Martha’s Quarterly is a quarterly subscription of four handmade artist books a year. Every season, subscribers will receive a new artist book that may take the form of an object, an experimental binding, or a simply beautiful hand-bound book. Martha’s Quarterly aims to present urgent topics that are not always covered by mainstream media or widely archived by cultural institutions. As every person has a library of their own belongings, every issue seeks to exist in the reader’s catalog of possessions as something that might be read through once, revisited again, and reflected upon as a messenger of critical subjects.
BRUTE DIGNITY was designed and edited by Tammy Nguyen, produced by Téa Chai Beer with assistance from Katrina Fuller
About the contributors:
Philip Anderson is an MFA candidate and creative writing teaching fellow at Columbia University. He lives in New Haven with his partner and their two cats, Sherwood and Blue Ivan.
Téa Chai Beer is a visual artist living in New York City. She is the Project Manager at Passenger Pigeon Press. She also has a cat named Minnow.
Thumos is a part of the soul where the “spirited” lives. This is the part of your soul that motivates you to be brave, to fight for what is right. This is the part of your soul that, according to Plato in the Republic, leads to higher truth and virtue when it is used with reason.
I first heard of thumos at last September at the Carnegie Council in New York. Francis Fukuyama was giving a lecture based on his latest book Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment. He explained:
Identity I think begins with the psychological phenomenon that Plato labeled thumos. It's a Greek word that is usually translated as "spiritedness," but it's the part of the human psychology that the economists just don't get. They get acquisitiveness and they get rationality, but thumos is this desire for other people to recognize your internal worth or dignity, and I think it's a universal characteristic, particularly when you feel that you've got an inner self that is not being adequately recognized by the surrounding society. That's the part of it that in Western thought has developed over the last several hundred years into the way that we think about ourselves. We think that we have a deeply buried inner self that is authentic and is being suppressed by the society around us, and unlike wayward teenagers from time immemorial who are brought into compliance with the outward society, the modern idea is that actually that inner self is the true, legitimate one, and it's the outer society that's false, and it's the outer society that needs to change.
This becomes the basis for a lot of political movements because we want public recognition. We want other people to affirm our worth, and that has to be a political act. (1)
Mr. Fukuyama later cited the Arab Spring, the French Revolution, and Osama bin Laden as narratives where thumos resulted in acts and movements to affirm one’s identity and to validate one’s worth and dignity.
I first learned the word dignity when I was graduating from the fifth grade as part of a graduation song. I had no idea what it meant, but it was attached by notes to other words such as perseverance, integrity, and honor– and to be honest, I wasn’t sure what those words really meant either. What I did know, at age 11, was that singing this song was a rite of passage, and whatever happened after fifth grade, I would do so with this new melody--an anthem for a new me: a new leader in the world and a brave woman.
My elementary school was utopic: it was a top tier public school in San Francisco that celebrated the ethnic and religious backgrounds of all students through multiple lessons, projects, assemblies, and festivities year after year. But after the fifth grade, my parents felt it best that I continue my education in a Catholic school where the academics were more rigorous; it wasn’t as expensive as an independent secular school, and it was safe--meaning, the school’s population didn’t draw from the neighborhoods from another side of town.
Upon the first day of Catholic school--my uniform uncomfortably perfect– I saw dignity in the church. The pastor welcomed all into the sanctuary, and new beginnings were anointed with the assistance of the most perfect looking young men in robes; my new classmates and altar boys. Soon, when we returned to class, it was not uncommon to hear the words nigger or faggot used to tease or separate some people from others. Thumos’ flame burned bright when some students informed others that they were fat or ugly. These slurs, along with clear-cut social groupings, were normal and obviously painful the lower you were on the social food chain where thumos’ flame still flickered. But the young man who called the other man a nigger was a dignified man when he walked his sister home. This dignified young man is also a brute.
Somewhere between middle school and high school, I met Philip Anderson, a writer who now lives and works between New Haven and New York. Anderson veiled his homosexuality for most of our school days, and I didn’t know he was gay until we reconnected under more liberal and artistic circumstances during college in New York City. From time to time, Anderson and I would talk about the vast contradictions in the social constructs of our upbringing: the xenophobia, homophobia, and sexism sandwiched between extraordinary expectations of masculinity. In this Martha’s Quarterly, Issue 10, Winter 2018: BRUTE DIGNITY, Anderson writes a revealing work illustrating cyclical cycles of patriarchy that have kept our home cultures going. In difficult vignettes, Anderson traces contradictory accounts of a hate crime, an act of vengeance, and a man who shouldn’t be a cop, all embedded in an area of San Francisco where middle class families laud high virtue and moral courage.
The thing about contradictions is that there are always and constantly multiple truths. So when I say that I believed Brett Kavanaugh, I mean that I believe that he was speaking his truth, as was Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. The thumos of both people, both sides, and tribes, were fighting for their dignity, affirmation of their worth, and that their identities deserved justice. However, in an age where there is a simultaneous war on facts and a need for them, the pathway to justice is foggy. How can you strive for justice when there is no agreement on common facts? How can you strive for truth when it is clear that many things are true? Brett Kavanaugh is likely both the drunk fraternity brother who has assaulted women and the admirable coach and father of two daughters. He is both a brute and a dignified man, as is Clarence Thomas who also sits in the highest court on this American land.
