‘LBC’ Category Archives
by aragorn in LBC
This reportback will include some thoughts about the different locations I visited in my trip around the US, highlights from my presentation, and some thoughts about where current conversations are at regarding Green & anarchist ideas. The broad project of Black Seed is to grow the audience and definition of green anarchism beyond the constrains of windmills, wolves, and wildness into a broad category of non-instrumental approaches to living, struggling, and thinking. This means fighting the allure of jargon, counter-cultural shortcuts, and sectarianism. A green anarchism can (and should) be one that is pluralist with bruises rather than righteously exclusionary.
Timing is Everything
The Black Seed tour was somewhat motivated by the desire to go to the Cleveland and NYC Anarchist bookfairs (for LBC) and wanting to make sure people who wouldn’t otherwise ask for a copy of Black Seed would still get one as easily as possible. With that in mind the tour was setup just a few weeks before it began and ended up including events in Milwaukee, Cleveland OH, Pittsburgh PA, Rochester NY, Buffalo NY, Philadelphia PA, Columbus OH, Bloomington IN, and Salt Lake City UT.
Given that (sadly) anarchism tends to be of interest to a primarily college-aged crowd if you want to speak to a larger-than-small crowd you should orient your trip around student participation. Traveling to a town a week or two after finals is therefore not recommended. Mostly, towns where there was not a standing anarchist population had nearly zero turnout.
Couple that with the perceived (or not-so-perceived) hostility between old-time red anarchists and anything not-red and I felt a little bummed in a couple towns. But turnouts that are really just become conversations rather than presentations and while I think I’m better at the latter (with strangers) than the former… context matters and acting like you are talking to an audience when three people are in the room is kind of silly.
Initially I was going to prepare a new presentation regarding some of my current thinking about the problem of indigeneity but the Black Seed editors reminded me of an important thing. I am not an editor of Black Seed, I am the publisher. This point, while subtle in an anarchist project where lines are often muddied and disrespected, is an important one as I am not nearly as equipped to represent the content of the paper as I am to present my own thoughts. If the stated goal was to bring Black Seed to towns… then doing that, describing the context that Black Seed came out of, reading the editorial, and calling for questions seemed to be the appropriate level of engagement. This is an especially important point given that the very small GA milieu seems particularly guilty of personalizing projects/ideas which is absolutely not the goal of Black Seed. Green Anarchism will whither on the vine again if it is about personalities (or singular projects).
Since I know this will be asked, I’ll answer it ahead of time. The difference between a publisher and editor of a project (or at least this one) is basically one of experience and money. A publisher pays for the printing and deals with the distribution. An editor collaborates with authors to make their writing as strong as possible, which can mean political, content, or copy editing work.
Here are a few bullets points from the presentation.
What is green anarchism
In one view of anarchism it is part of the divided revolutionary project in a dialectical relationship with Marxism and its branches. In that view Green Anarchism is a branch that only began to thrive as the ecological movement came into general consciousness after WWII (although it did have an earlier origin story). This isn’t my definition of GA.
For me there is one great story, one bible, of radical engagement to the world and that is Hegelianism. Those who reject this specific story, the idea that reality can be expressed by rational categories and that the goal is to reduce reality to a unity, may be green anarchists. This means that my orientation is more cautious & circumspect than declarative and valiant. It also means I don’t tend to buy “the end is nigh therefore…” arguments as I don’t think that human consciousness/will/capacity is all it’s cracked up to be. Put another way, not only am I not a humanist (by design), I don’t think humans are either. But that’s just me.
The context of Black Seed
We miss the magazine Green Anarchy. It died, to a greater or lesser extent, as a consequence of the Green Scare (aka the persecution of anarchist, earth, and animal liberations types on the West Coast). It wasn’t as simple as that, of course, but the feds set the fire and only lunatics and fools don’t run from fire.
Black Seed is the serotinous result of this fire.
The critique of anthropology
This is obviously the topic of a larger “meta” conversation but here are the stated concerns/issues/critiques of anthropology as stated in Black Seed. One, anthropology is an academic discipline that begs for a deeper analysis of why anti-authoritarians would engage in a field that uses knowledge to grow the power of the existent and not something that thrives outside of the academy. Two, anthropology traditionally “others” people in ways that can only be described as problematic (or genocidal depending on your perspective). Three, anthropology is a discipline of truth (with a capital T). If it were a form of story telling (where the aspects of truth are malleable and subjective) there would be little concern with it. Disciplines of truth are some of the arcane magicks that have summoned Leviathan.
Here are some brief notes on some of the stops on the tour.
NYC believes it is the center of the universe. It absolutely is not. Especially when it comes to anarchy. Even moreso when it comes to vibrant, exciting, searching for new ideas. NYC is where ideas and dreamers go to die.
I did get to see Jerry Koch and Daniel McGowan back from prison and back in the mix. That made my heart soar (no joke).
The First Annual Cleveland Anarchist Bookfair was a great first time effort by a very young crew. Bloomington always turns out an inquisitive crowd. Columbus was a really positive and engaged group of people at the new Sporeprint Infoshop. These three towns were the best attended events and most interested attendees on the tour.
The area between the West Coast and the Great Lakes is a huge wasteland of anarchist emptiness. The only exception (this trip) was Salt Lake City which was a strange mix (and included an event with me and scott crow…) that included a great group house, an utterly hostile town, and a group of people who seemed to have been passed by by time…
Finally I’ll speak a bit to the condition of anarchy (especially green) based on my fractional view of NA@ on the Black Seed tour. First, I got the strong impression that there is an eager audience for a new/refreshed view of a green anarchist perspective that is not EF! style activism or ideological. People seem to feel that -something- green reflects their values but are really looking for an active conversation about it (rather than a fait accompli). Second, the history of even recent North American radical activity is woefully incomplete and under told. This is probably a direct result of the turn-26-and-youre-out nature of 21st century anarchism but I’ll also go ahead and blame wikipedia, the @ FAQ, and the vicious little scene that eats everyone alive who participates in it. Third, many anti-left positions no longer have to be defended. Everyone agrees on the basics and (in an all-too-american way) want to get down to brass tacks.
