Ekberg's research is impressive and practically unparalleled, and Ekberg himself is one of if not the most prolific writers on the colonial MississippEkberg's research is impressive and practically unparalleled, and Ekberg himself is one of if not the most prolific writers on the colonial Mississippi Valley, particularly Missouri and Illinois. His racial and class analysis however, are appalling absent or terrible. Ekberg even at times insists that race didn't place a part in the slave master relationship.
This and other of Ekberg's work are good sources for understanding early European settlements in Missouri and Illinois.
I'm slowly realizing there's dozens of picture books for kids about the Underground Railroad. Though I've only read a few, Sweet Clara and the FreedomI'm slowly realizing there's dozens of picture books for kids about the Underground Railroad. Though I've only read a few, Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt is so far one of my favorites.
I've been thinking lately about how to talk to young children about race, slavery, and police (not necessarily with any unique insight) and this seems like it might be one of the better books to start with (though in general I find most plots in children's stories to be too upsetting for the age range like, Oh no your mom's gone! or, your best friend doesn't want to talk to you anymore! and elements of this book fall into that at times: Clara being separated from her mother, grueling slave work, etc.) I thought the story had a good balance of taking the subject seriously but not necessarily being as upsetting or graphic as other picture books on the subject.
I liked how Sweet Clara touches on the different parts of the plantation hierarchy and common roles people played. Very little of the dynamics are gotten into but this leaves room for inquisitive young minds to ask more.
I liked too the subtle way ideas were debated and spread amongst slaves—both mundane and subversive ones like running away. The story also points to some sort of idea around individual acts of resistance carrying a collective worth and meaning and how they can inspire others to act.
My two favorite parts:
The feeling of enacting your desires and fantasies Hopkinson describes when Clara and Jack finally set off for freedom, “It was like being in a dream you already dreamed.” The line also struck me as that youthful, surreal feeling of breaking the rules and getting away with it—sometimes being surprised by how easy it is.
And I cried when Clara is reunited with her mother who agrees to run away with her, and then when Clara thinks back about her aunt who raised her who was too weak to make the journey. She says she will stay behind and show others the quilt Clara made which is a map to freedom—a crucial role in itself.
Herman Perry was a black GI during World War II forced to work building the Ledo Road—a 465 mile supply road from British occupied India throuOverview
Herman Perry was a black GI during World War II forced to work building the Ledo Road—a 465 mile supply road from British occupied India through the jungles and mountains of Burma to Chiang Kai-shek's China (an ally of the U.S. against Japan) that took the length of the war to finish and had a 50% or higher mortality for its builders. The actual construction of the road was left to black GIs and local indentured servants from India and Burma whose ranks were continuous thinned by malaria and dysentery, tigers, Japanese snipers, poisonous snakes, humidity and 100+ degree heat, festering leech wounds, 16+ hours a day of grueling, dangerous work, and (though not mentioned in the book, but I assume) suicide. As for the road itself, it was continuously washed away by monsoons with months of construction where only road was lost, not gained. Within a year or two of the war ending the road was impassable having been taken back over by the jungle.
After six months of working in this hell, a stay or two in the army hospital and stockade, and having developed a weed and opium habit, Perry refused to work. After a day or two of this, Military Police came to send him back to the stockade. This is when Perry snapped, ending in him killing a lieutenant who was trying to arrest him.
After doing so, Perry fled into the Jungle, eventually living amongst and being hidden by a local tribe. (I'll get into more details of this below, but for the sake of the story I won't tell how this played out in this section for those who don't want it spoiled).
Though this book overall seems to concentrate more on the Ledo road itself (which I found interesting) than Perry, it does also shed light on—to limited degrees—the segregation of the U.S. military during World War II (and tensions that at times boiled over into riots and refusals to work), the governing of China during the war, the Naga peoples of Northern India/ Burma and British colonialism in (mainly) north-eastern India. These last two points (particularly Koerner's treatment of the Naga tribes) are where my biggest criticism of the text lie.
Details with Spoilers: The rest of this review is a summation of the parts I found most interesting.
Military Jim Crow and Training Camp Unrest
At the start of World War II the U.S. government deemed its black population unfit for combat—a policy it would continue for the vast majority of its African-American troops throughout the war. Citing science and plain common sense, black draftees were instead trained and sent to do grueling manual labor (under the supervision of white officers).
From the get-go it seems people resented the Jim Crow structure of the military. Shortly after the U.S.'s entry into the war, a group formed in Chicago called Conscientious Objectors Against Jim Crow while editorials in black-run newspapers decried the war saying “the war in Europe means nothing to the Negro” and that no African-Americans should have to serve “in an army that segregates him and his fellow black conscripts as thought they were lepers.” Other critics pointed out that “there are no separate units for American Chinese*, Filipinos, Hungarians, Poles, Swedes, Italians, etc.”
The reality of segregated training camps was terrible. According to Koerner, “Rather than learning how to kill or outwit Nazis, black draftees instead found themselves peeling potatoes and scrubbing toilets. They were housed in the shabbiest barracks and fed cold or putrid food—scraps deemed unfit for white consumption. At camps that doubled as prisons for captured Germans, blacks were appalled to discover how their treatment compared to that accorded to the prisoners of war. At Mississippi's Camp McCain, for example, African American GIs fumed over the fact that the base's 7,700 German prisoners were allowed to use the superior whites-only latrines and drinking fountains, and were served relatively high-quality meals of roast pork and potato salad.” Perry and other black GIs around the same time were being fed largely of bread and water.
