Monday, June 14, 2010

kool4skool: reading my way to kaliphornia

At the end of July I'm going to Berkeley for a week of *strictly not buying books* (very, very hard) and attending a poetry workshop called 95cent skool, on poetry, social justice and ecology. It's being organised by two writers I admire a lot -- Juliana Spahr and Joshua Clover -- and they have sent us some hardcore homework (not as hardcore as Spahr's own incredible reading list, as annotated on her blog): three books from the left of the left,

Jason Read, The Micro-Politics of Capital: Marx and the Prehistory of the Present

Joel Kovel, The Enemy of Nature: the End of Capitalism or the End of the World

Paul Avrich, The Modern School Movement: Anarchism and Education in the United States

The British Library (socialist? capitalist? what's your take on copyright libraries?, with apologies to Le Tigre) had all three, and I whiled away a few afternoons reading them and making incomprehensible notes, but one I kept coming back to was: boys on my left side, boys on my right side, boys in the middle, and you're not here. There are small loans from the girl zone in each book: Jason Read briefly mentions gender, and some Marxist feminist writing from the 1970s; Joel Kovel asserts that the hierarchisation of the sex/gender binary is the foundational moment for both human inequality, and exclusionary thinking that divides ecology into humans and the "environment," while dismissing eco-feminism as flawed by a) goddess-worship and b) in-fighting (hello, the 1970s called, and they want their stereotypes back); and Paul Avrich, er, mentions Emma Goldman. And some female teachers, without ever exploring whether the anarchist school movement addressed the socialisation of gender in education (from the description of some of the womanising, supported-by-girlfriend teachers, not so much) -- despite the presence of Goldman and some connections to the group of leftist magazines and writer-activists charted by Nancy Berke in Women Poets on the Left.

Of course, I'm being a little flippant: all three books speak to important impulses, theories and flows that come together with various feminism(s) towards building community and overthrowing capitalism. I'm also particularly grateful for Jason Read's citation which (re)turned me to Giorgio Agamben's The Coming Community, which I read and have been quoting to friends with a worrying fervour. But I'm also not being flippant. All three books are written by white American male academics, and it seems to me that one urgent principle of social justice is a diversity of voices, not for its own sake, but because justice is best effected by listening broadly and learning widely from people who have something worth saying grounded in their particular and contrastive experience.

So these are some of the books I will be (re)reading as I travel west to California, with all the histories that that journey carries for me as a European, as an Ashkenazi and a Sephardi, as a film lover, as a teenage Beat, as a queer, as a radical, as an invader, as a polluter, as a dreamer. There's only one book of poetry (Deborah Miranda's, rooted in Esselen and Chumash ecologies) mentioned, but the list is haunted by others -- perhaps not materialising because it feels over-determined/over-determining/over-shadowing to suggest poetries. Or even poetics.

Please, please add your own: the reading of your journey, of your plans, of your dreams, because this workshop (once you get over reading about the horrors of capital and feeling like you can't go on, you must go on, you can't go on) is -- *has* to be -- radically, pragmatically utopian. I'd love to read more books about Californias: Chumash, Chicana, Depression, migrant worker, suburban, mythological, economic, as guerrilla garden, as caliphate...

I'd also love recommendations for films to see that might link into and light up a radical poetics -- on the California front, I love (love? hard word for a complicatedly beautiful film) The Exiles; likewise Killer of Sheep. Is there a Bay Area equivalent of Los Angeles Plays Itself? A Canyon Cinema round-up? Or a remake/retake/reup of the eco-feminist radical anti-capitalist politics of Lizzie Borden's awesome Born in Flames? Or as downright gorgeous as Jenn Reeves' 16mm eco-film-poem When It Was Blue?

Links are to publishers rather than Amazon where possible; if books are out of print, I link to a review. Please support independent publishers and booksellers. And libraries.

For travelling:
Judith Butler, Precarious Life: The Power of Mourning and Violence
John Berger, Here is Where We Meet

For crossing the border:
Jasbir K. Puar, Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times
Raja Shehadeh, Palestinian Walks: Notes on a Vanishing Landscape
Gloria AnzadĂșa, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza

For arriving:
Ursula K. Le Guin, Always Coming Home
Deborah A. Miranda, The Zen of La Llorona

For (dis)orientation:
Rebecca Solnit, The Field Guide to Getting Lost
Sara Ahmed, Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others

For observing:
Linda Hogan, Dwellings: A Spiritual History of the Living World
Daniel Kane, We Saw the Light: Conversations Between the New American Cinema and Poetry

For building community:
Rebecca Solnit, A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster
Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia

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