For future trips I would recommend an editor and an author or two to travel together with a wider variety of approaches (like skill + content, intro + experiential, etc) than my “one person show” was capable of. Plus, I’m getting to old to haul books, drive thousands of miles, and give a compelling presentation to a small crowd without getting demoralized. Which isn’t to say that I feel demoralized after the trip but that some days felt like I was only capable of reaching one or two people (rather than dozens, hundreds, or the millions necessary to shift our conversations beyond the arcane and irrelevant).
Final note. The last event I did on this tour was a public conversation with Scott Crow who, perhaps, would seem like someone from a different corner of the big tent of anarchy. The conversation was productive but only because we came into it already knowing each others jargon (ie the very different words we used to say the same things) and liking each other. I’ll say tentatively that our capacity to find common cause may indicate a possibility for many of the different clans to find ways to work together. Scott is a great contrast to the color coded sectarianism of the rest of the anarchist world and I think we can agree that a black flag is good enough.
by aragorn in LBC
Final reports and self-criticism
At the end of week three I was still glowing from my first day in New Orleans. The glow has faded now that I am a couple thousand miles away. The trip is over but it’s not completely gone for me. I look forward to seeing New Orleans again and seeing if the Iron Rail can continue with the energy of the first annual event into the future.
This final trip update has taken longer than anticipated because I’ve been spending the past week sleeping. Traveling for so long, alone, left me exhausted. I can still stumble along but only just. I’ll discuss this more in the conclusion.
The Longest Drive
In the realm of ridiculous ideas driving nonstop from New Orleans to Tucson isn’t the worst one ever (an award that goes to a similar drive from Nashville to Tucson on my motorcycle in the 90s) but it isn’t a good idea. For starters, it took about 20 hours behind the wheel (not counting the necessary in seat naps). Next, and I totally have myself to blame for this, road food is total shit. Finally, and this does go without saying, Texas is really boring.
I was hoping to drive through Texas primarily at night to avoid the boredom of it but barely made it past San Antonio before I conked out. This meant the entirety of West Texas, which is really the worst part, I endured in a bleary haze.
This turned out to be the worst part of the trip not because the drive was so bad (although it was) but because of the ruined plan I had for it. I had this harebrained scheme that during the long drives of this trip I would use a digital recorder to put down my ideas for a couple of writing projects. It turns out that as important as the time and solitude is for this kind of work what is more important is the head space. While I did have a few moments of inspiration during my long drive it paled in comparison to a drive a third has long right after an evening of exhilarating conversation. During that day I mostly finished an essay and notes on a couple of other pieces as long as that.
Obviously the idea of writing something at length while driving was ridiculous but if it would’ve worked it would’ve encouraged me to drive more. Perhaps instead, it’s just encouraged me to have more exhilarating conversations.
Interesting thing about Tucson is that I have done a few different events there and each one has felt totally different. What I know now, but didn’t before this visit, is that Tucson is a town of transients. It makes sense of course, because 110° summer days aren’t livable for the humans but I didn’t realize there was such a circuit of @ who traveled around based on the seasons. There is and they winter in Tucson.
Like a lot of towns, the feedback from my presentation wasn’t that useful for me. While a few people seem to understand what I was getting at, what my motivation was, and that we were on the same wavelength the majority of the crowd seemed highly ambivalent. On the flipside, I was texted by the event organizer right after I left who seem to think that what I said made a real impact and was going to be useful in catalyzing future discussions. That is more than I could hope for.
The Phoenix event was very small and half the people who showed up seem too young to care about stupid shit like infrastructure or conflict. It was the event that the most eyeballs on cell phones of any other event than the one I did on campus. The other half are the people who have been around for a long time in the Phoenix/Tempe area and who I have a fairly long history with. We had a pleasant conversation that only seemed slightly annoying (as measured by eye rolls per minute) to our texting youth.
Then I got to drive home.
EBBCE (aka EB@B)
And the day after I got back our little community threw its own anarchist bookfair. We call it the East Bay Book and Conversation Event but everyone has abbreviated that to EB@B.
Was there to say about a bookfair? It is the best place to see an anarchist that will most definitely (probably) not involve somebody getting arrested. It’s a glance into how vibrant anarchist publishing space is (short answer: not). In the Bay Area it’s a window into just how crazy big city life can make you. Perhaps as a sign of poor outreach this year’s event didn’t kick anybody out (and only had one eviction from a conversation). Last year there were three(ish).
They were probably have as many attendees to this year’s event is last year’s which is strange because last year’s event was seemingly more precarious because there was a real threat of rain all day long. This year, on the other hand, the day was beautiful and a little crisp with no sign of rain at all. Our outreach and general excitement level was much better in 2012. Couple this with the relationship between anarchists and the fall harvest season and the smaller attendance was not a surprise.
Realistically, the space where we hold the event at seemed full all day (ridiculously so last year) and constrains the event far more than our lack of outreach. Perhaps another constraint is that the organizers of EB@B are starting to reflect a different (older) demographic than a lot of the audience. This seemed reflected in the lack of enthusiasm for parties or extra curricular events in general.
Finally it’s worth mentioning that karaoke was a limited success. Only 25 to 30 people stayed around for it but that was more than enough for a couple hours of amusement. I’m mostly inspired to do more karaoke at a better venue with better timing. I do feel like after bookfair events at the venue itself are doomed to failure. I’m going to propose the next year we extend the hours of the bookfair itself.
I’m not sure what to say about the concept of my presentation. Somewhere in the idea of “conflict infrastructure” is something I do think is important but I am not sure that a speech is the way to approach the problem. If I wanted to tell anarchist North America that it’s time to build to last, prepare for internal and external kinds of conflict, and have a sense of humor about it all I guess I could write an essay, maybe a book. But if I want to take people by the shoulders and force them to do the same it gets a bit more complicated, cuz you know… consent and shit.
This is where my head was at about a week into the trip (in Minneapolis). I knew that the difference between saying something and actually taking part in making it happen is the difference between me and people who are better public speakers than I am. I’m not trying to be humble about my technical capacity to memorize a presentation (which I suck at) or be compelling or charismatic (which I don’t) but brutal about something else. It’s not that I think that it’s not possible to be an anarchist and to speak to an audience in declarative statements (you should, you must, etc) but I’m not sure how I can do that. It just doesn’t feel natural and normal to me. I realize this is a strange counterpoint to the fact that it does feel natural for me to be insulting or shit-talking about people that are seen as leaders or inspirational but the difference is humor.
