November-December 2014 … The Global Online Magazine of Arts, Information & Entertainment … Volume 10, Number 6
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Category — American Studies

Indian Life & Literature/John Smelcer

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We Are Still Here:

How American Indian Literature

Re–visions the American Indian Experience

in American History

by John Smelcer

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On my office door is a poster of Lakota medicine man Leonard Crow Dog. The caption below his image reads, “We Are Still Here.” While American Indian literature of the past several decades has been about many things, it singularly hails with triumphant resolve that we are still here. Across Native America – and there are hundreds of federally recognized tribes – we struggle to maintain our own unique cultures. But it’s not easy. The clash of two cultures over hundreds of years has taken its toll. The old and the new are frequently inseparable, the lines blurred.

Early novels of the Native American Renaissance (I use the term simply to signal the wider availability of Native writing in mainstream literature), such as N. Scott Momaday’s House Made of Dawn (1969), James Welch’s Winter in the Blood (1974) and his haunting The Death of James Loney (1979), and Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony (1977), were about returning home, not merely to a geographic place, though that is paramount, but also to a cultural center of gravity – an Indian center where the American model of the rugged individual standing alone is supplanted by the indigenous sense of the self as part of a community. Everything we see or hear in media tells us that we must want something else and to be something else and somewhere else. We are pulled between two worlds, yet we are sometimes unable to fully embrace either. The literature was and is often about not belonging and the immense pressure of marginalization. Where do I belong? Where is my home? How do I fit in? Characters struggle with trying to become whole (and sometimes they fail). Among all the loss suffered by Native America – loss of customs, ritual, myth, religion, and especially of language – perhaps the most important loss has been the loss of self, as Leslie Marmon Silko writes in Ceremony:

But the world had become tangled with Europeans names: the names of rivers, the hills, the names of animals and plants – all of creation suddenly had two names: an Indian name and a white name. Christianity separated the people from themselves; it tried to crush the single clan name, encouraging each person to stand alone, because Jesus Christ would save only the individual soul. (68)

In the decades since those first mainstream writers, many Indian (for that is what we call ourselves) writers go so far as to re–imagine history. Abraham Lincoln once wrote that “history is not history unless it is the truth.” In attempting to tell the Indian side of American history, many Indian writers try to re–vision the history of America, not revisionism but a re–visioning – a re–seeing – of history, a history of America that includes Indians and the Indian perspective.

And history is due for an overhaul.

I recently picked up a new children’s picture book about the westward expansion of pioneers as they rolled across the plains states hauling everything they owned in their wagons. Although the book illustrated their hardships (e.g. repairing busted wood–rimmed wheels, being stuck in blizzards, fending off starvation in sometimes gruesome ways, and so forth), it never once mentioned the American Indians they encountered (and eventually displaced) along the way. One gets the discomforting sense that America is trying to rewrite the painful parts of history for new generations by writing the American Indian experience out of the picture.

Consider, too, these iconic images of nationalism. The trope of Custer valiantly fending off thousands of Indians, his long golden hair blowing in the wind, demands a clearer image. In cowardice, Custer wore his hair short during cavalry patrols of the Black Hills for fear of being scalped should he fall in battle. He also wore buckskins, concealing his rank insignia, so as to avoid being targeted as an officer. So, too, the trope of George Washington as a boy always telling the truth on his way to paragoned manhood might be replaced with a new, more “historical” image. Washington rose rapidly through the ranks to general almost entirely on his success during the Indian Wars. He helped open and tame the northeastern frontiers of the New World for Europeans by killing the indigenous people who already lived there – men, women, elderly, and children alike. Does such a history blacken America’s patriotic eye? Most likely, but not irreparably. But if we are to realize fully and completely the history of America, the real history as Lincoln suggested, we must acknowledge the whole picture, the true picture, not just the tidy parts we choose to honor in our filtered history books.

Contemporary American Indian literature attempts to dispel stereotypes and romantic notions that forever “fix” Indians in the past – adorned in buckskins and feathers and red bandanas – as something that was, replacing them with the reality of American Indians living in America in the 21st century, both on and off the reservation. The project of many contemporary Indian writers is to portray honestly and bluntly the context of those issues, triumphs, and crises that define who we are. Oftentimes, the literature is sardonic, searing, and witty as is the best satirical writing of Jonathan Swift. The following poems are from my full–length poetry manuscript Indian Giver, which includes an introduction by my late friend and mentor James Welch.

THE INCOMPLETE & UNAUTHORIZED
DEFINITION OF AMERICAN INDIAN LITERATURE

“Indian” is not a derogatory word.
It’s what we call ourselves. We claim it.

Not all Indians wear long black hair
or faded red bandanas.

I’ve never seen a Red Man.

Percentage of people who say they are part Cherokee: 50%

Percentage who claim to have an anonymous
great–grandmother who was a Cherokee princess: 100%

Percentage of actual Cherokee princesses in history: 0%

Percentage of the Cherokee Nation compared to the
number of all other recognized tribes in America 0.2%

Percentage of Americans who are enrolled Indians
according to the U. S. Bureau of Indian Affairs: 0.67%

Fiction by Indians outsells poetry by Indians,
yet poetry is the language of sorrow and heartbreak.

All Indians speak poetry.
No Indian has won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry.

This is the mathematical formula for deciphering
meaning in Native American poetry:

Where a represents anger and s represents sorrow,
let P represent poetry and t represent the duration
(time) of marginalization.

Thus, P = t(a + s)2

Indian writers shouldn’t drive sports cars.
I traded my yellow Porsche for a pick–up truck
with a quarter million miles
and a rifle rack in the rear window.

Not all Indians come from Horse Cultures.
Not all Indians ride horses.
I’ve only been on a horse once and it threw me.

Writing by Indians should contain dogs.
Many Indian writers have had at least
one of their dogs run over by a pick–up truck
with a rifle hanging in the rear window.

History is written by the victors.
Indians didn’t always lose the battles.
Don’t believe everything you’ve ever read
or watched on television.

John Wayne’s real name was Marion, but directors figured
Marion the Cowboy couldn’t defeat Indians.

Columbus didn’t really discover America
the way you think he did.

The Navajo Nation is as big as Nebraska.

Bingo is Indian Social Security.

Federal enrollment is how the government
counts Indians to predict when we will be extinct.
Not all Indians are enrolled. I am enrolled.

Enrollment doesn’t mean anything.

There are 500 tribes in America. No individual speaks
for all of them, barely even for a single clan or tribe.

Some bigshot Indian writers think they speak for everyone.

Does an illiterate white shoe salesman in Idaho speak for you?

American universities teach American Indian literature
but hire almost no Indian writers at all.
White professors who have never seen a reservation
teach American Indian literature
even when there’s an Indian writer on faculty
because it’s trendy.

Some Indians go to tribal colleges
Where they are taught by white teachers
who want to be Indian. New Age white women
have sex with Indian men so they can become Indian.

You can’t become Indian by proximity.

America loves the Indian–sounding names of places,
but they don’t want Indians to live there.
It gives them a sense of connection to a land
upon which they have little history of their own.

Sometimes a sweat lodge is just a sweat lodge.

Some American sports teams are named for Indians.
There should be an Indian baseball team called
the Cherokee Crucified Christs complete with
a bleeding team mascot nailed to a wooden cross.

Would that hurt your sensibilities?

All Indians aren’t proud and defiant.

When I do something right, my Indian uncle
tells me I’ve earned an eagle feather.

Only Indians can own eagle feathers.

Nearly all published Indian writing is in English.
Almost no Indian writer speaks their Indian language.
Fewer yet can write in it.

Sii cetsiin koht’aene kenaege’, tsin’aen.

Indian children love to dance Indian–style
but they don’t understand a word the elders sing.

Indian boys love to beat Indian drums
while Indian girls sway in moving circles.

The hearts of Indian boys are tight–stretched drums.
The hearts of Indian girls are beautiful sad songs.

The government decimated bison
so that Indians would become vegetarians.

The government killed wild horses
so that Indian spirits would break.

The government sent Indian children to boarding schools
so they would forget being Indian. Missionaries built
The Church of Infinite Confusion so Indians would
forget being Indian.

I forget what I was trying to say.

British writers don’t have to write about Shakespeare.
French writers don’t have to write about Baudelaire.
Blacks don’t always have to write about slavery.

Indian writers don’t have to write about being Indian
or about dogs killed by trucks with gun racks
on reservations while fancy dancing,
wearing eagle feathers, and beating drums
while mouthing words to songs they do not know.

Audiences at readings by Indians are almost always white.

Many urban Indians write about life on the reservation
even when they’ve never lived on one because it sells better
than writing about going to Starbucks after shopping at the Gap.

Few Indians have Indian–sounding names. Non–Indians pretending
to be Indians adopt name like “Runs–Beside–Spotted–Ponies,”
‘Walks–With–Wolves,” or “Elk Cloud.”

A publisher once asked me to change my name
to a hyphenated one with a preposition and a spirit animal.

I asked, “How about ‘Johnny Fakes–His–Name–on–a–Weasel’?”

All Indian writers aren’t spiritually attuned to Nature.
Most are fearful of getting lost in the woods.

Some Indians write out of anger and despair.
All Indian writers are not angry and depressed.

Native America is drowning in a sea of alcohol.
Indians commit suicide ten times more often than whites.
Day after day, our hearts are turned into cemeteries.

The impoverished state of our lives is not self–inflicted.

Most Indian writers are mixed–blood
who hate the term “Half–Breed.”

I am the son of a half–breed father.

I am an outcast. Even my shadow
tries to hide its face in shame.

 

THE SIGN

In 1492, two Indians stumble upon a billboard
in the middle of a clearing with the words:

Coming soon. America!

“What does it say?” asks the first Indian.
“I don’t know,” says the second, scratching his head.
“But I’m sure it doesn’t have anything to do with us.”

 

THE ALTERNATE HISTORY OF
THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

Lester Has–Some–Books builds a time machine
in his uncle’s garage and sets it to the day
Columbus discovers America.

Quickly, with the masts of three ships
lurching on the horizon, he sets up a big sign
on the beach:

WELCOME TO SPAIN!

Columbus spies the sign from the bay,
scratches his head, and orders all three ships
to turn around and head back out to sea.

 

DUKE SKYTHUNDER TRIES
A JEDI MIND TRICK ON
NON–NATIVE AMERICA

This is not the land you were looking for.

Move along.

 

HOW TO MAKE BLUE RIBBON
INDIAN FRY BREAD

“Indians could spend their whole lives
looking for the perfect piece of fry bread.”

– Sherman Alexie, Reservation Blues

In a large bowl, mix the following ingredients:

Three cups of flour made from the ashes of failed Indian dreams

One cup of water made from the tears of Indian mothers

A pinch of salt, first thrown into open wounds of Indian fathers

Drop the rolled and molded dough into a pan of oil
hot enough to incinerate every Indian future

Remove fry bread when both sides turn brown and blistered

 

INDIAN BLUES

Thomas Two Fists
whittled a guitar from a tree
that had fallen during a storm
and killed a shaman. He carved
the tuning pegs from the bones
of a white buffalo.
For strings,
he used the long gray hair of
old Indian mothers who had lost
their children and grandchildren
to alcohol and drunk driving.
For years,
Two Fists travelled from
reservation to reservation
and powwow to powwow
singing the blues.
Wherever he went,
Indians wrapped themselves in old blankets,

dreamed of forgotten homes and wept
dreamed of forgotten homes and wept.

 

INDIAN TIME MACHINE

Lester Has–Some–Books
invents a time machine in his sweat lodge.

So, he sets it back to Little Bighorn
with a video camera and tapes everything.

Then he invites the whole damn reservation
to watch the movie. Everyone’s eating popcorn and laughing.

It’s really something. You should see it.
Everything’s in color and there are these close–ups.

Here’s the part where Custer sends in the cavalry
catching the Indians off guard.

Oh, and here’s where three thousand Indians
chase them up a hill and whups their ass.

 

SMOKE SIGNAL

Duke Sky Thunder sits on his Indian motorcycle at a stoplight in Albuquerque

wearing a red bandana and a T–shirt
that screams Indian Pride,
Crazy Horse painted on the gas tank
and a license plate that reads INJIN.

A pickup truck with two Rednecks pulls alongside.

The closer dude leans out the window and hollers,
“I hate you sonabitches!”

The second dude with really bad teeth yells,
“Why don’t you go back wherever you came from?”

When the light turns green, Sky Thunder grins and shouts,
“Right back at ya!” and peels away –

his long black hair whipping in the wind like a stallion’s mane,
the smoke signal from his tailpipe rising like a finger.

 

About the author:

John Smelcer is a tribally and federally enrolled member of the Ahtna Tribe of Alaska and a member of Tazlina Village Traditional Council. In the mid–to–late 1990s, he was the executive director of the Ahtna Heritage Foundation, where he produced a dictionary of his language for which Noam Chomsky and Steven Pinker provided forewords. He is the author of 45 books, most in Native American Studies. With Joseph Bruchac (Abenaki), John co–edited Native American Classics (2013), a graphic anthology of 19th and early 20th century American Indian literature. He is a contributing editor to Ragazine.CC. Learn more at www.johnsmelcer.com

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August 29, 2014   Comments Off on Indian Life & Literature/John Smelcer

Politics/Jim Palombo

Google Maps

Considerations,

Re: The Common Core

by Jim Palombo

I just recently made a drive from central Mexico to upstate New York – most likely the last time a trip of this nature will happen for me. In any event, there were plenty of stops and starts along the way and certainly no shortage of thoughts that occurred as the miles passed. In short, one can’t help but fall into a reflective state as places and faces go by.

The day following my arrival in New York, I was reading the Sunday New York Times and was struck by a piece titled, “Common Core, Through the Eyes of a 9 Year Old,” by Javier Hernandez. It was an excellent review of the new curriculum effort for secondary students, one primarily aimed at increasing their critical thinking skills through a modified series of math, English and social studies courses. As an educator myself, I could readily attest to the need for such an effort. Unfortunately, what seemed to be happening more than anything else was a significant amount of frustration and anxiety among the students, teachers and parents involved, particularly in regards to the amount of testing occurring that was meant to measure both the students’ progress and the Core design itself. In brief, and despite the fact that the problem of improving our future citizens’ thinking skills demands a great deal of “work in progress” patience, it seems the initiative is already receiving a failing grade.

Now you might be wondering what my cross-countries’ drive has to do with the reading of this article? Well, the connection is that in reading the article, and still in somewhat of a haze from my mini-odyssey, I started to visualize the Common Core effort in terms of a vehicle, one being driven by “thinking tools” through the chaotic countryside that is American education. Of course along the way, and much like my trip, there would be a myriad of experiences in the offing. In this instance, one would encounter teachers and administrators at both secondary and post-secondary levels, some of whom are well-versed in critical thinking but many who are not. And there would also be the parents, some who are well-versed in critical thinking, but many who are not. And then there would be the overall “general public,” who show no hesitancy in offering opinions at a moment’s notice, yet who also fall into the same “many who are not” category in terms of critical thinking. And finally, there would be the numerous educational and governmental agencies, most of which seem to be suffering from their own gap in clear thinking while continually trying to justify the significance of their existence. In essence, then, this imaginary trip by the Common Core vehicle would be uncovering a slew of “thinking related” shortcomings that reached well beyond the substance of what was actually at focus – shortcomings that coincidentally could well be tied to the frustration, anxiety and impatience being exhibited.

With this image in mind, I began to consider other like journeys, i.e., if similar “vehicles of thought” were driven along other institutional highways, like down the roads of our justice system, or social service processes, or the government, or the military, or the media. They would surely encounter much the same result: people/agencies being upset based on their own shortcomings; people/agencies feeling attacked by something new they really aren’t sure about/comfortable with – in essence people/agencies struggling with doing something (or not doing it) that would make them “think.” In other words, and as the Common Core initiative is doing with the educational process, the systems would be being exposed in more ways than anticipated.

Although I found these parallel thoughts intriguing, I may not have chosen to write about them in an article. However, the next day there happened to be a related piece in the Albany Times-Union, titled “Returning to the beginning for Common Core” by Fred Lebrun. Mr. Lebrun’s focus was on re-examining the pitfalls of the Core effort, especially the rush to put the program into effect in New York. It seemed, especially for the public, that what was occurring in the State provided validation for the assumption that the entire initiative was ill-fated and poorly planned.

The article was well written but, a bit like the New York Times’ piece, it didn’t seem to go far enough in terms of referencing how deep the problems at hand might run, or that a particular “work in progress” patience would be required, or as important, how we might have gotten into the situation in the first place, i.e., what were the motivating factors that fueled our distraction from things like critical thinking and reinforcing our citizenship skills? And this brought me back to again considering not only the Common Core “drive” but also the essence of what the other “vehicles of thinking” trips might uncover.

So the two articles gave rise to this article whose point is that in considering the Common Core initiative, one must be aware that there is simply more to consider. In this light the Common Core experience can be seen as bringing to the surface how change, particularly when addressing deep-rooted issues, should always be considered a long term effort, one that will be riddled with hurdles and one that will be painstakingly intensive and time-consuming. After all, it took us a long time to get where we are today.

And we must keep in mind that the educational arena is not our only area of concern. Despite many well-intentioned efforts most of our social infrastructure (including the public, non-profit and private sectors) is decaying, sagging under the weight of bloated bureaucracies, bloated egos and bloated paychecks, the inconsistencies of policies and procedures, the effects of under or misdirected worker education, and under served clients. And, as with Common Core, we must be willing to absorb the re-tooling tasks, taking special care in not throwing out the baby with the bathwater, especially as it may not be clear as to the substance of either.

As a “last but not least” thought, there remains another important consideration. It appears that with all the problems on our collective table, problems that most of us elders have been part of creating (and continue to perpetuate) we tend at many turns to try to hold the least responsible party responsible for the difficulties we are now facing – the children. In other words it appears that we like to point to them while saying that it’s their turn to take on the concerns of the world. And this is usually done without the requisite acknowledgement of the mess that we have put them in. This of course makes little sense to them, and it also opens the door for them to ask us directly, if by nothing more than intuition, what exactly we have been doing in terms of addressing our own lack of critical thinking skills – the lack of which is much more a part of what’s on our country’s problem-table than are the tests now sitting in front of them.

**The article following Mr. Hernandez’s piece in the New York Times deserves attention. It is titled “Graduates Cautioned: Don’t Shut Out Opposing Views” by Richard Perez-Pena and it highlights several commencement speeches made at the graduations from several of our country’s post-secondary institutions. In short, the speeches all seem to underscore the notion that “thinking,” both on emotional and intelligence levels, is a point of particular importance, something that seems to have gotten lost along our collective way. Comments suggest the need for tolerance of ideas, openness, not being afraid to fail in thinking or in action, in taking a stand and even getting in trouble – all within the context of reaching toward purposes larger than individual gain. So, as with the Common Core initiative, and consistent with what the young college graduates are now facing, the suggestion seems to be that “more” will be required to contend, given what the world has now become. And, hopefully for the better, and hopefully with our legitimate help, they will be up to the task of thinking through what this “more” will actually be. And this certainly spells a special kind of fuel for the “vehicles of thinking” that will need to hit the road on the daunting effort’s behalf.

 

About the author:

Jim Palombo is politics editor of Ragazine.CC. You can read more about him in About Us.

