Designer Rebel

Espousing Jihad Chic: Olive Drab Shemagh Kafiya; Duo-tone Ray Ban Wayfarer Sunglasses; Desert-Camo iPhone Case; Versace bomb belt; hand-sewn Cavalli bandolier; Kalashnikov w/ USB and headphone jack (dig the latest Faakhir Mehmood); KidRobot branded SIM-card reprogrammer (screen printed to look like an IED).

Balaà, coolest mutha fuckin’ insurgent in Karachi.

 

Printed in Pacific Review 2011: Revolt

Available at Amazon

designerrebel

Revolutionary Brain “An Insurgent Text” – Reveiw

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Revolutionary Brain by Harold Jaffe

Harold Jaffe, author of 20 books, including Terror-dot-Gov, Beyond the Techno-Cave and 15 Serial Killers, turns his critical eye to America and global media culture in his latest collection of essays, quasi-essays and “docufictions,” Revolutionary Brain. These 19 texts, written with Jaffe’s confident élan, range stylistically from interview, to reportage, to the use of an extensive list of pornographic keywords in the text, “Revolution Post-Mill.” The result is a book composed and organized much like an album, each text a song to be listened to individually, or within the context of the whole.

Revolutionary Brain interrogates our collective amnesia in relation to our obsession with technology, with all the attendant contradictions. We live in a time where we are increasingly aware of looming environmental catastrophe, yet our awareness of global warming is sublimated by the use of the term as a semantic palliative.  Despite real social progress towards diversity, class inequity is worsening dramatically. The news media profits from diverting attention from crucial news to corporate-sponsored blandishments. Jaffe’s writing addresses these issues, deftly intermingling relevance with irreverence, juxtaposing pain with beauty and conveying serious thought with brevity. These aspects are perhaps best depicted in “Crisis Art.” Jaffe writes that “crisis art” is situational, “hence created rapidly rather than painstakingly revised and refined,” and Revolutionary Brain, though clearly refined, addresses crises while also being “keenly aware of text and context” (Jaffe 25). The prerogative of the activist/socially conscious writer is to reconfigure, interact and integrate information and deliver the result in a text that vibrates, bears witness.  “Crisis artists must swallow the poison in order to reconstitute it. Expel it art…The poison, currently, includes our crazily spinning, electronic-obsessed, war-making culture and its profit-mad institutions; along with the rapidly worsening environmental crisis.” (25)

Though the bulk of this collection includes longer essay-esque pieces, instances of compressed writing also appear as shorter, micro texts like Fear and Pet Girl. Fear is a dialog between two unknown individuals discussing the use of cognac to alleviate fear. The final line is expressive and taut. “After cognac you feel clear. Unafraid. Only then will you permit yourself to be merciful.” ( 45) “Pet Girl” describes a relationship between a submissive and her master who leads her around in public on a silver leash. When questioned about the dynamic, the girl, explains it is her choice and she isn’t harming anyone. A few other interludes appear in the form of actual To-Do lists, these serve as reminders, ostensibly to readers, to embrace pleasure.

Additional fictive exchanges between the author, and an artist or celebrity are used effectively to frame a concept or theme. In Weep the author “interviews” the actor Marlon Brando months prior to the actor’s death, discussing Brando’s propensity to weep. Notably, Brando was one or perhaps the only Caucasian to pay his respects to slain Black Panthers leader, Fred Hampton. He wept openly at the viewing. This segues into a close inspection of weeping as a social act. The author is careful to make the distinction between the tears of the bereaved and those who experience “despair without fear,” and the crocodile tears of televangelists, politicians and billionaires embroiled in scandal.  Finally, the title acts as a mantra and also a challenge:  to weep is to feel.

Truth-Force begins with a repetition of dialog between los pobres (“We, The Poor Ones”) and an unidentified interlocutor aboard a train as they discuss the ultimate fate of a junta torturer captured by revolutionaries.  During the exchange is a coded sentence, “I’ve read the report,” which triggers a yes or no vote by the compañero. Votes tallied will determine whether or not the torturer is to be executed. A detailed account of torture by electrocution experienced by one of the compañeros follows: “You’d expect the electric shock to feel like catching hold of a live wire with your fingers. One might tolerate that. This is a hundred times worse… I didn’t know until inmate compañeros told me afterwards that they wept to hear me tortured. I screamed and wailed, they told me,” and it ends with a wrenching, “pain beyond pain” (69). Just as there are images that can’t be unseen, there are texts that, once read, cannot be forgotten. Revolutionary Brain infiltrates the reader’s mind, resonating long after reading.