And so the cycle continues: round and round it goes, the thumos of men fueling America’s manifest destiny. But let’s imagine that this cycle is a revolving bed spinning a woman. While the nuances and complexities of men should never be simplified, the constant forgiveness that boys will be boys continues to leave women behind, sometimes as bodies, naked and splayed behind on a strange bed. Women are brutes in a certain landscape of dignified men; and this is where Téa Chai Beer’s drawings of women become a crucial juxtaposition to Anderson’s writing in this quarterly.
As Anderson paints a patriarchal world, Chai Beer draws us into the uncomfortable embrace of her women, whose tits stare back as eyes, cervix severed to join and create a hollow rod with the spine. They are frightening women, seen trotting along or in sexual squats, with thick voluptuous thighs. But if anything bad happened to these banshee women, they could never seek refuge, because their nub-like useless feet make them incapable of running. Instead, they hold Anderson’s prose in their womb. As Anderson tells stories of his sister, other brothers, of families with mothers, each person with thumos burning in their soul, the red paper is kept inside of a helpless woman’s belly.
When I asked Chai Beer what these drawings were about, she said many things, but I’ll share one: the spittling of the woman is how Chai Beer navigates the boundary between orgasm and fear. What orgasm is to fear is what dignity is to brute and what thumos is to plain animal.
Country First was designed and edited by Tammy Nguyen, produced by Téa Chai Beer, and illustrated by Ha Ninh Pham
About the contributors:
Mei Lum is the 5th generation owner of her family’s 93-year-old porcelain ware business and the oldest operating store in NYC's Chinatown, Wing on Wo & Co. (W.O.W.). In light of Chinatown's rapid cultural displacement, Mei established community initiative, the W.O.W. Project out of a desire to amplify community voices and stories through art, culture and activism.
Rakhee Kewada is a Zimbabwean geographer currently studying the political economy of Tanzania's cotton textile industry. She is a PhD Candidate in Geography at the Graduate Center, City University of New York (CUNY) and teaches Urban Studies at Hunter College. Her art practice is research-based and collaborative. Committed to engaging the politics of knowledge production and dissemination, she has developed a series of participatory public art projects. She is currently exploring film and photography as a means of presenting her research on trade and commodity flows between China and Africa.
On Labor Day, I was on 27th St. in New York waiting for a friend in front of a shop that sells Afro-Caribbean flag souvenirs. There were banners, jerseys, wristbands, sunglasses, lights, and many other tchotchkes branded with names like Antigua, Jamaica, Barbados, Grenada, and other nations of the Caribbean. This store is called “Rasta Enterprise” and on this very hot and heavy day in New York the presumably Chinese family (presumably because I could faintly recognize the Cantonese they were speaking) which owns this business was having a Labor Day Sale.
Grandpa, Auntie, Nephew, Wife, and Husband were all outside with their goods splayed across a folding table. Auntie wore a man’s Dashiki African Shirt with a black fanny pack strapped across her chest. In a few minutes, a presumably Nigerian couple (presumably because I could faintly recognize the Igbo they were speaking) came to the store with their huge luggage. The woman switched into English: “Hey Mami, what do you have?” she said to the Auntie. They exchanged a few words, and then the couple filled their luggages with the flags of all these nations in the Caribbean Sea miles and waters away.
Is the Chinese Auntie allowed to wear that African shirt? Can African and Afro-Caribbean be understood together? Can the Nigerian woman call the Auntie “Mami”? Is that disrespectful? Can she say that because she’s black? Is anyone getting ripped off? Is black the same as Africa? The same as the Caribbean? Is the Auntie black? Is she yellow? Is she foreign? Is the Nigerian couple foreign? Are they Americans? Are the Chinese allowed to sell Afro-Caribbean flags? Are they allowed to sell “black” back to black folks? Are the Nigerians allowed to sell the Caribbeans?
There are biases and contradictions in all of these questions, which take root in my observation of describing to you what I saw in these minutes.
The weekend before, the news was flooded with the passing of Senator John McCain. A maverick, they called him. John McCain was a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War, which makes him one of our American war heroes. In 1967, he was shot down by the Viet Cong and they tortured him such that he was left with lifelong disabilities. This is the same Republican man who encouraged the Democratic President Clinton (and draft dodger) to open up diplomatic lines with Hanoi in 1993, and thus helped to heal the national wounds of a very long and painful war. This is also the same man who supported Republican President Bush to wage another long and painful war against Iraq. This is the same man who, in the middle of the night, showed up to Senate with a scar curling over his left brow from brain surgery and voted to save the Affordable Health Care Act. On Face the Nation that Sunday, Dan Balz, a journalist for the Washington Post, noted that unlike President Trump, John McCain always put “country first, not America first.”
Country First is the title and heart of what we juxtapose in this issue of Martha’s Quarterly, Fall 2018. When you open this book, the right envelope includes a portfolio of photographs with writing by Mei Lum, the fifth generation owner of her family’s 93-year-old porcelain shop in New York’s Chinatown called Wing on Wo & Co. The photographs are wrapped with her grandfather’s calligraphy of the only poem she can still recite in Cantonese. On the other side of the paper, Lum recounts the the time she received the dizzying news from her father that the family planned to close Wing on Wo & Co. She was living in Beijing at the time, and as she cycled around this instrumental city in China, she thought of another China. Very soon thereafter she returned to her Chinatown in New York to regenerate the family business, to defend her “country” in the midst of an economic war against those outside of Lum’s Chinatown.
