Contribute to The Anvil Review

The Anvil Review started as an experiment. How do we, as anarchists*, engage with the world outside of ourselves. How do we present ourselves to the world or engage with the world’s presentation of us. We started The Anvil Review with the hope of addressing this broad question of engagement through the form of the review essay.
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Doing It Yourself to a Fault

The death of print hasn’t killed people’s interest in watching the outside world. It has just added another layer between the windows and the world worth watching. As a result we no longer judge what we see on its merits but on the qualities of the glass between. Does it entertain? Is it beautiful? Are we respected, for our time and observation, by professional glazing and temper? We have conversations, in real life, that sound like rapid fire checklists of articles we have skimmed and that evoked something in us (a feeling? a thought? no time to know as there are a thousand more headlines to read).

While scanning this flood of information there is little time to digest, review, or even position oneself in regards to the material. One is a leaf in the wave. The idea that this is “information surfing” pretends to an agency that no longer exists in this third decade of mass networked information. The better metaphor may be one of a blanket suffocating a fire. The passion to create, small things, pales in the face of a reality where a fourteen year old observing that Friday comes after Thursday can be propped in front of a camera and watched over 167 million times.

Where there was once a spirit of rebellion in the practice of scribbling a word on paper and sharing it with other people trapped in homes, now we barely have the energy to attempt to semaphore. The democratization of digital creation has led to the few creative outlets being the most horrific (e.g. 4chan). It is so easy to say things that we say very little at all and nothing of importance. Nothing to shake worlds.

The new professionalism of digital information means that spinning up a server has never been easier nor less necessary. New radical projects click three buttons, fill in 10 – 20 fields and have launched a new Facebook™ site, where all the information one would have put together after days of hacking code, securing services, and agonizing over browser compatibility can be shared in minutes. The ease of sharing information means that sharing itself is free, or to put it differently, is the product itself.

When we share our dreams in their perfect enclosure we validate it (the enclosure). This is beyond being a source, or creator, of advertising or marketing material, but enclosures are also prisons of a sort. Rational self-interest has motivated pirates, rebels, and free thinkers into gilded cages where life (defined in this case as sharing information–also known as communicating) couldn’t be easier. Where life itself is pablum of links, factoids, and near opinions barely worth watching from the safety of our own homes. We are becoming bored of watching ourselves perform a communication dance near each other. Always reaching, never touching.

The Anvil Review is about bringing a hammer to the glass. Bruises and flaws are far superior to the blue (#3B5998) bars the imprison us. Bring back the xerox machines, printing press, and flawed do it yourself spirit of our childhood! Fucked up cut-and-paste is superior to fixed pixel width and the tyranny of the desk chair. Every time I see a book shaped to the ass of an actual reader I want to run and hug the person holding it. They are the few who have escaped the manicured landscape of our beautiful ever present reality of the lonely crowds and self prescribed limitations.

As long as ours hands have not curled into a carpal tunneled claws we will contest their presentation of the world, transgress against the theme park of false oppositions or one great nation, and engage with the tragic, failed, glorious projects we bring to each other in this, the only moment we have together.

Everything is Under Review – Editorial #2

Welcome to the second issue of The Anvil Review, a collection of review essays about popular culture, literature, and radical material.

Popular culture seems to insist that each of us takes positions all the time, pro or con, yes or no, either/or. Most of these are choices between two equally stupid options. Wrap yourself in a flag, believe this or that about sex, drugs, responsibility, and file sharing and shut your mind. Take one side or another in difficult questions about living in a complicated world that is only increasing in complexity. The constant drum of celebrity gossip, manufactured outrage, and drama that completely obfuscates important things is deafening. We are deaf.

This deafness from the cacophony around us prevents us hearing the screams of the people of Northern Africa or of Rust-Belt America. It prevents us from taking our own problems seriously, or slowing down from the relentlessness of going to work, paying the bills, or hearing anything outside the drone of mundanity.

We live in a permissive world where things happen to us all the time without needing (or waiting for) us to consent. Want to work a forty-hour-a-week job? Want to eat crappy food? How about a cigarette, a joint, a credit card, or a pill? Do you want to be so-called connected to your friends primarily from the isolation of your bedroom?

