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Z Magazine Book Reviews
Edited by Elayne Clift
Haworth Press, 2002, 217 pages
In one of my most vivid childhood memories, my grandmother is standing behind a heavily barred window, screaming at my mother to get her out of the state psychiatric hospital that imprisoned her. Her plaintive shrieks scared the hell out of me. Was my grandmother crazy, as innuendo indicated? Or was she simply inconsolable following the sudden death of her mate? I knew better than to ask, but wondered what she was doing, locked up in a remote corner of Connecticut, far from everything and everyone who mattered to her.
Although my grandmothers depression receded and she was able to come home, she died before I got to ask the questions that have lingered in my gut for decades. I will always mourn this. Yet there is solace to be had. Girl, Interrupted, I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, The Bell Jar, and now Womens Encounters with the Mental Health Establishment all allow outsiders to glimpse mental illness and the overwhelmed, and often inefficient and unkind, psychiatric system with which the mentally ill interact.
The 53 poems, short stories, and essays comprising Elayne Clifts anthology run the gamut, from teenaged girls hospitalized and pumped full of Thorazine, to middle-class professionals seeking redemption on the couches of Freudian psychoanalysts. Contributors include Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Kate Millett, Sylvia Plath, and Anne Sexton as well as a host of lesser-know authors. Their heartfelt writing touches an array of psychiatric successes and failures; their insights make this an important collection for service providers as well as consumers.
Perkins Gilmans The Yellow Wallpaper provides the tests Prologue. Originally published 110 years ago, the story remains astoundingly resonant. A chronicle of one womans descent into obsessive-compulsive madness, it presents a confluence of factors in the protagonists life. Sexism intersects social isolation and class privilege intersects post-partum depression, in this still salient and powerful tale.
The Prologue is followed by three chapters: Hospitals, Therapy and Hope. While the categories seem arbitrary, the overall message of each section is clear: Small acts of kindness are often as curative as formal therapy or psycho-pharmacology in helping women cope with mental illness.
Throughout, women articulate what they want from the people who treat themto be listened to, to be handled with dignity, and to be taken seriously. It doesnt seem like too much to ask, but as the entries indicate, these basic desires are regularly trampled by insensitive, and perhaps overburdened, workers.
In Life Inside, Mindy Lewis writes of her admission to the New York State Psychiatric Institute (NYSPI) in 1967, when she was 15. An allegedly schizophrenic ward of the state, her chronicle of a 27-month stay at the facility paints a ghoulish picture of inept care and blatant disregard for social, nutritional, and emotional well-being.
Although Lewiss story has a happy endingshe got better and became a magazine designer and writerher experience also includes vindication: In 1987, a NYSPI doctor calling Lewis as part of a follow-up study, made a startling admission. We didnt know very much about treating adolescents in those days, he told her. Whats more, incest was shockingly misunderstood. Nobody asked about it back then, the doctor admits. Looking back, Lewis writes, the sexual abuse was obvious. Subtle clues had fluttered everywhere, like butterflies caught in our hair, wings moving the air. This ones love of her brother, hate of her uncle, fear of her father; [another patients] endless scrubbing. It would take Second Wave feminists to force the issue into public, and medical, consciousness.
Catherine Ann Fabios Safe Places is similarly chilling. Ever since I was a child I heard a suicidal voice, she confides, and no wonder. Beaten by her father and constantly berated by a mother who once handed her a butcher knife and told her to Do us all a favor and kill yourself, she has been in and out of psych wards since she was 16. Before she was 30, doctors had prescribed Ativan, BuSpar, Comp- azine, Desipramine, Elavil, Hald- ol, Lithium, Pamelor, Prozac, Stelazine, Tegratol, Thorazine, Trilafon, Valium, and Zanax to quell her psychotic depression. Nothing helped. For years she was suicidal, delusional. Worse, her diagnosis seemed to depend on which mental health practitioner she saw; at various points she has been labeled manic-depressive, schizophrenic, or as having an anti-social personality or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. For Fabio, a happy ending was made possible by a stint in a supportiveand safeshelter for battered women. It seems miraculous, but her time in the shelter gave her the space to pull her life together. She got off all psycho- tropic medications, began college, and is presently pursuing a doctorate in psychology.
