Thursday, February 8, 2018

Kill All Normies by Angela Nagle

Kill All Normies:
The online culture wars
from Tumblr and 4chan to the alt-right and Trump
by Angela Nagle
Zer0 Books 2017
ISBN: 978-1-78535-543-1

Irish writer Angela Nagle has gone to the dark side of the Internet to research Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars from 4chan adn Tumblr to Trump and the Alt-Right, delving into toxic online cultures and websites of the conservative misogyny and racism. I can't imagine what spending what spending a lot of time in the /b/ section of 4chan, looking at "things you can't unsee" could do to anyone's pysche, but Nagle did it, and wrote a series of articles for, among other places, The Baffler, in which she comes to the conclusion that Trump's victory is, at least in part, due to the 'alt-right', and therefore the Right, winning the culture wars.

Her theory is based around the idea of transgression, the over-steeping of societal mores or morality for sexual pleasure, and/or to rebel against authority, and/or for the simple pleasure of irreverence for its own sake (or the 'lulz'). Since maybe the Marquis de Sade up to the 1960s, Nagle claims that transgression has been the domain of liberals, but that starting in the 90s, liberal concern with political correctness and identity politics (rather than actual politics), conservatives have moved into the role of the transgressors online. The problem, according to Nagle, is that this, or rather these (and she goes into various of them and how they sometimes don't get along) subcultures have not only ended up influencing the mainstream conservatives, like the conservative website like Breitbart, run by Steve Bannon, who went on to support and advise Trump for a while, but that they're (liberals) are making conservatives look like the voice of reason to regular people, or at least Trump voters.

My favorite 'chapter', which originally was an essay, "From Tumblr to the campus wars: creating scarcity in an online economy of virtue" in which she skewers identitarians, sometimes simply by quoting, at length, some of their ideas about gender choice, and reminding readers how some of those demanding respect and the right not to be 'triggered' are the very same who shout down free speech and even physically attack those who think differently.

I'm with Nagle, I share her progressive politics and her disdain for the so-called liberal identity politics and its disdain of free speech, its disinterest in, say, our country's economic policies, and, say, that the Democratic Party's foreign policy isn't much different from Republican foreign policy, i.e. we're invading other countries with impunity and killing people. But Kill All Normies is just not, unfortunately, a good book.

Kill All Normies is short, 120 pages, making it more like a pamphlet, and collects essays by Nagle, some of which appeared at The Baffler (and which you can find for free online if you want). I had thought that the book would expand on those esssays, but no. They're in slightly different form, but not much. And, while they touch on interesting ideas, and introduce us to interesting-if-horrifying people involved in the alt-right movement, they, and the book, read more like what in graduate school is called a 'lit review,' which is the first stage of writing a longer thesis, in which you summarize a source in a paragraph or two, collect these summaries in one document, with the idea of expanding on the sources later, of adding more, especially of one's own ideas and thoughts. Instead, in Kill All Normies, all of the chapter/essays paragraphs and ideas go by quickly, sometimes (many times) with no real context or connection to the paragraphs around them. I'd quote a paragraph here, except it would only appear as it appears in the book, without much context.

In addition, Nagle doesn't seem to care about citation too much. Quotes and summaries and even unique ideas are used and, while she will give a person's name, she often will not tell us who that person is, or why they're an expert, or even which text of theirs she's quoting from. Nor is there any kind of Works Cited or References page, nor even an index. Plus, when she's talking about a text, she annoyingly uses the past tense rather than the traditional present tense (unless they do that in Ireland?) Which is partly on her, though also partly on her publisher, Zer0 Books, which claims to want its books to be "intellectual without being academic." That's fine, but not having some kind of way for readers to check sources is intellectual sloppiness.

In addition, Nagle seems not to understand certain texts and writers except through the lens of alt-righters, nor even to have even read those texts. For example, she states more than once that the animated tv show South Park is conservative, maybe picking up on a Time review a few years back that claimed the same thing, but it's not, it's just irreverent: the writers of South Park with make fun of everybody, conservative or liberal. Nagle could use that in her argument that the alt-right has co-opted the use of irreverence, and therefore anything irreverent nowadays is concervative, but she doesn't.

