The Tiger Manifesto

Criticism with claws

Out Like a Lamb: Day 6: Gender? Who Has One? Me? Why?

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Whenever I talk about my relationship to womanhood, I am splintering. While I have embraced my identity as a woman, and believe that womanhood is in some sense deeply intertwined with how I experience the world, there are thorny questions still unresolved. Before I dive too deeply into the reasons why this might be the case, let us talk about why gender exists and where it comes from. Has it always been there, sleeping in our house like a resident, did it slip in unbeknownst to us, or did it steal the house from under our feet?

The way gender works has a lot in common with how naming works, at least in a modern North American setting. And it might be easier to comprehend gender through an analogy with naming, so I’ll begin there before moving into more treacherous and confusing territory. Why do we have names? Well, names have different uses for different people. For most of European history, most people didn’t really have surnames, and would have been named different things throughout their lives, adopting, earning, and dropping names as they aged. Your name was often tied to where you lived or who your father was, and in a highly localized context that was all that mattered because everyone knew each other personally.

You could say “Teresa from the red house” and everyone you met on a day-to-day basis would know exactly who you meant. Now, when the taxman comes knocking on your door to do an assessment or collect what’s due, that kind of naming system just isn’t very convenient. What if Teresa moves into a green house, or a famine forces her to move to a neighbouring region? At that point, if her tax records were all put down as “Teresa from the red house at such-and-such corner” the tax agency would have no way of tracking that person except by asking around and doing all kinds of research that aren’t good for the state’s bottom line.

So the state starts giving everyone surnames and fixes your name in stone. Eventually, you are just given a name at birth, registered with a certificate, and that’s who you are barring some kind of legal intervention. The authorities, in order to govern you, have to know who you are regardless of where you live. Curiously, or not-so-curiously, birth certificates contain another precious bit of information that’s crucial for trans and cis people alike. That would, of course, be a gender marker. M or F, typically. (This is why renaming ourselves, for trans people, is so vital, and way of not just of shaking off our old gender but of choosing who we want to be in a broader sense!)

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Every human being born under the eyes of some official––whether a doctor or someone else acting in that role––gets categorized according to their gender. This act is, ultimately, one that is designed to sort people into recognizable populations that can be governed. In this case, gender is a system that’s intimately tied into what we can call “sex,” or the “physical” aspects of being gendered. No one has any say in their gender when they’re born. Your name is put on a form and, until you have legal agency, you must comply at least somewhat with that designation. A designation that was put in place purely on the basis of what kind of reproductive organs doctors and parents think that you have. Vulvas are for girls, penises for boys, roughly speaking. Even putting aside that there are a huge number of people who don’t have physiologies that work so “neatly”––namely intersex people––when we understand that gendering and sexing at birth are coercive, customary practices aimed primarily at regulating bodies and what they can/can’t do, making people superficially “easier” to manage, and that even now many people revolt against this system and have questioned it, we have to realize that it has no heart, no essence.

And as for those who are unlucky enough to either be assigned or choose womanhood or a nonbinary identity, the results are a higher chance of being marginalized, being paid less, saddled with extra work in the home, etc. etc. So our destinies are projected outward for us, at least partly, at birth. You can read the genitals of an infant child like the stars of the astrologer. What do these constellations of body parts tell us? It tells us what kinds of clothing “she” will wear, what kinds of jobs “he” will be encouraged to enter into. And on and on and on. It’s a con, one that’s all the more effective for being, to my view at least, absurd from a humane and ecological point of view.

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Gender, in other words, is something that, at the outset at least, happens to you. It’s only later, after being raised as a girl or boy, with your future already mapped for you despite you being, you know, a child, that you begin to inhabit this role more consciously. Many people reject this gendering process at a young age, while others only recognize that gender has happened to them later. I inhabited a particular role for almost two decades before shaking it off and realizing that I had no attachments to it that weren’t black and toxic. Like a poison, I vomited up all the bile and sick of “manhood.”It is simply incompatible with my being.

I believe that this con, this system of labeling and divining as if by magic the futures of children based on our genitals, is fundamentally destructive. And yet I still embrace womanhood as my safe haven. This is a contradiction I am of course aware of and uncomfortable with. My nonbinary friends and comrades have another nettlesome problem to deal with, searching for forms of being that escape the usual binary ways of thinking about men and women. So I hold my gender gingerly, aware that my life can twist and change in many ways. The future is still uncertain. I do know, however, that gender as a system, as a way of regulating people’s bodies and their behaviour, has to go. Even men, though especially those who are not men and those whose gender is marked with racial discriminations or class oppression (gender is always a colonial system as well as a regulatory one), suffer under it. I can’t untangle all of this confusion right now, but I hope that my own life can be a source of hope for other young people who see the con for what it is. Despite all my failings, I want to be a light others can share in.

The next three days of posts will be:

March 17: Reflections on how I’m treated by and seen by classmates, professors, and university administration.

March 18: The bizarro world that is how I’m seen by the state and how I navigate situations where I need official ID, etc.

March 19: A happy post about my pride in being myself and in being in community with others like me.

Out Like a Lamb: Day 5: Putting the Me in Media

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Most media does not agree with me. I don’t scorn anyone’s cheap pleasures, but the reality of mass media today is dire. Even as we’re saturated with media, distracted on all ends––not always badly, mind––the vast majority of what we consume is boring stuff made to pad a bottom line. The dreamlike, idiosyncratic quality of most art makes it especially allergic to commercialization. Art made schematically, mediated according to a dozen whims sighing in their boardrooms…this is what I’m talking about. And this form of media, the well-endowed bastions of television, mainstream online video, film, the lot, are starting to discover transgender people. Or so many fan sites would have me believe.

I won’t lie. For most of the history of mass art, transgender people––or gender nonconforming people in general, often not recognized as trans or otherwise summoned from straight and cis fantasias–– have been open season for the comic and easy fetish material for dramatists. Yes, it’s impossible to encapsulate the trans experience (TM) in any one work of art, if you even believe such an experience exists (and if it did, it would be terribly lonely). But for the most part, there aren’t even bits or artifacts of truth in these uncanny marionettes. Speaking for myself, the most tiring bit players cis people trot out are the Trap and the Sacrificial Lamb. Visions of either comic/violent deception or endless, graphic suffering seem to be of some comfort to straight and cis audiences. I don’t find any pleasure in these tropes, though, in particular because they appear far more often than more sensitive or complex portraits.

Even then, trans people hold almost no decision-making roles in the media machine––at least of any consequence. So while I certainly appreciate the fact that tastemakers try to make their trans characters more palatable and, dare I say it, recognizable as fictional representations, I am not excited. In a sense, the Hollywood machine has only, haltingly and fitfully, started to process and portray avowedly trans bodies in a legible, recognizable way. For the purposes of extracting money from audiences no doubt full of sympathizers and well-meaning cis people who see these films and TV shows as “quite educational, thanks.”

