Counterpoint / Soft Skull Press in Berkeley is hiring interns for the following departments:
Publicity/Marketing, Editorial/Production, Website/Social Media
Author-driven, we devote all energy to the fresh, cutting-edge, and literary voices of our authors. The genres we cover are vast—fiction and nonfiction, poetry, graphic novels, and anthologies, all of which collectively focus on current affairs and politics, counterculture, music, history, memoir, literary biography, religion, and philosophy.
Our small staff is friendly, fun, hardworking, and heavily reliant upon our interns to keep our momentum. We hire people who are thorough, diligent, flexible, and conscientious, and who enjoy a friendly and fast-paced working environment wherein staff rely on their acute attention to detail. Our interns have the ability and eagerness to pitch in on anything from galley preparation and manuscript proofreading to website updates and author event planning. If you’re smart, computer savvy, an enthusiastic self-starter, and you love books, then we encourage you to apply.
LENGTH OF INTERNSHIP:
Flexible, but generally early January – mid to late May. Priority is given to interns who can commit to a minimum of 20 hours per week.
All Counterpoint interns must bring his or her own laptop to work. This internship cannot be done remotely.
While our internships do not pay, we offer in-the-trenches experience and a complete tutorial of the book publishing industry and the publishing process itself. We do our best to tailor the internship program to our interns’ specific interests.
HOW TO APPLY:
Send a PDF of your cover letter and resume to firstname.lastname@example.org, with SPRING 2016 INTERNSHIP APPLICATION in the subject line. In the body of your email, please include your department of interest (Editorial/Production, Publicity/Marketing, or Website/Social Media), firm start and end dates of your availability, and how many hours a week you can participate. Please also include which operating system you have on your laptop.
APPLICATION DUE DATE:
December 31, 2015
Thank you for your interest!]]>
November 23, 2015
Massive Pissed Love: Nonfiction 2001–2014
Richard Hell makes his voice known on subjects as diverse as film, music, art, September 11, and photography. He calls his new essay collection Massive Pissed Love: Nonfiction 2001–2014 and in the Author’s Note, he likens arranging the essays to sequencing an album.
The essays range in length from only 500 words to much longer pieces. The former punk rock frontman of the Voidoids also explains how the chronology shouldn’t be taken too literally, since there are pieces that go back to the 1990s.
Besides this collection, Mr. Hell has written novels and an autobiography. Coming to New York City in the sixties to live as a street poet, he became involved in the punk scene. Lately his work has branched into film criticism, speeches, and exhibit catalog articles.
The best part of any essay collection is the ability to hop, skip, and jump from topic to topic. He writes about everything from the interior of CBGB’s, Nathanael West, Christopher Wool (a photographer), Robert Bresson, Larry Clark, Jean-Luc Godard, and Gérard de Nerval. The presumption could be made that Hell’s writing is somehow a break from his punk origins, but the writing belongs to a larger aesthetic continuum. His music days may be behind him, but he remains a taste-maker, an aesthete, and a verbal stylist. In his punk days, he sang “Love comes in spurts.” Now he focuses that raw poetic energy into sharp critiques and literary love letters to his favorite poets, writers, and musicians.
An early essay has Hell discussing the aesthetic merits of The Velvet Underground versus The Rolling Stones. After he lays down his argument, he writes one of the best descriptions of rock and roll’s appeal to the young, saying, “Rock and roll is wallpaper, but tendrily wallpaper, on a wall of sound, and the wall surrounds a way of life, various ones for every great rock and roll maker, and in each of those worlds the song is like a cup, and in that cup is the lead singer’s voice. Elvis’s or James Brown’s or Dylan’s or Mick Jagger’s or Lou Reed’s. Sneers and swagger are almost always ingredients.” Another compelling piece of wallpaper is Phil Spector’s trademark wall of sound.
Throughout the essay, he compares Jagger’s sneer to Reed’s nonchalance. Later in the book, Hell writes a review on Sonic Youth’s Goo, the group a musical descendant of the Velvets.
