Andrew Keen Discusses The Internet Is Not the Answer

AndrewKeenAndrew Keen is currently the executive director of the Silicon Valley salon FutureCast. He is also the host of a long-running show on TechCrunch, a columnist for CNN, and a regular commentator on all things digital. He is the author of the international sensation The Cult of the Amateur, which has been published in seventeen languages.

He will be discussing the subject of his recently released book The Internet Is Not the Answer with bestselling author Robin Sloan at City Lights Bookstore on Tuesday, January 27, 2015, 7:00 P.M. Our event coordinator, Peter Maravelis, posed a few questions to him recently.

City Lights: I am often struck by the degree of orthodoxy that comes through the rhetoric Internet pundits and tech industry spokespeople use these days. For a self-professed forward-looking industry, pummeling us with claims of innovation, the program more closely resembles an unholy marriage between the Borg and Werner Erhrdt’s EST. Was it difficult not to laugh at the structural hypocrisy ingrained in Internet culture while doing your research?

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Friday Staff Pick: Becoming Richard Pryor

—Recommended by Scott, City Lights Books

A major biography—intimate, gripping, revelatory—of an artist who revolutionized American comedy.

Richard Pryor may have been the most unlikely star in Hollywood history. Raised in his family’s brothels, he grew up an outsider to privilege. He took to the stage, originally, to escape the hard-bitten realities of his childhood, but later came to a reverberating discovery: that by plunging into the depths of his experience, he could make stand-up comedy as exhilarating and harrowing as the life he’d known. He brought that trembling vitality to Hollywood, where his movie career—Blazing Saddles, the buddy comedies with Gene Wilder, Blue Collar—flowed directly out of his spirit of creative improvisation. The major studios considered him dangerous. Audiences felt plugged directly into the socket of life.

Becoming Richard Pryor brings the man and his comic genius into focus as never before. Drawing upon a mountain of original research—interviews with family and friends, court transcripts, unpublished journals, screenplay drafts—Scott Saul traces Pryor’s rough journey to the heights of fame: from his heartbreaking childhood, his trials in the Army, and his apprentice days in Greenwich Village to his soul-searching interlude in Berkeley and his ascent in the “New Hollywood” of the 1970s.

Becoming Richard Pryor illuminates an entertainer who, by bringing together the spirits of the black freedom movement and the counterculture, forever altered the DNA of American comedy. It reveals that, while Pryor made himself a legend with his own account of his life onstage, the full truth of that life is more bracing still.


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Planet News

Footage of Pier Polo Pasolini by Jonas Mekas, 1967.

“Up to this point, the American revolt has been a stupendous thing, the thing I admire most in the world today. But in essence it has always remained basically irrational, having always found its motive inside of America itself, in the authentic part of America, which is democracy; that is the truest example of pure democracy. At this point, of course, what is necessary is guidance, but this guidance can only be an ideology. America isn’t awaiting guidance, it’s awaiting an ideology.”
Recently uncovered conversation between Pasolini and Mekas, circa 1967 (Via Bomb Magazine)


Watch the trailer for the movie adaptation of Manchette’s Prone Gunman, starring Javier Bardem, Sean Penn and Idris Elba

“But they want to strike fear into our hearts… we need to understand that it’s really urgent that we organize politically. That we bring a political vertical out of the horizontality of the movements: one that’s able to express strength and political programmes. That is urgent, if we don’t want to be afraid any more, and we feel (as many did on the 11 January demo) that we in our poverty and fraternity can win.”
Antonio Negri on Charlie Hebdo (Via Verso Books)




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Alejandro Murguía, Poet Laureate of San Francisco

muguia lance iverson
Photo: Lance Iverson, San Francisco Chronicle

When Mayor Ed Lee asked Alejandro Murguía in 2012 if he would agree to become San Francisco’s sixth Poet Laureate, the first Latino poet to hold the position, Murguía’s first answer was, “Only in the name of my community.” His follow-up was to ask whether the honor came with a free parking permit.