“At Camp Wheeler, Georgia, meanwhile, blacks had to awaken at 5:30 a.m.—an hour earlier than everyone else—and clean toilets in the white barracks. At Camp Forest, Tennessee, MPs wielding Tommy guns forcibly removed blacks from the base's whites-only theater. And in Arizona, farmers struck a deal with the War Department to use members of the African American 93rd Division as unpaid cotton pickers.”
Resentment and rage soon boiled over into action as fights and riots broke out in a number of segregated training camps. “'I remember one night it looked like a small Battle of the Bulge,' said one soldier assigned to an artillery battalion at Camp Stewart, Georgia,. 'Instead of Germans against Americans, it was black Americans versus white Americans on an army post that perpetuated segregation and prejudice. There were three soldiers killed, two or three MPs killed.'”
In May 1943 after the African-American 364th Infantry Regiment rioted once and was relocated to another camp, and then rioted again (with fatalities), the whole regiment was exiled for standing up for themselves to Alaska to build the Alaska-Canadian Highway. The 364th kicked off a summer of racial unrest on U. S. military bases. “Training camps from California to Georgia were marred by black-versus-white shoot-outs, usually sparked by minor dustups over perceived [sic] mistreatment or disrespect. In a two-week span that June, five training-camp riots south of the Mason-Dixon line resulted in at least twenty casualties.” Here and elsewhere, Koerner's use of “black-versus-white” is confusing. In some instances the rioting (and at times gun fights) are between black and white low-level GIs, while during others, it's black GIs on one side and white officers and MPs on the other.
Even on the evening of July 9, when Perry's 849th was shipping out, soldiers in C Company stole beer and got drunk. While marching to their ship, a fight broke out between two soldiers, which quickly turned into a riot when white MPs and officers began to break it up. Perry, who was in Company A, missed the riot, thought certainly would have been influenced by it.
If the conditions and stark contrast of segregated training camps was bad, the ship that Perry took to India, the West Point, was deplorable—reminiscent of a slave ship. On the way from Asia to the U.S. “POWS were billeted in near the ship's boilers, secured behind thickly barred doors and starved for air and light. It was in these same dank, sweltering quarters [on the ship's trip back to Asia] that Herman Perry would spend his time at sea.”
Perry's quarters were “a spartan room with hundreds of cots slung from pipes or bolted to the walls. These canvas beds, stacked four high, were crammed so close together that there was barely room to walk.” As one veteran recalled “'There was barely enough vertical clearance between bunks for a man to squeeze.'”
As for a bathroom “a steel trough sloshing with seawater served as a communal toilet. The whiff of a prior occupants sweat and shit lingered in the air, a stench made worse by an utter lack of ventilation. Heat radiating from the West Point's steam valves cooked the room, and Perry quickly broiled in his fatigues and combat boots.”
When not confined to these quarters, “Perry's day was spent queuing for chow in the GIs' canteen, formerly a third-class dining room. Whites were served first, of course, and members of the 849th stood in line until their fairer-skinned comrades had finished up. Bare-chested mess-men ladled out lukewarm, gelatinous chili con carne for both breakfast and dinner. (Lunch was not served.) Perry and hundreds of others ate standing at long tables, sliding down towards the exit as new diners squeezed in. At the table's ends, trash cans stood ready to accommodate those who couldn't stomach the acrid stew [and motion of the ship]. The entire process, from queue to cleaned plate, took hours.” GIs then made their way through a dish-cleaning line, the floors of which were covered with vomit.
Meanwhile “nine stories above this human chicken coop” white officers enjoyed accommodations not very different than the West Point's original luxury liner guests.
After weeks at sea—and not knowing where in the world they were going—the West Point's human cargo arrived in India.
Perry and other road-builders were packed into train cars full of benches, given maggot- and weavel-infested food, and told to use a hole in the car's floor as a toilet.
Building the Ledo Road
Though many Americans sent to work on the Ledo Road were from hot and muggy climates, none had ever experienced humidity and heat like that of the wilderness of the China-Burma-India (CBI) Theater of war, where clothes rotted off people's bodies. A common ditty accompanied the grueling work: “Long may you live/ And when you die/ You'll find hell/ Cooler than CBI.”
In addition to the heat was the rain. “The same rains that rousted tigers from their homes also caused numerous fatal accidents. Men were crushed by boulders that cracked off cliffs, buried alive underneath torrents of mud, or smashed by falling trees. Flash floods, meanwhile, were the special bane of bridge builders. One minute a group of soldiers would be lashing together bamboo poles atop a Burmese river, wondering why a clique of half-naked Nagas were pointing and clucking at their rickety creation; moments later the GIs would be swept off by a wall of water, never to be seen again.”