 

 

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August 29, 2014   Comments Off on Politics/Jim Palombo

We Are You Project/Colorado Springs

Cuevas_1a-300dpi_-_3x5_-_Lo_que_está_prohibido-30'x40'_oil_on_canvas_2013_300dpi

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We Are You Project International

at the Galleries of Contemporary Art,

University of Colorado, Colorado Springs

* * * *

by  Tara Dervla

For fall 2014’s seasonal national celebration of Hispanic Heritage, University of Colorado – Colorado Springs (UCCS) welcomes from September 4 through October 11, 2014, a revolutionary exhibit of contemporary Latino art, featuring thirty world-renowned We Are You Project International (WAYPI) visual artists.    This unique Ibero-American transcultural art show was coordinated by acclaimed scholarand authorDr. Andrea Herrera, Professor, Department of Women’s and Ethnic Studies, UCCS in collaboration with Ms Daisy McConnell, Director, Galleries of Contemporary Art (GoCA), UCCS, and with ancillary  curatorial assistance from Raúl Villarreal, Chair, WAYP’s Exhibition/Events Committee.

The thirty exhibiting WAYPI artists were socio-aesthetically motivated to participate in this illustrious fall 2014 Colorado exhibition for the following pressing socio-cultural reasons: 1). For over three years, no US Congressional legislative action has been taken to pass fair and comprehensive Immigration Reform;  2). Over the last few years over 50,000 undocumented Central American refugee children have trekked into the USA in a desperate attempt to escape escalating chaos, violence, poverty and hopelessness within their native countries. Sadly, this child-refugee problem has been turned into a political game (“hot potato”) by both sides of the US political spectrum.  And lastly, 3). an increasing wave of anti-Latino injustices and ethno-racist violence is manifesting  throughout the USA, marked by unfair laws that specifically target Hispanics in an ethno-racist manner in states like Arizona, Alabama, as well as others.  Thus, as America heads toward its inevitable Latinization after 2045 CE, the above onslaught of traumatic angst-filled dilemmas currently confronting 21st Century Latinos prompt grave trepidations and anxieties — today, which UCCS’s GoCA galleries’ WAYPI show spotlights.

In this regard, for the WAYPI exhibit, UCCS’s Galleries of Contemporary Art (GoCA) plans an array of academic and cultural activities, commencing with a UC Student Preview Reception, on Thursday, September 4, from 3:00 – 7:00 pm; along with a ongoing series of “free” and open public events scheduled for Saturday, September 13, 2014,  including a We Are You Project Symposium, a Panel Discussion, and an Art Reception.   These events will run from 10:00 AM until 8:00 PM.   First, the WAYP  symposium  will occur at Centennial Hall room 201A, where acclaimed scholar Dr. Andrea Herrera, UCCS Professor, Department of Women and Ethnic Studies, will greet the audience and introduce the participants, including  Raúl Villarreal (Chair, WAYP Exhibitions and Events Committee), who will talk about the history of the We Are You Project.  A short film titled We Are You  directed by Duda Penteado, Brazilian-American artist and filmmaker and produced by Jinseng Productions (Jimmy Santiago, Lucy Santiago, and Robert Rosado) will be screened.  Around 11:00 AM, Dr. José Rodeiro, artist and art historian from New Jersey City University will provide a general focus on Latino art.   In the afternoon, from 1:00 PM to 3:00 PM, participating WAYP artists: Raúl Villarreal, Monica Camin, as well as three prominent Colorado Hispanic artists: Tony Ortega, Quintin González,  and George Rivera  will discuss their work, followed by a Gallery Tour led by Dr. Rodeiro from 3:00 to 4:00 PM of the We Are You Project Exhibition within UCCS’s GoCA galleries.  Then an art reception will ensue from 4:00 to 8:00 PM.

Founded in 2005 by Duda Penteado (Brazilian-American artist and filmmaker), Dr. Carlos Hernandez  (Puerto-Rican American, former President of New Jersey City University (NJCU)), and Mr. Mario Tapia (Chilean-American, CEO and President of The Latino Center on Aging (LCA)), the We Are You Project is the first comprehensive 21st Century coast-to-coast Hispanic arts initiative, analytically focusing on current Latino socio-cultural, political, and economic conditions, reflecting triumphs,  achievements, risks and vulnerabilities, affecting all Latinos “within,” as well as “outside” the USA.   Led by Lillian Hernandez, the current elected We Are You Project President, WAYPI represents the  first 21st Century art movement that cohesively combines Visual Art, Poetry, Music, Performance Art, and Film making, amalgamating these diverse art-forms into one (“united”) socio-cultural artistic Latino voice, which utilizes ART to confront current challenges and opportunities that are faced by contemporary Latinos and Latinas throughout the USA and Latin America; these concerns include:  1). Latino immigration,           2). Latinization (a term invented by Dr. José Rodeiro in 1991),  3). the current Anti-Latino backlash,  4). the  rise of Pan-Latino transcultural-diversity, as well as  5). revealing the diverse fusion of Latino identities in the 21st Century, assiduously forging, nurturing, and evolving a “new-Hispanic” persona armed with an “innovative” aesthetic world-view, which Villarreal christened, “Neo-Latino” in 2002.   All the above-described WAYPI events are sponsored by UCCS Women’s and Ethnic Studies Department, the UCCS Center for Government & the Individual, and The Matrix Center for the Advancement of Social Equity and Inclusion.

The WAYPI artists exhibiting in UCCS’s GoCA Galleries during fall 2014’s  Hispanic Heritage Celebration are:  José Acosta, Nelson Alvarez, Josephine Barreiro, Hugo X. Bastidas,  Monica S. Camin, Jacqui Casale, Pablo Caviedes,  Carlos Chavez, Williams CoronadoLaura  L.  Cuevas,  EfrenAve,     Ricardo Fonseca, Roberto Márquez,  Elizabeth Jiménez Montelongo, Lisette Morel, Gabriel Navar, Isabel Alvarez Nazario, Julio Nazario, Joe Peña,  Duda Penteado, Mel Ramos, Ana Laura Rivera,  José  Rodeiro,  Patricio Moreno Toro,  Sergio Villamizar, Marta Sanchez-Dallam,  and  Raúl Villarreal.  Also exhibiting are Quintin Gonzalez, Anthony Ortega, and George Rivera, three prominent Colorado contemporary Latino artists.

For further information about this exciting Latino visual arts exhibition and related UCCS WAYPI artistic events contact Ms Daisy McConnell, Director, GoCA Galleries at 719-255-3504  or dmcconne@uccs.edu .

 

At the top:

Laura  L.  Cuevas, Lo Que Está Prohibido, Oil-on-canvas, 30”x  40,”  2013

Cuevas’ painting Lo Que Está Prohibido  is an allegory based on her personal iconography, which fuses Afro-Caribbean, Taino, and Mediterranean symbolism, revealing a unique Post-Colonial and feminist perspective nurtured by her fundamental focus on Latino identity-empowerment. At times, Cuevas appropriates allusions that derive from recognizable Western icons, juxtaposing them with imagery and patterns from both Taino and African cultures, which for several centuries shared a brutal subjugated experience in the Americas.

— Dr. Jose Rodeiro

BelowRAGAZINE. CC. places images from GoCA’s WAYPI exhibition in iconological context: 

 

Jose_Acosta_Higher_Education

 

 

José Acosta  Higher Education
Acrylic on Canvas,
37” x  29” x  2,”  2014.

In the 1990s, the Neo-Latino Art Movement argued that, for Latinos, “higher education” often provides a key, which opens the door to “The American Dream.”   In Acosta’s Higher Education, the Cuban painter asserts that higher education is very important for Hispanics as they endeavor to be successful in a host of 21st Century enterprises.  In his painting, symbolically and abstractly much of human knowledge manifests: History, Geography, Biology, Art History, Philosophy, Physics, Mathematics, Communication Skills, Art, Music, etc., etcetera.   Acosta’s Higher Education depicts feelings of self-assurance; hopefulness, enlightenment and preparedness for the many unexpected things that happen in life; because  higher education makes people better able to cope, succeed, and triumph in whatever they attempt.

 

 

photo Josephine Barreiro real United We Stand.

 

Josephine Barreiro , Divided We Stand
Acrylic and paper on plywood panel.
30″ x 40,”  2011.

Barreiro’s poignant mixed-media image entitled Divided We Stand depicts a crouching figure reminiscent of Edvard Munch’s The Scream (1893).   Also, Barreiro alludes to Vincent Van Gogh’s duende-filled ink-and-pencil drawing of Sorrow (1882), portraying tragic isolation, unbounded despair, and heartbreaking sorrow, which in the present dark and chaotic political milieu more-&-more pervades the Hispanic world-view.   At present, it is a negative worldview caught in the current immigration struggle and growing anti-Latino whirlwind sadly permeating most of right-wing politics, as indicated by the upside down US-flag, which traditionally signifies either distress  or surrender.

 

 

bastidas_l_PERFECT_Bastidas_image

 

 

 

Hugo X. Bastidas  BEARING GIFTS
Oil-on-canvas, 24″ x 36,”
The Nohra Haime Gallery. 2009

Hugo Xavier Bastidas’s Bearing Gifts reveals a discarded toy bear accidentally dropped by a child on a patch of cacti during traumatic run across the Rio Grande, while being pursued by border guards. The word “bearing” also connotes “conveyance,” since undocumented-aliens frequently carry all their prized-belongings on their journey.  Lastly, the word is a pun on the name of Vitus Bering, the Danish sea-captain employed by the Russian Navy of Czar Peter the Great.  Captain Bering was ordered to find a Pacific Ocean route from Russia to Mexico.  In 1725, he accidentally discovered the Bering Straits, the lost prehistoric passageway by which the vast majority of ancient Amerindians presumably arrived throughout The Americas.  Meanwhile the word “Gift” refers to the inestimable hours of hard work undertaken by (both documented or undocumented) migrant-workers in difficult backbreaking industries; jobs eschewed by most US-citizens.  Moreover, by their excruciating work, migrants bolster the “American Dream” for everyone.

 

 

 

Monica-Camin-John-Paul-II

 

 

Monica S. Camin
Stamp: John Paul II
Mixed Media (Oil on Canvas, Wood, Graphite, Fabric)
46″ x 48,”  2010
Argentine born, New Jersey and Texas-based artist, Monica S. Camin experienced her upbringing in Latin America as a first generation Argentine of German-Jewish descent.  The questions she examines in much of her work straddle her experiences as the daughter of immigrants in Latin America and the experiences of personal immigration as a Latina in her adulthood.  Stamp: John Paul II is a reference to the power and the imagery of holy cards, pervasive in Camin’s memory of this largely Catholic country.

 

SONY DSC

Jacqui Casale, LATINO
Acrylic mixed-media painting/collage,
2” x 3’ (six modules 1’ x 1’ each), 2014,

Casale’s “LATINO” addresses the negative terms, stereotypes, and epithets used to describe Hispanics in American culture.  The work incorporates a stream-of-consciousness text of pejorative words associated with the term: “Latino.”   In her piece, the name “Latino” is contrasted with sacred images from Latino art, depicting Jesus, Mary, Moses, The Virgin of Guadalupe, St. Rose of Lima, St. Martin of Porres, along with skulls and masks from Aztec art.

 

Picture_1_Artist-_Pablo_Caviedes_Title-_For_The_Fallen_Immigrants_Acrylic_on_Cardboard_41_x_68_inches_

 

Pablo Caviedes,  For the Fallen Immigrants
Acrylic-on-board/canvass (comprised of 32 square-sections).
41” x  68,”  2014.

This segmented image is a symbolic monument to the pain and suffering of Latino immigrants, focusing on the dozen, who die daily, attempting to cross, dying from exhaustion, illness, starvation, thirst, or murdered by right-wing border vigilantes.  Via a metaphorical one-point-perspective symmetrically lined with empty burial-crypts awaiting tombs, Caviedes poetically describes their tragic and remorseless path northward.   However, the irony is that the bodies of dead immigrants often remain unburied devoured by animals or obscured by the harsh terrain.

 

 

 

Artist-Carlos_Chávez_Title-Trabajadores_de_la_Tierra

 

Carlos Chavez Trabajadores de la tierra, (“Farm Workers”)
2011, Oil on canvas, 14″ x 42″
(Collection of the artist).

In his metaphoric image entitled Farm Workers, Chávez symbolically and poetically reveals the abstract nature and conditions surrounding heroic migrant-workers. In the image, there is a yellow sulfuric atmosphere ornamented with greenish-hues enriched by grays, wherein distant roiling ironworks toil, stirring molten-steel. In their passionate longing to attain “The American Dream;” without fear of the obvious danger, migrants dance on the roof of a speeding De Chirico-esque railway-cars; as the locomotive dashes across the dramatic landscape. The arriving migrants arrive during a dynamic change of seasons; the field’s verdure transformed as manufactured artifacts furrow the land, while a little red dilapidated truck (signifying “pain”) drives away, conveying an enigmatic phantasmagoric load, which fills its cargo-space.  Everywhere, the writhing land reveals its inherent sexuality; while the artist’s wife wears her magic-expression, communicating her hopeful dreams for the future

 

 

William-Coronado-Eye-Small

 

Williams Coronado
Eye.   Oil on canvas
10″ x 10,” 2014

Coronado’s work explores physiological and psychological states of awareness using the human body as a vessel for his investigation. He utilizes the human form not for its representational qualities; but for its inherited ability to allow painterly exploration, concerning metaphysical and philosophical thoughts that divulge the existence of multidimensional realities.  Coronado’s paintings are infused with the dual existence of consciousness and the external material appearance of the body. In his paintings these two forces dissolve into a strange visual experience where the meaning is in the mind of the viewer.  For example, the image of a large eye “could” conceivably fit the We Are You Project’s growing concerns about unwarranted prying, excessive surveillance, vigilantism, spying (espionage) and other “Orwellian” scenarios; although innumerable iconological interpretations are possible, depending on each viewer.

 

Cuevas_1a-300dpi_-_3x5_-_Lo_que_está_prohibido-30'x40'_oil_on_canvas_2013_300dpi

Laura  L.  Cuevas, Lo Que Está Prohibido
Oil-on-canvas, 30”x  40,”  2013
Cuevas’ painting Lo Que Está Prohibido  is an allegory based on her personal iconography, which fuses Afro-Caribbean, Taino, and Mediterranean symbolism, revealing a unique Post-Colonial and feminist perspective nurtured by her fundamental focus on Latino identity-empowerment. At times, Cuevas appropriates allusions that derive from recognizable Western icons, juxtaposing them with imagery and patterns from both Taino and African cultures, which for several centuries shared a brutal subjugated experience in the Americas.

Efren_Ave_GAME

EfrenAve
“Juego de la Esperanza”( “The Game of Hope” )
Mixed-media,  8′ x 8,’  2014.

EfrenAve created a brand new version of “Juego de la Esperanza” (“The Game of Hope“), utilizing many of the same rules used during WAYPI’s California Show, Oakland, California, 2012.  Except this time, hopefully, the entire piece would be on the wall, instead of the floor, although both views have unique or distinct visual-advantages.

Faces_Of_America

Ricardo Fonseca, Faces of America
Digital Photographic Manipulation, printed on vinyl banner (ready to hang w/grommets).
5′ x 20,’  2010.

In Ricardo Fonseca’sFaces of America, an intricate grid-system activates the entire surface, creating a dynamic mural comprised of 100 distinct life-size human faces (or “portraits”) peering-out from the cranium ofFredericBartholdi’s Statue of Liberty, forming a dramatic pattern of shifting faces, with countenances emblematic of allAmericans. Likewise, via ornamental Whitman-esque repetitions of “Liberty’s” shifting visage, Fonseca’s work alludes to Peter Max’s famous series titled Liberty and Justice for All, as well as echoing Andy Warhol’s omnipresent Marilyn Monroe series.

EL_NIÑO_ÁRBOL_2014_Oil_on_canvas_20_x_16_inch

Roberto Márquez  El Niño Arbol
oil-on-canvas,  20” x 16,” 2014.

Márquez’s  El Niño Arbol is a metaphoric visual response to recent tragic events involving thousands of children wandering the Southwestern border areas, walking mainly up from Central America into the United States.  These children are being sent alone by their families with the hope of escaping socio-economic iniquities, misery, desperation and terrible violence. Their arrival into the U.S. is being politicized by both the right and the left, creating a sort of limbo for these vulnerable adolescents, who resemble the innocent idealistic children in Marcel Schwob’s The Children’s Crusade, which are being sent to conquer an elusive “Jerusalem;” but, are instead condemned irrevocably to failure. Like in Schwob’s book, we are relegated to be mere phantom witnesses of their heartbreaking migration, incarceration, and, at times, death or deportation.

 

Montelongo_ElizabethJimenez_Zemanahuak_-_300dpi

 

Elizabeth Jiménez Montelongo, Zemanahuak
Acrylic and ink on wood, 35.5”  x 17.25,”   2014

Montelongo’s Zemanahuak is named after the Nahuatl word for Earth.  The work focuses on the nature of human interaction within our world and how it affects our physical and spiritual experience. The iconography is inspired by the glyphs in ancient Mesoamerican painted books, or amoxtin, commonly known as “codices.”   In Zemanahuak, figures are depicted as trees that communicate their instinctive emotion, feelings, and thoughts, which join together in the form of a butterfly. The butterfly transforms into the symbol ollin [O-leen], movement, which multiplies into strands of DNA resembling serpents that encircle the figures.  And, as a physical consequence of their interaction; their union sheds water, a strong yet flexible force attracting the attention of others, who are then able to break free from the illusions that limit them: borders, race, fear, and time…so they are able to finally see the flowering of their existence.

 

Kisses_For_Your_Soul

 

Lisette Morel, Kisses For Your Soul
Lipstick, artists’ lip prints, nails on map on wood, 18″x 24″
2014

In order to depict the landscape of her everyday life, Lisette Morel’s mapping-piece “Kisses For Your Soul” juxtapose contradictory and opposing forces.   As an iconic symbol of love, or as mere residue (i.e., signifying Derridean traces) of intimate affection, the above image depicts ubiquitous lipstick kisses strewn across a map’s surface.  Morel examines a unique binary, consisting of lipstick kisses contrasted with nails, which can be used to puncture and crucify.   Kisses off-set the violent action/aggressive desires implied by repeatedly hammering nails into a surface, not for any purpose (or function), other than release.  The historic and religious overtones of this project can be traced to the artist’s interest in mortality, faith, and power, particularly reflected in the African nailed sculptures of the Nkisi nkondi and of crucifixion wounds. The map represents space as location — our sense of place of belonging.

 

Gabriel Navar

A diptych comprised of two images:

 

app4sweetsurvival©GN2014

 

1).  “app 4 sweet survivals,”  from The Selfie Series.
Acrylic, pencils, ink & oil on canvas20” x 16,” © 2014.

 

youtubecom_parallels2©GN2012

 

2).  “youtube.com/parallel2
Acrylic, pencil, ink & oil on paper,
15” x 20,”  © 2012.

