The Coming Insurrection - Big rant against modern society and a call for the fall of capitalism

Invisible Committee, The Coming Insurrection (MIT, 2009)

«Thirty years of 'crisis', mass unemployment, and flagging growth, and they still want us to believe in the economy... We have to see that the economy is itself the crisis. It's not that there's not enough work, it's that there is too much of it."- from The Coming Insurrection
The Coming Insurrection is an eloquent call to arms arising from the recent waves of social contestation in France and Europe. Written by the anonymous Invisible Committee in the vein of Guy Debord--and with comparable elegance - it has been proclaimed a manual for terrorism by the French government (who recently arrested its alleged authors). One of its members more adequately described the group as "the name given to a collective voice bent on denouncing contemporary cynicism and reality." The Coming Insurrection is a strategic prescription for an emergent war-machine capable of "spreading anarchy and live communism." Written in the wake of the riots that erupted throughout the Paris suburbs in the fall of 2005 and presaging more recent riots and general strikes in France and Greece, The Coming Insurrection articulates a rejection of the official Left and its reformist agenda, aligning itself instead with the younger, wilder forms of resistance that have emerged in Europe around recent struggles against immigration control and the "war on terror." Hot-wired to the movement of '77 in Italy, its preferred historical reference point, The Coming Insurrection formulates an ethics that takes as its starting point theft, sabotage, the refusal to work, and the elaboration of collective, self-organized life forms. It is a philosophical statement that addresses the growing number of those - in France, in the United States, and elsewhere - who refuse the idea that theory, politics, and life are separate realms."

"First published in France in 2007, this controversial manifesto promotes the use of violence, sabotage, and active mutiny against the capitalist hegemony which the authors claim dominates civilized existence. The book's open advocacy of aggression against the government and other societal authorities has been roundly condemned by various official sources in both France and the United States, publicity which inevitably served to increase and legitimize the word-of-mouth notoriety of the book. While the authors are anonymous, the book has been openly linked to the "Tarnac Nine," a group of anarchist graduate students who were arrested via a series of raids by the French police in 2008.»

"The book is basically a big rant against modern society. It mainly rants against French society, but there are more similarities than differences in the Western world. And no, I'm not saying there is anything wrong with ranting intelligently like this book does.
The book begins by talking a little about communism, but the book seems anarchist in its action plans. If you only have elementary knowledge of anti-capitalist ideologies, then you might be confused by this. So I don't recommend it for beginners.
The book briefly states that Marxism-Leninism "mistakes provocation for affirmation", but doesn't explain how or why. To be fair though, I don't think explaining something like that was the point of the book.
Around the end of the book it says people should abandon their political milieus and groups because all they do is hinder revolutionary progress. It then says we should form communes in their place. I don't think this is a good idea. If radicals weaken their groups and gather together in communes they'll be more vulnerable. The authorities will finally have many, many radicals together in one spot, making it easier for the bourgeoisie to keep the radicals under control. Then again, staying scattered, divided, and weak in thousands of political/activist circles will never accomplish anything either. I think a nice balance between communes and milieus would work just fine. It might have to take a form independent of both though.
The Invisible Committee goes on to suggest in this book that communes should try to remain in the shadows and hide from public attention. I agree that too much attention could be a bad thing, but if communes remain entirely secretive they will never grow to a size big enough to carry out the revolution simply because most comrades won't have knowledge of their existence.
Most of the ideas regarding communes laid out in this book are weak and basic. Either the intention was to only give people the general idea or it wasn't thought out very well. In the case of the former, it wasn't made clear enough so you know some idiots somewhere will try to use the book as a manual and get hurt.
It's possible that I may have misunderstood something in the book, but I don't think I did.
This is one of those books where it can't be rated as a whole, but rather on individual characteristics. I give The Coming Insurrection five out of five stars for its polemics against the current society, and I give it two out of five stars for its ideas for action.» - partisan-news.blogspot.

«They arrived at the Barnes & Noble at Union Square in small groups on Sunday afternoon, proceeding two and three at a time to the fourth floor, where they browsed among shelves holding books by authors like Jacques Derrida and Martin Heidegger.
By 5 o’clock a crowd of more than 100 had gathered. Their purpose: to celebrate the publication of an English translation of a book called “The Coming Insurrection,” which was written two years ago by an anonymous group of French authors who call themselves the Invisible Committee. More recently, the volume has been at the center of an unusual criminal investigation in France that has become something of a cause célèbre among leftists and civil libertarians.
The book, which predicts the imminent collapse of capitalist culture, was inspired by disruptive demonstrations that took place over the last few years in France and Greece. It was influenced stylistically by Guy Debord, a French writer and filmmaker who was a leader of the Situationist International, a group of intellectuals and artists who encouraged the Paris protests of 1968.
In keeping with the anarchistic spirit of the text, the bookstore event was organized without the knowledge or permission of Barnes & Noble. The gathering was intended partly as a show of solidarity with nine young people — including one suspected of writing “The Coming Insurrection” —whom in November the French police accused of forming a dangerous “ultraleftist” group and sabotaging train lines.
As a bookstore employee announced to the milling crowd that there was no reading scheduled for that night, a man jumped onto a stage and began loudly reciting the opening words of the book’s recent introduction: “Everyone agrees. It’s about to explode.”
A security guard tried to halt the unsanctioned reading, but the man continued for about five minutes, until the police arrived. The crowd, mostly people in their 20s and 30s, including some graduate students, then adjourned, clapping and yelling, to East 17th Street. There they formed a rebellious spectacle, crowding into shops and loudly shouting bits of political theory, to the amusement of some onlookers and store employees and the irritation of others.
When the French publisher La Fabrique first issued “The Coming Insurrection” in 2007, it received comparatively little attention. But among those who did take notice were the French police, who began monitoring a group of people, mostly graduate students, living in the tiny mountain village of Tarnac in central France.
Last November nine of those men and women, ages 22 to 34, were arrested and accused of “associating with a terrorist enterprise” and disabling power lines that left 40,000 passengers stranded for several hours on high-speed trains. A spokeswoman for the Paris prosecutors’ office said that one of the nine, Julien Coupat, was believed to have written “The Coming Insurrection.” He has denied being the author but told interviewers in France that he admired the book.
The government eventually released the group — who have come to be known as the Tarnac Nine — pending further investigation, with some opponents of the official action accusing the police of carrying out arrests without sufficient evidence.
Meanwhile, the book Mr. Coupat was accused of writing has developed a small but devoted following. Dozens of anonymous translators have posted the text on Web sites. And Semiotext(e), a Los Angeles publisher that specializes in works by French theorists like Jean Baudrillard and Michel Foucault, published an English-language edition of the book at the end of last month with a print run of 3,000.
Hedi El Kholti, an editor at Semiotext(e), said that the book’s winding up as a key part of a controversial case added to the historical value of its message.
“Everyone is dancing around this notion that publishing a book can take you to jail,” he said recently by telephone. “That a book is an element that can involve you in a trial.”
The slender text is part antimaterialist manifesto and part manual for revolution. The writers expound at length on what they see as a diseased and dehumanizing civilization that cannot be reformed but must, they contend, be torn apart and replaced. To that end the authors direct their readers to sabotage authority, form self-sufficient communes and learn how to “support a conspiracy against commodity society.”
Like the authors of “The Coming Insurrection,” most of those observing its publication on Sunday night refused to identify themselves by name.
“The book is important because it speaks to the total bankruptcy of pretty much everything,” one man said after the group left the bookstore. “We’re living in a high-end aesthetic with zero content.”
Inside the Sephora cosmetics shop on East 17th Street, the crowd chanted, “All power to the communes,” as security guards wearing black T-shirts ordered them back outside. A few minutes later the cry was taken up again as the group marched into Starbucks on Union Square West.
Emile Olea, 28, a customer at the coffee shop who was visiting from San Diego, closed his laptop computer and gazed at the crowd.
“I have no idea what’s going on,” he said. “But I like the excitement.” - Colin Moynihan

«Recently, I received a pamphlet translated from the original French titled “The Coming Insurrection” by an anonymous author. This was printed by MIT Press, according to my copy. I must say I was surprised at the competency of the content from a literary perspective, and I was fairly stunned to see a booklet calling for the formation of communes to effect a change of government by sophisticated insurrection. If this book is not a violation of the bar on calling for the violent overthrow of the U.S. Government, I would like someone to explain to me what it is.
This pamphlet is rather more than a theoretical diatribe against Republics and Capitalism. Instead, it is targeted on how to execute a revolt intended to take down our political system. It is a bit vague as to the specifics of what they would replace our system with, but as with all radical manifestos, this is about seizing power, not about a specific political agenda. It is filled with examples of successful initiatives such as those advocated by the author(s) of this pamphlet, which could be compared in modern terms to Thomas Payne’s “Common Sense” pamphlet that was the rallying call for our own Revolution.
Since I first heard of this little book, I was curious what had prompted the initial reactions to its content when radicals carried it into a major New York bookstore and began reading it aloud without permission. Those present were imprinted by what they heard, and not all in a positive manner. The episode warranted a mention in several mainstream media outlets, prompting a built in market for the translation once it was printed.
Glenn Beck’s variant of “Common Sense” (with Payne’s pamphlet reprinted in the rear of the book) has been a national non-fiction best seller, still in the top five and ten regularly on the New York Times non-fiction bestseller list. Beck’s compliment to Payne’s work is solid and more than a bit terrifying, indicating that in so many words he and many others feel we are on the edge of a slippery slope sliding into a totalitarian system if we don’t speak up. It has a focus on attacks on Freedom of Speech, and the threats to it from our current national leadership.
“The Coming Insurrection” goes beyond anything I would have expected. It speaks of specific tactics for large numbers of street corner gangs rendering the police and military completely ineffective. It talks about the formation of the early cells of the communes, and how they would then be merged into larger and larger entities gradually over time, until they were in total control of the people. This roadmap is genuinely insidious. It is my impression that there is only one way to deal with this pamphlet’s siren call effectively. It is that their opponents supporting our current system of government must literally actively counter them with their own tactics and strategy. Of concern is that this renders this country into a period of anarchy that is their very goal.
A genuine concern of many of the communities I am in touch with includes a consistent fear that the U.S. Constitution, which most took an oath to defend, is being conveniently overlooked by elements of our political class. This is more than an alarm in that the population elements of my communities are the very same people our government must rely on to protect our people and our institutions. If our leaders want to compromise their support, they do so at the peril of the nation and our very country.
I believe this country is still predominantly a quasi-conservative population who believes in the majority of our core values. Independents have replaced either party individually from dominating the national debate, and indeed, their views and votes now determine what direction the country will head in the future. In a backlash against President Bush, they voted in major numbers for Obama, but they are not bound by party considerations, and I very much doubt that they will go the same direction electorally in 2010, much less today if asked.
Change has been affected in this country over its history by gradualism, by small steps taken very slowly. One exception to that were the sequential administrations of Franklin Roosevelt, whose three-plus terms as President made it possible for him to load the Supreme Court with 8 justices, all favoring his new view of the Constitution as a “Living Document,” a guide and not law. Decisions made then still haunt us, not for their ideas, but for the lies that have been used to support them ever since. We can’t afford to let this continue for much longer. We are faced with real problems requiring real solutions, and the decisions supporting them cannot be made in a vacuum by people with neither experience nor ethics.
There is a very old and respected military adage that freedom isn’t free. The same should be said for citizenship. Until every American gets his hands dirty for more than an hour, we will watch gradualism bury us. One day we will wake up in a socialist state, and everyone will be asking what happened. That is, unless, of course, that is what you want. I don’t think that is what the vast majority of Americans want, and it will take all of us to avoid having a minority “Statism” agenda take the power as if it were a gift. If you value what this capitalist republic has given you, then insist that those who weaken or steal from it face real maximum penalties. God is who they will ultimately face.» - C. Austin Burrell

