Rambles in the Fields of Anarchist Individualism — No. 2

“Life as experience tears up programs, treads decorum under foot, breaks the windows, descends from the ivory tower. It abandons the City of Established Facts, out through the Gate of Settled Matters and roams, vagabond, in the open countryside of the Unforeseen.”

Rambles in the Fields of Anarchist Individualism:

Sources:
  • E. Armand, “Je n’ai pas toujours qu’une opinion,” Hors du troupeau No. 5-6 (janvier-février 1912): 85-86.
  • E. Armand, “Parce que je tu considère comme mien,” Les Réfractaires no. 2-3 (31 janvier 1913): 13.
  • Benjamin de Casseres, “Solitude,” Hors du troupeau No. 5-6 (janvier-février 1912): 86.
  • E. Armand, “A l’aventure,” Hors du troupeau No. 1 (25 septembre 1911): 1-5.
  • E. Armand, “Quand je me sépare…,” Hors du troupeau No. 1 (25 septembre 1911): 13-14.
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Rambles in the Fields of Anarchist Individualism

No. 1. — Vast, containing multitudes… (continued)

I expect that my method in these exploration and experiments will be much like my daily circuits of the grassy hillside, as I cover the same general ground in all kinds of light and weather. But those atmospheric effects are not to be discounted, particularly when what we are circling are some fairly protean understandings of individuality. So there will be some advantage to sorting through the impressions a bit, as I present them.

For example, as I started to move on from the first installment of these Rambles, I fairly quickly found myself faced with two—and then three—possible paths forward. I have known that I wanted to work through some of the limitations of what really was individualistic in some of Proudhon’s thought—in part by drawing on some of the more interesting anarchist individualists—and the third set of Rambles will almost certainly focus on that problem. But as I was searching for relevant material—and tying up some loose ends related to E. Armand’s pseudonyms—I found myself taking my first really close look at …hors du troupeau…, the second of Armand’s periodicals, following l’Ère nouvelle. What I found there was a particularly concentrated treatment of solitude, emerging from a consideration of Stirner’s einzige as “the only one,” along with some discussion of how Armand’s life in the country—his bicycle rides in the fields—came to shape his philosophy. And I decide that material struck me as of such immediate interest, that I opted to postpone completion of the in-progress installment on Proudhon and individualism and set to work translating the best of it.

But “…hors du troupeau…” also provided a very nice bit of E. Armand in a Whitmanesque mood—all “vast, containing multitudes”—so it seems worthwhile to add this translation to the material from No. 1:

I Do Not Always Have Just One Opinion

I do not always have just one opinion on a given subject. Or a person. Or an idea. I do not always and inevitably consider things and beings from the same angle and with the same eyes. I do not feel bound by my opinion of yesterday and that of today could not oblige me tomorrow. I do not want to remain a slave to my past opinions. I don’t want to be a walking corpse and advance, exhaling the smell of death, imprisoned in the shroud of my former opinions. I want to live free. I want to be able to vary my experiences, modify my points of view, revise my formulas, returned to theories that I have abandoned. I do not wish to desperately drag along the millstone of my previous convictions until my demise. I want to be the heretic of my own faith. I do not wish to be tied by the letter or the spirit of what I have written in the past. I want to be free to put forward, regarding the same gesture, depending on the side from which I look at it, contradictory appraisals.

Not that I am a weathervane turning at the slightest breeze. But here’s the thing: I am not seeking to recruit followers. And I do not have the heart to be a driver of the wavering. I do not believe that I am charged with a mission. And the role of counselor does not please me at all. I do not present myself as an example to the multitudes. I value my camarades and friends that much more because they can do without me, and live their lives for and by themselves. I have no intention of setting myself up to real off “rules of conduct.” I do not claim to be a pontiff. Celebrity leaves me indifferent. What I write, I write for my personal satisfaction. Because I also believe that the account of my moment of intellectual being can be useful to those who read me. Because, finally, at the moment when I make it public, the theory that I propose tallies well with my state of being. I do not pretend to offer or furnish anything other than that. I do not accept continuing to support ideas that could not beat in unison with my state of being. I do not consent to live presently the life that I lived when I found myself under the influence de theories that have become irrelevant to me.