Navar’s unique diptych reexamines contemporary “dehumanization,” alienation, and fear of outsiders, which “our” current Postmodern technological age fosters and encourages, as varying forms of Neo-Habermasian “Communicative Behavior(s)” that presently are rapidly reducing every Indo-European language down to merely one essential word, inexorably conveying meaning by myriad inflexions, like Tristan Tzara’s “Roar.”  More and more, technology determines 21st Century human identity, while furtively fertilizing humanities current de-evolution into machines, vegetables, appliances, animals, insects, and other non-human entities, as revealed in Navar’s  “app 4 sweet survivals.”

On the other hand, the blazing orange background in his “youtube.com/parallel2” signifies the intensity of the USA’s ongoing racial prejudice, antagonism, and fear of “aliens.”  The image depicts an enraged, distraught, and infuriated man swinging a bat (as if about to hit a baseball or piñata), attempting to whack an ascending ephemeral green-being.   As an element of the composition, the irate man’s thoughts are imprinted on the image: “Go back to where you came from . . . .alien!”   Thus, Navar’s diptych perfectly captures the two overwhelming extremes governing contemporary life throughout the Post-Industrial America:  1). B.F. Skinner-esque Ultra-Dehumanization and 2).  US Tea Party Hyper-Paranoia.

 

 

 

isabelphoto_sharpen

 

Isabel Alvarez Nazario Turbulent Waters
Drawing/collage Mixed media
22″ x 28, ” 2012.

Isabel Alvarez Nazario’s Turbulent Waters stands as a symbolic reverie, bravely reexamining past struggles, perils, and turmoil, which she, as an intrepid and gifted Latina artist, triumphantly persevered.

 

Vietnam__(2)

 

Julio NazarioVietnam “1960”
Mixed media,black and white photography, and handmade paper
20″ x 24,” 2013

Increasingly, the rank-and-file of the US Military comprises an ever-growing cohort of Hispanic personnel.  Often, in myriad theatres of war or in numerous armed conflicts across the globe, where Latino soldiers fight for rights, opportunities, and privileges for others, which are frequently denied or unattainable to many Hispanics in the USA.   For example, Julio Nazario’s art work indicates his lingering trauma, concerning his Vietnam service, effecting both Nazario’s and America’s “Vietnam War recollections and experiences.”   In his piece titled Vietnam “1960,the red handmade paper represents the blood of those that were killed or wounded.  As the veterans of the 3/8 – 4th Infantry  Division website reveals: “All gave some, some gave all.”

 

Joe_Pena[3]

Joe Peña
The First Mexican on Mars
Oil on paper
6 ¾”  x  7 ½” (paper size),  2014
Peña’s “The First Mexican on Mars” is a portrait study of the artist as an Astronaut, who is on a  mission to Mars.  In his youth, Peña was fascinated by the achievements of Astronaut Rodolfo Neri Vela, who in 1985 became the first Mexican (and second Latin-American) to travel into space. Since then, three additional American’s of Mexican decent (Ellen Ochoa, John D. Olivas, and José Hernandez) have followed in Vela’s footsteps into space, as well as seven others of Latin-American heritage.  As a comment on the increasing population of individuals with Latino roots in America achieving great success in so many varied fields, despite the negative perceptions of so many uninformed Americans, who imprudently support of such laws as Arizona’s SB 1070, which should be challenged, reexamined, and repealed.

 

Duda-2014

 

 

 

Duda Penteado
Immigration-Emigration
Mixed-media on canvas
36″ diameter,  2012,   

Penteado’s tondi titled IMMIGRATION – EMIGRATION is a “Mapping-work,” with allusions to Clyfford Still’s jagged 2-D informalist topology imbued with Greenbergian flatness,  which masterfully utilizes amnesis to depict forgotten Ice Age migrations across the Atlantic Ocean made by Prehistoric seafaring Ibero-Solutreans (22,000 BCE), characterized by Penteado in a unique push/pull of Dubuffet-esque “boat-beings”  initiating the first human settlements along the Atlantic Coast of North America at places like Cactus Hill (Virginia); Paw Paw Cove (Tilghman Island, Maryland), as well as Topper (South Carolina), etc.   Thus, Penteado’s astute We Are You Project masterpiece  IMMIGRATIONEMIGRATION  proposes that the United States of America has a deep-rooted profound “Ibero-Latino” heritage furtively rooted in Ibero-Latino DNA, which ironically challenges the current onslaught of “clearly” outrageous, incongruous, and foolish right-wing ethno-racist attacks against US-Latinization.  Since, Latinization might just be something inherent, primordial, as well as endemic to America.

 

 

Mel_Ramos

 

Mel Ramos
Fraulein French Fries
Lithograph, signed and numbered in pencil.
17 3/4 ” x 17 ¾,” 2002 (Collection of the Artist).

In Ramos’s Fraulein French Fries, an alluring blond nude female figure emerges from a pack of McDonald’s™ French fries, indirectly alluding to Botticelli’s Birth of Venus or Andy Warhol’s tongue-in-cheek insistence that, “The most beautiful thing in all the world is McDonald’s.”

In the base of Ramos’s Fraulein French Fries, the McDonald’s “Golden Arches” peek out, traditionally these bright yellow arches represent a pictographic-stylization of the letter “M,” which is the first letter in McDonald’s name; but, they also abstractly intimate the nude model’s hidden breasts. We learn from the title that the young woman is a “fraulein,” which in German designates an “unmarried woman.”  In terms of the We Are You Project’s focus on Latino ethnicity and nationality, ambiguity always vexes ascriptions of national attribution, e.g., French fries were invented in the Spanish Netherlands in the 16th Century. Also important to the We Are You Project are the socio-economic implications that Latinos confront in the United States. For example, founded in San Bernardino, California in 1954, today McDonald’s (along with other fast-food companies) offers entry-level jobs and a modest livelihoods to thousands of Spanish-speaking and Portuguese-speaking young people living in several continents, affording them opportunities for earning salaries, obtaining health-care, nourishment and work. By and large, teenagers from the Latino underclass furnish most fast-food restaurants’ labor force. Nevertheless, Ramos’s art historical reference to Botticelli’s Birth of Venus connotes in the flamboyant young woman the sanctity of Venus, Goddess of Love, and consequently adds a new “divine” meaning to McDonald’s slogan, “I’m lovin’ it!”

 

 

Talking_bones_Colorado

Ana Laura Rivera   Talking Bones
Etching,  6 ½ “ x 23.”   2010

Ana Laura Rivera’s image is inspired by Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican iconography.   Rivera’s etching (titled Talking Bones) provides a delicate heartfelt testimony that honors the remains of hundreds of hopeful undocumented immigrants, who died trying to cross the US/Mexico border.   Everyday Latinos die in Northern Mexico’s harsh deserts, alone and silent, in search of a better life.  In the same way, many Pre-Columbian cultures documented their history and their achievements with glyphs upon walls, pottery, or codices, Ana Laura Rivera uses Pre-Columbian symbols and images to document the tragic loss of all deceased illegal immigrants, whose stories are rich, vast, and consequently deserving of more than just vanishing (disappearing) or being sent to the public morgue where they are often labeled “Jane Doe”/”John Doe.”   Rivera’s Talking Bones etching reminds us that the human remains of migrants found in the desert between the US and Mexico are not unknown, because if their bones could talk, they would describe heroic human beings willing to risk their lives to reach a dream.

 

Rodeiro-Aliens

 

José  Rodeiro.
HIPS DON’T LIE (“Sonoran Dawn”) 2012,
Oil-on-canvas, 40″ x 30″ (Collection of the artist).

José Rodeiro’s HIPS DON’T LIE (“Sonoran Dawn”) is a duende-filled image inspired by Goya’s Black Paintings and Goitia’s mystic-images; wherein Colombian pop-star Shakira and the Hon. Phil Gordon (the mayor of Phoenix) lead a Pro-Latino protests in April 2010 against the racist Arizona law: SB 1070. This celebrated protest sparked the “Anti-Wall” movement, and drew 200,000 Latinos to hear Shakira advocate for human rights, civil rights, and freedom.  Cunningly, Rodeiro’s image alludes to Eugène Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People (1830).

 

Toro.Permissive_Transgressions._2013

Patricio Moreno Toro
Permissive Transgressions
Mixed media on canvas
53″ x 58″ (approx.), 2013

While living in Mexico in 2013, Toro created Permissive Transgressions.  The work describes how, for émigrés, intangible borders (both real and imagined) impose their will on individual choices: always self-questioning, whether to take a calculated risk to exercise his/her inherent freedom – or, on the other hand, to merely survive, hide, subsist, prevail or thrive.   For émigrés, hunger, despair, and finally nihilism should never become their life’s goals.  The marathon endeavor involves constantly risking everything, even one’s life, for a chance to make something better: a desire for something more, which is the ultimate transgression.

 

saint-Patriot-Aluminum-Dibond-Sergio4X6

Sergio Villamizar   Saint Patriot,
Digital Hatch Drawing,  24” X 30”
One of Four – Limited Edition (signed on the back), 2012.        

Villamizar’s Saint Patriot  (The Patron Saint of Patriotism) represents our alleged need to protect our way of life, to fight terrorism, and ultimately to get rid-of “the other(s).”   The duende-filled image questions our foreign policy of war and our domestic policy of harassment and discrimination, i.e., The Patriot Act and Arizona’s anti immigration law SB-1070.   Villamizar’s image Saint Patriot questions what it is to be a patriot, and questions such rash “right-wing” statements as, “Real Americans,” “Good Americans,” “Take back our country,” etc.   Villamizar asks, “What are we willing to accept in the name of patriotism?  Can we stomach the loss of our civil rights?   Must we have microchips embedded in our hands?”

 

 

supermanwhere

 

Raúl Villarreal “Superman Where Are You Now?
Oil on canvas,  48″ x 108″ (three panels  48″ x 36″ each)
2005.

Villarreal’s “Superman Where Are You Now?” derives from a photograph of the artists during his third birthday party in Cuba.   Additional metaphoric popular symbols of the 1950s and 60s period emerge, reinforcing and reactivating Villarreal’s childhood memories. These reveries endow present emotion(s) by simultaneously blending past and present. The artwork also deals with issues of immigration, identity, and the assimilation of other cultures.  It depicts a child assimilating into a new culture, embracing the American culture, characterized by the Coca-Cola logo, as well as the Japanese culture represented by “The Great Wave of Kanagawa” by 19th Century Edo master, Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849).

 

For more information about We Are You Project, WAYP artists and poets, including images of the WAYP art and artist biographies, please visit the following sites:

http://old.ragazine.cc/2012/04/we-are-you-project/

http://www.weareyouproject.org/ 

https://m.facebook.com/WeAreYouProject

http://old.ragazine.cc/2012/04/brazilian-art/

 

–30–

August 27, 2014   Comments Off on We Are You Project/Colorado Springs

Fred Russell/The Decency Factor

* * * * *

John Stewart/Daily Show, July 15, 2014

John Stewart/Daily Show, July 15, 2014

* * * * *

 AMERICAN NOTES

by Fred Russell

“What America is left with is essentially what it calls its freedom, which comes down to saying whatever comes into one’s head, in thousands of academic and popular journals, in the daily newspapers, in television studios, in blogs, and in the privacy of one’s own home. None of this has the slightest effect on how the country is governed.”

 

1. THE WAY WE WERE

Sometimes the amateur anthropologist finds things where he isn’t looking for them. METV – Middle East Television – [U.S. 48 star flag 1912]is a Christian TV network transmitting from Cyprus to the entire Middle East. In addition to its Christian messages it broadcasts “wholesome family entertainment.” This mostly consists of TV series from the 1950s – Lassie, The Lone Ranger, Andy Griffith, The Lucy Show – and films from the 1930s and 1940s, with a predilection for Westerns featuring John Wayne or Roy Rogers. One can’t help thinking that METV must have gotten one helluva deal on these old films, buying up the entire lot probably, but that isn’t the point. Clearly the clincher was their wholesomeness, for it goes without saying that anything produced for mass audiences back then must have reflected a “moral” America where sex was hidden and Christian virtues always triumphed. The value of these films and TV shows is that they serve as a barometer of the American psyche, for nothing reflects the basic, unspoken assumptions of American life more clearly than Hollywood films and the old family TV shows. What Americans responded to in those years tells us what America was. It documents, indirectly, how Americans saw the world, life, themselves, as no other source does.

You know how these Westerns operate. A morally and sexually pure hero overcomes the forces of evil and gets the chaste girl. This is the central myth of American life. The male audience lives vicariously through the hero. His triumphs, always involving violence, address the viewer’s feelings of inadequacy and resentment, of smallness, especially when the villain is rich and powerful. The purity masks guilt. The Western is therefore emblematic, if not therapeutic, operating on an unconscious level. The viewer finds it satisfying but doesn’t really know why, that is, doesn’t make the connection between the hero and himself in any explicit way, though he identifies with him and often becomes a hero himself in his daydreams. The feelings of inadequacy and resentment derive from the sense of failure that most Americans live with, for the great prizes go to the few, not the many, and for most Americans the great dream is the dream of wealth and fame. These feelings have persisted into the present century and continue to be addressed by Hollywood. On the other hand, the idea of sexual purity and the anguish of sexual guilt went out the window in the sexual revolution of the 1960s. The sexually pure hero is no longer a model, serves no purpose; the culture itself took care of the problem, setting up new norms, except among the Christian fundamentalists. Heroes, however, remain moral in the larger sense, as moral purity continues to remain an American ideal. Americans want to be decent but often are not. The hero – an honest cop, a crusading reporter, a self-sacrificing everyman – allows us to inhabit our better selves. The difference now is that the greater sophistication of Americans allows for a more realistic representation of moral ambiguity.

By reviving these films, METV does a great service, providing a snapshot of America’s inner life at its crudest level. By studying them we can discover who we are. It is these films too that will be studied in a hundred and a thousand years to tell future generations what America was. Let us hope that METV preserves them.

2. WHO DO THEY THINK THEY’RE KIDDING?

The complaint of American conservatives that the mainstream media is “liberal” or even “leftist,” heard roughly every
[U.S. 48 star flag 1912]hour on the hour on Fox News and other right-wing outlets, highlights the inability of journalists to understand their own profession. The problem with journalists has never been their political leanings or biases. The problem has always been their competence. They are not, after all, historians or scholars or political scientists, or novelists or dramatists or film makers for that matter. Their ability to understand social or historical processes is limited, as is their knowledge of the world, given their inability to speak the languages of the countries they report from and comment on and consequently their ignorance of the culture, religion, history and politics of these countries. Their minds too, it must be said, are fairly commonplace, as evidenced by their use of language, which constantly falls back on platitudes in the absence of real perception. And yet, incredibly, it is they of all people who determine the way we see the world.

The biases of journalists, or the slant they give to their reporting and “analysis,” are really limited in the harm they do, as their audience is as biased as they are and at the most picks up arguments from them to reinforce these biases. Certainly they can sway public opinion from one day to the next, among “undecided” voters, for example, and in this way influence elections, though the end result of the voting process is to elect representatives with whom the voters are invariably dissatisfied and who are held in very low esteem. It is therefore not by swaying public opinion, and certainly not by creating an informed public, that journalists exert their real influence but by contributing to the public’s ignorance, that is, by presenting an extremely distorted picture of the world that the public uncritically accepts in the absence of any deeper knowledge. One might even say that the journalistic profession and the uninformed public deserve each other. If people really want to understand the world, they should try reading books instead of newspapers.

The belief that freedom of speech and public debate is the cornerstone of democracy is one of the great myths of American life, a self-serving myth that journalists are forever promoting to justify their existence and their methods. The cornerstone of a democracy is its legal system and the traditions that sustain it. The guardians of democracy are the courts. Criticism of politicians in the media has next to no lasting effect on American life. The media may “expose” politicians but insofar as it is their criminal activities that are exposed, what is being exposed is almost always an official investigation, making the exposure superfluous. Insofar as the media exposes what it deems to be moral turpitude or simply goes with a headline grabber – adultery, perhaps a homosexual affair, something about marijuana thirty years ago – it is questionable whether it is anyone’s business. As for simple and common government mismanagement – waste and all the rest – the manner in which governments operate has not been influenced one jot by investigative reporting.

This is not to say that journalists do not occasionally hit a home run or take on  needy cases and change lives by exerting pressure in the right places. That is fine, and if the media wish to invest their enormous resources in doing work that the police do infinitely better or pointing fingers and stirring up tempests in a teacup for no practical purpose or taking one out of a million Americans under their wing and solving his problems, that is their business. Admittedly they also manage to intimidate politicians, right up to the President, but the little dance that journalists and politicians do in no way improves the quality of government. In fact, the time and effort invested by elected officials in “spinning” stories represents an enormous waste of the taxpayer’s money – hundreds if not thousands of aides playing the press every morning, rooms full of people dreaming up excuses for the President’s latest mishap – not to mention often injudicious changes in policy or courses of action simply because of the way they might look in the press.

What is left at the end of the day is some drama and entertainment bought by the American public at an enormous price – the invasion of people’s privacy by an army of reporters who will expose anything that gets them a screaming headline. Into the hands of these reporters has been placed one of the most important functions in a modern society – the control of information. Neither in terms of morality or capability are they the right people for the job.

3. STATE OF THE UNION

Most politicians have the same social vision: to improve everything. That means less crime, less poverty, more health,
[U.S. 48 star flag 1912]more education. Some even offer specific programs. None, however, has succeeded in improving the look of society in any significant way. This is not surprising. Politicians are not social scientists, nor are the bureaucrats who administer government offices. Tocqueville noted nearly 200 years ago that in America it is the least talented men who go into politics. Nothing has really changed, though it is true that as government expanded and offered greater opportunities to exercise power and enjoy prestige, it began to attract more talented individuals with successful careers behind them – businessmen and military men, for example. However, these governed no better than their predecessors, bringing to government skills that were not especially suited to governing a nation, as well as appetites and ambitions that overrode the will to serve. Of course, governments also enlist the services of experts – those same social scientists – but even these are tied to concepts that have never really worked.

Education, for example, is still tied to the old Church idea – propagated by countless generations of churchmen serving as teachers – that as a consequence of Original Sin all men are born evil and must therefore be coerced into doing what is good, an idea that produced rigidly structured educational frameworks where teachers hammered away at the captive child until his head was ready to explode, making study a burden and creating in the child an aversion to the learning process that persists to this day in these same rigid frameworks. The result is a nation of ignoramuses (40% of Americans don’t know that Germany and Japan were the enemies in World War II). Health care, in America, has been so difficult to reform because America is tied to an ideology that makes the idea of socialized medicine anathema, an idea that one might say it took all 20,000 pages of the Affordable Care Act to get around under a system that, according to doctors’ estimates, has been costing America approximately 20,000 lives a year as a direct result of inadequate health care. The inability of Americans to utter the word socialism has cost more American lives than the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Add to this the unwillingness of the government to clamp down on a food industry that is destroying the country’s health and a drug industry that prefers to control rather than eradicate diseases for reasons of profit, and to close down the tobacco industry entirely, and you can only conclude that the government has consciously chosen economic stability over human life.

Crime and poverty in America are higher than anywhere in the West – violent crime five times higher than in Western Europe and poverty twice as high. The two are of course linked. In America, African Americans are poorer than everyone else and consequently commit more crimes than anyone else. Their condition is the direct result of the way they have been treated by the white population, but no government will ever have the courage to assume the moral debt of the American people to African Americans and make real financial amends to them. In all, about 100 million Americans are hovering around the poverty line – an absolute disgrace in what is the richest country in the world.

