Today, so-called Independence Day, I’m thinking about how the United States—representing about four percent of the world’s population—confines over twenty percent of the world’s prisoners; about how the United States operates the world’s largest immigration detention system; about the school-to-prison pipeline; about how the prison-industrial complex has long been big business for the United States; about how terrible conditions in jails and “detention centers” (a euphemism, of course) continues with the Biden administration, which has increased by fifty percent the number of people in immigration detention since coming into office.
I’m also thinking about all the people who should be freed: whistleblowers and nonviolent political prisoners; and lower-level offenders, etc., those better served by treatment, community service, and/or probation.
That is, abolish imprisonment, policing, and surveillance, etc., and create transformational alternatives to punishment and imprisonment.
That is, free Palestine! And while we’re at it, free Puerto Rico, too! That is, free not only every “non-self-governing territory” but every body!
That is, to celebrate independence in such a country is not only deeply ironic, not only a joke, but a joke on all of us, with devastating consequences. That is, as Emma Lazarus said, “Until we are all free, we are none of us free.” That is, as Nelson Mandela said, “To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”
That is, I wish you and yours abiding independence from what Deleuze and Guattari via Antonin Artaud call “the cancerous body of America, the body of war and money.”
Speaking of independence, here are some compelling forthcoming July 2021 small press, that is, independent press, books that captured my attention, including Big Other contributor John Reed‘s The Family Dolls; and A Forest on Many Stems: Essays on the Poet’s Novel, edited by Big Other Contributor Laynie Browne, featuring essays by Big Other contributors Elizabeth Robinson and Tyrone Williams, and an essay on Big Other contributor Forrest Gander. Also, happy to see Best Microfiction 2021 is being published this month. It features Big Other contributor Dawn Raffel‘s “City of Serena,” which I published in Big Other last year.
From AK Press: “The ‘Tragic Week’ in Spain, which took place in July 1909, began as anti-conscription riots, but soon evolved into a widespread uprising attacking the pillars of Spanish society: Church and State. It is known today mostly for its most famous martyr, Francisco Ferrer, the radical educator and founder of the Modern School who was executed by the Spanish army. But Ferrer was only one of hundreds of people who died that week in a brutal crackdown on anarchists and other radicals. Thousands were indicted by military courts, including at least fifty who received life sentences. In The July Revolution, the full story of these events is told for the first time in English, by an astute newspaper editor and eye-witness to the events. In a lively translation by Slava Faybysh and with a detailed historical Introduction by James Michael Yeoman, the notorious week is given its historical due and situated in its proper context of Spain’s imperial ambitions and the revolutionary stirrings that were precursors to the Spanish Civil War.”
From AK Press: “The Abolition of Prison provides a reflection from a longtime prison abolitionist on the ideas, actions, and writings of anti-prison activism over the last fifty years. This book powerfully makes the case for the end of prisons, punishment, and guilt and, instead, suggests we work towards social change, care, collectivity, and ending regimes of repression and violence. The book weaves together Lesage de La Haye’s own experience in prison, as a psychologist, and as an abolitionist, with arguments and proposals from abolitionist writings, and countless examples of prisoner actions, prison alternatives, and attempts to create a more just world. Lesage de La Haye argues simply that, if we take the justifications for prison and punishment at their word, we must evaluate the system as a complete failure and stop supporting and funneling money into it. There is a long history of alternative ways to address problems in society, both inside the Western systems of law and from Indigenous communities. Lesage de la Haye starkly portrays the effects of punishment, concluding that prison is simply a slow death. The move toward abolition is achievable today and necessary for a society free from systematized oppression.”
From Clash Books: “Not unlike his literary forebears Donald Barthelme and Robert Coover, Damian Dressick brings us a crackling series of dispatches fresh from the postmodernist front. This daring gathering of brief, innovative stories tantalizes the intellect nearly as much as it illuminates the human heart. Drawing from his quiver of flash fictions, prose poems, lists, pie charts, and micros, Dressick’s narratives are fully engaged with the wild disorder that everyday feels more and more like the sine qua non of our fractured now. Meet meth-addicted grizzly bears, a coal mining Jesus, grieving alcoholic parents, and murderous villagers whose only speech is culinary in this fleeting edge tour de force….Fables of the Deconstruction.”
