Notes on Modern Monsters: from Anarchists to Zombies

A friend of mine recently had surgery, and in one of those thoughtful moves that never seem to occur to me, one of his co-workers lent him a bag of easy-reading books for his hospital stay. While I was visiting him I found him asleep, and started the nearest book that seemed good (the one he was in the middle of, of course), World War Z, by Max Brooks.

Zombies have been showing up more and more in pop culture – from video games (Plants vs Zombies and Left 4 Dead are only two of the more popular out of many many examples), books (WWZ, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies), activities (zombie walks), to of course movies.

A friend of mine recently had surgery, and in one of those thoughtful moves that never seem to occur to me, one of his co-workers lent him a bag of easy-reading books for his hospital stay. While I was visiting him I found him asleep, and started the nearest book that seemed good (the one he was in the middle of, of course), World War Z, by Max Brooks.

Zombies have been showing up more and more in pop culture – from video games (Plants vs Zombies and Left 4 Dead are only two of the more popular out of many many examples), books (WWZ, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies), activities (zombie walks), to of course movies.



WWZ is a post-apocalyptic fiction-documentary of the world wide war against zombies, which happens in the near future. The book is composed of interviews of people from around the world who have played different roles in the conflict—some significant, others not. The interviews take place after the war has been more-or-less won: although there are still zombies around, their numbers are decimated, working tactics and strategies against them have been discovered and disseminated, and people are no longer in denial that zombies exist.

What is a zombie? In this novel it is marginally explained as people with a medical condition, a condition that spreads like a disease. It is a marginal explanation because zombie-ness is only treated as a disease in how it spreads, not in how it starts or how a solution is found: there are no heroic scientist doctors racing for a cure. Other zombie scenarios have been conceived as a result of extraterrestrials (the Stuff, Invasion of the Body Snatchers), of human manipulation (the Stepford Wives, Night of the Living Dead, the Return of the Living Dead), of the supernatural (White Zombie, Zeder), and of disease (28 Days Later, I am Legend, Braindead). Sometimes the cause is unexplained, as in this book where it is vaguely attributed to a bite that someone receives from an invisible source while swimming.

Of course the concept originally comes from the Voudun tradition, in which a corpse is reanimated to carry out a wizard’s commands. The corpse has no capacity to be creative, and this lack of creativity or intelligence is the zombie characteristic that has remained most consistent over time. Intelligence is why the Borg (Star Trek, Next Generation) would not be considered zombies, although there are other similarities. (The Borg seems like more of a corporation or state gone berserk, using all of the mental capacity of each of the components for a goal that the components would not choose individually.)

But zombies are also driven: a zombie isn’t a zombie unless it is on its way somewhere, desperately and unthinkingly in search of food. They have a single focus and let nothing deter them (which of course is also their weakness, since they will continue in their path even as they are being dismembered or burned to obliteration).

And being en mass is the third most significant characteristic of zombies. One zombie alone hardly counts as a zombie at all. That sense of being besieged, completely overwhelmed by numbers of mindless ravening hordes is a major component of the horror that zombies represent.

So here we have a big unwieldy group that is driven by some unpleasant or mysterious urge, to which normal emergency responses don’t apply (they’re already dead), that cannot be reasoned with, that smells bad, is ugly (they will be in various stages of decomposition, after all), wants what you cannot comfortably part with, and is clothed in dirty ragged clothing that’s inappropriate for the situation. I couldn’t think of a more obvious analogy for fears about immigration and/or class revolt.

In WWZ, Brooks is clearly using zombies as a metaphor for crisis, for acknowledging and critiquing how individuals and especially power systems deal with emergencies, and the interesting thing is how open the metaphor is. It doesn’t matter which kind of emergency the zombies are an analogy for: the fantasy component allows the reader to insert whatever fear-inducing element that they want to substitute.

Among those who speak monsters, zombies are always compared to vampires, as opposite poles of despair and poverty vs glamour and royalty. Today’s vampires in particular (like Bela Lugosi’s version) are suave, smart, powerful: mini Satans, each of them. (This is very different from the ugliness of Nosferatu in the expressionist German version of Stoker’s Dracula.) These days vampires offer upper class sophisticated seduction: the temptations (and dangers) of the city. As in the Buffy-verse, they are more about being an outcast elite than being scary. Zombies, on the other hand, are about the unwashed masses.

This makes the fairly popular cultural phenomenon of zombie walks disturbing. Zombie walks are public social events with participants dressed and made up as rotting corpses, charged with acting like zombies, and sometimes acting out feeding on people and the consequent creation of new zombies. Frequently these parades are pub crawls. If part of the horror of zombies is the immiseration of everyday life, in which people go unthinkingly through routines over which they have no control, no influence, driven entirely by habit and bodily urges, among millions who are all in the same situation, then there is something perverse about (insufficiently) detourning this state.

Zombies might be of slightly more significance for people in computer geek culture, a scene that is notorious for feeling beseiged by people who they care about and even yearn for, but who are too stupid to understand or appreciate them. This sense of being the normal ones surrounded by the less-than-normal, is a very different take on elitism than that of the vampire crowd.

If zombies are about some kind of elitism, some fear of being surrounded and swallowed by a horde that is mindless and amorphous (yet atomized—unlike The Blob, for example), then it becomes a way to talk about one of the principle contradictions of anarchist practice/thought, which is the conflict between the goals of autonomy and revolution.

To the extent that anarchists believe in autonomy, believe in people’s capacity to create their own lives, to determine their own goals, etc, and that we don’t have the answers for other people, then to that extent we are in conflict with the kind of dramatic world wide change that we want to experience/create.

If we trust people, then we have to accept that most don’t want revolution, most don’t want dramatic change, most don’t want what we want, at least not enough to do much about it.

If we don’t trust people’s capacity to understand themselves or at least run their own lives to the best of their ability, then we have gone a fair way to becoming just like every other vanguard group ever, thinking that we do have the answers, and that we are more perceptive and intelligent than others and so should be running things.

People with politics (not by any means just anarchists) have found a dozen ways to work around this question, from saying that people are rebelling just not politically, to saying that people would rebel if they had any hope, to ignoring the question and just charging ahead with good egoistic principles… but the question is still there. What does it mean for anarchists to push change on people who don’t want it?

I come back to my favorite question ever. What kind of monster will you be?

The Red Tower

This month I want to say a few words about Thomas Ligotti, an author of short stories in the horror genre. This is not a genre I am particularly well-versed in; although I have been since my teenage years a huge H.P. Lovecraft aficionado, and am reasonably familiar with a lot of the Weird Tales-era pulp material that formed Lovecraft’s milieu as well as some of his literary progenitors like Poe, Machen and Blackwood, I don’t really have much of a sense for horror as a genre, and am almost entirely ignorant of late 20th century and current manifestations of the medium. I have read very little Stephen King, no Clive Barker, and am not even sure what other names are important enough to horror that my ignorance of them is relevant to this review. Thus, I am not capable of analyzing and contextualizing Ligotti’s work in a way that would be attentive to the larger thematic and stylistic conversation he doubtless sees himself as taking part in, or of writing a review that would satisfy a real fan of horror.

This month I want to say a few words about Thomas Ligotti, an author of short stories in the horror genre. This is not a genre I am particularly well-versed in; although I have been since my teenage years a huge H.P. Lovecraft aficionado, and am reasonably familiar with a lot of the Weird Tales-era pulp material that formed Lovecraft’s milieu as well as some of his literary progenitors like Poe, Machen and Blackwood, I don’t really have much of a sense for horror as a genre, and am almost entirely ignorant of late 20th century and current manifestations of the medium. I have read very little Stephen King, no Clive Barker, and am not even sure what other names are important enough to horror that my ignorance of them is relevant to this review. Thus, I am not capable of analyzing and contextualizing Ligotti’s work in a way that would be attentive to the larger thematic and stylistic conversation he doubtless sees himself as taking part in, or of writing a review that would satisfy a real fan of horror.

However, it strikes me that Ligotti has written some things that could be appreciated by a generally interested reader of fiction, for lack of a better way of putting it. As is probably fitting for an author who works in a genre that is often dismissed as pulp, Ligotti’s stories, particularly the endings, are often sort of hokey, contrived, or in various ways unsatisfying. Several of them, however, are quite remarkable; here I would include, among others, “The Frolic,” “The Town Manager,” “In a Foreign Town, In a Foreign Land,” “The Shadow at the Bottom of the World,” and “The Sect of the Idiot.” These are all stories I have either read recently or remember; several others may be worthy that I have forgotten or never read. But there are two stories by Ligotti that I find completely astonishing, each of which I have read repeatedly since first discovering them around 2005. The first, which I will not be considering here, is entitled, oddly and charmingly enough, “Dr. Voke and Mr. Veech.” The second, which forms the subject of this brief review, bears a more prosaic title: “The Red Tower.”

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about “The Red Tower” is its characters, or perhaps it would be better to say its lack of characters—at least, its lack of human or even humanoid characters (There is a first-person narrator, but he (or she?) plays no real part in the narrative). And if the red tower, a broken-down “factory” of sorts, is the story’s protagonist, narrative tension is suitably provided by an antagonist, which is also not human. The first sentence of the story, in fact, introduces the main “characters”: “The ruined factory stood three stories high in an otherwise featureless landscape.” The landscape, then, is the other main “character.”

What is horrible, or horrifying, or anyway what makes this a horror story, is that the story provides a vision of existence in which creativity, production, and novelty are seen as a disease. The red tower is a factory which produces “novelty items,” which are gruesomely, and somewhat humorously, detailed by Ligotti. But we come to realize that what the tower produces is novelty itself, and that the latter is in some sense horrible, as it proceeds blindly, haltingly, and perversely to disrupt the grey solitude of nonexistence. The line between nature and artifice is made brutally irrelevant as we are brought to consider a factory that spontaneously produces its artifacts, often generating them in some ill-defined way that employs machinery which itself is grown more than made.