It can therefore be stated unequivocally that America is not going to solve its social problems. Things can get much worse but not much better because even when things are at their best the main beneficiaries are a relatively small economic elite. The most that middle-class Americans can hope for is a slightly larger margin of comfort, a little less financial pressure. This is the underside of the American Dream, a region inhabited by the overwhelming majority of Americans.

America’s great comfort in these trying years has been the collapse of the Soviet Union, perceived as representing the defeat of Communism and the triumph of Capitalism. But what has been gained? Russia is still the same Russia, a formidable enemy that nothing short of a nuclear holocaust will cause to go away, and in the meanwhile China has produced an economic model – relative entrepreneurial freedom, a mobilized population and centralized, totalitarian, undemocratic government – that is very likely to gain ascendancy over the American model within a very few years, while Western Europe has produced a social model that is considerably more equitable than America’s. What America is left with is essentially what it calls its freedom, which comes down to saying whatever comes into one’s head, in thousands of academic and popular journals, in the daily newspapers, in television studios, in blogs, and in the privacy of one’s own home. None of this has the slightest effect on how the country is governed.

America is unfixable. It cultivates the illusion that it is the greatest country on the face of the earth, and maybe it is in terms of wealth and power, but it certainly isn’t in terms of its social fabric and the way ordinary people live. To fix itself America would have to do something that is almost unthinkable: liberate itself from the American Dream, for what ordinary people in America have seldom realized is that they can live fulfilling and even exalted lives by simply being decent.

 About the author:

Fred Russell is the pen name of an American-born writer living in Israel. His novel Rafi’s World (Fomite Press), dealing with Israel’s emerging criminal class, was published in Feb. 2014 and his stories and essays have appeared in Third Coast, Polluto, Fiction on the Web, Wilderness House Literary Review, Ontologica, Unlikely Stories: Episode 4, Gadfly, En Pointe, In Parenthesis, etc.

 

 

 

July 15, 2014   Comments Off on Fred Russell/The Decency Factor

Writing Blue Highways

bluehighwayscover

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WRITING BLUE HIGHWAYS

William Least Heat-Moon’s Story

of How a Book Happened

by John Smelcer

In 1978, William Least Heat-Moon began a 14,000 miles, 38-state, multi-year journey in his van named Ghost Dancing. WBH coverHe took only lesser-traveled back roads, those indicated in blue on road maps. Along the way, he met people from all walks of life. As the miles accumulated, the idea for a book began to take root. The manuscript traveled its own journey toward publication. When Blue Highways finally came out in 1982, it spent 42 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list. The following excerpt is from Heat-Moon’s just-released Writing Blue Highways (University of Missouri Press, 2014), in which the author tells the story of how his masterpiece “happened.” In this chapter aptly titled, “The Secret Society Begins to Emerge,” the publisher (Atlantic Monthly Press) has been whittling down the length of the ponderous manuscript. Unexpectedly, the editor, Peter Davison, calls to deliver the devastating news that that they can’t include any of the photographs in the book due to escalating printing costs. As a photojournalist, Heat-Moon understood the importance of the images and how much the book’s success depended on them.

Although our paths had crossed a couple times in the past two decades, it wasn’t until after I moved to Missouri in the summer of 2013 that Heat-Moon and I struck up a friendship, having occasional lunch in Columbia while discussing current writing projects, and even doing a book signing together. Blue Highways has long been one of my favorite books; I’ve taught it several times alongside Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley. If it’s one of yours and you want to learn more about the book’s backstory, or if you are a writer who wants to learn about another writer’s struggles to get his book published, read Writing Blue Highways.

– John Smelcer

From Chapter IX:

One afternoon Peter Davison phoned to say the price of the book would be $13.50. A couple of days later he called
again to say it would have to be $15.95. “There’s an invisible seventeen-dollar barrier these days,” he said, “and we can’t let it go higher than that.” The next week it did, and he phoned to take up the issue a third time. “Somebody here seriously underestimated the length of your manuscript. It’s pushing two hundred thousand words. The ink on your pages weighs more than the paper.”

My condensations and dumped widows had worked — perhaps too well. That was the good news. Then came the bad, the ugly: “The photographs are driving the price of the book too high. I’m sorry to tell you this, but we’re going to have to leave them out. After all, the Atlantic proved they aren’t necessary.”

I’d humbugged experienced word-editors on the length of the book, and now the piper wanted his pay. A long silence before I could speak. Please don’t do that. “We have to,” he said. “The public’s not going to pay seventeen dollars for this book. I know the decision upsets you, but there’s no other choice.” I thought before I answered. There is another choice. “Which is?” I’ll withdraw the manuscript. The conversation had become strained. “You’re making a mistake,” he said. “A big, serious mistake.” Click, line dead. Well, boys, there you have it.

That evening Lucy was unhappy: “After four years, you find an editor to believe in your book, and then in one phone call Mister Big-Time-Author casts him aside before the book even exists? Have you lost your mind? I wondered the same thing and tossed the issue around, but I couldn’t see things as just a matter of money. The pictures of thirty-seven people, two cats, and one dog were integral and critical: A photograph can go where words cannot.

The incentive for the journey began with an urge to make environmental portraits of authentic habitants of the American backcountry. In the beginning was not the word but the image; when the book was without form, and void, there were photographs — “light-writing” — and the pictures gave off energy and sustained the journey when little else did. And on the road, the growing album gave purpose to mileage and promised a seed-bed for something larger as a gallery grew into a garden.

Those faces became prima facie evidence requiring more than just captions or notes; they demanded voice so they could attest to their lives, and even when words began rising to make affirming images subservient, to eliminate them was errantly wrong. Origins, seeds, and inceptive impulses belonged to the work as much as did their results: Blue Highways began not with a typewriter but with a camera.
When I went to bed that night, I told Lucy removing the photographs would be a death stroke to the book, and she said, “Saying no to a yes is also a death stroke.”

A ringing phone pulled me awake the next morning. It was Davison whose hello was a grudging “You win.” His fast turnabout removed any chance I would have to talk myself out of a sound principle.
My medieval notion about the Great Wheel — and one other thing — had me ready for the next rotation… My “next” was the Book of the Month Club turning down Blue Highways after two readers said they saw no significant audience for a story about “some guy in a truck going nowhere.”

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July 10, 2014   Comments Off on Writing Blue Highways

The Awareness Vaccine/Fred Roberts

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Source:  Opening of SCTV, 1981

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The Awareness Vaccine:

A Review of Mitchel Davidovitz’s

Window of Normalization

by Fred Roberts
Contributing Editor

In 1987, I made the experience of moving to Germany, leaving behind the vast American infrastructure of media, network television, cable TV, early talk radio. I never felt like I was trapped image1inside a propaganda system but after some months, I noticed that some ideas that for many become unchallenged assumptions, were no longer echoed daily from various sources around me: Americans are special, American lives are worth more than non-American lives, free market capitalism is good, universal healthcare is bad, humanists and communists are evil, the world would be a much better place if our European partners would do everything the President wanted them to. Surrounded by so many divergent perspectives, the world gradually felt more objective. On subsequent visits back to the States, I saw the media from the outside, and much more critically than I had before. It was unsettling to notice how strong the influence of the media was on the general public, how the unchallenged assumptions worked their way into conversations and seemed resistant to rational argument.

Years later, I discovered an insightful work by Norman Corwin published 1983 under the title Trivializing America in which he described how mediocrity was seeping into all aspects of public life, film, television, sports, the public discourse, the election process, etc. etc. He saw it as a real danger to our democracy. We were losing our critical ability, our ability to make informed decisions. If the trends continued, we would no longer be in a position to elect responsible political representatives. In fact, the only predictions of his that have not come true were the optimistic ones. He saw a glimmer of hope in the creation of 24 hour TV news networks, that these could report on substance, giving daily scorecards of how our senators and representatives voted, etc. The book was a wake-up call that went under in the wave of events of the subsequent decades. Gulf war. Clinton impeachment hearings. Y2K hysteria. Theft of the 2000 election. 9/11.

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Fast forward to 2014 and a work by Mitchel Davidovitz, Window of Normalization. It is a terrifying snapshot of modern pseudo-reality as formed and reinforced by the visual medium of television. The project is based on a statement by Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman:

The mass media serve as a system for communicating messages and symbols to the general populace. It is their function to amuse, entertain, and inform, and to inculcate individuals with the values, beliefs, and codes of behavior that will integrate them into institutional structures of the larger society. In a world of concentrated wealth and major conflicts of class interest, to fulfill this role requires systematic propaganda.” (2002)

A compelling aspect of the project is that it begins with a definite idea and follows it through to its logical conclusion. If the statement by Chomsky and Herman is accurate, how could the media pull it off? What Mitchel did was to monitor during a one week period the average amount of hours a typical American viewer would see (34 hours).  Out of this 34-hour period he collected a sample of 6500 images, as well as audio samples – in part guided by the expectations of themes described in Manufacturing Consent by Chomsky and Herman and Empire of Illusion by Chris Hedges, but also attempting to capture any other recurring themes that became apparent.

Out of the 6500 images, Mitchel grouped a reduced sample into twelve category grids which serve to show exactly which belief systems the mass media support. The results did not surprise me. They matched my impressions of television in recent visits to the States, an idea of a constant state of war. It goes beyond the news, with themes of terrorism working their way into series like Homeland and NCIS, thereby reinforcing the belief of an omnipresent terrorist force that can only be held in check with increased surveillance and security, and ultimately with a curtailment of individual liberties. Witness also TV shows like Castle in which total surveillance is depicted as an effective means to solve any crime.

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A five part audio opus complements Mitchel’s visual findings, sound collages which are a nightmarish synthesis of Big Brother and Brave New World. Altogether this is a document of modern dystopia, an endless chain of images, soundbites and conditioning to keep the masses in a constant state of stupor. The real problems, approaching climate catastrophe, the absence of political influence of the 99%, the looting of the resources of our and other nations by out of control financial and corporate entities, will never be discovered by watching the major U.S. networks which only continue the stupefying bombardment, and for each real issue, manufacture and present instead a multitude of distractions.

The one aspect of the work that surprised me is its brevity, a reduction of a week’s television viewing to twelve images and five audio collages. Was there more that could have been captured? Were there positive grids that might have been compiled? On the other hand, the themes are indisputable and the brevity intensifies the frightening idea that maybe this is all there is, that this is the essence of our media today with TV sets everywhere, in McDonald’s, in waiting rooms, often set to FOX news. The accompanying research paper gives an excellent description of the audio and visual components of the project.

To the question of how a manipulation to this extent could be perpetrated, it is seen as the result of the concentration of media into just nine international conglomerates, with a top down consensus of what should be seen. There may not be a literal guideline to show three 9/11 reminders per hour, but the tone is set from above, with hand-picked editors down the line making all the decisions. As such, a study like this cannot prove cause and effect. One might alternatively claim it is a public mood that perpetuates a media giving the public exactly what it wants. Still, the media are in a position to break that cycle but since they do not, it becomes our responsibility to do so ourselves. It would be interesting to do similar studies in countries where the media is more diverse. One thing the study does not address is the question of how effective the control mechanisms are. As protest and dissent do exist, we can thankfully conclude that the mechanisms are not infallible, although they may be effective enough.

Here is the conclusion of the project in its own words:

“The influence of television is massive. Americans, on average, spend 34 hours a week in front of television screens (Nielsen 2013). Through means of cultivation, television is able to literally alter the minds of those who view it. The values, beliefs, and codes of behavior that are presented on television and imprinted on the audience overwhelmingly benefit power structures and hegemonic control over the populace. The propagandist nature of television is quite evident. It is a tool used by the powerful to prevent civil unrest, promote mass distraction, spread lies and misinformation, and diminish and belittle radical thought. Window of Normalization allows the audience to reflect on the current state of the televised mass media system by arming and empowering them with a new perspective and knowledge. With these new realizations, the audience may choose, if they deem necessary, to break free of television’s power, refuse to subject themself to it, and demand a more righteous press, source of information, and means of entertainment.”

The project is documented at http://mitcheldavidovitz.bandcamp.com/album/window-of-normalization. Please have a look at it to judge the findings for yourself. The key to inoculation is awareness. Turn off your televisions and follow the alternative, independent media wherever you may find it. A good starting point is http://www.truth-out.org/buzzflash/ which presents a comprehensive selection of current headlines that see through all the smoke and mirrors of everyday American media.

About the author:

Fred Roberts is a contributing editor and music editor of Ragazine.CC. You can read more about him in About Us. 

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June 29, 2014   1 Comment

ULTRA VIOLET/In Memoriam


ultrabyhelene

Isabelle Collin Dufresne, photo by Helene Gaillet

Isabelle Collin Dufresne
aka, Ultra Violet

By Helene Gaillet deNeergaard

June 20, 2014 – New York City

Isabelle Collin Dufresne, also known as Ultra Violet, died a week ago, on the morning of June 14th, 2014, after a battle with cancer. This devastating illness did not stop her from working on her ART even from her hospital bed during the last weeks of her life. She was the ultimate creative artist to the end.

Isabelle was just about my oldest friend, the person I have known the longest in my life, aside from my family. We were 19 years old when we first met in New York City at a cocktail party on Park Avenue and discovered we were practically twins. Born only three months apart in France in 1935, she arrived in September in Grenoble and I appeared that December in Blendecques near Calais and the Belgian border.

Our circumstances growing up were vastly different as she was well protected from the Occupation in Grenoble while my family and I were thrown into the fires of the German invasion and lived a terrifying exodus during the four years of WW II. By the time we met in New York we had both grown up through a wide variety of experiences so that it was easy for us to find common ground to share in the world of creativity we had already embraced.

Over the past 60 years, our lives have been intertwined many times, in painting, writing, theater and movies, while we sometimes would not see each other for several years.

Reconnecting was always a joy as we had much to compare. She became an Andy Warhol Superstar, wrote a best seller Famous for 15 minutes: My Years with Andy Warhol , appeared in some 20 movies and threw herself into creating ART, while I became a well established Professional Photographer, published in many books, magazines and newspapers, culminating in the acquisition of my archives by The Hillwood Art Museum, LI, New York. My memoir of WWII, I Was a War Child, will be published in September 2014.

Her loss creates a sorrowful void for she cannot be replaced by anyone or anything anytime soon.

The attached picture was taken in her studio October 4, 2013, the last time I saw her. So sad.

By: Hélène Gaillet de Neergaard, New York.
 www.helenegailletartist.com

Photo Credit: © Hélène Gaillet de Neergaard
Author “I WAS A WAR CHILD” in progress
Amazon.com: “BOAT BOOK” & “Nautical Terms & Abbrev”

 

June 21, 2014   Comments Off on ULTRA VIOLET/In Memoriam

Jim Palombo: On Race & Racism


The Bill of Rights

Library of Congress image.

Is there some semblance of sense
to the sensationalism of stupidity?

By Jim Palombo

 “America isn’t the same country anymore; it isn’t even America anymore. It’s become a goddamn pesthole for every crummy race from the other side.  A white man can’t walk down the street, or go in a restaurant, or do business, or do anything for that matter without having to mix up with these goddamn greasers from the other side.  Wops, Jews, Greeks, Niggers, Armenians, Syrians, every scummy race in the world. They’ve all come here, and they’re still coming, and they’ll keep on coming by the boatloads. Mark my words, you’ll see the day when a real American won’t have a chance to work and live decently in his own country, a day when ruin and bankruptcy will fall on this nation because all these damned foreigners will have taken everything over and made a holy mess of it.”

Characterization from Jack Kerouac’s “The Haunted Life”, 1944

It’s race and racism, the application of freedom of speech, and a few “expectation of privacy” issues that are on the table – it’s a big deal. Yet, it’s not like we haven’t been down these roads before.  Perhaps it’s the rather unique hauntedcombination of things, with a rather bizarre billionaire at the forefront who just happens to like certain type women, and who owns a basketball franchise in a major city, who happens to employ predominantly minority ball players on that team but who also apparently doesn’t cotton to their kind. Or perhaps it’s the “tailor-made for the press” tale –after all, they certainly know how to tell (and re-tell) a story, especially knowing how much we appreciate a good one.  Or perhaps it’s a good opportunity for the ever-growing number of sportscasters to join the late night pundits in demonstrating their acumen for understanding complex social issues – “educating the public” to important things, as one of them might say. And of course, perhaps it’s a chance for every public policy figure and politician, whether on one side, the other or both, to offer their input on what all of them consider an example of the misunderstandings rampant in contemporary America.

In essence, the “big deal” is that it’s telling us once again something about our current status, our collective self-identity, if you will. In short, it’s not so much what we know but what we don’t know, or at least how ineffective we seem to be in organizing our thoughts relative to our history and the contemporary issues that have followed from that history. After all this time, you think we would know better – that we would not be so eager to feed the Donald Sterling-like frenzies that seem to pop up a great deal more than they should.  So in regard to the current “flavor of the month,” here are just a few points to consider.

Talking about race does not imply racism. In other words, if one were to mention that race has its place when discussing both individual and societal properties, i.e., things like what motivates behavior, how biological characteristics might play themselves out in any particular circumstance, poverty, education, or whatever, this does not make that person a racist. In other words, talking about these variables could very well relate to one’s interest in understanding the complexity of human beings and how difficult human actions and relations can be. In simply considering any meaningful discussion involving the social sciences it’s clear that this type dialogue is relevant.  In this context, and rather than try to eliminate or even minimize the dialogue, especially in the face of its significance, our concern should be pointed at the public policy that could flow from what we might learn about racial differences. In other words, the fact that one race is different from the other should not be translated into policy that speaks to changing that race into something that it isn’t, or trying to deny individual opportunities based on race, or worse, trying to eliminate that race from the societal mix. (By the way, all of this applies to gender and sexism as well.)

Unfortunately, it seems that important conversations about race get run directly into racist lines via these public policy options.  Given this, it becomes important to understand what race actually is, that racial differences do indeed exist and that we need to be careful on how we approach these facts in sculpting just and fair public policy.  This would certainly go a long way in diffusing the tensions that seem to continually erupt in rather destructive fashion and overall help to ensure that we are attentive to having a sound, civic-minded society.

Obviously this entire suggestion demands that discussions of this type not only happen, but that they be held in a place where we can hope to develop a better understanding of our past, current and future struggles with the matters at hand. In short, the discussions should be happening throughout our educational processes. This of course would both reinforce the topic’s importance and it would also keep the public from spending its time attempting to untangle what is and isn’t, through the Sterling-type conflicts that tend to leave us with only a collective black eye.

With much the same logic in mind the 1st amendment’s guarantee of free speech is also a very complicated issue. In short, trying to balance what anyone can say, whether in a public forum or not or whether a public figure or not, in the context of having a civil, safe and progressive society is as difficult as it sounds.  Here again, given the importance of the concerns on the table, this should be an on-going discussion in our educational arenas.  And I would also suggest that the “expectation of privacy” issues connected to the 4th amendment’s search and seizure concerns also be given the same attention in the educational arena.  Here again, the notion of having the kind of society we want is in balance, so understanding the basics of what can, might and should be considered “private”, especially in our highly advanced, technological society, needs to be addressed in environments that speak to both education and civic dialogue.

