From the Buyer’s Desk: OR Books, Gordon Lish, Norman Finkelstein and more
Over the next month, Book Culture is proud to be hosting two (two!) events in conjunction with our favorite radical publisher, OR Books, the first with (in)famous editor/writer Gordon Lish and the second with Jewish anti-Zionist provocateur Norman Finkelstein.
Since its inception, OR books has been steadily building its reputation as a publisher of dissident voices and victims of political persecution (they’re also one of the few publisher who refuses to wholesale their books to Amazon). Readers of the London Review of Books will have been fascinated by Andrew O’Hagan’s account of his misadventures ghost-writing Julian Assange’s autobiography, but what they might not realize is that Assange did publish the manifesto he’d wanted to write all along—or, at any rate, something like it. In 2012, OR Books published Cypherpunks, a conversation between Assange and three other programmer-activists that ranges from the mass-collection of data to the future of digital currencies such as Bitcoin. Whatever we make of Assange the man, Cypherpunks reveals a serious intellect, committed to the high political ideals of “privacy for the weak and transparency for the strong.” This July, OR issues its latest Assange title, When Google Met Wikileaks, a debate between the Wikileaks founder and Google’s Eric Schmidt on the political value of the internet and the prerogatives of the modern security-state.
OR’s other staunchly political publications include Drone Warfare from CodePink activist (and Obama heckler) Medea Benjamin (now published by Verso), The Passion of Bradley Manning (also now published by Verso), the collection Gay Propaganda, a direct riposte to the Russian legislative ban, and Beautiful Trouble, a “toolkit” for protesters and activists.
Gordon Lish is now best known for his work as an editor—most famously, and controversially, of Raymond Carver—and as a teacher. His own writing—sometimes compared to that of Stein, Beckett and Thomas Bernhardt—remained out of print until the publication by OR of his Collected Fictions in 2010. Dalkey Press followed in 2013 with their reissue of his novel Peru, and OR has just released his first original work in sixteen years, Goings: In Thirteen Sittings, a faux-memoir in which an eighty-year old Gordon gleefully revisits the malignant passions of his youth. Lish will be at Book Culture on April 23rd to read from his new book.
Norman Finkelstein has for many years been the bête noir of American Zionism. Finkelstein’s doctoral thesis was a critique of Joan Peters’ 1984 work From Time Immemorial, which sought to delegitimize Arab claims to Palestinian identity, and since then Finkelstein has continued to spar with prominent Zionists. While Finkelstein’s work successfully discredited Peters, his own work (including The Holocaust Industry and Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict (both published by Verso) has consistently been a target of attack by Zionist intellectuals, and in 2007, he was denied tenure at DePaul University following pressure by Alan Dershowitz, Elie Wiesel and others.
Finkelstein has authored several books with OR, including This Time We Went Too Far, an examination of Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s December 2008 assault on Gaza, and Knowing Too Much, a study of the decline of American Jewish popular support for Israel. Most recently, he has authored two brief pamphlets: The first, What Gandhi Says, is a close reading of Gandhi’s writings that attempts to cut through the contradictions and hypocrisies in Gandhi’s life and thought to locate the political value of his teachings. Gandhi, as Finkelstein portrays him, is both inspiring and troubling—a Nietzschean figure who despises weakness and preaches non-violence not for the sake of peace but for the sake of spiritual glory, even unto death and defeat. Finkelstein’s second pamphlet, Old Wine Broken Bottles, is a critique of Zionism’s most recent repackaging, Ari Shavit’s bestseller My Promised Land. While exposing the contradictions and misrepresentations specific to Shavit’s work, Old Wine, Broken Bottles also serves as a critique of the contemporary rhetoric of Zionism and state power generally. The old strategy was to deny Israeli human rights violations. Now that they are no longer a secret, the new strategy is to affirm them. “It is, finally, ever the marvel,” Finkelstein writes, “how Israelis manage to make themselves look ever more beautiful—oh, how soulful of Shavit to accept responsibility for foul deeds that everyone knows he, beautiful, cultured Ari, would never commit—the more criminality they own up to. If the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded and Oscar for best dramatic performance by a country, Israel would win hands down every year.” In fact, this is the exact rhetorical strategy used in Kathryn Bigelow’s Academy Award Nominated film Zero Dark Thirty, which owns up to American war crimes, while also portraying them as tragically necessary. In both cases, the tragic figure is not the victim of violence, but the perpetrator, who has sacrificed her innocence for the greater good. Finkelstein will speak at Book Culture on the 5th of May.
Several other important books on the Israel-Palestine conflict are also out this Spring: March saw the release of Electronic-Intifada founder/blogger Ali Abunimah’s The Battle for Justice in Palestine (Haymarket) as well as the paperback edition of Columbia Professor Rashid Khalidi’s Brokers of Deceit (Beacon), which examines the frequently destructive role the United States has played in peace negotiations from the 1980s to the present.
Finally, Nickel and Dimed author Barbara Ehrenrich has just released her latest book, Living with a Wild God (Grand Central Publishing). While Ehrenreich’s past work is concerned with the very concrete problems of feminism and economic injustice, Living with a Wild God is an account of dissociative experiences the author had as a teenager and the effect they had on her life and work.
From the Buyer’s Desk is an ongoing feature of the Book Culture Blog
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