Riffraff Book Club

Fall 2018: Capitalism + the Individual

Starting in September, we're launching a book club program in which four consecutive discussions will focus on a common theme, reading a mixture of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. Up first is Capitalism + the Individual, an attempt to examine the ways that the complex and pervasive machinations of late capitalism affect the lives of normal people.


Surveys, by Natasha Stagg (fiction)
Wednesday, September 12, 7pm

Wryly mirroring the classic, female coming-of-age narrative, Natasha Stagg’s debut traces a few months in the life of Colleen, a twenty-three-year-old woman with almost no attachments or aspirations for her life. Working at an unsatisfying mall job in Tucson, Colleen sleepwalks through depressing office politics and tiresome one-night stands in a desultory way, becoming fully alive only at night when she’s online. Colleen attains ambiguous Internet stardom when she’s discovered by Jim, a semi-famous icon of masculinity and reclusiveness.

When Colleen quits her job and moves to meet Jim in Los Angeles, she immediately falls in love and begins a new life of whirlwind parties and sponsored events. The pair’s relationship, launched online, makes them the Scott and Zelda of their generation, and they tour the country, cashing in on the buzz surrounding their romance. But as their fame expands, Colleen’s jealousy grows obsessive.

Listen to co-owner Tom recommend Surveys on Minnesota Public Radio here.

Preliminary Materials for a Theory of the Young-Girl, by Tiqqun (non-fiction)
Wednesday, October 10, 7pm

First published in France in 1999, Preliminary Materials for a Theory of the Young-Girl dissects the impossibility of love under Empire. The Young-Girl is consumer society’s total product and model citizen: whatever “type” of Young-Girl she may embody, whether by whim or concerted performance, she can only seduce by consuming. Filled with the language of French women’s magazines, rooted in Proust’s figure of Albertine and the amusing misery of (teenage) romance in Witold Gombrowicz’s Ferdydurke, and informed by Pierre Klossowski’s notion of “living currency” and libidinal economy, Preliminary Materials for a Theory of the Young-Girl diagnoses—and makes visible—a phenomenon that is so ubiquitous as to have become transparent.

In the years since the book’s first publication in French, the worlds of fashion, shopping, seduction plans, makeover projects, and eating disorders have moved beyond the comparatively tame domain of paper magazines into the perpetual accessibility of Internet culture. Here the Young-Girl can seek her own reflection in corporate universals and social media exchanges of “personalities” within the impersonal realm of the marketplace. Tracing consumer society’s colonization of youth and sexuality through the Young-Girl’s “freedom” (in magazine terms) to do whatever she wants with her body, Tiqqun exposes the rapaciously competitive and psychically ruinous landscape of modern love.

Rich and Poor, by Jacob Wren (fiction)
Wednesday, November 7, 7pm

Montreal-based writer and performer Jacob Wren picks up the mantle of the politically and economically disenfranchised in Rich and Poor—the story of a middle-class, immigrant pianist who has fallen on hard times, and now finds himself washing dishes to make ends meet. Wren capably balances personal reflections with real-time political events, as his protagonist awakens to the possibility of a solution to his troubles and begins to formulate a plan of attack, in which the only answer is to get rid of "the 1%." Rich and Poor is a rare work of literary fiction that cuts into the psychology of politics in ways that are off-kilter, unexpected, and unnerving. This compelling, fast-paced, and energizing read may just become the new Bible for adventure-seeking, politically active and/or interested readers who rowdily question their position among "the 99%."

Excess—the Factory, by Leslie Kaplan (poetry)
Wednesday, December 12, 7pm

In 1968, the American-born French poet Leslie Kaplan went to work in a factory. She did so out of choice rather than necessity, part of a generation of Maoist établis, university-educated radicals who entered the factory in order to organize the working class. Excess—The Factory evokes the tumult of those years through an encounter with the serial violence of the assembly line, descending by way of infernal workshops to reach the dark center of capitalist accumulation. Hailed by French luminaries such as Maurice Blanchot and Marguerite Duras as a unique event in writing, the book was at once legendary and all but lost to English-language readers. This long overdue translation by Julie Carr and Jennifer Pap, true to the original’s spare, declarative tone, returns the book and its complex moment to new readers. Ferocious, despairing, beautiful line by line, this book captures the era we cannot stop leaving.

To join, simply send us a note at info@riffraffpvd.com and read the book before the meeting! All book club titles are $1 off in advance of the discussions.