Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Politics of Association


There is a boilerplate paragraph found in most writings prescribing progressive solutions to socio-political questions that goes something like this:

To overcome this long-running and entrenched practice of the powerful at the expense of everyone else, gays, lesbians, jews, liberals, leftists, anarchists, animal rights activists, trade unionists, blacks, and Latinos must unite in concerted action.

Words that set the young firebrand to marching only to discover, after years of activism, that they are somewhat illusory. And that is largely because, other than being subjected to various degrees of rejection by respectable society, these groups have nothing in common.

A few years ago the highway scribe was treated to an angry rant by a dreadlocked black man against gays that was rooted in the fact he found homosexuality repugnant and resented the political success of this particular subculture visa vis that of the long-suffering African-American.

Many socialists and communists possess a reverence for science the animal rights activist has made a lifestyle of resisting, and Jesse Jackson once called New York City "hymietown" in a way that rang true to both the hymies and the blacks (and so on).

Once in a blue moon, somebody comes along capable of forging a majority from segments of each aforementioned grouping so that a successful progressive platform can be executed for as long as they can all sit in one room together.

Such is the radical burden and blessing. Back to the French Revolution and up through the sixties the Western left has made a virtue of open-mindedness where the question of "difference" comes into play because we can't do it alone and because, philosophically, it seems the world's only salvation.

There are no such problems on the right wing where the flag-pin and blind obedience to authority are the only required credentials.

Which is why this business of Barack Obama's guilt by association to the wacky reverend and the former Weatherman is so troublesome: it's not fair because it outlaws the way we play politics.

Left wing, progressive, liberal, communal politics are associative thanks to the scriptures that created them. We are inclusive rejecters of exclusion. We pushed for an end to segregation, thought women were entitled to an Equal Rights Amendment, and fought for a minimum wage that would put a floor on society's misery.

In our best moments we look across the table at the "different" lesbian with whom we share so little, or the Latino we wish had never crossed the border, and accept them, with or without the necessary comprehension.

True understanding will come later. That is the promise of our politics.

The other guys are not interested in any such future for the past is there talisman. They are conserve-atives. They want those people to go away or to make invisible their differences with the larger culture.

And now we have a fellow with at least the talent and will to try and stitch a tentative agreement between the differing and pained parts of our nation and it is this very virtue for which he is being pilloried.

Obama is being assaulted from the far right, and nearer-right, by senators McCain and Clinton, for his association with a guy who set off some bombs in a very tense time in our country's history named William Ayers.

In a "New York Times," piece published April 29 Stanley Fish noted that currently circulating Clinton campaign literature "features bold heads proclaiming that Ayers doesn't regret his Weatherman activities (what does that have to do with Obama? Are we required to repudiate things acquaintances of ours have not said?), that Ayers contributed $200 to Obama's senatorial campaign (do you take money only from people of whose every action you approve?), that Obama admired Ayers's 1997 book on the juvenile justice system, that Ayers and Obama participated on a panel examining the role of intellectuals in public life?"

This is unjust, not only to Obama, but to the people being used to stain him.

Does not the promise of America offer all of us a seat at the table? Does not the Constitution grant both Jeremiah Wright and Ayers the voter's voice?

In this vicious circle, the have-nots and those pushed to the margins are forced to stay there because, essentially, they don't agree with the way things are done. Turning to politics, they are locked out for the very same disagreement.

There is no escape from the tautology that criticizes a progressive for being inclusive, because the person to whom a welcoming hand is extended is, well, excluded and that by including them, you must be deserving of exclusion yourself.

Many years ago, the highway scribe was the marginal leader of poetry group, which included meth freaks, low-riders, actresses of ill-repute, and no shortage of ex-jail inmates; poets with names like Gago and Razor and Zatar and Suki.

A nice Virginia-educated college boy with a special job that paid him well to work from home recording important issues of the day, schooled in the language philosophy of Wittgenstein and Prince Kropotkin's anarchism, the scribe was as different from these specimens as night is from day.

And that was the point. The collaboration represented progressive theory in play. The scribe's intention was to open his life to ideas and codes so apart from his own, to widen his knowledge of the world, and return the favor in kind.

These poets would often take to the microphone and say horrendous things, empty a place out with their profanity and venom; their words backed by the nice Virginia college-boy's imprimatur.

But together we constructed a project, shared in a learning process and proved that people of varying stripes can produce something that works, generate excitement and laughter, and even occasion a brush with sublime beauty.

Those poets are gone now; different paths taken. And they are not the scribe nor does their presence in his past say anything about his "judgment," because he sought out their otherness, and came to understand that each had a claim to the respect of those surrounding; that each was empowered to question the legitimacy of family, tribe, city, community, and country.

Our long-ago association makes us guilty of nothing and worthy of praise in the best American tradition.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Pennsylvania


Each did what they had to.

Clinton needed a win, Obama needed to keep it under 10 and whittled the difference between them to 8 percent. Which means the dynamic of the race remains unchanged and the Illinois senator's lead in delegates would appear insurmountable.

Obama's strategy is now numerical and defensive, rooted in an unlikely 10-straight run of electoral contests in February. The fatal Clinton mistake, for the New York senator's stature as a national figure grows even if the daily coverage is more negative and sniper-like. She is of course, subject to a law of diminishing returns in attacking the party's likely nominee.

Therein the Obama camp's consternation. That rather than question why he can't "close the deal" Senator Clinton would accept that it happened already. The challenge is to win the most primaries, not the biggest ones.

Even were she disinclined to, Clinton must soldier on now. "Hillary" supporters are reveling in the campaign's epochal projection. From a feminist perspective, every day on the campaign trail goes where woman has not before, becomes another page in a history being written.

The celebration is understandable.

Her concerns about Obama's ability to woo her demographic is mirrored in Clinton's total collapse among blacks, youth, and educated Democrats - who in spite of their demonization - have proven quite a capable political class this primary season.

The "L.A. Times" noted that in Pennsylvania, Obama made gains with groups purportedly immune to a discourse of hope. Four percent better with whites (38 percent) than in Ohio, 11 percent better with voters over sixty-five (37 percent), and 5 points better with white men (44 percent) than he did in Ohio.

So Obama, slowed, continues to move in the right direction and if he can't shake Clinton, she can't seem to break, so much as shrink him.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Book Report: "Studies on Love" by Jose Ortega y Gasset



The Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset (1883-1955) made a name for himself in the 1930s with Revolt of the Masses, a book which lamented the industrial era's effect on Western culture. It created, he said, a need for specialization which led to a stunted humanity characterized by mediocrity and the "median man' of which he observed: "This planet is condemned to the reign of the median man. As such, the important task is to elevate the median as much as possible."

