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.
Archive for June, 2010
Zdenek was a union devotee.
Zdenek has worked in the same factory as long as he has been working, which was prewar. Oh, he was in jail for some time, and that is where he met Yarostan. When they first met, Yarostan thought they were about the same age, but the years have taken their toll on the dear man. Now, Yara affectionately calls him “Grandfather”.
Yarostan and Zdenek have had parallel worldviews throughout their friendship. When they first met, they thought like Luisa, but as they started to see the consequences of the “workers’ uprising,” they changed their opinions. His current ideas may best be described as nihilist. He describes his hopes:
“For people to destroy the language along with all the other conditions they’re born into, for every generation to shape its own world and invent its own language. How can we talk of a revolution in which people reshape their world if we can’t even imagine people shaping their own language? How can people shape anything if they never leave the world they’re born into?”
-Image from Reckless Shots on Flickr, shared via creative commons, non commercial, no derivative works -
In the third set of letters, Sophia and Yarostan are in many ways at odds. The first time I read this book, I began to like Yarostan much more than Sophia at this point. I think he really shines in his third letter. And Sophia? Well, we see how she sometimes isn’t a very good friend.
I believe that there are two main tensions in this set of letters: rebellion vs. pedagogy, and intentions vs. result. Come to think of it, these are perhaps the main tensions of the novel itself. I’ll just take on this third set of letters for now, though.
There are so many themes from this week’s reading to dig into, including a rich quote from Sophia about memory exercises, the concept that political people have “the good life,” a famous paraphrased quotation, and the generosity of poor people. I hope to touch on them in later weeks. This week I’ll keep my focus limited to how loaded perceptions are.
In many ways, during the time it stood, the Berlin Wall, the great wall dividing the West from the Soviet regime, helped clarify life in America. We were clearly separate from them and we had a clear symbol, with armed guards and not-so-symbolic bullets helping make the distinction crystal clear. The story of Letters of Insurgents is amplified by the existence of this wall during its authorship and the real divide between the authors. Today such divides don’t seem to exist and equivalent letters would read like muffled calls out of the postmodern malaise of this time, or perhaps as Romeo and Juliet type stories set around Israel, Tijuana, North and South Korea or the Taiwan Strait.
Jasna isn’t a leader.
Jasna was part of the carton plant taker and later taught at Yara’s school. She is a warm caretaker type and took a part in making sure that Yarostan “the vagabond caught oversleeping” was cared for.
Although her intentions are very good, she is usually befuddled by her lack of confidence and remains timid in group situations. She parrots the rhetoric of Luisa at the carton plant factory and is the last to join the strike at Yara’s school.
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.
In this second set of letters, a conflict gets drawn out that I think is a fundamental theme: the subjectivity of shared experiences. At this point in the book, Yarostan and Sophia are already beginning to acutely disagree about events that they both experienced in years past – twenty years, mind you. These aren’t small squabbles, either. Yarostan essentially tells Sophia that the strike in the carton factory, the event that she has held to her heart for all these years as the pinnacle of her life and the beginning of all meaning, was at best a puppet show and at worst the beginning of a descent into an even more repressive government.
Ron is a rebel, a rebel without a cause.
Ron has struggled to find purpose and acceptance. He’s got an abusive dad and a drunk mom. He’s not really a good fit with most people, but he has developed leadership skills and street-smarts. He has been able to find some expression through petty crime and the black market. Then he met “Sophie”.
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Anyone who knows me knows that I am a very angry person. I have been and continue to be motivated by anger. During the period when I was most influenced by Western (psychology) and Other (martial arts, meditation, etc) mental healing modalities this became a concern, since there was a limit to how “healthy” I could become if I was not going to resolve the underlying anger at the root of my personality. I needed to “let it go” if I were going to become a person at peace with myself.
Suffice it to say that I resolved never to be at peace with myself or my condition. I devoted my efforts toward using that anger as motivation to continue working on projects, relationships, situations even when they were boring, irrelevant, or ridiculous. Over time I came to realize that my anger was generally not personal (not about the seeming target). It was about me and my dissatisfaction with my condition. Generally it was not related to my particular impatience or the actions of those around me at the time. Anger remained the vibration that resonated with me but was not the entire scope of my interaction with each and every person at each and every moment.
You can take the girl out of the country,
but you can’t take the country out of the girl.
Mirna is Jan’s younger sister and Yarostan’s wife. Mirna is a young mom and full of enthusiasm. She is always up for a social engagement or a fun time with her family. Like her brother, she is passionate and devoted.
Although she has adjusted fairly well to the city, she holds on to some peasant traditions and sometimes makes choices based on intuition rather than rationality. She gets “feelings” about things, like Sophia’s first letter. Her ancestors believe in fate and she carries some of this and says, “there is no such thing as coincidences.”