«I'd recommend this text to people who aren't sold on "insurrection" as it's currently being advanced, who are working at different time scales, and who (like the authors of The Coming Insurrection), aren't expecting a climactic street fight against the cops to end state and capitalism for good.
While translations of various quality have been floating around for a while now, it's deeply satisfying to have a polished, real-life, honest-to-god book version of The Coming Insurrection available. Authored by the anonymous collective "The Invisible Committee," the book has gained notoriety for being introduced by the state as one of the primary pieces of evidence in the trial for “criminal association for the purposes of terrorist activity” of the Tarnac 9 - think the French version of the Green Scare here and you've got the idea.
So at least one state of this world thinks this is a dangerous book, and they might be right. The Coming Insurrection reads like a Situationist manifesto, and borrows from some of the same sources as Guy Debord and co. did (Henri Lefebvre's urbanism, for instance), but these kids have had the luxury of a few more decades of radical thought to draw on, so motifs drawn from Deleuze and Guattari, Alain Badiou, Giorgio Agamben and others surface throughout the text, which also distills down some of the conceptual work done in the (largely still untranslated) two issues of the journal Tiqqun.
And above all, it takes this whole theoretical war machine and deploys it in the current context, with rigor and consistency, aimed at green capitalism, electronic isolation, state terror, and crisis, in a kind of Minima Moralia meets Crimethinc full-bore assault on miserabilism, exploitation, control and cooptation, along with some hints of the possibilities of an insurrectionary politics and a communism worthy of the name.
It's an easy, pocket size text, a quick read, but one I'd encourage be re-read - it's all too easy to come away from the text with a limited picture of what the idea of insurrection they're advancing demands, to slip into thinking insurrection as what they uncompromising distance themselves from (an activist milieu). It's for this reason, too, that I'd recommend this text to people who aren't sold on "insurrection" as it's currently being advanced, who are working at different time scales, and who (like the authors of The Coming Insurrection), aren't expecting a climactic street fight against the cops to end state and capitalism for good. In fact, I'd say the most productive reading - if not the easiest one - of this little text is to try and think through what the revolutionary consistency it demands means for other subjects of (anti-)politics, than, say, a New School student. It'd be a shame to read this book lightly, to dismiss it as posturing or adventurism - to do so would be to miss the seriousness of the ethical project it proposes, much of which remains to be elaborated, in theory and in practice.
And incidentally, thanks to Semiotext(e) for putting this out! Great to see them getting back to putting out exciting translations of stuff before most people realize it's relevant - not that we haven't been overjoyed by the flood of recent Guattari texts....» - www.anarchistnews.org

«The Coming Insurrection has just been published in English. Under the prestigious MIT label and the no less highly regarded Semiotexte (an imprint gracing all the best crystal tables of the Manhattan left). meanwhile the Tarnac Affair continues, at a slower pace. The site just cited does not refer to the controversy which has shaken the French anarchist milieu over sabotage – the root accusation. Which it would be too dreary to detail, except to say it revolves around accusations against the ‘Official’ anarchists by the ‘real-Continuity’ anarchists that the former distinguished between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ sabotage.
Be that as it may, this review, written as the Coming Insurrection gained notoriety, retains its relevance. Though some of its heat and rapidness. As we recently saw in Poitiers the autonomist left is capable of open street fighting on a scale not seen in France since the 1980s. Calls have been renewed for a ban on these groups. For all those buyers of the English version, and fans of these ideas, I republish it.
To the French Police and (some) Magistrates the country is menaced by the avatars of the Bande à Bonnot. These libertarian, individualist, anarchists, carried out the first motorised hold-up in France (1911), in the Rue Ordener, Montmartre. Some in the modern equivalent of the Sûreté have dreamt up a similar threat from anarchists. They are echoed by right-wing politicians. The President of Sarkozy’s Parliamentary group, François Copé calls the extreme left (from anars to the Nouveau Parti anti-Capitaliste) an “abcès idéologique” for the left as a whole. Today’s enemies of the State, the Tarnac accused, are accused of sabotaging rail tracks.
For their part those caught up in the affaire Tarnac (see above), have little time for any elected left, or conventional politics. Their central concerns lie elsewhere. The authors of L’insurrection qui vient, a certain Comité Invisible – which allegedly included Julien Coupat – denounce, as a major target ‘le quadrillage policier’ (omnipresent police control) of the country. In doing so they seem to have run up against something that goes back even further than the pre-Great War anti-anarchist Bloodhounds: the counterparts of Balzac’s early 19th century Peyrade and Corentin (Splendeurs et misères des courtesans). That is the state’s henchmen, with a flair for conspiracies. Such a secretive arm of the Sarkozy règime does exist: paranoid, manipulative and heavy-handed. It seems to have really got it in for the Tarnac accused.
The text at hand is probably the most lucid up-to-date summary in French of what is often called ‘Autonomism’. Seven sections are headed, circles, a title of no doubt profound significance that nevertheless leaves me neither cold nor hot (Dante had nine circles of Hell). It begins with customary French left grandiloquence that “ Le futur n’a plus d’avenir”. Or no future. Well, well. An equally strident and grating wrong-headed celebration of the 2005 riots in the French banlieues follows. “L’incendie de novembre 2005 n’en finit plus de projeter son ombre sur toutes les consciences. Ces premiers feux de joie sont le baptême d’une décennie pleine de promesses.” (the conflagration of November 2005 hasn’t stopped projecting a shadow on everyone’s conscience. These celebratory bonfires baptised a decade full of promise). Claiming that rioters arrested came from all social and ethnic groups, they assert that only a hatred of existing society united them. We should, they assert, revel in the destruction of these disturbances, identify with the ‘dangerous classes’ and ‘bandits’ and their violent rejection of the existing order. Right up to their violence. With an unpleasant sneer, teachers who regretted that their schools were burned down are described as having “pleurnicher” (snivelled) about it all.
With this kind of prose, well-known to aficionados of the French ultra-left, we know where we are going. Strikingly it leads us back to some ideas popular amongst anarchists during the Bande à Bonnot epoch. A meme transmitted across the generations? The anarchism here also has an equally individualistic flavour. That’s autonomy found in the difference between a capitalist-spectacular egotisically declaring the right to do as he’she wills, and real freedom. The problem is where this can be discvovered. So, «Devenir autonome», cela pourrait vouloir dire, aussi bien apprendre à se battre dans la rue, à s’accaparer des maisons vides, à ne pas travailler, à s’aimer follement et à voler dans les magasins.” (becoming autonomous, that means, as much: learn to fight in the street, take over empty houses, not working, loving each other madly, and stealing from shops). Action should not concentrate on the wage-labour capital sphere, but more widely in “insoumission” (insubordination),“Nous avons la totalité de l’espace social pour nous trouver. Nous avons l’hostilité à cette civilization pour tracer des solidarités et des fronts à l’échelle mondiale.” (we have the totality of social space to find ourselves. We have the hostility of this civilization to lay down the path of solidarity and ‘fronts’ on a world scale – blocs of those in rebellion). So the marginal, the eternally stroppy, the true individual, in her own band of mates, is the Figure of Autonomy.
With this language in full flow, no-one will be surprised to find written that, “L’État français est la trame même des subjectivités françaises, l’aspect qu’a pris la multiséculaire castration de ses sujets.” (The French state is the framework of all French individual subjectivity, the aspect which has for centuries castrated its subjects – a use of the word castrate which one imagines would not occur to an Anglophone leftist, I note). Nor is it long before the claim that, “Toutes les organisations qui prétendent contester l’ordre présent ont elles-mêmes, en plus fantoche, la forme, les moeurs et le langage d’États miniatures.” (all political organisations that claim to fight the existing order have themselves, in a puppet-show form, the customs, and the language of miniature states) is reeled out.
That’s a few leftist lives wasted, eh? What fools we labour movement and left political party activists are. What fools.
Capital, its transformations, its domination and integration of human tissue, and the sphere of value, have some presence. They “embrasserait toutes les qualités des êtres” (embrace every quality of human beings). This idea of an almost omnipresence of capital is rather sub-Negri, Hardy and Virno, with a dose of situationist ideas about commodity fetishism. That is the theorists of the ‘immateriality’ of capitalism’s central mechanisms – computerised and informatised at their core. As for work itself, with automation and information sciences, many “travailleurs sont devenus superflus.” (Workers have become superfluous). This leaves capital’s gigantic machine pumping out profits while excluding large sections of the masses. Those inside are dedicated to ‘personal development’ shaping themselves for Capital’s needs; those outside are in precarious, typically Agency work, or in the ‘slave’ sectors of domestic employment, even prostitution, in sum: ‘personal services’. Preferring not to have anything to do with the State, Politics and Capital marks off all the autonomist tradition and so we find it here. That is a Situationist-type social spectacle, (that vamps our energy), fought with a Bartleby refusal to work. An eagerness perhaps to smoke dope. As well as backing for wildcat strikes (grèves sauvages) – unions are lieutenants of Capital. For good measure they also throw in some stuff about the environmental catastrophes (Hurricane Katrina), and ecology being appropriated by the system. As a small mercy there is none of the usual anarchist drivel about animal liberation.
The positive alternative? A dose of playfulness. Communes, self-organized, outside the circuits of power and production, with an autonomy, a life in liberated zones, living off the black economy, even fraud; whatever resources can be found, and shared.
Thus the Comité ignores the potential positive side of the Labour movement and the left. The massive anti-revolutionary bloc in France, la Droite, (which managed rather effectively to get Sarkozy elected) is little more than an obscuring fog over the domination of Capital. The central enemy is the Police. Since resistance can come from nearly anywhere (though especially the poorer urban zones), why bother with even this sketchy economic and class analysis? Nobody would have any idea from this text that a massive financial crisis (signaled in advance by people such as Larry Elliot in the UK and plenty of writers in France’s Le Monde Diplomatique), was looming and would cause popular unrest across Europe – there is no economics here to speak of. Or investigation into the political economy of neo-liberalism. All is rolled down to the – in their opinion – central conflict between the police and the ‘dangerous classes’. As for these potential supporters: it’s a commonplace that autonomists have a crippling inability to relate to the popular masses. Except no doubt those who have ‘Mort aux vaches’ (Death to the Pigs) tattooed on their arms. Here the rhetoric smothers and ignores the hostility of the majority of the inhabitants of the Cités (Council estates) to the violence that unfolded in their areas during the Banlieue revolts, and which hurt them more than anyone else.
No doubt all this goes down well in their proto-Communes – though not possibly so swimmingly when they dine with their parents and grandparents on Sunday, as a majority of the French ultra-left, for all their radicalism (famillies je vous hais) tend to do.
As the L’Insurrection qui vient continues in this vein one wonders what all the fuss is about. Perhaps some clues lie in the analysis of the great metropolises. These are no longer anything but points in a network of flows, and “La métropole est le terrain d’un incessant conflict de basse intensité” (the metropolis is the site of a continual low-intensity conflict). Hah! Something for the experts in terrorism and counter-insurgency to grasp. They aim furthermore to halt the urban perpetuum mobile. Stopping its incessant movement can proceed by blocking production, and the circulation of goods. “les autoroutes sont des maillons de la chaîne de production dématérialisée” (motorways are the links in the chain of dematerialized production) – leaving aside the fact that Negri, Hardt and Virno see this originating in a rather more ethereal dimension (immaterial production in fact), we can see why keen coppers’ ears prick up. Isn’t the French Railway network, the SCNCF another essential link? Weren’t the accusations that led to the Tarnac all about breaking this circuit – by sabotage no less? The description of Paris as not a centre of power to be ‘captured’ but the “cible de razzia, comme pur terrain de pillage et ravage” (target of raids, a place to loot and wreak havoc in) touches some raw nerves. These after all are the chaps whose profession is to protect the Capital from such attacks. The rozzers must have also felt rather, well, personally, affected by the demand to “Libérer le territoire de l’occupation policière” (free the country from Police occupation). To say the least.
Unfortunately for anyone drawing neat conclusions from L’Insurrection qui vient tops its ‘circles’ by some further dense paragraphs, strongly opposing a strategy of armed struggle. Naturally they indulge in some waffle about all uprisings being armed. But, given that power is not truly centralised and autonomists have no wish to build a ‘counter-state’, even a ‘dual power’, they declare that, “la perspective d’une guérilla urbaine à l’irakienne, qui s’enliserait sans possibilité d’offensive, est plus à craindre qu’à désirer. La militarisation de la guerre civile, c’est l’échec de l’insurrection.” (the prospect of urban guerrilla warfare, Iraqian style, bogged down, without any possibility of going onto the attack, is more to fear than to wish, it’s a setback for the insurrection). The militarisation of civil war is a failure for the insurrection itself). All rather mealy-mouthed – the Islamists in Iraq are murdering reactionaries whom one would not even bother considering in a serious left perspective. But clear on the criticism of classic, RAF style, terrorism. In case even Inspector Plod doesn’t get the meaning of this they refer to the libertarian view that the Russian Revolution was set back precisely at this point. He might also reflect on the claim that new oppositions will emerge, in the wastelands of the banlieue, and that one day, all his fruits of his society will be “grandement ruinée” (ruined completely) and that “cette effroyable concrétion du pouvoir qu’est la capitale, “(Capital’s terrible concentration of power) will fall.
Or not.
So, a text whose politics boils down to a celebration of revolt, and (in real terms) a kind of late ‘sixties/early ‘seventies ‘alternative society’, filled with a great deal of lyricism, romanticism about the 2005 riots (as if the rioters were incarnations of Victor Hugo’s Gavroche) that makes some good, if unoriginal, points, about the nature of the social and institutional dislocations underway, rooted in the purest autonomist ideology – that’s to say, perpetual grandstanding – is the basis for a new version of Action Directe. Maybe. But I think not. Unfortunately, to continue the reference to Les Misérables, the presumed authors have a pack of would-be Javerts yapping at their heels.» - Andrew Coates

