Corvus Editions: Anarchistic Frontiers

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[Possible covers for forthcoming collections]

The Corvus Editions project has always been a bit of a long shot. The Libertarian Labyrinth started as a place for the marginal and unclassifiable and has really grown in scope largely by demonstrating how the margins intersect with elements of the tradition that are much better known. For example, the Bakunin of the Bakunin Library project is in many ways as little-known and controversial as figures with names that are much less familiar. And Corvus Editions has always been a reflection of the Libertarian Labyrinth archive and its development, presenting some mix of “lost classics,” unknown works by well-known authors and works from the most recent of my own research and translation projects. The catalog has included hundreds of titles, many of them meant to be essentially ephemeral. There is nothing from the first few years that has remained in the tabling selection. That means that there has probably never been a Corvus Edition that has sold more than about 25 copies—and there are only a few that have sold that many. The original Eliphalet Kimball pamphlet, “Anarchy is a Good Word,” has been reproduced by Enemy Combatant (and has apparently been digitized as part of the Google Books initiative.) The Black and Red Feminist History/La Frondeuse series had a comparatively long and popular run. But the goal has always been to keep covering new ground with the publishing project as the archive and my various research projects developed.

Things changed as conventional publishing opportunities opened up for me. The difference between a project like the ANARCHISMS pamphlet series and the forthcoming Anarchist Beginnings volume is dramatic, even though there is considerable overlap in the content. I’ve talked in the past about the difficulties of shifting from such ephemeral works to introductory works that have to possess some staying power—and I think that the first few of those volumes really look like pretty much as they should. But these projects have moved a lot of the material that made up the heart of recent Corvus Edition selections into a sort of limbo, without leaving me a lot of time to rebuild the core of the project. That has meant a book fair focus on the most recent translations, on trial-balloons for potential future projects, on some fun non-anarchist releases and on the Contr’un collections—which has been fine in a period when I haven’t been doing many book fairs anyway. But it has been clear that a rethink was in order for a number of years now.

It was my work on the history of mutualism that finally clarified for me the most logical direction forward, along with the resistance that I’ve been encountering in my more theoretical work. It has seemed increasingly clear that one task that I can certainly accomplish—and perhaps accomplish more easily and completely than anyone else, at least for now—is to go back and establish a sort of working canon of the marginal works I have always specialized in. Now, I am a battle-scarred veteran of the academic debates about the literary canon, popular culture studies, the “great ideas,” etc., so if I propose something like a “working canon” I’m very specifically proposing a temporary measure designed to address the fact that the general stories we tell about anarchism involve some important references to marginal works which scholars have had to check against bodies of work that have yet to be particularly well documented in our archives or substantiated in our scholarship. And while this is actually true about the work of some central figures in the traditional narrative—and my work on Proudhon and Bakunin seeks to provide the material for future clarifications—the problem is compounded at the margins by a variety of factors.

Still, I am not sure there is any way forward but to gather together the fruits of the last couple of decades or research and present them for use, as if there was an audience ready and willing to use them. And since we’re talking about works deemed insufficiently commercial even for the niches filled by anarchist publishers and academic presses, the way to do that is through print-on-demand volumes. So the next phase of the Corvus Edition story involves a line of collections published through Lulu.

Of the first dozen works proposed for the print-on-demand line, some are real “lost classics,” with fairly straightforward lessons to teach about the history of anarchist ideas. These include:

  • There Ought Always To Be Anarchy: Thoughts on Natural Principles by Eliphalet Kimball
  • Omega: Early Writings by William Batchelder Greene
  • Art-Liberty! Selected Writings by Calvin Blanchard
  • To the Point! To Action!! Writings by Anselme Bellegarrigue

Others document known figures and supplement widely available writings:

  • Free Thought: Early Writings by Voltairine de Cleyre
  • Sociology (Reconstructed): Selected Works by Lewis Masquerier
  • Mikhail Bakunin: Published Variants and Fragments

There’s a collection of my own writings:

  • Atercratic Musings and Anarchistic Heresies by Shawn P. Wilbur

There are two two collections of newspaper articles, documenting some other margins, this time at the edges of science and science fiction:

  • The Apparition of the Air
  • Principles of the Mundane System

As a first example of the literature with which the anarchist papers were particularly rich, I’m working on an edition of a novel serialized in Liberty:

  • Ireland!

And, finally, because even a collection of essential works from the margins almost inevitably has margins of its own, there will be works that have a particular historical importance, but seem particularly unlikely to find any ready audience in the present, such as:

  • The Science of Universology
About Shawn P. Wilbur 2703 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.