REVIEWS OF FRAGMENTS #1

The hard copy of Fragments #1 received many excellent reviews in the "zine press." I appreciate all the great comments and support. In the reviews that follow, I have tried to select ones that are somewhat critical and in-depth, providing more than just a synopsis or a "this is a great zine" commentary.

From SUBVERSION #4
P.O. Box 2881
Pullman, WA 99165-2881

The most concise, supported and well crafted argument against the decay of Western civilization ever put into words. This zine is full of choice quotes that could fill a dozen Herbert's Corners' and the editor's writing is even better. He walks you through the disintegration of our society, the impending apocalypse and how we can make our lives better in the meantime. He believes that by refusing to be part of the system we can destroy it. If we show no interest in an organization it will "disintegrate." Brilliant writing that is so informed, it's scary. You cannot refute the points he brings up and can only choose to ignore them like all the members of the power class already do. Don't look for any music reviews polluting this zine or any wishy washy arguments like the ones here. Pure of heart and noble in intent, I am truly in awe.

From LIP #5—May/June 1997
1400 W. Devon #243
Chicago, IL 60660

Fragments #1 is a treatise on breaking down the order of our global society and examining our urgent collective need for community and autonomy if we are to slip the noose our habits and ideology are tightening around our necks. While often making some potentially didactic statements, Jim achieves the remarkable (at least to me) feat of embracing contradictions and pulling common threads from a great swath of ideology and weaving those into his personal experience in an examined manner. Working out from a core value of "human life and dignity are sacred," Fragments # 1 incorporates quotes from people like Marx, Einstein and Wilhelm Reich, along with some clever cut-and-paste artwork to show the common threads that might lead a sane person to conclude that we are in trouble.

Reading over this issue, I had the disturbing experience of wondering what someone would think of Fragments #1 if they recovered it after some possible apocalypse. I pictured them taking in the darkly humorous cartoon depicting a man, a woman and (presumably) their two kids, running hand-in-hand along the beach. The woman, with a smile on her face: "Maybe someday we'll wake up from this stupid fantasy." The man, also with a smile: "Not me. I'm committed to TOTAL OBLIVION!"

There's some really good writing about what it was like to be in LA. during and after the riots, and the piece titled "Living Out of Sync," which goes into, among other things, some of the more laughable and lamentable ideas expounded by William Bennett in his "Index of Leading Cultural Indicators," was great.

Brian Brasel

From THE RADICAL INDIVIDUALIST #6
1442-A Walnut St. #64
Berkeley, CA 94709

This seems to be more a stream of thoughts-out-loud from someone who is still working toward a settled view of the world, rather than a setting forth of a coherent idea-system. The unnamed author is intelligent and literate but rather naive; my guess would be that he (she?) is fairly young.

Government, religion, capitalism, business, and the family are all lumped together as a single more-or-less undifferentiated system of alienation and oppression, with little analysis of the real relationships among these institutions other than an occasional comment that they reinforce each other. There are some rather heavy-handed cartoons. Some of the material is pretty scary; the 1992 Los Angeles riots are described as "rebellion" and "uprising", with "an almost carnival-like atmosphere"— tell it to all the people who lost small businesses or even their very lives to the mobs. I'm sure KKK lynchings sometimes had an almost carnival-like atmosphere too. An otherwise fairly sensible discussion of the conformism-promoting effects of mass education contains the astonishing comment, "The end result of education should be thinking, feeling, concerned human beings who are skilled in pursuing personal fulfillment. If this means we might have people walking around who can't read or solve algebraic equations, so be it." It is hard to imagine anything which would more cripple a person's power of "thinking" or of "skilled pursuing" of his goals than illiteracy, which dooms him to poverty and cuts him off from the world of books and ideas. A person (or nation) adopting this philosophy would be doomed to economic subjugation by those who maintain high educational standards. It's particularly surprising to see a comment like this from a writer whose own literacy level is obviously in the top 5% of the population.

Yet overall this zine is miles better than the commonplace leftist or Marxist blather which it occasionally resembles. There are a lot of interesting quotes from everyone from Camus to Wilhelm Reich to Raoul Vaneigem. The author's discussions of how traditional institutions are being abandoned because they no longer suit the needs of today's individualistic people show a lot of insight. I get the impression that the tired leftist rhetoric and bashing of competition, capitalism, etc. intermixed with these discussions just reflect a lack of exposure to other anti-establishment systems of thought, rather than the author being genuinely limited to this intellectual level. On the whole the zine is worth the price, and I suspect this writer is going to get much more interesting and original as time passes.

