Posts Tagged ‘personal’
I would like to be updating this blog at least once a month (but preferably 2-4 times) but I haven’t for the past few. This is largely because I am about to announce the largest project I (by which I mean we since there are several other stakeholders) have ever undertaken and I would prefer to wrap up the announcement with a bow than be partial about it. I’ve already dropped a few hints so I’d rather stop doing that until we are ready.
I have been doing some other things that are probably “blog worthy” but up till now I’ve attempted to use my blog as a place for short essay type writing than what I guess is more “bloggy” kind of writing. I think quantity probably matters so I will do more bloggy shit even though it hurts my brain.
I do a monthly review of anarchist (mostly) print media
I did a few presentations over the past month while in Columbus OH and Chapel Hill NC. The topics were Illegalism & Social Media. I will be sharing writeups on both topics in the next year. There will be a new publication of my last few years of my presentations and follow ups to an old set of pamphlets called Attentat. Expect it around June.
My presentation in Columbus was particularly notable because it included like an hour discussion that was what I would call “high level.” It wasn’t stupid questions about a better world or silly hypotheticals but real discussion about the situation on the ground in town and how the presentation could relate to that. Afterwards it was pointed out to me that much of the room was in graduate school. I was sad.
Chapel Hill was a fast paced two day whirlwind. We arrived early for the bookfair and went to “the” eco-coop-natural fibers-bullshit store which gives anything on the West Coast a run for its money. The bookfair smelled like stale beer but was otherwise a fantastic time with a lot of good conversation, demonstrations of activism-without-the-word, and good energy. Even my frenemies couldn’t spoil the mood. I am really excited to go back to the area and check out Firestorm because those people were alarmingly nice and engaged.
I spent some time in Michigan where I may end up spending a lot more time in the next few years. I love the spring and fall time there. I basically hate the summer and winter. I did get to meet some real life @ in Grand Rapids (just about the last town one would ever believe @ would live in) while I was there. That was awesome.
Now I am back in the Bay. Occupy Oakland (which I will write about substantially another time) is starting to fade as the holidays come and police war against tents heats up. I was away for the day of the General Strike but here is my favorite image from the day…
by aragorn in personal
I am typing this slowly. Perhaps that says most of what needs to be said. I am ok. My right hand is working but just takes a little more attention. A little more time. My head is clear and hesitant.
This week I suffered my second cerebral aneurysm. It happened while I was sleeping (I think) just like the first time. The main symptoms include a very weak right hand with a significant loss in motor function and a slurring of speech. Both are hard to live with but the terror is surprisingly under control. The first time was horror. The idea of a loss of everything I am, of the ways I am in the world, was too much to bear.
But if I have learned anything in this life it is that I will bear.
by aragorn in personal
Finally a third one from a friend in OR
ARAGORN! – Avatar of Clarity
As the crisis of industrial civilization intensifies and the Biosphere becomes ever more fragmented, it’s clearer and clearer that those resisting the death march of Empire could use some truly radical analysis. Personally, we feel the world could use more explicitly anarchist analysis of our collective plight, strategic anarchist analysis that seeks the broadest and deepest change possible, involving the largest numbers of individuals possible. Yet most contemporary anarchist “theorists” insist on being endlessly discursive, absurdly prolix, in love with tiddling academic ornamentation for the sake of it, arcane on the surface but mundane on the inside, and above all hyper-dull. One is often left with a strong puzzlement over who and what this smug literary tiddling is actually meant for!
Intellectuals have (or ought to have) an obligation to communicate clearly, or else they automatically become a closed system, creating ideas solelyfor each other; the sheer complexity of their thought results in deeply unattractive formulations of byzantine dimensions that resist simplification. Without “simplification” (an admittedly lazy word choice) anarchist and other subversive memes are only ever carried by a high-brow cultural elite. This is a matter of comprehensibility, and our use of the word “simplification” refers to a process more akin to distillation: for ideas to spread they must be framed in an accessible fashion!
If we’re dealing with empowerment, then ideas need to be stated clearly. It’s authoritarian at the very least to expect everybody who encounters anarchist propaganda to do their own self-financed course in obfuscatory French philosophers before being admitted to the fold. To remove subversive ideas from the control of the intelligentsia they must be made more comprehensible to a wider range of people, especially overworked wage-slaves who may well not be interested in grinding their way through sadistically dull, neurotically overwrought post-modern windbaggery. A great many contemporary anarchist writers actually disempower their readers due to the sheer obscurity of their thought!
Fortunately for us, this is where Aragorn! steps in. Waging a one-man war on vagueness and ambiguity, Aragorn! recognizes that whatever language constructs are most efficient at getting themselves copied will also be the most effective replicators of the anarchist meme. To this end, Aragorn! smites down the shadowy phantoms of ineffectual intellectual dialectical detritus with his fiery sword of clarity: employing a dazzling, but down-to-earth, writing style and a straightforward precision not seen in anarchist thought since Louis Ling, Aragorn! uses the visceral power of everyday speech to bypass the analytical defenses of the overeducated mind and send atavistic emotions surging through his readers.
In a stunningly illuminating prose that is neither circuitous nor self-indulgent-a prose that can best be described as elemental– Aragorn! reveals himself to be a sworn enemy of obfuscation and tedious, doctrinaire talk, unleashing word-combinations that strike not at the conceptual excesses of the post-modern intellect but at the very core of the human soul! This is not to say that Aragorn! attempts to speak in a “pseudo-populist” vocabulary or tones down the subtlety of his ideas for mass-market consumption, it’s just that he never leaves any room for misinterpretation and die-hard fans and casual readers alike always know exactly where he stands!
