Z Magazine Book Reviews
Edited by Elayne Clift
Haworth Press, 2002, 217 pages
one of my most vivid childhood memories, my grandmother is
standing behind a heavily barred window, screaming at my mother
to get her out of the state psychiatric hospital that imprisoned
her. Her plaintive shrieks scared the hell out of me. Was
my grandmother crazy, as innuendo indicated? Or was she simply
inconsolable following the sudden death of her mate? I knew
better than to ask, but wondered what she was doing, locked
up in a remote corner of Connecticut, far from everything
and everyone who mattered to her.
Although my grandmothers depression receded and she
was able to come home, she died before I got to ask the questions
that have lingered in my gut for decades. I will always mourn
this. Yet there is solace to be had. Girl, Interrupted,
I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, One Flew Over the Cuckoos
Nest, The Bell Jar, and now Womens Encounters
with the Mental Health Establishment all allow outsiders
to glimpse mental illness and the overwhelmed, and often inefficient
and unkind, psychiatric system with which the mentally ill
The 53 poems, short stories, and essays comprising Elayne
Clifts anthology run the gamut, from teenaged girls
hospitalized and pumped full of Thorazine, to middle-class
professionals seeking redemption on the couches of Freudian
psychoanalysts. Contributors include Charlotte Perkins Gilman,
Kate Millett, Sylvia Plath, and Anne Sexton as well as a host
of lesser-know authors. Their heartfelt writing touches an
array of psychiatric successes and failures; their insights
make this an important collection for service providers as
well as consumers.
Perkins Gilmans The Yellow Wallpaper provides
the tests Prologue. Originally published 110 years ago,
the story remains astoundingly resonant. A chronicle of one
womans descent into obsessive-compulsive madness, it
presents a confluence of factors in the protagonists
life. Sexism intersects social isolation and class privilege
intersects post-partum depression, in this still salient and
The Prologue is followed by three chapters: Hospitals, Therapy
and Hope. While the categories seem arbitrary, the overall
message of each section is clear: Small acts of kindness are
often as curative as formal therapy or psycho-pharmacology
in helping women cope with mental illness.
Throughout, women articulate what they want from the people
who treat themto be listened to, to be handled with
dignity, and to be taken seriously. It doesnt seem like
too much to ask, but as the entries indicate, these basic
desires are regularly trampled by insensitive, and perhaps
In Life Inside, Mindy Lewis writes of her admission
to the New York State Psychiatric Institute (NYSPI) in 1967,
when she was 15. An allegedly schizophrenic ward of the state,
her chronicle of a 27-month stay at the facility paints a
ghoulish picture of inept care and blatant disregard for social,
nutritional, and emotional well-being.
Although Lewiss story has a happy endingshe got
better and became a magazine designer and writerher
experience also includes vindication: In 1987, a NYSPI doctor
calling Lewis as part of a follow-up study, made a startling
admission. We didnt know very much about treating
adolescents in those days, he told her. Whats
more, incest was shockingly misunderstood. Nobody asked
about it back then, the doctor admits. Looking back,
Lewis writes, the sexual abuse was obvious. Subtle clues
had fluttered everywhere, like butterflies caught in our hair,
wings moving the air. This ones love of her brother,
hate of her uncle, fear of her father; [another patients]
endless scrubbing. It would take Second Wave feminists
to force the issue into public, and medical, consciousness.
Catherine Ann Fabios Safe Places is similarly
chilling. Ever since I was a child I heard a suicidal
voice, she confides, and no wonder. Beaten by her father
and constantly berated by a mother who once handed her a butcher
knife and told her to Do us all a favor and kill yourself,
she has been in and out of psych wards since she was 16. Before
she was 30, doctors had prescribed Ativan, BuSpar, Comp- azine,
Desipramine, Elavil, Hald- ol, Lithium, Pamelor, Prozac, Stelazine,
Tegratol, Thorazine, Trilafon, Valium, and Zanax to quell
her psychotic depression. Nothing helped. For years she was
suicidal, delusional. Worse, her diagnosis seemed to depend
on which mental health practitioner she saw; at various points
she has been labeled manic-depressive, schizophrenic, or as
having an anti-social personality or Post Traumatic Stress
Fabio, a happy ending was made possible by a stint in a supportiveand
safeshelter for battered women. It seems miraculous,
but her time in the shelter gave her the space to pull her
life together. She got off all psycho- tropic medications,
began college, and is presently pursuing a doctorate in psychology.