Ortega abhorred the dehumanizing effects of science and its handmaiden, reason, upon the life of this world. Nonetheless, as editor and publisher of the El Sol newspaper, and as the leader of his own political party in the years leading up to the Spanish Civil War, Ortega was a logical voice in an era when violent passions would ultimately prevail. While not nearly as seminal a work as Revolt, a collection of Ortega's essays edited from El Sol, and packaged as Studies on Love (1939), is certainly his most charming. In this collection, Ortega, a professor of metaphysics at the University of Madrid, takes reason and trains it upon that greatest of human mysteries: Love.

Here are the results
:

Ortega sets out, as a good philosopher, to define his concept and begins by debunking the equating of love with happiness. "Who doubts that the lover can receive joy from the beloved? But is it no less certain that love is at times sad as death, a sovereign and mortal torture?"

He quotes the letters of a Portuguese nun, Mariana Alcoforado, to her untrue seducer: "I thank you from the bottom of my heart for all the desperation you have caused me and detest the tranquility in which I lived prior to knowing you."

Love's hypothetical happiness disproved with an example, Ortega bores into his subject. Love, he maintains, is incitement. "Through a pore opened by the arrow launched from an object of affection springs love, actively directing itself toward them...It flows from the lover toward the beloved -- from me to the other, in a centrifugal direction."

As an emanation toward the object, love is not unlike hate, the difference being that love flows toward its target positively, whereas hate proffers negativity. Both, however, generate heat produced in varying degrees. "All love," he notes, "passes through phases of diverse temperature and, subtly, the language of love talks of those relations which 'cool,' and the lover complains of the beloved's tepid responses, of their coldness."

The third aspect to loves definition must naturally, perhaps hopefully, take into account the point at which lover and beloved are united.

Perfect Projection

Ortega insists that love not only errs upon occasion but is essentially an error. "We fall in love when our imagination projects nonexistent perfection upon another person. One day, the fantasy evaporates and with it, love dies."

The idea, like so many around us, is born with the Greeks: Plato to be specific. Ortega points out that for Plato, all love resides in the desire to unite the person who loves to another being blessed with perfection, in the volition of our soul toward something excellent, better and superior. "Let the reader try generating a state of enchantment -- sexual enchantment -- in an object which provides not a single aspect of excellence, and see how impossible it becomes."

Sexual instinct, he points out, may preserve the species, but does not perfect it. Throw love into the sexual mix, however, and enthusiasm for that other being, for their body and soul in union indissoluble, and what you get is a gargantuan effort to improve the breed.

"With the erotic process barely initiated, the lover experiences a strange sense of urgency to dissolve their individuality into the other, and vice versa, to become absorbed by the beloved...This recalls the doctrine of the Saint Simonians, according to which, the true human individual is the loving couple."

Our world, Ortega says, is cluttered with innumerable objects whilst the field of our conscience is very limited. The details of this world engage in a kind of fight for our attention, which supplants one object with another, according to its importance. "Mania," consequently, is a condition of focus extended beyond the limits of normality. Ortega suggests that all the great thinkers have been maniacs. "When they asked Newton how he was able to discover his mechanical understanding of the universe, he responded, 'By thinking about it day and night.'"

Love, our philosopher says, works the same way, represents an anomalous focusing of attention upon another person. "It does not constitute enrichment of our mental life," he points out, "just the opposite. It grows rigid and fixed, prisoner to a single being. Plato called it Theia mania (divine mania). Nonetheless, the person enamored has the sense off life being much richer. In the reduction of their world, it seemingly grows more concentrated."

For a lover, then, the world ceases too exist, having been supplanted completely by the beloved.

Loves Fatal Machinery

Curiously, the evolution of enchantment lacks spirituality, depending as it does upon the paralyzing of our attention -- that which regulates mental activity -- leaving the lover dependent upon a series of automatic, mechanical processes. Love, Ortega reasons, is an imposition which mocks free will. The great heartbreakers know this, that once they've managed to affix someone's attention to them, total preoccupation is possible with a simple tightening and loosening of the string attached to their romantic prey.

The lover falls under a "spell," an "enchantment." These, he notes, are words which point to love's extraordinary character. We resort to religious terminology when trying to describe it.

"The curious sharing of lexicons between love and mysticism leads one to suspect common roots." For Ortega, mysticism is also a phenomenon of attention. In the mystic, "God permeates the soul to the point of becoming confused with it, or the inverse, with the soul becoming diluted in God. Such is the union the mystic aspires to. The ecstatic perceives said union as something definitive and perennial, just as the lover swears eternal love.

"Once initiated, the process of enchantment develops with an exasperating monotony," Ortega points out. "What I mean to say is that all those who fall in love do it the same way - the smart one and the dope, the younger and the elder, the bourgeois and the artist. This fact confirms love's mechanical character."

The only exception to this mechanistic rule is found in the question of precisely what attracts the attention of one person to another. Ortega does not shrink from the challenge.

Naked in Love

By demonstrating an interest in someone, we expose much of ourselves that is hidden. "In the election of his mate, the male reveals his essence, in the election of her man, a female does the same," notes the philosopher. "The type of humanity we prefer in one another being sketches the profile or our own soul. Love is an impetus that emerges from the subterranean reaches of our person, and in traveling to the surface dredges the algae and shells of our interior with it."

Ortega posits that not unfamiliar situation which pairs a gregarious woman of beauty with a man considered low and vulgar. The judgment is usually an optical illusion because of the distance involved. Love, Ortega asserts, is the business of minute detail and the fact is that, viewed from far away, authentic love and false comport themselves in a similar manner: "But let's say the affection is genuine," he asks. "What are we to think?" One of two things: Either the man is not quite so vulgar as we thought, or the woman not so select."

The great error, vigilant since Descartes and Renaissance, is that which views human being as living by the dictates of conscience, "that small part of ourselves with which we see clearly and which operates according to our will." The greater volume of our being, he asserts, is neither free nor rational. "In vain does the woman who would be viewed as exquisite try to fool us. We have seen she loves Joe, and Joe is clumsy, indelicate; caring only for the perfection of his tie and the shine to his Rolls."

Ortega argues that a man likes most women that pass within his periphery, but this instinct rarely strikes at the depths of his person. When it does, when that aforementioned emanation springs forth and toward the other, that is love. "If it is an idiocy to say that love between man and woman contains no sexual element, it is a bigger stupidity to suggest that love is sexuality. The sexual instinct has an ample sampling of objects to satisfy it, but love is exclusivity, selection."

Beauty

Beauty is that which invites selection and Ortega tackles the concept with particular relish. "More than acts and words, it is best to focus on what appears to be less important: gesture and physiology. Because they are spontaneous, they permit the escape of profound personal secrets and do so with exactitude."