Well Aragorn!, by now , after the battering you’ve received this evening, I’m sure you could use a supportive, healing hug from someone. But unfortunately for you, Sunfrog doesn’t seem to be in attendance!
by aragorn in Letters of Insurgents
Most of my associates have not been following this project over the summer. I have been excited about taking on the intensity of writing (and reading) every week but have done it largely alone. The web site hasn’t been that active. Comments on my blog have been nearly non-existent. Even the weekly study group at the center of my social life is reading this book without me (as my job has interfered with my ability to be with the group). I have even avoided, by and large, reading the contributions by Artnoose and others out of concern of repeating points, losing focus, or being responsive rather than proactive in sharing my thoughts. I approached this 10 (12) week project much as I approached the book itself, alone.
People who live their lives in close proximity to books, through books, against and for books, are often alone, lonely people. You can often tell us by our improper pronunciation of terms we have only ever read, our vocabulary that includes more words than the average 15,000 and uses colloquial terms as readily as modern. We also exhibit the alarming characteristic of having deep relationships with the books we read. Often closer than with people, even when we have access to them. This trait can be seen in embryonic form in the near cos-play of young readers of Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings novels where the richness of the books universe exceeds the suburban cultural poverty of most of its readers. In adult form I work with a woman whose job title is security guard but who in fact spends every day embedded in books–barely interested enough in the affairs of man to lift her head to look at the bank of screens in front of her.
As it turns out I have to fight to not join her in a better world right now.
This novel was part of my process of expelling myself from the gravitational force of fantasy. This was not because I identified so closely with the characters. This reading has really cured me of identification (as I expand on in my comments on letter 7) with the characters, but because the ideas within the novel pushed me out of pages of books. Life is not in there but out here. I still have great love for books and even position them at the center of my affairs but they comprise the set of simple machines from which to build rather than the artifice themselves.
This book, Letters of Insurgents, it turns out, knocked down the piles of books that would have otherwise been the only way that you and I were able to communicate.
The social circles that radicals live in, and I speak largely of post-AIDS crisis radicals in North America (PACR) (which are the only ones I really know), have a tortured relationship with sex, sexuality, sexual relationships, etc. One of the many ways in which Letters of Insurgents serves as a bottle in the ocean from one side of a divide to another is regarding its discussion of sex–particularly taboo sex. Letters of Insurgents‘s entire arena of interest, regarding sex, seems orthogonal to the experience of most everyone I know.
On glancing at the other posts on the book (most of which are written by women) I notice a lot of attention has been given to this topic and this theme in the book. Completely related to the first point I make regarding sexuality in radical circles is the impossibility of me even getting into this issue. I am torn between wanting to speak to it (the topic), against it (the taboo of male participation in the discussion), about my own experiences, and to speak in such a way as to guard myself. Rich material indeed. Let’s at least explore why I view PACR as having a tortured relationship with sex.
I am in the first (and only) wave of children of the free love movement. My parents loved (and had sex) wildly. In point of fact this was the principle way they attempted to break with normal (normative) society . My childhood was around sex. Humans having it near me. Breaking up because of it. Having medical procedures as a result of it. Sex, sex, sex filled their shallow lives with the belief that they were tearing down old values and actually doing something which they weren’t doing at all.
Couple this with the cultural values of Native America. I am not going to dwell long here but it is worth mentioning that modesty has a high value in Native culture and that my time in the Seventies were filled with complications resulting from a modest culture abutting one that prioritized a kind of freedom that was neither free nor modest.
Again, I want to dance along my personal time line so as to speak to the taboos of the book (so forgive me for a break that might feel like a disconnect). Here is a block of lyrics from a band from the Eighties that talked about sex in a way that was compelling to me then… and now.
Oh, but don’t mention love
I’d hate the pain of the strain all over again
A rush and a push and the land that
We stand on is ours
The Smiths – A Rush and a Push and the Land Is Ours
Perhaps I am straining credibility but the connection seems apparent to me that there is a connection, not a causal, or direct connection, but a connection to a certain kind of industrialized libidinal activity and industrial conflict. Industrial conflict is the utter interconnection between tools and people, in the parlance of this book, in other words, it is how civilization happens. Back to the novel.
I don’t actually find the specific crisis of child sexuality to be a compelling theme in the novel. I believe that many kinds of situations could bring up the explosion that Yarostan inflicts upon his family and that forbidden sex makes the issue titillating but not compelling. I think the same, or similar, pressure was put on Jasna in the final chapter to far greater effect. The question of crisis, what brings iton, how each of us will deal with it when it comes, is exceedingly important. The book demonstrates, through several examples, a point that I find disconcerting in our broader culture and have yet to find my way around. In times of crisis between people who you know, people you have face-to-face relationships with, the most likely outcome is fracture, pain, and cleavage. Because, in North America, political life is so short (between the age of 18 and 25 and then never again) there is very little experience with the constellation of feelings around crisis. Instead life’s crisis is only considered part of family life and that cultural responses are the only ones experimented with.
To put this point another way, when you live in a culture that valorizes effectiveness it is not a surprise that people see taboos as nothing but distracting wastes of time that should be handled violently, sex as for procreation (especially after the AIDS crisis), and winning as far more important than how one wins.
On the one hand Mirna and Yara’s setup of Yarostan exposes his hang ups and lack of ability to handle a crisis appropriately, on the other their setup of Titus and Jasna determined the future of their relationship and demonstrated that impacting another person’s life is much easier than one would believe. The force that it takes to push others around and stand on their land is easier than we may believe and can often be confused for something we would do as an act of love or passion.
One of the few points of constructive criticism that I receive time and time again is that I expose interesting ideas in a lot of my writing but never follow them up. I make half my point and leave the rest to die on the vine. This is by design, and perhaps may never change. I am sensitive to an increasing problem in modern discourse that I feel like I have been guilty of but want to try to parse a little bit here. The problem with much of modern discourse is that people don’t actually want to say something that they can be held accountable to later. For anarchists there are obvious problems where one day you may argue for class struggle as the only way in which society can be transformed and then later decide that working with small groups is the only way to be effective in social transformation. By making the simple, strong point earlier you limit your future ability to sound like you know what you are talking about. It makes more sense to bifurcate and hedge, imply and infer, rather than to state smaller points emphatically and accept that former positions are wrong.