The Naga Tribes
As for the Nagas themselves, I was left with the impression that they are a diverse group of tribes and families spread out over hundreds (if not thousands) of miles**. According to Naga historians, ancient Greco-Roman texts refer to their people living in this area of central Asia as far back as 0 C.E. And while it is likely no easy task to give an over-view of such a diverse group of people, Koerner seems to rely heavily on anthropolgical texts (a suspect school of thought to begin with, made worse by the fact that some of the cited texts were written decades before the 1940s) and sort of lumps all the Naga together (as most people do to indigenous cultures). This is done despite caveats like that the Nagas of the Patkai Mountains (where Perry was working) usually had allegiances based on family or those they immediately lived with, not necessarily a regional or Naga identity in general (a not unusual trait for people living without a State.)
Koerner also gives a lot of time to the fact that some (what percentage I have no idea) of the Naga headhunted, including those in the Patkai Mountains. While its a noteable trait for sure, the sloppiness of Koerner's ideas around the Nagas left me wondering how proportionate to their lives was this particular trait. For example, while much time was given to head-hunting, I don't know if we ever got a basic description of the structures and dynamics in an 'average' Naga village in the Patkai Mountains: how large were they, how were decisions made, etc.
Other interesting facts I gleaned from the book are that the British Raj and the Indian state were never able to subjugate or fully control the Nagas of northern India. The best in-roads they ever made were introducing Christianity and opium in the late 1800s to the Nagas to passify them (by the 1940s opium was a currency for certain groups of Nagas). Because of the wide-spread, low-level growing of opium and marijuana (as well as the brewing of rice beer), American GIs like Perry were able to use one or all three as momentary escapes from their hell on earth.
After Perry shot Lt. Cady—a notoriously arrogant officer and bully—he fled into the jungle. After considering all the dangers—tigers, deadly insects, head-hunting and possibly hostile Nagas—Perry quickly returned to the road. But after a few hours and hearing gun shots, Perry decided the unknown world was better than the lynching Jim Crow-loving one that existed on the road.
After a few days, and with help from an unknown number of other GIs and road builders, Perry had supplies and a new rifle. Stumbling upon a camp of Nagas who were impressed with his resources, they took him in. Even going so far as giving him his own hut, marijuana and opium plants, and the leader insisting that Perry marry his (14-year-old***) daughter. Though Perry was only 6 miles from the Ledo Road, he was a world away and able to live a relatively blissful life for four months when his whereabouts were leaked to the military.
Captured and sentenced to death, Perry made his own justice by escaping from his impromtu death row tent in the stockade. Whether or not he was captured again, I'll leave to you to find out. I will say I did appreciate the contrast between the MP (and later FBI agent) sent to find Perry and Perry's American family—both how they talk about him now and how each recalled when they met the other.
For some reason, Americans have really gotten it into their heads that World War II is the war that everyone got behind and is still a just cause. For this reason, instances of people refusing to fight in it, going on strike in 'vital' war industries during it or instances of the U. S. military committing atrocities—all of which eat away at the image of World War II being the 'good war'—are interesting to me.
Now the Hell Will Start shows how many black people didn't see themselves as a willing part of the war effort; they were largely forced into slave conditions, considered sub-human and disposable during it; and that afterward many black servicemen weren't very affected by the 'victory' over Fascist Germany and Imperial Japan (largely because the only change in the racist power structure in place before the war is it got more powerful in some places afterward because of the post-war prosperity).
Over all I appreciated this book, and the style of writing and the topics kept me interested. While readers should be mindful of some of Koerner's overly-simplified descriptions, Now the Hell Will Start—at least to a novice in the realm of central Asian history, peoples and dynamics like myself—is a good overview of the hierarchies and exploitation brought together by the building of the Ledo Road.
* This statement—made before their implementation—belittles the use of internment camps (and similar attitudes and infrastructure) used against Chinese-Americans and other 'undesirables' during the war. ** According to one wikipedia entry, the Naga are now made up of 12 tribes united in similar languages and customs. According to a separate wikipedia entry, the Naga are made up of 13 tribes, each with its own unique language and customs. *** I don't know what to do with this part of the story other than to say it makes me uncomfortable. Incidentally, Henri Charriere from Papillion when on a cavale that lead him to a Native village also ended up living with and impregnating an adolescent girl—an odd and disturbing trait both fugitives share....more
I read Evan's introduction to the text about a year ago and appreciated it. I have a hard time with a lot of ancient mythology *and* plays so will likI read Evan's introduction to the text about a year ago and appreciated it. I have a hard time with a lot of ancient mythology *and* plays so will likely not read the actual play for a while. (Having someone passionate about the story explain why they like it was a good start).
Here's what I took away from the intro:
I don't get a lot out of theology or gods, but I do understand they can have different meanings in different times or for different people. At their best, the greco-roman gods are something like the personification of an emotional or psychological state. It would seem that Evans sees Bacchus as the personification of Ecstasy.
According to the story (spoiler alert, and it's a little fuzzy cause it's been a year) Bacchus comes to town. Some (his followers) recognized him and make their way to the woods and start a big orgy or something. Meanwhile others who do not recognize him (including the local ruler) throw him in jail. Eventually, Bacchus possesses the ruler and sends him out of town dressed as an animal. Others are also possessed and taken there. At some point those who are not his followers (including the ruler's family) see the ruler but don't see him through the costume and kill him.
At first I was like, wow, what an asshole Bacchus. He just takes control of people, makes em have sex with each other and kill each other to prove a point. But as I read more (and thought about it), I realized that Bacchus is desire. What Evan's sees in the play is that those who embrace their desires (his followers, for lack of a better word) sort through their desires, decide which ones they want to act on and which they don't and can have a healthy, fulfilling relationship to them. Those who ignore or repress their desires (those who can't recognize Bacchus) will eventually let them out in fucked up ways: killing or raping each other, for example.