But if the line between natural and human production were simply erased in this way by authorial fiat, the story would be far too glib. Rather, what provides a vertiginously telescopic context to production is what might perhaps be termed anti-production, which is not anything as mundanely diegetic as “entropy” or any kind of force, but, hard as it would be to talk about, indeed, impossible as it would be to narrativize, is brilliantly adumbrated as the grey landscape that increasingly comes to the fore as the real, if implicit, subject of the story. And if production, novelty, that is, existence, is horrible, the grey landscape is even more horrible.
“The Red Tower” looks at existence, and contextualizes it in such a way that differences between natural and artificial, animate and inanimate, spontaneous and contrived, are not so much obliterated as made to seem petty. This is done by virtue of the “featureless landscape” which wages a sort of war against the red tower, subtly, insidiously, without effort or legible effect. Whether or not this is ontologically convincing, it is certainly horrible. But to call a story like this a successful horror story would be absurdly understated. “The Red Tower” is one of those pieces of writing that can be said to go beyond genre because it exemplifies nothing but itself, and it does so unforgettably.

Jorge Luís Borges, Infinity, and the Internet

Jorge Luís Borges, an Argentinean writer who is well known for his many short stories, some of which discuss such fantastic themes like dreams, libraries, labyrinths, god, and the less fantastic –see also, more real – like los gauchos (imagine Argentinean cowboys). Borges’s works of fiction, intertwined with the metaphysical have made him one of the most well known writers to come out of the western hemisphere during the 20st century. For the sake of this review, we will look at the relation between Borges, infinity, and the Internet. Five different short stories by Borges which relate to these ideas will all be briefly mentioned; the stories include The Aleph, The Library of Babel, The Garden of Forking Paths, Funes, the Memorious, and the Theme of the Traitor and Hero [all of which are available for free reading on the Internet at the above links].

Jorge Luís Borges, an Argentinean writer who is well known for his many short stories, some of which discuss such fantastic themes like dreams, libraries, labyrinths, god, and the less fantastic –see also, more real – like los gauchos (imagine Argentinean cowboys). Borges’s works of fiction, intertwined with the metaphysical have made him one of the most well known writers to come out of the western hemisphere during the 20st century. For the sake of this review, we will look at the relation between Borges, infinity, and the Internet. Five different short stories by Borges which relate to these ideas will all be briefly mentioned; the stories include The Aleph, The Library of Babel, The Garden of Forking Paths, Funes, the Memorious, and the Theme of the Traitor and Hero [all of which are available for free reading on the Internet at the above links].



When Borges was younger his family moved to Europe (1915-1921), where he was introduced to the avant-garde Ultraist movement in Spain. Ultraism can be described as being in opposition to everything that is thought of as Modernismo. Some have even compared it to Italian and Russian futurism, Dadaism, and French surrealism. In 1921 Borges moved back to Buenos Aires, where he started writing for and distributing avant-garde Ultraist leaning publications/texts. Often this would include him wheat pasting the texts (broadsheets) all over the walls of the city. Sadly, as Borges grew older, he drifted away and came to regret these ideas – even going as far as trying to buy all of the old texts in order to make sure they would be destroyed. So no one could ever read them again. Like the maximum ultraists of today, who are ‘waging a life-and-death war against consensus reality’, I like to think of these younger days of Borges as some of my favorite. Honestly, we all grow old – it’s just to bad some of us become grumpy old fuddy-duddies.

Oh So Borgesian…

It is thought by some that Borges was one of the first ever to write (and think) about the future of the Internet. While this may be a bit of a loaded statement, because let’s be honest – it all depends on how you interpret it, and as a fan of Borges [for the most part], I find the statement to be an intriguing one. Being that his works are fiction, he does this writing in a round-about way; in other words, these gems are hidden beneath the surface. Just to be clear from the beginning, Borges wrote the above mentioned texts during the mid 20th century before the major developments in the Internet actually got underway.

In the 1960’s with the creation of ARPANET, a project created by the government of the United States of America (USA) whose aim was to create a network to aid communication. One common myth about the Internet, was that it was created to combat / defend against catastrophe [a silent spring] during the Cold War, however this tall tale isn’t exactly true. Because, later on, using the ideas from ARPANET, the Rand Corporation started developing ideas about how to use the Internet as a weapon (nuclear fail-safe). While ARPANET can be seen as one of the original projects in developing what has come to be known as the Internet; Borges was already writing about very similar ideas – like the infinite library, or a place/object where one can go to see everything in the world.

In 1949, Borges wrote The Aleph which speaks of “the only place on earth where all places are — seen from every angle, each standing clear, without any confusion or blending.” With the aleph, one is able to see the entire world from one place, almost exactly what computers and the Internet have become for many of us. While it is (thankfully) true, that not everything is on the Internet, ever look at where you live on Google Maps with street view before or belong to some social-networking site? When I looked up my residence in Google street view , it was kind of funny, in a very strange way – to see my family there, outside – “hey, this is our Internet fame! See how we work!”

An idea – is only as good, as it’s inspiration

Before The Aleph, Borges wrote The Library of Babel in which he states:

Infinite I have just written. I have not interpolated this adjective merely from rhetorical habit. It is not illogical, I say, to think that the world is infinite. Those who judge it to be limited, postulate that in remote places the corridors and stairs and hexagons could inconceivably cease – a manifest absurdity. Those who imagined it to be limitless forget that the possible number of books is limited. I dare insinuate the following solution to this ancient problem: The Library is limitless and periodic. If an eternal voyager were to traverse it in any direction, he would find, after many centuries, that the same volumes are repeated in the same disorder (which, repeated, would constitute an order: Order itself).

For Borges, the library is the universe and it is beyond count. It is composed of an indefinite number, perhaps even infinite, number of galleries. One can imagine, the Library of Babel being a place where you can find all the texts and works from the entire world – often organized in such a way, that makes it impossible to find what you are looking for. In 1894 Oscar Wilde quipped, “It is a very sad thing that nowadays there is so little useless information”.

According to The Economist (Feb. 27th, 2010):

Wal-Mart, a retail giant handles more than 1m customer transactions every hour, feeding databases estimated at more than 2.5 petabytes – the equivalent of 167 times the books in America’s Library of Congress. Facebook, a social-networking website, is home to 40 billion photos. And decoding the human genome involves analyzing 3 billion base pairs – which took ten years the first time it was done, in 2003, but can now be achieved in one week.

they go on later to say:

Quantifying the amount of information that exists in the world is hard. What is clear is that there is an awful lot of it, and it is growing at a terrific rate (a compound annual 60%) that is speeding up all the time. The flood of data from sensors, computers, research labs, cameras, phones and the like surpassed the capacity of storage technologies in 2007. Experiments at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, Europe’s particle-physics laboratory near Geneva, generate 40 terabytes every second – orders of magnitude more than can be stored or analyzed. So scientists collect what they can and let the rest dissipate into the ether.

How does this library compare to what we know of today as the Internet? Of course, it’s enormous. But, is it something you can just dump something on, similar to a dump truck driving around a giant tube, as some have formulated? Are search engines like the aleph for browsing the tubes? Have you ever heard of a yottabyte? It has been stated that it is currently too large to imagine – but to get somewhat of an idea, as of 2010 not even all of the computer hard drives in the world combined would equal one yottabyte of data.

In another short story, Funes, the Memorious Borges writes about a person who after falling from a horse and seriously injuring himself, finds that he is able to remember everything. How do we push the limits of our mind, our imagination, and our passions? In a sense Funes’s brain becomes more computer-like with his ability to remember things, and perhaps even machine like. Or is it more human to expand upon our ability to do things we once thought impossible? Is it true that we only use around 10% of our brain? And, what if we figured out ways to use more? Would we be that much smarter? More powerful? Is that what we want? For Funes, it seems the ability to remember everything turns out to be a curse.

There is actually a condition called Hyperthymesia, with four confirmed cases in the world. It is defined as an individual who has a superior autobiographical memory. For instance, in the case of Jill Price – her memory has been characterized as “nonstop, uncontrollable, and automatic.” Supposedly, she became aware of her ability at age 8 (1974) and since 1980 can apparently recall everyday. Like Funes, Price sees this more as a curse, than something positive.

Ghost in the Shell

In one of the more well-known short stories by Borges entitled “The Garden of Forking Paths”, the comparison between the ideas within and the Internet have been made many times before. For instance when we browse the Internet there are many different paths to see and perhaps follow, leading in the end to a distinct destination (or none at all). It has been mentioned elsewhere, that Borges arguably invented the hypertext novel from this short story. Along with the fact that hypertext is one of the under lying concepts behind the World Wide Web.

What does it say about free will if we are able to choose different possibilities like this while using the Internet or in real life? In another short story by Borges entitled Theme of the Traitor and the Hero it relates a fiction of characters who are all acting out a predetermined play (in a sense). History is seen as a combination of repeating themes, which is to say there is no free will. Interestingly enough, with the further development and exploration of computer technology, some believe we have been able to study the idea of free will more closely. Obviously enough, computers are much better at processing large amounts of data, and doing millions of mathematical formulas over short periods of time. Non-linear dynamics, or the theory of chaos – seems like something Borges might have written about. But, it is in this story that we are told of us all being actors in one giant play. I’m blissfully unaware of Borges exact sentiments on this subject matter, but one can take ideas freely from what he has written.

In all, Borges wrote a lot of different texts – the majority of which are short stories. Some have even criticized him for only writing short stories, believing that it takes more from an author to compose longer novels. However, the profound themes and different subject matters in his stories seem wonderfully woven together. And honestly – after all, who doesn’t like being able to read a story in 20 minutes or so, and have it leave thoughtful ideas churning, that never seem to be at rest. Also, obviously – I have chosen certain stories over others, more fantastic ones, and as a writer it can be easy to manipulate these ideas. With that, I hope it is possible to see that I’m not trying to say Borges invented the Internet or anything of that nature. Who knows though, maybe the inventors of the Internet and all that jazz were reading Borges…

Spanish Nombres and links:

“El Aleph” – The Aleph
“La Biblioteca de Babel” – The Library of Babel
“El Jardín de Senderos que se Bifurcan” – The Garden of Forking Paths
“Funes el Memorioso” – Funes, the Memorious
“Tema del Traidor y del Héroe.” – Theme of the Traitor and the Hero

[author’s note: this text was originally written in Spanish, and then translated back into English with a lot of tinkering, as well as a much need revision of grammar/vocabulary, thus making this text – pretty much, brand new.]