But there is a moment when you take a pause, when you exert your will onto your life for long enough to evaluate the options you are confronted with (which are all assumed to be non-options because the answer is always yes) and choose none of the above. The first time you see a fork in the road and choose a knife is the moment you realize that you have the power, and ability, to put everything under review. It is your cautious intelligence that frees you from the cacophony of simplification and allows you to begin to question.

On the off beat we have the opportunity to make our own choices. When we are not battened down by our shitty jobs or the qualities of our limitations–our inability to communicate, lack of resources, alienation–we can come to our own conclusions. This moment, and the decision to ponder, is precious. Perhaps this is the most precious time each of us have in our adult lives, when we make real decisions about where the world (large and small) ends and we begin. Where we decide about the things we feel strong enough to say NO to. It is this no that drives the producers of the Anvil.

This project of review essays, at best, uses something real, something labored over and shared with the world, as a way to speak both to that labor and to something else. It could be that a review of the latest pop album speaks to the depth and composition of the alienation one feels or to the soaring joy of the ephemeral moment the album demarcates. At worst a review essay doesn’t say anything at all and serves only as a gravestone to a labor of creation and the potential that that creation served for its author. Of course, we aspire to reaching for depths and heights and not to the measuring of rows of gravestones.

Welcome to the Anvil – Editorial #1

Print is dead. The paper you are holding in your hand does not exist. It is not economically feasible. The demographic of print readership is older and heading north. As a result, this paper does not hold the presumption of the possibility of a successful enterprise. It is not capable of anything beyond what has already happened on the site. The medium is the message and the message is clear. But… (and we are not alone in this) we love print: the texture and physicality of it. More importantly we believe that reading the exact same thing in print rather than on a screen is a qualitatively different experience. It is slower, it invites a full reading rather than just a skimming. It smells, of paper, ink and the human hands it has passed through before yours. It feels real.

What we are

The Anvil is created by authors who are, or who have been, involved in direct contestation –not professionals, detached from what they write about, but direct observers and participants of this world, engaged in the tensions of our time. The mission of The Anvil is to share our observations on (macro and micro) culture in such a way that the content of what we are reviewing, and the deeper issues it exposes, are not compromised by our individual affiliations with a particular tendency, association, or principle. Because most of The Anvil’s authors are also transgressors they often choose to write with pen names. We suffer labels ungratefully and would like to use The Anvil as the platform by which we make our arguments and have our discussions away from labels. Reviews and critical essays are the way that we are going to pound these conversations into shape.

What we review

This first issue is a good representation of the range of material we will be reviewing. This includes a critical review of The Coming Insurrection, a book broadly known because for the histrionics of Glenn Beck’s partial review of it* (which launched TCI to the top of the non-fiction charts for a few weeks) as well as a broad reading of the music of John Prine (and how it speaks to, and against, the American psyche, irony, and common sense). On the one hand, popular culture is reviewed, from Sons of Anarchy to World War Z. On the other, reviewers consider the oeuvres of Jacques Camatte and Isabelle Eberhardt.

These pieces are eclectic and political, topical and obscure, literate and superficial. Reviews range from considerations on material for its life changing characteristics to grocery lists relating popular culture to life changing choices, dissonant rebellions against simplistic unities and paeans to the text (or album) itself.

How we do it

The content in The Anvil paper begins with the site. Everything you are holding in your hand began as an article, and often a conversation, on the website. We believe that we can take advantage of the best of both mediums to both have the level of conversation we would like to have AND reach readers where they are at.

In our unreal world, it is hard not to be overwhelmed by the invisible things that are easily confused with reality: fake controversies, confused priorities, hyperbolic rhetoric about inconsequential things. We become disengaged with the torrents that pass us by. Paper slows us down enough to engage in the ideas that we are talking about. With the site as a place to have these conversations we believe they will become something of consequence. It could be activity together, it could be a different eye on the same things we observed yesterday, or it could be your participation in future issues of The Anvil. We have a world to explore together.

Strike the iron of this world while it is hot!

Footnote: “The book was written after riots in the Paris suburbs in 2005 tore the country apart, and that was before the economy really got bad. This is the anti- “Common Sense,” where I call for peaceful protest.” –Glenn Beck

About Us

Contestation

We are those who think about, write about, and are involved with this world. We suffer the fate of writers. We have lived too much of our lives in books. We desire worlds that we know are possible and yet are out of reach. We are observers of this world.

