The New Orleans Review calls Harold Jaffe’s Revolutionary Brain “an accessible read that offers neither authoritative explanations nor easy resolutions to today’s problems of digital overload; instead, the book, by its own example, attempts to illustrate how art and activism can shock us out of complacency.” Read the entire review, here:
Harold Jaffe was recently interviewed by Joe Haske of Rampike Magazine. The following is to be published in September 2013:
Joe Haske: You refer to the texts in Revolutionary Brain as “essays and quasi-essays.” I’ve read some of these texts previously in various journals where you have referred to them as “docufiction.” Could you describe your take on genre distinctions? Why do you classify these texts as “essays and quasi-essays,” as opposed to fiction? How does genre and the mixing of genre inform the structure and style of the texts in this “essay” collection?
Harold Jaffe: Official culture is seemingly comprised of multiple discourses: news, sports talk, tech talk, political rhetoric, prayer breakfast talk, health talk, art talk, etc. In fact these are all blandishments, versions of entertainment for profit, intended to further insulate Americans from what remains of problematic real time.
Mimesis does not strictly mean photographing the time and place you inhabit. Nonetheless, we’re all fastened to our dying culture, and some of us at least feel compelled to inscribe it. In Revolutionary Brain I am aping official culture to plunder it. Hence, I interface ostensible genres, so that there is no hard and fast distinction between prose, verse, fiction, non-fiction, theory, everyday bullshitting; and I am montaging these seemingly different genres to tease out their ideological subtexts.
By montage I mean that I pile sometimes incongruous seeming images and tropes one upon the other as, say, Eisenstein does in Battleship Potemkin, or October, to mimic the hugger-mugger information overload in the culture; but like Eisenstein, my intention is dialectical, namely to dramatize the cultural transformation of so-called information and manifold discourse into entertainment for profit.
Readers and reviewers have asked questions about the lengthy porn site list which I title “Revolution Post-Mill.” With the triumph of technology, lists (or catalogs) are among our principal discourses. To verify, just scan any MSN site. The most obscure data are now recoverable, and with all of that condensed “information” the appearance is of substantiality. Of course it is just another version of entertainment-consumerism. You will observe a list on ESPN, such as how many Dominican baseball infielders younger than 26 eat a carne burrito between the seventh inning stretch and the top of the ninth. The list, appearing more than it is, takes 90 seconds, then comes a seven minute commercial break.
Revolutionary Brain is filled with lists and partial lists and catalogs. Note Animals, Weep, Iso, Crisis Art.
But the porn site list, much of which I “treat”, works especially in contrast to the opening “list” of humans on death row in Texas permitted 3 minutes to recite their last words then be executed. Each of these lists is officially prohibited, except that the porn list is prohibited deliberately to be trespassed. With young people sexing (then “sexting”) they are in effect insulated from doing much else, which is what official culture wants, even as it condemns the enormous multi-billion dollar pornography industry.
JH: You begin Revolutionary Brain with one of those lists, “Death in Texas” and conclude with the other, the pornography list, “Revolution Post Mill.” You have frequently explored the concept of eros/thanatos or thanatos/eros in your work, so one might infer that something similar is at play with the placement of these two texts in Revolutionary Brain. By ending with “Revolutionary Post Mill,” an eros of sorts, are you conveying ironic optimism? A sincere optimism? Is our society/culture worth salvaging? What is the revolution you propose through the juxtaposition of the various types of discourse you assemble in Revolutionary Brain?
HJ: The literal ending of the volume is not “Revolution Post-Mill” but the third brief “Things to Do,” this one featuring Joseph Roth’s enunciation” The world worth living in is doomed. The world that will follow deserves no decent inhabitants.”
The contrast between “Death in Texas” and “Revolution Post-Mill” is meant to exemplify the degradation of ethical dissent. Online pornography, like sex-selling commercials, is alleged to be taboo, but is actually there for our delectation. As I write above: With young people having bionic sex they are in effect insulated from doing much else; this is what official culture wants, even as it nominally condemns pornography, which is sponsored in good part by the corporate sector. Like Nazis, sharks, crocodiles, and serial killers, online porn sites are condemned even as they are consumed.
On the other hand, the dissent of the poor is nipped at the bud, with the three minutes the Mexican-American and African-American inmates are given to utter their last words on death row in Texas. What the inmates end up saying is anything but trivial, but naturally they will be unheard. I’ve given them the right to become visible and speak.