The Unique One and Its Own

Alien causes, alien movements, alien issues, old and alien to each of us: the Good Cause, God’s Cause, the cause of freedom, the cause of mankind, the cause of man, the cause of world peace — each meant for someone or some group to throw on us to get us to serve when we should serve ourselves. We should live for ourselves, not for liberation, and we should beware of those who get us to do various chores for liberation. That is a trick that appears to accomplish progress when it accomplishes nothing but more alienation.

cubical lofts

Alien causes, alien movements, alien issues, old and alien to each of us: the Good Cause, God’s Cause, the cause of freedom, the cause of mankind, the cause of man, the cause of world peace — each meant for someone or some group to throw on us to get us to serve when we should serve ourselves. We should live for ourselves, not for liberation, and we should beware of those who get us to do various chores for liberation. That is a trick that appears to accomplish progress when it accomplishes nothing but more alienation.

cubical lofts

We have our own causes — the cause of myself and the cause of yourself. These are important causes. When you hear of issues of national importance, no, the cause of you is most important. What have you done for yourself today? How have you poured your energies completely into your own life?

There is the cause of serving no authority. Why should we?! It’s an old expectation to accept obedience and be glad in it, but why is it so wrong to make all of your decisions for yourself? Because it’s sinful, or it’s just wrong.

What are you working on? Why aren’t you occupied with yourself? Why aren’t you being yourself, fulfilling every whim and desire? The cause of oneself is belonging to no one and being one’s own possession, and this cause does not isolate but seeks out similarly self-determined individuals to live out this life.

We are everything despite still being told that God is most important. No, we are the most important. We are more important than an entire million-dollar church. At the same time, we’re nothing. Our past, our personal histories, our legends and accomplishments don’t mean shit, but what we want to do means everything or at least it should. There is nothing to tie us down, nothing to serve, not even our personas or what we promised yesterday. Perfection is a lost cause again serving an idea and the protracted ascent to it. We’ve arrived to our destinations without traveling; we’re perfect as we are. Ideas and spirituality can waste days into weeks, months and years if we consider them as much as possible rather than no more than they come and go. Clubs do not mean more than ourselves. They’re the ones who need members. The President, a deacon or a country are hyped-up symbols that we need to desecrate in order to take back our lives. Only we matter, and the others get in the way.

We’ve been interrupted from our concerns by our families’ docile morality and our obligation to the state — school. As children, we didn’t live for emancipation of the working class or for activism. That’s a religion that left-wing politics teaches. We also learned to stop ourselves from being unreasonable, ungodly or unpatriotic, but letting oneself go is not modern behavior; it is hundreds and, in some cases, thousands of years old although it can appear especially recent and wicked. It can appear alien and repulsive, turn us off from being ourselves, and the repercussions can scare us back into normality. The Bible even tells Christians not to be patriotic but to be strangers and foreigners on earth; Heaven is their homeland, but this paradise after life is what I have a problem with. Life should be what I want it to be, but I haven’t made it anymore than what’s allowed.

That everlasting heavenly treasure is of course a pacifier that working people have held onto to get them through long days and nights of labor ever since the Egyptian slaves made it up under the Nubians’ prevailing crazy religion and tyranny. Christianity was the dialectical synthesis of Jewish worldliness and its philosophical antithesis as well as every other religion in Asia minor at that time, so this is why Christians can still wear business suits and not be laughed out of institutions. Their charity is for the poor as long as individual elements of mankind do not display feelings that are rude, uncivilized and barbaric or anything besides meek and grateful beneficiaries. To such purists, these hidden emotions are filthy, and the people who don’t control themselves are filth.

I could speak more about Christianity, but I’ll close with a thought about the ancient philosophers from that period. With city-states turning into another empire, they based their thought against or outside a natural order instead of in harmony with it; the planet was another obstacle to be conquered just as all of its inhabitants. There are some truthspeakers who seek attention to gratify themselves for choosing such an honorable higher purpose b/c, remember, there’s nothing lower than ourselves, amirite? We’re so dirty and mundane unless we live for the people. We’re boring, or so some think and consequently must pursue lofty, exciting ideas. It’s more important to lose our dignity and become the creatures that we keep caged. We’re wonderful people!

We should feel entitled to everything. Anything less is a ruling class success long in the making like a pet owner beating the dog. This is the morality that replaced the piety of religion which was Latin for binding or obligating. The former middle class of merchants have come to the fore, running their courts and basing their laws on liberalism and humanity. We are expected to carry that tyrant, the law, within our hearts, so justice prevails in all its glory! Lawful opposition loses the will for autonomy and engages in activism as a plea for freedom.

Self-willed people oppose governments with their might instead of petitioning for rights. To build a majority to replace the current injustice never works because waiting for strength in numbers doesn’t produce the kind of people who will take what is forbidden. These rules appear as unbridled freedom and protection of such freedom, so godawful people like ourselves don’t ruin the good thing they got going. Who minds working forty hours a week, forty-some weeks a year for his or her entire adult life?? That’s the liberty umbrella that covers all citizens but doesn’t quite nurture an individual’s uniqueness.

Can we listen to ourselves if we doubt our beliefs, or do they have us? The culture we learn makes us feel as though we are ascending into superiority, but we are only learning to cope by living with predictable outcomes. We should be humble neither before the stars whom we adore nor the law that terrifies us with its punishments. We are a part of both extremes, and we should not allow them to live through us. Crime can be terrible, and I can understand why some people choose to argue against all crime. On the other hand, even if a crime doesn’t cause the slightest damage to certain people or their loved ones, they nevertheless denounce it, and that doesn’t make sense. It also doesn’t make sense to treat such a criminal as a monster, but that is society. Those are the brainwashed fools who are stacked against us.

Humans should respect people more than their ideals, but the establishment and its obedient dogs still have not put down for good the worldly ones. Desire will always exist because it comes before, after and during servile ideology no matter how “awesome” it is to wear a uniform decorated with stars before a crowd of seated officers focusing on you. Being unique and allowing ourselves self-ownership is about fulfilling our wants rather than arguing for egoism and against everything else. Crusades are not an egoist’s duty.

For more information besides the book and the late Mr Schmidt’s reply to his critics, Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed # 68-69 has a couple articles, and they point out Max Stirner: Recensenten Stirners (english / deutsch), i-studies: max stirner and Max Stirner within the LSR project (English). Also, The Anarchist Library has an egoist tag for similar authors as well as the two writings I mentioned at the beginning of this paragraph. The picture is from http://www.flickr.com/photos/jonask/2775464625/.

Hey Italo, congratulations on your rediscovering the élan of molluscs!

A review of Calvino’s Complete Cosmicomics

’In the development of productive forces there comes a stage when productive forces and means of intercourse are brought into being, which, under the existing relationships, only cause mischief, and are no longer forces of production but forces of destruction (machinery and money); and connected with this a class is called forth, which has to bear all the burdens of society without enjoying its advantages, which, ousted from society, is forced into the most decided antagonism to all other classes; a class which forms the majority of all members of society, and from which emanates the consciousness of the necessity of a fundamental revolution, the communist consciousness, which may, of course, arise among the other classes too through the contemplation of the situation of this class. (…) Both for the production on a mass scale of this communist consciousness, and for the success of the cause itself, the changing of men on a mass scale is, necessary, a change which can only take place in a practical movement, a revolution; this revolution is necessary, therefore, not only because the ruling class cannot be overthrown in any other way, but also because the class overthrowing it, can only in a revolution succeed in ridding itself of all the muck of ages, and become fitted to found society anew.’
The German Ideology

Science fiction and pro-revolutionary literature share the same highest of high priorities, namely the separating out of moments of freedom from the reproduction of existing constrained relationships. Both discourses are most concerned with the image of an overflowing of activity which cannot be mapped back onto the co-ordinates of already established behaviour but which, on the contrary, defines itself on its own terms and may thus be presented as exceptional.

A review of Calvino’s Complete Cosmicomics

’In the development of productive forces there comes a stage when productive forces and means of intercourse are brought into being, which, under the existing relationships, only cause mischief, and are no longer forces of production but forces of destruction (machinery and money); and connected with this a class is called forth, which has to bear all the burdens of society without enjoying its advantages, which, ousted from society, is forced into the most decided antagonism to all other classes; a class which forms the majority of all members of society, and from which emanates the consciousness of the necessity of a fundamental revolution, the communist consciousness, which may, of course, arise among the other classes too through the contemplation of the situation of this class. (…) Both for the production on a mass scale of this communist consciousness, and for the success of the cause itself, the changing of men on a mass scale is, necessary, a change which can only take place in a practical movement, a revolution; this revolution is necessary, therefore, not only because the ruling class cannot be overthrown in any other way, but also because the class overthrowing it, can only in a revolution succeed in ridding itself of all the muck of ages, and become fitted to found society anew.’
The German Ideology

Science fiction and pro-revolutionary literature share the same highest of high priorities, namely the separating out of moments of freedom from the reproduction of existing constrained relationships. Both discourses are most concerned with the image of an overflowing of activity which cannot be mapped back onto the co-ordinates of already established behaviour but which, on the contrary, defines itself on its own terms and may thus be presented as exceptional.



Freedom is always novel and freedom always steps out of all established registers in its wilful creation of a new register. What is free is thus understood as traces of consciousness commingling with fragments of activity within a unified project; freedom is always to be evaluated on the terms it generates itself out of the mixing together of its constituent parts.

’The shock of freedom works miracles. Nothing can resist it, neither mental illness, remorse, guilt, the feeling of powerlessness, nor the brutalisation created by the environment of power. When a waterpipe burst in Pavlov’s laboratory, not one of the dogs that survived the flood retained the slightest trace of his long conditioning. Could the tidal wave of great social upheavals have less effect on men than a burst waterpipe on dogs?’
Vaniegem

But, once it has lost it glimmer, the image of freedom becomes that of caprice in relation to fate. As time lapses, the faded image of what it means to be free is transformed into the defining constraint on reproduced activity. Oppression is never more than freedom plus time.

Somewhere within that most esteemed collection of science fiction stories Cosmicomics Italo Calvino considers the freeing of shellfish from their submarine greyness. He notes that their achievement of colour is not complemented by their developing sight so that they might somehow gain benefit from their achievement. He represents this ‘just so’, the why it had to be, as a delicate process of accidental developments, of distribution of faculties, of the interplay of internalities and externalities, of constraints and the overcoming of constraints, of collapsing complexities and destabilised simplicities, of enticements and dead ends, of slow builds and sudden rushes.

In particular, Calvino presents the relationship of experimental engagements of the self (wherever this may be located on the circuit of material forces) within the context of a blank world as a series of subjectively achieved breakthroughs. He records how the evolution of sight does accompany the embodiment of visuality in the world but he also considers how the capacity to gaze is allocated to a different organisation’s line of descent than the developmental line of what is to be gazed upon – and yet, we discover, that far from having separate lineages the looking and the looked upon are necessarily integral to each other even if they do not inherit the same genetic patterning.

