Thursday, April 30, 2009
Haymarket, a novel by one of our progressive gay pioneers, Martin Duberman
Missing from Haymarket Square, a children's book by Harriette Gillem Robinet
The American: A Middle Western Legend by Howard Fast, about the Illinois governor who finally, too late for five of them, pardoned the Haymarket defendants
William Dean Howells and the Haymarket Era by Sender Garlin. Howells showed great courage in campaigning for the Haymarket defendants, and his resultant disillusionment with U.S. society is said to be evident in his 1888 novel Annie Kilburn.
Toys of Desperation: A Haymarket Mural in Verse by Harold A. Zlotnik, an epic poem at the 100th anniversary of the Chicago events
Haymarket Eight, a play by Derek Goldman and Jessica Thebus first produced by Chicago's Steppenwolf Theater Company in 1999
Haymarket, a play by Zayd Dohrn
Inquisitions and Other Unamerican Activities, a play by Greg Guma
Day of Reckoning, a play by Melody Cooper
Haymarket Scrapbook, edited by Franklin Rosemont and David Roediger
And finally, Nelson Algren's Chicago: City on the Make, universally described as a prose poem
AGAIN AT WALDHEIM
"Light upon Waldheim"
--Voltairine de Cleyre on the Haymarket martyrs
How heavy the heart is now, and every heart
Save only the word drunk, power drunk
Hard capsule of the doomed. How distraught
Those things of pride, the wills nourished in the fat
Years, fed in the kindly twilight of the books
In gold and brown, the voices that had little
To live for, crying for something to die for.
The philosophers of history,
Of dim wit and foolish memory,
The giggling concubines of catastrophe —
Who forget so much — Boethius’ calm death,
More’s sweet speech, Rosa’s broken body —
Or you, tough, stubby recalcitrant
Now in Waldheim where the rain
Has fallen careless and unthinking
For all an evil century’s youth,
Where now the banks of dark roses lie,
What memory lasts, Emma, of you,
Or of the intrepid comrades of your grave,
Of Piotr, of “mutual aid,”
Against the iron clad flame throwing
Course of time?
Your stakes were on the turn
Of a card whose face you knew you would not see.
You knew that nothing could ever be
More desperate than truth; and when every voice
Was cowed, you spoke against the coalitions
For the duration of the emergency —
In the permanent emergency
You spoke for the irrefutable
Coalition of the blood of men.
I don't think this movie has yet had national release and distribution but it is making the college film circuit and you can order a copy to show to your class, community group, church, etc. As we head into May Day and march for the rights of all workers, with or without papers, as we affirm that no human being is illegal and there are no borders in the workers' struggle, director Jesse Salmeron's This Is America about how ICE raids are tearing families apart across this country could not be more timely.
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
- Novelist Tayari Jones is teaching "Tales from the Kidscape," a class about "writing believable stories about young people," June 14-19 at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Mass. FAWC is not cheap but there are a number of scholarships available so it's worth checking out. Especially since it means a chance to work with this gifted and charismatic author.
- Then there's the Mount Chocorua Writing Workshop, July 12-17 in New Hampshire. The poetry workshop is led by Sapphire, an artist I admire tremendously. And for fiction there's Ellen Meeropol, who's written among other things Celebrate, a very fine and very moving program about Julius and Ethel Rosenberg that I saw at City Center in 2003 on the 50th anniversary of their execution. She's married to the Rosenbergs' son Robert Meeropol, and is a founding board member of the Rosenberg Fund for Children, which supports the kids of persecuted progressive activists such as, for instance, Mumia Abu Jamal's. Days at Mount Chocorua will be spent workshopping, and in the evenings there are programs. Like this one, which of course looks great to me: "Progressive Politics & Creative Writing: Can they work together to create a literature of social justice?"
The "get your hands off my country" referred to the Pentagon's installation of a so-called missile defense shield in Poland. I don't know more about Zimerman's politics, but I do know that U.S. meddling in Poland since World War II has been massive and deep. The U.S. funded and backed "Solidarity," the fake union movement that was actually a counterrevolutionary front for the restoration of capitalism and opening up of Poland to U.S. imperialism, of which this latest Pentagon incursion is a direct result.
I also can't help wonder about Krystian Zimerman's own background. Before the Nazi genocide, Poland was the world center of Jewish life, with a big, vibrant Jewish population. Then the Jews were erased and ever after, to this day, there is nary a Jew in Poland. Except for those who hid or were hidden, who were rescued by goodhearted Poles, who changed their names and passed for Christian and raised their kids as Christians. This pianist is of the postwar generation. As first names go, you don't get more Christian than his, yet his last name has a decidedly Jewish tilt to it. Interesting, although ultimately, I guess, it's neither here nor there. Actions speak louder than proper nouns.