“Rage and politics should never have been separated. Without the first, the second is lost in discourse; without the second the first exhausts itself in howls." “The Coming Insurrection” embodies both of the rage and political discourse that have recently come out of the extreme or post-left political theorists.
Fittingly, it has been proclaimed a manual for terrorism by the French government, and read by Michael Moore and Glenn Beck, the latter of the two saying, “This is a book of revolution.”
The alleged author, French activist Julien Coupat, was seized after a raid on Nov. 11, 2008. As reported by an Adbusters article, “The move against Coupat and the rest of the Tarnac 9 was intended as a pre-emptive strike against the burgeoning anti-capitalist movement in France. While the others were released with relative speed, Coupat was held under “preventative arrest” until May of 2009 and labeled by the government as a “pre-terrorist.”
So whether the reader be a burgeoning thought-criminal, interested activist or otherwise, this book by “The Invisible Committee” outlines the “what” and “why” while leaving the “when” and “how” up to the reader to take action.
‘The Coming Insurrection” outlines the destructive forces of capitalism and globalization, along with the economic aggravations due to those forces, and sketches out a possible way of bringing about the end of “civilization.” As such, it is ambitious and cynical, speaking broadly and offering some realistic ways of direct action. Only in such a way can it declare, “The era of states, nations and republics is coming to an end, and the country that sacrifices all its vitality to these forms remains stunned by that fact” one moment and later warn, “Expect nothing from organizations. Beware of all existing social milieus, and above all, don’t become one.”
The book’s prose is readable, thought-provoking and at times technical but not overdone. Its danger to the establishment might thus lie with its readability, as opposed to more technical works from intellectuals caught up in one anarchist niche or another.
“The Invisible Committee” outlines an insurrectional process that must be built from the ground up, a relocalization of the economy, community-building, and the practical abolition of money through the extension of communes. It’s a tall order, but one that is argued passionately throughout the book.
The committee takes aim at political pundits like Beck and Moore as well, when they point out that “any strictly social contestation that refuses to see that what we’re facing is not the crisis of a society but the extinction of a civilization becomes an accomplice in its perpetuation. It’s even become a contemporary strategy to critique this society in the vain hope of saving the civilization.” Thus, they believe that it is no longer sufficient to criticize society, but necessary to began forming a new one from the inside.
Some readers might find the program suggested by the authors to be objectionable, since it formulates an ethical program that takes as its starting point theft, sabotage, and the refusal to work, which later gets elaborated to include collective, self-organized forms-of-life.
The book also suggests that, “revolutionary movements do not spread by contamination but by resonance,” and cites the 2005 riots in France’s suburban ghettoes as one of several examples of how ideas can resonate over the globe to have the same cause without any charismatic leadership to stir up protest and rebellion.
To summarize the book up in brief would be to say that they want to "spread anarchy and live communism." In a rare instance where I agree with something Glenn Beck has said about this book, “It’s important that you read this book.” So buy it, or preferably find it free on-line at: http://tarnac9.wordpress.com/texts/the-coming-insurrection/ and make your own mind up about what needs to be done.» - Max Davies

