to the tasing. Hey, maybe the man had left the cops no other choice, and tasing him was the most humane way to deal with him (however that works). Nevertheless...

...fuck the group of frat-boy-looking white students that derived such pleasure from one man's problems, and fuck all of those students at La Pita with the smiles on their faces as they ate their tabouli and hummus, and were so entertained by what had happened.
I know this kind of indifference to other people's misfortunes is indicative of the kind of moral and social rot that increasingly plagues this terminally declining country, and which people love to watch on their televisions, but come on, this is supposed to be a place of "higher learning." I expect this kind of jovial indifference and pleasure towards the plight of homeless people, from all of the inebriated, white assholes that make downtown unbearable during sporting events (and the Hoedown), not from students at Wayne State.

As we each witness the disheartening manifestations of the transformation of the Cass Corridor to "Midtown," that spill over on to this campus, the very least we can do, is remember that these individuals which are being rousted, harassed, arrested, and assaulted by the police, are human beings, and conduct ourselves befitting this realization--conduct ourselves how we would want others to conduct themselves if we were in similar circumstances. 

"Now look who is laughing at his brother in the mud. Now look at who is asking, 'where is that brotherly love'?"

Sizzla Kalonji

Friday, October 9, 2009

"At the expense of others"?

In the introduction to The Zinn Reader, historian and activist Howard Zinn writes:

"There was never, for me as teacher and writer, an obsession with 'objectivity', which I considered neither possible nor desirable [my italics]. I understood early that what is presented as 'history' inevitably a selection out of an infinite amount of information, and that what is selected depends on what the selector thinks is important....I was relieved when I decided that keeping one's judgments out of historical narrative was impossible, because I had already determined that I would never do that....the world is already moving in certain directions--many of them horrifying. Children are going hungry, people are dying in wars. To be neutral in such a situation is to collaborate with what is going on [my italics]."

I must beg the pardon of whatever readers that I am fortunate enough to share my thoughts with here, as I know that such a lengthy quote in this type of forum may not necessarily be appropriate, but...

...I simply could not help myself.

That passage from Professor Zinn's book, was in my mind throughout my reading of Ronald J. Deibert's--admittedly--thoroughly and convincingly argued chapters from Parchment, Printing, and Hypermedia. And I will soon get to Deibert's chapters, but first must say one last thing about Professor Zinn's view of dealing with history. This would be that Professor Zinn has concisely summed the aforementioned sentiment up by simply asserting that:

"You can't be neutral on a moving train."

No, no, no, some of us--for good or ill--are simply not made that way. And thus, I (me, personally) can wholeheartedly relate to Professor Zinn when he warns his readers, as I guess I am warning you, dearest readers, that in the following words, and unlike the case of Deibert's chapters,  you will not find "any hint of 'neutrality'."

With all of that said (and I apologize, I know it is a lot), and as I stated above, Deibert's argument is thoroughly convincing. Simply put, he seems as correct as correct can be. There is no getting around the substantial part that printing has played in the rise of capitalism, and "the new world order." And of course, under the sweeping and malignant umbrella of capitalism, as Deibert notes, we find circumstances such as, for instance, centralized governmental bureaucracies; "complex division[s] of labor"; the narrowing, hardening, and proliferation of borders; and of course, along with all of this fun stuff, wars. War is immensely lucrative. In fact, war just might be the most lucrative capitalist venture there is. As the incendiary journalist, Randolph Bourne, wrote back in 1914: "War is the health of state." I mean, World War II ended the Depression--stopped it dead in its tracks. From a capitalist perspective, World War II was the best thing that could have happened to the U.S. at that point.

But I digress. Or do I? 

Once again, I am not trying to refute the validity of any part of Deibert's argument, as I have already said, he's done his homework, and these chapters are indeed convincing. My problem is how completely creepy it is to read someone, who so thoroughly examines all of these disheartening stages of the growth and spread of something that exists at the expense of such a vast multitude of human beings--meaning capitalism--but who does so in such a cold, utterly objective, matter-of-fact manner, and with such dismissive indifference to the oppression that grew right along with capitalism. He does not once express a sentiment of regret or dismay. And hey, that probably makes him a much better historian or political scientist than I will ever be...but, so what?