To take a more recent example, in the prior section of this little piece of writing it could be read into what I am saying that a certain approach to fucking is tantamount to, or at the very least the antecedent, to genocide. This isn’t the kind of thing I would actually say with much conviction but isn’t an unfriendly turn of my phrase. Just one I wouldn’t use. As a result of not saying things in such a clear, provocative way I am accused of being unclear. This may be the case but is also not the case. Alongside the thread in which I placed connecting sex and booted feet on other peoples land is one about the futility of winning when it fractures a person’s life, the utility of sex as procreation in the shadow of taboo, and several others. When you speak in clear declarative statements you make simple points clearly and dishonor others. As a writer I want to speak to all of these things and not just the crassest of my own points (as firmly as I may believe them).
This confluence between simplicity and coherence can be stacked on the kindling of the irrelevance of radicals in North America. We seem neither visionary nor clear enough to win. Our strategy isn’t possible enough to get behind or impossible enough to embrace anyway. We make a kind of sense but only if one chooses to separate themselves from everything they know, every value that shapes their understanding of the world, every friendship they made till now. There are no surprises in the people who pass right through these crazy ideas and dreams.
And yet we still have them and for those of us stubborn enough to stand still, enjoy the time we have with shooting stars.
Letters of Insurgents is not a book about winners. The victories that occur are quiet victories that make a different kind of sense to those of us who have made the cognitive break from straight society. I imagine others can get a lot of things out of the book but it is a book targeted straight at the heart of a loser like me. I will never be able to put my ideas about how to live into practice in anything other than the most fleeting of moments and spaces. I will never turn back the tanks, hang the bureaucrats, destroy the interstates, erase the bombs and guns of states, or live in a real community that is free from property and violence. Letters of Insurgents made a convincing argument that this was the case and made just as convincing of an argument that I needed to pull my head out of my books and try anyway.
I have been humbled to be a part of this project and to have at least a few other people interested in my thoughts on this book and its impact on me. Hopefully you will share something you love with me next time.
by aragorn in Letters of Insurgents
This chapter featured a few strong minor characters. Three archetypal characters dominate letter 9 and as archetypes I have known, or been, each of them. Here are a few of our stories.
Daman – The perfect student-teacher turned ideological director.
He apparently decided that the only meaningful human activity was the total destruction of the capitalist class in all its manifestations, in the colonies as well as the ghettos. That attitude coincided perfectly with our tendency’s political program…
Perhaps this is a sign of my generation but I have known at least a dozen people who approximate the Daman of this story. I’d like to believe the characteristics were less prevalent in another time but the combination of this period of political ineffectiveness (especially from a radical perspective), the existential confusion people have between sub-culture and reality, and the popularity of certain sets of ideas (Postmodernism, the Situationists, Identity Politics) has made this type all-too-common. Take a boy whose first steps into the world are buttressed with liberal doses of books and now the Internet, who comes from enough privilege to not have to doubt their secondary education, and who is brave enough to be in the club when the fights break out but has no reason to fight themselves and fuck, maybe I’m being too conservative by saying I’ve met a dozen Daman’s. I’ve met hundreds.
But I have stopped becoming close to them. Not because they always disappoint. I am no longer such a purist that I require a lack of disappointment to be friends with someone. I am just less interested in mentoring them. I am happy to meet Daman once he has established himself, but I will not be part of creating another one. They just exhaust me now and odds are about equal that they go one way or another.
The Daman I was closest to just faded out of my life. I guess he got caught on the other side of a burning bridge of mine. I heard later he went from being awkward and pudgy to being quite a looker and a bit of a Lothario. Went to grad school. Swam around in precarious gigs for a couple years and then fell off of peoples radar. I guess he never found a Luisa to make him complete.
Alec – dope dealer who died in battle
During his last weeks here he’d spend hours pacing. He was like a caged animal. He said all he wanted was to help make a revolution, with his gun in his hand, and not to talk about it or read about it or support it at rallies or demonstrations. He apparently met people with similar views, and he started going off to political meetings. One day he simply failed to return. I made no attempt to find him; we were free individuals.
I am including a eulogy I wrote for the Alec in my life
We never had a habit of writing letters. I know I was just as much to blame for that since I am just as capable of putting pen to paper, or fingers to the keyboard, as you are. Or were. I write you this last letter to remind the both of us where we were when you left, and to understand why you went without me.
When I first entered your social circle I was only 15. You already had a group of ‘rebels’ who you hung out with, but you all were my first. In hindsight it was amazing what a happy group of people it was given the times in our life, and the shit from which we were emerging, but so it was. Most every trope from the coming-of-age movie we all spectacularly see our lives as being were represented in that group. There was the brooding future Nazi who drove us all around. The more generous than you could imagine fat guy was there. There was the troublemaker (that was you, of course), the good kids who didn’t belong with us, the quiet nerdy guy who exposed us to the culture we were entering and the boys who were cuter than wise (that was most of us). I guess I wasn’t as definable at that time in my life, as I was just figuring out where I stood. But, as you know, I had lots of secrets and was pretty good at keeping them to myself.
Other people’s secrets… That was another story.
The experiences that we had are some of the most memorable of that time in my life for me, but your social group became only a part of my social life. You all lived, seemingly, a bit too far away from me, and once the scene had settled into a fixed location I was focused on being there, so that I wouldn’t miss anything. It’s so much easier and more difficult for kids in our town today. Every time I go back I crack up at how much better dressed the ‘rebellious’ kids are. Maybe its just because there is more money, more Internet, more retail, but it also seems like a veneer covering an essential vapidity in what being a misfit is all about today.
