Anti-Fascist Words in New Orleans
It is Carnival Time in New Orleans, the pre-Lenten season of misrule. This city, famous for many things, it not famous for having a robust tradition of left-wing thinking. That is neither good nor bad; it is just a symptom of ideological minimalism.
Under the influence of carnival, the sincere effort of the Antenna/Press Street art space to organize an Anti-Fascist Reading Group is tainted by theatricality through no fault of its own. The gravity of a peculiar Zeitgeist governs the turning of its moral compass. It should not be dismissed as trivial that the address of Antenna is 3718 St. Claude Avenue, because it is located in a site of rampant gentrification. Nor should it be overlooked that the organizing meeting occurred on the evening of January 19, 2017, the eve of the live birth of the Age of Trump. The meeting belongs to a family of reactive national gatherings, all of them associated with fear of American fascism. From the vantage of conservative or right-wing thinking, the Antenna effort is a reactionary instance of sour grapes. From the vantage of what Hoke Glover calls free black thought, it is at once retarded and Caucasian, insufficiently indigenous or vernacular. It articulated in a new key what a number of African American thinkers, who are intimate with struggles, had been saying under the radar for many, many years. America was fascist before Donald Trump was born. Add the probability that the "powers that be" in New Orleans have been abetting vernacular fascism since 2005 and then try to deconstruct a nest of contradictions.
My participation in the meeting and my response to it was ambivalent. I was dismayed that fellow participants (mainly white) evidenced little sense of what the pedagogy of the oppressed is. I sensed that they were fearful and outraged; that they possessed a sense of dread but lacked a sense of oppression quite as much as they lacked respect for local knowledge, the epistemology of indigenous peoples in the Americas. Even if I was misreading strangers ---I had previous conversations with only one participant---I was not misreading their inability to acknowledge themselves as the Other. Carnival is a vacuum for good, well-meant intentions. But I was heartened that they wanted to do the right thing. They are simply afflicted by what the Critical Ethnic Studies Association might describe as "the limitations of liberal multicultural institutionalization within the academy, which often relies on a politics of identity representation that is dilated and domesticated by nation-building and capitalist imperatives." By virtue of Latinate rhetoric, the CESA statement secures a place in a nest of contradictions. And my ambivalence does not exist outside the nest.
To return to the main point. The Antenna/Press Street organizers suggested the reading group should have bi-monthly meetings to discuss themes derived from fiction, nonfiction, and film. Knowing by count of hands that the majority of the participants had read Umberto Eco's 1995 essay "Ur-Fascism," I recommended that we use his list of fourteen features of ur-fascism to generate themes and select readings for future meetings ---
1. cult of tradition
2. rejection of modernism
3. action for action's sake
4. treason of disagreement
5. fear of difference
6. appeal to a frustrated middle class
7. obsession with a plot
8. people feeling "humiliated by the ostentatious wealth and force of their enemies"
9. pacifism is trafficking with the enemy/ life is permanent warfare
10. contempt for the weak/ popular elitism
11. everybody is educated to become a hero
13. selective populism
14. Newspeak [ n.b., tweets constitute new speech]
The main themes that popped up were ecology, agriculture, regionalism, surveillance, and digital security. I added in my second brief comment that terrorism and American evasion of cultural memory regarding indigenous peoples were crucial themes. I wasn't familiar with most of the titles that popped up ----Society Against the State: Essays in Political Anthropology by Pierre Clastres, Seeing Like a State by James C. Scott, The Fight to Vote by Michael Waldman, The Art of Cruelty by Maggie Nelson, The Next Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century by Grace Lee Boggs and Scott Kurashige, but I did recognize White Noise by Don DeLillo, The Trial by Frantz Kafka, 1984 by George Orwell. I left the meeting before a theme and the reading (s) for the next meeting were set, left wondering why no titles by right-wing or neo-fascist intellectuals (other than those referenced by "Ur-Fascism" ) popped up. I think it is obligatory for people who embrace anti-fascist postures to do what many African Americans have been doing for centuries: read the propaganda of the enemies as well as the hymns addressed to the choir. I shall attend the next meeting of this reading group to discover answers.
Jerry W. Ward, Jr. January 20, 2017