Nonfiction and interviews.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Huge Power Podcast - Episode #5 - A Conversation with Douglas Lain (Part 1)

       From Louisville, Kentucky, this is episode #5 of the Huge Power Podcast. My name is Reagan M. Sova. This is a special edition of Huge Power because it serves as part of my final project for a graduate seminar in genre theory that I am taking at the University of Louisville and because Douglas Lain is my guest. Mr. Lain, that’s Lain L-A-I-N is a fiction writer from Portland, Oregon whose first novel, Billy Moon, published by Tor Books, is available at your local bookstore or amazon.com. Douglas Lain is also the host of one of the most popular philosophy podcasts on the whole entire internet, the Diet Soap Podcast
       There are plenty of sound clip detours that I hope will help listeners ground today’s discussion in some recognizable terrain. Those are: an instrumental version of Shove It by Santigold, a couple Slavoj Zizek jokes (canned laughter and "chicken") brief excerpts of Human, All Too Human by Friedrich Nietzsche and White Noise by Don DeLillo, Mistake by D+, Ernest Becker Foundation member Peter Park speaking about Becker’s work, a bootleg cover of Smith and Jones forever from the final show of the Silver Jews, my favorite band of all-time, and finally some of On a Tip by the Halo Benders. Also, I wanted to make a correction around 1h2minutes, if you make it that far, I mentioned Zizek’s book Violence when the Zizek book I meant to cite is In Defense of Lost Causes. I’ll also put a link in the show notes to the Andrew Kliman essay we mention near the conclusion of the episode. And if you do make it to the final seconds of the podcast, I’ve hidden a little gem in there as a tip of my hat to those who persevere.

UPDATES/CORRECTIONS:

1. When mentioning Douglas Lain's Diet Soap guests, I said etcetera, when I should have said, "... and others."
2. In the first 10 minutes, if I reference anything that occurred this year, I meant "Watson Symposium." The "Watson Conference" will take place next year in 2014.
3.  I noticed I exclaim, "Yeah!" annoyingly often.  As a podcast host, I will work on not doing that so often. 
4.  Link to poet/writer John Yohe.
5. When I say "ideology," I am referring to the Žižekian notion of ideology which is wrapped up in the Freudian unconscious, wrapped up in fantasy which structures and supports our reality.  Thomas Beebee, author of The Ideology of Genre: A Comparative Study of Generic Instability, writes, "Ideology is no longer something that can be represented or paraphrased.  Instead, it becomes something like the magnetic field that arranges a chaotic of iron fillings into intriguing, ordered curves on a piece of paper."  Here is a clip, Žižek in The Pervert's Guide to Ideology, that might help elucidate that notion of ideology.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Huge Power Podcast - Episode #4 - A Conversation with Professor Jennifer Jewell


       From Louisville, Kentucky, this is episode #4 of the Huge Power Podcast.  My name is Reagan M. Sova.  My guest for this episode is Professor Jennifer Jewell.  Professor Jewell teaches Social Work at Spalding University here in Louisville.  She earned a PhD from the Kent School of Social Work at the University of Louisville and her research interests focus on social justice, grassroots organizing, international social work, and intersections between race, class, and gender.  Professor Jewell was kind enough to meet me at the headquarters of Womenin Transition or WIT, an organization she co-founded in 1998.  We discuss the history and mission of WIT, creating small d democracy in local communities, and the joy of joining together with others under of the goal of achieving economic human rights for all.  If you would like to get connected to WIT, just Google “Women in Transition Louisville” or you can find links to their Twitter, Facebook, and Website (http://www.witky.org/) in the notes for this show.    
       You’ll hear sound clips in this episode from Gar Alperovitz in the trailer of The Next American Revolution and Barbara Ehrenreich speaking on Democracy Now! in 2011.  You’ll also hear music from Air Waves, their live version of “Lightning” closes out the episode, as well as a cover of “So What” by Miles Davis performed by Pablo GonzalesFlores, which you’re listening to right now.     
My apologies if the sound turned out a little on the tinny side; however, the words, the important part, are clear.  So, without further ado, you’ll hear my conversation with Professor Jennifer Jewell.  

