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DISRUPTIVE PLAY

THE TRICKSTER IN POLITICS AND CULTURE

A fascinating though ultimately unpersuasive argument for deep societal reform.

A historically panoramic examination of human playfulness as a naturally healthy and politically subversive force. 

According to debut author Siegel, the predilection to play is universally distributed throughout the animal kingdom, humans being no exception. Our original experience of play is both animated by wonder and love, a deeply spiritual act not reducible to a rational formula or sense of purposeful utility. However, a child’s unencumbered sense of play is exchanged for a more culturally conditioned version, which encourages a child to rehearse adult roles in anticipation of a life of work and productivity. While that societally governed sense of play is both salutary and necessary, so is the primordial iteration that gets lost. In fact, that first, elementary sense of play promotes social harmony, accepts and appreciates the irrational nature of the world, is inherently uncompetitive and anti-war, and serves as the impetus for authentic artistic expression. The author raises two connected questions about the human inclination to playfulness: Is there a way its primary permutation can be effectively renewed? And if so, can a reformation of society, a mass movement of sorts, be based upon it? In order to answer these queries—both in the affirmative—Siegel furnishes a sweeping and eclectic history of play, focusing on its artistic manifestations. He assesses the birth of impressionism and its passage through Dadaism to surrealism, pranksters like Andy Kaufman and Abbie Hoffman, Beat generation writers and hippie activists, as well as the role of the fool in Shakespeare’s King Lear and the critique of capitalism performed by Banksy.  Siegel’s thesis is philosophically provocative and original. He makes a somewhat paradoxical case for the serious uses of playfulness, especially the political value of its “disruptive” varieties. He’s well-aware that the analytical treatment of playfulness is inherently limited and even potentially counterproductive given its subrational character. Siegel combines intellectual rigor with a bracing optimism—he believes the history of disruptive playfulness provides empirical reasons to believe in its sociopolitical power: “This idea of embracing irrationality through play, of reevaluating the spiritual contribution and the political implications of childhood is neither far-fetched nor without precedent.” However, Siegel’s historical analysis can also be idiosyncratic and insufficiently demonstrated; it’s not at all obvious, nor a matter of scholarly consensus, that Dadaism ultimately withered under the weight of capitalist opposition. In fact, it’s just as possible if not more so that Dadaism perished from its own incoherence. Still, the central difficulty of the work is its insistence on an unyielding separation between genuine artistic creativity and commerce: “The energies of art/play and capitalism ultimately cannot coexist.” The author provides numerous examples to the contrary—many of his artistic revolutionaries were also wildly successful financially. Furthermore, he cites the Burning Man festival as a model for the societal spread of playfulness, but that seems more suitable as a model for the corporate co-optation of it. 

A fascinating though ultimately unpersuasive argument for deep societal reform.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2018

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 327

Publisher: Wakdjunkaga Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 24, 2018

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KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON

THE OSAGE MURDERS AND THE BIRTH OF THE FBI

Dogged original research and superb narrative skills come together in this gripping account of pitiless evil.

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Greed, depravity, and serial murder in 1920s Oklahoma.

During that time, enrolled members of the Osage Indian nation were among the wealthiest people per capita in the world. The rich oil fields beneath their reservation brought millions of dollars into the tribe annually, distributed to tribal members holding "headrights" that could not be bought or sold but only inherited. This vast wealth attracted the attention of unscrupulous whites who found ways to divert it to themselves by marrying Osage women or by having Osage declared legally incompetent so the whites could fleece them through the administration of their estates. For some, however, these deceptive tactics were not enough, and a plague of violent death—by shooting, poison, orchestrated automobile accident, and bombing—began to decimate the Osage in what they came to call the "Reign of Terror." Corrupt and incompetent law enforcement and judicial systems ensured that the perpetrators were never found or punished until the young J. Edgar Hoover saw cracking these cases as a means of burnishing the reputation of the newly professionalized FBI. Bestselling New Yorker staff writer Grann (The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness, and Obsession, 2010, etc.) follows Special Agent Tom White and his assistants as they track the killers of one extended Osage family through a closed local culture of greed, bigotry, and lies in pursuit of protection for the survivors and justice for the dead. But he doesn't stop there; relying almost entirely on primary and unpublished sources, the author goes on to expose a web of conspiracy and corruption that extended far wider than even the FBI ever suspected. This page-turner surges forward with the pacing of a true-crime thriller, elevated by Grann's crisp and evocative prose and enhanced by dozens of period photographs.

Dogged original research and superb narrative skills come together in this gripping account of pitiless evil.

Pub Date: April 18, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-385-53424-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Feb. 1, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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