Category: Philosophy

Cancel Culture Salad: Women, The Confederacy, Tupac Shakur, Barack Obama, and Robert E. Lee, an article by David Garyan

July 28th, 2020
Ravenna, Italy

 

Cancel Culture Salad: Women, The Confederacy, Tupac Shakur, Barack Obama, and Robert E. Lee

In one of the most empowering moments for women not just in the US, but all across the world perhaps, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez took the House floor and issued one of the strongest statements not only in defense of herself, but she also spoke in a way that gave voice to countless women who’ve had to endure similar insults, such as “disgusting,” and “fucking bitch,” which were just two of the remarks that Congressman Ted Yoho directed at her. Subsequently, Yoho attempted to justify himself by stating the following: “Having been married for 45 years with two daughters, I’m very cognizant of my language. The offensive name calling, words attributed to me by the press were never spoken to my colleagues and if they were construed that way, I apologize for their misunderstanding.” Little did the man know that he was dealing with an empowered individual who wasn’t going to concede an argument simply because, at 29, she became the youngest woman to ever serve in the US Congress while Yoho has been married for 45 years. In a charged speech, Ocasio-Cortez addressed the Congressman’s remarks in the following way: “Having a daughter does not make a man decent. Having a wife does not make a decent man. Treating people with dignity and respect makes a decent man.” Indeed, this isn’t simply what we want from our women today—it’s what we expect in the 21st century, and rightly so.

Still, is it possible to say—without defending Yoho—that individuals can’t be reduced to one action, that they’re incredibly complex, that people who aspire to goodness and even those who actually manage to achieve great things do have flaws, sometimes even serious ones? In the age of cancel culture, we need to be incredibly careful about choosing the conditions, traits, and characteristics with which to measure the so-called “goodness” of people. With regard to misogyny, things still haven’t improved much in the way men treat women. The president’s well-known 2005 remarks in the presence of Billy Bush that were revealed during the 2016 campaign highlight this problem very clearly—while many men today might not be so vocal as Trump about their desires as they were in the past, it’s unlikely to believe that male psychology itself has changed very much. Thus, while grabbing them by the pussy is perhaps not something males are comfortable expressing right now, it’s nevertheless something they’re comfortable thinking in private.

Whatever the case may be, this article is neither meant to defend sexist men, misogyny, Ted Yoho, nor is its purpose to justify occasional insults by men towards women simply because all individuals possess “complexity.” What this article will attempt, however, is precisely to take the first step in proposing the following: People should try their best to move beyond an individual’s flaws—even at times when those shortcomings are quite serious—but only if said individual would never wish harm upon someone had they not been in the state that caused them to insult or hurt another human being, whether voluntarily or out of ignorance.

The fact that every person has flaws is nothing new; however, the harsh nature of how we’re perceiving these shortcomings—the overemphasis on people’s negative traits—isn’t a recipe for success either. As an idealist, one perhaps too far on the side of Don Quixote, I’ve always wanted individuals to be more or less perfect, and that’s perhaps why I’ve struggled with friendships, relationships, and other basic human engagements all my life. It’s disappointing when people don’t live up to expectations; at the same time, it’s extremely exhilarating when someone you know does measure up to your level of perfection—if only for a little while; a day after my 33rd birthday, I think I’m really beginning to “accept” that; naturally, this is something I’ve known for a long time, but there’s a big difference between knowing something (or someone) and actually living with it (or someone); the former implies distance while the latter implies complete intimacy. In no way should the meaning here be construed purely on the basis of human relationships; in fact, my point is meant to be understood philosophically.

I’ve always been fascinated by the demons that afflict individuals and also my own suffering. In a short story called “Cynthia,” written by Aldous Huxley and published in the collection, Limbo, the author wrote the following: “I can sympathize with people’s pains, but not with their pleasures. There is something curiously boring about somebody else’s happiness.” The story is about a man named Lykeham who projects an image of perfection onto a woman he admires and also himself; the narrator who flashes back to the story which occurred fifty years ago eventually makes it known that Lykeham is neither the Apollo he describes himself to be (probably closer to Hephaestus) and we likewise get the sense that the woman too may be far from perfect herself, mainly because “here was chaste Cynthia giving herself to him in the most unequivocal fashion.” Either way, this article is also neither about Aldous Huxley nor is it about whether beauty plays any role in a man’s ability to attract women. What this article will attempt, however, is take yet another bold step: To argue that Aldous Huxley was on to something when he contrasted the way we perceive human beings in our own imagination and how, in turn, those human beings actually are in comparison to those imagined realities we hold in our heads.

Besides just an artistic fascination with people’s demons, along with the narrow focus of how suffering may contribute to the creative process for artists, I really didn’t start thinking about the issue of flaws very seriously until I rediscovered the music of Tupac Shakur. Before I even begin the main discussion of our topic (finally), I must first take the time to settle an unrelated issue: Contrary to what many people, along with the staff at Billboard (who don’t even include him in their ten greatest of all time) like to believe, Tupac was the most remarkable and illustrious rapper of our time. No one in the history of rap (for better or worse) even came close to displaying the type of lyrical and musical range that Tupac showcased during his short 25 years of life—not to mention starring in six movies (three released posthumously).

It’s precisely this musical “range” that will help not only drive but round out the argument already introduced. Let’s begin matters this way: Any genuine fan of the great rapper knows that there really isn’t one Tupac, but, actually, two such personalities—perhaps it’s for this reason that his name appears as 2Pac on almost every album, including one of his best-selling, All Eyez On Me.

What I mean to stress is that the man embodied, to an extreme extent, the classic Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde attributes that are, in fact, found in all individuals, perhaps not in the same degree, but this really isn’t the main point. The more relevant thing to say would be the following: As I listened to songs from the great rapper in the spirit of Dr. Jekyll and others recorded with the sensibilities of Mr. Hyde, it quickly occurred to me that Tupac, in the 21st century, could either have been the most gentle feminist or the cruelest misogynist—depending on which part of his catalog you burned or destroyed and which musical legacy you left for the cancel culture generation to discover. Ultimately, however, it would be senseless to erase any part of Tupac’s artistic output to try and rewrite or even revise his legacy, again for better or worse. Music, unlike statues, is much harder to tear town, and perhaps it’s because of this timelessness that we must confront the man known as Tupac Shakur and deal with him in terms of “Keep Ya Head Up” while also reconciling ourselves with “Wonda Why They Call U Bitch” and “There U Go,” a song in which he says “Can’t turn a ho into housewife,” and this isn’t even the worst line on this particular tune.