If I could find a way to be funny about declarative statements I’d do that. Maybe a series of ridiculous veiled threats or a commitment to a Bible thumping preacher affect but neither of these appeal to my desire for playful conflict. I don’t hit the metaphor too hard but there’s something about fencing and the idea that the actual act is in the feint within a feint within a feint that I adore. This is distinct from some kind of put-on, as honest as it may be, that I’m just average folk coming off the mountain telling y’all about what I’ve learned, about my country wisdom, my authentic knowledge, my truth that is soon to be your truth or come hell or high water you will pay.
Additionally, I’m not sure that it’s possible to talk about politics in the US. This might seem like a rather jarring transition but it’s how I feel based on the blank faces I encountered during many of my stops once it came time to have a conversation. I think that there is a certain apolitical side to American anarchists that’s more dominant than I would’ve expected or feared.
My (positive) definition of politics is that it’s a practice of seeing the connections between the things we do, the world we live in, and our influence/power regarding both. Mostly I use politics in a negative sense to refer to the act that other do when they use influence/power to affect my/our life and refer to anti-politics as the activity that opposes this effort. But a positive politics is one that engages in questions and experiments with possible solutions rather than hypothesizing what other people should do with their lives. In a real sense it is what differentiates anarchist perspectives from others because ours prioritizes direct experiences (ours first) over sociological theories or good intentions writ large. Anyway, politics is a series of big questions that we should be thinking about in relation but in distinction from topics like prisoner support, corporate malfeasance, and identity.
Probably it isn’t possible to talk about big things with strangers but if it is possible I didn’t accomplish it during my presentation. I also didn’t accomplish much success with being funny or even particularly entertaining. I think the only thing I succeeded at was making a pitch to people who already were thinking along the same lines as I am. I succeeded at talking to myself.
To this end I think that future trips like this will look a lot more like entertainment or story telling than like a political frontal assault. Either I’m not very good at the latter or my audience isn’t capable of transitioning from the world, to a talk, to a conversation with me without a whole lot more preparation.
Whenever I return to the Midwest I feel like I have a sign over my head telling all passerby’s that I have returned, the prodigal son or some such shit. But the people who actually live here tend not to give a fuck. Everyone they know lives here so what’s it matter that another yahoo comes from the same stock. Of course the related issue is that an enthusiasm for other people, other lives, or their own miserable daily life doesn’t tend to shine through either…
Grand Rapids @ The bloom collective
This was a small gathering at the Bloom collective space. First of all it’s worth repeating how strange it is that I can even have an event at the infoshop of the town I grew up in but the conversation seemed to follow a thread that’s worth detailing a bit…
On the one hand there are the “holding down the fort” people who may (or may not) be anarchists but are willing to deal with the nuts-and-bolts aspect of keeping a space open. On the other there are people who want to see radical space be… radical. One of the central themes throughout this trip (and with the meta-proposal of Conflict Infrastructure) is that conflict has to be a core component of our infrastructure both as a consequence of principal of engagement (rather than passive aggressive silence) and as part of the orientation towards activity (as in if conflict infra isn’t doing stuff it is either plateaued as project or in decline) hopefully of a hostile nature (broadly conceived of).
In GR the tension between the two factions was palpable and my thrashing around the issue (on the pro-conflict side naturally) was not convincing to the fort radicals at all.
Bloomington @ Boxcar books
This town, as it turns out, is damn near a satellite of the Crimethinc enterprise. Obviously CT is anonymous and no one person is specifically involved in the project but I heard Contradiction type pith during every conversation I had while I was in town. And the design eye of the town is superb! Additionally, every time I turned my head too quickly, I saw a CT gremlin racing out of sight, only leaving a trailing dreadlock or buttflap.
The humorous CT style prank played on me while I was there was a “social game” where I directed a story to a room full of the humans by way of what letter of the alphabet I ended my sentences with. Much Dune dorkery ensued and a good time was had by all… (no, really)
The Boxcar event was great. A full house (which was a bit of a surprise given that the event started at 9pm) and more pessimism than I usually hear from the fort anarchists. My time in Bloomington ended with a very funny drunken tirade on the beauty of Marx’s words (cough) and against anarchist hostility for the same.
I spent almost a week in Austin Texas. A swell town that needs no accolades from me to convince someone to check it out. My terror there only begun when I heard exactly how expensive the rent is there. Sacrebleu!
I’m writing this before the second day of the New Orleans Anarchist Bookfaire so my thoughts aren’t complete but suffice it to say that I have been pleasantly surprised at the sophistication and engagement of the New Orleans folk to the anarchies as I know it. A large number of people have been totally educated on our material and why we do what we do. Kind of (by which I mean totally) satisfying.
I was in NOLA in 2006 and the cloud of death and terror still hung in the air. I felt it and while I enjoyed my time here I was also, more or less, afraid of its touch. This time the town has romanced me more effectively. I do not exaggerate when I say that I would consider coming here for time (months or years) if I didn’t have a life in the Bay. Perhaps this will be my backup plan for when everything else goes to hell. There is something in the attitude here that I really would love to learn more about.
by aragorn in LBC
Suffice it to say I am very thankful to all my hosts. I hope I was entertaining and seemed as appreciative as I was…
Los Angeles – Public School
LA is a strange town. I wouldn’t be surprised if one could have a half dozen events here (with the right contacts) with entirely different people at each event. The town is so large and disconnected, that it’s hard to imagine it as one town at all.
My first event of the tour was organized by my oldest friends in LA. They fed me and are always filled with interesting stories to an extent that I didn’t even feel motivated to do my song and dance in addition to the completely pleasant afternoon I had…
But I did, to a small crowd, and it went fairly well. I’d say this crowd ended up being the most receptive to the presentation I prepared for the trip. The conversation was lively and much reminiscing resulted. I am not sure how much the people who weren’t part of the “old timers” crew got out of the discussion but it was a pretty lively discussion about anarchism in the 90s.
Flagstaff – Taala Hooghan
This was the smallest event so far (maybe tied with Milwaukee). Rather than talk about the event (which there isn’t much to say about) let me wax poetic about the Taala Hooghan space. There is a garden in the back, active free box in front, a working kitchen, recording studio, show venue, and living room with literature. This space, and more importantly the attitude of the providers of space, is amazing. If I lived in a non-urban place I would hope to make a place half as inviting and interesting as this was.