«The revolution wasn’t supposed to be televised. The idea was that we would all unplug from all the administered culture that stupefied us and transform the world with spontaneous justice and generalized, self-evident righteousness. Youth would lead us away from our square, suburbanized plastic hassle of a life and into the streets to speak truth to power and turn the military-industrial complex on its head. Our voices, buoyed by a sense of emancipation for the first time in humanity’s history clearly in view, would be raised in a deglobalized communal chorus for peace.
But instead of eschewing pop culture to wage political battles, many young people, as it turned out, delved ever deeper into it, convinced that it was their culture and they were, in some obscure way, guiding it. The route to power was not via opposition to the existing power structure but through mastery of the minutiae of art and music scenes. Everyday life would be change by making it cooler.
And as communication technology became more intrusive and expansive, it appeared that the chance to transform society wasn’t nearly as pressing as the opportunities to transform the self. With the spread of reality programming, internet usage, Web 2.0 interactivity, user-created content, social networking and mediated sociality, high-tech tools to manage our identity became widely disseminated, and the self-as-brand took on true economic significance. The revolution would not only be televised; the revolution was that we could all be on television.
The authors of The Coming Insurrection (pdf), a 2007 tract written in French and signed by the Invisible Committee, recognize this as the dissolving of the social into a neutralized, atomistic anomie:
To call this population of strangers in the midst of which we live “society” is such an usurpation that even sociologists dream of renouncing a concept that was, for a century, their bread and butter. Now they prefer the metaphor of a network to describe the connection of cybernetic solitudes, the intermeshing of weak interactions under names like “colleague,” “contact,” “buddy,” “acquaintance,” or “date.” Such networks sometimes condense into a milieu, where nothing is shared but codes, and where nothing is played out except the incessant recomposition of identity.
The very possibility of association and affiliation seem under threat; that we might get together with other people for any reason other than to parade our own identity is undermined by the mediated, technologized situations in which our social interaction occurs. Fetishized individuality, played out as an ongoing broadcast of one’s efforts at self-fashioning, becomes hegemonic. After all, consumerism is finally giving us a chance to be creative. What goods can’t we customize or find off-label uses for to better express who we really are?
Though The Coming Insurrection was composed before the 2008 global financial crisis, it seems well-suited to the soul searching that ensued after investment banking as we knew it collapsed and stock markets fell precipitously. Earnest questioning could be heard in all quarters, in the staid pages of the establishment financial press as well as in leftist blogs and anarchist manifestos, as to whether the capitalist system was broken, whether the state needed to direct investment decisions for the economy in the name of “stability,” whether humans really are rational market actors or inescapably befuddled by the concept of risk, whether we can escape from debilitating investment bubbles, whether a new age of post-consumerist frugality had finally settled upon us. It seemed as though what The Coming Insurrection insisted — that “the catastrophe is not coming, it is here,” that “we are already situated within the collapse of a civilization” — was actually the case, and you could even read about it in the Financial Times.
Present tense: crisis and revolutionary revival.
In that atmosphere, one could dare to dream about local, distributed small-scale economies replacing globalized capitalism and multinational corporations. One could foresee bands of urban homesteaders clearing the rubble of the capitalist crisis. That is to say, one could imagine that others might be taking the Invisible Committee’s advice: Form de facto communes, stay out of exclusionary milieus. Work out barter deals outside the open economy. Learn how to make things again. Seek an internal exile, an invisibility. Maybe ordinary people, people who didn’t read social theory or even the newspaper, were about to follow it by instinct.
The impossible quest for that ersatz authenticity is wearing us down. In the absence of sustaining, reciprocal, non-schematized relations with others, however, the self, as the Invisible Committee asserts, begins to break down: “The more I want to be me, the more I feel an emptiness. The more I express myself, the more I am drained. The more I run after myself, the more tired I get.” Even though consumerism reifies and exalts individuality, it is ultimately self-annihilating. Rather than losing ourselves in the flow of socially meaningful and useful activity, we are congealed in the aspic of our stultifying self-consciousness, replaying strategies of competitive selfhood, disguising ploys for attention as disinterested solicitude. The ceaseless cynicism is corrosive. But these are the social relations that consumerism requires:
The weak, depressed, self-critical, virtual self is essentially that endlessly adaptable subject required by the ceaseless innovation of production, the accelerated obsolescence of technologies, the constant overturning of social norms, and generalized flexibility. It is at the same time the most voracious consumer and, paradoxically, the most productive self, the one that will most eagerly and energetically throw itself into the slightest project, only to return later to its original larval state.
The productiveness of the consuming self, though, is not especially paradoxical. It’s an expression of the cutting edge of capitalist management technique, as Detlev Zwick, Samuel Bonsu and Aron Darmody point out in “Putting Consumers to Work: ‘Co-creation’ and New Marketing Govern-mentality” (abstract). They argue that corporations have encouraged the often innovative work that consumers — obnoxiously renamed “prosumers” in some marketing literature — perform in making brands meaningful and commoditized goods useful to individuated customers. Moreover, they have figured out ways to seize and exploit it. Once it was sufficient for corporations to secure growth by squeezing out more productivity from the production process — driving wage laborers harder, dividing labor more thoroughly into microgestures, and rendering assembly-line-like procedures more mind-numbingly efficient.
We see a co-creation economy as driven by the need of capital to set up processes that enable the liberation and capture of large repositories of technical, social, and cultural competence in places previously considered outside the production of monetary value.
This requires “experimenting with new possibilities for value creation that are based on the expropriation of free cultural, technological, social, and affective labor of the consumer masses.” We who perform this “free” labor hardly understand it as work, since its ultimate product from our point of view is our own identity.
Free labor wasn’t invented with the internet, of course. In his analysis of David Harvey’s Limits to Capital (pdf), Bob Jessop cites Harvey’s recognition that
the crucial commodity for the production of surplus value, labour power, is itself produced and reproduced under social relations over which capitalists have no direct control.… though labour power is a commodity, the labourer is not.
Raising the next generation requires more than wages; it requires parental care, emotional education, traditional rites of passage, the proverbial village. Capitalists can’t control this realm of production and “value creation” directly, but as with co-creation, they are able to use social leverage to exploit it. Jessop notes that
the wage, the bundle of commodities that it can buy, and the role of non-commodified goods and services (as provided, for example, through domestic labour and/or collective consumption) are determined in the first instance through a combination of class struggle and the interest of certain capitals in expanding the market for consumption goods (cf. Grundrisse: 409, cited by Harvey 1982: 49).
Working-class families need not be paid a subsistence wage, because some of the cost of “reproducing labor power” is borne voluntarily by parents, friends, extended family, and so on. And competition among capitalists leads some sectors to seek to profit at other sectors’ expense, offering proletarians occasional bargains. But the other side of this is that much of the value extracted by capitalist firms may have its ultimate origin in the private sphere, outside of the factory and in the domestic care and productive kindness of familial human relations. We raise children through all sorts of uncompensated labor, and we sustain friendships and meaningful relationships through similar work. We work on friendship-building projects that have the side effect of yielding commoditizable goods and services.
Capitalism finds ways to extract the productivity of sharing, caring and collaboration by alienating it from the relations in which it is situated, and by driving us to live in conditions that either deny opportunities for such caring and sharing or make them more readily exploitable. This is a chief function of social networks. (Borrowing heavily from Tiziana Terranova, I described this phenomenon at length here.)
Radical gesture: the information age's dehiscence of signs.
But consumerism represents a streamlining of this extracurricular production — under the guise of convenience, it strips away the unpredictability and uncertainty of organic friendships (Other people? Who needs them for anything but an audience?) and assures by means of the fashion cycle that self-fashioning work goes on routinely. The discontent generated by the treadmill of consumerist self-production is channeled back into the process to fortify it:
Marketing’s desire to produce cultural conditions that allow for more subtle ways to insert brands and products deeply into the fabric of consumer lifeworlds has resulted in a style of marketing practice that now aims at completely drawing consumers into the production and, more importantly, innovation process itself. This practice, rather fortuitously, invites those consumers into the fold that tend to mount the most stubborn resistance to corporate power, including political and counter-cultural activists, as well as open-source innovators.
Unfortunately for radical revolution, political and counter-cultural activists open-source innovators were most likely the sort of people the Invisible Committee were expecting to mount the insurrection, to seize upon the general atmosphere of crisis to reconstitute life on a different footing. But the Committee fail to grasp that entertainment and labor have been merged: “Gains in productivity, outsourcing, mechanization, automated and digital production have so progressed that they have almost reduced to zero the quantity of living labor necessary in the manufacture of any product,” they claim. “We are living the paradox of a society of workers without work, where entertainment, consumption and leisure only underscore the lack from which they are supposed to distract us.” This is not all that paradoxical either. The “living labor” is no longer bound up in the goods as in their meaning, as in the process that animates their circulation. And that labor manifests as entertainment or self-fashioning — the authors point out that “producing oneself is becoming the dominant occupation of a society where production no longer has an object” and argue that “it now becomes possible to sell oneself rather than one’s labor power, to be remunerated not for what one does but for what one is, for our exquisite mastery of social codes, for our relational talents, for our smile and our way of presenting ourselves.” The crucial difference is that this effort is paid for not in wages but in attention.
This identity-building project has the extra benefit for capital of producing a self that is always already alienated — “we participate in our own exploitation, and all participation is exploited,” the authors note — so there remains no “I” that can recognize what has gone wrong. In the identity-formation process, consumerist capitalism hijacks our will to be autonomous, rooting it in same procedures that generates its codes. We make ourselves in the same way we breathe life into brands through “co-creation.” We are ourselves co-created.
This is why any social movement that promises us chances for a more creative life is now doomed — that revolution has come and been co-opted. The goal of boundless self-expression plays into the hands of the consumerist powers that be, which seductively amplifies the quest for recognition into individualistic self-aggrandizement. The revolution, should it come, must dissolve subjectivity into a process that refuses to become conscious of itself, that fixes its energy on a larger goal, a collective identity, or a multiplicity of possible selves. But the idea is so nebulous, so unsupported by our material conditions, that it is difficult to articulate — it’s nearly impossible to think from inside of it.» - Rob Horning

