Review at Kenyon Review

I’m very happy to have a review of The Sleeping World by Gabrielle Lucille Fuentes up at the Kenyon Review. It’s weird: I wrote this a couple months ago, before the violence in the public sphere seemed to have escalated in Charlottesville, particularly the violence incited by fascists and Nazis at protests, all of which makes the book seem more timely, and of course all the more distressing. I still find its pessimism about collectivization difficult, though whether or not that reflects the reality of Spain in the late 1970s, I think it reflects a truth about the United States in 2017: we live in an increasingly atomized, individuated culture, and even liberals set a great deal of stock in ambition and individual achievement, not so much in the bonds that hold family and community together, and that help people resist power.

To wit: a liberal culture that hates Trump but is okay with Uber, which embodies most of the qualities people find so loathsome in our president (a sexist, me-first power structure that former employees say encourages sexual harassment, a labor model that makes collectivization impossible and destroys any bargaining power workers might have, and since “working class” doesn’t actually mean white but more often means people and usually women of color, don’t fool yourself about what Uber means for race, either).

To wit: the asshats who gave us the bodega app, who surely deserve to be punched in the face as badly as any Nazis do. Not that I think anyone deserves to be punched in the face. But I’ve definitely felt my convictions about the efficacy of nonviolence being challenged in the last few months, and I think it’s important to recognize that for all the ire directed at them by liberals, for all the misgivings I might have about them, Antifa probably saved a number of clergy members from getting beaten up–or worse–in Charlottesville.

We have two corner stores four blocks from our house, and one more a block away. One of those stores has been around for 90 plus years. A few years ago, the family that owns it had a block party for the store’s 90th anniversary. Neighborhood resident John Boutté fronted the Iguanas, and if it hadn’t rained, the late Allen Toussaint (also a resident) would have played. At the corner stores in our neighborhood, rich white Faubourg St. John residents brush elbows with the people who work at the racetrack, with the neighborhood drunks, with the people who loiter in the weird triangular park across the street, and there’s value to that, too: being forced to mix with people outside your own socioeconomic bracket and class and whose skin isn’t the same color as yours isn’t just good for you, it’s good for the culture as a whole. Those kinds of spaces are fast disappearing, and their loss means the loss of vital cultures that have given shape and meaning to people’s lives, cultures that–as the bodega strike in New York City suggests–incubated pockets of “resistance” long before it became a buzzword. The loss of those cultures will create a more stratified, more intensely hierarchal world.

I reference The Mekons in the first paragraph of the Fuentes review when I’m talking about the history of violence at punk shows. I discovered the band recently, through Joe Angio’s excellent documentary The Revenge of the Mekons. This song has been in my head lately, and it generally makes me feel better about things.

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