At least according to the introduction, it's a celebration of those who try and fulfill their desires and a warning to those who repress theirs.
"Is a dream a lie if it don't come true, or is it something worse?"
I've been reading a fair amount about slavery, slave resistance and abolitionism in the midwest lately, and so enjoyed a break from that to read aboutI've been reading a fair amount about slavery, slave resistance and abolitionism in the midwest lately, and so enjoyed a break from that to read about its east coast counterpart.
Since this is the first large text I've ever read about Harriet Tubman (and the first of any sort since grade school), it's hard for me to tell where this biography of hers lies in terms of others or her life itself.
One of the main impressions I was left with from this book was that of Harriet Tubman's incredibly strength. I know it sounds cliche, but story after story of her endurance and tenacity left me in shock thinking about it. On all levels too: physical, psychological, emotional, etc.
From back-breaking field work (like splitting wood) to trudging through the freezing cold with a group of runaways to planning and carrying out rescues and physically fighting slave owners, slave catchers and police. (Heads up, a number of these anecdotes involve intense violence--a cornerstone of chattel slavery and capitalism).
The other impression was that Harriet had a strong sense of what she thought was right and wrong--and despite her age or being outnumbered at times--she was often willing to stand up for herself and those around her:
"When Araminta [Harriet] was an adolescent, she was hired out to work on the harvest for a man named Barrett. When another slave, a male coworker, left the fields and headed toward Bucktown, the overseer followed. Araminta raced ahead to warn her fellow field hand, knowing there would be trouble....
The overseer was determined to punish the field hand who had deserted his post with a whipping. In the confusion of the confrontation, the frightened slave bolted from the store. As the slave made haste, Araminta reportedly blocked the angry overseer's path of pursuit by standing in the doorway--just as he picked up a lead weight from the counter and threw it at the escapee.... Araminta's wound was deep and severe.
She later recalled that she had been wearing a covering on her head, and when the weight struck her it 'broke my skull and cut a piece of that shawl off and drove it into my head. They carried me to the house all bleeding and fainting. I had no bed, no place to lie down on at all, and they lay me on the seat of the loom, and I stayed there all that day and the next.'"
Sometime after this confrontation, Harriet starting falling into deep sleeps and having visions. Many biographers seem to think the wound made her suffer from narcolepsy--something that happened frequently, including on reconnaissance and spy missions, and leading runaways at night.
Fast forward 20 years to her first mob slave-rescue, that of Charles Nalle. Nalle was a runaway from Virginia living in Troy, New York. His own brother, a free person of color working as a slave catcher, tracked him down and had him arrested. With a large abolitionist crowd gathered outside the courthouse, no one was allowed into the court proceedings, but Harriet, using one of her common old-woman disguises, wormed her way in. When the judge ruled against Nalle, Nalle immediately ran towards the window and tried to jump to supporters below. Guards prevented this and kept a tight hold on him.
"Whirling out of her shawl and grabbing hold of Nalle, [Harriet] wrenched him free and dragged him down the stairs into the waiting arms of comrades assembled below.... 'She was repeatedly beaten over the head with policeman's clubs, but she never for a moment released her hold... until they were literally worn out with their exertions and Nalle was separated from them.'"
I've been hit by cops before, but never to the point where they couldn't go on from exhaustion--jesus! This is the sort of unbelievable fortitude I'm talking about.
Nalle was spirited away to a ferry full of almost 400 abolitionists, but the ferry was overtaken by police and Nalle re-arrested. When Tubman caught up with the crowd, she rallied them to re-storm the courthouse.
"'At last, the door was pulled open by an immense Negro and in a moment he was felled by the hatchet in the hands of Deputy Sheriff Morrison; but the body of the fallen man blocked up the door so that it could not be shut.'"
At this point, Harriet and a group of black women rushed the room, grabbed Nalle, pushed him back out and loaded him into a wagon heading out of town--successfully getting him out of the hands of the state and off to 'freedom'.
Part of the book I found most interesting, was Tubman's relationship with John Brown. Tubman had had a vision of meeting Brown (and his martyrdom) before they met, and the two hit it off when they did. Both saw themselves as being guiding by god to combat and destroy slavery (according to this book, Tubman thought god guided her to do almost everything, even small things throughout her day) and Brown soon began calling her 'General Tubman', sadly an exceptional title of esteem for a black abolitionist woman at the time.
It's possible Tubman was going to join Brown and others at Harper's Ferry, but the date being pushed back repeatedly, poor communication and Tubman being sick with a fever (likely from her adolescent head injury) made it so she missed out. Had she gone, she would have been one of a handful of black insurgents at Harper's Ferry, the only woman, likely would have been killed or executed and would have been saved from the biggest compromise that most abolitionists made shortly after--reversing their decades-long condemnation of the United States and joining the Union cause in the Civil War.
At this point, my criticisms of Tubman become somewhat generic ones of abolitionists at the time in general. Some of which are very clear from hindsight, but others they should have known better about.
Tubman joined the Union Army-- at first as a nurse, administering mainly herbal medicine made from local plants (one of many amazing skills Tubman seems to have just taught herself).
