Looking forward to 2013

I spent last weekend in La Jolla, CA, at a Liberty Fund gathering devoted to the work of Gustave de Molinari, discussing a range of his writings with a small group including Roderick Long, Charles Johnson, Gary Chartier, Sheldon Richman, Matt Zwolinski, David Hart and David Friedman. It was an excellent event, and I’ll undoubtedly be coming back to Molinari’s writings in the near future. But it was also a very welcome break in my otherwise relentless, but not always well focused research into anarchist history and theory, with the train trip to and from making the break about a week in duration. People asked me repeatedly why I travel by train and, the present rottenness of airports aside, part of the reason is the fact that rail travel places you in a sort of liminal space for the duration.

On the tail end of an inspiring weekend, I was able to put that space to good use on the way home, outlining a book-length introduction to neo-Proudhonian mutualism, and also completing the preparatory work necessary to outline and begin an anarchism-related fiction project.

Two-Gun Mutualism: The Original Anarchism Rearmed will be the long-overdue summary of my vision for a mutualism with one foot firmly rooted in the rich traditions of 19th century anarchism and one foot in a future which we can expect to constantly elude us, expanding its promise as we rise to meet its successive challenges. As presently outlined, the chapters will be:

  • Preface: Becoming a Two-Gun Mutualist 
  • Chapter One: The Ungovernability of Anarchism and the Problem of Mutualism 
  • Chapter Two: A Two-Gun History of the World 
  • Chapter Three: Progress, Approximation, and the Larger Antinomy 
  • Chapter Four: Owning Up—A Two-Gun Theory of Property 
  • Chapter Five: Applying the Anarchism of Approximations
and they will be followed by several appendices including capsule biographies, bibliography, a glossary, etc.

The approach will be similar in many ways to the one I have taken at Mutualism.info, with less emphasis on trying to determine a single, correct answer to mutualism’s “frequently argued questions,” and more on clarifying the sorts of issues we will have to address to come up with adequate approximations to these questions—which, after all, mutualists in the neo-Proudhonian tradition can expect to require answering and re-answering.

But my ambitions for the book extend beyond just that sort of clarification of internal issues—and, in fact, my skepticism about “school-building” and the sort of sectarian thinking that goes with it will be front-and-center through most of the work. (I am not anti-sectarian, but prefer that we pursue those struggles in ways that don’t simply dissipate our strengths.) So there will be moments to reply to the sorts of anarchist history which have attempted to marginalize or erase mutualism—and I certainly aim to have my partisan fun with them—but the central issue for me in attempting to set the historical record straight, and return mutualism to a rather central place in that story is this:  
Anarchism as a whole it likely to benefit from that rectification. A neo-Proudhonian mutualism provides tool for the anarchist toolkit which we could really use right now, in our present struggles. 
The goal is to complete the book in 2013. We’ll see to what extent life gets in the way, but all of my recent writing has really been aimed at this project anyway, so I am hopeful. 
The fiction project is a bit peculiar, the outgrowth of my recent translation work on Louise Michel’s novels. I tinker regularly with fiction as a means of testing out anarchist theory, and it is a very important part of my process, but that sort of experimentation doesn’t necessarily lend itself to finishing anything very appealing to anyone else. However, I have had in the back of my mind for a couple of years the possibility of writing a sequel to Hartmann the Anarchist, Edward Douglas Fawcett’s 1893 novel about an anarchist who attacks London in a flying battleship straight out of Jules Verne. The novel is cursory in the characterization department, but what there is of character elaboration and development is strangely sympathetic, and from the first time I read the book it seemed to me that its anarchist characters were really crying out to have their full story told.
Recently, my interest in the questions of insurrection and propaganda by deed has developed, as I’ve been struggling to make sense of the mix of utopian and insurrectionary elements in figures like Joseph Dejacque and Louise Michel. And my interest in the feuilleton style of storytelling has increased as I have been exploring the anarchist contributions to the genre. So, in a moment no doubt containing equal parts inspiration and folly, it struck me that it might make sense to set aside my current fiction project (which will probably be easier to complete once I have gathered my thoughts for the Two-Gun Mutualism book anyway) and retell the story of Hartmann in a style reminiscent of works like Michel’s The Claque-Dents. I have a rough outline for stories that could retell the two major episodes of the original novel, and then continue on through the history of anarchist violence, and we shall see how things go.

