Book Reviews (issue #116)

The Revolution of Every Day

By Cari Luna

Tin House Books, 2013, 388 pgs

Reviewed by Teresa

At first glance, this novelappears to be a whimsical fantasy about five young people dealing with the emotional roller coaster of co-existence in a squat in New York’s Lower East Side in the early 90s. But the book digs deeper than appearances, and squatting becomes a metaphor for love—love holding out against power at a time when power, as directed by money, began assaulting and rewriting the logic of our everyday lives.

In an author interview, Cari Luna explained that, even though she has never squatted, she was haunted by the memory of witnessing the 1995 eviction of two radical squats near the intersection of Avenue A and Thirteenth Street in Manhattan. Ten years later, she began writing a novel set in those squats because “the eviction of the Thirteenth Street squats seemed, to me, to mark the beginning of the end of the Lower East Side…the point when money had won.”

Actual building-occupiers might critique this book for the way it romanticizes squatting (there really isn’t enough arguments about doing dishes in here to make it a realistic portrayal!), but perhaps this book is less about the ins and outs of squatting and more about the messy, beautiful logic of love as it barricades itself against the cold, effacing power of money. This is the last stand that all of us face as we protect what is meaningful from the forces of sterilization.

Demotivational Training (Éloge de la Démotivation)

By Guillaume Paoli

Cruel Hospice Books, 2013, 146pgs.

Reviewed by Teresa

Feed your inner theory nerd with this fresh text from the French Post-Situationist movement. The opening chapter launches into a genealogy of capitalism’s basic mechanism. This genealogy could be compared to Marx’s genealogy of the commodity in the opening of Capital, however, rather than placing the commodity at the center of the political-economy, Paoli claims the culprit is none other than human motivation itself, human motivation hijacked by the logic of a nonsensical system of doing things. “You aren’t in the traffic jam, you are the traffic jam.” Pailo offers a meager cure, explaining, “the objective of practicing demotivation…would be rather to divest oneself from all the strategies that lead all of us…to the market, to methodically dismantle the mechanisms that ensure that, despite everything, [capitalism] works.” The rest of the book reads like a tour of the horrible carnival that is global capitalism. Paoli shows us the ghost of the marketplace, killed by abstraction. He leads us down the dark corridor of company training methods, as workers are made to internalize the wills of their masters, and then down through the madhouse of workaholics, those whose lives are so stripped of meaning they can only bring themselves to work without even caring why. The fifth chapter is a trip through time, stopping in the 16th century to examine the birth of the fetish, breezing into the late 1960s to chat with Guy Debord and the Situationists, as they grapple with the notion that the commodity just might be created by the spectacle. The final chapter, “Cancelling the Project,” leaves us hanging. To find out how it ends, watch the revolution live from the comfort of the tree fort you’ll build with all that free time you’ll have thanks to your demotivational training.

My one critique is that this translation doesn’t quite live up to the enjoyable whimsy of the original French. But it is good to finally get this book in English! It is quite readable, great fodder for any edupunk who wants to read the real critical theory they aren’t teaching in college. A good pairing would be The Coming Insurrection by the Invisible Committee. At times this book transcends the struggle between capital and workers and takes us to the very edge of the unfathomable, as the unfahtomable attempts to recapture its rights.

A Country of Ghosts

By Margaret Killjoy

Combustion Books, 2014, 198pgs.

Reviewed by Teresa

For those who wish to read their anarchism swathed in the clothing of a steampunk genre fiction, you’re in luck! Madame Killjoy brings us a fantasy world chock-full of bowler hats, steam engines, and silly puns, where an anarchist society of self-directed folk is at the cusp of invasion by a mechanized hierarchical empire. We follow Dimos Horacki, a compassionate journalist within the empire as he is sent to the edge of his society as a war correspondent, only to quickly realize, “I just may be on the wrong side of the war.” It is a story filled with beauty and sadness. An excerpt:

To his credit, Mitos Zalbii, with whom I had shared as few words as possible, stood over me and died with a rifle in his hands. I never liked him, and he never liked me, but he died fulfilling the arbitrary duty he had been assigned. That duty being my well being, I still think of him fondly and genuinely mourn his passing.”

What I find truly exciting about this book is the way it is the opposite of the typical capitalist coming-of-age story (the tale of a protagonist being sorted into the system) and rather, we see the hero unsorted, liberated from the inner and outer shackles of hierarchy, as could only happen in a magical place and time before the empire of global capital became a totality, a time when it was possible to enter a different cultural logic. Sadly, this is a story that can only be imagined in this day and age, and must be relegated to the genre of fiction. It is the first book in a series by Combustion Books called “The Anarchist Imagination.”

book review EXCLUDED

by Julia Serano

Seal Press, 2013, 336 pages

Reviewed by Finn

Excluded: Making Feminist and Queer Movements More Inclusive” is Julia Serano’s most recent collection of essays. Readers might be familiar with Julia’s work from “Whipping Girl”, a  collection of personal reflections on transmisogyny. “Excluded” picks up where “Whipping Girl” left off, continuing to confront transmisogyny and other forms of sexism, but within the context of feminist and queer organizing. Split into two parts, “Excluded” begins with personal essays on how queer and feminist circles are often unfriendly to trans women, femmes, and bisexual identified folks. Julia’s first-person accounts are paired with a healthy dose of analysis on why certain forms of sexism are pervasive in supposedly anti-sexist spaces and followed with some practical ways to combat this. With a blunt, thoughtful, and systematic writing style, Julia breaks down a complex intersectional problem in a way that’s easy to follow and challenges us to actually do something about it.