She later served as a spy and a guide on a couple of plantation raids--one of which returned over 750 slaves in one night, setting fire to the plantations they'd runaway from. To do so she utilized skills, communication methods and contacts from her UGRR days. The troops following her were also some opf the first black soldiers in the U.S. Army since the 1700s. Moments like this are still powerful, but also somewhat gross since they were done under the American flag.
After the Civil War, Harriet returned home to New York and more or less lived in poverty--the American government refusing to acknowledge her work in the military and denying her a pension for almost 30 years. If not for rich white friends she met during her years as an abolitionist, Tubman would have been even more destitute.
Speaking of rich, white friends, at least as far as I've been able to tell from memoirs and newspapers, very few abolitionists were (at least openly) critical of class outside of chattel slavery. Tons of abolitionists bankrolling the fight against slavery were wealthy merchants and soon to be at the helm of American exploitation. A number too took the bait of joining local and federal governments and militias and the military--who after the fight against chattel slavery was over went on to do things like lead military massacres against native peoples in the plains and west.
At least according to this book, Tubman after the Civil War remained patriotic to America, a country that forced her into slavery and when that ended left her in poverty. (Any one know of any abolitionists or slaves who refused to join the Civil War because [rightfully so] not trusting the government? Or who were critical of both chattel and wage slavery?)
A final quibble or two: In a lot of slave narratives (not written by former slaves themselves), the slaves are racistly portrayed as talking like "dis" and "dat". It's super offensive, and to be clear, it's not how black people talked then, *it's how racists back then perceived black people as talking*. All of that is to say, an official plaque dedicated to Tubman in her adopted hometown of Auburn, New York reads, "With implicit trust in God she braved every danger and overcame every obstacle, withal she possessed extraordinary foresight and judgement so that she truthfully said, 'On my Underground Railroad I nebber run my train off de track and I nebber los a passenger.'" Fuuuuuuuuuuuuck that.
And now are they really going to put her on money? Something she was bought and sold and traded with and she herself was denied most of her life? They condemn the best of us when we're alive, and canonize us when we're safe and dead....more
For those familiar with the depth, thoroughness, and well-crafted story of some of Avrich’s other works (The Russian Anarchists, The Haymarket TragedyFor those familiar with the depth, thoroughness, and well-crafted story of some of Avrich’s other works (The Russian Anarchists, The Haymarket Tragedy, Sacco and Vanzetti: The Anarchist Background) you’ll likely be disappointed by this book. In a lot of ways, that comparison and the high esteem I have for Avrich as an anarchist historian made the okay-ness of An American Anarchist all the more mediocre.
It almost seems like Avrich wrote this book before The Russian Anarchists. Though a lot of the militancy of the Russian radicals Avrich seems to support (or at least doesn’t denounce) he doesn’t talk about or defend as much when it comes to the their American counterparts in this book. Perhaps though, Avrich was only trying to represent De Cleyre’s earlier views on pacifism.
I wish this book were more common – for De Cleyre as well as Avrich’s sake. It seems to have been printed just once in the ‘70s (right now copies on amazon start at $40). But paradoxically, if it were more common I would probably be more critical of it. Lately I’ve been thinking of a number of books that fit this odd category.
As for De Cleyre, being forced to go to Catholic boarding school impacted her for the rest of her life. It gave her a strong sense of authority as well as a strong will to reject it. Needless to say, I could relate a lot to this part. And while it would seem De Cleyre rejected religion, she never really got away from the religious mindset: proselytizing, self-sacrifice, wanting to save stray animals and “the poor” and “peons” alike, etc. De Cleyre is hardly alone in this when it comes to a lot of radicals.
I’d often heard a whole generation of anarchists were radicalized by the Haymarket execution (Goldman and Berkman usually thrown around as the prime examples) but I appreciated seeing this actually play out in someone like De Cleyre. (So much so that almost every year of her life she gave a commemorative speech on November 11, often in Chicago.) I also liked getting a glimpse of the radical free-thought movement, as well as its limitations.
Ideologically, the two points of hers I had the strongest reaction to were her thoughts on Jeffersonian Democracy (trying to avoid a long anti-Jefferson tirade, but if you want to know my thoughts feel free to ask) and anarchism without adjectives.
I think a lot of the factions in Anarchism are silly. I really wish anarchist could take ideas, play with them, take what they like and move on. It seems like a lot of us do this, but some of us need to dogmatically wear the ideas, and attack and denounce the other ones THEN move on – likely just as dogmatic, but with new ideas, likely heaping the most venom on whatever ideas we had just been as rigid about others needing to accept. This may be a form of anarchism without adjectives, but at least how Avrich explains it it seems different. It seems that De Cleyre tried making anarchists see the similarities, and that others tried to find a unifying theory. To me this is the opposite. Instead of seeing the nuances and unique things that each set of ideas offers, this approach potentially reduces to the common denominators. There are, of course, unmoving ideas that should stay that way: the destruction of the state (and all its manifestations: prisons, judges, police, military etc) and capital (and all the relationships that go along with that). I found it interesting that Tucker thought a future anarchist society would have prisons, police and an army – what an asshole!
