Mark Thomas interview by Ian Sinclair

Via ZNet:

Having spent much of his adult life campaigning on issues including the arms trade, the illegality of the Iraq war and the misdeeds of Coca-Cola, comedian and activist Mark Thomas has now turned his attention to the ongoing financial crisis.

With banker bonuses and government bail-outs there has been a huge amount of public anger about the credit crunch. But at the same time, esoteric terms such as derivatives, quantitative easing and fractional reserve banking mean many people are also very confused and ignorant about the issue too.

“I don’t think it is that complex, but the jargon is baffling,” Thomas tells me backstage before one of his shows at the Tricycle Theatre in London.

“I think people get it automatically. It is very, very simple: the bankers have got the money, we’ve got the recession. They’ve got the increase in wages, we’ve got the increase in unemployment. You don’t need a degree for that.”

Publishing Inc.

In the Meanwhile, the Incorporated Estates of Dearth, and not only the North American subsidiary, sponsor every day the “123 Years of Incorporated Evisceration Book Awards” (not least since the 1886 Supreme Court ruling taken to mean that corporations are legally persons, entitled to their rights, except infinitely more powerful). Prominent winning novels of late include:

  • Mr. Mundane’s Big and Special Day
  • View of a Pity
  • From Gloss to Dross and Back Again
  • Learning to Love Mr. and Ms. Not Quite So Tepid, I Swear
  • Cool Zones and … … …
  • America, Wherefore Art Thou, You?
  • Here We Sit Ensconced in Our City
  • The Gritty and the Bloody, Bleeding, Oozing
  • TUATAU: The Unaligned Aligned, The Aligned Unaligned
  • Not So Much
  • Between Flaming Death and a Boy on His Bike
  • Dysfunction – It’s Not Just America
  • She’s Incredible and So Might You
  • Fast Words and White Space
  • Quirky, Suave, and Monied
  • Poof! Time’s Up, My Warlock Dear Continue reading Publishing Inc.

Gatsby and Banjo

Hundreds of thousands of copies of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel The Great Gatsby are sold each year. Meanwhile, Claude McKay’s 1929 novel Banjo, which is at least as accomplished and probably far more vital, remains virtually unknown. See excerpt: Banjo – fiction by Claude McKay.

The Great Gatsby ranks 2nd on the Modern Library‘s list of the 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century. Banjo does not appear.

View on Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood

Shelley Ettinger’s views on the recent novel by Margaret Atwood, The Year of the Flood:

…the big problem with all these speculative fictions whose speculation consists primarily of prophesying doom is that when they look at the current state of human society and conclude that it’s all downhill from here, they don’t take into account the most important variable of all: the class struggle. It’s as though the workers and oppressed have no role in the world’s future, whereas in fact the opposite is true–we have the decisive role. The fate of the planet, of the many species threatened with extinction, our own above all, is in the hands of working class, the oppressed and all those who end up as allies. Will we succeed? In time? No one can foresee the future so no one knows. But to simply omit the possibility of real revolutionary change seems to me to be a failure of the literary imagination. A failure to recognize workers and poor people as central to the story, as, not to put too fine a point on it, the agents of history. Which failure is to be expected, sure, from any but the most explicitly class-conscious writers, and can be chalked up to the death-grip bourgeois ideology has on most, but still registers as a disappointment each time I come upon it.

Especially with a writer as good as Atwood, and one so obviously political in her own well meaning way. This book is a warning. Here is what capitalism has brought the world to, or rather what it will bring the world to if things continue this way, she’s saying, here are the results of the rule of profit, here are the even worse horrors to come. Yet she doesn’t delve all that deeply into the implications of what she does clearly identify as the cause of the crisis. Nor does the fact that capitalism is the root of the problem seem to have set off any light bulbs for her about what direction to look for the solution.

Given this major failing, it’s not surprising that page by page there are lots of littler ones. …

Continued at Read Red: “On Atwood’s dystopia.”