«In their astute history of the anarchist tradition, Michael Schmidt and Lucien van der Walt suggest anarchists generally practice one of two broad strategies: insurrectionist anarchism or mass anarchism. The insurrectionist tradition "argues that reforms are illusory and organized mass movements are incompatible with anarchism, and emphasizes armed action—propaganda by the deed—against the ruling class and its institutions as the primary means of evoking a spontaneous revolutionary upsurge" (123). The second strategy, mass anarchism, "stresses the view that only mass movements can create a revolutionary change in society, that such movements are typically built through struggles around immediate issues and reforms (whether around wages, police brutality, or high prices, and so on), and that anarchists must participate in such movements to radicalize and transform them into levers of revolutionary change" (124). Arguably, insurrectionist strategies have played a "decidedly minority part" within the anarchist tradition (128); however, in the past decade insurrectionist practices, especially by Neo-Situationists and Anarcho-primitivists, have received inordinate attention, and the general public has come to view all anarchisms as insurrectionist, if anarchism is considered at all. Internally anarchists have always maintained a healthy debate over strategies, as witnessed by platformist Wayne Price's recent essay on "The Two Main Trends in Anarchism." The publicity surrounding the publication of The Coming Insurrection ensures these trends will continue.
Price's "two main trends" roughly correspond to Schmidt and Lucien van der Walt's distinction between insurrectionist and mass anarchism; Price does not see labels as terribly useful, but their respective positions on revolution, class, and unions are important. Uri Gordon recently described the division as "Old School" versus "New School," and David Graeber ascribes the labels "big-A" and "small-a" anarchism. Clearly, The Coming Insurrection, anonymously authored by The Invisible Committee and published abroad in 2007 (receiving an official English translation in 2009), reflects the traditions of insurrectionist, New School, small-a anarchism. I would add to that list "academic," since many of the New School anarchists embrace ideas that became canonical in Western graduate programs in the past forty years. In the case of The Coming Insurrection, the label of "academic anarchism" may also apply because the suspected author, Julien Coupat, wrote a dissertation on Guy Debord at the EHESS (The School of Higher Studies in Social Sciences).
Perhaps what distinguishes The Coming Insurrection more than these theoretical disputes is the context of its publication. Much like The Unabomber Manifesto, the publication of The Coming Insurrection was replete with charges of terrorism against its author(s) and endorsements from celebrity leftists (Agamben, Rancière, Žižek, etc.). On November 11, 2008, twenty French youths were arrested in Paris, Rouen, and Tarnac, on trumped up charges of terrorism related to a variety of attacks on high-speed train routes. After eleven suspects were freed, the remaining suspects became known as the Tarnac Nine; the accused had developed an organic co-op in their home village. Coupat, the last of the Tarnac Nine, was released from "preventative arrest" in May 2009.
By summer 2009, the manifesto was enormously popular in activist circles on both sides of the Atlantic. Glenn Beck, celebrated loon of Fox News, reviewed the book as some kind of representative for militant leftism. AdBusters editorialized the book "may become a key manifesto of our generation's uprising." But few bothered to examine the manifesto's ideas.
At its heart, The Coming Insurrection reads like a cross between anarcho-primitivism and neo-situationism. It is part jeremiad, part intervention, a clever combination of astute observations and half-considered, apocalyptic solutions that recommend taking up arms (in self-defense), forming an "assembly of presences" rather than a General Assembly (123), and finding the means to "permanently destroy computerized databases" (116). Conceived in the context of the 2005 Parisian uprising, The Coming Insurrection describes the collapse of the welfare state, the end of political representation (23), and "the emergence of a brute conflict between those who desire order and those who don't" (12). In such a "crisis situation" emerge the "many opportunities for the restructuring of domination" (13), a domination called Empire. Readers of Hardt and Negri will recognize the Invisible Committee's definition of Empire:
Empire is not an enemy that confronts us head-on. It is a rhythm that imposes itself, a way of dispensing and dispersing reality. Less an order of the world than its sad, heavy and militaristic liquidation (13).
Against Empire stands the insurrection, "not like a plague or a forest fire—a linear process which spreads from place to place after an initial spark. It rather takes the shape of a music, whose focal points, though dispersed in time and space, succeed in imposing the rhythm of their own vibrations, always taking on more density" (12-13).
Obviously the writing is dense and metaphorical, sprinkled with poststructuralist tendencies. Power, for example, "is no longer concentrated in one point in the world; it is the world itself, its flows and avenues, its people and its norms, its codes and its technologies" (131).
The Invisible Committee claims to advocate for a middle ground between insurrectionist and mass anarchism; however, most of its advice (not to mention the title) is decidedly insurrectionist. For example, the Invisible Committee writes,
Quote: There is no need to choose between the fetishism of spontaneity and organizational control; between the 'come one, come all' of activist networks and the discipline of hierarchy; between acting desperately now and waiting desperately for later; between bracketing that which is to be lived and experimented in the name of a paradise that seems more and more like a hell the longer it is put off, and repeating, with a corpse-filled mouth, that planting carrots is enough to dispel this nightmare.
Almost immediately they then declare organizations to be "obstacles to organizing ourselves," recommending instead forms of affinity grouping based on "the intensity of sharing" (15). In the context of societal collapse—when "the general misery" is exposed as "a thing without cause or reason," they argue, "the possibility of communism resides" (16). "Cultural and activist circles" should also be avoided, because they are "old people's homes where all revolutionary desires traditionally go to die" (100). Instead, form communes:
Quote: Every commune seeks to be its own base. It seeks to dissolve the questions of needs. It seeks to break all economic dependency and all political subjugation; it degenerates into a milieu the moment it loses contact with the truths on which it is founded.
The definition of commune is, naturally, a key element in The Coming Insurrection. In this term the Invisible Committee articulates its preferred organizational principle, and it's an anti-organizational principle at once appealing as a tactic and somewhat delusional as a long-term strategy. Who can deny the appeal of this sentiment: "Communes come into being when people find each other, get on with each other, and decide on a common path" (101)? Into this category the Invisible Committee includes "every wildcat strike" and "every building occupied collectively," as well as the "action committees of 1968," "the slave maroons in the United States," and "Radio Alice in Bologna in 1977" (102). But the long-term effectiveness of such a tactic—especially against a class war machine that plots and executes with the luxury of enormous time, wealth, and resources—is limited, and perhaps this is why mass anarchism has dominated the anarchist tradition historically.
At times the writing in The Coming Insurrection is splendidly declarative, ready for immortalization on a car bumper sticker ("We are not depressed; we're on strike"; "We have to see that the economy is not 'in' crisis, the economy is itself the crisis"; "Attach yourself to what you feel to be true"); at other times, often concomitant with the sloganeering, the propositions resonate but do not educate or prepare ("Get organized in order to no longer have to work"; "Create territories. Multiply zones of opacity"). Typical of the clash between prosaic revolutionary sentiment and pragmatic resistance in The Coming Insurrection is its characterization of "territory":
Quote: For us it's not about possessing territory. Rather, it's a matter of increasing the density of the communes, of circulation, and of solidarities to the point that the territory becomes unreadable, opaque to all authority. We don't want to occupy the territory, we want to be the territory.
The sentiment is reasonable: Create overlapping practices and affiliations so dense that authorities no longer recognize the patterns of your existence. However, there is a good reason people possess certain territory, rather than become the territory: Only some land is arable, some water drinkable; certain territory is coveted because it sustains human populations. States understand this principle quite well.
The antiorganizationalist perspective of The Coming Insurrection "is flawed by its failure to consider the dangers of informal organisation and its dogmatic view that it is impossible to establish a formal organisation compatible with anarchist principles" (Schmidt and van der Walt 262). The primitivist ethos of the tract—for example, its belief that the "only realistic option" that remains in the struggle against Empire "is to 'break the bank' as soon as possible" and spur civilizational collapse (82)—frames our options in terms that favour people with mobility and access to arable land, in other words, a privileged perspective with no organizational principle for working class self-emancipation or against statist or nationalist propaganda. "At this juncture," The Coming Insurrection proclaims, "any strictly social contestation that refuses to see that what we're facing is not the crisis of a society but the extinction of a civilization becomes an accomplice in its perpetuation" (94). Certainly, ecological collapse is probable, maybe inevitable; however, the collapse will occur unevenly over an unspecified period of time—thus suggesting the uniform declarations of the Invisible Committee could use some modifications for context, and the anarcho-primitivist suppositions suffer from a preponderance of Western white privilege, an idealization of hunter-gatherer societies, and a deficit of pragmatic thought.
One particular dilemma—and this is where the "middle ground" between insurrectionist and mass anarchism should be defined—seems to interrupt the insurrectionary sentiment: "How will we feed ourselves once everything is paralyzed?" the Committee wonders (125). Or, similarly, "How will we communicate and move about during a total interruption of the flows?" (105). The Committee does not provide adequate answers for these essential questions. They simply assert, "[Every commune] seeks to dissolve the question of needs" (102), and recommend urban gardening. That said, they should be credited for attempting to address the central challenge of modern revolution: the concept of necessity. They have identified the problem: "Our dependence on the metropolis—on its medicine, its agriculture, its police—is so great at present that we can't attack it without putting ourselves in danger" (106). They simply have not provided a workable solution.
The Coming Insurrection is an important radical text at least for its attempt at a synthesis of contemporary post-Left anarchism, especially primitivism, and insurrectionism. At times, its language is eloquent, even inspiring. However, the manifesto that remains of a bogus government initiative to resurrect the spectre of "homegrown terrorism from the ultra-left" is a document more interesting for its literary flourishes than its pragmatic designs for revolution.» - Michael Truscello

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Nina Shope - The stories entering her right ear are of myths, monsters, transformations. Yet the left ear hears a language that comes from the nipple

Nina Shope, Hangings: Three Novellas (Starcherone, 2005)

"In Hangings, a young woman learns that her mother is dying and finds herself stalked by nightmarish figures - the hideously transformed maiden, Arachne, an upside-down man in a Miro painting, and spiders that hatch and haunt the text like tumors.
In Urbem imagines an archetypal ancient city, that city beneath the pavement of all modern cities, in fantastic prose reminiscent of Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities.
Finally, Hagiographies explores two intense female friendships, both of which are suddenly shattered, in a wildly inventive narrative proceeding by means of juxtaposed images rather than sequential events."

"Nina Shope weaves a suspension of alluring delicacy, strength, and beauty." - Carole Maso

"Whether it is busy metastasizing cancer into mythology or invoking into existence a desire-fraught and maddened harpy of a city, Nina Shope's writing is smart and carefully layered - yet at the most unexpected moments it is the emotional equivalent of an open wound. An impressive debut." - Brian Evenson

"The dazzling debut of an immensely talented and big-hearted writer. These hypnotically beautiful novellas are wildly intelligent, deeply felt, and full of reminders that 'experimental' writing just means: writing that is trying with all its heart to account for the many wonders of the world." - George Saunders

"The publication of Hangings inaugurates a writer of literary stature and significance, power and grace. With a seminal style that defies definition, Nina Shope has delivered a masterwork, both profoundly beautiful and profoundly disturbing. It is a visionary book that yet never forgets what makes literature matter. From a mythical city infested with prophets to quests shaped by stars on the floor, all roads lead to the depths of her characters' souls. In a world where sophisticated work is often bloodless, Hangings is a work with heart, Hangings is a work that matters." - Arthur Flowers

"Hagiographies... explores the intensities of youth, the wildness and weirdness of sex, the incredible complexity of words not spoken, 'letters' never sent, lives lived only in fragment, expectation, loneliness, misdirection, and loss. This is a writer of depth and scope." - Kenneth Bernard

"In Peter Greenaway's 1996 film, The Pillow Book, the female protagonist struggles after her lover's death to become the pen instead of the paper. To provide inspiration and to give contour to her experiences, she searches ancient Eastern traditions for written traces of women's lives. In Hangings: Three Novellas, Nina Shope paints characters who similarly struggle
for voice. Her book, however, is informed by the ancient Greek and Roman roots that undergird the Western tradition, especially the worlds of women, which, though written about obsessively, were never voiced by women themselves. Shope reminds us that perhaps the memory of those ancient stories clings to us in ways we have yet to imagine...
The book exemplifies the best of experimental fiction: jarring us out of our complacency with narrative, chalenging our conceptions of the writer's craft, overturning our expectations of language. One strange effect of this book is that the three novellas, so very different in tone and topic, can be read seamlessly; likewise, any discrete page becomes a poem...
Shope has written tragedy in the Greek sense of the word - something inevitable, beyond grief, beyond poignancy, with Medea-like impact." - Holli Baumgartner