Let’s however start with what I consider Tupac’s greatest recording and perhaps even the most powerful song in all of rap—that would, naturally, be the aforementioned “Keep Ya Head Up.” I can think of no other rapper, especially one so “masculine” as Tupac, who could even begin to approach the type of tenderness that he displayed in the aforementioned track. Released when he was only 22, the song discusses poverty, racial injustice, but most of all it focuses on the plight of women, which will be a general theme throughout the article. The misogyny in early rap music is rampant; from music videos sexualizing women to promoting unchecked promiscuity on the part of the male—all while calling women who act the same way sluts—Tupac is but one piece in this puzzle. The difference, however, is that, unlike the rest, he had a vulnerable side to him that almost no one during the gangsta rap era came close to possessing. Even today, one is hard-pressed to find an artist who’s willing to risk the type of vulnerability that Tupac offered in one of his sincerest songs.

Since Mr. Hyde is never far away, however, the opposite side offers the other extreme—Tupac’s rampant sexism and misogyny; even if we continue with the theme of women and skip perhaps the cruelest diss track in rap history, “Hit ‘Em Up,” where he insults the rap group Mobb Deep, a member of which, Prodigy (now deceased), suffered from sickle-cell anemia (again probably not the worst thing he did on this particular recording), Tupac’s “range,” so to say, really becomes apparent. In the song “Wonda Why They Call U Bitch,” he portrays women who sleep around as the embodiment of vice—without realizing himself, perhaps, that he was glorifying the “playa” lifestyle on almost every track; the double-standard is so blatant here it’s surprising that an intelligent individual like Tupac never questioned his own logic or perhaps didn’t even realize the hypocrisy. All that, even, wouldn’t have been a problem had he not insulted a Civil Rights activist by the name of C. DeLores Tucker in the same song.

It’s true that after marching alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1965 and forming the African-American Women for Reproductive Freedom in 1990 with 15 other African American men and women, Tucker dedicated the remaining years of her life to speaking out against the misogynistic and sexually explicit lyrics of gangsta rap. In turn, according to 2005 Washington Post article, “Rappers called her ‘narrow-minded.’ Some ridiculed her in their lyrics. She was sued by two record companies.” In one of his other misogynistic masterpieces, “How Do U Want It,” which is in many ways far less offensive than “Wonda Why They Call U Bitch,” Tupac gives a clue as to the reason for his anger: “Instead of tryin’ to help a nigga, you destroy a brother,” meaning that Tucker’s refusal to support black rap artists was a stab in the back, mainly because a great number of them, like Tupac, had come from impoverished backgrounds and her desire to silence their message was an attempt to subjugate the black nation and keep it from being empowered, an ideology which, according to the rappers, ran contrary to her own civil rights values of free speech and expression.

It should be noted that the ten million dollar lawsuit Tucker brought against Tupac for both songs was eventually dismissed in court, which, ironically cited the same reasoning as he did for its dismissal. According to the RCFP (a non-profit organization press organization founded in Washington D.C. in 1970): “In explaining its holding in an unpublished opinion, the court wrote that the reference to Tucker ‘did not tend to injure her reputation, her business or profession, or expose her to public hatred, contempt or ridicule and thus were not defamatory.’ The court described the reference to Tucker as an opinion ‘that Tucker was out to hurt rather than to help her fellow African-Americans.'” Along roughly similar lines, an LA Times article appeared which described the civil rights leader’s own failures and faults—being fired by Philadelphia Governor Milton Shapp for allegedly asking “state employees to write speeches for which she collected $65,000 in honorariums, some of the money from charities under her supervision.” Many rap artists, thus, justified their accusations on these grounds but what Tucker’s actions in fact do is simply confirm the message of my entire article, something that Sandra Mills, her campaign manager during the good activist’s failed bid for Congress, echoed in the same LA Times piece: “Everybody has some baggage in their past and in C. DeLores Tucker’s case, the baggage is in bad property management, but I don’t see how that diminishes in any way the public service she is performing for African Americans by fighting against the negative lyric content in rap music.” In the same sense, we may apply this to not only Tupac, but all the others like him who’ve at some point in their lives striven for a better world in which no one can really be perfect.

Now, let’s slow down a minute; no one wants to rehabilitate Robert E. Lee, for example, just because he stated the following in an 1856 letter written to his wife: “In this enlightened age, there are few I believe, but what will acknowledge, that slavery as an institution, is a moral & political evil in any Country.” Similarly no one wants to romanticize the entire Confederacy simply because at one point in 1864 Patrick Cleburne, an Irish-born American Major General in the Confederate Army, once wrote a pamphlet urging Jefferson Davis to arm the slaves and free them after the war. Indeed, even the Confederacy and the people who served within it were incredibly complex; nevertheless, there’s a fundamental difference in the way we must apply this logic for our purposes—while the Confederacy can’t get a pass, because it was fighting to protect slavery, individuals like Tupac and others who championed and continue to fight for a better world do deserve some latitude for their shortcomings because they were doing precisely that: Using their power or art to change society for the better.

It may often be the case that it’s too late for art to change society—the only thing it can achieve is remind people of a horrific past in the hopes that its message can prevent similar things from happening again at some point in the future; if art has such power, perhaps we can interpret its ability to renew society as a genuine way to reform the world at large, but prospects remain bleak. In the song, “Brenda’s Got a Baby,” Tupac raps about a twelve year old girl who gets pregnant. Loosely based on a true story of a person the same age, a New York Times article which Tupac had supposedly read or heard about talks about a girl who is “already an orphan, a rape victim and a mother. Now, two days after her newborn son was rescued from the maw of a trash compactor, she has become something more—a symbol of the violence that stalks the young in some corners of this city.” Such instances of violence, despair, and hopelessness are precisely the things which Tupac wanted to highlight—it was his way of bringing more attention to these issues.

It might not be Tupac in his most tender moment, but the level of social awareness in the aforementioned song is high, speaking in the most modest sense; likewise, in a very conservative manner, the track “Run tha Streetz,” is the exact opposite of “Brenda’s Got a Baby,” to say the least. Tupac wastes no time telling listeners in the opening lines exactly where women stand: “the secret on how to keep a playa / some love makin’ and homecookin’, I’ll see you later.” Not to mention he later repeats the fact that women should prepare meals for him—this time saying please. Tupac’s assumption that women must stay in the kitchen is yet again not the worst thing that happens on this track but it nevertheless astonishes—how could a man with such sensitivities, the man who wrote “Keep Ya Head Up” and “Dear Mama,” stoop so low? To his credit (whatever is left of it in this instance anyways), Tupac does, at the very least, feature a female vocalist (Michel’le) on this track, and she raps the following lines: “it’s a man’s world / But real women make the shit go around.” Once more, I wish to stress that complexity within individuals doesn’t simply excuse whatever mistakes they happened to make; what it should do, however, is give us the opportunity to think about the demons which many good people have; as I’ve said, we can excuse these negative qualities, if, overall, the person has for the most part dedicated themselves towards fighting for justice.