Establishment Brain Drain

While Richard Powers’ novels hold a sometimes interesting and informative young sci-tech appeal, the novels’ limits of the social and political, not to mention the intimate personal, are stark. In “Brain Drain: The Scientific Fictions of Richard Powers,” James Wood dissects the limits of character and philosophy or theme in the novels in some ways that make sense. Still, it’s a review by penlight. Why the small scope? Because of the small conception. For example, Wood binds himself with this misrepresentation: “The traditional domain of the novel—eros, marriage, the question of children, the irreducible particulars of domestic life…” These elements may comprise the traditional domain of the domestic novel but not the traditional domain of the novel, far from it, let alone imaginative fiction writ large. Don Quixote? Robinson Crusoe? Les Miserables? Has the domestic novel come to mean the “traditional” novel? If so, a pity. Such a misrepresentation squashes both life and the novel, leaving a critic able to do little more than belabor the most evident limits in Powers’ fiction, while distorting or overlooking greater underlying problems. Continue reading Establishment Brain Drain

The Stunted Evaluation of the Establishment

Another one of the establishment’s stunted lists of fiction: The Millions’ “best books of fiction of the millennium” [2000-2009]. Wizard of the Crow, the 2006 novel by Ngũgĩ  wa Thiong’o, stands head and shoulders above this list.

In part, Wizard of the Crow illuminates how centralized governments in the age of propaganda function globally, more or less, not least in the US (where Ngũgĩ  has lived and worked for 16 years, since 1992, the beginning of President Bill Clinton’s terms). The Clinton-Bush regimes in Washington DC were forced to “continually invent tales that, with breathtaking speed, become the new realities that the country must live by” whether to invade and occupy Iraq and Afghanistan indefinitely, or to demonize welfare, or to endlessly bailout high finance, or to flood prisons with non-violent drug-law offenders, or to continually prop-up pharmaceutical and insurance companies while demonizing Medicare for all, and on and on. President Bush II shoved the military into Iraq and Afghanistan with his “iron hand” and by way of “dealing businessmen” in the media and elsewhere (often not so “ignorant”). The Bush regime could and so it did, even though the majority public opposed it, even in the US except for a few months in the beginning of the invasion when the massive fraudulent propaganda deluge worked its effect, mentally cleansing the US majority ever so briefly. And now the Barack Obama incipient regime, only slightly less status quo aggressive and fanatic, has more subtly maneuvered, but in just as wholesale a fashion, America’s “desperation” in grasping at fake change “to a vision of national strength, fervently attended to by popular demonstrations all over the country” and beyond (hundreds of thousands gathered to cheer him on while in Europe prior to the US election). “Significantly, the [presumptive] Ruler has not said a word to create this new reality,” not a word that is meaningful in any basic concrete way. “He has spurred his [PR] ministers to invent an entirely new reality, and to find methods by which to force it into existence” at least in appearance.

Continue reading The Stunted Evaluation of the Establishment

Ralph Nader on fiction and social change

Via Democracy Now! “Ralph Nader on the G-20, Healthcare Reform, Mideast Talks and His First Work of Fiction, ‘Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us!’”

AMY GOODMAN: Your book, “Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us!”, it’s just out. Kind of fiction, not really nonfiction, you call it a practical utopia. Where did you get the title?

RALPH NADER: The title came from—Warren Buffett was watching post-Katrina in his living room in Omaha, and he saw these streams of poor people fleeing the floods and the winds, and no food, no water, no shelter, on the highways north of New Orleans. And no one was helping them. And so, he couldn’t take it anymore, and he got a whole convoy of supplies, and he took them down to the New Orleans area. He went down himself and distributed all the food and the tents and the medicine to these desperate families and came across an African American family, who was helping, and the grandmother grabbed his hands, looked up at him and said, “Only the super-rich can save us.”

And that haunted him all the way back to Omaha, where he developed a plan to get seventeen older super-rich enlightened Americans at a hotel on a mountaintop in Maui, Hawaii, and basically asked themselves, what is it going to take to turn this country around? It’s going to take mass media. One of the seventeen is Barry Diller. And it’s going to take a reversal of the insurance industry. It’s Peter Lewis. It’s going to take dealing with deficits and subsidies and organizing the veteran and veteran groups and the women’s clubs around the country. Ross Perot. It’s going to take a real coordination and putting in a lot of money. That’s what they all represented. Bill Cosby is one of them. Phil Donahue is one of them. Yoko Ono is one of them. William Gates, Sr., Leonard Riggio, Bernard Rapoport. These and others get together, and it all happens in one year, 2006.

