Loyal as a Book #6

David Beckham, Paul Gascoigne, and the fates of the famous

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A Letter From Gandhi to Hitler

Quiz: Which famous author said this about writing?

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About Us

(The story of Misfit Press is inextricably linked to the story of Misfit Incorporated, which is inextricably linked to the story of AJ and Melissa Leon. These fascinating stories have been told at length on many other occasions – in newspapers, on TEDx stages, during numerous interviews and chance meetings in wine bars. If you want to explore the weird and wonderful company that is Misfit Incorporated, peruse our site. For the full backstory, check out this video interview.)

Misfit Press itself was established in 2014, with the publication of AJ Leon’s The Life & Times of a Remarkable Misfit. The little-known backstory to The Life & Times is that it was originally slated to be published by a major American publisher, who headhunted AJ after noticing the popularity of his blog, The Pursuit of Everything. About a third of the way through the writing of the book, AJ began to get twitchy about the compromises involved in traditional publishing: uncompromising editorial pressure, a lack of say on issues such as design and artwork. Not long later, AJ bailed on the contract, and decided to publish the book himself. The Misfit team created and ran a Kickstarter, aimed at raising $15,000 to cover publishing costs. By the time the fundraising had run its course, pledges totalled more than treble that amount. With the excess funds, AJ and Misfit decided to go one better than just publishing a book, and also founded a publishing house.

Since its founding, Misfit Press has steadily flourished. In 2015, we took under our wing Wolftree, the finest arts journal in the American Midwest; we released our 2015 Anthology, featuring the finest creative work we encountered over the preceding year; and The Life & Times of a Remarkable Misfit continued to find readers across the globe. In 2016 we published Destination Shakespeare, the debut poetry collection from esteemed Shakespeare academic Paul Edmondson; and we have more Shakespeare-related publications in the works for 2017, including Shakespeare On The Road, a tale of a Shakespearian adventure across the US.

Last  year was a big growth period for the Press, and there is lots more on the way for 2017. As you’ll see from our Forthcoming Publications section, over the next twelve months we will be publishing Saya Sayama: Three Years in Myanmar by incredible photojournalist Spike Johnson, a photonarrative account documenting a unique moment in Myanmar’s history: the violent shift from General Ne Win’s fifty-year dictatorship to the country’s first steps towards democracy. Also imminent is Tangentially Reading, featuring some of the most insightful, shocking, touching, and hilarious moments from the first 200 episodes of Christopher Ryan’s much-loved podcast, Tangentially Speaking.

These are exciting times at Misfit Press. To keep up to date with everything that’s going on, follow us at our blogFacebook, Twitter and/or Instagram. Into the future, we will always continue to work in the fashion we do right now: with authors we like, on projects that matter, in a way that leaves writer, reader and everyone in-between satisfied. We will also never renege on our One-for-One pledge; for every publication we ever sell, a child in India will receive money towards prescription eyeglasses, via the Misfit Foundation.

w: Matt

“It was like a genie out of the bottle, and it began to walk all on its own and in directions I did not want.”A eulogy for Mikhail Kalashnikov, inventor of the AK-47 assault rifle

The following eulogy for Mikhail Kalashnikov is taken from Dead People, an essay collection co-authored by Stefany Anne Golberg and Morgan Meis. A book of 28 eulogies covering an eclectic assortment of the recently deceased – from Christopher Hitchens to Kurt Cobain to Osama bin Laden – Dead People was published in June of 2016 by Zero Books.

Morgan and Stefany are both founding members of Flux Factory, an arts collective in New York. Morgan has written for The New Yorker, n+1, The Believer, Harper’s Magazine, Image Journal, and The Virginia Quarterly Review. Stefany was a writer for The Smart Set magazine and Critic-in Residence at Drexel University from 2009, and has written for The Washington Post (Outlook), Lapham’s Quarterly, New England Review, and others.

Dead People is available for purchase here, and anywhere else books are sold.


Mikhail Kalashnikov

(1919 – 2013)


mong the displays of assault rifles at the Mikhail Kalashnikov Museum in Izhevsk is a small lawnmower Kalashnikov designed to push about the grounds of his summer cottage. It is said that Mikhail Kalashnikov loved to care for his grass. Kalashnikov gave the lawnmower the same sensible qualities he gave the gun that bears his name. The lawnmower is light, simple, cheap to construct and easy to hold—something a child could use.

Kalashnikov didn’t regret inventing the Kalashnikov rifle. “I invented it for the protection of the Motherland,” he said. Still, he once mused that he would like to have been known as a man who helped farmers and gardeners. “I wanted to invent an engine that could run forever,” Kalashnikov once said. “I could have developed a new train, had I stayed in the railway.” But this was not to be.