The culture-consumption porn sites also function as another venue to smuggle racism and sexism into the public forum, disguised as erotic ecstasies. I’ve “treated” the porn site listings so that they are manically rhythmic, exhibiting a kind of lurid elegance.
I am attempting to represent revolution’s public misrepresentations. With the world perishing from global warming a new and improved institutional ruthlessness has been loosed. We see it in the genocidal wars, one after another, and in the “extraordinary rendition” (torture) camps spread throughout the globe. We see it in the unapologetic avarice and cruelty of “public servants.” We see it in the scapegoating of Muslims. We see it in the militarization of urban space, so that peaceful protesters are pushed far away from their righteous target, then ignored or lied about in the corporate media.
It could be that a somewhat different approach to ethical dissent and revolution are necessary. What the lineaments of this response will be is not yet clear; though the online interventions by Anonymous and other dissident groups that employ advanced technology have made some impact. Anony-mous has devised an up-to-the-nanosecond tactic to expropriate the expropriators, but one imagines that most of the Anonymous infidels are young, even very young, so it is difficult to predict its outcome.
JH: Given the historically significant role of literature in prompting social change, do you believe that contemporary literature will ultimately yield progress in a “culture of ten-year-olds,” as one voice refers to our society in your text, “Animals?” What is the potential of literature for inciting revolution in a time when the masses are primarily influenced by visual effect and digital media? Is art itself in crisis, in danger of extinction, when official culture is trending toward the “practical” in mainstream culture and in our educational system?
HJ: The distinction between serious and frivolous art has been eroded. Read aloud a passage from Yeats then a passage from some contemporary versifier and many Americans will prefer the versifier. A similar erosion has taken place in visual art, music, and film. Art, where it is considered at all, is defined otherwise than it was. “Intellectual” to many people signifies adroitness in technology, with little or nothing to do with art, philosophy, history, language, etc.
Serious art, which has always existed at the margins of American culture, has lost its charge. Disheartening but inevitable given the devolution we are living through. I prefer to think of art-making in the Buddhist sense of “right occupation.” If you are an artist, you create. What happens to your art is almost entirely out of your hands. Social activist art wants at the very least to bear witness. Like secreting a poetic message into a bottle during a tsunami on a used-up planet.
JH: In your essay, “Crisis Art,” someone remarks that “crisis art has an energy and focus which more than compensate for its relative lack of refinement.” Do you agree with this sentiment? Does activism always trump esthetics? If so, to what extent? Your work is certainly layered: philosophically complex, linguistically nuanced and ripe with figurative possibilities, despite the relative accessibility of its diction. The texts in this collection go beyond a mere journalistic approach to your activism, wouldn’t you say?
HJ:. In “Crisis Art” I was anticipating the usual interrogation of socially activist art, namely that it is dependent on a proximate cause, without which it will cease to vibrate. My response is that the vibration may continue even as the proximate cause fades because of the urgency, passion and in certain instances collective energy of the art in question. Think of Act Up’s response to the AIDS crisis in which institutional culture was cruelly and ignorantly demonizing all homosexual men in the mid 80s and early 90s. Act Up and its artistic wing, Gran Fury, fought back with posters, flyers, installations, physical interventions, and art folios such as the remarkable Quilt Project. Fifty years after, this is art-making that will be looked at differently but will still retain its charge to a considerable degree. The same applies to other socially active responses, such as the posters (affiches) created by French students during May’ 68. I have a collection of them which I occasionally display to friends. They were created mostly by youthful amateurs, but the collective urgency and empowered esthetics remain alive and vibrant.
JH: One aspect of your work that proves consistently impressive is your transition between texts. How does one subject lead to another in this book? And can you tell us more about the volume design of Revolutionary Brain and explain the thought process behind the book’s general organization?
HJ: As I mention, I mean to ape culture’s hugger-mugger info excess designed to insulate humans from bleak real time while reducing virtually every datum to yet another profit-particle of the entertainment industry. The texts in Revolutionary Brain are fluid and here and there repetitive so that the reader isn’t always quite sure what s/he is reading or why, except that it is part of the volume.