When you read this book, you’ll not only get a lift in terms of the feasibility of change, if we only change the predicates and stop trying to go after trillion-dollar industries with a few million dollars of citizen group budgets, and you not only get a lift, but you can see, step by step, the strategy, the tactics—how they set up a People’s Chamber of Commerce with tens of thousands of progressive small businesses around the country; how they set up a sub-economy, where they bought all kinds of businesses and got inside the corporate beast, because they own these companies; how they developed mass media; how they got people’s attention through the use of, for example, this parrot, Patriotic Polly, which got on TV early in 2000 and got millions of emails when it kept saying, “Get up! Don’t let America down! Get up! Don’t let America down!”

You know, in the early part of the twentieth century, Amy, and the latter part of the nineteenth, there were practical utopias, or there were just plain utopias, like Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward, that really infused and raised the horizons of the progressive movement and people like Eugene Debs. In fact, that book sold a million copies,Looking Backward. We’ve stopped doing that in the last two generations. Our imaginations have been stifled by the grim reality of concentrated corporate power.

But when you see how these Meliorists, which is what these seventeen super-rich elderly progressive Americans called themselves, when you see how Sol Price, who started the Price Club, took on Wal-Mart to unionize Wal-Mart, you will see what happens when there’s smarts, determination and adequate money to take on a behemoth like Wal-Mart. You’ll also see how entrenched right-wing politicians, when they’re surrounded with mass movements back in their congressional district, and they’re basically confronted with ultimatum in this climactic scene in Congress at the end of the book, how they react.

And it’s important, I think, for all of us to stop just documenting and documenting and diagnosing and proposing these things, when there’s no power behind, there’s no juggernaut, there’s no pressure to organize the mass of the citizenry in the directions that really reflects their public sentiment, to use Abraham Lincoln’s phrase.

AMY GOODMAN: Ralph Nader, why fiction?

RALPH NADER: Because nonfiction prevents you from imagining. You have to, in effect, document Blackwater. You have to document the atrocities in Iraq, the military-industrial complex. All of these books, wonderful books, are coming out, more than ever in American history. You’ve had many of the authors on your program. But they are bound by nonfiction. They’re bound by the realities of concentrated power, which they are exposing in terms of their abuses. So you have to have fiction to raise the imaginative capability, what is feasible to fulfill life’s possibilities for people in this country and abroad. And that’s why fiction is so important.

I didn’t take the novel approach, because that’s very restrictive. That’s why it’s called a practical utopia. A professor in California, Russell Jacoby, wrote a book in 1999 called The End of Utopia, and I picked it up. I said, “What’s this all about?” because, you know, utopia, in most people’s minds, is like off-the-chart science fiction. It turns out he documented how, even in the academic world, the capacity and ability to imagine has been frozen. It’s been stuck, just like the society is stuck in traffic. So that’s why the fictional approach was used.

And also, look, you have a mega-billionaire. His name is Jerome Kohlberg. He was a big acquisition, merger person on Wall Street. His passion is election reform, which is part of this book. And while he started it a little bit, and then nobody, you know, rallied to his cause, but the key is, was he willing to spend a half-a-billion dollars getting it underway? That’s the key here. This entire redirection of our country embodied in this fiction of “Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us!” was pulled off not just by smart strategies, legions of organizers, legions of grassroot lecturers, but the whole thing cost less than $15 billion.

And you know there are people—Bloomberg is worth more than that. Carl Icahn is worth more than that. One multibillionaire. We have to imagine, step by step. So there are no magic wands in this book. This is a very realistic, month-by-month strategy for a titanic power collision with the entrenched CEOs and their political allies.

Leslie Stahl read this on her vacation in August, and she wrote me a very nice letter. You know, she’s the correspondent for 60 Minutes. And she thought the book was engrossing, creative and funny. And I said, “I’ll take all three, Leslie.”

