September 22, 2010

Talkin' Neoliberalism

“The world is not made of atoms, but of stories.”

Spent some time with Jeff Conant, Jack Herranen, Herbert Reid and Betsy Taylor earlier this week. Being great thinkers and doers in Appalachia and beyond, thought I'd highlight some of their work on the blog. Each offer a thorough investigation and thoughtful discussion on the influence of colonialism/neoliberalism on today's social/political economy and highlight resistance movements that are born from decades and centuries of such oppression. Dig in deep here, this stuff is good. Jack has some great tunes and art on his website and be sure to catch Jeff on his book tour--he's at Internationalist Books in Chapel Hill on Thursday Sept. 23 and then heading up the east coast from there.

JEFF CONANT: A Poetics of Resistance
The Zapatistas’ famous “Ya basta!”—enough already!—was the first uttering of a new story: a story about unbinding the ties of official history, uncovering buried seeds of popular resistance, and revealing the glimmerings of a truly insurgent modernity. Combining narrative history, literary criticism, ethnography, and media analysis, A Poetics of Resistance provides a refreshing take on Mexico’s Zapatista movement by examining the means, meanings, and mythos behind the Zapatista image.

The first “postmodern revolution” presented itself to the world through a complex web of propaganda in every available medium: the colorful communiqués of Subcomandante Marcos, the ski masks, uniforms, dolls, murals, songs, and weapons both symbolic and real. By proliferating a profound and resonant set of myths, symbols, and grand historical gestures calculated to reflect their ideologies, organizing methodologies, and cultural values, the Zapatistas helped set into motion a global uprising, and the awareness that behind this uprising is a renewed vision of history. Jeff Conant’s engaging and innovative examination of the Zapatistas’ communication strategies will be an important tool for movements everywhere engaged in creating a world where many worlds fit; in demolishing History in order to construct histories; and in unseating not only the powerful, but Power itself.

Providing new practical and conceptual tools for responding to human and environmental crises in Appalachia and beyond, Recovering the Commons radically revises the framework of critical social thought regarding our stewardship of the civic and ecological commons. Herbert Reid and Betsy Taylor ally social theory, field sciences, and local knowledge in search of healthy connections among body, place, and commons that form a basis for solidarity as well as a vital infrastructure for a reliable, durable world. Drawing particularly on the work of philosophers Maurice Merleau-Ponty, John Dewey, and Hannah Arendt, the authors reconfigure social theory by ridding it of the aspects that reduce place and community to sets of interchangeable components. Instead, they reconcile complementary pairs such as mind/body and society/nature in the reclamation of public space.

With its analysis embedded in philosophical and material contexts, this penetrating work culls key concepts from grassroots activism to hold critical social theory accountable to the needs, ideas, and organizational practices of the global justice movement. The resulting critique of neoliberalism hinges on place-based struggles of groups marginalized by globalization and represents a brave rethinking of politics, economy, culture, and professionalism.

JACK HERRANEN: An Artist of the Mountains
Jack was born in 1967 at the foothills of the Appalachian mountains and calls Knoxville his northern home. The descendant of radical immigrant laborers and natural born storytellers, Jack has, in recent years, searched for his own identity through his music and a deeper understanding of his roots. His great grandfather, Jacob “Jack” Nisula, a labor organizer and Finnish immigrant who passed thru Ellis Island, was a close collaborator of T Bone Slim, the dynamic story-teller and lyricist of the the Wobblies (the Industrial Workers of the World). His verbal history of the times has been an inspiration to Wobbly comrade Joe Hill, Woody Guthrie, Haywire Mac, ultimately fueling the creative fires of artists such as Bob Dylan, Utah Philips, Phil Ochs, Steve Earle, Ani Difranco, and Billy Bragg.

A self-taught musician, while working as a busboy across the street from the infamous Ella Guru’s music club (in the Old City, Knoxville, Tn.), he spent his smoke breaks slipping in to listen to such greats as Townes Van Zandt, Nancie Griffith, Dick Gaughan, and Taj Majal. Inspired at the time by writings of legends from Walt Whitman to Pablo Neruda, his songs began to reflect both the rebellious roots of his ancestors and the hard scrabble life of the Appalachian working class, as well as the newly discovered dignity in his heritage of creativity and rebellion and the tattered beauty and grace discovered at the margins of the illusory American dream.

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