Category Archives: Reading

May 1st Reading

hjaffeAuthor Harold Jaffe will read from his work on May 1 at 7 p.m. in Room LL430 of the SDSU Library as part of the Spring 2013 Hugh C. Hyde Living Writers Series. The event is free and open to all.

Jaffe is a professor of English and Comparative Literature at SDSU and the author of 20 volumes of fiction, docufiction, and nonfiction, including Paris 60, Anti-Twitter, Induced Coma, Jesus Coyote, Beyond the Techno-Cave, Terror-Dot-Gov, 15 Serial Killers, False Positive, and his most recent, OD and Revolutionary Brain.  He is the editor of Fiction International.

For more information, contact Meagan Marshall at marshall_Meagan@yahoo.com. Additional information can be found on Facebook by “liking” The Living Writers Series. This event is cosponsored by SDSU’s National Center for the Study of Children’s Literature.

Larry Fondation on “Revolutionary Brain”

Larry Fondation’s insightful review will appear in Black Scat Review #3 in June.

Revolutionary Brain

By Harold Jaffe

    The end of a life is always the end of a life.  Even bad guys were once swaddling babes.  Since 1976, the State of Texas has executed 493 people – not all of them bad, or even guilty.  But bad is not the point.  “Thou shall not kill.”  The State kills.  In cold blood.

    In his latest book, Revolutionary Brain, Harold Jaffe fires an opening salvo – and indeed it is a rocket shot – with a text called “Death in Texas.”  Jaffe quotes the last words of 15 executed inmates.  The 16th murdered prisoner, Jimmy Blackmon, refuses to speak.

    In fiction, non-fiction and docu-fiction, Jaffe has taken on aspects of our society before – celebrity, serial killers, violence, addiction.  Now he is taking aim at the entire contemporary culture.

    We live in a time of radical disjuncture, discontinuity and disruption.  Social media and, especially the Smart Phone, have created the Instant Society.  Conversations are disrupted by the beep of an incoming text message.  Wonder what movie won the Best Picture Oscar in 1983?  You can look it up – right away!  Power is concentrated, but farther away than ever – even recalling Steinbeck’s famous line near the beginning of Grapes of Wrath:  “Well, who do I shoot then?”

    The sound of the last century was the clang of machinery; the sound of this one is the ever-present beep.

    We have lost our ability to relate and engage.  The result is greater marginalization – more distance, not less – and a focus on trivia and entertainment, yielding a further rupture of meaning.

    Nothing matters more than info-tainment – not our friends, not politics, not the planet.

    Jaffe faces the onslaught – our “hugger-mugger” culture, as he calls it.

    “Truth-Force” opens with an interrogation about whether to execute a torturer or release him, and it ends with a recitation of ten repeating “couplets:”  “Avert your eyes.  Don’t avert your eyes.”

    Several lists of “Things to Do” include taking a bath while on Ecstasy; drinking cognac; and, collecting female hair from airline baggage, then encoding your fantasies on your Smart Phone.

    “Pet Girl’ mimes an internet-style news item in which a girl on a leash held by her boyfriend is kicked off a London bus for being a “freak.”  She concludes by saying what she does “isn’t hurting anyone.”  The bus company issues an apology.

    It’s the way Jaffe cants and assembles the pieces that packs the power.  It’s Julia Kristeva’s “abjection,” with an even further twist.  Our empathy is pulled towards justice – but through shock and mud.  And more than a small part of the shock is simply how quotidian shock has become in the age of “entertainment for profit,” as Jaffe describes in an interview with novelist Joe Haske.

    Jaffe’s response employs a montage technique.  (Indeed he treats Andrei Tarkovsky and James Whale in the volume.)  What he achieves is a kind of postmodern Plato’s Cave.  Jaffe re-orders false reality; he then re-layers reality so we actually see it.

    An archetypical Jaffe inversion occurs in his piece “Freeze-Dry:”

    “Doctors are attempting to freeze-dry a severely disabled girl, 9-years old, to keep her child-size at her parents’ request.  Born with static encephalopathy, she can’t walk or talk, and has the mental capacity of a month-old infant.

    “Watch the child twist her mouth grotesquely and emit animal noises:   [Video]”

    Of course, there is no video; it is a book.  The reader is left to ponder this crazy conundrum.  Above all, Harold Jaffe makes you think.

    Los Angles-based artist, Guillermo Bert had a recent exhibition, called “Encoded Textiles,” at the Pasadena Museum of California Art (PMCA).  Bert traveled to his native Chile, and collected traditional stories there from native peoples.  Then, using special software, the artist translated their stories into barcode patterns, which were woven into textiles by indigenous weavers.  The results appear strikingly similar to the patterns and forms of historical Native American weavings.  Bert turns the symbol of price, of commodity, into story.  The effect is powerful.