Salvation Mountain is a docufictional account of “Dewey Birdsong” and his testament God is Love in the form of a mountain made of adobe, paint and various debris sourced from the Imperial Valley desert in Southern California. Dewey—the fictive incarnation of Leonard Knight, who began building Salvation Mountain nearly thirty years ago—explains that while he may make a hundred mistakes, that with Jesus he can start again with the same enthusiasm. The prose here is spare and beautiful.

The book’s title is inspired by the real world events involving members of the notorious Baader-Meinhof Gang, a group of German anti-imperialist revolutionaries, and the abuse of their corpses by authorities. After the apparent suicides of imprisoned gang members (including the bizarre “self-inflicted” gunshot wound to the neck and four stab wounds to the heart) in May 1976, German authorities extracted their brains for study, with all but Ulrike Meinhof’s having since been “lost.”

In Revolutionary Brain, Harold Jaffe shines light into the gaps in the official discourse so as to find an opening, plant an idea and let it grow, positing that critical dissent never becomes extinct in the mind and passions. This is powerful writing from a mind that refuses to remain silent, that continues to bear witness.

Copies available at Amazon

Road Runner, Road Runner

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Boston Marathon.

Here comes the finish line.

Gatorade, congratulations and successive, dual explosions greet the runners.

Bloody spectators are dragged from the debris.

Mile marker 26 is dedicated to the victims of the Newtown massacre.

26 for the number of dead.

Twitter erupts.

@so_and_so tweets: “I saw people’s legs blown off. Horrific. Explosions.”

Two IED’s were placed near the finish line.

Each explosive device, believed to be a type of pressure cooker bomb, packed with metal ball bearings.

BB’s.

Vine, a social video service depicts an 8-second loop of the finish line.

Silent explosion. Runners in motion. Grand stands pushed into the street.

Concussion displaces people to make room for air.

A thin, bandy-legged marathoner turns his head in mid stride. Mid-explosion. And I’m instantly nauseous watching his legs buckle.

I can’t comprehend the sequence of images without the sound. Seems hyper-real.

By the third viewing my stomach has settled but I remind myself not to click on it again.

Later, having picked my daughter up from childcare we navigate residential roads to our home, I hear “dual decapitation.”

Legs missing below the knees.

I curse loudly, abruptly as we pass the park.

The emergency room in Boston is inundated with hundreds of injured.

Shards of glass, metal embedded in flesh.

Areas around the mouth and nose are blackened with soot from breathing searing hot air.

Victims need immediate attention before the soft tissue swells.

Fuck! I say aloud, waiting for the light to turn.

Checking the rearview mirror, I see the question in my daughter’s eyes.

We go to park?

Yeah, lets!

At the park kids occupy swings, climb stairs, mount the slide.

Chase each other.

Sitting on a bench, a Dad scours the screen of his smart phone.

Is he consuming all that data?

Two mom’s sip from paper Starbucks cups.

A horn prompts me through the now green light.

I scan the street for parking.

An old trauma begins to fester and slither its way to the surface.

Police and FBI query passengers flying out of Logan International for photos and videos of the scene.

This will be a crowd-sourced investigation.

Earlier in the day, scanning Facebook, Reuters, and Twitter I see what will become the iconic image.

In the foreground, a sidewalk is heavy with spectators, craning their necks, peering down the street as marathoners in sneakers and numbered jerseys run toward a ball of orange flame.

Boylston Street.

At the park we climb the play structure.

The entire thing is made of form-molded plastic.

Steel frame encased in thick coated, rubberized paint.

They’ve done away with bark, gravel and concrete at parks.

No more rail ties, chain-link or sheet metal.

Engineering a safer, risk-free environment for play.

They take the piss out of everything.

Here, recycled tires are shredded and turned into a buoyant surface for kids to run, spin, jump and skin their knees on.

Together we ride the dual slide.

Hold hands and laugh.

Several nights ago, I try watching the Falling Man documentary about 9/11.

Streaming on Hulu.

How can you watch this shit?

My wife asks, visibly angry as the opening sequence shows flight 175 disappearing in the South Tower.

Five minutes into the doc.

Suddenly, I’m standing in the Lakewood Library.

I’m twenty-four.

Several librarians I’ve become acquainted with while working for Jefferson County  sob audibly.

I enjoyed my work there. Mowing lawns. Planting flowers. Fixing sprinklers.

On the doc I see flight 175 burrowing into the tower on live television.

Simultaneously I smell the 2-cycle fuel and fresh cut grass.

Taste the Camel Light on my tongue.

There, back in that room (that space and time) of the library, we watch both towers crumble.

I turn off the television, disgusted.

With whom?

Myself.

Weeping quietly on the couch I gaze at the blank screen.