AMY GOODMAN: Ralph Nader, why do you call these people “Meliorists”?

RALPH NADER: Because they were trying to figure out what they were going to call themselves to avoid a Bush Bimbaugh-type smear. One of the characters in the book is Bush Bimbaugh, who we all know is a takeoff on Rush Limbaugh. And a wonderful scene there when he invited Ted Turner into his studio, because he was losing ratings because of the growth of the progressive movement. They were saying, “What do we call ourselves so we’re not smeared, you know, by the editorialists of the Wall Street Journal or others?” And they came up with this word Meliorist, which means betterment. These are retired, progressive, enlightened billionaires and mega-millionaires who want to better the country. That’s what they called themselves.

But they didn’t go public until the mid-year, as they—that they were a coordinated effort. And as a result, they were able to engage in a strategy of coordinated surprise when they took on the CEOs.

And the Darth Vader in the book, who’s called Lobo, retained by the CEO Goliaths, represents every conceivable effort to stop the Meliorists. This is a titanic power collision. It’s not philanthropy. It’s not soft charity. It’s shifting power from the few to the many, top down, bottom up. That is, top down from the mega-rich, enlightened older people who are the Meliorists, down to the low [inaudible].

There’s a very good section in the book on how they did it in southwest Oklahoma to take on a thirty-eight-year-old veteran, House Rules Committee veteran, Republican—remember, the scene takes place in 2006—how they mobilized it in very practical ways. It eliminates all the stereotypes that we’ve learned to swallow as progressives about red state, blue state. It gets down to the concrete lives and the concrete hopes and the concrete capacities of our country.

AMY GOODMAN: So, have you lost faith in grassroots movements making that difference, making that change?

RALPH NADER: No, they can’t make it without very significant resources. If you want to set up 2,000 people organized in each congressional district, as the Meliorists do, you’re going to need tens of millions of dollars to get the staff, the offices, to find those 2,000 people, to root them so they go beyond the first year and they institutionalize themselves.

And this book, I hope, will be read by mega-billionaires. I hope they’ll say, “You know, all this time we wanted to do something about the crazy war on drugs or the prison reform or tax reform”—it’s inside their heads, but they’re very discouraged. I’ve talked to a lot of these super-rich, enlightened people over the years. I’ve never seen them so demoralized about the state of their beloved country. And in their advanced years, they don’t want to just watch it decay. But they’re all very egocentric, in a way. I mean, they’re entrepreneurs. They’ve done it, you know, without great help. And they don’t collaborate. And that’s the key, that the seventeen Meliorists are far more powerful than the sum of their parts, in terms of what they bring to this gigantic battle with the corporate and political power structure.

AMY GOODMAN: Have you gotten reaction from any of them, since this is a fictional account, but you’re using real people, real descriptions, real super-rich in the book?

RALPH NADER: I think they’re starting to read it now. They’ve had it for a couple weeks. It’s going to—you know, it’s a pretty hefty book, and the whole reason is because it’s all in the details. And the details are not dull. The idea here is to make apathy boring and to make civic action exciting. There are parades and bands, and the activity is in the rhythm of people’s cultural habits as they’re eased out into the public arena from the desperation of their private lives, economically and otherwise.

Ralph Nader turns to fiction

Only the Super-rich Can Save Us!”  – a novel by Ralph Nader. AP:

He cites a couple of reasons for waiting until now to try fiction: “insufficient” imagination and a stubborn belief, now worn down, that the truth was enough, that “around the corner we’d have a breakthrough in health care, we’d have a breakthrough in corporate accountability.” His mind was not changed by the election of Barack Obama.

the “’aesthetic’ priorities” of contemporary corporate lit

From: MEDIA LENS: Correcting for the distorted vision of the corporate media

MEDIA ALERT: THE COCKROACH TEST

Alain de Botton, “Branded Conversations”, and Runaway Climate Change

News that philosopher Alain de Botton had been hired as Heathrow’s “writer in residence” generated minor ripples across the media pond, including occasional murmurs of disapproval. Journalists momentarily failed to repress their awareness that truth into corporate profit-maximising does not go, although without perceiving the implications for themselves. 