I mean, at the end of chapter three, he concludes by writing that he has "described how the introduction of printing in medieval Europe brought about specific distributional changes that empowered certain actors and social forces at the expense of others [my italics]." But the only "others" he specifically mentions, is the hegemony of the papacy. This is really irritating to me.

"At the expense of others"? How about the mass of people that all of a sudden were now imprisoned in a capitalist state? After all, printing in these new centralized bureaucracies simply made it so the class system was infinitely more organized, solidified, and methodical than it ever could have been under the papacy. Simply put, the oppressed had never been so oppressed. Or as Deibert even indifferently notes, the mass of people, under the development of capitalism, now could be said to be increasingly living in Michel Foucault's "disciplinary state." At the expense of others indeed. How about all of the "common people" fighting, being maimed, and dying in all of these wars, to protect these borders, and all of these "imagined communities" that all of this printing has helped to proliferate and strengthen? Is it at their expense too? Do they not deserve at least a trace of recognition...perhaps just parenthetically? 

As a de facto Marxist--if you will--I have to balance the undeniable advantages of something like printing, with the undeniable disadvantages (of course, any conscious soul must). I know this. Nevertheless, I can not help feeling that my problem with Deibert's chapters, are in some way, an example of the problems that arise from "the interdisciplinarity" that Howsam writes about. In just trying to focus on printing and the printing press, he unavoidably has to brush up against other issues and circumstances, outside of the thesis he is focusing on, and though he illuminates them in some degree, by brushing by them, to stick with his narrow topic, he is forced to completely ignore them...or something like that...I guess.

I also have to acknowledge that my conclusions are based on an incomplete reading of Deibert's book--just three chapters. But based on these three chapters, I feel that Deibert's thorough and objective study of  this narrow topic opens a number of doors to other, more dire consequences of the introduction of printing, and then just walks past these open doors without taking the slightest glance in...

"To be neutral in such a situation is to collaborate with what is going on."

Friday, October 2, 2009

"Hands, touchin hands, Reachin out, Touchin me, Touchin You"

Disclaimer: Once again, what follows contains allusions to debauched and immoral behavior.

This is going to be a difficult one to be serious and scholarly towards, and consequently, I beg the pardon of whatever readers may happen upon what follows, as I am sure to occasionally, arbitrarily, and--perhaps--involuntarily sink into lapses of fatuous doggerel and outright immature sarcasm.

Case in point: so let me get this straight, Johannes Trithemius (that old SOB) has a monastery full of young monks, whom, like all young men, are unavoidably subject to "vain and pernicious thoughts," and of course, indulging in these "lower passions," and Trithemius (that old SOB) thinks that forcing these young monks to sit, alone, in their "cells" (and isn't it ironic that these rooms for the young scribes are called cells?) vast amounts of time--in fact, most of their days--copying scripture and such, is going to prevent these young monks from...well...since we are all adults it a yank from time to time? 

Sure...piece of cake. Trithemius has it all covered...keeping the hands and eyes occupied...hand, eyes, writing, eye/hand coordination...yes indeed, I'm sure his intention to suppress these young mens' "idle desires" wouldn't have been nearly as efficacious, if he would have, instead, suggested something like...say...long-distance running.

Given the fairly glaring nature of Trithemius' real  reasons for writing this "praise," it is damn nigh impossible to take anything he writes about, concerning the alleged merits and benefits of "the labor of writing" seriously. I mean, of course, dude is utterly and completely wrong about the life-span of books and paper--which is probably unnecessary to even note, considering he does not make the slightest attempt to justify, explain, qualify, or support his assertion, and thus, probably didn't believe it himself.

In this respect, any and all of his points regarding subjects like the longevity of the written word as opposed to the fleeting nature of the spoken word, or the spiritual benefits of the work of scribes, and of course the right to eat that accompanies this work, all start to sound like the glum and dour buffoonery of a spiteful and unrealistic old monastic wing-nut, making up a bunch of bullshit, so as to cram his ideas of the indispensability of "obedience" down the throats of a bunch of--for the most part, poor--young men (and thus obliterate the precious, fleeting,  and beautiful vitality and spirit of youth in all of them) who have been forced into the drudgery of monastic life due to matters of circumstance. 