I do not, however, renounce my opinions or my judgments of days gone by. They are intellectual children to which I have given birth and who have gone around the world. They live their own life. They can still be useful to those who adopt them. No doubt they are. And I do not feel any displeasure at seeing them progress along a road opposed to the one that I am on. I have never promised to be an end. Or a boundary. Or a signpost. I simply find my pleasure in saying — as I think it — what I think at the very moment. I cannot, in all honesty, go farther.

E. Armand.

In practice, of course, these “installments” will always overlap, as we look at a fairly compact set of questions from a variety of perspectives, returning to old concerns regularly. But there is something to be said for the instances like this one when we can make the connections more explicit.

No. 2. — Quand je me sépare…

I’m really enjoying this particular project, which is both a radical break from the kind of work I have been doing to get Our Lost Continent and the Journey Back underway and an opportunity to work on the final sections of that project, in which the literature of anarchist individualism will play a significant role. So, like most of my vacations, it’s a busman’s holiday, but I often find those very pleasant. And explicitly connecting the writing to my daily practice of walking, observation and reflection has enriched all of those elements. It was not exactly a surprise to find that E. Armand connected changes in his understanding of things to similar practices, given recurring elements in his writings, but the process of learning the details has certainly been rich in pleasurable moments.

In No. 1, I suggested that Armand played at least two roles in his own work, appearing as camarade and solitaire. I’m inclined to association those roles with two aspects of Stirner’s einzige—or at least of its general reception in anarchist circles. Without making too strong a claim for the fidelity of either interpretation, I think we might say that there are distinctions to be made between what we might call the unique and the only one, the singular and the solitary. The singular unique—who appears, I think, most clearly in “Stirner’s Critics—is not an instance of any type. Its acts of solidarity, union and camaraderie are fundamentally creative acts, but we are still working with a framework where the problem to be solved seems to be largely one of incommensurability among uniques, of thinking about union without making the unique itself a type. That’s already an extremely radical perspective, but that fact hasn’t prevented egoists from assuming one that is perhaps even more radical. John Beverley Robinson’s essay “Egoism” presents at least a suggestive introduction to what I am calling the only one:

For each one of us stands alone in the midst of a universe. He is surrounded by sights and sounds which he interprets as exterior to himself, although all he knows of them are the impressions on his retina and ear drums and other organs of sense. The universe for him is measured by these sensations; they are, for him, the universe. Some of them he interprets as denoting other individuals, whom he conceives as more or less like himself. But none of these is himself. He stands apart. His consciousness, and the desires and gratifications that enter into it, is a thing unique; no other can enter into it.

It is a hard perspective to maintain, and he has hardly posited an individual alone before he seems to retreat a bit, talking about one who is merely apart. And he continues:

However near and dear to you may be your wife, children, friends, they are not you; they are outside of you. You are forever alone. Your thoughts and emotions are yours alone. There is no other who experiences your thoughts or your feelings.

Stirner himself seems to waver in a similar manner, as in this passage from The Unique and Its Property:

When the world gets in my way—and it gets in my way everywhere—then I consume it to quiet the hunger of my egoism. You are nothing for me but—my food, just as I am also fed upon and consumed by you. We have only one relationship to each other, that of usefulness, usability, advantage. We owe each other nothing, because what I seem to owe to you, I owe at most to myself. If I show you a cheerful expression in order to likewise cheer you up, then your cheerfulness matters to me, and my expression serves my wish; I do not show it to thousands of others, whom I have no intention of cheering up.

If we had to answer the question of whether or not there is more than one einzige in these passages, we might quite reasonably, I think, admit that the indications are mixed. This is not necessarily any kind of problem, in context. But I have to admit that my own response to these tantalizing glimpses of an individual who is both, in some strong sense, singular and solitary always tug at me.