Therefore, when I walk into a movie theatre or engage with other forms of media, I am hyperattentive for hints and innuendo. There is a strong trans fan community for The Legend of Zelda, for instance, that has grappled onto the blank neutrality of the character of Link, transforming them into an unofficial transgender icon. These are, to some extent, expression of powerlessness, since nearly all mainstream, well-known characters were not intended to be trans. We have, therefore, gotten skilled at scavenging and subverting cis peoples’ intentions, learning to treat canon lightly and refashion as we please. This somewhat anarchic approach to continuity and intent can have some chaotic effects on “fandom,” generating heated fights once in awhile, but I take it in stride. It’s far preferable to the monolithic manufacture culture of hype and obsession that characterizes modern mainstream fandom.

In the end, I had a difficult time deciphering my general impressions of how I experience media. It’s mostly a vaguely defined blotch of “meh.” Even acknowledging the desperate state of most media today (despite the proliferation of outlets and distribution platforms), I do get a great deal of enjoyment from film, games, TV, and books. But it’s hard not to be jaded right now, especially at this hour. Excuse me, it’s time to wax poetic about Night in the Woods.

P.S. Night in the Woods reflections and ranting will be here soon!

The next three days of entries will be:

March 16: How I feel alienated from gender, and how it’s difficult to define an experience of being a certain gender for me.

March 17: My relationship to academic, my professors, and some classmates. Could get sharp, we’ll see.

March 18: How I’m seen by the state, my fear of crossing borders and going into state buildings.

Out Like a Lion Day 4: Walking in Public

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Many debates around trans people are not just absurd or poorly argued, but widely misunderstood. The “debate” around our ability to use the damn bathroom that we want to (and have to for personal safety reasons) is not a debate about whether women who are women should use the women’s restroom. It is not a toilet question as much as it is a question of certain people’s abject revulsion at the sight of us.

Because trans and nonbinary people are often visibly noncomformist, visibly unable to be fitted into the straitjackets that most people accept for gender presentation, our existence in public is undeniable and disgusting to many people. The reality is that there are people who don’t ever want to see transgender people out in public enjoying life. They support measures that deny us the right to use the bathroom we want to not just because of what their paranoid minds think we might do (though we’re much more likely to be victims, especially of cops who get called on us), but because they don’t want us to exist. Either we die or we have to become like everyone else, invisible and unable to disturb their comfy little worlds.

So when I am walking out in public, I am constantly––at the back of my head––thinking that someone might recognize that I’m trans and will not like that. What will they do? Scream insults at me? Push me or hit me? Throw me on the ground? Worse? When in my life will I catch the wrong person on the wrong day at the wrong place and be “corrected” out of existence? Even in a more (and I hate this word) “tolerant” city like Toronto, where people are most likely going to leave you alone and let you be anonymous, I have heard vicious arguments and insults thrown at vulnerable people just sitting there, being visible on the subway. While walking, therefore, I have learned to be cautious and conscious of how I’m walking, what I’m wearing, and how other people perceive me at all times. This enforced self-consciousness contributes to a general haze of anxiety around me that never entirely departs.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s journal entry, gender presentation is a major way around which people in my corner of the world organize the human beings they meet every day. The most dangerous points in walking outside are when my perception of my gender and perception are misunderstood or deliberately ignored by another person. A tension begins where, though am sure of myself and who I am, the terms I have presented are simply rejected. I walk into a subway car, and an older woman gives me a sharp look. Is it just because she’s ill-tempered? Did I step on here leashed cat? Or was it just because I’m presenting as a woman but standing about 191 centimetres tall? All of these rhetorical questions are tiring to think about, to be sure, and I’ve noticed that just being outside has been a much greater drain on my energy than before. I’ve even changed the way I walk––slightly and conditionally––in order to fit a more feminine profile. I usually walk in a more comfortable way when I’m not walking alone, however, which underlines the way in which gender presentation is often more premised on coerced social norms than free choice.

And even here, trans people are attacked by certain reactionary “feminists” who claim that we are reinforcing the very gender norms that oppress us simply because we don’t want to fight for every step we take. Clearly, we have a long way to struggle before we are able to claim our right to exist in public space without harassment. Our visibility is still controversial largely because so many people are trained from birth to react harshly to anyone who does not fit a certain mould, and I fear this will continue to be true through my lifetime.

Though at least I now look sexy going down the street.

The next three entries coming up will be:

March 15: Talking about how I perceive the media and how trans women are treated by film, games, and more.

March 16: A more abstract and thoughtful discussion about what gender really is––if it’s real at all–-and how I became more and more alienated from it.

March 17: A brief journal post on how I relate to academia, my classmates, and my professors.

Out Like A Lamb: Day 3: Clothes and Shoes

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On the third day (and at the end of it, to boot) I look around the space I’m in and realize how much I’ve come to take my clothes for granted. For the longest time, even though I was out to some people, I approached clothing with a great deal of trepidation. Although some of this fear has dissipated over time, the core of the problem will remain as long as gendered violence and exclusion have bite.

Clothing is, of course, terribly important, even mandatory in most social situations. Clothing marks your social class, your interests, and your sense of self. It’s a crucial way to communicate, especially where gender presentation is concerned. Body form, facial features, the way that you walk––these are also important, but clothing is probably the most immediately recognizable feature of gender presentation. However, presenting in a masculine or feminine way is not as simple as wearing clothing that’s been marketed to one gender or another. For instance, women often wear stereotypically “masculine” clothing like denim, sweatshirts, etc., to the point where the gendered aspects of these items is much more diffuse. This is largely because we assume that clothing made for men is gendered “neutral” or “void,” since masculinity is the “default” way of being and women are the confusing and different ones.

So when (cis) women adopt men’s clothing, at least in my corner of the world, it’s not considered a huge transgression by most. People who are somewhat masculine in appearance or are (mis)recognized as “men,” however, are heavily stigmatized, fetishized, or punished for wearing more traditionally feminine clothing. The transgression here is much more deeply felt, and this is the basic tissue of the problem for most transgender women. When people are already misrecognizing you as a man all the time, putting on feminine clothing can often make you an even greater magnet for funny looks, mean eyes, and, in some tragic cases, outright violence. Trans women who “pass” well, on the other hand, are often accused of deceiving people, particularly those who are inappropriately curious about what we have “down there.” So it takes a great deal of practice and courage to craft an outfit and a look that will be suitably “safe” but also express who you really are in an adequate way. And many people are never able to achieve this because of prejudices and other social pressures.