Also up for critique by Nagle, slightly, kind of, are the philosopher Nietsche and the book Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk (though I swear she never actually cites his name in talking about it). Her argument being, because again I don't think she's read them, that if/when the alt-righters quote from them and/or espouse an anti-mainstream/anti-the-masses attitude, doing so must means that those texts must be conservative, when an anti-mainstream philosphy/attitude is shared by those on the far Left, like me, and, I thought, her. And if I'm wrong about that, well, this is where Kill All Normies would have benefitted by a more detailed, and longer, analysis.

Is Kill All Normies still worth reading? Yes, even if as a sort of lit review of sorts, as a way to explore this huge topic (or, topics), though you'll have to do your own research to find some of the texts and people she talks about. Nagle's main idea, discussed above, is important: conservatives are winning the culture wars, and those who control culture control politics. She offers no solutions, but you'll get a glimpse into at least some of the reasons how and why Trump won (Hint: it's not Russia).

Angela Nagel's Baffler essays

Friday, February 2, 2018

Walking barefoot in the Grand Canyon

Appeared in the zine GRAPH in January 2017:

What if you left your clunky hot boots behind
Or just tossed them once and for all over the Rim
Walking barefoot in the Grand Canyon this time

Smooth redrock Esplanade water tinejas shining
Going slow with a backpack filled to brim
Now that you’ve left your clunky hot boots behind

Almost step on a snake basking in the sunshine
Still May-torpid doesn’t move just tiptoe around him
Walking barefoot in the Grand Canyon taking your time

Redwall Descent into Narrows and petroglyph designs
Spring water stream deep enough to swim
So glad you left those clunky hot boots behind

Grit rock and soft sand for your sole dodging yucca and cacti
Out to the Colorado and another (freezing) swim
Walking barefoot in the Grand Canyon outside of time

Crawling naked out of the muck out of your mind
What a wonderful place in life to begin
Leaving your clunky hot boots behind
Walking barefoot in the Grand Canyon for the first time

—for Heidi

Friday, January 5, 2018

Essay by Hayden Carruth

Essay by Hayden Carruth

So many poems about the deaths of animals.
Wilbur’s toad, Kinnell’s porcupine, Eberhart’s squirrel,
and that poem by someone - Hecht? Merrill? -
about cremating a woodchuck. But mostly
I remember the outrageous number of them,
as if every poet, I too, had written at least
one animal elegy; with the result that today
when I came to a good enough poem by Edwin Brock
about finding a dead fox at the edge of the sea
I could not respond; as if permanent shock
had deadened me. And then after a moment
I began to give way to sorrow (watching myself
sorrowlessly the while), not merely because
part of my being had been violated and annulled,
but because all these many poems over the years
have been necessary - suitable and correct. This
has been the time of the finishing off of the animals.
They are going away - their fur and their wild eyes,
their voices. Deer leap and leap in front
of the screaming snowmobiles until they leap
out of existence. Hawks circle once or twice
above their shattered nests and then they climb
to the stars. I have lived with them fifty years,
we have lived with them fifty million years,
and now they are going, almost gone. I don’t know
if the animals are capable of reproach.
But clearly they do not bother to say good-bye.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Jacket

Originally published at FAT CITY REVIEW, now defunkt. Also part of my novel BASS SOLO (first 16 pages here).

