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I say "you publish." What I mean is "you write" - a book manuscript, a journal article, a freelance piece, a letter to the editor. (There are also letters to friends and acquaintances, of course. But you will be relieved to know there is no risk of tripping over any here.) Then you make your submission. Publication, naturally, is a many-splendoured and increasingly rare event. The letter to the editor may be your most hopeful prospect - after all, newspapers don't have to pay you for it, even if they publish one of your letters twice by accident. As for journals and book publishers, unless you hit the jackpot, you are limited to publishing fragments - sometimes mangled fragments. Sometimes there will be nothing at all, and for reasons that often seem ruthlessly arbitrary (you're biased, of course).
Let us assume that after a while you figure out something of how the game is played. You can manoeuvre your freelance or scholarly work into print with greater dependability than in the past. Still, nearly everything that appears seems constricted either by its medium or by its specialized content. Freelance articles and letters to the editor flare ephemerally and vanish. Scholarship, though it might evoke territorial conflicts and achieve some renown within a given field, rarely engages the broader public. The carefully-shaped records of travels to distant corners of the world are sliced and diced into bite-sized excerpts for magazine publication. The best of your photographs are seen in murky black-and-white, or by a handful of friends on a slide-screen. Things written out of sheer love or momentary whim - your idle thoughts on a popular Christmas carol, perhaps, or your only half-decent poem - these barely, if ever, surface.
On one level, it was spectacularly rewarding. You were doing what you were born to do, even if it consigned you to a life below the official poverty line for long stretches. The words just kept on pouring out. Some of them were being recognized and appreciated. But the majority were kept closeted, or aired just long enough to be dispersed to the four winds.
Then, one day, a genie materialized before you. It whispered: Surprise. You can present yourself to the wider world unhindered. Unmediated except by your creative limitations - and the possibilities of the technology, which are expanding. There's one catch. It's going to cost you $4.50 a month. It is called - HTML.
In December 1997, I still did not know what those initials stood for, though I'd been surfing the Web in a random way for a couple of years. The Website was launched on 5 April 1998 through the University of British Columbia's Interchange server. (Let me digress to acknowledge the role of the university, and hence the Canadian taxpayer and tuition-payer, in subsidizing these services.)
Over the four months between a first acquaintance with Corel WordPerfect Suite 8 and the project's fruition, Homepage, as Dr. Frankenstein was also heard to remark, took on a life of its own. It was not quite as all-consuming a venture as might appear. It was offset throughout by a busy stretch of teaching at Langara College, and work on my Ph.D. dissertation on The Press in Transition. Any knowledgeable visitor to the Website will rapidly see that there is no special technical virtuosity on display - though I hope years as a journalist and temporary secretary taught me a few things about clean layout and presentation. What consumed me from the first, and still does, was the architectural possibility of the site. In the end, there was the added pleasure of seeing it grow almost spontaneously, seeing the material self-select and come to rest within what seemed reasonable, only slightly quirky limits. (That is a roundabout way of assuring you there is no Ph.D. dissertation or complete book manuscript here, nor any laundry lists, though a couple of frivolous moments might trouble purists.
Whatever you make of this Website, or of the book project born from it, one thing strikes me as incontestable. Only today, and for the first time in history, can someone apart from a president or Nobel Prize winner seriously consider presenting such a topically-varied body of work to the public. Message to all large publishers: Guess what - it's already published.
Just because something can be done doesn't mean it should be done. For two decades, though, as I have travelled the world and followed whatever line of inquiry took my interest at the time, I've felt like a writer waiting for a medium. Visitors to this site, or readers of the book version I am preparing, can decide whether the content of the site merits the effort invested. I am just delighted that a consideration of the whole range of material can finally take place in cyberspace - where institutional "gatekeepers," necessary though they may be at times, are nowhere to be found.
In junior-high I graduated to touch-typing on an electric typewriter, work-experience stints with the local daily paper, and even a letter published in Rolling Stone. I was, still, a small-town boy. I'd been born in Singapore - my father, David, was stationed there with the Royal Air Force - and raised to age seven in England. But at age five, my folks emigrated to Canada - first to Ottawa, of which I remember astounding snowfalls and trilobite fossils in the schoolyard; then to Vernon, British Columbia, where my mother and father fell in love with the Okanagan Valley and raised us to adolescence. My parents were worldly and learned, and with them I visited England on a couple of occasions. I read voraciously as incomprehensible events swirled around me: Watergate, war in the Middle East, the fall of Saigon. But the outlines of the wider world remained desperately hazy.
