Literature and Anarchism
Anarchism contributed conceptual, thematic, and topical contents to literature—likewise, literature contributed to anarchism as a political philosophy and practice. This chapter covers Romantic through contemporary literature emphasising English-language traditions in Europe and North America since 1790. It covers anarchist authors, such as William Godwin through to George Woodcock, as well as authors who integrated anarchist thought into literary works, like Percy Shelley, Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, John Cowper Powys, Henry Miller, Herbert Read, Robert Duncan, Jackson Mac Low, and Kathy Acker. Anarchist literary movements are included distinct from individual participants, such as the New Apocalypse and the San Francisco Renaissance, as well as non-Anglophone international literary traditions. The chapter covers authors whose depictions of anarchism shaped popular consciousness, primarily Joseph Conrad and G. K. Chesterton. The chapter also covers popular genre writing, including works by Ursula K. Le Guin, Michael Moorcock, Starhawk, and Alan Moore. How these authors, movements, and works diverge from Marxist and liberal literary traditions is discussed, including conflicts within literary criticism and literary theory. In addition to the historical relationships between anarchism and literature, the chapter considers how thematic, formal, structural, and stylistic innovations in literature relate to anarchism.
Anarchism has extensively contributed conceptual, thematic, and topical contents to literary works. Likewise, literary figures have made major contributions to anarchism as a political philosophy and practice. For example, anarchism is important to works such as Thomas Pynchon’s Seize the Day and primarily literary figures like Herbert Read have meaningfully contributed to anarchist philosophy. This chapter covers Romantic through modernist and contemporary literature in relation to anarchism with an emphasis on English-language literary traditions in Europe and North America since the 1790s. It covers literary writers who contributed to anarchist thought, such as William Godwin through to George Woodcock, as well as authors who integrated anarchist thought into their literary works, such as Percy Bysshe Shelley, Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, John Cowper Powys, Henry Miller, Robert Duncan, Jackson Mac Low, Kathy Acker, and Phyllis Webb. Anarchist literary movements are included as distinct from their individual participants, such as the New Apocalypse and the San Francisco Renaissance, as well as selected works from non-Anglophone and international literary traditions, such as novels by Albert Cossery and Arundhati Roy.
The chapter also covers authors whose depictions of or topical engagements with anarchism helped to shape popular consciousness or mainstream images of anarchism. While emphasising both literary poetry and prose, the chapter also covers popular literature and genre writing engaged with anarchism, including works by Ursula K. Le Guin, Michael Moorcock, Starhawk, and Alan Moore. Particular attention is given to the ways and moments in which these authors, movements, and works diverge from other Marxist and liberal literary traditions, including the commensurate conflicts in literary criticism and literary theory to respond to such works. In addition to the historical relationships among anarchism and literature, the chapter also considers how thematic, formal, structural, and stylistic innovations in literature have related to anarchist and antiauthoritarian paradigms, both intentionally and indirectly. A closing consideration is given to authors whose political interests turn distinctly away from anarchism but whose works are more fully understood through reference to anarchist concepts or histories.
The bonds between literature and anarchism are deep and old. This is equally true in English and other national literary traditions. Before Pierre-Joseph Proudhon’s invocation of the word ‘anarchism’, the antiauthoritarian philosophy of William Godwin found expression in his treatises such as Enquiry Concerning Political Justice and its Influence on Morals and Happiness and his novel Things as They Are; or, The Adventures of Caleb Williams. His son-in-law Percy Bysshe Shelley would pursue an akin formulation of antiauthoritarian ideas in both prose and poetry, most notably The Masque of Anarchy and The Philosophical View of Reform, both in response to the Peterloo Massacre. However, while these historical links are readily invoked, they are potentially facile. A more striking reflection of the relations among literature and anarchism is not merely instances when anarchists are invested in literary expression or writers are interested in anarchism but rather when the two are mutually influential at the level of praxis, form, and style. In the examples above, the more striking relationship is not merely that Godwin and Shelley had antiauthoritarian interests that found literary expression but instead that the contours and forms of literary expression they favoured were adapted or shaped in relation to their proto-anarchist praxis and perspectives. This is especially so with the nature of subjectivity in the Bildungsroman form, which is important to Godwin’s Caleb Williams and to Romantic notions of subjectivity in general, as are the more overtly pedagogical elements of both writers’ works. It is this entanglement of literary form and innovation with the development of various forms of anarchist thought that this chapter considers.