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
- Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead, published today. I've read all three of his previous novels. Liked the last one, Apex Hides the Hurt. Really liked the previous one, John Henry Days. And was absolutely blown away by his first, The Intuitionist. He sure doesn't need me to praise him, as he gets lots of props all over the place and is one of the most highly regarded young authors, but I'll make the record anyway by saying that I think Mr. Whitehead is extravagantly talented, one of those writers whose work I automatically put on my to-read list.
- The Little Stranger by the wondrous Sara Waters, which has an end of May publication date. I loved her first novel, Tipping the Velvet. I crazy adored her second, Affinity. Her third, Fingersmith, sent me swooning to my sickbed, feverish and unable to function until I finished reading it, that's how much it took me over. I'm sorry to say that I didn't connect as much with her fourth, The Night Watch, but would willingly concede that the fault was somehow mine as a reader. This new one looks to be some sort of ghost story, which I'd think is right up her alley, an alley into which I'll gladly step. I'd follow Sara Waters anywhere. Swoon.
It's the third I'm watching for from Ruth Ozeki. Her debut novel My Year of Meats is one of my all-time faves. I liked her second, All Over Creation. Both books had to do with the food industry, agribusiness, and how capitalism is poisoning everything we ingest (that's my interpretation, anyway)--a topic that's more timely than ever, so I hope she's got another novel exploring these issues heading our way.
Monday, April 27, 2009
Preparedness sprang from Bush-era rhetoric, aimed at putting the public into a permanent state of half-panic, by which we could be manipulated into supporting endless war (the "war on terror") and giving up privacy and civil rights.Read the rest here. I can't resist adding, however, that this country really has no public health system to speak of, and never really will until a revolutionary change in the social system comes about. With health care in the hands of private profiteers and our tax dollars in their greatest part going to the Pentagon war machine, not medical care or any other human need, the apparatus to address any actual public-health crisis, whether this one turns out to be it or not, is lacking. How could it be done differently? We have only to look at our neighbor country of Cuba to see what a humane, sound and extremely effective public-health system would look like.
Well, that's my analysis, not Alcabes'. I'm sorry I can't make it to hear him tonight at Housing Works Bookstore: "Race, Implication and Infection: A conversation about how race fears shape the way people see and distort public health," with Harriet Washington. (UPDATE: I somehow got the date of this event wrong; it's next month, May 25. I'll post a reminder when the date approaches.)
Point of personal privilege note: in my as yet unpublished first novel, the protagonist's first love dies in the 1918 flu epidemic. The protagonist in her grief is tormented by the sounds of children playing hopscotch on the Passaic, NJ, sidewalks as they sing/chant this little ditty
I had a little birdwhich indeed children in this country actually did during the 1918 pandemic. Such are the coping mechanisms that arise in times of horror--I won't say it rises to the level of art, this macabre little rhyme set to little girls' hops and skips, but it does evince somebody's creative mind.
Her name was Enza
I opened the window
And In Flew Enza
Sounds familiar, right? Actually, I'm referring to a different time and a specific place.
1886. Chicago. That's when and where May Day was born, in a series of strikes and demonstrations culminating on May 1 that swept the city and shut it down in a multinational uprising the likes of which this country, and really the world, had never before seen, as the working class united to demand the eight-hour day. And then, starting on May 4, came the furious reaction of the ruling class. First, police were sent to attack a peaceful rally in Haymarket Square into which a provocateur tossed a bomb, which was the cops' signal to start shooting. Then, an unprecedented terror campaign was unleashed against Chicago's immigrant communities, unions, and working-class organizers, featuring sweeps of neighborhoods, mass jailings, union and meeting halls shut down, printing presses busted up and newspapers banned. And eight of the most visible leaders of the working masses charged with conspiracy to murder police--charged with murder based solely on their speeches in which they called on workers to rise up and fight for their rights. Five would die, one by his own hand and four at the gallows.
Albert Parsons. August Spies. Adolph Fisher. George Engel. It's safe to say that somewhere under 1 percent of the people in this country know their names. Yet the Haymarket Martyrs and the cause for which they died have everything to do with the situation facing 100 percent of the working class and oppressed in this country on May Day 2009.
Lead banner of the 2006 May Day march in NYC. That's my lover Teresa Gutierrez, a national leader in the immigrant-rights movement, between the Revs. Sharpton and Jackson.
In fact, and here we come full circle, many if not most of the Latin American immigrant workers who made the first mass May Day come to life in 2006 know very well the names of Parsons, Spies, Fisher and Engel. In workers' homes throughout Latin America you can find portraits of the Haymarket Martyrs hanging on the walls. The spirit of struggle, of solidarity and unity, embodied in what the workers of Chicago were trying to do in 1886 is alive again in today's May Day marches and rallies.Here in New York, we'll be gathering at Union Square and marching down to the Federal Building. In other cities check with your local May Day coalitions. Wherever you are, take the day off--it's May Day, the international workers' holiday, so proclaimed by the Second International in 1889 explicitly in honor of the Haymarket struggle. Claim it!