Obviously, 2013 will also see its share of translation, including the start of serious work on the Bakunin Library, which is finally taking shape as a project. The rest of 2012 will be primarily devoted to Charles Fourier, which I expect to follow up with more work on The Claque-Dents and The Humanisphere. There may be a real decrease this year in my transcription and archiving work, but expect a fair amount of much-needed tidying in the archives. And there are several bibliographic projects very near completion, including my Annotated Bibliography of Equitable Commerce and a reader’s guide to Joshua King Ingalls which will hopefully find a spot in the work-queue.

And there will be plenty of Corvus Editions, some forming a Documentary History of Mutualism, but I don’t expect to have a real publishing plan for the year until sometime in January. 

I’ll end with just a taste of the fiction project:

Hartmann: By Deed
Book One: The Maggots of Civilization (1881-1882)
The Old Devil
“On a chair by the left-hand corner of the fire sat an elderly man apparently of the higher artisan class. His face was most unprepossessing. There was a bull-dog’s obstinacy and attachment about it, but the eyes were unspeakably wicked and the mouth hard and cruel. I diagnosed it at once as that of a man whose past was best unread, whose hand had in dark by-ways been persistently raised against his fellowmen.”—Hartmann the Anarchist
His customary seat occupied, the old man settled himself at the end of a long table, well positioned to see the front windows and door, but farther than was his preference from the rear exit. The waitresses made themselves busy on the other end of the café, and other regulars sighed, shifting as subtly as they could away. Herr Michael Schwartz took the stack of newspapers tucked under his arm, and spread them on the table in front of him. Sooner or later a waitress would arrive with his beer. He could wait.
A man who prided himself, and with some justice, on his various abilities, Schwartz was acutely aware of his single real defect. A man in his line of work should court invisibility, but he stood out in virtually any crowd, as they say, “like a sore thumb.” In the quarters which he haunted, he was like a specter of unrelenting substantiality in the midst of ghosts. Despite himself, he cut through the throngs of hustlers, sleepwalkers and madmen like a knife. The shabbiness of his overcoat only drew attention to the erectness of his stance, the directness of his passage, the uncompromising character of his features, and the vague aura of malice which surrounded him. It was not true that mud and filth of the streets drew back from his heavy workingman’s boots, but among those accustomed to his comings and goings this fact never ceased to surprise.
He began to pour methodically through his stack of newspapers, stopping now and again to circle some item. Fishing from within his overcoat some scraps of paper, he made occasional notes, each of which he folded, upon finishing, and jammed deep into the inside packet from which he had drawn the stack. All the while, he kept a general surveillance on the café, its clientele, and the street outside, scanning with a slow, deliberate motion of his head, which might have been imperceptible, had it not been that the heat of his regard struck those around him like a searchlight. So an uninformed observer might observe a sort of center of discomfort move around the room, without immediately perceiving the source of the disturbance.
Herr Schwartz worked his way through his stack of papers, as was his custom, until, close to the bottom, he encountered an item which struck him so that he laughed aloud. It was a strange laugh, loud and perhaps just a little giddy, a laugh in which a villain’s triumph was mixed with something unnerving and sad. People stared, but Schwartz did not notice. He was rapt in his reading, scribbling note after note, which he folded and shoved into his pocket. He did not laugh again, but gradually a singularly unpleasant smile developed on his face. The item fully perused, and copious notes made and stowed away, Schwartz finally once again swept his environs with that searchlight gaze, its intensity if anything redoubled. But by that time the gawkers had returned their attention to their drinks, or meals, their companions or their papers. The waitresses, who had taken his distraction as an opportunity to creep close, retreated quickly.
Back and forth, and out into the street, swept that searching regard, but without, it seems, finding what it sought. Schwartz grunted, shook himself slightly, downed the dregs of his beer, and made for the door.
The café breathed a collective sigh of relief.
“Did you see?” said the older of the waitresses. “Did you see what he was reading”?
“I didn’t dare get too close,” answered the younger, “but it was in the London papers he was reading it.”
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About Shawn P. Wilbur 2703 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.