The watershed came in 1979, when a nerve-wracking scholarship quest ended not with the posting to Lester B. Pearson College of the Pacific, on nice safe Vancouver Island, but to a similar sinecure at Pearson's sister school in Singapore, my birthplace. Two years in boarding-school at the United World College of South-East Asia, and the formative rigours of the International Baccalaureate program there, taught me more than I have learned in higher education since. And the opportunity to travel - to Indonesia, Thailand, and many times to Malaysia - both frightened and electrified me. These early explorations were timorous and often solitary, but they saw the arrow of travel implant itself deep in my vital organs. I have been unable to extricate it since.
In 1981 and 1982, I travelled with my family in East and Southeast Asia (including my first visit to China). At a New Year's Eve costume party in Adelaide, I fell in love with Lindsey Anne Starr. We would woo each other over the next three years, in Adelaide, London, Hong Kong, and Vancouver. Thanks to e-mail, we're in regular touch today.
In late 1982, I took up a one-year exchange scholarship at East China Teacher's College in Shanghai, co-sponsored by the University of Victoria's Pacific Studies Program. Vast swaths of China were still being opened up to foreign travellers, and I jumped at the chance to journey as often and for as long as possible. That was as much a leap away from Shanghai as it was towards the fringes. Shanghai may have been the most cosmopolitan Chinese city by far; but that wasn't saying much in the early 1980s, and the Mandarin-language instruction at the Teacher's College was downright Victorian. In my spare time, I could play ping-pong, or hang around with the good-natured Xinjiang ren (Muslims from Xinjiang) described in A Journey to the Far West, or get drunk with the one true friend I made in Shanghai, Yuling. But the pollution, cultural greyness, and sheer sprawl of Shanghai - 12-13 million people back then - got me down.
So I faced the fairly good-natured "criticism sessions" at the College when I got back to classes three weeks late, and again learned more than I ever could have sitting behind a desk. The most substantial venture was a six-week loop through South China described in Vibration Land (Parts One and Two), and the journey to the desert vistas and surprising alpine climes of Xinjiang (A Journey to the Far West). The Xinjiang ren at the other end of the line proved every bit as genial as their compatriots in Shanghai. The brow still prickles remembering the Turfan Depression, second-lowest point on earth, and a 93-hour train ride home, midsummer through the Gobi Desert, a compartment without air-conditioning, a serious bout of food poisoning picked up on the last day of the trip. The pictures of the woozy stick-figure who emerged from the Shanghai train station will stay hidden in my photo albums.
I moved from China to Adelaide, Australia, to live with Lindsey for six happy months, which I spent working as a clerk at Australian Telecom. The stereotypical Aussie attitude to work (particularly government work, though Telecom has since been privatized) was amply in evidence. Apart from the two hours or so every day I had to spend typing correspondence and documents, my time was pretty much my own. I learned that typing something was the best way to maintain an aura of busy-ness. And so the handwritten draft of Vibration Land, scribbled as I'd travelled, was banged out in a comfortable office building in midtown, midsummer Adelaide.
When I returned to Canada in 1985, I flogged Vibration Land around. Douglas & McIntyre gave me a heartbreaking rejection - praising it highly, and indicating I should have no problem publishing it elsewhere (there never is a problem publishing it elsewhere - for a publisher, anyway). Dispirited, and so broke the first summer back that five dollars for postage was a far-from-incidental expense, I let it slide. It is still the travel writing I feel closest to. After fifteen years, some trimming seemed in order, but I have meddled little with the writing beyond that. The picture presented of a China still in the throes of opening up to the West may seem quaint at points. But it may also benefit, now, from a little historical perspective unavailable at the time.