Trying to hold Sterling accountable for his personal beliefs, especially in the context of his business ventures, which include the employment of a large number of minorities (at a rather high rate of pay), involves complicated concerns, and it’s not likely the result will be anything as punitive as the initial outcry implied. In any event, it would seem as important to focus energy in ways that might better service the public good.  In this regard, this piece opened with what could be considered a “sterling” example for the bigotry and racism that continues to this day. In reality not much can be done with this type of personal attitude, save to place it in its proper societal frame of reference. And we must stay vigilant in this regard.

So I’ll leave you with more of the same from another famous American’s writings, writings which might surprise some of you a bit. They, too, underscore that the complex dangers of race and racist dialogue have run across all levels of our society in all manner of ways.  Again, given what we see today, it’s more than questionable as to whether our attention to these dangers has been adequately focused. In other words, educational leaders take heed.

Henry Ford

“…the genius of the Jew is to live off people, not off the land, nor off the production of commodities from raw materials, but off the people. Let other people till the soil; the Jew, if he can, will live off the tiller. Let other people toil at the trades and manufacture; the Jew will exploit the fruits of their work. That is his particular genius. If this genius be described as ‘parasitic’, the term would seem to be justified by a certain fitness.

“Until the Jews can show that the infiltration of foreign Jews and the Jewish Idea into the American labor movement has made for the betterment in character and estate, in citizenship and economic statesmanship, the charge of being an alien, destructive and treasonable influence will have to stand.”

Excerpts from Henry Ford’s anti-Semitic rant “The International Jew”, published in 1921.

 

About the author:

Jim Palombo is politics editor of Ragazine.CC. You can read more about him in About Us.

June 8, 2014   Comments Off on Jim Palombo: On Race & Racism

High Plains/Russell Streur

Lincoln Highway Memorial

 

High Plains Postcard

Story and Photographs, Russell Streur

Give the landscape in High Plains Drifter its due, but Clint Eastwood filmed that movie in the California Sierras, hundreds of miles from the real place.

With its sorghum roots threatened by the failing Ogallala Aquifer, the High Plains today rise perilously up from Lubbock north through the short grass prairie and rolling hills past Cheyenne till meeting the Black Hills and the holy country of the Sioux above the Platte.

It’s a considerable country, enough to separate the long, flat horizons of the corn and wheat fields of the American heartland from the jagged peaks of the Rocky Mountains and the cool, blue rivers and the forest pines of the Big Sky.

Old and famous trails cross through here, the Bozeman and the Mormon.  In Guernsey, Wyoming, passers-by can still see the ruts of the Oregon Trail, carved four feet deep in sandstone by the iron wheels of the thousands and thousands of wagons that carried the great migration west.

Newer trails cross here, too, the Lincoln Highway and the Union Pacific. There’s a tall and muscular pedestal with Lincoln’s bust on top just this side of Laramie off Interstate 80 marking a waypoint on the nation’s first coast to coast highway. The 16th President looms over a smaller memorial to Henry Bourne Joy, whose brainchild it was to pave a ribbon of concrete across the continent from New York City to San Francisco.

HIGH PLAINS

Russell Streur, proprietor of The Camel Saloon, an online literary pub, takes to the High Plains of Wyoming.

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High Plains, Bison, Russell Streur, 2014, Wyoming
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High Plains 1, Russell Streur, 2014, Wyoming
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High Plains 2, Russell Streur, 2014, Wyoming
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High Plains 3, Russell Streur, 2014, Wyoming
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High Plains 4, Russell Streur, 2014, Wyoming
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High Plains 5, Russell Streur, 2014, Wyoming
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High Plains 6, Russell Streur, 2014, Wyoming
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High Plains 7, Russell Streur, 2014, Wyoming
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High Plains 8, Russell Streur, 2014, Wyoming
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High Plains, Lincoln, Russell Streur, 2014, Wyoming
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High Plains, Windmill, Russell Streur, 2014, Wyoming

Not far away is a 60-foot granite pyramid celebrating the life of the brothers Oakes and Oliver Ames, Jr. Once known as The Shovel King, Oakes financed the completion of the Union Pacific in the late 1860s on a shaky house of sweetheart deals and flimsy banknotes common to the era.  Fingered as the central villain in the web of fraud and deceit of the ensuing Credit Mobilier scandal, Oakes died after a stroke, censured by Congress and disgraced, in the spring of 1873.   Ousted as president of the Union Pacific by a rival company faction, Oliver somehow escaped most of the heat from the fallout and passed on a few years later.  In the early 1880s, the railroad commissioned the monument to the two men, placing it at the highest elevation reached by the tracks.

Sometime later, the railroad moved its roadbed, and the Ames Monument now stands in a general nowhere, odd and unattended on a windy hill.

Most people along the trails kept on moving. Not six people per square mile live in Wyoming these days, in attendance to the sheep and hay and cottonwood.  The growing season is a short and dry five months in a generous year.

With all the elbow room, it’s a good place to go looking for God.  He’s everywhere out here.  So is She.

And the buffalo.

Remember this – when you meet your destiny pete1, and your teeth go flying one way, and your ass the other, the buffalo wins.

Then, make the word for medicine with the sign language of the tribes:  hold right hand close to forehead, palm out, index and middle finger separated and pointing to sky, thumb and other fingers closed.  Spiral hand upward, in right to left circles, as in the unknown mystery of it all.

The Great Spirit.  Call that, The Stranger.

 

 About the author:

Born in Chicago and currently a resident of Johns Creek, Georgia, Russell Streur’s poetry has been published widely in print, on line and in anthologies in the United States and Europe.  He operates the world’s original on-line poetry bar, The Camel Saloon (http://thecamelsaloon.blogspot.com/), is the author of The Muse of Many Names (Poets Democracy, 2011) and Table of Discontents (Ten Pages Press, 2012).  His photography has been featured in Written River and on line at The Blue Hour, Pacific Poetry and other publications.  His works are regularly seen at Atlanta area galleries.  He is a member of the Atlanta Artists Center, the Georgia Poetry Society, and wilderness and conservation organizations.

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 1. pte … variation of a Lakota word for buffalo, “pte”.


April 28, 2014   Comments Off on High Plains/Russell Streur

Deep State/Politics-Jim Palombo

democracy

 Library of Congress Collection

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“Deep State”

by J. Palombo

There are a number of problems facing the country today and the “deep state” topic underscores this point. A special thanks to Henry Giroux for his contributing piece, the important considerations he raises speak for themselves. Enjoy the provocative reads and as always your comments and questions are most welcome.

 

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The term “deep state” refers to a political agenda that operates by means of a deep-seated allegiance to nationalism, corporatism and/or state interests. A simple Wikipedia search will show that the term has its history tied to the Turkish military that controlled political leadership there in the last century.  One might notice its current use particularly in the context of the Egyptian military’s powerful control of the political and economic processes in that country. The reach of this control extends into actual business interests/investment in water, gas, tourism and other economic enterprises, investments that translate into political influence on a variety of levels. And, given the covert and overt measures that are used to maintain this power, it appears impossible to escape the policy objectives tied to the military interests, no matter who gets elected or what political ideas are presented to the people.

Of course this all points to a perilous situation, which is evident in what we see happening in Egypt today. This “deep state” of affairs brings to mind our own concerns regarding what President Eisenhower first termed as the military industrial complex – where the development and maintenance of a large military as well as war itself happens with a focus on profit rather than on security interests.  Although clearly a danger in terms of both political and economic agendas, there is a difference in the Egyptian circumstance. This is primarily so as the military there is more in a position to wield power over the political processes via its direct economic interests/investments.  Nonetheless, the comparison is certainly a point to reference.

Having made the “deep state” concept clear, I would like to present its application in another way, one not often considered but one which could be argued is as damaging as the one referenced above. To begin, let me note that over the past quarter century I’ve been involved with attempting to bring to the attention of the American public the fact that we have not adequately come to grips with the nature of our capitalist identity. This effort, rising out of my own personal and professional experiences with our “American experiment,” has involved writing books and articles, holding discussions with both public and private individuals and groups, integrating related material in classroom lectures, developing a website and reaching out to hundreds of people and organizations on both sides of the political spectrum involved with trying to make America “a better society.” Now one might think that this effort wouldn’t result in any grand struggle, after all it’s obvious that almost all we do and consider, in both public and private venues and across all of our institutions, is tied to market-related, capitalist variables. But, even though I’ve gotten a fair share of positive encouragement (no one has dismissed the importance of what’s being referenced) it has been/continues to be a grand struggle indeed.

This has happened in large part due to our understanding that the country most predominantly represents a democracy, which to some extent is true. But we are also very much linked to the elements of capitalism – in fact we are the most advanced capitalist system in the world. Yet, outside the language of it being a free market, supply and demand system, we tend not to discuss capitalism in its fullest content (including its critical analyses) nor with any national consistency, even given its significance. Therefore, even though the influence of capitalism is evident on every level of our society (consider work, the media, the law, politics and daily personal decisions just to name a few) we are left in situation where there is ignorance and confusion over what this might actually mean. And of course this has a significant effect on our ability to understand and address both national and international concerns.  (And it also hampers our ability to comprehend what other countries might be doing.)

In essence then there is a gap in our understanding relative to measuring our country in terms of the practicalities of capitalism as opposed to the ideals of democracy, a gap which makes the work focused on making America a better nation more difficult than it already is. Take for example the work designed to address social issues like crime, employment, education, and poverty. In an “unaware atmosphere,” it makes it very difficult to first offer analyses of the problems and then to discuss any meaningful ways to rectify those problems. In effect, we seem to be existing one step above where the rubber actually meets the road, talking and working around concerns that should be clearly on the public table of understanding. And at the same time, we remain in a state where we are virtually controlled by economic elements without having the requisite information to understand the nature of this control. So it’s this combination of “the gap” and the simultaneous unwillingness to attempt to close it that gives rise to our version of “deep state.” (A fair comparison to trying to understand the country without talking about capitalism is trying to understand baseball without talking about the pitcher and the catcher. Leaving either mechanism unattended is simply nonsensical!)

It might occur at this point to ask, how did this circumstance develop?  In other words, how is it that a country so tied to the advent of modern capitalism could have a public so shrouded in mystery as to what this actually means, enough so that the “deep state” analogy could make sense? Well, there are several explanations and they are intricately tied to why there is such a struggle to bring the definitions of capitalism to the public table. It might be that, as Karl Marx suggested, a capitalist system grows so exploitive of the general public that those with the power will do anything, including deceiving others and manipulating the truth, to avoid “letting on” what is happening. For the most part this would help explain the “elitist” control of the wealth/power in our country as well the continuing vagaries of political and economic discussion that surround this control. (This raises the possibility that talking about democratic ideals is a ruse to cover the practicalities of capitalism.) Yet as easy as this “conspiracy” is to internalize, it seems difficult to accept, particularly as the sole explanation for our current situation.

In other words, taking into consideration our fortunate history, and given the substantial accomplishments as individuals and as a country in that context, it is fair to propose that we, as a public, simply came to believe too strongly in our democratic and economic freedom. In this light our spirit, energy and our prosperity became so ignited and fueled by our democratic and free market ideals that, even amidst our struggles (issues regarding equality via the civil war, the labor union struggles and the civil rights movement come immediately to mind), there appeared little room for seriously integrating alternative thought, especially thought that could be critical of what we so steadfastly believed. (It is important to note here that in terms of public awareness, a substantial part of our capitalist identity developed consistent with an animosity toward and outright fear of communism, particularly in the post World War II years.  And this, especially coupled with our post-war successes, proved to create an environment where developing a coherent and legitimate dialogue about capitalism seemed virtually impossible. On this point keep in mind that the concepts of socialism and communism grow out of Karl Marx’s critical analysis of capitalism. This means that it is an analysis that contributes to meaningful discussion about capitalism as well as socialism and communism. Yet a good number of people who don’t know any better tend to characterize those who discuss this significant analysis in terms of unpatriotic Marxists who want to turn American into a socialist or communist state. This is a ridiculous overstatement to say the least. Nonetheless, it is a notion that remains strong enough to have supported the fear that continues to stymie legitimate public discourse.)

So, in this light it can be argued that we, the public, cannot escape assuming a portion of the responsibility for our “deep state” state of affairs. This is especially so as we seem to be continuing on this course of ignoring what we see happening around us. Even with articulating things like: “the acknowledgement of ignorance paves the road toward wisdom” and espousing efforts that encourage “creative and outside-the-box” thinking, and emphasizing across the political and academic spectrum that we need to have more civically aware/responsible citizens, we remain stuck in terms of coming to grips with our own reality.

It hard to believe that we can/will stay in this “the world is flat” mindset much longer – the obviousness of the current economic crises as well as the poor market controls speak for themselves. Also, the continually developing growth models, like that of China, are pushing serious and long-term looks into the nature of capitalism. Said another way we, as a public, can hardly avoid taking on the task of examining all aspects of capitalism, especially given the issues and concerns we/the world must all face. (The recently released book by Orville Schell and John Delury, Wealth and Power – China’s Long March to the 21st Century, is a compelling review of what China has and is doing in terms of developing its current growth model. Suffice it to say, we could learn from/ borrow some important considerations from what is presented by the authors.)

Obviously the task ahead of us won’t be easy, especially in the sense of owning up to our own shortcomings. Yet there is a way to make the effort a bit easier to undertake. In essence, we can begin our work by recognizing ourselves as a young country, one whose history has been touched with great fortune, one that has allowed us to prosper to almost unparalleled levels of success. And like we would encourage any young person who has been so fortunate, we must be willing to assume more of the responsibility that should come with that good fortune. In other words, it’s time for us to grow up, to admire our accomplishments while also acknowledging the requisite responsibilities we must embrace as we move on. And in this context, whether Republican or Democrat (or whatever), this will demand that we take a hard look at our connection to capitalism, both on its own and its relatedness to democracy. There is simply no other way around this – it’s as clear as reminding ourselves that to make things work better, we must first understand how things work.

In a previous column, I noted several organizations that are currently at work asking the question, “What will it take for our democracy to work?” Implied in this question is the idea that we have to examine the elements that might be in the way of this happening. Of course, what we find out may not alter our course (hopefully it will) but we will at least be able to lay claim to the notion that we can make informed decisions regarding the pressing problems we face. In this light, I am hoping to continue to work with organizations like the National Issues Forum and the Kettering Foundation to integrate the concerns noted above with their mission of making our country better civically skilled through education and civic dialogue. As always, I promise to keep you posted as to what develops whatever the outcome. And on this point I hope that you too will do your best to be involved with how we might come to better understand our collective selves. For instance, simply asking those in the political or economic arenas or those in academia about these concerns would certainly help contribute to the motion we need to generate. Whatever course of action you take, consider that it may be up to the next generations to come up with better systems/models than those currently in use – but it is no doubt our responsibility to help dig us out of the hole we have, unwittingly or otherwise, helped create.

 

 

About the author:

Jim Palombo is politics editor of Ragazine.CC. You can read more about him in About Us.

 

 

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3.CLOUGHCOLOUR2013

Jonathan Kelham Illustration

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March 1, 2014   Comments Off on Deep State/Politics-Jim Palombo

Deep State/Politics-Henry Giroux


occupy kieOccupy Website

The Specter of Authoritarianism

and the Politics of the “Deep State”

by Henry A. Giroux

Mike Lofgren, a former GOP congressional staff member for 28 years with the Senate and House Budget committees, has written an essay for Bill Moyers & Company titled “Anatomy of the ‘deep state’.”[1]  The notion of the “deep state” has a long genealogy and serves to mark the myriad ways in which power remains invisible while largely serving the interest of the financial elite, mega-corporations, and other authoritarian regimes of commanding power. The form the “deep state” takes depends upon the historical conjuncture in which it emerges and the forces that drive and benefit from it can either be at the margins or at the center of power and control.[2] The notion of the “deep state” also points to different configurations of power. President Eisenhower’s warning about the military-industrial complex is one example of the elements of the “deep state” ikethat emerged in the post-World War II period. Another register can be seen in the coming of age of corporate power in combination with various forms of religious, military, and educational fundamentalisms in which war becomes aligned with big business, corporate power replaces state-based political sovereignty, religious extremism shapes everyday policies, and the punishing state works in tandem with the devolution of the welfare or social state.

Lofgren argues that the “deep state” “has its own compass regardless of who is in power.”[3] This suggests that democracy itself and its modes of ideology, governance, and policies have been hijacked by forces that are as deeply anti-democratic as they are authoritarian. One instance of the undermining of democracy is evident in the overreach of presidential power by Obama is not only on full display, as Lofgren points out,  in the power of the government to “liquidate American citizens without due processes, detain prisoners indefinitely without charge, conduct dragnet surveillance on the American people without judicial warrant and engage in unprecedented—at least since the McCarthy era—witch hunts against federal employees (the so-called ‘Insider Threat Program,”[4] but also in the failure of  Republican and Democratic party members, with a few exceptions, to  raise their voices in opposition to this not so invisible form of authoritarian rule. The silence of the political and intellectual clerks speaks to more than a flight from moral, social, and political responsibility, it speaks directly to the political extremism that has imposed a new and savage order of cruelty and violence on vast members of the American public.

I am not quite sure what to say about Lofgren’s essay, because while I agree with much of it in pointing to the anti-democratic tendencies undermining democracy in the U.S., I find the language too constrained and the absences too disturbing.  The notion of the “deep state” may be useful in pointing to a new configuration of power in the United States in which corporate sovereignty replaces political sovereignty, but it is not enough to simply expose the hidden institutions and structures of power. What we have in the United States today is fundamentally a new mode of politics, one wedded to a notion of power removed from accountability of any kind, and this poses a dangerous and calamitous threat to democracy itself, because such power is difficult to understand, analyze, and duckcounter. The collapse of the public into the private, the depoliticization of the citizenry in the face of an egregious celebrity culture, and the disabling of education as a critical public sphere makes it easier for neoliberal capital with its hatred of democracy and celebration of the market to render its ideologies, values, and practices as a matter of common sense, removed from critical inquiry and dissent.

With privatization comes a kind of collective amnesia about the role of government, the importance of the social contract, and the importance of public values. For instance, war, intelligence operations, prisons, schools, transportation systems, and a range of other operations once considered public have been outsourced or simply handed over to private contractors who are removed from any sense of civic and political accountability. The social contract and the institutions that give it meaning have been transformed into entitlements administered and colonized largely by the corporate interests and the financial elite. Policy is no longer being written by politicians accountable to the American public. Instead, policies concerning the defense budget, deregulation, health care, public transportation, job training programs, and a host of other crucial areas are now largely written by lobbyists who represent mega corporations. How else to explain the weak deregulation policies following the economic crisis of 2007 or the lack of a public option in Obama’s health care policies? Or, for that matter, the more serious retreat from any viable notion of the political imagination that “requires long-term organizing—e.g., single-payer health care, universally free public higher education and public transportation, federal guarantees of housing and income security?[5] The liberal center has moved to the right on these issues while the left has become largely absent and ineffective.