From DIXIE PHOENIX #15 — July 1997
3888 N. 30th St.
Arlington, VA 22207

Far too many people decide that political/cultural/social analysis does not require thought. Then they write a zine about it. They know they're onto something and they're right: they've found a way to get angry and stay that way. I never found the logic in this, but of course that's because there is none. One can only hope they will embrace life instead of finding reasons to be repulsed and resentful of it before most of theirs is gone.

Fragments was created out of a great deal of thought and observation, which is why I found it so compelling. Even when I disagreed strongly with a hypothesis or two, they were laid out in an earnest—not angry—manner. Furthermore, reading Fragments makes you question what your own thoughts on some of the depressing observations of our modern times.

Apparently, Fragments has gotten some flack from some reviewers for not being conclusive: not offering solutions to the problems he observes. Someone should point out to these folks that an intelligent person may know a car is wrecked while not having the expertise to know how to fix it. In fact, Jim does offers solutions and explore avenues away from what he sees as many roads leading to humanity's destruction.

The issue's theme is 'disintegration' and through several sections of clustered 'fragments', he discusses aspects of society and predominantly American culture that are devolving to a point of near-collapse. I agree that in an era of multi-national mega-corporations, nation-states on overdrive and an economic system that avoids civil liberties and democracy where feasible, we are losing our own humanity, our very concepts of what it is to live decently. However, too much of the argument appears to rest on a notion that we will be able to just scrap the whole works and begin again.

Certainly, at a zine with a name like ours, we know of death and rebirth, but a phoenix rises out its own ashes, not out of nothingness. Reincarnation depends on a previous incarnation: you need to have been from somewhere, be something, to go and be something else. Even if it's a radical opposite of what you just were, it can't be an opposite unless it's opposite to something. And we don't need to limit ourselves to binary opposites either.

Coupled with this issue is another stated notion that we can choose our lifestyles and places in society. Beyond the fact that lives should really not be thought of as a style or commodity, the basic bottom line is we are not brought into the world with a blank slate with which to choose how we'd like to live. No one has ever had that luxury in the history of humanity. While democratic republics such as ours allow a great deal of freedom to attain positions and standards of living, there are certain factors which are ascribed to us at birth. This is not a case for genetic determinism or similar bunk. If you are born without the ability to see, you will face issues that a sighted person will not simply because of the physical facts at hand. Bill Gates children, if he has any, will most likely not have to worry about the cost of college us many other children and their parents will. As one Special Olympics athlete put it: "I'm not disadvantaged, I was born at a different starting position."

What Jim does best in Fragments is make those observations where our democratic republic is less democratic and humane; even where it is more materialistic and downright antagonistic toward human decency. Where it falls short is where it asserts an unspoken assumption that a 'counterculture' is not inexorably linked to the culture: that you may find and replace culture as you might an old gasket.

You are not free from culture any more than you are enslaved by it just as you are not free to live without a pancreas yet are not enslaved by it. Culture is akin to an organ: part of you, Organic. You may make decisions that affect culture just as you may take supplements to alter the insulin and glucagon levels of your pancreas.....but you can't do away with all together and hope that something else will come along. (By the way, anyone is welcome to send me a picture of their conception of a DEMON PANCREAS FROM OUTER SPACE!)

For those whose interest has been piqued by this review-now-essay, I encourage you to order a copy of Fragments. His second issue is slated to be about 'power' and should also be out by the time of this review.

Bjorn Munson

From MEDIA DIET REVIEW— Sept. 1997
P.O. Box 441915
Somerville, MA 02144

Drawing influence from such social thinkers as Karl Marx and Guy Debord, the anonymous author expounds on the disintegration of our social and urban infrastructure, claiming that it's a positive step toward the reinvention of self and social revolution. The author responds to the writings of William Bennett and Jacques Barzun, and writes about the Rodney King verdict riots, graffiti as politicized art, and his frugal lifestyle as a means to existential transcendence. Written in a dense, postmodern mode of commentary, the pieces are impenetrable entry points for those not already questioning traditional conservatism and liberalism, and frustrating to those already in the choir or at least trying on the robes. The questions the author asks aren't new, the targets are easy, and the author offers no answers. Such self-assured shallowness begs expansion.


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