"The first line of Nina Shope's Hangings, a collection of three experimental novellas, shows the connection between a mother and a daughter and, while doing so, immediately connects the reader to the scene at hand: "When they are reading like this, her head on her mother's breast, the empty shell of her ear covering her mother's nipple, it is as if they have become one fused and fantastical creature." Shope, expanding on this line, endows the scene with its own calm and reverberating breath. "The girl hears her mother's voice resonate with each ear. The stories entering her right ear are of myths, monsters, transformations. Words of the mouth. Yet the left ear, pressed to the breast, hears a second strain of sound. A language that comes from the nipple. A humming, which begins in her mother's throat, fills her ribcage, echoes through the dome of her breast." Shope evokes the essential magic of words and of the mother through this sensual description of reading. She also reminds us to listen with both of our ears – one taking in the resonance of the words – when reading this memorable, original novella.
The plot of this first novella, "Hangings," is, like Shope's language here, rooted to the body. We soon learn that the mother, who is never named, has become ill with breast cancer. To describe this change, Shope uses words that create a rhythm of disruption; and in between these words come silent spaces that are filled with a new sense of isolation for the daughter: "And her mother's breast sounds suddenly hollow. Emptied of everything but tissues. Glands. Tumors. And knotted veins." The mother will no longer be reading to the girl, who also is never named over the course of the novella. The girl is becoming a woman and now is too old to be read to, says the mother, who believes her daughter "should be going out. Seeing friends. Meeting boys." As the once "fused and fantastical creature" falls apart, the mother and girl must embark on their own physical transformations into, respectively, illness and womanhood. Shope illustrates how these transformations are every bit as strange as the myths that the mother is describing in the opening scene when she is reading out loud from what turns out to be Ovid's Metamorphoses.
In her second novella, Shope uses Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities as her central allusion. "In Urbem" is an exploration of an ancient city populated by winged women, vestal virgins, priests, lovers, Caligula, Caesar, his mother, architects, nurses, senators. Part of this crowded city is powered by "the friction of bodies in moments of desire": "when lovers quarrel the quarter is dark for days. sometimes it is lighted for weeks on end. luminous. the lovers' bodies raising the temperature to an unbearable degree." Shope is drawing upon Calvino's cadences in Invisible Cities, altered by her own preference for sentence fragments, and throughout "In Urbem," she is also borrowing on the basic premise of Calvino's book: her city, like his invisible one, dwells within the imagination and appears to be many different cities at once. But unlike Calvino's novel, which reads like a fanciful and philosophical poem, Shope's "In Urbem" is often airless and without whimsy. It sits beneath the architecture of Invisible Cities and stays there, suffering from a lack of movement.
The last novella "Hagiographies" begins and ends with a quote from Djuna Barnes's Nightwood. Shope enters the territory so sharply explored by Barnes in Nightwood by taking on the subject of obsessive, destructive love between two women. The prose is polished as it is throughout the book and the ending is a quiet surprise, but the relationship between the women remains superficial throughout much of the piece. It doesn't help that one of the women is solely referred to as "the girl with the black eyes." The phrase is repeated often, along with "the girl with the pixie haircut," another character, who, quite possibly, is friends with Aimee Bender's "girl in the flammable skirt," I don't know. I do know that the repetitive phrases soon annoyed me, and I realized that Shope was not living up to the wonderful promise of her title novella, "Hangings." She was not allowing her girls to transform into women, and as a result, the last novella suffers from an odd gap. The external reference to the complicated and poetic Nightwood seems disconnected from the flatness of the characters contained within the story and the coy clichés Shope uses to describe them." - Caroline Wilkinson

"Nina Shope has always been a writer. Even before she could hold a pencil, the lifelong Beverly Road resident was dictating stories to her mother. “I still have all these stapled, scrap-paper books from when I was around 4, stories about runaway pumpkins, witches and caterpillars,” she said.
Next to them on her shelves now is an even more impressive publication: her first book, “Hangings,” a brilliantly reviewed collection of three novellas that is being heralded for blazing a new direction in fiction writing. Next Wednesday, March 14, at 7 p.m. in the library’s Wakelin Room, Shope will be reading from her book at an event co-sponsored by the library and the Wellesley Booksmith.
“I always wanted to be a writer,” Shope said. “It was something I focused on with singular intensity, even as a child.” Her mother read aloud to Shope and her sister, Nikki, “long, difficult books, mostly fantasies, so I became an avid reader. I still read and re-read some of those books we read together: ‘The Lord of the Rings,’ ‘The Neverending Story,’ the ‘Earthsea Trilogy.’”
Shope’s love of experiencing and creating alternate worlds bloomed further with Sylvie Morris, who lived a few houses away. They met at age 2 and are still best friends. “We both loved reading, writing and playing make-believe games in the woods by Bates,” she said. “We fed each other’s imagination from an early age, and I’m very grateful for that.”
At Bates School, just a short walk away, the budding writer was discovered and nurtured. Shope still expresses fond gratitude to her kindergarten teacher, Barbara Sturgis, also a neighbor; her sixth-grade teacher Diane Burkhart, who told the very shy Shope in front of the whole class that she wrote “wonderful stories;” and her second-grade teacher, Bob Blue, who had her keep a journal and compose a book of stories, which are still on her shelf.
“Throughout my schooling in Wellesley I had amazing teachers, who fed my love of reading and writing,” she says. “I owe them a tremendous debt. I feel very fortunate to have reconnected with several of them in recent years. Mr. Blue passed away last year, and I am thankful that before he died, I was able to tell him what a profound effect he had on my life.”
At Wellesley High, she calls her sophomore thesis in Jeannie Goddard’s English class “an amazing experience,” and cherished the encouragement and support from her junior year teacher, Ronna Frick. When Shope graduated from Wellesley High, she took with her the Sylvia Plath Creative Writing Award.
“I remember thinking how amazing it was that Plath went to Wellesley High School and lived in town,” she said. “I’m still very proud to have an award named in her honor.”
Next came the undergraduate honors program in creative writing at Brown University, where she moved from high school poetry (and two “rather awful novels that won’t ever see the light of day”) to fiction.
“Brown is a school that encourages experimentation, which worked really well for me, since I became increasingly attracted to writing fragmentary, non-linear, non-character-based narratives,” she said. “I wanted to write compressed, imagistic, language-based prose that would be structured more like poetry than fiction but would still tell stories.”
Which she did with great success, publishing stories, performing readings (“terrifying!”), earning her bachelor’s degree with honors, and winning the Barbara Banks Brodsky Prize in Creative Writing (for the novella “Hangings”). After graduation, she was selected for a residency at the Millay Colony for the Fine Arts.
At Syracuse University, on a fully funded three-year fellowship for an MFA in fiction, more prizes and prestigious publications followed, including the highly competitive national Starcherone Fiction Prize for “Hangings.”
The book, published by Starcherone Books, consists of three novellas: “Hangings” and “In Urbem” which made up her undergraduate thesis; and “Hagiographies,” her graduate thesis. It has been hailed as a brave, scorching leap in experimental fiction, a stunning and audacious work of lyricism, style and astonishing grace.
“The collection, and my writing in general, centers upon themes of gender and sexuality, bodily disintegration, desire and fantastical excess,” Shope says. “All three novellas explore the beauty and the terror of embodiment, enmeshment, inextricability — the way physical and emotional experiences transform and imbue bodies and texts.
“Much of my writing revolves around the complexity of female relationships — the mirroring, fusion and estrangement that occurs between mothers, daughters, sisters, friends. I want to expose the intense connections and disconnections within these relationships for which there are no social parameters, no acceptable emotional outlets.”
Author George Saunders called “Hangings” a “dazzling debut,” adding “these hypnotically beautiful novellas are wildly intelligent, deeply felt ... writing that is trying with all its heart to account for the many wonders of the world.”
Writer Arthur Flowers said its publication “inaugurates a writer of literary stature and significance. With a seminal style that defies definition, Nina Shope has delivered a masterwork, both profoundly beautiful and profoundly disturbing. It is a visionary book that never forgets what makes literature matter.”
“I write in narrative fragments, structuring each story by means of accretion, convergence and superimposition,” Shope says, trying to explain the inventively rich and almost dizzying labyrinth of language, images and emotions she creates for her readers.
She said, “I use experimental techniques to heighten and intensify the emotional core of my fiction. When I experience an emotional event, it isn’t a linear process. My mind becomes obsessed with connections, resonances — linking events, images, time, people and words together in an almost maddening fashion. In my fiction, I try to evoke a similar sort of emotional state using repetition, unusual juxtapositions and unexpected connections to create emotional layers, rather than simply describing an event or a feeling.
“I want to create a more primal experience for the reader. In doing so, I seek to access a commonality of feeling, often rooted in one’s nightmares or greatest fears.”
References and allusions to myth and allegories course through Shope’s prose, influences she traces back to her earliest years. “My mother [Judy] sparked my interest in mythology,” she says, “and my father [Robert] taught me a great deal about symbolism. After seeing a movie, my parents, my sister, and I would discuss the imagery and subtext of the film. We still do. That’s one reason I love to explore doubled meanings, imagistic resonances, and symbolism in my writing. My favorite texts are those that are densely layered with meaning.”
Shope creates these texts in a writing routine which is somewhat sporadic.
“When I’m working on something, I can write for a solid chunk of hours and produce a lot of material,” she said. “But my fiction is pretty dark and emotional, so it requires a certain amount of psychological space. I don’t always want to put myself into the writing ‘mood.’” She works in an unorthodox way, writing in bits and pieces without a particular order.
“I jump from image to image and let the text evolve as a series of fragments,” she explained. “I try to think of all the scenes or images that might interest me and let them emerge organically. Once I’ve run out of sections to write, I work on putting the fragments into a provisional order.
“My sister, Nikki, helps me enormously during this stage of the process. She’s extremely astute at pulling out underlying images, connections or themes in my work that will help me structure a given piece. We work really well together, very intuitively, and honestly she’s the best editor I could possibly hope for.”
Currently Shope is deeply immersed in her new novel, based on French neurologist J.M. Charcot’s examination of hysteria at the end of the 19th century.
“My book examines the historical relationship between Charcot and his star patient,” she said. “It encompasses concepts of photographic doubling, hysterical simulation and performance, and the theatrical self-presentation of both patient and doctor in Charcot’s asylum.”
When Shope emerges from the worlds she creates, she delights in the daily world around her. Recently engaged to Chris Narozny, another fiction writer she met at Syracuse, they are planning their December wedding.
“Our writing is very different stylistically, which makes us good readers of one another’s work, since we come at writing from different angles,” she says. Chris, who is completing a Ph.D in creative writing at Denver University, has recently finished a novel and found an agent.
Helping to keep them grounded in the nonliterary world is a bossy 24-pound diva named Mila, an impish, turbo-charged red-and-white corgi who “rules the roost. She’s made a huge difference in my life, and Chris and I adore her.”
Always driven to keep busy, even when relaxing she channels her creativity into hobbies: making beaded jewelry, holiday ornaments and embroidered Frida Kahlo dolls, which she sells in galleries; knitting; doing crossword puzzles; taking Spanish lessons with Chris; and practicing the flute.
But it is writing which is her passion, her center, her life’s blood. “Writing fulfills a number of important functions for me,” she says. “It helps me unravel the events, feelings, thoughts, and relationships that most mystify and confound me.
“It allows me to confront my deepest fears and emotions, while also celebrating moments of profound beauty. I believe great hope and connection can exist in the spaces where fear and beauty meet. That is part of the revelatory, transformative power of fiction.” - Beth Hinchliffe