Unfortunately, not every contributor has been as successful in keeping despair at bay. Poets Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath took their own lives, unable to cope with whatever tormented them. Once I was beautiful. Now I am myself, counting this row and that row of moccasins waiting on the silent shelf, writes Sexton in You, Doctor Martin.
Indeed, desperation is palpable throughout Womens Encounters with the Mental Health Establishment. So is rageat families, at professional insensitivity, and at systemic classism, racism, and sexism. Although homophobia and the illnesses born of entrenched heterosexism are not adequately addressed in the book, readers still get a glimmer of what it means to have a serious psychiatric disorder.
One of the finaland most hopefulpieces in the collection is called Simple Prayer and its author chose anonymity. When doctors listen, when they offer a Kleenex or a hot meal, when society funds a hospital, maybe those acts are prayers. Maybe care givers are saying to God and to the Devil, We do not shoot our wounded. This may sound like thin comfort, but it wasnt to me. When I finally collapsed from a lifetime of pretending I was fine, somebody took me in, gave me a meal and a bed, and asked nothing in return.
I certainly hope my grandmother felt that way about her confinement. Upon her release, she took a job as a supermarket checkout clerk. On her feet eight hours a day, she bagged groceries, rang up sales, and was unfailingly cheerful to customers. Perhaps the hospitalization gave her the time she needed to grieve her losses. Or perhaps she received good, sensitive therapy. I can only be grateful that she got out, intact. In my childs-eye view, she was capable of running the world.
Eleanor J. Bader, a social worker, is the co-author of Targets of Hatred: Anti-Abortion Terrorism and a frequent contributor to Library Journal, In These Times, the New York Law Journal, and the Progressive.
By Fred Jerome
St. Martins Press 2002; 358 pp.
Review by Rich Gibson
My students are usually surprised twice about the fact that Albert Einstein, the worlds most famous scientist and the fellow who proposed the bomb to Roosevelt, was not invited to work on the Manhattan project. They are surprised that Einstein wasnt asked and they are surprised that they never noticed the incongruity. Now, another surprise: while the Manhattan project was riddled with Soviet spies who went undetected until the secrets were already out, Einstein, a loyal oppositionist, was under constant surveillance by J. Edgar Hoovers corrupt Federal Bureau of Investigation. Fred Jerome, author of The Einstein File, Hoovers Secret War, has the documents to prove it. Jerome, a lifelong radical, knows what it is like. His own family was subjected to similar surveillance in New York City when he was a youth in the 1950s.
Following path-breaking research by Richard Alan Schwarz, a Florida professor and author of The Cold War Reference Guide, Jerome obtained Einsteins FBI file through a series of battles with the agency. He had the assistance of the Public Citizen Litigation Group. He followed up with key, often revealing, interviews with the players from all sides.
What Jerome unveils is what James Loewen noted earlier in Lies My Teacher Told Me; history is often sanitized and what is erased in the case of Albert Einstein is a passion for socialist humanist politics. What Jerome offers is a multi-dimensional view of Einstein as a fighter, going beyond his theoretical contributions to his courageous everyday social practice.
Einsteins political theory isnt thin, of course. Some of it has particular import today: The flag is a symbol of the fact that man [sic] is still a herd animal. Einstein regretfully reconsidered his theoretical pacificism in the face of the Nazi onslaught he escaped.
But in a period when all of North American citizenry is being set up as an internal spy agency, a service limited to groups like the American Legion before 2001, Einsteins experience with the FBI is especially instructive. Hoover did all he could to ruin Albert Einstein in the name of patriotism. Hoovers actions, wrapped in language of the common good, damaged masses of people.
Einstein was denied key security clearances, bugged, followed. Hoover even thought about deporting himhard to do to the worlds most beloved playful intellectual. As Jerome demonstrates, Hoover mixed his anti-Semitism with anti-communism, much like the Nazi movement where he found many of his resources, like the rantings of Elizabeth Dilling, author of the notorious Red Network, a compilation of fictions that Hoover used as a guide, and Hoovers contacts with his Nazi counterpart, Heinrich Himmler, a favored Hoover correspondent until 1939. Hoover despised Einstein and wanted to show him up as a spy. Einstein, after all, stood for all Hoover loathed: internationalism, anti-racism, rationalism, openness. Jerome has the details of how Hoovers hatred played out, not only in documents, but also in gripping interviews with some of the agents assigned to twist facts into indictments.
