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The Katzwer’s Out of the Bag: The Manifesto Manifesto

Published: September 2, 2011
Section: Opinions

Last year one of my professors said something that truly stuck with me. It was not some of that inspirational drivel that people claim “changed their lives.” It did not change my life; it was just memorable.

“Manifestos are great,” said Professor David Sherman (ENG). “People today don’t write enough manifestos.”

I agree with this statement of belief wholeheartedly—incidentally, a “statement of belief” is one definition of a manifesto. For those who do not know what a manifesto is exactly, except in the loosest of terms, such as the one above, Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines a manifesto as “a written statement declaring publicly the intentions, motives, or views of its issuer.”

Now, I know that when most people think “manifesto,” they think of “The Communist Manifesto” by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (I bet you didn’t know that Marx had a co-author—poor Engels). Thankfully, this is not the only manifesto in existence. A manifesto does not need to have manifesto in its title to be a manifesto (although mine does). Take for instance Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf.”

Because of works like “Mein Kampf,” manifestos have been given a bad name. But some manifestos are heralded as triumphs and affirmations of the beauty of human thought—by people other than Nazis, I mean. Ever hear of “The Declaration of Independence”? (That was sarcastic; I am sure you have.)

And manifestos do not have to be serious (read: boring) affairs either. Take for example Donna Haraway’s “Cyborg Manifesto.” You may think you know what this is about but you are wrong—it is about feminism. Haraway used the metaphor of cyborgs to criticize the modern feminist movement. If you did not know going into it that it is about feminism, however, you would just think it was a neat, sci-fi manifesto about cyborgs.

You could argue just about anything in a manifesto and, if it is argued well, you have written a successful manifesto. For example, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in the late 1800s before they banned plural marriage, had two manifestos on the subject: the “1890 Manifesto” by Wilford Woodruff and the creatively-named “Second Manifesto” by Joseph F. Smith. They are pretty convincing—if you believe God spoke to Joseph Smith (the founder of the religion, not the guy who wrote the manifesto). I was almost convinced.

Hell, even Lady Gaga wrote a manifesto. (I didn’t read it but I am sure it sucks.)

The point is: Anyone can write a manifesto on any topic. So what is stopping you?

Well, nothing stopped former Hoot editor Max Price ’11 from printing a four-page manifesto in The Hoot on Sept. 26, 2008. The special section was compiled by Pissed Off Youth of America (P.O.Y.A.) to decry the sorts of things that angsty, wannabe activists at Brandeis like to decry. (If you go to The Hoot’s website and search for it, it is still there.) The section was created when P.O.Y.A. issued a challenge to students to “create a manifesto about anything that makes you angry and the change you want to see in the country …” (The Hoot, “You say you want a revolution?” Sept. 26, 2008).

Well, I am issuing a similar challenge now (although I will not put your manifestos in The Hoot). We need more manifestos. The art of the manifesto is being lost and it saddens me.

Write about things you are passionate about—not only angry about. A manifesto does not have to be a critique; it can be an argument, a proposition, a belief, a desire, an intention, an idea, a declaration, a litany and so on. The possibilities are endless.

And do not write a manifesto because I told you to do so or because you hope it will get published somewhere and you can use that to get into graduate school. Write it for yourself. Get your ideas onto paper and write something of which you can be proud. Write something that means something to you and that will still mean something to you whether you ever show it to someone else or not.

Be part of a great literary tradition. Join great minds like Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels; Thomas Jefferson; and Lady Gaga (I regretted the last one the moment I typed it). Be a part of something that has its roots in centuries of argument and belief.

Lastly, help me revive the practice of manifesto-writing so that it will not be lost forever.