From Columbia University Press: “Through a critical exploration of violence and the sacred, Ecce Humanitas recasts the fall of liberal humanism. Brad Evans offers a rich analysis of the changing nature of sacrificial violence, from its theological origins to the exhaustion of the victim in the contemporary world. He critiques the aestheticization that turns victims into sacred objects, sacrificial figures that demand response, perpetuating a cycle of violence that is seen as natural and inevitable. In novel readings of classic and contemporary works, Evans traces the sacralization of violence as well as art’s potential to incite resistance. Countering the continued annihilation of life, Ecce Humanitas calls for liberating the political imagination from the scene of sacrifice. A new aesthetics provides a form of transgressive witnessing that challenges the ubiquity of violence and allows us to go beyond humanism to imagine a truly liberated humanity.”
From Columbia University Press: “This book presents Foucault’s lectures on sexuality for the first time in English. In the first series, held at the University of Clermont-Ferrand in 1964, Foucault asks how sexuality comes to be constituted as a scientific body of knowledge within Western culture and why it derived from the analysis of “perversions”—morbidity, homosexuality, fetishism. The subsequent course, held at the experimental university at Vincennes in 1969, shows how Foucault’s theories were reoriented by the events of May 1968; he refocuses on the regulatory nature of the discourse of sexuality and how it serves economic, social, and political ends. Examining creators of political and literary utopias in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, from Sade to Fourier to Marcuse, who attempted to integrate “natural” sexualities, including transgressive forms, into social and economic life, Foucault elaborates a double critique of the naturalization and the liberation of sexuality. Together, the lectures span a range of interests, from abnormality to heterotopias to ideology, and they offer an unprecedented glimpse into the evolution of Foucault’s transformative thinking on sexuality.”
From Columbia University Press: “Drawing on decades of researching design thinking and teaching it to people not trained in design, Jeanne Liedtka, Karen Hold, and Jessica Eldridge offer a guide for how to create these deep experiences at each stage of the design thinking journey, whether for an individual, a team, or an organization. For each experience phase, they specify the mindset shifts and competencies that need to be achieved, describe how different personality types experience different kinds of journeys, and show how to fully leverage the diversity of teams. Experiencing Design explores both the science and practicalities of design and includes two assessment instruments for individual and organizational development. Ultimately, innovators need to be someone new to create something new. This book shows you how to use design thinking to make this happen.”
From Columbia University Press: “Recognition is one of the most debated concepts in contemporary social and political thought. Its proponents, such as Axel Honneth, hold that to be recognized by others is a basic human need that is central to forming an identity, and the denial of recognition deprives individuals and communities of something essential for their flourishing. Yet critics including Judith Butler have questioned whether recognition is implicated in structures of domination, arguing that the desire to be recognized can motivative individuals to accept their assigned place in the social order by conforming to oppressive norms or obeying repressive institutions. Is there a way to break this impasse? Recognition and Ambivalence brings together leading scholars in social and political philosophy to develop new perspectives on recognition and its role in social life. It begins with a debate between Honneth and Butler, the first sustained engagement between these two major thinkers on this subject. Contributions from both proponents and critics of theories of recognition further reflect upon and clarify the problems and challenges involved in theorizing the concept and its normative desirability. Together, they explore different routes toward a critical theory of recognition, departing from wholly positive or negative views to ask whether it is an essentially ambivalent phenomenon. Featuring original, systematic work in the philosophy of recognition, this book also provides a useful orientation to the key debates on this important topic.”
From Columbia University Press: “Spanning the years following the socialist revolution of 1921 through the early twenty-first century, these stories from the country’s most highly regarded prose writers show how Mongolian culture has forged links between the traditional and the modern. Writers employ a wide range of styles, from Aesopian fables through socialist realism to more experimental forms, influenced by folktales and epics as well as Western prose models. They depict the drama of a nomadic population struggling to understand a new approach to life imposed by a foreign power while at the same time benefiting from reforms, whether in the capital city Ulaanbaatar or on the steppe. Across the mix of stories, Mongolia’s majestic landscape and the people’s deep connection to it come through vividly. For all English-speaking readers curious about Mongolia’s people and culture, Simon Wickhamsmith’s translations make available this captivating literary tradition and its rich portrayals of the natural and social worlds.”
From Deep Vellum: “After leaving Peru to pursue graduate school north of the Arctic circle, Claudia Ulloa Donoso began blogging about insomnia. Not hers, necessarily – the blog was never defined as fact or fiction. Her blog posts became the bones of Little Bird, a collection of short stories with the fervent self-declaration of diary entries and hallucinatory haze of sleeplessness. Blending narration and personal experience, the stories in Little Bird stretch reality, a sharp-shooting combination of George Saunders and Samanta Schweblin. Characters real and unreal, seductive, shape-changing, and baffling come together in smooth prose that leaves readers questioning their own truth.”