Historically, most studies of anarchism grant it a capacious past by gesturing to Taoist philosophy, the Levellers’ and the Diggers’ faith, and Romantics’ radicalism before the first articulation of anarchism as a political philosophy as such following with Proudhon. This dividing line is important since invocations of the ‘anarchist’ as a literary figure are only possible after the coherent articulation of anarchism as a philosophy and movement. In this sense, literary expressions of anarchism need not mention the movement nor name the concept while literary depictions of anarchism may also be profoundly opposed to liberatory politics.
The Enlightenment roots of anarchist philosophy appear in literary works by Godwin, Shelley, and Mary Wollstonecraft to varying degrees. All three also wrote critical works on liberatory politics, and the grounding of the novel of growth in the exercise of reason is as much an influence on their literary as their philosophical work. Wollstonecraft’s Maria: or, The Wrongs of Woman is not, in this sense, distinct from her A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Later writers increasingly looked to form and style rather than theme or topics for expressing anarchism as literary praxis, such as Joyce’s stream of consciousness, Duncan’s projective verse, or Read’s sense of open form.
While authors prior to the late nineteenth century are often linked with anarchism, such as Godwin and Shelley above, it is difficult to identify several major English-language writers prior to the 1890s objectively as anarchists, even where there is good reason to associate their aesthetics or politics with prototypical forms of anarchism. Woodcock identifies Peter Kropotkin’s anarchist work as the major influence behind Oscar Wilde’s essay The Soul of Man under Socialism and links it further to Wilde’s novel The Picture of Dorian Gray. While Wilde is often read in relation to the Symbolist movement, his articulation of the social role of art and his aestheticism are also readily understood through his ties to anarchism, but with the effect of giving a different interpretation. For instance, the seminal phrase ‘All art is quite useless’ that concludes Wilde’s Preface to the 1891 revision of his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray offers distinct readings. It may be taken as sincere and an indication of the Art for Art’s Sake paradigm, meaning that art serves its own purposes aesthetically rather than a social function. Nevertheless, Kropotkin’s influence on Wilde’s essay is of the same moment as Wilde’s 1890 first version of the novel, and the Preface was a later addition written in response to critiques he received—the Preface was also published prior to the revised 1891 standard version of the novel, which both cuts and expands contentious parts of the novel. In this second interpretive context, the uselessness of art signals its resistance to utility and commercial value. Art does not require a ‘use value’ in order to be art, or as Carolyn Lesjak argues, ‘the notion of pleasure in [Wilde’s] texts dovetails with notions of use versus exchange value, commodification and commodity logic, the utopian and the everyday’. The artwork itself, as well as the artist, are in this sense ‘quite useless’ not because they are without purpose or influence but rather because they do not serve another’s aims or capitalist production. Art may transform individuals, but for Wilde it resists ‘value’ as a commodity. This shifts emphasis from a single function of art to the ‘Diversity of opinion’ Wilde privileges, and this diversity implies the production of meaning localised in the individual reader as distinct from other readers or even the artist. The Soul of Man under Socialism adapts phrasing from Kropotkin and Proudhon, and Kropotkin described the essay to Robert Ross (Wilde’s close friend) as ‘that article that O. Wilde wrote on Anarchism’. Woodcock also writes of Wilde’s essay that it was ‘The most ambitious contribution to literary anarchism during the 1890s’. Hence, to look to Wilde’s satire of upper-class manners and his privileging of individual responses to the artwork is to find an expression of the anarchist ethos at work in the style and praxis of the text: a critique of forms of rule based on the inherent value of the individual.
Ruth Kinna and David Goodway both identify significant anarchist influences in William Morris’s literary and critical works of the same period as Wilde. They again do so largely through Morris’s relationship with the anarchist Kropotkin. Kinna recognises in Morris’s anti-statist socialism a paradigm more closely aligned with contemporary anarchist thought today than it would be with Marxist analysis, particularly in relation to the cultivation of the individual as a necessity of positive social relations. As Goodway argues, Morris’s more widely recognised and repeated refutation of anarchism and Kropotkin, despite remaining on friendly terms with him personally, reflects his belief that an egoistic understanding of anarchism (most likely his personal misunderstanding of Kropotkin’s theory of mutual aid) would limit the natural growth of the individual rather than nurture it. Hence, for Morris, the forms of subjectivity at the heart of his socialism are far more anarchistic and given to mutual aid than they are Marxist in our sense of these bodies of theory today. However, in English literature, the major development of anarchist or anarchist-inspired authors began in the twentieth century.