Far away from New York City, another kind of China has dominated Tanzania’s construction industry as illustrated by the writing and portfolio of photography by the Zimbabwean geographer Rakhee Kewada in the left envelope. As Kewada reports, China increased its support of Africa and demonstrated its support of sovereignty after the Bandung Conference of 1955. Over the years, this “support” which began as aid transformed into grants of significant projects, including the Tanzania-China Textile Mills. This drew many Chinese construction workers to Tanzania, and also birthed a booming real estate industry with which Tanzanians cannot compete. Whose country is first here?
Country First was John McCain’s campaign slogan in 2008 when he ran against soon-to-be America’s first black president Barack Obama. The slogan resonated with many: it encouraged people to be patriots, to work with the other side of the aisle, to see those different from you as your countrymen. Many of us know this to be easier in theory than in practice. Could you really call the man who calls you a slur because you are darker than he or because you are a woman your countryman? And if you can, will you also welcome him?
Whether you see yourself in your neighbor, the appetite of every nation seems to be to spread its own idea of country as in the case with America First. They might have called Mr. McCain a maverick, but if Culture was a person, then it would be the ultimate maverick. Culture is country, nation, and man— and conveniently can be certain or none of these things for people with intersectional identities. Culture sells itself at “Rasta Enterprise”, but it is not Jamaica, or Grenada, or Barbados. “Rasta Enterprise” is an American company. The Chinese woman selling the Afro-Caribbean flag is not an American. Ms. Lum is American in China, but Chinese in America. John McCain’s country is not the same as the Nigerian couple’s, but they both use the dollar. The Chinese in Tanzania are not African, but they do not belong with the Chinatown New Yorkers. Where can Tanzanians invest in real estate? In Tanzania? In Africa? In China? And would Chinatown, New York continue to fight if she truly knew the face of her gentrifier?
Smiley, the Cannibal was edited and designed by Tammy Nguyen and produced by Téa Chai Beer.
About the contributors:
Jacob Hughes is a court jester at the Berkeley Carroll School with a doctorate in British Romanticism. His interests include literary form and style, hermeneutics, Joe Strummer, and intestinal aesthetics.
Taiwo Togun is the founder of SeqHub Analytics, a data science consulting company that provide predictive analytics and data science solutions and strategies to businesses. He earned his Ph.D in Computational Biology & Bioinformatics from Yale University, where his research focused on methods to identify genomic targets in cancer.
You are what you eat.
When you eat something, food enters your mouth. You chew, you swallow; it travels down your esophagus and into your stomach where it breaks down into smaller parts: amino acids, fatty acids, glycerol, and simple sugars. What you have eaten continues its travels into your small intestine, then your liver, gallbladder, and eventually your large intestine where what your body does not need transforms into feces and exits your body through your anus. This whole system is your gastronomical tract, a system of hollows connected by a tube where nutrients are absorbed and become one with your body.
Some raucousness was stirred when Secretary of Homeland Security Kirsten Nielsen was spotted eating at MXDC Cocina Mexicana by celebrity chef Todd English. (1) The irony of this event was clear, as at the same time the Trump Administration approved of a heinous family separation policy at the US southern border. The entrees at MXDC Cocina Mexicana range from $17 - $38. On its website the restaurant’s “About” page shares that Mr. English was “inspired to create MXDC Cocina Mexicana by his travels to Mexico. English's first restaurant job was at a small Mexican eatery during high school, where he grew to love the rich cuisine.” (2) And, like at many high-end restaurants across America, the majority of the staff at this establishment are Latinx. So, as Ms. Nielsen’s Mexican entree becomes one with her body, the nutrients she is absorbing come from the hands of the Latinx workers upon whose lives she is wreaking havoc.
It is no secret that Latinx immigrants are the backbone of the American restaurant industry. Their labor is cheap and they do many of the jobs that American citizens do not want to do. And here’s another open secret: Capitalism has always known how to connect the cent to a human body, documented or not. Capitalism knows this in its soul, and it knows that to become stronger, bigger, and great again, it is best to continually apply the lowest amount of cents to the largest amount of human effort. In this way, it can eat the cents produced by that human effort.
In Christianity, Capitalism’s brother from another mother, the Eucharist is perhaps the most sacred of sacraments: one’s body can be one with that of Christ by eating a wafer and drinking wine that represent Christ’s flesh and blood. In some ways, this sacrament is what Capitalism performs countless times each and everyday: consuming the flesh and blood of its own producers through the products created by those same humans. This is the crux of our exploration in this issue of Martha’s Quarterly, Issue 8, Smiley, the Cannibal, which features contributions by Dr. Jacob Hughes, an English Literature Scholar, and Dr. Taiwo Togun, a data scientist.
Dr. Hughes takes us down a kind of digestive tract of his own, where he illustrates the many ways in which cannibalism is manifested throughout our culture, from the Eucharist to the Twilight Zone, to the savings we enjoy at Walmart, its Smiley face mascot knocking all the prices down by the cent. One point he makes is that capitalism relies on this cent-to-object/human relationship, and that that relationship is a cycle of consumption and releasing, of eating and excreting.
On July 11th, 2018, just five days before I write this, President Trump intensified his trade war with China by announcing 200 billion dollars worth of tariffs on Chinese goods to be imposed in September. A list of more than 6,000 products was released, including a tariff on all Chinese canned tuna and cotton thread. (3) As this trade war becomes more palpable to us-- maybe by a sudden craving for rare canned tuna, or a more urgent worry when our clothes become tattered-- the relationship between the cent and human products will become more physically and viscerally tangible. New people, many people, will resent China, the United States, and whatever nation is making their cent to human product relationship more fragile.
