Review of How To Build a Girl

I wanted to read something light and funny as a break from all of the subject area research I’ve been doing lately and I was not disappointed with Caitlin Moran’s novel How to Build a Girl. Set in the early 1990’s in a small town still within the reach of London’s shadow, Johanna Morrigan is a 14 year old girl who’s upbringing by her wanna-be rock star father and push-over mother has taught her to be audacious in the face of their poverty rather than docile. Following an extremely embarrassing interview televised across England, Johanna decides to reinvent herself as Dolly Wilde and over the next two years we follow her around as she learns the ropes of the burgeoning indie-rock music scene.

The real Dolly Wilde
The real Dolly Wilde

While they may lack the trappings of respectability, Dolly’s home life abounds in encouragement from her mother and father. Her father was injured while working as a union carpenter and supplements his government dole through off jobs and marketing on behalf of his band – which by all accounts had not chance of becoming fmous. While he’s clearly an alcoholic whose lack of present potential for success in the life leads him to fixate on previous accolades he’d been given as a local musician, Dolly’s recognition of this is never tragic, but more melancholic. She wants to help him, but also recognizes there’s only so much she can do.

From the get go there’s something inexplicably charming about Dolly/Johanna. I think part of it is that when I was a teenager I too knew a few girls that reminded me of her. Whether or not they consciously chose to adopt the trappings of a more accepting sub-cultural, goth, as a means of coping with their non-Hollywood bodily development is debatable. What isn’t is that this suddenly gives her some cultural cachet that provides her with easy entry into a number of spaces otherwise prohibited to her – be it music review magazine offices or bars that host concerts. After her reinvention Johanna at first does not yet have the confidence in order to project herself as a sexual object into the minds of those that she desires. As Dolly, however, a “lady sex adventurer”, she throws caution to the wind and after a few drunken missteps seems to gain a greater level of confidence. Whether or not this is genuine is brought up by her boozing, cigarettes smoking and other outrageous behavior that seems to mask her own withering, intermittent insecurity. Dolly is not alone, however, in this as many in her family and in her work life also contain this recognition of the precariousness of their existence and this seems to alternately motivate and depress them. A semi-famous musician that Dolly becomes infatuated with, for instance, that is a model of the charming and self-destructive musician trope.

Morrigan writes a number of scenes that both highlight her self-creation and the “flaws” in her autopoiesis. I found the scene wherein she plasters images of her heroes on the wall in a large collage in the manner typical of procedural cop shows meant to show criminal conspiracies to be especially amusing as not only do I currently have that in my office right now as help for me to visualize the characters in Unraveling but as when I was her age I had something similar on my walls. Another humorous scene has Dolly hosting a party in the bathroom following a particularly trying ordeal. The chord most often plucked stems from Dolly’s fear of a provincial existence. Her perspective towards her parents is benign, but she also clearly does not want to replicate the life that they lived. She is bourgeoisie in her aspirations, but working class in her character.

Issues of class issues are written well into the novel. There’s the expected verbal abuse by Dolly’s father of Maggie Thatcher and familial concern over the rate of the dole. Beyond that Morrigan does a great job of situating Wilde’s world as one of relative deprivation. Dolly must rely upon state aid not only to live but also to help her find gainful employ. After leaving school to become a full time music reviewer, she first exploits the library to obtain the source of her income before coming to find out that the capitalist music enterprises will give out music for free in hopes of garnishing favorable reviews. The romantic triangle that helps Dolly realize that she needs to reinvent herself, for instance, is compelling not only for it’s keen depiction of the conflicting fantasies of teenagers and also for reinforcing just how many barriers there are to the lower classes becoming upwardly mobile. This sounds overly sociological, but the scene is quite humorous and heartbreaking at the same time. Realizing that affections are not-reciprocated is one type of pain, but when this is compounded by the other facets that Dolly faces her rebirth is all the more inspiring.

 

 

Review of Eric Foner's Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877

One of the problems that I have with writing short reviews for very long, detailed books like this is that I must avoid the complexities of the content presented. In a few words I could say that Reconstruction: American’s Unfinished Revolution 1863-1877 by Eric Foner describes the post-Emancipation Proclamation world of the Southern United States and how it went through various stages of Reconstruction, wherein Northern rule held varying degrees of control over the South, to Redemption wherein the previous humanitarianism disappeared and Southern rights reasserted their rule via “state’s rights.” To summarize over 600 pages into this sentence is certainly not fair to the wealth of the research that Eric Foner has done nor accurately describes the vicissitudes of the period. But this is – in a few words – what the book is about. Rather than doing so, for this book I’ll post links to some other reviews that go into extensive detail and also post the essay questions that my students could pick from to answer below as the latter, I believe, shows what the book deals with and the former is available for those that would like a more expository understanding of the material the book contains.

Here is an appraisal and analysis of the book from Reviews in American History: http://chnm.gmu.edu/courses/omalley/gilded/perman.pdf

And here is a review from the New York Times.

http://www.nytimes.com/1988/05/22/books/a-moment-of-terrifying-promise.html?pagewanted=all

Essay Questions

Chapter 1

The World the War Made

  1. Justify historians Charles and Mary Beard claim that the Emancipation of American slaves was more than just the end of a particular form of a system of labor.
  2. Examine W. E. B. Du Bois’s claim that it was the blacks that led the drive towards Emancipation.
  3. Compare and contrast the economic effects of the war on the North and the South.
  4. Explain how the Civil War helped consolidate the American state.
  5. Evaluate why Northern military policies would vacillate between progressive and regressive.
  6. Describe the ways that the Civil War was the mid-wife of the revolution.
  7. Discuss some of the black institutional responses to emancipation.
  8. Compare and contrast free labor ideology with slavery and assess the validity of the former’s claims
  9. Describe the role of class in the South’s internal civil war.