In another example of Hell’s prose style at its most lush, he describes the interior of CBGB’s, the infamous New York City club. Numerous punk and New Wave acts made their name in the dank dirty confines of the little club. Hell’s description provides a physical portrait of its insides.
“It took only three or four years for the place to acquire the garish veneer within that’s become its distinguishing mark: not the place’s deathless overall wino-dive griminess, not the long procession of compact neon beer signs dangling like corrupt flags or coats of nauseous arms above the narrow public walkway behind the bar stools, not the blunt, ribbed, white tunnel-roof of canvas overhead outside with its ugly “CBGB and OMFUG” logo, . . . No, it would be a separate consequence of Hilly’s stunning and consequential inertia that would ultimately proclaim his physical domain most perfectly—namely, his lack of interest in removing any defacement of the club’s interior.” Later in the book, Hell writes a memorial for the same Hilly, Hilly Kristal.
Massive Pissed Love represents a cornucopia of great writing, strong opinions, and aesthetic insight. Between the covers lay a punk rock history of New York City, autobiographical snippets of Hell’s life, and quality criticism on various topics (film, art, photography, music, poetry, muscle cars, and junkie literature). A rewarding collection whether read straight through or sampling here and there.
November 18, 2015
If at the beginning of Plain Radical you wonder what kind of book you’re reading, in the middle you’ll be nodding your head in agreement, and by the end you may be shedding a tear or two. A mix of memoir, manifesto and eulogy, it uses a cross-generational friendship as a through-line to explore the compelling social justice issues of our day.
“The secret to my success is I’m mediocre and I know it,” Robert Jensen says. However, “I found I was good at synthesizing other people’s ideas and presenting that in plain language to the public.” In this book, Jensen convincingly argues that sexism, racism, classism, homophobia and environmental devastation are all manifestations of the same problem.
In her 1974 essay, “When We Dead Awaken: Writing as Re-Vision,” poet Adrienne Rich writes: “Patriarchy — the domination of males — is the original model of oppression on which all others are based.” Jensen, a radical feminist, would agree.
Jensen describes this book as a “love story” for his recently deceased friend and mentor Jim Koplin, whom he met in 1988, and who worked at the Heart of the Beast Puppet Theatre in Minneapolis. Twenty-five years his elder, Koplin earned a doctorate in psychology at the University of Minnesota, where Jensen was currently finishing a doctorate in journalism and mass communications.
The two like-minded activists began meeting every Friday morning at the Upper Crust Bakery on Nicollet Avenue to discuss politics. Jensen understands that Koplin recognized “I wasn’t a genius, and he helped me to see that I didn’t have to pretend to be a genius to make a contribution to the world as a teacher and writer.” Four years of regular meetings grew into a lifetime of friendship, including a brief romantic relationship, all documented by the extensive written correspondence that Jensen inherited.
Today, Jensen is a prolific and provocative author, activist and teacher whose other works include The Heart of Whiteness and Writing Dissent. He honors Koplin, who died at 79 from pneumonia, by acknowledging that this freethinker who preferred to operate behind the scenes was carefully inculcating in him the progressive ideas that he would bring forward to a larger audience.
Within the Upper Midwest’s tradition of social progressiveness, Plain Radical is a touching and important record of the debts owed by one generation to another — the baby boomers to the Silent Generation — as embodied in Jensen and Koplin.
November 13, 2015
Patti Smith and Richard Hell: No Longer Just Kids
Two iconic punk rockers from New York’s downtown scene of the ’70s have new books. Originally poets, their fame grew as legendary performers who in word and image came to define an era heralded by many as New York’s Golden Age of musical creativity. But for most of their lives they have been — and continue to be — writers first. I’m talking about Patti Smith and Richard Hell.
Whether channeling Keith Richards or dressed in a man’s white shirt as photographed by Robert Mapplethorpe for her album Horses, Patti Smith set off a style time bomb that’s still reverberating. A star by any measure, she’s the ultimate representation of the gracefully aging riot grrrl, an original badass who has managed to balance marriage, family, career and come out of it with her street cred intact.