We are an Indigenous-established, community based and volunteer-run collective dedicated to creatively confronting and overcoming social and environmental injustices in the occupied territories of Flagstaff and surrounding areas. We are restoring and redefining knowledge and information in ways that will be meaningful to our communities. We offer access to independent media, the arts, skill building, and alternative education, with the goal of self-development as well as empowerment for youth and the greater community into action in favor of a more just and sustainable world.
Some of you may be interested in the fact that I did a long interview while I was here that should result in some TCN audio pieces and a long form interview.
Durango – Campus event
This was the largest group at any event but largely because a professor forced his class to attend the lecture.
This brings up an interesting point. As you will soon see I have more or less abandoned the lecture format for the rest of my trip but this event was the argument against doing as much. I’m not saying my lecture made sense to this, largely, not anarchist group, but if I were to get conversational or nonlinear (my usual approach) this audience would have gotten even less than they did by the presentation I did do.
It was interesting to see the fundamental lack of interest the audience had to the entirety of my conception of the world (with anarchy as the center of gravity). Obviously this held no appeal to people’s whose only relationship to the idea was the four weeks of college education they’d received on the topic which was largely historical. But I have very little relationship to 18-21 year olds who aren’t interested in anarchy and their lack of interest was a breath of cold air. They just don’t give a fuck.
After Durango I drove for a very long time. Don’t do what I did. I did get to visit the workspace of P&L Printing which was very impressive.
Minneapolis – http://minnehahafreespace.org/
This is where my presentation fell apart. I started my presentation while still a touch out of breath from moving all the book boxes around, loading the tables, and settling in that I didn’t really take a good temperature of the room. As a result I read them all wrong. I met the Minneapolis I’ve always kind of feared.
As far back as I’ve traveled the punk and anarchist land I’ve always avoided Minneapolis. Maybe it was some combination of how aesthetically unattractive I found Profane Existence and the leftist anarchist propaganda from there but it just seemed like a town I should avoid. My preconceptions were largely shown to be inaccurate 3 years ago when I finally made it to town for a bookfair but I didn’t really get exposed to the aspects of the town I would have found most unpleasant that time.
This time I attribute my discombobulated presentation, my flippant tone, and a total lack of getting “the vibe” of the members of the crowd to a harsh lesson in how not to communicate with a group of people. I think the people who stuck around after the event enjoyed our discussion more but I got some intense feedback during the event itself. Most unpleasant was the person who jumped on my thin, partial, statement of hostility towards “the personal is political” type politics into an accusation that I think abuse should be silenced… Here is more on that topic.
My takeaway is that my presentation isn’t nearly complete enough to share in a potentially hostile political climate without some work…
Milwaukee – http://centerstreetfreespace.noblogs.org/
Totally nice conversation with a small group of nice people. A certain person is gone from this town and the town is improved by their absence. Fish. Pond. Size.
Chicago – http://theribcage.net/
This was a surprising event. It really felt (15 minutes in) like it would just be a nice chat with some newish friends but instead turned into a long engaged set of interactions where no one seemed butthurt by my outrageousness and many people seemed transfixed and interested in the connections between our recent past and current condition of “second tween”. I was really happy with the tenor of this event and look forward to seeing if there are any positive results from it.
Challenges so far…
Presentation or not?
As I’ve already said… I’m not sure how much it makes sense to make a political type presentation when you know few of the people and less of the political context of the place you are presenting.
One of the first surprising things, especially in the context of infrastructure, is that one of my assumptions is challenged immediately. Should I be talking to people at all. My thinking is that there is a continental anarchist space but that is not the experience of the people in many/most of the towns. I assume that I, and my projects are in discussion with people in other towns. One lesson has been is that this isn’t necessarily the case. In most towns people consider themselves to be alone, alone to deal with the problems of their towns, and not in a network of conversations that I assume we are in.
For me this is important because I’d say I largely derive my inspiration from the scattered projects and interventions that happen around the continent rather than from the Bay Area in particular. Obviously there are interesting/good things happening here but they aren’t (usually) as brave or innovative as the actions people take when they have nothing left to lose.
On the one hand, I truly enjoy spending long periods of time alone but on the other these drives are turning out to be too long to do alone, and then unload the boxes, and then set up the table, and then be entertaining for 3-5 hours, and then break everything down.
Perhaps I’m getting too old for this?
by aragorn in LBC
LBC Presents – a conversation about Conflict Infrastructure
A speaking tour with a cart full of books!
In the 1990s the internecine conflict between (North American) anarchists was not red vs green or insurrectionary vs platformist, but those who believed that anarchists should develop infrastructure vs those who believed that anarchists should build a (national) organization. The debates raged but more than that people practiced this difference, something one could do day-to-day.
This conflict isn’t the main one today. By and large, anarchist practices that are day-to-day are dismissed by other anarchists for being charity (FNB for example), or sub-cultural (infoshops or show spaces). The valorized project is an occasional one, whether an insurrection or a bookfair: happening no more often than once a year in a specific location. The rest of the time is for waiting or writing or traveling to somewhere else.
In some ways this is entirely understandable. Paying rent on a space can easily become an onerous focus rather than a small byproduct of inspiration. Feeding people, giving away literature, and devoting energy to strangers is inspiring only to a specific kind of person and that kind of person isn’t exactly the revolutionary subject. (Quite the opposite in fact, since the kind of person who derives satisfaction from the work is usually not the subject of the work itself.) This criticism (of the anarchist project as a separation from anarchy itself) can be crippling and usually entails the most enthusiastic people leaving projects (and often leaving town) leaving the people who continue with the long term project work feeling like the host at a party when the cool kids depart.
Perhaps another approach is that of the role of the anarchist (in projects and in a broader social context). On the one hand the anarchist is an ephemeral character, anonymous and without a home in this world. On the other the anarchist is your neighbor and the human face of a possible world, one where personal responsibility and direct action aren’t opposites. Up till now these two faces of the anarchist have faced in different directions and one part of our question is how to reconcile them. Can the neighborhood anarchists embrace conflict? Can the exalted anarchist consider the germinations under foot?