I think that Johannes Trithemius sounds like he must have been a riot to hang out with. Generally, I have found that such has been the case with the people that one encounters who insist that "nothing but good can come of obedience." Nothing but good indeed. After all, without "obedience," and especially the kind of absolute and blind obedience that Trithemius (that old SOB) is talking about, how could history have had its Nazis and Hitlers, and Stalins, and indian-massacring Andrew Jacksons, and Pol Pots, and slavery, and genocide, et cetera...  

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

"...knowledge unfits a child to be a slave."

I am reading Angela Y. Davis's (the ex-Black Panther) book, Women, Race, and Class, and I am just now in the chapter entitled, "Education and Liberation: Black Women's Perspective." This is basically a thorough and stirring account of all of the measures and lengths and sacrifices and risks that slaves and freedmen went to, and took, for an education, in antebellum and postbellum America--of course risking every kind of wretched form of retribution that the demons and nasferatus who made up the slaveocracy, could come up with. 

"Black people were allegedly incapable of intellectual advancement," Davis writes, but if this was the case, "no prohibition of learning would have been necessary." And of course, there were all kinds of laws forbidding the education of black folks. 

Anyway, the primary reason for this blog entry, is because the following quote from Davis's book, seems like it illustrates quite aptly, how little it really takes to make a space a "study":

"A pile of books is seen in almost every cabin, though there be no furniture except a poor bed, a table and two or three broken chairs."

Friday, September 25, 2009

The view from my apartment...

When I got to the section in our reading from Roger Chartlier entitled, "The library, retreat [my italics] from the world," I got a little tense and thought, "wait a minute, do not tell me this yutz is going to try to illuminate some way in which libraries could be thought to be an avoidance of reality, in the same way--for instance--that some of us feel the banal infinitude of the 'information superhighway' is"! But he of course does not--in fact, this section of Chartier's article rung so many bells in my own head, pertaining to the way in which I value my own relatively small, yet dense and broad collection of books, and the invaluable solace of my "study," that I had to read the section twice. I guess what got me at first, was his use of the word retreat, which makes it sound like one is trying to act like the world is not out there (which definitely seems the case with a great number of the sociopathic misanthropes out there, who seem to have lost the ability to have a face to face, human conversation outside of the false reality that the internet often serves as, and who can only speak in digital type, and mostly with irritating, grammatically challenged grunts, fragments, and acronyms).

Although Chartier does deal with public libraries, the most important sense of the word "library," that he deals with, is actually probably more aptly put, when he calls it a "study." This seems to convey the personal and individualistic importance of what he is examining. Quite simply, he quotes, a study is a "place for keeping 'one's most precious goods', not only useful and rare books but one's own self." I do indeed believe, after a few discourses now with the other "bibliophiles" in our class (and you know who you are), that there are plenty of us that, if we do not necessarily have our own study per se, we by all means have a place in which we can gloat over whatever kind of collection of books we have been able to collect, and an adjacent area that silently tells our own personal history through all of the personal artifacts that end up on the shelves and the walls that surround said collection of books. 

This is not an area, for the most part, to share with many people. It is an area to do essential things like, well, of course read, study, research, and write, but also--for instance--meditate, contemplate, lick one's wounds, burn incense, put one's new skateboard together, clean one's gun (or guns), pace, drink cognac, talk to oneself, pray, take refuge, do push-ups, listen to music, and in general, provide oneself with the solitude that is the grounding and empowering counterbalance to all of the often monotonous, unnerving, and taxing social stuff we all deal with every day, and thus, enable oneself to live a genuinely complete life. I have friends--especially a couple with kids and a spouse--who do not have such an area, nor do they really get much time for any kind of solitude, and thus they are reduced to driving up to the store to buy shit they really do not need, so they can sneak a couple of hits off of a joint, and maybe listen to a little music. Some of us simply could never live that way.

"The hours spent in the library," Chartier explains, "are hours of withdrawal in two senses, which define the essence of privacy in the modern era." These two senses, he continues, are the withdrawal from "the public sphere" and all that it encompasses, and the withdrawal from the often suffocating confines of domesticity. It seems to me, that without the consistent opportunity to enjoy such refuge and solitude, one is not living a genuinely free life. I mean, obviously one's "study" is not going to be as extravagant as that of that Montaigne rogue that Chartier describes, nor is one's own personal book collection going to be as voluminous, broad, and meticulously organized and displayed as John Locke's. And they do not need to be, to serve their purpose. One's "library is a place from which one can see without being seen, which gives a kind of power to the person...[a] power over the knowledge accumulated in the books that the eye takes in at a glance."