He says that society has its "official beauties," those whom people point to at parties and in the theater, as if public monuments, which in a sense they are. Ortega suggests that such women may pique a man's desire to possess, but rarely gain his love. Their esthetic beauty sets them apart as artistic objects and the distance prevents love.

"The indifferent find beauty in the grand lines of the face and in the figure -- in what we typically call beauty. For the enamored, they do not exist, the grand lines and the architecture of the person which beckon from afar, have been erased. For them, beauty is found in the scattered features, the color of the pupil, the curve at the corner of the beloved's lips, the tone of their voice."

Boys and Girls

Ortega believes that woman is more capable of this all-encompassing, almost mystic state of love. He argues that the feminine psyche is less concentric, more cohesive and more elastic, thus better lending itself to the singular pursuit, or attention, required for love. "The feminine soul tends to live by a single axis of attention and each phase of her life rests upon a single matter.

"The more masculine the spirituality, the more dislocated the soul, as if divided into separate compartments," says Ortega. "Accustomed to living upon a multiple base, and in a series of mental fields with only the most precarious connection, conquering the attention of one achieves nothing since the rest remain free and intact."

Ortega points out how the woman enamored is frequently exasperated by a sense that she never has the entirety of the man she loves before her. "She always finds him a little distracted, as if, in setting out for their rendezvous he has left, dispersed across the world, entire provinces of the soul."

For this reason, even the most sensitive of men is shamed by his inability to attain the perfection a woman is capable of lending to love.

Monday, April 14, 2008

highwayscribery at the Obama Caucus




The Obama caucus in Los Angeles was the first ever attended by highwayscribery and it may be the last.

Excited like never before by the campaign of Illinois Senator Barack Obama, the scribe signed up both he and Mrs. Scribe to the list of candidates for delegate to the Democratic Convention.

Ours is the 30th Congressional District (C-30) represented by Rep. Henry Waxman, which should tell you a lot. If it doesn't, suffice it too say the parcel in question is habitat to some of the loopiest, most wonderful agglomerations of human subspecies on the planet.

With campaign stickers bearing our names and pulling a four-year old boy in tow, we arrived at the caucus location on a hot and bright Sunday afternoon and took our places in the long line outside the Rancho Park Recreation Center.

It became clear that minor politicians and super-actives in the local Democratic Party enjoyed a built-in network of supporters they could get out to the event and provide the umph to make them one of the three Obama delegates allotted the C-30.

Candidates and their supporters were gladhanding the length of the queue. Leslie Weisberg-Hyman appeared an obvious heavy-hitter along with another lady named Marcy Winograd.

A Weisberg-Hyman representative introduced herself. She was from the Pink Diaper Changers Progressive Coalition or something and talked about her candidate's "positions" on the issues.

Mr. Scribe explained our position as being that we like Barack Obama and would do whatever he said needed to be done. Furthermore, the scribe would be voting for his wife, and she would be returning the favor.

And the Weisberg-Hyman representative then told us that we were wasting our votes, because neither of us could win.

And good luck to you too!

For the most part we came across nice people, all local activists of some sort or another. We got quite a shock to finally meet our former Assemblyman, Paul Koretz, who was going for one of the delegate slots the scribe was there to contest. Ah Democracy!

Anyway, everybody signed up and wound their way into a gym with folding chairs where folks seemingly familiar with one another commiserated and, suffice it to say, Obama has no problem with white men around here.

The district's diversity was reflected in small fragments but, other than the white men, you saw many women of a kind and age that the media has placed firmly in Sen. Clinton's camp.

They are what Rutgers professor Dorothy Sue Cobble would call "labor feminists" and seemed to hail from health care unions and public teachers syndicates; a serious female type, the type, to borrow from John Sayles, who mean it when they say fuck you.

The job of conducting this event fell to a curly-haired lady in her mid -20s, although that's a little harder to discern in Los Angeles than it is in other places. She explained the orderly fashion in which the affair would be conducted and directed female candidates to sit on the right hand side of the gym, males to the left...in alphabetical order, and she would call them up in a sequence that "alternated genders."

The young mistress of ceremonies announced that each candidate would have 30 seconds to speak.

highwayscribery was in trouble because he'd spent the night committing to memory a favorite passage from Obama's book, "Dreams of My Father," that would be cleverly wrapped around a little electioneering.

It was shaped to the prior one-minute limit detailed on the California Democratic Party Web site, so the idea was shelved in lieu of a briefer personal pitch.

But the speeches mostly followed the same formula which focused on the candidate's degree of engagement in local politics, participation being the ultimate virtue in the activist's reality.

There was a microphone and a number of times, even when a candidate was clearly wrapping up their remarks, the young emcee stepped up and pulled it from their hands.

Jack McKeown who was/is(?) a Santa Monica city councilman, burned half his allotment to observe how the format, "makes speed dating seem easy."

When an attendee verily demanded that one candidate be allowed to finish, the emcee took measure of the gathered who were, naturally, there to hear speeches anyway, so why not a complete one?

A rule permitting people to vote and depart before the speeches even began thinned out the caucus. By the time the scribe's turn came up (Mrs. Scribe chickened out) there was little chance of coaxing a majority through eloquence.

So a decision was made to simply read the book passage instead and skip the personal stuff. The literary turn would give the proceedings some texture and summons the candidate whose spirit was sorely missing.

As the scribe hit the stage, the curly-conductor approached with the microphone, but was waved off because she had been using it as an instrument of control.

"From 'Dreams of My Father,'" the scribe belted out, calling the attendees to attention. "'Come Barry,' my father said, 'You are going to learn from the master.' And suddenly his slender body began swaying back and forth, the lush sound risings, his arms swinging as if casting an invisible net, his feet wove over the floor in off-beats, his bad leg stiff, but his rump high, his head back, and his hips moving in a tight circle..."
About this point highwayscribery made a pivotal mistake and paused three precious seconds for dramatic affect.

"The rhythm quickened, the horns sounded. He closed his eyes in his pleasure. And then one eye opened to peek down at me and his somber face spread into a silly grin. My mother-"

And suddenly there she was, standing directly between speaker and audience, the blurry outlines of the delegation a dreamy backdrop for her Mona Lisa's smile: the curly-haired emcee.

And then it was over.

Years ago, the young scribe belonged to a local poetry troupe known as "the Elegant mob" that attended readings en masse, each carrying a red rose in identification with the mutual project.

At the time there was an "underground celebrity" named "El Duce," who was Chicano, but bald like the Italian dictator of similar name. He stopped in to our homegrown revue one time, continued the long-drunk night that his life was (may he rest in peace), and made great sport of insulting the poets and filmmakers plying their trades.

the scribe, an overly earnest twentysomething, stood up on behalf of the group and challenged El Duce to approach the microphone if he wanted to make a comment. El Duce complied, stumbling forward. The scribe sat directly in front of him, legs crossed and arms folded.