The early expressions of literary modernism in English are also caught up with anarchist thought. David Kadlec and Allan Antliff detail how Ezra Pound’s early vorticist works are entangled with anarchism and his relationship with the anarchist Gaudier-Brzeska as well as his connections with various anarchists. While Pound would soon turn to progressively fascist beliefs leading to his support for Mussolini and arrest in Italy at the end of the Second World War, anarchism remains important for reading his early career. Joyce read extensively in anarchist materials at the same time, and antiauthoritarian threads are seen in his fiction. Kadlec emphasises how this relates the sexual content of his writings to the stream of consciousness technique, both of which deeply characterise his novels A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses. Jean-Michel Rabaté has also extensively studied Joyce’s ties to the distinct through related philosophy of egoism. As distinct from psychological realism, the other function of stream of consciousness is to privilege the individual in society and to draw attention to the transformative possibilities of inner life, thereby politicising the modernist inward turn in ways distinct from its use by Fabian and feminist modernists such as Virginia Woolf or Dorothy Richardson. As Kadlec argues, in late 1914, Joyce ‘began thinking of narrative technique as a tool for combating the ravages of bourgeois morality’ and via Dora Marsden accessed Max Stirner’s egoism, both of which link his approach to the willing subject, sexuality, and obscenity, in particular the demands of desire as the predicate for subjectivity’s sense of agency. In this sense, the self or ‘I’ of Joyce’s stream of consciousness significantly differs, ‘not as the nominally insular subject to “think” but rather as the “vital” unitary stream into which thoughts are drawn’.
The Welsh writer Powys advocated for socialism and, after encountering Emma Goldman, gradually turned toward anarchist views, most concretely so in 1937 through his correspondence with Goldman about the Spanish Civil War. Powys’s very long productive writing life meant that he was among the generation preceding the high modernists but wrote most of his modernist works after its development. Goodway details through extensive archival study the development of Powys’s anarchism, ultimately expressed in his endorsement of anarchism in his most widely recognised novel A Glastonbury Romance. Powys’s anarchism is most nuanced in his later novel Porius: A Romance of the Dark Ages in which the conflict between encroaching authoritarian forms of rule and the self-care of the individual drives the plot and is articulated through the character Myrddin Wyllt. The stream of consciousness technique common across much modernist literature and often aligned with psychological realism is, hence, amenable to a different reading in Powys that extends back to its function in Joyce. Powys worked extensively on the topic in critical works about Joyce and Richardson in particular, and he held a long correspondence with Richardson.
Powys’s later correspondent Miller was already an anarchist by the time of Powys’s A Glastonbury Romance. After the publication of his own novel Tropic of Cancer, Miller entered into a correspondence with the British poet and editor Read centred on refuting the communist politics of Surrealism following the London International Surrealist Exhibition. Miller avoided explicitly self-identifying as an anarchist but frequently engaged in elliptical descriptions of ‘anarchic’ views. Anarchism finds expression in his prose style and ostensibly autobiographical mode of fiction that, like stream of consciousness (which he also employed extensively), shift attention to the individual and spontaneity held in tension with imposed forms of order or artificial constructions of authority. Although Miller rejected Joyce as an influence, he incorporated a passage of Joyce’s then ‘Work in Progress’ (Finnegans Wake) into his Tropic of Cancer and employs stream of consciousness with a similar pressure toward the ‘vitality’ of Joyce’s sense of desire driving the stream into which thoughts are drawn rather than the authoritarian imposition of a stable ego-producing thought. This led Miller to a form of post-Surrealism that was anarchist in its outlook with consciously revised automatism and widespread influence. Amy Nimr and Lawrence Durrell, who both connected with the Art et Liberté group in Egypt, were in Miller’s network around the Villa Seurat in Paris, from which he began his correspondence with Read, who subsequently made his public move to embrace anarchism. Miller associated with the artist Jean Varda in Paris, and Varda relocated to Big Sur in California, where Miller again joined him after the Second World War. From Big Sur Miller again was in contact with the San Francisco Renaissance and the Beats, having an influence on both groups. He also helped to secure publication of the translation of Albert Cossery’s novel Men God Forgot through the anarchist Circle Editions run by George Leite.