It’s not hard to understand why many people, whatever their relations to individualism and anarchism, might find the more-or-less solipsistic extremes suggested unappealing, but I must admit that, in certain ways, I find the only one an easier figure to embrace than some of the other figures derived from conscious egoism. At the extreme, where there is really only my own and that which is simply not of interest to me, where a creative no-thing has eluded possession by all that seeks to possess it, perhaps even this notion of a world that gets in my way is a bit haunted. If an antagonist is required, then it seems somehow more sensible to step back into the world of the merely singular, rather than fight with our food. It’s not hard to say why we tend to strut a little and strike martial poses as we declare our independent from all that would seek to possess us, but antagonism ultimately seems like one more trap, if our declaration has anything to it. If life is a work of continuing creation, the there seems to be little reason why our world should be defined by anything but our self-enjoyment, within the limits of our capacities to enjoy—with the not-enjoyed hardly worthy of antagonism and the not-yet-enjoyed existing as spice.

I think we see here at least one of the ways in which the selfishness with which conscious egoism in naturally charged by the world it resists shows itself to be what James L. Walker called selfiness—and how what might seem to be a retreat from the world and everything in it results in a remarkable sort of intimacy.

And this is one of the places where we might look to a figure like Walt Whitman for a master class in how to enjoy oneself and enjoy the world in and as oneself.

I dote on myself, there is that lot of me and all so luscious,
Each moment and whatever happens thrills me with joy…

And then, if we can imagine one singular, solitary individual engaging with the world as a sort of creative self-enjoyment, perhaps we can make the leap to imagining a kind of reciprocation on the same terms.

In this piece from Les Réfractaires, for example, Armand gives us a provocative glimpse of love among the solitaires:

Because I Consider You To Be Mine.

Because I consider you to be mine, I take an interest in you. Because I know that I can count on you in the difficult times, on your caresses when my senses speak, on your knowledge when my own fails, on your material support when I find myself at the end of my resources, or on your sympathy when I embark on some adventure that is to your taste. Because you are my property. Because you belong to me and I can build on that possession. Because you also consider me as your own and as your property. I wish for you all the happiness you could desire. And among those, the pleasure of individual liberation, which is the greatest good that we can imagine. I want you to be free of the chains of the past and the commitment of the future. I want you to be free of rigid rules of conduct and of the fear of living. I hope that you will be liberated from seeking the approval of others. I long for you to be beautiful, strong and voluptuous, my camarade. I long, my comrade. to be vigorous, audacious and sensual. I like to see a disdainful curl to our lip when in the presence of those who speak of the political struggles and commercial competitions of this world. And I want to employ all my strength to see that you are or become all of that. Not for you, but for me. Because I find my pleasure in it. The more you rise toward the summits of individual autonomy, the more you show yourself thirsty for life, the more indifferent you are to the banalities that stir up the masses, the more I feel that you are my camarade. And I do not ask that you treat me any differently.

E. Armand

What we’re pursuing here is first a vision of life from which lack has been banished, generalized so that what takes the place of more familiar sorts of society would be a matter of fullness added to fullness. It is, I think, a remarkably seductive vision, provided we can free ourselves from enough of our present “common sense” to embrace it.

But perhaps we have to acknowledge that it is a work for another day…

I was talking—I supposed I was talking—I had set out to talk about “…hors du troupeau…” and E. Armand’s rather focused investigation of solitude, of distancing oneself. And in those texts from 1911 and 1912, lack has certainly not yet been banished and solitude remains mingled with various kinds of loneliness.

Benjamin de Casseres’ poem, which appeared in the final issue of the run, seems to capture the prevailing spirit of the investigation:

Solitude

Friends, come sit down around me, so that I can come to know the enormous distance that separates us.

Oh woman, whom I embrace in the throes of passion, what a horrible abyss exists between your heart and mine.

I rise when other men rise, seat myself again when they take their places, and between them and me… infinity intervenes.