I never knew my dad growing up. Ray Brown. He and Momma never married, that’s why I have her last name, Young.
Momma usually had some kind of dude hanging around the house, so at first I didn’t know any better. But when I did figure out that the guy at the dinner table wasn’t my real father, and I asked her about it, the first time, she just looked away and said, —He gone.
—Gone where?
—Just gone.
Later when I asked again, she said he was dead. No hint of emotion when she said it either. That hurt.
—How’d he die, Momma?
—Stop asking so many questions!
But then, not much later, one of my aunts, my momma’s sister Donnette, told me while she was babysitting us. —Your daddy’s in prison. He got busted right before you was born. Him and your momma were already broken up by then, he wasn’t around. A dead beat dad and all that.
—What was he arrested for?
—What else? Drugs.
I processed that for a while. Then, —What was he like?
—Anthony, I barely knew him. Your momma never brought him around much. Or else he was keeping her from us. Either way. he was a charmer though. Ladies man. All that. He had a smile. I liked him.
She laughed. —That’s probably why she kept him away!
I asked my mom about him as soon as she got back from work. I waited up for her, way past my bed time. —Momma, Aunt Donnette says Daddy’s in prison.
—Oh Lord, Anthony, you go to sleep and don’t talk about that silliness.
—What was my daddy like? Where he at now?
She sat next to me on my bed and stroked my head. —I don’t know, child. I don’t know. He didn’t treat me right, was always getting in trouble, and I just didn’t want him messing up your life. He didn’t want to be there neither.
—How you know?
She sighed. —Anthony. If he’d loved you, he would have made an effort to clean up his act and show he wanted to stick around. He didn’t.
—And then he went to prison?
She nodded. —And then he went to prison.
—When he getting out?
She shrugged. —I don’t know. I only found out what happened through friends. I don’t see those friends no more.
I started to cry. Only a little. Just sad, not sobbing all over the place. —I want to see my daddy.
She leaned over and hugged me. —I know. I understand. I just don’t know if that will happen. It’s up to him.
—When he gets out, can I see him?
She nodded. —Maybe. If he gets out. If he wants to see you, he’ll come find you.
After she said goodnight I heard her yelling at Aunt Donnette downstairs. —Donnette! What you doing telling my boy about that low life excuse for a man?
—He gonna find out sometime, Lorraine. You should’ve told him already, instead of making up tall tales about him being dead. You messing with his head!
—Well, won’t be the first time, and now you doing it too! I just want him to grow up in peace and not have all that history dragging him down. That’s why I got out of Detroit in the first place!