We would have had a blast making fun of them, if we were only the right age for it today.
There is a prime thing I take from our relationship that I have never found again. We were both good natured and totally spiteful. It kind of makes me think of sarcasm as being a lost art or something, and it is, but fuck if I don’t have to pad about everything I say nowadays with caveats and apologies just so all the well adjusted people around me don’t get their fucking pants in a bind. Whatever. We each had our own styles of the put down too. That was always a blast. You tended to go for the direct insult tempered with an escape hatch if the victim wanted to take it. You were more directly confrontational than I was. My insults always seemed innocuous, but spoke more deeply to the inadequacies of the target. Usually people missed what I was trying to say until a bit later, but I gave less room for escape. As I am sure you remember, I am much better at that now. That is the one partnership that we had that I will never replace, we were the best tag-team humiliators I have ever met.
But your trajectory through our teens ended up being a bit lower of an arc than mine. I guess that says something about potential, since you have always been seen as having more, but you were always more fully committed to fittering it away. Our one major split came when you started to get more and more involved in drugs and, like with everything else you engage in, you started to gain a reputation for being the biggest bad-ass of drug taking. Great achievement in hindsight, eh? Anyway we were at a part at the Domicile and you had done some ungodly amount of coke and was being very dramatic about it all. I’ll speak to your man drama later, but you were in full effect that night. You pulled out some box-cutter blade and slashed the hell out of your arm. I think it was motivated by removing the tattoo on your arm…
I’ll always remember that first tattoo. In the end you had it covered and ended up with a bit more of a stylish ‘back alley crew’ montage of tattoo’s but your first one, which you got on your 16th birthday and came over to my place right after, was totally fucking ridiculous. Obviously you were entranced by the flash on the biker shop’s wall so you must have picked a #47 or some such, since it was a skull and kind of tough or whatever, but what you ended up getting was what looked like a skull eating spaghetti. It was fucking hysterical, you were the first one of us to make the jump to permanent ink and it was the silliest thing we had ever seen. I even recall, for the first couple of months, you ripping the sleeves off of all your t-shirts to make sure that everyone saw the damn thing on your arm only stopping when you couldn’t stand us all making so much fun of you.
…so you cut your arm in a highly public attempt to cut the stupid tattoo off of your arm. Of course you cut too deep. Of course you could only manage one cut out of the 4-5 that you would need. But you cut pretty fucking deep into your arm, enough so that the bleeding would not stop, which didn’t stop you from staggering around the place like a drunken sailor spraying blood and your issues all over the place, not accepting help from anyone, not settling down (as you were obviously high as a kite and in quite a bit of pain), forcing the confrontation to either stop your shit or we were calling an ambulance.
I didn’t really hang out with you for years after that phase. I moved away, you spent some time in jail, and we both choose our paths.
When we saw each other again it was as if no time had passed. Our partnership was intact with the added bonus that we both had thick enough skins to included each other in our sights. We had much to account for it seems as we each went on and on about the others promiscuity and lack of seriousness but we each needed to hear it. We both had not been criticized half as much as we should have been by loving people. It was too easy to get defensive when the only barbs thrown your was are by the incompetent, the hateful and the people passing through.
But there still was distance. I lived over here, you stayed there, and we were all-to-human. You filled your life with martial arts and your uncritical admirers I with our (priorly) shared counter-culture and then radical politics. This meant that every time we would spend time together we would shake things up, knock the dust off of each others wit and sharpen our tongues, but without presence we stopped growing together. I think we both grudgingly accepted this.
What I cannot accept, and only see now that it is too late, is how much you needed the only thing I was unquestioningly better at than you. You needed a critical friend who wasn’t afraid of you, worshiped you, or wasn’t sleeping with you. At some point something changed, and I would have seen it, but I was there only en absentia, and too much time passed. One time I visited and your life was stumbling along, partial and in the shadow of your potential but not entirely awry. The next time I came you were gone. By your own hand and in your uniquely dramatic style.
What we all expected when you were a teenager you only accomplished 15 years later, surprising us with your patience but not your rashness. You always had to tell your stories of whoa, you had to make sure of your legacy. I remember one time when you had gotten into a fight, was it with metal heads?, you had been beaten pretty badly. They had broken your nose at the very least, which was no amazing feat as you had a formidable proboscis, but the blood was everywhere. You were wearing a white t-shirt covered in it, and it was only after hours of prodding, and a considerable amount of female attention that you cleaned yourself up and allowed the center of attention to move off of you.
This I cede to you lovingly. You were at your best when you were at the center. You weren’t the clown, like I am, you weren’t arrogant about it, but your brilliant potential was enough to make everyone smile. You weren’t an affectionate friend, but I never doubted your loyalty to us. You didn’t become all that would have wished for you, and I imagine you knew this, but you were still twice the person of almost anyone else I have ever met. Our friendship, and my understanding, goes with you to where you have gone.
This circle is closed.
Ted – The Western ideal: Scientist, human, friend
“This is Ted, the printer,”
I am not going to use this as opportunity to talk about my utter revulsion at the Western man. He is a doomed creature that I can’t summon up enough energy to despise today. I have already given him too much time. I am trying to move on.
In that spirit I have gained a respect for the competence of Ted. In our time of social, organizational, structural ineptitude Ted can do something. Call it printing, programming, fixing bikes or cars we have so far to go that just having skills, a skill, is something. If only Ted didn’t get chased out of every group, meeting, or social circle for not being Daman or Alec we might turn something into something real.
This circle is closed and we are on the outside of it.
by aragorn in Letters of Insurgents
This time around I am not going to start with the first part of my notes (which I do chronologically) and end with the final notes but reverse my order. As a result of going A->Z I’ve probably given a lot more attention to Yarostan’s letters rather than Sophia’s.
