Suggestions for readings on Radical Thought
December 19, 2007 12:21 PM   Subscribe

I'll be teaching a first-year composition class at university. What I teach, I hope, is critical thinking, invention and arrangement of writing. The topic for the semester is American radical thought. I am looking for suggestions for essays, visual pieces (art, film, video), songs (audio & lyrics) that cover a wide range of radical response & resistance.

I loathe assigning edited collections, so I am assembling readily available essays, articles, video clips, song lyrics so that students have access to a range of radical writing (fiction and non). this won't be a survey course, but I do plan on taking the readings from the Iroquois Confederation through hacktivism. I'm looking for pdf's, film clips, journal articles, and the like. I have access to most e-resources, so just the author/performer names & title of pieces is all I need, but will also appreciate links, pdfs, YouTube suggestions and so on. What are your favorite examples of radical expression?
posted by beelzbubba to Education (28 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Phil Ochs' topical songwriting comes to mind. He wrote on a variety of topics from the Viet Nam conflict to Nixon's policies to the Kitty Genovese murder, sarcastically and tunefully.
posted by Miko at 12:24 PM on December 19, 2007

Emma Goldman (part 1, part 2)
posted by mattbucher at 12:34 PM on December 19, 2007

The Ballet or the Bullet by Malcolm X (or pretty much anything from him)
posted by milarepa at 12:35 PM on December 19, 2007

Mike Gravel's 1972 book Citizen Power is soon to be re-published. Word is that it will be available for free download on his campaign's website. I have only read excerpts but it seems like it would fit your bill. It might be a nice way to tie together radical populism of the 60s with current events, too.
posted by mds35 at 12:40 PM on December 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

Woody Guthrie.

Marcus Garvey.

John Brown.

James Brown!

Get on up!

Dammit. Busy, can't take time to find links.....
posted by BitterOldPunk at 12:40 PM on December 19, 2007

Several speeches and interviews with Malcom X are available on YouTube: "By Any Means Necessary" or "The Ballot or the Bullet" is a favorite. Also, the "Combahee River Collective Statement" is a great reading to include. For a modern radical folk singer, I'd recommend David Rovics. Additionally, any songs by Sweet Honey in the Rock.
posted by bjgeiger at 12:41 PM on December 19, 2007

Ballot! Not ballet. That's just silly.
posted by milarepa at 12:41 PM on December 19, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for these suggestions and links. These three folks were already on my list - along with Tom Paine, Gil Scott-Heron, Eugene Debs, Lawrence Lessig, Hakim Bey, Sarah Moore Grimke, Maria W. Stewart, and some lesser known but important Native American speakers/writers, as well as the Watts Prophets, Last Poets, and Public Enemy. Keep them coming! I appreciate all suggestions, from any (American) era.
posted by beelzbubba at 12:50 PM on December 19, 2007

This archived thread from the Women's Studies Listserv (WMST-L) might provide some good suggestions. The topic is "Women's Speeches for Rhetorical Analysis."
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:02 PM on December 19, 2007

You've already taken note of this essay, haven't you? As I was reading it, and marveling at so many of its brilliant features (and Bangs' tremendous influence on contemporary prose) I kept wishing, "Dang! If only I was still teaching comp!"

Also, take note of Bernays' Propaganda. It's now in reprint with a foreword by Mark Crispin Miller. I taught it to an advanced comp class a few years back, but it would work well with a very smart intro comp class, which yours sounds like it's shaping up to become.
posted by deejay jaydee at 1:03 PM on December 19, 2007

Best answer: The Labadie Collection at the University of Michigan (wikipedia calls it "one of the world’s most complete collections of materials documenting the history of anarchism and other radical movements from the 19th century to the present") has been making a decent portion of their resources available online through the Humanities Text Initiative.
posted by tractorfeed at 1:11 PM on December 19, 2007

I don't think there are any original recordings of Joe Hill, but Smithsonian Folkways has an album of later people doing his songs (and songs about him.) You could look into that. I think there's also a speech by Elizabeth Gurley Flynn on the album.

Another person to look into is Frances (Fanny) Wright, a 19th century freethinker, abolitionist, feminist and advocate of free love.
posted by craichead at 1:15 PM on December 19, 2007

How about some (American) Transcendentalists? Thoreau, Emerson, Margaret Fuller spring first to mind.
posted by rtha at 1:21 PM on December 19, 2007

If you're interested in America's long history of leftist music, there's a fantastic and exhaustive 10-CD box set called Songs for Political Action: Folk Music, Topical Songs and the American Left 1926-1953 which features recordings by Pete Seeger, Josh White, Paul Robeson, Earl Robinson, Josh White, Woody Guthrie, and many others, and comes with a very well done hardcover book of lyrics, pictures, and historical information.