The poem El Duce read is not worthy of repeating, but its last line involved him pointing one of our trademark flowers in the scribe's face and saying...

"Suck my rose."

That's what the caucus felt like.

Now the scribe can take a hit, but the event was not what he'd expected. It was not fun, not an inclusive carnival of democracy, and certainly nothing new.

We left and, after discussing the sour taste in our mouths, turned back to find the curly-haired Mona Lisa whom we accused of being rude and unkind to a supporter.

She informed that "California Democratic Party rules" dictated her actions. the scribe countered that it was stupid to cut short what amounted to a brief celebration of the candidate; that if your campaign lacks poetic conception, what you get is Hillary Clinton - Second Amendment champion.

She was unmoved; her eyes, her mind elsewhere, a petty bureaucrat with an Obama button.

Our sense is that the event was run by the California Party and not the Obama camp specifically. Obama actually lost here and we suspect lacks sufficient penetration in the local apparatus. But we can't be sure and we won't be attending another event any time soon.

Life's too short.

Here's the rest of the passage:

"My mother smiled and my grandparents came into the room to see what all the commotion was about. I took my first tentative steps, my eyes closed, down, up, arms swinging; the voices lifting. And I hear him still. As I follow my father into the sound he lets out a quick shout - bright and high - it is a shout the leaves much behind and that reaches for more. A shout that cries for laughter."

Friday, April 11, 2008

highwayscribery's (humble) pitch for district delegate


It's been a such a long time since government listened that it can be something of a shock when a political entity responds to your complaint instead of slapping you down.

When millions marched against the pending war in Iraq, President Bush did not see it as something he needed to heed, rather as one of democracy's niceties where, "people get to express their opinions."

There was no link between the people, the opinion, or anything he felt obligated to do and the formula has pretty much held true in every other governmental endeavor over the past eight years.

The Obama campaign has concocted a strange alchemy whereby individuals in a mass movement somehow feel that movement responds to them.

You donate $10 through barackobama.com and in a few days you're part of $40 million wave that somehow could not have happened without that $10.

There's a responsiveness there almost as admirable as the candidate himself.

Yesterday, highwayscribery bitch-blogged about the campaign dramatically shortening its delegate lists in California to the exclusion of the newcomers it has so openly courted.

Three hours later, a letter from Obama campaign manager David Plouffe appeared in the e-mail queue remarking on the "extraordinary outpouring of grassroots support" in the state.

It went on to say that in recognition of said enthusiasm, the campaign had asked the California Democratic Party to allow the participation of "all persons" who filed to be a district delegate.

ALL PERSONS.

"We are confident that delegates elected from this pool will reflect the Senator's commitment to a diverse and unified delegation at the National Convention," Plouffe wrote.

And of course it will, because ALL PERSONS will be given at least shot, which is somewhat the purpose of the whole Obama thing.

As if that weren't enough, Hope Aguilar, an organizer in Los Angeles, wrote highwayscribery shortly thereafter:

"Dear [scribe],

Your blog post hurt to read. It is so sad we were being forced into living a non-trusting life because of people like Hillary. It's horrible. So the campaign opened up that list again! You're back on!!! Write a kick-ass speech. I know you're a great writer. So, you are being given an opportunity to wow them in one minute. Congrats."

It's a response that exceeded what was hoped for.

highwayscribery could sit around and daydream that the Obama campaign was stunned by his post and the airtight logic it contained, and promptly reversed course. But that's not as much fun as the realization that the scribe is not alone in voicing his opinion and that the Obama grass-roots approach is more than election-time palaver.

And that's because entertaining the first version (the amazing scribe's post) would be good for highwayscribery's ego and the second (scribe's not alone) version, good for Obama, and hence, for the country.

It may seem strange that a candidate for district delegate should pitch the virtues of someone other than himself, but you're reading this on a blog and are free to scroll downward and draw the conclusions about highwayscribery your readings reveal.

Obama is the issue here, and the scribe will make him the issue in Denver. For as long as it takes and until the job is done.

the scribe hopes that those of you attending the 30th Congressional District caucus on Sunday will listen to his pitch and come shake hands and chat afterward.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Hillary's Big "Victory"

The one-minute speech on behalf of highwayscribery's effort to become an Obama delegate to the Democratic Party's national convention in Denver would begin with an admission that the whole thing was new to him.

It would seamlessly move into an observation of how Obama's unique campaign, with its heavy online component and call to those outside the process had made it all possible.

The address would briefly detail phone banking efforts in distant states via the Obama Web site and detail a few blogging exploits (such as this) on behalf of the candidate in his battle on the crucial mass media playing field.

It was to close with a memorized recitation of the scribe's favorite passage from "Dreams of My Father," before a genuflection to thunderous applause from caucus people stricken with the epiphany that this scribe guy was the very embodiment of the campaign and a natural choice for delegate.

That was the fantasy. On the ground there were stickers to be printed, a blog post for mailing California Congressional District 30 Obamacans in search of support and a Sunday afternoon of political gladhanding.

We would engage a party we usually just vote for, meet some Obama operatives and deepen our commitment to the movement before leaving very pumped up about what was to come.

The Scribe and Mrs. Scribe were both proud to be on the tentative ballot of 91 delegate candidates and excited about being living examples of all things good and Obama(ish).

But the final list came out and the 91 were down to 17 including a guy named Yaroslavsky whose last name sounds the same as a local County Supervisor you read a lot about.

Then came this article in the "San Jose Mercury News," about the Clinton and Obama campaigns essentially purging the lists of unfamiliar names - newcomers like us - in favor of slates containing the well-known and connected. They're afraid of interlopers and backsliders.

This is what Hillary Clinton's drive "all the way to Denver" hath wrought, so let's not talk about how good her refusal to admit defeat is for the party and, worse, for Obama.

Instead of a party of inclusion in Denver, for the party that claims to be inclusive, we can look forward to grim warfare thanks to Hillary's proclamation that, "There is no such thing as a pledged delegate."

Well, there must be something close, because Ms. Clinton is purging her lists in favor of "loyalists," too.

Chris Dodd and Joe Biden lost Iowa and stepped down. Bill Richardson lost two contests and said goodbye after New Hampshire. John Edwards did not fair well after three and quit when he lost in his natal state of South Carolina.

Clinton has lost 30 contests yet pushes on toward a prize the majority of rank-and-file Democrats have decided will not be hers.

So, rather than growing the ranks, grooming a new generation of activists, and tooling the Obama movement to take on more newcomers, we get something closer to what Ms. Clinton would like the Democratic Party to be.

A closed club of loyal friends.

Book Report: William Morris: Romantic to Revolutionary





"History has remembered the kings and warriors because they destroyed; Art has remembered the people because they created."
William Morris

William Morris sits atop the house of history like a weathervane turning against the prevailing winds rather than with them.

