2015-16

I’ll admit a fairly deep ambivalence about 2015. On the one hand, it was supposed to be the year when I cleared my desk of a stack of book projects, while, in the end, only one of those projects got wrapped up. On the other hand, that project turned into something much more interesting than I had originally envisioned, and all the other delays really come from the same source—me getting my ideas in order and growing into my role as a historian and anthologist. I set myself a challenge last year, that none of the works would go to the publishers until they really said something and stood a chance of addressing real, present-day concerns. It turned out to be a greater challenge than perhaps I thought it would be, but I couldn’t be happier with the results (however frustrated I might be with the pace sometimes.)

I did contribute to two published books this year:

  • The World War of Small Pastries, a selection from Charles Fourier’s The New Amorous World, appeared from Autonomedia. The translation, by Joan Roelofs and myself, with an introduction by Peter Lamborn Wilson was published to coincide with an art exhibit on food. The episode is pure Fourier, in that it starts with a “world war” in the form of a massive cooking contest and ends with an orgy. It’s a wonderful little tale and it provides useful insights into the mechanisms by which Harmony was to provide for the varied needs of all its citizens.
  • Den Staat zerschlagen! Anarchistische Staatsverständnisse, part of Nomos’ series on theories of the State, also appeared, with a German version of my essay “Pierre-Joseph Proudhon: Self-Government and the Citizen-State” among the chapters. The weakness of my German doesn’t let me say much more about the work, except that it is well put together and the presence of Wolfgang Eckhardt, Uri Gordon and editor Peter Seyferth among the contributors is certainly promising.

But neither of those publications have quite the individual significance for me of the forthcoming publication of Anarchy and the Sex Question: Essays on Women and Emancipation, 1896–1917, my Emma Goldman anthology for PM Press.  The book is set for August 2016 release, and you can get a peek at the cover on PM’s site. Here’s the blurb:

For Emma Goldman, the “High Priestess of Anarchy,” anarchism was “a living force in the affairs of our life, constantly creating new conditions,” but “the most elemental force in human life” was something still more basic and vital: sex.

“The Sex Question” emerged for Goldman in multiple contexts, and we find her addressing it in writing on subjects as varied as women’s suffrage, “free love,” birth control, the “New Woman,” homosexuality, marriage, love, and literature. It was at once a political question, an economic question, a question of morality, and a question of social relations.

But her analysis of that most elemental force remained fragmentary, scattered across numerous published (and unpublished) works and conditioned by numerous contexts. Anarchy and the Sex Question draws together the most important of those scattered sources, uniting both familiar essays and archival material, in an attempt to recreate the great work on sex that Emma Goldman might have given us. In the process, it sheds light on Goldman’s place in the history of feminism.

This is one of two book projects based on Corvus Editions pamphlets, and the nearly three years it has taken to bring work that was (in a limited sense) already published to the point of more mainstream publication has been the time it has taken me to transition from simply being a supplier of the raw materials of radical history to being a historical anthologist in a serious sense. But that transition has been complicated by the other book commissioned on the same day as the Goldman anthology, Anarchist Beginnings: Declarations and Professions of Faith, 1840-1920, a work that has essentially forced me to rethink my entire understanding of anarchism.

Anarchist Beginnings (based on the Anarchisms pamphlets, and originally called Anarchies and Anarchisms) has been a tiger-by-the-tail project from the beginning, and even now, as I am hopefully wrapping up the introduction, it continues to pose challenges in every paragraph. It started out as a grab-bag of introductory texts and has gradually turned into a sort of primer on how to grapple with the most essential sort of anarchist practice—the ever-present necessity of applying the simple, but elusive idea of anarchy to a constantly changing set of conditions in everyday life. Along the way, of course, I also had to learn a lot about the historical development of anarchist terminology, which led me to propose a distinction between the “Era of Anarchy” and the “Era of Anarchism,” as well as forcing me to confront just how ungovernable the notion of anarchy (or an-archie) was in the works of Proudhon (and arguably Bakunin as well.) In the end, as I’ve noted elsewhere, I had to do a lot of the research for two additional books—Anarchism, Plain and Simple, the theoretical work on “anarchism without adjectives,” and Anarchy in All its Senses, the historical exploration of Proudhon’s lexicon—before I could clarify my thoughts about this one.

Ambivalence. Love/Hate. It has been a really magnificent couple of years working through all of this, marked by some months of staring at texts and feeling pretty dumb for knowing that I was missing something, but not being able to say quite what, as well as by more than a few moments of deep-down loneliness, feeling like I was finally getting just a bit of a handle on this anarchy thing, but not feeling like mine was a vision anyone else was very interested in sharing. Fortunately, I’ve been working too darn hard to spare too much energy to the down moments, pulling together the lessons of the varied phases of my scholarly career.  And accomplishment is a good feeling.

The bottom line is that I had about seven manuscripts that I hoped to finish in 2015. I finished one, and that feels a bit lame. But I made steady progress on everything else—and in every case my general progress has resulted in improvements to the projects. So, let’s move all the remainder to “new business,” and quickly run where things are as we open 2106.