Standing, I move across the floor to the hallway and do something I haven’t done since she was a newborn and open the door to my daughter’s room, peering in, eyes adjusting to the dim green glow of the turtle nightlight, I see her, fawn legs curled beneath, breathing steadily.

Back at the park, fortified by the laughter of children.

The sound offers relief from the bombardment of the newscast.

Other parents seem to smile too easily.

Is every reaction scripted?

My stomach tightens. Heart contracts.

At bedtime I read Green Eggs and Ham.

My daughter talks to the characters as I read.

Sam, Seuss’s persistent interlocutor/pusher gets a SoCal inflected surfer dude accent.

The nameless character hounded by Sam, “That Sam I Am, That Sam I Am” sounds like Tom Brokaw.

Rolling off the inflection at the end of each denial.

My daughter’s imagination astonishes me.

She pretends to drive the train into the sea.

Asks to ride in the boat with the goat.

Kiss goodnight.

Hug?

Hug.

My wife is glued to her phone.

Mine is sitting on the couch.

I pick it up. The weight reassuring. Finger the screen to life.

Why am I angry?

Shouldn’t I be documenting this?

Writing everything down as it occurs?

The few pieces I’ve had published deal almost exclusively with technology and terror.

Killer drones.

IED’s.

Violence.

This kind of extremity is in my wheelhouse.

Instead of writing I flip through the channels.

Each episode features a woman—actress—in middle age with a Botox-plastic-surgery face, crying.

In the morning, nothing new is discovered.

No suspects.

Nor claims by a terror organization.

But the story has taken on a patina.

Speculations abound.

Challenges: be a hawk, not a dove.

Platitudes are issued.

“Thoughts and prayers…”

Polite xenophobia.

“Please, don’t be Arabs or Muslims.”

The death toll in Boston is 3, including an 8-year old boy.

Many say that is low considering.

Tilt their heads, you know, in that way people tilt their heads when faced with mortality or drink cup sizes.

Venti or Grande?

More victims listed in critical condition.

Meanwhile, 9 are confirmed dead in Peshawar, Pakistan, killed in a suicide bombing during a political rally.

Syrian MiG-23’s bomb the Qaboun neighborhood to rubble.

It’s morning in America.

A bipartisan commission convened by the Constitution Project finds members of the Bush administration complicit in allowing and sanctioning the practice of torture.

Soon, a library will be named in honor of former President George W. Bush.

I’m sure he’ll weep at the ceremony.

Violence in America is idiosyncratic.

Review of OD by author Harold Jaffe

Find a Seam. Plant a Mine. Slip Away. 

In writer, Harold Jaffe’s OD, death looms in the margins. Instead of exploiting the deaths of each of the figures in the book, Jaffe meticulously reconfigures portions from their histories and consumptive excesses into short narratives that are both caricacture and homage. Aspects of each figure are rendered into composite sketches, fleshed out and dramatized without sentimentality. Like a rogue taxidermist or mirthful forensic scientist, Jaffe pulls the raw strands of narrative DNA, striping the idealized patina away from figures like Lady Day, Edgar Allen Poe and Jimi Hendrix. Drugs and excess may have been the cause of their demise but Jaffe’s reimaginings suggest that by pushing themselves to the limit physically and mentally they were able to achieve brilliance.

Through the centrifugal force of his prose, Jaffe exposes and ‘treats’ each accordingly, illuminating new perspectives. Most notably, the chapter on Edgar Allen Poe is a delirious, hallucinogenic journey through an urban landscape that resolves in a dervish-like dance in a crowded ballroom. His subject is reanimated in the present with a mind from the past and makes erudite observations that are both humorous and terrible and OD is terribly humorous.

Was People’s Temple leader Jim Jones an undercover CIA operative gone rogue?

Did Jim Morrison die in a Paris bathtub at twenty-seven?

Was Bela Lugosi really Lon Chaney in makeup? MK Ultra and COINTELPRO are woven cleverly into the subtext.

Though it is a quick read, the writing is sharp and packed with imagery and meaning.

Walter Benjamin, Abbie Hoffman, Diane Arbus and Philip Rothko along with Bela Legosi, Jean Seberg and Jim Jones are each evaluated for their contributions to the culture. Jaffe renders them with surgical precision, finding seams, planting mines and slipping away. To be sure, his prose is subversive. Yet it is filtered through a careful, introspective eye.

Through fabricated interviews, conversation, ‘official statements’ and narrative fiction, Jaffe makes use of every form, illuminating new angles. OD serves as a cogent reminder that those who operate outside the tenets of official culture–their time compressed and abbreviated by excess–have left us with an indelible legacy, as  Jaffe has done with this evocative narrative.

Pick up a copy on Amazon.

@HaroldJaffe1

http://haroldjaffe.wordpress.com/