Both responses indicate something essential about Murguía’s poetics, their origin and milieu. Growing up in San Francisco’s Mission neighborhood amid the influx of refugees from war-torn Central America during the 1960s and ’70s, Murguía began reading his poems in Mission cafés and working-class bars where the clientele was not shy about booing a poet if they couldn’t hold the room’s attention. Partly as a way of bringing his audience into his poetry through humor, and partly stemming from a commitment to a new identity politics taking shape at this time in the southwest, Murguía forged a poetic voice that speaks in solidarity with some of America’s poorest and most vulnerable residents. At the same time it draws from a unique exuberance that characterizes the American poetic tradition from Whitman to Williams and Ginsberg. In Murguía’s own words, his work emerged from a time when “Latin America fused to the history of San Francisco, and vice versa – San Francisco fused to the history of Latin America.”

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New from City Lights Publishers: The Penguin’s Song by Hassan Daoud

penguinssongFirst published sixteen years ago in Lebanon, City Lights’ newest publication of translated literature is author Hassan Daoud’s novel The Penguin’s Song, here translated from the Arabic by Marilyn Booth. This Daoud’s fifth book to appear in English.

Daoud grew up in Noumairieh, a village in southern Lebanon, then moved to Beirut with his family where he worked as a journalist and writer during the Lebanese Civil War, which broke out in 1975.

A little history on the Lebanese Civil War: it lasted from 1975 to about 1990 claiming an estimated 120,000 lives. Before the war, Lebanon had a large population of Sunni and Shia Muslims, but with a Maronite Christian governing body. This residual parliamentary structure was put into place by French colonialists who favored Christian leaders. Once the state of Israel was established, which displaced 100,000 Palestinians into Lebanon, the demographic became predominantly Muslim. Opposing the Maronite Christian’s favor of a pro-western government, the pan-Arab populations sided with Soviet aligned Arab countries, though these alliances often shifted unpredictably.

The Penguin’s Song documents the tumultuous yet lonely aftermath of that conflict through the eyes of  “The Penguin,” a physically deformed young man who lives with his aging mother and father in one of the “temporary” buildings. His father spends his days on the balcony of their apartment, looking at the far-off city and pining for his lost way of life. Mother and father both find their purpose each day in worrying about the future for their son, while he spends his time in an erotic fantasy world, centered on a young woman who lives in the apartment below. Poverty and family crisis go hand-in-hand as the young man struggles with his isolation and unfulfilled sexual longing.

Of the book, New York Times reviewer Pauls Toutonghi recently wrote,

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Friday Staff Pick: Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys.

Recommended by Layla, City Lights Books

The Rough Trade #1 Book of the Year!

Viv Albertine is a pioneer. As lead guitarist and songwriter for the seminal band The Slits, she influenced a future generation of artists including Kurt Cobain and Carrie Brownstein. She formed a band with Sid Vicious and was there the night he met Nancy Spungeon. She tempted Johnny Thunders…toured America with the Clash…dated Mick Jones…and inspired the classic Clash anthem “Train in Vain.” But Albertine was no mere muse. In Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys., Albertine delivers a unique and unfiltered look at a traditionally male-dominated scene.

Her story is so much more than a music memoir. Albertine’s narrative is nothing less than a fierce correspondence from a life on the fringes of culture. The author recalls rebelling from conformity and patriarchal society ever since her days as an adolescent girl in the same London suburb of Muswell Hill where the Kinks formed. With brash honesty—and an unforgiving memory—Albertine writes of immersing herself into punk culture among the likes of the Sex Pistols and the Buzzcocks. Of her devastation when the Slits broke up and her reinvention as a director and screenwriter. Or abortion, marriage, motherhood, and surviving cancer. Navigating infidelity and negotiating divorce. And launching her recent comeback as a solo artist with her debut album, The Vermilion Border.

Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys. is a raw chronicle of music, fashion, love, sex, feminism, and more that connects the early days of punk to the Riot Grrl movement and beyond. But even more profoundly, Viv Albertine’s remarkable memoir is the story of an empowered woman staying true to herself and making it on her own in the modern world.



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Planet News

“Part of the festivities celebrating the bicentenary of the death of Marquis de Sade is an exhibit at the L’ Institut des Lettres et Manuscrits in Paris featuring the original manuscript of The 120 Days of Sodom. Regarded by Sade as his magnum opus, The 120 Days of Sodom also known as The School of Libertinism, was written by Sade in the space of thirty-seven days in 1785 while imprisoned. The production, construction and preservation of the manuscript is itself an epic tale. Sade wrote for 3 hours each evening, copying his drafts on strips of paper 11″ wide, he then glued them together to form a roll and hid the manuscript between two stones in his cell.”
Another infamous scroll… (via Book Patrol)