Speaking of struggling for a righteous cause, no one else in Tupac’s family (except the man himself) embodied that trait better than his mother, Afeni Shakur. Having joined the Black Panther Party in 1968 at the age of 21, she wrote for the organization and eventually became a section leader for the Harlem chapter. Along with other Black Panther members, she was arrested in 1969 and subsequently charged with multiple counts of conspiracy to blow up police stations and other public places in New York. Already pregnant with Tupac during her trial in 1971, she chose to represent herself, interviewing witnesses and arguing in court. A 1971 New York Times article states that she, along with the other members, were acquitted and that Mrs. Shakur was “eight months pregnant, [and] represented herself during the trial.” The latter alone, without the former, would’ve been a major accomplishment by itself.

Recognizing the struggles which his mother endured to raise him, Tupac wrote “Dear Mama” as a tribute to the most meaningful woman in his life. Additionally, like in “Run tha Streetz,” he naturally mentions that a woman cooks for him (in this case his mother); however, this naturally has no sexist or misogynistic undertones because, firstly, he talks about himself as a child, and, secondly, he also mentions that his mother “comes home from work late,” meaning that, although she lives in poverty, she’s an empowered individual because of her capability to both work and prepare a good meal for her son—one of the traditional values of motherhood.

As already mentioned, one of the lines in “There U Go” is “Can’t turn a ho into a housewife.” The line is very denigrating because many prostitutes don’t consciously choose to be one—they’re often forced into the profession by proxy of human trafficking or because of poor financial resources, as Tupac himself admits in “Brenda’s Got a Baby.” Furthermore, the fact that his own mother, while never being a prostitute, herself had to undergo hard times and poverty, makes it even stranger that Tupac would speak of women in this way, especially since his mom did manage to overcome difficult obstacles while also being able to raise a child. The song goes on to state blatant hypocrisies such as this:

We’re to assume that only men have the right to be irresponsible in clubs, to stay out late, dress up in flamboyant ways, and so on. The double-standard is so blatant that Tupac himself admits it: “It’s all good, ’cause there you go / Me I’ma still be a player, all day baby.” There’s a fundamental disconnect between the type of leisure that Tupac allows himself (and by extension all men), and the type of activities that women are supposed to partake in (staying home, cooking, and raising children).

A lesser known song in Tupac’s catalogue called “Mama’s Just a Little Girl,” from the posthumously released 2002 album Better Dayz, has a somewhat similar message to “Brenda’s Got a Baby.”

However, despite the fact that the baby also dies in the end, Tupac concludes the song with a heartfelt message, along with the fact that he’s probably the only figure in gangsta rap to use the archaic word “thee” in a song:

The rose that grew from concrete is the most powerful metaphor, in my opinion, that Tupac ever created; it’s a genuine poetic image in the sense that it can live without music or even his lyrical ability. As Tupac stated numerous times, the phenomenon of a rose growing from the concrete is something so strange and distinct—for this to happen the rose must have a type of will to live that’s unequaled by the majority of life. He wrote a poem by the same name, further symbolizing the message that unique and beautiful things can come from hostile environments, but, likewise, stressing the fact that phenomena like these require the greatest willpower on the part of such individuals in order for them to grow in environments everyone claims they can’t survive in.

The final song I’d like to contrast is “How Do U Want It.” I’ve purposely chosen to end on Tupac’s Mr. Hyde side to really symbolize the fact that people who are in essence good, those who strive for a better world, and those who actually do make some positive changes within it, aren’t perfect—they may even have, as in the case of Tupac, very serious flaws, but this shouldn’t stop us from celebrating these individuals freely without ourselves being harassed, cancelled, or humiliated; anyways, all this is really material for the conclusion, so let’s discuss the actual song before we pursue those matters further.

As we’ve already seen and as Tupac himself stated on numerous occasions, he was someone who appreciated women, for better or worse. The song can, perhaps, be considered a parallel of Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” for the rap community. It celebrates the female form, sexuality, and worldly pleasures in general—probably to an extent which crossed a few boundaries that Gaye’s song didn’t; I say this only because in a track which talks about casual sex with multiple women and hitting “switches on bitches like I been fixed with hydraulics,” Tupac, somehow, finds a way to diss the ever-present C. Delores Tucker, who was already an unattractive woman of about 69 at the time Tupac released the record in 1996; surely, I don’t have to explain the relevance of the age in this matter.

Additionally, the fact that Tupac includes a mention of Bill Clinton in a song about wild sexual escapades is also a statement to his, should we say, talent? I can’t speak for Bob Dole, but it seems that contrary to Tupac’s premature criticism, the jolly Bill Clinton of forty-nine years really wasn’t too old to know how the game is told, given that his decision to have an affair with a twenty-two year old intern called Monika Lewinsky doesn’t really favor Tupac’s assessment so well, although in his defense, the good rapper himself had already been dead for three years at that point.

Well, it’s always good when humor can be brought into a serious environment, but returning to weightier issues, Tupac is the best person to illustrate why we must give people with serious flaws a chance. I’ve said it and I’ll repeat it again: Tupac was the greatest rapper in terms of lyrical composition and delivery, along with being the most influential spokesperson for social justice in that genre. He was a real artist—an actor, a poet, and a soldier for peace, even though his post-imprisonment career began to symbolize the latter less and less. Still, there’s evidence that Tupac wanted to walk away from the gangsta rap lifestyle. Even before signing the actual contract with Death Row Records, his manager and two of his lawyers, “argued vigorously with Tupac about his decision to go to Death Row,” according to a 1997 New Yorker article called “The Takedown of Tupac.” The late rapper, while still in prison, responded to his manager, Watani Tyehimba, in the following way: “I know I’m selling my soul to the devil.” Suge Knight paid Tupac’s bail in exchange for Tupac’s services at Death Row.

Charles Ogletree, his criminal and civil defense lawyer is quoted as saying the following: “I remember seeing him just before his twenty-fifth birthday. He felt it was a glorious day. He never imagined he’d live to be twenty-five—but there was a sadness in his eyes, because he still had these chains binding him. This [Death Row Records] was not where he wanted to be. I said, ‘You can be anything you want to be.’ He said, ‘Can I be a lawyer?’ I said, ‘You’d be a damn good lawyer!’ I sent him a Harvard Law School sweatshirt.” Had Tupac fulfilled his dream and actually become an attorney, what would he have said about the times we find ourselves in? There’s that would make one believe he didn’t have the intellectual capability to attain academic success—just watch this 1992 MTV interview in which he was already speaking about the dangers of living in a Trump-influenced environment, even going so far as mentioning the mogul’s name—and you’ll be convinced by the way he articulates his points that the man was clearly no idiot. Certainly he had flaws and yes he was reckless, but we shouldn’t burn half his catalog and write him out as a human being because of them. When I do wonder what Tupac would’ve said about our times, I watch this video and it becomes apparent that it’s not difficult to image his own take on the Black Lives Matter movement and social unrest in general.

