, October 26, 2009
"Any book that doesn’t start from the fact that this culture is killing the planet and work to resolve that is unforgivable. We’d be better off with blank pages."
"I guess when I was 17 or 18 and I started doing Food Not Bombs and working with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in south Florida. ... I was becoming an activist outside of my brain, outside of creating art. And by being more involved in the world, I started thinking about my identity: who fucked me over, why am I the way I am, why were Green Day the only people who understood me when I was 14?"
-Christy C. Road
I am getting beside myself trying to write this review in a coherent, organized fashion. My favorite zinesters for once taken seriously as creators of culture, political theory, and radical praxis! Calls to arms for the hopelessly romantic; calls to imagination for the hopelessly political! Collective writing processes! Punks!
Mythmakers and Lawbreakers is a collection of interviews with contemporary anarchist fiction writers by a contemporary anarchist fiction writer. The Table of Contents alone is a fantastic collection of diverse ideologies, writing styles, and fame. Zinesters Jimmy T. Hand and Christy C. Road share the page with big name novelists like Ursula Le Guin and graphic novelist Alan Moore. Derrick Jensen, the author of epic anti-civilization tomes, is right alongside an "anonymous Crimethinc. agent," responsible for short and sweet semi-fictionalized, somewhat plagiarized True, capital T, political adventure narratives. There are a lot of authors featured who I had never heard of, including the no-longer-anonymous Steampunk, Professor Calamity, and punk-punk carissa van den berk clark. Anonymity reins, and most names seem fictionalized. No need to kill your heroes when they symbolically kill themselves for you! ("Just like punk rock—- never put authors on pedestals." -Jimmy T. Hand)
Editor Margaret Killjoy asks mostly the same questions of all his interviewees, but gets a vast array of answers. Still, some themes develop. Unexpected for me was the number of authors who use some sort of collective process with which to write. This ranged from the collective use of one pseudonym by many authors, like the Crimethinc Workers Collective, to Professor Calamity's Curious George Brigade who, together, "hash out the story and then huddle around the computer and take turns typing." Another major theme for anarchist authors was self-publishing. This is reflected in the number of zinesters interviewed, many of whose bodies of work may only be found in hand-stapled, folded over 8.5x11 photocopies handed out for $2 each from scummy travel backpacks. I love this shit!
A third theme to come out of these interviews wasn't so surprising: politics. Anarchist fiction writers grapple with politics all the time. The politics of writing fiction when the world is dying (see the Derrick Jensen quote, above). Creating an anarchist utopia that is more reality and less utopia. Accurately reflecting the political struggles of everyday life-- including the lives of punks, traveler kids, hackers, pagans, earth first! eco-warriors, and direct action activists. In every interview, Killjoy asks what it means to be an anarchist and a fiction writer. The responses he gets demonstrate how fiction is a political act. While most anarchist writing of our day is limited to real-life ("boring as fuck" -crimethinc.) theory and analysis, anarchist fiction writers play the important role of dreaming what could be and distilling useful stories from what is.
This is best illustrated in the large appendixes at the back of the book. Killjoy lists 20 pages worth of short bios of anarchist fiction writers through the ages, and another 6 pages of "also of notes," writers whose work was anarchist or espoused anarchist ideas, but who did not themselves identify as anarchists (a nice touch, by the way, to limit ones' list of anarchist authors only to those who self-identify as such). Fiction is a powerful tool for transmitting ideas through time and making them accessible beyond subculture. Oscar Wilde, Leo Tolstoy, Kurt Vonnegut, Edward Abbey are some of the big-name writers whose work is well-known and well-regarded in mainstream US culture, but who Killjoy's research proves can be claimed unabashedly by the anarchist milieu. Finally, Killyjoy includes a few lists of stories to check out once your appetite it whetted, including "Stories that explore anarchist societies" and my favorite: "Stories that feature anarchists as villains."
(written in between drinkin whiskey and makin out in the back stacks of the library)