Unfortunately, not every contributor has been as successful
in keeping despair at bay. Poets Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath
took their own lives, unable to cope with whatever tormented
them. Once I was beautiful. Now I am myself, counting
this row and that row of moccasins waiting on the silent shelf,
writes Sexton in You, Doctor Martin.
Indeed, desperation is palpable throughout Womens
Encounters with the Mental Health Establishment. So is
rageat families, at professional insensitivity, and
at systemic classism, racism, and sexism. Although homophobia
and the illnesses born of entrenched heterosexism are not
adequately addressed in the book, readers still get a glimmer
of what it means to have a serious psychiatric disorder.
One of the finaland most hopefulpieces in the
collection is called Simple Prayer and its author
chose anonymity. When doctors listen, when they offer
a Kleenex or a hot meal, when society funds a hospital, maybe
those acts are prayers. Maybe care givers are saying to God
and to the Devil, We do not shoot our wounded.
This may sound like thin comfort, but it wasnt to me.
When I finally collapsed from a lifetime of pretending I was
fine, somebody took me in, gave me a meal and a bed, and asked
nothing in return.
I certainly hope my grandmother felt that way about her confinement.
Upon her release, she took a job as a supermarket checkout
clerk. On her feet eight hours a day, she bagged groceries,
rang up sales, and was unfailingly cheerful to customers.
Perhaps the hospitalization gave her the time she needed to
grieve her losses. Or perhaps she received good, sensitive
therapy. I can only be grateful that she got out, intact.
In my childs-eye view, she was capable of running the world.
J. Bader, a social worker, is the co-author of Targets
of Hatred: Anti-Abortion Terrorism and a frequent
contributor to Library Journal, In These Times,
the New York Law Journal, and
By Fred Jerome
St. Martins Press 2002; 358 pp.
Review by Rich Gibson
students are usually surprised twice about the fact that Albert
Einstein, the worlds most famous scientist and the fellow
who proposed the bomb to Roosevelt, was not invited to work
on the Manhattan project. They are surprised that Einstein
wasnt asked and they are surprised that they never noticed
the incongruity. Now, another surprise: while the Manhattan
project was riddled with Soviet spies who went undetected
until the secrets were already out, Einstein, a loyal oppositionist,
was under constant surveillance by J. Edgar Hoovers
corrupt Federal Bureau of Investigation. Fred Jerome, author
of The Einstein
File, Hoovers Secret War, has the documents to prove
it. Jerome, a lifelong radical, knows what it is like. His
own family was subjected to similar surveillance in New York
City when he was a youth in the 1950s.
Following path-breaking research by Richard Alan Schwarz,
a Florida professor and author of The Cold War Reference
Guide, Jerome obtained Einsteins FBI file through
a series of battles with the agency. He had the assistance
of the Public Citizen Litigation Group. He followed up with
key, often revealing, interviews with the players from all
What Jerome unveils is what James Loewen noted earlier in
Lies My Teacher Told Me; history is often sanitized
and what is erased in the case of Albert Einstein is a passion
for socialist humanist politics. What Jerome offers is a multi-dimensional
view of Einstein as a fighter, going beyond his theoretical
contributions to his courageous everyday social practice.
Einsteins political theory isnt thin, of course.
Some of it has particular import today: The flag is
a symbol of the fact that man [sic] is still a herd animal.
Einstein regretfully reconsidered his theoretical pacificism
in the face of the Nazi onslaught he escaped.
But in a period when all of North American citizenry is being
set up as an internal spy agency, a service limited to groups
like the American Legion before 2001, Einsteins experience
with the FBI is especially instructive. Hoover did all he
could to ruin Albert Einstein in the name of patriotism. Hoovers
actions, wrapped in language of the common good, damaged masses
Einstein was denied key security clearances, bugged, followed.
