A Political Journal For the Left
The goals of Left Curve are ambitious and commendable. With titles like “OCCUPY…& Defuse Capitalism’s Handmaidens” and “Toward Radicalizing Cultural Studies”, the journal seems to be aligning itself with other left-leaning nonfiction journals such as Dissent and The Point. Where Left Curve differs is in its inclusion of fiction and poetry. This issue contains one short story and numerous poems, including three new poems from contemporary Chinese poets.
Where Left Curve also distinguishes itself is in its sheer scope. This single issue covers the rise of fascism in Denmark, the inside scoop on Occupy Oakland, environmental destruction, exploitation by credit card companies, and much more. It’s a lot. You would be forgiven for not making it through this entire journal cover to cover, especially given the sheer density of some articles, the sheer incomprehensibility of others. Nonetheless, a great deal of the work here is informative, interesting, and, at times, a rousing call for action.
Among the more compelling articles are P.J. Laska’s in-depth exploration of the end of the American Way of Life, “Nightfall for AWOL II”; Antal Polony’s first-hand account of the Occupy movement, “Occupy Oakland Rises Up”; Joe Napora’s beautiful tribute to poet John Clare, “John Clare: Poet of the Occupy”; Richard Gilman-Opalsky’s “The Eternal Recurrence of Insurrection”, and Marilyn Steele’s “Default”.
Though the articles in this journal differ in subject matter, you will find one recurring notion: skepticism toward AWOL (the American Way of Life), distrust of capitalism, and the call for an alternative economic and/or social system, whether that be revolution toward an as-yet-unknown social order, or else socialism, communism, or simply changing the way we think and relate to one another.
Where Left Curve succeeds best is in small, concise articles that stick to facts and information. I enjoyed “Nightfall for AWOL II” and found its assessment of the Occupy movement fascinating. I admit I was a little baffled when the essay then veered from an analysis of Occupy into a long exploration of capitalism’s destructive environmental impact. Once the focus shifted, I found my interest in the piece waning.
Similarly, I was riveted by Marilyn Steele’s “Default,” a harrowing account of harassment at the hands of predatory credit card companies. It’s a story that no one should have to live through, and yet so many people do. Steele broadens the scope of her article near the end, touching on homelessness, poverty, illness, war—and for this too, she is to be commended. Where the essay lost me, however, is when Steele calls for a collective faith in a single spiritual entity, the Black Madonna. “In this darkening time, when all the old structures are dissolving, this time of chaos, the space is opening for new possibilities to emerge…The Black Madonna redeems the world of matter by restoring the heart of care and the soul of meaning.” The notion is an interesting one, yet didn’t quite seem to be a compelling solution to the world’s problems.
Occasionally, the articles in Left Curve are hilarious, and I don’t necessarily mean that in a good way. E. San Juan Jr.’s “Toward Radicalizing Cultural Studies: Morrison’s Tar Baby, Ethnic Writing, and Lessons from the Phillipines” almost reads like a primer on academic jargon. The essay attempts to contextualize Cultural Studies as an academic discipline. Yet, the author makes bold, unsupported assertions, leaps from reference to reference, and is often guilty of the sort of academic name-dropping and fetishization it seems intent on critiquing.
Consider this sentence:
“Once institutionalized as an academic discipline in North America, subsumed within the commodifying apparatus of the market, CS [Cultural Studies] was appropriated by the instrumental rationality of the neoliberal market and converted into a nostrum to resolve the legitimation-crisis of neoconservative, social-Darwinist politics.”
Hitting all the academic hot-spots, the author goes on:
“An empty ritualized gesture of Cartesian doubt, or Derridean melancholia, can not be easily sidetracked by the erudite antics of Zizek, Badiou, Agmaben, etc….Derrida, Foucault, Deleuze are all dead, but their Doppleganger and avatars still haunt the corridors of corporate academe and think-tanks…”
Not only does the author offer little evidence for either of these assertions, he is sure to alienate most readers with impenetrably dense, name-dropping prose.
The journal does also publish fiction and poetry. If you are interested in submitting, it would seem your work ought to have an international and/or political theme. Unlike the nonfiction, much of the poetry here is remarkably accessible, at times overly so.
Consider John Kaniecki’s “The Land of Plenty”:
We live in a land of plenty
Yes we do
We live the land of plenty
Dear God it’s true
Plenty of suffering and pain
Plenty of dark skies and rain
Plenty of people living a lie
Plenty of people getting high…
Or Zhai Yongming’s “The Loneliness of Fireworks”:
Fireworks and prostitutes
have both felt ecstasy and begun to dance
In the end, they sink into loneliness…
Still, some of the poetry here is a delight. Alessandra Bava’s “SoMa Blues” winds beautifully across the page, making for a stunning visual and literary experience. And Yang Li’s “The Story of the Stone, the Sequel” is elegant in its simplicity, somehow containing both the movement of a story and the gentle grace of a haiku.
On the whole, if literary and political theory don’t much interest you, it is likely that you are not Left Curve’s ideal reader. Most of the pieces here seem intended for readers already versed in the lingo of academia or otherwise sympathetic to and familiar with lefty causes and concepts. This, in my opinion, is unfortunate, a missed opportunity to engage a more mainstream audience with the legitimately important ideas contained within this journal. For the most part, Left Curve runs the risk of simply preaching to the choir—a risk that shouldn’t be taken, given the quality of many of the articles, and the urgency for many of the changes it seems intent on bringing about.