Though Smith still tours and performs in concerts to pay the bills, one gets the feeling she’d rather be writing or traveling or doing anything else but rehashing the songs she’s done hundreds of times. As an article in Billboard noted: “Smith’s renown overshadows her record sales.” (Her one big hit, “Because the Night,” was co-written by Bruce Springsteen.)
When she famously dropped out of downtown’s drug-drenched musical rat race, she moved to Detroit to marry Fred Sonic Smith, became a housewife and raised two children. As she told Joan Juliet Buck in an interview. “All of a sudden I had to find my time for writing within my very demanding domestic world. So I started waking up at five o’clock in the morning, when the kids were still asleep, and writing until they woke up for school at eight. I did that all through the ’80s, every single day — I have stacks and stacks of unpublished writing. That’s when I learned to be a writer. Just Kids didn’t come out of flotsam and jetsam. It came from years of developing a discipline.”
Smith has been justifiably lauded for Just Kids, her National Book Award-winning memoir of her life with Mapplethorpe. Now she’s come out with its follow-up, M Train.
Richard Hell of The Blank Generation fame is credited with more-or-less inventing the punk torn t-shirt and safety pin look, his spiky diy haircut defining a zeitgeist of rebellion still relevant today. Since giving up performing and turning his attention to writing full-time, he’s published poetry, several novels, an autobiography, I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp, and, most recently, a collection of non-fiction pieces, Massive Pissed Love. “One part of the reason I went into rock ‘n’ roll from writing poetry,” he told me in an interview about his autobiography, “was because I did want to speak to the whole world. You can do that with rock ‘n’ roll. It’s a popular art that happens on a mass cultural scale, whereas not many people read poetry.” So it was a bit of a switch years later when “I left rock ‘n’ roll and started all over again as a writer.”
So here we are talking about the writers Smith and Hell who have more in common than meets the printed word. Namely, Tom Verlaine. Hell and Verlaine were childhood classmates who collectively ran away from boarding school and moved to downtown Manhattan where they wrote songs and formed bands that culminated with Television. But all was not well between the two and the band broke up as did the celebrated Hell/Verlaine friendship painfully recounted in Hell’s autobiography. Verlaine and Smith dated in the mid-70s and he appears on her hit “Horses.” What really happened there? Can’t wait for a book that tells that story. As Wikipedia notes: “Television’s performances at CBGB helped kick-start the first wave of punk bands, inspiring a number of different artists including Patti Smith, who wrote the first press review of Television for the Soho Weekly News in June 1974.”
Smith and Hell have frequently crossed paths like a string of DNA. In Hell’s opening essay on French auteur director Robert Bresson, he recalls how as “a kid in his early 20s and trying to teach myself to write I was also publishing books as a small publisher and I was doing a book of Patti Smith’s. We were calling it Merde and she drew some pictures for it and one of them was just the penciled words ‘There’s not enuf time’. And I thought that was glamorous, because for me there was way too much time, way way too much time.”
When I congratulated Hell on the great reviews his autobiography received, he refers again to Smith. “You get how memoirs are so popular,” he says. “The same thing happened to Patti Smith — it was by far the biggest success she had with any work. The other books I did, there’d be three or four reviews and a few readings but yeah, this one picked up a lot of attention.”
M Train, says Smith, is about nothing. It’s how she found herself adrift in New York City, the West Village to be precise, contemplating the passage of time. Smith, it turns out, is an aesthete who reveres artifacts, icons and tombstones she invests with meaning. She has her father’s chair in her apartment but won’t sit in it because he never did. She uses her mother’s coffee grinder like a magical talisman invested with the ability to time travel back to her comforting gaze.
Hell’s book is also non-fiction, a collection of his writings on film, music, art. But it’s decidedly about something, mostly as a critic looking at other people’s work, making associations along the way that enliven the pieces and animate them into personal essays that tell you as much about the writer as it does the subject under review. Which in my mind is a good thing. The essays, learned and erudite, land on a wide range of subjects from Joey Ramone to Marilyn Minter and the poet Aram Saroyan. Personal favorites include a measured piece comparing the Rolling Stones to the Velvet Underground where — spoiler alert! — he comes down on the side of the Velvets. Another explores the life and work of the great American noir-ist Nathanael West. Hell’s almost thinking out loud, his thought process as invigorating as his muscular prose.