Many many years later, back in Michigan visiting over the Christmas holidays, after being on tour in Europe, I was in Ann Arbor, shopping and hanging out, getting a dose of civilization before going back to Momma’s place in Jackson. I got a call on my cellphone. The number on the screen wasn’t familiar, but had a Detroit 313 area code. I answered. —Hello?
A low male voice. Older. —Who is this?
—This is your father.
I went kind of numb. I didn’t know what to say.
—You there?
I breathed. —Yeah.
—Where you at?
—Ann Arbor.
—Well I’m in Plymouth. Why don’t we meet up somewhere.
—I thought you was in prison.
—I was. Now I ain’t.
—For twenty years?
—Aw, you know. I been in and out. The War on Drugs and Black People and all that.
—How’d you get my number?
—Tracked down your aunt Donnette. She gave it to me. What, you don’t want to see me? Your own father?
I wasn’t sure, but I also wasn’t sure whether I wanted to tell him that or not. So I said nothing.
—I hear you quite the musician now. You a bass player, huh?
I nodded even though he couldn’t see me. —Yeah.
—What you play? Jazz? Rock?
—I used to play a bit of guitar. Your momma ever tell you that?
—No, she never told me that.
My mind was screaming, Why not? Why wouldn’t she had told me something basic like that?
—Well, maybe we could play some time. Your old man could probably show you a thing or two.
It was Thursday. There used to be a blues open mic on Thursdays at a place out in Ypsilanti, east of Ann Arbor a little ways, that I used to go to. I told him about it. —We could meet there.
He laughed. —God damn! Alright son, that sounds fine to me. I’ll see you there!
That was late afternoon, so I had a few hours to think and be scared to death. I cancelled the plans I had, wandered around town some more, then drove over to Ypsi. The bar was still there, the open mic still going on, hosted by the owner, a guitar player himself. I don’t think he made money hosting a blues open mic, most guys that show up for those things are either poor, alcoholics, or middle class white guys who don’t really drink. He just liked the chance to play. Still, there were enough people to fill up most of the tables in room with the stage, off from the main bar.
I came early, but as soon as I walked in the front door I heard, —Anthony!
And there he was, sitting at the bar, smiling at me. I walked over.
He was thin. Skinny. My height, but I probably weighed thirty pounds more than him. His hair was cut real short, he was wearing old jeans with holes ripped in the knees, and a faded black sweatshirt with the arms cut out, and some dirty white Converse High-Tops. Just like I used to wear. His face was skeletal though. I mean, just gaunt, with high cheekbones and his teeth, he was missing a few, were yellow and tobacco-stained.
He stood up off the bar stool when I came over, grinning. —Goddamn, I knew it was you when walked in. Look at them dreadlocks, boy, you look like Bob Marley or something. You doing good, boy, you look strong and healthy. Your momma must of raised you right!
We hovered across from each other, about two feet apart, looking at each other. He turned and introduced the woman sitting next to him. —Tika, this here’s my son, Anthony. Long lost but now found.
She was about half his age. My age. Short black hair parted on the side. Slender. Little black dress. Long brown legs. High heels. Eye-liner and dark red lipstick and hoop earrings. I wondered what the hell she was doing with my father, but she put out her hand and smiled, and I shook it and said hello.
—Let me buy my son a drink. What you having Anthony?
We got our drinks and went into the next room to get a table, a booth against the far wall with a good view of the stage. The house band was just setting up. My father walked over and talked to the owner, putting on the charm. When he came back he pointed at me and then himself. —You and me, boy. We gonna jam and show these people how to play some real music! How’s that sound?
I smiled. Genuinely. —Yeah, that sounds good.
When it was our turn, the owner introduced us. —Coming up, we got Anthony and Ray, a father and son team to entertain you!
We got up on the stage with the house drummer and this guy on keys. I used the house bass player’s bass, a Fender P like mine. My father played the owner’s Strat. He took a while figuring out the pedals and tweaking the amplifier knobs, and we were all waiting on him. We hadn’t even talked about what we were going to play. He turned to face us, counting the beat with his left foot and head, and played the intro to “Red House.” When I played the bump bump bump bass part along with the drums, he smiled, turned, and as we came into the main section, he turned and played Hendrix’s solo, note for note, and when we came around to the start of the 12 Bar, he sang. —There’s a red house over yonder / that’s where my baby stays....
We played two more Hendrix songs, “Fire” and “Hey Joe” and had people dancing out on the floor. One of those magic moments at an open mic when the musicians are good and the audience is ready and appreciative. The whole time my father looking over at me and smiling and winking. I’ve played halls in Tokyo and London and Radio City Music Hall but that night at that little Ypsi club was one of my favorites ever.
After our three songs we returned the guitars and climbed down off the stage. My father was glowing, sweating a bit like me. He put out his hands for me to shake. —Sounded good, son. You played right in the pocket. Solid.
Then he hugged me.
We sat back in the booth and Tika was beaming. She smiled at me, all proud. —Y’all were great!
We hung out a while longer. My father got up and danced with Tika and every dude in there was watching her. My father had some moves too. All kinds of things I was learning about him.
We eventually left the bar and said goodbye out on the street. The number he’d called me from was Tika’s home number. He said to give him a call soon, so we could get together for a ‘man to man’ talk sometime over the holidays. I left him walking down Michigan Avenue, his right arm around Tika’s shoulders, singing softly.