    Though dissimilar in its deployment of technology, the project struck me as similar in vein to Jaffe’s:  to use formal innovation to turn technology against itself in the service of genuine story and real meaning.

    Similar to digesting visual art, Jaffe’s book forces us to see anew.  As in the plastic arts also, Jaffe uses form to serve content, and vice versa.  The “essays and quasi-essays” in the book vary from a few lines to 12-page pieces; from do-lists to interviews; from Q&A to exposition.  In each case, Jaffe adjusts the form precisely to match the social and aesthetic purpose – eye-opening in every case.

    Revolutionary Brain does not content itself solely with cultural critique; it also moves towards prescription.

    Perhaps my favorite text, while not prescriptive per se, is the title piece.  Jaffe describes the authorities’ removal of the brains of the three top leaders of the revolutionary German group, the Red Army Faction (RAF).    All three allegedly committed suicide in German prisons in 1976 and 1977.  The RAF, also know as the Baader-Meinhof Gang, fractured post-WWII European capitalist hype with a series of bombings and kidnappings of industrialists – parallel to, but more dramatic than, the Weather Underground in the United States.  The radical German group spoke of “Nazi capitalism” — an eerie echo in these times of record inequality between rich and poor.

    Elsewhere and throughout the book, Jaffe advocates engaged art and animated activism.

    “Crisis Art” begins with a quote from Woody Guthrie:  “This guitar kills fascists.”  Jaffe then points to a number of artist-activists – Chilean women making protest tapestries to depict the harsh brutality of the Pinochet regime; a Thai artist who set up temporary food and shelter spaces for the homeless; Welsh women setting up a “peace Camp” to demonstrate against nuclear weapons.

    The piece concludes with an imperative for artists and non-artists alike:  “The primary obligation is not to avert your eyes; to bear witness.”

    Perhaps with Harold Jaffe bearing witness to our times, we may be able to hear the screams above the constant din of our century’s seminal beep.

***

Larry Fondation is the author of the novels Angry Nights and Fish, Soap and Bonds, and of Common Criminals, a collection of short stories. His fiction focuses on the Los Angeles underbelly. His two most recent books feature collaborations with artist Kate Ruth.

Fondation has lived in LA since the 1980s and worked for fifteen years as an organizer in South Central Los Angeles, Compton, and East LA. His fiction and non-fiction has appeared in a range of diverse publications including Flaunt (where he is Special Correspondent), Fiction International, Quarterly West, the Los Angeles Times and the Harvard Business Review. He is a recipient of a 2008-09 Christopher Isherwood Fellowship in Fiction Writing

SACRED ABJECTIONS

Revolutionary Brain

Revolutionary Brain by Harold Jaffe
Release date: December 6, 2012, distributed by Ingram
Trade paperback: 252 pages, 7.5×9.25, $13.95, ISBN: 978-1-935738-32-9
Publicist: Jaym Gates, publicity@rawdogscreaming.com

Guide Dog Books is proud to announce the release of Harold Jaffe’s Revolutionary Brain, a collection of essays and quasi-essays from one of our most brilliantly innovative provocateurs. Known for his unique style of “docufiction” and “literary terrorism,” Jaffe has made a career out of exposing the latent realities embedded in our media-saturated consciousness, not just in the US but globally. In Revolutionary Brain, he takes his cue from theorist Julia Kristeva, as he demonstrates how we revel in — and ultimately worship — our chronic state of cultural abjection, which increasingly spirals out of control as we plunge ever further into the realm of (dis)information and simulation.

Revolutionary Brain harnesses its critical and creative energy from an extraordinary variety of sources and artifacts, including ethnocide, activist art, popular film, ethical sacrifice, legislated porn, enraged elephants, and electronic hubris. It will appeal to a wide readership, theorizing with the broad erudition of Baudrillard, Žižek and Virilio while entertaining with the eclectic comedy of Coover, Roth, and Barthelme.

From the Back of the Book
In this timely collection of essays and “quasi-essays,” acclaimed novelist and critic Harold Jaffe explores the maddening chord changes of millennial culture. Gesturing, in a philosophical shorthand, toward a kind of pop Armageddon, Revolutionary Brain is at once thesis, allegory, and surreal comedy, demonstrating just how far we, and the natural world we have debauched, have fallen. Obsessed with technology, we are incapable of reconstructing ourselves. By way of Jaffe’s elegant prose and perfect pitch, our collective disability is laid bare at the 11th hour. Revolutionary Brain is a powerful cry for a brave new aesthetics that turns towards, not away, from our tormented globe.

About the Author
Harold Jaffe is the author of 20 volumes of fiction, “docufiction,” novels and essays. His writings have been anthologized widely, translated into numerous languages, and the recipient of several awards. Jaffe is editor of Fiction International and Professor of Literature and Creative Writing at San Diego State University.