Thus Dan Milmo, writer in residence at the Guardian, noted that de Botton was “the latest artistic figure to tread the precarious line between creative independence and commerce after signing a publishing deal with the financial support of Heathrow’s owner, BAA.” (Milmo, ‘High minded: Heathrow hires De Botton: Philosophical author begins work as airport’s writer-in-residence,’ The Guardian, August 19, 2009)

Milmo recalled how novelist Fay Weldon had been found to be responsible for “one of the most notorious sell-outs of recent times” when it emerged that her latest novel had been sponsored by the Italian jewellery firm Bulgari. Weldon explained last month:

“I was accused of defiling the novel. The deal was that I must mention Bulgari 12 times in a novel I wrote for them as a giveaway. My agent was terribly good and knocked them down to nine and a half mentions. In the end I mentioned them 46 times.” (http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2009/aug/30/fay-weldon)

If some small part of Milmo’s brain recognised that he also treads a “precarious line” between creative independence and commerce, it didn’t show – journalists typically play intellectual possum when the issue is raised. In a recent discussion on the ethics of advertising in an age of climate crisis, Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger said it was fine for newspapers to be funded by Wal-Mart, “as long as Wal-Mart demands nothing in return” (http://www.guardian.co.uk/sustainability/video/sustainability-advertising-alan-rusbridger). 

This kind of assurance is a complete red herring. The point is that when corporate advertisers keep media corporations in business, the corporate nature of both parties all but guarantees a corporate-friendly media performance. Nobody has to tell a media business to favour business, to tread carefully around issues that harm business control of society. Especially when politics, which is also in thrall to corporate power, has the power to reward and publish, praise and lambast, ‘respectable’ and ‘irresponsible’ journalism. 

Similarly, the problem is not that writers sell-out, but that, as Noam Chomsky told the BBC’s Andrew Marr, “if you believed something different you wouldn’t be sitting where you’re sitting”. (The Big Idea, BBC2, February 14, 1996) Chomsky once related a story he had heard from a civil rights activist at Harvard Law School:

“He once gave a talk and said that kids were coming in to Harvard Law School with long hair and backpacks and social ideals and they were all going to go into public service, law and change the world. That’s the first year. He said around April the recruiters come for the summer jobs, the Wall Street firms. Get a cushy summer job and make a ton of money. 

“So the students figure, What the heck? I can put on a tie and jacket and shave for one day, because I need that money and why shouldn’t I have it? So they put on a tie and a jacket for that one day and they get the job for the summer. Then they go off for the summer and when they come back in the fall, it’s ties and jackets and obedience and a shift of ideology.” (http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/Chomsky/Chomsky_Tapes_MAlbert.html

De Botton was educated at the elite Dragon School, and at Harrow and Cambridge. His father was head of Rothschild Bank, then founded Global Asset Management in 1983 with £1m capital and sold it to UBS in 1999 for £420m. (Sunday Times profile, ‘A kicking from the boohoo boy of books,’ July 12, 2009)

Larson reviews Khadivi

Via Counterpunch:

“Deracination” by Charles R. Larson

Laleh Khadivi’s luminescent writing in her first novel, The Age of Orphans, speaks of Kurdish subjugation for most of the past hundred years, approaching what some of the Kurds’ neighbors would clearly prefer: obliteration. Though born in Iran in 1977, the writer herself has spent much of her life in the United States, most recently completing this novel–described as the first volume of a trilogy focusing on Kurdish men in the twentieth century. These goals are admirable, but Khadivi will need to bolster her exquisite prose with more action and dialogue if she hopes to grow a significant following of readers.

The protagonist of Khadivi’s narrative—while still breast-feeding, years beyond what would be considered normal–is circumcised and, somewhat later, trundled off to war where he observes his father’s death. He’s the only survivor from his village and, at age eleven, fully vulnerable to the Shah’s soldiers who are intent on pacifying the Kurds in the southwestern part of the newly-formed Iran (1921). Soldiers identify the boy as a tribal conscript, someone they can use to strengthen their country, and re-name him Reza Pejman Khourdi. Quickly, he’s programmed to fight for the new Iran. …

Like Praising God

From the brilliant and vital novel by Miles Franklin – written in 1902, published in 1946 – My Career Goes Bung:

[Publisher:] “As for that notion of the brotherhood of man that you have, and loving the unwashed, anything in that direction is sheer drivel, drivel! Propaganda is fatal to any artist.”