Much of my clothing, initially, was scavenged from giveaway boxes in our apartment building. People who moved out left a great deal of stuff they couldn’t take with them behind. Makeup, nail polish, blouses, belts, skirts, etc. The reason for this was that I was nervous about shopping in the women’s section, afraid that I would attract unwanted attention (AKA any). Eventually, however, I had put together a look that was satisfactory and I could be a little more at ease actually shopping for and buying feminine clothes without feeling too embarrassed.

Though I am still terrified of fitting rooms.

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True horror. And don’t even get me started on finding size 12 shoes for women.

Trans people need a lot of support in this area, as it costs a tremendous amount of money to re-buy an entire wardrobe to suit their preferences. It’s a pressing issue that involves identity, personal safety, finances, and psychological security, and it behooves all of us to be sensitive and helpful when it comes up.

The next three days of posts will be:

March 14: The experience of walking outside. Mostly fear and, eventually, some satisfaction.

March 15: How I evaluate and experience films and other media, whether they feature trans people or not.

March 16: A little more serious and abstract here. This journal entry will be about what gender is and how it operates as a coercive pressure on people, especially trans and queer people.

Out Like a Lamb: Day 2: Coming Out

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When I came out to my partner, I cried in a hostel in Istanbul. Exhausted, depressed, the furthest I had ever been from her, I was so off-balance I couldn’t keep composure. I wept for hours, up until 5 in the morning. The rest of my week was a haze, but I had been openly gender nonconforming with my partner for months before that happened.

When I came out to my friends, it was in a casual Facebook message. They all pledged support despite their surprise.

When I came out to my sibling, I sent this:

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Part of a pamphlet I sent explaining my story and my thoughts about gender.

Since most of my friends were queer, trans, or otherwise inclined to accept me, I felt little trepidation in coming out. Coming out to family members––religious, not well-informed about gender, much more accustomed to my masculine presentation––was much more difficult. I ended up making an error by coming out to my sibling months before coming out to anyone else. I was not prepared at all to come out to my parents, and I knew that it would require an even more delicate approach, but I felt more comfortable with my sibling because we had been good friends for so long. I was wrong in my assessment, but at that point I was exasperated, tired of lying and pining to come out to someone. So much so I ended up coming out in a way that was too confrontational and complex. I was trying to have too many conversations at the same time when no one related to me was even ready for one of them.

One notable difference in coming out to my parents as opposed to anyone else was the emotional content. With my partner and my friends I could be either frank and matter-of-fact or elated and relieved. There are two reasons for this. One is that I was relatively certain of acceptance. The other is that peers have relatively less power over you than parents, especially in terms of finance. My parents both being fairly strong Christians was certainly a concern, but not the most important one. Mainly, I was worried because I had no evidence of what they believed about transgender people, if they knew who we were at all, and what their reaction would be. Knowing the harsh forms of rejection that many queer and trans people endure, I mentally prepared myself for the worst outcome. I had already established a fairly independent life, and had built up a support network of friends who would be able to give me some space or help if something terrible happened. Without those affinities and friendships set up, I am not sure I would have had the courage to say anything.

“Even when the messenger knows she has good news to deliver, she can’t know for sure that the recipient is going to take the news well…

eight years of fear

eight years of silence

eight years of acting like I was “just like everyone else,”

eight years of suppressing the basic joy of being myself.

eight years of knowing that there was a chance that if I shared the beautiful and radiant news I had learned, I might be kicked out of the house and scorned.”

I wrote these words late at night and sent them on pure impulse. If I had thought it over too long, I probably would have delayed it longer. The initial reception was mostly shock. I don’t think it’s entirely dissipated.

This might seem morbid, but one of the reasons I finally broke down and told my parents that I was trans, even preparing for a complete rejection, was that I was afraid I would die and that my gender would be a matter of controversy. If I were still closeted, my memory would conceal all the truths I had learned about myself. I was terrified of dying, and still am, but I was far more afraid of being buried under the wrong name. Not that it would matter to me when I was dead, but it would most definitely matter to my partner and my friends if a huge fight broke out over my name and my gender after I died. I wanted to spare everyone the heartache, and to feel better about myself. So I said it. I’m a woman and there’s nothing to be done about it now.

When it came time to come out to everyone else, publicly, I did so in a Facebook post. The occasion was last year’s massacre at the Orlando nightclub. So many dead, and I couldn’t tolerate being silent anymore. I wrote:

“We’re not just afraid of rapists who want to “fix” us or preachers who say we should be locked up in camps or thrown in mental institutions. We’re afraid of our families, of being deprived of love and friendly faces, friendly pats on the back. We’re afraid of well-meaning friends and family who say they love us but won’t acknowledge who we are or call us by our right names

I’m afraid because when I look into someone’s eyes, even someone I should trust and has known me for twenty years, I can never know if they would still love me if they knew I’m a woman. I’m afraid of other people’s fear. I’m afraid that people will use their religion as an excuse to take revenge––demonic and bloody or tiny and biting––on someone who made them feel uncomfortable.”

And the fear has only tightened, constricted further since then. I’m thriving, but I see the frailty and the impermanence of it all. With all that said, however, coming out was an immense relief, a real transformation that relieved some of the pain I felt about my own life.

Coming up in the next three days of journal prompts:

  • March 13: Stories about getting clothes/wearing clothes and my terror of dressing rooms. Scavenging free feminine clothes from fellow students.
  • March 14: A general description of my process of getting ready each day and how I move about in the outside world.
  • March 15: At the movies! How I see myself (or not) in films and other media and I’ve dealt with being invisible to most people.

Out Like a Lamb: Day 1: Introduction

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March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. This phrase is a commentary on climate, since in Northern Hemisphere temperate climates March ushers winter into spring. From snow to rain, from numbing wind to flowering trees. The trajectory of March, as idealized in this phrase, is the transition from the stasis, undeath, and danger of February into the uncertain and rainy warmth of April.

For the latter two thirds of March, I will be reflecting on my own experiences being “out” as a trans woman. I am hoping to use this phrase and wonder in what ways my life has blossomed since coming out publicly last summer. Tendencies in myself that lay dormant have now sprung to life, though unfortunately accompanied by choking restrictions and new limitations. Escape is always relative. Free movement, while more limited in the closet since every action, every bodily hiccup, has to be excused and limited, remains un-free in the world outside. Living truthfully does not always mean living freely, even if, in my experience, it has been a more liberated state of being. Even I, who was able to choose the circumstances of coming out and stage-manage the whole affair, faced enormous difficulties and growing pains. These pains expressed themselves literally in the form of bodily changes (or lack thereof) and figuratively in the widening distance between myself and some who are supposed to care about me.