I had edged tentatively into student activism at U.Vic. - staffing tables at anti-nuclear gatherings, mostly. But in 1985-86, though the arms race was still of paramount concern, the defining issue of the day seemed to me to be Nicaragua. A revolution was under siege by a superpower in a country few had heard of before 1979. In China, an American student had passed me a copy of Noam Chomsky's Radical Priorities. It was a dissonant, disturbing read - much tougher and more plain-spoken talk about world affairs than I was used to. In Adelaide, I'd sought out more of the master's work: the two-volume Political Economy of Human Rights, written with Edward Herman; Chomsky's early masterpiece, American Power and the New Mandarins. I followed this up by crafting a letter to The Australian that obviously derived from Chomsky's work, and sent it to him. He wrote back almost instantly, as he has to literally thousands of non-entities like myself around the world. Stunned, I composed another letter. Again Chomsky responded. Thus began a correspondence that has now filled a thick binder, and waned only in the last two or three years, as I began to feel guiltier and guiltier about taking up his time when I had little useful to contribute in return. In 1991 - the day before the Nicaraguan elections, in fact - I met and interviewed Chomsky for the first time in his office at M.I.T. and his home in Lexington, Mass. (For a profile of Chomsky built around a subsequent telephone interview, see Chomsky interview; link also to my letter in his defense to The Manchester Guardian Weekly) His humility and lack of star-quality in person had as deep an impact on me, perhaps, as his peerless intellect.
In 1986, inspired by my work with the aid organization Tools for Peace, I paid the visit to Nicaragua described in Seven Years On. "T4P," through its Managua representatives Barb Stewart and Scott Eavenson, organized the delegation - superbly. It whirled us around the country for what must stand as the most intense two-and-a-half weeks of my life, leaving a host of indelible images, a couple of which (photo one and photo two) are included here. It also sparked a personal involvement with Nicaragua that would take a scholarly turn when I moved to Montreal in 1989 for Master's studies in Political Science at McGill. Rex Brynen, a Middle East specialist whose activist involvements and intellectual interests were omnivorous, welcomed my interest both in Central America and in the media and communications. He sponsored a reading course that grounded me in basic theoretical approaches to the media, then cut me loose for three months of fieldwork in Managua, centred on the Sandinista newspaper Barricada.
I knew very little about the paper at the time. But the traumatic defeat of the Sandinista Front in the 1990 elections led me to anticipate that any official or semi-official institution within the Front would be undergoing substantial changes. By great good fortune, I alighted at Barricada just after the paper had implemented what (as it turned out) was a longstanding project to establish a greater institutional distance from the leaders of the Sandinista Front. Under the direction of Carlos Fernando Chamorro, chief editor of the paper since its earliest days in 1979 (and son of the President of Nicaragua from 1990 to 1996, Violeta Chamorro), Barricada forswore its status as "official organ of the FSLN," proclaiming itself instead "in the national interest." The political dimension of the new mission stressed pluralism in the wider society and the internal democratization of the Sandinista Front. (The Frente had grown more rigid and hierarchical over the years of revolution and civil war. The process was probably more advanced than I realized in 1986, but was certainly evident by 1987-88, when a range of austerity measures was introduced that differed little from the standard International Monetary Fund prescriptions for the Third World.)
Three months passed in Managua. I conducted dozens of interviews and soaked up the atmosphere of post-revolutionary Nicaragua, as described in After the Earthquake. An extraordinary spinoff was the opportunity to converse with Sofía Montenegro, one of the most rambunctious and questing spirits I have ever known. We spoke for some 25 hours in all. Sofía's life, like that of all Nicaraguans, had been irrevocably transformed by the revolution - split down the middle, with her mother left on the other side of the political chasm. After some tortuous years in the early 1980s, when she struggled to balance the demands of the revolution with her family commitments and ended up alienating herself from both the Frente and her mother, Sofía began to flourish. She played a leading role in founding an "independent" strand of the Nicaraguan women's movement to contest the dominance of AMNLAE, the official (and, it was widely felt, overly accommodationist) Sandinista mass movement. The "Party of the Erotic Left" that Sofía and others assembled was designed, with its tongue-in-cheek title, to suggest a more reflective and playful - though still deadly serious - vision of a Nicaraguan women's movement.