Lunch Poems, Zap Comix, Soul Train, the Spanish Civil War and so much more! This season’s readings at City Lights

“When I was at Emerson for that year, David Foster Wallace, who was a great writer who was not known then, was my teacher—he was my English teacher … It was the first teacher I fell in love with.”
David Foster Wallace once taught Paul Thomas Anderson, whose new film, Inherent Vice, is in wide release this week. Listen to Marc Maron’s full interview with the film director here. (via Paris Review)

Joan Didion’s Favorite Books of All Time, in a Handwritten Reading List


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Remembering Al Bendich, the Lawyer that won the “Howl” Trial

howl not obsceneOn June 3rd, 1957, an undercover customs officer entered City Lights Bookstore and purchased a copy of Howl and Other Poems (1956) by Allen Ginsberg. He promptly arrested Shig Murao, the store’s manager. And later Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the publisher of City Lights Books, would be arrested by a San Francisco police officer for the publication of that volume. The resulting trial — and the verdict that judged “Howl” to be not obscene material, but rather, a work of literary merit and cultural value — is now internationally famous for being the last time a poem would be the subject of an obscenity trial in the United States.

Less well known perhaps is the man responsible for the trial’s outcome, Al Bendich, who passed away on January 5th this year. Bendich was the young ACLU lawyer who successfully mounted a defense for Ferlinghetti and Murau that has reverberated through the decades since, setting the highest water mark now known to American law and letters for the advocacy of free expression.


In the same month of Ferlinghetti’s arrest, the Supreme Court ruled in Roth v. United States that obscene speech did not enjoy the right of First Amendment protection. This may have cast an ominous shadow over the looming trial in San Francisco. Ginsberg’s description of his contemporaries as “angelheaded hipsters” (which appears below)

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Explore Cuban Literature with 5 Titles from City Lights

As City Lights celebrates its 60th year as a publisher, we will spend 2015 exploring our tradition of cutting-edge fiction, poetry, memoirs, literary translations and books on vital social and political issues.


In the wake of the Obama Administration’s announcement that it will seek to normalize U.S.-Cuba relations in coming months, we’re taking the opportunity to share our favorite in-print Cuban Lit titles published by City Lights. City Lights founder and publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti has long been an advocate of U.S.-Cuba cooperation while also supporting Cuban artists and dissidents through City Lights’ commitment to publishing literature in translation. (Not coincidentally, one of Ferlinghetti’s most well-known poems, 1961’s “One Thousand Fearful Words for Fidel Castro,” practically predicted the Bay of Pigs invasion months before it occurred: “Hearst is dead / But his great Cuban wire still stands: ‘You / get the pictures, I’ll make the / war … They’re going to fix [Castro’s] wagon / in the course of human events.”)

Corner of the World low res1. A Corner of the World by Mylene Fernández-Pintado. Tr. Dick Cluster (2014).

This love story narrated by a middle-aged Cuban literature professor doubles as a portrait of 21st century Havana. As Marian comes to grips with her passion for a much younger writer with a different generational sensibility, the changes occurring in their country, as well as the catastrophes wrought by history, seethe beneath the surface of the narrative and structure its characters’ relationships.

P.T. tells me lots of things about life in exile, a term which is itself a cliché on this island which offers so many ocean views that the fever to cross the sea is nearly epidemic. But what are clichés except oft-repeated truths?

He says that those who leave always find themselves missing something. Maybe what they’re missing is us. No matter how many new friends you make, there’s always someone you’re longing for, he says. Other places may also have very blue skies, hot weather, a seacoast, and fine heavy cloudbursts, but what they offer in terms of spatial features they lack in terms of temporal ones. Time keeps passing, corroding walls, yellowing photographs, and burying the old folks from the house on the corner – but now it’s passing without you.

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Poetry on a Monday

John Ashbery, Frank O’Hara, Patsy Southgate, Bill Berkson, Kenneth Koch, 1964 (Photo: Mario Schifano)

“At 20, aflame with new feelings for what poetry could be, I wrote poems mixing up Ashbery’s insouciant discontinuities with O’Hara’s passion and irritability. (I brought my own distress.) In the process, I discovered that Ashbery is a kind of Paganini, his demonic quality no less pervasive (and persuasive) then than in his later work. He transmutes irony to a fever pitch and regularly arrives by stealth, by way of all probable pratfalls, at the sublime.” Bill Berkson on the Poetry Foundation’s Harriet blog

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