Around the time I was learning from Letters of Insurgents I was reading a lot of other things. For around an 8 month period when I was absorbing the book I was reading about a book every day. I was working in a graveyard job and living my van in Ann Arbor. I was using this as an opportunity to raid bookstores in the area, the U of M library in general, and, in particular, the Labadie collection. This was my chance to hold on the original set of SI Journal and to really dig deep into the material that has shaped my life since. I’ll probably never have another intellectual period in my life as intense as this. The problem with absorbing material in an isolated vacuum (which is what I was in at that time) is that some things you get right, some things you get wrong. I enjoyed the incredible volume of material I was consuming. Later I learned that the mixture of science fiction, post-structural classics, and everything available in English from “the milieu” would garner me a decade of being called incoherent, dense, and postmodernist.
“Because I was a schizophrenic already then!” Sabina exclaims. “Or maybe that was when my schizophrenia began. I applauded because Jan had thrown a wrench into Luisa’s and Zabran’s machinery, and also because what he said made a lot of sense to me, and still does. I even understood some of the implications of what he said. During the days that followed he told me that as a boy he had lived among streams, forests and fields and had loved to explore their secrets; ever since he’d become a worker he’d been reduced to an appendage of a machine.
– Sophia 8
I am fascinated by mental illness. I’ve been around pleny of people who self-identified as having some sort of mental illness and several of my teenage friends were medicated. It’s always been a set of problems I’ve watched from a far. Even when I was digging the deepest into my own abuse history and personal suffering the way in which it manifested itself always looked like the typical self-hobbling and lack of direction that most teenagers suffer from. It did not look like Aragorn! == crazy. I didn’t quite understand how other people, people who I felt I was a lot like and who I understood pretty well experienced their pain in such different ways than me.
Reading Foucault was a lot of help. I get the idea that mental illness is socially constructed like the other invisibile tyrants of daily life. The idea that illness exists in a context1 makes sense to me and represents the kind of problematic2 that I can imagine enjoying in a time when there are no bills to pay, a world collapsing, and unchecked authoritarians running amok. I consider this analysis as useful as the other lever ideologies like Marxism, Anarchism, et al. True but not a great deal of help in helping me come to terms with survival, self possession and an action plan.
Here “Anti-Oedipus” was instrumental. I like Delueze as an author outside of this text but the exploration that this book does around schizophrenia helped me a great deal in thinking about life in misery. The pressures of life are real. They press upon us. There are no real ways to relieve this pressure, only ways to cope with it. For me I put all the things in my life that press upon me and I put them into boxes. I establish a great deal of time coming up with rules around each box. I keep tools separate from people. Work away from projects that have meaning to me. I am a functioning schizophrenic, but it is not an illness, it is survival by other means.
There was never any reason to repress anything I was doing. I’ve never been free. Free human beings can’t be repressed; they have to be destroyed.
The harshest criticism of this book is of me and those around me. We have devoted ourselves to a mythology. To revolution. To destroying all the things that destroy us. To a life long pursuit of knowledge and context and meaning. In this struggle we have not become free human beings. Or perhaps we have been free and have been destroyed. In our shattered state we have to feel our way along. We understand complexity and it hasn’t saved us. It has made us observers of life and inept at free action. The falsehood of the theory vs action critique isn’t that action (or theory) is better but that neither are sufficient.
I don’t agree with your friend Clesec’s suggestion that nothing at all changes when the workers themselves take charge of the existing production apparatus. But I do agree that such an act does not create a new form of human activity, since what is appropriated is precisely the old activity, the existing world. And this existing world is not a field for the realization of projects, but a negation of the very possibility of projects. It is not this activity, even if appropriated and managed by us, that we’re glimpsing on the horizon because it is at the very center of our present lives. It is what surrounds us now, what we inherited. It wasn’t projected by us but by the history of capital.
1. The context of social pressure to be normal, Western medicines biases, and the social scene around the identity of mental illness.
2. I can’t stand the word problematic. The problematic of problematic is pretty fucking problematic.
by aragorn in Letters of Insurgents
This is the first chapter of the book that I have re-read in the book itself. Times have changed for me and now I spend 80% of my waking hours in front of a screen and so it is just more convenient for me to read the wonderful version of the text that we put together at The Anarchist Library (I helped do the OCR work for this text using the scans that the Insurgent Summer people provided me). Reading the book makes a big difference: I am so much more likely to skim when I read on the screen and I just enjoy reading lengthy material much less. I still love the feel of paper on my eyes and when I read for pleasure it will be with paper.
Either way, though, my instincts in sharing my reading with the book is the same, which is a little surprising to me. While reading on the screen, I grab chunks of text to blockquote on the themes in a letter; when I read the book I use little post-it notes and written notes to develop the themes I want to cover. In both cases I am dealing with the fact that I don’t have enough time, hours in the day, hours to work on this, to put together my full thinking on the topics at hand when I actually have them. Instead I am recreating my reading thoughts during my writing time. They are fragmented by function… but I have spent so much time on this particular text it might not be as severe as it would be normally.
If I get the time (at the end) I am also going to try to finish, housekeeping style, a couple of the remaining themes I wanted to talk about in letters 2. Actually the themes of the good life (of a politician) and generosity will probably be woven into this set of thematic discussions pretty easily since Yarostan develops this pretty clearly here.
Y5 (that is Yarostan letter 5) is a strong argument against the institution of work. It is a criticism of the role of the knowledge worker in particular, and predates a body of work around these topics while maintaining a human touch around the topic. Bob Black (in)famously wrote an essay (which was also a presentation as provocation) called “The Abolition of Work”. While the author (and other people with a certain kind of fixation) might take the article as a literal argument against work, its real power is in asking orthogonal questions about the nature of labor and the project of Marxists who valorize labor itself, beyond any recognition of the (cough) use-value of the product of labor. The pro-work ideology is to assume work first of all–before the product of the work, before the worker, and before the impact (environmental, social, psychological, etc) of that work. And the reactions to the Abolition of Work gave this thesis more energy than it probably should have had.
