New from City Lights Publishers: The Violence of Organized Forgetting

violence of organizedThe French philosopher and art historian Georges Didi-Huberman coined the term “disimagination machine” in order to describe the ruthless manipulation and obfuscation of art, evidence, and images by regimes wishing to oppress the public’s views, as well as experiences, of the past. The atrocities committed by the Nazis represent, for Didi-Huberman, the ultimate example of how the “disimagination machine” has been used in an attempt to alter and erase an entire culture from view.

In his new book, The Violence of Organized Forgetting: Thinking Beyond America’s Disimagination Machine, scholar and cultural critic Henry Giroux, a founding theorist of critical pedagogy in the United States, believes that this term could easily be applied to the current state of American cultural and political affairs.

We live in a time of deep foreboding, one that haunts any discourse about justice, democracy and the future. The ‘disimagination machine’ is both a set of cultural apparatuses extending from schools and mainstream media to the new sites of screen culture, and a public pedagogy that functions primarily to undermine the ability of individuals to think critically, imagine the unimaginable, and engage in thoughtful and critical dialogue: put simply, to become critically informed citizens of the world.”

Working in the intellectual traditions of Hannah Arendt and Noam Chomsky, Giroux argues that the United States has become a society almost entirely disengaged from the political and cultural activism in which it was founded. Rather, America now views public intellectual discourse and critical thought with suspicion, even disdain, while actively encouraging forms of historical and moral amnesia. The banalities of celebrity culture are now our primary concern and the voices of anti-intellectuals, such as the politicians Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum and the pundits Bill O’Reilly and Anne Coulter, are now the most prominent of all. It is evidence of a “disturbing assault on critical thinking, if not rationale thought itself,” says Giroux. “Under a neoliberal regime, the language of authority, power and command is divorced from ethics, social responsibility, critical analysis and social costs.”

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Radioactive on the Derby Line: A Meeting with the U.S. Border Patrol

By Greg Ruggiero

After going camping in Quebec with my family last weekend, I rolled up to the U.S. checkpoint in what appeared to be a remote and rural area. Having recently worked on such books as Border Patrol Nation, Spying on Democracy, Dying to Live, and Mexico Unconquered for the City Lights Open Media Series–all of which to some degree discuss U.S. borders and surveillance–I decided to snap a few pictures of the cameras and sensors that were clearly taking pictures and capturing information about me. As we got close to the surveillance sensors, I did not realize that we were approaching a section of the border that Todd Miller writes about in Border Patrol Nation, the most recent release in the Open Media Series.

haskell library.jpg
“At the Haskell Free Library, a line on the floor marks the border between Canada and the United States.” From the New York Times article, “Quebec and Vermont Towns Bond Over a Sleepy Border”.

As Miller describes in his chapter titled “The Not-So-Soft Underbelly of the North,” Derby Line, Vermont and Stanstead, Quebec have the distinction of not only being neighboring border towns and home to the U.S. checkpoint I was attempting to cross, but also places where the two countries share public spaces, infrastructure, and institutions.

Todd Miller writes:

Derby Line, Vermont, and Stanstead, Quebec, where the international border bisects the local library with a thick black line on its floor, yet has 20,000 books in French and English that citizens of both towns—and countries—share. They also share the same water service and sewage system, which, unlike the library, are both out of sight and inaccessible to the public. The library’s front door is in the United States, but the majority of the backside, and its books, are in Canada. Canadians can use the entire library, but they have to return to their country after checking out a book, or risk arrest. The same goes for the opera house, located in the same historic building, where a brochure encourages all visitors to return to their country of origin following performances. There are no walls yet, but Homeland Security has started blockading some streets with gates, flowerpots, and large signs that say with red letters: YOU MAY NOT ENTER THE UNITED STATES ON THIS STREET. Now friends and neighbors in both towns express the same astonishment at these sharp, policed lines of division that people in many small U.S.-Mexican border towns once did in the mid-1990s.

I didn’t realize I was entering part of the political geography that Todd Miller writes about. And, unbeknownst to me, I had apparently stashed somewhere in my car U.S.-issued military hardware with enough radioactive power to be detected long before I reached the control position where U.S. border authorities were waiting for me.

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Recommended Read: Manchette

The Prone Gunman

Recommended by Andy, City Lights Books

Martin Terrier is a hired killer who wants out of the game-so he can settle down and marry his childhood sweetheart. After all, that’s why he took up this profession! But the Organization won’t let him go: they have other plans. Once again, the gunman must assume the prone shooting position. A tour de force, this violent tale shatters as many illusions about life and politics as bodies.

Jean-Patrick Manchette (1942-1995) rescued the French crime novel from the grip of stodgy police procedurals, restoring the noir edge by virtue of his post-1968 leftism. Manchette is a totem to a generation of French mystery writers, and his stories have inspired several films, including Claude Chabrol’s Nada.