But we are at the advent of a new force: cryptocurrency and the blockchain, where what something is worth does not necessarily direct back to one nation’s economy, and therefore the cent no longer attaches itself to the human product and the human as decisively. I asked Dr. Togun to explain how cryptocurrency changes the relationship between money and the object. How does Capitalism change when the economy is no longer tied to a concrete object? In an almost propagandist three concise paragraphs, Dr. Togun explains the profound concept of “secure transfer of value via networks without a central oversight.” There’s no more cannibalism here-- it was our singular gastronomical tract which allowed for the capital consumption of our bodies through our own goods.
A year ago from this writing, China became the first country to test a national cryptocurrency. (4) Today, more than 70% of the world’s crypto-mining occurs in China for two big reasons: cheap electricity and an excess of coal. (5) Despite its efforts to release itself from a self-consuming structure, cryptocurrency can still only be birthed from cannibalism. Or maybe there is metamorphosis occurring, that the Cannibal has transformed into another beast we just cannot understand quite yet.
— Tammy Nguyen, Editor-in-Chief
(1)The Absurdity of Trump Officials Eating at Mexican Restaurants During an Immigration Crisis, Helen Rosner, The New Yorker, June 22, 2018
(3) US fires next shot in China trade war, BBC News, July 11, 2018
(4) China Becomes First Country in the World to Test a National Cryptocurrency, by Tom Ward and Abby Norman , Futurism, June 23, 2017
(5) Bitcoin Mining in China, Jordan Tuwiner, June 30, 2018
My Dearest Aiyana was edited and designed by Tammy Nguyen and produced by Téa Chai Beer.
About the contributors:
Daniil Davydoff is manager of global security intelligence at AT-RISK International and director of social media for the World Affairs Council of Palm Beach. His writings on security and international affairs have been published by ASIS International, Security Magazine, Risk Management Magazine, The National Interest, the Tehran Times, Foreign Policy, and RealClearWorld, among other outlets.
Naima Green is a Brooklyn-based artist and educator interested in teasing the boundaries of intimacy, urban ecology, and the construction of home.
Tuan Andrew Nguyen uses his artistic practice to find god. He initiated an artist collective called The Propeller Group to uncover the devil.
I’d like you to think about this book’s cover as the arms of someone and they are hugging the contents inside, which are some of the most precious things in the world.
The cover of this book starts with an idea of landscape, which was a protector to me when I was a child. I remember seeing El Capitan in Yosemite and thinking it was there to protect the forest. I remember seeing landscape paintings from the Western Expansion and thinking that these places were for me to be safe. But in my adulthood, I think of landscape as more of a force which could either protect or kill me. While I can blissfully inhale the sky of Sanford Robinson Gifford’s painting A Gorge in the Mountains, I see an absence of humans and a land to be taken. While I could imagine what the foods taste like in Édouard Manet’s The Luncheon on the Grass, I doubt people of color would have been invited to such an affair, or if a person of color could occupy the landscape in such a way and in such a time.
This is partly why I have been drawn to Naima Green’s ongoing project Jewels from the Hinterland where she photographs black people in landscapes as a way to make them the center focus. The cover of this Martha’s Quarterly features Brian, and when I look at this image, I wonder about Brian as an individual but also as a representation of the Black male. In recent years, the impulse to depict Black men in more nuanced and complicated ways is one form of response to the reckless of treatment of black bodies ranging from racist 911 calls to needless gun violence. Ms. Green’s portrait performs a resistance and renewal of such gazes upon black male bodies.
And then resistance does not work. Possibility to renew is bleak, because no matter how many artworks are created, marches take place, or phone calls made to one’s representatives, a person can still snap and kill many people in a matter of seconds.
“What makes a person snap?” is what I asked Daniil Davydoff after the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting where 17 people were killed in 6 minutes and 20 seconds. Mr. Davydoff is a risk intelligence analyst responsible for creating strategies to prevent such incidents like this school shooting. After you open the book armored with Ms. Green’s photograph, you can read Mr. Davydoff’s essay, an expansive illustration of the environment which contributes to the “pathway to violence.” That said, Mr. Davydoff speaks to the impossibility of completely preventing such heinous violence because the mind – once set – can be extraordinarily creative.
The other day, I heard from an architect who is designing an extension to an elite private school that a difficult problem for him to design was the building’s glass windows. There was an incident years ago where a male teacher sexually harassed a student, so the new design needed to include classrooms surrounded by glass. However, these same transparent classrooms needed to also be quickly veiled in the case of a school shooting. This is a disheartening design problem. How do we protect children?
Mr. Davydoff’s writing opens up to an envelope which encloses a letter that the artist Tuan Andrew Nguyen writes to his beautiful baby daughter Aiyana. I asked Mr. Nguyen, “What does it mean to be her father?” His letter travels through time and speaks of his fatherhood and his masculinity as a layered history of war, diaspora, and male expectations. Mr. Nguyen makes no secret about the powers of myth and human mortality to his daughter who will grow up in the shadow of an unprecedented number of mass shootings in America.
A wilted American rose arches over Mr. Davydoff’s writing and a thicket of them hug the back of Mr. Nguyen’s letter. Such is the myth of roses, which President Ronald Reagan declared was the flower of the United States on November 20, 1986:
Americans have always loved the flowers with which God decorates our land. More often than any other flower, we hold the rose dear as the symbol of life and love and devotion, of beauty and eternity. For the love of man and woman, for the love of mankind and God, for the love of country, Americans who would speak the language of the heart do so with a rose.
