by Peter Byrne
(Swans - February 22, 2010) I felt that I would be representing all my fellow writers at Swans. But as usual I was going off on my own bat. It seemed -- felt, as I say -- the right thing to do. After all I was the footloose one among us, always country hopping. In practical terms only I could interview this individual who treated us as if he were the CEO of a sweatshop.
And he had not been easy to track down. The only inkling I gave my editor of my intention was to e-mail asking for the culprit's address and full name. "It can't be Cort Greene," I said. "That's a city square somewhere, and the posh -e on the end, making shite out of shit, puts it in an up-market neighborhood." But in fact that was apparently what he did call himself. "Of course," said my editor, "he's given to nostalgia and the name may be like La Pasionaria or Danny the Red, merely his nom de guerre. Or rather his keyboard moniker. He's a sit-down warrior who hits the cut and paste keys like the Terminator."
And where did this fiery typist live? "Don't know," said my editor. "He's recently signed petitions for this and that in Miami, Florida, Madison, Wisconsin, and Portland, Oregon. All we can say for sure of his whereabouts is that he's always moving farther to the left. He's clearly a revolutionary of the petitioning faction, and ambidextrous. I've been told he once signed a petition denouncing Balkan chicanery with his left hand while initially one hitting Colombia hard with his right. That he has very bold handwriting is all we can say for certain about this guy's accomplishments."
"A kind of Red Robin Hood?"
"More like Little Red Riding Hood with chin whiskers. Yellow flashes of his big-bad-wolf incisors turn up in blog comments."
Now I don't brag most weekdays but if there's one thing I'm proud of it's my skill at chasing people down in their lairs. It may come from a life piled high with private-eye paperbacks. More likely it's the result of arriving in cities with no place to bunk down. I've had to dig up second cousins or old friends who -- they've always forgotten -- sat next to me in kindergarten. I made short work of finding the long shadow of Cort the Predator. I was a subway ride away from confronting him.
That meant I should rehearse what I was going to say. "Cort," I'd begin, "I hope I can call you Cort, or is it Courtney? I don't mind calling you comrade, but you might find that a bit passé, seeing that you're a cyberspace militant. You might prefer a three-letter abbreviation. In any case, green is my favorite color. But that's not meant to cast any bourgeois aspersions on red. By the way, I bet you have a twee middle name. Scarlet Greene would be pretty stunning as an on-line signature."
Maybe not. I ought perhaps to begin with serious matters. "Look, Mr. Greene, at Swans Commentary we create things. They are not quite objects, because they're made of notions and words. But we shape them as craftsmen would, say a cabinetmaker or better yet a sculptor. It's personal work, necessarily individual, never anonymous. A machine couldn't do it. A committee couldn't do it. A clandestine cell couldn't do it. The work embodies our time, devotion and personal inclinations. It doesn't bring in any money at all."
"Now this personal work of ours, these near-objects, we don't want to be thrown out of the car window like used Kleenex. We don't want them stuffed into cracks around the window frame to keep out the draught. We want our work set up in conditions where, should anyone be interested, he can make it part of his thinking and enjoyment. There's no charge. But since we are responsible for our work, we must take care in launching it into the world. We don't want it shouted down a dead-end street or torn into incomprehensible fragments. We don't want it scribbled on the walls of some derelict blog like so much shit-house graffiti."
Would that be a shade too solemn and highfalutin? It's true that some of our writing isn't all that good. At times it's downright bad. But it's always signed and the writer always stands by it. We think he has a right to a hearing in decent surroundings. That's why where plastic predominates we have an iron rule that is set down more than once in each release of Swans:
Feel free to insert a link to this work on your Web site or to disseminate its URL on your favorite lists, quoting the first paragraph or providing a summary. However, DO NOT steal, scavenge, or repost this work on the Web or any electronic media. Inlining, mirroring, and framing are expressly prohibited. Pulp re-publishing is welcome -- please contact the publisher. All material is copyrighted and all rights are reserved.
On second thought, it may be better to open my interview with the bare facts. Internaught Greene won't have much time between postings of other people's work for talk of values, ethics, respect, workers' rights and suchlike. In brief, then, an article called "Beginnings With No Known End" was published in Swans January 10, 2010. Gilles d'Aymery wrote it and in no time learnt that his article had been posted in its entirety on a Yahoo group site. A Swans editor got in touch with the serial poster, firebrand Greene. The editor pointed to our policy and politely asked that the article be removed.
The reply came in a Mikhail Bakunin e-mail roar that would have broken the knees of Tsar Nicholas. There followed a shower of misquotes from Trotsky, knowledge of whose first name, Leon, turned out to be a highpoint of the windy Greene's political culture. Swans gentle ways were not going to be effective with someone like a minor character -- maybe a blue-penciled character -- in a wannabe Dostoyevsky novel. Hence my self-assumed mission as go-between.