It seems like it might be hard to turn up - Amazon's out, and it was put out on a German record label - but if you can track it down, it's well worth it.
posted by bubukaba at 1:31 PM on December 19, 2007

The Federalist Papers. ("Radical" depends on where you sit.)
posted by Brian James at 1:34 PM on December 19, 2007

Exene Cervenka's recording "Old Wives Tales." Specifically, her poem "Gravel" - from what I understand, it got her put on the FBI's watch list.
posted by chez shoes at 1:40 PM on December 19, 2007

Jimi Hendrix's "Star Spangled Banner" definitely comes to mind. To this day, it's one of the most evocative statements of wordless resistance I've ever heard.

(Of course, I realize your course is basically, well, analyzing words, but I think it would serve as a good introduction, or a "Here's the OTHER side of the coin!" sort of example.)
posted by sarahsynonymous at 2:00 PM on December 19, 2007

Definitely check out Abbie Hoffman's Steal This Book (the complete book is on-line at that link). It's certainly not the best radical writing you'll find, but as far as I can tell it's very much representative of the style that was in vogue with the late-'60s/early '70s radicals. And Hoffman's writing, for all its faults, is still vastly superior to many others of that era (I'm thinking of Jerry Rubin specifically, whose book We Are Everywhere read like someone doing a bad parody of Hoffman). Personally, I thought Hoffman's Woodstock Nation was a better book, but it's not available on-line for free!

I'd also recommend checking out Patrick Sky's album Songs That Made America Famous, which was a pretty vicious parody of the radical/topical songwriting movement. It's the last album Sky cut before dropping out of the music business (although he eventually returned, refocused on traditional Irish music). My favorite cut on the album is a cover of Dave Van Ronk's "Luang Prabang" (warning: song automatically plays on that link, and is totally NSFW), which is (in Van Ronk's words) "An imperialist love song, also a protest against wimpy anti-war songs."
posted by Banky_Edwards at 2:46 PM on December 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

Also, for a perspective that's often overlooked when people discuss the radical movements of the post-Civil Rights era, check out any of Oscar Acosta's writings. He had two major books published during his lifetime, and a couple of collections of shorter works recently released. Acosta is notorious for being the model for Hunter S. Thompson's "Samoan attorney" in Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas, but in real life he was heavily involved in the Chicano "Brown Power" movement and wrote quite a bit about what it was like growing up Mexican in the US, and his experiences as both a radical (in general) and a leader of the Brown Power movement.
posted by Banky_Edwards at 2:51 PM on December 19, 2007

Sojourner Truth's speech "Ain't I a Woman?"
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:18 PM on December 19, 2007

Bob Dylan's political stuff.
posted by RussHy at 3:27 PM on December 19, 2007

Well, this is an easy name to drop, but I've been getting into some of Chomsky's work on media recently. Perhaps an excerpt from Necessary Illusions or Manufacturing Consent? They aren't exactly astounding theses—corporate-owned media is biased!—but they both go a long way in explaining a lot about the last 5 years, and they dove-tail pretty well with the ideas about critical thinking.

I'm not sure how you're defining radical, though. I assume we're talking social/political/economic here. Are they people and groups that stood for massive systemic change—something closer to self-proclaimed radicals? Or are they people and groups that were called radicals as a means of marginalizing them? Or both? Or something else entirely?
posted by Weebot at 4:06 PM on December 19, 2007

Response by poster: For the sake of brevity (not my strong suit) I'll respond to the "how I defining radical" question by saying that the class will be looking at the writing, the composing, invention, and vision/revision strategies regardless of who the person is/was or the movement represented. It is less about the object of radicalism (and not a course on radicalism itself) and more about oppositional rhetoric tactics and strategy.
posted by beelzbubba at 4:20 PM on December 19, 2007

I've been thinking that Jefferson's collage, The Morals and Life of Jesus of Nazareth, "extracted textually from the Gospels in Greek, Latin, French and English [...] cut by him out of printed copies of Greek, Latin, French and English Testaments and pasted in this book of blank pages..." is an interesting mode of collage/writing as well as a nice example of negative rhetoric - liberating precepts from metaphysics. The example could also be viewed as a riff on pamphleteering a la The Age of Reason or Common Sense.
posted by xod at 5:11 PM on December 19, 2007

Some Ani difranco song lyrics are pretty good.
posted by exlotuseater at 10:31 PM on December 19, 2007

I also imagine Jefferson's operation as a proto-cut-up - The Third Mind, (Burroughs and Gysin) discusses some of Dos Passos' and T.S. Eliot's work as proto-cut-ups.
posted by xod at 6:57 AM on December 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised
posted by fidelity at 9:50 AM on December 20, 2007

Best answer: I know we're not supposed to self link, but is an online radical reader that is already on a ton of syllabuses. There's over a hundred readings, it's designed to be easily printable and readable, and it's the best website on the internet.
posted by history is a weapon at 9:51 AM on December 21, 2007

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