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Today is the grand opening ceremony for Fort Lauderdale's Stonewall Library and Archives, "a collection of gay-themed materials that was the subject of political controversy [that is, an anti-gay mobilization] two years ago," according to a report at the Gay Books Blog.
Film director Ken Loach, among whose many wonderful movies the most recent one I've seen is The Wind That Shakes the Barley, a stunningly powerful story of the early-20th-century Irish republican struggle, is in my opinion exactly right:
I think in these dark times it's very important that we have parties of the left that stand on the principled opposition to capitalism, that explain why what is happening to our economies, what is happening internationally, comes from the capitalist system. It isn't something independent, it isn't an act of god, it comes from the economic system. The oppression of the Palestinians arises from economics because the U.S. needs a strategic base in the Middle East, i.e., Israel. Therefore the oppression of the Palestinians and everything flows from that.More here.
Tayari Jones calls them the Amazing Eight. She's posted pix of and congratulations to eight authors of upcoming first books. This is a nice boost of hope for the rest of us, and I'm looking forward to the details.
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Today's his birthday so I've got to be honest and admit I've never read a biography of Lenin. I have, however, read about some other radical or revolutionary lives, including that of his closest comrade: The Prophet Armed, The Prophet Unarmed, and The Prophet in Exile, the great three-volume biography of Leon Trotsky by Isaac Deutscher, and My Life by Trotsky himself. Then there's Karl Marx and Frederick Engels by David Riazanov. The Autobiography of a Sexually Emancipated Communist Woman by Alexandra Kollontai. The Rebel Girl by Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. W.E.B. Du Bois 1868-1919: Biography of a Race by David Levering Lewis. John Brown by W.E.B. Du Bois, and John Brown, Abolitionist by David Reynolds. Rosa Luxemburg, Her Life and Work by Paul Frolich. Comrade Chiang Ching by Roxane Witke. My Life by Fidel Castro. The Autobiography of Malcolm X. J. Robert Oppenheimer was no revolutionary, although for a period during the 1930s he may have been a bit of a fellow traveler, but because of how he was pretty much destroyed during the 1950s red scare despite his loathsome service to U.S. imperialism in the creation of the atomic bomb, Oppenheimer is a fascinating figure and American Prometheus by Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin is a fascinating book.
For some reason I don't seem to read many biographies of or memoirs by writers. I should remedy that. These are waiting on our bookshelves: Virginia Woolf, an Inner Life by Julia Briggs. Federico Garcia Lorca: A Life by Ian Gibson. Living to Tell the Tale by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. One that I did read over 20 years ago, and that I liked a lot, is Private Demons: The Life of Shirley Jackson by Judy Oppenheimer.
Here comes my dirty little secret.
The life stories I do read, probably more than any others, are those of, oh god, celebrities. OK, now you know the worst. In my defense, I am picky. I only read about those actors, singers, musicians whose work I admire. And I only read books whose literary quality is at least halfway decent. But read them I do. In fact, I find them a fun break from the mostly much more serious reading in which I mostly engage. Here are some highlights of my famous-lives reading list as far as I can recall. Between Each Line of Pain and Glory by Gladys Knight. Natalie Wood by Gavin Lambert. Judy Garland: the Secret Life of an American Legend by David Shipman. Dreamgirl: My Life as a Supreme by Mary Wilson. Rock Hudson: His Story by Rock Hudson and Sara Davidson. Ava Gardner: "Love Is Nothing" by Lee Server. I Feel Good by James Brown. Chronicles, Volume 1 by Bob Dylan (which by the way I hated, in fact I no longer admire him after reading it).
The book I started this morning is The Memory of All That: Love and Politics in New York, Hollywood and Paris by Betsy Blair. Blair, who just died on March 13, about five years after her memoir was published, was an Oscar-nominated actor and committed leftist who was blacklisted during the McCarthy period and eventually left this country for good to live in Europe. She was also, for about 20 years during the height of his career and hers, married to Gene Kelly--who, it turns out, introduced her to Marxism. A friend loaned me the book and I dug right into it on the way to work this morning.
Because of what he did, Lenin is vilified by the capitalist class, probably more vilified than any other Marxist figure in history including Karl Marx himself. To reduce Lenin's contributions to the worldwide class struggle to a brief blog entry is beyond ludicrous, but let's just note four:
- He defined and explained imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism which had not yet hit its full flowering during Marx's lifetime, and thus drew workers and peasants from every country on the globe into the embrace of revolutionary socialism.
- He expanded on Marx's theory by defining and explaining the national question--the special oppression of national minorities in every class society--and made the struggle against racism and for the right to the self-determination of oppressed nations a central feature of revolutionary socialism. Ever after, Marx and Engels' slogan "Workers of All Countries Unite!" would be transformed to "Workers and Oppressed of All Countries Unite!"