Jean-Patrick Manchette: raconteur, bon vivant, leftist militant, agent provocateur, swinger, French crime kingpin, gadfly foe of the Fifth Republic. Man-oh-man Manchette was a decades-long hurricane through the Parisian cultural scene. We must revere him now and rediscover him this very instant. Jean-Patrick Manchette was Le Homme.
—James Ellroy



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Planet News

A note from Julio Cortázar to his translator, Gregory Rabassa, and a drawing sent to Rabassa’s daughter, Clara, “from the six foot four man.”

“For me, literature is a form of play. But I’ve always added that there are two forms of play: football, for example, which is basically a game, and then games that are very profound and serious. When children play, though they’re amusing themselves, they take it very seriously. It’s important. It’s just as serious for them now as love will be ten years from now. I remember when I was little and my parents used to say, “Okay, you’ve played enough, come take a bath now.” I found that completely idiotic, because, for me, the bath was a silly matter. It had no importance whatsoever, while playing with my friends was something serious. Literature is like that—it’s a game, but it’s a game one can put one’s life into. One can do everything for that game.”
Julio Cortázar/Paris Review

“The black door’s not shiny, not dull. No handle, no keyhole, no gaps round the edges. Like it’s made of night. Like the wall’s grown it.”
David Mitchell is tweeting a new short story

“More dangerous than any words that come out of Lil’ Kim’s mouth are the forces of repressive puritanical morality that seek to silence her.”
bell hooks interviewed Lil Kim/Paper Magazine


“For Gordimer, art and activism were bound together since birth. “I used the life around me and the life around me was racist,” she said in a 1990 interview. “I would have been a writer anywhere, but in my country, writing meant confronting racism.”
Nadine Gordimer 20 November 1923 – 13 July 2014 / The Guardian

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Throwback Thursday: New Young German Poets

younggermanpoetsGermans are in the news for sports, so why not take a look at their rich avant-garde literature tradition today? Today we proudly feature Jerome Rothenberg’s New Young German Poets – number 11 in the City Lights Pocket Poets Series.

Translated and edited by Rothenberg in 1959, the currently out-of-print New Young German Poets presents the avant-garde in mid-century German poetry. Opposing the inherited dead world with a modern, visionary language, these poets are not tied together through a similar style nor manifesto, but rather as part of a generation who were coming of age in the ruins of Hitler’s Third Reich. Even today these poems read fresh, and the collection boasts some of Germany’s most renowned post-war poets. Some of these translations (especially those of Paul Celan, who is increasingly studied in English) are hard to find.

Rothenberg’s selections call to mind the blurred works of German Painter Gerhard Richter (like Hirsch from 1963), or the post-war, tactile landscapes of fellow painter/sculptor Anselm Kiefer (Kiefer’s painting Margarete was directly informed by Paul Celan’s famous Holocaust poem “Death Fugue”, featured in this collection). Each selection references German culture and history with both nostalgia and a disdain for the use and misuse of Third Reich propaganda. New Young German Poets follows this same heavy aesthetic, a rebirth of culture coming from hardly a blank slate.

The book also features an introduction by Rothenberg, who remarks on each poet with a sparkling, short intro that both defines the poet’s work and manages to capsule his translation of each:

PAUL CELAN (b. 1920, Czernowitz/Bukowina, Rumania, now living in Paris) is regarded by many as the greatest of the post-war poets in Germany, perhaps in Europe. Because of his Jewish background, he grew up apart from the German world whose language he shared. Surviving, he has transformed that language into a unique personal instrument for assaulting a reality that has wounded him but that he still desires to address as ‘Thou’.

If you’d like to keep up with Jerome Rothenberg, he has an excellent and very active blog called Poems and Poetics. You can see some selections from New Young German Poets below.  Continue reading

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Todd Miller’s Border Patrol Nation and the Emerging Immigration Crisis

toddMillerFor the last fifteen years, Todd Miller has researched, written about, and worked on immigration and border issues as both an acclaimed journalist and as an activist with organizations such as BorderLinks, Witness for Peace, and the NACLA. You can read his latest essay on the border crisis here.

This past March, City Lights Publishers released Miller’s Border Patrol Nation: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Homeland Security, a culmination of his efforts to raise awareness of the increasingly militaristic and anti-humanitarian tactics of the U.S. Border Patrol.

“The Border Patrol can do a warrentless search on anyone who is within one hundred miles of U.S. coastlines and land borders.” Miller writes. “These Homeland Security officers have federal, extra-constitutional powers that are well above and beyond those of local law enforcement.” The excoriating and revealing report that Miller delivers has earned him acclaim and sparked discussion across the world.