These entries will inevitably be personal and vulnerable to some extent, but my intention is to leaven darker aspects of my experiences with humour in order to make it both more palatable (to me) and more comprehensible (to my audience). Many of the posts will address aspects of my life I rarely or never talk about, meaning some elisions will have to be made. Of course, when my own stories intersect with those of others, their names will be omitted or anonymized in some other way to minimize gossiping and needless social speculation. These are meant to be entertaining, educational, and organizational posts, not platforms for snippy commentary or bickering. A heavy-handed comments policy will therefore be used at all times.

Another aspect of the ethos or spirit behind my writing will be to avoid unnecessary analysis or academic criticism of my own experiences. Doing so will require a more careful approach to composition and editing since the words will be undigested, or even unexamined, but I think this is a necessary sacrifice for a sense of immediacy. Not that this will be more authentic than a belaboured, academic retelling of the same stories you’ll see as the days wear on. Rather, it implies that I want people to grasp how I deal with experiences as they come up in the present, rather than deep in retrospect. I admit this will be difficult since I am self-conscious to a painful extent and have an endless desire to critique myself, but I expect this limitation will produce better content that I can look back on with pride later.

With this ethos in mind and a schedule set, I’m ready to engage with the reality of being an out trans woman in my particular context. I have a set schedule of prompts and themes, but will only show the next three days’ worth of posts. Given this structure, I can adjust and reorganize my posting schedule if I choose while still baiting my audience to keep them coming back (hopefully). No one said that transparent hucksterism was pretty, but it pulls in eyeballs.

Without further adieu, then, here is the journal entry schedule for the next three days:

  • March 12, 2017: Describing the coming out process as I experienced it and how it continues to shape my relationships to this day.
  • March 13: Stories about getting clothes/wearing clothes and my terror of dressing rooms. Scavenging free feminine clothes from fellow students.
  • March 14: A general description of my process of getting ready each day and how I move about in the outside world.

So we start out relatively mundane before deepening and moving into more complex territory as we go. I’m nervous but excited about this and expect that everyone interested in my stories will benefit at least somewhat from this exercise.

Soviet Daughter and the Potential of Graphic Histories

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Very briefly, I want to write about Julia Alekseyeva’s Soviet Daughter in the context of a growing body of graphic histories. Professional and aspiring historians can learn much from such accounts, especially in how we might be able to use artistic reconstructions and visuals to supplement more traditional historical forms of presentation like photographs, prose, and charts and graphs.

Soviet Daughter is a graphic novel telling two not-exactly-parallel stories. First, there is Lola, who died leaving a memoir to her descendants. Born in 1910 in Ukraine, Lola lived in the Soviet Union throughout most of the 20th century, and her sections of the book are mostly concerned with her struggle to survive and the various jobs, political activities, and love affairs she had during her life. The other, much smaller, part of the book concerns Julia Alekseyeva herself and her own struggles with Jewish identity, politics, and other more contemporary problems.

Because of this dual nature, although Soviet Daughter is widely reviewed as a memoir or autobiography, this characterization only sticks to Julia’s part of the book. These frame and contextualize the other parts of the story, and are key to the overall strategy of Soviet Daughter, but they can also serve to obscure the fact that the majority of the book is a graphic history that uses many of the narrative techniques and research methods of conventional histories.

Alekseyeva’s aims are obviously different from that of the academic or journalistic historian, being a more literary attempt to grapple with the meaning of a particular person in her own life, but even in this intimate context her work functions as a history. It is assembled from the author’s analysis of and selection from a primary source (Lola’s memoir), and narrates this history in a narrative sequence that’s meant to convey a particular truth about the people and events contained in it. Now, it’s true that Alekseyeva uses exact quotations from the memoir to narrate the story, but the substance of the story is incomplete without the drawings and visuals, which are every bit as interpretive and synthetic as a professional historian’s account.

Now, most historians don’t convey their analyses and findings in a primarily visual medium. That is not to say, however, that historians do not use visual means to convey information. Most of the time, however, these visual artifacts are photographs that are contemporary to the time and place being studied or charts and graphs that convey quantitative information or simplify complex systems and theoretical arguments. What I think Soviet Daughter and other graphic histories––either more journalistic like those of Joe Sacco or personal like Persepolis––challenge us to do as historians is consider the value of visual reconstructions and what role they can play in our work. By visual reconstruction I mean commissioned or self-produced visual representations of our arguments and narratives. We can keep our professional standards, footnotes, and so on, and ensure that readers are well-informed of the reenacting quality of these visuals, but they might be able to capture particularly difficult and ambiguous aspects of our histories that are not so amenable to prose explanations or more traditional graphic methods, especially when photographs might be inaccessible.

We as historians embrace and use prose because of its capacity for precision and the relative ease with which we can critique and utilize information conveyed through prose. That said, prose is not the best means of communicating either every idea or to every person. Not every human being learns best or can even easily understand highly abstract prose, and a history constructed through serial art but subjected to rigorous review might be a way to reach new people and to provoke new kinds of thinking about history, especially its visual and spatial aspects.

Someday, we might have an entire group of people who work as historical illustrators, working with authors and students to create well-researched and evocative images that can convey new understandings of history. At first, such works might seem like provocations, but we have to understand and utilize the full range of communications methods in history or else our marriage to prose might prevent us from fully exploring certain topics. And graphic history/memoirs like Alekseyeva’s show us that it can be done, though it might be for us to prove whether such a form is financially and professionally viable.

At the very least, it is worth considering as one of the many tangential possibilities available to historical scholars today and in the future.

Christian Kitsch #13: Riverdale Edition: Archie’s Parables

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In honour of the ongoing CW/Netflix series Riverdale, the seedy soap opera adaptation of the Archie universe, we will return to Spire Comics’ 1970s Christian propaganda comics featuring the Riverdale gang. There are two reasons for this, the yuks being one and the other is the fact that I think these old comics might provide fodder for another twisted Archie adaptation. These crinkly old pages might harbour a gold mine of intellectual property.

Today’s subject is another anthology comic, 1975’s Archies’ Parables, which attempts to appropriate the allegorical narrative form Jesus used to teach many of his most valuable insights to his clueless followers. I don’t expect storytelling on the level of elegance as, say, the parable of the sower or the Good Samaritan, but in the hands of Al Hartley even the most despicable material can yield some winking enjoyment. Note, however, that the book contains six parables rather than seven, meaning the editors of this volume missed out on a great thematic link with the rest of the Bible, which is as rife with 7s as lucky slot machines.

Crack open the book and behold, the first parable:

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Transported to the medieval setting, we see that Archie might have grown a Prince Valiant hairdo but still lusts after the rich girl in town. Meanwhile, Jughead is using tongs on an anvil. Hartley could have left this blacksmithing equipment as a nonsensical but innocuous bit of set dressing, but he’s far too insidious for that.