I really appreciated De Cleyre’s stance on marriage, romantic relationships and non-monogamy (despite her having many difficult romantic partners). Before I list some of her quotes about it, one of my biggest peeves with this book was how her physical appearance was often uncritically discussed (even to the point of comparing her to other well-known anarchists like Goldman [Goldman was the better speaker, but De Cleyre was prettier, etc]), and even when close friends of hers were paying her compliments about what a dedicated and inspiring anarchist she was, they always went out of their way to say she’s a woman. I know this is more a reflection of the time they lived, but after a while it seemed like they’re talking about a dog that does tricks: “the most thoughtful woman anarchist of this century,” “the poet-rebel, the liberty-loving artist, the greatest woman Anarchist of America,” “most gifted and brilliant Anarchist woman America ever produced,” “a wonderful, charming woman,” “she was the most intellectual woman I ever met,” etc.
Her thoughts on gender, her negative use of the word “civilization” and her correspondence with Berkman were my favorites parts. Keep in mind these quotes are coming from the 1890s and early 1900s.
“Little girls must not be tomboyish, must not go barefoot, must not climb trees, must not learn to swim, must not do anything they desire to do which Madame Grundy has decreed ‘improper.’ Little boys are laughed at as effeminate, silly girl-boys if they want to make patchwork or play with a doll. Then when they grow up, ‘Oh! Men don’t care for home or children as women do!’ Why should they, when the deliberate effort of your life has been to crush that na¬ture out of them. ‘Women can’t rough it like men.’ Train any animal, or any plant, as you train your girls, and it won’t be able to rough it either. Now will somebody tell me why either sex should hold a corner on athletic sports? Why any child should not have free use of his limbs?”
A Wife is “a bonded slave, who takes her master’s name, her master’s bread, her master’s com¬mands, and serves her master’s passions; who passes through the ordeal of pregnancy and the throes of travail at his dictation—not at her desire; who can con¬trol no property, not even her own body, without his consent.” She warned a Scottish audience of free-thinkers and anarchists, that even radical men may try to not to be controlling husbands but “they frequently grow to be such. It is insufficient to dispense with the priest or the registrar. The spirit of marriage makes for slavery.” She then warned the women “every woman contemplating sexual union of any kind, never to live together with the man you love, in the sense of renting a house or rooms, and becoming his housekeeper.” She rarely, if ever, lived with any of her lovers. And she thought if lovers did they should each have their own spaces in the house.
And while a lot of activists and radicals try and keep a positive out-look, De Cleyre had strong bouts of despair and depression (in addition to chronic physical pain) which gives a more realistic look on things for me:
““I am not sure of anything. I am not sure that liberty is good. I am not sure that progress exists. I do not feel able to theorize or philosophize or preach at all.... I can see no use in doing anything. Everything turns bitter in my mouth and ashes in my hands.... All my tastes are dying.”
De Cleyre contemplated suicide often, attempted it at least once, and two of her closest friends died by their own hands. After serving 14 years in prison for the attempted assassination of Henry Clay Frick, Alexander Berkman was plunged into a great depression, and De Cleyre had this advice to offer:
“But I do not like to urge this on you: when I was ill and people said to me ‘Live for my sake,’ I thought it selfish of them to want me to suffer so; though I knew they were only lovingly trying to appeal to any motive at all to rouse the desire for life, yet it seemed selfish. And so I don’t like to say ‘Stay in life and be a torture to yourself because I will feel bad if you die.’ It is only that I am sure you will out-wear it, that makes me try to persuade you: if I knew all your life would be so, I would say ‘Do it.’...
Touch hands across the gulf, Alex; *we are not alone.* There is comradeship in the depths. Let the lamps burn a while yet. To what indefinite end, let us not trouble.
I salute you. And write soon again—write your soul out as gloomy as you feel it. I am listening and feeling.”
De Cleyre made her living tutoring Jewish immigrants in English and was, like many anarchists of that era, into the Modern School movement. Working almost entirely with adults herself, she had this to say after visiting one of the Modern Schools for children, “The more I come into contact with small chil¬dren, the more I find it is almost intolerable to me to be in their presence.” What a great quote!
According to the introduction, this was the first of Avrich’s books on anarchism in America. So if nothing else, it would seem An American Anarchist helped create the definitive works of The Haymarket Tragedy and Sacco and Vanzetti: The Anarchist Background for which I am grateful.
This book left me wanting to visit Waldheim more than ever…
If you've made it this far, I'll leave you with this from Voltairine De Cleyre:
I happened upon this little book recently and read it in two sittings before bed.
Either based on or made up of journal entries of Choukri's after encoI happened upon this little book recently and read it in two sittings before bed.
Either based on or made up of journal entries of Choukri's after encountering Genet in Tangier a few times (1968-1970). The straight forward, candid but poetic descriptions of Genet and their encounters were enjoyable. (I did appreciate that towards the end, Choukri gets annoyed with Genet, someone he starts off star-struck and nervous around).
I think if there were more books like this - or if I knew of or read more books like this - I would not like them. But the novelty and writing won me over.
I’ve been reading this book on and off for the last two months, and, in a lot of ways, have been dreading writing a review: so much will be lost in trI’ve been reading this book on and off for the last two months, and, in a lot of ways, have been dreading writing a review: so much will be lost in trying to recount my thoughts from this massive work. Reading this has been – as I’m sure it has been for a lot of people – incredibly emotional and draining. I’ve had to stop a few times and come back to it because of that. During all of this I watched these movies, which didn’t help with the intensity of it all: Silence=Death (which prominently features Wojnarowciz), How to Survive a Plague, United in Anger, and Vito.