Patti Smith on the other hand is all sensibility. A dreamer, she takes pictures with an old accordion Polaroid camera that she loses. Her prose scans like poetry. She visits graves, abandoned train stations, remains of a vanished time. The woman who once famously sang “Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine,” now goes to the Vatican and meets the Pope. She talks to objects. She writes letters. She reveres her dead heroes, making pilgrimages to their homes and graves from Frida Kahlo to Tolstoi to Genet, Sylvia Plath, Yukio Mishima and others. She loves to move between the past and the present like a medium at a séance. She says of William Burroughs, “I used to call him, now I must summon him in other ways.”
She also loves detective shows on TV, especially British ones “whose Moodiness and obsessive nature mirrored my own,” she writes. She’s most obsessed by The Killing and even more so by its lead character Sarah Linden saying, “She is dearer to me than most people.”
Hell says, “I’d also been preoccupied ever since my 40s, which is 20 years now, with trying to figure out what it meant to not be young anymore.” As a result, he says, “I care more about books and writing and beauty than just about anything.” Massive Pissed Love is a testament to his success.
“I’m not the most observant type,” says Smith, “[my] eyes seem to roll within.” By her own standard M Train, a journey to the center of her mind, does what she sets out to do. While it might not be to everyone’s taste in the way that Just Kids was, it is true to the person she is not was.]]>
November 4, 2015
Humanity’s Best Future Plan? Leaving the Planet Gracefully
Tell people that you are writing a book about a person they have never heard of, and a reasonable question is, “Who the hell is he?” My shorthand summary: Jim Koplin was a “plain radical.” Not radical in the sense of dangerously extreme or a fanatical ideologue, but instead radical in its most basic meaning—going deep, to the root of a problem. Jim was radical in his analysis of the world, unflinching in his evaluation of the failures of ours systems, unwilling to fudge the facts or hedge his bets. Jim believed that the only way to make sense of, and resist, the corrosive effects of an unequal distribution of wealth and power in our society was to get radical.
Jim was not plain in the sense of drab or uninteresting, but rather in the way he offered this unvarnished analysis—in plain language without jargon or posturing. He also preferred plain living; Jim didn’t try to make statements through his style or appearance, and in day-to-day life he avoided anything fancy or faddish.
The people who run the world typically try to dismiss anyone with a radical analysis as either threatening or flaky—radicals are painted as crazies who either are going to blow us up or annoy us with their self-indulgence. Jim quietly refuted those caricatures, in how he thought and how he lived. Jim was the most plainly radical person I have ever known, shaped by the unassuming farm life in which he was raised and the uncompromising left/feminist politics in which he immersed himself.
Because we need both radical analysis and plain living more than ever, I’m going to do what Jim never wanted me to do when he was alive—make a fuss about him.
Jim was not well known outside the circle of people who had met him—though in his 79 years he met a good many people—but for those of us who knew him well he was a transformative figure. Jim was the kind of teacher who, cliché as it may sound, changed lives; the kind of political comrade one could count on to act ethically; the kind of person who brought a deeper meaning to the word “friend.” He also was really smart and paid attention, to politics and ecology, and to the details of life. He knew a lot about people and the larger living world.
Though Jim would not want me to overstate the case, the scope of his political vision and ecological understanding was distinctive; I have never met another person who followed both lines of inquiry so deeply and lived the ideas, however troubling, with such forbearance and equanimity. He romanticized neither rural life nor revolutionary politics, but rather drew the best from each tradition and constructed a sustainable political and ecological life that made sense for him, and to which many others were drawn. He participated in every important U.S. political movement of the last half of the twentieth century—civil rights, radical feminism, gay rights, antiwar, New Left, environmental—and from that activism learned “that the lesson is always that people have power, that hierarchy only provides the illusion of power and control,” as he once wrote. His legacy is captured not just in the political actions he was part of, but even more in how he lived. In that same 1980 letter to one of his former students and closest friends, Sox Sperry, Jim said:
I believe the most important thing we can do is push to explore the boundary of human possibilities, and then to live those discoveries out visibly in our own lives for other people to see, and continue to hope that there is enough time for the good examples to catch on (and for some of our failures to just fade away). Any other approach to change, I’m afraid, will merely replicate the structures that need to be destroyed.