The object of my study here is Calvino’s displacement of the concept of work-activity from what is ordinarily understood as such (as encapsulated in the Theses on Feuerbach) to the works and activities of that which we have previously thought performs neither.

During those long moments of equilibrium in the world, when nothing much is happening, and everything slides gradually without a fanfare, my attention slides too and away from the agitations of those whose function it is to make a difference. Slipping further, my preparedness is then disconnected from the horizon where I had just now been looking for punctuating, emergent events, for extinctual crises and upfolding cataclysms, for any and all those eruptions which are going to shake new terms from out of the sky and down upon us. Quite unexpectedly, I pass into a state where I am neither looking for the signs nor listening for the prophets of the signs. And during such times I find myself engaged with, as if for the first time, all in the world that does not, and will not ever, change.

Because nothing is happening, my attention is drawn rather to the work, which is not a work at all, of that which is acted upon – to the stoney ground. That is to say, my attention is attracted to the passive role in the relation of the revolutionisers to the revolutionised.

My interest begins to attach itself to the receptor unit in communication, to the cloud of reactions which does not appear of its volition but is perhaps only ever defined by the actions of external forces. This cloud is divisible into two distinct modes:

A. affectiveness – by passivity, by reaction, susceptibility, suggestibility, responsiveness, pliability, permeability, mutability;

B. impermeability – by neutrality, by resistance, by inertia.

My interest in nothing doing, is primarily located in that substrate through which active principles either percolate down or flow across. Why is it that so much of the world does nothing but is content to either be changed from the outside, or even remain as it is? To focus the question more sharply, why is it that the communism as proposed by communisers is vulgar, forced, artificial whilst that which appears spontaneously within the communised is subtle, natural, well-proportioned? Why do we naturally prefer to find instances of communism than instigate it?

My interest then, is directed towards the work of receptor units, the passive bodies, the inert materials, the mute objects, the acted upon, in-themselves, subjects.

’I’m talking about sight, the eyes; only I had failed to foresee one thing: the eyes that finally opened to see us didn’t belong to us but to others. Shapeless colourless beings, sacks of guts stuck together carelessly, peopled the world around us, without giving the slightest thought to what they should make of themselves, to how to express themselves and identify themselves in a stable, complete form, such as to enrich the visual possibilities of whoever saw them. They came and went, sank awhile, then emerged, in that space between air and water and rock, wandering about absently; and we in the meanwhile, she and I and all those intent on squeezing out a form of ourselves, were there slaving away at our dark task. Thanks to us, that badly defined space became a visual field; and who reaped the benefit? These intruders, ho had never before given a thought to the possibility of eyesight (ugly as they were, they wouldn’t have gained a thing by seeing one another), these creatures who had always turned a deaf ear to the vocation of form. While we were bent over, doing the hardest part of the job, that is creating something to be seen, they were quietly taking on the easiest part: adapting their lazy embryonic receptive organs to what there was to receive: our images.’
The Spiral (from The Complete Cosmicomics)

The narrator, an unidentified mollusc, is describing how he has evolved a beautifully coloured and perfectly proportioned spiral shell. It is strange is it not, he observes, how his shell, this calcareous exoskeleton secreted from ectodermic cells within that part of his anatomy called the mantle, and supposedly developed as a mode of defence against predation, should also realise itself in terms of a visually pleasing logarithmic spiral growth, and an equally aesthetic complementary set of colours when he and his kind do not possess sight.

The narrator, and his kind, are visual objects and yet cannot see themselves. He goes on to explain, first in terms of love, and then in terms of the external evolution of sight, the work, his work, of passivity; he describes how the loved draws forward the lover, how the image catalyses the development of the eye.

The mollusc’s account of evolution here shifts its focus from the ‘active’ work of genes and instead emphasises the passive role of environment – sight is drawn out of bodies by the establishment of a visual field. Living beings develop the capacity to respond to visual stimuli, and this responsiveness enhances their existence, because there are things in the world to stimulate them visually.

By the same means, whilst the things I think about do not have to possess the capacity for thought for me to think of them, it is still the case that what seem like my thoughts actually belong to them as much as to me. And by extension, whilst the process of my existence is attuned to change in the world I do not record my attempts at change as changes but only as a continuation of the same terms of my self. So it is that whilst change is my project I am not able to satisfactorily effect it. I am waiting to be changed by that for which change is not, as far as I can make out, the project.

Why do we prefer to find instances of communism than instigate it? This has something to do with the law of unintended consequences. Every intervention into a complex system will produce outcomes that are both unpredicted and undesirable… we find we cannot successfully unify our plans with the actions which were supposed to realise the plans.

Whilst we are greatly satisfied with that which is undesigned (the shells we disinterestedly find on the beach whilst deep in thought on other matters) and whilst we are heartily pleased with that which we encounter outside of our own projects, that which surprises us and throws us back into a simple and unreflected upon relation with it, we are to the same degree discontented with that which we have authored – because it has spiralled irregularly beyond our intentions, because we are responsible for it. And we feel most responsibility for that which we are least contented with.

Transformation is typically described in terms of the actions of agents of transformation, and yet nothing would change at all if the passive figure in the relationship were not susceptible to the actions of that agent.

The world in which we live is not changing in response to the efforts of communisers and would-be revolutionaries and this has little to do with either the quality of their efforts or their selection of incorrect opportunities for intervention.

The world is not changing because the great passive, unchanging mass, is not receptive to, or even commensurate with, the messages of the agents who are attempting to act upon it.

And strangely, as soon as the work of passivity has been undertaken, that is, as soon the world becomes receptive to the works of would-be revolutionaries, it has already passed into a state of transformation in advance of the buzzing, exhortatory messages intended for it. And therefore, from the perspective of the agents of change, who would seek to lead it, the world remains equally impervious, passive, inscrutable even at its most revolutionary junctures.

frére dupont

Anonymous: That Most Prolific of Anarchist Writers

Without a doubt, Anonymous has written more than any other anarchist over the last 150 years. Sometimes she uses a pseudonym and sometimes she simply leaves the byline blank; we know it’s her. But because of the perplexing diversity of pieces she has authored, it becomes impossible to offer a coherent critique of this important writer’s canon. Instead, perhaps a look at her canonality will be of use.

While I don’t wish to discount her significance, after all I share much in common with her, I feel compelled to publicize her stylistic dishonesties. What are her signature styles?
Security: Anonymous is said to be untraceable, a bit like JD Salinger.
Modesty: Anonymous rejects any personality cult and focuses all attention on the ideas and not the messenger.
Sameness: Anonymous is the Everyman, the black mask. She could be any one of us.
Theft: Anonymous opposes intellectual property. She plagiarizes and shares freely.

Without a doubt, Anonymous has written more than any other anarchist over the last 150 years. Sometimes she uses a pseudonym and sometimes she simply leaves the byline blank; we know it’s her. But because of the perplexing diversity of pieces she has authored, it becomes impossible to offer a coherent critique of this important writer’s canon. Instead, perhaps a look at her canonality will be of use.

While I don’t wish to discount her significance, after all I share much in common with her, I feel compelled to publicize her stylistic dishonesties. What are her signature styles?
Security: Anonymous is said to be untraceable, a bit like JD Salinger.
Modesty: Anonymous rejects any personality cult and focuses all attention on the ideas and not the messenger.
Sameness: Anonymous is the Everyman, the black mask. She could be any one of us.
Theft: Anonymous opposes intellectual property. She plagiarizes and shares freely.

Unfortunately, Anonymous is not as secure as she clearly likes to believe; she leaves her fingerprints all over nearly everything she writes. Just as Canada’s Direct Action were tracked down on the basis of language used in their communiqués, just as The Coming Insurrection was traced to the Tarnac 9, Anonymous’s potent name does not protect her from State surveillance. Authors who use characteristic language, authors who communicate in any way with the publisher, can be connected to their work. They are only hiding themselves from the public.

On those few occasions Anonymous takes all the necessary precautions, above and beyond what she signs to the byline, she is truly untraceable. But the rest of the time what she actually accomplishes is to create a false image of security. Those who don’t fit this image, who write under their own names, are painted as unsafe and unhip. In fact, the strategy of hiding in plain sight deserves to be considered on its merits and accepted as a legitimate choice. This strategy entails, rather than hiding from State surveillance, being so public that the State would be afraid to target you, because the repression, which is meant to isolate, would instead create even more links of solidarity. But in the meantime, Anonymous is so cool, in her shroud of secrecy, that anyone opting for a different strategy to avoid repression just seems like a sell-out.

This coolness reveals Anonymous’s lack of modesty. While on many occasions, she does effectively stay out of the spotlight, just as often her invisibility makes her even more an object of attention. Take the Invisible Committee, as an example. In my opinion, they’ve written some intelligent things, but many of their adepts don’t even seem to notice. They’re too busy grooving on how damn stylish those rogues are. Or, we could compare someone like Derrick Jensen with a faceless group like CrimethInc. Sure, there are plenty of people who go gaga for Jensen, but he could never acquire the brand status of CrimethInc, cause he’s just one dude, but CrimethInc, by depersonalizing themselves, have become a phenomenon. And then there’s the Zapatistas. Their idea of wearing a mask in order to become visible is admirable, but a side effect of the inherent sexiness of masks has been the creation of the antiglobalization movement’s greatest superstar (yes, even greater than Bono) in the person of el Subcomandante.

Named anarchist writers are more likely to be careerists, but Anonymous and her ilk are by no means immune to fame. A mask, in this case, is much like a gun. You can use it when the situation calls for it, or you can pose with it. The mask in itself is no guarantee to modesty.

When Anonymous writes without a persona, leaving the byline blank rather than signing multiple pieces with the same pseudonym, she does indeed accomplish the sameness she strives for, and this can be empowering because it erodes the idea the separation between professional anarchist writers and rank and file anarchists. However, I would attach the caveat that there is something to gain from the consistency lent by a persona, whether it’s a pseudonym or not. Not only is it personally satisfying to see a specific writer develop over time, or to see how someone’s works communicate with one another—to see patterns in a coherent body of works, but it can be politically useful to trace how people influence one another and develop over time.