From my "study" (the front room in my apartment), my horizons have no limits. I can see Thoreau writing in his dwelling next to Walden Pond, and also, pleading for the life of Captain John Brown, when all that man wanted, was to free the slaves. I can see Dostoevsky's Raskolnikov in nineteenth century Russia, telling a pig that some people have a right to commit crimes. I can see the invaluable, radical, Wobbly labor organizer, Joe Hill, uttering his last words before he was assassinated: "Don't waste time mourning...organize!" I can see Niccolo Machiavelli in sixteenth century Italy, warning men of power for centuries to come, that nothing is more important in the governance of people, than lies and deception. I can see Thomas Paine reminding his countrymen, as America's war for independence was becoming inevitable, that "If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace." I can see the German revolutionary and martyr, Ulrike Meinholf, when she warned all of the ex-Nazis that still pervaded Germany's government and academic institutions after World War II: 

"Protest is when I say I don't like this. Resistance is when I put an end to what I don't like. Protest is when I refuse to go along with this anymore. Resistance is when I make sure everybody else stops going along too."

And so on, and so on, and so on, and so on...

Friday, September 18, 2009

"...a handful of magic goat dung..."

Robert Darnton writes that, in the old French tale about that rogue, Kiot-Jean, after the father of ol' Kiot-Jean's true love has forbidden the two from seeing each other (because Kiot-Jean is poor) Kiot-Jean decides to consult the wisdom of an old witch. And what does the witch do to help? Well, she gives him "a handful of magic goat dung." And what does this formidable pile of shite do? Well, it makes everyone in Kiot-Jean's love's  family (including his love), fart, uncontrollably. In fact, it makes them fart to the point that they can't get anything done in the household. Not just that, but, the priest, who has the misfortune to be hanging out at the house, ultimately is rendered null and void by what Darnton refers to as "a spectacular string of farts."

What the?

Finally Kiot-Jean promises them all that he can help, in exchange of course for his true love. And seeing that the farting has made life in the household "impossible" (one can only imagine), the father acquiesces to Kiot-Jean's demand, and he gets his girl. Of course, after he "surreptitiously" removes the dung.

I don't know...that very well may be my favorite tale out of all of the tales that we encounter in Darnton's...uh...stirring chapters. It is either that one, or the one about that treacherous old SOB, La Ramee. That story, Darnton explains, is similar to the aforementioned story about Kiot-Jean, in that it follows the time-proven formula of the "underdog boy meets overprivileged [sic] girl." Yes indeed, when the king reneges on his promise to allow poor ol' La Ramee to marry his daughter, by offering up another suitor of higher status to compete with La Ramee, and then forces the princess to sleep with both to choose, La Ramee ends up hustling them all. Of course, he, does not have a gnarly, fart-inducing "handful of magic goat dung." No, no, no, although La Ramee also ends up winning his love, he has to settle with the old sophomoric parlor trick  of "dispatching a flea into his rival's anus." Yeah, that sounds kind of bush-league to me too, especially compared to the daunting power of Kiot-Jean's "handful of magic goat dung."

Mother of babbling god, I have tangentially meandered way off of the coherent path of scholarly discussion which I had intended to follow "in here." All I wanted to start off with, for crying out loud, was the sincere admission that most of the old French tales that Darnton burdens us with in his chapters, are paradoxically some of the funniest, strangest, and most troubling words that I have read in a long while. Of course, as we all know, the tales that I have mentioned above can really be said to be--dear god--light hearted compared to a number of the others. But as Darnton writes, "from rape and sodomy to incest and cannibalism...the storytellers of eighteenth-century France portrayed a world of raw and naked brutality." And he by all means manages to supply us with a plethora of harrowing historical tidbits about widespread acute privations, catastrophes, wars, poverty, and plagues that are all of seemingly biblical proportions, to help explain why these tales are the way they are, and more importantly, what they are.

