A Review of Demon Fish, by Juliet Eilperin

This book is about sharks, what they have meant to humans throughout the world and the ages, and what they mean to us now: the scientific discoveries made about them, the thousand ways they are killed to make commodities, and the way people start to defend them as they appear to be on their way to extinction. I chose to read it because I love sharks (actually, I plan on writing a novel about how a future anarchist society must deal with the threat caused by long-forgotten laser-sharks that mad scientists had created for the underwater mining industry before the revolution…), but I am often annoyed at the tone of documentaries about them, as even ‘educational’ ones feel like they have to take that sensationalist big man-voice to announce things like “SHARKS they evolved to be the NUMBER ONE KILLER of the sea. This APEX PREDATOR can even attack VERY BIG ANIMALS, and it could eat KILL A HUMAN IN SECONDS if it wanted to.”

(Here is a big-voice documentary that really could be worse: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nmvc35pnCYE )

I’m not saying I do not see sharks as killing machines, and the fact that they could severe a limb just because of whatever their brain thought it saw is quite terrifying, but I do not want to learn about sharks only to be terrified, but also to, well, learn about them.

This is not to say that Juliet Eilperin’s style is academic or boring: on the contrary, she introduces people in a quirky way that make you think of them as characters in a novel, or your awesome new friends in the world of sharks, rather than as scientists who spend years of their lives, probably their whole careers, analysing bits of dead fish. Neither does she limit her research to scientists, her approach makes her introduce you to everyone who’s involved with shark in any way, from the Hong Kong shark fin traders to the shark-callers of Papua New Guinea, and in a quite disturbing scene Rosie O’Donnell who congratulates a woman who just caught a shark with ‘Girl Power!’. And she has a love of incorporating all the bits of curious information you can wish for: did you know the word ‘shark’ probably comes from the Mayan xoc? That Fidel Castro absolutely loved the book version of Jaws and its compelling critique of U.S. capitalism? One of the darker parts of the book is about the slave trade, and the increase familiarity it brought between humans and sharks. A Scottish abolitionist, James Tytler, wrote a very short text in 1792 for the House of Lords called The Petition of the Sharks of Africa, which seems as grim as sarcastic.

Her enquiry about sharks reveals a lot about human nastiness, indeed, as well as the absurdities of capitalism. The tale of the shark-fin soup is one of those, in which species have been made endangered to procure something that is pretty tasteless and quite bad for your health, but which is a status symbol. This is my ‘favourite’ quote about commodifying sharks:

We have been hating sharks on general principles for centuries, and in some ways they have deserved it; but now it is high time that they should pay up. There are no more interesting animals in the world, and the ways and means of turning them into cash constitute one of the most fascinating of our modern industries.

What? This bit of 1928 commercial prose simply puzzles me. Juliet Eilperin, on the other hand, has a very practical approach, and points out how people act not to take revenge on sharks, and not to protect them, but because of their economic interest, and her views on the protection of sharks are very realistic, and not the word of someone who only cares about a single issue:

This doesn’t mean that there’s no societal cost: this sort of shift may cause economic dislocation, and it does mean abandoning traditions that have lasted for centuries in some cases. But it’s important to view this in context: eliminating sharks as a widely traded commodity is not the same thingas eliminating their place in global society or in the world’s economy. In fact, the most effective way of managing this transition involve redirecting our obsession with sharks into a nonlethal form of commodification. Given current economic and political realities, it may represent the most effective method of ensuring enough sharks exist so our fetishizing them doesn’t wipe them out completely.

And her consideration of the commodification of sharks does not discriminate between Chinese cuisine and Damien Hirst’s dead sharks selling for millions. Read her book. Here she is, annoying a shark:

LIVE.RRnew

Women non-fiction writers, how I started a double-list on my ebook reader

So I started this blog all feminist, then value critique came along and it’s all about older white males. So, first of all, value critique has some female writers. Not many at all, and to be honest the only one I could name is Roswitha Scholz, who is very often presented as the partner/wife/widow of Kurz, which makes me cringe everytime. Despite the extreme minority of women involved in it, value critique does not ignore the issue of gender oppression, which leads to weird things like published collections of essays on gender oppression written largely mostly by men. There’s nothing much that can be done about this, apart from propagating these ideas and making sure gender opression is not ‘forgotten’ along the way.

