Pure Act: The Uncommon Life of Robert Lax

 

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City Lights hosted an evening of discussion and readings with author Michael McGregor, John Beer, and S.T. Georgiou to celebrate the release of Pure Act: The Uncommon Life of Robert Lax, published by Fordham University Press.

RobertLaxA companion piece to Thomas Merton’s bestselling autobiography The Seven Storey Mountain, Pure Act: The Uncommon Life of Robert Lax tells the story of Merton’s best friend and early spiritual inspiration. Written by a close friend of Lax, Pure Act gives an intimate view of a friendship and a life that affected Merton in profound ways. It was Lax, a daringly original poet himself, who encouraged Merton to begin writing poetry and Lax who told him he should desire to be a saint rather than just a Catholic. To the end of Merton’s life, Lax was his spiritual touchstone and closest friend.

Pure Act tells the story of poet Robert Lax, whose quest to live a true life as both an artist and a spiritual seeker inspired Thomas Merton, Jack Kerouac, William Maxwell and a host of other writers, artists and ordinary people. Known in the U.S. primarily as Merton’s best friend and in Europe as a daringly original avant-garde poet, Lax left behind a promising New York writing career to travel with a circus, live among immigrants in post-war Marseilles and settle on a series of remote Greek islands where he learned and recorded the simple wisdom of the local people. Born a Jew, he became a Catholic and found the authentic community he sought in Greek Orthodox fishermen and sponge divers.

Written by Michael McGregor, who met Lax in Greece when he was a young seeker himself and visited him regularly over fifteen years, Pure Act is an intimate look at an extraordinary but little-known life. Much more than just a biography, it’s a tale of adventure, an exploration of friendship, an anthology of wisdom, and a testament to the liberating power of living an uncommon life.

Reverend Billy

 

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Reverend Billy Talen makes a visit to City Lights once again to speak about his new book titled The Earth Wants You. With the perfect blend of conviction and humor, the radical reverend offers an insightful critique of commercialism and its environmental impacts in the form of short monol 87286100270160Logues and sermons.

Reverend Billy and his choir of singing-activists are on the front lines of creative direct action, and here they offer up a distillation of the passion, the inspiration, and the hopes for love and survival that fuel their work. In a mix of essays, polemics, surrealist scenarios and news flashes from the frontlines, Reverend Billy answers the question, “What are we to do?” with a resounding chorus of “Take Action NOW!

*Simultaneous to the publication of this book is the album, fittingly called The Earth Wants You. The fourth official release from Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir, the eleven tracks on the record play like a joyful mission statement writ large: songs about climate change, revolution, empowerment, and community, reformist hymns sung by a disparate group of people all brought together by one common purpose.

 

 

Rob Roberge

 

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Author Rob Roberge appeared for a City Lights event to celebrate the release of Liar, a darkly funny, intense memoir about mental illness, memory and storytelling, published by Crown Books. Joshua Mohr, who was scheduled to appear as well, was unable to attend and instead Gina Frangello joined Rob in conversation about his writing process, revisiting trauma, and grappling with mental illness in the modern world.Rob Roberge AP - Credit Dirk Vandenberg

When Rob Roberge learns that he’s likely to have developed a progressive memory-eroding disease from years of hard living and frequent concussions, he is terrified by the prospect of becoming a walking shadow. In a desperate attempt to preserve his identity, he sets out to (somewhat faithfully) record the most formative moments of his life—ranging from the brutal murder of his childhood girlfriend, to a diagnosis of rapid-cycling bipolar disorder, to opening for famed indie band Yo La Tengo at The Fillmore in San Francisco. But the process of trying to remember his past only exposes just how fragile the stories that lay at the heart of our self-conception really are.

As Liar twists and turns through Roberge’s life, it turns the familiar story of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll on its head. Blackly comic and brutally frank, it offers a remarkable portrait of a down and out existence cobbled together across the country, from musicians’ crashpads around Boston, to seedy bars popular with sideshow freaks in Florida, to a painful moment of reckoning in the scorched Wonder Valley desert of California. As Roberge struggles to keep addiction and mental illness from destroying the good life he has built in his better moments, he is forced to acknowledge the increasingly blurred line between the lies we tell others and the lies we tell ourselves.

Douglas Rushkoff

 

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Douglas Rushkoff appeared again at City Lights to speak about his new book Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus and to answer questions on all things pertaining to the effect of technology on culture.

87286100320950LWhen protesters shattered the windows of a bus carrying Google employees to work, their anger may have been justifiable, but it was misdirected. The true conflict of our age isn’t between the unem­ployed and the digital elite, or even the 99 percent and the 1 percent. Rather, a tornado of technological improvements has spun our economic program out of control, and humanity as a whole—the pro-testers and the Google employees as well as the shareholders and the executives—are all trapped by the consequences. It’s time to optimize our economy for the human beings it’s supposed to be serving.