Again, the manuscript of these interviews with Sofía circulated for a couple of years. But it seemed to fall into the trough that Nicaragua itself disappeared into following the Sandinistas' fall from power. The word from publishers, even on the left, was: She's an amazing woman, and we'd love to take this, but there's no market for books on Central America right now. I was able to bring Sofía to dozens of North Americans nonetheless, by using the edited interviews as a text for the courses in Latin American Studies I was starting to teach at Langara College. Shorter excerpts also found their way into various campus media, but the lengthy selections which appear here are published for the first time. Few readers have been left unimpressed by the force of Sofía's personality and analysis, and it is always a pleasure to visit with her on trips to Nicaragua. In a wider sense, those trips too remain a pleasure. The indomitable spirit of the Nicaraguan people transcends the cliché; the country's capacity to stagger on through truly preposterous adversity never fails to amaze.
Between 1986, when I first visited Nicaragua, and Summer 1998, when I will return to put the finishing touches on the Barricada story for publication (see the Introduction to Chronicle of A Coup Foretold), the pace and range of my voyaging has increased. I toured the Quiché highlands of Guatemala, alone and a little scared, in 1987. It was two or three years after the state terror had peaked, but the scorched earth where peasant huts had once stood was still visible. The frozen faces of the women in the "model villages" testified to the near-genocidal army assault from 1982-84, unforgettably captured in Rigoberta Menchú's autobiography. No doubt that experience fuelled a sense of outrage when I came across a Canadian government spokesman seeking to downplay the scale of the Guatemalan horror, which persisted - albeit at lower levels - into the 1990s (see Guatemala: The Human-Rights Hoax).
In 1989 I toured the World War I battlefields in northern France, where my grandfather had fought and nearly died. The resulting article, No Man's Land, was published on Remembrance Day 1989 in the Montreal Gazette. I moved on from Western Europe to Czechoslovakia, Poland, and East Germany - bare months before the Wall came tumbling down - and thence to the Middle East. Four months in Egypt, Israel/Palestine, Jordan and Syria gave rise to Springtime in Palestine; a visit to the the most beautiful building in the world; and a lasting fondness for Jordanian bread.
In May 1994, I arrived at the airport in Cartagena, Colombia, thoroughly prepared to discover that the country was in fact the hellhole the western media depicted. If that proved to be the case, I would head on quickly to Ecuador and Peru. I did get to Ecuador in the end (see Welcome to the Jungle: A Short Walk in the Ecuadorean Amazon). But for the most part, I got stuck in Colombia big-time. I spent three months roaming most major areas of the country, with the exception of the cocaine-lab-and-guerrilla zones of the southeast and far northwest. Belying the international mala fama (bad reputation) of Colombia to some extent, I discovered a country split by epic political divisions, but also by three branches of the Andes - not exactly unconnected phenomena, of course. The history of Colombia in many respects is the history of regionalism, and successive governments' attempts to overcome it through nation-building efforts and impressive infrastructural projects. The geographic divisions mean unending spectacle for the traveller; Colombia is the most ravishing country I have ever seen. The people, the ones I met anyway, proved to be good-natured, highly-cultured, and severely underrated. Substantial excerpts from the manuscript I wrote at the time, Guns and Orchids, appear here, including The Silence of Armero, which still resonates with me particularly deeply. The emphasis in these excerpts is on social observation and political analysis. It is, though, hard to avoid getting up to no good in Colombia, at least a little. Other parts of Guns and Orchids detailed more picaresque exploits, most notably a long section, "Snow in July." I have chosen to expurgate these digressions; my mother, at least, will be pleased.
Throughout long years of study and travel, my activist preoccupations centred around Latin America Connexions, the project I co-founded with Peter Prontzos and Pamela Walker in July 1986. After a dozen years, I am pleased to report that Connexions is thriving more stably than it ever did under the tutelage of myself and my comrades. I found it an ideal platform for my growing interest in the media and politics, U.S. and Canadian foreign policy, and gender issues. Most of what I wrote for the paper between 1986 and 1993 properly belongs to the battles of the day. But in addition to Guatemala: The Human-Rights Hoax and the two features on Nicaragua, both of which first appeared in Connexions, I fashioned a "Presswatch" column to try to out-Chomsky my hero. One of the more incisive of those columns, and my favourite, is included here: The Uses of Symmetry. Perhaps this is a good time to acknowledge the sustaining warmth and friendship of Connexions colleagues over the years: Peter Prontzos (today a fellow instructor at Langara College), John McCartney Farrell, and Steve Stewart prime among them.