 

Chapter 2

Rehearsals for Reconstruction

 

  1. Describe the rationale for the10 Percent Plan described in Lincoln’s Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction.
  2. Discuss how the actions of the new Reconstruction governments helped to undermine the perceived legitimacy of their rule.
  3. Compare and contrast the arguments for and against confiscation.
  4. Identify some of the manners in the Banks system and other laws enforced the interests of Southern property owners.
  5. Examine the various roles and responsibilities of the Freedman’s Bureau.
  6. Explain what made the small Sea Islands experiment so worthy of national attention.
  7. Evaluate with examples the army’s role in the transformation to labor policy formation in the occupied south.
  8. Distinguish the causes for black rural and city delegates disagreements on policy formation.
  9. Analyze reasons for the North’s tenuous commitment to emancipation.

 

Chapter 3

The Meaning of Freedom

  1. Describe some of the manners in which the freed blacks exercised their new freedom.
  2. Contrast black family and social life before and after Emancipation.
  3. Explain the changes that occurred in Black-attended churches following Emancipation.
  4. Identify the reasons for the rise in civil-aid societies.
  5. Examine how land ownership related to the freedman’s desires for economic independence.
  6. Distinguish several manners in which freedman used the new labor conditions to obtain better wages and working conditions.
  7. Compare and contrast the dynamics of farming for self-sufficiency with farming for the market.
  8. To what extent did black political organizations change between 1864 and 1866?
  9. Contrast the waning interest with conventions with the social ferment of the Southern countryside.

Chapter 4

Ambiguities of Free Labor

  1. Describe in detail the economic conditions of the South.
  2. Explain the rationale for planters placing personal life provisions within contracts.
  3. Analyze the conflicts between new northern planters and southern blacks.
  4. Identify the methods by which southern planters and the military now regulated the labor of free blacks.
  5. Discuss the role of the market from the vantage point of freedman, plantation owners and the government.
  6. To what extent did paternalism motivate institutional responses to the conditions in the South.
  7. Identify the limits to the Freedman Bureau’s efficacy.
  8. Examine the role of coercion in the creation of contracts.
  9. To what extent did sharecropping emerge from the post-war economic exigencies.

Chapter 6

The Making of Radical Reconstruction

  1. To what extent do you agree with Thaddeus Stevens claim that the Congress in session in 1866 was “making a [new] nation” and that “technical scruples” ought not to be allowed to prevent them from their statecraft?
  2. Describe in detail the changes sought by the Radical Republicans and their motivations for them.
  3. Compare and contrast the views of Moderate and Radical Republicans
  4. Evaluate the Civil Rights Bill.
  5. Explain the relationship of black and women’s suffrage.
  6. Justify the claims of a number of modern historians that Andrew Johnson was the worst president.
  7. Examine why Eric Foner states that the Reconstruction Act passed by the 39th session of Congress was a “incongruous mixture of idealism and political expediency”.
  8. Define “states rights” and describe how it played a contentious role in the Congressional debates.
  9. Kanye West recently tweeted: “What is your definition of true freedom? There is no true freedom without economic freedom.” Analyze how this relates to the issues surrounding Reconstruction.

Chapter 8

Reconstruction: Political and Economic

  1. Define and describe the four areas Foner cites which limited the Republicans efforts to reshape southern society and establish their legitimacy.
  2. Compare and contrast the qualities of the government positions obtained by blacks and whites.
  3. Analyze the role of graft & corruption amongst the political parties and races between 1868 and 1872.
  4. Explain how new economic legislation provided more power to blacks.
  5. Describe the social and economic effects of blacks entering into the market economy.
  6. Identify the causes that lead to two plantation regions underdevelopment.
  7. To what extent did state-sponsored economic development contribute to financial crisis?
  8. Examine the goals and outcomes of state-sponsored economic development.
  9. Describe the reasons for the rise of the landlord-merchant class.

 

Chapter 10

The Reconstruction of the North

  1. Describe the effects the railroads had on the geography and economy of the North and West.
  2. Compare and contrast the relationship between business politics in the frontier areas with that of freedman in the South.
  3. Identify the reasons for the creation of unprecedented income inequality in the North.
  4. Explain the challenges that technological progress made to the free labor ideology once lauded by the Northern elite.
  5. Discuss the differences between black and white experiences of labor.
  6. Distinguish what is meant by the term “professionally managed politics”.
  7. To what extend and by whom was economic legislation considered “dangerous”.
  8. Identify the reasons why Reconstruction was losing its strength as a political force.
  9. Compare and contrast perspectives on government reform.

 

 

**********

Also worth checking out is this interview with Eric Foner:

http://nostalgiatrap.libsyn.com/nostalgia-trap-episode-41-eric-foner

 

 

 

 

Review of Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression

Several years ago I’d heard on NPR an insightful interview of Robin D. G. Kelley, the author of Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression. My interest in the work piqued, the book sat with the myriad others on my Amazon Wish List until I started creating a Long Civil Rights course track for the IB History classes I’m teaching and from my experience in the classroom I highly recommend it as a companion book/follow up reading to Reconstruction.