The six very brief texts I set between the 13 primary texts are sometimes only obliquely related so that the interested reader is compelled to stretch. The epigraph to the volume from Julia Kristeva is “as abject—so the sacred,” and through one stratagem or another I attempt to give voice to the objectified, the vilified, the made-invisible, both in the primary and brief texts. That is, my montages (as I call them) ape culture’s manic blandishments-for-profit but turn it on its head. I write above that my intention is dialectical, namely to dramatize the cultural transformation of endless “information” and reputedly serious discourse into entertainment-consumerism. Elsewhere I’ve written that I swallow the poison to expel it as interrogation, interrogative art.
As I mention re my pornographic “discourse,” there is always in Revolutionary Brain an esthetic component which attempts to structure the chaos, even if the esthetic is deliberately manic or dissonant or, what I like to think of (after GM Hopkins) as a kind of sprung rhythm
My single-sentence paragraphs work similarly. Sometimes they read like prose narrative, other times like interrogation, still other times like a species of verse or drama or cultural theory. The single sentences give me the leverage to veer widely and zap the reader with a counter-official culture discourse. The ideal of course is to shock the reader into recognition, or, if not that, just to shock. Anything to get past the sheepish numbness that characterizes our “global village” at this watershed in planet earth’s history.
And when the indentured creature finally emits its baaa, I want it to be loud and listened to, even heard.
It is reported that the world’s second tallest man, 7-foot-9 inches, has saved the life of a nearly extinct baiji dolphin in China by reaching deep into the stomach of a sick female baiji to extract several fragments of Styrofoam.
The sickened dolphin washed ashore near the Yangtse port city of Wuhan.
The first tallest man in the world, said to be Japanese and nearly 8-foot in height, reportedly refused to take part in the procedure.
The exceedingly rare white baiji dolphin, a freshwater sea mammal with a long, narrow, slightly upturned beak, has enraptured the Chinese people who have named her Chenguang, which translates to morning light.
Shy and almost blind, the baiji dates back 20 million years.
It is estimated that no more than half a dozen individuals remain alive in Chinese waters.
None has survived in captivity.
Once fully recovered, Chenguang will be released into the Yangtse River under close supervision with the hope that she finds a mate with which to reproduce and thus help prevent the species from becoming extinct.
At a hospital-aquarium in Wuhan, physicians failed to remove the Styrofoam in Chenguang’s stomach with surgical instruments because the embedded fragments could not be grasped with the certainty of not further harming the baiji, an unusually large specimen, nearly 8-and-a-half feet in length.
The arms of ordinary Chinese were simply too short to reach through the dolphin’s throat into her stomach
Bao Xishun, 52, a 7-foot-9-inch herdsman who is listed in the Guinness world records as the world’s second tallest human, was summoned from the nearby Chinese region of Inner Mongolia.
The official summons came after the 8-foot Japanese, unnamed but reportedly living in Hiroshima, refused the initial summons to try and save the sickened, nearly extinct dolphin.
No reason was offered for the Japanese giant’s refusal, although the Chinese and Japanese are long-term adversaries, and the speculation in China was that the Japanese government ordered the 8-foot Japanese to reject the summons.
The Japanese government has refused to comment publicly on the subject.
What would the Chinese have done were Bao Xishun made unavailable?
They would have summoned the now-retired world-famous basketball player Yao Ming from the Houston Rockets in the USA; Yao is listed at 7-foot-6 inches.
In a surgical procedure shown and re-shown on Chinese nationwide television to the largest number of TV viewers recorded anywhere, not just in China, six technicians carefully restrained the sedated dolphin while Bao Xishun slid his latex-enclosed 44-inch long arm down her throat into her stomach to extract five irregular sized fragments of Styrofoam.
It was a delicate procedure for such a large man, especially since the dolphin was sedated rather than anesthetized. In the baiji’s weakened condition there was fear that anesthesia might kill her.
Wuhan aquarium authorities declared the procedure an unqualified
success. In gratitude, the Chinese government presented the 7-foot-9-inch Bao Xishun with a “valuable gift,” which however was unspecified.
According to Chinese news agencies, Chenguang is recovering on schedule and swimming in the Wuhan aquarium. It was not yet determined when she would be released into the Yangtse River.
Were the surgical procedure a failure, relations between China and Japan, aggrieved as they are, would have rapidly worsened, possibly to the point of violent aggression.
Is it possible that the death of a severely endangered dolphin could devolve into an actual war between China and Japan?
Remember “Remember the Maine”?
Remember the Archduke Franz Ferdinand?