Still, what Jerome offers here is not just the history of the effort to demonize Einstein and later to neuter him, but a chilling history of U.S. intelligence services, steeped in targeting those who see friendly connections between people as a way to social progress. An era is portrayed here, an era that is reverberating now. In passing, we encounter the battle against Lynch Law, Paul Robeson, Henry Ford, Emma Goldman, Dubois (Americas greatest historian tried as a foreign agent), a fairly predictable cast, but illuminated in new ways. It is significant to be reminded that Hoovers attacks on Einstein were, of course, personal, but the vilification took place in an epoch when open anti-Semitism and proto-fascist pronouncements were part of the popular discourse. The most widely circulated Catholic newspaper in the U.S. editorialized, on anti-Semitic grounds, for Einsteins deportation. There are amusing moments within The Einstein File and a few annoyances. Jerome must have been a pamphleteer at some point in his career. There are suggestions that some players couldnt organize their way out of a paper bag, or without foreigners it is unlikely the Manhattan project could have produced a firecracker.
Teachers will find a wealth of what might be inadvertent material here. Einstein was always interested in pedagogy. It wont give away the game to show two gems: Love is a better teacher than a sense of duty. I am not more gifted, just more curious. It is not surprising at all that Einstein was prescient in social matters. Early in the Depression he wrote that it was clear that abundance existed, that all the necessary human connections existed, for all to lead reasonably decent lives, yet what was absent was the intelligent will to share. He made every effort to publicly join and support groups that organized for his views. What is surprising is that this well-known history was so quickly obliterated. Jeromes well-organized and nicely referenced ambush on secrecy in The Einstein File recreates a living Einstein, an unrelieved humble rebel finding his own way in a new nation where he came full of hope, but quickly found disappointment. Yet Einstein never gave in, never quit. In restoring this part of Einsteins life, Jerome tenders reason for continued resistance and hope.
Rich Gibson, with Wayne Ross, recently edited a special Marxism and Education edition of the on-line journal, Cultural Logic.
The Enemy of Nature: The End of Capitalism or the End of the World?
By Joel Kovel
Zed Books, 2002
Review by Tom Gallagher
Peggy Lee used to sing, Is that all there is? And thats what Joel Kovel wants to know too. But where the song asked it locally and existentially, Kovel puts the question globally, and specificallyabout capitalism. The Enemy of Nature asks a big question: Can the human race do better than the capitalist system currently wreaking havoc on the globe? Kovel is not sure of the answer. He thinks its Yes. As he sees it, an economic system that leaves fundamental decisions about the uses of the earths resources and the livelihood of its people in the hands of the managers of capital is just no way to run a planet.
The destruction of the World Trade Center happened after Kovel wrote this bookhe refers to it in a postscript to his prefacebut its aftermath provides an interesting comparison to an event that Kovel does describe at lengththe December 4, 1984 venting of 46.3 tons of methyl isocyanate gas from the Bhopal, India Union Carbide plantthe largest industrial accident in history. The gas, which does not occur in nature, but is manufactured for use in pesticide production, immediately killed about 8,000 people and an equal amount afterward, with people...still dying, 15 years later, at the rate of 10-15 a month.
But no worldwide cries for fundamental change followed these deaths. The event was treated as if it were a typhoon or some other natural disaster, rather than one that resulted from a series of human decisions. All there was, really, was law suits. The Indian government sought $3 billion; Union Carbide ultimately paid $470 million, plus another $50 million in legal fees. President Bush thinks that in the long run, theres no capitalism without conscience, but whats for sure is that theres no capitalism without really high-priced legal advice. Worth it though, because although the legal/political system may be capitalisms only actually-existing conscience, the system requires limiting the costs of that conscience.
Kovel cites another authors assessment that, had Union Carbide management been genuinely forthcoming and made truly disinterested offers of help on a scale appropriate to the magnitude of the disaster, they would almost certainly have been confronted with suits by shareholders seeking to hold the management accountable for mishandling company funds. In other words, by its own terms, the system worked.