A crucial influence here - as important, in his way, as Chomsky - was Ferrel Christensen, a professor of philosophy at the University of Alberta. In his groundbreaking but little-noticed book, Pornography: The Other Side (Praeger, 1990), Christensen went far to counter the tawdry radical-feminist critique of pornography that in retrospect seems so preachy and banal. I read his work in manuscript, wrote to Ferrel, and began a fruitful association with him and the Movement for the Establishment of Real Gender Equality, which he co-founded. (It is MERGE's logo that appears atop The Gender Page.)
With Ferrel's encouragement, I began to research The Globe and Males, a study of four months of gender-related coverage in "Canada's National Newspaper." Drafts circulated privately for many months, benefitting from the generous feedback provided by family and friends. When the work was ready to appear as the first entry in MERGE's occasional-paper series, I sent it off to senior editors at newspapers across Canada. Among those who took time to respond was William Thorsell, the editor and publisher of The Globe and Mail, who took my critique of his newspaper in the constructive spirit intended. Sarah Murdoch, still the editor of the Focus section, commissioned a feature article built around "The Globe and Males," titled The Invisible Victims. It ran in May 1992, attracting a measure of follow-up media interest (see, e.g., the Interview carried on CJCA Radio in Edmonton).
Emboldened by the fact that I was still alive - indeed, that my work was being taken seriously, and even my friends on the left had not banished me from the fold - I moved to integrate my gender investigations with a doctoral program in Political Science at the University of British Columbia. Shocked by the carnage in the former Yugoslavia, and convinced there was more to the gender side of the story than was being told in the media and public discussion, I sought Prof. Diane Mauzy's backing for an examination of Gender and Ethnic Conflict in ex-Yugoslavia. Written first as an in-class project, it was picked up with unprecedented and gratifying speed by Ethnic and Racial Studies in the UK. A graduate seminar with Prof. Kal Holsti, meanwhile, produced Does "Gender" Make the World Go Round?, a critical survey of the feminist literature on International Relations. I sent the paper off to Review of International Studies (RIS) for consideration. That was when all hell broke loose.
Well, hardly. These academic tempests-in-a-teacup are never as interesting or significant as they appear to the participants. This one, though, said a good deal about the challenge of getting an independent voice heard in the I.R. gender debate (and gender scholarship more generally) in the mid-1990s. My submission was shellacked by the peer-reviewers - all, apparently, feminist theorists of International Relations. I duly informed the editor of the Review that I would try my luck elsewhere. Unusually, a letter came back - a fateful letter - encouraging me to revise the piece, and indicating the revised version would be sent to a different reviewer. After some thought, I decided to do so.
In early 1995, as I was leaving for Johannesburg to do field research on the South African press, I sent a revised version of "Does 'Gender' ..." back to RIS. But the editor had changed. The article was sent back to one of the original reviewers. Again the piece was savaged, this time in language that eloquently attested to the chilly political climate within the sub-discipline (my emphasis except where noted):
The thing which I find the most perplexing about this paper, and the most frustrating, is that it is suggested throughout that this is a critique which is sympathetic to feminist contributions in IR and yet it is difficult to find anything particularly sympathetic here . Its central argument, in fact, is that feminism is suspect precisely because of its normative commitment to women and improving women's equality. I do not object to the paper on the grounds that it is an unsympathetic critique of feminism, but rather on the grounds that it does not acknowledge this. This is a critique of feminist IR from what I would describe as a traditional, indeed extremely conservative (some would say anti-feminist) perspective, which sees attention to women detracting from the often more important concerns facing men. It is an argument which follows in form the more general backlash against feminism, affirmative action, anti-racist scholarship, human rights for gays and lesbians, etc., etc.
If these assumptions were acknowledged in the paper, then it could be judged on those grounds - and as a conservative critique of feminism, it is [emphasis in original] more sophisticated than many which have come before it ... I think that these arguments, and the interpretations of feminist IR found here[,] should certainly not go unchallenged and deserve to be vigorously debated with. But I also think that this debate can take place only when the author deals more openly with the political assumptions which inform the paper than is the case in the version we have here.