If the previous statement and interview, however, didn’t do much to convince, perhaps a more “reputable” figure might. Here’s what President Obama himself had to say in Rolling Stone about the so-called “woke” culture back in 2019: “The world is messy. There are ambiguities. People who do really good stuff have flaws. People who you are fighting may love their kids, and share certain things with you. I do get a sense sometimes now among certain young people, and this is accelerated by social media—there is this sense sometimes of the way of me making change is to be as judgmental as possible about other people, and that’s enough. If I tweet or hashtag about how you didn’t do something right or used the wrong verb, then I can sit back and feel pretty good about myself. Did you see how woke I was, I called you out. Then I’m going to get on my TV and watch my show … That’s not activism. That’s not bringing about change. If all you’re doing is casting stones, you’re probably not going to get that far.” It’s always nice to see that a former president (and a sane one at that) can confirm what you have to say. So let the outrage come. I can handle it.

 

About David Garyan

David Garyan has published three chapbooks with Main Street Rag, along with a full collection, (DISS)INFORMATION, with the same publisher. He holds an MA and MFA from Cal State Long Beach, where he associated himself with the Stand Up Poets. He is currently studying International Cooperation on Human Rights and Intercultural Heritage at the University of Bologna. He lives in Ravenna.

La columna de Flavia Propper – Ideas

23/07/2020

Ideas

Blanco. Nada. De pronto, un suave revoloteo. Ideas que hacen cosquillas. Primero, unas pocas; luego,  se amontonan, se superponen, pujan por un orden, un sentido que no llega. En la pantalla, van y vienen tímidas letras en busca de un lugar. Se empujan, se ubican y crean palabras. Algunas sobreviven y otras no. Y así, la pantalla comienza a llenarse con pequeñas formas curvas y rectas. Son esbozos potenciales de una idea que se asoma. Hasta que el bosquejo cobra sentido y el texto fluye como un río caudaloso y profundo que arrastra todo; y en el camino se suman afluentes que lo nutren para seguir con mayor determinación. Y con la correntada queda todo escrito, hasta el punto final.

 

Flavia Propper nació en la Ciudad de Buenos Aires en 1973. Es Magíster en Educación, Licenciada en Ciencias Pedagógicas y Profesora de Yoga. Es autora de “En boca de todos (monólogos de novela)“ (Azul Francia, 2020) y “La era de los superniños. Infancia y dibujos animados“ (Alfagrama, 2007) -libro que fue adquirido por el Ministerio de Educación Nacional de Argentina para las bibliotecas escolares de todo el país. Ha publicado numerosos cuentos en diversas obras colectivas, y textos didácticos y de divulgación científica para diferentes editoriales.

Interlitq U.S. General Editor Neil Langdon Inglis Announces Recent Republication, by White Crow Books, of “The Power of Dr...

 

17/07/2020

A VISIONARY DOCUMENT ASKS THE QUESTION:

HOW SHALL WE UNLOCK OUR INNERMOST RESOURCES?

U.S. General Editor Neil Langdon Inglis wishes to announce the recent republication, by White Crow Books, of “The Power of Dreams” (originally published by HarperCollins Ltd in 1987).[i] In it, the Irish journalist and historian Brian Inglis (1916-1993)[ii] reviews the literature on dreams as well as their precognitive, inspirational, and creative functions. His survey extends from laboratory research into REM sleep to reports of personal experiences by intellectuals of the past and members of the general public from the present day. In his personal quest to spread the word about the supernatural (for him, the major underreported news story of his era), Brian Inglis launched his own personal investigations in the 1970s with a primary interest in a handful of supermen and superwomen supposedly endowed with extraordinary gifts accessible to a select few. This odyssey led Inglis, as the years progressed, to a more nuanced conclusion—reflective of our common humanity—namely, that supernatural powers remain a force inside us all, an insufficiently tapped resource affording boundless opportunities.

The U.K. has a rich tradition of scholarly non-academic historians (Roy Jenkins, Winston Churchill, Paul Johnson): Inglis is worthy of admission to this pantheon. In his forthcoming article—the latest in an exclusive series for Interlitq.org—Neil Langdon Inglis ponders his father’s complex legacy.

 

____________________________________________________________________
[i] http://whitecrowbooks.com/books/page/the_power_of_dreams.
[ii] Best known for presenting the Granada TV weekly documentary “All Our Yesterdays” in the 1960s.

“The Weakness of Strength,” an article by David Garyan

July 3rd, 2020
Ravenna, Italy

 

The Weakness of Strength

In Ancient Chinese philosophy the ever-recognizable symbol of yin and yang is both appealing from an aesthetic point of view and also from the perspective of its simple philosophy—the nature of opposites.

However, are things really that straightforward in the end? Is it only about the interconnectedness between fire and water, male and female, earth and sky, and so on? In other words, when we consider these opposites, why do we categorize them as such to begin with? Surely, fire and water couldn’t be any more different in terms of their chemical compositions, but if we look at their capacity to cause destruction, they really are very similar in the end. A flood can destroy a city just as quickly as a fire can; in this sense, their properties are almost identical.

The same can be said for men and women. There’s a biological and chemical difference even (testosterone, body type, and other factors), but in their actual desires, men and women—if once again we look at it from the perspective of destruction—have almost similar capacities to wreak havoc on themselves and on others; in the same vein, the capability and desire for love is pretty much equal in both sexes (for those who think women are generally more empathetic, I highly urge you to familiarize yourself with Stanley Milgram’s electroshock experiment). For our purposes, however, let us grant that men and women are the same when it comes to their ability to cause destruction and their capabilities for love. What purpose does the yin and yang serve, then, if we look at fire and water—or women and men, for that matter—from the perspective of love and destruction?

I would like to make the same argument for strength and weakness; biologically, a bodybuilder might be stronger than your average man and the best female bodybuilder will always be weaker than her male counterpart—granted. If we look at strength and weakness from the perspective of destruction and love, however, things move beyond the traditional yin and yang conception—the black and white becomes one thing, grey.

The great philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, in his book The Anti-Christ, wrote the following: “What is good? Everything that heightens the feeling of power in man, the will to power, power itself. What is bad? Everything that is born of weakness. What is happiness? The feeling that power is growing, that resistance is overcome.” Nietzsche, in this sense, believed that it was both natural and noble for people to display their strength, for that meant the complete realization of the individual—the final transformation of a person as he or she attained a total agency over their will with which they could maximize their own powers, in a sense becoming divine to an extent, even godlike, perhaps. “God is dead,” Nietzsche famously uttered, and he must be replaced with something—the individual and his will to power.

In the most poetic sense, however, Nietzsche died at the age of 55, completely in the care of his family, having lost whatever powers (whether creative or physical) he had. Nevertheless, the strength of the thought he produced—despite the later debilitation that affected his body—remains as powerful as ever. The question hence becomes: Was Nietzsche a weak man? It’s a difficult question to answer. Certainly, he was a hypocrite because he didn’t have the strength to kill himself before becoming the less-than-ideal human being that people should be according to his view.