But while allowing that capital has shown a phenomenal resilience, as various modes of revolt have come and gone...as Che Guevara has become the name for a brand of beer, Kovel nonetheless concludes that capitalism cannot recuperate the ecological crisis because its essential being, manifest in the grow or die syndrome, is to produce such a crisis. Capitalism is doomedor else we are. So, he reasons, capitalism must be replacedas daunting as that prospect may be.
Then what? Kovel, somewhat inaccurately, writes that the movements currently known for being opposed to globalization have discovered what they are against. But what are they to be for? Actually, while this movement has protested against a range of economic developments and institutions, currently it is just not done to object to capitalism as a worldwide system, hence the strange anti-globalization moniker under which the most global movement the world has yet seen operates. But in any case, an agreed-on goal does not exist. Kovels got one, however: Ecosocialisman updated socialism that sees socioeconomic questions inextricably intertwined with the fundamental physical facts of life on earth. While the perspective may be generally familiar to many readers, it is seldom articulatedat least not as thoroughly as here.
Kovel says he understands that the idea of transcending capitalism is widely considered quaint these days. Given the history of the Soviet Union, a regime that Kovel reckons would likely have executed Marx, while claiming the status of being really existing socialism, quaint would be putting it charitably for a lot of people. Even on the left there will probably be something of an Is that all there is? reaction to Kovels desire to spif up socialism. After all, didnt even Lionel Jospin, the recent French Socialist Party presidential candidate, acknowledge that his partys platform was not socialist? Why another book on an old idea with a new prefix?
Well, for the sake of clarity, actually. As anyone whos ever tried describing some idea about a world economy governed by democratic process probably knows, eventually someone asks some version of the question, Why, isnt that socialism? Whatever demurrals, qualifiers and new adjectives may be used, the final answer to that question generally goes something like, Well, yes. It is what socialism was supposed to be.
So, our author reckons, we would be better off just calling socialism socialism. After all, no one gave up on democracy because of the atrocities committed in its name. Its important, in that if Kovels assessment of the severity of the ecological crisis is accurate, youd want people to start being able to clearly discuss an alternative sooner rather than later.
Kovel favorably, and frequently, cites Karl Marxsomething generally way forbidden in most ecological left writingbecause he finds him the best interpreter humanity has ever had of its own historical emergingsort of a Babe Ruth of political economy.
Acknowledging that he cannot prove wrong those who believe that Capitalism is innate and inevitable, a straight shot from the Olduvai Gorge to the New York Stock Exchange, Kovel writes hoping to improve the future, rather than predict it. The crux of all political activity for him is to advance the belief and the hope that people can put together a better way to run this world. Ultimately, he takes the 19th century socialists argument that humanity faced the choice between socialism or barbarism a step further: If we dont turn to ecosocialism we may go the way of the Neanderthal.
Tom Gallagher is an activist, a freelance writer, and a frequent contributor to Z.
Z Magazine Archive
HUMAN RIGHTS - The U.S. Human Rights Network will celebrate its 10th anniversary with the Advancing Human Rights 2013 Conference, December 6-8, in Atlanta, GA.
Contact: 250 Georgia Avenue SE, Suite 330, Atlanta, GA 30312; email@example.com; http:// www.ushrnetwork.org/.
AFRICAN/SOCIALIST - The Sixth Congress of the African People’s Socialist Party USA will be held December 7-11, in St. Petersburg, FL.
Contact: 1245 18th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33705; 727- 821-6620; info@aps puhuru.org; http://asiuhuru.org/.
SCHOOLS - The Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC) will host a workshop on the DSC “Model Code on Education and Dignity: Presenting A Human Rights Framework for Schools” at the Mid-Hudson Region NY State Leadership Summit on School Justice Partnerships, December 11 in White Plains, NY.
Contact: http://www.dignityin schools.org/.
ANARCHIST/BOOKFAIR - The Humboldt Anarchist Book Fair will be held December 14, in Eureka, CA.
Contact: humboldtgrassroots @riseup.net; http://humbold tanarchist bookfair.wordpress. com/.
CLIMATE - The World Symposium on Sustainable Development at Universities is hosting a follow-up event to the 2012 Rio de Janeiro symposium. The gathering will be held in Qatar on January 28-30, 2014.