We see proofs of this everywhere. The study of fossils reveals that the rose has existed in America for age upon age. We have always cultivated roses in our gardens. Our first President, George Washington, bred roses, and a variety he named after his mother is still grown today. The White House itself boasts a beautiful Rose Garden. We grow roses in all our fifty States. We find roses throughout our art, music, and literature. We decorate our celebrations and parades with roses. Most of all, we present roses to those we love, and we lavish them on our altars, our civil shrines, and the final resting places of our honored dead.
The American people have long held a special place in their hearts for roses. Let us continue to cherish them, to honor the love and devotion they represent, and to bestow them on all we love just as God has bestowed them on us. (1)
Roses have been laid on the dead bodies of Black male victims, as they have been laid on all of the slain from the Stoneman Douglas shooting. One day a rose will be given to Aiyana. All these roses from the American landscape. Such is the myth of landscape, men, and manifest destiny.
— Tammy Nguyen, Editor-in-Chief
1 The National Flower, http://nationalrosegarden.com/the-national-flower/
Fields of Fungus and Sunflowers, edited and designed by Tammy Nguyen. Contributions by Lovely Umayam and Adriel Luis.
About the contributors:
Everything Adriel Luis does is driven by the belief that social justice can be achieved through surprising, imaginative and loving methods. His writing, music, designs and curatorial work to this end can be found at drzzl.com.
Lovely Umayam is the founder of Bombshelltoe, a project examining the intersection of nuclear policy, arts, and community organizing to achieve a nuclear weapons-free world. She is also a Program Manager at the Stimson Center in Washington DC, where she develops programs to secure civilian nuclear material and technologies from being disseminated and misused for nuclear weapons development.
What happens when the thing you can’t possibly imagine happens?
When the Winter Olympics opened this year, South Korea and North Korea walked together, teasing a united Korea to the entire world. Vice President Pence sat in front of Kim Yo Jong, the sister of Kim Jong Un— they didn’t exchange any words. Days later, Korean-American teenager Chloe Kim took gold for America in the Women’s halfpipe, stunning the world with back to back 1080s.(1) As she came down the pipe, her father, who immigrated to the United States from South Korea in 1982, held a sign reading “Go Chloe!” as he shouted, “American Dream!”(2)
What happens when the worst thing is about to happen?
A few months ago, all of the smart phones in Hawaii alarmed in unison and alerted the people that there was a ballistic missile headed towards the islands. A long 38 minutes after, people were informed that the alert was a mistake. William J. Perry, who was Secretary of Defense under Clinton, recalled a time when a watch officer reported that 200 intercontinental ballistic missiles were headed to the United States. In his memoir My Journey at the Nuclear Brink, he wrote, “For one heart-stopping second I thought my worst nuclear nightmare had come true.” (3) But somewhere on the Hawaiian Islands that day, Joshua Keoki Versola opened himself a bottle of Hibiki 21 and waited for his fiancée to return home. (4)
And then the worst thing happens...
On Valentine’s Day of 2018, an American teenager gunned down 17 members of his former high school in Parkland, Florida.
Recent events have pushed people to see the brink. Sometimes, we see what is beyond that brink which has ranged from glory to devastation. Nuclear threat might be one of the least comprehensible threats on the global stage. What does it mean? What happens? Could it happen? How is it possible? And then what? Do we stop? These kinds of questions swirl in my constantly unstill and perplexed mind.
And so, I asked Lovely Umayam, a nuclear policy analyst at the Stimson Center in Washington DC, How will something begin to grow after nuclear war? This Martha’s Quarterly, Issue 6, Winter 2018, Fields of Fungus and Sunflowers, features Ms. Umayam’s answer. I also asked Adriel Luis, musician/poet/visual artist/curator/coder to respond to my question and Ms. Umayam’s response with something lyrical. Upon receiving Mr. Luis’ poem, I read it outloud. As my eyes followed the poem’s dramatic verticality, I saw the words fungus, beast, DNA, cancer, and human stack like bricks of a tower representing our fragile civilization.
— Tammy Nguyen, Editor-in-Chief
(1) How Chloe Kim Won Gold With a Nearly Perfect Score in Halfpipe, By Alexandra Garcia, Haeyoun Park, Bedel Saget, Joe Ward, Margaret Cheatham Williams, and Jeremy White, NY Times, Feb. 13, 2018.
(2) Chloe Kim: Meet the Olympic snowboarder who won gold, by Daniel Arkin, The Associated Press, Feb.14, 2018
(3) Hawaii Panics After Alert About Incoming Missile Is Sent in Error, by Adam Nagourney, David E. Sanger, and Johanna Barr, NY Times, Jan. 13, 2018
(4) Hawaii ballistic missile false alarm results in panic, Julia Carrie Wong and Liz Barney, The Guardian, Jan. 14, 2018.
Paper Tiger, edited and designed by Tammy Nguyen. Contributions by Lorne Swarthout, Larry Ossei-Mensah, and Saretta Morgan
About the contributors:
Lorne Swarthout is a history and economics teacher at the Berkeley Carroll School. His academic compass has pointed him towards the histories of East Asian peoples, of the world's oceans, and of national economic development.
Larry Ossei-Mensah is a Ghanaian-American curator and cultural critic who uses contemporary art and culture as a vehicle to redefine how we see ourselves and the world around us. Ossei-Mensah is also the Co-Founder of ARTNOIR, a global collective of culturalists who design multimodal experiences aimed to engage this generation’s dynamic and diverse creative class.