One of the earliest British socialists, he abhorred modernity. An entrepreneurial spirit of manifold passions, he preferred the middle ages to the Renaissance.

To the manor born (1834), cultivated as an effete poet with other rich and eccentric boys (Edward Burne-Jones, Dante Gabriel Rossetti) of the "Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood" at Oxford, Morris spent his middle- and old age calling for revolution from street corners in working class districts of London.

This essay is derived from a book written long ago, 1955 to be exact, by E.P. Thompson entitled, "William Morris: Romantic to Revolutionary".

A citizen of Victorian England's roaring industrial empire, Morris could not abide by the times and spent his youth fancying life in the olden days; crafting poems in the style of Lord Alfred Tennyson replete with knights errant and creamy damsels making loving in limpid streambeds.

The society he loathed lauded him, blessed him with the poet's special fame, and validated the writings through which he sought to escape contemporary surroundings.

His Medievalism, Thompson wrote, was typical of the late-Romantic period in mid-nineteenth century England, an impulsive revolt against the Railway Age that hailed an older society of finer values than profit and capital utility.

Departed from academia Morris built "Red House," with an eye to infusing architecture with something of the Romantic revolt; adapting "late Gothic methods of building to the needs of the nineteenth century," said Thompson.

A visitor to Red House in 1863 describe it thusly:

"The deep red colour, the great sloping, tiled roofs; the small-paned widows; the low, wide porch and massive door; the surrounding garden divided into many squares, hedged by sweetbriar or wild rose, each enclosure with its own particular show of flowers; on this side a green alley with a bowling green, on that orchard walks amid gnarled old fruit-trees; all struck me as vividly picturesque and uniquely original."

Formation of his the firm Morris & Co. as he and his partners set out to establish a company of artisans with an eye to reviving the minor arts in England in, "an age of shoddy," according to Thompson.

Medievalism again provided the recipe.

"I have tried," Morris wrote, "to produce goods which should be genuine so far as their mere substances are concerned, and should have on that account the primary beauty in them which belongs to naturally treated substances: have tried for instance to make woollen substances as woollen as possible, cotton as cotton as possible, and so on; have used only the dyes which are natural and simple, because they produce beauty almost without the intervention of art; all this quite apart from the design of stuffs and whatnot."

Glass-firing, woodcutting, bookbinding, pottery, tile-glazing, weaving, embroidery and tapestry all came in for study under his industrious gaze.

He labored, with mixed success, to erase the line separating designer from studio craftsman so that the firm's employees might tap their own creative abilities and thereby alleviate the more grinding aspects of the work.

The venture was met with professional hostility as the product of intruders lacking commercial credentials, but soon enough forced its goal of challenging the reigning principles in decorative art.

Again, the wealthy social creatures Morris loathed bucked up his bank account and acclaimed his creations.

Never grateful, Morris found himself pushed; first toward the ineffectual liberalism of William Gladstone; and finally toward Marx as the Victorian era lurched deeper into violent foreign adventurism and greater abuse of working people.

"We are," he wrote, "living in an epoch when there is combat between commercialism, or the system of reckless waste, and communism, or the system of neighborly common sense."

Bet you never heard it put that way before.

Morris' communism was not the mid-century brand the mature among us became familiar with; the collective mass crushing the beleaguered individual.

A walking paradox, his collectivist vision could not be distinguished from his approach to the arts and was focused upon the individual; guaranteed the single person rights and comforts and, most importantly, the fullest realization of one's talents.

"Education," readers of his socialist tribune, Justice, were told, "must of necessity cease to be a preparation for a life of commercial success on the one hand, or of irresponsible labour on the other. It will become rather a habit of making the best of the individual's powers in all directions to which he is led by his innate disposition; so that no man will ever 'finish' his education while he is alive."

The revolution he foresaw would restore a pre-industrial community still in existence, but ravaged by the commercial Mammon to which every able body was obligated to consummate itself.

His Socialist miracle did not propose the erection of a new structure upon the old, rather reinforced that which had been weakened by economic materialism:

"That true society of loved and lover, parent and child, friend and friend, the society of well-wishers, of reasonable people conscious of the aspirations of humanity and of the duties we owe it through one another..."

His biographer observed that Morris' utopia called for the reestablishment of the personal and voluntary bonds of society and a doing away with the "impersonal and compulsive" relations rooted in a rule by the owners of property.

His thoughts, mostly old and long-forgotten, bear a contemporary ring in many passages.

"Civilization," Morris said, "is simply an organized injustice, a mere instrument for oppression, so much the worse than that which has gone before it, as its pretensions are higher, its slavery subtler, its mastery hard to overthrow because it is supported by such a dense mass of commonplace well-being and comfort."

His alternative served those to the right and left, secular and devout alike. It entailed a "remedy to be found in the simplification of life and the curbing of luxury and the desires for tyranny and mastery it gives birth to."

So much of his effort would be lost in the silly, internecine debates that have come to characterize left-wing politics. He endured and played a leading role in the split of the original Socialist League, fought the idea of running labor candidates for politics until that became the chosen road and bent to it again.

He fought the anarchists of Prince Kropotkin on one side, acolytes of the still-living Freidrich Hegel, on another, and the Fabian Socialists of George Bernard Shaw to his right.

He was caught in a terrible "Bloody Sunday" police riot in London, which caused a severe curtailing of his belief in the ability of civil movements (read: unarmed) to bring about revolutionary change, and spent himself silly on the "Justice" publication until he was rudely moved off its board of editors by men of different mien.

He died in his sixties, spent with efforts in so many of life's theaters, his legacy in poetry secure, his influence upon design engrained in the minds of those who launched the Bauhaus, the force of his belief in the working man evident in the gains made over the ensuing century.

Said the poet William Butler Yeats of Morris, "No man I have known was so well loved; you saw him producing everywhere organization and beauty, seeming almost in the same instant, helpless and triumphant."

And that is living.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

An (O)balmy Day

In "End Game," posted on Monday, highwayscribery predicted the nasty atmosphere on the Web and at the Texas Democratic Convention, coupled with Sen. Hillary Clinton's vow to go the distance would push superdelegates (Sup-Ds) she has been banking on to save her campaign to sink it.

Later that day Sen. Barack Obama received the endorsement of Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar along with a whispery kind of boost from the "Wall Street Journal," which claimed to know about six North Carolina Sup-Ds who would be breaking the Chicago pol's way.


Today Obama picked up two more superdelegates. One was Montana Sen. John Melcher, which was nice since Montana's caucuses are on the horizon.

Hours earlier, the Governor of Wyoming David Freudenthal
lent his voice to the movement.