Bob Black (like the post-left anarchist milieu he represents in many people’s eyes) took ideas that had been floating around in certain European anti-state communist circles and synthesized them into a kind of popular (as in easier-to-digest) form for the American audience. While recent post-left theory has been a bit of a Return-to-Stirner the idea of post-left anarchism has drawn heavily on the themes of the Situationists, Councilists, and even Bordigists. This idea of of opposing the institution of Work has roots in the critique of Marx’s project of universalizing humans as workers.
But Y5 isn’t concerned with making the critical argument as much as sussing out, as in talking through, the difficult question of how do we live (where living means being a rent-paying, commodity-purchasing, alienated consumer) while having issue with the consequences of what living means.
The tenacity with which you pursued your struggle, even in the face of certain repression, is something you share with Jan, not with people we both consider opportunists. Your recent confrontation with the administrative psychologist at your college, your exposures of militarism during your university years, your disruption of the war expert’s class, are clearly not opportunistic acts, and you make it perfectly clear to me that you couldn’t have derived any privileges from engaging in those acts. You’re right when you accuse me of failing to distinguish your commitment from the commitments of those around you. I did accuse you of being a carrier of the repressive fuctions of the university and the press and I recognize that this accusation was unfair. I did identify your engagements with engagements that are as unacceptable to you as they are to me. I think I did this because the contexts in which you’ve chosen to struggle are contexts in which I had thought genuine rebellion impossible. In my world the political militant, the journalist and the academician do not and cannot help establish a human community because their very existence presupposes the absence of community.
– Yarostan 5
There are two lines here that I think are worth following through, and they aren’t as clear as an argument between Y5 and S4. One line is that ideological jobs, ones that require you to “believe in” something (rather than just punching in, following orders, and punching out) are somehow impossible places for a human community. The other is the hard question about identity and work. If where we work, the kind of work we do, our qualitative ability to do that work is at all connected to our ability to organize ourselves as a fighting force against the existing regime… then we are going to have to believe in our work, whether it is as a knowledge worker or as an industrial proletariat.
Both of these lines lead me, as someone who has been influenced by the anti-work ideas presented earlier, to understand that personal happiness and a strategy toward general liberation have problematized Marxist categories and libertarian desires. Instead of Either/or we are now faced with Neither/nor.
But of course Yarostan is wrong. It is possible to develop something that subjectively feels like a human community just about anywhere. He makes the case that it is possible in prison, S4 makes the case that it is possible in the knowledge factory, a dozen Russian novelists (and a thousand stories about the Holocaust) make the case that moments of horrible repression and terror are also moments of great human kindness and community. But obviously this fragmentation, the very partialness of the kind of community that is possible in these places is what Yarostan is lamenting. It is what all radicals lament as they struggle for another way of living. How can a people (us!) who have never been free find our way toward freedom? How can those of us who have never been a part of a human community form one?
The strategic question remains important. The classic Marxist equation here is that the sociological group that has any characteristics of a rival to the military, entrenched bureaucracy, and political & financial elites are working people. Working people have more similarity with each other than with the other groups, we have the power to dictate terms in a society that requires them, and we have the potential to be self-aware (as a class) in a way that these other groups already are. Plus, numerically and categorically, working people dwarf all of these other groups combined.
Study after study has shown the power of working people, as expressed by unions and formal organization, has been on a deep decline for more than a generation. Whatever victories were won by workers organization in the West has collapsed. Apparent to any liberation, worker organization outside the west collapsed from within and lies in ruins today. If the rhetoric is to be believed, the kind of work represented by unions by what is called the proletarians is in steep decline (because obviously China doesn’t exist), which makes impossible the General Strike kind of social change that the Left relies on.
When Fredy was writing Letters of Insurgents and contrasting the East’s and West’s view of work, as ideology and vehicle for social change, it is no surprise that he would develop a storyline around corruption and nepotism.
There is still a mythology about the Communist regimes that they are (and were) rife with the kind of corruption based on (familial & social) relationships that deeply rankle the competitive meritocratic American psyche. This is a myth about competing ideologies where the West is vigorous and self-correcting because every generation and every individual must prove their mettle as opposed to the lazy bureaucratic groupthink of the Communist regime. We are the beneficiaries of Ayn Rand without being assholes and they are a cross between Squealer and Napolean from Animal Farm.
Vera’s remedy follows from her own diagnosis: the system has to be cured. How? “We must find … We must create … We stand … Let us…” “We” of course means Vera Krena together with her audience, Vera together with the working population. And how will “we” cure the system “together”? Obviously the same way “we” have always done anything “together.” We the workers will do our share by remaining at our posts in the factories, while Vera will do her share by remaining at her posts in the offices of the academic and ideological establishments. In other words, we will cure the system “together” by continuing to reproduce it.
– Yarostan 5
When confronted with radical statements like “wage slavery must be abolished” or “we must smash capitalism” it is very easy to consider the speaker shallow or impossibly naive. Generally when people are inspired by rhetoric along these lines, it is before they have realized the multi-dimensionality of our repression–especially as it graphs to the ways in which we repress ourself. But the abandonment of the “high concept” of naming a complex enemy and working against it also tends to tame one’s conflictual perspective all together. If our enemy is intractable it is, perhaps, better to abandon conflicts that can be stated as simply as “us and them”…
But the struggle against this is actually very simple (if abstract). It just means ending your participation in its reproduction. A system that cannot reproduce itself dies from lack of interest in a generation or so.