Finally, there is the matter of theft, which I wholly support. But I want to drop a little word that will make our more illegalist brethren shudder: accountability. While it is true that ideas are collectively created, the individuals who do the actual creating should not disappear within this collectivity. If we renounce the separation between beliefs and actions, we acknowledge that people bear responsibility for the arguments they send out into the world—both the good ones and the bad ones. It’s less a question of taking credit, and turning this credit into some kind of ideological capital, and more a question of providing a sort of traceability to ideas: allowing a reader to reference the influential writings where a theme was elaborated in more depth, or in another historical and cultural context. There’s also the issue of taking responsibility for what you write so you can face the consequences if your research is sloppy or if you’re making unfair criticisms and false assertions.

I don’t wish to establish a new norm, or to discourage the intentional mixing of ideas with total disregard for their origins, just to suggest that Anonymous’s much lauded style has disadvantages as well as advantages.

I sincerely hope Anonymous keeps her pen in motion, scribbling her sometimes brilliant, sometimes half-baked thoughts across the pages of our times. But even such a multifaceted writer as this one cannot express all the thoughts and necessities of anarchy. My favorite writings have always been her communiqués, writ large with shattered glass and hasty spraypaint. But Howard Zinn and Emma Goldman are pretty good reads too. We could use more of all of them.

Working Our Chasms

The 1984 book Pleasure and Danger (edited by Carol Vance) starts with the premise that women have continued their vitriolic divide around sexwork, pornography, and other things sex-related because there is a basic disagreement about how we see sex itself—either as primarily pleasurable or as primarily dangerous.

The two articles here reviewed, “The Limitations of Anti-Sexism” (Sissy Doutsiou, We are an Image from the Future), and “Thinking through Perpetrator Accountability” (unnamed, Rolling Thunder #8), encourage an extension of this premise beyond the topic of sex, to people’s perspectives on life in general.

The 1984 book Pleasure and Danger (edited by Carol Vance) starts with the premise that women have continued their vitriolic divide around sexwork, pornography, and other things sex-related because there is a basic disagreement about how we see sex itself—either as primarily pleasurable or as primarily dangerous.

The two articles here reviewed, “The Limitations of Anti-Sexism” (Sissy Doutsiou, We are an Image from the Future), and “Thinking through Perpetrator Accountability” (unnamed, Rolling Thunder #8), encourage an extension of this premise beyond the topic of sex, to people’s perspectives on life in general.



Doutsiou fairly represents the pleasure angle. She positions herself in expansiveness—culturally/internationally, socially, and philosophically. Her discussion about sexism and anti-sexism is in the context of anarchist activity in Greece in December 2008—a time of expanding anarchist action, relevance, and awareness—as well as her experience in various European anarchist circles. To make her points she draws on Judith Butler, Françoise Denevert, Guy Debord, Simone de Beauvoir, etc. And her argument is for sexiness, for sensuality, for contrast, and for people celebrating their own particularities.

We choose to free ourselves from normality to become the most extreme of beings. We want to break through identities established by society, by tradition, and even by anarchist spaces. .

She names anti-sexism as a specific kind of reaction to sexism, one that ends up reifying sexism itself, much in the way that Alfonso argues “Why APOC is a White-Supremacist Organization“, or how sociologist Joshua Gamson (who she quotes) posits that queer identity is necessary for queer liberation /and/ perpetuates the binary that predicates queer oppression. And her primary critiques of anti-sexism have to do with the limitations that they rely on:

Language shapes us, composes us, and forms us. Language is based not on words per se but on the use of this word and the meaning of it at a specific time and place. However, the anti-sexist hysteria [ouch!] with language, with both creating new words and not using certain words, only makes those feel guilty who express themselves using words in a colloquial manner. […] The meaning of a sentence cannot be captured solely by the definitions of the words that constitute the sentence. Those purporting to be anti-sexist only end up as jailors of semantics and detectives of the prohibited colloquial expressions.

As in the quotation above, this article acknowledges the raw components that anti-sexists work from (language, cultural events, etc) but challenges what anti-sexists make from those ingredients.

Doutsiou contrasts the simple support of the spectacle (those people who are content to take on the gender characteristics that are most simple and proscribed — sex kitten for women, macho man for men), with the anti-sexist specatacle that is the knee-jerk reaction to sexism (“women who express their aggression towards men in order to show tha they are not subjugated… men who avoid an honest aggressive dialogue with women because they must behave gently… even anarchist men and women who locate erroneous behaviors and explain them as sexist…”).

Nameless RT author, on the other hand, is, predictably, firmly in the danger, constraint camp.

Although she starts out with some room to manuever, both in acknowledging her own specific experiences and in her rejection of the idea of a single model for response to abuse, or a single definition of consent, the overall article is still very much invested in the paradigm of fragility and danger.

For example, perpetrators should disclose their transgressions, but they have to do it properly, having gotten permission and carefully examined their motivations. Abuse dyads are neatly categorized into perpetrator and survivor. Support groups for perpetrators and survivors should exist, but must have all kinds of skills and know what they’re doing or they will fuck up the situation even worse. There is even containment in the fact that the piece only addresses situations where there is clearly a /bad guy/, since it bypasses the messy character of the most common experience (at least in the @ scene), which is that it’s hardly ever clearcut or simple to figure out what’s going on. Readers (and writers) of essays about abuse must beware the tendency to take the clearest and worst case scenarios as indicative of every abuse event. By far the most common scenario in my experience is that the milieu is put in the position of figuring out what happened, and negotiating questions of complicated agency, rather than simply dealing with someone who obviously fucked up and another person who was merely the recipient of that fuck up.

The survivor/victim shift is a good example of the language policing that Doutsiou refers to. The anti-sexist rationale of changing the label from victim to survivor is to shift the way that we look at those who are abused—to remember that survivors are capable, that they have strengths, that going through a hard time doesn’t mean that they are forever weak, to celebrate the skills of people who have gotten through (or are getting through) difficulties. But given that the model that the culture works from goes far deeper than a simple word change can address, the most common result of this is to merely have people agree to a jargon change without actually changing the existing attitude towards the perpetrated-upon. If people were to take seriously the name “survivor” then surely expectations would be different. If people thought of abuse survivors as people who swam through a flood, or lived through a snow storm, or beat off a mugging, then surely that strength would be celebrated, rather than the currently more common eggshell-walking and whim-catering.

Furthermore, it is easy to read into this piece a tacit assumption of males as perpetrators and females as recipients. For example in the disclosure section, nameless complains about being put upon by perpetrators who want her help (as a female-bodied person), and refers to “so many men” who “consistently seek support solely from the women in their lives.”

If that is where the author’s experience lies, then it would have been better to be clear about that, instead of muddying the waters by using the gender-neutral pronoun “they”. It is true that the experience of women as perpetrated upon and men as perpetrators is by far the most common, especially given that people who talk about this stuff have usually been trained by or otherwise influenced by NGOs—shelters, hotlines, etc. (As anarchists we must see the limitations of theories about power and practices that come from non-profits and mainstream feminists, who will use—or at least not challenge—women-as-victim ideology if it means that their agenda is advanced.) But it is also true that examples of non-het abuse (or, for that matter, het relationships in which the woman is abusive to the man) have a lot to show us about our assumptions of power and agency (not to mention increasing our availability to help people who are in non-het relationships).

In cases where there is same sex abuse, without the socially-provided markers of who is supposed to be the survivor/victim and who is supposed to be the perpetrator, there is a lot more confusion about who is to blame, who has the most agency in the situation. “Lesbian Battering: an examination” (Barabara Hart, Naming the Violence: speaking out about lesbain battering) defines the difference between abuse and simple violence as being the imposition of control, and relates the confusion that lesbians in abusive relationships feel about who is abused and who abuser (especially if they have both been physically violent to each other).

For many, the batterer has instigated and reinforced this blaming of the victim—this reversal of reality. Sometimes the batterer will threaten to report acts of violence by the battered lesbian to the police, pointing out that if the battered lesbian has acted violently to such an extent that she could be criminally liable, then she surely is not battered and has engaged in mutual violence. Sometimes the batterer points out that the battered lesbian has hit her in public, so that no one will believe that she is tyrannized in private.

In the same article is a footnote describing the confusion of battered lesbians about whether they were battered or batterer, as well as stories about battering lesbians feeling less in control than the women they batter. (This piece certainly perpetuates the clear divide between perpetrator and victim, by sliding right over the problem of what “in control” actually means, or the possibility that it could possibly shift within a relationship.) The confusion felt by the women in the relationships, much less by people paying attention from the outside, helps us to remember that agency has a million ways to express itself, a realization that is easier to forget when people more easily fit into cultural stereotypes.

But the beauty of the pleasure/danger premise is that these perspectives don’t cancel each other out. We all want pleasure, and we all deal with danger. Surely as anarchists, it is our goal to create and enjoy the world in ways that are currently impossible. But the focus of the people who emphasize danger is something that can be useful, when it is not allowed to overwhelm us or them. The challenge is to find how to express the awareness of danger in ways that add to our understanding, that help us feel pleasure, rather than shutting us down and tieing us to definitions of ourselves that we reject. We do all have different strengths, surely we can figure out how to use them in tandem, rather than either fighting each other or creating false unities.

PM: Bolo Bolo

A novel concerning the fitting together of macro scale to interpersonal scale relationships in different essential fields of activity and without any defined protagonist.

The plot is set ‘in the future’ between 1984 and 1987 and describes the process by which capitalist production is overcome by the Bolo Bolo network.

Whilst the jargon occasionally grates (I adopted the tactic of not even attempting to learn it) and the fine detailing of survival becomes rococo and tedious by the last pages; and whilst the introduction sets up the critique of capitalism in rather facile terms… i.e. positively valued ‘intentional’ activity set against negatively valued inherited processes; and whilst it greatly overvalues, and on their own terms, the post-60’s countercultural milieu (rather than evaluating it as an aspect of capitalist restructuring), despite all of this, I still found the book well-researched, of its time, provocative, pleasingly written, honest and real.

A novel concerning the fitting together of macro scale to interpersonal scale relationships in different essential fields of activity and without any defined protagonist.

The plot is set ‘in the future’ between 1984 and 1987 and describes the process by which capitalist production is overcome by the Bolo Bolo network.