In wanting closure (if you can call it that) about Wojnarowicz’s life, I read the last 30 or so pages first, which detail his final few months. I cried throughout almost all it, and woke up in the next morning still thinking about him. I’ve just finished the book – and those last 30 pages again, less crying this time, but still very powerful – and am going to try and put some thoughts together.
Close to the Knives is one of the best books I’ve read in years. I was attracted particularly to David’s rage, tenacity, adventurous spirit and his (proto?) critique of civilization, or the Pre-Invented World. While reading about David in his teens and 20s, I was torn between appreciating being able to see him develop his thoughts about the world and what experiences, friendships and theories helped create that, but also feeling like it was an intrusion (especially about someone who seems to have been so private and a perfectionist about his work).
Ideologically, Dada and surrealism (along with some friendships) have gotten me to rethink some of my ideas about art (though in practice surrealism seems to almost utterly fail). I was glad to see surrealism (and Genet) as some of his influences. His eventual rejection of civilization and the time he spent in Paris made me wonder if he’d ever read Situationist theory.
His friendship and support of Peter Hujar and the impact of that loss for him are some of the most powerful parts of Close to the Knives for me. The couple of chapters about Hujar filled in a lot gaps for him that I’d been wondering about, and they serve as a well-done little biography of him.
There were a few times where it was hard to tell if a characteristic of David’s was exceptional or Carr was hung up on it: all of the examples of David’s explosive personality (especially with close friends) seems to be true, but early on and then occasionally throughout Carr keeps talking about how David intentionally crafted his personality. The evidence for this seems to be based on journal entries, which I imagine might skew this sort of thing. One talks about themselves differently in private, in journaling or in one’s own head.
In a similar vein, Carr points out a lot how David was actually a few years older than he said he was for some of the more devastating parts of his life – street hustling, abuse at the hands of his father and neglect from the absence of his mother – things that can’t really be quantified that well to begin with. I interpreted those age differences as David saying “I was too fucking young to have this happen to me, to deal with this.” Carr’s judgmental commentary on things like Hujar washing his pants in the sink also stand out. Similar to Patti Smith’s Just Kids, I found the history of the Lower East Side and the artists in it interesting, though wanted a more critical eye to it – one that Carr seems incapable of bringing. The gentrifying role the artists she documents played is hardly touch upon, nor are the people who were the people living in the Lower East Side before or during the influx of artists. (I was glad the Tompkins Square Riot at least got a mention). Radicals and artists can often get tunnel vision and forget that there are other people living around them, exemplified in the synecdoche of referring to streets, neighborhoods or whole cities but meaning just the dozen or so friends they have there.
If there are a handful of personality traits that most artists share in common or if there is a role that the Artists plays in society, I’m both drawn to and repulsed by it. The attribute that most often exemplifies this for me is provocative unorthodoxy, particularly of libertory tendencies that think about themselves as beyond orthodoxy (but wreak of it nonetheless). Artists seem to be able to challenge this (the effects of some of this I’ve benefited greatly. If anarchism was the same as it was a hundred years ago it would be god awful. As much as it’s hard for me to admit this, art, among other things, has played a role in this). But to be close to artists as they push these limits is often hard for me, particularly when they have the mentality that anything can be talked about by anyone, at any time and if that upsets people they either just don’t get it, are anti-free speech or not tough enough.
It’s hard for me to say, but while I think I likely would not have been friends with David in real life(especially if his explosive personality is as true and ubiquitous as Carr makes out), I have indirectly benefitted from his rage against this world and directly benefited from his writings.
While thinking of the outbreak of AIDS and the pandemic of it in the US in the 80s and 90s, I’m often left wondering if I’d been alive then would I have survived? I’m profoundly grateful to those who spent their final years fighting for prevention and treatment of AIDS, and refusing to let themselves and myself inherent a sexuality that only has abstinence as a way of practice.
When David died, inspired by his writings on the topic, ACT-UP commemorated his life with the first of their political funerals. Ending in a bon-fire of his memorial banner, signs and reproductions of his work, this image from that march particularly moves me: http://www.actupny.org/diva/CBwoj_fun...
Still trying to piece together the history of this book and my thoughts on it.
I ILL'ed it and had to return it before getting to read more than 1/3 ofStill trying to piece together the history of this book and my thoughts on it.
I ILL'ed it and had to return it before getting to read more than 1/3 of it. Similar to his Tribe of Ben Ishmael essay, I at once liked it and was rubbed the wrong way. Despite (what for me) were some of the books short-comings or wing-nutty diversions, this book (at least the part I read) is full of so many little gems.
Probably the biggest history of resistance to slavery in the carolinas that I know, and plantation society in general. Also, probably one of best radical histories of the same era and area.
This book is pretty unknown since a draft of it was written shortly before Bey's death OR Bey was reworking his dissertation from the 70s and finished this draft shortly before his death. Friends and family edited it and got it published - just a hair under 500 pages. It seems that the publisher went under shortly after the book was pressed and so most copies of this are hard to find or collecting dust in university libraries. (The only mentions of this book I have ever heard are in the bibliographies of other works on resistance to slavery or radical goings-on in colonial america.)