Rather than seek converts to his particular way of living, Jim embraced life in a diverse community and offered his attention and affection to a wide variety of people. He didn’t make many specific demands on others but instead led his life in a dignified way that encouraged those of us who loved him to make demands on ourselves. By never exempting himself from the obligation to critically self-reflect, Jim made it hard for us to wiggle out of it.
That’s echoed in this passage from one of Jim’s favorite writers, Wendell Berry (another rather plain farm boy with radical ideas), who reflected on the compromises we face, and sometimes make, in an unsustainable world. After listing the things he happily deprives him- self of (including television, colas, TV dinners, and recreational vehicles, things that Jim also avoided), Berry avoids self-congratulation:
It is plain to me that the line ought to be drawn without fail wherever it can be drawn easily. And it ought to be easy (though many do not find it so) to refuse to buy what one does not need. . . . And yet, if we are ever again to have a world fit and pleasant for little children, we are surely going to have to draw the line where it is not easily drawn. We are going to have to learn to give up things that we have learned (in only a few years, after all) to “need.” I am not an optimist; I am afraid that I won’t live long enough to es- cape my bondage to the machines. Nevertheless, on every day left to me I will search my mind and circumstances for the means of escape. And I am not without hope. I knew a man who, in the age of chainsaws, went right on cutting his wood with a handsaw and an axe. He was a healthier and saner man than I am. I shall let his memory trouble my thoughts.
Jim Koplin was a healthier and saner person than I am. Probably healthier and saner than you, too. His memory troubles my thoughts and gives me comfort, and I want his story to trouble and comfort you.
In Jim’s last years, as the evidence mounted that dramatic ecological changes were inevitable, Jim saw in Oskar the hope of a new generation, the dawning of a new day, the promise of a new era.
Scratch that. That line is for the Hollywood version of Jim Koplin’s life, the one with the feel-good ending. Try this, the Vergas version, with the honest ending:
In Jim’s last years, as the evidence mounted that dramatic ecological changes were inevitable, Jim became increasingly annoyed with people who kept insisting that we had to have hope for a new generation, a new day, a new era.
Jim recognized that love as a great gift in the last years of his life. Jim loved me and lots of other people, and he knew how much we loved him. Jim loved his place in the world, among the tomato plants and raspberry bushes, at the café, with his childhood friends in rural Minnesota. But those loves did not change his assessment of the trajectory of the human species or lead him to spin feel-good fantasies. Jim believed the constant demand that “we have to have hope” was too often a form of denial, a way people kept themselves from looking at the dire state of the world. Over time he decided he was against hope, as it was indulged in the dominant culture.
Here’s Wendell Berry, one of Jim’s favorite writers, on the subject in one of his Sabbath poems:
It is hard to have hope. It is harder as you grow old,
for hope must not depend on feeling good
and there is the dream of loneliness at absolute midnight.
You also have withdrawn belief in the present reality
of the future, which surely will surprise us,
and hope is harder when it cannot come by prediction
any more than by wishing. But stop dithering.
The young ask the old to hope. What will you tell them?
Tell them at least what you say to yourself.
Here’s what Jim, never the dithering type, said to himself (and to me, and I assume to others who were ready to hear it): The last task of the human species is to learn to leave the planet gracefully.
Jim didn’t believe in grace bestowed by a loving God (or by a vengeful God, for that matter), but he did believe people could be graceful in how they chose to live. Learning to leave the planet gracefully wasn’t an argument for some kind of elegantly choreographed mass suicide, but rather a call to live today in ways that minimize the human assault on the larger living world and help us become our most graceful and gracious selves. Like Berry, Jim thought the present predictions of the future were of little value, and that hope couldn’t be based on predictions. But whatever future awaits us, Jim believed that we were better off living gracefully.