Hoover even thought about deporting himhard to do to
the worlds most beloved playful intellectual. As Jerome
demonstrates, Hoover mixed his anti-Semitism with anti-communism,
much like the Nazi movement where he found many of his resources,
like the rantings of Elizabeth Dilling, author of the notorious
Red Network, a compilation of fictions that Hoover
used as a guide, and Hoovers contacts with his Nazi
counterpart, Heinrich Himmler, a favored Hoover correspondent
until 1939. Hoover
despised Einstein and wanted to show him up as a spy. Einstein,
after all, stood for all Hoover loathed: internationalism,
anti-racism, rationalism, openness. Jerome has the details
of how Hoovers hatred played out, not only in documents,
but also in gripping interviews with some of the agents assigned
to twist facts into indictments.
Still, what Jerome offers here is not just the history of
the effort to demonize Einstein and later to neuter him, but
a chilling history of U.S. intelligence services, steeped
in targeting those who see friendly connections between people
as a way to social progress. An era is portrayed here, an
era that is reverberating now. In passing, we encounter the
battle against Lynch Law, Paul Robeson, Henry Ford, Emma Goldman,
Dubois (Americas greatest historian tried as a foreign
agent), a fairly predictable cast, but illuminated in new
ways. It is significant to be reminded that Hoovers
attacks on Einstein were, of course, personal, but the vilification
took place in an epoch when open anti-Semitism and proto-fascist
pronouncements were part of the popular discourse. The most
widely circulated Catholic newspaper in the U.S. editorialized,
on anti-Semitic grounds, for Einsteins deportation.
There are amusing moments within The Einstein File
and a few annoyances. Jerome must have been a pamphleteer
at some point in his career. There are suggestions that some
players couldnt organize their way out of a paper
bag, or without foreigners it is unlikely
the Manhattan project could have produced a firecracker.
Teachers will find a wealth of what might be inadvertent material
here. Einstein was always interested in pedagogy. It wont
give away the game to show two gems: Love is a better
teacher than a sense of duty. I am not more gifted,
just more curious. It is not surprising at all that
Einstein was prescient in social matters. Early in the Depression
he wrote that it was clear that abundance existed, that all
the necessary human connections existed, for all to lead reasonably
decent lives, yet what was absent was the intelligent will
to share. He made every effort to publicly join and support
groups that organized for his views. What is surprising is
that this well-known history was so quickly obliterated. Jeromes
well-organized and nicely referenced ambush on secrecy in
The Einstein File recreates a living Einstein, an unrelieved
humble rebel finding his own way in a new nation where he
came full of hope, but quickly found disappointment. Yet Einstein
never gave in, never quit. In restoring this part of Einsteins
life, Jerome tenders reason for continued resistance and hope.
Rich Gibson, with Wayne Ross, recently edited a special
Marxism and Education edition of the on-line journal,
Enemy of Nature: The End of Capitalism or the End of the World?
By Joel Kovel
Zed Books, 2002
Review by Tom Gallagher
Lee used to sing, Is that all there is? And thats
what Joel Kovel wants to know too. But where the song asked
it locally and existentially, Kovel puts the question globally,
and specificallyabout capitalism. The
Enemy of Nature asks a big question: Can the human race
do better than the capitalist system currently wreaking havoc
on the globe? Kovel is not sure of the answer. He thinks its
Yes. As he sees it, an economic system that leaves
fundamental decisions about the uses of the earths resources
and the livelihood of its people in the hands of the managers
of capital is just no way to run a planet.
The destruction of the World Trade Center happened after Kovel
wrote this bookhe refers to it in a postscript to his
prefacebut its aftermath provides an interesting comparison
to an event that Kovel does describe at lengththe December
4, 1984 venting of 46.3 tons of methyl isocyanate gas from
the Bhopal, India Union Carbide plantthe largest industrial
accident in history. The gas, which does not occur in nature,
but is manufactured for use in pesticide production, immediately
killed about 8,000 people and an equal amount afterward, with
people…still dying, 15 years later, at the rate of
10-15 a month.
