Just returned from a weekend reunion of lifelong friends, political comrades and good eggs. We were young together once, and lived in tents on the lawn at UCLA, doing everybody's best to politicize other students and faculty, and talk the UC Regents into divesting from racist, apartheid South Africa, supported by the Reagan Administration. Recent occupations and tent-ins across the country cause me to wince with delight and recognition. An occupation is a good thing indeed or, as the Wobblies say, "Direct action gets the goods." But you have to show up, to march, pitch a tent, occupy a Bank of America (or two or three), plant a stink bomb but pretty much do something. Anything. You can, as Billy Bragg sings, "Act up with the activists or sleep in with the sleepers" while waiting for the Great Leap Forward. Meanwhile, good to sleep in a tent, out in front of corporate headquarters or administration or the police department. To sleep, perchance to dream?
Or, if you are anywhere near Anaheim, California
, you could show up for the nearly nightly protests of police brutality. But, of course, in order to protest anything, whether US war policy
or Anaheim cops or even the right-wing religious homophobes and bigots who own and eat lousy fast food at a really dumb chicken restaurant as a tool for expressing their
|Not a cartoon.|
politics, you'd have to actually take the risk of meaning something, of being a person and not a cartoon, of imagining that your political power was actually worth using, losing, winning, sharing.
In the Spectacular Culture constructed for us by the poultry people and others, the society of watching TV or playing video games or signing useless email or online petitions, marching with other human beings is dismissed as embarrassingly genuine or dangerous or vulnerable or foolish and, confusingly, too difficult and pointless and meaningless. Which is it?
|Art for a Chang|
Artists know that creating something to challenge the construction of corporate reality is powerful. Thus, Mark Vallen, the LA artist whose work often captured the mid-1980s struggle to match social conscience with the political choices of the academy, all too often the tool of the corporate class. Check this one out, with "Hollywatts," the great political rapper who later became an actor, Roger Guenveur Smith, most famously portraying "Smiley" in Spike Lee's classic Do the Right Thing.
Or how about Chris Marker, the French filmmaker who passed away last week, a radical who fought with the French Resistance to fascism, principled provocateur, documentarian, visionary? Start with his Sans Soleil and then watch A Grin Without a Cat, both remarkable "documents" combining personal narrative, collective POV and images, and tell me what you think, and I do mean think!
|Power of pussycat|
And, sad to say, Gore Vidal. Saw him most recently at the Richard Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, where he introduced Senator George McGovern while Tricky Dick turned over in his grave out back in the rose garden. I'll share more about Vidal next week, who I met as a student activist at CSULB when he ran for U.S. Senate and whose writing and activism I followed and, of course, admired.
And, still alive and kickin', Pussy Riot
, the Russian
feminist punk band who dared to make smart and radical art against the dictator-thug Putin
in the House of God? For their crime of acting out and up against patriarchal gangsters they got many months in jail. "You've got to mess with people," said folk singer Utah Phillips
. 'Nuff said, but go here to see Pussy Riot doing its thing
against the odious patriarchal slave-masters who give people religion instead of freedom. For some reason they don't allow democracy in churches. Go figure. Play loud!
|Power of Pussy|
All of this to say that this week's celebration of one of those novels that a lot of "serious" literary readers might have ignored, dismissed or underestimated (at their peril) is a classic of so-called feminist fiction, but which endures and, as Vidal, Marker, the Pussies and Vallen, dared to portray what's real and urgent, "universal" themes and high-art aesthetics be damned. Ella Price's Journal is the "best pioneering novel of women's consciousness" since Virginia Woolf and Kate Chopin you never heard of, written as a series of entries in the personal journal (suggesting, sure, Doris Lessing's The Golden Notebook - why not?) of a fictional suburban Northern California "housewife" who decides to attend college in middle age. Her story touches the zeitgeist of 1972 but, for those willing to see Anaheim and go there and engage in the dangerous work of drawing parallels from other historical epochs, it's still all about today, now, and how we live lives that confront power and resist it, and try to make poetry and sense of our struggle.