Kelley opens by describing the feudal milieu that Communist Party activists sought to change through the Share Croppers Union. Housing settlements are widely disbursed and are not owned by the farmers that occupy them; there are no social centers besides churches that have their preachers vetted by plantation owners; the caloric options from company provision outlets was poor and yet high-priced. Pay rates were also so poor that farmers relied upon home gardens and “odd jobs” to get by. During periods when they were not harvesting or planting, because their housing wasn’t owned, they had to rely upon company welfare – which was often required to be paid back – or government welfare that is cut as soon as planters needs workers. Any attempts at organizing against such living conditions would often mean forced eviction and beatings.

jamesallen-blackbelt1

If living in this sort of economic deprivation wasn’t discouraging enough, there is then the environment of virulent racism that workers and organizers had to live in. The attempt by black share croppers to demand a more just price for their work based upon the actual commodity prices could lead to murder predicated on the defense of Southern Femininity as it was the planter’s wives that often kept the books for the business. Kelley’s narrative abounds with poor black farmers or political organizers that are kidnapped, beaten, shot or hanged by police. The police also give these people over to vigilante squads and fail to prosecute white people for crimes against blacks.

The Communist Party and it’s associate organization the International Labor Defense rouse sentiments and are able to mobilize against such a socially unequal legal order which made no real effort to prosecute lynchings. This activity was all the more heroic as it accomplished with pushback both from white supremacist organizations such as the KKK as well as the “respectable” NAACP. Representing the aspirations of the burgeoning black middle class that saw many poor blacks denial of enfranchisement as just and the confrontational street-politics of the CPUSA as antagonistic to the white allies they hoped to impress, the NAACP red-baited and sought to undermine the organization’s philosophy while the latter group beat and assassinated it’s members. Based upon their defense of the Scottsboro Boys and their role in winning some strikes for better wages and working conditions, however, they managed to seed themselves in the hearts of many Alabamians before and after the Popular Front Period.

tumblr_o204u8okbr1qas1eao1_500

The radical economic changes brought about by New Deal Policies changes everything. Government subsidies are granted to the owners of large agricultural holdings to industrially mechanize. While there was a small amount of resettlement funds itemized allotted to tenant farmers leaving the plantation, they often did not receive it. This army of unemployed mostly made their way into the mining industry next. There they faced racist, dual unions, similar housing arrangements as before and, following the passage of more repressive legislation, a host of pretexts for police to prevent their freedom of speech and organization. Those that were not able to obtain employment, or those that were fired from the mines, had to deal with a patronizing and intrusive system of welfare distribution.

A slew of Communist party organizers and their sympathizers are assassinated while those that live are socially ostracized by the black middle class and white liberals. Kelley breaks down a number of the considerations of the Popular Front and contextualizes the shift to embedding in the CIO as it rises to prominence and additionally gives a number of biographical sketches that gives compelling background to the CPUSA membership. By bringing in their private lives in addition to the struggles faced as a result of political activity that did not always follow CP directives, Kelley humanizes a group that we learn is more maligned because it represented an alternate ideology of modernism and the eradication of racial privilege rather than it’s slavishness as a fifth column for an “evil” foreign power.

This type of first hand account of developing activity on the ground that is constantly adapting to deal with new and often profound exigencies is quite simply an excellent case-study based way for a modern organizer to understand how to obtain true political allegiances and traction within a community by responding to and anticipating it’s needs. The variety of practical considerations makes it an excellent resource for those interested in political organizing. hammerandhoe

Interview with Adam Sheetz

headshot

I’ve been acquainted with South Florida based artist Adam Sheetz for almost a decade now. I met him first at FAU, watching him perform in an anti-war folk duo he lead. After being taken in by the combination of high talent and humility I was further impressed as we spoke on current political issues. Since then I’ve seen his talents contribute to other worthy musical endeavors in numerous local spaces and also seen his graphic art work at a number of venues. While a fan from the beginning, I’ve also noticed that at each new encounter with his work that his artistry has improved – something noticed not just by me but also by those that voted for him and got him the award of New Times Best Visual Artist of 2015.

I met with Adam Sheetz at his house in West Palm Beach. After he showed me around his house filled with unique, carnivalesque art and guitars I chatted with his wife Lindsey for a bit we made our way to his studio. After I looked over the canvases that were in the room and perused some of the books in his library, many of which I also had in mine, we had a shot of whiskey in homage to our shared appreciation of Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson then cracked open beers and started talking about a number of things. As the interview was three hours and forty-five minutes, or 38 pages transcribed, it had been edited for readability and concision. Enjoy!

*

Ariel: So what are you setting up on the easel right now?

Adam: I thought of a Trump piece last night. I’m going to do Trump now in a big diaper crashing through D.C.

Ariel: One of the things that I’ve noticed in the content of you work is a negation of the dominant tropes and narrative of American society – be they politicians, police or religious figures. A negation of that negation, as it were.

Adam: Well I try and leap for the most exaggerated, most grotesque forms of what is actually out there. I really want to be objective for this show. I don’t really want to be supporting any particular candidate. I just want to put the shit out there. I’m not in the business to make people look pretty, I’m in the business to expose people for what they are. If I can elevate the negative to a level that is so farfetched from what it actually is, but within that there are still tenants of a deeper truth, well than that is exactly the kind of attention that they deserve and need. I’m not saying exaggeration is the only way to arrive at a real truth, if you are just telling it like it is, few people are going to pay attention. If you throw in some tits or a politician jacking off or something, people are more likely to look. I mean, why shouldn’t artists use the same methods of big business advertising and culture. Sex sells.

Ariel: That’s precisely why my second book has so much sex in it.

Adam: There you go.

Ariel: So I really like your Animal Farm series. I’m curious to see what thoughts you have that words and qualities associated with being an animal, apart from being a tiger in bed and or hung like an elephant, are typically negative. Do you think that this type of objectification influences the way that people treat the environment?

Adam: I actually wasn’t even going for it in that sense, but I like the connection.

Ariel: You can use that if you like.

Adam: [Laughs] Yeah, I will. With that piece, you know one thing that I have been struggling with in my art, especially taking as a subject something so explicitly that is thematically socio-political, you know the easy way out would be to do each politician as they are. You know do their portrait in some way, but you know that’s only going to last for 2-4 years before it is irrelevant. But the problems are always the same.