The same can be said for Ayn Rand, who, throughout her younger years, denounced those who took advantage of social services as parasites and moochers, only to suffer a debilitating illness later in life which gave her no other choice but to collect social security—something she chose to do under a different name. Today, Atlas Shrugged remains one of the most powerful books ever written. Like Nietzsche, what do we make of this?

I have neither the intention nor desire to defend or criticize Nietzsche or Rand—it’s not my place to judge. I would, however, like to resume the discussion of strength and weakness. Strength, and by extension the power it produces, has given us many positive things. Firefighters carrying people out of burning buildings, laborers who built great monuments like the pyramids, and, in the psychological sense, resilient individuals we can depend on are also a product of strength. In the same sense, however, strength has also given people the ability to build walls, to push others away, and to harm the environment; with respect to building walls (whether physical or psychological), the strength which allows for this is actually based on weakness—an obsession from protecting one’s self from threats real or imagined and in that sense the act represents a fundamental characteristic not of power, but of fear. In other words, unlike vulnerability, strength plays it safe by installing barriers to keep danger away, knowing perhaps that it might not be powerful enough to deal with whatever problem life may produce.

Weakness, and by extension vulnerability, does not have the luxury of this aforementioned protection; it must deal with whatever arises (whether it’s physical or psychological) in a direct manner. Paradoxically, also, by refusing to close itself off, to shut itself away from the world, vulnerability takes more chances; it opens itself up to new experiences, people, places, and opportunities—even when it has been hurt before. Vulnerability is a testament to the human spirit. It represents the highest essence of humanity. Some authors like Ursula K. Le Guin have even argued that the suffering which comes from being vulnerable is purer than love. In her novel, The Dispossessed, she writes the following, worth quoting at length: “It is our suffering that brings us together. It is not love. Love does not obey the mind, and turns to hate when forced. The bond that binds us is beyond choice. We are brothers. We are brothers in what we share. In pain, which each of us must suffer alone, in hunger, in poverty, in hope, we know our brotherhood. We know it, because we have had to learn it. We know that there is no help for us but from one another, that no hand will save us if we do not reach out our hand. And the hand that you reach out is empty, as mine is. You have nothing. You possess nothing. You own nothing. You are free. All you have is what you are, and what you give.” The ability to suffer, to be vulnerable is, thus, the greatest human strength—many are capable of doing it stoically while some need drugs or different forms of escape and others yet can’t endure this pain at all.

Even more interesting to our discussion is the fact that strong people who use their power to build physical and psychological walls around themselves have even less chance of finding happiness and joy. They may be comforted by the momentary security which they do receive in their dungeons, but sooner or later the person must step out in search of food for the body and nourishment for the soul, which represents the happiness we all seek. Le Guin is, likewise, aware of this fact: “If you evade suffering you also evade the chance of joy. Pleasure you may get, or pleasures, but you will not be fulfilled. You will not know what it is to come home.” The age-old cliché of leaving the comfort zone to succeed even reaches as far as Sicily: Cu nesci arrinesci; this is one of the first things I learned in Italy that I had already known for a long time, just not in the Sicilian language. It must be said that I’ve taken a very positive interpretation of the aforementioned proverb; according to a very good Sicilian friend I met here, the phrase is largely construed negatively on the island—young people abandoning Sicily to seek fortune elsewhere, but there’s nevertheless something to be said about moving on and away from your comfort zone to find success, to make a change, to see things differently.

Frankly, in that respect, I’ve always had a rather negative outlook on weakness and vulnerability—being a man made it “necessary” to conform with certain gender standards imposed by society and this didn’t help my perspective either. It was only at the University of Bologna at the end of Professor Annalisa Furia’s course, Political Power Beyond State Boundaries: Migration, Development and Human Rights, that I began to change my mind about this topic. In one of her concluding lecture slides, she had written the following about reevaluating vulnerability: “even though it is produced as the condition of certain categories, it is our common condition.” Once again, a simple piece of logic on the surface but the fact that she had chosen to highlight “common condition” made me start thinking deeper about the issue. Whereas before I had championed Nietzsche’s idea of the will to power, I now denounce it as the weakest pursuit humans can have. In fact, much of what constitutes power is based on paranoia and pathological fear. Seattle University professor and psychologist George Kunz, who passed away recently, in his book, The Paradox of Power and Weakness, argues exactly that: “When we are psychologically captured and driven by our own power, we know that our bondage is, first, our addiction to the sweet taste of power itself; second, our addiction to the stuff that power can purchase; third, our habitual blindness to the needs of others; and, finally, our fear of losing the power to exercise more power. Obsessive fear, compulsive needs and fear of others’ taking our power drive us into ourselves and away from others. The power of power can be self-destructive. It tends to burrow into and cling to the heart, rather than expose itself to the needy claims of others.” On a personal level, Kunz’s statement fascinates me because I experienced something exactly like what he describes for myself.

Again, as I’ve said before, it’s not my place to judge anyone here; thus, I will simply describe the situation in the most neutral way possible. About seven months ago, I got to know a person (let’s call this individual Alex and use “they” in the interest of privacy). Although I still think Alex is a great person, they fit Dr. Kunz’s description perfectly, which made it very hard to spend time with them. Due to the walls they built, any attempt to go beyond the surface with this person was met with resistance; at the same time, interaction was quite cordial and warm when Alex could stay within clearly delineated comfort zones and things also went especially well at parties when everyone was drunk and there was no need—or the capability, for that matter—to discuss something more meaningful. Alex enjoyed the attention of everyone, so long as others didn’t dig below the surface and come out on the other side of the wall; on repeated occasions, nevertheless, this very person described themselves as “strong,” and tried to project an image of fierce independence—all of this, however, was an illusion, because, in reality, Alex was and continues to be an individual who neither possesses much mental resilience, nor independence; their strength and independence, in fact, is produced by deriving great pleasure from their ability to manipulate people and using them for whatever purposes any given situation requires—at will. I have really not seen what Alex is like when there’s no one to impress or manipulate, all I know is that their self-purported strength turned out to be hollow in the end because they repeatedly refused to behave in a manner beyond surface-level interaction (one of the characteristics of mental fortitude) despite showing great interest and warmth towards me in their comfort zone, where the chance of being vulnerable was very low.

It’s always discouraging when people don’t turn out to be who you thought they were, especially when they don’t live up to the very labels they make for themselves. My idea of strong men and women lies in their ability to be vulnerable, to take risks, to give other people a chance, especially when these very individuals only want the best for you. As I said, I neither blame Alex, nor do I think they’re a bad person—it’s just a psychological burden to be around them, and that’s why I decided to distance myself. They’re too “strong” and they themselves push people away.

