M. EARL SMITH Reviews
Position Papers by Andrea Lawlor
(Factory Hollow Press, Amherst, MA, 2016)
There are times when a review of even five hundred words can seem like a stretch. Sometimes the material doesn’t click, sometimes the work isn’t long enough or deep enough to justify more than two or three hundred words, and sometimes, frankly, you wish you would have not even read the book, much less reviewed it. This, however, is not one of those cases, so if my review runs long, please forgive me.
The rise of information availability has given our interactions a decided edge. Everyone has an opinion, as they are entitled to have, and yet we seem to get lost in shouting down each other in a primordial muck of nastiness that makes softer hearts recoil in pain and harder hearts harden even more so. We have, frankly, become a bunch of self-important assholes, more concerned about the result and less concerned about the fallout thereafter. In her Position Papers, Andrea Lawlor tries to do the opposite.
A decided leftist (call her Marxist, or a socialist, or a militant lesbian anarchic-communist with a soft side, and in any event, you’re both close and far away), Lawlor uses her musing to explore what life will be like in the Western world after Marx’s promised revolution. Unlike most people on the left, who are often so dedicated to the science of Marxism that they come off droll and boorish, Lawlor uses her dry humor and personal experience to offer a pointed, if nuanced, view of the coming world.
From the word go, Lawlor tackles the paradox in being a revolutionary spirit in a post-revolutionary society. In “Position Paper #5”, Lawlor quips “We won’t have much use for thieving, which will sadden the older among us, with our fond memories of shoplifting cassette tapes from K-mart…” It puts a personal touch on what is supposed to be a faceless revolution. Are we all proletarian? Perhaps, but at the same time, we are all very much individualistic humans, products of an individualistic society that forced the very revolution we all longed for. This very revolution, however, doesn’t prepare us to cope for what it is to be a singular society made out of individuals.
It’s not all lamentations, however. The future of the world offers us, in Lawlor’s view, a chance to expand the technological advances into unknown worlds. Cars run off of paste recycled from useless objects such as Palm Pilots, brought to life by “special bacteria to first eat then shit out in the form of a paste.” Cell phones are eschewed in the favor of various species of trees, with each one designated in its correspondence by both breed and the design of the correspondence. Children are allowed free expression, raised by a village, even if, as they play with their coins and cash registers, “We will try not to call them baby capitalists even in jest.”
In this volume, instead of trying to answer the big moral questions, Lawlor answers the practical ones, leaving the reader to decide how they should answer the personal. Of course, her view of practical is formed by her moral view; issues such as sexuality, childbirth, fashion, collective bargaining, medicine and grief reflect her worldview, and are address within that lens. Above all else, however, Lawlor manages to hold on to what makers her unique, and to what makes her views personal. To quote her last passage, speaking to an unknown addressee: “In the hollows of the eldest redwood trees, I will leave my epics, my catalogues, my Icelandic sagas of how I miss your smell and your meatloaf and your every little way.”
M. Earl Smith is an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania, with a dual focus in historical research and creative historical writing. His current research projects include the transcription of Francis Daniel Pastorius’s Beehive, with a focus on the representation of historical figures in commonplace books, as well as a piece of historical fiction surrounding the French Revolution. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org