When I was in college, a friend introduced me to critical theory and warned, “You will never be happy again.” He was sort of right, but being an eternal optimist, I managed to channel my feelings into anger instead of being depressed like my friend. Having grown up a shooting academic star in a working-class, union household, I thought that if I worked hard enough on the right project, I could accomplish anything. Work, work, work. My identity and political interests all revolved around work.
Archive for the ‘ Gardens of Resistance ’ Category
The Ninth Letters continue to separate out those who are focused on “things” and those who are focused on people. They call into question just how in touch our characters are with their own desires, and clarify the extremely high costs of some of those desires. If a revolution is supposed to make all desires possible, how is it that some remain beyond the bounds of accepted human morality? Read the rest of this entry
As we head towards the climax of the novel, I continue to appreciate the progressively unfolding politics of our now familiar insurgents. We’ve known from the very first exchange of letters that we can never be sure anyone is genuinely on the same “side.” Now, Yarostan sees that it is impossible for Alberts and Titus to have fought, in that long-ago revolution, on the same side as Manuel and Nachalo. Albert’s role in the army is clearly exposed, and I am even beginning to be suspicious of Titus.
Infinite Tasks and I are rewatching The Sopranos, which is our all-time favorite TV show. We just passed (*spoiler alert!*) the part of Season 6 where Vito is outed to the mob family, and soon his whole community, as gay. He runs away and stumbles upon a small, gay-friendly community in New Hampshire and begins to fall in love with Johnny Cakes. As their heads tilt for a first kiss, Vito freaks out, calls Johnny a fag and starts a fight. Luckily, Johnny is one tough dude and Vito doesn’t kill him. Soon, Vito realizes that he has fucked up what may be the love of his life, or at least his first opportunity to actualize a relationship with a guy. He shows up at Johnny’s cafe and says,
“When you have lied about something for so long, you don’t know when to stop. You don’t know when it is safe.”
Most people that I have been hearing from are annoyed at Mirna. They say she appears wildly insane. She makes no sense at all. Her arguments rely on intuition, mysticism and fate. And probably most importantly, she attributes great significance to unintended consequences.
Although it felt somewhat contrived and overdramatized, I think this chapter was inevitable. Somehow, we had to witness the shift from the frozen and uptight Sophie that said “Oh really?” to a woman composed of courage and passion. Even on the newspaper, she was unable to stand up for what she believed in or express any anger, she just sort of rolled over. The only roles that she had found before were the roles of seeker and victim.
Lately, I have been reading books about happiness and money. I suppose that I would classify them as self-help books, but they are less pop psychology and more of a cross-section of case studies and personal experience. In many cases, the topic of these books is a person’s “rebirth” when they wake up from chasing a material oriented life.
These are generally pretty wealthy people, but one thing stands true, money really never does make anyone happier. In many of the cases, it takes some moment of awakening in which they realize that they must reprioritize.
It is sort of funny to see this theme pop up in Letters. Of course, Yarostan and Mirna do not take their pursuit of material possessions very far and they are not wealthy. A pair of curtains, a bedspread and a baby carriage with a couple of swanky outfits do not exactly make them big spenders.
Of the many interesting topics of the 4th letters, I have chosen to focus on the role of leadership and organization in periods of ferment, as raised by Zdenek and Yarostan. My thoughts about it have been encouraged both by John Zerzan’s guest entry and the ongoing forum discussion on Anarchy and Organization.
Let’s look at the argument that Yarostan has been building throughout his first four letters. He has claimed that as participants of the carton plant takeover 20 years ago, they deceived themselves into believing that they were engaged in a project to liberate themselves and give the workers control of the plant. Instead, the takeover had been staged from above, and the plan all along had been to simply turn power over, but not to abolish it. He now takes this argument one step further and discusses how that activity actually mal-developed his understanding of a liberated life. Read the rest of this entry
The third letters directly confront the question, What circumstances allow for – and what actions generate – an experience of genuine shared resistance? Certainly, the scale of shared resistace varies widely across the different sides of what Aragorn! referred to as the Berlin Wall. In the contrast between Yarostan’s and Sophia’s accounts, we see more deeply into the context that both limits and makes possible the experience of resistance.
I have always found the early sections of Yarostan’s letters difficult to make sense of. There are a lot of people to keep track of, and he brings up different events out of chronological order. Not only is my understanding of world history somewhat pathetic, but Fredy Perlman is also keeping the events intentionally vague, presumbly since the order of things looked very similar all over Eastern Europe. Additionally, as Paul Debraski notes, it is difficult to tell whether some of the events are actual events or metaphorical. Unfortunately, I do think that this part is written a bit roughly; the first few times I read the book, it made my head hurt. Mostly for reference, Infinite Tasks and I decided to put this basic timeline together. The dates are approximate, but as far as we can tell they are as consistent as possible with the book’s references and with events in Yugoslavia.
Ah, Yugoslavia. It is never named in Letters of Insurgents, but bears the closest resemblance to the events described. In addition, Perlman spent some of his formative political years in Yugoslavia (1963-1966), living in Belgrade, studying economics and completing his dissertation on industrial development for the Law Faculty of Belgrade University. He also visited villages in Montenegro, and became close with Velimir Morača, the model for Yarostan. Those interested in reading about this period of Perlman’s life can consult Lorraine Perlman’s Having Little… Being Much in The Anarchist Library.