Occupy Wall Street, Istanbul, The Standing Man, and Bartleby, The Scrivener.
Today’s response to similar oppressions seems to be one that is intelligent, constantly evolving and considerably more humane, and yet our character’s borrowed Catholic revolutionary visage and his incongruously Puritan apparel are perhaps a reminder that unjust institutions may always be haunted by volatile 17th century spectres, even if today’s uprisings are fuelled more by social networks than by gunpowder.
Some ghosts never go away.
Occupy! The Book by Rachel Hurn
On December 16th, the eve of OWS’s three-month anniversary, some two hundred people came to 20 Jay Street to celebrate the launch for Occupy! Scenes from Occupied America. Occupy! is a collaborative new book out from small press Verso, whose sprawling 10th floor Brooklyn loft hosted the event. The book is based off of n+1's OWS-inspired Gazette.
Astra Taylor greeted at the door. One of the main editors for n+1’s Gazette, Ms. Taylor explained that after visiting Zucotti Park on September 17th, the first day of OWS, she hooked up with Keith Gessen, n+1's founding editor, and developed a core group of people interested in writing about the movement.
“I did a lot of writing and commissioning for writing,” Ms. Taylor said. “It occupied my life.”
According to Jacob Stevens of Verso, n+1 offered “Exponentially the best writing on the movement.” Stevens approached the editors to see about collaborating on a book, and an impressive six weeks later, Occupy! was born.
The first two n+1 Gazettes form the basis of Occupy!, along with some additional contributions. According to Ms. Taylor, the writing was meant not to be rhetoric, but was meant to come from someone situated in the movement, someone sympathetic.
“When I first started handing out the Gazette, people were offering me $10 a copy when it was free,” she said. “The zeitgeist of OWS is print. It seemed appropriate to have a text-based project.”
The Gazette trilogy was laid out on a side table, distinguished by primary colors — red for the first issue, blue for the second, and green for the third. Scenes from Zucotti Park projected against a white wall. The Occupy! book lay on a different table, on sale for $5 a copy. Most people were nursing $2 Brooklyn Lagers, two-stepping across the floor in various versions of the same leather boot. There was no food, but people seemed happy. A DJ played music so loudly that a group of girls started dancing in the middle of the room.
Over four hours all two-hundred plus books were sold. An Occupier wearing barefoot shoes was thinking of purchasing a copy, but not for himself. “I don’t think I’ll have time to read it,” he said, “but my mom will.”
I was getting annoyed at the way Occupy Wall Street was being covered — as if it was insane to gather in a public space and protest. As if it had never happened in America before. Wasn’t the whole point of passive resistance to just be there? To not make any demands? As I tried to come up with a good parallel, I found myself thinking of Bartleby, the Scrivener, Herman Melville’s short story about an office worker, Bartleby, who decides out of nowhere that he doesn’t feel like working anymore, but continues to show up at the office every day. Bartleby’s idleness baffles and then infuriates his boss, who begs Bartleby to give some reason for his behavior. But Bartleby refuses to disclose his interests, and over the course of the story, his needs become so few that he dies of starvation. It’s a bleak, mysterious story, and as I returned to my copy to reread it, I was stilled to rediscover its subtitle: “A Story of Wall Street.”
Photo Credit: Richard Grayson
This post is part of our “Best of 2011” series, which highlights exceptional original pieces that have been published on The Millions this year.
Decades only happen once, but they take ten years to happen, and that is a enough time to get bored.
This week, UC Davis students protesting a tuition increase (among other things) were mercilessly pepper sprayed by their own campus police. In response, Nathan Brown, a non-tenured associate professor of English, has spoken out and called for UC Davis chancellor Linda Katehi‘s resignation. In solidarity with Brown’s demand, students silently gathered around Katehi’s office as she exited. For those hoping for further illumination on the entire fiasco, I recommend this list of “Ten Things You Should Know About Friday’s UC Davis Police Violence.” Elsewhere within the UC system, former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Hass details his harrowing experience at the UC Berkeley protests.