[Young Author:] “What does propaganda mean?” I enquired. I knew the word only as a joke to couple with improper geese.

“Aw!” he said impatiently, “it’s any of those luny ideas about the underdogs being superior because they have nothing, and the theory that their bettors should support them in a velvet cage.”

“I see. It’s propaganda to advocate justice for the weak and helpless. What is it to uphold the rich?”

“Ha! Ha!” he chuckled. “It’s darned good business. It pays.”

“I see,” I repeated with a chill down my spine. “When you propagand for the top dogs it’s not propaganda: it’s like praising God: and God must be praised all the time or you’ll go to hell.”

Mr. Hardy laughed, but rather grimly. “See here, a man must take pride in his breed, and uphold the Empire.”

“Of course, but couldn’t there be different ways of upholding it?”

“Now don’t spring any more of that socialist rot about the young men’s dreams, and the old men being able to rest, or you’re a goner as a writer. Editors would scent you a mile off. See here, the biggest literary success, the greatest artist today is the most rousing imperialist. Gad, if only I could write like Kipling!”

To succeed by his recipe I should have to deny what I honestly felt. I should have to keep my inner self hidden from Mr. Hardy or it would be bruised and sore…

Tim Robbins, Daniel Berrigan, The Trial of the Catonsville Nine

via Democracy Now!:

Academy Award-winning actor, director and writer Tim Robbins is involved in a new production of Father Daniel Berrigan’s acclaimed play The Trial of the Catonsville Nine. The play centers on the events of May 17th, 1968, when nine Catholic peace activists, including Father Daniel Berrigan and his brother, the late Father Philip Berrigan, entered a draft board in Catonsville, Maryland, and removed draft files of young men who were about to be sent to Vietnam. They were arrested and then sentenced in a highly publicized trial that galvanized the antiwar movement. We speak to Robbins about the play, which is being staged by his Los Angeles troupe, the Actors’ Gang.

James Kelman on publicity and ideology

Kelman blasts mediocrity of boy wizards and crime bestsellers” by Phil Miller in The Herald:

James Kelman, the Scottish Booker Prize-winning author, has launched a furious attack on the way literary fiction is regarded in his homeland – criticising the praise lavished on “mediocre” detective writers and apparently even JK Rowling.

Kelman, appearing at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, said that if the Nobel prize for literature was awarded from Scotland, instead of Sweden, it would be given to “a writer of f****** detective fiction” or work about “some upper middle-class young magician” instead of literary fiction.

He added: “Our tradition is actually an intellectual tradition, and an intellectual tradition that is not scared to be radical, and if that radical nature takes us into particular political positions then we should take them.

“And these positions have meant that we have not allowed ourselves to look at our own tradition, so that our own radical tradition is a mystery to us, that we don’t know about our historical links with people who we should be proud of – we should be proud that James Connolly the Irish socialist leader is an Edinburgh man, why are we not proud of that? One of the greatest twentieth century socialists was murdered by the British Army in 1916 – why do we not admit what happened with John Maclean, somebody who was murdered, who was poisoned by the State. Why is he not a hero?

“How can you give all this to somebody like Burns and not give a thought to all the other great Scottish writers.”

View of District 9 by Kim Nicolini

Science Fiction of the Now:

District 9 is not a pretty movie. It doesn’t look pretty. Its message isn’t pretty. It hurts the eyes to watch. In fact, District 9 is an outright ugly movie, but it is an ugly that is perfectly crafted and takes ugly to the heights of a new aesthetic. The screen is full of unflinchingly realistic ugly slums, banal ugly interiors of institutionalized spaces, and ugly people whose entire lives and bodies have been corrupted by the ugly greedy powers that dominate everything in the landscape.