Obviously such a simplistic statement is just moving the abstraction from destroying or abolishing to reproducing but I think there are specific ways that we can talk about the reproduction of the ideological apparatus that includes certain kinds of career choices, pastimes, political activities, and hobbies. I disagree with many radicals who would argue that “the best” way not to reproduce the system is to entirely drop out of it. I understand the impulse and I think it benefits individuals to try “dropping out” but I believe it is, ultimately, limiting because it speaks to the impulse of scarcity and constraint (specifically self-scarcity and self-constraint) which as expressions of Christian moralism have a historical dialectical waveform. Ascetics are seen, in this culture, as either compromised OR as intolerable (or both).
I think that reproduction can be discussed (if not measured) to the extent to which it increases ideological shifts (for instance toward participation in the Information (aka Global) Economy rather than one of human scale) toward hierarchical power. Reproduction exists in participation in the political, military, and policing apparatus (although clearly there are levels). Education, Finance, social work, and participation in NGOs reproduce this system. Most everything else, from electricians, service workers, and what’s left of the industrial working class do not.
I am reticent to give such specific examples, by the way, even as they are so clearly parallel to Yarostan’s. While I have been influenced by this book to a great extent, even to the extent of how I chose my own career, I recognize the great privilege of making such a choice. I did not read this book after having devoted ten years of my life towards getting an advanced degree that I could only apply to a “reproduction job”. While I have judgment of the set of choices one makes to put themselves in that position I am entirely sympathetic to how one would find oneself in that situation. I read this book before it was too late. I was ready for the message of what I’ll call engagement AND disengagement and against reproduction. In my own way (that ended up being a lonelier way than I anticipated) I made my choice and suffer the consequences.
This is a great time (temporally and in the book) to muse a little bit about the proper way (form and practice) to revolt…
Where was Luisa when revolutionaries like Manuel were swept out of the way? Was she alongside the aspiring foreman Alberts, helping to sweep people like Ron, myself, Manuel and Jan out of the way? She virtually admitted this when she said that “such people” were a greater threat to the revolution than the militarists. I’d really like to know where Luisa stood during this purge of saboteurs. I’ve long ago become suspicious of her interpretations; your letters have made me wonder about her activity as well.
– Y5 (p 311)
On the west coast we recently had visitors from Greece. Greece has lately become a bit of a magic word on the lips of anarchists, one spoken as a place and as an incredible series of actions over the past 2-5-10 years. Greece proves that anarchists have some traction somewhere and that certain kinds of passion are expressed somewhere. The visit was great and all but there wasn’t enough of a sharing of how the theoretical and activity development could happen in Greece when it so clearly has not happened in the rest of the West. Let’s save that for another time.
One topic that the Greeks did cover fairly well was their insistence on using certain terminology to describe their activity that varies from ours or what we would call the standard way such activity should be described. Specifically they call their efforts against the system (State & Capitalism) as struggle rather than as resistance. This distinction is important as a way to place their (our) activity as proactive and willful rather than the action of resentiment or reaction. There is a kind of conservatism that you see often with Leftists that argues that whatever “they” do is bad and we should be against it (trite example: we should resist the G20) rather than that our struggle for freedom includes particular attention toward the cabal of global leaders and their machinations.
The past few months and events in Toronto and Oakland have brought the issue/question of what is the proper way to revolt back into vogue. The mainstream attention on anarchists has been hot since May (when there were actions across the US) and the environment has not been conducive to the kind of self-reflection that is long since needed since ’99 (aka Seattle WTO). I am not going to speak at great length about my own thoughts here other than to say that I relate far more to the forces of smashy smashy than I do to the responsible movement builders who sound like they come right off the pages of this book as they wave their fingers in the face of “such people” while telling them how to revolt properly. This said, my friends would be better served applying their energy toward struggle rather than toward resistance against institutions that feed off of their energy. We are giving them far more by resisting them than we are gaining from the experience.
Onto Sophia 5
This is one of my least favorite of Sophia’s letters. There is a certain amount of a situational comedy element that just doesn’t speak to me. I understand being confused and making dumb decisions under stress and that being somewhat comedic but over seventy pages of Sophia’s schizophrenic behavior, and erratic thinking about it, was just disturbing. I never enjoyed watching “Three’s Company” either.
In between the confusion and drama was a peek at a couple of the Garage characters that reminded me of people I have known.
He’s one of the few people I’ve met who knew the difference between things and people and never confused the two. He can do anything that’s ever been done with a tool, but he’ll never touch a weapon, and he’ll never confuse the two. He doesn’t step on a worm if he sees it in time, and he looks sadly at a dead fly. You’re afraid of him? Sophia, believe me, the world will end before Ted attacks you. I can’t imagine his wanting to kill you or me.”
There were two important people in my life who were similar to Ted. One of them knew the difference between people and things and preferred things. The other chose people but it didn’t matter as the people in his life weren’t enough to save him.
This particular characteristic is rather common in men, in particular in the technocrats I am surrounded by. Warm, broken (hearted) men who have more skills dealing with things than people and have grown to prefer them.
My experience with these men, and my friends before, don’t give me hope in the power of individuals to overcome their gender training, the fractured social conditions that shape them, or their own good intentions overcoming survival decisions. Instead I’ve grown to appreciate the partialness, the wave form of social time together as being as likely to amplify as to flatten. The open question of when disappointment will come rather than if. I guess this is a story of cynicism but I don’t mean it to be; it’s one of the calibrations necessary to be in reality rather than Hope-instan.
“There’s nothing to understand, Sophia, and nothing to fit into. It’s your life to do with as you will. There’s no structure. Nothing is banned. Everything is allowed. No holds are barred.”
This is that hope laid bare. I have always desired this kind of freedom. This lack of restraint, freedom to action, and to love. If Sophia 5 shows us anything it is that when confronted with even the possibility of this, our this-world-socialized brains don’t know what to do. We freak out. We behave inappropriately and erratically. This is true. Sophia 5 is a true letter. I feel like I’ve seen it a hundred times.
I’m not sure I have much more to say about Sophia 5 but there are a couple more quotes in here that are worth remarking on…
“Then tell me one more thing. What do you know about that commune some students got going?” I ask.
