October 24, 2012
August 6, 2012
In my previous post, I noted that the Boston Book Festival has scrubbed the most offensive of last year's corporate sponsors (Bank of America, Verizon, and Target) from its website. But in a comment on that post, comrade Frances Madeson urges us to keep turning over the stones to see what crawls out.
Here are her observations on two of the BBF's new sponsors, Akamai and Good Measures, and one of its continuing sponsors, publishing giant Pearson:
According to recent Form 8-K filings by Akamai both a Board member and a Sr. VP resigned last week. Wonder what that's all about? They're also transitioning their CEO and President out. Their most recent 10-Q looks pretty dicey as well [link]. All in all a pretty shaky partner for the BBF.
Gary Syman, board member of the Pearson Foundation (retired Goldman Sachs pahtnuh) talking about privatized education, sounds like [link]. Which makes sense because The Pearson Foundation itself (reading between the lines, naturally) looks like it's running offense for the privatizing education movement. Syman's wife is a big fundraiser for Obama; they were at the recent White House dinner with Babs Streisand. "People, people who need people are the LUCKIEST people in the world." It's all so seamless.
George Bennett, CEO of Good Measures was part of the Reagan Revolution [link]. Now, remember I was working as a legislative aide in the U.S. Congress (Ed & Labor Committee) at exactly that moment. The very FIRST program under the Committee on Education and Labor's purview that Reagan via his hatchetman David Stockman tried to cut was the WIC program, a very low-budget item for impoverished nursing moms and their babies. The reason they came for this one was purely psychological: IF THEY COULD CUT IT, THEY COULD CUT ANYTHING. And they did. Now I'm thinking that was one of Mr. Bennett's "best practices."
Maybe ketchup as a vegetable was another one, just for good measure.
We'll certainly follow Frances' lead and keep digging. Here and here, for example, are two articles on how Akamai Technologies (located in Cambridge, MA), abruptly terminated its contract with the Al Jazeera news service back in 2003. Obviously the Boston Book Festival is as keen on free expression as it is in "community." And here is an extended article on the push to privatize public education, with a special emphasis on the activities of the Pearson Foundation. Nice going, Boston Book Festival!
Frances Madeson is the author of the novel Cooperative Village and the publisher of The Madison County Crier. She blogs at Written Word, Spoken Word. Thank you, Frances!
August 2, 2012
It wasn't long after I posted my piece on the Boston Book Festival's track record of community-busting corporate sponsors that an unannounced change appeared on the BBF's website. Gone are the most obnoxious of the sugar daddies -- Bank of America, Verizon, and Target -- that the festival's organizers had so egregiously flattered and fellated on Twitter and elsewhere a year before. A coincidence, I'm sure, but a very gratifying one nonetheless.
Still, it's worth keeping an eye on the BBF's site, Twitter feed, and press releases, to see who might drop into the begging-bowl in the months leading up to this year's festival. In the meantime we can be confident that the BBF will remain a thoroughly corporate event, blandly unthreatening to the plutocracy and its servants and enforcers (i.e., what the organizers still really mean when they say "community"); the presence of 3 of the publishing mega-conglomerates (Hachette, Penguin/Pearson, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) can reassure us of that.
July 24, 2012
I'll admit, I first bought Vault for its subtitle - "An Anti-Novel." I thought it took some gumption for the author, David Rose, to give his novel a tag like that in our current publishing climate, and I hoped that the book would make good on its promise. The splendid cover made an additional temptation; on the Acknowledgments page Rose himself even offers a disarming remark about hoping his book lives up to it. On both counts - subtitle and cover - it does.
Vault is structured in alternating chapters that give two different versions of the protagonist's life. One set of chapters tells the story of McKuen, a cycling enthusiast from the Southeast of England who becomes a sniper in WW2 and a freelance operative for the intelligence services in the Cold War. This might sound like the well-trod territory of espionage novels such as those of Frederick Forsyth or Len Deighton, which functioned in their day as fantasy compensations for the real decline of England's status in the world. But these chapters are intercut with their revisionist counterparts, first-person chapters in which the hero's "real-life" prototype comments on and criticizes the "legend nonsense" and "novelism" in the alternate sequence. He protests that the author's appropriations of his biography distort it in the service of false heroism and spurious glamour, and against these he offers the corrective of his own more prosaic account.
Rose's anti-novel goes beyond merely questioning conventional literary heroism, however, finally implicating both versions of its protagonist in a condition of moral ambiguity. The key might be found in the "real" main character's description of his relationship with his racing cycle, the "sensation of control" and "exhilaration of being one with a mechanically-perfect machine," so fused with it that he "no longer had to think." It is the same relationship that he has with his sniper rifle. But bicycle races can be rigged, lovers can turn into double agents, and the figure of the lone existential hero, seen from another angle, might turn out to be just a pawn - as much a mere instrument as the rifle and bicycle are to the hero. The intelligence service's deployment of McKuen against the antinuclear movement broadens the frame dizzyingly, raising the possibility that the same commitment to instrumental expertise is behind the construction of the H-bomb and the specter of nuclear annihilation.