Recent news stories prove the relevance of Miller’s argument and highlight the enduring challenge that immigration poses today. The Obama administration is requesting 3.7 billion dollars in order to confront the emerging crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border, where tens of thousands of undocumented children, many of them unaccompanied, have arrived in the past several months. Meanwhile, amid mounting criticism of his immigration policies, President Obama just visited Texas to discuss the issue with Governor Rick Perry and other officials, but did not visit the border to inspect any of the holding cells.

Currently, there is much debate in Congress over how that nearly four billion dollars would best be spent. The questions become even more daunting as the statistics continue to add up. In 2014 alone, 57,000 unaccompanied children have so far been apprehended at the border, while only between 1,300 and 1,500 have been repatriated. To top all this off, the ACLU has announced that they have filed a lawsuit challenging “the federal government’s failure to provide [children] with legal representation as it carries out deportation hearings against them.” Their plaintiffs include several young boys and girls, ages ten to seventeen.

There is still much discussion that needs to be done before this crisis can be solved. In a recent statement, though, pulling directly from what he has witnessed for the past decade and a half, Todd Miller reminds us how we got here in the first place and why we should not be so quick to spend: Continue reading

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Poetry on a Monday: Wole Soyinka Turns 80

woleWole Soyinka was the first African to win the Nobel Prize. As a poet, playwright, novelist, essayist, translator, and activist, Wole has distinguished himself as one of the great political figures of his generation as well as a legendary writer. His has been very active in politics in his home country of Nigeria and has had a long career teaching and writing in the United States. He’s the author of dozens of plays, a handful of memoirs, two novels, several books of essays, and eight books of poetry, among other notable publications.

We are honored to have one of our books listed among his many great works, his translation of the classic Nigerian novel by D.O. Fagunwa, Forest of a Thousand Daemons, which we released last August.

Wole Soyinka translated Fagunwa’s masterwork while imprisoned during the Nigerian Civil War in the 1960s. He also provides an essay on the special challenges of translating Fagunwa from the Yoruba into English, along with a glossary of Yoruba and unfamiliar words.

There is a wealth of Soyinka material online, including more than a few sources remarking on his 80th birthday. We’ve cobbled together a few items as well as a few poetry readings below.

First, the entire program of the British Library’s “Wole Soyinka at 80″ event, presented by the Royal African Society:

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Planet News

On Thursday, the day that the Dow Jones index closed at an all-time high of 17,068 points, sold a first edition of Karl Marx’s Das Kapital for $40,000.
Planet News Economics Part One. (Abebooks)

A recent survey “found that in 2013, just 11.5% of professional authors – those who dedicate the majority of their time to writing – earned their incomes solely from writing. This compares with 2005, when 40% of professional authors said that they did so.”
Planet News Economics Part Two. (Guardian)

“Having determined that what readers want is a ‘sense of connection,’ publishers will organize adopt-an-author promotions, repackaging writers along the lines of Webkinz and other imaginary pets. ‘Feeding’ your favorite authors by buying their books will make their online avatars grow less pale and grouchy.”
The Future of Books (McSweeney’s)

“Directed by Harely Cokliss… The Atrocity Exhibition (JG Ballard and the Motorcar) [1970] features Ballard talking about some of the ideas which would coalesce into his novel Crash, published in 1973. Intercut with footage of test motor crashes and Ballard himself are semi-dramatised scenes with actress Gabrielle Drake. Remarkably effective and disturbing.”
Watch on Ubuweb

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A Memphis Minnie Literary Playlist

87286100382200LOne of our newest books is a reissue of a classic music biography of one of the most legendary artists of all time. Woman with Guitar: Memphis Minnie’s Blues by Paul & Beth Garon is the authoritative work about the life and times of Memphis Minnie.

This book goes into detail about Minnie’s life, her struggles, successes, and various marriages (and collaborations) with men. It features dozens of rare photographs. Most engaging of all is the nuance of her original songs, which were (and still quite innovative to contemporary listeners) a mix of tales about drinking, sex, poverty, infidelity, marriage, and surviving as a woman of color in a racist world.

The songs and Minnie’s lyrics are deconstructed in the book as well at great length, drawing on folklore, psychoanalysis, critical theory, women’s studies, and surrealism. The Garons’ explorations of Minnie’s songs illuminate the poetics of popular culture as well as the largely hidden history of working-class women’s self-emancipation. And the songs also reveal, well before the first days of the “singer-songwriter”, Minnie’s actual life experiences.

In honor of that noble literary process and the music discussed, we’ve concocted a “playlist” below of several of Minnie’s songs and the hidden depths of blues lyrics, quoted from the book. The Garons have been writing about the poetics of the blues for a long time. You can also listen to most of the songs below.

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