Remember the “terrorist” assaults of 9/11 provoking an American war against the wrong countries?
It is entirely possible that the death of Chenguang, the beloved, sickened baiji dolphin, would constitute a casus belli.
Current matters aside, The Japanese have been criticized worldwide for their relentless whale hunting, in the process of which they have not only slaughtered whales but dolphins.
For their part, the Japanese have accused the Chinese of disregarding environmental safeguards on land and sea as they zealously set about their metamorphosis from primitive communist totalitarianism to elite techno-industrial player in the global empire.
According to Japan, China’s hell-bent industrialization has not only damaged the environment, possibly irreparably, it has trampled on the most basic human rights, as demonstrated in its criminal annexation of Tibet.
As the official Japanese response phrased it: Lhasa, Tibet’s capital, now resembles any other high-elevation Chinese city rather than the sanctified mountain kingdom it had been for centuries.
The Chinese GDP (Gross Domestic Product) has overtaken both Japan and the United States to become the highest in the world.
Most wealthy industrialized countries wish to maintain at least an illusion of wilderness; hence, the prevailing theory of the Chinese obsession with the sickened baiji dolphin whom they themselves have made virtually extinct.
It is rather like hanging a multi-million dollar Van Gogh in, say, Mobil Oil’s corporate boardroom.
Question: Once the globe–every particle, in and out of consciousness–is colonized, would a robotic, sickened, female baiji dolphin provide the cachet of a “natural,” sickened, female baiji dolphin?
Officially, the answer would be a resounding yes.
An Austrian teenager held captive for eight years in a dungeon-like room on the outskirts of Vienna says her captor, Wolfgang Priklopil, was part of her life and “in a certain way” she mourned his suicide.
Eighteen-year-old Krista Ludwig is reported to have wept inconsolably when told that Priklopil killed himself.
After Krista Ludwig made her escape on Wednesday, Priklopil, 44, threw himself under a commercial train traveling east to Bucharest. The train was delivering electronic hardware and pigs for slaughter.
Krista Ludwig said she sympathized with Priklopil’s 89-year-old mother and planned to telephone her. (Priklopil’s mother is suffering
from dementia and subsists in a nursing home near Graz, the “second city” of Austria, where the steroidal, gap-toothed governor-action star of California, Schwarzenegger, was birthed).
Krista Ludwig, said to be pale and trembling and to weigh just 42kg, less than she did as a 10-year-old, managed to flee her abductor after he sidled away to take a call on his mobile phone as she vacuumed his car, a 2003 white Audi sedan, in the driveway of the abduct house.
The time was three-fourteen pm, on a Wednesday, precisely eight years to the day and very close to the precise time that she had been kidnapped on her way to school.
Did Krista Ludwig realize it was exactly eight years to the day and hour since she was taken captive?
Why then did she choose that very moment to attempt to escape?
“I was ready to leave so I left.”
Now 18, Krista Ludwig insists that communications technician Wolfgang Priklopil had not robbed her of her childhood.
“I don’t have the feeling I missed something important. As far as I can see, children are robbed of their childhood one way or another.”
Krista Ludwig said her lengthy abduction actually spared her bad habits such as smoking, drinking to excess, injecting heroin or speed, snorting cocaine, playing video games, and having “false friends”.
What was a typical day like with Wolfgang Priklopil?
Between 7:30 and 8:00 a.m., Krista Ludwig and her abductor, who usually did not go to work, she said, would have breakfast, a sweet roll and coffee with heavy cream, or schlag.
The rest of the day Krista Ludwig would spend doing housework, reading, talking, cooking.
“That was it for years. Everything tied to the fear of being alone.”
If she was fearful of being alone why didn’t she attempt to escape sooner?
“It would be the same somewhere else.”
Nor was it clear from Krista Ludwig’s statement whether by “housework,” she referred to working in her room or elsewhere
in the large ramshackle house.
What did she and her abductor talk about?
“Different things. I am not prepared to go into details.”
What did she read?
“Greek and Nordic myths, anthropology. The great god Zeus abducted virgins.”
Was Wolfgang Priklopil a version of Zeus?
“No. He was not my lord and master. I was just as strong. Perhaps stronger.”
She used an Austrian expression to indicate that at times Priklopil treated her tenderly, but at other times cruelly.
“He carried me in his arms but also trampled me underfoot.”