Ariel: That’s a really good formulation.

Adam: So my struggle is you know, how do I attack these people by attacking the problems that they are creating? I’ve found very often that the best way to do that is through animals. There are so many parallels to different personality types in the animal world. Not just that, but the symbolism that animals hold in the Bible. I feel that I do a better service to the issues by not putting the people in there. I think if you put people and faces that are recognisable, it gives them more credit than they deserve. It then makes the piece about them, and I think if you make it about them you ultimately miss the bigger structural issues at hand. It makes my art more universal.

I don’t want to be thought of as a cartoonist. I want my low-brow shit to be infiltrating the high-brow world. I want to just flip it on its ass. I think animals are just the best way to represent people at the end of the day [laughs]. With that series, you know each animal represents a different aspect of society

Ariel: Walk me through it?

Adam: Sure. Rather than an eagle, my take on the national bird is the vultures – that’s why it’s displayed with the flag in the background. It’s the first piece in the series and it’s meant to orient people so they know the theme is America politics. Then there’s the saturated pink and green pig. The green background because money and the pig is the businessman. Then there’s the yellow cowardly sheep, which is basically the general population being shepherded around. Then there is the peacock, which is your glitz and glam reality TV culture. The peacock and the sheep go hand in hand because you get to the point of being a peacock and only concern yourself with exterior appearance and keeping up with the Joneses and the status quo. I think ultimately it evolves you to being rolled in with the sheep.

Ariel: Interesting. I took it to represent bourgeois intellectuals.

PH44art800Adam: The peacock?

Ariel: Yeah.

Adam: That wasn’t my intention. The peacock is the animal representing one of the seven deadly sins, so that was my thought behind it. But I always enjoy hearing what people take away from it, especially if it is not what I intended because now I could have a whole new narrative. Tell me more what you mean.

Ariel: So for me it’s the smile that makes it what I said. Peacocks represent the regal, the rich, but they are not it. To mix bird metaphors here, they parrot the rhetorical positions of “jobs creators”, and get well kept for it, like birds in a menagerie. I don’t know, maybe it’s just something about that smile that makes me think of William Buckley.

Adam: The thing I love about art is when I do a piece, by the time I am done the narrative has changed and I find things that I draw that I wouldn’t call forced symbolism but triggers “that means that” even though at the time it wasn’t what I intended. See

Ariel: Counter to what we have been talking about, I have a question about The Death of Marat. This piece, is there at particular face that was supposed to be on there?a548ee_3773a08a57914005ad0d1ab8eba68102.jpg

Adam: No. There was no particular face. I was reinterpreting the well know piece by David. That is actually one of my favorite pieces of David’s. I wrote one of my finals in college on him, basically paralleling him to Fox News and other major news networks because at the end of the day they only report what they are paid to report. If whoever owns the company, like Murdoch, doesn’t like something they are not going to report on it. David was a patron of whoever was in power at the time. Whatever direction the revolution was going and whoever paid him the most, that was who he painted for. So I kind of equated him to a news network of that time. The French revolutionary epoch is so fascinating. It paved the way for so many things, politically, socially and artistically. I’m glad you asked about that piece.

Ariel: Well, I wanted to bring it up as even though your style has changed since then I see within it, almost all of your work really, the same radical, emancipatory spirit that inspired the art of that period.

Adam: Thank you! I’m getting goosebumps. That is a very kind compliment.

Ariel: Yeah, it’s why I like you work so much – it speaks to my head and to my gut.

Adam: Good! I want my work to cause a visceral reaction like that. I want people to walk out of my show feeling unsettled. I don’t claim to have all the solutions to addressing the social grotesqueries that have become banal and commonplace and thus accepted. I want my art to put a question mark in my audience’s head that encourages them to seek some sort of answer. I don’t expect that my work will change the world, but god damn it if it isn’t my hope.

Ariel: Well, if it’s any consolation I can’t stand most of the art that I consume at galleries or museums and yet yours speaks to me.

Adam: Thank you. I mean yeah, as it is conceived today, I am a shitty contemporary artist because I don’t pay attention to what is happening in the world. I mean it’s the commercialised world in this day and age. For the most part, that or you’re a “crafter”. You know? For as pompous as I sounded saying that, I don’t mean to. I’m probably one of the most humble guys. You know?

Ariel: Yeah, I mean, I’ve known you for a long time and you definitely are.

Ariel: Yeah, I get it. I’ve been trying to get into contemporary writers. I mean, it’s hard. They write about bullshit I don’t care about. I mean you can only read so many “troubled home” stories before it’s like… okay. I get it. You had a shitty home life. Now find something other to talk about that’s bigger than you.

Adam: Exactly! All art is really just regurgitation at this point. A lot of what I have seen in contemporary art basically just tries to match the formula of what sold last year. There are handfuls of artists that are doing something real, though fuck if I know who they are. I know they are out there, they have to be, I’m also not going to wade through a bunch of mire just to fin them. I mean, that’s part of the reason I try not to pay attention to “what’s hot”. I don’t want to be inadvertently influenced by anything like that, for better or worse. If I want to be influenced I go back to my heroes like Goya, Basquiat, Deschamps and of course Stedman and Picasso. And speaking of Picasso, actually, his work has a style I’ve been trying to figure out lately how to do. I’ve been trying to do a 2D painting of 3D, by mixing and matching the planes. I always thought that was such an interesting concept – but I want to take it a step further, like paint something illustrating the detritus of our current socio-political climate. You know, where there’s not just one problem but all these different angles. I think a cubist representation of that would be a very honest.