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What is wrong with him?

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And why is he staring at me?

Had Hartley given Archie and Jughead any other medieval-looking profession other than blacksmith, his logic would have been airtight. Armour was expensive! Only the wealthy could afford it! However, he decided to make Jughead and Archie blacksmiths, which, although not known their combat prowess, probably would have been able to make custom armour for themselves if they wanted to. Compounding the issue, we have the Ren-faire turkey leg trash can occupying some Magritte-ian void with three boards across a door leading into some kind of wood-floored room. Perhaps Hartley thought, “Hmm, Archie won’t be able to cut holes out of a metal trash can and wear it like armour if he isn’t in some kind of metalworking profession, but I also want to make sure Reggie is a rich asshole and make Archie look like a goof with his head stuck in a…lantern?” Indeed, Al, and a lantern that has no air holes in it, to add insult to injury.

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I’m not sure if it’s just me, but the star patterns around the dragon make it look drunk or at least punch-drunk

Off ride our Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, here to tilt at empty signifiers. Except in this case, the mythical beasts are quite real, though Jughead seems to be lusting after the dragon’s tender flesh. I think Hartley is trying to write a motivation for Jughead into the story while also moralizing about gluttony, but trying to do both at the same time makes Archie look weirdly manipulative. Indeed, this logic knot tightens further in the next panels.

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In addition to the weird perspective and hatch lines on Archie’s head making him look like bizarrely bread-like (about to be toasted!) in the left panel, Jughead has blurted out the supposed moral of this story without making it clear at all. It takes real effort to be both blunt and utterly puzzling, so let’s give Hartley a gold star for flexibility.

How is prayer supposed to help against a dragon? Well…

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…it doesn’t really. With Jughead serving as a distraction, Archie pulls out his Anachronism Machine and chases the poor beast across the countryside.Screenshot 2017-02-12 19.47.06.png

And of course Archie doesn’t get Princess Veronica, who ships off with a sketchy beau in her carriage, but still gets a Sexy Reward Woman for saving the kingdom, as is a man’s right (ahem). Betty, by the way, has not been in this story at all until the middle panel in this last set, which means her entire role in the story is to wander into Archie to serve as his Dragonslayer Trophy, no doubt doomed to be plucked, stuffed, and shut in a trophy case in some obscure basement.Screenshot 2017-02-12 19.47.16.png

And speaking of unsettling implications, note how Neighbourhood Watch Archie and his trophy doll Betty (she deserves better!) stare unblinkingly forward telling you how to clean up the riffraff in your area. As far as dog whistles in this comic go, this is one of the subtler ones, and Hartley covers for it by associating the dragons not with people but with bad vibes or antisocial tendencies, which is a Decent Save. But alas, we can’t tarry long, friends, for we have five more of these to polish off! Now that we have the format down, we can tear through these a bit faster. Hold onto your necks!

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From medieval fantasy-land we travel long roads before dusting off our feet at a seedy saloon where clean-cut Sheriff Archie finds himself nestled with the vipers.

Video posted apropos of nothing.

After some scuffles with the armed miscreants, racist-caricature Jughead bolts through the swinging doors with an urgent announcement:

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Oh, this is going to give me a headache.

Despite this story being dull as blanched tripe on stale bread, it manages to set off more racism tripwires in four panels than any comic I’ve read outside of Holy Terror. For one, as mentioned, Hartley has decided to dress Jughead up as a racist caricature and give him stereotypical speech patterns. If you don’t understand the problem with that, I’ve got nothing for you. On the other hand, my supersonic hearing has picked up another dog whistle, this one much sharper and more sinister.

For those who haven’t picked the signal, refer to the last panel (panel 7). While its reference to school busing is certainly jarring in the context of the Old West, this was in fact a huge hangup for racist conservatives in the 1970s. Institutionalized school busing designed to produce racially integrated schools had white people’s hackles all up in a dander, because God forbid (literally in this case) that black people and other “troublemakers” associate with their pure Aryan children. This is still a simmering issue in many places, especially as urban areas in the United States remain and become more segregated by neighbourhood.

In any case, choking back bile, we return to the task at hand:

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Indeed, with the knowledge of their simian origins, the schoolchildren unleash a reign of chaos, egged on by “Filthy Books.” Oddly enough, however, Archie’s scheme is not to bring the iron hand of the law down and enforce a strict censorship regime. It’s rather more…enterprising.

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While admirably non-coercive, I’m not sure that the children of the school will willingly head to the newfangled Christian bookstore (so many of those in the old western towns) when the local trading post will apparently peddle the latest “filthy books” to them without repercussion. And we’re treated to that trademark Hartley End-of-Book Stare from Betty––who at least had something to do in this story––and a hell of a coda:

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Archie making sure Jughead gets all of his fibre. Time for the third story. We’re almost halfway through this drudgery, and we’ve already cleared through the worst racist dog whistles.

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From one pulp genre to another, we streak out of the sandy, semiarid American West and into the final frontier. After annihilating the bleak stretches of nothingness lying between them and their objecting, our in-tepid explorers park their pale butts on a strange landmass.

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“A Tale of Two Planets!” is basically The Sneetches with its message chomped up and twisted into right-wing space trash. Here we have a brave refutation of genetic determinism as a multitude of identical twins abjure each other, and act more like evil twins than identical ones. The pedagogical point of this is probably clear already.

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Because the author understands that setting up a straw man still takes a bit of effort he pauses to consider “maybe they’re just stressed out because they live in an environment that’s been polluted and made inhospitable…”

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“Nah, that’s not stark enough.” Again, the Respectability Police creates a twisted Great Chain of Ill Logic, which basically looks like this: People who live in rundown areas=bad people=thieves…Screenshot 2017-02-12 20.03.09.png

= poor caricatures of anarchists, I guess. The people on the unhappy planet are, as usual in these comics, furnace-blasted alloys of every right-wing phobia-object forged into one. No doubt disappointed by the banality of space, Archie and Jughead haul ass back to the Pleasantville from whence they came.

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Nevermind, this Archie and Jughead are as good at recognizing banality as fish are at recognizing water. Or maybe they’re just shocked that they found their Riverdale counterparts sleeping in the trash heaps on the bad planet.

What genre are we pillaging next time, Al?

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Let’s just hope we find Bugs Bunny in there.

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I’ll just leave this here.

Because I know my audience, and what they expect, I assume that you’re wondering what kind of awful reactionary stuff Hartley pulls in this story. Patience, patience. We have some setup to summarize. Archie and Jughead find themselves in the hospitable care of Beelzebub, of course, but what form would this diabolical being take (other than the example I’ve contributed above)?