The latter drives home a point highwayscribery has been making to wishful Clintonistas banking on a superdelegate-in-the-sky rescue. And the point is that superdelegates do not float above the party in some strange ether where the excitement Obama has generated is but a vapor and the Clintons' "real world" approach to politics hold sway.

Superdelegates are, and of, the party. If Obama swept the Wyoming caucuses, what do people think Freudenthal was? Golfing?

We've long held the superdelegates would reflect the general trend in the party toward Obama because, to repeat, they are the party, which the Clintons clearly thought was theirs.

It really was an Obalmy day what with the candidate picking up an endorsement from the local affiliate of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

And that was not before Rep. Lee Hamilton threw his considerable heft the Obama way. Hamilton's not a superdelegate; he's bigger. One of those looming Washington characters considered "grown up" usually called in to clean up big messes...like the one Sen. Clinton was threatening.

And...he's from Indiana, which is nice because that primary is on the horizon.

We'd like to spread the good news over the week's full course so there's something to write about, but can't deny a windfall when it happens, which it did with tidings that Clinton's monster lead in the Keystone State
is shrinking, with three weeks of campaigning yet to go.

No wonder husband Bill went ballistic over the Bill Richardson endorsement while up in Northern California.

Seems only yesterday the Clinton campaign was telling everybody the New Mexico governor's currency was about as valuable as a dollar compared to the Euro.

Meanwhile, Katherine Seelye at the "New York Times," has done this
kindly piece about how Hillary Clinton's arguments for staying in the race are good for the Democratic Party, if unlikely to change the downward course of her trajectory.

Hopefully, that's a story the Clintons and the Democratic Party can live with, because we know Obama can.

Can't wait 'til tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

A Review of "Vedette"

Why don't some of you new arrivals read this review of "Vedette" while the scribe cooks up something else:

A N A L Y S I S
DANCING FOR THE CONQUERED
AND THE SLAIN:
Vedette, a flamenco heroine for our times
b y t a m a r a k a y e s e l l m a n ~ m a r g i n



VEDETTE, by Stephen Siciliano and released by iUniverse, enters the realm of the epic novel from the vantage point of a young girl in the southern Spanish region of Andalusia in the days preceding World War II and the rise of the Franco regime. Her picaresque, Gitano-inspired adventures (and misadventures) are written against the politically transformative landscapes of both the Andalusian countryside and the city of Seville. Readers witness the growth of a young, independent flamenca who, born with an intrinsic sense of duende, defines revolution through her honesty, haunting charm, charismatic leadership and capacity for pure love.

From the publisher comes this summary of Vedette:


"Born to a Gothic social order, branded a haunter of men's dreams, Vedette is traumatized when her small town in the magical wetlands of southern Spain's Guadalquivir River is overrun by hashish-smoking anarchists promising free love and a life without sadness to those who would follow them. … Entranced by their flamenco music, their philosophy of revenge and the concrete ability to deliver political results, the young woman joins a movement destined to annihilation and becomes its sole survivor, burdened with the task of keeping its memory and project for a better world alive through conversations with their flamenco shadows. … Transcending political viewpoints, Mr. Siciliano opens a new chapter in the understanding of the Spanish Civil War, opting for a literary interpretation that looks beyond right and wrong to more universal lessons only the passage of decades and the healing effects of time can reveal."

WHAT IS A VEDETTE?
The term vedette (pronounced Beh-DET) isn't precisely defined in the story, but a basic dictionary definition gives us a couple of clues.

In military lingo, it's a kind of boat or person used as a sentinel. The word has its roots in the Latin "vigil," to watch, to keep vigil, to see, suggesting the work of a nighwatchman. Vedette in Old French means "watch tower." These are consistent with the character Vedette, for her role is one of vigilant witness to the injustices leveled against the poor underclass, and her life is spent in the lunar consciousness of the flamenco lifestyle; that is, she's up all night and perhaps at her most lucid then, even when drunk on manzanilla.

In more popular usage, a vedette might be thought of as a "Triple Threat"— a woman who can sing, dance and act; a showgirl. In Portuguese, vedete translates into the slang terms "star" and "big shot." This doesn't imply anything but a vocation risen to the level of celebrity.

However, it's in Siciliano's novel, right from the first page, that the term vedette is given its immoral connotations, which (unfairly?) define our heroine (whose real name is Gloriella) from the earliest years of her existence, in that a vedette is a title for a woman of loose morals. This usage first comes in the form of a lascivious chant from her incestuous and groping father, only to be legitimized by her other "father," Padre Olivares.


" 'It's an outrage of a name,' the priest would say. 'Not a name, but a title. A title given, in fact, only to the most immoral of women!' he pointed out to anyone in town who would listen. And there was plenty of them. Of course, he was a priest and the town of Marisalena was so Catholic that it made more gossip than olive oil and cotton."

By this proclamation, Olivares creates his own monster. Vedette's existence is a kind of torture because she possesses his dreams. She ends up being, ironically, both his greatest enemy and his raison d'etre. That is to say, he can't live in serenity while she's alive, but his life has no real purpose without her in it to define him.

My take on Vedette is a not a character with loose morals, however. There is a certain picaresque nature to her early womanhood that reminds me of Moll Flanders right off the bat. And to be sure, her early experiences as a tool for the sexual satisfaction of her father (and other men, eventually) casts her as fallen from grace (not unlike Dafoe's antiheroine). But, like Gabriel García Márquez's "innocent" Erendira, Vedette has her reasons for being that kind of girl.

Erendira soullessly services the men in her world in order to pay off a debt to her Grandmother. It is as if she is asleep or a ghost during her sessions. Her purpose is noble even if her actions aren't. However, Vedette understands early on that she is no puta; her sexuality exists as separate from her spirit. She is far more pragmatic about her role as a haunter of men's dreams; she uses her promiscuity as an art form, a tool for acquiring the most basic elements of survival: food, shelter, friendship. At the end of their stations in life, both women achieve a sense of spiritual purity by escaping the social and religious confinements that have ostracized them.

The difference between these two young women is one of power, however. While Erendira remains subservient to her Grandmother's crass greed throughout the story (and only in the end does she escape it), Vedette is owned by no one and, therefore, does not need to escape herself. Even the man she truly loves, the torero Paula, she refuses to marry, for she knows inherently that the only person she belongs to is herself.

THE LANDSCAPE OF VEDETTE
Andalusia
The whole of Spain is popularly known for its Inquisition(s), but what isn't focused upon with equal fervor are its multicultural roots. In Spain's earliest and perhaps most golden times, the communities which comprised its southern region, Andalusia, consisted of several culturally different groups living for a time in harmony: the Moors (Arabs), the Jews, the Gitanos ("gypsies") and the Christian Spaniards.

