The English translation of Richard Wright’s address to the Revolutionary Democratic Assembly in Paris in December 1948 seems to have escaped the notice of the biographers and literary scholars who have otherwise been extremely thorough in documenting the author’s life and work. And that neglect is all the more remarkable given the speech’s substance. A major defense of radical political and cultural principles at a moment when the Cold War was turning downright arctic, it is also a credo, a statement of personal values, by the preeminent African-American literary artist of his era.
Hugh Masekela was one of the last great jazz men of the twentieth century. Both his life and music were shaped by transatlantic political and cultural currents that ebbed their way through the slums of Johannesburg and the jazz dives of Harlem. His death has produced two broad depictions of the man: Masekela the founder of the South African Jazz sound, and Masekela the activist who used music to raise attention to the injustices of apartheid. Neither of these are inaccurate, but they do little to capture the complexity of the man or his music.
When I heard that The Fall’s frontman (and only consistent band member) Mark E. Smith had died, I didn’t even realize The Fall released a new album in 2017. I consider myself a pretty good fan, I can name a bunch of their albums, know some of their songs inside and out, have read dozens of interviews and articles about the Fall – and yet it totally slipped my radar they had a new album. But to be honest, Smith just got too much for me and after album after album, just got a bit burnt out by how their sound would have that similar weird feel, but just wasn’t as amazing as it could be.
I had a friend who as a child wrote to Ursula Le Guin. He was feeling miserable, bad things had happened to him and he wanted to run away to Earthsea. He told her that he felt ashamed that he wasn’t facing up to life, felt it was a failing that he just wanted to live a fantasy. Ursula Le Guin wrote back, sending him a postcard. She told him that imagination and fantasy weren’t something to be ashamed of, they were what made us who we are. My friend kept that postcard with him wherever he went.
To regard the struggle, the pain of a revolution, is not to deny the magnificence and optimism embodied in it. In order to fully look to the future, we have to reckon with the immensity of creating it. And acknowledge that we may fail.
Victor Serge knew this. He supported the Bolshevik Revolution enthusiastically, but as he saw its direction thrown off by civil war and rising bureaucracy, he had little hesitation in dissenting while remaining in absolute solidarity.
The installation Long Live the New! Morris & Co. Hand Printed Wallpapers and K. Malevich’s Suprematism, Thirty Four Drawings, including covers, addendum and afterword is made from a combination of two books: a Morris & Co. wood block printed wallpaper pattern book from the 1970s containing 45 sample wallpaper designs by William Morris, the 19th Century English wallpaper, textile and book designer, poet, novelist and Communist; and the Russian artist and pioneer of abstraction Kazimir Malevich’s Suprematism, Thirty Four Drawings, published in 1920.
We are born. It should be a start, but it is in fact a non-start; for we almost immediately have our full agency and autonomy as human beings robbed from us. We spend a lifetime trying to grasp it back from beneath a growing pile of rubble.
Rubble is literally at the center of Ilya Kabakov’s Labyrinth (My Mother’s Album). A large installation among many included in the Tate Modern’s exhibition of Ilya and Emilia Kabakov’s work, it is a spiral of long hallways reminiscent of Soviet era communal apartment buildings.
Some things, once said, can't ever be unsaid.
Some spells, once chanted, cannot be unmade,
but spark, leap over silicon barricades,
cast afterimages of brilliant red.
The spell creates the wizard. There lies he,
babe rocked by engines, watched through robot eyes,
his cradle hung from cables to the sky,
lulled fast asleep by steam trains to the sea.
At 9:40pm on October 25th, the forecastle gun of the battleship Aurora fired an ear-shattering round into the air. It was a blank, an empty shell. One-year prior, the Aurora had been contributing to the carnage of World War I, patrolling and bombarding in service to the Russian Empire. Now it was docked in Petrograd and under the control of a revolutionary sailors’ committee, most of whom supported the Bolsheviks. The blank round was, so the story goes, the first shot in the October Revolution, which overthrew the Provisional Government and established the first workers’ state in history.
What is the relationship between artistic movements and the historical periods during which they first appeared? Can the methods associated with these movements be detached from their original context for the benefit of later artists? Do the answers to these questions depend on which movements and periods we are discussing? The issue is of more than academic interest. Serious contemporary artists want to produce work relevant to, and critical of the societies in which they live; but in doing so, are they free to draw on any methods, from any point in history, or will only some be adequate to their needs? Should socialists expect them only to work with particular methods, and criticise them when they do not?