Set in Johannesburg, South Africa, the movie centers on a camp of stranded space aliens who have been contained within a hideous filthy militarized slum and are in the process of being relocated to a concentration camp in the desert. Through its narrative, District 9 overtly exposes South Africa’s egregious practice of apartheid, a system of segregation that was the government-sanctioned practice of legal racism. It doesn’t take rocket science to figure out this connection and to understand the film in relation to its historic and geographic specificity. Certainly, apartheid and all systems of racism need to be addressed. But what makes this movie most interesting is how it uses the real life practice of apartheid as a jumping point to expose a whole global system of exploitation, discrimination, and economic cannibalism.District 9 doesn’t take on these big issues with bombastic Hollywood gloss and spectacle, but rather through a beautifully ugly hybrid of film genres – sci-fi, body horror, toxic accident, war and action films – to show how in a world where the toxins of global capital are so fluid, everything is corrupt, nothing is in its natural state, and toxic hybrids have become the new norm.

Though District 9 is indeed a mix-up of a number of film genres, it is first and foremost science fiction. But this is not the über-slick sci-fi of Michael Bay or Steven Spielberg that has dominated the global marketplace for the past couple of decades. District 9 isn’t the kind of high gloss spectacle that subordinates any meaningful socio-political content in a tale to the quest for maximum proft.. District 9’s ugly exterior and its realistic settings work to reclaim the ideological backbone of the best sci-fi by de-glossing the sci-fi production and bringing it down to the land of the real. Long ago and far away, sci-fi was a genre that was used to expose and critique savage socio-political systems. Sci-fi in the tradition of Philip K. Dick served a political function. Often infused with a good dose of Marxism, sci-fi dissected and exposed collusions between industry and government to achieve global economic domination at the expense of the working people, the disenfranchised, and the marginalized. In fact, the sci-fi of the past often exposed a system not unlike the Global Capital Machine of the present, the one that dominates the globe and cannibalizes the vast majority of the world’s population. As the Hollywood Machine became more sanitized and safe (beginning with the Reagan era and moving forward), sci-fi became an industry staple to generate enormous profits instead of civil unrest. Any subversive political content became glossed over by mega FX and superstar heroes that raked in enormous profits at the box office. Sure, sci-fi movies have tangentially addressed political and economic corruption, but rarely with a hell of a lot of conviction or bearing on the real world.

There is no denying the real world in District 9. …

Cover-Up: A Film’s Travesty Of Omissions by John Pilger

On the film Balibo – Via ZNet – Pilger:

On 30 August it will be a decade since the people of East Timor defied the genocidal occupiers of their country to take part in a United Nations referendum, voting for their freedom and independence. A “scorched earth” campaign by the Indonesian dictatorship followed, adding to a toll of carnage that had begun 24 years earlier when Indonesia invaded tiny East Timor with the secret support of Australia, Britain and the United States. According to a committee of the Australian parliament, “at least 200,000” died under the occupation, a third of the population.


Filming undercover in 1993, I found crosses almost everywhere: great black crosses etched against the sky, crosses on peaks, crosses in tiers on the hillsides, crosses beside the road. They littered the earth and crowded the eye. A holocaust happened in East Timor, telling us more about rapacious Western power, its propaganda and true aims, than even current colonial adventures. The historical record is unambiguous that the US, Britain and Australia conspired to accept such a scale of bloodshed as the price of securing Southeast Asia’s “greatest prize” with its “hoard of natural resources”. Philip Liechty, the senior CIA operations officer in Jakarta at the time of the invasion, told me, “I saw the intelligence. There were people being herded into school buildings by Indonesian soldiers and the buildings set on fire. The place was a free fire zone… We sent them everything that you need to fight a major war against somebody who doesn’t have any guns. None of that got out… [The Indonesian dictator] Suharto was given the green light to do what he did.”   Continue reading Cover-Up: A Film’s Travesty Of Omissions by John Pilger

Malcolm Finch and the Limits of Liberal Fiction

Or rather, Atticus Gladwell.

