The following review is to appear in the Romanian literary journal, Alecart:
Neuronic Revolutions: Harold Jaffe’s Revolutionary Brain
(Liana Vrajitoru Andreasen)
Have you ever wondered what foments in the brain of a revolutionary, what genetic mechanism or extra-circuits keep guard against the apathy and carelessness that numb our neurons? The newly-published book by Harold Jaffe, Revolutionary Brain, suggests a few possible answers. In part shocking, as history also tends to be, in part a meditation, this collection of poems/essays/fiction is a revelation with a fresh taste of revolution, an unveiling of the present moment in the form of active art, reflective art, “crisis art.” Many of the live frames that he captures with something akin to a director’s eye are those moments that move fast past us, barely noticed by the world’s population preoccupied with the illusory elixir of consumerism. Jaffe’s book freezes in amber the moment of “crisis” – and I am not referring here to the most obvious events of recent history, but the subtle writhing of the souls that refuse to be complacent, deviants going in circles in the labyrinth of a stratified society, fists shaken at the sky, or at our contemporary world. All of these are ephemeral pearls of the new millennium, which the writer gathers carefully before they turn to sand. He purposely breaks with tradition, precisely to capture that neuron that doesn’t conform, doesn’t let itself be multiplied and defined, so that in the end it’s hard to explain to what genre to attach his lists, news reports, dialogues and sparks of humanity that come to light from the apocalyptic jungle of a world in decay, as much in danger as the glaciers that are disappearing before our very eyes. The writer forces us to confront the demons of complacency that are crushing our creativity in favor of consumer entertainment.
The revolutionary brain is not only a metaphor for anti-complacency. In the text “Revolutionary Brain,” Jaffe invokes a little known fact, that after the death of certain leaders of the radical German group Red Army Faction, their brains disappeared and were said to have been stolen by scientists and examined in Frankfurt laboratories. We read: “According to the pathologist, Meinhof’s 1962 brain surgery in which a benign lesion was excised generated her transformation from a talented, ambitious journalist to co-founder and intellectual leader of the revolutionary Red Army Faction” (117).
Many of the volume’s texts are manipulated news that, without the writer’s ideas and aesthetical perspective, would otherwise disappear from the public conscience without a trace, without a moral that future generations can derive knowledge from. In a dialogue with a formerly homeless person, Dewey Birdsong, we find out that spirituality is not reserved only for the privileged. This homeless man built with his own hand a mountain that he named “Salvation Mountain,” and when the mountain was declared an object of art and started to bring him money, Dewey used that money for his project, so that the mountain (still growing) is now unique in the entire world. Dewey confesses:
At first when someone even mentioned me being an artist I’d correct’em.
No, no, that ain’t me.
But then it happened so often I got to feeling I should feel good about it.
Shoot, I don’t care what people call it.
If they want to push the mountain as art, boy, I’m glad you like that artwork. [laughs]
Just so “God is Love” is up there and folks can come and draw their own conclusions.
In one of the shocking, intriguing “lists” from Revolutionary Brain, the voices of people about to be executed rise from the pages as if they were still alive, asking us to understand them, to listen to them:
Date of execution: January 16, 2002
Offender: Horace Allen #987225
Members of Mrs. Lackey’s family, like I said, I take responsibility for the death of your daughter in 1989.
I am deeply sorry for the loss of your beloved daughter.
I am a human being also, I know how it feels.
I cannot explain and can’t give you no answers.
I can give you just one thing.
I’m’a give a life for a life.
I am not saying this to be facetious.
I hope yawl find comfort in my execution.
As for me, I am happy, that is why you see me smiling.
I am glad to be leaving this world.
I am going to a better place.
I have made peace with God, I am born again.
I hope you get over any malice or hatred you feel.
God bless yawl.
This list, placed at the beginning of the book, contrasts with a list of pornographic sites toward the end of the volume, one that exemplifies the obsession with death, the return of the longing for death that consumer society tries in vain to shield us from. The artist has the obligation to record even these throes of the immoral soul in search for water on an empty, deserted earth. More than that, the artist is not only a man, but a creature of the planet, just like a rabbit that screams in agony, an elephant about to vanish from the earth, or a whale on whose body we placed a “delete” button. The writer explains this preoccupation for subjects that others would exclude from the realm of art:
Art that responds to a crisis is situational, hence created rapidly rather than painstakingly revised and refined.
Crisis art is directed rather than disinterested; more closely related to art as process than product.
Crisis art is keenly aware of text and context.
Crisis art often works best collaboratively.
Polemical, refusing to hide in plain sight, Jaffe is a voice that means to be subversive, but at the same time it is full of humanity. It is a voice of confluences, neuronic short-circuits between the internal and the external, between global and spiritual spaces.
Liana Andreasen grew up in Romania and came to the US for more “learnin’.” Her steps took her to Maryland for an MA and New York State for a PhD. Since “way leads on to way” as Frost says, she journeyed on and reached South Texas. Mainly interested in modernist fiction and poststructuralist theory, she published articles in journals such as The CEA Critic and Quarterly Review of Film and Video, and a few short stories. She co-manages STC’s Interstice