WEEK IN REVIEW: banned books and the right to assemble

(Evan Karp)

“Art is anything that is pointless and intentional,” says Chicken John in The Book of the IS, vol 1: Fail… to Win: Essays in Engineered Disperfection. Edited by Benjamin Wachs, this sprawling opus on life as art is Chicken’s self-proclaimed “greatest failure,” an admission he made Friday night at the celebration of the book’s release at 111 Minna Gallery.

Easily 1,000 people were in attendance to support the author, who unfolds his life philosophy in a series of 9 true anecdotes that range from his 2007 bid for Mayor of San Francisco—an experiment in performance art that became a serious bid for the office—to his creation of and ringleading role in Circus Redickuless—a traveling show that consisted of talentless anti-performers, no script, and a penchant for chaos. With an introduction by Dave Eggers, who “wouldn’t be here if not for Chicken John,” Fail… to Win attempts to convince us “to stop avoiding conflict…[and] to cultivate our criminal minds.”*

“If it is true that Art is anything that is pointless and intentional,” says Chicken, “then any life lived deliberately is Art.”

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.Beckett

Winner of the 2011 Iowa Short Fiction Award, Will Boast celebrated the release of his first book Power Ballads with readings at Portuguese Artists Colony [here for videos] and a party at Viracocha [here for videos]. If “talking about music is like dancing about architecture,” as Chicken John suggests, then Boast can dance the metropole. He is pick of the week.

Andrew Foster Altschul, asked to read for the occasion, reminded us that “we’re all around books and book releases so much we forget that a book is a big deal.” Maggie Shipstead, who also read, told the story of one summer in Vermont at the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference, where she and Will and their friend Kirsten “were out on this porch, on a beautiful summer evening, drinking, and Will showed up—and his first copy of Power Ballads had come in the mail. And it was this perfect beautiful moment and we all teared up and everyone wanted their pictures taken with him, and it was just so exciting and I’m so glad to have been a part of it.”

“The reason books get banned (talking about young adults and this sort of thing) is the fear from parents—a sort of magical thinking—that if you expose them to what can go wrong in the world, that’s what’s going to happen.” This is Oscar Villalon paraphrasing Judy Blume as part of Banned by the Bay‘s Banned Books Exposé [videos here]. A first annual, B by the B was formed in accordance with the American Library Association‘s Banned Books Week “to celebrate the right to read, to spread awareness about the dangers of censorship, and to advocate for intellectual freedom and First Amendment rights.”

This week, this very week, hundreds of people were arrested for attempting to maintain the First Amendment, which “prohibits the making of any law… abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering with the right to peaceably assemble or prohibiting the petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances.”

Most obviously, the law needed to secure freedom of the press leads us to the question: When will our government censor the internet? If it weren’t for social media, there would be no Occupy Wall Street (and certainly no Occupy Together); ban whatever books you need to. The crimes on Wall Street? We’re talking layers of crime now… it’s almost confusing.

Why was The Great Gatsby banned? In it, “Rich people literally get away with murder,” suggests Rebecca Solnit. It’s the subtle indication, Villalon added, that The American Dream was nothing but fiction.

* “You gonna call P.T. Barnum a criminal just because every word out of his mouth was a lie? I didn’t think so. He lied. Or at least manipulated the truth. Even that’s generous. He squeezed the truth into a dress that was 4 sizes too small, put lipstick on it and pushed it out to the middle of the dance floor in poor lighting and paid someone to throw flowers at it while fireworks went off. You never really knew what you were getting. But he wasn’t a crook.