Saretta Morgan is author of the chapbooks room for a counter interior (Portable Press @ Yo-Yo Labs, 2017) and Feeling Upon Arrival (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2018). She has designed interactive, text-based experiences for the Whitney Museum of American Art, Dia Beacon and as a 2016-2017 Lower Manhattan Cultural Council Workspace resident. She is a member of the feminist publishing collective, Belladonna* Collaborative, and a contributing interviewer at The Common (Amherst College).
“There was no way she would have won,” a man at the table said of Hillary Clinton. He continued, “She’s a tiger, and he’s a dragon, and when a tiger meets a dragon, they will always lose. In order to take him out, the next person who runs against him will have to be a dragon too.” Laughter followed his explanation.
This man was one of my parents’ friends, and they were all having dinner at another friend’s house after an afternoon of dancing at the Vietnamese community center; karaoke was to follow the food. These folks, all over 65 years old, were Vietnamese refugees, displaced from Vietnam after the war, having made their way to the San Francisco Bay Area over a period of time by various means.
It has frequently been striking to me that my parents and their peers can keep calm and find humor in stunningly consequential events. While media and local conversations have tried to make sense of last year’s election, here, this group of war-experienced people speculates the results with faith.
The term “paper tiger” has been coming up in foreign policy, especially in discussions about US relations to China. It was a term first used by Chairman Mao to describe “one that is outwardly powerful or dangerous but inwardly weak or ineffectual.” Martha’s Quarterly, Issue 5, Fall 2017 features an essay by the history teacher Lorne Swarthout, who recounts Chairman Mao calling the United States a “paper tiger.” As Swarthout’s essay continues, he advocates that that this term may be relevant in thinking about the nuclear powered China and its “little brother” North Korea.
Nations are big entities as they are ideas, but those big things trickle down to the little things like us, and our communities, and our loved ones. Thinking about this, Passenger Pigeon Press invited curator Larry Ossei-Mensah and poet Saretta Morgan to respond to the term “paper tiger.” Ossei-Mensah annotated a facsimile of a conversation between Chairman Mao and Henry Kissinger where Mao admits to calling the US a “paper tiger.” The two arrogant men talked casually about the their countries, Germany, Russia, and England with riddles, sarcasm, and a lot of laughter in between. (Chairman Mao even called US intelligence a bunch of flying pigeons.) It is hard to read such a transcript and know the fatalities of both Mao’s reign and WWII. Ossei-Mensai’s scribbling shows his coming to grips with such language. At one point, Ossei-Mensah writes in the column, “Are Democracy and Communism just one and the same?”
Saretta Morgan moves forward with the term “paper tiger” in her poem on lines. Juxtaposed with images of influential books, Morgan’s words and the space in between them seem to talk about a border. She opens, “a border is only habitable. sensual”. Morgan’s poems brings us inward perhaps as a way to allow us to push back on the greater institutions that are nations.
In the last few months hurricanes have devastated America and Latin America. The people of Catalan roared for an “out.” A terrorist was successful in Las Vegas. The Rohingya people of Myanmar flee for survival in Bangladesh. Flames destroyed parts of Wine Country. These events are not “paper tigers;” they are tigers. What the nations prove to be, paper or flesh, time will tell.
I googled the birthdays of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Clinton was born in 1947, Trump in 1946. This makes her a fire pig, and he, a fire dog. The two signs are compatible.
— Tammy Nguyen, Editor-in-Chief
Giant Balloons, edited and designed by Tammy Nguyen. Contributions by Dr. Peniel M. Dimberu, Chayce Marshall, and Francis Bacon.
About the contributors:
Peniel M. Dimberu, PhD is a biologist, writer and educator. His graduate work was focused on how cells detect an infection and then alert the immune system to respond. Peniel is an ardent believer that science literacy is an important metric for any society but even more so under the current US political climate.
Chayce Marshall is a 9-year old student at Pierrepont School in Westport, CT. He enjoys Star Wars, soccer, and karate, but his true loves are the outdoors, nature and his classical guitar. When he grows up, Chayce would like to be a farmer, thinking of new ways to grow food.
Francis Bacon (1561-1626) was a philosopher, scientist, and stateman who served as the Attorney General and Lord Chancellor of England. He has been frequently called the father of empiricism– the theory that knowledge comes from one’s own sensorial experiences.
It's hot in Manila, as it was a week ago when I was in New York. Today, on July 9th, I sit at Manila Ocean Park, at a pan-Asian lunch buffet pleasantly chilled in air conditioning. is was my escape from the humid heat and stench of Manila Bay, where this tourist attraction sits side-by-side with the US Embassy. The shore’s contour is artificial, as much of it has been designed and manufactured with sand, extending Manila’s natural landmass. Here, the aspirations of militaries and capitalism merge— this water has been the stage of many battles and now it serves as the Port of Manila distributing goods throughout the Filipino trade-dependent economy. Like many bays throughout the world, this bay has served the interests of powerful navies and then transformed into a site for commerce.
I’d like to think about this setting of Manila Bay as an allegory for the climate change crisis. Along this bay, capitalism appears in many forms which all follow the military trajectories of the Spanish, Japanese, and Americans. As the battles have left memories of massacre and visible neglect, the ambitions behind them have also left an invisible trail of damage felt and smelt in the air and heat. Climate change is sublime; and a literal consequence of collective human passion and pursuit of power.