Ariel: But what would that look like? I mean, the way you describe it makes me think of Balzac’s the Unknown Masterpiece, which ends with a brief description of this painting that’s clearly aligned with the Zeitgeist and yet nearly indescribable as a language has yet to come together to structure it’s meaning.

Adam: Honestly, I have no idea yet. I couldn’t even say what the subject would be at the moment but I’ll get there. I use liberty a lot as my subject. So just thinking off the top of my head I imagine it might relate to her. But if I were to do a cubist piece I think it would be, maybe something along the lines of the three bathers painting. Something like I did with the “Now and Then” series with Liberty, Justice and Nature. I would probably do those three women in a cubist style and try and fit as many planes of conflict as I could in there. That may be my project for next year, though I’m not sure.

JusticeThenNOW800MotherNatureThenNOW800

Ariel: I like the concept and am glad you brought up your “Now and Then” series depicting Nature, Justice and Liberty. I thought was great visually, but I’m honestly a bit wary of the politics of nostalgia. Could you speak on your intentions with it, as the implies something that, say, “Ideal and Actual” does not.

Adam: It never existed fully, no, though at the same time you could say that the pre-Colombian people’s here had something closer. I mean, if you look at all of the social injustices from the start of our country, we’ve never been a fully equal society and a fully just society. With the exception of nature, I don’t think there was ever a truly ideal “Then” for any of the subjects that was fully representative of what we all would love them to be.

As far as liberty goes, I’d also say that was significantly more prevalent prior to the kind of techno-surveillance culture we have not. Not for everybody, slavery, obviously, but I feel that liberty has taken a turn for the worse and I guess that was really the turning point between the then and now.

Ariel: So I’m glad to hear that you feel the “Then” never existed, and is just a rhetorical trope as I was going to get on your case about that. After all, it’s a variant of Donald’s “Make America Great Again”.

Adam: [Laughs] Glad you were ready to call me out. I don’t make art for people to tell me it’s good. I expect to be challenged. I’m actually glad you brought that up because you’re absolutely right and I agree with you 100%. But for the sake of the piece it’s the starting point of a narrative. One that starts out as a fairy tale – this utopia that never existed – and we arrive at this gross truth of what it actually is. I think with this view the “then” is exists as hope as something that we can return to, rather something that we can arrive at for the first time.

Ariel: I like that. It evokes the idea of a return to paradise almost, even thought the then is something that we would be arriving at for the first time. Which all makes me think of a desire armed to return there. Considering that Lake Worth is the home of the Earth First  Journal and your works contains a number of radical political themes I was wondering if there has been any sort of exchange between you and them.

Adam: Actually, yes. Earth First has contacted me a few times. Unfortunately we have never really lined up on some of the stuff I have versus what they needed. That’s actually a good reminder for me to reach back out them because now I have a few pieces that might be interesting for them. I love Earth First. I love everything they are doing. Somebody needs to do it.

You know and early on at FAU, like ’07-08, right before I met Cecil and you, I played in an anti-war folk band. I had a percussionist and me on acoustic guitar. I used to play at protests against the Iraq war. I was a member of A.N.S.W.R. Act Now to Stop War and End Racism. I went to Washington DC with them in September when Petraeus was coming out with his new budget report and asking for more money for Iraq. There was big protests going on – not on the news, of course – and we took a van to D.C. We marched to the capital, some friends got arrested. One of the organizers was one of the first men on the ground. His name was Mike and he had a video which went viral. Although there is not much time for it now. I still feel like I am doing my part with painting, because somebody has to.

[We break to have a cigarette outside]

Ariel: Now that I see it in your garage, in front of me, one of the questions I had for you was for you to walk me through The Persistence of Reality. The picture on your website is small, but it is such a huge piece.

Persistance of Reality

Adam: It is so far my best attempt at paying homage to Hieronymus Bosch.  This piece basically maps the terrain a barren kind of cultural landscape. The only thing that looks lush and fertile is the facade. This quest for visibility and 15 minutes of fame – reality TV culture – I think is dragging us through the mud as a culture.

So you have here these people lining up to go down to watch framed in a manner that alludes to Bosch’s work, “The Cure of Folly”. Back in the day people used to think that people who did bad things had something in their brain and called the Folly Stone. Because of this belief they, logicially, originated the practice of lobotomies originated. They would take out a piece of the brain thinking that would cure them of evil, which is why there are medieval tools in the picture. Up here you have the US Capital Building, the Whitehouse and the flames with this big monster. You have the Hollywood spotlights going. Nobody is paying attention. These are two of my favorite figures that I have come up with. You basically notice that the eyeball around it looks a lot like a vagina. The tear duct is like a clit. So I kind of flipped around, stuck an eyeball in there and created this kind of Uncle Sam foyer figures. You know, kind of representative of the NSA.

Adam: The lush fertile area is just a backdrop. The stiletto wearing vultures. It’s the transformation of what was once the sacred feminine, into this profane “women are bitches and whores”. It’s just a fuckfest down here.

Ariel: Considering that we’ve been talking about animal’s relationship to your work, I like the animal masks that you have them wearing.

Adam: You could chalk it up to the laziness of not wanting to paint a bunch of faces.

[laughter]

Ariel: Did you go to school for art? Or are you self-taught?

Adam: A little bit of both. I went to school for studio arts/graphic design but I still haven’t technically graduated FAU. I learned a lot, but basically I kept going to get access to materials. There’s a number of professors there who have helped shape the seriousness with which I do my work. Of all my art training, what I took the most from was my art history classes, more than the practical application and the studio classes. The studio classes were a chance for me to exercise what I had already been doing, but with new tools.

Ariel: So how do you think your art has changed over time?