Outro:
       My thanks once again to Professor Jennifer Jewell.  For the Huge Power Podcast, I’m Reagan Sova.  Have a great day everyone. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Huge Power Podcast - Episode #3 - "How Does Change Happen?" A Talk by Angela Davis


        From Louisville, Kentucky, this is episode 3 of the Huge Power Podcast.  My name is Reagan M. Sova.  Today on the podcast, there is no guest; however, we’ll hear a 2008 talk from Angela Davis, put out by University of California Television.  The talk is called “How Does Change Happen?”  Following Davis’ talk I’ll play a brief clip from Noam Chomsky on the same subject.  The music you're listening to is a cover of David Bowie’s "Changes" performed in Portuguese by Seu Jorge.  I thought to put this podcast on change together because I feel like this is a subject that comes up often in my life, and I wanted to learn more about it. 
A graphic design image of Davis on the April 2013 cover of Trois Couleurs, a monthly magazine about culture, cinema, and technology based in Paris. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Some Remarks in Response to David Hollinger's Chronicle Article

             A couple of weeks ago, David A. Hollinger wrote a thought-provoking piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education titled “The Wedge Driving Academe's Two Families Apart: Can STEM and the human sciencesget along?”  The article has inspired me to embark on a longer, more in-depth essay of my own, but here I’ll offer a few introductory remarks about some ideas I am thinking through.  I am obligated to make at least one more blog post for my graduate seminar in community literacy, and, as the topic at hand treats some concerns we have been circling back to over the course of the semester, I figured this post would provide me an occasion not only to work through some ideas, but also to fulfill the requirement for my course. 
            In his Chronicle article, Hollinger contends that:
"If the wedge [between the sciences and the humanities] today owes relatively little to the old two-cultures arguments, it owes a great deal to the so-called culture wars of the 1980s and 1990s, keyed by Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind, in 1987, and later by the energetic criticisms of the curriculum and faculty of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, founded in 1995. The most pertinent feature of this episode was the vigorously voiced complaint that the intellectual content of the social sciences and humanities was ideologically driven from the left. That was a striking change in the political relations of higher education from the 1950s, when allegations that chemists and mathematicians had Communist sympathies were at one with comparable accusations of sociologists and philosophers.
The new political discourse focused not on the private political activities of professors, but on the intellectual content of what they wrote and taught. To be sure, there were anti-evolution and anti-climate-change yahoos who found fault with the natural-science side of university faculties, but rarely on the opinion pages of The Wall Street Journal; it was the human scientists whose ideas were most at issue. Hence the wedge: Natural scientists were invited to stand aside as their colleagues in English and history and political science and sociology were accused of substituting political correctness for professionalism."
            That the heart of the average Natural scientist on the other end of campus was not moved by those criticisms against the Humanities, especially English (my discipline), does not surprise me at all.  The reason is because most scientists would probably laugh at what we in English call “theory.”  In fact, they do.  Does anyone remember the Sokal Affair?  It might appear that the days of the postmodern Paris intellectuals – Foucault, Derrida, Lyotard, Serres, Deleuze and Guattari, et al – are on the wane, and perhaps so, but they still persist in a good number of departments.  And worse, they have spawned whole new realms of nonsense, popular in the Humanities.  Take, for example, one of the most recent popular “theoretical” trends, Object Oriented Ontology (OOO).  OOO, a subset of “speculative realism,” is, according to Wikipedia, a “metaphysical movement that rejects the privileging of human existence over the existence of nonhuman objects.”  Foremost among OOO scholars is Ian Bogost, who instructs in his recent book Alien Phenomenology, or What It’s Like to Be a Thing that,
“In short all things equally exist, yet they do not exist equally.  The funeral pire is not the same as the aardvark; the porceletta shell is not equivalent to the rugby ball.  Not only is neither pair reducible to human encounter, but also neither is reducible to the other.
This maxim may seem like a tautology –or just a gag.  It’s certainly not the sort of qualified, reasoned, hand wrung ontological position that’s customary in philosophy.  But such an extreme take is required for the curious garden of things to flower.  Consider it a thought experiment, as all speculation must be: what if we shed all criteria whatsoever and simply hold that everything exists, even the things that don’t?  And further, what if we held that among extants, none exist differently from one another?  The unicorn and the combine harvester, the color red and methyl alcohol, quarks and corrugated iron, Amelia Earhart and dyspepsia, all are fair game, none’s existence fundamentally different from another, none more primary nor more original” (11). 
Especially with the line, "what if we shed all criteria whatsoever and simply hold that everything exists, even the things that don’t?" I cannot help but think of Eli Cash, in The Royal Tenenbaums (see video below), positing that “Everybody knows Custer died at Little Bighorn.  What this book presupposes is, maybe he didn’t?”  Of course, the big difference here is that Wes Anderson wants us to chuckle at Cash’s quip.  Bogost and the OOO disciples, on the other hand, are serious in what they say.  (I think.)
            OOO is just one example.  If you are able to make your way through the sea of claptrap into some actual ideas, it may seem that the Humanities are “ideologically driven from the left.”  But the agenda setters in the Humanities are overwhelmingly a part of the Democrat “left;” clinging to the Obama brand, which speaks the language of liberalism and seems to reflect their anti-racist, pro-choice, pro-gay rights values.  However, most Humanities professors seem unable or unwilling to acknowledge that Democrats, like Republicans, ultimately share the same ideological preference for "free-markets," a.k.a. corporate capitalism - that an Obama or Romney administration will equally strive to help the corporate sector accrue more record profits by destroying our communities with secretive trade pacts like the Trans-Pacific Partnership and by remaking our universities in the image of corporations.  In a way, the perceived political slant of the Humanities is almost a reverse mirror image of that of red state voters in Thomas Frank's What’s the Matter with Kansas.  After the 2004 re-election of George W. Bush, Frank set out to investigate why so many poor and working people would vote against their own economic self-interest.  What he found is that Republicans were able to get votes by successfully marrying pro-corporate economics with conservative stances on explosive social issues like gay marriage and abortion.  With the Humanities, mostly NPR Democrats, you have a similar phenomenon. 
            Once deciphered, Humanities curricula thus appears socially progressive, but it is almost always divorced from confrontations with corporate power (which amounts to an endorsement of it).  Such an ideology can only lead to academic policy like The Responsive PhD Report, which couches itself in the language of progressive politics and diversity, only to sacrifice education for the sake of market demands and corporate skills training.  Its policy perscriptions ultimately further racial injustice and economic inequality.  Furthermore, outside academia, we see how identity politics divorced from economics advances authoritarian interests even at seemingly progressive events like this year’s San Francisco Gay Pride Parade, which invited ruinous mega-corporations and banks but would not “tolerate a hint of support” for whistleblower Chelsea (then Bradley) Manning.  On this point, I would like to be very clear in adding that conversely, antagonism against the corporate state divorced from identity politics is equally bankrupt.  Struggles against corporate capitalism must be inextricably linked to struggles against racism, homophobia, sexism, ableism, and other forms of oppression – because they are always already intertwined. 
            At the conclusion of his article, Hollinger makes it known that he is acutely concerned that the work of the academy in most all disciplines is not reaching, or at least is not often believed, by the public.  He laments, “Half of the American public, I read the other day, believes that scientists are equally divided as to whether climate change is real. Many people believe that evolutionary theory is simply one opinion among many.”  This is unfortunately the case, with no small thanks due to policies implemented by Democratic administrations.  Chris Hedges claims that “Politicians like Obama speak in that ‘feel your pain’ language, but they have walked out on every basic value of liberalism - Clinton being the poster child for it.  Clinton pushed through NAFTA, the greatest betrayal of the working class in this country since the Taft-Hartley Act, he deregulated the banks - Canada didn't have the crisis we had because they never tore down the firewalls between investment and commercial banks, Clinton destroyed welfare, [and] Clinton deregulated the FCC, so the corporate consolidation of the media took place.”  The latter is one of the main factors which paved the way for the proliferation of right-wing trash talk radio and, as Hedges mentions, allowed for unprecedented corporate consolidation of media – both of which lead to distortion of any credible academic research that might in any way threaten the corporate state.  These barriers to reaching the public are considerable and harmful, but before working towards their dismantlement, scholars, at least Humanities scholars, first need to make sure that they have something worthwhile to say.    