Read embraced anarchism publicly in the autumn of 1937 after supporting and speaking at the 1936 London International Surrealist Exhibition and extolling socialism. While Read’s poetry and prose are less overtly anarchist in form and style, his writing on art history emphasises the relationship between open form and anarchist thought. While his own poetry often remained faithful to traditional forms, he drew on anarchist themes and topics, particularly following the Spanish Civil War. Read’s position in the British art world allowed him to bring anarchist understandings of form and style to a much wider audience. Likewise, his editorial position at the publisher Routledge & Kegan Paul saw him support and lend his voice to many anarchist writers of a younger generation, particularly those connected to the New Apocalypse movement, such as Henry Treece. Treece published several essays identifying the driving intellectual energy of the New Apocalypse as anarchist in nature. His poetry, while now overlooked, was widely published and praised by the leading critics of his age, including T. S. Eliot, with whom he corresponded (Eliot published Treece’s poetry and a verse drama through Faber & Faber). The expression of anarchism in Treece’s poetry appears less through formal innovation than through subject matter, frequently gesturing to an ecological world beyond urban centres and to an unconscious repository of myth accessible to the individual, and hence an emphasis on Celtic themes. After the war years and time in service, Treece turned to genre fiction and a teaching career, although his books for children, his fantasy novels, and historical fictions are frequently anti-statist and attend to rural landscapes and spontaneous intimate relations among individuals outside of formalised or state-oriented structures.
In America, anarchist poetics tended more strongly toward formal experimentation. The poet Duncan identified Miller’s anarchism early on in his journal Experimental Review from Woodstock, New York, and sought to publish Miller and Durrell during the war years. Duncan’s anarchism was both explicit and expressed stylistically in his sense of projective verse and composition by field as well as in his attachment to personal relationships within a circle of authors, as manifests in his Ground Work collections. When he returned to San Francisco, he interacted extensively with the other anarchist poets Kenneth Rexroth and Kenneth Patchen and formed an anarchist reading circle that also connected to the anarchists in Big Sur. All three poets insisted on the political importance of the personal and everyday life, or as Andrew Cornell explains, ‘Because people were increasingly alienated from themselves in industrial society […] they were losing their ability to connect with and care for others’. Rexroth and Patchen were also published and promoted by Treece through the New Apocalypse in Britain, specifically their political works The Phoenix and the Tortoise and excerpts and analysis of The Journal of Albion Moonlight, respectively. All three also faced conflict with Marxist colleagues, Duncan most famously in the breakdown in his friendship with the poet Denise Levertov.
Subsequent American poets who emphasised anarchist practices include Jackson Mac Low, who met Duncan in New York in the early 1940s, but Mac Low’s later approaches to anarchism connected through John Cage with chance and indeterminacy as restrictions on the ego. As with Joyce’s and Miller’s approach to stream of consciousness setting desire as the predicate to thought falsely associated with a stabilised (or even authoritarian) notion of the ego, Mac Low employed chance and ‘diastic’ procedural methods in The Stein Poems late in his career. Like Miller’s inspiration for the post-Surrealists of the New Apocalypse, Mac Low retained the conscious shaping of chance and unconscious materials as a ways of retaining the individual’s taste and agency. Acker employed similar procedural strategies to contain the authority of the ego through cut up and pastiche with similar anarchist-inspired critical positioning of the subject and sexuality. Acker also saw her writing as work against the authoritarian forces of capitalism and patriarchy, at the heart of which is an understanding of art as praxis with meaningful action on the world grown from the opening discussion here of Wilde’s sense of art’s utility and uselessness. While distinct, her leveraging of anarchist praxis as resistance to patriarchy also relates to Duncan’s insistence on the spell-like function of a poem and his disruption of heteronormativity. The Canadian poet Webb has also embedded anarchist ideals in her sense of formal and stylistic innovations, and hence an anarchist praxis of writing. The novelist Thomas Pynchon also employs anarchism for thematic issues that drive his narrative and plot as well as for experimentation with the novel form. This appears in the ‘anarchist miracle’ of The Crying of Lot 49 and perhaps most pervasively in Gravity’s Rainbow and Against the Day, the latter of which demonstrates his profound knowledge of anarchist and syndicalist history. The Indian novelist Roy also incorporates several of the formal and stylistic traits discussed in relation with anarchism for her novel The God of Small Things.