Lofgren’s conception of the “deep state” is a certainly useful concept for exposing the dark shadows of power but it does not go far enough in explaining the emergence of a society in an era of failed sociality, one in which the state has not only become suicidal and violent, but also cruel to the extreme. This a state dedicated to governing all aspects of social life, rather than just commanding economic and political institutions. Americans now live in a time that breaks young people, devalues justice, and saturates the minute details of everyday life with the constant threat, if not reality, of state violence. The mediaeval turn to embracing forms of punishment that inflict pain on the psyches and the bodies of young 1984-2people is part of a larger immersion of society in public spectacles of violence. The Deluzian control society[6] is now the ultimate form of entertainment in America, as the pain of others, especially those considered disposable and powerless, is no longer an object of compassion, but one of ridicule and amusement. Pleasure loses its emancipatory possibilities and degenerates into a pathology in which misery is celebrated as a source of fun.  High octane violence and human suffering are now considered consumer entertainment products designed to raise the collective pleasure quotient.  Brute force and savage killing replayed over and over in the culture now function as part of an anti-immune system that turns the economy of genuine pleasure into a mode of sadism that saps democracy of any political substance and moral vitality, even as the body politic appears engaged in a process of cannibalizing its own young. It is perhaps not farfetched to imagine a reality TV show in which millions tune in to watch young kids being handcuffed, arrested, tried in the courts, and sent to juvenile detention centers. No society can make a claim to being a democracy as long as it defines itself through shared hatred and fears, rather than shared responsibilities. Needless to say, extreme violence is more than a spectacle for upping the pleasure quotient of those disengaged from politics, it is also part of a punishing machine that spends more on putting poor minorities in jail than educating them. As Michelle Alexander points out, “There are more African American adults under correctional control today — in prison or jail, on probation or parole — than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began.”[7]

I would suggest that what needs to be addressed is some sense of how this unique authoritarian historical conjuncture of power and politics came into place, especially with the rise of Ronald Reagan’s anti-government policies in the 1980s and Margaret Thatcher’s announcement that there is no such thing as society, only individuals and families. This was the beginning of the war on responsible government and the elimination of the welfare state and the celebration of a stripped down radical individualism motivated by an almost pathological narcissism and self-interest.  More specifically, there is no mention by Lofgren of the collapse of the social state which began in the seventies with the rise of neoliberal capitalism–a far more dangerous form of market fundamentalism than we had seen since the first Gilded Age. Nor is there a sustained analysis of what is NSAnew about this ideology. How, for instance, are the wars abroad related increasingly to the diverse forms of domestic terrorism that have emerged at home? What is new and distinctive about a society marked by militaristic violence, exemplified by its war on youth, women, gays, public values, public education, and any viable exhibition of dissent? Why at this particular moment in history is an aggressive war being waged against not only whistle blowers, but also journalists, students, artists, intellectuals, and the institutions that support them?  And, of course, what seems entirely missing in this essay is any reference to the rise of the punishing state with its massive racially inflected incarceration system, which amounts to a war on poor minorities, especially black youth.

What is not so hidden about the tentacles of power that now hide behind the euphemism of democratic governance is the rise of a punishing state and its totalitarian paranoiac mindset  in which everyone is considered a potential terrorist or criminal. This mindset has resulted in the government arming local police forces with discarded weapons from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, turning local police into high-tech SWAT teams.[8]  How else to explain the increasing criminalization of social problems from homelessness and failure to pay off student loans to  trivial infractions  by students such as doodling on a desk or violating dress code in the public schools, all of which can land the public and young people in jail. The turn towards the punishing state is especially evident in the war on young people taking place in many schools, which now resemble prisons with their lockdown procedures, zero tolerance policies, metal detectors, and the increasing presence of police in the schools. One instance of the increasing punishing culture of schooling is provided by Chase Madar. He writes “Though it’s a national phenomenon, Mississippi currently leads the way in turning school behavior into a police issue.  The Hospitality State has imposed felony charges on schoolchildren for “crimes” like throwing peanuts on a bus.  Wearing the wrong color belt to school got one child handcuffed to a railing for several hours.  All of this goes under the rubric of “zero-tolerance” discipline, which turns out to be just another form of violence legally imported into schools.”[9]

Zero tolerance policies are only one example of the rise of the punishing and surveillance state which has transformed everyday life in the United States into a war zone.[10] John Whitehead captures the militarized culture of everyday life well in arguing that how Americans are now treated by government officials has taken a dangerous turn. He writes:

You might walk past a police officer outfitted in tactical gear, holding an assault rifle, or drive past a police cruiser scanning license plates. There might be a surveillance camera on the street corner tracking your movements. At the airport, you may be put through your paces by government agents who will want to either pat you down or run scans of your body. And each time you make a call or send a text message, your communications will most likely be logged and filed. When you return home, you might find that government agents have been questioning your neighbors about you, as part of a “census” questionnaire. After you retire to sleep, you might find yourself awakened by a SWAT team crashing through your door (you’ll later discover they were at the wrong address), and if you make the mistake of reaching for your eyeglasses, you might find yourself shot by a cop who felt threatened. Is this the behavior of a government that respects you? One that looks upon you as having inviolate rights? One that regards you as its employer, its master, its purpose for being?[11]

Central to the new authoritarianism that Lofgren hints at but does not address is the culture of fear that now rules American life and how it functions to redefine the notion of ciasecurity, diverting it away from social considerations to narrow matters of personal safety.  In a post-9/11 world, fear has become the reigning organizing principle in the United States. Fear is now embodied in the militarization of everyday life, the rise of the surveillance-mass, the notion of permanent war, the expanding incarceration state, and the crushing of dissent.  Shared fears have replaced any sense of shared responsibilities. And much of this has taken a racist turn. For instance, the war on drugs and terrorism has been joined by the war on dissent and has become the new face of racial discrimination and the destruction of all viable democratic public spheres.[12] In this instance, a culture of surveillance, punishment, and repression have become the bedrock of a new mode of authoritarianism while collective modes of support are increasingly vanishing from public life.

Similarly, any viable challenge to the “deep state” and the new mode of authoritarianism it supports needs to say more about the notion of disposability and a growing culture of cruelty brought about by the death of political concessions in politics–a politics now governed by the ultra-rich and mega corporations that has no allegiance to local politics and produces a culture infused with a self-righteous coldness that takes delight in the suffering of others. Evidence of such a culture is on full display in the attempts by extremists to cut billions of dollars from the food stamp program, lower the taxes of the rich and corporations while defunding social security and Medicare, passing legislation that openly discriminates against gays and lesbians, the attempts to roll back voting rights, and women’s reproductive rights, and this is only a short list. The war on poverty has morphed into a war on the poor, and human misfortune and “material poverty into something shameful and repellent.”[13]

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“Democracy is on life support in the United States and working within the system to change it is a dead end … except for gaining short term reforms. The struggle for a substantive democracy needs more, and the American people expect more…”

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Power is now separated from politics and floats, unchecked, and uncaring. Power is global and politics is local and points to a new form of hybrid global financial authoritarianism. This points to something connected to the “deep state” and that is the emergence of global neoliberalism and its savage willingness in the name of accumulation, privatization, deregulation, dispossession, and power to make disposable a wide range of groups. Such groups include but are not limited to low income youth, poor minorities, unemployed workers, and elements of the middle class that have lost jobs, social protections, and hope.

Increasingly, in the United States, poor minority and low-income youth, especially those from marginalized ethnic and indigenous groups, are often warehoused in schools that resemble boot camps, dispersed to dank and dangerous work places far from the enclaves of the tourist industries, incarcerated in prisons that favor punishment over rehabilitation, and consigned to the increasing army of the permanently unemployed.  Rendered redundant as a result of the collapse or absence of the social state, pervasive racism, a growing disparity in income and wealth, and a profit-at-all-costs neoliberal mindset, an increasing number of individuals and groups are being demonized, criminalized, or simply abandoned because they lack status as middle-class “taxpayers.” Their ranks are filled with non-citizens (immigrants and refugees), poor minorities, low-income youth, the elderly, the poor, the unemployed, the disabled, the homeless, and the underemployed and working poor who cannot secure a living wage. These people become invisible in the public discourse and occupy what Joao Biehl has called those “zones of terminal exclusion” which accelerate the disposability of the unwanted.[14]

Central to a failed state and a politics of disposability is the central question: How does culture work to insure the workings of dominant power? That is, how does the “deep state” function to encourage particular types of individualistic, competitive, acquisitive and entrepreneurial behavior in its citizens? The biggest problem facing the U.S. may not be only its repressive institutions, modes of governance, and the militarization of everyday life, but also the interiority of neoliberal nihilism, the hatred of democratic relations, and the embrace of a culture of cruelty. That is, how is subjective life itself now shaped according to the logic of the market, commerce, and the privatization and commodification of everything? The role of culture as an educative force, a new and powerful force in politics is central here and is vastly underplayed in the essay (which of course cannot include everything). For instance, in what ways does it use the major cultural apparatuses to convince people that there is no alternative to existing relations of power, that consumerism is the ultimate mark of citizenship, and that making money is the essence of individual and social responsibility.

In other words, what is missing from Lofgren’s theory of the “deep state” is a sustained analysis of cultural domination–an understanding of how identities, subjectivities, and values are shaped in the narrow and selfish image of commerce, how exchange values have become the only values, and how the vocabulary of the market has hijacked public values, and the discourse of solidarity, community, and social responsibility.   In my estimation, the “deep state” is simply symptomatic of something more ominous, the rise of a new form of authoritarianism, a counter-revolution in which society is being restructured and advanced under what might be called the neoliberal revolution. This is a counter-revolution in which the welfare state is being liquidated, along with the collective provisions which supported it. It is a revolution in which economics drives politics.

The question of resistance haunts almost all theories of the “deep state,” which often conflate power with domination and offer nothing less than a dystopian vision of society and the future. Resistance either degenerates into nostalgia for the good old days of the past or it suggests that those who wish to change the world should work within the current bankrupt political system. Or, even worse, it suggest that the call for radical change is ultimately an act of bad faith, if not a form of political infantilism. Rather than dissolve power into unshakable forms of domination, I think these new modes of power have to be understood in terms of their limits and strengths and challenged accordingly not as an act of reform but as an act of revolution—a going to the root of the problem in order to create strategies for fundamental social, political, and economic transformation.

I don’t believe the system is broken. I think it works well, but in the interest of very privileged and powerful elite economic and political interests that are aggressively waging a war on democracy itself. If there is to be any challenge to this system, it cannot be made within the discourse of liberal reform, which has largely served to maintain a repressive status quo.  Occupy and many other social movements recognize this. These groups have refused to be defined by the dominant media, the dictates of the security state, the financialization of everyday life, and forms of representations that are utterly corrupt. Hope and resistance will only come when the call for reform and working within the system gives way to imagining a very different understanding of what democracy means.

capitolThe new authoritarianism with its diverse tentacles is the antithesis of democracy, and if we are going to change what Lofgren calls the “deep state”, it is necessary to think in terms of an alternative that does not mimic its ideologies, institutions, governing structures, and power relations. Two things are essential for challenging the new authoritarianism. First, there needs to be a change in collective consciousness about what democracy really means and what it might look like. This is a pedagogical task whose aim is to create the formative culture that produces the agents and subjects necessary for challenging a range of anti-democratic practices and neoliberal values, ideologies, and modes of governance that impoverish democratic values, experiences, and civic responsibility.

This suggests making education central to any viable notion of pedagogy and working diligently to develop public spaces, particularly alternative spaces, where new ideas, modes of exchange, and forms of critical analysis can be produced and circulated. Clearly, this would include using the Internet, new digital media, journals, magazines, screen culture, films, newspapers, and all of the cultural apparatuses available to address and develop new modes of subjectivity. Secondly, there is a need for a massive social movement with distinct strategies, organizations, and the will to address the roots of the problem and imagine a very different kind of society, one that requires genuine democratic socialism as its aim.

The left is too fractured around single political issues and needs to develop alliances in which broad based organizations can be developed with long term strategies and goals. This will not happen quickly but the foundations can be laid for new modes of organizing in which the totality of society is addressed and diverse struggles can be aligned in ways that expand their reach and political power outside of the specificity of differences that drive them. Democracy is on life support in the United States and working within the system to change it is a dead end, except for gaining short term reforms. The struggle for a substantive democracy needs more, and the American people expect more. The “deep state” is an important concept but it needs to be expanded so as to address the dark shadow of authoritarianism that now haunts American society.

 

About the author:

Henry A. Giroux is the Global TV Network Chair at McMaster University and is a Distinguished Visiting Professor at Ryerson University in Canada. His latest book is Neoliberalism’s War on Higher Education published by Haymarket (2014).


[1] See Mike Lofgren, “The ““deep state”” – How Much Does It Explain?,” Truthout (February 26, 2014). Online: http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/22075-anatomy-of-the-deep-state

[2]  See, Jim Palombo, “Deep State” Ragazine ( March 2014)

[3] Ibid. Lofgren.

[4] Ibid. Lofgren

[5] Adolph Reed Jr., “Nothing Left: The Long, Slow Surrender of American Liberals,” Harper’s Magazine (March 2014), p. 29.

[6] Giles Deleuze, “Societies of Control,” October, 59, 1992, pp. 3-7.

[7] Michelle Alexander, “Michelle Alexander, The Age of Obama as a Racial Nightmare,” Tom Dispatch (March 25, 2012). Online: http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175520/best_of_tomdispatch%3A_michelle_alexander,_the_age_of_obama_as_a_racial_nightmare/

[8] Radley Balko, The Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces (Jackson, Tenn.: Perseus Books, 2013).

[9] Chase Madar, “Everyone Is a Criminal: On the Over-Policing of America”, Huffington Post (December 13, 2013). Online:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/chase-madar/over-policing-of-america_b_4412187.html

[10] I address this issue in detail in Henry A. Giroux, America’s Education Deficit and the War on Youth (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2013) and Henry A. Giroux, Youth in Revolt: Reclaiming a Democratic Future (Boulder: Paradigm Publishers, 2013).

[11] John W. Whitehead, “Paranoia, Surveillance and Military Tactics: Have We Become Enemies of the Government?” The Rutherford Institute (February 17, 2014). Online: https://www.rutherford.org/publications_resources/john_whiteheads_commentary/paranoia_surveillance_and_military_tactics_have_we_become_enemies_of_t

[12] Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow (New York: New Press, 2012).

[13] Jonathan Crary, 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep (London: Verso, 2013), p. 113.

[14]. Joao Biehl, Vita: Life in a Zone of Social Abandonment (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005).

 

 

 

March 1, 2014   1 Comment

John Smelcer/R. Crumb

GENESIS V10N2

Illustration © 2009 by R. Crumb (used with permission).

 

THE BOOK OF GENESIS, REVISED
FOR AMERICAN INDIAN HISTORY

by John Smelcer

In the beginning,
after forming the earth from the void
God said, “Let there be light”
and so there was

And God saw that this was good
so he divided light from darkness
and water from land;
and then one day God created Indians
and he saw that they were good
and he loved them for a really long time,
but then he must have got mad at them
because they didn’t speak English or something
so he whispered in the ear of Christopher Columbus
to show the way for white people
who came to claim the land for themselves,
and God said unto them,
“From this day on you shall have dominion over Indians,”
which was kind of the same thing he told Adam
about the animals that creeped and crawled

and so it was
and so it was
and so it was

And God saw that this was good
so when he returned from a paid vacation in Rome
God said, “Let Indians be slaves to the Whites”
and so they were the first slaves to toil in the New World
but then the Whites ran out of Indians
so they imported Black people from far away
and that is all that people would remember
forever and ever, amen

And God knew that this was good
so he told White people to go west and multiply
and he said unto them,
“Let there be colonization,”
and so there was
and from his words sprang colonialism

who begat expansionism
who begat broken treaties
who begat assimilation
who begat disease
who begat wars
who begat genocide

Then one day after he made the dodo extinct
God decided that Indians needed exercise
so he created The Trail of Tears
and then he told the Whites to kill all the buffalo
so that Indians would become vegetarians

and so it was
and so it was
and so it was

After he got over a bad cold or something
God looked around and saw that Whites
were like locusts and they needed more land
to build condos and housing developments,
gas stations and convenience stores,
shopping malls and parking lots,
so he said, “Let there be reservations”
and lo they came into being
and from his words sprang dislocation

who begat racism
who begat poverty
who begat alcoholism
who begat depression
who begat suicide
who begat genocide

And God knew that this was good
so he created the Bureau of Indian Affairs
and land allotments and unscrupulous land embezzlers
and boarding schools where Indian children
were taught to forget what it means to be Indian,
then he created HUD Housing and commodity cheese,
rez dogs and bingo halls, casinos and
The Church of Infinite Confusion

And on the last day God returned from Wal-Mart
and the Mega-Mall and the cineplex
and he saw that Indians were no more upon the land
and he knew that this was a good thing
so he created the Lazy Boy and the remote control
and TV westerns and pay-per-view
and the Washington Redskins and the Cleveland Indians,
and from his comfortable reclining throne
God looked out across the land he had created
and he saw that it was good
and he called it America which means
“Place where Indians once roamed”

and so it was
and so it was
and so it was

 

______________________

 

About the poet: Poet John Smelcer has been associate publisher at Rosebud Magazine for two decades.
genesis coverBack in the late 1990s, Rosebud twice published the amazing art of R. Crumb. In 2009, Crumb published The Book of Genesis Illustrated (W. W. Norton), in many ways a masterpiece. For years, John’s “Genesis” poem has been taught in a course on genocide at the Open University of Israel. When John asked Crumb to collaborate on this project, the answer was a resounding yes. Just seemed like a perfect fit. The only other poet Crumb collaborated with was Charles Bukowski. Smelcer is a contributing editor to Ragazine. You can read more about him in “About Us.”

R. Crumb illustration excerpted from The Book of Genesis Illustrated, by R. Crumb. Copyright 2009 by Robert Crumb. With permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

 

March 1, 2014   Comments Off on John Smelcer/R. Crumb

Jean Toomer’s “Cane”/John Smelcer

cane

Identity, Multigenrism, and the Historicity

of Jean Toomer’s Cane, and the Rise

of the Harlem Renaissance

 By Lucille Clifton and John Smelcer

 

Jean Toomer’s Cane is widely considered the first major text of the Harlem Renaissance, which is generally regarded as beginning in 1923, with the publication of Cane, and ending in 1929, though the precise boundaries are debatable. But what is the multi-generic Cane? It can be argued that Toomer’s masterpiece, a herald of a new era literary and artistic expression, is a precursor to the modern short story cycle, a form which took off almost immediately after its publication.

For more than eighty years Cane has defied easy classification as to its genre. The book consists of twenty-nine separate toomerunits divided by three simple visual images: fifteen poems interspersed between seven short stories, six prose sketches, and one extended short story (“Kabnis,” which Toomer called a play though it is neither wholly a play, either), which utilizes, in places, the use of play-writing dialogue, complete with stage directions, thereby making Cane a mixed-bag of literary techniques and genres. Some of the prose sketches may even be argued to be prose poems. It has been variously called a “novel,” a “collage,” a “poetic novel,” and even an “anti-novel.” Regardless of its genre, Cane is an important modernist text, depicting the horrors of a world of lynchings, race riots, and Jim Crow (Scruggs, 1).

