Friday, February 23, 2007

American Dissident outs Stalinist Clown!

Due to many years spent in school, first as a student, and later as a teacher, I have been the subject of a number of informally distributed cartoons and caricatures. I have even caricatured myself at times, however, for the first time to my knowledge, I have been the subject of a cartoon that another illustrator has seen fit to post to the web.

Since the cartoon first appeared I have been stopped on the street by someone who believed that I was the illustrator. Another thought I had been "outed," apparently as a wearer of red shoes.

A lie, I say; I have never owned a pair of red shoes.

(But now the thought seems ever so tempting!)

I have seen fit to respond in four parts:

Part I: In which I say the cartoon is not well drawn.

First, let us examine the cartoon:

P. Maudit is a nom de plume of George Tod Slone, Founding Editor of The American Dissident, which he describes as "A Literary Journal of Critical Thinking In the Samizdat Tradition of Writing against the Machine."

To call the artwork in a simple cartoon bad is akin to shooting the messenger in order to avoid or divert attention from the message.
- G. Tod Slone, in an email dated February 14, 2007

Maudit/Slone's cartoon is crudely drawn and clearly based on two separate photographic sources: the first is a photograph that appeared in The Boston Globe in 2004 in which I was clad and made up as a mime; The second was a portrait of me that was used as a poster for a 2002 performance at Club Passim. Oddly enough he portrays me with four fingers and a thumb on my right hand yet only three fingers and a stub on my left hand, though as of this writing, I have all ten of my digits.

Yeah, that hand sucked.
- G. Tod Slone, ibid.

Slone's inability to render the human form (even a caricature of the human form) is an inability to illustrate me engaged in a genre in which I do perform. I am a mime, a clown, and a commedia dell'arte performer: essentially, my ability to control my body is just as much, if not more, important to my stagecraft than my oratory skills. However, due to his miniscule technique, Slone/Maudit is reduced to portraying me using a microphone at a stand-up comedy venue.

Though I have nothing against stand-up comedians, imagine the comic possibilities if the cartoon portrayed me engaged in my typical stage antics! We could have seen:

1.) Ian Thal in a knot as twisted as his logic!

2.) Ian Thal manipulating an object in an inappropriate manner as he utters a mixed metaphor, non sequitur, or illogical statement!

3.) Ian Thal debating a hand puppet!

4.) a hand puppet agreeing with Ian Thal!

5.) Ian Thal engaged in any of the stereotypical mime routines such "trapped in a glass box" or "tug-o-war" just to show that his arguments are illusionary!

6.) Ian Thal in tights—thus allowing some vulgar humor about his buttocks or "package"!

7.) Ian Thal in a dress!

These are but several suggestions. There are many other possibilities that more talented cartoonists would have chosen had they wanted to lampoon me.

Part II: In which I refute any doubt that I am a clown.

Because the cartoonist represents me speaking as a book critic (something I have not done for a few years) while dressed as a clown sans make-up, one can only conclude that the humor is meant to hinge on the incongruity of being a clown and a critic.

I for one find it pitiful that a poet would choose to masquerade as a clown. It simply emphasizes what little respect Thal holds for the métier…
- G. Tod Slone, ibid.

I do not masquerade as a clown. As anyone familiar with my performances can attest: I am a clown. I am proud to be a clown. I am a serious about clowning, its history, and traditions. In my stage work, I hope to honor the many great clowns who came before me: the countless zanni of the commedia dell'arte, Shakespeare's fleet of fools, and kitchen servants, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, the Marx Brothers, Bill Irwin, Mump & Smoot, Dario Fo, and (despite a recent matter that resulted in my quitting a production) Peter Schumann.

Clowning is serious business, it is the theatrical art of absurdity, be that the absurdity of our existence, our passions, our endeavors, or our society. Indeed, I find nothing incompatible with my roles as a clown and those of poet, or critic.

Since Slone likes cartooning, I would recommend Joe Lee's The History of Clowns for Beginners. The illustrations are excellent.