- He was not only a theoretician and writer but an organizer, orator and practical revolutionary, under whose leadership the Bolshevik Party became the vehicle for the liberation of the Russian (and Georgian, and Chechen, and Jewish, and all the many other minority nationality) masses. I'm generally pretty leery of Wikipedia when it comes to matters of the class struggle, but its definition of Bolshevism isn't half bad: "an organization of professional revolutionaries under a strict internal hierarchy governed by the principle of democratic centralism and quasi-military discipline, who considered themselves as a vanguard of the revolutionary proletariat."
- He built on Marx and Engels' study of the state, its historic role in class society, its tasks in the period of building socialism, and its future withering away, and led the opening efforts to create the world's first revolutionary socialist state in the USSR.
Which brings us back to Lenin. As has been hilariously noted elsewhere, the coincidence of the first Earth Day falling on his 100th birthday deeply disturbed some in 1970. From Wikipedia: "Time reported that some suspected the date was not a coincidence, but a clue that the event was a 'Communist trick,' and quoted a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution saying, 'Subversive elements plan to make American children live in an environment that is good for them.'"
Monday, April 20, 2009
As soon as I saw the news yesterday, I rushed to our bookshelves and pulled our well-worn copy and told Teresa, and she and I shared a big old grin.
Now the news is that Galeano's book, which reviews the 500 years of colonialist crimes in the Western Hemisphere from the time of Columbus, has shot up to the top of the Amazon rankings. Excellent.
Friday, April 17, 2009
Today he would have turned 12 years old. In his honor, and in support of the struggle to save the lives of all the LGBT youths who face such pain every day in this country, activists have designated this as a Day of Silence in Carl Walker-Hoover's honor. They suggest:
Wear any color
Tweet the Silence
Silence your tweets
Blog the silence
Silence your blog
Thursday, April 16, 2009
One of my blog posts that's gotten the most hits, and the one I know of that's been publicly derided, is the one about Flannery O'Connor's racism. O'Connor is widely regarded as one of the greatest if not the greatest U.S. short story writers of the 20th century. Most commentators argue that O'Connor's artistry is so superb that she is indispensable. Her writing is so brilliant that nothing else matters; we simply cannot do without it. I've been thinking about this a lot. The question I keep coming back to is: are there really so few great writers out there? Is an O'Connor--or, say, an Updike or a Roth or, hell, insert any of a dozen or more of the usual suspects' names here--really so exceptional that we must overlook all that is odious about them?
And the answer that keeps coming is no. No, artistic talent is not so impossibly rare. I am convinced that there are millions upon millions of people among the world's workers and oppressed who have it in them to be great writers, poets, painters. I am convinced that creativity is a human attribute that is much more common than we are given to believe. I am convinced of this every day as I look around me on the subway, on the streets, in the stores, delis, hospitals, schools, everywhere there are people who must spend their waking lives trying to survive, people who even if they have a spare moment to think, dream, imagine, craft, compose, have no avenue to take those dreams and ideas forward. Who can't afford to get an MFA. Who don't know an agent or publishers. Whose art that might have been the world will never see.
This to me is unutterably sad. All the potential art of which capitalism deprives us. Call me a sap again, call me a foolish believer in a better possible future, but for me one of the great appeals of the socialist idea is its potential for bringing forth a beautiful blossoming of creative talent that is crushed under capitalism.Which brings me back to Susan Boyle. Here she is, middle-aged, plain, and somehow, who knows how, she summons the courage to get on that stage and be ridiculed by Simon Cowell and snickered at by the audience and ignore them and sing. She stands, for me, for the world of wonders hidden in our class. This is why she moves me so. Sing, Susan. Sing!
P.S. The song Susan Boyle sang is a veritable working-class anthem about surviving in this hellish society from Les Miserables, which adds to the impact.
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
And here's a nuanced review by Maymanah Farhat, up today at Electronic Intifada.
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
There he is charged with 29,000 counts of murder. Twenty-nine thousand.
Me with my nose always in a book, I'm practically a prototypical Jew. A meek, mild-mannered sort. Yet I feel not one ounce of pity for this old man, whose active participation in mass murder is exceedingly well documented despite the continual mishandling of the cases against him.
True, even at 29,000 murders Demujanjuk's crimes are by no means the worst, in that particular genocidal holocaust or in any one of the several others in history, including the genocide of the Indigenous peoples of the Americas and the Middle Passage in which some 20 million Africans died. And true, if he manages to hold off extradition and die, peaceful and content in his own bed, he will be by no means the first to manage this feat. It's not the biggest thing to be concerned about, 64 years later. It does matter, though, I think. He should face justice, or some tiny semblance thereof. He should not die in peace.
As noted also everywhere today, by now Amazon has issued not an apology but an explanation of sorts. This whole business doesn't seem to me to be completely over. We shall see. I like Rice's pledge that "we at Lambda look forward to leading a sustained and impassioned dialogue on this issue" should it not be quickly and completely resolved.
