Introduction: Bad Subjects In Flux
Issue #25, March 1996
All communities respond to death. Depending upon the magnitude, or the gravity of the loss, some communities may simply disappear; others reform to accomodate the change; some deny the loss, but most have ways of mourning their dead. Often this mourning involves visible displays of pain, remembrance and suffering; sometimes it involves celebrating. At Bad Subjects, we had fun naming this open issue, though we knew the topics of many articles to be serious. We tossed around titles, laughing at how broad they sounded: "History and Death," "Death and Metamorphosis," "Life and Death," The hugeness and amorphousness of these titles led us to the bridge between them all: flux.
Flux encompasses all processes, from seemingly finite ones like dying to endlessly shifting ones like updating library collections. So "Flux" is a pretty broad title too. But it really captures something that all the diverse articles in this issue are coping with.
Bad Subjects is now a worldwide phenomenon. Still, some of our most loyal readers and writers are in the UC-Berkeley English Department where we began in the Fall of 1992. Right now that community is mourning the loss of two well-loved and respected individuals, Professors Jim Breslin and Bill Nestrick. In tribute, this issue includes pieces by Steven Rubio and Ron Alcalay that reflect on that loss. Neither read like standard obituaries, pondering instead the sense of community that unexpected deaths bring about.
Two other pieces in this issue also deal directly with the mourning of loved ones. Recalling the Berkeley campus of her undergraduate days, Flossie Lewis describes the flux, and simultaneously recalls the memory of her husband, of the places they frequented, many that no longer exist. Cynthia Hoffman's work "On Consideration of the End of the World" springs from her involvement with Grateful Dead fan culture, and considers the emotional devastation she suffered for six months in the wake of Jerry Garcia's death, mourning in silence for a man she never met.
Moving beyond Bay Area horizons, Megan Shaw's piece "Frontiers and Pioneers" explores how the frontier myth justified an ideology of death that maimed and poisoned three generations of her family members, who hoped to find rejuvenation in the Oregon wilderness. Dealing with a different sort of flux, our Bad Foreign Correspondent, John Brady, explores different ways of coping with our rapidly changing world, contrasting his yen for doughnuts in Berlin with the appeal of fundamentalist Islam to young Turks in Germany. And Ann Theis, building on a lively discussion from the Bad Subjects e-mail list, explores the dilemma libraries face as they must renew their collections. She talks about how libraries must not only remove unneeded or outdated books, but also incorporate new services, technologies, and programs to address the needs of less visible community groups.
Ideologies fluctuate, and individuals morph to inhabit the contours of their new worlds. David Hawkes, not yet 30, gives insight on his need to act like a professor in order to write an academic book for Routledge Press. He illustrates this metamorphosis by shifitng voice mid-essay to summarize his project. After a little historical research, Richard Singer no longer laments that he was born too late to fully experience the radical Sixties. Instead, he pines for an even more radical time, the 1880s and 1890s, when anarchists still felt they had a chance to create major flux. Master of flux, Jerry Brown stands as the target of Rosemary Lemmis' informed critique, as she deconstructs the myth of Mr. Left. And back in the everyday space between high theory and popular culture, Jonathan Sterne wonders why ordinary film reviews are getting harder and harder to understand. The recent chess match between Garry Kasparov and I.B.M.'s Deep Blue leads Charlie Bertsch to ruminate on the future of computers in the workplace and the loss of jobs these powerful machines will bring about.
In closing, we'd like to note that the title of this issue is also particularly fitting for Bad Subjects' present situation. We're discussing a lot of exciting possibilities, from doing more radio shows on Berkeley's famous KPFA to compiling an anthology of memorable Bad Subjects pieces. Thinking about transformation usually provokes anxiety, and we're no exception. Even as we look towards the Bad Subjects of the future, many of us are reflecting on the Bad Subjects of the past, concerned that we continue to keep its renegade spirit alive in the face of so much flux. Mourning the many changes Bad Subjects has undergone goes hand-in-hand with revitalizing its basic mission. To that end, our next issue will address the crucial questions of access and accessibility, so often discussed in 'badsubjectian' circles. Look for it in May!