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.