In this groundbreaking book, acclaimed media scholar and author Douglas Rushkoff tells us how to combine the best of human nature with the best of modern technology. Tying together disparate threads—big data, the rise of robots and AI, the increasing participation of algorithms in stock market trading, the gig economy, the collapse of the eurozone—Rushkoff provides a critical vocabulary for our economic moment and a nuanced portrait of humans and commerce at a critical crossroads.

Jarett Kobek and Kevin Killian

 

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City Lights welcomed Jarett Kobek, author of I Hate the Internet, for a discussion and Q&A, accompanied by guest speaker Kevin Killian.87286100650100L

What if you told the truth and the whole world heard you? What if you lived in a country swamped with Internet outrage? What if you were a woman in a society that hated women?

Set in the San Francisco of 2013, I Hate the Internet offers a hilarious and obscene portrayal of life amongst the victims of the digital boom. As billions of tweets fuel the city’s gentrification and the human wreckage piles up, a group of friends suffers the consequences of being useless in a new world that despises the pointless and unprofitable.

In this, his first full-length novel, Jarett Kobek tackles the pressing questions of our moment. Why do we applaud the enrichment of CEOs at the expense of the weak and the powerless? Why are we giving away our intellectual property? Why is activism in the 21st Century nothing more than a series of morality lectures typed into devices built by slaves?

Here, at last, comes an explanation of the Internet in the crudest possible terms.

Frank Lima Tribute

 

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City Lights celebrates the release of Incidents of Travel in Poetry: New and Selected Poems, a collection of Latino poet and visionary Frank Lima’s most celebrated work, along with previously unpublished material. The evening included readings of Lima’s poems from editors Garrett Caples and Julien Poirier, and other guest readers including Cedar Sigo, Joseph Lease, Jackson Meazle, Rod Roland, Brian Lucas, and Chris Carosi.
This event was recorded in the Poetry Room at City Lights – toward the end of the reading (recorded on Mardi Gras), a band can be heard playing down in Kerouac Alley, which certainly added to the evening!


 

Protégé of Frank O’Hara, Kenneth Koch, and Allen Ginsberg, the streetwise Puerto Rican/Mexican poet Frank Lima was tfrank limahe only Latino member of the New York School during its historical heyday. Born in Spanish Harlem in 1939, he endured a difficult and violent childhood, discovering poetry as an inmate of the juvenile drug treatment center under the tutelage of the painter, Sherman Drexler, who introduced him to his poet friends. Rubbing shoulders with everyone from Edwin Denby and Joe Brainard to Jasper Johns and the de Koonings, Lima appeared in key New York School anthologies and published two collections of his own with prominent publishers. In the late seventies, Lima left the poetry world to pursue a successful career as a chef, and though he rarely published, and his work fell out of circulation, he continued to write a poem a day until his death in 2013.

Incidents of Travel in Poetry is a landmark re-introduction to the work of this major Latino American poet. Beginning with poems from Inventory (1964), his installment in the legendary Tibor de Nagy poetry series, Incidents includes selections from Lima’s previous volumes, tracing his development from his early snapshots of street life to his later surrealist-influenced abstract lyricism. The bulk of the collection comes from his later unpublished manuscripts, and thus Incidents represents the full range of Lima’s work for the first time. Edited by poets Garrett Caples and Julien Poirier, and including a biographical introduction.

Finn Brunton

Finn

 

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Finn Brunton joined City Lights to celebrate the release of Obfuscation: A User’s Guide for Privacy and Protest, published by MIT Press. At the event, Brunton discussed the meaning of obfuscation, explained why it’s necessary to fight against data collection and theft, and took questions about the future of surveillance and what we can do right now to combat it.

With Obfuscation, Finn Brunton and Helen Nissenbaum mean to start a revolution. They are calling us not to the barricades but to our computers, offering us ways to fight today’s pervasive digital surveillance—the collection of our data by governments, corporations, advertisers, and hackers. To the toolkit of privacy protecting techniques and projects, they propose adding obfuscation: the deliberate use of ambiguous, confusing, or misleading information to interfere with surveillance and data collection projects. Brunton and Nissenbaum provide tools and a rationale for evasion, noncompliance, refusal, even sabotage—especially for average users, those of us not in a position to opt out or exert control over data about ourselves. Obfuscation will teach users to push back, software developers to keep their user data safe, and policy makers to gather data without misusing it.

Brunton and Nissenbaum present a guide to the forms and formats that obfuscation has taken and explain how to craft its implementation to suit the goal and the adversary. They describe a series of historical and contemporary examples, including radar chaff deployed by World War II pilots, Twitter bots that hobbled the social media strategy of popular protest movements, and software that can camouflage users’ search queries and stymie online advertising. They go on to consider obfuscation in more general terms, discussing why obfuscation is necessary, whether it is justified, how it works, and how it can be integrated with other privacy practices and technologies.

Finn Brunton is Assistant Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University and the author of Spam: A Shadow History of the Internet (MIT Press).

Helen Nissenbaum is Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication and Computer Science at New York University and the author of Privacy in Context. She is one of the developers of the TrackMeNot software.

