Thus, there’s an added resonance to the publication at this particular moment of On Democracy, which contains three Hussein speeches on the topic. Of course, it would be easy to dismiss Hussein’s democratic musings as a bad joke, and their circuitous route to publication began this way, at least according to journalist Jeff Severns Guntzel, who describes in the book’s introduction how during a visit to Baghdad doing humanitarian work before the second Gulf War an Iraqi friend gave him a collection of Hussein essays on democracy as a “gag gift,” which in turn became much less funny after Iraq was turned into an inferno by the US invasion and ongoing internecine warfare. On Democracy is the project of an art book publisher. Badlands Unlimited was founded by artist Paul Chan, who spent a month in Iraq with peace-activist organization Voices in the Wilderness right before the U.S. invasion in March 2003, which is partly how Hussein’s text ended up in his hands. Throughout his career, Chan has intermingled art and politics in provocative ways. His drawing of Hussein after the latter’s capture by U.S. forces appears on the book’s front cover.
more from Alan Gilbert at Bookforum here.