and fellow bibliophiles, at recent Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, getting pretty inspired, grateful, just plain happy during Gary Snyder's chat with David L. Ulin, book reviewer and, as it happens, contributor to current Santa Monica Review. Among many topics, the poet whose youth charged up so many, whose writing and politics influenced the policy decisions of a state and its then-governor (one Jerry Brown) and the California Arts Commission and so many college lit class syllabi, Synder mentioned, joyfully, anarchism, of all things. If he'd had longer he would no doubt have elaborated on lumbermen and other backwoods hobo I.W.W. "Wobblies" and the once-active everyday embrace of mutual aid and, you bet, industrial sabotage and standing in solidarity against the bosses. Still, it was just enough, that brief allusion, what with the Buson and the Beats and saving the American Southwest from coal-burning power plants and reading his own latest, and newest work, collected in an edition titled, charmingly, This Present Moment.
I don't do much to avoid a segue, friends. In fact, it seems that if you are paying attention even a little bit, they just pop up atcha. Not even sure if Snyder calls himself an anarchist, but it all makes sense. So imagine how pleased I was to learn of the upcoming and first-ever anarchist book fair in our funny little county. Snyder's apparent fondness for collectivist anarchism, for eco-anarchism by way of Buddhism and the Beats and the "old ways" of Native America was clear even in his brief mention, but even that single reference caused a little electric wave to pass through the audience of perhaps five hundred at USC, of all places. Funny what people know, expect, anticipate of the Big A. Maybe for me, too. At any rate, this week's post is all about taking the opportunity to invite and promote, to suggest a couple of texts, and to esteem both the new and the old, which Synder seemed, once again, to insist upon by way of making history and politics and ideas urgent and important and real and human.
Cuz they are, of course, and no less so than in recent weeks where police violence, institutional class and racist violence, resource mismanagement and "accidental" drone-murder all sort of begged for something more than reaction or reactionary government, media, institutional responses. And yet we also saw some of the best of mass grassroots activism, empathy, curiosity, demands and humanity. And, oh yeah, a Socialist announcing his run for the presidency of our benighted nation, mostly to mess with the corporate candidates everybody knows are bought and paid for and, worse, aren't even real people, not since Ronald Reagan. And also, of course, to interrupt the awful gabfest about the horse race and, if I know Bernie Sanders, elevate the discourse, the volume, the hope.
Locally, organizers of the upcoming OC Anarchist Bookfair have made it all happen through a collective, natch. One member offers a nice working definition of somebody's idea of anarchism in their press release: "To me, anarchism represents the very best parts of humanity while still being able to adjust for our faults."
Seems like a good place to start, or restart. The day-long wing-ding in Santa Ana includes panel discussions, breakout workshop sessions and keynote speakers, as any get-together, except that topics considered include "Deconstructing Anarchism," "Feminist Activism in Grassroots Spaces," The Non-Profit Industrial Complex" and "Anarchists vs. ISIS." (My favorite, though I am also hoping for one called "Anarchists vs. IKEA.")
Then, how about jumping right into the Situationists, with The Revolution of Everyday Life by Raul Vaneigem and, for more of those crazy-wonderful French political art collectivists of '68, his pal Guy Debord, author of the classic Society of the Spectacle. And, for an incredibly readable survey, which puts The Ideal (cuz that's what it's called) in historical, philosophical, political context there's British graphic artist Clifford Harper's fun illustrated version Anarchy: A Graphic Guide and the bounteous and comprehensive
Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism by Peter Marshall.
It begins with theory, then on to philosophical roots, surveys European and American thinkers, then considers classics from Godwin to Proudhon to Emma to Gandhi, some of our favorites. The second half is a look at "Anarchism in Action" with experiments in Spain, the US, the Provos, on and on if ending, alas before Occupy but certainly anticipating it. Marshall is a terrific storyteller and, with short chapters, you can open the book anywhere and be engaged. His conclusion nicely complements this Saturday's OC organizers' definition.
In one sense, anarchism is utopian in that it imagines the world as it could be. But it is also realistic in that it conserves and develops ancient traditions of self-help and mutual aid and profound libertarian tendencies with society.
Anarchism, "The Ideal," has of course been made to look ridiculous, attacked or ignored, demonized in cartoon caricature, largely written out of standard history, if not Howard Zinn and other Lefty historians' work. Here's a chance to claim part of an intellectual and emotional, political and cultural heritage which belongs to you, to me, to all of us. Did I mention Voltairine de Cleyre, Victor Serge, Murray Bookchin, Kropotkin, Thoreau, Tolstoy, Zapata, Ursula LeGuin...?
They'll all be there, as will I.
Orange County Anarchist Book Fair
Saturday, May 16, 10 am- 10 pm.
El Centro Cultural de Mexico
313 N. Birch St. Santa Ana 92701
Free! Of course.
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Andrew Tonkovich edits the West Coast literary arts journal Santa Monica Review and returns in late spring 2015 to hosting the weekly books show Bibliocracy Radio on KPFK 90.7 FM in Southern California.