Behind the impenetrable atmosphere of personality, I reign like a king, a Caesar in the midst of a Sahara.

Benjamin de Casseres.

Gather ’round close, many of these writings seem to say, so that we can examine the bottomless gulf that separates us. And then the next step is to embrace separation and to make a conscious separation of the self into a kind of individualist discipline. So, for example, we have this piece from E. Armand:

When I Separate Myself…

It is when I separate myself that I feel myself, that I am conscious of my existence as an individual being. And separation does not only consist of taking refuge on the summit of some unknown mountain or on the shores of some far-off ocean. I can separate myself by thought, even when I am in the midst of a dense crowd or among the fellow laborers that the so-called social contract has imposed on me. No matter where I am.

When I separate myself, it seems to me that nothing exists any longer. I no longer hear the buzz of conversations, nor the tumult of the road, nor the noise of the open road. I walk through an isolated universe of which I am the sole inhabitant. Nothing foreign comes to trouble the surges of my imagination. I am truly the Unique. And I live my life. All that exists exists only for me. The earth and all that is found there. The heavens and all that they contain. And the past. And the present day. And the future. And suffering. And joy. Everything ends in me, converges toward me, is identical with me. I am no longer subject to the humiliation of concessions, since I can do without everyone. And I feel no urgent need to associate, since I am unaware of any necessity.

I live. I am the Egoist. The Man Alone. I am conscious that I am myself. Myself and no one else. Outside of myself, there are only shadows and confusions. I depend only on myself. I situate myself on the margins of good and evil, on a plain where I cannot be judged or criticized by anyone, for I, Alone, exist.

Pure fancy? Not at all. Some mishap might occur and interrupt my temporary solitude. It is, however, only seemingly that the Milieu would have recaptured me.

And it pointless to point to the tedious and insipid tasks with which I am occupied. I only work at the temporarily, to earn my bread and butter, and as a last resort. My heart is not in them. I am always the loner. I feel nothing in common with the busybodies, the petits bourgeois, the traffickers, the misers, the drunks, the exploiters or the beggars. I feel that I am neither the friend nor the associate of the inferior who crawls or the superior who humiliates. I don’t understand their aspirations at all and their ambitions leave me unmoved. They are creatures of society and I, I am a only a Bystander, noting but a passerby. That maintains no Solidarity with the Social Lie that it encounters in its path. Who escapes the contingencies that bind the sticky Mass. It is because I renounce solidarity with the Mass that I feel I am strong. So strong that I escape it morally, intellectually and psychologically. Strong to the point that I separate myself from it without it costing me anything. And that is when I feel myself.

E. Armand.

One finds oneself—or at least feels oneself—in the process of separating oneself—from “the herd,” “from the anarchist, individualist herd… if you wish,” as he said in the same period. But if the first step is to become more truly one, rather than matter in the social mass, disconnection is not itself a virtue. It is more a question of escaping a particular framework governing our connectedness than it is of escaping connectedness as such. More than just separation is obviously required for expansion of the self required for it to make the “shadows and confusions” that surround it into its own. And part of what is needed appears to be a literal change of pace, a simple matter of slowing down, while rambling—or cycling—in what we might be forgiven for seeing as “the open countryside of the Unforeseen.”

I have presented the translations form “…hors du troupeau…” in roughly reverse chronological order, presenting last what I had originally intended to share first. But, in the present context, perhaps it doesn’t matter so much. In any event, here is the second section from the column “A l’aventure” (“at random,” “aimlessly”) in the first issue of “…hors du troupeau…” (September 25, 1911):

along the way

In these days of sweltering heat (*), I do not feel the slightest desire to soar too high, intellectually speaking. I will take this occasion to recount some of my impressions of recent times.