I didn’t say anything to Momma. I waited two days then called the number. Tika answered.
—Hello Tika.
—Who this?
—Anthony. Ray’s son.
She hesitated.
—Is my father there?
Her voice sad. —No. He gone.
—Gone where?
She sighed. —Back to jail. Back to prison probably. He got arrested yesterday. I wasn’t with him. Broke parole though.
—For what?
—What else? Drugs.
—What kind of drugs?
She hesitated again. —Don’t matter.
—Rock? Ice?
That spear in the gut feeling. I’d thought only a woman could make me feel that way. —Alright, thanks.
—How bout you? Can you get some?
—No. I don’t do that.
She paused. —Well, you want to come get his stuff? It ain’t much, but I don’t want it. Just some clothes and shit.
I got her address and told her I’d think about it. Later that day I decided fuck it, and gave her a call, telling her I was coming over.
She had an apartment right off of I-69, at the east part of Plymouth, which was like an hour drive from Jackson. She was just back from work as some kind of secretary at Washtenaw Community College. My father’s things were in a couple drawers in the bedroom, a cardboard box and some shirts hanging in her closest. I’m not sure what I was expecting, or looking for, maybe long lost baby pictures of me, that he’d kept with him all this time. Bullshit like that. But it was mostly just clothes. Shirts and jeans. Tika took a leather jacket out of the closet. —Here, this might fit you.
I tried it on. Smelled a little like smoke and perfume mixed in with the leather. She smiled. —You look good in that.
I grabbed her and kissed her, pulling her head back and forcing my tongue in her mouth. She made a surprised grunt and tensed, but then relaxed. I turned her around and pushed her face-down on the bed.
—What you doing?
I didn’t say anything, just pulled up her skirt, yanked down her pantyhose and panties, undid my jeans, and shoved it home. She moaned, clawing the covers. —Oh lord, what you doing?
I shoved it in, laying down on top of her, pinning her, pulling her head back and kissing her neck and ears. —You like that, bitch?
While I fucked her she just kept saying, Oh shit oh shit, over and over and then I came in that tight pussy.
I lay on top of her, both of us breathing heavy. When I pulled out and rolled off of her, she stood up, pulling up her panties and torn pantyhose and pulling down her skirt. Not even looking at me, just going in the bathroom and closing the door. The shower came on.
I left. Didn’t take nothing but the jacket, which I still have.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Trouble In Paradise by Slavoj Zizek

Trouble In Paradise:
From The End of History To The End of Capitalism
by Slavoj Zizek
Melville House 2017
ISBN: 978-1-61219-619-0

Friday night in Portland, Oregon, you wouldn't think many people would opt for attending a talk with Slavoj Zizek when they could be drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon beer in some hipster bar, but no: the hall on the PSU campus is packed, huge line out the door. These people, many of them in their 20s by the looks of it, are here to listen to a....philosopher? Why? What makes Zizek the most popular philosopher since Jean-Paul Sartre?

The answer is in his latest book, Trouble In Paradise: From The End of History To The End Of Capitalism. Although ostensibly a philosopher who can write whole books on Hegel, he's more known for his political criticism, in which he incorporates Literary Criticism (of the Marxist and Freudian kind mainly) along with Hegel (and Nietzsche, and others), in a style that is accessible, or mostly so: he doesn't write for academic journals. But mainly, it's his use of examples from pop culture (books, music, but a lot of film) to strengthen his arguments, for example critiquing the Christopher Nolen-directed Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises, showing its ambiguity in how on the one hand it defends conservative values, and/or at least the status quo of our society (Bruce Wayne is one of the 1%, the mega-rich, his fortune coming from "arms manufacturing plus stock-market speculations.") On the other hand, the main villain, Bane, is an Occupation-type hero to the poor and dispossessed, which could also be taken as a conservative reaction to that protest movement but nevertheless the fact that that movement made it into a major film shows that there is some kind of appeal to it.

Although this paperback version of Trouble in Paradise has come out in 2017, it was actually first published in England back in 2014, before the American elections of 2016 (I can't wait to read what he has to say about that) though it's all still very relevant: what he and others call 'late-capitalism' (not without some wistful hope that what's going on globally in politics and economics is about to grind to a halt)—that is, the constant demand-that-becomes-a-need for economic growth—forces the world limited amount of resources (water, oil, etc) to become more rare, and therefore valuable, and therefore more important than lesser ideas like human rights.

Also, interestingly, he starts Trouble in Paradise off with an analysis of North Korea, this just when Kim Jong-un had come to power, but which is just as interesting now, more so even, with North Korea launching a missile over Japan. There's a reason North Korea's Great Leader looks a little on the ambiguously sexual side.