If Vault is therefore also something of a historical novel, it has the advantage of never reading like one. It's not upholstered with boring period detail and barely-digested chunks of research; rather, it convincingly distills an atmosphere appropriate to the era in which it is set. An earlier, more convivial way of life is hinted at only by its absence; cycling as a genuine people's pastime and the "Great War" as a popular, mass mobilization have been chiseled down into grim existential choices made in the cold and dark. I've seldom read a first novel written with such economy, in which so much is suggested in such spare and unsparing prose. And while Vault refuses many of the easy consolations of more mainstream fiction, it shouldn't scare away anyone who might mistakenly believe that "anti-novel" equals willful obscurity. It's a novel about cycling, guns, and novels that suggests with great clarity that what is obscure is our fates.
Vault, an Anti-Novel, by David Rose (Salt Modern Fiction, 2011), available here, here, and here.
An article by Rose, "Dark Matter: Modernism and the Anti-Novel," here.
An interview with the author here.
July 21, 2012
I had the pleasure and privilege of guest-editing the Summer 2012 issue of Gone Lawn, a webjournal of innovative fiction. That issue is now live.
The contributors include writers I reached out to because I admire their work and those who sent pieces through the regular submission process and whom I now number among writers I admire. They are:
Kristina Marie Darling, Angela Genusa, Jacob Wren, Frances Madeson, Valerie Witte, Jake Syersak, Neila Mezynski, Malcolm Sutton, Frances Kruk, j/j hastain, Derek Owens, David Hadbawnik, Stephen Hastings-King, and Dale Smith.
The issue also features cover art and a haunting video by Martha McCollough.
One thing of significance that I note among the contributors is how many of them produce work in other fields -- poetry, performance, music, digital and conceptual polyart, and criticism -- and indeed in some ways how little the generic boundaries really matter. I know I take a dim view of mainstream fiction and its insular, complacent "alt-lit" mirror-image, but the experience of reading these works (as well as others that did not make it into the issue but which I am grateful to have seen) has gone some ways towards restoring my faith that genuine literary art is still being produced, against the odds, in the Anglo-US axis. Thank you to everyone involved, with a special thanks going out to Gone Lawn's editor, Owen Kaelin, for giving me this opportunity.
(And be sure to check out Frances Madeson's own gone lawn, here.)
July 8, 2012
Verizon! In August 2011 almost 45,000 Verizon workers -- including 6000 in Massachusetts -- went out on strike for 2 weeks before having to return to work without a new contract. Verizon was trying to squeeze $1 billion in concessions out of its workforce, including cuts in health and retirement benefits, scheduled wage increases, and vacation and sick days. This same Verizon has received over $12 billion in tax subsidies since 2008, hasn't paid a thin dime in taxes over the same period, and continues to lavish multi-million dollar salaries on their top executives.
Yet Deborah Z. Porter and the other organizers of the Boston Book Festival welcomed Verizon and its ill-gotten dollars in to the 2011 BBF with open arms, allowing the company to burnish its slimy reputation and secure a little brand loyalty among future generations by hosting a children's "StoryPlace"!
Finally, there's this gem:
So, when it comes to the Boston Book Festival and the theme of "Transgressions," we might chuckle at their wildly misnamed reading event, but can't exactly accuse them of being hypocrites.
But when it comes to "community"?
May 23, 2012
PETER MANTI: THESES ON REALISM
May 4, 2012
Print 100 on light grey or beige card-stock and cut into quarters. Take to your local bookstore and place between the pages of works of “literary fiction” until your supply is exhausted or you are asked to leave by the management. Print more and go to another bookstore, etc.
April 15, 2012
April 6, 2012
March 24, 2012
January 28, 2012
Human Wishes / Enemy Combatant
a novel by Edmond Caldwell
He might be the dead-end flâneur of non-places like highway rest stops, airport terminals, and shopping malls, or he might be a Gitmo-bound enemy of the state. He might be the son of American working-class parents, or he might be the cousin of a Middle Eastern revolutionary the US labels a terrorist. He might be in possession of a lost Beckett play, or he might just have to go to the bathroom a lot.
“He” is the nameless hero of Human Wishes / Enemy Combatant, and he’s probably no more than a pronoun. With a looping itinerary that takes us from St. Petersburg, Russia to Salem, Massachusetts, from the Palestinian Nakba to a plot to replace New Yorker critic James Wood with a shadowy look-alike, Human Wishes / Enemy Combatant might just be the novel that explodes mainstream, corporate “literary fiction” from the inside out.
Praise for Edmond Caldwell’s Human Wishes / Enemy Combatant
“These ‘anti-stories about In Between places’ bristle with vibrant, fact-filled paranoia and good, old-fashioned self-deprecation, making constant, unexpected turns at breakneck pace. From St. Petersburg to Palestine, from coffin-shaped Joseph Cornell boxes to Monty Python doing Beckett, from reflections on the onslaught of Taylorism to violent, youthful misreadings ofAnimal Farm, the pure writerly intensity of the material, and the audacious panache of each new sentence, never for a moment flag.”
“Edmond Caldwell is right . . .”