Anyway, it made me think of how little I read by women these days, and especially how little non-fiction by women I read. I instored a double-list system on my ebook reader: like in meetings where women/minorities/people who have yet to speak get their own VIP list when they ask to speak, books on my reading-list written by women are not only in the category they belong to, but in a new category, very imaginatively called ‘women’. This list is much shorter than I am ready to admit, but as it does contain a bit of everything, I use it quite a lot when I have no idea what I want to read, and it has helped with establishing an almost fair gender divide in the books I read.

So, thanks to this fact, and the fact that I have decided to read vulgarisation books about almost anything for professional reasons, I can tell you that I will soon be writing about all these books I started reading: Demon Fish, by Juliet Eilperin; The Story of Stuff, by Annie Leonard; Now You See It, Cathy N. Davidson; Complexity: A Guided Tour, by Melanie Mitchell; Mary Tudor: Princess, Bastard, Queen, by Anna Whitelock; Packing for Mars, by Mary Roach; 97 Orchard: An Edible History Of Five Immigrant Families, by Jane Ziegelman; Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism by Susan Jacoby.

It also means that David Graeber’s Debt will have to wait. I did start it but he manages to sound very boring and self-important in the dinner-party anecdote in the introduction, so I stopped…

Films about Africa

This blog started by listing films that depicted women in more than minor roles, and the question arose: what about other people? Well, the women-friendly film list was devised not to forget lesbians, trans women and women of colour, but women are definitely not the only category with the representation of which cinema has issues. I started to consider the representation of Africa in movies. Here is my provisional film-list, including European and American films made about/set in Africa, African films and everything in between… Please comment with further suggestions.

Casablanca (1942) by Michael Curtiz

Notes Towards an African Orestes (1970) by Pier Paolo Pasolini

Xala (1975) by Ousmane Sembene

Black and White in Color (1976) by Jean-Jacques Annaud

Ceddo (1977) by Ousmane Sembene

Une Femme en Afrique (1985) by Raymond Depardon

Camp of Thiaroye (1988) by Ousmane Sembene

La Captive du désert (1990) by Raymond Depardon

Naked Lunch (1991) by David Cronenberg

Afriques: Comment ça va avec la douleur? (1996) by Raymond Depardon

Kirikou and the Sorceress (1998) by Michel Ocelot

Lumumba (2000) by Raoul Peck

Ali (2001)

Waiting for happiness (2002) by Abderrahmane Sissako

Amandla! A Revolution in Four Part Harmony (2002) by Lee Hirsch

Abouna (Our Father) (2002) by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun

Moolade (2004) by Ousmane Sembene

Hotel Rwanda (2004) by Terry George

Darwin’s Nightmare (2004)

The Constant Gardener (2005) by Fernando Meirelles

Desert Rebels – Ishumars, The Forgotten Rockers of the Desert (2006) by François Bergeron

Last King of Scotland (2006) by Kevin MacDonald

Goodbye Bafana (2007) by Bille August

District 9 (2009) by Neill Blomkamp

FLOAKER – New friendly blog!

http://floaker.net/

Okay, technically it was created a while back, but I was waiting for a few articles to be published before advertising it. Political news from a lovely comrade. Read that rant about why poor people are not responsible for your eating horsies, ponies and unicorns.

Follow them proudly, so that they have no choice but to keep writing!

And as far as this blog is concerned, well I’ve been very busy reading, so I promise you soon an article about some women nonfiction writers and sharks.

“Insoumise à nue”, by Elisabeth Schneider

Aside

Ageism is usually one of these -isms that is simply added to a list but rarely acted upon. I found this portrait refreshing. Thérèse Clerc, 84, briefly talks about her life-long engagement, from Marxist Christianity to women’s liberation, and the current project she is involved in of a old-women’s home self-managed by its inhabitants in Montreuil. Some beautiful pictures by Elisabeth Schneider and some inspiring words (in French, I’m afraid), whatever that means.

