Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Dialogues in Dallas

Let me start this with an apology to the Shreveport Times, which did publish the opinion piece I posted a few days ago. Typically, I receive a phone call of confirmation before publication. As that did not happen this time, I incorrectly assumed that this one would not be published either. There.

The family and I visited the Dallas/Fort Worth area this past weekend, including a trip to the Dallas Museum of Art for the exhibit Dialogues: Duchamp, Cornell, Johns, Rauschenberg. This painfully small exhibit explores the intersections between these iconic modern artists. Duchamp's readymades, Johns' targets, Cornell's boxes are all there. I wouldn't say there is any one seminal work of Rauschenberg's, but there is also a concurrent exhibit of his prints, Artist-Citizen: Posters for a Better World, which highlights some of his classic collage images of the last 40 years or so. Here are some random thoughts:

It was very exciting to see one of Duchamp's original readymades, the bottle drying rack. A note on the piece said that the one displayed replaced the original in 1960. The original dates from 1914. So the original 1914 bottle drying rack, which I assume was a common functional item from the time, was replaced 46 years later by an identical one. Ostensibly, there are still hundreds, maybe thousands, of these items still in circulation, though only these two have been selected to be representative examples of modern art. To many, this would be a perfect example of the frivolousness and irrelevance of modern art. Hell, Duchamp's contrary whimsy would probably come to the same conclusion. It is brilliant, and brings a subversive smile to my face, and doesn't leave me cold and detached the way I feel when I see an Andy Warhol piece, for example.

The spirit of exuberant collaboration is very much celebrated in this exhibit, and it is a spirit I see at work in the Shreveport arts scene right now. It was shared at the time by such figures as composer John Cage and dancer/choreographer Merce Cunningham, and was very much in contrast to the macho, competitive posturing of Pollock, De Kooning and other peers.

Rauschenberg is the Bono of modern art. The prints exhibited show an artist engaged in the global issues of his day, putting his artistic gifts to work on behalf of the large benevolent institutions dealing with human rights, population, housing, etc. He seems to realize, like Bono, that he is an international celebrity of a sort, and to perpetuate an angry young man/pox on all their houses streetwise purity persona would be empty posturing. It would be impossible to imagine the soundtrack of my adolescence without Sunday Bloody Sunday or Pride (In the Name of Love), but it would get old if Bono were still climbing into the rafters with a white flag every concert. In the same way, the prints don't convey the same kind of cathartic thrill of Combine and Bed, to name two seminal Rauschenberg works from the mid-1950's, but they are very effective, beautiful and inspiring comments on the issues addressed.

Well, it's late, I don't know if I'm making any sense at all, and we're leaving for Baton Rouge in less than seven hours. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Peace.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Just Getting Ridiculous Now

It just seems to be an overt conspiracy on the part of the Shreveport Times to deny their readers any access to thoughtful political discourse. I've met Craig Durrett, Alan English and other members of the Times editorial board, and they seem thoughtful and serious about what they're doing. So why do they continually deny this city's most astute political analysis and urbane witticisms, those of America's greatest living public intellectual and an invaluable natural resource, the Red River Red? Alas, we may never know, but here is yet another well-written, informative and relevant guest column not to be (in the interests of full disclosure, the Red River Red has been elected to the executive board of the Northwest Louisiana chapter of the ACLU since this piece was submitted to the Times):

In the second sentence of his diatribe against the American Civil Liberties Union, Stanley F. Kolniak challenges us to “look at the facts.” He then proceeds to distort the facts to support his portrait of a far-left straw man for the right wing cabal whose representation on the Shreveport Times editorial page seems to be the exact inverse of their grasp of political reality.
Kolniak refers to the ACLU’s founding “in 1920 by Roger Baldwin, a communist sympathizer and pronounced socialist.” I would not argue with that representation of Baldwin… in 1920. Like many people of conscience in that area, still traumatized by the irrational slaughter of World War I and the lies and manipulative propaganda used by President Woodrow Wilson to justify U.S. participation and the unconstitutional persecution of dissidents, Baldwin was infatuated with the humanistic potential of the Russian Revolution and the early years of the Soviet Union. However, Stalin’s purges in the 1930’s and the signing of the Non-Aggression Pact between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany in 1939 woke Baldwin up to the true nature of the totalitarian society, as it did for so many others. Although the ACLU and its founder continued to advocate for the constitutional rights of Communists, after 1940 members of totalitarian organizations could no longer serve on the board. Additionally, Baldwin was appointed by General Douglas MacArthur a civil liberties consultant in postwar Japan. Although John Birch Society members accused Generals Eisenhower and George Marshall of Communist sympathies, I believe MacArthur’s patriotic credentials were always considered impeccable.
Despite Kolniak’s protests to the contrary, the record most certainly does not indicate that the ACLU is “hell bent to do away with Christianity.” What the ACLU does believe is that “the right of each and every American to practice his or her own religion, or no religion at all, is among the fundamental of the freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. The ACLU works to ensure religious liberty is protected by keeping the government out of the realm of all religions” (aclu.org).
The ACLU is also called to task by Mr. Kolniak for its disregard for “orderly society” and “overbearing concern for homosexuals, sex offenders, drug pushers, rioters, anarchists, draft dodgers, murderers and others who have broken our laws.” One of the reasons I am a member of the ACLU is precisely because of its insistence that the Constitution, and our society, are strengthened when we fight for the rights of those considered marginal, whether the laws they broke were just or unjust. The recently departed Rosa Parks is one dramatic example of an individual whose disruption of orderly society in Montgomery would almost certainly be cited by Mr. Kolniak and most Americans as justified.
Finally, what is never mentioned by Kolniak is the ACLU’s ongoing leadership on issues ranging from the unconstitutional provisions of the Patriot Act to the illegal detention and torture of terrorism suspects to the fight for retention of voting rights won during the Civil Rights Era. These are some of the front lines in our battles to preserve and strengthen the Constitution and our country. I invite all of you, including Mr. Kolniak, to go to aclu.org and join the ACLU in those battles.