Last year, I learned of geoengineering from the Carnegie Council’s program: Carnegie Climate Geoengineering Governance Initiative (C2G2). Geoengineering is a, “deliberate large-scale manipulation of an environmental process that affects the earth's climate, in an attempt to counteract the effects of global warming.” (1) It entails solutions for the climate change crisis that I have found as equally sublime as climate change itself. And so, this issue of Martha’s Quarterly entitled Giant Balloons addresses the profundity of climate change by springing from the idea of geoengineering through the contributions of the biologist Dr. Peniel M. Dimberu, the 9- year old poet Chayce Marshall, and the philosopher/scientist Francis Bacon. Dr. Dimberu explains geoengineering as Marshall presents his observations of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade in NYC. Juxtaposed to these pieces is the preface to Francis Bacon’s Novum Organum where he transforms man’s gaze on his planet— turning nature into a natural resource. (2)
I’m finishing this introduction on July 12th. As I navigate torrid Manila for souvenirs to gift my friends and family, an iceberg the size of Delaware broke off of Antarctica. While scientists have not confirmed the direct link between this event and climate change, one thing is for sure: maps will be redrawn creating new opportunities for the doubled edged ambitions of capitalism.
— Tammy Nguyen
(2) Idea adopted from The Darker Side of Modernity by Walter Mignolo, The Formation and Transformation of “Patrón colonial de poder”
Skyglow and the Desert Fox, edited and designed by Tammy Nguyen. Contributions by Emma Colbert, cover illustration, Andrew Hughes, In the Valley of the Blind, Andrew Stein, Blitzkrieg in the Orient.
About the contributors:
Emma Colbert is a Northern Irish born artist who specializes in pastel portraiture, wildlife, and landscape. Inspired by nature, she produces paintings in a realistic vibrant style. To see her work digitally, visit: www.emmacolbertart.com.
Andrew Hughes is a Writer, Musician, & Nomad. Traveling and performing in Europe.
Andrew Stein is a history and American Studies instructor at The Berkeley Carroll School. His research interest lies in race, gender, and sexuality in the U.S. and the Global South, particularly South Africa and the Caribbean.
On January 19th, 2017, The Financial Times published an article by the Delhi-based author Nilanjana Roy, The dark side of too much light, where she described “skyglow” — a phenomenon where the night sky is brightened over inhabited areas. This is commonly seen in the night skies of urban areas, where the stars are faint, and the horizon radiates from the city’s electricity. This light has lengthened the human’s work day, allowing for more productivity. It has allowed for more interaction and connection into the darkest hours of night. Yet at the same time, this light is also the sublime sky of pollution, the brilliant child of oil and man.
January 19th, 2017 was also the eve of the inauguration of President Trump. In only a few weeks, he denounced the EPA, implemented an immigrant band, and comparisons between his administration to Hitler’s was viral. In this context, this issue of Martha’s Quarterly takes the toxic phenomenon of “skyglow” and considers it as sky, light, and heat of many literal and figurative understandings.
History, climate change, xenophobia, and government are interrelated, as any other seemingly separate subjects. Before we invited contributors, Passenger Pigeon Press conceptually compared skyglow to the light of Orientalist paintings in the 19th century. These images were some of the first cinematic imaginations of the brown and black body as “discovered” by European explorers. Some of these paintings were interpretations of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Egypt— the region of some Nazi operations in WWII led by Commander Erwin Rommel, also known as, “The Desert Fox.” This nickname is also the common name for the fennec fox, a fox breed famous for its small size, and big ears which allows it to bare the extreme heat of the Sahara Desert. That said, greenery has sprouted in patches across the desert due to climate change as if to turn the region into a grassland as it once was, 11,000 years ago. Only this time, plants sprout beneath a sky lit by the dazzle of globalizing cities across North Africa.
With this daisy chain of connections, Passenger Pigeon Press invited three cultural producers— the history teacher Andrew Stein, the visual artist Emma Colbert, and the poet Andrew Hughes — to respond to a directed prompt. Andrew Stein is a history teacher in Brooklyn, and we asked him to tell a story about Erwin Rommel and to incorporate skyglow as part of its literary atmosphere. The visual artist Emma Colbert and poet Andrew Hughes are currently traveling across Europe in a motorhome that is also their studio. A naturalist who specializes in animals, we asked Ms. Colbert to interpret the fennec fox with the knowledge that it lives in North Africa and possesses special temperature-controlling ears. Finally, we asked Andrew Hughes to read the Financial Times article mentioned earlier and to respond with a poem.
Their work is now juxtaposed in this Martha’s Quarterly, entitled: Skyglow and the Desert Fox. Mr. Stein recounts Commander Rommel’s theatrical activities in North Africa. Meanwhile, Ms. Colbert and Mr. Hughes’ work were made in Tarifa, Spain as they looked across the Strait of Gibraltar towards Tangier, Morocco. Surrounded by the same cacti that covers North Africa today and throughout WWII, Ms. Colbert painted the fennec fox as Mr. Hughes’ poem created tension between notions of darkness, brightness, and power.
— Tammy Nguyen
Martha’s Quarterly, Issue 3, Spring 2017, Skyglow and the Desert Fox was designed by Tammy Nguyen, founder of Passenger Pigeon Press. It utilizes risograph, digital, and letterpress printing. The papers used are: Staples 20 lb. Ivory, Staples Coverstock Beige, French Paper Poptone Snow Cone Lightweight Cardstock, and Basis Colors 80 lb. Light Yellow. The front image behind Emma Colbert’s painting is a photograph of US military vehicles in Tunisia during WWII. The photograph of Erwin Rommel’s death mask was found discovered by the U.S. Seventh Army troops in 1945. The map of North Africa is a cropped section from 19th century map drawn by the German cartographer, Adolf Stieler.