Somewhere in his mouldy grave, the Senator from Wisconsin stirs. This tendentious verdict nearly crushed the article's chances for good. But I decided I couldn't let matters rest without one last broadside. I vented on a manual typewriter, sent off the letter, and more or less forgot about the matter. When I arrived home several months later, I idly asked my housemate, Hamish, whether any news had come from the Review. It had. The matter had been reconsidered, and the article accepted. It was published in the December 1994 issue of the Review. Several months later I learned that the British International Studies Association had awarded it their prize for Review article of the year. That paid the rent for an entire month, and was the sweetest vindication besides. The article has since generated a share of controversy, prompting a critical response from a triumvirate at Bristol University. Titled "Gendering Jones," it was published in the Review, 24: 2 (1998), together with my rejoinder, Engendering Debate. Ironically, the one excision made to the text of my response was to remove the passage I have just quoted from the reviewer's letter. To publish this, it was felt, would violate the "confidentiality" of the peer-review process - though I had not named (and did not know) the scholar in question, and had published another, more thoughtful passage from his or her review in a footnote to my original article in RIS.
For all the hostility my writings on gender have sometimes attracted from self-proclaimed "progressive" quarters, I see them as in keeping with my essential political stance, which could be reduced to the maxim: cherchez l'opprimé. That inexpressible churned-gut feeling led me to support Nicaragua and its Sandinista Revolution as it stood up to withering imperialist attack. It led me to discuss and decry - in written work and college lectures - the injustices perpetrated against Third World peoples more generally, not least women, by an unforgiving global order and its local satraps. And it led me increasingly to empathize with men, in Canada and elsewhere, whose life experiences seemed preposterously distorted by activists and intellectuals with very dubious agendas indeed.
Bob Dylan once said, "There is no left wing or right wing, only an up wing and a down wing." I write, in every file on this site, in ringing endorsement of the up wing. In the gender debate, the public discussion seems decisively to have swung against the down wing. Most of the 1980s pieties now seem strident and obsolete, though I'm not sure the intellectual old guard has been properly called to account for its sins. (The mind boggles at the fact that Catharine MacKinnon, for example, still commands credibility on the pornography front.) A new generation of dissident feminists, like Donna Laframboise, has challenged the assumptions and preconceptions of the '80s elders. In Engendering Debate, I explicitly align myself with this dissident-feminist label and position. It seems to me to combine the best of feminism's engagé stance with a new, more coolly reflective strand. This latter is accomplished without the obsessive navel-gazing and "political paralysis" (as Anne-Marie Goetz puts it) that afflicts another currently prominent strand of intellectuals - the post-modernists I discuss in Does "Gender" ... and Engendering Debate.
What dissident-feminist perspectives will bring to the table is far from clear. I gladly acknowledge that my own investigations are at an early stage. But in January 2000 I will co-launch, with Carla Bergman and Nart Villeneuve, a website-based project, Gendercide Watch. It is, I believe, the first attempt to conceptualize mass gender-selective killings against both men and women, within the context of the global struggle against genocide. It is an enormously exciting time to be immersed in these and other "progressive" issued as the second millennium lurches offstage and the third one edges tentatively on.
It is also a great privilege to have led a subsidized existence (albeit, so far, a materially austere one) at the expense of the Canadian taxpayer. If I can offer repayment on this debt, I hope it is threefold. First, I've managed to keep a foot in the working world throughout, which meant I didn't borrow too much of your money directly. Second, I have tried, in everything I've written, to follow Orwell's (and my parents') maxim - that good prose should be "like a windowpane," and the main job of writing is to let meaning shine through. Among other things, this excludes the fewest possible fellow citizens from the discussion. It strikes me as at once the most elegant and the most democratic mode of discourse.
The final instalment of my debt - to all those who have inspired and sustained me - I hope I have paid with this Web site. I promise to continue to pay it, at that ruinous rate of $15 a month, until all the computers crash or I do. And I'll update it regularly, to ensure that whatever I might have written or done that could be of interest to you, it is probably here, and free to access. Welcome.
Vancouver, British Columbia
5 April 1998
[Note: Shortly after updating this introduction, I received an offer from the Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas (CIDE) in México City to join their staff as a professor of international studies. I gladly accepted, and am now making my home in the world's biggest metropolis!]
Created by Adam Jones, 1998.
Last updated: 10 October 2000.