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I can’t say I’ve ever seen the Lord of the Flies represented as a mad scientist––

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––except here of course––

but other than his unsettling smile I see no sign of any diabolical intentions. And we know how Jughead, the gourmand, loves his banquet food.

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So it turns out that Dr. Beelzebub’s evil plan is to lure children to his castle and give them what they want––food, in this case––and then keep them in his “spare rooms” (AKA prison cells) for an indeterminate amount of time. Probably just long enough before they get boring. Or else his castle is some kind of subtle metaphor for hell and they’re stuck there until the winds of time skeletonize them. Indeed, there’s a whole cornucopia of vice-ridden teens in this ghoulish museum of horrors:

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Archie is an avatar of purity, of course, (laugh here if you’ve seen Riverdale at all) but we as an audience collectively gasp as he is put to the test. What could be the means of temptation that Dr. Beelzebub will use? In other words, what do you give to the protagonist who already has everything? Well, before we find out, the good doctor shoves Archie in a cell while he’s preparing his “killer app.”Screenshot 2017-02-12 20.06.14.png

As much as I disdain cops and marines, and the entire repressive system we have to wriggle under in this day and age, Archie is probably closer to a solution to his problem than Betty simply because muscles and other forms of kinetic energy will probably be necessary to spring him from a dungeon. And, once again, Betty appears like a bolt from the black, though here it’s more as divine intervention than a prize to be won.

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What would Riverdale Archie do in this situation? Yeah, the age difference probably wouldn’t bother that guy very much.

Beelzebub is clearly strained, worried that Archie might yet resist him, though I suppose he could just keep Archie confined regardless of whether he has his soul or not. And though I would chastise the Lord of the Flies for supporting sexual unions between teenage boys and adult women when that’s a clear violation of consent laws and customs in this day and age, he is a devil, so I would rather blame the author and leave it nice and clean. Well, as clean as possible.Screenshot 2017-02-12 20.06.53.png

And the swipe at peer pressure here is just weird, considering that a bunch of your friends trying to get you laid or drink or whatever is not quite the same as an evil scientist who has threatened you with eternal confinement trying to coerce you into joining an orgy. Just saying that even as a “parable” this particular grayble has some jarring narrative choices.

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Archie survives in his time-and-space transcending Didactic Bubble, but it sure looks like everyone else is fried jumbo shrimp. Hartley makes it quite clear that the Betty just wished for a lightning bolt to destroy the entire castle. Not, you know, just freeing everyone and moving them safely outside and then destroying the fortress of sin-itude. Betty and God have some ‘splaining to do, is what I’m saying.

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Dammit, Hartley, you don’t get to have it both ways!

I’m sick of this, let’s get moving. While I’m recovering from my Archie-induced illness, let me just show the first full-page spread from the fifth story and let you fill in the rest.

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Note all the Hartley-signature triple “!!!” in this panel.

No further comment needed on that one. Suffice to say that JoHnathan got nice and reintegrated into the status quo in the end. Goodbye and good luck, JoHnathan. Next!

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Stop grinning, it’s not what you think.

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Also, just quoting “go out and attack the enemy” out of Chronicles of all books is just disingenuous considering that that book is a family history of the disobedient, prickish kings of Israel and Judah. Yes, in context, this is a message from the spirit of God speaking through a priest telling good king Jehoshaphat and the rest of Judah to go out killing Moabite and Ammonite soldiers, but I hope this brief lesson shows how quoting pithy verse passages from esoteric corners of the Bible to justify, say, a terrible comic book might be a bad idea.

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I wonder what it could be?

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Oh. Huh.

I guess the German army fought WWI with balloons adorned messages that don’t fit the advertising standards regulations! Scholars weren’t wrong when they talked about how important the air was was in those days, let me tell ya. In any case, Archie and pals shred the lie balloons and win the day. How?

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Yes, by dropping bumper stickers on the balloons.

And if you’re wondering what the title has to do with anything…

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Yeah. Go to church. Find one for you. I’m not sure whether the comic is saying that you will get high by going to the 11:00 morning service, or whether you just get high at church at 11:00, or if it’s just referring to the aerial system of indicating directions by using the clock positions. Still, I hate it.

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Fiiiinally.

While I’ve complained about the various rightist screeds, hackneyed or lazy art, and other assorted oddities we’ve become so used to in this corner of the Internet, I wanted to address a big structural problem with Archie’s Parables. That problem is its use of the genre of “parable,” or at least its attempts to claim ownership of that genre. If you’ll bear with me, I’d like to quote a parable in its entirely from the Matthew’s gospel, the so-called Parable of the Sower:

“Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.Let anyone with ears[a] listen!”

10 Then the disciples came and asked him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” 11 He answered, “To you it has been given to know the secrets[b] of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.

A parable is pithy and highly metaphorical vehicle stories, using symbolic shorthand to get a moral or social point across while leaving ambiguities. Jesus uses parables, as he says here, to conceal and obscure his true purpose, which is an especially important theme in Mark’s gospel but shows up here as well. Note that Jesus didn’t say, “A man was fighting in a war and he was good and bombed lie balloons out of the air. Those lies were things like ‘churches are full of hypocrites’ and other such absurdities. Church is good and you should shop around before giving up on them. Good night.” Parables are didactic and allegorical, which Hartley gets, but they’re also to a degree ambiguous and riddle-like, creating as many questions (some good, some not, as the discipline show) as they do answers. Jesus’ parables vary in terms of their clarity and literalism (the Good Samaritan being more straightforwardly political and understandable) but none of them try to think for the listener as much as Hartley tries to basically substitute his work for listening and consideration.

This is the essence of bad propaganda kitsch: project an easy triumph against degenerate and weak-yet-powerful enemies and try to shut down thinking with appeals to emotion and prejudice. Trying to call these parables, while not a terrible crime in itself, shows the lack of appreciation these hacks have for their own supposed religion.

Socialism in the Wasteland

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Propaganda image of Dazhai, China, the site of an agricultural project that became the focus of a national campaign during the later Mao years.

Soon, very soon, I will review Judith Shapiro’s Mao’s War on Nature. Tonight, however, I’m going to write frankly and personally about a topic that’s dear to me. I can’t write a blog entirely about other people’s words, after all! I mention the book, however, because it has sharpened my thoughts and feelings about what I value and dream about. Because although analysis and rational thought inform my goals, my affiliations, and my ethical choices, human rationality is inescapably linked to physical structures of my own body as well as my social contacts and personal tastes. Fantasies and desires, emotional satisfaction, and physical security inform and permeate my decision-making process. Coming out as trans could be construed as a purely rational decision, but that decision is only rational if my desires for personal freedom, for recognition, and for living truthfully outweighed my desires for conformity, social peace, or keeping secrets.

