How 2024 Came To Pass: Grading Joe Biden’s Presidency

[This article first appeared under a different title in 2021, in my literary magazine, AUTOMACHINATION. Its core prediction has come to pass: Joe Biden, for structural reasons, has been unable to enact the reforms voters might consider ‘good enough’, even as crises pile up. COVID measures went from punitive to laissez faire; inflation has suppressed real wages, leaving Americans feeling worse-off than in 2019; lobbyist spending has led to political and humanitarian disaster with unqualified, bipartisan support for Israel’s genocide in Gaza; nonwhite voters have continued to leave the Democratic Party; the militarization of police has accelerated; any promise to reverse Trump’s tax cuts was dead from the beginning. I argued that Joe Biden would be more superficially ‘progressive’ than Barack Obama, but that it wouldn’t be enough to really be felt. The response to Trump’s 2024 campaign has been to disqualify and/or imprison him, largely due to the fact that the Biden administration was paralyzed from the beginning. These are sentiments echoed by Benjamin Studebaker in our discussion of American democracy.]

In the last few decades, the term forever war has come to denote an unpleasant fact for imperial ambition- namely, that superpowers have ceased to exist, dislodged by regional actors limited to their own spheres of influence, while influence itself grows narrower and more abstract. Thirty years after America failed to take Vietnam, it would fail for much the same reason in Afghanistan and Iraq: lately, empire cannot explain its purpose even to itself, much less to its victims, whose soft power must be recruited to win modern wars. But while there is no way to hide material losses in combat, the world’s gradual abandonment of violence will, ironically, do more to expand the concept of ‘forever war’ than the usufructs of empire ever could. That’s because the forever war abroad- wasteful, belligerent, transparent in intent yet maddeningly plausible to the median dolt- is being transformed into a cultural war of attrition at home, through the same loss of purpose. I mean, what is America’s legitimating function anyway? It can’t be to lead the world on climate change. It’s certainly NOT to teach others how to mitigate a global pandemic at a time when infectious diseases are slated to redouble. It has terrible health outcomes, bad infrastructure, political gridlock, and- with crisis after unresolved crisis- doesn’t even pretend to care about the working class. Put another way, America has scrambled its own legitimation story, even though the rest of the world has not believed this story for some time now. And so, America has lost its wars and is in the process of losing the most important one, as faith in democracy collapses at home and authoritarian doldrums envelop abroad. No one, it’s been said, saw this coming, but isn’t that the point? If civic engagement is cratered- that is, if the legitimation story gets rejected- this is less a failure of voters than of the choices they are bullied into. Now that Donald … Continue reading →

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TRAILER: “From There to There – Bruce Ario, the Minneapolis Poet” (2024)

Bruce Ario (1955 – 2022) was a poet and novelist from Minneapolis. A car accident and traumatic brain injury in his mid-20s forced Bruce to drop out of law school, which was followed by a period of homelessness, drug addiction, and mental illness. His health began to improve with a religious awakening, therapy, volunteer work (which included time in Haiti), and, most importantly to Bruce and his legacy, a lifelong interest in writing.

From There to There: Bruce Ario, the Minneapolis Poet is an upcoming (2024) documentary film on Bruce’s life and work. It will be shot in Minneapolis, where Bruce Ario spent his life, and will include footage of scenes described in Bruce’s writing. It will also feature interviews with artists and those who knew him. Our GoFundMe fundraiser will help cover some costs associated with the project: video equipment, travel expenses, advertising, labor and production. Any additional money raised will be used to fund the publication of Bruce Ario’s books.

The trailer can be found here.

Another trailer can be found here.

You can contribute to the fundraiser here.

A poet first, Bruce Ario created the “ario” poetic form, which includes 3 stanzas of 3 lines each, followed by a final line. His poems tap plain speech and startling juxtapositions of image and thought, giving his poetry an “everyman” feel that many readers have come to prefer. Bruce is also author of the coming-of-age novel, Cityboy, which his literary executor, Dan Schneider, has painstakingly reconstructed to its original, rarely-seen version from the 1990s.