Anarchist Literary Movements
Several of the authors above were also involved with anarchist or antiauthoritarian literary movements. While the antiauthoritarian impulse is widespread in Romanticism, it would be incorrect to conflate anarchism with Romanticism or to characterise Romanticism as a movement with anarchism. However, the New Apocalypse and New Romanticism movements in British literature of the 1930s through 1950s share a deep concern with anarchism and through explicitly anarchist aesthetics and social critiques. Post-surrealist techniques decoupled from Marxism by the New Apocalypse grew from the group’s interests in the Villa Seurat group around Miller in Paris in the 1930s. It emphasised a personalist philosophy that placed significant attention on the individual and regarded subjectivity as more than a manifestation of a material mode of production. This placed it in conflict with contemporary socialist work in connection with literature, such as the Auden group’s associations with Christopher Caudwell. The New Apocalypse was productive after the defeat of the anarchists in the Spanish Civil War and was disinclined to formal organisation or agitation, such as the Freedom Defense Committee that supported Freedom Press, and the New Apocalypse regarded itself as primarily a literary movement. It reorganised after the Second World War as the New Romanticism with much of the same conceptual motivations, including the same personalist emphasis. It grew increasingly tied to Read as an anarchist mentor, and Read had also been motivated by his correspondence with Miller during the mid-1930s and his crucial turn from socialist to anarchist advocacy. At this point, the New Romanticism connected more widely with fiction writers as its chief proponent, Treece, turned increasingly to genre fiction, including fantasy, and Mervyn Peake identified his first Gormenghast book, Titus Groan, as part of this New Romantic movement while writing the second volume, Gormenghast.
Miller returned to the United States of America during the outbreak of the Second World War, eventually settling on the West Coast in California. There, he also became involved with literary movements in America that had a significant anarchist component, including the San Francisco Renaissance and to a lesser degree the Beats. Rexroth, Duncan, and Patchen were the most prominent anarchist voices in the San Francisco Renaissance, but affiliated figures such as Leite moved between San Francisco and the anarchist group in Big Sur. Rexroth’s collection The New British Poets includes and emphasises the New Apocalypse poets, and Leite’s periodical Circle published work by both Rexroth and Duncan. The Canadian writer Elizabeth Smart moved between the same groups with the British poet George Barker, who was also affiliated loosely with the New Apocalypse group in Britain. Leite also published work by the Egyptian anarchist novelist Cossery in Circle and the translation of The Men God Forgot. The connections among these disparate groups is important, and Cossery’s activity in the Egyptian Art et Liberté group also connects back to Miller: Durrell was part of Miller’s Villa Seurat Group in the 1930s, and Amy Smart (née Nimr) had resided in the Villa Seurat and met Miller before returning to Egypt where she was part of Art et Liberté and hosted its exhibitions in her salon. The amenability of the Art et Liberté artists to a rapprochement between anarchism and Marxism came partly from their independence from colonial narratives of centre and periphery, and the critique of Marxism to value the individual in their manifestos is remarkable given its coinciding with the Trotsky-Breton ‘Manifesto for an Independent Revolutionary Art’.
Depictions of Anarchism and Anarchists
Depictions of anarchism and anarchists have significantly shaped both public opinion and literary consciousness. Three works are dominant in this respect: Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent, Henry James’s The Princess Cassamassima, and G. K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday. Conrad’s novel was especially important in popularising the notion of the anarchist and anarchism through the bomb-flinging misfit divorced from reason or social consciousness. As Jesse Cohn argues, these works ‘cement the public perception of anarchists as pathologically violent miscreants…. [and i]ndelibly associated with lunacy and criminal violence, turned into fodder for thrilling novels, the anarchist movement was in danger of becoming permanently estranged from the working classes whose cause it championed’. From Conrad’s irredeemable figure of the anarchist as a bomb-maker and the manslaughter of Stevie in the novel as a figure of sentimental pathos, other kindred depictions of anarchism have spread in popular media, although some critics have sought to reconcile agency with the novel’s problematic depiction of anarchism. These stereotypes of the anarchist are reinforced by popular media linking Leon Czolgosz’s assassination of President William McKinley and Gavrilo Princip’s assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria as anarchist acts, although Czolgosz was not associated with nor accepted by any anarchist groups and Princip’s assassination was coordinated through the nationalist Black Hand. Despite this, both are ubiquitously presented as anarchist assassins much in line with Conrad’s literary figure.
Later depictions of anarchism and anarchists differ in some respects and shift popular consciousness in a new direction. Chuck Palahniuk’s novel Fight Club presented anarchism in a potentially sympathetic light as anti-corporate and anti-capitalist, thereby restoring part of its social aims to popular awareness. However, the trend is toward silencing or euphemising anarchism in mainstream media or otherwise generalising it in a modern sense akin to Conrad, James, and Chesterton. The film adaptation of Fight Club and V for Vendetta largely elide anarchism.