Geographically speaking, it makes sense. Andalusia connects Spain with Africa via Morocco. The trade routes meant commerce between people from all manner of sensibilities: Christian, Jew, Islamic. The nomadic Gitanos of Spain (who are presumed to have descended from Indian immigrants) shared in shaping the culture of the times as well simply by the fact of their transience between villages and cities as they sold their wares and performed their arts.

When the Catholics began cleansing the region of nonbelievers, it is believed that the different ethnic groups who were oppressed by this forced conversion unified culturally to protect each other. From this melding of cultures, a new expression, flamenco, a fusion of Gypsy song with Andalusian folk music, flared to life in the Andalusian town of Jerez de la Frontera (so named for its frontierland between Moorish and Christian realms).

Flamenco
Flamenco figures prominently in the growth of Vedette as a charismatic force. She learns the dance and the cante (singing) from a band of revolutionary Gitanos she befriends after fleeing her monstrous father and the threat of convent life where her other "father," Padre Olivares, can't wait to "convert" her.

Flamenco is not simply a form of music, but a way of thinking. Similar examples in American pop culture might include the emergence of the blues or jazz, as well as the iconography and sensibilities of purist Grateful Dead fans, or "deadheads." It's as much a lifestyle and a mindset as it is a form of art.

The time that author Siciliano chooses to introduce Vedette to flamenco is an interesting one; flamenco was, by the 1930s, an extremely old tradition, so when Vedette takes on the task of dancing to palmas at the cafés cantates in Sevilla for payment in food and wine, she is actually entering the flamenco "scene" after its heyday. And she dances to the rich strumming of flamenco guitar, which only became part of the equation at the turn of the 20th century. Previously, instruments such as violins and tambourines accompanied the dancers, but they were optional and not the defining aspect of flamenco.

The spirit of flamenco has endured primarily as a combination of interactive clapping (palmas), vocalization of the woes of the underclass and a combined meditation in dance, where the upper body moves in graceful, sensual form while the feet pound out distinct, percussive patterns that aren't taught as much as felt.

Vedette was a barefoot flamenco dancer, which sets her apart from the modern interpreters of the dance, who use specially enhanced shoes to accentuate their rhythms. Vedette could only be the truly free person she was by dancing without shoes. Her barefoot lifestyle allowed her to be quick on her feet and closer to the earth she loved. Vedette lived as an authentic and sincere naturalist and pacifist who treasured animals, plants and the life force that fueled all that was good in the world. When she is forced into shoes later in the story as part of her internal exile, it comes as no surprise that she loses touch with her flamenco rhythms, or alegría.

Duende
Alegría might be defined as the positive expression of flamenco's duende—a spiritual experience characterized as dark beauty erupting from the core of the soul. Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca committed his life to the study of duende and gave the concept its timeless significance. Duende isn't something that can taught or measured in terms of skill; rather, duende is a life force that can only be experienced through the magica of a truly authentic practitioner in the arts.

Vedette is one such artist; in fact, she becomes famous throughout the region for being truly authentic, to the point of being an enchantress, a haunted dancer. Her unflappably positive personality, her natural beauty and her legendary ability to always tell the truth lend Vedette a larger-than-life reputation which she fulfills everywhere she goes while she is a free woman. It is only when she becomes neutered by fascism that the darker aspects of her duende return, such as at the very end, when she writes a final poem honoring her beloved guitarist and friend, the gitano Tomatito.

Las Marismas
One of the places she returns to, time and again, is the marshlands (las marismas) that surround the estuarine Guadalquivir River, or el rio. It's no mistake that someone as enchanted as Vedette baptizes herself in the waters of the nurturing Guadalquivir early in the story. The river is the most abundant source of life in the region, next to las marismas, where water moves in and out from the coast with the pull of the moon. The result is an expansive wetland region of brackish water that transforms into salt-crusted ponds in the summer. Animals and wild vegetation characterize both the river and this fertile delta, metaphorizing the wild fertility and longevity of Vedette's ideas. She frequently returns to the mysterious and everchanging landscape of the tidal flats to hide or to collect her thoughts. It's las marismas that ultimately hold for her the secrets of her duende, embodied by the "flamenco shadows" she consults there during desperate times.

THE MAGICAL REALISM IN VEDETTE
It's this commerce, with both the living and the dead, which comprises the magical realist aspects of Vedette.

Antonia, the Card Reader
Early into Vedette's life, she visits the French Gypsy Antonia of Carmona at the demand of her mother, who wants to learn whether assertions from Vedette's father—that she would haunt and curse every man in her life—were accurate. In the staunchly Catholic community of Marisalena, Vedette's mother makes the journey at considerable risk, explaining that, though the local padres may believe in the cards, the Pope does not. The tarot is read, predictions are made. Vedette learns that she is "from and part of the eternal other side." Her mother leaves the reading convinced her daughter is a witch.

This is the first of three encounters Vedette has with Antonia, and in every case, her predictions are accurate to the tiniest details. In the third visit, it is Antonia who proffers predictions based, not on the cards, but on accurate observations about the coming moral and political reforms within Spain, suggesting the intricate liaisons bridging the institutions of faith and politics at the time. One did not need the mystery of the occult to forsee that future. Its evidence could be found throughout the countryside where Vedette lived.

Fernando Villalon
While traveling the las marismas via Sevilla to Carmona, where she plans a second visit to the card reader Antonia, Vedette gets lost looking for the lights of the city. She comes upon a "lonely rider moving slow," who tells her in a deep voice that "you can rush all you want, but in las marismas you can never move faster than the speed of el rio taking the water to sea!"

Vedette's reaction: the man's words don't make sense and yet they explain everything. That should have been her first clue that this mysterious man might be special.

They travel together for a spell and she learns the man is Fernando Villalon, the "poet of las marismas" and a breeder of bulls. He rode a horse named Clavileño, the namesake of Don Quixote's steed (another tip off that Villalon is extra-ordinary).

Vedette is familiar with his story, having been told all about him by her friend, El Fariz the Moor. She discovers that Villalon, in fact, knows her friend. He gives her points for orienting herself in the marshes and bores her young and impetuous mind with other details about horses, Moorish poets and the salty landscape. Though her lack of attention bothers him, he expresses admiration for her honesty and invites her to visit him on his island in el rio. She mentions how she never sees his eyes under the brim of his hate (a third indicator of something otherworldly at play).

It isn't until Vedette arrives very late at the cortijo of the card reader that she learns from Antonia that Fernando Villalon and his horse have both been dead for some time.

This is not the last we hear or see Villalon. In fact, he and his horse appear several times throughout the course of Vedette's journey, delivering letters from real people, cleaning Vedette up after being raped by one of her captors, informing Vedette when she is desperate for wisdom.
He's a flamenco shadow, just one of many which inhabit the real world of Vedette, Gloriella. As other spirits of the flamenco pass through her life, she comes to converse with them at important moments in the story: the troublemaking Rufian, the sacrificed Pilar from Vedette's early years of rebellion. There is never a question in her mind whether these souls are real; she accepts them as kindred spirits, and they do, in fact, aid in her survival, even if only she can see them.