Robert Bone called Cane “a collection which forms one of the distinguished achievements in the writings of Americans” (81). Bernard Bell and Odette Martin said essentially the same thing: that Cane holds a unique place in American literature (Bell, 11; Martin, 6). But for more than forty years after its initial publication in 1923, Cane was all but forgotten until a resurgence of African-American literature in the late 1960s resuscitated interest in it, culminating in the book’s republication in 1967 by University Place. But the question remains today as it did then: What is Cane? As Arna Bontemps asks in the “Introduction” to Harper & Row’s 1967 re-issue of Cane, in what genre is this “odd and provocative form” (x) to be classified?

On its initial publication in 1923, critics praised Cane as an innovation, a landmark in American literature, mostly for its unique portrayal of Blacks and the sheer poetic beauty of the book’s language. Others cited its remarkable uniqueness from anything that came before it. W. E. B. DuBois extolled the book’s importance in The Crisis, the magazine he then edited for the NAACP, and Charles S. Johnson remarked of Toomer in the “Introduction” to the 1969 re-publication of Cane that his was the “most astonishingly brilliant beginning of any Negro writer of his generation” (vii). And Toomer’s friend and mentor, Waldo Frank, wrote in the foreword to the original 1923 publication that “Cane is a harbinger of a literary force of whose incalculable future I believe no reader of this book will be in doubt” (iii).

Unfortunately, the promise of a stellar literary career never materialized. Within a few years, Toomer disappeared from the literary scene altogether. In his lifelong search for meaning of the self as artist, Toomer turned to the Gurdjieff Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man, where he eventually established a local Gurdjieff Group in Harlem, attracting such artists as Langston Hughes and Wallace Thurman. Toomer remained involved with the Gurdjieff group until 1934.

But Toomer’s ultimate disappearance from the American literary scene came about largely, if not entirely, from his own doings. With all the praise applauding Cane as a Negro work, Toomer himself began to state that he was not a Negro. He considered himself a new type of man. In his personal correspondence, Toomer said he was mixed with Scotch, Welsh, German, English, French, Dutch, Spanish, and some dark blood. Indeed, he was often mistaken for being Eastern Indian, Native American, and even Latin American. He wrote a series of letters stating, “The fact that I am not [emphasis mine] a Negro is a negative, and not of main importance” (September 18, 1930; Toomer Collection). Shortly thereafter, Toomer wrote to James Weldon Johnson saying essentially the same thing about his Negro-ness and declining to allow some of the poems in Cane to be included in The Book of American Negro Poetry, which Johnson was then editing. Finally, in December 1934, Toomer wrote to the Baltimore Afro-American, “I do not really know whether there is any colored blood in me or not” (1).

Toomer essentially disappeared from the literary scene altogether after these proclamations. He was rarely heard of again and Cane languished until 1967 when the rising interest in Black literature spurred University Place to produce a cloth re-printing of Cane. Ironically, Toomer, then 73 years old, was invited to write an introduction, but he died on March 30th before the letter arrived.

can

1932 edition

While it is true that Cane largely languished until 1967, it is not entirely so. Some Afro-American writers and scholars still thought about Cane. Indeed, in August 1964, the University of California sponsored the Conference on the Negro Writer in the United States, held outside Monterey. Among the faculty were Gwendolyn Brooks, Arna Bontemps, LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka), James Baldwin, Robert Bone, and Kenneth Rexroth (Bontemps and Bone would both eventually provide introductions to Cane). Ralph Ellison, who had agreed to contribute, did not arrive, and conference-goers noted the conspicuous absence of Langston Hughes, who had not been invited. Participants included over 200 educators, writers, intellectuals, and social workers. Arna Bontemps gave a “spell-binding” discussion of Cane. When he was finished, he was confronted with an overwhelming number of hands. The audience wanted to know more about Toomer. Kenneth Rexroth correctly stated that most of the audience had never heard of Toomer before but now wanted to hear more (Kent, 180).

In 1969, encouraged by the success of the University Place reprinting, Harper and Row made the work more available in its paperback Perennial Classics series, including an excellent Introduction by Arna Bontemps, and Cane was once again a success. Despite his denunciation of his Negro-ness, Toomer’s reputation was resurrected, and today Cane is held as an important literary landmark in African American literature.

After his death, some 30,000 items of Toomer’s were donated to Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. Among the items included numerous manuscripts (novels, short stories, autobiographies, correspondences, and Natalie Mann, a play that would eventually be published) that opened up the way for increased scholarly study about the writer. Since then, a great deal has been learned about the man. The plethora of material continues to raise the question of Toomer’s racial identity and the significance of that identity to understanding Cane. Some critics (Scruggs and VanDemarr, et. al.) even question the reliability of Toomer’s autobiographical statements. Some of these materials were later complied and edited into The Wayward and the Seeking: A Collection of Writings by Jean Toomer (1980), edited by Darwin Turner.

Aside from questions of Toomer’s racial identity and Cane’s long, bumpy ride from overnight fame to relative obscurity, what is to be done about the question of the book’s genre classification? A significant number of articles have been published in recent decades trying to answer this question. As a whole, they have produced some ingenious commentary on the role of myth (most obviously Cain and the notion of the Black Messiah), as well as commentary on the influence of symbolism, philosophy, and the role of women characters in binding the multiple forms in Cane. Critics such as Marion Berghahn have pointed out Toomer’s use of African symbolism, which was connected with a then (as it is today) contemporary interest in “authentic” experience, a hearkening to African heritage.

Other interesting suggestions for unlocking the mystery of Cane’s structural unity includes the discovery in the early 1970s that Cane is organized based on principles of the Blues (McKeever, 61). However, in his essay “The Novel of the Negro Renaissance,” George Hutchinson says it was jazz, not The Blues that inspired Cane, even discussing Cane’s improvisational style. Jazz was more than simply a new kind of uniquely American music; it was a lifestyle instrumental in defining the emerging Harlem Renaissance. F. Scott Fitzgerald is credited with coining the term Jazz Age in his novel This Side of Paradise and in his (1920) short story collection Tales of the Jazz Age (1922). Fitzgerald earned a reputation as the symbol of the Jazz Age.

Nowhere in Steven Tracy’s essay “The Blues Novel” does he even mention Toomer. One of the reasons for arguing that Cane’s structure is influenced by jazz is the way Toomer develops many of his sketches, four of which have poetic refrains, which repeat at the beginning, middle, and end. Two others, “Calling Jesus” and “Rhobert,” incorporate short musical (poetic) refrains within the body.

Although poetically brilliant and lyrically beautiful in diction, symbolism, and intensity, Cane certainly cannot be labeled as merely a book of poetry, although it is a book containing poetry. Conversely, because of the intermittent use of poetry, Cane is neither a short story collection. Of the idea that Cane is a novel (even a poetic or lyric novel), Toomer himself informed publisher Horace Liveright in a letter he wrote shortly before the publication of Cane, that he [Toomer] had no familiarity with the composition of a novel and did not consider Cane to be a novel (Jean Toomer Collection, 1923). And although the book uses dramatic, theatrical techniques (in the form of play-dialogue, especially in “Kabnis,” possibly “borrowed” from Eugene O’Neill), it is neither a play, although Toomer himself called “Kabnis” a play in three acts. The prose sketches, short fictional descriptions of a character or place, Toomer called his “attempt at an artistic record of Negro and mixed blood America” (Toomer Collection, March 24, 1923).

It can be argued that Cane is a short story cycle, alternatively providing a microscopic and macroscopic examination of the nature of the African American experience in the United States. If it is, then Cane (along with Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio and The Triumph of the Egg) is a precursor to the modern short story cycle, which uses the recurrence of patterns in theme, symbol, images, trope, character, place, words, and even phrases (among other elements) to treat the same theme from different angles. Indeed, the short story cycle, or some hybrid version of it, was in vogue immediately following the publication of Cane, including William Carlos William’s “In the American Grain” (1925) and Ernest Hemingway’s “In Our Time” (1924).

Toomer’s placement of each poem, story, or sketch is significant, serving to increase the intertextuality of the short story cycle, complementing and building on itself. Even the space or gaps between the stories has a function, allowing interpretation for what is unsaid by the author. In some ways, the poems and the episodic sketches and stories are like snapshots, revealing a broad scope of place and events outside the constraints of the linear structures and temporality generally given to novels.

While many early critics noted the recurrence of themes in Cane’s divisions, they did not fully understand the synthetic unity of the collected work; that came later, especially throughout the 1970s after Cane’s republication, which explains Arna Bontemps’ statement that Cane has an “odd and provocative” structure. And what of the three visual images which separate the three divisions? As Robert Bone and Blyden Jackson point out, Toomer uses words almost as a plastic medium. George Hutchinson says of Cane’s multi-generic structure in “The Novel of the Negro Renaissance”:

“The work that really broke the mold and helped inspire new forms of African American fiction was . . . Jean Toomer’s multi-generic tour de force, Cane. While not exactly a novel, Cane explored many of the different possibilities that would be taken up by others and worked out in novelistic form . . . infusing the work with the improvisatory qualities and the rhythms of African American spirituals and jazz. Toomer’s creation of a hybrid literary form consonant with new types of popular culture suggested exciting possibilities for black literary experimentation.”(52)

As stated above, Cane is divided into three cycles. The first is what has been termed the Southern Cycle, the second the Northern Cycle, and the final unit (“Kabnis”) is a synthesis of the two: of a Northern Negro’s experience in the brutal (yet beautiful) South. Toomer himself represents the divisions by his use of a symbol on the page preceding each new division. A downward curve announces section one (representing both the southern portion of a sphere and the beginning of a diurnal cycle); an upward curve introduces section two (representing the northern portion of a sphere and the second half of a diurnal cycle); and an unconnected circle (a whole sphere), made by bringing both former symbols together (but not combined or joined), represents the synthesis of the first two parts of Cane (including the complete annual cycle of the seasons as Cane spans one year).

In the third cycle, Ralph Kabnis is a Northern Negro whose quest takes him from his home in Washington (and New York), “which he always half-way despised” (84) in search of the other half of the Afro-American heritage to be found in Georgia. The whole work, then, read as a cycle, is a representation of Toomer’s piercing insight into the deep inadequacies of North and South, based on his perceptions of the internal contradictions in both, with the culminating cycle, “Kabnis,” being a portrait of the Negro writer (Toomer), reflecting his inability to clearly articulate his vision. The artist-hero of the cycles experiences history as he moves through time, from pre-American African experience, through post-reconstruction, to the modern Black experience in the North. In part, Cane is Toomer’s attempt to articulate questions of his own racial identity.

This structural arrangement allows for various treatments of the same theme from different perspectives. This method may have been borrowed from Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio and his The Triumph of the Egg, which has a good many of the elements found in Cane, especially the incorporation of short stories, poems, and even illustrations. Toomer and Anderson corresponded during the formation of Cane. Other literary influences on Toomer during that time included the writing of Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Flaubert, Baudelaire, Coleridge, Blake, Shaw, Ibsen, Goethe, Santayana, Dreiser, Lewis, Robert Frost, Amy Lowell, and of course, Waldo Frank. Several of William Blake’s famous images include sketches of Blacks being lynched, which influenced his Visions of the Daughters of Albion (Klonsky, 46-48). Blake was a master of symbolism and myth, something which Toomer succeeds in Cane.

It is likely that Toomer was also influenced by T. S. Eliot’s poem “The Waste Land,” which was receiving great fanfare in America about the time he was composing the middle section of Cane and revising “Kabnis.” In a letter to Horace Liveright in January, 1923, Toomer comments that he had indeed read “The Wasteland” (Fabre and Feith, 2).

Some critics (Blyden Jackson, et. al.) point to the drama of Eugene O’Neill as another influence on Cane’s form (Hutchinson, 52). Yet Cane achieves a higher complexity than either O’Neill’s or Anderson’s works. The cyclic design and the interrelatedness of the stories themselves is much more ambitious, even tying together the underlying impulse toward nurturing an inherent and composite myth. Toomer knew both these authors’ works and he especially admired Anderson, with whom he corresponded, their exchanges discussed in an essay by Darwin Turner and some of the letters catalogued in the Jean Toomer Collection at Fisk University.

Cane was not written chronologically; the first and third cycles were written first, followed by the middle cycle. Also, companion pieces were written and incorporated into the manuscript sporadically throughout 1922, especially in November. The cyclical nature of the work allows for establishing connections between, for instance, the “son” in “Song of the Son” in the beginning of the book and the extended short story, “Kabnis” at the end of the book.

Indeed, most of the stories or sketches in Cane have companion pieces in the other cycles, a hallmark of the modern short story cycle. In such a reading, the author reveals the optimism of the first against the experience and wisdom of the latter. Read as such, Cane is a transcending representation of different perspectives of the same racial North-South dichotomies over time and especially geography (particularly Georgia and Washington D. C.).

This cyclical perspective also reveals the pity of Toomer’s northern characters whose limited choices range from staying in the South and suffering for it (recall how the first division of Cane ends in a lynching and all the other violence in that cycle), and existing in the North essentially as refugees from the South. “Beehive,” the first poem in the Northern Cycle, is a portrait of the busy life in a city. “Kabnis” is a compromise, a synthesis in which Toomer suggests that a new American heritage must be defined — a new kind of American (one which he argued for all his life). In “Kabnis,” the play-dialogue section clearly indicates this juxtaposition of the North-South Negro experience and attitudes. At one point, a stone with a note wrapped around it shatters a window. The note seemingly threatens Kabnis to leave the South at once: “You northern nigger,” it reads, “its time fer y t leave. Git along now” (90).

Some critics, such as Edward Margolies in his Native Sons: A Critical Study of Twentieth Century Negro American Authors, have misconstrued Cane’s theme, arguing that “the work celebrates the passion and instincts of black persons close to the soil as opposed to the corruption of their spirit and vitality in the cities” (39). Such a misreading fails to comprehend the real case against the South which Kabnis makes in the final division (cycle) of Cane and ignores the disturbing scenes of a legacy of violence. The first cycle of Cane ends with the story of Tom Burwell being burned alive at the stake in “Blood-Burning Moon,” a story in which a white male has an affair with a Black woman, whose confusion about the complexities of color inform the tragic conclusion of the story:

“A great flame muffled in black smoke shot upward. The mob yelled. The mob was silent. Now Tom could be seen within the flames. Only his head, erect, lean, like a blackened stone. Stench of burning flesh soaked the air. Tom’s eyes popped. His head settled downward. The mob yelled.” (34)

Not to be outdone, “Kabnis” includes the horrifying murder of Mame Lamkins:

“Layman: White folks know that niggers talk, an they don’t mind jes so long as nothing comes of it, so here goes. She was in the family-way, Mame Lamkins was. They killed her in th street, an some white man seein the risin in her stomach as she lay there soppy in her blood like any cow, took an ripped her belly open, an the kid fell out. It was living; but a nigger baby aint supposed t live. So he jabbed his knife in it and stuck it t a tree.” (90)

The backdrop of the Southern cycles of Cane is a contradictory landscape of natural beauty, depicted in Toomer’s gorgeous poetic and lyric diction, against the harsh brutality of Southern racial culture. Throughout Cane, Toomer depicts White Southerners as seeing Blacks as nothing more than animals, compared to a cow in the above-mentioned passage and in another instance when Layman says, “The white folks (reckon I oughtn’t tell it) had jes knocked two others like you kill a cow—brained um with an ax” (88). Indeed, Cane is considerably influenced by Toomer’s three-month stay in Sparta, Georgia, in 1921, during which time he lived in a shack and “began to realize the hardship the Blacks suffered both socially and economically” (“Jean Toomer”, 2).

During those months, the Sparta Ishmaelite was filled with the stories of violence and deprivation heaped on Blacks, the headlines almost always masked as suspicious suicides, such as the story of a 35-year-old woman who emptied a shotgun into her belly. This period marked the high point of Southern lynching of Blacks and may be the spark which influenced Toomer to create Ralph Kabnis, a Northern Negro who eventually panics and flees the South, convinced that he is to be lynched. In a letter to Waldo Frank, Toomer briefly suggests that he barely escaped a serious situation himself (04/26/1922, Toomer Collection).

Another issue that Toomer investigates in Cane is interracial sexual relationships, miscegenation, and the plight of Negro women, possibly influenced by witnessing the sadness and suffering of his own mother, Nina Toomer, whose life was to show her son the anguished dependencies and bewildering existences of women, a dominate motif in Cane. His juxtaposed stories, “Bona and Paul” and “Blood Burning Down” contrast how in one the urge is surrendered to, while in the other a reluctance develops in which Paul is able to reverse the course of his relationship. Other counter-posed sketches include “Rhobert” and “Calling Jesus,” and “Avey” and “Seventh Street” in which Toomer regards the promise of freedom in the new land (the North; Washington D. C. and Chicago) in contrast to the insufficiency of security and alienation in “Avey.” “Reapers” and “November Cotton Flower” are another example of a pairing in the South-North cycles in which Toomer returns to his motif of feminine beauty.

Blyden Jackson incorrectly asserts that “no single character or group of characters appears in more than one story or sketch” (319). Jackson overlooks the repetition of character-types and the repeated use of several characters such as Barlo, David Georgia, Father John, and of course, the narrator/artist-hero that appears under a variety of different names.

Frequently, a word, phrase, image, trope, or a symbol in one poem or sketch is mirrored in other parts of Cane, including “Evening Song,” a companion piece to “Fern,” which shares a common landscape used in “Withered Skin.” Another example is the recurring moon, like the ubiquitous cane fields, a constant throughout the cycles. The blood-colored moon foreshadows lynching. These repetitions are, again, hallmarks of the modern short story cycle. Such parallels exist throughout Cane and are part of the extraordinary complexity and richness of the work. Other repetitions include pines, cane, canebrakes, cane fields, moon, flames and fire, smoke and dusk (both obscure), violence and lynching, references to Christ and Christianity, imaginative imagery of Africa, miscegenation, and references to women. Toomer almost always compares the land to a woman. Sometimes the repeated words or symbols are combined, as in “Becky”, the second sketch in the book, in which Toomer states twice on the same page, “The pines whispered to Jesus” (5).

Adding to the complexity of Cane is Toomer’s use of the cycles of nature and the cycles of religion. For instance, in “Esther,” Toomer reveals the false prophecy of a Black messiah who misleads the devout Esther with his deceitful actions.

Although no one in Cane actually migrates, the book is nonetheless considered a work on Black migration (Griffin, 27). For instance, the Southern cycle ends with Louisa asking in “Blood-Burning Moon”, “Where have all the people gone?” The answer: they have moved north, Toomer’s keen observation of the mass migrations of Blacks northward to escape the economic hardships and outrages of the South. Indeed, abruptly after the lynching, the reader hurriedly “migrates” to the North as the Northern cycle begins.

In “Who Set You Flowin’?,” Farah Jasmine Griffin comments that Toomer accurately “foreshadows . . . the lynching which spurs the movement of the text North” and that he “establishes one of the major tropes of the migration narrative,” that is “violence on the black body as a trope to signify the violence of the South and as a major catalyst for migration” (24-25), a reasonable catalyst why the main character in James Weldon Johnson’s The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man runs away.

