25 September 2008

Influences

Jim, Adrian, and Matt, over the last few days, have put together lists of books - on socialism, on environmentalism, on radicalisation -- that influenced them.

I've studied Antonio Gramsci, Ed and Dave's father, Nicos Poulantzas, Robert Cox, Bob Jessop, and Leo Panitch about the state in capitalist society, but I'm not sure how that really affects month-to-month activism.

It helped me to realise that the state isn't some mysterious black box. It's not just a parliament and an army, but education, the media, the church -- the extended state. I can hold my own if we want to have a chinwag about neo-Gramscian organic intellectuals and their role in exploiting the fissures and contradictions in the local apparatus of the state.

But, it's not the language I'd use when I'm drafting up a Green Party ward newsletter.

The one concession to the usual suspects that I'll make is The Making of the English Working Class by E.P. Thompson.

What I would consider as radical turning points (whether it's film or video or books or theatre) is that you experience something, and you can't go back. You see things a different way. You have new mad skillz to re-interpret what you've already experienced and what you will experience.

1) Manufacturing Consent is a documentary about the ideas of Noam Chomsky (notably on East Timor). The War Game is a mock documentary by Peter Watkins about a nuclear bomb dropping on Kent (after a NATO/Warsaw Pact confrontation in Berlin led to a nuclear exchange). I couldn't watch or read news media the same way against after seeing "Manufacturing Consent." I couldn't vote for any politician who supported nuclear weapons after seeing "The War Game."

2) Audre Lorde's non-fiction, notably "Sister Outsider" and "Zami: A New Spelling of my Name" was very influential: "There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives." I'm not a Caribbean-American lesbian, but Lorde was key in highlighting that class, race, age, gender and even health are fundamental to the female experience.

3) I spent hours in the library at university, looking at the videos of Marlon Riggs (Tongues Untied; Black is ... Black ain't). What is difference? How have African-Americans been represented in media over the 1960's, 70's and 80's - that is, how are racial images constructed in each and every newscast and TV programme? What does being a gay positive African-American mean?

4) Reading about places like China 10 years after the Cultural Revolution or about Iran on the cusp of the Iranian Revolution stand out. "Homage to Catalonia", and its vivid description on revolutionary inspiration and civil war, was an eye-opener.

5) "My American History: Lesbian and Gay Life During The Reagan/Bush Years" by Sarah Schulman helped me to understand not just AIDS activism, but activism full stop. She was one of the first writers on AIDS and homelessness in the world. She's written 9 novels (check out "Rat Bohemia"). She disrupted Congressional hearings on abortion on live TV. She co-founded the Lesbian Avengers, as well as the New York Lesbian and Gay Experimental Film Festival.

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