Monday, October 7, 2013

Make a Zine!

ABOUT TWO YEARS ago, I deactivated my Facebook account.  My farewell post included a video of Julian Assange discussing how Facebook and other social media are essentially gifts to intelligence agencies.  For this reason, along with the insidious advertizing and aggregate data techniques, I logged off.  However, since the Edward Snowden revelations, it seems that simply being on the internet is a gift to intelligence agencies and other authoritarian interests.  Is logging off completely the answer?  So much of our lives have moved online that it would be difficult to accomplish simple tasks like changing one’s address, booking a plane ticket, or applying for a job without the internet.  It seems that, for those of us who want to be a part of society, (find gainful employment, rent an apartment, have a phone, etc) our only recourse is to remain online and use the arms of power against itself.
            In other words, we can and should use the internet to disseminate propaganda and organize in-person democratic resistance to the state-corporate complex.  Many, like Barrett Brown and the digital activists in Anonymous, have participated in this struggle online and in the real world, and their acts of resistance online have become just as risky and influential as in-person actions, if not more so.  Brown himself is facing 105 years in prison on charges that are unjust even by the standards of establishment sources like The New York Times.  I am logging back on to Facebook because, as an internet user, my online activity is already tracked and aggregated.  Furthermore, I need to redouble my efforts to disseminate important news stories (like Brown’s case which receives far less attention than it should) and to connect with local activists, as I have moved to a new city where I know no one.
            However, I do not think Facebook, Twitter, and blogs should be the sum total of one’s media efforts if they are trying to create social and economic change.  In 1934, Walter Benjamin argued that “the bourgeois apparatus of production and publication can assimilate astonishing quantities of revolutionary themes, indeed can propagate them without calling its own existence … seriously into question” (Qtd in Duncombe 126).  This is an important point to remember when attempting to use the arms of power against itself.  The forms we use say something, arguably just as significant, as the content of our messages.  Think Marshal McLuhen’s famous adage, “The medium is the message.”  One’s media approach must therefore be multi-faceted and, as much as possible, prefigurative of the world one hopes to create.  Bearing this in mind, if you are a Facebook and internet user like me, I sincerely hope you will also make a zine.