Advance Praise for Revolutionary Brain
“I was transfixed in this volume by Jaffe’s incisive blows to the hypocrisy of flag waving, nation building, and the lethal intent by our leaders who stride the globe in bloody boots commanding the 99 percent to obey the law and get to work in the marketplace of nightmarish dreams. Jaffe has missed absolutely nothing in delineating our expiring Kultur. Brilliant.”
–REGINA KRUMMEL, editor of Prison Poetry by Shackled Women: The Gates Clang Shut

“The bravura essays in Harold Jaffe’s collection, Revolutionary Brain, challenge the conscience and consciousness of their readers. This witty and explosive book is an indictment of injustice and spurious morality and a call to art and enlightened activism as healing alternatives.”
–JONATHAN BAUMBACH, author of You: Or the Invention of Memory

“Brainy and groovy, thoughtful and post-literary, these essays on contemporary media madness are Jaffe at his best: poignant, inventive, right between the eyes of corporate culture.”
–ELOY FERNÁNDEZ PORTA, author of Emocionese asi

About the Publisher
The nonfiction syndicate of Raw Dog Screaming Press, Guide Dog Books publishes innovative, avant-garde books on a range of subjects, including literary criticism, cultural theory, media studies, letters from the opposition, experimental forms, biography, urbanism, philosophy, political manifestos, creative and popular nonfiction, and especially work that engages pop culture and its vicissitudes. Visit the publisher at www.guidedogbooks.com and www.rawdogscreaming.com.

Readings and Discussion with Alternative Press Writer Harold Jaffe

Wednesday, November 7, 2012
7:00pm Scanlon Banquet Hall B & C

Westfield State University

Harold Jaffe’s innovative fiction, non-fiction, and docu-fiction, deal with under-represented voices and perspectives in the American cultural fabric, such as death row prison inmates, political anarchists, and other unusual points of view.  He has devoted his career to “mixing things up.”  Even if audiences don’t always agree with his point of view, they appreciate his literary tactics and bravado, and his devotion to his cause.

Harold Jaffe is the author of 19 books, including Anti-Twitter: 150 50-Word StoriesJesus CoyoteTerror-Dot-Gov15 Serial Killers, and Sex for the Millennium.  Jaffe’s fiction has appeared in such journals as Mississippi Review, City Lights Review and Paris Review.  He has won two NEA grants in fiction, two Fulbright fellowships and three Pushcart Prizes in fiction, among others.  Jaffe teaches writing and literature at San Diego State University and is editor of the venerable literary journal, Fiction International.

Two Readings, One Town

During SDSU’s Spring Break I traveled to New York to present two readings.

For the first reading at Word Up Community Bookstore (labeled “Crisis Art”), I read my Crisis Art manifesto and “Anal Acrobats” from my essay volume in progress, Death in Texas.

For the next reading at Le Chéile (labeled “Story anti-Story”), I read “Lady Day,” from OD, along with texts from Anti-Twitter and Paris 60.

Both readings were performed with Patricia Eakins, author of The Hungry Girls and Other Stories and The Marvelous Adventures of Pierre Baptiste.

The audience response was enthusiastic in each venue.

My March, 2012, Reading Schedule

Recently I gave an interview to Gina Jacobs about OD, which became an article published in the San Diego State University magazine March 5.

March also marks the beginning of my mini-book tour for OD, sandwiched into SDSU’s Spring Break, when I will do a few readings and book signings in NYC. If you live in the area, I welcome you to either of these venues.

I will read at two Washington Heights, Manhattan bookstores. At Word Up Community Bookshop on Saturday March 24, 7 PM, I will use OD and my other writings to address the theme “crisis art.” At Le Chéile on Tuesday March 27, 8 pm, the theme will be “Story Anti-Story.” I will give both readings with writer Patricia Eakins.

What I’m Reading Now

Although I’m teaching several books (which I wrote about in an earlier post), I need to read for my own writing – and learning. Right now I’m reading Wilhelm Reich, several of the novels of Michel Houellebecq, Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy, and the Austrian writer Rober Musil’s Man Without Qualities. All at once, yes.

My Spring, 2012, Teaching Schedule

This semester I’m teaching two courses.

In my graduate-level Short-Short Fiction Writing class:

    Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, by Paul Reps
    Anti-Twitter: 150 50-Word Stories, by Harold Jaffe
    Book of Imaginary Beings, by Jorge Luis Borges
    Selected Cronicas, by Clarice Lispector

In my Comp Lit class, Film and Fiction, the theme is Outlaw Women.

Films: Niagra, Cat People, I Shot Andy Warhol, La Femme Nikita, etc.

Books:

    Hour of the Star, by Clarice Lispector
    The Scum Manifesto, by Valerie Solanis
    15 Serial Killers, by Harold Jaffe
    Everybody Talks About the Weather . . . : The Writings of Ulrike Meinhof