Michael Parker lives in Shreveport and is a card-carrying member of the ACLU.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Return to New Orleans

Many of you know that the Red River Red wears many hats, among them that of used, rare and collectible bookseller. In that capacity I returned to New Orleans for the first time this past weekend for the annual New Orleans Bookfair, a celebration of iconoclastically independent book publishers and distributors, most devoted to experimental literature and/or politics of the decidedly leftist/anarchist persuasion. All in all, solid citizens and a credit to their families, communities and country.
The Bookfair is held annually at Barrister's Gallery in Central City, which bills itself as the first New Orleans gallery open after Katrina. The area either larely or completely escaped flooding, so the Bookfair went on two months to the day after Katrina hit. It was a more subdued affair than last year in terms of participants and profits, but spirits were high, and it was a more social occasion for me this time, at least.
One of the first folks I connected with was John Clark, philosophy and environmental studies prof at Loyola and green anarchist social ecologist taoist buddhist rabble-rouser. His home and workplace escaped major damage, although other family members weren't so lucky. He has been working closely with those leading the charge against the Bush Admnistration's attack on post-Katrina New Orleans, such as community activists Malik Rahim and Mama D, and actually testified, along with Rahim of the Common Ground Collective, in the peoples' tribunal judging George Bush for his crimes against humanity. That tribunal convened in New York less than two weeks ago, and John told me transcripts should be available from the website of the Democracy Now radio and television show.
John was also distributing copies of "A Letter from New Orleans," an essay which combines his first-hand observations and experiences with an analysis based on the work of revolutionary French geographer Elise'e Reclus, an longtime intellectual and political inspiration for John's work. I'll be reading some excerpts on my "Invisible Republic" radio show on Sunday, sometime from 2-4 p.m.
I had the great pleasure of meeting and conversing with New Orleans writers Sarah Inman and her husband Joe Longo. Sarah recently had her novel Finishing Skills published by Livingston Press. It's about a female professional boxer in New Orleans, which Sarah says she was for all of one fight. She and Joe are also both writing teachers currently plying that trade online while Delgado and UNO deal with various infrastructural difficulties. Joe is also a part-time poker player, so they may make their way to Shreveport while the casinos get themselves back into shape.
Two fellows from the Fiction Collective 2, based at Florida State University in Tallahassee, were stationed right next to me as well, so I had a good time talking with them, particularly as we began to notice the synchronicities binding us all together. Matt and Brook are also each married with one child, theirs being two boys, one older and one younger than my daughter Zora. Both have intimate Portland, Oregon connection, Portland being where my wife and I spent seven years, during which time Zora was born. Matt, who's in a Ph.D. progam at FSU, got his M.F.A. at McNeese, where he knew my old friend Kevin Meaux, a brilliant poet from the Cajun hinterland of Kaplan. Good guys, hope to see them again sometime.
Finally, I got a chance to meet Jordan Flaherty, a New Orleans writer and activist who I'd been corresponding with for a while. Jordan is an organizer for Service Employees International Union Local 100 in New Orleans, and a member of the editorial collective for Left Turn magazine, one of the liveliest and most informative mags out right now. I don't think it's available on any newsstands in our area yet, but you can access it at leftturn.org, where you can find several of Jordan's outstanding post-Katrina writings. It was those writings, also published on counterpunch.org and commondreams.org, which led me to seek him out, and he contributed to an article I wrote for the Steelworkers Local 711T newsletter, also published here not long ago.
Oh, yeah, I managed to engage in some guerrilla capitalism too and sell some books, too. Henry Miller, Howard Zinn, Johnny Rotten, Wilbert Rideau, Emma Goldman, Orwell, Chomsky, Kerouac, Burroughs and the Huey Long bio, among others.
All in all, a fantastic return for New Orleans for one non-native son, easily able to return to his home in an undevastated city. Oh how we miss you, New Orleans, our respite from the South, from George Bush's America, our Mediterraneo, our African port, the source of our music. We will continue to fight for you. Peace, y'all.