Shapiro’s book notes that Mao’s conception of both human/human relations and human/nature relations was one of struggle. Common metaphors and fantasies conjured by Mao’s speeches and writings often revolve around the power of sheer numbers of people to overcome greater or more concentrated power. Filtered through a mind steeled by military leadership, these metaphors and narratives included the ability to win against American nuclear attacks through sheer population size and the infinite creative power of labour infused with ideological enthusiasm. A proper political line, mobilized among a gigantic population, could master nature entirely. This mindset, of course, was not enough to wreak the devastation of watersheds, lakes, hillsides, forests, animal life, and, often, human life that Shapiro describes. Rather, Mao won many over to his side, operationalizing a programme through administrative teams and cadres capable of mobilizing (voluntarily or otherwise) millions of people for often ill-conceived engineering projects.

Moreover, due to a somewhat understandable mistrust of experts and intellectuals, scientific critics of these projects were often criticized and silenced, even branded as pariahs. Even as Mao broke with the Soviet model and attempted to direct the state to pursue less concentrated forms of industrialization, the organic world was conceived in antagonistic and instrumental terms. Socialism, meanwhile, was supposed to solve issues of subsistence, population growth, and environmental protection by its very nature. Only capitalists could be despoilers. For Shapiro, the key enablers of the dramatic environmental destruction that went on in the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution’s Dazhai model projects, and the erection of the Third Front in the Chinese interior as a hedge against Soviet invasion, was not socialism itself but rather a cluster of factors. The suppression of minority ways of life and knowledge about the environment, practical silencing of dissent, and militaristic disregard for natural systems’ own value all contributed to these tragic events.

Yet, as Shapiro notes and as I observe in news stories about the suppression of the EPA and National Parks Service in the United States––not to mention the wastelands being created by capitalist Chinese mining and construction industries–-socialism and capitalism have similarly dismal records of neglecting the protection of resources and the delicate dependence humans have on resources.

Given this, I wanted to take inventory of my own fantasies, desires, and reasons for being a Marxist. It’s a myth that bad people destroy natures, whether human or beyond our particular genetic group. Every individual, every social group, every mode of production is capable of spinning ecosystems and energy systems into chaos, causing local or global deprivation and destruction. One apt criticism of Marxists that I’ve had to wrestle with is that we tend to think that because we think correctly we are insulated from error. Adventurists and worshippers of spontaneity rush in ill-prepared while we lay long-term plans and create organizations of considerable scope and complexity. Political line is everything, we think, and we go to considerable lengths to enforce a certain mindset and a certain style. What the history of Marxism and the environment (and LGBT people, for that matter) shows is that well-intentioned and deeply committed and wise people can be just as hurtful and dangerous as those who are out for profit or self-interest. To an animal or tree or a mountain or wetland, the politics behind its destruction don’t matter.

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The Aral Sea, 1989 on the left and 2014 on the right. The Soviet Union and its successor states have used this inland lake for irrigating cotton fields with disastrous and toxic results.

Often, the fantasies that animate Marxism, in both academia and in power, are fantasies (not in the genre sense but in the sense of hopes and desires) about harmony and control. Chaos and “anarchy of production” arise as some of the worst aspects of capitalism. Everything under socialism will be nationalized, centralized, made orderly and neat. Everyone will have a basic living and we will gradually but inexorable solve the great problems capitalism has left us.

What our history tells us, though, is that fantasies about control and order are some of the most dangerous. I know that I’ve caught myself fantasizing about leading this-or-that enterprise or managing people, making a name for myself. Deleuze and Guattari’s discussion of how fascism and obsessively conformist modes of desiring and action can proliferate even among those who most desire freedom resonates with me because of this. While it’s obviously preferable and necessary to have a correct and well-reasoned political line and to gather and organize the people necessary to perform these goals, we have to remember to avoid fetishizing the purely rational. I don’t mean that we adopt a skepticism of any rationality of science, but rather that we don’t mistake our reason for something better than what it is. We have to remember that collective decisions can be pushed through because of fear and insecurity, people’s desires to avoid rocking the boat, and not necessarily because more minds will be more right than one.

Being a pro-ecological Marxist means we have to avoid pretending that revolution will fix our problems. Revolutions have brought great terror and suffering ––to intended and unintended victims––as well as joy and enthusiasm. In practical terms, it means living well, building a sense of your own ethics, of pursuing your own path, of organizing with people who will be creative and constructive and not just destructive and gloomy. Revolution might be necessary, now more than ever, but reaching that “other side” is worthless if we are not prepared, indeed if we have not already partly built, the new society that will arise. It means accepting a certain level of chaos, the contingency of your own body and those of others, and the fact that progress is not a matter of more control but, because it will involve more people reaching their potential, more complexity and a recognition that our actions can have unforeseen consequences.

Marxists value history greatly, which is valuable. But we are often either so fixated on our mistakes or so defensive and resistant to negative lessons that we lose sight of its real complexity. Unfortunately, I don’t have a solution to this problem. Criticism and self-criticism are not in themselves great solutions because they are only formal procedures that can twist into grotesque self-negation and bullying. This is about the ethics and ethos of the movement, and will involve a process of conversation, of building alternative and non-alienating spaces for contemplation and pleasure, of decisive action, of recognizing that we have to respect the power of the world beyond our species. Socialism in the wasteland is not much better than capitalism in the wasteland. So it’s socialism or barbarism––for sure––but as we know, barbarians aren’t the only ones who can destroy.

Book Review: Continuity and Rupture: Philosophy in the Maoist Terrain

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(Disclaimer: I am colleagues with the author [one discipline removed] in the academy and know him. We also both have a tenuous academic career, though I am perhaps still more recklessly hopeful. While I’m here in the parentheses, I want to say that I think the author’s acknowledgements and dedications are some of the best-written and most sincere I’ve read, which shows the integrity of their author. Love to all of you in the movements!)

Continuity and Rupture serves a very specific purpose. The book is neither history nor theory because, as the author indicates, it incorporates history and body of theory into its basic premise. We’ll discuss what that history is as we go through the review, but the body of theory––which it calls Maoism-qua-Maoism or Marxism-Leninism-Maoism (MLM for the sake of my carpal tunnel)––should be explained first. In order to explain what Maoism means for the unaware or misinformed audience, the author has to show where it came from as well as what direction it is metaphorically travelling.