The book is divided into three parts: The Roanoke Community (which he argues was made up of run-away white, but some black, indentured servants from virginia, who were intentionally fleeing the values and restraints of plantation culture there, and who generally sided with the native inhabitants over the british landlords. they were eventually augmented by run-away slaves), The Maroons of the Great Dismal Swamp of Virginia and North Carolina (made up of the remnants of the broken Roanoke Community and many run-away slaves and the survivors of different native communities) and The Maroons of the South Carolina Hills (which he says was started after Dismal Swamp became too full of refugees. The south carolina maroons fought a war against plantation owners in the years leading up to the american revolution, and more or less won it, and then the same warriors - according to Bey - defeated the same plantation element during the revolutionary war and only turned the area back over to the americans after the british lost the war in the north).
I'm left wondering if this book were to be reprinted (which it seems like it should be since it has amazing histories in it and is too expensive and hard to find for most) if it should be reprinted as all 500 pages, as a best of, or as three individual books - each book being one of the three parts, etc....more
While I often find myself rolling my eyes, gagging, skipping pages and making up dialogue and narration when reading books to children, The Boy Who DiWhile I often find myself rolling my eyes, gagging, skipping pages and making up dialogue and narration when reading books to children, The Boy Who Didn't Believe in Spring really struck a chord with me.
Why? I really found myself relating to the main characters' -- King Shabazz and Tony Palito -- skepticism, which is completely founded until they dare themselves to step outside of their day-to-day routine. When they do, they end up rewarding themselves with a moment of magic and awe - capable of transcending what would otherwise be a natural and understandable pessimism about the world.
I also liked the 70s-era vernacular, aesthetic and racial commentary.
I started to tear up towards the end of this book the first time I read it to my friend's kid, and to be honest, almost any time I read it.
I often finI started to tear up towards the end of this book the first time I read it to my friend's kid, and to be honest, almost any time I read it.
I often find myself rolling my eyes, gagging, skipping pages and making up dialogue and narration when reading books to children, but A Mother for Choco seems to be a rare children's book that's worth reading all the way through.
Seems like it could be a good book for helping children normalize inter-racial families, adopted families, families with step children, co-parenting situations or anytime we choose to have families outside of fucked-up, archaic notions of the family OR for times when we (regardless of our age) choose and help craft a group of people that will help meet our emotional, material, existential, etc needs and desires.
I read this book immediately after finishing Close to the Knives. In fact, I read it all in one day.
I think had I not read Close to the Knives, I likeI read this book immediately after finishing Close to the Knives. In fact, I read it all in one day.
I think had I not read Close to the Knives, I likely would not have read Waterfront Journals, nor would I have liked it as much. A lot of things that Wojnarowicz clearly doesn't like in Close to the Knives - police, clergy, politicians, the family - are more ambiguously addressed in Waterfront Journals. But knowing his perspective, made me like the writing more.
In general, Waterfront Journals I thought was a good, unique insight into sex work, drug addiction, homelessness, being queer, hitchhiking, etc in the 1970s america - albeit from a certain perspective.
And though having read Close to the Knives helped me appreciate Waterfront Journals a lot more, it also overshadowed it.
If I haven't made this clear already, I really enjoyed Close to the Knives and if you liked the Waterfront Journals, you should definitely read it. In fact, even if you haven't read Waterfront Journals, go ahead and read it.
The beginning of the book says it was written for high school students, but I find it hard to believe they would want or easily be able to read A CavaThe beginning of the book says it was written for high school students, but I find it hard to believe they would want or easily be able to read A Cavalier History.
For those unfamiliar with vaneigem's writing, situationist jargon and surrealism in general, this will likely be a difficult read. Or maybe rather a book you just say 'fuck this' to and don't read much of.
For those familiar with all the above, this is a pretty good critique of surrealism - what the fuck were they doing with the communist party, then trotsky, how many of them just ended up selling their art for a lot of money, etc etc. Most of your problems with surrealism are likely mentioned if not addressed at length.
I read this book in a completely scattered order. It seems like it's a collection of different essays he wrote for different audiences, so reading itI read this book in a completely scattered order. It seems like it's a collection of different essays he wrote for different audiences, so reading it that way worked well for me.
At times Wojnarowicz seems completely damning everything - the family, the state, civilization, police, doctors, etc etc - but at other times says we need to legislate this or that change - perhaps a reflection of writing for different audiences.
Something about his writing that I can't quite put into words really spoke to me. Even the mediocre parts completely pulled me in. And at his most nihilistic or romantic I was completely enthralled. The best parts are some how a smooth balance of theoretical and emotional stimulation that I kept getting lost in.
I'm always interesting in people's personal experiences with death - something we don't often share or when we do it's in very specific, often neutralized ways - and so the backdrop of Wojnarowicz and his friends being sick and dying of AIDS in the 80s really affected me.
I look forward to reading more by Wojnarowicz.
I realized last night while lying in bed thinking about this book that maybe part of what I couldn't put my finger on is Wojnarowics' (total or almost total) lack of sarcasm. There's a great deal of sincerity in this book. I wonder if people my age could write about similar events and experiences in their own lives without dismissive one-liners and sarcastic comments... ...more