We will talk about our experiments in conflict infrastructure and, if we are successful, re-transmit an old idea. For anarchism (by the name) to survive the new cold wind of this world, we have to build something to warm our bones. For the stories of anarchy (dramatic and small) to be told, there has to a circle of friends, comrades, lovers, and frenemies. Conflict is the left hand of anarchy but something like home is the right. Let us sit together and warm our hands on these topics.
September 30 Northern AZ
October 1 SW CO
2nd Denver CO
4th Somewhere between KC and Chicago
5th – 6th Chicago
7th – 11th Michigan
13th – 18th Texas
19th – 20th NOLA
23rd – 24th Phoenix AZ
by aragorn in LBC
This year we did this 10 week death march where we published eight new titles in about 10 weeks. We’ve gotten rather good at all the wrangling, negotiating, and logistics necessary to do such an amount of work but that doesn’t mean it comes free. In a capitalist economy there are always costs and with our project is costs are usually human costs.
So for at least three months I have been teetering on the edge of total burn out. I’m not giving enough positive reinforcement for the things I’m doing to make up for the drudgery and the dealing with jerks all the time. I’m not saying this is a plea for positive feedback. Far back in my head I know that LBC is doing interesting work. I feel like our timing is off, and there would’ve been more of an audience for this project if we started it two, or five, years earlier than we did, but it took a long time to figure out how to publish aggressively and inexpensively.
Some teetering on the edge of total burnout and now comes eight days of anarchy. On the one hand this is a great time of year, many friends come into town, I do get to have inspiring conversations nearly every day, but this year I learned what the limits of human capacity is. I’ve suspected for a few years that aging was going to catch up to me at some point and this is that point.
This is very frustrating for me because I strongly believe that this is a worthwhile project and this is the time to do more with it and not less. It also should go without saying I have a fantastic group of people who help make the LBC project possible. But it’s not enough. At least today, at least by the measure of my current capacity, at least when I am feeling lowest. Today the trolls and ennui make me question the context in which this project exists. The project is worthwhile but the milieu might not be. I don’t know. Ask me in a week. Maybe I’ll have changed my mind by then.
The logic of the ad hominem
In a humorous recent thread I was accused of being the scion of riches. It’s hard to tell if the commenter is an actual enemy, a frenemy (that glorious combination of friend when they see you and whatever when they don’t), or just an educated troll the accusation is very interesting.
On one hand we (at LBC) are criticized fairly frequently for being a capitalist project, charging too much for our books, and basically just sucking because we are legal and Bloom-esque. This is the other side of that criticism. This says that our problem is some sort of “bad faith” due to our familial resources. Take this a step further and the accusation is that if you come from bad (aka money) then what you produce, what you make, is bad.
This right here, this impossible choice between being judged for failure and judged for success, is why anarchists never grow old. Why would they? Even a modicum of success (which I wouldn’t even say we’ve achieved) gets strangers to authoritatively declare you whenever, why succeed? Spend a couple years being a rebel, take some scalps, and walk the fuck away cleanly.
I used to think a lot about the origins of the people who are around. What the demographic story was of our scene. What the class composition of the people around me were and how it was a predictor of future behavior. But it was all bullshit. There are valid reasons for everyone to walk away. Those of us who stay behind aren’t particularly noble. We are just stubborn.
If I were accused of something I was not 20 years ago I would be in the trenches right now. I would not stand for the truth to not be told. I would not put up with something being wrong. I laugh at that person today. Things are wrong on the place, and nicer people are accused of worse things all the time.
Now I just think of the consequences, or the environment in which ad hominem attacks are honestly substituted for critical thinking, conversation, or dare I say it relationships.
Stomping out ashes
I think it’s safe to say that we are now in a moment of decline for the anarchist space. This is not due to failure of the Beautiful Idea but the failure of our imagination today. Naturally we have the extreme disadvantage of having zero resources and an impossible project but that didn’t stop the makers of nightmares from bringing this world into being and it shouldn’t stop us.
I am known, probably fairly, for being a naysayer of many projects. I am always mentioning the but of them rather than the heart of them. But that is not how I really feel. I more or less accept the nihilist should be someone whose heart has been broken one time too many and if it hasn’t been then it’s probably a shallow nihilism indeed. Which is to say that I am hopeful for new beginnings and projects over time. I continue to be doubtful about that thing that I call activism or right answers or solutions but I’m more inclined to shut my mouth about them than ever before.
Occupy was a fresh beginning. Clearly it doesn’t take much in the American context but the taking of space was a big deal. None of the rest of it matters all that much in my opinion. The rest of it easily falls within the spectrum of what a new radical can expect: meetings, romances, boredom, and maybe a little smashy smashy. But the taking of space, as bleak and mediocre as that space was, current something mundane into something fantastic, something worth repeating (over and over), something to crave.
But in the bizarre world of addiction you can’t really trust your instincts. Once it’s taken away and you have to live with absence is as if it never happened at all. There was never a moment where everything seemed possible. It was always emptiness and lack. It was always like today.
So it’s a moment of decline and that raises the question of what’s next. The Occupy Generation is now here and it’s different than the post-Seattle generation, the punks, or the New(ish) Left. It’s getting up to speed on identity politics, insurrectionary rhetoric, and all of the required reading of the 21st century but probably will not care all that much about what came before. This generation has its own orbits and logic.
So what’s next has to address the oldness and the newness in equal measure and without fixating on past correct answers (which weren’t either). Sure it involves the Internet but also has to involve some way to connect with people on a personal level, without irony or sarcasm or snarkiness. This personal connection is a lot of what people experienced that sticks with them after the occupations were done and it’s the thing that is impossible to maintain without that face-to-face interaction.
It’s also the thing that is damn near impossible for my generation to do. Generation X damn near invented survival sarcasm and I can’t imagine going back even now I know it’s killing the anarchist space and all social space. This isn’t just an (self) accusation of hipsterism but an assessment that Occupy demonstrated a flaw in my generations approach. If we want to take the Beautiful Idea seriously we have to leave space for the new earnest people to find their own way. Our jaundiced view, based in too much experience, is preventing the wide-eyed future from coming.
And frankly I think that this lesson comes to late. I think that the decline in the anarchist space is our own fault, it’s related to these attitude problems and others, and is probably not repairable. Instead we would do as we’ve done several times before (in my 20 odd years of experience) which is do as we do and wait for a complete cycle of new people to come around and stake their claim in the space. Perhaps our generation, or the attitude of our generation, will weaken enough to let them in.
