Baumbach sprinkles some Hitler and Nazi references throughout the film, but there is never the sense implied in the book that reducing fascism to a quirky cultural study obscures its uninterrupted recurrence on the margins of middle-class life. Now that this depoliticized and deliciously edgy reframing has allowed the alt-right to meme Hitler back through the Overton window, it is impossible to imagine a professor delivering Jack Gladney’s theatrically exuberant lecture on Hitler without being “canceled” or called up for a Fox News appearance. And yet, the students listen with unquestioning admiration, as if the Holocaust was no different than one of Suskind’s Roger Corman–esque car crashes.
A debate in the Nation between myself and Corey Pein about if alien visitors would be socialist. My take:
There is no evidence that aliens are visiting Earth or that they exist at all, let alone anything indicating where they might fall on the political compass. Most theories about UFOs should be read as thinly veiled political metaphors for our shortcomings today and where society might be headed. Depictions of aliens as insectoid invaders or rapacious scientists, for example, reflect the traumas of colonialism and war and the systemic cruelty in our history and society. But the internal contradictions of our current world order mean it cannot exist for much longer.
My review of Jarrod Shanahan’s excellent history and analysis of Rikers Island and penal welfarism in the Field Notes Section at The Brooklyn Rail
When Johnny Cash performed for the inmates of San Quentin prison in 1969, he wrote a song especially for the occasion. The first several verses ask why the prison exists and what good it could possibly do for those imprisoned there or society as a whole. Its last verse concludes, to a roar of applause:
San Quentin, may you rot and burn in hell May your walls fall and may I live to tell May all the world forget you ever stood And may all the world regret you did no good.
At the time, the song was considered naïve pandering. This was still the era in which liberal academics and politicians believed in “penal welfarism,” that America’s carceral institutions could be transformed into something better than the torturous dungeons described by Cash. A notable example was the planned expansion of New York’s Rikers Island from a small penal work camp to a state-of-the-art facility of human rehabilitation. Jarrod Shanahan’s Captives, the first history of Rikers written in what may be its final years, explains why the project failed, why renewed progressive efforts to replace facilities like Rikers today will fail again, and why Cash was probably right.
On April 20, 2020, I Want to Believe (nicknamed The Green Book by fans), was released as the world entered lockdown. Framed by the wave of uprisings in Chile, Hong Kong, and Ecuador, alongside the “Show me them aliens” raid on Area 51, the book is more than a simple political biography of the idiosyncratic Trotskyist leader J. Posadas, but also an investigation into revolutionary potential in our catastrophic era of radical politicization through memes.
Gittlitz will discuss the connection between conspiracy and UFO communities and the revolutionary left, and world events since the book’s release–especially the pandemic and George Floyd Uprising, in the context of the post-Posadist autonomist revolutionary project described in the book’s closing chapter.
I’m now producing a podcast covering select articles from this JHP journal out of Johns Hopkins. In the first episode, Peter Adamson (LMU Munich) talks to Jari Kaukua (University of Jyväskylä, Finland) about his essay “Avicenna’s Outsourced Rationalism.”
Memorium to the singer of the World/Inferno Friendship Society, Jack Terricloth, the scene he built, and the world he wanted to smash:
Their third LP, Just the Best Party (2002) hailed their new scene of school-skippers and cheapskates who sneak into shows (often assisted by the band) and snatch liquor bottles from the bar in its opening track “Zen and the Art of Breaking Everything in this Room.” The song identified both their friends and their enemies: the police, shit-talkers, moralists, and most of all, yuppies already taking over downtown Manhattan and Williamsburg. If a show wasn’t going well, because the venue had fucked them over or simply wasn’t punk enough, the pounding opening of Zen became a signal to fans, like Black Flag’s cover of “Louie Louie,” to mercilessly rip the place apart.
This nihilistic sentiment inadvertently reveals the anxieties of the one percent. We are already in an era of civilizational catastrophe fueled by political, economic, and environmental instability. Elite schemes of private islands and apocalypse bunkers no longer seem adequate to repel the inevitable billions of climate and war refugees, unemployed and precarious workers, and everyone else immiserated by the barbarity of the current order. There is only one way left to run: up.
A new essay on the emergence of the United States Space Force as the sixth branch of the US Military, the history of the space race to secure hegemony for the US and its corporate allies, and the surprisingly true story behind the Mr. Show sketch about blowing up the moon!
An essay about Bob Dylan’s bizarre hit “Murder Most Foul,” the lure of conspitorial narratives, shifts in generation thinking, and Dylan’s own career.
On November 22, 1963, Dylan was scheduled to play a concert in upstate New York. He was worried his recent opener “The Times They are a-Changin’,” with its lyrics of letting the weights of the old world sink in order to create a better one, would enrage the audience. But he played it for the sake of consistency, and to his disgust, the crowd loved it. “I couldn’t understand why they were clapping,” he told his biographer Anthony Scaduto, “or why I wrote that song even.”
Hagiographies of Kennedy often portray his assassination as the end of an Arthurian America, ushering in an era of race riots, senseless war, and parapolitical intrigues that Dylan calls “the age of the Antichrist.” The allusion to Shakespeare’s Hamlet in the song’s title, however, implies that through telling the story there may be some hope of redemption, or at least vengeance.
‘Under the grim pressures of 20th century history, and now climate change, Gittlitz shows how explosions of black political humour also contain utopian hopes very necessary to keep alive. As an advocate of Partially Automated Adequate Socialism I can only agree, and applaud this fine addition to leftist history’
– Kim Stanley Robinson