Online Issue: Halloween & November 2015
“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.”
Go back and read that opening line. Try, if you can, to de-familiarize yourself with it. Picture it in your head. Allow yourself to be surprised by the imagery. Wake up, in your bed, after a dream you wish to never revisit, only come to and realize that something is very wrong.
Make the realization that you are now, and without explanation, a massive crawling creature reminiscent of a cockroach, a beetle or a bed bug. Let the truth of this realization sink in: the confusion, the panic, the powerlessness, the utter abject terror. The knowledge that when your nearest and dearest see you they will now recoil in disgust and potentially try to destroy you. That you are now decisively outside of humanity.
EC Comics (or Entertaining Comics), published a series of horror, crime, satire, science fiction and military comics in the 1940s and 1950s. These comics had a strong undercurrent of naturalism, echoing the novels of Emile Zola, albeit in fantastic circumstances (such as the Tales from the Crypt series). During a time of increasing political and cultural conformity EC Comics often struck a defiant tone, especially under the leadership of Al Feldstein, that echoed the Pop Front culture of the then recent past. That defiant tone frequently got the writers, editors and artists of EC Comics in trouble with the censors at the Comics Code Authority (CCA).
When Wes Craven died recently, most obituaries focused on his successful money-making Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream series. Very few even mentioned his earlier independent commercial films The Last House on the Left (1971) and The Hills have Eyes (1977), both of which later had higher-budget but undistinguished remakes. These early films belonged to the exciting and innovative decade of the 1970s when the ignominy of American defeat in Viet Nam and crisis of confidence in the White House stimulated many iconoclastic and radical commercial films now conspicuous from the mainstream by their very absence. Craven then belonged to a group of innovative talents such as Brian DePalma, Tobe Hooper and Larry Cohen, all of whom took over familiar generic conventions for their own particular critical perspectives.
A properly executed horror film establishes a strong connection between a fantastic element and plot devices which resonate with the audience’s social context. Usually these fantasy elements — whether they be ghostly, monstrous, or all-too-human — overshadow the social context of the narrative. Without this social resonance audiences have little reason to perceive the fantastic elements as objects of anxiety and fear.
The contemporary situation is defined by decades of a hyper-competitive culture combined with crushing economic austerity, a toxic brew which has produced an ever-growing crisis of anomie, or social atomization and breakdown. Mass shootings, once exceptional events, have “somehow become normal,” to paraphrase President Obama. In the midst of this, social forms which once served as vehicles to fight these conditions have either been coopted or crushed underfoot, leading people without any recourse but to seek individual solutions to social problems.
The following are images from an installation by Adam Turl at the Project 1612 art space in Peoria, Illinois. The installation tells the story of the artist Mary Hoagland, a Peoria native and former member of the 13 Baristas Art Collective, forced to move into her brother's garage after a serious car accident. The title comes from an exhibit Hoagland organized in her garage as well as the rank-and-file union newsletter produced by Caterpillar workers in the 1990s. In her paintings Mary tells fictionalized stories of the children and grandchildren of laid-off Cat workers and other residents of the greater Peoria area. This includes Kyle, who came to life fully grown when his father, a Fulton county sheriff, was cut in two with an ax; and a young Mary, who, in a bid to stop global warming, kidnaps Punxsutawney Phil so that he will never again see his own shadow.
Aside from my hands that
work 12 hours each day, the source
of my livelihood,
blood must be one of the most
valued part of my body.
I say this because
during the day
a large portion of it gets
Chief Keef, a Chicago-born rapper notable for his hit “Don’t Like” and his bizarrely-named child, was already embroiled in controversy. The powerful Chicago drill scene arguably rode to national prominence on his back. His lyrics are profane and frequently violent. His debut album was released on Gucci Mane’s aptly named 1017 Brick Squad label when Keef was only 17. A minor spouting gunplay and cocaine fairy tales over music designed to send power surges through the synapses: cue the indignation.
Even with all that manufactured controversy, you could be excused for not knowing quite how to react to the news that Chief Keef’s concert, benefitting the families of a child and a member of his crew who were both killed during a Chicago drive-by, was shut down by the police after one song despite Keef only appearing as a hologram.
We made this song in memory of Larry Jackson, We made this song for LaKiza.
We made this song for the community.
We made this song to heal.
We made this song to pressure the judge to NOT DISMISS THE CASE.
"To have dominion was not to knock out, downpress, bruise, but to understand, to love, make at home." — Toni Cade Bambara, The Salt Eaters
I have a lot of things I think
I say. Now is the time to act.
Now is the time to act
by speaking. Now is the time
to speak by evicting the words
that have choked me. Now the words
I want to address the theme of Proletarian and Revolutionary Art in the United States between 1928 and 1935; that is to say in the years of the so-called Third Period line in the tactics of the international Communist movement. Although the terms “Proletarian Art” and “Revolutionary Art” were often used seemingly interchangeably at this time — or even used in combination — they are not synonymous, and I will argue that the distinction points up tensions between different forms of art practice produced in the Communist Party’s orbit and to important intellectual confusions.
Before analyzing the theory and practice of this art and the reasons for its emergence and decline, something needs to be said about its genealogy.
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