Derek Pell - Cultural Revolution run amok. Anarchic, turbulent, a vast sea of spam, spies, hoaxes, viruses, porn cults, hacker claques... Copy that!

Derek Pell, Little Red Book of Adobe LiveMotion: A Radical Guide to Flash Animation (No Starch Press, 2001)

“...a wordplay master and a parodist of great wit and cunning.” - Robert Coover

“the most wickedly funny writer in America.” - Larry McCaffery

"Written as an absurdist pastiche of Chairman Mao's red badges, which were to inform the citizens of "correct" political information, is a reference guide to Adobe's LiveMotion software. The text serves as a humorous instruction manual for using flash as a political tool to oppose corporate culture and to foster a political revolution against capitalism. Resignifying symbols, images, and texts, the book is an example of the fluidity of meaning and identity found in the World Wide Web.
Written as a warning, the book is framed as a rare surviving copy of a book of endangered species from England's Victorian period. The illustrations serves as puns and wordplay combine with nostalgia, pastiche, and found materials to serve as an absurd, but nonetheless less meaningful warning on extinction and humanities role in the environment."

"In 1966, Chairman Mao called for a revolution, demanded one, in fact, that would rid China of its bourgeois habits and customs, its history and customary ways of thinking. Mao's party made him sole author, as it were, of the propriety and legality of text and image, a process that led to the destruction of ancient buildings, art objects, and temples, not to mention loss of life. The revolution was supposed to criticize imperialism, regenerate the revolutionary spirit and purge "bourgeois" elements in the government. Mao made of the Revolution a kind of spectacular performance, at once scripture, drama, and revolutionary exhortation; all of China became a stage on which its people pronounced the great economic success that never came to be. Out of the Cultural Revolution grew the phenomenon of massive Mao badge production, those visual texts that provided the masses with correct political knowledge - correct being complete and utter devotion to Mao. The badges were fundamental in that they had the ability to both mark those who `believed,' and spread the image of this ubiquitous, indefatigably brutal man. And with that began The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.
Mao's revolution is parodied and lambasted in Derek Pell's outrageous Little Red Book of Adobe LiveMotion: A Radical Guide to Flash Animation, a reference guide for LiveMotion, Adobe's version of animation software. Operating both as an instruction manual and send up of Mao Zedong's famous collection of sayings, Pell's Little Red Book stirs the revolutionary ghost of Mao Zedong from the tomb of memory as an act of wit and parody that informs the entire text, a scheme sufficiently lunatic to appeal to the nonconformist character of animators and Web designers. The book begins with an image of Mao followed by the quotation, "You move me," initially addressed to The People's Liberation Army. Both the image of the man and the text attributed to him gain meaning that is modified within the context of Adobe's animation software, the purpose of which is to manipulate text and software in the spirit of revolutionary technology. Pell asks his army of animators to infiltrate, animate, and dominate the Web, knowing that in this software lies a potential for both revolutionary and economic success that escaped the original Cultural Revolution.
Before getting into a discussion of the theoretical and parodic elements of this book, it seems to me necessary to investigate the book's primary objective of providing practical reference for the novice user of Adobe LiveMotion. Pell's easy to navigate guide includes information on how to sketch out designs for Web pages, how to integrate the use of Photoshop and Dreamweaver with LiveMotion (a critically useful skill for this type of software), how to employ toolbox, vectors, palettes, and LiveMotion objects (which Pell refers to as "Capitalist Tools"), how to use readymade shapes, styles, and textures in Adobe's Library, how to add and mix audio files and, of course, how to animate words and texts. Pell begins by describing how Adobe LiveMotion is superior to Macromedia Flash. While Flash uses a frame-based Timeline, LiveMotion uses video graphics logic in which you can layer objects equally and, consequently, manipulate each object separately. Separate handling creates an environment in which two or more animations, running on separate timelines, run simultaneously. In other words, LiveMotion allows for an animation within an animation. (However one problem with Flash that Pell identifies is that it reads each frame as one object and hence, can only manipulate one object per frame.)
Other useful topics covered in this manual include the "White Bones Demons" and the "Proletarian Preloaders." The "White Bones Demons," a reference to Jiang Qing, Mao's fourth wife, act as a sidebar warning label on the program's traps and pitfalls. The chapter on preloaders goes into great detail explaining preloaders - a nested animation that runs while your main animation downloads - in ways that are both efficient and interesting. The examples of animation, many of which are provided in glossy color pictures, allows the animator to see clear examples of what she is capable of producing with this program. Although some of the links provided in this book, including the titular www.littleredbooks.com, are no longer active, those that are active are neatly categorized into such subjects as Flash sites, image sites, and Lit and Art E-Zines. The book concludes with a bibliography that covers not only books on animation and website design, but also Chinese politics, Maoism, and absurdist literature.
Throughout this instruction, Pell makes countless references to, as well as provides countless images of Chairman Mao. Pell explains himself in his introduction to Little Red Book:
But you may ask, is it proper, that is, correct Marxist-Leninist-Mao Zedong Thought to publish a computer book filled with satire, puns, and visual mischief? Of course it is - especially when the goal is to revolutionize the computer book industry by defeating all big fat feudalist manuals and replacing them with svelte, absurdist guides bent on Web domination. And as the Web continues to evolve and revolutionize our lives, I think it's fitting that I resurrect the obese ghost of Mao Zedong to spur us on to bolder experiments, so that we may create great and glorious images and engaging, immersive, interactive animations for the Web. Web Workers of the World, Unite!
Pell begins by explaining the `revolutionary' capabilities of Adobe LiveMotion. Because Adobe LiveMotion allows a user to delete designs, Pell refers to this as purging "anti-Maoists design ideas." The system itself is revolutionary, in that it brings motion graphics to the codeless masses and destroys those systems that do not allow coding by "the people," allowing for the potential to revolutionize animation. Pell describes the program as inciting a revolution among animators:
Word of the new weapon spread like wildfire through cyberspace, igniting the imagination of rebel artists and designers around the globe, inciting downtrodden geeks and weary workers to rise up and cheer the New People's Interface (NPI). A better Mao's trap had arrived, and the ranks of the People's Army swelled. The beta was quickly branded a `Flash-killer' by the People.
Pell uses the image of Mao throughout his instruction to invoke the practice of image manipulation employed throughout the Cultural Revolution. The myth of Mao Zedong was circulated through the use of Mao badges, those (re)imagined images deployed and distributed by the Chairman. Mao badges were `pre-web design' images whose ubiquity resulted in the worldwide dissemination of Mao's image and proved instrumental in sustaining Mao's power by acting as agents of indoctrination. Like the Mao badges themselves, Pell insists on taking the recognizable image of Mao Zedong and completely reinterpreting it. Pell produces, alters, and invokes the symbols, myths, and values of the Cultural Revolution, resignifying these patchworks of symbols and producing new meanings for them in absurd contexts.
Pell's use of the image of Mao does not seem solely absurdist (although certain images of Mao, including ones in which he is used to peddle deodorant, Uncle Ben's Rice, and Red Lobster are clearly so) and arbitrary here but, rather, seems driven by the identity he is trying to construct for his audience. Pell is asking his audience to take collective action; he is telling us to forge an alliance of revolt against corporate culture using LiveMotion as a tool (the fact that this software is itself a product of corporate culture is one Pell seems to ignore). Pell's readers are supposed to oppose corporate culture and their identities are supposed to be partially defined by this political struggle (a clear victim of Pell's assault is the Microsoft Corporation; "Defeat Microsoft now!" states a character in one of his animations).
The manipulation of images, for which the program is used, is itself symbolic of the fluidity of image, myth, and identity that Pell sees as the state of the World Wide Web:
The Web is the Cultural Revolution run amok. Or, if clichés are your cup tea, it's the Wild West. Anarchic, turbulent, a vast sea of spam, spies, hoaxes, viruses, porn cults, hacker claques, glittering litter... It's a cosmic supermarket tabloid gone berserk.
Language also becomes part of Pell's project of manipulation as he instructs "Liberation Animators" to animate words and take the static nature out of text, making the destruction of the signifier also part of the artistic project:
We've created a couple of animations that have effectively subverted text by transforming just object opacity and position, but that's only the tip of the iceberg - imagine the possibilities with stretching, skewing, rotating, and deforming type.
Pell defines himself as an artist coming to this project, "not as a technocrat or geek." He is a neo-luddite and a subversive, one whose sensibility is shaped by absurdists and avant-garde literatis. This book provides tools for the rebel in a language that the rebel can understand and enjoy by appropriating the technocratic nightmare in order to claim corporate tools for the artist, not the capitalist or the programmer. Pell goes on to state, "I began my life as an artist working with papers, scissors, and spray adhesive. Being self-uneducated, my medium of choice was collage". Pell is asking artists to take up these new media technologies in order to disperse their art and their anti-establishment beliefs.
Hackers and programmers are described as bourgeois because of their specialized knowledge and they are defined by Pell to be anti-art, while "Web workers" (read: animators) are described as lowly in opposition to programmers who produce software. When Pell asks that his readers use a minimal amount of code, he adds as an afterthought, "Hey, I didn't mean to scare you back by using the word code. I'm not now, nor have I ever been a code junkie". Adobe LiveMotion is opposed to Macromedia Flash, in that Flash becomes a prime example of a tool that is unworkable by the masses of artists, of one that gets caught up in the hands of "code-snorting geeks" and has a "big, steep bourgeois learning curve."
Because the possibility of popular struggle relies on the production of a communal identity, Pell's Little Red Book acts as a call to a community of resistance, a community whose denizens share an identity of outlaw socialist and insurrectional artist fighting against the constraints of capitalism and the specialized knowledge of the programmer. He transforms the animation software into a site where battles over identity and Web control are fought. Pell tries to construct a project that can unify animators under a collective will of political struggle, fashioning an identity for his audience that is at once politically subversive and technologically savvy in which the animator is identified as the excluded, the oppressed, the underground. Of course Pell's own project is doomed to exist under the same constraints as the anarchic Web, in which his own anti-establishment, Maoist animation Army will always remain only partially and contradictorily loyal.
Although the revolutionary potential of this software is real, Pell identifies the Web as being more hospitable to trained programming professionals and proprietary corporations than to animators, artists, and writers. Before an aesthetic and cultural revolution on the Web can occur, the "codeless masses" must be provided with the tools to transfer authority from the programmers and software industries to the artists. As the production of art is the animator's source of collective energy, the animator requires software specifically designed to be both technically savvy and user friendly. For Pell, LiveMotion acts as a tool without which The Animator's Revolution would be a manifestly futile expedition. LiveMotion, in other words, leaves animators armed for the fray." - Lisette Gonzales