Last summer, I was listening to a podcast on the New Books Network about labor rights in Vietnam. This particular interview was with Tran Ngoc Angie, author of the book Ties that Bind: Cultural Identity, Class, and Law in Vietnam’s Labor Resistance. She described a phenomenon called “cicada practices,” which is when business owners set up a factory and then completely evacuate the premises, deserting the workers without compensation. I was disturbed by this exploitation of workers and how this practice impacts one’s identity. A person’s vocation often gives them personal pride— it allows an individual to make, to contribute, and to support their community and loved ones. Such a practice has repercussions across many senses of self.
Cicada practices, as an analogy, reminds me of a summer afternoon a few years ago, when I went to see cicadas rumored to be in a park nearby. I was told they emerged in such large numbers that they swarm around you. But I was too late. When I arrived, the only remainder of the cicadas were their thousands of skins left behind. I thought that I saw one cicada settled on a branch. When I reached out to touch it, it fell over like a corpse, a weightless carcass, as if to emphasize that new life had fleeted away.
This issue of Martha’s Quarterly, Winter 2016, reflects on the ideas of what makes a life, what defines an identity, and how those entities are part of a bigger system, all simultaneously living and dying at the same time. Cicada Practices are presented by Kevin Collier and Samuel Snow. Collier describes the cicada practices in Vietnamese industry and Snow describes cicada biology. Nested between is a poem, the distorted looking glass, by Tinashe Mushakavanhu, who writes from the point of view of someone who feels so left out that his circadian rhythm cannot find peace. Their contributions suggest relationships to these separate systems despite being inherently different in scale and context. Juxtaposing them aims to encourage empathy between different ways of existing.
As I write this introduction, Donald Trump prepares to take office as the 45th president of the United States. On November 8th, as I watched the electoral votes come in, I felt stunned and ignorant about the perspectives of the many people who chose him. Could part of the president-elect’s supporters be suffering from a sort of cicada practice as well? In the Rust Belt, the collapse of once reliable industry jobs has depleted families of their livelihoods and traditions, which echoes the same loss of identity that I described earlier. For other Americans, there’s been a sharp uptick in hate crimes and harassment since the election. Anxiety and fear have risen accordingly among people of color, Muslims, and the LGBTQ community. Could there be a cicada practice in the midst here as well, as their ways of life and values are threatened by the new administration? Just as the dead skin of a cicada is a sign of new life, this issue suggests that when something dies, elsewhere something thrives.
- Tammy Nguyen
Martha’s Quarterly, Issue 2, Winter 2016, presents three texts: Cicada Practices by Samuel Snow, Cicada Practices by Kevin Collier, and the distorted looking glass by Tinashe Mushakavanhu. This project utilizes woodblock and letterpress printing. The fonts used in the text include Communist sizes 12 and 8, and Promocyja sizes 12 and 36. The jacket which holds the three texts flattens out to a poster. The papers used include Crush Almond 90lbs, and found office paper. The drawings, design, printing, and construction was completed by Tammy Nguyen. This edition was of 150 hand-made portfolios.
Cicada Practices by Samuel Snow, the distorted looking glass, by Tinashe Mushakavanhu, and Cicada Practices by Kevin Collier
Letterpress and woodblock on various papers
6" x 9"
About the contributors:
Samuel Snow, M.S., is an evolutionary biologist and ornithologist, currently a Ph.D. candidate at Yale University. His doctoral work explores the fascinating evolutionary consequences of mate choice for sexual ornamentation, mate-system evolution, and social behavior.
Tinashe Mushakavanhu is a Zimbabwean born editor and writer. He co-edited the critically acclaimed anthology, State of the Nation: Contemporary Zimbabwean Poetry (2009) and co-cuartor of ReadingZimbabwe.com.
Kevin Collier is a senior reporter at Vocativ, where he covers politics, cybersecurity, and privacy. He lives in New York City.
The Wild Pigeon of North America
by Chief Pokagon
Letterpress and digital print on various papers
5.25" x 4.25"
This first issue is a visual presentation of the text The Wild Pigeon of North America by Chief Pokagon, which appeared in The Chautaquan in November 1895, Volume 22, Number 20. Chief Pokagon, or Simon Pokagon, was nicknamed by the press as the “Redskin poet, bard, and Longfellow of his race.” He was a full-blooded Native American and a member of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians that once dwelled in the Great Plains of North America. An activist, writer, and poet, Chief Pokagon fought for the fair treatment of Native American people. In this article, Chief Pokagon describes his awe for what we know as the passenger pigeon. Additionally, he accounts the way that white Americans were killing the species by the masses. He compares this to the way that his own people were killing the bird while also ensuring the species’ sustainability.
Today, the passenger pigeons are extinct and the Potawatomi people were displaced from their lands during the American removal period between 1830-1840. Considering this, it seemed fitting for the inaugural issue of Martha’s Quarterly to present this text as a way to allude to the precarious issues within today’s environment and how we care for people who are different from us.
Passenger Pigeon Press takes its name after the passenger pigeon because of the species’ rich identity within its environment and our human culture. This bird’s tale is also a history of exploitation and displacement by humans which ultimately lead to its own demise. Martha’s Quarterly is named after Martha, the last passenger pigeon who died in 1914 at the Cincinnati Zoo.
- Tammy Nguyen