Adam: One of the things that I struggled with earlier on in my career was arriving at my own style that was separate from my influences. That was the struggle. I think where I am now compared to where I was 10 years ago and it’s a whole different world. To go deeper, there was a point where I had to break down what I was doing and rebuild it. This is no small task, you know, a whole new world had to be built upon the old. I adhere to that concept in a lot of aspects in life. I think that it’s the most productive way to go about anything at the end of the day – something’s not working, you tear it down and build upon it. Now, for me to pick up the pen and the brush and have it be fulfilling, I really have to be saying something. If I’m not saying anything, it’s a waste of my time… unless I’m getting paid [laughs]. I’ve got a little one to feed. I’m not going to be the one to paint a still-life with a bowl of fruit in it.

Ariel: Or like just a nude.

Adam: Right. I mean it’s not saying anything.

Ariel: Right?! I mean love women. I will ogle and appreciate and blah, blah, blah. But when it comes to my taste in art, however, I need to have some kind of more redeeming, edifying element. I want my naked women to be leading the people.

Adam: Exactly, like Lady Liberty Leading the People. That’s one of my favorites. I actually got to see that one in person at the Louvre.

Ariel: Oh. So on the about you section on your website, you say that you frame your work as portraits of beauty by means of crude exaggeration. Do you think that the anti-septic nature of current socio-political discourse is detrimental.

Adam: Yeah, everything today has got to be so prim and proper and clean and the choice of what people emphasize as being important is just so askew. A lot of times nobody can tell it like it is because so many people have become over-sensitive cry-babies. I mean we live in a culture where you get a trophy just for fucking showing up. That’s what it’s become.

I don’t know when it happened, but I think my generation was when that shift happened. I’m 27 and I can remember my senior class was the first class ever at Cardinal Newman where no one that graduated received senior superlatives in the yearbooks. Too many mothers complained that their son or daughter wasn’t picked for something, so they stopped doing it. I don’t know why this generation has stopped knowing what it was to earn something. I also went to a private Catholic school so a lot of the children were privileged too.

Ariel: I knew a few girls there from when I was in high school, so I know what you mean.

Adam: Haha, yeah… So I was the bottom bracket of the kids at that school. Which I enjoyed because you know, I could be my own person. But I think that the societal discourse of giving trophies just for showing up-

Ariel: We are going to talk about some adult things, “trigger warning”.

Adam: Yeah, and I don’t see how sugar-coating everything and being so politically correct that there is not an ounce of truth in what you are saying, none of that s anything that can help bring us forward. Nobody wants to hear the truth, nobody wants to hear the bad stuff. I’m not saying that foul language etc should be a part… that’s not what we are talking about. Being PC all the time doesn’t get us anywhere though. You can’t have a positive and a positive and expect a reaction at the end of the day. If you break it down to physics.

Ariel: Well I mean, I think at least from the developmental sense. Everybody fails at some point.

Adam: You have to fail and you need to learn how to deal with it. It’s a given that I want the best for my son, that I want him to succeed. But I don’t want him to succeed without failing first on his own. I don’t want him to be destitute, living in a gutter. Failure is a part of life, it is how you grow. Sometimes you run into those walls in your life where you just have to make a decision and hope it pans out. Hopefully you come out smelling like a rose. It’s a practice of to keeping your wits about you, you know?

Relating this to my art, I think about when I stopped drawing with a pencil and started drawing with a pen. I was forced not to throw the piece away, and make something out of the mistake. That’s been something that I live my life by. I think everybody is expecting to go through life with their own personal filter when what they really need is to grow a thicker skin. Nothing is the end of the world.

Ariel: Except global climactic change.

Adam: This is true [laughs]. But even that, I think the anti-septic nature with which that political message is delivered may be doing a social disservice. Treat the public like they can handle how many billions invested in housing and infrastructure will be lost due to catastrophe and maybe something more substantive can be done about it. Instead of the honesty we have fucking Rick Scott preventing state workers from even using the phrase “climate change”. What a sad joke! It’s reasons like that which is why you can’t have an honest debate. It’s just arguing feelings.

Ariel: Yeah, totally! Like I was saying outside, I’m increasingly tired of trying to have real discussions with people online. I don’t talk about things I don’t know about but nobody else seems to think that this matters. They want what that guy [I point to the illustrations of Donald Trump] gives them, they want feelings rather than a complex, nuanced historically based perspective.

Adam: Or they want a sound board where they can bounce their shit off and hear themselves talk, or hear it regurgitated back to them in an agreeable manner. It’s all bullshit and just adds to the veil that is clouding our perception of what reality is. Not everybody is going to get along. That’s just a fucking fact. Find out your differences. Agree to disagree and if it don’t really matter then move the fuck on. Don’t get so butt-hurt if shit doesn’t go your way. If shit doesn’t go your way, maybe you should figure out a way to make it so that shit does go your way. Not in a negative sense though.

Ariel: You frame it in a way that I am wholly in accord with. One some of these important issues lets relate to each other on the actions that need be taken together as a community and through that we’ll heal some of our own issues.

Adam: Exactly.

Ariel: I love how you are all about doing something creatively, that I do as well in my writing, which is openly assimilating forms and styles from other places. A couple of other artists I know are so caught up in trying to be completely original that I think it hinders their ability to compose something great.

Adam: You can’t be original now. We’re just reshaping the past in a way so that the present can understand it. If I was so focused on creating something new, I would be wasting so much energy that I would end up with nothing. What I am creating is original enough, but it’s also an amalgamation of many things past – as all art is. History isn’t some thing, it’s what is happening now. And there are always smart, talented people who have said and done better than we can currently dream of creating.

Ariel: Heroes.

Adam: Exactly, and my heroes have always been those people who said it better. So I think by thinking that you can do it better in your own way is awfully arrogant.

Ariel: And neurotic.