At some point I became exhausted with the process of making new friends. This is perhaps telling sign of aging but I no longer feel like the honeymoon period of a relationship is the most important one anymore. It used to be that the first three hours, three weeks, three months of a new person, getting to know them, to love them, to obsess about them was the ultimate social experience. This corresponded nicely with the fact that I ended up making a new set of friends every three months, seemingly whether I wanted to or not.
The first sign of change was not, surprisingly, that it became more difficult for me to find new friends. Even after my decline from the cute plateau (age 16-24) I was still able to find new people. All of a sudden though I was no longer capable of being completely interested in all the things that people do. I blame radical politics for this, especially radical theory. I was so obsessed by my own self-education and the truth that I was finding the deeper I went down the rabbit hole theory that people who did not share my particular obsessions stopped being particularly interesting to me. You cannot balance a hunger for newness along with an obsession for depth.
I spend the next five years learning and relearning this lesson. Then I planted my feet and went deeper and deeper and deeper.
I recently had a recent post-cute plateau person, who I’ve known for at least five years, remind me that when I first met them I told them that they basically don’t exist for me until they’ve been around for years. Basically they asked me if they existed to me now, full well knowing that they had existed for some time. Although probably not the way that they wish that they had.
Lesson one: pick a piece of ground and stay there. It more or less goes without saying that if you come to the long haul in 10 years on a Tuesday evening I will be there also. Obviously I understand why people don’t like long haul, don’t like the ASG, or don’t like crowds but I’ve made a choice. Until something traumatic happens (which is obviously possible) I will be at this singular place having conversations about the things that I love with strangers and other people who at that point I will have known for two decades.
Lesson two: find some good people. Obviously I hate good people so here what I’m getting at is that I have spent way too much time having stupid conversations about bands, movies, and other people. Finding people who are interesting, compelling, interested is a serious fucking challenge. Don’t take it lightly. Don’t worry about the fact that it will not happen easily or quickly. Don’t take it too hard that you may not be as interesting as they are. That happens over time and will never happen if you surround yourself with the mundane.
Lesson three: find a mentor. Mentors are not elder wizards who are going to teach you alchemical wisd from a huge volume of recipes. One mentor might teach you to love better. Another by the martial art or an approach to martial arts. Another might just have a great attitude towards life. These people are your future comrades in arms. They are going to show you how to connect to others with the same interests as yourself. They are going to show you the extent of their abilities and vision which damn well better inform your own.
Lesson four: have patience.
This is a very busy time for us. In three weeks we will begin our annual eight days of anarchy celebration. This is our chance to spend a series of days and evenings together conspiring, gossiping, and decompressing. I have more to say but it is closer to the events but it goes without saying that I will be happy to see everyone come and happy to see everyone go.
The last few months have been filled with what I’m calling the 10 week death march. Eight projects in 10 weeks. We are just about done with all of the projects so I will list them.
- Stirner’s critics
- defacing the currency – new writings by Bob Black
- between predicates, war: theses on contemporary struggle by the Institute for Experimental Freedom
- anvil number four
- The 2013 LBC catalog
- Anarchism and violence – Severino Di Giovanni in Argentina
- Feral Revolution
- let’s destroy work. let’s destroy the economy
Fuck. The volume of content just in this list is enough for a year of reading and engagement. I’m going back to sleep.
by aragorn in LBC
I* had an amazing year in 2012. So much so that the kind of perfectly normal winter induced funk that I seem to be in seems a little bit embarrassing. Here is a little bit about the year and a bit more about the future.
In 2011 I took a three month trip to Europe. Even though it was lonely and uncomfortable it was also life altering and inspiring. Prior to the trip I had been thinking more seriously about publishing. About how to do it in a more meaningful and affordable way and how to grow the umbrella project that a few of us were a part of. By about half way through the trip I had a pretty good idea what the plan was all that was left was implementation.
2012 was going to be a year about publishing. Publishing books. It took about 4 months to figure out what equipment to buy, how to use it, and what titles we were going to start the project with. By December 1st 2011 I knew that the first book we were going to put together was going to be by me and figured I knew what the first 3-4 titles of the year were.
In this write up I’m going to talk about the process of putting these books together, some nitty-gritty book production stuff, and perhaps wrap it up with some thoughts about why I feel more like a wrung out rag than a proud paterfamilias and why I go into 2013 with as more doubts than answers.
Here are the books we (LBC: Ardent, LBC Books, Repartee, GA, etc) will have officially publishing in 2012.
- Occupy Everything: Anarchists in the Occupation Movement 2009-2011 – edited by Aragorn!
- Queer Ultraviolence: An Anthology of Bash Back!
- Freedom: My Dream – The autobiography of Enrico Arrigoni
- Theory of Bloom – by Tiqqun
- Uncivilized: The best of Green Anarchy Magazine
- Crime Thought – by Alden Wood
- Treatise on Etiquette for the younger generations – Raoul Vaneigem
- Anarchy 101 – edited by dot matrix
- After Post-Anarchism – by Duane Rousselle
- Novatore – translations by Wolfi Landstreicher
- Anarchist International
Fuck. I am not sure how much I want to go into these books (beyond what I’ve already done in this blog) but perhaps I’ll do more of a crit/self-crit for your all’s amusement.
What we did right
The model worked. The idea of publishing anarchist material frequently (a book a month) seemed a little ridiculous this time last year. We had no idea what we were doing three months into 2012 and half these titles weren’t even sparkles in our eyes. The idea that to be doing this meant increasing the pressure, of our own capacity, of our relationships, of our processes, etc, was the right one.
If our desire was to live anarchy, as a vibrant, challenging, set of ideas and people, then publishing anarchist material (propaganda, biographies, theory, and collections) is a real way to do it. I would be hard pressed to think of much anarchist material that I am interested in that didn’t pass through our lens this year. I often say that there are two different kinds of anarchists. There are the ones whose anarchism ended in 1937 and want to try again harder and anarchists who were born in 1968. If we are a publisher of the second kind of anarchy then this year demonstrated (to me at least) that there are legs on this. I can’t wait to see where they take us next.