- "I love this book--and I am completely hamstrung by the feelings it evokes."--Walter Mosley
- "Liberating, beautiful and life-affirming."--Russell Simmons
- "How wonderful that this outrageous, talented, determined woman has given us her story."--Dorothy Allison
Monday, April 13, 2009
So much for excuses. I'll keep trying. For now, here's this.
Many years ago, when I was first studying the history of the Russian Revolution, I read the 1925 novel Cement by Fyodor Gladkov. I remember it was glorious. It was one of the first novels to come out in the period immediately after the 1917 revolution, and to tell a story of revolutionary transformation in the lives of workers in the new Soviet Union. The swift changes in the role of women, women's experience, and the struggles to raise men's consciousness are particular thrusts, which has a lot to do with why I loved this book so much. It's still possible to get your hands on an English-language edition.
It's so refreshing, then, to come across a novel that incorporates the class divide as central to its story. And it's no surprise that such a book comes from Britain. It is Peripheral Vision by Patricia Ferguson. I'm about three-quarters of the way through it and couldn't wait to post this note about it because of the way Ferguson so beautifully incorporates class issues as the necessary context, the scenery in a way, that colors the plot. Ferguson herself is, or was, a worker. A nurse-midwife. She initially found it very difficult to get this very fine book published, as related here in the Independent. So there's a similarity that spans the ocean. Working-class writers writing class-conscious stories have a hard time getting published.
By the way, in a quick round of googling before work this morning I didn't find much factual information about Patricia Ferguson other than her work history, so I'm not sure of her nationality. She may not be British at all; she may be Scottish. If so, she joins James Kelman and Ali Smith on the list of contemporary Scottish writers whose work I greatly admire.
Speaking of Kelman, earlier this month the London Times had an interesting piece about him. Two points of particular note: (1) Kelman is up for this year's Man Booker International Prize along with a list of fellow nominees that ranges from the brilliant, progressive and class-conscious (Ngugi, Oates, Doctorow) to the counterrevolutionary (Vargas Llosa) to several writers with whom I'm not familiar, including one, Mahasweta Devi of Bangladesh, whom Kelman calls "a great writer and a great fighter," which makes me keen to read Devi's work. And (2) Kelman is writing a screenplay for what's described as a "musical road movie" about zydeco, a musical form I absolutely love, so I look forward to this film.
Friday, April 10, 2009
About six months into what no honest commentator can any longer deny is a full-on economic depression, and what any class-conscious observer has to admit is a structural crisis of the capitalist system itself, only the barest majority of adults in the United States believe that capitalism is better than socialism.
Fully 20 percent--that's right, one-fifth of the adult population--say socialism is better. Twenty-seven percent aren't sure.
The age breakdown is instructive. As you might expect, it's the older crowd that's more fully wedded to the social system devoted to private profit and based on exploitation, racism and war. The younger you go, the fewer the supporters of the broken old ways.
This is great news, and should surprise no one. In times of rapid change--and in particular in periods when workers are directly engaged in the class struggle, either, as now, as victims of capitalism's crisis, or, as will start happening soon, as participants in resistance--minds can open to unconventional ideas where before they were fully in the grip of ruling-class ideology. As anyone who has ever been on strike (I have three times) can testify, all the old assumptions, all the cant, all the lies that you swallowed unthinkingly your whole life up to now start breaking down very fast when your livelihood, even your life, is on the line.
Anticommunists sometimes accuse revolutionists of desiring economic breakdown and mass suffering precisely because these phenomena do inevitably lead to radicalization among the workers and oppressed. This is not true. When our class is in pain, no one feels it more than us. And of course it's not mere sympathy or empathy--we ourselves are among those suffering, we're losing our jobs, our homes, along with everyone else. But it is true that it does take a crisis like the current one to help open people's eyes. It's the job of working-class organizers to fight to stop the bosses from making workers bear the onus of this crisis of their, the bosses', creation--and at the same time to, yes, take advantage of the newly opened eyes to try to win workers over to the necessity for revolutionary change.
There are some wonderful novels that dramatize such efforts, such moments, as they've happened in the past in various other countries. I'll try soon to round up a list and post it here.
All this left lit blogging may be, to what extent I'll probably never know, to my peril as a writer seeking publication. The more I spout off about the bourgeois arts establishment the less luck I'll no doubt have of getting a fair read from same. I care less and less. True, there are still days when I tear my hair out and curse and stamp my feet as I read the latest profile of some rich young blond with a high-cost MFA and connections up the wazoo whose po-mo novel of middle-class druggy angst just got snatched up for a high-five-figure advance. I admit it. I'm human, I live in this society. But more and more I find myself leaving all that behind, and just getting on with the writing. It may even be that blogging is helping me focus on the work. Here I can blow off steam--although I hope this is more than an exercise in self-indulgence. Here, usually on my lunch break during my working day, I can explore the class complications of a writing and reading life. Then there, at my writing desk at home, I can live that life.