In the end, I don’t think life is really long enough for us to be powerful. We spend many of our years helpless and weak, from the moment we’re born until we become adults; and in old age we require the care and attention of others. The prime of our life is perhaps ten or twenty years at best. I’m always reminded of this when I listen to Bob Seger‘s song Fire Inside. My favorite part is quite pertinent to the discussion:

I think we all have problems and we all need help in certain respects—I’m probably the person who’s in need of the most guidance in this respect, but when someone claims to be “strong” just to push people away, all because they don’t want to experience vulnerability, well, then, like Le Guin said, they don’t have a good chance of finding the spiritual nourishment that produces happiness—something which exists outside of their caves. No person can help another person who’s hanging from a cliff but refuses to take someone’s hand because they trust in their own strength to pull themselves up.

On the concluding slide of her lecture, Professor Furia posted the following quote by Giovanni Testori: “Healing is possible only if you accept the wound.” Life will break everyone—even the so-called “strong.” The question, hence, becomes: How will you get up and what will you do afterwards?

 

Addition: After reading my article, Alex got the suspicion that I was writing about them. As I predicted, they sent me an insulting message accusing me of all sorts of things: It was my fault that I tried to seek a closer connection with them; it was my fault for trying to be a good friend. It can’t be denied that I did misjudge the nature of this friendship; on my part, I take full responsibility for that, but the anger coming from this person was totally unwarranted; it confirmed to me everything that I’ve written—Alex is obsessed by the power which comes from their own self-described strong personality and my refusal to be controlled any longer meant they had lost the ability to manipulate someone, which is all they really wanted to begin with. As I again predicted, instead of talking to me, asking if the article was about them (maybe it is and maybe it isn’t—I never implicated them; it could be about anyone, really), and attempting to resolve the situation in a way where we could both walk away from this like mature adults, they continued using their weakness of strength to build bigger walls and push me further away, unfriending me on Facebook and blocking me on WhatsApp—indeed, very powerful, independent, and mature, which is exactly what I expected from this “strong” person. Had they been stronger, however, more courageous even, and attempted to speak with me like I’m a human being instead of a punching bag, I may have gone the extra mile myself and agreed to take down the article, but not any longer, because, like I said, Alex’s actions confirmed all the arguments I made within it. To the insulting message I received, I sent the nicest possible response, stating that despite their disparaging remarks, I still respected them and wished them the best. Why let something good that happened in the past turn bad from my side? On this Independence Day, I can say that I’m free and that I’ve finally moved on from this.

 

About David Garyan

David Garyan has published three chapbooks with Main Street Rag, along with a full collection, (DISS)INFORMATION, with the same publisher. He holds an MA and MFA from Cal State Long Beach, where he associated himself with the Stand Up Poets. He is currently studying International Cooperation on Human Rights and Intercultural Heritage at the University of Bologna. He lives in Ravenna.

“Communist Ravenna,” an article by David Garyan

June 10th, 2020
Ravenna, Italy

 

Communist Ravenna

It can’t be denied that Ravenna is full of Christian history. With its impressive basilicas and connection to Dante, the city can entice the fascination of people coming from all faiths; while its past religiosity certainly contributes to shaping many attitudes and characters all around, it’s the communist modesty which really provides that simple charm so rarely found in other cities, especially those with eight UNESCO World Heritage to their name—in this case, all of them Christian, with the exception of the Masoleum of Galla Placidia (where she isn’t actually buried), and the Masoleum of Theodoric (who’s no longer there).

While the Christian monuments have remained, memories of how Italy was once home to the largest communist party in the West have all been forgotten; since many of its members had fought on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War, this combat experience helped them become, according to UM-Ann Arbor professor, Dario Gaggio, “the best-organized anti-Fascist force during the Second World War.” Communists held substantial power in several regions, and Emilia-Romagna was one of the most notable in that regard. Modena, for example, had an uninterrupted stretch of communist mayors from 1946 to 1992. One of the longest streets in Bologna is called Stalingrado while Ravenna has its own unique way of paying tribute to the Communist past.

The first example is at Piazza Ugo La Malfa, where this large portrait of Che Guevarra can still be found.

I tried searching the area for any kind of information about the artist but wasn’t able to find anything; after returning home and digging on the internet for a bit, I discovered that the art was done by a group of Cuban students from the Escuela de Arte of Trinidad in collaboration with the Academy of Fine Arts in Ravenna; this particular piece is based on the famous photograph by Alberto Korda, who also photographed the revolutionary leader on other occasions. Sadly, the murals were vandalized by fascists at some point and required extensive cleaning, proving that perhaps—now more than ever—we need to be vigilant about the rise of right-wing extremism.

In any case, Che Guevara is one of the most interesting figures to have emerged in the twentieth century. Born on the 14th of June, 1928, he was the oldest of five children raised in a middle-class Argentine family of Spanish origin; his grandmother, Ana Lynch, was a descendant of Patrick Lynch, an Irish immigrant who settled in Rio de la Plata when it was still a governate of the Spanish Empire, now modern-day Argentina.

Already as a young child, Guevara had a propensity for restlessness, according to his father, Don Ernesto: “In order to understand how my son became Major Che, one of the leaders of the Cuban Revolution, and what led him into the Bolivian mountains, we have to look into the past and find out something about our family ancestors. The first thing to note is that in my son’s veins flowed the blood of the Irish rebels, the Spanish conquistadores, and the Argentinean patriots. Evidently Che inherited some of the features of our restless ancestors. There was something in his nature which drew him to distant wanderings, dangerous adventures and new ideas.” This restlessness, however, wasn’t just physical. Besides excelling in sports, Guevara also had plenty of energy for books. He was interested in poetry and literature in general. He was likewise informed about philosophy and history, according to declassified CIA reports: “Che is fairly intellectual for a Latino. He is quite well-read in Latino literature and has an appreciation of the classics from other literatures. He is intelligent and quick.” The memo continues by stating that soldiers under his command “never saw him reading Marx or any other Communist authors.” To educate his troops, he would read to them “from the works of Charles Dickens and of Alphonse Daudet, among others.” Already, the arrogance of the US is apparent—quite well read for a Latino, as if it’s some kind of miracle. Clearly, we’re dealing with an intellectual here, not a party hack ready to oblige any high-ranking official.

On a visit to the USSR, officials were equally impressed with this former doctor, who had, in fact, completed his medical studies in 1953, shortly after returning from his long motorcycle journey through the continent (these events are recounted in a 2004 biopic, The Motorcycle Diaries, based on the diaries Guevara kept during the journey). During this journey with his friend Alberto Granado, Guevara witnessed the poor working conditions of many families and how wealthy landlords exploited peasant farmers in remote rural areas. Towards the end of the journey, he began to see Latin America as a borderless land of united people and not as a fragmented continent of separate states; this change of attitude is highlighted in the movie when Che is celebrating his 24th birthday in the leper colony and makes the following speech, which I’ll do my best to paraphrase: We are a single mixed race, from Mexico to the Strait of Magellan. So, trying to free myself from any nationality, I raise a toast for Peru and for a united America. It’s not clear whether this event depicted in the film actually happened, but the fact that he held such a belief is certain.