Which is, in so many words, pressure valves. After all, it must be easy--and dare I say, perhaps even appropriate--to joke and spin about themes such as rape and cannibalism when you've had little or nothing to eat in days (due to reasons of circumstance of course, and not because you're some new-age kook trying out the latest "power-cleanse"), two-thirds of your village is dead and/or dying from a plague started by the fleas on rats, and despite all of this, some royal asshole and his army of murderous dingbats and flunkies still expect their "dues, tithes, ground rents, and taxes." 

Now, in this regard, although the tales that Darnton deals with elicit a myriad of different questions, one keeps coming to my mind, and it involves a major and seemingly glaring thematic difference between the old French tales, and the slave tales that we read about in the chapters from Lawrence Levine. I would never want to get into any kind of comparative analysis of which catastrophe was worse, or which conditions and circumstances were worse, or who suffered more between the peasants of eighteenth-century France, and the slaves of North America. The two debacles were deplorable and disheartening, and seem--for the most part--incomparable. It should suffice to say, that the human beings dealing with both sets of circumstances were dealing with circumstances that were harsh and deplorable enough that (as we discussed in class) none of us, by any stretch of the imagination, will ever be able to genuinely relate.   

With that said, I can not help but to wonder why exactly the French tales needed to express such extreme levels of depravity and morbidity, yet the slave tales did not? There are similarities that we have discussed, the most important of which would seem expressed when Darnton explains, that despite the fact that the tales often depicted the "humiliation" and duping of the powers and people over the French peasants (and likewise, the powers and people over the North American slaves), there were few--if any--delusions expressed about conquering these powers and people, or for that matter, altering their circumstances and situations. "In most of the tales," Darnton explicates, "wish fulfillment turns into a program for survival, not a fantasy of escape....despite the occasional touches of fantasy, then, the tales remain rooted in the real world." For the most part, as we have read, this was the case with the slave tales as well.

So, the above is my question--why did the French tales need to depict such depravity and morbidity, yet the slave tales did not? I'm not--in any way--saying it necessarily means that the French were more morbid or depraved than the North American slaves were, or that either situation and set of circumstances were worse than the other, I am just wondering what some of you--my most appreciated academic colleagues--might think was the difference? 

Monday, September 14, 2009

"Islands of seals"

Disclaimer: What follows is a genuine example of something that is truly, "neither here nor there."

I do not know why I feel as compelled as I do, to comment on this, but for some reason it seems related to Dr. Maruca's request for a blog entry pertaining to a "significant [although this is by no means significant] experience with literacy and technology." If nothing else, what follows shows a fairly trivial reason (and there are not many in my case) that maybe this whole technology gig isn't all bad.

So, in the grips of my often dizzying and infinite eclecticism when it comes to music, I have been on a Go-Gos trip the last few days. Now, before you start laughing at me, it is important to remember that the Go-Gos have pretty subversive roots (Belinda Carlisle was the drummer for The Germs after all). Anyway, off of Youtube, I downloaded the videos for "Our Lips are Sealed," and "Vacation" last night (incidentally, if you look up The Go-Gos Vacation 1982, there is a sick live performance). As I scroll down the comments, someone has written that when he or she was a kid, they thought that they were singing, instead of "Our Lips are Sealed,"  "Islands of Seals"--that was her or his whole comment. I'm not exactly sure why, but that struck me as being so completely and totally ridiculous that I nearly shot Cognac out of my nose, all over my Mac contraption from laughing so hard.

Yeah, like I said, this entry was not going to be a real...uh...scholarly one. I have often referred to "the information superhighway," as being made up of a banal infinitude (and I don't mind if you use that one, I'll share), and the above is just one, little, sole drop in that vast, limitless ocean. Which, I guess, is my point. Where else can you express such a fatuous and silly, and seemingly useless fact like "Islands of Seals"? So...uh...yeah, this entry has something to do with technology, but how exactly it might relate to issues of literacy is a whole other...uh...yeah... 

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Book as "artefact"?


Disclaimer: Part of what follows is of a relatively personal nature, and includes brief depictions of rude and unsavory necessary to illustrate my point, so please bear with me. 