Part One of “Excluded” chronicles Julia’s personal experiences with with what she calls “sexism-based exclusion”, a wide range of biases and double-standards related to gender and sexuality. These forms of sexism are largely discussed in terms of subversivism, the privileging of identities deemed more “radical”, and identity policing among feminists and queers. More so than “Whipping Girl”, which was geared towards as broad an audience as possible, “Excluded” is speaking directly to fellow feminist and queer organizers. Attention is given to biphobia, femmephobia, the devaluing of binary gender identities, and the policing of language and identity. These issues aren’t all specific to radical organizing circles, but they’re definitely common in them. In communities where a lot of value is placed on identity, presentation, and terminology, making some of these criticisms can be difficult and intimidating, and I got the impression that Julia was sticking her neck out for those who have been silently thinking this stuff but unable to articulate it. (Incidentally, that’s totally why I wrote this review. I’m not going to make these points more eloquently than Julia did, so please just read her book.)

Julia does an amazing job of navigating the delicate territory between calling out your community and alienating them. I got the impression that a lot of care and intent went into the language used to talk about individual identities, but that punches weren’t pulled when it came to discussing problematic behaviors. My favorite example of this is when Julia discusses the demographics of Mich Fest protesters at Camp Trans. Noting that the cooler-than-thou homogeneously edgy masculine-of-center white 20-something incarnation of “radical queers” really doesn’t represent the vast majority of queer and trans folk, Julia suggests that this “radical queer community” is really just a social clique. Identity isn’t the issue so much as the creation and accessing of spaces that leave a ton of fellow queers-with-radical-politics out. In other words, the problem isn’t identity but the standard of identity. In line with this, getting sidelined for not seeming queer enough (or woman enough or cool enough and so on) is a running theme.

Ultimately, the point of “Excluded” is that feminist and queer organizing circles can perpetuate new forms of sexism, and in communities where heavy weight is given to (often academic and less accessible) language, identity, and presentation, false assumptions and double standards we hold inside ourselves are a major root of the problem.

What’s especially valuable is that Julia goes beyond observing Things That Need to Change and offers several ways to counter sexism-based exclusion. Rather than focusing on affecting large-scale change, Julia’s suggestions focus on small activist communities at the level of individual thought. Riding on the idea that sexism-based exclusion stems from false assumptions, Julia proposes ways to challenge our own and each other’s thinking. We are encouraged to do this at multiple levels of human interaction, from questioning our sexuality (When you find a certain gender unattractive, why is that? Mere lack of interest, or judgment or disgust or fear?) to spotting and confronting double-standards that pop up in organizer spaces (what do you do when a women-only space allows trans masculine folks while banning trans women?). I found Julia’s concept of “ethically gendering” ourselves especially mind-blowing. She suggests that identity can be consensual and ethical when self-validated and contained, but unethical when it depends on another person’s identity for reenforcement. That is, if my masculine non-binary identity was threatened by a genderqueer femme’s expression, I’d be non-consensually burdening that person with my assumptions about how a non-binary gender identity should exist. In addition to the serious self-examinations, more concrete aspects of Julia’s toolkit include using constructive criticism to avoid alienating potential allies with aggressive call-outs, trying to balance our inward focus on individual identities with outward effort, and losing the assumption that people sharing an identity will share the same needs, wants, and politics.

These ideas won’t cause a massive scale gender revolution, but they’re not intended to. Julia is providing a workable toolkit for moving towards inclusiveness within specific activist circles. Much of what Julia says distills down to her call to “expect heterogeneity”, which just means tossing out expectations about who might be included in “The Queer/Feminist/Radical Movement”. Everyone is fucking different, and not always in ways we expect. If this book were to have a weak spot, it would probably be if Julia’s strategies for inclusion didn’t work. However, you’d be hard-pressed to make it through this book without at least spending some time working on your own way of thinking. Being asked to step outside of your comfort zone can be scary and challenging, and this (to me at least) is the most awesome thing about this book – there’s a serious invitation for the reader to grow.

A New World in Our Hearts

Edited by Roy San Filippo

AK Press, 2002, 112 pages

Reviewed by Alex Iwasa

This fall will mark the 25th anniversary of the founding of Love and Rage as a network of activists from the U$, Mexico and Canada, organized to produce a revolutionary newspaper, which by 1993 became a membership based federation. That fall, editor Roy San Filippo joined and worked with the paper’s production group for three years and served a term on Love and Rage’s coordinating committee.

A New World in Our Hearts: Eight Years of Writing from the Love and Rage Revolutionary Anarchist Federation is a great start for people who want an at least partial understanding of how the anti-authoritarian Left in the U$ got to where it was by 1998, and how we can hopefully break some of the cycles of mistakes and outright wrongdoings that have continued since then, many of which have gotten worse.

Printed in 2003, this book is “a first step in preserving the organizational legacy, ideas, debates, and history beyond the political life span of the individual members of Love and Rage.” A second step is long over due. There is a Love and Rage archive available at and a number of other websites contain articles by and about Love and Rage. But an in-depth, systematic study of the polemical debates and activism of Love and Rage, at least of a few core issues such as race and strategy would benefit comrades today greatly since we are facing too many of the same things, many of which are worse. A look towards the work of directly related post Love and Rage groups such as Bring the Ruckus would also be invaluable to people who continue to struggle for radical change today. If you are interested in helping with this, please write alextheweaver at gmail dot com!