Polity of Literature

Polity of Literature

This series asks how writing and reading can become the site of politics, especially for those excluded from state politics (such as prisoners, refugees, or children).

This project of ArtsEverywhere was developed in response to the widespread failure of nation-states to provide citizenship for those who need it most. Across the globe, in myriad differing circumstances, oppressed ethnic and religious groups, poor people, economic migrants, and those displaced by war find themselves unwelcome in both the nations they come from and the nations to which they flee. Borders are closing. Those crossing them are criminalized. The human need for inclusion and rights inside a jurisprudence that casts us all as equals goes unmet. At the same time, within the borders of nation-states, growing numbers of similarly disadvantaged people lose their rights as citizens every day, when they’re arrested and imprisoned. Despite the infinite variety of these lives, their unique backgrounds and possible futures, the state’s response has become uniform—to withhold citizenship and the rights that go with it. As Hannah Arendt commented when facing her own statelessness, “The calamity of the rightless is not that they are deprived of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, or of equality before the law and freedom of opinion—formulas which were designed to solve problems within given communities—but that they no longer belong to any community whatsoever.” Rejected by the state, the displaced today fall back on the communities that have survived their long journeys and hardships, and, with them, shape what is called a “profane citizenship,” independent of nations.

Matthew Stadler
Editor of The Polity of Literature

The Video Kids

The Video Kids

When a resourceful teacher gave a video camera to “the problem kids” they filmed what they knew to be true, and showed it. Now no one can make them stop.

Growing Up Among the People of the Book

Growing Up Among the People of the Book

A Catholic man who loves Morrissey moves to Israel to study writing. Among his neighbours he finds five remarkable people—three students, a teacher, and a rabbi—who show him the ways that young lives blossom and stray among the people of the Book.

What Breaks

What Breaks

A Palestinian girl growing up in suburban Ohio is proud to receive an A- on her 9th grade genocide report. Later, grown up, she asks Can a fact be sad? I wish to know.

Escaping Moria

Escaping Moria

Karima Qias was seventeen years old when her family arrived at the Moria refugee camp, on Lesvos Island, Greece. She knew immediately that they had to get out to survive, and this is how they did it.

Zines From a Revolution

Zines From a Revolution

In his lifetime, writer and activist Charles Shively filled his Boston rowhouse with the printed residue of 20th-century queer liberation. His friend Michael Bronski recalls what he found when packing it up for the Beinecke Library archive—poetry at the heart of politics.

Wood Sprites

Wood Sprites

When unlawfully incarcerated for almost five years, Ahmet Altan daydreamed his way out of prison by recalling the books he’d read and the “Wood Sprites” they contained.

The Secret Library of Daraya

The Secret Library of Daraya

When the Assad regime in Syria targeted the city of Daraya for its resistance actions, the buildings they bombed held many books. Locals rescued the books from the rubble and made a secret underground public library.

Building the Parallel Polis

Building the Parallel Polis

A polity of literature can assemble in myriad ways and places. American artist and writer, Anne Focke, considers two examples: the “parallel polis” of 20th-century Czech resistance to Soviet domination; and a practice called “the dynamics of difference,” rooted in the work of Native American tribes in the Humboldt Bay area of California.

Plaza Girls — a diary

Plaza Girls — a diary

In this addendum to the 14th piece in the Polity of Literature series the British film-maker Chloe Ruthven recalls her work helping teenage Afghani refugees make and circulate their own zine, Plaza Girls.

Refugee Zines

Refugee Zines

Lacking other resources, refugees and others on the move often use writing and reading together to site their politics. ArtsEverywhere editor Siddhartha Joag surveys some examples, from Myanmar to Uganda to Norway and Greece.

Summary Justice: A German Divorce

Summary Justice: A German Divorce

The great polyglot writer, Sybille Bedford, was a mid-20th-century fanboy of court trials. This chapter from her underrated 1961 book The Faces of Justice recalls the drama of court proceedings in Munich, Germany.

Refugee on Trial: The Hole in the Donut

Refugee on Trial: The Hole in the Donut

Artists can stage the encounter of the state with the refugees it presumes to judge. In this searching personal essay, Niels Bekkema, a Dutch artist working with the Polity of Literature series, recalls some of the ways that art and justice intersect and shed light on one another.

“They are human beings.”

“They are human beings.”

This addendum to the 8th and 9th pieces in the Polity of Literature links to Megan K. Stack’s New York Times profile of Behrouz Boochani, one of the Manus refugee writers Moones Mansoubi helped.

Translating Manus and Nauru: Refugee Writing

Translating Manus and Nauru: Refugee Writing

In 2013, when Australia began to detain refugees in off-shore prisons on Manus and Nauru islands, concerned Australians tried to help those held captive get their stories out. One, a recent immigrant from Iran called Moones Mansoubi, recalls that time and the talented writers she was able to help.

Prison Books in the Time of Refugees

Prison Books in the Time of Refugees

Refugees are often treated like prisoners, yet their stories differ. The editor of the Polity of Literature series surveys recent and past books from both refugees and prisoners to discover the unique insights opened up when refugees begin to write and publish.

The Zines of Terezín

The Zines of Terezín

In the Terezín ghetto, near Prague, Jewish children later murdered by the Nazis created and shared their own secret “zines,” acting politically in the face of terror and impending death.

The American Prison Writing Archive

The American Prison Writing Archive

In the 1970s American prisons began to allow in-prison writing programs. In the 21st century, with the prison population booming, the American Prison Writing Archive went online to connect incarcerated writers to readers outside.

Biz. Alive at the Gezi Park trial.

Biz. Alive at the Gezi Park trial.

Turkish courts staged the trial of activist and philanthropist Osman Kavala several times, always returning him to prison despite a variety of outcomes. Simon(e) van Sarloos attended once, and tells us what it’s like when the state scripts our destinies.

The Writer’s Paradox

The Writer’s Paradox

While writing and reading, even an imprisoned man can be free. Turkish novelist Ahmet Altan wrote this text during the first of almost five years he spent unlawfully detained in a Turkish prison.

Potatoes or Rice?

Potatoes or Rice?

The first piece in the Polity of Literature series examines the ways that literature—the political space of writing and reading—can host the gathering of equals that Aristotle called a “polity,” and grant agency and belonging to the stateless, incarcerated, or displaced.

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