The thing about academic journals is that they are targeted at their intended audience with a good deal more accuracy than a state-of-the-art missile. It is for this reason that it is difficult, unfair, even, to attempt a review of a product that is not strictly meant for me. It feels a bit like asking John Reid to describe a functioning government department. In the case of Naked Punch, I suspect it’s written for a very specific group of Nietzschean neo-Marxists with an abiding interest in Middle East politics, although I could be wrong.
There’s something about this circular type of publishing venture that despite the very worldliness it seeks to disseminate, nonetheless feels as though it has been created in a vacuum. This doesn’t mean it is without interest. Naked Punch offers a mix of essays, interviews, poetry and art, as well as a dedicated section (which presumably changes each issue) on Latin America.
Qalander Bux Memon, one of the editors, opens this issue with a ‘fragment of a prologue’ on the ongoing Palestinian conflict, declaring solidarity with the people of that country and also the people of Lebanon. The writing style is polemical, and as such does not carry a particularly insightful message, weighed down as it is by rhetoric. Yet elsewhere in the journal, a poem, On late night trains and Yellow Roses [sic] shows a much more subtle talent at work by the same writer.
I had to reread a further ‘fragment of a prologue’ by Nadim Samman, On Work Experience, several times over, to ensure I was not missing a deeper allegorical message. The writer invokes Nietzsche, Seneca and Hume, among others, to muse upon the lot of the unpaid intern, concluding that such ‘pseudo-employment’ is “a deeply conservative, anti-egalitarian, state of affairs”. The main thrust of the piece appears to be that only the rich can take unpaid work, ergo, institutions that offer unpaid internships are excluding those with limited means. Surely in the shadowy arena of corporate misdemeanour, this practise is somewhat less sinister than, say, slave labour or trafficking women?
But then comes a thoughtful piece of writing by Simon Critchley, ruminating, as many philosophers have before him, on the elusive subject of happiness. His most pertinent observations are on thought itself, on the act of thinking, and on the impossibility of thinking about thinking. Using the sea as a starting point for thought, Critchley suggests: “Cities sometimes slip into the sea, eaten alive by their thoughtfulness, like Dunwich on the Suffolk Coast …” This evocative picture sounds like a poetic starting point for the book he is certain he will never finish.
A bright yellow page heralds the Lebanese Contemporary Art Dossier, which includes a striking set of portraits by Gilbert Hage. He asked his subjects to stare beyond the lens for ten minutes in silence, we discover, and it is this charged yet blank gaze that holds our eye as we gaze back at the wide plains and slightly sunken valleys of these young Lebanese faces. A more conceptual piece of work by Jean-Noel Aoun sees the photographer playing with viewpoint by inserting a picture of himself taking a photograph in a series called Beruit Un-Scene 2006. Aoun becomes the moment of impact and the effect is both unsettling and thought-provoking.
For the dedicated reader, there are many more in-depth essays and interviews with leading anthropologists, political theorists and professors of philosophy. For the less-academically-inclined but nonetheless politically and philosophically engaged, there’s this great magazine called EI8HT. I don’t know if you’ve heard of it …