Mikhail Kalashnikov was born in the rural locality of Kurya, the 17th child of peasants. When Kalashnikov was still a boy, his family’s property was confiscated and they were deported to Western Siberia. The farming was hard there, but harder was the shame of being exiled from the Soviet workers’ paradise. Kalashnikov was a sickly child and though his studies didn’t take him past secondary school, the future inventor dreamed of being a poet. After finishing the seventh grade, young Kalashnikov gathered his poetry books and worked as a technician on the Turkestan-Siberian railway, until he was conscripted into the Red Army in 1938. He worked with tanks and, in his spare time, tinkered with small arms. In 1941, Kalashnikov was wounded in battle. There, in the hospital, suffering from war wounds and shellshock, Kalashnikov had his vision. “I decided to build a gun of my own which could stand up to the Germans,” he would later say. “It was a bit of a crazy escapade, I suppose. I didn’t have any specialist education and I couldn’t even draw.” At first, Kalashnikov had trouble finding attention for his designs, but as his story continues, we find him persevering. By 1949, Kalashnikov’s 7.62mm assault rifle was adopted by the Soviet Army. The shy Mikhail Kalashnikov, 30 years old, was awarded the Stalin Prize for Industrial Work. Later, the son of peasant farmers would become known as a Hero of Socialist Labor.

Had Mikhail Kalashnikov died in the war, he would never have known the results of his invention. But, as it turned out, Mikhail Kalashnikov lived a very long time. He lived to see millions killed with AK-47s. Perhaps just as devastating, he saw millions become killers. The killers were often people with whom Kalashnikov otherwise stood — the poor, the vulnerable, those deserving to be liberated from oppression. But the AK-47 was popular with everybody — warlords, assassins, criminals. Even so, Kalashnikov felt the positive effects of the gun outweighed the negative. “I sleep soundly,” he told The Guardian in 2003. “The fact that people die because of an AK-47 is not because of the designer, but because of politics.” Yet Kalashnikov was not without reflection. “I’m proud of my invention,” he relented, “but I’m sad that it is used by terrorists.” “When I see how peaceful people are killed and wounded by these weapons,” he told The Times in 2006, “I get very distressed and upset. I calm down by telling myself that I invented this gun 60 years ago to protect the interests of my country.”

Over the long years, people would forget about the inventor Mikhail Kalashnikov. And then an AK-47 would end up in a news story, next to a teenager in the Ivory Coast maybe, and people would ask him again, “Are you troubled by your invention?”

Upon the death of Mikhail Timofeyevich Kalashnikov at the age of 94, was the revelation of a letter, written by Kalashnikov to the head of Russia’s Orthodox Church with the help of his local priest. The letter, typed onto Kalashnikov’s home stationary, was published by the Russian paper Izvestia and patchy translations soon found their way into the international media. It was the anguished confession of a terrified old man on his deathbed.

My spiritual pain is unbearable… I keep asking the same insoluble question. If my rifle deprived people of life then can it be that I … a Christian and an orthodox believer, was to blame for their deaths? …Yes! An increasing number of churches and monasteries in our land. And yet evil does not decrease! … Light and shadow, good and evil, two opposites of a whole, that can’t exist without each other?

At the bottom of the letter he finished, “Slave of God, designer Mikhail Kalashnikov,” and scrawled his signature to seal it.

There are two prevailing ideas about invention. The first is that it comes from necessity, as in the well-known saying, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” Technology, in this case, is a direct extension of human need. The Soviets liked this definition, liked to think of machines as the reward of an enlightened people, birthed directly from pure, unadulterated purpose, a purpose that led directly to progress. As one Stalinist propaganda campaign explained: “The Party and Workers Should Master Technology …Technology Decides All.”

The second definition of invention is that it is the product of pure imagination. In this understanding, invention is strictly for its own sake, and is its own justification. Invention is an act of creating. Too much focus on results is detrimental to creation. Here, the inventor is a small god, magically pulling contraptions out of the void.

The author Mary Shelley had a third understanding of invention. “Invention, it must be humbly admitted,” she wrote in the 1831 Preface to Frankenstein, does not consist in creating out of void but out of chaos … the materials must, in the first place, be afforded: it can give form to dark, shapeless substances, but cannot bring into being the substance itself.” In the Shelleyan explanation, invention doesn’t come from nothingness or need. The inventor is neither a hero whose inventions are venerated nor a god whose inventions are beside the point. The Shelleyan inventor is a translator, an interpreter between nature and human desire.

Whether it’s a lawnmower or a locomotive or an AK-47, the inventor is always faced with the same burden — how to turn chaos into order. But the chaos the inventor faces is not only the chaos of nature; it is also the chaos of human desire. The inventor stands between these two forces, pulled in both directions, servant to both nature and man.