While anarchism may manifest in the praxis, style, or form of literature, it has also shaped the concerns of popular writers, some of whom move between the ostensibly mainstream and ‘art’ readerships. As was already noted, Peake identified his popular Gormenghast novels with the anarchist New Romanticism movement. The novels contrast stratified social classes in conflict but establish the reader’s sympathies with the hereditary ruler of the castle Gormenghast, Titus Groan, while presenting his antagonist Steerpike, from the lower classes, as a fascistic villain. The tendency across the novels is to present ritual and tradition as ossifying forces of arbitrary authority inimical to the more flexible rhythms of the natural world outside the built environment. The characters come to experience selfhood by resistance against these arbitrary systems of domination, for Titus by refuting his birthright and fleeing the castle, while others become mere operations of the caste or ritual by pursuing domination over others or power. The novels rival J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings in establishing the fantasy genre and hold a strong position in the popular readership, with politically engaged authors such as Miéville and Moorcock identifying and preferring Peake as a predecessor in the genre.
Treece, who championed the New Apocalypse movement in poetry and wrote extensively on anarchism in poetry and literary study, moved increasingly to popular fiction genres after the Second World War, most likely for financial reasons but also as an adjunct to his teaching post. Treece popularised historical fiction and prehistoric fiction, frequently pairing a novel for children with a novel for adults, as in his Legions of the Eagle with The Dark Island or The Golden Strangers with Men of the Hills—both the adult and juvenile forms of each narrative contain anarchist themes without identification as such, which differs from his earlier poetry and critical writings. A persistent theme in Treece is the murder or foul death of kings who do little to improve the lives of their subjects (almost always hindering or harming their natural lives), or occasionally the abandonment of authority by a ruler to seek out a rural and spontaneous life without imposed forms of authority. Treece is often more insistent on antiauthoritarian themes in his versions of books for children than he is in his adult fantasy and historical fiction, suggesting that as with several other authors in this chapter, he saw praxis and form in the Cold War context as more convincing and influential locations for anarchism than in overtly pedagogical or critical discussions.
The most recognised anarchist popular fiction is Le Guin’s The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia, which presents an anarchist protagonist negotiating cultural tensions between the planet Urras (with capitalist and communist nations in a state of perpetual conflict) and the moon Anarres (with an anarchist community that continually renegotiates the nature of anarchism in power relations against the tendency to perpetuate arbitrarily or to naturalise relations). Le Guin’s sense of anarchism is also implicit, and perhaps more pervasive, in her Earthsea fantasy novels, which do not name anarchism but extensively engage with problems of authority, naming, domination, identity, desire, and spontaneity that are productively understood though anarchism. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed is in her Hainish Cycle of novels and stories, which have provoked significant scholarly commentary-based matters of gender, sexuality, and utopianism. The libertarian novelist Robert A. Heinlein, one of the Big Three science fiction novelists of the Golden Age of Science Fiction (meaning one of the three most influential and profitable authors in the genre), dedicated his late novel Friday in part to Le Guin and wrote a potentially anarchist parable in his short story and later serialised novel published in book form as The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress. While libertarianism and anarchism have similarities, their respective emphases on individualism and/or egoism differ significantly. Heinlein’s quasi-anarchist popular narrative in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress had a significant impact on the genre and readership, but his subsequent works present problematic differences, such as the leadership role attained by dominant or dominating personalities and a naturalisation of capitalist systems of exchange in which superior attributes are granted to those with greater fiscal domination over others.
Moorcock openly recounts his influence from and friendships with Treece and Peake or the New Apocalypse writers in general, depicting these as formative relationships fostering his popular writing in the fantasy genre. Moorcock went on to write prefaces to republications of Treece’s novels and actively supported (or even championed) the republication and popular return to Peake and Treece. While he acknowledges the tension between writing primarily in a genre (fantasy) with kings and queens while being an anarchist opposed to arbitrary and unnatural relations of power, Moorcock also integrates anarchist themes into his popular writings. This is most overt in his novel Gloriana; or the Unfulfill’d Queen, which he revised to alter significantly its ending. The crux of the novel, conceptually, is that the ruler Gloriana is dominated by her arbitrary role as ruler as much as she dominates others, and she seeks to free herself from this constraint. The central conceit of the novel is that insofar as Gloriana is the Nation, she is anorgasmic. This drives a falsification of identity and an arbitrary notion of rulership that is only overcome in the novel through the refutation of systems of rule and an embracing of the libidinal role of desire in organising concepts of subjectivity. This is to say, Gloriana only becomes self-possessed through embracing the drive of desire and refusing the demands of ‘Others’, with the fact of desire subverting the authoritarian imposition of normative social values. The kinship between this notional sense of anarchism and Joyce, Powys, Millers, and Acker is significant and also direct, with Moorcock relating his own works back to Powys, Joyce, and Miller, as influences and forward toward the concerns central to Acker and Duncan.