According to Douglas Kellner, who authored the book Ernesto “Che” Guevara (World Leaders Past & Present), it was the overthrow of Guatemala’s democratic government by the United States which finally convinced Guevara that armed struggle was necessary for the liberation of Latin America. Kellner quotes Che’s wife, Hilda Gadea, who stated the following: “It was Guatemala that finally convinced him of the necessity for armed struggle, for taking initiative against imperialism.” Indeed, his experiences in Central America shaped the young revolutionary deeply. It’s precisely there Guevara realized that being a democracy won’t protect you from US imperialism. Jacobo Arbenz was democratically elected by the people and simply had the interests of his population in mind when he attempted to institute his land reforms; however, because this agenda went against the corporate interests of the US, he was swiftly removed. Guevara, thus, realized Latin America would never be able to rule the way it wanted to, even if it made this attempt democratically. It’s at this moment that he abandoned his profession and truly became a revolutionary, although it’s clearly evident that he never lost hope for returning to medicine: “When I was in Arbenz’s Guatemala, I had begun taking notes to try and assess what would be the duties of a revolutionary doctor. Then, after the United Fruit Company’s aggression, I realized one fundamental thing: To be a revolutionary doctor, you first need a revolution.” That dream would be cut short—once again at the hands of the US, when Bolivian soldiers, trained and equipped by the CIA captured and killed the revolutionary.

Across from Che’s mural at Piazza Ugo La Malfa one can see the depiction of Arrigo Baldrini, from whose portrait the Cuban flag trails. Having joined the Italian Communist Party in 1943, he became a central figure for the Italian resistance in the Romagna region. A fearless warrior, he took part in most of the liberation missions in the region. Baldrini died in Ravenna on January 22nd, 2008 at the age of 92.

Not far from Piazza Ugo La Malfa is the street named after Enrico Berlinguer, leader of the Italian Communist Party from 1972 to 1984.

Considered the best and most popular national secretary of the party, Berlinguer distanced himself from the USSR and proceeded to govern along more ideologically moderate lines. His philosophy revolved around the Third Way, which can best be explained with the phrase “centrist socialism,” or the attempt to reconcile right-wing and left-wing politics. In a book, Visions of the End of the Cold War in Europe, 1945-1990, edited by Frédéric Bozo, Laura Fasanaro writes the following: “Berlinguer used this expression to refer to a model of socialism that did not yet exist, either in the USSR or in other ‘socialist’ countries, but that would, he hoped, be implemented in Italy. This model would go beyond the Soviet model but preserve the legacy of two historical landmarks: the October revolution on the one hand, and the anti-Fascist alliance of the USSR with the Western democracies during the Second World War on the other.” Politicians like Berlinguer offer a refreshing way to look at communism from a different perspective. Whereas the US is fanatical about suppressing any debate surrounding socialism, along with preventing every politician like Bernie Sanders from seeking power, Italy, for example, has proven that a more moderate course isn’t just possible but can also offer new solutions for the ills of capitalism.

It’s certainly hypocritical that even candidates such as Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were more than willing to run on revolutionary platform themselves, but when Bernie Sanders attempted to institute his own innovative ideas, the two former candidates didn’t waste any time trying to discredit him, simply because the US doesn’t do socialism. Clinton claimed that “nobody likes him” and Obama promised to speak in order to stop his possible nomination.

Well, enough US bashing. Let’s return to Berlinguer; in his own words, he had realized that neither authoritarian communism nor unchecked capitalism was the answer and he wanted to find a solution: “The fact that the socialist experiments that have so far been carried out in various parts of the world do not represent an historically adequate and politically feasible solution for the West, i.e. in the high points of capitalism and hence also here in Italy, does not mean that we should abandon the objective of socialism and the struggle to build in Italy and in the other European capitalist countries a system of social and human relations superior to those produced by capitalism and its crisis. On the contrary, this makes it more urgent than ever for us to make the theoretical and practical effort so that the workers’ movement, having reached a maturity and a new phase of its history, can decisively bring to bear its constructive and innovative strength.” People like Berlinguer are further proof that the hypersensitive attitude (the kindest possible way to put it) with which the US attempts to stay away from socialism is at best ridiculous and at worst filled with the greedy desire to further empower the rich at expense of its own people. Italians, on the other hand, admired the political ability and courage of their socialist leader, recognizing his integrity and intelligence. Sanders, meanwhile, could’ve brought all the competence in the world to the table; so long as he was a socialist, however, winning an election, much less getting the nomination, was certainly an impossibility—it remains to be seen whether Biden can beat Trump. Let’s just hope Sanders won’t need to be vindicated.

Speaking of democracy fighting fascism, it’s always noteworthy to speak of Antonio Gramsci, who, like Berlinguer, is honored by the city of Ravenna with his own street.

An incredibly prolific writer, Gramsci produced over thirty notebooks, along with countless other pages of historical and philosophical writing. Born on January 22nd, 1891 in Sardinia, he was the fourth among seven brothers. As a child, he experienced health problems which would contribute to the deterioration of his condition in prison. Due to his poor health and financial situation, he abandoned his studies at the University of Turin at the age of 24; because of his involvement with a militant anti-fascist group, Gramsci was arrested in 1926. He was sentenced to five years confinement on the island of Ustica; after this, he was given an additional twenty years to be served out in Turi.

Due to his already weak physical disposition, prison didn’t take kindly to the great philosopher: In one of the introductions written for his Prison Notebooks, the following is stated: “Gramsci’s letters from prison reveal a sense of isolation that was more than simply a physical one—but compounded terribly both by political preoccupations and by anxiety about Julia [his wife]. Increasingly, Gramsci was forced back into himself. Much of the time, particularly towards the end of his stay in Turi, he was too ill even to read or write. Hunchbacked, sickly, having suffered at least three major breakdowns of his health even when he was free and able to enjoy medical attention and maintain a special diet, his years in prison were literally an eleven-year death-agony. His teeth fell out, his digestive system collapsed so that he could not eat solid food, his chronic insomnia became permanent so that he could go weeks without more than an hour or two of sleep at night; he had convulsions when he vomited blood, and suffered from headaches so violent that he beat his head against the walls of his cell. It is against this background that the achievement of the Prison Notebooks should be seen.” Indeed, the ability to create original thought—then muster the willpower to actually write it down coherently—is a task that proves difficult for people in the most perfect situations; Gramsci’s situation, however, was anything but ideal.

It’s perhaps, thus, very strange how given that Gramsci was forced to endure all kinds of physical and psychological deprivations, such as hunger, isolation, pain, and despair, that the fanciest place to buy groceries should be located on a street named after him.

Coop, indeed, is where the so-called bourgeoisie go to shop; it’s like the Whole Foods of Italy, and, not only that—it’s a megacorporation, which runs the largest supermarket chain in Italy. I rarely ever shop at Coop because everything is just so much more expensive and the necessity to shop at such markets is really not necessary in Europe; the food standards are already of such a high quality that the average supermarket here is probably equivalent to your organic store in the US. The use of growth hormones in meat are banned and regulations on additives are much stricter in the EU.