None of this has anything to do with giving in to despair or giving up. Jim’s philosophy asked much more of people than the platitudes of the hope-peddlers, whether secular or religious; he understood that continuing to struggle for justice and sustainability when there was no evidence to support hope was the mark of real courage and character. Jim scoffed at survivalists who might share his view that a future likely would be grim—cultivating frugality and community self-reliance was always valuable, but stockpiling shotgun shells and dried food was no answer. Jim didn’t give up on his obligations to others and to the world, because he understood that struggle as his obligation to himself, to being the best person he could.
Jim looked around contemporary society and saw few fellow travelers on this path. The technological fundamentalists offered fantasies of magical gadgets on Earth. The religious fundamentalists indulged fantasies of deliverance to another place. Jim rejected both but saw the seductive promises of high-energy/high-technology “solutions” as the most dangerous. Even people who claim to reject that glorification of technology often were secretly betting on it. A year after his death, in one of those many moments I wished I could pick up the phone and call Jim, I had an exchange with a fellow leftist that showed how difficult it was to put forward a critical analysis that was honest in this way.
“The Future Must Be Green, Red, Black and Female,” the manifesto mentioned in “Pushing Further,” emerged out of my concern that those with a sustainability vision could too easily short-change the justice vision. After I published that essay online, a short summary of the piece appeared in the weekly email from PopularResistance.org, which described itself as seeking to aid in bringing movements for peace, justice, economic fairness and environmental protection together into an independent, nonviolent and diverse movement that can end the power of concentrated wealth, shift power to the people and put human needs before corporate greed.
No argument from me about that goal, but the way my essay was summarized distorted the message. Here’s what I wrote to the website:
Thanks for linking to my essay in the latest Popular Resistance email.
I have one bit of feedback. The link to my work comes under the subhead “A time of crisis and opportunity,” and begins:
“We live in a time of crisis, but also in a time of opportunity. Robert Jensen tells us that we must face reality: ‘If today, everywhere on the planet, everyone made a commitment to the research and organizing necessary to ramp down the demands that the human project places on ecosystems, we could possibly create a plan for a sustainable human presence on the planet, with a dramatic reduction in consumption and a gradual reduction of population.’”
That key word in that sentence is “could,” because I go on to say:
“But when we reflect on our history as a species and the nature of the systems that govern our lives today, the sensible conclusion is that the steps we need to take won’t be taken, at least not in the time frame available for meaningful change. This is not defeatist. This is not cowardly. This is not self-indulgent. This is reality, and sensible planning should be reality-based.”
I believe in organizing for social justice and ecological sustain- ability, and I spend more of my own time, energy, and money on these projects than I ever have. But the point of my essay was to come to terms with the fact that we have to face not only what we can achieve, but what we almost certainly can’t achieve at this point in history, given the damage already done and the forces unleashed.
As I argue in the essay, that need not paralyze us. Instead, it can help us make better choices about what kind of organizing is likely most productive, given the realities that we have long been ignoring.
So, I think your incomplete quotation from the essay likely leads readers to an interpretation that strays from what I argue in the piece.
The response from Popular Resistance was polite but avoided the challenge I was offering to traditional “we can fix it if we work harder” organizing. The question isn’t whether we should continue to organize for justice and sustainability—I agree that we should— but whether we can tell the truth about the state of the world. I responded one last time, not so much to try to change anyone’s mind but because I don’t like people avoiding the issue:
My own view is that in addition to participating in and highlighting the successes of existing organizing projects, we need to talk more about what’s coming. Out of an understandable desire to keep people in movements focused on what can be achieved in the moment, I believe we are avoiding our obligation to prepare for the serious changes that are coming, likely sooner than we imagine. I included myself in this critique; I fall prey to this as well. That’s partly why I keep writing about this, to force myself to face it.
I agree that no one can predict how close we are to transformation, just as no one can predict how close we may be to a major ecological collapse/massive social dislocation. But we have to make our best estimates based on what evidence there is, and right now I think the evidence suggests the collapse/dislocation will arrive before any serious transformation. That’s the future we are not prepared for, and for the most part are not preparing for. I fear that if we don’t talk about this on the left, we cede the territory to “doomers” and right-wing populists, whose “solutions” we would find unacceptable.