After reproaching myself with having looked for a middle-class bell or buzzer, I knocked on his door. A shout told me to come the fuck in. Again I reproached myself. I'd forgotten that I was in radical territory here, where locks and keys were as unmentionable as stocks and bonds.
The apartment was ablaze with posters. I shaded my eyes and thought back to my own bedroom at fourteen. The same Che Guevara had lorded over my unmade bed and enraged my mother with his gaze past her and her vacuum cleaner and into the future.
The householder Greene sat in a corner bent over a laptop and surrounded by other humming electronic helpers. The green eyeshade he wore riveted my attention. His straggly beard hung like ivy over his skimpy chest, itself shrouded by a frock coat. I ruled out that he was miming Karl Marx in the British Museum library and decided he was doing Fred Engels in a Manchester gin palace. But I couldn't get over that eyeshade. Greene looked like Tiny Tim's father, Bob Cratchit, in A Christmas Carol. Bob was pretty distraught too until Scrooge got shafted by those apparitions.
"What'cha lookin' at?" he said. "Have you never seen an eyeshade before? You'd need them at Swans too if you sacrificed your sight for the cause."
"Glad to meet you, I'm..."
"Can the booboisie intro. I'm tied up here spellchecking. Some of these tovariches misspell their own John Henry."
"Er, what cause was that?"
"How's that? Sorry?"
"Big Hugo. You mean you're not backing him?"
"Ah, Hugo Chávez. I wish him well."
"You wish? Get off your backside and behind the movement, on your feet and heave."
"Would you mind if I sat down? There were no seats on the subway."
"Natch, you're not up to the graft."
"You mention Swans and I'm here precisely as one of its writers. Maybe our policy isn't quite clear to you. I can explain..."
"No useless chatter. You flapping birds got a positioning problem. Put your friggin notice before not after the article. Otherwise no one sees what they can't do without staggering through all the words."
"Our idea is that the article be read first."
"And waste valuable petitioning time? No way. Rojo Rojito."
"Then the reminder comes: Please don't scavenge, steal or repost our work on..."
"Spare me the bourgeois legality. You guys at Swans haven't a clue how to get a long list of signatures together. Mine here goes all the way to utopia."
"We all have laptops like you, only less up-to-date models. Please don't scavenge..."
"And what if I do? Will you tell your friends at the NSA and the FBI?"
"Easy, Cort. I don't even know any traffic cops. Just don't scavenge..."
"So sue, you Wall Street bloodsucker. I'm a working class hero and penny poor."
"Cort, to tell you the truth, I don't know any lawyers either. And I'm sure you got calluses on your ass and fingertips, but stop pasting up our articles on your desert island sites. It's lonely for us out there."
"I know they're watching me and everything I put on my screen. You see they know I'm a revolutionary."
"Hmm. Well, there you are. You've proven your point. But about Swans. Why not just put on your eyeshade and amble through the release every two weeks. Then douse your pretty laptop and do some thinking. Anyway please don't..."
"You reactionary crazy? Who's got the time for reading? I don't watch the world. I re-make it. I gotta paste, I gotta cut. Now get out of here. Roja..."
"Rojita, I know. So long. Keep your eyeshade focused. See you on the next petition."
It was a long ride back on the subway and glum, too, because my mission hadn't been accomplished. But it was cheering to get away from Cort. At least I found a seat this trip. I settled down and read from the question and answer exchange between Swans editors in the May 8, 2006 number. Gilles d'Aymery explained why multi posting couldn't be tolerated. It consists in the reproducing of articles in their entirety elsewhere on the Web. Then Jan Baughman wanted to know "how you answer the accusation often made against you that you do not share Swans work with the greater community?" Gilles replied:
This is pure hypocritical malarkey. Everything on Swans is 100 percent shared. Again, it's openly available and freely accessible on the site. Anybody can get on the site. Anybody can put all the links they want, to all the URLs they want, on Swans. So what is this baloney, that we do not share? Please!
In addition we encourage print publications to reprint Swans work for free (except commercial publications, which should pay their customary reprint fee to the author directly). Quite a few do.
So, what do we not share, what do we not give? This is so bloody infuriating. I mean, could people take a course in ethics 101 before accusing me of whatever sin under the sky? For goodness sake, we've been giving for ten years -- everything, everything for free.
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Feel free to insert a link to this work on your Web site or to disseminate its URL on your favorite lists, quoting the first paragraph or providing a summary. However, DO NOT steal, scavenge, or repost this work on the Web or any electronic media. Inlining, mirroring, and framing are expressly prohibited. Pulp re-publishing is welcome -- please contact the publisher. This material is copyrighted, © Peter Byrne 2010. All rights reserved.
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