We didn’t taken the ankle-biting criticisms too seriously. Obviously there are a variety of real/not-real things that can be said about some of our choices (paper, indexes, covers, etc) and some times at the moment they are uttered they can really get me down but by-and-large I feel pretty good about balancing the criticisms we have received in terms of their heat rather than their smoke.
We didn’t burn too many bridges. Given how nasty our little world is I can definitely say that we built 3-4 times as many bridges as we burned this year. This was perhaps due to some maturity on our part but it also due to the fact that our project is primarily about delivering other people’s messages to the world. The effort we are spending is making things that are not financially viable but are meaningful to us and an expression of our friends (or comrades, as the case may be) has finally paid off. Obviously we aren’t perfect and are kind of jerks… but I can finally say with no irony that the work speaks for itself.
What we did wrong
We rely far too much on the milieu. I love the milieu** but it is too closed of a circle. Even as that circle has expanded (thanks Occupy!) it demonstrates all the weaknesses of self-definition. There is a ton to criticize in “the scene” but for us, as a project, we have to start reaching outside of our comfort zone. As to how to do that in a meaningful and long-view way… Good question!
Too many men. I am increasingly concerned that our project, especially as a publisher of anarchist books, has become a sausage party. We only have two books (although there are two anon titles and one multi-author collection) that aren’t duderific. I think this issue is going to take years to truly resolve but that one of our first steps is to pull back and think about what our goal is. If the goal is to embrace and publish the world of anarchist ideas then books have a ton of embedded problems. I have a critic who often lambasts me for my (seeming) embrace of the long form essay (which the book is obviously an even longer form) as being out of touch with the attention span of the modern human. Even though the criticism is also a ridiculous one (since I’m also fairly married to the web short form) there is a big question that seems right to me. Money is not our motivation. If chaos, or anarchy-wearing-chaos-formalwear, is our motivation how can we better transmit this? Somewhere in the answer to this question is also the answer to dude question.
We did not take enough risks. Being that we are self-funded (aka broke) we are also kind of bullet-proof in a way that other publishers are not. While it would be possible for someone to sue me into financial oblivion, I owe so much more than I have that it would probably be harder on them than me. More importantly it wouldn’t stop us from publishing! As a result of this we can, and should, be taking more risks, doing more illegal and inappropriate publishing projects. This year we published Treatise (an affordable version of Revolution of Everyday Life) and Words (a send up of the IAS’s Lexicon series) but this barely scraped the surface of what we should be doing. There are priests to be strangled by beauracratic entrails…
What is next
Books of course! In addition there is going to be a push into video (long and short form), music (?!), deeper web content, e-books, etc. 2013 is going to be a bit more focused on reaching outside of our safe(ish) space and into the cold, hard world that doesn’t care one bit about what we are thinking about. Anti-politics for the masses and shit.
Financially we have to figure out a way for more people to participate in the project. It is strange to think that this makes any sense at all (in the quid pro quo sense of the word) but becoming an accomplice of LBC means getting everything that we do (something like 25-30 projects in 2012) and supporting the fact that we are doing it. If we could cover our burn (rate, the amount we have to spend a month) with our accomplices it would go a long way towards making the project more (personally) sustainable.
I guess related to income is how connected this project is to a rich and fulfilling emotional life. While intellectually I couldn’t be happier I find that emotionally devoting so many hours of my day (and life) to this thing is exhausting. I am exhausted. I am exhausted by the bad faith and criticism-that-isn’t. I am exhausted by the frenemies. I am exhausted by the fact that I have made these choices and have no one to blame but myself. I am exhausted by blaming myself. 2013 is the year where I figure out how to convert some of the intellectually fulfilling aspects of this crazy thing called anarchy into something healthy.
Maybe I’ll just go back to Europe or something.
* I want to apologize for the use of I throughout this article (and in general). Often times I personify the LBC project even though there are a half a dozen people who are also as committed to the project as I am. I do this for a variety of reasons but to list them… a desire to not be or seem representational, a desire to take responsibility rather than hide behind an institution, because I’m the only one who tends towards writing about the project at all, because marketing is about people, because I am alienated from my individual desires and only have project desire now, because I’m fucked up.
** Obviously it is love and hate but if love is a decision about who you want to live and die with… I’m still here.
by aragorn in LBC
I am not writing very much right now. I wish I was.
I am so entirely mired in the day-to-day workflow of LBC that it has become nearly impossible to keep track of all the details or to look past them. I want to keep a record of this work (both types) though so I am going to try to do a monthly “report back” on the status of the project for your (and my) enjoyment.
I’ll talk about our setup and our February title to start this out…
I have been publishing stuff for a while now. I wrote my first pro-situ zine about twenty years ago now (wow) and it’s been about nine years since I started my involvement with Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed (and two since ending it). We published (as Ardent Press) our first book almost five years ago.
I guess I have decided that anarchist publishing is what I have decided I am going to do with my time and energy but how? On the basest level I have been concerned (to put it lightly) that with print dying that the publishing of anarchist material was going to lose all corporality. Obviously I am on top of that too but there is something not replaceable about print. Moreover the Internet has shown itself to be a poor mechanism to weaponizing ideas. It is great for the lulz and the information churn but it isn’t a place to geologically layer the knowledge, discussions, and style that forms awesome (aka peers).
Moreover the book we published in 2011 was expensive. So expensive that it made be very nervous about doing another like it. I believe it’ll make back the money spent on it over time but the lesson (perhaps wrong) I took away from that book is that obscure anarchist material will not sell well quickly led me to reconsider the project of anarchist publishing. Sidebar: While Enemies hasn’t been an incredible seller it has been an unqualified success on every other measure.
How do we publish interesting things (aggressively) while not losing our shirts (financially)? The short and long answer is that we bought the equipment to make future books (for about the cost of three Enemies). Obviously this wouldn’t have been possible if I didn’t work a shitty office job for three years but I did and it was. Add to the mix another member to the LBC team who was willing to “take ownership” (which refers to PRDM which I’ll talk about another time) of the LBC print shop and we were off to the races (figuratively).
On the plus side: We can now publish interesting things.
On the minus side: We are now operating a print shop in addition to trying to publish books.
Here are some details.