One more note, for now. When I started Read Red I had no idea whether anyone would ever actually read it. Well, what do you know? Somebody, a good deal more than one somebody, does. Many of those who find their way here do so after googling this or that writer or book and finding my post on the subject. Others via links kindly posted on other blogs. Once or twice, or, who knows, maybe more, my left angle has been the subject of attack, generating many hits. On the other side, our side, I hope and assume, I've picked up a bit of a steady readership, which is a lovely surprise. Keep checking in. I'll keep reading red.
Thursday, April 9, 2009
A new biography of Marian Anderson, with special emphasis on the 1939 concert and its meaning in this country's cultural history, was published this month. The book is The Sound of Freedom: Marian Anderson, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Concert that Awakened America. The author is Raymond Arsenault, John Hope Franklin Professor of Southern History at University of South Florida-St. Petersburg. I'd like to read this.
Meanwhile, there's this report in today's Washington Post (log-in may be required), about the dedicated women who maintain Marian Anderson's Philadelphia home as a museum.
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
As for the big story, the Jesus story itself, what do I know? I did take home a copy of Gideon's Bible last time I was at a hotel because I'd realized a while back that it's a useful reference to have around. But to the larger point, my knowledge base about the life story of the protagonist of the tale, broadly speaking whatever I learned I learned as a kid. Watching Jesus movies. Which, yeah, is nothing to brag about, but the truth is I had a fascination with this genre, and, well, sort of still do. So let me confess: what I know about the origins of Christianity* is the Hollywood Jews' version of the Roman Catholic version of the New Testament. The King of Kings/Greatest Story Ever Told/Jeffrey Hunter/Max Von Sydow versions. Which I used to love to watch when they came on TV at this time of year. This did drive my mom a little nuts, mein Yiddishe Mammeleh, but she'd sigh and roll her eyes and leave me to the TV, and go back to rolling her matzoh balls which were renowned for their unusual lightness though truth to tell I never had a taste for them. Anyway. I loved these movies, and to be honest I still find it hard to pass one up if I happen upon it on TV, which now drives mi amor Mexicana more than a little nuts because having been raised in the church she's less tolerant of this stuff than my atheist Jewish parents were. We have often discussed why I find them so compelling and the best explanation, besides the obviously glorious glitz and glamor, seems to be that, like a good ghost story, this is at base a tale of the supernatural. The movies that tell it are spooky and eerie, with a cast of thousands and lots of special effects of the sort that an atheist Jew doesn't come across very often anywhere else.
There's another aspect. Watching these movies, with their pageantry and grand drama, helps to give me a little taste, perhaps, of the appeal of religion in general, which otherwise is difficult for me to fathom. These great sweeping shivery stories full of magic and miracles, all the thousands and thousands of these great stories of supernatural beings that humanity has invented over the millennia, have an undeniable and very human appeal. It's good to be reminded of that, I think.
*I'm exaggerating a bit. I've read Karl Kautsky's The Foundations of Christianity, an absolutely fascinating study. I've read Elaine Pagels' The Gnostic Gospels, which provides rich insights into the early Christians and how, over the course of several centuries and much debate and strife, they ironed out agreement on a narrative for the story of the founders. I've watched lots of documentaries and pseudo-documentaries on TV, as well as every successor to Old Hollywood's classics. But somehow it's those old Technicolor gospels that stick with me.
Monday, April 6, 2009
Art teachers are under the gun at Parsons the New School for Design, where the nefarious administration of Vietnam war criminal Bob Kerrey is giving the axe to what may turn out to be most of its visual arts faculty. They are adjunct instructors, so their teaching lives are insecure, never knowing from semester to semester whether they'll have work and income. They do, however, to Kerrey's and the bosses' dismay, have a union, UAW Local 7902, and a contract, so these workers are organized and fighting back. They're also drawing support from artists around New York, who are uniting behind the Parons teachers against the mass firings.
For writers and poets on the prowl for publication, here's a good current list of calls for submissions. It's not for me, however, because for the first time in a long time I have nothing to submit. This is a good thing. All my completed stories have either been published or accepted for publication. All the stories I'm working on have a ways to go before they're ready to submit. Novel #2 an even longer way. I'm still seeking publication for novel #1 but I'm not holding my breath and I'm not letting it block my concentration on new work. Tayari Jones has some helpful advice in this regard.