It’s telling that one of the most valuable pieces of criticism of fiction to come out of the New Yorker in a while was not written by any of its literary critics but by another staff writer, Malcolm Gladwell. It’s telling additionally that on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the central US novel To Kill a Mockingbird, a review of the novel and its fit in society was either declined by the entire lit crit staff and all adjunct literary reviewers of the New Yorker or was directed away from all of them. Maybe they were all on vacation, forced or otherwise. One can see why. After all, George Packer, James Wood, and Keith Gessen were recently exposed for their severe distortions of another socially central writer, George Orwell; and Louis Menand recently admitted in a review of Pynchon’s latest novel that “I could be missing something, of course. I could be missing everything” in regard to the existence of allusions in the text of a writer famed for allusions. Perhaps New Yorker subscribers don’t mind such cavalier attitude to their subscription funds.

Regardless, Gladwell’s article, “The Courthouse Ring,” goes only a small step forward in New Yorker criticism. Who knew that an early 1960s portrayal of an early 1930s Southern lawyer in a  small town would reveal “the limits of Southern liberalism” rather than “instruct us about the world”? Well but Gladwell may mean that the (white) masses hold this belief that goes against reason. But the masses encouraged and “led” by whom? The publishing and lit industry? The corporate-state, its media and schools? Surely not.

At least Gladwell usefully spells out some points of concern: Continue reading Malcolm Finch and the Limits of Liberal Fiction

New Yorker at Sea

Consider Dave Eggers’ story “Max at Sea” in the recent New Yorker in light of Maxwell Geismar’s comments over half a century ago:

…a negation of the ‘mind’…in favor of the pure and primary world of childhood sensation. That lost world of childhood indeed to which somehow or other, [J.D.] Salinger, like the rest of the New Yorker school, always returns! That pre-Edenite community of yearned-for bliss, where knowledge is again the serpent of all evil: but a false and precocious show of knowledge, to be sure, which elevated without emancipating its innocent and often touching little victims… The root of the matter is surely here, and perhaps all these wise children may yet emerge from the nursery of life and art (208-209)…

More from Geismar in the same book, American Moderns – From Rebellion to Conformity (1958), including the quote above in further context:

The present volume began as a collection of articles and reviews writing in the Nineteen-Forties and Fifties for a more or less popular audience… Some of these articles are in the polemical vein which a critic uses with reluctance when his second nature, or his first, is to inquire, to balance, and to evaluate. The central focus of the volume is on the transitional decade from the Second World War to the middle of the twentieth century – from McCarthy to Sputnik. The historical setting is that of the uneasy ‘peace,’ the tensions of the Cold War, the return to ‘normalcy,’ and the epoch of conformity.

Or was it euphoria? In literature the period marked the decline of the classic modern American writers at the peak of their popular reputation. In criticism there was the movement towards higher and higher levels of aesthetic, or scholastic, absolutism…

There was indeed a state of general inertia in the arts, as the familiar sequel to an age of anxiety: of problems urgent and not resolved, while the surface of the globe, and outer space too, vibrated in the throes of change. The American literary scene of the Forties and Fifties must have presented to the rest of the world an odd and ironic spectacle at times; and perhaps the polemical note was indicated; and meanwhile I trust that this spectacle may also be instructive… (ix-x). Continue reading New Yorker at Sea

Gladwell and Finch

More on this when I get a chance [update: Malcolm Finch and the Limits of Liberal Fiction] but just want to note that – re: Malcolm Gladwell’s article on To Kill a Mockingbird in the recent New Yorker – the novel is more sociopolitically limited by far than Gladwell conveys. Also the novel is far more than a study of “the limits of Southern liberalism”; the novel had huge New York and national imprint and involvement in its production and creation and further dissemination (the film), as well as having strong current relation (in a variety of ways). The work greatly typifies the limits of liberalism in general. Similarly, Gladwell’s article is a study in the limits of liberalism (north, south, east, or west).

The May 2009 book by James A. Miller – Remembering Scottsboro: The Legacy of an Infamous Trial covers some of this ground. See in particular the Epilogue and “Chapter Eight: Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird: The Final Stage of the Scottsboro Narrative.” Continue reading Gladwell and Finch