“Nothing much,” he says. “Some wild new `cultural radicals’ have got it into their heads that they can make a revolution without the working class, inside a university building.”
“Thanks again, Daman,” I say, climbing out of his car.
“But none of my students are involved in that,” he adds, boasting.
“Because they’re the working class,” I shout.
He shouts back, “That’s right, they’re the working class. Goodbye, Sophie.
This section is particularly funny coming hot on the heels of the activity in California in the past ten monthes. If you are interested in finding out more you could do worse than checking out a little newspaper I helped publish…
One last quote that I’ll leave with that, even with the layers of self-deceit embedded in it, still reads like a powerful personal indictment.
“I’m discovering it with them, Sophie. I’m discovering what it means to be in a society but not of it, what it means to be insulted, excluded, maltreated and injured. I’m discovering what it means to be a stray dog with human characteristics. And I’m discovering that everything I’ve learned is as useless to them as it is to me. These are people who are becoming themselves, Sophie, on their own. It’s a process in which neither you nor I can help them, a process to which we cannot contribute, a process we can only harm. They can only help themselves and each other; they cannot be helped from outside. I’m not here in order to guide, to help, to contribute, or to interfere or meddle in any way. There’s no room here for those who are able to give but not to receive. I’m only here to learn.”
“You don’t know me, Hugh,” I said. “That’s all I want.”
“You, Sophie,” he said, “you don’t know who you are or what you want. I’ve known you to be sincere – once, perhaps twice. Always quick-witted, at times even brilliant. Brave, even heroic. A rare companion. But please believe me when I tell you I don’t need you, Sophie. My new friends don’t need you. What you carry inside you, what surrounds you, whether you intend it or not, is all the rot we’ve started to shed.”
I turned away from him and walked to the bus stop. I didn’t shout, nor tremble, nor cry. But my heart was broken.
by aragorn in personal
Spring is about over and to close it out I took one last trip before my next hospital visit. If all goes well I will emerge from this visit healthier, stronger, and without the absolute need for bi-weekly medical visits (and insurance). I am getting nervous about abandoning these golden handcuffs but can’t wait to have time again to think outside of the 40 hour a week monotony.
Last weekend I was in the Olympia-Tacoma area giving a presentation at the Northwest Anarchist Conference which was a small event funded by the Evergreen and attended by around 50 people over the course of the weekend. I wish I could say that it was a swimming success but I am pretty critical of my own presentation (which I’ll dig into) and am not sure how convinced I am that this kind of a conference is worth the time and energy put into it. That said I continue to really enjoy the people who live in the NW and look forward to the possibilities of further collaboration with them.
Check out http://tan.anarchyplanet.org to see many of their projects advertised.
I am starting to think about taking a bit of a different approach to presentations. I have, for years, started every presentation with something like a “postion paper” in mind. I prepare, more-or-less from scratch, every presentation with the goal being the writing of some sort of 2500-3000 word essay. I spend a few days mulling the implications of what I want to say and the framing of the presentation to a different/new audience. I try to be contextual. I always take on a far bigger speculative project than I am capable of presenting honesly in a limited period of time and never make enough time to write enough words to share a document of my ideas. This is bad and neither benefits an audiece as much as limited essay writing would OR take advantage of my own conversational skills as much as I’d like.
I was somewhat inspired by the presentation Magpie did around his Mythbreaker and Lawbreakers tour. He goes for cutsey a bit more than I think is necessary but I guess it fits into his style. I do think I would benefit a lot from the kind of presentational logic that Magpie used. Even though there is a war against it.
by aragorn in personal
I am not sure how else to put this but that I am falling apart. The center is no longer holding. My will just isn’t enough to prevent simple decay from eating away at me. I guess I am going to have to make choices. Cuts in exactly how much I am trying to do at once.
It is heartbreaking to imagine that just now, when I am at the height of my creative, technical, and organizational power that I am going to have to slow down but the facts are the facts.
Fact 1: What should have been a simple hernia surgery turned into a now 5 month ordeal.
Fact 2: I woke up Wednesday with slightly slurred speech & weakness in my right hand
Fact 3: After a CAT Scan it was determine that I had a small (although WTF is small in this situation) brain hemmorrhage.
Fact 4: 3 days later I am back home. Waiting for several months for an MRI and about to start occupational therapy to, hopefully, get back the function I lost 4 days ago.
All of this is rather dramatic, at least from my point of view, and puts a bit more of the fear into me than I had before but I have to admit that the repercussions have yet to really hit me. Perhaps they never will. I am still typing at least 80% as fast as I was before TDMBB (the day my brain broke), my slur is subtle (strangers would never know), and since I exhibit none (or should we say few) of the lifestyle risks for what just happened to me (as an OG XVX) the cause is most likely genetic. This doesn’t preclude more of this “genetic” problem from rearing its head but hopefully I’ll know what color to paint the BBTL (brain break threat level) chart in the next month or two.
On to more positive things. Here are a few I am looking forward to in the next few months…
NAASN – Less for the conference, which I am sure will be fine, in an East Coast @ kind of way, but more because of some time (and FOOD!!!) in NYC. If they would only move the radness of NYC to the west coast I’d only hop over the Miss. for MI.
Synology DS409 – I am thinking about this less for the 4.5T of space for ~$800 (!!!) but because of the fact that it runs quiet.
The Nook – Yes I am a gadget fiend. Since I am probably going to be taking the motorcycle less (if at all) in the future, the idea of a BART boredom buster (that actually reads PDF’s) is pretty exciting to me.
LA Anarchist Bookfair – Last year LA had its first bookfair and it was excellent. Very affirming to the fatalistic. It was almost good enough to pre-wash the bad taste of the SF bookfair a few months later. Hopefully this year will keep the great energy with a bit more room.