First Book – Occupy Everything
I am not going to go into too much detail about Occupy Everything: Anarchists in the Occupy Movement 2009-2011. I decided in early December to edit a book by the end of January. It was very challenging work to make something that was balanced and (I believe) will stand the test of time while being interesting to a non-anarchist audience.
The book did immediately vindicate the LBC printing project in that we made a variety of mistakes that we were able to repair in a short period of time. We can now practice iterative publishing and printing which makes me nearly giddy. It wasn’t until March that I feel I became a pro but January was the start of learning pre-press the hard way.
I should mention another thing? With the equipment in hand it is our intention to publish one anarchist* book a month in 2012 (and maybe beyond). Occupy Everything was the first book.
Second Book – Queer Ultraviolence: A Bash Back! Anthology
I’ll give more detail to this project because it was a monster.
Final page count: 430.
This includes over 250 pages of Communiques (a sizable portion being so insider as to be indecipherable outside of the particular people being talked about), 150 pages of theory, and a new introduction and conclusion. But the content (text on page) wasn’t the difficult part of this project. Everything else was.
In a moment of insanity I agreed to let the book be design heavy (designed by the same lunatic behind Politics is not a Banana) which meant a two sided color cover (With the gloss on the inside. More on this later.), color inserts, and a color timeline of events.
This turned out to be the easy part (or at least until we tried to bind a book to it) as the (outsourced) printer just treated the inside of the book (the glossy part) as the outside of the book.
Here is the matte outside cover (pretty, no?)
The real difficulty came when we tried to glue the book bloc to the cover. Glossy (inside) cover + paper = cover + paper (in a pile on the floor). Not good!
This means that we ended up having to sandpaper the inside spine of every single book we put together. Insane!
Here is an unlucky grinder of gloss
Another issue with the cover is that due to the aesthetics of the full color inside cover a simple crease on the corner of the book bloc would not do. We ended up having to do a special crease (I forget the term, but basically a hinge an 1/8th of an inch from the edge of the book corner) to preserve the inside image. This wasn’t as frustration (by a long shot) as the sandpapering.
You can see the inserts here (although they’ve changed to full color porn on the left side)
The inserts obviously make this book “more special” and pretty and whatnot but have added intensity to the production process. For starters they have to be manually inserting INTO the book bloc (prior to binding… obviously) but the more challenging (especially for the persnickity people) issue has been that the printing surface has been offset compared to the usual page because of the way that the “full bleed” and printing process plays out.
It is hard to visualize this but in our usual pre-press process we rotate and flip our text so that the paper cut that creates a binding surface ALSO is the hidden cut. This is good for aesthetics and paper conservation but not applicable to the color spreads (although it could be and perhaps will be on the next run).
Mostly the timeline was a requirement of the editing process (without it the pile of Communiques are harder to contextualize) but ended up being a bit of an albatross on the project. At some point (when we decided not to bind it to the book) I contemplated blowing it up to a more proper poster size, but that quickly passed (mostly because it wasn’t going to be wise $).
Doing stuff is hard
I’ll try to do this once a month, just to give people who are book/print nerds a little insight into our world. There are tons of topics to cover but obvious the QU:BB! book represents the high point of design, volume, and insanity. I doubt we’ll do another book nearly this crazy this year. Perhaps never.
I am not going to focus on big lessons or negatives because, basically, there aren’t any. I love anarchists, I love the creative process, and I want others to share in this love. I am getting to do very hard work to make more sharing possible. I hope this loving work makes the best weapons ever. I hope I live long enough to see these weapons used against those I hate.
Let me start with public matter that I should have attended to earlier. My big projects, the ones I was so cagey about all fall, have been announced. These include…
- The formation of a new publishing project LBC Books
- The announcement of three new books to be published by this new project (with 2 more to be announced, with dates, within the next week or so)
- One of those books is edited by me. It has already been released
Falling under the category of “no good deed goes unpunished” the announcement of the new book was met with scorn and dismissal (although not by anyone who wanted me to know their name). The fascinating part of this, for me, was a new line of attack. Aragorn! is too powerful and should stop doing things. Giving this the full benefit of the doubt (which I don’t) this criticism is long overdue. Anarchists have become lazy. I don’t blame AK Press or Crimethinc for producing all the literature that deserves to be read but the attitude that because nothing we can do is good then we should do nothing at all. Obviously most everything I do…
Quick Sidebar: It is absolutely ridiculous for me to say that “I” do anything at all. I can think of 3-10 people (and one in particular) who I absolutely depend on for every public project I do. I say “I” mostly because I feel like I have prepared myself for the slings and arrows and want to honor my accomplices privacy and different capacities. Not everyone wants to be called out on the Internet, or in stupid email chains, or on forums, etc…
return: Most everything I do is bad. Is corrupted by capitalism, alienation, and editorial control. I’d like to say that the authorial control I try to give people is enough, but of course it isn’t. I wrestle with demons with clear motivation. I believe that an anarchy worth my time is one vibrant, powerful, and bottled with genie(s). I believe this thing is worth making my time worth something so I trudge on.
I am touched by corruption and blow it off because thinking in terms of the sacred and the unholy is exactly the Christian problem that makes life unlivable. I despise Christians and the forces of boring, boring, life. I want to fight them all but my (and our) weapons are dull and rusty. We anarchists have not risen to greatness and have no one to blame but ourselves.
The transformation of the world by the productive forces was bound slowly to realise the material conditions of total emancipation, having first passed through the stage of the bourgeoisie. Today, when automation and cybernetics applied in a human way would permit the construction of the dream of masters and slaves of all time, there only exists a socially shapeless magma which blends in each individual paltry portions of master and slave. Yet it is from this reign of equivalent values that then new masters, the masters without slaves, will emerge.
Personal Stuff: The slurring of my speech seems to be getting a bit worse. As some of you may remember I had a few brain aneurysms a few years ago which have mostly left me none-the-worse-for-wear but does seem to have impacted my speech. It usually only happens when I’m tired, or under-caffeinated, or feeling blah but this past week the issue has noticeably worsened. It seems to be impacted by my choice of words. Certain vowel combinations or word choices and my lazy tongue keels over.
It is easy to get troubled by this. Along with my typing hand this is my main output into the world. Without it I will be misunderstood or perhaps worst, ignored. It is a wonderful irony that just as I am finding a voice, in the publishing sense of the word, I might also be losing it.