What drew you to publish a book on Saddam Hussein’s late ’70s speeches on democracy?
Well, I did it because it was profoundly confusing and interesting. I
think of what Bertolt Brecht said: “We shouldn’t start with the good
old things, we should start with the bad new things.” It seems to me
that there’s nothing more bad and strangely new than rediscovering how
Saddam Hussein thought about democracy. I think it’s perverse and
That was the main motivation. I thought about doing this project for a
long time, ever since Jeff gave me the speeches back in 2003. Sometimes
you don’t find the right form for the thing you want to do, but you
don’t want to force it, you just want to sit on it. That’s what happened
here. In 2010, I started a press, ostensibly to publish eBooks and
paper books by artists. It was through setting up an independent press
that I realized that maybe these speeches can take the form of a book, a
kind of reader on and by Saddam Hussein, about democracy.
The thing that struck me most when I read the speeches in 2003 is how
fluid the idea of democracy was for Hussein. After reading the three
speeches, you still can’t tell what he means by democracy, and it’s
confusing. But I think it’s intentionally so, because for Hussein,
democracy is an aesthetic device. He’s using the term to beautify other
ideas that he wants people to pay attention to and put faith in, like
legitimate power or the revolution—the Iraq revolution in 1958 that
overthrew the monarchy and installed the Baath party itself.
And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that Hussein’s
speeches on democracy in the late ’70s were, in a way, a harbinger of
how people are using democracy elsewhere in the world.