So while the insult intended, the bolt has missed the targeted fool.

Most importantly, though, the quote is completely out of context.

Part III: In which I do recount a quarrel upon a lie seven times removed.

How is it that I came to be the subject of Doctor Slone's wrath?

Doug Holder, publisher of the Ibbetson Street Press, brought my attention to a cartoon in which Slone, as "P. Maudit", labeled poets Andrei Codrescu and Lawrence Ferlinghetti as "fascists." I recognized this as a slur, and malicious untruth.

Fascism is an extremist nationalist ideology that celebrates unchecked authoritarianism, a conception of masculine sexuality defined by militarism and violent potential, populist rhetoric combined with contempt for democratic institutions, and contemptuousness for Enlightenment traditions of human dignity and rational inquiry. In the aftermath of the Second World War and the Spanish Civil War, fascism has become such a despised ideology, that even politicians and pundits with fascistic leanings will refuse to be known as "fascists."

(I highly recommend Umberto Eco's essay "Ur-Fascism" which is a discussion of the fascist ideology and the family resemblance between different fascist regimes, as viewed by someone whose childhood was spent under one such regime. Note, that it is not a description of how such regimes govern—but the culture of fascists.)

Obviously, calling either Ferlinghetti or Codrescu “Fascists” is an alarming claim, as nothing in their biographies indicates anything other than anti-authoritarian and anti-militarist tendencies, and so I said so to Holder (in terms perhaps more vehement than necessary), who passed my comments on to Slone, who in turn responded by email on January 28, 2007:

It is the very attitude of the Ian Thal leftists that is destroying the left. In other words, THOU SHALT NOT CRITICIZE THE LEFT! If we heed this ban on critique of the left, how can the left possibly improve? Without criticism, there are no problems, and if there are no problems, there is no need to improve. Sounds like a good Stalinist line, no?

So rather than substantiate his claims that either Codrescu or Ferlinghetti were fascists, he likens me to a Stalinist for defending the reputation of two poets who happen to be leftists. Also note that rather than responding to criticism, he accused me of attempting to censor him. I take freedom of speech so seriously, in that I believe it includes the freedom to criticize the speech of others.

Slone claimed that both Codrescu and Ferlinghetti receive fifteen thousand dollars per speaking engagement and then, while accusing me of hero worship, quoted his own pantheon of heroes as justification for his endeavors:

…life be a counter friction to stop the machine.
- Henry David Thoreau, as quoted by Slone in an email dated January 28, 2007

Go upright and vital, and speak the rude truth in all ways.

- Ralph Waldo Emerson, ibid.

Horseshit from the right or horseshit from the left is still horseshit.
- Pierre Falardeau, ibid.

He closed with a demand that I send him a photograph so that he could make the above cartoon. I decided that since there are enough photographs of me on the web, he could simply use Google.

Again, I pointed out to Slone that he had not substantiated his claim that Codrescu and Ferlinghetti were fascists, to which responded with a second email stating that since neither poet had been interested in Slone's criticism of their work, they clearly had fascist tendencies. He then proceeded to claim that Ferlinghetti's Doctorate was an honorary one (Lawrence Ferlinghetti earned his Doctorate from the Sorbonne in 1950, long before he was famous) and continued with his claim that there is a fascism of the left, which I have chosen not to dispute.

That some leftists are also fascists (just as some rightists are fascists) and Ferlinghetti and Codrescu are also both leftists does not necessitate that one conclude that Ferlinghetti and Codrescu are thus fascists. .

- Thal, in an email dated January 28, 2007

Slone turned the discussion to how he had been persecuted by Stone Soup Poets (a literary organization for which I briefly served in an official capacity—though I was not privy of any plans to persecute him), the Lowell Celebrates Kerouac Festival, the authorities at Walden Pond, and apparently the entire literary establishment.

On January 30, 2007 I sent a final email from which the out-of-context quotation in the cartoon appears in the final

Part IV: In which I append the email from which the cartoon takes its quotation.