ANALYSIS
This is one of the most engaging epic works I've read in a long time, a story which deserves comparison to the great classics, One Hundred Years of Solitude (for the sincerity of its political message and for its marvelous humor) and Don Quixote (for its demands for justice and Vedette's innocent and pure idealism).

I would also compare this novel to another favorite contemporary epic, Texaco, written by French Martinican author Patrick Chamoiseau. The timeless structure of the storyline (we are treated to the undeniable connection between past, present and future) is captured in Siciliano's ability to render, intimately and honestly, the harsh landscape of oppression reduced to its most personal level in a way that is universally meaningful.

Siciliano's personal love for Andalusia shows through prominently in Vedette. His use of the Spanish language to portray an authentic landscape is easily understood even by readers without fluency in the language. Siciliano builds characters who, through their own voices, reveal the kaleidoscopic cultural history of the region. I've learned more about Andalusia, and Spanish history in general, from this book than I've learned in any history class, as a result.

He incorporates little sketches in his book that add another level of understanding for the reader. The different images cast in tiles (azulejos) throughout the region, for instance, display the multicultural influences on Andalusia. Renderings of revolutionary icons used in flags (of moons and suns) support the underlying oppositions in the story: sun/moon, light/dark, "moral"/"immoral" and the like. And his drawings of lanterns in various villages express the underlying differences of each place and how they are made different by the geography and history of the region. Siciliano writes:"[These farolas] are simple trophies yielded by my, ultimately, very costly travels and hopefully reinforce [my] knowledge and affection for that distant land. Each town, no matter how poor, has its own design, yet they are always variations on the same flowery, wrought-iron theme. Some forays I made simply to collect my 'sample,' have a manzanilla and leave."

Perhaps most impressive to me was the way in which Siciliano drew for his readers the portrait of revolution through the lives and experiences of villagers. There is something of a grassroots nature to Siciliano's worldview, as expressed in his own real-life writings, which support liberal ideas, tolerance and peace. His motley crew in Vedette captures all that defines the formation of a political community at the most personal level. There is the cranky but sympathetic Santí, whose constant blasphemies and dour attitude yet inspire positive change. The noble leader Antonio Arleta, whose message of peace evolves over the years, comes too little and too late to their rescue. The valiant and famous torero, Espla de Paula, becomes a convert to Vedette's ways, not only out of love but of reason, after her federation usurps the village. His daughter, Acracia, aka Eva, comes into her own womanhood not as the French-educated princess she is expected to be, but as a pants-wearing militia leader with her eyes on undermining Catholicism's oppression of women. La Condesa is an aristocrat who comes to love Vedette's ideals even as she despises the lowborn ways of the masses. And El Fariz, the Arab complete with camel, the man who bathes himself in the tradition of the desert peoples by scrubbing down with dirt, is the resident keeper of Moorish history and perhaps the best living example from whom Vedette can acquire the Big Picture. These are all characters rendered completely believable because they are beautiful, yet flawed at once.

Finally, Vedette is a book to read as a way to measure our current global condition. The reflections of tolerance, freedom, feminism, idealism and creativity rendered as a political act may be paraded within the confines of this single moment in Spain's history, but their relevance for all of us is undeniably universal.

ACCESS TO VEDETTE
I must lament that this book was published using the print-on-demand services of iUniverse. My readers know me as a cheerleader for independent publishing, while being more tenuous about lending support to those who would self-publish their work or make it available only through electronic forms which require special technology for access.

I imagine the reason Siciliano took this route has much to do with the fact that his book may not be "sexy" in the eyes of New York publishing. He doesn't have the literary following of a García Márquez or an Allende, for one thing. He isn't writing around a trendy theme (writers of the diaspora, for instance); if anything, he may be criticized for being a white guy writing a story about a nonwhite girl, which I find one of the more irritating presumptions within the ranks of our contemporary literary community. It may be that the novel is simply too long, and that its accompanying timelines of real world events, pronunciation guide and bibliography might be conveyed as too offputting or demanding to average readers (a New-York-only misconception that I wish would disappear; people do have brains and they do like to use them).

For whatever reasons Siciliano holds for choosing the iUniverse route, I have to say I wish he would have found a "real" publisher, for these three reasons.

He could have used the talents of a real editor. There are far too many copyediting mistakes in this book. Please don't let this fact keep you from reading this book.

Siciliano could have benefited from extra promotion the publishing world could have offered his book. Now, while I know it's true that budgets for book tours and promotion have dwindled to hardly anything, and while I know it's become the domain of the writer to actively promote his book (which Siciliano, to his credit, did; it's how I got a copy of Vedette in the first place), there's still more promotional currency to access through traditional publishers than what iUniverse offers.

Finally, while I think it's a much better climate now than it has been in the past, self-published, print-on-demand books still possess the reputation for being amateurish, self-indulgent and of low quality. Despite the copyediting errors I highlight in my argument above, I have to say that this book is written with the deft hand of a real scribe; the craft within it brings layers of sophisticated texture which rule out any question as to its quality as a work of literature; and if there's anything self-indulgent about Vedette, it lingers in Siciliano's pure love for all things Andalusian. This book is not only a novel, but an artful devotion. It deserves respect.

The good news is this: in May 2005, Vedette was selected as one of thirteen "literary fiction" finalists in ForeWord Magazine's 2004 Book of the Year Awards, which focus on sparking the attention of librarians and booksellers by recognizing the literary achievement of independent publishers and their authors. This is one big leap toward validation and legitimacy that the print-on-demand press needs if it is going to bear itself out of the literary ghetto that the New York-centered publishing world has imposed upon it. With excellent novels like Vedette out there, I'm hopeful that alternative options for writers, like iUniverse, will continue to supply them with the recognition they have earned.

ABOUT STEPHEN SICILIANO
He's a certified blogger, penning the entertaining and thoughtful Highway Scribery beat. He's also a poet, a novelist, and a man of political conviction bold enough to put it out there in a politically conservative time when the voices of liberals and free thinkers are belittled or denigrated.

Siciliano wrote Vedette over the course of four years while living in Andalusia. While living there, he enjoyed reading Camilo José Cela's columns and used to see the famous author hanging around Madrid with his young wife. He describes himself, in the back jacket text for Vedette, as "a 19th century man writing his way through a 21st century nightmare. …haunted by this question: Where will the intelligence and kindess come from that can save us?"

Certainly, he grapples with this question through the depiction of La Vedette, Gloriella as she plays, as Siciliano illustrates in the use of this Whitman line from Song of Myself, "not a march for victors only…I play great marches for conquered and slain persons."