Contact: http://environment.tufts. edu/.
LABOR - The United Association for Labor Education (UALE) will host Organizing for Power: A New Labor Movement for the New Working Class in Los Angeles, March 26-29. Proposals are due December 15.
Contact: LAWCHA, 226 Carr Building (East Campus), Box 90719, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708-0719;lawcha @duke. edu; http://lawcha.org/.
MEDIA FELLOWSHIP - The Media Mobilizing Project is seeking applicants for the first annual Movement Media Fellowship Program. The Fellow will work with MMP to produce the spring season of Media Mobilizing Project TV. MMPTV is a news and talk show that tells the stories of local communities organizing to win human rights and build a movement to end poverty.
Contact: 4233 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19104; 215-821- 9632; milena@media mobilizing.org; http://www.media mobilizing.org/.
RACE - The 7th Facing Race: A National Conference will be held in Dallas, TX November 13-15, 2014. Organizers, educators, artists, funders and everyone interested in racial equity is invited to exchange best practices and learn about innovative models and successful organizing initiatives. Proposals must be submitted by January 24, 2014.
Contact: Race Forward, 32 Broadway, Suite 1801, New York, NY 10004; 212-513-7925; media @raceforward.org; http://race forward.org/.
VETERANS - They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars - The Untold Story, by Ann Jones, is about the journey of veterans from the moment of being wounded in rural Afghanistan to their return home.
Contact: Haymarket Books, PO Box 180165, Chicago, IL 60618; 773-583-7884; http://www.haymarketbooks.org/.
LIBYA - Destroying Libya and World Order: The Three-Decade U.S. Campaign to Terminate the Qaddafi Revolution, by Francis A. Boyle, is a history and critique of American foreign policy from Reagan to Obama.
Contact: Clarity Press, Inc., Ste. 469, 3277 Roswell Rd. NE, Atlanta, GE 30305; 404-647-6501; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www. claritypress.com/.
CHILDREN - Fannie and Freddie by Becky Z. Dernbach is about two bumbling villains who gamble away the savings of the people of Homeville.
Contact: fannieandfreddiebook @gmail.com; http://fannieand freddie.org/.
PROTEST/COMIC - Fight the Power!: A Visual History of Protest Among English Speaking Peoples, by Sean Michael Wilson and Benjamin Dickson is a graphic narrative that explains how people have fought against oppression.
Contact: Seven Stories Press, 140 Watts Street, New York, NY 10013; 212-226-8760; info@ sevenstories.com; http://www. sevenstories.com.
CHILDREN - Brave Girl by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Melissa Sweet is the true story of Clara Lemlich, a young Ukrainian immigrant who led the largest strike of women workers in U.S. history.
Contact: http://www.harpercollins childrens.com/Kids/.
FESTIVAL - The 2014 Queer Women of Color Film Festival will be held June 13-15 in San Francisco. The festival is currently accepting submissions until December 31.
Contact: QWOCMAP, 59 Cook Street, San Francisco, CA 94118-3310; 415-752-0868; email@example.com; http://www.qwocmap.org/.
IRAQ/REFUGEES - Ten years after the U.S.-led war in Iraq, thousands of displaced Iraqi refugees are still facing a crisis in the United States. The Lost Dream follows Nazar and Salam who had to flee Iraq in order to avoid threats by Al- Qaeda-affiliated groups and Iraqi insurgents that consider them “traitors” for supporting U.S. forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Contact: Typecast Films, 888- 591-3456; info@type castfilms. com; http://type castfilms.com/.
HUMAN RIGHTS - Lyrical Revolt! III will be held December 4 in Syracuse, NY. The event will feature hip-hop musician Anhel whose album Young, Gifted, and Brown was just released. The event is sponsored by ANSWER Syracuse, Liberation News, and SyracuseHip Hop.com. Performers and artists are encouraged to send submissions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.answercoalition.org/syracuse/.
FOLK - Musician Painless Parker has released his album Music for miscreants, malcontents and misanthropes featuring “Fuck Yeah, the Working Class.”
Contact: email@example.com; http://painlessparkermusic.com/.
COMEDY - Political comedian Lee Camp’s new album Pepper Spray the Tears Away has been released.