Nonfiction: Top Secret Insignia, Its Place in a Book
Trevor Paglen, I Could Tell You but Then You Would Have to Be Destroyed by Me (Melville House Publishing, 2008)
As children, some of us collected polished stones, troll dolls, and Pogs. We’ve now graduated to credit cards, broken iPods, and, sure, coins. Trevor Paglen collects military patches and iconography, but not just your standard patriotic patch with an eagle on it. He hoards the black ones with figures in cloaks holding lightning bolts and Latin phrases that all basically mean, “We’re really important and we can’t tell you why.” He writes that the wearers of these patches are proud bearers of secrets, and wearing them “might be extra incentive for the person wearing the patch to keep silent.”
Paglen attempts to interpret the language of symbols within the patches. Probably eighty percent of the time, he writes that six stars on a patch signify 5 + 1, meaning Area 51 of the Air Force’s secret base near Groom Lake, Nevada. The USAF’s most secret flight tests happen there. Another example: lightning bolts connote electronic warfare. These images and symbols begin to accumulate, creating their own language, but never revealing much about any project. The patches seem to proudly announce their importance as much as they emphasize their secrecy, displayed on uniforms for other active-duty airmen.
Because Paglen was only able to gather fragments of information about this insignia, he discusses it at a distance, and often he has no explanation for a patch or its symbols, especially the ones with sparse information on them. In an interview, he said he cannot solidly confirm the accuracy of his information because of the nature of his journalism: asking around. That is, asking members of the military who’ve worked on these secret projects.
But it is not a military history. It’s an art book with a nondescript black cover, including an assumingly faux patch on the front: I Could Tell You . . . Just when you want him to explain the dark wizard beckoning you from an open book (the Bible? the unspoken Rule Book?), he tells you that its meaning is “unclear.” In other words, you’re figuring it out with him as you read.
If nothing else, this book is a nice reminder that although the U.S. military may exhibit frightening mascots such as the Grim Reaper (which was incidentally banned because it was not in “good taste”), dragons, snakes, skulls, ghosts, panthers, and slogans such as “let them hate so long as they fear,” one of their objectives is to protect us; these missions and extreme advances in technology are secret for our own good. As an art book, we can view it and draw our own conclusions from the fascinating system of signs Paglen reveals to us.
Beata Umubyeyi Mairesses
By John Domini
All Your Children, Scattered
SEPT 2022 | Books
This novels sonorous title, we learn towards the end, comes from the Catholic Confirmation liturgy: a prayer out of Europe, hundreds of years old. Yet before we finish the books first page, we know that the children in question come from central Africa, and that what scattered them was a latter-day genocide. Not quite thirty years ago now, Rwandan Hutus slaughtered their Tutsi neighbors mercilessly, in perhaps the worlds ugliest recent outbreak of tribal hatred.
Center for Book ArtsBy Megan N. Liberty
MARCH 2023 | ArTonic
Wandering around the flower district of Manhattan, you may be surprised to see a green flag hanging high above the flowers, signaling the location of the Center for Book Arts (CBA) on the third floor, where it has been located since 1999. As artist and designer Ben Denzer recently wrote to me, Despite coming and going to CBA all the time, I can never really get over how much of an unexpected gem it is. The fact that this book utopia is hiding on the third floor of a random building on 27th street has always made me look at all NYC buildings as if each might contain delightful secrets inside.
from The Ones Who Listen (Book One of the Cywanu Trilogy)By Whit Griffin
APRIL 2023 | Poetry
Whit Griffin is a poet-medium and semi-professional hermit dwelling in Colorado. Author of such nonlinear metaphysical epics as We Who Saw Everything (Cultural Society) and Uncanny Resonance (Book Two, Lunar Chandelier Collective). With visual artist Timothy C. Ely he collaborated on the book Interior Voice / The Great Practice (Granary Books). Along with Eric Baus he is a resident wizard at Common Name Farm, through which he freely gives away visionary elixirs.
from The Nature BookBy Tom Comitta
MARCH 2023 | Fiction
Darwin discovered that evolution proceeds with neither direction nor purpose. The natural world is largely indifferent to plan or plot. Yet we, story-seeking creatures that we are, see the world around us as more completed, more accomplished, than what came before. Tom Comitta’s The Nature Book explores these tensions by stitching together hundreds of fragments in the history of literary writing about the natural worldthis excerpt alone is a collage of ninety-seven novels ranging from Hawthorne to Arundhati Roy. Though the text of The Nature Book is a polyphonic effort of writers, humans are absent from the actual story. In this seamless anthology, we forget that the experience of reading about nature is mediated by human voices and, when suspended in the text, succumb to the magical illusion that we are perceiving the world in itself.