I travel frequently, confining myself as seldom as possible in the cars of those trains where, in summer, you not only roast, but are also subject to all sorts of more or less “undesirable” promiscuity. Most often, I go by bicycle, at a moderate pace that allows me to feast my eyes on the landscape, always new, that unfolds as I advance. Sometimes, passing through woods and forests, I feel myself completely filled by the aromas of certain essences, whose fragrance is a revelation to me, or stopped by the sound of some songbird, which I seem to hear for the first time. I have learned to love nature and if I sometimes miss the city, the big city, I have learned that life is appreciated more fully by considering apart from the long rows of six-story houses,  so monotonous in their uniformity.

I attribute part of the change that has taken place in my understanding of things over the last twenty or so months to my bicycle rides. The rest is due to the fact that I live in the country. There was a moment in my life when I learned that the swift never go swiftly enough. I would have liked to roll a hundred leagues an hour. I was blind to the flowers and indifferent to the perfumes of he countryside. I considered them as things very distant and not very real, like Muses. It was above in paintings that landscapes interested me, and still not all of them. It was the qualities of the picture that determined my appreciation of nature.

For some months now, I have tasted reality. And I have found it superior to fiction. I have seen the same river that far overflowed its banks during the winter months, a mass of water that resembled a lake, change, in the warm days, into a paltry little trickle of water that a child could step across. I have seen the fields, desolate and bare in January, full of stems with heavy spikes of grain in July. I have been subject to flooding and withstood drought. I have encountered, at three in the morning, men and women who went to the fields bearing sickle or spade. And at nine o’clock at night, I have met carts laden with fodder and straw, led slowly by a drowsy driver—or rather by his horse. And all that, that is life.

And I have also contemplated the ocean, “whose limits we do not see” and which makes us think of the infinite, the sea whose constant undertow is like an image of the slow, but eternal activity, like a representation of that movement that we are assured constitutes all life.

And it is because I have made my way more slowly that I have been able to appreciate more. Because I could come to a stop when the desire took me. Because I had liberated myself from the obsession with being at a given station at a given hour. Because I remained in charge of whether hastened or slowed down. And that freedom — a relative as it still may be — has been well worth the drawbacks — real as they are — of long journeys by bicycle.

I do not mean to say that I am entirely cured of the irresistible need to go fast, common to all who have lived long in the big cities or who remain there. It is a fever with which one is infected at birth, I fear. I try to react against that tendency to constant overexcitement that is characteristic of our era—an era drawn towards an intensity of life to which human beings have become slaves. Everyone is in such a hurry to produce, to enjoy, to create and to move that it has resulted in constant overproduction and overwork. Wishing to go fast, we have destroyed originality; wishing to eat up the kilometers, we have lost the spirit of observation. We perhaps acquire more, but we know less deeply and are superficially familiar with many things. We have accumulated countless formulas and all of this quickly, very quickly. And like food that we eat without chewing, all that we have learned has not profited us much.

(*) This was written some time ago.

Walking around the grassy hill today, it struck me how much the color had finally faded from the ears of the bunchgrass. The purple tint—so striking at first and then gradually less prominent—has passed in a matter of days from gold to straw. Patches of yellow field clover have been spreading beneath the grass, peeking through when the wind blows. The mown path as a deep green for now, but, judging by the sudden graying of the mountain in the distance, it probably won’t be long now before our drought conditions really start to show. Tomorrow is supposed to be cloudy, but perhaps I’ll take along my copy of Novatore and find a place to sit or lean, while I reacquaint myself with his treatment of the creative nothing. Or perhaps some problem will emerge in the writing of No. 3 which demands whatever attention I can spare from the shifting of the sky and the swifts darting around.

Translating E. Armand

Ellipses: The title of the periodical was indeed “…hors du troupeau…”—complete with the ellipses on either end. Armand frequently used ellipses in work and particularly in titles. For the translator, there is not generally anything to do but to maintain the punctuation—but this is one of those cases where it seems useful to put ourselves on notice that here is a tendency worthy of further consideration.

A discarded version of this sequence included remarks on another recently translated piece by E. Armand, “Solidaire?” The question of solidarity among individualists is undoubtedly one to which I’ll have to return.

And that brings the second set of rambles to a close.

 

About Shawn P. Wilbur 2428 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.