Derek Pell, X-texts (Autonomedia, 1995)

«Collection of iconic sexual and erotic literature, in which each story is a meta-story, or treated version, of the original. Examples include Lady CHatterley's Loafer, Lolita, Over the Hill, and 9 1/2 Weeks: The Long March

"Derek Pell is a wordplay master and parodist of great wit and cunning. In this volume, he sets his sights on some of the classics of "dirty literature," producing such masterpieces as "Naked Lunch at Tiffany's," "Up Fanny Hill," "Sexlus," and "Lady Chatterley's Loafer."

Derek Pell, The Marquis De Sade's Elements of Style (Permeable Press, 1996)

«Introduced as a "found book" originally published by Marquise de Sade while in an lunatic aslym, with pictures and edits done by the "author", Derek Pell. Presented as a book on style, it is divided into four sections, Elementary Principles of Composition, A Few Matters of Form, Words and Expressions Commonly Misued, An Approach to Style, and an untraditional index, with wood print images either designed or found and incorporated throughout.»

Derek Pell, Assassination Rhapsody (Autonomedia, 1992)

"A pataphysical interpretation of the Warren Report on the assassination of JFK, which Pell argues should stand as a hallmark of postmodernist fiction. We can testify that, in the annals of conspiracy theory, no one has ever seen anything like Pell's document. A poetic expose of curtain rods, bullet design, and grassy knolls, with a journey through Oswald's secret diary."

"A deconstruction version of the materials in the Warren Commission Report. Examples include the use of collage and absurdism mixed with mechanical manipulations and transformations of the Commission texts' in A The Nature of the Shots, illustrations in A Bullet Theory Poem, and lipogram in The Magic Bullet."

Derek Pell, Doktor Bey's suicide guidebook: Introduction and collages (Dodd, Mead, 1977)

"Never feed your sexual appetite leftovers.—Doktor Bey, in Derek Pell's Doktor Bey's Handbook of Strange Sex
In order to ease the sense of discomfort reported by some readers during their initial textual encounter with his previous books, Derek Pell has asked me to greet you here in this introductory parlor (as it were), where I will offer a few words about his background and provide some information about the sort of literary "ride" he'll be taking you on in just a moment in X-Texts. Lest there be any misunderstanding, you certainly should not mistake me for one of those zoot-suited literary pimps who hang around in front of establishments spouting the usual blurbabel about the naughty pleasures awaiting you inside this or that text, or how happy this or that writer is going to make you, etc. etc.. Rather, my role is merely that of someone already experienced in "the pleasures of the X-Text" (to paraphrase Barthes) who now can offer you a relaxing Intro-aperitif[3] and who will then escort you directly to "Aphrodite Aviary"—the doorway (as it were) to Pell's custom-built "hot rod" that is gassed up and waiting to take you to realms of X-Textual pleasures you never dreamed even existed.
Derek Pell: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Happy Hooker
If by literary "prostitution" one refers to making a living by helping readers "get off," then Derek Pell has been an active “member”; (so to speak) in good standing of the world's oldest literary profession since the heady days of the late 60s, when he left a brief stint at Chicago's Art Institute and began publishing the first of his scandalous unclassifiable text-and-collage works, which were soon quietly circulating among discriminating readers of magazines and journals.[4] By the late 1970s Pell’s “Doktor Bey”; books began to appear from commercial houses.[5] These works—which included his first major meta-pornographic book, Doktor Bey’s Book of Strange Sex—began to attract for Pell a devoted following among readers whose taste in text ran towards something a little more kinky, transgressive and playful than the kind of linearly organized, missionary-positioned, slam-bam-thank-you-ma'am experiences they endured at home with traditional realism.
The reactionary, sexually repressive Reagan years, however, found mainstream publishers "cleaning up their acts," and Pell, along with many other writers deemed textually "promiscuous" or "literarily incorrect," were rounded-up en masse and told to either get outta town or sanitize their works so that "decent readers" would no longer have to be solicited by "morally and aesthetically reprehensible" authors every time they took a stroll through their neighborhood chain bookstores. For a writer like Pell—whose very essence as a performer had to do with exciting his customers with textual acts that reeked of the very sense of shock, irreverence, and liberating energies now being deordorized by an 80s culture increasingly dominated by a humorless political correctness and safety-fascism—the choice was very obvious: he found alternative ways to textually excite and delight audiences in less publicly visible haunts. That there was some legitimate grounds for certain readers regarding Pell's textuality as being "perverse," "painful" and "disgusting" is undeniable; that others could just as accurately describe their responses as "excruciatingly pleasurable" remains an ongoing vindication of Pell's refusal to revoke his commitment to polymorphous textuality.
Thus began an odyssey of nearly a decade in which Pell found himself mostly plying his trade once more on the pages of the strange underground world of small presses and literary journals. From a personal standpoint these must have been frustrating years indeed for Pell; ironically, however, having to perform for a much smaller but more aesthetically experienced and demanding audience also pushed him to further refine his skills (albeit regressively so) as a writer, visual artist, and satirist.
This “regressive refinement”; is evident in a number of pieces included in X-Texts —for example, "Aphrodite's Aviary,”; "The Kama Sutra of Rabelais,”; “The Nonsexist Sutra of Vatsanaym,”; “Sox,”; “Lolita Over the Hill,”; “The Elements of Style,”; “Up Fanny Hill,”; “Tropic of Crater,”; “Sexlus,”; “Anais Nin’s Architecture of Desire,”; “Lady Chatterley’s Loafer”; and several pieces that might be termed “strip tease”; performances. In these works Pell intertextually provides his audience with a glimpse of a series of texts by several of the most venerated and respected authors associated with “serious”; pornographic representation—Nabokov, Anais Nin, Henry Miller, Sade, Rabelais, Jean Deberg, Stein, Burroughs, Nicholson Baker, etc. Liberated from the uncomfortable “proper”; narrative garments which usually cloak pornographic discourse in a deceptive veil of logic, rationality, causality, and rhetorical “high seriousness,”; they are verbally retrofitted by Pell in garish, outlandish costumes and then pushed out onto the page-stage; there, sternly “disciplined”; by Pell’s choreographed word-play, they perform a ribald series of naughty and nutty skits that display their charms in a manner that most readers should find both delightfully absurd and perversely sensuous.
At any rate, the blend of aesthetic anarchy, black humor, social commentary, and irreverence found throughout X-Texts confirms for me that Derek Pell is 1.) almost single-handedly keeping satire alive as a serious art form today and 2.) currently the most wickedly funny writer in America—a country that suddenly seems to have lost its sense of humor." - Larry McCaffery (Read more:

"PELL, Derek (1947). A various and eccentric writer/artist, he published a series of Doktor Bey collage books with a mass paperbacker and more experimental visual-verbal texts with smaller presses. Under the witty pseudonym Norman Conquest he has initiated yet more radical acts such as applying first-class postage to a dollar bill, rubber-stamping it, and mailing it to a friend. This got him in trouble with the FBI for “defacing U.S. currency,” which might rank among the few artistic acts to generate the G-men’s interest. His single most extraordinary text is Assassination Rhapsody, which is refined commentary on the great modern mystery of John F. Kennedy’s death. Its pages include in both visual and verbal forms lots of pseudo-information that are superficially credible but finally ridiculous. To quote Larry McCaffery: “This blend of aesthetic anarchy, black humor, social commentary, and irreverence establishes Pell as currently the most wickedly funny writer in America.” The Little Red Book of Adobe LiveMotion is, no joke, a witty guide to computer animation." - www.richardkostelanetz.com/examples/dag3.php

Derek Pell, Naked Lunch at Tiffany's, JEF Books, 2015.

Treat yourself to a hot and hilarious lunch—served up by the author of Assassination Rhapsody, the writer The Review of Contemporary Fiction hails as "the postmodern master of parody." This collection of satirical texts skewers and roasts every major work of classic and contemporary erotica, from the Kama Sutra to Fifty Shades Of Grey. John Strausbaugh in The New York Press said "Pell's deft lampoons are like precision sniper fire." Novelist Robert Coover said "Derek Pell is a wordplay master and a parodist of great wit and cunning." D. Harlan Wilson calls NAKED LUNCH AT TIFFANY'S "...a true work of literature." Includes a shocking and inflammatory introduction by Nile Southern, author of The Candy Men: The Rollicking Life and Times of the Notorious Novel Candy. Curl up in bed with NAKED LUNCH AT TIFFANY'S and enjoy some seriously wicked fun.