Sunday, April 5, 2009
Right. That would be the USA. The biggest criminal of the imperialist era. Which insists that only it and its allies have the right to develop and use satellite technology for communications or military purposes, and is now painting the DPRK as the criminal for exerting this right as a sovereign nation. Check out Absent Cause's response to the outrageous attacks on this small, courageous nation that has been under U.S. assault for almost 60 years. For my part, I'm proud of my Korean comrades. They have every right to develop their technology--including for self-defense, which perhaps more than any country on earth they manifestly need, with U.S. nuclear-armed troops massed on their border--and the fact that they've managed to do so despite all the obstacles imposed by imperialism is a testament to their collective strength and determination.This is one of those classic instances when anyone whose heart is with the workers and oppressed has a choice to make. You can step back and ask yourself why there is this overwhelming propaganda campaign against a small country--why in particular the U.S. and Japan, which is the historic imperialist oppressor of Korea, are so intent on preventing the DPRK from achieving missile technology--or you can swallow the nonsensical claim that this impoverished nation that has never invaded anyone somehow poses some sort of threat. Which side are you on?Despite having to constantly divert much-needed resources to self-defense, the DPRK manages to also nourish the arts. Here, a drummer performs last month in China.
Saturday, April 4, 2009
Today it occurred to me that maybe the problem's with me. Maybe the reason I can't seem to get engaged in a novel is the fault of the reader and not all these writers. Maybe it's time to turn away from fiction. Once I had the thought I realized it was exactly right, that in fact a turn toward fact is long overdue. In general I read much more fiction than non-fiction, a ratio of perhaps 10 to one. Still, there is that one. For all that I find in fiction, I do also hunger for an occasional bout of straight-on learning such as can only be found in a work of history or biography, paleontology or cosmology. Now is such a time. Such a hunger has been manifesting itself, only I was a bit dense about recognizing the meaning of the pangs.
Once I did, I picked up a book that I've been meaning to read since it came out three years ago--Death in the Haymarket: A Story of Chicago, the First Labor Movement and the Bombing that Divided Gilded Age America by James Green. And of course it became immediately clear that I couldn't be reading a more timely book. As any good labor activist and all students of labor history--but, sadly, hardly anyone else in this country--knows, it is the events of May 1886 in Chicago, and the struggle for the eight-hour day that gave rise to those events, and the martyrdom of the working-class leaders who were framed and executed afterward that the entire worldwide working class marks every May 1. Yes, May Day, the international workers' holiday, a day off for workers in most countries but of course not here, commemorates the Haymarket.
The Haymarket and all that word encompasses--the strikes, the rallies, the police riots and bloody murders of workers; the martyrdom of Albert Parsons, August Spies, George Engel and Adolph Fischer; the Red Scare--is timely for another reason. Interwoven with all the rest of this history is the issue of immigrant workers. It was the immigrants of that time, 120-some years ago, who led the struggle. Immigrants were among the most radical workers, including the socialists. It was immigrants who were targeted by the ruling-class offensive that sought to beat back labor and defeat the movement for the eight-hour day.
It all comes together now, as another wave of anti-immigrant demagogy emanates from the capitalists--and another wave of militant immigrant workers fights back. May Day is coming up. There will be big rallies and marches in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and many other cities, as there have been since the massive Day Without An Immigrant May Day actions shut down most of the country in 2006. Now, with millions of workers, immigrant and U.S.-born, out of work and struggling to survive, these actions will be more meaningful than ever.
Perfect time to bone up on this history. Now I can settle down with a good book. One other reason I think I needed to shift from fiction to non is that I'm now fully engaged in working on my new novel. Sentences are running through my head. I hear my characters' voices. This is where my mind goes upon awakening, this is what keeps me awake at bedtime. This, not whatever novel I was trying to read. Which is a very good thing and of course I don't mind at all that it means I have to turn away from fiction reading. It's just for the moment, I know. I read tons of novels while I was writing my first. Reading fiction only helps in the writing of fiction. As I re-enter the work right now, though, it seems that, for what I'm sure will be only a brief interval, there isn't room for both my own imagination and someone else's.
At left: Haymarket Martyrs Memorial in Forest Home Cemetery, Chicago. At the statue's base are August Spies' last words: "The day will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you are throttling today."
Friday, April 3, 2009
to the silly, that is, a corner of pop culture that's recently ensnared me. To whit, Battlestar Gallactica. I realize that I've come to the craze late, as I so often do, in this case right after the series ended for good. I'd meant to check it out for a long time. Kept hearing good things about it. Finally, recently, I started watching. So far I've seen the opening mini-series and the first four episodes after that. I'm generally a pretty harsh critic of this genre, especially on TV where these sorts of series I've found to usually be incredibly badly written, full of the most ridiculous laughable stupidity, and just cheesy as all hell. But Battlestar Gallactica is different. The production values are really good; it doesn't look goofily fake. The story is intriguing, at least so far. And the writing is decent instead of snort-and-roll-my-eyes bad.
Good enough for me. I'm hooked. File this in the category of Even Communists Can Have Fun.
The washed-out look is because, well, we were all getting washed out. And the placards are all sheathed in plastic, which explains any blurriness there. The politics, though, were sharp, as was the anger in the air. Many workers from the financial district, happening upon the demonstration during their lunch hours, joined in.