But we are also participants in the contestation of this era. We are not satisfied with simple solutions to the large problems of this world or with its discontents. We live lives, freely chosen, of contestation and The Anvil is a record of that choice.

Transgression

Contestation

We are those who think about, write about, and are involved with this world. We suffer the fate of writers. We have lived too much of our lives in books. We desire worlds that we know are possible and yet are out of reach. We are observers of this world.

But we are also participants in the contestation of this era. We are not satisfied with simple solutions to the large problems of this world or with its discontents. We live lives, freely chosen, of contestation and The Anvil is a record of that choice.

Transgression

We are boundary crossers. We are travelers across a landscape where we are not invited to anything but shopping and auto-annihilation. We suffer labels and resent them. We work and we are precarious. We play and feel the emptiness of not playing for keeps. We suffer for being bridges and are thankful for this.

This world is one of circumscription. The Anvil is a place to temper tools for digging and cutting our way out.

Engagement

Given the troubles we face it is hard to believe that we still choose engagement, even when “checking out” could be so much easier. The people in our lives demand nothing less than our attention and every effort to our project: whether simple or large. Therefore we are engaged in many aspects of social life from the politics of the newspaper, the street, and a thousand back rooms, to the theories of other lands and this one, and the devouring of our media rich, digitally disconnected world.

The Anvil is not a review site of detached observers but of people utterly engaged in the tensions of our times with our bodies, our minds, and each other.

Strike the iron of this world while it is hot!

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is civil conversation?

The fact that this has to be stated explicitly speaks to the way in which "new media" is actually bad media for many people. Something to avoid rather than to participate in. Radical content attracts people who are marginal and that is a pleasure and a curse. A curse because every attempt at having a certain kind of conversation (in this context we will call it a building-idea kind) can be disrupted by nonsense. A pleasure because the place where people are starting the conversations can be enlightening.

1. What is civil conversation?

The fact that this has to be stated explicitly speaks to the way in which "new media" is actually bad media for many people. Something to avoid rather than to participate in. Radical content attracts people who are marginal and that is a pleasure and a curse. A curse because every attempt at having a certain kind of conversation (in this context we will call it a building-idea kind) can be disrupted by nonsense. A pleasure because the place where people are starting the conversations can be enlightening.

The Anvil will enforce civil conversation by the subjective view of the editors. This probably means that we will use Drupal to "unpublish" comments that are shrill in tenor. We will try to keep the critical "meta" conversation about site procedure off the pages where we are having the conversations that this site is actually about…

Contestation. Transgression. Engagement.

2. What is a review essay?

We would like to believe this is a wide open category that includes poetry about something that was inspiring and an angry rant against something infuriating. Most commonly we expect a readable, informed, article by someone who is arguing as if they have something at stake.

Criticism has, for too long, been something that is either seen as something that people do in university or only do with their enemies. We are trying to create a place where we can talk about the things that we care in a way that honors how complex our feelings often are.

3. How do I submit my writing?

You can use the form on the lower right hand site (Create Content) or send an email to anvil@theanvilreview.org. Either way is safe but email is faster and can provide some way for us to have a dialogue about the content before it is posted.

4. Print? Is it dead?

Yes and no. Print is not financially sustainable and isn’t going to be for the forseeable future for interesting content BUT it is the intention of The Anvil to release a print edition every 3-6 months anyway. How will we do it? Excellent question. We will probably offer subscriptions and a couple of generous doners to get started… but that chapter has yet to be written.

Welcome to The Anvil

We are starting a high quality review site for writings by anarchists (explicit and implicit). We hope to critically review content spread across popular culture, literature, anarchist publishing, and everywhere our reviewers desire. The site will be called The Anvil, be hosted here, and will launch at the end of January 2010. If the site goes well we hope to decant a print (newsprint) version of the best of the site every few months.

We are starting a high quality review site for writings by anarchists (explicit and implicit). We hope to critically review content spread across popular culture, literature, anarchist publishing, and everywhere our reviewers desire. The site will be called The Anvil, be hosted here, and will launch at the end of January 2010. If the site goes well we hope to decant a print (newsprint) version of the best of the site every few months.