Cityboy, Bruce Ario’s Selected Poems, and his Final Poems will be released in 2024 alongside From There to There.

An extended discussion of Bruce Ario’s life and work with Bruce’s literary executor, Bruce’s brother, and the filmmaker: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ycAD9s57Re8

A sampling of Bruce Ario’s poetry: http://www.cosmoetica.com/UPG.htm#BRUCE%20ARIO

About the filmmakers:

Alex Sheremet is a poet, critic, novelist, and videographer from New York City. He runs the automachination YouTube channel and the AUTOMACHINATION literary magazine, for which Bruce Ario wrote.

Joel Parrish is a poet and photographer from Michigan. He is also providing voice work for the film. Joel’s poetry and photos can be found on his website.… Continue reading →

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White Guilt, White Fragility: Robin DiAngelo Doesn’t Understand Race

[This is the transcript for Alex Sheremet’s video essay, White Guilt, White Fragility: Why Robin DiAngelo Doesn’t Understand Race. It first appeared in the AUTOMACHINATION literary magazine.]

In 2011, an academic named Robin DiAngelo coined the phrase “white fragility” in reference to white people’s perceived defensiveness over questions of race. It didn’t explain this defensiveness—it only gave it a name. And it named only a small part of a more general condition. We’ll get to the condition of the white race in a bit, but for now, suffice to say that there are many types of white person. Some are just as fragile, yet break in a less predictable direction. Under the right circumstances, they could pressure themselves into joining a revolution. In more stagnant periods, they reach out to anyone willing to touch them. This is still fragility because it is unstable, because it is easy to recruit, because it is so common. Yet Robin DiAngelo—who is technically a scholar of ‘whiteness studies’—has little space for it. This means that ‘whiteness’ itself is not really being examined, and in failing to explain whiteness, or to give a credible story of what it means to be white, she cannot properly deal with race. Her work alludes to her own racial anxiety, but will not make sense of it. Her theory of racism is a theory of rugged individualism—and this is why it’s popular. The individual is tasked with the burdens of racism. So the individual, as under all right-wing systems, is forced to kneel.

Robin DiAngelo soon published a book, White Fragility, based on her original paper. There are many problems with this text, but chief among them is that she treats black Americans as if they were extraterrestrials—and some, without any idea of who she is, will rise to her challenge. After all, why should a black American feel any affinity for exotic cults, or religious bullying? This sort of idleness used to be the domain of white America, which once held a whip and defined itself against it. Today, it is not so much that the whip is out of fashion, but how it is held has changed. On occasion, the whip even gets handed over to nonwhites. What they are allowed to do with it is rather limited, but sometimes, a white woman or a white man will beg to be whipped. At other times, a white person will grow impatient and will grab the whip so they could self-flagellate more effectively. It is as if, by first losing the right to own slaves, and then other forms of status, some are now trying on a new identity in their free time. Meanwhile, black America, in gaining a little bit of freedom, is encouraged to exaggerate this freedom—to bandage over all the history and paper over all the present with publicity stunts. No doubt this kneeling woman believes that she is doing something right. Yet the Black Israelites believe this too. It might have … Continue reading →

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Russian Bard, Soviet Poet: Inverting A Century Of Tradition

[This article first appeared in the AUTOMACHINATION literary magazine. To hear our translated playlist of songs spanning the Russian bard tradition, click here.]