Investigators have been trying to determine whether Priklopil had an accomplice, based on a 14-year-old boy’s account at the time of the kidnapping that he saw two men drag young Krista Ludwig into a white Mercedes van.
But Krista Ludwig insisted that Prikopil acted alone. Moreover there was a later report that the 14-year-old boy was hyped up on
coffee with schlag when he gave his account.
Priklopil “carried out the kidnapping himself. Everything was prepared,” Krista Ludwig said, adding that they then “decorated” her room together.
Photos released by police show the underground hiding place in Prikopil’s gabled, two-story wood house in Strasshof village outside Vienna, where he kept young Krista Ludwig: a small, cluttered, windowless room with washbasin, “squat toilet,” cot, cupboards and narrow concrete stairs leading up to a trapdoor.
No “decorations” are visible.
Because blueprints to the house were unavailable, investigators could not say for certain whether there were any other hidden compartments, dungeons or cells.
In her statement, read by flamboyant Viennese psychoanalyst Max Friedrich, who has been “treating” her, Krista Ludwig urged the
media to respect her privacy.
“Everyone wants to ask intimate questions, but they don’t concern anyone,” she said via Max Friedrich.
She felt well, she said via Max Friedrich, if “maybe a bit
patronized” at the location where she was currently held, and she
appealed for more respect from the media.
The location was described by police as a secure institutional space with “carers” under the supervision of Max Friedrich.
Max Friedrich, with his unruly leonine grey head, wraparound mirror shades, corncob pipe, and unsteady, stiff-legged gait, cautioned the media to show restraint, insisting Krista Ludwig was severely traumatized and the intense media coverage was capable of victimizing her all over again.
Krista Ludwig’s parents, who separated after her abduction eight years before, complained that they had not been told where she was being held.
“Why can I not see my child?,” her mother, Birgit Dieskau, pleaded in a Sunday supplement newspaper interview
Max Friedrich confirmed that Krista Ludwig did not wish to see her parents again after their brief reunion. “Nor is that unusual under these extraordinary circumstances.”
Regarding what actually transpired between Krista Ludwig and
her middle-aged abductor beyond the housecleaning, unspecified
conversation, and consumption of sweet rolls and coffee mit schlag, the young woman refused to say.
After spending the first years locked in the dungeon-like room, which Priklopil had furnished with toys, books, magazines, and chewing gum, but neither television nor computer, Krista Ludwig was, she confided, via Max Friedrich, allowed to make occasional, brief, unaccompanied outings to the village.
Police are trying to determine if Krista Ludwig had a sexual relationship with her captor. And if so, the nature of the sexuality. If it was sadomasochistic, as suspected, then how far did it go, and were the roles steadfast or did they alternate?
She said, “Perhaps I will tell Dr. Friedrich one day or someone else. Perhaps I will never tell. The intimacy only belongs to me.”
A police photo of kidnap suspect Wolfgang Priklopil was presented at a news conference in Vienna. Smooth face with arched brows, a widow’s peak, and a small fleshy mouth, he bore some resemblance to the pious, silver-tongued former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Meanwhile it has been confirmed that Wolfgang Priklopil (what remained of him after he threw himself under the train) was buried secretly under a false name. The secret burial was to deter vandals, officials explained.
There were just two mourners not including Krista Ludwig. She paid her respects alone at the morgue the day before the burial and lit a single candle. Only Priklopil’s mother (severely demented and in a wheelchair) and a former business partner’s sister, “legally blind,” were at the unspecified gravesite.
The ceremony lasted seven minutes, Austrian radio said. No priest was in attendance and nine-and-a-half policemen stood guard.
According to Max Friedrich’s diagnosis, Krista Ludwig suffered from Stockholm Syndrome, a psychological condition in which long-held captives begin to identify with their captors.
The American heiress Patty Hearst was arguably the most famous contemporary example of Stockholm Syndrome after her kidnapping by the Symbionese Liberation Army in the early ‘70s.
After extensive cosmetic surgery and long hours of psychological debriefing, Hearst recovered and resumed her life as a self-consumed billionaire heiress.
Police Major General Gerhard Haeckel, of the Federal Criminal Investigations Bureau, said investigators are continuing to follow up on “every lead” in the case, which until last week was Austria’s second greatest mystery.
The greatest Austrian mystery of course is how a homely, ill-educated vegetarian dog-lover with a comical Chaplain mustache became the most charismatic genocider of the 20th century.