Doctor Slone:

I find it amazing that it takes a day and a half to craft such a disorganized response filled with attempts to pin the behavior and opinions of others onto my person.

To answer your question regarding
[my former affiliation with] Stone Soup [Poets, Inc.] :

For a literary organization to receive tax-deductible donations, and receive grants for activities such as publishing books (which Stone Soup Poetry would do sporadically) it must comply with the 501c3 regulations for non-profit organizations, grant-giving institutions and private donations are less likely to be forthcoming. Having a board of directors is one of those legal requirements-- it provides a level of accountability with regards to grants and donations.

I was elected to the board of Stone Soup in 2000. I began to dissociate myself from the board and from the organization in late 2001. While I have no interest in describing my reasons for leaving. It should be obvious that I do not want to be affiliated with said organization or the behavior of some of its officers. Obviously, they are not my "buddies."

On neither of the two visits I made to Walden Pond during that time period, [did I] witness any protesters. You and I have, to the best of my knowledge, never met. I am not party with your conflicts with the organization and some of its members and I am frankly uninterested. Far too much of my time and energies were wasted on the organization.

Stone Soup is apolitical as an organization (which it must be as a 501c3 non-profit.) Whatever political stances Jack Powers or John-Paul Pirolli (who uses an assortment of aliases, notably "Buddah" [sic]) may take, their stances do not form coherent political ideologies, and are just as likely to express right-wing sentiments as anything else. Neither of them are leftists, though I am certain you may have heard express leftist sentiments from time to time.

Like you, both men have a tendency to divide the world into "us and them" or often "me and everyone else."

* * *

>>That some leftists are also fascists
>> (just as some rightists are fascists)
>> and Ferlinghetti and Codrescu are
>> also both leftists does not necessitate
>> that one conclude that Ferlinghetti
>> and Codrescu are thus fascists.

> Clearly, that statement is accurate. Yet it is really
> irrelevant to the argument.

It is relevant, because it is the argument that I am interested in making.

I do not use the word "fascist" lightly as it is a name of an extremist ideology, and when applied to an individual who is not strictly a member of a certain constellation of extremist groups, movements, regimes, or ideologue, admirer or imitator of the former, then it closes down any form of free debate, which I consider to be essential to a democratic society.

By that standard, some of the people you name
[Hilary Clinton, Michael Moore, Rush Limbaugh, George W. Bush, Andrei Codrescu, Lawrence Ferlinghetti] are clearly not fascists in any sense that still gives the word some meaning. Two of the folk, by my count, might be seen as fascistic from a certain point of view (but that can be debated.)

You have failed to substantiate your claim that Codrescu and Ferlinghetti are fascists. You have presented no facts, and your line of reasoning is demonstrably filled with errors.

Your ignorance of even the most commonly known biographical details of Codrescu or Ferlinghetti are laughable.

> Are you actually denying that both celebrities
> receive sizeable cachets?

No. I am just pointing out that it was the only fact that you did present, and thus, assuming it is true, and since you mentioned it, seems more likely the cause of your resentment than these unfounded accusations of fascism.

> you apparently did not read that part of
> my email stating both Codrescu and
> Ferlinghetti closed to critique.

Given the general inability you have demonstrated to state your views logically, substantiate your claims, or even state these views without invoking some self-serving tale of how the-powers-that-be are persecuting you, it gives little surprise that some people choose to ignore you. You contribute nothing to any debate.

However, since I have no details about your interactions with Codrescu or Ferlinghetti, there is nothing for me to address.

I generally address people whom I do not know personally by their title. It is an idiosyncrasy of mine-- nothing more.

It's true that many poets do not appreciate honest criticism. Doug Holder can testify to the number of angry letters that he received when I was a reviewer for
Ibbetson Street Press. I don't really mind if my criticism is unpopular, but because I present my arguments in a certain manner, and I substantiate my arguments, I am generally taken seriously, even by those who disagree. I don't take your views seriously.

Make any other contrafactual assumptions you wish about my person. However, I request that you cease from insinuating that I am a Christian.

Ian Thal