From Deep Vellum: “A moving lyric meditation on the Congo River that explores the identity, chaos, and wonder of the Democratic Republic of Congo as well as race and the detritus of colonialism. With The River in the Belly, award-winning Congolese author Fiston Mwanza Mujila seeks no less than to reinitiate the Congo River in the imaginary of European languages. Through his invention of the “solitude”—a short poetic form lending itself to searing observation and troubled humor, prone to unexpected tonal shifts and lyrical u-turns—the collection celebrates, caresses, and chastises Central Africa’s great river, the world’s second largest by discharge volume. Drawing inspiration from sources as diverse as Soviet history, Congolese popular music, international jazz, and everyday life in European exile, Mwanza Mujila has fashioned a work that can speak to the extraordinary hopes and tragedies of post-independence Democratic Republic of the Congo while also mining the generative yet embattled subject position of the African diasporic writer in Europe longing for home.”
Matthew Burnside’s Wiki of Infinite Sorrows
From Kernpunkt Press: Wiki of Infinite Sorrows is a collection of fictional wiki entries (an expanded analog version of the digital sandbox novel, In Search Of), short stories, possibilities, negations, fragmented fairy tales, and secret messages–solvable by a cipher embedded throughout the book. A testament to obsession and the intranslatability of grief, WIKI bends, breaks, and fractures the human heart to create a makeshift prism of hope.”
From New Directions: “Anna has been living happily for twenty years with loving, sturdy, outgoing Guillaume when she suddenly (truly at first sight) falls in love with Thomas. Intelligent and handsome, but apparently scarred by a terrible early emotional wound, he reminds Anna of Jude the Obscure. Adrift and lovelorn, she tries unsuccessfully to fend off her attraction, torn between the two men. ‘How strange it is to leave someone you love for someone you love. You cross a footbridge that has no name, that’s not named in any poem. No, nowhere is a name given to this bridge, and that is why Anna found it so difficult to cross.’ Anne Serre offers here, in her third book in English, her most direct novel to date. The Beginners is unpredictable, sensual, exhilarating, oddly moral, perverse, absurd—and unforgettable.”
From New Directions: “Osip Mandelstam has become an almost mythical figure of modern Russian poetry, his work treasured all over the world for its lyrical beauty and innovative, revolutionary engagement with the dark times of the Stalinist era. While he was exiled in the city of Voronezh, the black earth region of Russia, his work, as Joseph Brodsky wrote, developed into ‘a poetry of high velocity and exposed nerves, becoming more a song than ever before, not a bardlike but a birdlike song…something like a goldfinch tremolo.’ Peter France—who has been brilliantly translating Mandelstam’s work for decades—draws heavily from Mandelstam’s later poetry written in Voronezh, while also including poems across the whole arc of the poet’s tragically short life, from his early, symbolist work to the haunting elegies of old Petersburg to his defiant ‘Stalin poem.’ A selection of Mandelstam’s prose irradiates the poetry with warmth and insight as he thinks back on his Petersburg childhood and contemplates his Jewish heritage, the sunlit qualities of Hellenism, Dante’s Tuscany, and the centrality of poetry in society.”
From New Directions: “Formed as a rondel of interlocking stories with a clutch of more or less loosely connected repeating characters, it’s at once deracinated yet potent with place, druggy yet frighteningly shot through with reality. His people appear, disappear, and reappear. They’re on the fringes of London, clinging to sanity or solvency or a story by their fingernails, consumed by emotions and anxieties in fuzzily understood situations. A deft, high-wire act, full of imprecise yet sharp dialog as well as witchy sleights of hand reminiscent of Muriel Spark, A Shock delivers a knockout punch of an ending.”
From Nightboat Books: “A collection of original essays written by contemporary poets about the innovative and unforgettable novels written by their predecessors.A Forest on Many Stems: Essays on the Poet’s Novel provides a unique entrance to the rare prose of many remarkable modern and contemporary poets including Etel Adnan, Renee Gladman, Langston Hughes, Kevin Killian, Alice Notley, Fernando Pessoa, Rainer Maria Rilke, Leslie Scalapino, Jack Spicer, and Jean Toomer, whose approaches to the novel defy conventions of plot, character, setting, and action. Contributors Brian Blanchfield, Anne Boyer, John Keene, Mónica de la Torre, Cedar Sigo, and C. D. Wright bring a variety of insights, approaches, and writing styles to the subject with creative and often surprising results.”
Mac Gay’s Our Fatherlessness
From The Orchard Street Press: “Of Our Fatherlessness, Beth Gylys, author of Sky Blue Enough to Drink and Body Braille writes: ‘A father’s sudden death is the nexus of this hard-hitting new collection of poems by Mac Gay. In a book threaded with tragic loss and existential angst, Gay manages to weave insight, wry humor, and formal genius in a way that one feels at once kicked in the gut and charmed by Our Fatherlessness, his most recent and powerfully rendered collection.'”