For Moufawad-Paul, MLM emerged as a coherent body of theory in the documents of the Communist Party of Peru––Shining Path (PCP) in the late 1980s. Over the next few years, the story goes, the party’s theory coalesced on an international level within the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement (RIM). Maoism preexisted this historical and theoretical sequence as a term, the author argues, but in the 1970s it largely functioned as a synonym for a party or an individual’s alignment with China as opposed to the Soviet Union. This pro-China attitude often corresponded with an anti-revisionist orientation. Though revisionism is a slippery term that communists graft onto any number of perceived or real errors, here revisionism indicates parties that professed Marxism while abjuring revolution and arguing for a peaceful and gradual path to socialism through elections.

As anti-revisionists, groups like the Revolutionary Union/Revolutionary Communist Party in the US, La Gauche Prolétarienne in France, and revolutionary organizations from Turkey to The Philippines, arrayed themselves behind Mao’s criticism’s of the post-1956 Soviet Union and, by extension, parties that still maintained connections with Moscow. So the revisionist rogue’s gallery included a majority of the older, established capital-c Communist parties. But, Moufawad-Paul argues, simple support for China did not mean that they had transcended the limitations of Marxism-Leninism (ML), and in fact were ML orthodoxy incarnate. In fact, the author notes, the parties disintegrated precisely because their adherence to ML rendered them incapable of grappling with various social movements that had emerged in the 60s (movements in which the creators of these anti-revisionist parties had usually participated in some form). The typical example is the RU/RCP’s homophobic line, which relegated gay members to what has been dubbed the “Red Closet.”

Maoism, in order to be a relevant improvement on ML, had to resolve the contradictions of traditional ML. Moufawad-Paul’s fundamental argument is that it has done so without jettisoning the important insights of its anti-revisionist predecessors. Within its rupture from traditional ML, it preserved the continuity. In fact, he goes so far to propose that its rupture was not just simultaneously contiguous with its tradition but in fact necessary to the preservation of the entire Marxist theoretical edifice. MLM puts its ancestors to death in order to keep them alive, we could say.

Fundamental to the flow of Moufawad-Paul’s argument is the notion that Marxist theory constitutes a scientific, rather than merely ideological, tradition. Therefore when he appeals to the work of someone like Thomas Kuhn and his ideas about paradigm shifts in science, he is not being analogical but rather quite literal in ascribing to Marxism the same evolutionary process as physics, chemistry, and the like. Not that he thinks Marxism is a natural science or that it has any authority over such areas (he mocks those who do argue Marxism’s hegemony over all of science). Rather, like Louis Althusser, he sees Marxism as a form of knowledge and practice that can pose and answer questions scientifically, constantly negating its own theories even as it preserves core principles and “methods.” Thus, just as physics got its atom from Democritus but endowed it with a fresh and empirically useful meaning, Maoists took a word that had one meaning and transformed it. Words and concepts, in other words, are not identical.

Whether or not one supports the idea that politics can be scientific, the analogy with paradigm shifts in science is an illuminating device. We can see, throughout Continuity and Rupture, the ways in which Maoists deploy old Marxist concepts like class in a different way than Leninists, and how these differences are relevant enough to separate the two fairly strongly despite their shared embrace of the vanguard as a useful organizing concept. The author also dispels some misconceptions about Leninism and its ties to historical periodization in a way that I found very satisfying. The idea, for example, that Leninism is “the Marxism of the era of imperialism,” petrifies Marxism as long as imperialism exists. Linking the development of Marxism to the vicissitudes of capitalist evolution rather than the actual practice of communists seems foolhardy and self-negating as well as historically dubious since, as Moufawad-Paul observes, imperialism hardly waited for Lenin’s say-so to come into being.

In sum, the book does what it says on the cover: convinces me that Maoism came into being in the late 1980s and has created a novel set of theories and practices that have made some headway in challenging capitalism in parts of the world. I already shared this understanding with the author, but I think it makes a convincing case even to the relatively uninformed. Those who are hostile to Maoism in all forms would also benefit from this book because it offers a coherent explanation for what it is.

That’s not all a book like this has to do, of course. I’ve spent the first half of this review talking about the book in terms of its argumentative structure and commentary. However, the real question Moufawad-Paul has to answer, especially to the vast majority of people who are not Maoists, is why it matters. After all, if Maoism is irrelevant to the reader, an explanation of what it does and how it talks and where it was born is nothing but an abstract exercise. Almost like a taxonomy for mythical creatures: elaborate and fascinating, but of no immediate value except to nerdy enthusiasts like me.

After all, as the author admits, Maoism has no claim to hegemony either over the broader left or within Marxism more narrowly. In India, The Philippines, Peru, and Nepal it achieved/still is achieving some level of organizational success, and in the latter case was upheld by the party controlling essentially the entire country outside of the capital region. However, Nepal’s revolution has splintered and dissolved, seemingly held in perpetual stasis. The Peruvian Maoists capitulated after the capture of the leader they venerated, Gonzalo. In India, the party is under immense strain as a result of state repression. In The Philippines, the people’s war has been protracted indeed, though it seems the most stable of the movements at this time. This is not to speak of Maoist movements in the West, which are nascent or at best have achieved the status of marginal forces in certain cities. A reasonable and honest radical might rightly, I believe, still approach Maoism with skepticism.

Still, Moufawad-Paul declares, Maoism’s emphasis on putting communism into action, on bridging the here and now and the communist future, puts it on firm ground. And I think it’s at least undeniable that the old communist parties are moribund, especially in North America, and that Maoist movements are often militant bright spots, along with certain anarchists, in many urban settings here in North America. We might say that Maoists are making some of the most valuable and worthwhile mistakes of any leftist tendency today. So I would keep an eye on Maoist movements as the global situation tenses and we see a resurgence––how powerful we cannot reckon––of old reactionary and fascist tendencies. The margins are often the most fertile breeding ground for successful ideas, and I think Continuity and Rupture makes some of Maoism’s best ideas legible to those who might scoff at party documents. And that’s a valuable contribution indeed.

 

Historical DeWitticisms: Environmental History and Random Musings by J.M. DeWitt

Environmental History and Random Musings by J.M. DeWitt

Solarpunk Anarchists

Imagining and Building Better Worlds

Outside the Circle

Cindy Milstein

CHOPPER IN JOHTO

Discussing anything and everything.

Revolutionary Anamnesis

Anamnesis is a Platonic theory of knowledge that posits the soul's ability to recollect the things it knew in past incarnations, or an eternal knowledge, recovered through reasoning.

PERIPHERAL THOUGHT

“What did you do when the poor suffered, when tenderness and life burned out of them?”| Apolitical intellectuals of my sweet country, you will not be able to answer. | A vulture of silence will eat your gut. | Your own misery will pick at your soul. | And you will be mute in your shame.” --Otto Rene Castillo, Apolitical Intellectuals

Revolutionary Student Coordinating Committee

Raising Revolutionary Consciousness

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