Whilst the jargon occasionally grates (I adopted the tactic of not even attempting to learn it) and the fine detailing of survival becomes rococo and tedious by the last pages; and whilst the introduction sets up the critique of capitalism in rather facile terms… i.e. positively valued ‘intentional’ activity set against negatively valued inherited processes; and whilst it greatly overvalues, and on their own terms, the post-60’s countercultural milieu (rather than evaluating it as an aspect of capitalist restructuring), despite all of this, I still found the book well-researched, of its time, provocative, pleasingly written, honest and real.

I particularly enjoyed the footnotes and the statements concerning the (at the time) pertinent critique of externalisation and armed struggle,’let’s not forget, we are parts of the machine, it is us’, ‘we’re never facing an enemy, we are the enemy’ and ‘when the struggle can be put on the level involving the police or the military, we’re about to lose. Or if we do win, it’s our police or military that will have won, not us.’

During an extended footnote on the number 500 as the basic unit of human social organisation, which culminates in a discussion of those authoritarian traits which are always generated within proposed ‘designed’ communities, i.e. communities which come into existence in accordance with decision, PM’s most telling sentence precipitates thus:

‘I am frightened of Bolo Bolo.’

Fear, yes, the author is spooked at the point where he senses that what he proposes might magically come to be. If we are not frightened by the proposals we make, if we do not consider how what we propose might be even worse than what we have now, then we have not performed the basic tasks that are necessary for making any proposal. It is necessary to grasp how our unspoken reservations appear at the same moment, and contradict, our planned interventions. It is necessary because this describes precisely the fullness of the object.

Blankly stated: our intentional interventions produce unintended consequences, for ourselves and for others. We find ourselves in situations which we did not foresee, and yet, still we are responsible for them, we created them – what are we going to do about it? It is not feasible, in the real world, for outcomes to follow our plans and so we should be ready to adapt or resign. True, this is a rudimentary strategy, and yet, how many radical groups have honestly adopted it?

What we do escapes us. We cannot maintain a hold over the multiplying and elaborate sequalae of a deliberate intervention and yet almost every radical structure does attempt to contain or liquidate such complexity. In the end, realistically, it is only possible to intervene again in the new changed circumstances as a new force. But even when we know this, it is difficult to factor such precognition into our original theory, which anway, tends to map the past, rehearsing strategies from the last war, rather than anticipate the future. Maybe Bolo Bolo is not about the future at all, but rather describes the autonomous milieu of the early ’80’s, which even as it was being described was passing from its most viable stage and thus becoming an image of what could be.

It is for this reason of external relativisation that truth-orientated structures withdraw into a state of internal vigilance and sect dynamics – for such structures, whilst there is an acceptance that the message, the context, the relation changes the group’s truth cannot be revised. In the face of external relativisation, if not outright negation, the temptation is always to uncover that motive force which was only ever barely concealed in the first place, namely the justification of holding true to an identified tradition which is assailed from the outside.

One is most true-hearted, the motive for continuing the struggle states, where one holds to ‘invariance’ under circumstances of perpetual mutation; external falsification is thus taken as final proof for holding out. The logical outcome of this tendency is the fetishism of tradition for its own sake, an allegiance to the image of allegiance. Strangely, this loyalism tends to initiate a process of ossification and mineralisation which supplants, with pure objective form, that internality which once had been worth defending. The upholders of tradition and defenders of the thin true vein, have still not learnt that the Red Death is always and already inside.

The impact of planning on relationships i.e. the entirety of the ‘revolutionary’ project, is very little examined by that milieu. It seems to me that one’s own appropriate response to one’s own modest proposal should always be an intuitive, conditional, fright – ‘don’t lock me in here with this monster.’

We should always be careful to arrange within our ideas a back door, so as to change our mind when confronted with the unexpected results of that which we have advocated. The project is not to establish a line of truth which must be realised so much as a field of worst/best case scenarios, or a conceivable array of tolerable possibilities, arrived at from basic propositions. However, it is precisely this immediate self-revision which is absent within the ultraleft – which must always possess the truth, and which always externalises faults. There is so little readiness to be surprised, which is surprising within a milieu that so highly values the lived and spontaneous.

The following problem remains, and but for the one sentence quoted above it goes unaddressed in Bolo Bolo, how is it possible to theorise and express uncertainty in projects directed towards the truth?

FD

Networks, Colonization, and the Construction of Knowledge

a review of Marianne Maeckelbergh’s The Will of the Many and Linda Tuhiwai Smith’s Decolonizing Methodologies

Both Marianne Maeckelbergh and Linda Tuhiwai Smith are social scientists, but both identify first and foremost as members of communities in struggle: the alterglobalization movement, in the first case, and the Maori, in the second.

Maeckelbergh is an incisive thinker and concise writer, and in her debut book she handily tackles the premise that the prefigurative networks used for information-sharing and decision-making in the alterglobalisation movement constitute an effective challenge to the exclusion and authoritarianism of representative democracy. I approached her book with trepidation, wondering how an ethnography of our struggle could possibly help us more than it helps the state agencies tasked with dissecting and controlling us. Somehow, she pulls it off. The result is not a blueprint of “the movement of movements” but a theoretical deepening of our understanding of networks that can only deepen our appreciation for the ability of what we are doing right now to confront and replace the current regime.

a review of Marianne Maeckelbergh’s The Will of the Many and Linda Tuhiwai Smith’s Decolonizing Methodologies

Both Marianne Maeckelbergh and Linda Tuhiwai Smith are social scientists, but both identify first and foremost as members of communities in struggle: the alterglobalization movement, in the first case, and the Maori, in the second.

Maeckelbergh is an incisive thinker and concise writer, and in her debut book she handily tackles the premise that the prefigurative networks used for information-sharing and decision-making in the alterglobalisation movement constitute an effective challenge to the exclusion and authoritarianism of representative democracy. I approached her book with trepidation, wondering how an ethnography of our struggle could possibly help us more than it helps the state agencies tasked with dissecting and controlling us. Somehow, she pulls it off. The result is not a blueprint of “the movement of movements” but a theoretical deepening of our understanding of networks that can only deepen our appreciation for the ability of what we are doing right now to confront and replace the current regime.

Tuhiwai Smith brings a persistent, thorough criticism to bear against the Western production of knowledge and the colonial role of scientific research in indigenous communities. As a researcher, she subsequently explores how different understandings of knowledge and approaches to research can be made to benefit indigenous communities, and how non-indigenous researchers could engage in research in indigenous communities responsibly. I found the book valuable for its anticolonial analysis of science and knowledge, and for the thoughts it can provoke regarding research, for anarchists who may never be researchers, but whose theories often refer to human geographies and ethnographical accounts of indigenous societies.

Academics for the Struggle

Precisely because scientific institutions and scientists themselves are a vital force in directing and advancing capitalism, while certain individual scientists have made crucial contributions to revolutionary struggles, it is useful to review these two books simultaneously. Each author, writing as a social scientist and as a member of a community in struggle, challenges academic norms in subtle but significant ways.

What Tuhiwai Smith offers is intuition and reflection. While scientists of all types thrive on criticism, the process of criticism remains very much within their control and is formulated by others of their kind using in-group rules. Tuhiwai Smith frequently mentions, and puts great weight in the fact, that Maori or indigenous peoples more generally feel suspicion or outright contempt for the prying activities of scientists on their lands and in their communities. She makes this statement not on the basis of statistical data, but as a Maori. In other words the scientific community is called to acknowledge how it is viewed through the eyes of a group it has consistently dealt with as an Other-to-be-studied, and to take responsibility for what it has done collectively to deserve this view. The collective feeling of rejection toward the scientific community is not legitimated or dismissed through comparison to objective data or a postmodern atomization and analysis of the forces that shaped this view; rather, an autonomous body of knowledge is allowed to exist alongside the Western methodologies of knowledge and to be granted validity.

Maeckelbergh offers humility, portraying alterglobalisation movement actors as intelligent, as producers of their own analysis, as a collectivity from whom other people can learn rather than an Other upon whom we impose our own analysis. Even while she teases out the intelligence of networks or describes patterns and norms within the movement in brilliant and original ways, she always does so in the spirit of sharing what alterglobalisation networks have created themselves. In other words, she subtly reveals that it is the activity of people, and not the scientific production of specialized institutions, that is responsible for the creation of knowledge. In both cases, these authors introduce what I would call anarchist values regarding communication, analysis, and criticism into their work. Tuhiwai Smith explicitly shapes her criticisms along the lines of what she identifies as indigenous values lacking in the Western scientific tradition; in my view these indigenous values have much in common with, and much to offer to, anarchist desires for a horizontally organized, decentralized or communal world free of state, capitalism, and patriarchy.

The result of the efforts evident in these two books could well be the liberation of necessary theoretical work from the colonial baggage that has long corrupted it.

Divergent Epistemologies

One of the most enlightening aspects of each book was their framework for understanding the creation of knowledge. Tuhiwai Smith analyzes the capitalistic production of knowledge in Western society, arguing that the accumulation of knowledge-as-resource during the process of colonialism was in fact the motor for the development of Western science. The religion of the colonizers, although a deterritorialized spirituality, was inadequate for the globalization of the 16th century and onwards because it had no way for assimilating the histories and biologies of the rest of the world. The agrarian, temperate climate economics and regionalistic 5000 year history of the Bible could do no better than write off the rest of the world as the habitat of the devil, failing to provide the needed level of nuance and technical instructions for colonizing and governing diverse peoples and bioregions. Science thus arose primarily as a system for alienating knowledge into information, classifying it, making it separable from its context, transferrable, mechanical, repeatable.

In other words, colonization, the process of encounter with and domination of the Other, is central to the history of the development of the West, yet curiously, it is peripheral in the accounts of both elites and radicals in the colonizing countries.

Tuhiwai Smith goes into more detail explaining how Western ethnographic accounts of colonized peoples had less to do with their lived realities than with the Western need to justify their own self-image and history through the invention of a convenient Other who confirmed preexisting assumptions.

Maeckelbergh talks about the creation and sharing of knowledge in the alterglobalisation movement, and the M.O. she describes seems to mirror what Tuhiwai Smith identifies as indigenous ways of viewing knowledge. Namely, that knowledge is not property, rather it is collectively created through relations, in the connections and communication between different people or different nodes in global networks, with greater, more diverse participation and communication leading to better quality of knowledge, better decision-making, and in turn a stronger network. And far from being absolute, knowledge is context-specific, and often contradictory; it cannot and should not be homogenized or routinized.