            There is an interesting history of zines, about which Stephen Duncombe writes in Notes from Underground: Zines and the Politics of Alternative Culture.  With origins in the 1930’s sci-fi “fanzine” culture to underground presses of the 1960’s, Duncombe chronicles this history and recounts how zines as we know them today started appearing in punk-rock milieus of the 1970’s.  Anarchism as a philosophy, if not always explicitly stated, had a starring role in these punk rock zines of the 70’s and its influence continued in other types of zines in the 80’s and 90’s.  Duncombe posits that “On the most basic level, anarchism is the philosophy of individual dissent within the context of volunteer communities, and zines are the products of individual dissenters who have set up volunteer networks of communication with one another” (35).  With the act of making a zine, one repudiates the corporate message of the mainstream media by producing her or his own content in the DIY anarchist spirit.  The medium is the message.
            So what exactly is a zine?  Is a zine like a blog?  Are you reading a zine right now?
            The short answer to the latter two questions is “mostly no” and “no,” respectively.  (Jenna Friedman at Barnard College has written a fantastic essay which differentiates zines from blogs.)  Zines are “most commonly, a small circulation self-published work of original or appropriated texts and images usually reproduced via photocopier,” so says Wikipedia.  The fact that they are self-produced for little money makes them tools conducive to expressing the views and concerns of individuals subjugated or alienated in some way by the prevailing power system.  Duncombe cites Antonio Gramsci in making the point that zines often represent counterhegemonic cultures (175).  And though he does admit that zines have often been the domain of disaffected white people from middle class backgrounds, Duncombe also highlights the ways in which zines belong to everyone and anyone.  He argues that zines are useful for historically misrepresented groups – those often stereotyped in the major media like women, racial minorities, immigrants, LGBTQ persons, radicals, and others – to represent themselves and tell their stories to their local communities in a creative way (122 - 123).  This is exactly what some marginalized individuals and groups have done recently. 
            Women in Transition, a grassroots organization promoting education, empowerment, and community solidarity, run by and for poor people in Louisville, self-published a zine-style book of poems and nonfiction narrative accounts written by their members.  A Mile in our Shoes: Real Stories of Trials, Tribulations, and Human Rights Violations, released in 2009, features the stories of women, children, racial minorities, and disabled persons – those who most often bear the brunt of economic injustice and brutal cuts to social programs – as they illuminate what it means in human terms to raise a family on minimum wage, or simply just survive, often with little or no family support and scant help from social safety-net programs.  The book reveals in stark terms what it does to children and families when politicians cut food stamps, or conversely, when popular struggle leads to an increase, however slight, in the minimum wage.  The book also shatters the most frequent fallacy leveled against the poor (that they are lazy) when it becomes apparent that just about every narrative in the collection revolves around the struggle to find work or the struggle of working jobs that pay too little.  This collection of stories is an example of how marginalized and oppressed peoples, whose concerns may not be addressed in major or even local media, can utilize self-produced, physical content like zines as a platform to represent themselves at the community level.
         While I log back on to Facebook today, I want to argue that much more of our media needs to come directly from us, and not solely from the national celebrity “journalists” who ultimately share the values and interests of the ruling class.  It is also vital that activists continue producing media in physical form; at least 15% of Americans do not use the internet (this percentage even seems conservative to me).  And you never know where a zine will take you or what it will become.  My favorite podcast, Diet Soap, started as a zine.  I hope you find out more about zines and consider making one.  Though they have waned in popularity since the proliferation of the internet at the end of the 90’s, they are alive and well with people who wish to contribute to counterhegemonic culture.  Making a zine is a great way to promote community literacy and challenge unjust power structures.