But no worldwide cries for fundamental change followed these
deaths. The event was treated as if it were a typhoon or some
other natural disaster, rather than one that resulted from
a series of human decisions. All there was, really, was law
suits. The Indian government sought $3 billion; Union Carbide
ultimately paid $470 million, plus another $50 million in
legal fees. President Bush thinks that in the long run,
theres no capitalism without conscience, but whats
for sure is that theres no capitalism without really
high-priced legal advice. Worth it though, because although
the legal/political system may be capitalisms only actually-existing
conscience, the system requires limiting the costs of that
cites another authors assessment that, had Union Carbide
management been genuinely forthcoming and made truly
disinterested offers of help on a scale appropriate to the
magnitude of the disaster, they would almost certainly have
been confronted with suits by shareholders seeking to hold
the management accountable for mishandling company funds.
In other words, by its own terms, the system worked.
But while allowing that capital has shown a phenomenal
resilience, as various modes of revolt have come
and gone…as Che Guevara has become the name for a brand
of beer, Kovel nonetheless concludes that capitalism
cannot recuperate the ecological crisis because its
essential being, manifest in the grow or die syndrome,
is to produce such a crisis. Capitalism is doomedor
else we are. So, he reasons, capitalism must be replacedas
daunting as that prospect may be.
Then what? Kovel, somewhat inaccurately, writes that the movements
currently known for being opposed to globalization have
discovered what they are against. But what are they to be
for? Actually, while this movement has protested against
a range of economic developments and institutions, currently
it is just not done to object to capitalism as a worldwide
system, hence the strange anti-globalization moniker
under which the most global movement the world has yet seen
operates. But in any case, an agreed-on goal does not exist.
Kovels got one, however: Ecosocialisman
updated socialism that sees socioeconomic questions inextricably
intertwined with the fundamental physical facts of life on
earth. While the perspective may be generally familiar to
many readers, it is seldom articulatedat least not as
thoroughly as here.
Kovel says he understands that the idea of transcending capitalism
is widely considered quaint these days. Given
the history of the Soviet Union, a regime that Kovel reckons
would likely have executed Marx, while claiming
the status of being really existing socialism,
quaint would be putting it charitably for a lot
of people. Even on the left there will probably be something
of an Is that all there is? reaction to Kovels
desire to spif up socialism. After all, didnt even Lionel
Jospin, the recent French Socialist Party presidential candidate,
acknowledge that his partys platform was not socialist?
Why another book on an old idea with a new prefix?
Well, for the sake of clarity, actually. As anyone whos
ever tried describing some idea about a world economy governed
by democratic process probably knows, eventually someone asks
some version of the question, Why, isnt that socialism?
Whatever demurrals, qualifiers and new adjectives may be used,
the final answer to that question generally goes something
like, Well, yes. It is what socialism was supposed to
So, our author reckons, we would be better off just calling
socialism socialism. After all, no
one gave up on democracy because of the atrocities
committed in its name. Its important, in that if Kovels
assessment of the severity of the ecological crisis is accurate,
youd want people to start being able to clearly discuss
an alternative sooner rather than later.
Kovel favorably, and frequently, cites Karl Marxsomething
generally way forbidden in most ecological left writingbecause
he finds him the best interpreter humanity has ever
had of its own historical emergingsort of a Babe
Ruth of political economy.
Acknowledging that he cannot prove wrong those who believe
that Capitalism is innate and inevitable, a straight
shot from the Olduvai Gorge to the New York Stock Exchange,
Kovel writes hoping to improve the future, rather than predict
it. The crux of all political activity for him is to advance
the belief and the hope that people can put together a better
way to run this world. Ultimately, he takes the 19th century
socialists argument that humanity faced the choice between
socialism or barbarism a step further: If we dont
turn to ecosocialism we may go the way of the
Gallagher is an activist, a freelance writer, and a
frequent contributor to Z.