Robert Jensen

 

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Featured several times in past City Lights line-ups, author Robert Jensen returns to celebrate the release of his new book, Plain Radical: Living, Loving and Learning to Leave the Planet Gracefully, published by Soft Skull Press.

RobertJensenThere was nothing out of the ordinary about Jim Koplin. He was just your typical central Minnesota gay farm boy with a Ph.D. in experimental psychology who developed anarchist-influenced, radical-feminist, and anti-imperialist politics, while never losing touch with his rural roots. But perhaps the most important thing about Jim is that throughout his life, almost literally to his dying breath, he spent some part of every day on the most important work we have: tending the garden.

Plain Radical is a touching homage to a close friend and mentor taken too soon. But it is also an exploration of the ways in which an intensely local focus paired with a fierce intelligence can provide a deep, meaningful, even radical engagement with the world.

Drawing on first hand accounts as well as the nearly 3,000 pages of correspondence that flowed between the two men between 1988 and 2012, this book is about the intersection of two biographies and the ideas two men constructed together. It is in part a love story, part intellectual memoir, and part political polemic; an argument for how we should understand problems and think about solutions—in those cases when solutions are possible—to create a decent human future.

Robert William Jensen spent his twenties working at newspapers as a reporter and copy editor, receiving an M.A. in journalism and public affairs from American University. After earning a PhD in media ethics and law from the University of Minnesota, in 1992, he began his teaching career at the University of Texas at Austin, where he is a professor in journalism and interdisciplinary programs. Jensen is also active in a variety of national political movements and community organizations.

Kathryn S. Olmstead and Eric Rauchway

 

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Authors and historians Kathryn S. Olmstead and Eric Rauchway discuss their new books: Right Out of California: The 1930s and the Big Business Roots of Modern Conservatism by Kathryn S. Olmstead and The Money Makers: How Roosevelt and Keynes Ended the Depression, Defeated Fascism, and Secured a Prosperous Peace by Eric Rauchway.

about Right Out of California:

87286100004370LIn a major reassessment of modern conservatism, noted historian Kathryn S. Olmsted reexamines the explosive labor disputes in the agricultural fields of Depression-era California, the cauldron that inspired a generation of artists and writers and that triggered the intervention of FDR’s New Deal. Right Out of California tells how this brief moment of upheaval terrified business leaders into rethinking their relationship to American politics—a narrative that pits a ruthless generation of growers against a passionate cast of reformers, writers, and revolutionaries.

Olmsted reveals how California’s businessmen learned the language of populism with the help of allies in the media and entertainment industries and in the process created a new style of politics: corporate funding of grassroots groups, military-style intelligence gathering against political enemies, professional campaign consultants, and alliances between religious and economic conservatives. The business leaders who battled for the hearts and minds of Depression-era California, moreover, would go on to create the organizations that launched the careers of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. A riveting history in its own right, Right Out of California is also a vital chapter in our nation’s political transformation whose echoes are still felt today.

about The Money Makers:

87286100496990MAn absorbing narrative history showing how FDR and his advisors pulled the levers of monetary policy to save the domestic economy and propel the United Sates to unprecedented prosperity and superpower status.

Shortly after arriving in the White House in early 1933, Franklin Roosevelt took the United States off the gold standard. His opponents thought his decision unwise at best, and ruinous at worst. But they could not have been more wrong.

With The Money Makers, Eric Rauchway tells the absorbing story of how FDR and his advisors pulled the levers of monetary policy to save the domestic economy and propel the United States to unprecedented prosperity and superpower status. Drawing on the ideas of the brilliant British economist John Maynard Keynes, among others, Roosevelt created the conditions for recovery from the Great Depression, deploying economic policy to fight the biggest threat then facing the nation: deflation.

Daniel Sada Tribute

 

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In an evening of celebration of the life and work of the late great Mexican writer Daniel Sada, translator Katherine Silver, literary critic Scott Esposito, and Graywolf Press Editorial Director Ethan Nosowsky join City Lights for discussion and reading of One Out of Two, Sada’s last published work before his passing.

DanielSadaAlmost Never author Daniel Sada, who passed away in 2011, has been hailed as one of the greatest Latin American writers of his generation. In One Out of Two, Sada’s second novel to be translated into English, his talent is on full display in a giddy and comic tale reminiscent of a Shakespearean farce. Sada weaves a mesmerizing portrait of two identical twin sisters in a small town in rural northern Mexico who spend their days happily running a tailoring business, while they delight in confusing people about which sister is which. Gloria and Constitución spend every waking minute together until a suitor enters the picture, and one of the sisters decides that she doesn’t want to live a life without romance and all the good things that come with it. The ensuing competition between the sisters brings their relationship to the breaking point until they come up with an ingenious solution that carries this buoyant farce to its tender and even liberating conclusion.

Suffused with the tension between our desire for union and our desire for independence, One Out of Two is a briskly entertaining novel by an author whose work displays “a whirling riot of color, a wild cacophony of voices, an extravagant display of pyrotechnical prose” (The Washington Post).