UPDATE: The sun is finally peeking out now, an hour or so after I came back to work, so it's shining on the marchers at AIG.
& ONE MORE UPDATE: Police arrested four members of the youth group FIST--Fight Imperialism, Stand Together--who were taking part in the demonstration. Here is a petition demanding that the four be immediately released and all charges dropped. It points out who the real criminals are.
Next up: May Day.
Speaking of layoffs, outrage at the carnage unleashed by management at the University of New Mexico Press continues to grow. Earlier this week the UNMP announced that three employees were being laid off, with nine more likely to be let go soon, and all of their jobs to be outsourced, which always means somebody else will be exploited more for doing the same work. The UNMP workers, especially angry that all those laid off are women and include the press's only Latina employee, aren't going gracefully, however. They issued a press release excoriating management and vowing to fight the firings.
Meanwhile there's good news from Iowa, a few states up and over. The state supreme court has overturned Iowa's ban on same-sex marriage. Teresa, my lover of 20 years, and I are toying with taking a day trip some time soon to Connecticut, the closest spot available, to get married. Not because we are in any way drawn to that institution born of the patriarchy, but because if we get married we can then sue my employer to demand equal benefits, untaxed as are those that employees' husbands and wives get. By the way--here comes a little plug for my own writing-- a story of mine on this topic was published in Crate literary journal's 2007 issue. Set 800 years in the future, it takes the form of a high school student's term paper about how the right to same-sex marriage was finally established, in the long-ago bad old days before the revolution. Things are barreling along so quickly now that the, er, extreme tactics imagined in this story most likely won't be needed, but I'm still fond of the idea I had for how to win this struggle, which is the focus of the story.
Head back down and left for another bit of good news: a jury has found in favor of Professor Ward Churchill in his lawsuit against the University of Colorado. The jury agreed with Churchill that he was fired for his politics, strongly left of course, not for any supposed academic failing.
Finally, the various big-money book awards are rarely of much interest to me, although I should probably blog at some point about how they're funded and various other aspects of what role they play in the class struggle, literary division. In any case one of them, the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, has just announced its 2009 short list, and it does interest me to note that of the eight nominees I've read five, all of which could be classified to varying degrees as political fiction. On the progressive side of the continuum, that is. Checking out the brief descriptions I see that at least two of the other three are also political, on the anti-communist side which no doubt makes them strong contenders. We'll see.
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
Go ahead, bourgeois governments, keep bailing out the banks; after all, no one really minds, right?
Most of all, I'd love to hear about such novels or memoirs that are current or recent. The pro-struggle antidote to the endless barrage of anti-struggle books.
Help me out here. Anyone who'd like to suggest such a title, please email it to me. Address: my name (see my profile to find it) at yahoo.com
It is When Skateboards Will Be Free, Said Sayrafiezadeh's book about being raised by parents who belonged to the Socialist Workers Party. The moral of his story: socialists make bad parents. (Bad people, one might be expected to extrapolate.) What a hard life this fellow had, dragged to meetings, protests, forced to swallow crazy ideas like equality and justice along with his PB&J sandwiches. Poor little tyke couldn't even ask for a toy without being subjected to a lecture about how unfair it is that toys are commodities built for profit, not for children's fun, and therefore most children around the world can't afford them--which is the anecdote from which the title is lifted.
Now prepare yourself for the shock of all shocks: everyone loves this book! The author is being toasted from coast to coast!
Me, I have no love for the SWP. The group to which I belong, Workers World Party, actually split from the SWP 50 years ago. However, when the SWP or any group is attacked from the right, as is currently happening via the chorus of hosannas being showered on Mr. Sayrafiezadeh's memoir, I have to go on record as disassociating myself from the lit pack's pile-on.
I feel sorry for the author's parents. From what I can tell, they were admirable people who don't deserve the ridicule to which their son is subjecting them. The success of this book is cheap, easy and unsurprising. Hey, gang, everybody after the Reds!
I'm moved to try something new. Many of my WWP comrades have children who are now grown, ranging in age from 18 to 40. I'm going to see if any of this younger generation has the time or inclination to read this book and if so if she/he would like to write a review here at Read Red. If not--and really, why would they want to--perhaps I can get one of them to guest blog about her/his own experience being raised by communists. A mini-memoir of sorts.
You know, about the horrors of such an upbringing. Party newspapers piled by the door! Posters of Che hanging on the walls! Parents who can't afford to buy them fancy things, not because they come from poverty but because they devote their life to the struggle and so don't make much money, the scoundrels!
If I can recruit a memoirist, it won't be for the big bucks. Unlike the young fellow who'll soon be raking in lovely royalty checks for his anti-left memoir. Anyway, I can't promise this will come to pass. Everyone I can think of to ask is pretty busy taking part in the struggle for socialism. Compared to that, this favor I'll ask is a low-priority task.