The more graceful path that Jim advocated and tried to live, albeit imperfectly, means dramatically lower consumption of energy and materials, and the recognition that in the future there would have to be fewer people on the planet. Jim believed in the importance of modeling that way of living but understood that the level of change required could be achieved only through collective action, through politics. At the same time, he didn’t believe that the kind of change required could be achieved within any existing frameworks and thought that should be acknowledged out loud instead of whispered behind closed doors.
Again, to be clear: Jim didn’t think his own decisions about how to live were the answer, either. Although he was the most frugal person I knew living in a city, Jim didn’t fool himself into thinking he was living a sustainable lifestyle. He drove a car, ate in restaurants, burned fossil fuel to heat his home. The point wasn’t to construct some allegedly sustainable bubble in an otherwise unsustainable world in order to feel better about himself. Instead, he cultivated habits that he thought were important on that more graceful path.
Jim had no illusions, about the personal or political. Two decades earlier, thinking about these questions, Jim had written to me with a sense of urgency about the need to do more than simply confront the fossil-fuel industry, to get to the core problem of modern society’s dependence on excessive energy. He worried that if a significant challenge were not mounted soon, “we will pass into the sleep from which there is no awakening.” (June 6, 1991) A few years after that he confided:
I do see things now to be more desperate than at any time in my memory. The disasters lurking are universal and global. The pre- vious problems were relatively local and self-contained. And, as I said on the phone, I have a sense of the possibilities closing down as opposed to opening up, as I felt even in the worst of times in the ’60s. (January 31, 1995)
In our most unguarded moments together in the last few years of his life, this was the subject of many of our conversations, as well as the source of all of our silences, those moments when we both were left without words because it felt too overwhelming to say out loud what we both thought: The culture had already passed into that sleep from which there would be no awakening.
For Jim, this awareness demanded no particular change in his daily life. He continued to garden, lend a hand at the Land Stewardship Project, read extensively and share what he learned with others, and support his younger friends involved in political and artistic endeavors. My decisions about local organizing were set for the coming years after groups I was part of bought property and began establishing a progressive community center in Austin. But after publishing the book on religion, I had to decide where to focus on my writing and speaking. With Jim’s blessing, I decided it was time to get apocalyptic—not in the context of fundamentalist Christianity (more on the meaning of the term shortly) but in the sense of not backing down from what the evidence from the world reveals.
In Arguing for Our Lives, the last book of mine that Jim read in draft (but did not live to see published), I introduced the material on critical thinking with an acknowledgement of the anxiety that so many feel living in an unsustainable society, and ended the book with a recommendation that people not turn away from the anguish that such knowledge can bring. After that, I wrote a long pamphlet/short book titled We Are All Apocalyptic Now, which made a more explicit argument for not backing down from blunt talk about the state of the world. If I had tried to publish such a thing when Jim and I first started discussing these matters in the 1990s, few on the left would have paid any attention. When I did publish it a year after Jim died, it didn’t seem quite as crazy to many.]]>
November 5, 2016
6 Books You Need to Read This November
(Soft Skull Press, $15.95, out November 10)
By Tara Ison
Milking the fundamental tension of strained and broken relationships, Ison’s debut collection of stories exults in the dangers of the darker side of desire. Rife with the threat of betrayal (and occasionally dyslexic Nazi vandals), these gripping stories explore the worlds of love, lust, and turpitude. In “Cactus,” a man standing alone in the desert is crushed by a crashing plane, and his girlfriend struggles to maintain her sanity and relationships in the aftermath. In “Multiple Choice,” a story unfolds along a number of possible trajectories; readers will bump up against actual multiple choice questions that determine the course of the story, but you won’t be able to control the startling conclusion. From Sherman Oaks to Joshua tree, these stories are rooted in a setting we know well, but they deal with passions on the fringe of our day to day lives.]]>
November 9, 2015
6. Ball by Tara Ison (Out November 10th)