Whatever Cane may be, a long-forgotten one-hit wonder or a genre-less masterpiece of American literary ingenuity, it has greatly influenced subsequent African American writers, many of whom have used his mixed-literary device/mixed-genre style in their own writing. This influence is evident in, among others, Alice Walker’s Living By the Word, Anything We Love Can Be Saved, By the Light of My Father’s Smile, and Possessing the Secret of Joy. Walker provides a front cover blurb on the Norton edition in which she says, “Cane has been reverberating in me to an astonishing degree. I love it passionately; could not possibly exist without it.” Toomer’s influence is also evident in Maya Angelou’s Gather Together in My Name and Singin’ and Swingin’ and Getting’ Merry Like Christmas, and in four books by Nikki Giovanni: Those Who Ride the Night Wind, Quilting the Black-Eyed Pea, Blues: For All the Change, and Acolytes.  No doubt, a great many writers (African-American and otherwise) to come after Toomer were influenced by Cane.

Without question, the newly republished Cane, gaining a popular national momentum, made possible new ways for Black literary expression during and after the explosion of African-American literature in the late 1960s. As Robert Bone writes on the dustcover of Cane, “Jean Toomer belongs to that first rank of writers who use words almost as a plastic medium, shaping new meanings from an original and highly personal style.” While Toomer may be one of the most ambiguous figures in American literary history, that malleable plastic medium is his generous gift.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

 

About the authors:

John Smelcer and Lucille Clifton met at the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival in Stanhope, NJ, in the fall of 2006 and began this collaboration a year later. Born and raised in Buffalo, New York, Lucille was “discovered” by Langston Hughes, who included her poems in his 1969 anthology, The Poetry of the Negro. Over the years, Lucille taught at Columbia and Dartmouth. Her poetry books were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize. She served as the Poet Laureate of Maryland and as a Chancellor for the Academy of American Poetry. In 2007, she received the $100,000 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize for Lifetime Achievement. She died in Baltimore in February of 2010 at the age of 73. John Smelcer, the author of a numerous books of poetry and ethnic American literature, was recently a Clifford D. Clark Fellow at Binghamton University in upstate New York. After Lucille’s passing, it would be a couple years before John completed this article. You can read more about him in “About Us.”

 

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Bibliography

 

Anderson, Sherwood. Winesburg, Ohio. New York: Penguin, 1992.

—–. The Triumph of the Egg.  New York: Wang and Hill, 1962.

Baltimore Afro-American, December 1, 1934. [cited in J. Benson and M. Dillard’s biography, Jean Toomer. Boston: Twayne, 1980.]

Bell, Barnard. “Portrait of the Artist as High Priest of Soul: Jean Toomer’s Cane.” Black World, 13 (1974).

Berghahn, Marion. Images of Africa in Black American Literature. New Jersey: Rowman and Littlefield, 1977.

Bone, Robert A. The Negro Novel in America. New Haven: Yale UP, 1965.

—–. Down Home: A History of Afro-American Short Fiction. New York:

Putnam, 1975.

Fabre, Genevieve and Michael Feith (eds.). Jean Toomer and the Harlem Renaissance. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 2001.

Fitgerald, F. Scott. This Side of Paradise. New York: Cambridge University

Press, 1995.

Griffin, Farah Jasmine. “Who Set You Flowin’? The African-American Migration Narrative. New York: Oxford UP, 1995.

Hemingway, Ernest. In Our Time. New York: Scribner’s, 1924.

Hutchinson, George. “The Novel of the Negro Renaissance” in The Cambridge Companion to the African American Novel, M. Graham (Ed.).Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2004.

Jackson, Blyden. “Cane: An Issue of Genre.” The Twenties (Ed. Warren French). DeLand: Everett and Edwards, 1975.

“Jean Toomer.” Accessed 11/10/2008 at www.afropoets.net/jeantoomer.html

Jean Toomer Collection. Nashville: Fisk University. [archives accessed in person during the two week Jewish holidays break in October, 2008].

Johnson, James Weldon. The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man. New York: HarperCollins, 1999.

Kent, George. A Life of Gwendolyn Brooks. Lexington: Kentucky UP, 1990.

Klonsky, Milton. William Blake: The Seer and His Visions. New York: Harmony Books, 1977.

Margolies, Edward. Native Sons: A Critical Study of Twentieth Century Negro American Authors. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1968.

Martin, Odette. “Cane: Method and Myth.” Obsidian, 2 (1976).

McKeever, Benjamin. “Cane as Blues.” Negro American Literature Forum, 3 (1970).

Scruggs, Charles and Lee VanDemarr. Jean Toomer and the Terrors of American History. University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998.

Toomer, Jean. Cane. New York: Liveright, 1923.

—–. Cane. “Introduction by Arna Bontemps.” New York: Harper and Row, 1969.

Tracy, Steven. “The Blues Novel.” in The Cambridge Companion to the African American Novel, M. Graham (Ed.).Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2004.

Turner, Darwin. “Intersection of Paths: The Correspondence Between Jean Toomer and Sherwood Anderson.” CLA Journal, 17 (1974), 455-62.

—–. The Wayward and the Seeking: The Collected Writings of Jean Toomer. Washington, D. C.: Howard UP, 1980.

Williams, William Carlos. In the American Grain. 1925.

August 31, 2013   Comments Off on Jean Toomer’s “Cane”/John Smelcer

Jim Palombo/Politics

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On the Topic of Work 

by J. Palombo

I was recently invited to participate in the “The Economy of the Workers” conference in Joao Pessoa, Brazil. The invitation came via a colleague, Professor Andres Ruggeri from the University of Buenos Aires, who happens to be one of the directors of the gathering. Unfortunately I will not be able to attend as there is an important meeting stateside which happens to fall on the same dates – you will read more about this particular conference in an upcoming edition.  In any event, the invitation prompted several thoughts which I reasoned might be worth your consideration, so I thought I would pass them along.

One of the first things that came to mind when I got the conference review was a memory from my youth and my work as a paperboy in my predominantly immigrant neighborhood. Along my route, and only two doors up from the large tannery that employed many of the people in the town, there was a tavern called Workers Lunch. I knew the place fairly well as I delivered the morning paper there for several years and also had to collect the weekly fee usually every Thursday after school. In this context I was able to see both the environment and the bar-patrons close-up. In terms of the former, I can still recall the sour smell of beer, cooked vegetables and boiled meat and see the spittoons scattered along the bar floor. As to the latter, the mostly Polish, Czech and Russian people all seemed a little worse for wear, generally covered in the sweat and soot of their own daily labor. Their jobs promised hard work with little pay but it none the less provided them with a camaraderie which that style of life often brings.  I guess that noting the clarity in which I can recollect the place points to the fact that along with my own family history (many relatives worked in that tannery) the experiences in my youth provided me with a sensitivity for working class concerns, something that continues to this day. And I think it’s safe to say that although the workplace and the nature of work have changed over the years, I am not alone in carrying this sentiment.

Importantly, these memories made for an interesting backdrop in considering the tenor of the conference. In short, I was struck by how the elements of the conference, although clear in substance, did not really “fit” within our contemporary U.S. frame of worker-related considerations. (It seems that they might have made more sense to those at Workers Lunch.) In other words, and as an example, the listing of “topics of debate,” which includes the “historical trajectory of self-management from traditional communities to labor movements” and the “challenges of trade union experiences in neoliberal global capitalism” appears to speak to different terms pointed toward different experiences, different times and differing cultural instincts. Said another way, it’s as if the U.S.’s particular connection to both the industrial and technological revolutions as well as to the intricacies inherent in being the most advanced/modern capitalist system, made for a different language in terms of the issues being raised in the “other Americas.” And it naturally follows that these predominantly ideological-level differences would make for some discussion related challenges between the countries, challenges which may not be evident at first glance. In fact this was going to be my topic theme at the conference. The thought was that despite the U.S.  links to issues like union movements, unemployment, wage stagnation, income inequality, immigration and the overall notion of a work ethic, it seems reasonable to inquire into what extent the workers in the U.S. could actually identify and/or understand the “topics of debate” for this predominantly South and Latin American conference. In essence, my contribution would not be to say that one system is better than the other, or to infer that one is devoid of problems or pitfalls. Rather, my point would be to highlight the differences, encouraging that we better interpret them to bring our common and uncommon ground better into focus.

I will certainly be in contact with Professor Ruggeri in the future, as I am most interested in the outcome of the conference and what might happen in the years to follow. For now, I hope that you will take a moment to read through the conference review – I trust you will find it of interest. Of course, please feel free to offer your own thoughts – it would be great to know to what extent this type event, including the topics on the table and the comments I’ve offered, work for you.

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 IV INTERNATIONAL GATHERING “THE ECONOMY OF THE WORKERS”

Alternatives for worker self-management and employment in response to the global economic crisis

9th to 12th July, 2013, Joao Pessoa, Brazil

 

In an international context where the global capitalist crisis is increasingly affecting European countries, especially along the Mediterranean, the only response from governments has been to implement a series of strict austerity measures. These austerity measures have been tried and tested in other parts of the world and have proven not only to fail to regenerate economies, but have lead to further impoverishment, structural unemployment, marginalization and insecurity for the majority of society who must work to earn a living. In response, large protest movements have begun to emerge in “developed” countries that are feeling the effects of the crisis the most, reinforcing the need for change in the management of the economy that not only contemplates the welfare of the working masses, but assures that they have a role in its management too.

In often-labeled “developing” countries, particularly throughout Latin America, social movements, popular organizations and labor movements have been developing processes of organization at a grass-roots level that in many cases take the form of worker self-management of economic units of goods and services. Such is the case of the worker-recovered businesses managed by the workers in Argentina, and other forms of worker-control, both urban and rural. In some instances, these movements have gained some recognition and support at a governmental level, bringing into question of the role of the state and the relationship between state power and the autonomy of the popular movement: on the one hand the state can be understood as a potential enhancer of these processes of worker-control, while on the other hand it can be perceived as an antagonistic instrument of traditional power with the potential to compromise the autonomy of self-management.

The IV International Gathering “The Economy of the Workers” seeks to explore these and other questions relating to the struggle of the workers from different perspectives and in different national contexts. It seeks to provide a space for discussion and debate using the experiences of worker economic control and self-management as a point of departure, bringing together the perspectives of academics, social activists, and the workers themselves. Together with worker-recovered businesses, cooperatives, labor movements and organizations, social movements, political groups and academics, among others, we have been developing the International Gathering and the themes explored within it, with representatives from over 20 countries participating in the previous gatherings. We reiterate here what we have emphasized in the previous conferences: ‘In non-hegemonic, if uneven, ways, workers are also inventing alternatives that are not limited to the economic, but that delve into wider cultural processes as well, which, based on non-capitalist relations of production, have opened more and more spaces for pre-figurative politics. These alternative economic institutions are affording workers spaces to discuss issues such as internal power and gender structures, as well as the relationship between workers, workplaces, and their surrounding communities. These processes, visible for example in the recovered factories, workers’ cooperatives, and micro-enterprises of the world, although incipient, show that workers can present and self-manage a more humane and sustainable alternative to corporate globalization’.

The IV International Gathering will be held in the North Eastern state of Paraíba, Brazil, hosted by the Incubator for Social Entrepreneurship (INCUBES), Federal University of Paraiba and the Open Faculty Program of the University of Buenos Aires.

History of the International Gathering “The Economy of the Workers”

The International Gathering “The Economy of the Workers”, whose first edition was held in Buenos Aires in July 2007 under the theme “Self-management and distribution of wealth”, was organized by the Open Faculty Program of the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters, University of Buenos Aires, in conjunction with academic institutions, social organizations and workers in Argentina and around the world. The Gathering emerged as a forum for the exchange of ideas and experiences between academics, activists and workers about the problems and possibilities of self-management, a regeneration of a political, economic and social project by the working class and social movements, as well as to critically discuss and analyze the practices of academic investigation into these topics.

The Argentine experience of worker-control and self-management provided a solid basis for discussion for the first Gathering in 2007. These discussions evolved to take on an international nature by the second and third Gatherings (held in Buenos Aires in 2009, and in Mexico City in 2011) looking at, and learning from, the different experiences of the working class and social movements around the world, with an ultimate objective in mind of producing an alternative economic, social and political project than that which neoliberal global capitalism presents. In this sense the themes and discussion topics of the Gathering became more diverse, expanding to different areas of social struggles and critical thinking, yet still remaining true to the spirit of the Gathering that that its title suggests: how to think about, debate and construct an economy from the workers and worker self-management.

 

Topics of Debate:

1. Analysis of capitalist management of the economy and proposals for self-management

2. The new crisis of global capitalism: analysis from the perspective of the economy of the workers

3. The historical trajectory of self-management: from traditional communities to labor movements

4. Self-management in its actual stage: problems and possibilities. Worker-recovered businesses, cooperatives, and attempts at self-management by indigenous communities, peasants and social movements.

5. Self-management and Gender: creating democracy

6. Analysis of the socialist experience: past and future

7. The challenges of trade union experiences in neoliberal global capitalism.

8. Informal, precarious and degrading employment: social exclusion or reconfiguration of labor in global capitalism?

9. New movements in response to the global economic crisis: perspectives from the struggle for self-management

10. Challenges facing popular governments in the social management of the economy and the state

11. The university, workers and social movements: debate over methodologies and practices of mutual construction

12. Pedagogy of self-management

 

Organizational structure for the IV International Gathering “The Economy of the Workers”

The IV International Gathering will take place on 9th thru 12th July, 2013, with morning and afternoon sessions, and will be open to the public. There will be plenary sessions and workshops with the presentation of papers, videoconferencing, and a final plenary session with discussion and conclusions.

Organizing Committees:

Incubator for Social Entrepreneurship (INCUBES) Universidade Federal da Paraíba, Brazil; Department of Social Relations of the Autonomous Metropolitan University-Xochimilco, Mexico; Open Faculty Program, Faculty of Philosophy and Letters of the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina, Núcleo de Solidariedade Técnica (SOLTEC/UFRJ)

* Professor Andres Ruggeri is Director of the Open University Program, University of Buenos Aires, Argentina. He can be reached at: Andres.Ruggeri@gmail.com

 

About the author:

Jim Palombo is politics editor of Ragazine.CC. You can read more about him in About Us.

June 29, 2013   Comments Off on Jim Palombo/Politics

Bruchac & Smelcer: Amerindian Literature

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Carlisle Indian Industrial School circa 1895 (photos are from the Richard M. Pratt Archives held by the Beinecke Library at Yale University) *

The Boarding School Experience

in American Indian Literature

by Joseph Bruchac & John Smelcer

One of the most recurrent themes in American Indian literature is the lasting impact of the boarding school experience. From 1879 until the early 1960s, the federal government tried to assimilate American Indians by sending school-aged Indian children to distant boarding schools where, it was believed, the Indian in them would be slowly and forever replaced by Western traditions, language, education, and religion. By law, Indian children were literally abducted by the government and sent off to institutions designed to destroy their cultural identity. They were the stolen generations. Most of the schools were structured on an Army training model, requiring the boys to cut their long hair, wear uniforms, and engage in military drills.

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Photograph of Navajo youth, Tom Torlino, on his arrival at Carlisle in 1882
and shortly thereafter (photo by John N. Choate, a professional photographer
who was hired by Pratt to take such pictures to be used to publicize the civilizing effect of Carlisle and insure its continued support by the United States government and influential white patrons).

This was due, in large part to the person who founded and ran one of the first, and surely the most influential, of the Indian Boarding Schools. That man, Captain Richard Henry Pratt, had served as an officer in the 10th Cavalry during the Red River War. When the war ended, Pratt was given charge of a group of 72 Indian prisoners of war taken in 1875 to Fort Marion in St. Augustine, Florida. His success in “transforming” them led to the development of the Carlisle Residential School Model. The first of such institutions, the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, was established in 1879 in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Pratt’s philosophy was best described in a speech that he himself gave in 1892: “A great general has said that the only good Indian is a dead one.* In a sense, I agree with the sentiment, but only in this: that all the Indian there is in the race should be dead. Kill the Indian in him, and save the man.”

*General Philip Sheridan’s actual quote (c. 1868) is “The only good Indian I ever saw was dead.”

________

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Carlisle Indian Industrial School, 1902 (note date penciled at bottom of photo)

Indian boarding schools were built to be places that would utterly transform Indian people, obliterating tribal identity, destroying Native languages, and eradicating Native religions, customs, and traditions. Students were punished —often drastically — when caught speaking their Native languages. There exist numerous accounts of students locked in basements or boiler rooms for days without food or water. At its height, there were 153 of these schools across America.

Parallel histories exist in Canada’s treatment of First Nations people and in Australia’s dealings with Aborigines.

In the early years, thousands of children died from diseases to which they had no previous immunity, especially from trachoma, influenza, and tuberculosis. The government blamed the epidemic on the Indians’ physical inferiority, insisting they had brought it upon themselves.  Worse, yet, students weren’t always young. Sometimes, as was the case with the Chiricahua Apaches (Geronimo was Apache), after they were taken as prisoners of war (the entire tribe) to Florida and then to Arkansas, young men and women, some of whom were already married and had children of their own, were selected for Carlisle personally by none other than Pratt. Most of them died there of tuberculosis (and are buried in the Carlisle graveyard) or were shipped infected back to their families who then contracted the deadly disease.

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Carlisle Indian School graveyard (c. 1885)

While it is easy to catalogue the detrimental effects of the residential Indian school system, there were mixed blessings. Ironically, though they were meant to obliterate American Indian identity, the boarding schools sometimes did the opposite, quite unintentionally. By bringing together young people from different tribes across the nation, lifelong intertribal friendships were forged. But also intertribal marriages helped build a new spirit of Pan-Indianism in the 20th Century (many of the most established Native American writers are of mixed tribal heritage). Rather than seeking out careers as house-keepers and menial workers — as those schools often intended — many Native people who endured the boarding school experience continued to pursue their education for their people. Rather than rejecting traditional ways, they demonstrated the resilience of American  Indian cultures as they went on to advocate for Native rights and identity in many professions, including law, the arts, and as community leaders — testimony to the enduring spirit of the American Indian.

The lives of Indian children sent to boarding schools were forever changed. And though it was not their choice to leave their homes, many were ostracized when they returned. Unable to reconcile the old and the new, many returning students lived socially detached and abusive lives as outcasts and alcoholics. The experience left an indelible mark on Native America. For instance, much of the loss of Native languages can be traced to this period in American history. Contemporary American Indian literature — with its canon of poems, short stories, essays, novels, and plays — frequently makes reference to the boarding school experience, even when the writers themselves are too young to have attended such institutions. Nonetheless, in one way or another, their lives have been impacted by the experience of their parents and grandparents. You can see the influence in the first poem and story in the anthology, “After a Sermon at the Church of Infinite Confusion” (as part of their assimilation, boarding school students attended Christian church services, including Sunday School) and “The Soft-Hearted Sioux.”

 

About the authors:

John Smelcer is a contributing editor to Ragazine.CC. You can read more about him in About Us.

Joseph Bruchac:  For over thirty years Joseph Bruchac has been creating poetry, short stories, novels, anthologies and music that reflect his Abenaki Indian heritage and Native American traditions. He is the author of more than 120 books for children and adults. The best selling Keepers of the Earth: Native American Stories and Environmental Activities for Children and others of his “Keepers” series, with its remarkable integration of science and folklore, continue to receive critical acclaim and to be used in classrooms throughout the country. His web site is: http://www.josephbruchac.com/

For a list of Suggested Readings on Residential Indian Schools in the United States and Canada, please contact the authors.

March 2, 2013   Comments Off on Bruchac & Smelcer: Amerindian Literature