The Western Individual

Tuhiwai succinctly restates perennial indigenous criticisms of the colonizers imposing categories of individuality, personhood, economy, governance, and land ownership that simply could not apply to indgenous worldviews. Maeckelbergh expands recent theoretical work (from the last few decades) on the individual, delving into the very best part of Western science and philosophy, which is the point at which it succeeds in deconstructing core Western values. Every time one of these sacred cows is imploded, I’m pleased to find it does so in a way that seems to confirm a premise of anarchist thought or revolutionary indigenous views as articulated by Zapatismo or Magonismo.

The case of the individual is no different. Western philosophies have long considered the individual as something reproducible or homogenous, alienable, mechanical, and even internally divisible (as in the dualist traditions). Maeckelbergh, in order to show the intelligence of horizontal networks, modifies complexity theory, which arose in the physical and life sciences to explain how an incredible complexity could arise spontaneously in chaotic systems (think the ordering of molecules, beehives). To make this theory applicable to social movements in a non-deterministic way, she combines it with a view of agency not as residing in an alienable individual but in relationships, in communication between diverse individuals. The result is that the individual is still an empowered agent, is not subsumed and lost within some greater, abstract community, but neither is the individual separable from her context, displaceable, transferrable between the cubicle, prison cell, and private home with demarcated, universal rights than inhere in her person, her body, and no further. Rather, the individual exists in and through her relations with the world and other individuals.

For anarchists and other people in struggle, the implications of this challenge to the categories of the dominant system are unending; although Maeckelbergh does not state most of these implications, they especially become apparent in the context of the alterglobalisation movement’s challenge to democracy. The constraining liberal discourse of rights disappears immediately, as soon as we are our relationships. Fighting against the pollution of the local aquifer is an act of self-defense. Criminality or social harm becomes a problem of the community, not a problem of law enforcement, without reducing the criminal to a mechanical victim of social circumstances. Knowledge is common property. Centralization can no longer masquerade as a practicality or necessary inconvenience or anything other than a violent imposition.

These are values that many anarchists have always held, as have, it seems to me, indigenous nations fighting colonialism, though as an outsider I can’t say that in any objective way. However, neither Maeckelbergh nor Tuhiwai Smith pretend to offer anything new (even though on a number of counts they do, and brilliantly); rather they present us with the knowledge our own communities have created, in an articulate fashion that confirms the best of our practices and experiences, renews confidence in our analysis, and helps us to understand, express, and expand that analysis. Many anarchists and other activists continue to limit their struggles by placing them in the confining, maladaptive parlance of liberal democracy, which is after all the system that dominates us. With our own theories so eloquently and solidly given back to us, we can leave the rhetoric of individual rights and legality in the dumpster of history, and then, better yet, set it on fire and wheel it into the street to block the dominant flows of knowledge and ideology.

Prefiguration and Cultural Survival

It is this character of militancy that I found most lacking in both books, which is especially problematic since passivity has long been one of the key weaknesses to academic efforts for social change. Curiously, Maeckelbergh phrases the combative networks of the movement as an attempt to reformulate, rather than abolish, democracy. Even though she demolishes the theoretical underpinnings of democracy, she keeps the term itself in a positive light, which is especially strange considering that the title she chose for her book is a reference to a Zapatista quote about how foreigners applied a eurocentric word, “democracy,” to something they had always been doing. I don’t want to renew any form of political correctness in the anarchist tradition and add to the list of words we are not allowed to say, and I think it’s perfectly acceptable to talk about anarchy as a better form of democracy when trying to win over well meaning reformists, but why preserve that one key link to the dominant system in a book that otherwise consistently undermines or challenges dominant values? To make it easier to communicate? To whom? Evidently not to the rebels of Chiapas whose phrase came to give title to the book.

Both of these books are marked by a minimization of struggle that to me seems to reflect that pernicious habit of academia, which seeks to breed itself into even the most sincere and intelligent enemies of oppression, to seek compromise with the dominant system.

Tuhiwai Smith mentions violent struggles against colonialism in the past, but similar battles don’t appear in her portrait of the current realities of indigenous communities. I can’t say whether counterattack against the dominant system is currently an important part of the Maori struggle, but it most definitely is of other indigenous struggles which she references. How can one write about the dangers posed by research and researchers to indigenous communities without stressing the centrality of state counterinsurgency programs which employ social scientists? Unless one doesn’t want to give the idea that the 500-year-long war of cultural survival is by no means metaphorical in many indigenous nations… Granted, it is a much more complex topic, how responsible researchers should conduct their work in a war zone, but it seems irresponsible to downplay or ignore the topic entirely, given the role geographers, anthropologists, and sociologists have played in recent years to aid the repression in Oaxaca, Chiapas, Chile, and elsewhere.

Maeckelbergh focuses on consensus in order to give useful ethnographic boundaries to her study of prefiguration in the alterglobalisation movement. Prefiguration sounds awful nice when it is written about in an eloquent book, but it is precisely the practice of “movement actors” to pick fights with the system, to be disruptive, to encourage illegality and support prisoners, as part of their prefigurative strategy, that gives vital meaning to the global mobilizations and consensus meetings. I find this oversight typical of the academic particularization or atomization needed to accomplish the pacification that is an important part of colonization and repression.

Nonetheless, it is an error of omission. Maeckelbergh is by no means a pacifist, and Tuhiwai Smith does not seem to be; they are not advancing the pacification process that employs so many other academics, simply failing to address what is in many people’s minds a key component of anarchist prefiguration or indigenous cultural survival. It is easy enough for the reader to benefit from their writing, which on the whole is very good, and to plug in the missing emphasis on struggle, on fighting back, in order to improve our strategies and deepen our practice.

Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous People (Zed Books, 1999)

Marianne Maeckelbergh, The Will of the Many: How the Alterglobalisation Movement is Changing the Face of the Democracy (Pluto Press, 2009).

Quijote Against the World

“it’s not like it used to be… nobody cares about change… it don’t matter…” – My First Soul, by Auld Lang Syne

Published during the Spanish Golden Age in two parts (1605/1615) The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote of La Mancha[1] by Cervantes has become one of the most famous books in the world and is considered by many to be one of the most respected fiction pieces of all time. The story relates an epic adventure taken on by two main characters, Don Quijote and Sancho Panza. Quijote goes off adventuring, lead completely by his horse Rocinante, who goes where ever it wants, leading Quijote and eventually Panza to fight injustice, reclaim the world, battle everything that is “bad”, and (for Quijote) win the love of his life [Dulcelina]. The entire book, originally written in Spanish is quite lengthy and full of misadventures depicting the frequent failures (perhaps great success?) during the early 1600’s, Spain. There are many English language translations, but perhaps one of the best (that I recommend) is by Edith Grossman, published in 2003. There are also, some abbreviated versions of the story, with the editors choice of parts – so this may be more advantageous for the time strapped or for those wanting to get a feel for the book. Setting up for a complete and in-depth review, would be quite the research project due to the books length and complexity – this is a greatly abbreviated review of the book, and by no means are all things touched on. There have been many reviews before this one, and maybe many more after. The overall purpose of this review is to briefly compare and contrast the ideas and attitudes of Don Quijote and Sancho Panza surrounding their thoughts upon essential materials vs. that of spirit.

“it’s not like it used to be… nobody cares about change… it don’t matter…” – My First Soul, by Auld Lang Syne

Published during the Spanish Golden Age in two parts (1605/1615) The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote of La Mancha[1] by Cervantes has become one of the most famous books in the world and is considered by many to be one of the most respected fiction pieces of all time. The story relates an epic adventure taken on by two main characters, Don Quijote and Sancho Panza. Quijote goes off adventuring, lead completely by his horse Rocinante, who goes where ever it wants, leading Quijote and eventually Panza to fight injustice, reclaim the world, battle everything that is “bad”, and (for Quijote) win the love of his life [Dulcelina]. The entire book, originally written in Spanish is quite lengthy and full of misadventures depicting the frequent failures (perhaps great success?) during the early 1600’s, Spain. There are many English language translations, but perhaps one of the best (that I recommend) is by Edith Grossman, published in 2003. There are also, some abbreviated versions of the story, with the editors choice of parts – so this may be more advantageous for the time strapped or for those wanting to get a feel for the book. Setting up for a complete and in-depth review, would be quite the research project due to the books length and complexity – this is a greatly abbreviated review of the book, and by no means are all things touched on. There have been many reviews before this one, and maybe many more after. The overall purpose of this review is to briefly compare and contrast the ideas and attitudes of Don Quijote and Sancho Panza surrounding their thoughts upon essential materials vs. that of spirit.



First, I’d like to define a few things. The essential key materials are thought of as water, food, and rest – which lack thereof results in a deprived state and eventually death, they are the things you really can’t live without. Obviously on the other hand, you have non-essential material goods such as gold, silver, clocks, games/toys, ect. That aren’t truly necessary for survival. As for the spirit, one can consider it to mean belief in something, even if that something is nothing. Some more clear examples are things of the supernatural sort, like the belief in god, or even bits and pieces of ideas – like the existence of heaven and hell, ghosts, majik, and other oddities/occult. It is important to note and define these ideas because Quijote and Sancho each display varying characteristics and perspectives throughout the novel on these topics.

So, the story goes: Don Quijote begins reading books about the adventures of various 14th/15th century knights-errant and their “heroic” deeds. Quijote, who is an older man, begins to spend all his time reading, and literally cares for nothing else, other than those old tales about “saving the world” and “falling in love.” Food, water, and rest seem of little importance to him, and eventually his reading habits drastically change his life. He begins to sell his land and other property, in order to buy more books to read. After sometime, Quijote emerges from the obscurity of his house believing – that in fact, he is a knight-errant, and his mission is to save the world and win the love of his life. Imagine someone sneaking out of their residence, after weeks of reading, hiding away, and building the most absurd self-styled armor a la knights-errant, to confront the world with, kind of sounds like some funny friends you may know. Yet, in the beginning of the end, Quijote gallops, or more like meanders out of town unseen and hidden, with his most unlike battle ready horse – Rocinante[2], not to be seen in town until his uneventful, yet dramatic return sometime later. He has no clue where he is headed, as he just lets Rocinante blaze the trail of his life.