The author Starhawk (Miriam Simos) presses anarchist concerns against ecological and New Age paradigms, stressing a spontaneous set of relations. Her popular novels and New Age books emphasise a relationship with nature or wilderness that accentuates the ‘wild’ as not random but rather as a connectedness, implying a relational ontology between the world itself and the linguistically endowed peoples who will rely on an asymmetrical organisation of power placing themselves above (and in domination over) nature or their received environments. Alan pursues a more overtly anarchist project in his comics and novels. Moore’s belief in anarchism is most overt in his early comics series, V for Vendetta, where anarchism as a political philosophy is discussed extensively and drives the tension between the anti-fascist terrorist V. and the antiauthoritarian Evey. Moore eventually presents a form of antiauthoritarian anarchism in Evey that eschews violence, by paralleling the terrorist V. with the fascistic leader Adam Susan. However, Moore later moves anarchism from a thematic and topical discussion in his texts to a formal operation, such as in his novel Jerusalem that gestures back to an anarchist Romanticism connected with William Blake. David Weir sees this move to anarchist aesthetics and form in relation to modernism as typifying a depoliticisation of anarchism. In Weir’s paradigm, anarchism succeeds as a formal innovation rather than as a political philosophy, but this critique is limited by the anarchist understanding and privileging of praxis, which would present Moore far more as a populariser of the ethos of anarchist sensibilities than as a voice of reactionary consolation. Kim Stanley Robinsons’ Mars Trilogy also attained a canonical status in Science Fiction Studies while engaging in anarchist themes. While Robinson has predominantly aligned himself with Marxist social critiques, he has remained open to anarchist paradigms, and he addresses antiauthoritarian values extensively in his Mars Trilogy.
Anarchism and Other Writers
Distinct from the issues covered so far, there are also authors whose works are more adeptly read with a familiarity with anarchism despite their own distinct political orientation. As has already been argued, William Morris’s novels at the end of the nineteenth century express anarchistic views even while his critical writings voice reservations or refutations of anarchist politics based on his socialist conceptualisation of the individual and his or her self-development as an essential part of the functioning of society. Kinna summarises Morris’s fraught relationship with anarchism: ‘Morris seemed to know that he was not an anarchist, without realizing why’. Hence, Morris presents a critical view of society that rejects the state and concentrations of power that express domination as authority. Morris would have regarded statist power as a cause for the capitalist concentration of wealth, while he at the same time envisioned the creative individual in an antiauthoritarian series of social relations that minimise selfishness. The crux, however, is that Morris may be more beneficially read with an understanding of anarchism in mind, regardless of Morris’s own affiliations at the time of writing the given work.
George Orwell is often misrepresented in popular consciousness as opposing socialism, though scholarly work ubiquitously recognises his support for democratic socialism. Orwell was linked to the anarchists when he served in the Spanish Civil War and was later good friends with the anarchists Woodcock and Alex Comfort, though he criticised their pacifism during the Second World War. His essay Inside the Whale is often read as a dispute with Auden’s support of the communists in the Spanish Civil War, but the largest portion of the work is concerned with Miller’s anarchism (euphemistically referred to as ‘defeatism’ and ‘quietism’, both of which were common gestures to anarchism at the time) with Auden only adjunct. While Orwell was a democratic socialist, several of his works are beneficially read with an awareness of his familiarity with anarchist thought.
