August 28, 2019

Vilma Espín: "Well, there are always some who fail."

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A meeting had been called for November 28, but I didn’t give it much importance. It was just one more meeting, I thought. But it turned out to be preparations of all the action groups for November 30. On the morning of the 29th, Frank told me the boat had left Mexico, so we were to have everything ready for the early morning hours of the 30th.

I had many things to do, including giving the action groups the addresses of the “medicine chests.” All the arrangements were last minute. Things were done in a big hurry, but the secret was tightly kept right up to the very moment of the action.

Everyone had been informed it was a trial run, a test. But at 6 a.m. we were all told, “This is not a drill. The boat has already left, and it should land today.” It was scheduled to arrive at 7 a.m., and that’s when all the events of November 30 began.

I was to stay home in order to give a tape we’d recorded the night before to a man who was going to play it on national radio through a telephone hookup. The tape reported Fidel’s arrival and called on the people to rise up in revolt.

But the tape was never broadcast, since the man who was supposed to do it was so scared he burned it… Well, there are always some who fail. But almost everything else was carried out exactly as planned.

– Vilma Espín, on the November 30 action from the Cuban revolution



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August 23, 2019

the lie is no longer necessary

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Democracy was a lie capitalism told the world in order to win the propaganda war against communism. Now that communism is gone the lie is no longer necessary.


When capitalism is threatened it turns into fascism to stamp out resistance. And our current ecological collapse threatens the validity of capitalism more than anything that’s come before.



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August 20, 2019

the first thirty pages

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Writing the first thirty pages of a new book and then completely abandoning it seems - if the frequency I have done so is any indication - to be absolutely my favourite genre of writing.



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August 9, 2019

Music I like perhaps mainly because it makes me feel a little bit better about getting older

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Between some Robert Forster solo records (Songs to Play, Inferno) and some Edwyn Collins solo records (Understated, Badbea) I no longer think getting old in rock 'n' roll is such a bad thing.



(When I posted this on social media someone also mentioned Peter Perrett's How The West Was Won.)


(And of course, now and always, Robert Wyatt's Comicopera.)


(Also, perhaps somewhat related, I've always loved Boy George's 2013 single King of Everything.)





And since I now realize this post is mostly about aging, out of curiosity, I thought I would take a moment to look it up:

Robert Wyatt was born in 1945
Peter Perrett was born in 1952
Robert Forster was born in 1957
Edwyn Collins was born in 1959
Boy George was born in 1961


(I was born in 1971)



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August 7, 2019

Four passages from Stage Fright, Animals, and Other Theatrical Problems

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Four passages from Stage Fright, Animals, and Other Theatrical Problems by Nicholas Ridout:



The experience of this theatre-goer, then, is one in which anticipation gives way to disappointment, in which pleasure is bound up with anxiety and even perhaps pain and illness, in which acting is confused with vulgar interruption, in which the transcendent possibilities of the world’s greatest dramatic poetry appear to pass by almost unnoticed in a ‘deliberate monotone’, and success appears as dependent upon the audience as it is upon the artistic capability of the actor. Yet for all this, for all the confusion, anxiety and disappointment, it is an experience which he cannot bear to bring to an end, and to which he will repeatedly seek to return.



This ambivalence certainly characterizes my own relationship with the theatre. Theatre, being queasy, makes me queasy. That such queasiness is widespread, that we find theatre uncomfortable, compromised, boring, conventional, bourgeois, overpriced and unsatisfactory most of the time, is I think not only generally accepted as true, but also generally accepted as part and parcel of the whole business. Theatre’s failure, when theatre fails, is not anomalous, but somehow, perhaps constitutive. What I want to argue here is that it is precisely in theatre’s failure, our discomfort with it, its embeddedness in capitalist leisure, its status as a bourgeois pastime that its political value is to be found. Theatre is a privileged place for the actual experience of a failure to evade or transcend capital.



Of course, never in the history of theatre has the social position of the actor been so similar to the social situation of the character: they are, at last, contemporaries, and more than that, members of the same social class. This means that the ‘actual life’ the actor is required to simulate is close enough to her own for her life to become a private resource for public display. While Diderot feared that the actor’s over-identification with the emotions of the character would be detrimental to theatrical representation because it would lead the actor to lose control of her technique, the new danger for the actor is that their new technique, along with the new forms and subject matter of bourgeois naturalist drama, might permit so intense an over-identification, that the actor might no longer be required to act at all, but instead just effectively ‘be’ a version of herself.



McKinnie points out that the theatre is an economic subsector in which work is clearly alienated. Picking up on this perception one notes how the employee’s time is regulated with rigorous force by bells and curtains, how both the rehearsal process and the nightly routine of performances are dominated by repetitive activity, how wage levels are set in structures of extreme differentiation, how these are maintained by a huge pool of surplus labour which renders effective industrial organization impossible, and how the core activity itself is both a metaphor of alienation and alienation itself: the actor is paid to appear in public speaking words written by someone else and executing physical movement which has at the very least usually been subjected to intense and critical scrutiny by a representative of the management who effectively enjoys the power of hiring and firing. The actor is both sign and referent of the wholly alienated wage slave.



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August 5, 2019

Jorge Herralde on running the publishing house Anagrama

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This job is wonderful, though it’s not easy, can be difficult, but by its nature it offers great joy and huge disappointments. It’s a roller coaster. It’s, as I said in an article once, about dolling out and receiving pain. Dolling out pain to so many manuscripts that one has to reject. If it’s an author you have no ties to, they experience the pain, but when it’s an author who has published several books with you but you decide not to go with, it’s painful for the publisher and even more so for the author. And then one receives pain, when there are misunderstandings with authors who are very much to the publisher’s liking but who decide to listen to siren songs, which can be deafening.

– Jorge Herralde, on running the publishing house Anagrama



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August 2, 2019

Jessa Crispin Quote

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“Don’t end up like Bertolt Brecht.”

That seems like horrible advice. Shouldn’t the goal of life be to end up as close to Bertolt Brecht as possible. I need a little context.

“When Brecht moved to Los Angeles, he had such a difficult time learning English that he gave up. It soured him, being unable to communicate, and he started to hate America. Read his journals, you’ll see.”

For Stefan, every topic of conversation circles back to Bertolt Brecht, the way for me every topic of conversation circles back to William James. I take his point, which is made in impeccable English, shaming me further. I have been stubborn about learning to speak German. It feeds into my unsettled state. Why learn German if I’m only going to be here for a few years? But then how can I know if I want to stay unless I assimilate a little and give the place a chance? It is mortifying when someone addresses me in German I can’t follow, and yet part of me likes the little bubble I live in, the way I can tune out conversations on the subway because I can’t follow them anyway.

“Read Brecht’s journals,” Stefan repeats. “And learn German.”


– Jessa Crispin, The Dead Ladies Project



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