But speaking of the 2016 elections: here's Zizek discussing the protests, and protestors, in Spain of around 2012: of the common threads in the ongoing popular revolts in Europe, especially in Spain, is the rejection of the entire 'political elite', Left or Right. They are all dismissed as corrupt, out of touch with the actual needs of ordinary people and so forth. However, such sentiment can cover two radically opposed positions: on the one hand, the populist-moralist rejection of the entire political class ('they are all the same, politics is a whore'), which as a rule, conceals the call for a new Master who will clear this nest of corruption and introduce honesty.

Who can not see this first group as the people who voted for Trump, a supposedly strong outsider that vowed to, instead of 'clear the nest of corruption' to 'drain the swamp.' But Zizek continues (this is a long quote, but worth it, and indicative of how he thinks and writes):

....on the other hand, something entirely different, truly stepping out of the binary opposition which defines the contours of the hegemonic political space (Republicans versus Democrats....) In this second case, the underlying logic is not 'they are all the same'  but, 'Of course our principal enemy is the capitalist Right, but we also reject the blackmail of the established Left which enjoins us to support them as the only way to stop the Right.' This second position is the position of 'neither nor': we don't want X, but we also don't want its inherent negation, the opposition to it that remains within the same field. This doesn't mean 'they're all the same', but, precisely, that they are not 'all'....'They are all the same ' means that we want the exception, a direct/honest politics exempted from the corrupted politics as usual, neither Right nor Left. However, in the case of 'neither nor', the negation of the Right gives us the (established) Left, but the negation of the Left does not give us the Right again, but rather a non-Left which is of the Left more than the (established) Left itself.

I don't have to wait to see what Zizek writes about the 2016 elections, he already wrote about them two years ahead of time. This is exactly what happened. The non-Left-ers were the ones who supported Bernie Sanders, someone they (who am I kidding: we) felt was 'direct/honest' and when the '(established) Left' bumped him out (not least with the threat of 'Super Delegates' that would and did nullify any sense of real democracy in the Primaries) they were the people that either voted 3rd party, or, like in my home state of Michigan, who just didn't vote for president period, even though they did vote the rest of the ballot. I mean, how bad are the Democrats to people that they will go to the effort of voting for everything else on the ballot, but won't make one little mark against Trump?

If there is a weakness to Trouble In Paradise, it's that Zizek can't provide a solution to the capitalist problem, though who can? He does dissect some other intellectuals' 'solutions', though finds them unrealistic. Nor, even though he is a Marxist critic of capitalism does think Communism is an easy answer, though in the end he does, lamely, come back to that.

He would probably disagree, but I think Zizek really comes closest in his thinking to democratic socialism (thus all the Bernie supporters that night) in that its the government's role, or should be, to protect people from, and regulate, business and the markets. Also not easy. But, he urges people to keep trying for something better, and in this his style is effective: despite the depressing critique of what's going on around the world, one comes away from reading Zizek a bit more hopeful, perhaps only because we know more: he, like Noam Chomsky, takes us behind the curtain of what governments and corporations are doing.

This is why all those people were there on a Friday night so hear Zizek speak: He's speaking truth to power, the whole establishment, including, and maybe especially, the '(established) Left' when almost no intellectuals (especially no one in academia) nor journalists will.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Moon girl

This appeared a year ago in PHANTOM DRIFT, a print journal, which you can order here.

Moon girl

Her body in the open sky
the moon in water

the moon does not always appear at night
night is not always dark

the moon is not one moon, not two moons
not a thousand moons

mind moon is alone
its light swallows moonlight

why is this?

she has moon mind
because she makes moon her mind

no mind not moon
no moon not mine

even if there was a moon last night
the moon you see tonight is not the same

study the moon in tonight's moon
because a moon succeeds a moon

moonlight swallowing moonlight
moon swallows moon

waking with her body
the turning moon

the mind is a moon
the moon a mind

a single mind
a single moon

moon-faced girl
your body and mind
in the moon

a field of grass glowing in the moonlight
her mind glowing in the moonlight

moon swallowing moon
as earth and sky are swallowed
and moon is born

she swallows me
swallows herself
travels when clouds move
because moons are as they are
explore and penetrate
the motion of the moon
essence of wind and rivers