26 Oct

Dear U.S. Department of Homeland Security, I write to you today on an urgent matter. I received news this morning that several hundred copies of my novel One Break, A Thousand Blows (BookWorks 2008) have been effectively destroyed and likely banned in the United States by US customs, to fulfill CBP’s dual mission of “preventing terrorists and terrorist weapons from entering the United States, while also facilitating the flow of legitimate trade and travel.” I do not want to make any final judgments, as I am not aware of all the facts at the moment; I would immensely appreciate clarification and answers on this issue. So far neither U.S. Customs and Border Protection nor the Department of Homeland Security have been of much help.

According to my editor Stewart Home, two weeks ago “an attempt to sell titles in [his] Semina series at the New York Art Book Fare had descended into farce because the books had been impounded by US customs. Book Works told [him] they’d flown from Europe to America to sell the novels, but ended up manning an empty table. The publications have now disappeared and may have been destroyed; from New York any unsold copies should have gone on to a distributor in Los Angeles, but there is still no sign of them on either the east or west coast. . . . Word on the grapevine is that the Semina books were impounded because a US customs official took a look at [Mark Waugh’s novel] Bubble Entendre and decided it was a blue-print for a terrorist attack on the 2012 Olympic Games.”

What was this official’s name? What was his exact reasoning? If this was indeed the case, why was my novel additionally impounded along with Mark Waugh’s book? One Break, A Thousand Blows has its measure of obscenities, pornography and shock – but nowhere does it justify, let alone condone terrorism. If anything I am a literary terrorist. Moreover, why was Jana Leo’s Rape New York impounded? And why were copies of Bridget Penney’s Index impounded? An innocuous title – no? For myself, Penney’s book was the para-literary equivalent of a Richard Serra masterpiece. How could any one, even a government official, see anything terrorizing in it?

Speculations here abound: my Goldsmiths colleague in London thinks the title itself One Break, A Thousand Blows was too connotative of a terrorist plot. That and the fact that the enigmatic cover was colored Communist red with many depictions of wigs (as in disguises). And it probably didn’t help that at the beginning of the book I quoted a phrase from the Bernadette Corporation: “People want to be someone. But the really exciting challenge is to become no one. And where will you find no ones? In nowhere. Where things are exploding.”

A long pause. On second thought (in a parallax way), I can’t really blame US customs for doing what they ultimately did. I can well imagine an average, naive customs official (let’s imagine him to be completely unaware of the avant-garde) coming across the Semina series – totally baffled, and reading something like Bridget Penney’s Index as a highly elaborate coded index on weapons of mass destruction. If all of this seems a bit farfetched, I hate to think what might really be behind the conspiracy; in a word – censorship.

These days I find myself thinking more and more about Kathy Acker’s Blood and Guts in High School, considered her most popular and best-selling novel – the story is seemingly about Janey Smith, a ten-year-old American girl who has an incestuous sexual relationship with her father, who is also her boyfriend, brother, money, and amusement. Blood and Guts was banned in Germany, and I can’t help but feel that the authorities in New York effectively banned Jana Leo’s Rape New York for similar Blood and Guts reasons concerning taste and decency. Rape New York is a book about a real case in January 2001 where Leo herself was held hostage and raped during the course of an afternoon in her New York apartment. Perhaps the pulping of Kim, Penney and Waugh was simply collaterol damage, incidental to the conservative backlash against Leo.

Wherever the truth lies, we here at the New School for Social Research, San Francisco are all tickled pink by it. And if in the end it turns out that this was all just an elaborate media hoax by Arts Council England (like the recent “bomb threat” publicity stunt at Cooper Union for Slavoj Zizek’s new book) – I don’t think I’ll have any regrets on the way that I approached this topic. As Kathy Acker put it, “I think the best thing in cases of censorship or things like this is to get as much media as possible.”

Yours sincerely, Maxi Kim, Beaubourg 268.


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