A review of Suddenly, Last Summer

I decided to watch Suddenly, last summer when I watched The Celluloid Closet and realised how few of the films mentioned I had actually seen (or even heard about). The Celluloid Closet is a documentary about the portrayal of gays and lesbians in Hollywood films until the early 1990s. So I started with the lovely, cheerful Gentlemen prefer blondes, in which the scene between Marilyn Monroe and the head waiter is still in a corner of my head, but then decided to turn to a darker example. On top of highly-problematic portrayal of gayness, this film deals with two other issues I’m interested in: mental illness/psychiatric ‘care’, and Ancient Greek tragedy. It is also based on a Tennessee Williams play (I love A Streetcar named desire) and stars Elizabeth Taylor and Katharine Hepburn.

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The film opens on a lobotomy scene, in which the horror is conveyed by the panoply of surgical instruments. The drama starts as a young doctor answers the invitation of a rich philanthropist to try and secure funding for the state hospital in which he works (it’s almost as if the latest austerity measures were not the source of all woes in the public health sector?). Their meeting, however, turns out to be something very different from what we could have expected. Katharine Hepburn’s character is introduced in a beautifully-written quasi-monologue in which she reveals much about the themes of the movie. Her son’s homosexuality is heavily hinted at, as was the practice in those times of censorship according to The Celluloid Closet.

A Greek tragedy.

The Hidden.

Bechdel test.

And, finally, there is a review comparing Thor to Suddenly… I wish I wrote stuff like that. http://www.acidemic.com/id140.html

Comments on AFAQ 2: Who do anarchists see as their “agents of social change”?

An Anarchist FAQ, published by AK Press, is too colossal, too intimidating to ‘review’, I have never read it. I doubt anyone ever has, apart from the editors and proof-readers who truly deserve some kind of medal. But I sometimes leaf through it, especially now that I claim to write ‘anarchist reviews’ which are really just my personal opinions, and I feel I sometimes need more insight on ‘what anarchists think of this’ (usually though, I just ask a couple of anarchists who care about whatever issue I’m writing about and that’s all). AFAQ is sometimes very English-speaking world oriented, and it is also geared towards a Trotskyism vs. Anarchism debate, because the people who frequently ask those Frequently Asked Questions are frequently Trotskyists. And really they are rhetorical questions aimed at making us maieutically realise the awesomeness of the vanguard leaders, and that is why I have so much admiration for people who actually answer them.

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Anyway, as I started my quest to show that there are important convergences between anarchism and value critique, I was confronted with two over-simplifications: on the one hand, anarchists saying that value critique was post-marxist and rejected class struggle altogether, on the other hand supporters of value critique saying that anarchism had the same approach as orthodox Marxists when it came to the centrality of the class-struggle and the proletariat as revolutionary agent. The truth is, both currents agree on Marx’s analysis of class, capital and class-struggle within capitalism, and both disagree with traditional Marxist interpretations of how to break from capitalism.

I was wonderfully relieved to see that the question of anarchism’s view on class struggle and its link to social change was mapped to some extent by AFAQ H.2.7 “Who do anarchists see as their “agents of social change”?” (link here: http://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/the-anarchist-faq-editorial-collective-an-anarchist-faq-09-17#toc17 ). I think this answer needs to be completed and made more actual (a large part has to do with establishing that Bakunin did indeed want the IWA to be a mass organisation of most of the proletariat. Establishing historical facts is good, but I think it is fair to say that is no longer the case of most anarchists, as it is no longer even the case of all members of the IWA afaik).

After this discussion, we will expose briefly the value critique view on the proletariat, class struggle and social change. To simplify, class struggle exists, it is often good, but it does not necessarily lead to emancipation for all, we need to emancipate ourselves not only as workers in the capitalist mode of production, but also as subjects in commodity society.

Eventually, I hope to show that both positions, if not identical, have a certain number of things in common.