Thursday, July 06, 2006

I'm Not So Radical

This past weekend Miss L and I ventured to the Center Stage in the heart of downtown Baltimore for the Radical Bookfair, hosted by Charm's City's own radical bookshop Red Emmas. The fair brought a number of small presses and radical bookshops to promote and sell items; it also featured special workshops, mostly focused on DIY techniques to publishing and running an indie bookshop, although there were others like making your own feminine hygiene pads using scraps of sewing material (really).

Not surprisingly, most of the dealers were selling political material. I think what was most surprising to me is how little the extreme left end political thought has progressed---not that it's progressed really in other groups either. Much of it was based in communism and pretty much every publisher and bookshop offered some sort of version of Marx's writings or critical interpretations of them. Others extended into anarchy and social independence, and there were a couple of presses specializing in feminism.

Most of the people attending were in their early 20's and were either dressed for a punk rock show or donning t-shirts with the hammer and sickle symbol or a big portrait of Che Gueverra. Needless to say, both Miss L and I were a bit out of our element---fascinated, but out of our element. Neither of us could be confused for Republicans, but we felt kind of like we were walking around in that environment.

Not that all the dealers were selling political material (although most were). A few tables were selling indie zines and comics on everything from punk rock to working crappy jobs. There was one publisher with a table full of vegetarian and vegan cookbooks ---Miss L bought one that looks pretty good. A interesting magazine called Spread was also there; it's a quarterly mag on the sex industry written specifically for people in the industry (strippers, prostitutes, escorts, etc). Miss L bought a copy out of sheer curiousity, and it covers everything from health concerns to running a business. We both wondered if the two women working the table were in the biz itself, but we didn't get up the nerve to ask. I also learned that the Baltimore City Library system stocks, catalogues and loans a large number of indie zines, most of which they get through Atomic Books. One of these days I'll have to dig into their catalogue and see what they actually carry.

The one thing I bought was a novel entitled An Open Entrance to the Shut Palace of Wrong Numbers by Franklin Rosemont. If you're not familiar with Rosemont at all, he was the de facto head of the U.S. branch of Surrealists during the 60's and 70's. Although he wrote a lot of his own material, he's probably most widely known for editing various collections of essays by founding Surrealists members like Andre Breton and Paul Eluard. If you have a copy of the Surrealist Manifesto anywhere in your library, take a look---Rosemont was probably the editor.

Strangely, the table I found the book on was packed with books by Rosemont. More than I ever thought existed. The young man behind the table looked like he had stepped out of a 1950's movie. Dressed in a sweater with alternating green and black stripes, small-framed glasses and a black beret on top of his head he was certainly ready to play the part of the token beatnik. i honestly didn't know how seriously to take him, especially since he was at a table filled with Surrealist texts. We had a nice chat, though, about the current state of writing and the lack of solid political thought in art today.

Would I go again? I honestly don't know. I'm still digging through all the various freebie magazines I walked home with, which is partly why this post is so late. A lot depends on that, but I feel like the whole event kind of cemented something I've long suspected about myself---as much as I love radical artwork I don't really subscribe to the whole radical lifestyle for myself, no matter how romantic the image can be sometimes. For those that do follow the lifestyle: go for it. We need people on the fringes of thought to keep the rest of us moving.



Anonymous said...

Red Emmas isn't actually radical. I believe the phrase is Radical Chic. Or perhaps Radical Lo Fi.

Hebdomeros said...

Based on what I saw at the bookfair, that description is probably pretty accurate. I've never been there myself. I only described them as radical because they describe themselves that way. Really my only experience with them is hearing from other writers who tried to organized a reading there and were turned away for not being political enough. Or for not being the right type of political. Thanks for the thoughts.