And so it begins…

”The reason of the unreason that afflicts my reason, in such a manner weakens my reason that I, with reason, lament of your beauty.” (from Don Quijote)

Don Quijote wants to create a more moral world, a model of the human effort, one many may think of as a form of utopia. He has a very pastoral view of life and society, a living anachronism against the encroaching modernity of Spain. In many ways Quijote is confronting the more modern economic approaches and technology that was happening in Spain at the time, and suggesting something more simple (yet crazy). For example, look at Quijote’s so-called insanity. How did this happen?The invention of the printing press, which allowed him to buy and read all those books about knights-errant, seems to be the main source of his insanity. It was also this easier and wider distribution of print that ensured Cervantes, the author of Quijote, made little to no monetary gains by writing the book during his life. “Pirated” copies would turn up throughout the region, with even the second half of Quijote being written by another author. Which, in turn prompted Cervantes to actually write the second half of the book some years later, because supposedly he was very angry with this authors take on a sequel to his original work. It should be noted, that Cervantes actually created a fictional Moorish author/chronicler for Don Quijote named Cide Hamete Benengeli. And in many ways killed Quijote in the end, so no one else could ever write about his adventures again.

In making the author Moorish, it seems Cervantes reinforces the stereotype of the time, that anything a Moor does is probably not true. Therefore, making criticism of the book impossible, since it has already been refuted as utter lies. Clever in a sense, but more so it seems to begin to show some of Cervantes negative attitudes that were reinforced by society at the time [and continue to be]. Cervantes lived his life, one failure after another – first as a solider being injured, then as a prisoner, and later as an “unsuccessful” writer who seems to have lead a rather difficult life. The book reflects these reoccurring themes of failure surrounding Don Quijote (maybe Cervantes?) as he fights the battle that can never really be won, because it isn’t real. It is sad, but it is also an unfortunate reality that many of us know all-to-well. Like the saying goes, “la vida es dura” (life is hard).

If we examine the idealism behind Quijote or what some have called Quijotismo (the movement of Quijote) it could be said that in many ways it is an idealism without respect for or sense of being practical. It is an ideal that doesn’t consider consequences or the irrationality of one’s actions. Quijotismo is most of all, a romantic idea or a utopia that is unattainable by the non-romantic sane, one can only truly realize it, if you refuse to identify between reality and imagination. At the heart, this ideal is created by the love Quijote feels towards Dulcelina, his dream lover. The love and companionship of Dulcelina is more important than food, water, and rest – something that perhaps dear readers are familiar with. Quijote refuses to realize that his love is imaginary, and that his love is perhaps not even interested in him. It is like he will never give up, trying to make the world a better place, yet deep down inside, what he just really wants is some love. Perhaps, Cervantes is again reflecting on some of his own life experiences.

In the final chapters of the book Quijote returns to his home and with that some sense of what some may call sanity. In this way, Quijote becomes like his side-kick Sancho Panza, or the Sanchification of Quijote. Because while Quijote is for many, the raving madman throughout the book, Sancho always seems to act along much more practical lines. It is like Panza is the stable foundation for Quijote’s rocking-and-rolling all night long party house, that will probably collapse when the dancing begins, or maybe end up puking in the toilet the next morning. On the other side of things, Sancho Panza starts to become like Quijote, or the quijotification of Sancho; in this way, the two characters feed off each other and become one another. Once home, Quijote writes his will and gives all his belongings to his family, and while he originally promised Sancho an island that he could govern in the beginning of the story, he now wants to give him an entire kingdom. Unfortunately for Sancho, Quijote doesn’t really have anything to offer him, other than gratitude – not even a salary for his services. Just some (bad) advice maybe, and the memories to last a lifetime.

While, it seems this whole time, perhaps all Sancho really wanted, other than protecting Quijote from danger, was his island in the sun. It is not even clear if Panza knows exactly what an island is, other than some form of payment. In a high contrast to Quijote, Sancho represents everything that is some-what rational and thought out (or what many call being normal). Food, water, and rest are the most important things in life, along with knowing that you’re going to be well-off tomorrow, the next day, and so on.

Even the infamous Bill “NOT BORED” Brown has wrote an essay on the subject Sancho Panza’s priceless coinages which I will steal a quote from here (that is from an English translation of the book) regarding how Quijote recommends paying off Sancho:

“I think you’re absolutely right, Sancho my friend […] I can tell you, for myself, that if you’d wanted to be paid for those lashes which will disenchant Dulcinea, I’d have long since, and very gladly, have given you the money […] Just consider, Sancho, what you might want, and then do the whipping and pay yourself, because you are guardian of my money […] Add up what money you have of mine, and then put a price on each lash.”

Quijote and Panza are two very different characters, yet at the same time they are similar in the fact that they both can create some pretty wild dreams and become one another. They each have a great effect on one another, like any friend may have on your daily experience, and while at first Quijote seems to be the only one struggling against everything modern – soon his friend joins him, although it is already too late for Quijote. He has already returned to the miserable grind of reality and material goods and will soon die.

Cinema

Among the many movies made about the book, Orson Welles’s Don Quixote is one of the more intriguing ones to take a look at, one that truly deserves an entirely separate review in order to touch upon everything. For the purpose of this review though, I will only focus on one aspect of the film. In Rolling Thunder: An Anarchist Journal of Dangerous Living #6 (fall-2008), the following page appears:

As you can see, there is the classic windmill imagery evoked by Don Quijote, however what is important to take note of is the text. Here is the text quoted from the image[sic]:

“The Most Beautiful Six Minutes in the History of Cinema”

Sancho Panza enters the cinema of a provincial town. He is looking for Don Quixote and finds him sitting apart, staring at the screen. The auditorium is almost full, the upper circle–a kind of gallery–is packed with screaming children. After a few futile attempts to reach Don Quixote, Sancho sits down in the stalls, next to a little girl (Dulcinea?) who offers him a lollipop. The show has begun, it is a costume movie, armed knights traverse the screen, suddenly a woman appears who is in danger. Don Quixote jumps up, draws his sword out of the scabbard, makes a spring at the screen and his blows begin to tear the fabric. The woman and the knights can still be seen, but the black rupture, made by Don Quixote’s sword, is getting wider, it inexorably destroys the images. In the end there is nothing left of the screen, one can only see the wooden structure it was attached to. The audience is leaving the hall in disgust, but the children in the upper circle do not stop screaming encouragements at Don Quixote. Only the little girl in the stalls looks at him reprovingly.

What shall we do with our fantasies? Love them, believe them–to the point where we have to deface, to destroy them (that is perhaps the meaning of the films of Orson Welles). But when they prove in the end to be empty and unfulfilled, when they show the void from which they were made, then it is time to pay the price for their truth, to understand that Dulcinea–whom we saved–cannot love us.

– Giorgio Agamben, Profanations

Leaving the actual text aside for a moment, concentrate on the author, Giorgio Agamben of the above quote for a moment. If one were to see the text in the Rolling Thunder journal (image above), you will see that the quote is attributed to the authors Brener and Schurz. To my knowledge, the truth is that the editor’s of Rolling Thunder were duped into believing the quote was from Brener and Schurz. Perhaps, as the thinking may have went, if they knew it was really from Giorgio Agamben it may have not been published[3]. Not to get too far off topic here, but it is interesting to note that it appears at least to some extent, that another joke may have been played in return here (although, pure speculation). Recently, a new Politics Is Not a Banana #3 was released, however many have come to doubt that this new issue was actually created by the original folks involved in the journal, leading some to point fingers at the Rolling Thunder journal (CrimethInc.) folks. Whoever is it, or whatever the purpose – the humor and funnies are certainly appreciated!

Moving back to the actual context of the quote, the lovely titled “Six Most Beautiful Minutes in the History of Cinema” regards a clip of the unfinished Orson Welles’s movie that was left out of early versions, but was included eventually later on in some versions. Overall, this cinema experience of Don Quijote is quite intriguing, especially when considered with the movie as a whole. In many ways, it is understand to be like the post-modern movie version of Quijote, instead of attacking ancient 16th century technology and society, he is battling 1940ish motorized scooters and movie screens. One interesting thing from the movie is some footage of a religious procession, framed along and sliced with footage of the Klu Klux Klan, which Don Quijote goes to attack. Overall, it is definitely worth checking, especially if you’ve enjoyed the book.

So What!!!?

Who knows, maybe this book may be of little importance to you. At times throughout it, I find it to be rather “fluffy” sprinkled with blossoming flowers that never end. Like, ever try reading some old Shakespeare alongside José Martí with some bananas thrown in. However, I do find some gems that are really good within the book for me. Perhaps, most intriguing – to playfully read the adventures against everything that life as we know it has become, to see through our imaginations, rather than with our misleading desires for the most trivial things in life. As someone wrote recently, the greatest thing of all is saving the world! A lot of the time, I find myself taking in and fully enjoying those moments of non-thought and thinking, where it has been shown that our brain is actually most active and full of energy. Don Quijote in a lot of ways, is the definition of tragic hero – even though I may disagree with what he actually fought against for the most part, (the Moors) and alongside (Christianity). Blame can be placed on Cervantes here, maybe not so much Quijote, after all he is just a character. Cervantes wasn’t exactly the most upstanding character, but still a tragic-hero in himself. It can be all be too confusing, seeing Quijote for nothing other than love, and against everything that might actually make sense – then applying some sort of reasoning to it. Quijote was certainly a radical in his time, just what kind of radical is up in the air…

Footnotes:

[1] please note that I decided to remain with “Quijote” instead of “Quixote” throughout the rest of the text, mostly because I prefer to leave names and locations in the original language / untraslated. Title originally in Spanish: Aventuras del ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha

[2]

Dialogue between Babieca and Rocinante A Sonnet
B: Why is it, Rocinante, that you’re so thin?
R: Too little food, and far too much hard labor
B: But what about your feed, your oats and hay?
R: My master doesn’t leave a bite for me.
B: Well, Senor, your lack of breeding shows because your ass’s tongue insults your master
R: He’s the ass, from the cradle to the grave. Do you want proof? See what he does for love.
B: Is it foolish love?
R: It’s not too smart.
B: You’re a philospher
R: I just don’t eat enough
B: And do you complain of the squire?
R: Not enough. How can I complain despite my aches and pains if master and squire, or is it majordomo, are nothing but skin and bone, like Rocinante?

[3] “The editor of Rolling Thunder has expressed his disdain for the works of the author of the aforementioned essay, however, when the essay was sent to him under the name of a more palatable writer, it was prominently reprinted in the magazine.” — from Life is Definitely Elsewhere-A Response to “Say You Want an Insurrection” [a Crimethinc. text] [ http://www.anarchistnews.org/?q=node/10435 ]