Of all the art-objects I had consumed as a child, only a few made it with me into adulthood. At 4, I was given a tape-player, a pair of headphones, and several cassettes of Soviet music—luxury items, by any metric, in the Belarusian summer of 1991, just as they would be for the kids I’d soon meet in New York. The tapes were of varying quality, often veering into bad pop and propaganda, though even these had a level of craftiness and fun missing from most pop. Sometimes, however, I’d come across an artist or a song I’d (much later) recognize as great. This would usually happen as I sat on a park bench alone with my music and a loaf of keks. Because I was rarely at school or had my time accounted for by anyone, there were opportunities to wander, all on my own schedule. My life of absenteeism—that is, my wish to be in my own little corner, of my own construct—probably arose in this period. In retrospect, it helped that the music I was unwittingly feeding my tape-player so often celebrated a rich inner life. This might surprise Western readers, but the advent of Russian bard music brought forth a level of creative disobedience not seen in decades. The effect of musical agitprop—most obvious via Alexander Alexandrov’s “The Sacred War”—was, on the one hand, something for the state to tap, but on the other, would inevitably find its way into the grip of ordinary people. That guitars and voice lessons were hard to come by proved not only irrelevant, but downright supportive of the new art. If this sounds counterintuitive, a deeper understanding of the Soviet bard tradition can help explain some broader principles of art, so that today’s bards (almost always a posthumous honorific) can be better recognized.

It has often been said that the most dangerous time for an autocracy is the period of reform. It is, arguably, also its most fruitful, for it means that everything which was once curbed begins to prowl for an identity. One can see this in pre-Bolshevik Russia, when new poets—as if pointing to upheaval—began to supplant Russian classics. This was put to an end with the murder of Osip Mandelstam and Marina Tsvetaeva, but decades later, such repression merely pushed Russia into yet another crisis. Labeled the ‘Silver Age poets’ only in the 1960s, the Soviet Union had thus identified its own Golden Age with the previous century: a decidedly regressive, even counter-revolutionary sentiment. Perhaps this was an admission that the USSR had taken more than it had replaced. Or perhaps this was simply a means of getting the scent off of its own day—off of men, mostly, without real musical training, drawing on the lessons of war-era agitprop to agitate for their own, more personal (and impersonal) views.

One … Continue reading →

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Like The Last Words Of A House Cat (Lord’s Story)

[This is a transcript for Alex Sheremet’s video essay about Lord, a Scottish Fold cat who recently passed. It originally appeared on the AUTOMACHINATION literary website.]

After Lord had made his decision, he wished to see the world a little. One might as well, he thought. Ever since the arrival of Cookie, he felt agitated, if only with himself. Lord had never been a jealous cat, but watching King—his older brother—groom Cookie, and chase her, and beat her up, he suddenly missed the rough of King’s tongue. He missed the sound of Dad cleaning loosened hair. He missed how Mom would separate them, for he never took this as a punishment. After all, Lord loved to think, and right now, the season was pensive. Yes, summer was ongoing, but the longest day was long behind, and each sunrise felt a little colder. It would soon be Grandmother’s birthday. Had it really been that long? A cat uses up its days so quickly, though there is still so much to do. Lord understood he would not have time to start anything new, but why, he wondered, is everyone obsessed only with beginnings? His mind was of one project—one map—and he intended to complete it.

No time is the right time to leave home. Once Lord accepted this, his definition of home enlarged a little. His map, which marked out a garden, or a tree, now had fences to contend with. He was too old to jump past them, but wise enough to know that all fences doggedly followed lead to termination. Outside, leaves greened the sun and blew its light westward. Bricks assembled seemingly overnight. He would test himself against them, but concluded this was too close to his own domain. Lord needed to go further. He needed to smell strange dirt. To fend off the black snake. To squeeze through things—but what? A rose bush picked on him. Hot gravel insinuated. Not much of a city cat, a neighbor’s shout spooked him into the street, while the sound of engines spooked him out of it. And then there was the struggle with Dad—the comfort of Dad. Seeing Dad’s face, Lord’s instinct was to run to it. He nudged a paw forward and stopped. No—the instinct for happiness was unlike the instinct for knowledge. Dad had always seemed all-knowing, but Lord sensed an opportunity to learn things not even Dad could know. His heart pacing, Lord turned not from Dad, but towards his task.

Lord was not used to the wilds, yet the more time they spent within him, the more he understood. Ants arbored in the grass as well as he did. Mice ate what they could find, then Lord would find them. Now that something big was looking for Lord, he felt decisions more acutely. He learned earthworms hid not from humility, but pride. He learned not every flower was a friend and that this was for the better. He learned instinct was as much honed as … Continue reading →

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