From Outpost 19: “John Reed’s latest, The Family Dolls: A Manson Paper & Play Book!, offers readers a participatory history of Charlie Manson and the whole Spahn Ranch gang. This true-crime, color-yourself paper doll craft book touts over thirty pages of Manson paper arts: cut-out dolls of Leslie and Gypsy, coloring pages of Bobby and Charlie, even a mask of Henry Kissinger—all your faves are here! Originally published in Guernica, The Family Dolls is the most cogent unraveling to date of the life and crimes of the Manson Family and the uniquely American moment that brought them about. With, bonus extra! exquisite, bloodstained illustrations by artist Sungyoon Choi.”
From Open Letter Books: “Audacious experimentalist and self-declared anti-writer, Subimal Misra is the master of contemporary alternative Bengali literature and anti-establishment writing. This collection brings together twenty-five stories that record the dark history of violence and degeneration in the Bengal of the seventies and eighties. The mirror that Misra holds up to society breaks every canon of rectitude with unfailing precision. The stories also plot the continuous evolution of Misra’s writing as he searches for a form to do justice to the reality that confronts us. Deeply influenced by Godard, Misra uses montage and other cinematic techniques in his stories, which he himself calls “anti-stories,” challenging our notions of reading and of literature itself. Brilliantly translated by V. Ramaswamy, Wild Animals Prohibited: Stories/Anti-stories startles with its blasphemy, its provocative ideas, and its sheer formal daring.”
From PM Press: “The Communist Road to Capitalism explores how a dynamic of social struggles from below followed by countermeasures of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regime has pushed the historical evolution of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) since 1949. Under socialism until the mid-1970s, during the ensuing transition until the mid-1990s, and in the capitalist period since, the CCP regime responded to the struggles of workers, peasants, migrants, and women* with a mix of repression, concession, cooptation, and reform. Ralf Ruckus shows that this dynamic took the country into a new phase each time—and eventually all the way from socialism to capitalism: in the 1950s, labor struggles and the Hundred Flowers Movement were followed by the regime’s Great Leap Forward; in the 1960s, the Cultural Revolution led to the CCP’s failed attempt to revitalize socialism; in the 1970s, social unrest and movements for a democratic socialism made room for the regime’s Reform and Opening policies; in the late 1980s, the Tian’anmen Square uprising triggered more radical reforms; in the 1990s, peasant and state worker unrest could not stop the capitalist restructuring; and in the 2000s, migrant worker struggles led to concessions, tightened repression, and the regime’s global capitalist expansion strategy in the 2010s. The Communist Road to Capitalism breaks with established orthodoxies about the PRC’s socialist ‘successes’ and myths on its later rise as an economic power. It combines a historiography of workers’, peasants’, migrants’, and women’s struggles with a searing critique of exploitation, authoritarian state power and gender discrimination under socialism and capitalism. Drawing lessons from PRC history, Ralf Ruckus finally outlines political aims and methods for the left that avoid past mistakes and allow to fight on for a society free of all forms of exploitation and oppression.”
From Pelekinesis Press: “The Best Microfiction anthology series provides recognition for outstanding literary stories of 400 words or fewer. Co-edited by award-winning microfiction writer/editor Meg Pokrass, and Flannery O’Connor Prize-winning author Gary Fincke, the anthology features the award-winning author Amber Sparks serving as final judge.”
Magda Isanos’s Homecoming, translated by Christina Tudor-Sideri
From Sublunary Editions: “The poetry of Magda Isanos is a low rumble of thunder as the first drops of rain fall on a secluded pond, inviting an atmosphere in which fairies might appear, in which the dead might rise, and in which the trees themselves might bend to bear witness to our confessions. While these verses are often concerned with nature, with the innocence of small-town life, with the inner life of the poet, the thick, miasmatic air of interwar Europe is ever present between every syllable. This is the most comprehensive volume yet of Magda Isanon’s poetry in English, with many of the poems collected within appearing in translations for the first time.”
John Madera's fiction may be found in Conjunctions, Opium Magazine, The &Now Awards 2: The Best Innovative Writing, and many other journals. His criticism may be found in American Book Review, Bookforum, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Rain Taxi: Review of Books, The Believer, The Brooklyn Rail, and many other venues. Recipient of an M.F.A. in Literary Arts from Brown University, John Madera lives in New York City, where he runs Rhizomatic and manages and edits Big Other.