In any case, we’ve gone off-track, but not so much. The ability to feed its own population has always been a problem for communist regimes. To industrialize China, Mao starved millions of people. Stalin engineered a man-made famine in Ukraine, known as Holodomor, and today considered a genocide. The Soviet famine of 1932-1933 killed a great number of people as well, but let’s not make the mistake of forgetting that even today there are over fifteen million people in the US still having trouble getting access to food (it’s so bad, the euphemism “food insecurity” is sometimes used in conjunction with hunger), or the economic policies which led to the Great Depression. Furthermore, to this day, the US remains the only power to have used nuclear weapons against another nation, and who can forget its own genocide against the Native Americans? However, things are rarely analyzed from such perspectives because the US is a democracy (meaning it can do no wrong) while the aforementioned countries are or were communists (obviously they can’t do anything right—even when they actually do); such cultural discourse (which is constructed by the West) proliferates itself through society until it becomes the dominant, normative view, which is exactly how Gramsci said power works.

Despite the hardships he endured in prison, the influential thinker managed to produce some of the greatest Marxist philosophy which is studied both in the US and in Europe alike. I encountered his ideas in classes ranging from graduate literary criticism seminars at CSULB to courses on international cooperation and development at the University of Bologna.

A founding member and eventual secretary of the Communist Party of Italy (dissolved in 1926 by Mussolini’s regime and re-established as the Italian Communist Party in 1943), Gramsci is best known for his theory of cultural hegemony; its main argument is that the status quo must not always employ force to maintain its dominant position. Power and control can also be exercised by culturally engineering the desired normative behaviors that serve the interests of those in charge. In other words, institutions like the church, media, police, and even the cultural apparatus are used to create discourses that not only correspond with the views of those who wield power, but, more importantly, seek to manufacture an environment in which dissent becomes less likely.

Indeed, force can be used to suppress a revolt; however, Gramsci argues that coercion is only effective for a short time because it’s less likely to resolve the hegemon’s problem—violence can only contain unrest for some time until the pressure gives way to revolution; cultural engineering, on the other hand, manipulates society by influencing public opinion so that dissent is seen as something which is both contrary to the cultural norm (hence against the interest of society) and also perhaps unnecessary. The most effective regimes, like the US, have utilized cultural hegemony very well—although capitalism has created huge inequalities, there’s historically been very little desire on the populace’s part to change the system because of how the country has been able to successfully present its economic ideology as superior to communism.

After the Soviet Union fell, however, the US no longer has the same “enemy” to contend with; thus, in its effort to find a new “threat” in the Middle East, it has engaged in a binary civilizational discourse of our way of life (Christianity) vs their way of life (Islam) to both maintain its cultural superiority, and, naturally, at the same time plunder the oil it so desperately needs; in that sense, Trump is the complete embodiment of a nation no longer able to create a cultural discourse capable of maintaining the cultural engineering necessary to wield total power, which is why it’s now resorting to force.

Still, Gramsci argues that revolutions in developed and “democratic” cultures must be of the passive variety, meaning that transformations must be a slow struggle to change institutions from within, using counter-hegemony and alternate values. Speaking at the Seventh Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Gramsci said the following: “History has spoken, and we have to know how to recognise the reality, we have to recognise that in the advanced countries the socialist revolution will not begin as easily as it did in Russia, the country of Rasputin and Tsar Nicholas, and where for a majority of the population it was a matter of indifference what kind of people lived on the periphery or what was happening there. In countries like these, starting a revolution is as easy as lifting a feather. But in a country where capitalism has developed and produced a democratic culture and organisations that involve every last person, it is absurd to imagine that the revolution can begin without proper preparation. If we fail to do that, we will destroy the socialist revolution before it begins. That is the reality.” Gramsci’s philosophy paints a very clear picture of why it’s so difficult to counter the hegemony of the US; it has achieved such a level of cultural engineering that its democracy is unquestioned; however, when one looks closer, it’s not difficult to see that a democracy in which a candidate can win the popular vote and still lose an elections isn’t a democracy; a democracy in which the rich have all the say in politics and the poor have almost none isn’t a democracy; a democracy which has occupied other countries whose people didn’t welcome the occupation isn’t a democracy; likewise, a democracy which has overthrown other democracies isn’t a democracy. The US has done all those aforementioned things, but due to its ability in utilizing a discourse that successfully justifies these actions, the populace ends up believing that the actions really are justified.

Last but not least in Communist Ravenna, is the bookstore la Feltrinelli.

Anyone familiar with publishing will immediately recognize the name as Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, the legendary publisher, guerilla, and communist. Perhaps best known for first publishing Dr. Zhivago, he’s most likely the first editor to have releasing the first edition of a book in a language it wasn’t originally written in. I can think of no other publisher with that kind of feat to their name. When Boris Pasternak completed the novel and submitted it for publication, the work was rejected by Soviet censors. The manuscript was eventually smuggled out of the USSR and delivered to Feltrinelli. The novel went on to win the Nobel Prize, which, as one might imagine, didn’t make the Soviets too happy. Not surprisingly, the CIA would go on to use the novel as a weapon against the USSR, showing both their own citizens and those behind the Iron Curtain how bad life was under communism. After retiring, Nikita Khrushchev, the man in power at the time, obtained a copy of the book and changed his mind about it: “We shouldn’t have banned it. I should have read it myself. There’s nothing anti-Soviet in it.” I guess people do really change—even communists, for that matter.

The morality of Pasternak’s actions are debatable. Since he spent ten long years of his long life writing the novel, he may have deserved to see it published; at the same time, his actions led to an even greater wave of censorship and suspicion of artists in the Soviet Union. Many of Pasternak’s friends felt like he had betrayed them and made things that much more difficult. Not only had he gotten the glory and fame (which, again, he may have deserved), but, more importantly, he had created additional challenges for writers and artists in the USSR who were fighting for greater artistic freedom. Pasternak, they argued, wasn’t a real dissident because he had assumed none of the risks which come with working from the inside—trying to change the system by challenging it directly, instead of from a periphery. What’s done is done, however. The novel is now available in its original language and has been part of the Russian school curriculum for years, although this might no longer be the case.

And with that, we’ve reached the final stop of our Communist Ravenna tour. For those who prefer less ideologically extreme readings about the city of Ravenna, please do consult the free internet or even my accompanying article to the first section of the poem I wrote about the city.

Here’s to you, tovarish.

 

About David Garyan

David Garyan has published three chapbooks with Main Street Rag, along with a full collection, (DISS)INFORMATION, with the same publisher. He holds an MA and MFA from Cal State Long Beach, where he associated himself with the Stand Up Poets. He is currently studying International Cooperation on Human Rights and Intercultural Heritage at the University of Bologna. He lives in Ravenna.