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Culture Literature
Culture: Art in a Liberal Frame
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Thursday, 30 August 2007 Written by Henry Midgley



Kos he created a political website
and now his readers are creating art

Daily Kos is one of the most important, if not the most important, websites in American politics today. It functions as a fund raising and ideas generating base for the Democratic party and in particular for partisan Democrats. The website was involved in the Howard Dean campaign and the campaign to unseat Joe Leiberman as the Democratic nominee to be senator for Connecticut. Basically the site is filled with electioneering and campaigning political obsessives- and a typical front page post will take the form of the analysis of a particular state and the Democrats' chances there. The website seeks self consciously to emulate the rightwing machine in US politics- particularly what its founder calls the rightwing noise machine. So it would seem an unlikely place for art to spring from.

But Daily Kos is also more than that- its also a community of likeminded people- people engaging and interacting with each other, making friendships, betraying each other and constantly talking online with each other. Threads and diaries deal with non-political subjects as well as the political fare of the majority of the site and readers come together to speak in awed tones of various commenters and their literary skill. So its no surprise that some of these Kossacks discovered that they had a similar literary bent and decided to club together, to collect their thoughts and publish them in time for the Yearly Kos Convention. The result of their work is a slim volume called Art in a Liberal Frame which brings together the work of perhaps about 40 artists and writers- including our very own Stormbear with his cartoons and Alexander Rubio with his poetry (as you will no doubt expect my connection to both precludes any further comment on either's work).


The volume was put together and edited by Cosmic Debris, a budding artist herself on the evidence of this volume, who brought together with the community the art on display. To be honest she seems to my inexpert eye to have done a very good job. Some of the pictures in particular present very striking images which deserve wider publicity. For example, 'Staring Back' a picture by Lucius Vorenus is an unsettling portrait of a stone statue of a soldier in a memorial staring backwards straight into the camera, his eyes shielded by the shadow cast by his helmet. Its an interesting picture partly for the balance between the grey figure of the soldier, and the sunlight and people walking around him and trees. The shadowed eyes though we might presume capture less the idylls of peace on a summer's day, than they do the horrors of war somewhere far far away. Lucius seems in the image to have captured something of the way that the distance between the cold graven image of the soldier and the laughing strolling civilians should disquiet us living here far away from war. Remembering Katrina, a drawing by Paul Kane, is equally impressive, a simple line drawing of a black man playing an accordion, it resonates with all the imagery of southern poverty and sadness that one could imagine. The resigned closed eyes speak of the despair.


There is also some good literary work in here. Particularly stories about the community come to mind as interesting insights into what its like to be a member of Kos. I very much enjoyed 'Another Thread' by Susan McNerney, which is a surreal account of what might happen on a comment thread at Kos- it captures the casual way that people interract with the net though- that its just a normal part of every day life, and like the best unsettling fiction it makes that strange. It also reflects on the way that through writing we create a reality. Other pieces of prose are more politicised- Cosmic Debris writes a fairy tale for example about Free Trade- whilst I think I disagree with her about the issue, she definitely has the capacity to shock and a sparce style and subjective viewpoint makes her point very clear. Whatever your views confronting the tragedy that she describes is indispensible to actually understanding the consequences of the policy- even if you think there are other better consequences as well.


There is much more poetry here than prose. Nightprowlkitty's work possibly falls between the two genres- her piece on Anna Akhmatova is a wonderful homage to the Russian poetess and heroine of resistance to Stalinism. Nightprowlkitty captures in that poem the way that literature became a symbol of Russian resistance to tyranny- flew as she says like doves above the stomping heels of Soviet opression. Having said that there are more conventional poems as well- 'SS Summons' by Brahman Colorado imitates Shelley with its political outrage directed at specific targets (think Masque of Anarchy but with Bush as Castlereagh) and its swift metre. The regret for the passing of FDR is palpable and almost tangible and runs through the skin of the poem itself. John de Herrera's holiday poem though is more meditative and philosophical, discussing the nature of 'love and fear... those two avenues we traverse between' and their relation to religion. Herrera definitely has something in his portrait of human kind as self dramatists- within a drama in which we would like everything to be fixed.


A collection stands or falls by its strongest entries and yes there are weak moments here- occasionally the pieces have a very current focus, and given your reviewer's current mind he found that dispiriting but even there there were some gems. And you could say the same for many more famous cultural institutions as well. Despite that there is much of merit here and it does hang together as a vaguely liberal enterprise. There is no doubt that much of the work stems from rage, sometimes the writer has used that rage to pull inward and outward, so that his writing grows with his anger, sometimes one gets the feeling that the writing is diminished by the anger.


Overall though this is a fascinating attempt- no doubt it will be refined in later years and I envisage more volumes like this in the future in which things will be refined- but for a first effort from a voluntary group this is pretty good and the editor in particular deserves commending for her effort and her willingness to put this altogether. As to be honest does the printer, Brahman Colorado and the assistant editor December Sue, both of whom put in a lot of work as well and deserve a mention- such voluntary efforts are to be applauded. Lets hope the Conservative Blogosphere is sufficiently riled by this to produce their own volume- an arms race of literary production now that's the kind of debate that would be fun to referee!