Adam: Yeah. That’s the thing as well, seeking that kind of false comforting thought means that there is no drive to better oneself. Why try any harder in a format that other people have already mastered? Because there is the easy way and the hard way and it’s only in the latter time you really learn who you are.

If I can be vulnerable right now, that is one of the reasons I try to be so serious about the outside things that I tap into for my work. Whether that is historical subjects or different artists. I research because I enjoy and love learning and research. I write different notes and ideas down. I have a little pad that I sketch the ideas and inspirations for my bigger pieces. It’s a juvenile approach.

Kind of like throwing a bunch of shit against the wall and seeing what sticks. It often starts when I am trying to fall asleep. In order to do that I try to use ideating sleep rituals, it helps create a pattern of creative thought. Hopefully I remember it when I wake up. Some I do, some I don’t. I feel like the ones I don’t remember weren’t meant to be created. And anyway I don’t have the time to do every idea. The ones I do remember end up being fairly successful and what I want them to be. So I basically start with a general idea that begins with me trying to fall asleep and then when Thursday-Friday comes around I get the opportunity to put pen to paper. For pieces there is a lot of research involved whether it is researching history or artists or different composition styles, or researching different design clips that I can use. More often than not it is body parts or mechanical things. I’ll print them out and see what kinds of shapes I can make and how it can work. Sometimes I scrap it, but a lot of times I’ll just lay the stuff out, stick it on the paper and force it to dictate the piece to me, based on what sticks out to me at the time. It’s a push and pull. A lot of times, what I find out during the process will tell me something different to what I started with and I’ll end up meeting in the middle. Then all of the vibrancy, perversity, saturation – everything in my work – has to speak to something. Nothing is arbitrary. If it’s a line somewhere, it’s for a reason.

The way I see it’s like, good art is a psychic weapon that attacks things. This is my spell casting book.

Ariel: Then you must be like Hermoine, I see that you’re constantly making new works and it’s all so great. You are much more disciplined than I am as well. It looks great though.

Adam: I try to maintain discipline. Gonzo style. With everything around the house, being a new dad, I put in at least 10-15 hours a week on my own work. It’s a habit. Heh. The things around the house I need to write down, keep a schedule for work. Not for my own stuff though, I don’t want it to feel like work but second nature. It took discipline to get to this point, but I knew if it didn’t I wouldn’t get to this point. If I have a goal, I will work non-stop. If I don’t have some big project at the end of the line, it’s harder. So thankfully, I’ve got this show coming up. It will definitely be something they have never seen before.

Did I tell you one of my marketing tactics I’m going to do is campaign signs and the name of the show is going to be called “Nobody is safe” and it’s going to be put all throughout Cleveland. Super bright posters. Red, white and blue. It’s where we are right now.

Ariel: After this series, do you have anything you were thinking about next.

Adam: I was thinking of doing a show out west in California next summer. The Dead Kennedy’s are a huge influence on me and what I say and do in my work. They are the first band that I feel has the same velocity and crassness but still poignant at the same time. I feel like it is what a want to achieve with my work. A juvenile yet sensitive rejection of authority.

So my idea of a follow up show would be doing a series on Dead Kennedy’s and hopefully getting Jello, if not the whole band involved somehow.

Ariel: Who knows, maybe he’ll end up reading this and be as taken in with your art as I have been so he’ll reach out to you.

*

If you’re in the area, make sure to check out Adam’s upcoming showing, information below.

13225006_1021922514545078_623418571_o

Also visit his website to purchase prints and follow him on Facebook and Instagram to stay up to date with what he’s working on!

Review of The Seducer's Diary

It is not enough to conquer, one must know how to seduce. – Voltaire

After twelve years I finally took the suggestion of a good friend and read The Seducer’s Diary. It did not take more than a dozen pages of anticipation for me to start to understand why this was such a formative book for her, for alongside the oft-told tale of a boy wooing a girl was a powerful undercurrent of insightful observations about love and other powerful forces which motivate human action.

One such subject of the book that I deeply enjoyed was Kirkegaard’s description of the gradations of various feelings elicited through various romantic gestures. Each one carries with it a certain psychic energy – if they are receptive objects of affection. From looks to words he describes the way in which different types of can make a young girl blushes. He illustrates a “long game” approach to winning the seducing a young girl considered to be the height of attraction both physically and morally. This approach of her as a specimen to be won is, according to lore, the means that the author used to encourage the quick psychic healing of his betrothed upon his departure and annulment of their pre-marital vows of commitment.

The form of seduction that Kirkegaard takes is a slow one, first insinuating himself into her life through a friend and then through letters and social events gaining greater sway over her mind. This excerpt from Either/Or contains a number of journalistic styled notes and short letters that are voiced as an explanation to his actions or are sent from K to Cordelia. This facsimile of old correspondence or that which was fictionally altered to appear as a document of amorous ephemera provides a compelling form for reflections on life, love and honesty. One of which that Kierkegaard makes that I found especially lovely was his analogy about love:

“When it comes to the labyrinth of her heart, every young girl is an Ariadne; she holds the thread by which one can find the way through – but she possesses it in such a way that she herself does not know how to use it.”

For K, the path to love is not about immediate infatuation based upon sexual desire, something that is repeatedly criticized as it leads the urges to a tempestuous psychic place to be avoided. It is, instead the slow fertilizing thoughts that helps the spirit grow into a recognition of the male’s spiritually directive role. This is resisted on the grounds of pride, and this dynamics informs a dialectical dances between the lovers whose steps are the movements and memories created between the too. Each choice of action and response informs the love created and determines whether or not it is a healthy one or one that is diseased due to excessive reification of the other. Writing this in this format makes the lessons learned seem dry and obtuse – but this distillation of the content of longer, lyric language is a far cry from Kirkegaard’s style. It has many similarities, at points, to two of my favorite writers – Henry Miller and Milan Kundera.