So, as every invention is a translation of nature, it is also a battle with it. Maybe it’s better to say that every invention is a re-ordering of nature according to people’s tastes at any given time. How can we best shape the grass? How can we move through space and time faster? How can we kill more efficiently?

There must be, I think, something illuminated about the lifeworld of the inventor. I imagine the inventor sees an animated world, where all the things of being — organic and inorganic — are part of the same universal soul. For people who use objects and don’t make them, meaning and value come after the thing. But for an inventor, the meaning comes before the material. “I wanted to invent an engine that could run for ever,” Kalashnikov said. “I could have developed a new train, had I stayed in the railway.” And then he said of his train, “It would have looked like the AK-47 though.” For an inventor like Mikhail Kalashnikov, a train is just as much an extension of our humanity as a lawnmower or a gun. They are just different shapes of chaos.

Deep within the soul of the inventor is a yearning — to be a bridge between the visible and the invisible, the natural and the mechanical. This is a large burden, because so much gets lost in translation. The dangerous consequences of invention are not separate from its amazing results; sometimes they are indistinguishable. Kalashnikov said it himself: Light and shadow, good and evil, two opposites of a whole, that can’t exist without each other. It’s not so far from what Victor Frankenstein said of his magnificent wretched Creature: “I had desired it with an ardour that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart.” If there’s one thing Mary Shelley wanted to tell us in her book it is this: Victor Frankenstein never sets out to make a monster. He sees himself as a beacon in the darkness, an explorer seeking to reveal “the outward substance of things or the inner spirit of nature and the mysterious soul of man.” Victor Frankenstein doesn’t fashion his Creature ex nihilo; the Creature is an extension of his own humanity, the materialization of his ambition. Indeed, Victor Frankenstein sees the Creature as a fulfillment of the aspirations of all humankind.

In the letter he wrote to the Orthodox Church — so much like the confession of Victor Frankenstein to Robert Walton — Mikhail Kalashnikov speaks of his AK-47, his Creature, as a “miracle weapon.” There is danger at the core of every invention, no matter what it is. We think we are creating miracles with our inventions but, at the same time, we are creating monsters, too. In other words, the story of the AK-47 is not simply whether guns are inherently good or bad. Nor is it whether they can become good in the right hands and evil in the wrong hands. It is, rather, that an invention will always, eventually, rage out of its inventor’s control. The inventor never controlled it in the first place.

“It was like a genie out of the bottle,” Kalashnikov said of his weapon, “and it began to walk all on its own and in directions I did not want.”

All this translation takes a toll on the soul of the inventor. The obsession with vulcanizing rubber brought Charles Goodyear and his family to ruin. Wallace Carothers, the chemist who invented Nylon, once listed for a colleague at DuPont all the famous chemists who had committed suicide. And then, after taking a fatal dose of cyanide in 1937, he added his own name to the list. The dapper pioneer of flight Alberto Santos-Dumont, who liked to fly his marvelous dirigibles around Paris, ended his days hanging from a pipe in a hotel room in Guarujá. Jack Parsons developed the rocket fuel that launched the United States into space and called himself the Antichrist. “The mainspring of an individual is his creative Will,” he wrote.

This Will is the sum of his tendencies, his destiny, his inner truth. It is one with the force that makes the birds sing and flowers bloom; as inevitable as gravity, as implicit as a bowel movement, it informs alike atoms and men and suns. To the man who knows this Will, there is no why or why not, no can or cannot; he IS! There is no known force that can turn an apple into an alley cat; there is no known force that can turn a man from his Will. This is the triumph of genius; that, surviving the centuries, enlightens the world.

“This force burns in every man,” wrote Jack Parsons, and then blew himself up in his home.

“Man keeps inventing things all the time,” said Kalashnikov. “Life is composed of different inventions.” How true his statement is. As much as inventions come out of the inventor’s hands, they are, in the end, form to the dark shapelessness of all life. Remember, Shelley warned us in her story, inventors only give form to substance. They cannot bring into being the substance itself. The form of Mikhail Kalashnikov’s invention was an AK-47. But the substance of his invention is us.

by Stefany Anne Golberg
11 February 2014

Dead People is available for purchase here, and anywhere else books are sold.

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MattMatt is Chief Editor at Misfit Press. Alongside overseeing all activity at the Press, he is in the latter stages of a PhD, working on a thesis examining the intersections between literature, neuroscience and the philosophy of consciousness. Soccer, snowboarding, prog metal, Dostoevsky, a good Chianti and strangers' dogs all rank amongst his favourite things.

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