Leslie Howsam's Old Books and New Histories may be a short book (in fact, an essay), but as we all know after reading it, it is indeed dense, and confronts and illuminates a myriad of questions, difficulties, and issues pertaining to what she often refers to as "Book History." Consequently, I will be focusing on one particular aspect of her argument, which will also tie in to a personal "significant experience with literacy and technology" that I have had, and which I feel is profoundly connected to one of the points she raises in her book. I say technology, meaning that I consider the book, to be a technological tool--in fact, I consider the book, to be perhaps the most important technological tool.

Throughout Howsam's book, the book is referred to as an artefact. I am extremely interested in this perspective of the book, but as it pertains to the book being a personal artefact, more than a cultural artefact. Perhaps I should explain--throughout my travels, and in my friendships and relationships with the myriad of rare, glorious, beautiful, and tragic human beings that I have had the honor and good fortune to encounter in my nearly forty years on this planet, books have served as conduits (if you will) between these friends and I. Books--aside from the literary content within them--have physically and figuratively served as gifts, good-byes, hellos, weapons, insults, break-ups, bandages, encouragements, and reminders that one is "blowing it" (just to name a few functions).

One of the most important ways that books have done this, is by what my friends and I have written in the margins, and on the pages of these books. Howsam deals with the importance of this aspect of the book, as artefact, on page 22. "Another rich resource for the histories of reading and of ideas," Howsam writes, "is to be found in the margins of books where readers recorded their immediate responses." Of course, what I am focusing on here, since I am looking at the book as a personal artefact as much as a cultural artefact, is not merely comments written in the margins which strictly pertain to the text, but also, comments written in the margins (and on the inside of either cover) pertaining to personal relationships, and how--in my case--they generally relate to the text. 

A brief personal illustration might help to clear up what I mean. The last time I lived in San Francisco, I lived with my friend Anthony, and his family. This was about the time that the ugly reality reared its disheartening head, that my dreams of skateboarding stardom had been officially and irrevocably dashed on the rocks of an ACL in my left knee that was hanging on by but a thread. Simply put, I was dealing with the stark reality that I had lived the life that I had planned to live, and was now, "winging it." This entailed, doing a bunch of cocaine with the yuppies up the street, and smoking joints dipped in PCP and drinking "forties" with Anthony's younger brother, and all of his cholo and Norteno friends. "Y2K" was a couple of days away, and one morning, notices were put in everyone's mailboxes stating that the military and medical helicopters were going to practice landing in the baseball field across the street from our home (at 26th and Hampshire), to prepare for "the festivities." I hadn't really bought any of that "Y2K" malarkey up to that point, but those notices struck a chord in my currently paranoid mind, and after living in that home for over a year, I decided to move back home, to Detroit, that day--and I did. I figured, in my confused and paranoid mind, that if society was about to crumble, I should be close to my family.

I didn't even get to say goodbye to anyone. All I left was a box in the closet, with what little possessions I had, and a copy of Love is a Dog From Hell, by Charles Bukowski, for Anthony. It seemed to fit, because Anthony's ex-girlfriend (the mother of his child) had run off with his child, and at that point, he did not know where they were. Anyway, perhaps more important than the actual text (not to say Bukowski isn't the heavy-weight that he most certainly is), was the sentiments of gratitude and regret that I expressed with what I wrote on the inside cover to Anthony. 

I left with a copy of Jack Kerouac's classic, On the Road, which considering the transient and nomadic lifestyle that I have lead, fit quite nicely. On the inside cover, when Anthony gave me the book, he wrote:

"Like Bukowski, Kerouac wrote about the ordinary because it is worthy of great literature. But different from others he saw the ordinary as sacred."

Admittedly, the above is a pretty long way of saying what I set out to say, but I think it efficaciously illustrates what I mean, when I say that the actual texts of the aforementioned books, that serve as conduits between my friend Anthony and I (who I have not seen since incidentally), are almost secondary, to the actual books--as personal artefacts--and the comments and sentiments that Anthony and I wrote to each other, on the pages, and on the insides of the covers. 

After all, one of the most revolutionary things Martin Luther did, was ask for copies of biblical texts, with blank margins--free of the comments of the Church fathers--so that his students would be able to write their own thoughts in the margins. In his book on Hermeneutics, Gerald Bruns writes that by giving his students these Biblical texts with blank margins, Luther "produced for his students a modern, as opposed to medieval, text of the bible--its modernity consisting precisely in the white space around the text."