The seduction of Cordelia by K is brought to an end when it seems that K has come to doubt his spiritual fortitude. His quest to win her, what he once wanted, now seems anathema to him. Amusingly enough this seems to give credence to the Taylor Swift lyrics “Boys only want love if it’s torture.” He is of the belief that by breaking things off with her, she will develop to even greater heights of character than were she to remain with him. Being that woman is inherently, to K, a being-for-others she will, upon reflecting on their break up Cordelia can find true freedom. This seems to be because, despite his imbrications against it, he seems to have an aesthetic constitution as it relates to love and wants a certain resistance.

Something else that I found amusing while reading the books were the techniques Kierkegaard uses to win the attentions of his inamorata, Cordelia. While by no means a how to guide aligned with PUA literature like The Pickup Artist, the book nevertheless illustrates some of the methods outlined within. K engages in extended conversation with her Cordelia’s aunt in order to establish his value amongst her community of peers.
There are many things which I enjoyed about it and I have the feeling that this is one of those works that I will read again in a few years and get something new about it.

Review of Lazarillo de Tornes and The Swindler: Two Spanish Picaresque Novels

Lazarillo de Tornes and The Swindler: Two Spanish Picaresque Novels continues my study of the titularly named genre. Two young boys follow paths to dissolute lives. Lacking the upward mobility available in economies that weren’t primarily based upon slave labor extraction of mineral resources, their birth in the lower classes itself made certain things impossible in the way of the Spanish World. Apprenticeship would thus not take the form of tutelage under craftsman or artisans but among some of the most dejected members of the lumper-proletariat.

Lazarillo is the tale of a 14 year old young man whose unfortunate mothers leads her to give away her soon to an itinerant blind man in order to be relieved of the effort of caring for him. The seemingly affable despite his misfortunate loss of eyesight demeanor quickly drops once they are far from the house and walking on the way to the next city. The blind man demands him verbally and hits him of the head with his staff. he further abuses him and as he is the one who holds all of the coins received while begging is stingy with how he feeds his ward. Lazzarillo finds a number of ways to out guile the clever man. But he does learn a lot, and through their conversations Lazarillo comes to see a much more skeptical view of the Spanish Catholic’s religious beliefs and practices. They break their relationship, however, after a number of altercations following the blind man’s discovery of the ruses. After Lazarillo picks off enough cash to make it on his own for a while he has the blind man unwittingly jump into a pylon and then leaves him bloody and concussed to look after himself.

He briefly comes under the employ of a provincial noble that is on his way to become a student at a school for the elite. As they enter an inn to find shelter for the night, they are both quickly worked over by a group of smooth talking con-men. Lazarillo only realizes their deceit after his master is forced to pay the bill for all of their food and drink and he has lost all of his money gambling. He is dismissed and is thus forced to begging. It is while he is walking the streets of Maqueda singing pleas that he’d learned while working with the blind man that a priest stops in front of him. He listens briefly and then tells him he is now under his employ and to follow him. His next master is not physically violent like the last, but is strict and like the blind man is stingy with food. As such, like before, he decides he mush rely upon deception in order to supplement his meagre caloric intake. The task of stealing from the bread box is no Oceans affair, but the length at which he carries it on is a testament to his cunning. The descriptions of the Priest getting so enraged over a few crumbs being removed from the bread box and the demands of austerity placed upon Lazarillo is another not so subtle criticism of the Church.

Without getting into every little twist and turn of the novel, I’ll just state that additional deeds of deviousness occurs. The writing style has a a faced based economy of language. It develops quickly from the tradition of writing about a young boys development to a series of deceits enacted upon superiors because of the belief that allegiance to the self is the only true allegiance that one should have if one wants to move forward in the world. The book ends with the patina of a dignified life, and whether the question of whether or not such self-deceit is worth the cost of no longer having to wonder from where he’ll next get his meal and a place to rest his head.

The Swindler is the other story contained in the Penguin Classics pairing. It’s longer the Lazarillo and does not depict a similar transition away from criminality to semi-respectability. As the book’s title, a reference to the protagonist, suggest the plot revolves around someone that is essentially bad. His badness, however, mainly accelerates as a result of his choices to accompany people. This rogue’s gallery isn’t the only one unfavorably depicted, the Church’s isn’t kind to them either. They are, alternately,  schemers, pederasts, tight-wads, delusional in their adherence to certain ungodly practices.

The witches and heretics fair little better. In the opening of The Swindler, the protagonist is advised by his witch, whore of a mother’s Moorish thieving non-Church sanctioned husband: “If you’re crafty, you can get away with anything.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, many years after this exchange he is hung and dismembered by his mother’s brother the hangman. Seeing these pieces hung around the entrance to the city walls as as he comes home to receive his inheritance, shocks him. But he was going to carry on.

The confessor of this tale does not merely seek to shock and amaze with grotesque scenes, he advises that this is also a lesson book, if one so looked at it, to live a life based based upon deceit, swindles, subterfuges, lies, all around craftiness. Unlike Lazarillo, the writer’s character does not always have at least some of our sympathies. From unfortunate circumstances he adopts the wrong lessons and applies them in such a way that while getting admiration from a rotating band of conniving thieves he obtains a correct opprobrium from the well to do class which he aspires by false pretenses to marry himself into. A blow to the head leaves him with a telling disfigurement the exacerbates his willingness to commit criminal acts and live a debauched life. At this point, in no uncertain terms, he is a man that embodies a dangerous form of criminality. He takes a view similar to that of a N.W.A. anthem and goes on a drunk spree that results in a number of complications he must now flee with his whore lover.

I