The Bakunin Library: The translations for the Bakunin Reader are nearly done. Alexander Reid Ross has been my collaborator on one of the key texts, and nobody will be surprised to hear that we have both been a bit distracted in recent months. But, even so, the hard parts of getting two translators on the same page are done, I think, and it’s really just up to me to finish the introduction. My initial outline attempted to do too much, I think, and I’ve been making adjustments. A discussion of the previous translations of Bakunin’s work has been moved to the intro for a new edition of God and the State, which will feature that classic text, Max Nettlau’s translation of its continuation and some other goodies, including some discussion of the other 1880s English translation, which I recently tracked down on microfilm. As I’m finishing those manuscripts, I’ll also be finishing the translation for two further volumes of the Library: 

  • 1864-66: “Principles and Organization of the International Revolutionary Society” (the “Revolutionary Catechism,” etc), together with the “Fragments concerning Freemasonry” (which anticipates many of the concerns of “Federalism, Socialism, Anti-Theologism”) and perhaps also an earlier “catechism.”
  • 1867-68: “Federalism, Socialism, Anti-Theologism,” together with Bakunin’s speeches from the League of Peace and Liberty, correspondence, etc.

The Collectivism Reader is coming along nicely, particularly as we don’t intend to publish it until we’re a good ways into the Bakunin volumes. In fact, the research has unearthed so much good material, that I’m contemplating moving some of it to a reader on “anarchism without adjectives.”

Translating Bakunin’s French works continues to be a pleasure, and I feel confident that I’ll be very well acquainted with his style and ideas by the time I turn to completing the major works. And the specific difficulties associated with the Russian texts are things that we are getting worked out now.


The Proudhon Library: 2016 will almost certainly see an English translation of The Philosophy of Progress added to the stack of completed manuscripts. That work has, of course, been available in my revised translation for several years, but I’m fairly close to finishing up some related work from the Economy manuscripts, and together the two texts make an excellent introduction to Proudhon’s method. Next in line is probably The Celebration of Sunday, which will be supplemented by writings relating to the Suard Pension. And I have started my way through The General Idea of the Revolution in the 19th Century, retranslating as I go. How quickly that new edition comes together probably depends on how many new questions are raised by the process, and by the various draft writings now available in manuscript form. That leaves my translations of Arguments Presented to the Public Prosecutor on the Right of Property and The Theory of Property to be wrestled into publishable form, but in both cases there are manuscript writings to be translated first. The Arguments originally included an unpublished section that needs to be restored, and The Theory of Property should be reunited with Political Geography and Nationality, of which it originally formed the final chapter. I suspect it may be 2017 before this project really builds up a head of steam, but I’m pleased to be getting things started this year.


The Max Nettlau Project: I’m going to have a chance to introduce a new printing of Nettlau’s Short History of Anarchy and am hoping to put together a first collection of his theoretical writings this year, but the logistics of collecting those works is a little complicated. In the meantime, I’ll be chipping away at a translation and annotation of his Bibliography of Anarchy, with the hope of making that the core of a larger bibliographical project. The Responsibility, Solidarity, Strategy blog will become a blog for that project, with the work on anarchism without adjectives being incorporated into Contr’un. Again, this may largely be an exploratory year, but Nettlau’s work figures in a prominent way in my long-term plans.


La Frondeuse, etc.: One of the disappointments of this year was that I had less time to spend on feminist history projects, beyond the work on Anarchy and the Sex Question. My translation of Jenny d’Héricourt’s Woman Emancipated remains tantalizingly close to finished and I’ve made only a tiny bit of progress on various Louise Michel-related projects. What I have done is quite a bit more reading in the available histories and I have added some key texts to my own library. The bright side is that this year the very elite ranks of the Jenny P. d’Héricourt Fan Club have been increased by at least one, as my friend and comrade Michelle Campbell has taken on some new translation.

Expect more on this front in 2016. I have been asked for an Emma Goldman/Voltairine de Cleyre collection, as a follow-up to Anarchy and the Sex Question. I’m back at work on Woman Emancipated and some of Louise Michel’s fiction. And if the planned print-on-demand project for Corvus Editions does get rolling, the Lizzie Holmes Library is pretty close to the top of that stack.


Corvus Editions: Ask me again in a few weeks. Last year was a thoroughly demoralizing disaster, and I have some supporters to make it up to, but I expect that something will rise again from the ashes by the summer zine and book fairs.


Other book projects:

  • Koenigstein, Translated: The Prison Writings of Ravachol needs one more rewrite of the introduction, and I will probably add a couple more letters, just for the sake of being as complete as possible.
  • I have revised most of my translation of Joseph Déjacque’s The Humanisphere and scrapped a couple of introductions, so, honestly, I’m just waiting for a bit of inspiration at this point. It is a very strange, frustrating book, and maybe I shouldn’t pass it on to you all, officially and in print, until I’ve made my peace with it a bit more.

That leaves a number of projects which are on no fixed timetable. The material piling up on Relics of Saint-Ravachol will eventually reach critical mass, and I’ll have something to say or to publish about anarchism and violence. Some day or another The Great Atercratic Revolution will find its moment, but probably not until after I’ve published some stepping-stones towards it. I expect that 2016 will tie up some threads that have been dangling in my various projects for a long time, but I don’t imagine I won’t dangle some new ones. With any luck, much of the year to come will be spent clarifying the explorations of the year that just ended, and works like Anarchist Beginnings and Anarchism, Plain and Simple should mark fairly significant milestones in the work that’s been unfolding here on the blog for more than a decade now. Here’s hoping, anyway…

1 Comment

  1. Shawn,
    I really hope inspiration strikes soon and “The Humanisphere” works its way again to the top of your pile…I know that the interest in it and the demand for it are strong!

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