It is difficult to read Muriel Spark’s novels without taking into consideration her connections to anarchist thought through Derek Stanford, detailed in his The Freedom of Poetry and Inside the Forties. While Spark may have been troubled by the former title, which shares details of their personal life, she developed her views in conflict with Stanford’s anarchism, and their respective differences on the conceptualisation of subjectivity and the meaningfulness of the sole individual’s protest remained divergent, yet this anarchist frame expands the nature of several of her caustic critiques, particularly The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and The Girls of Slender Means. Approaching a text such as Elizabeth Smart’s By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept is also improved by familiarity with her time spent with Jean Varda in Paris and later in Varda’s commune in California with Miller, where she also met Rexroth and engaged with his anarchism circle. Durrell, who introduced Smart to her lover Barker (ostensibly the lover in the novel), is also productively read through his connections to several anarchists, particularly his use of ambiguity to privilege the reader’s antiauthoritarian construction of meaning and his critique of capitalism and contractual obligation in his novels Tunc and Nunquam.
Interpreting Anarchism and Literary Theory
Reading anarchist authors, anarchist aesthetics or praxis, and depictions of anarchists and anarchism are often complicated by the dominant or habitual methodologies in mainstream literary scholarship. The New Criticism, insofar as it has been critiqued as a depoliticised and even conservative tendency in literary criticism, presents a major obstacle in that anarchist aesthetics will be read through this paradigm without recourse to their political context. This entails not only a depoliticised reading of the textual content in relation to literary tradition and form but also an excision of the ways anarchism often shapes attitudes toward subjectivity, identity, the construction of meaning, and challenges to inherited rather than negotiated traditions. The antiauthoritarian nature of anarchist work directly eschews the imposed reading methodology of the New Criticism, which intrinsically values an inherited (and therefore imposed, arbitrarily) literary tradition (authority) without recognising the potential for spontaneous and evanescent traditions or relations among texts. The prominence and ubiquity of New Critical reading methodologies thus tends to elide anarchism from literary texts in which it plays an important topical, formal, or allusive role.
The most significant challenge to reading anarchism in literature comes from the second most prevalent methodology in literary studies, critical theory. As a materialist paradigm rooted in Marxist methods that orient attention to social conflicts predicated on class conflict, the potential to recognise the social element of anarchist and related literature is significant. Yet, many of the most widely adopted streams of critical theory and Marxist literary study are hostile to anarchist perspectives on subjectivity and political action. This can lead to oversights or potential misrepresentations of anarchist materials in criticism. Examples in relation to the authors discussed in this chapter include Fredric Jameson’s responses to Le Guin and his categorisation of pre-capitalist utopianism for Tolstoy as ‘regressive’. This specific stream of Marxist analysis argues for anarchist politics as reactionary and conservative. It can also lead to Santesso’s misunderstanding of anarchism’s antiauthoritarian philosophy as fundamentally fascist and authoritarian or provoke critical disputes that represent anarchist subjectivities and antiauthoritarian values as inherently outdated and deriving from a historical past episteme, as in Samuel Delany’s rebuttal of Le Guin’s anarchist science fiction novel The Dispossessed in his own novel Trouble on Triton and again as a critical argument in his essay ‘To Read The Dispossessed’. In relation to the popular literature discussed above, and especially its analyses of genre, the prevalence and near ubiquity of Marxist criticism in Science Fiction Studies has deeply shaped the field in its definitional critical projects, and the limitations this approach places on genre and specific authors is recognised by the critic-novelist China Miéville. Psychoanalytic methodologies also have a complex relationship with anarchism, with post-anarchist thought adopting poststructuralist concepts from Jacques Lacan in ways that may be read as related to Joyce’s, Miller’s, and Powys’s uses of stream of consciousness in relation with desire. However, Jameson’s Marxist revision of Lacan in The Political Unconscious runs contrary to these psychoanalytic methods, stressing the materialist origins of subjectivity and hence the origin of such methodologies or notions themselves in a bourgeois mode of production, only the transformation of which could alter modes of consciousness.
Anarchism and literature have a long, richly entangled history. While authors for whom anarchist ideas help to approach their works and non-anarchist authors who represent anarchism are important for literary study, the relations among anarchism and literature are most productive when literature expands anarchist understanding or when anarchism prompts literary development. The exploration of anarchist themes through plot or narration was predominantly before the twentieth century, but with the rise of modernism, an anarchist sense of literary form, technique, and style became increasingly important. A distinct anarchist poetics follows, particularly in American poetry. Likewise, the distribution of anarchism in popular literature shapes many critical discussions around genre and makes anarchist attitudes and forms of thought available to readerships that might otherwise be averse to the name of anarchism. Anarchism also runs contrary to some of the most widely adopted and promulgated forms of literary scholarship and reading, hence it is vulnerable to misrepresentation or antagonistic interpretations.
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