On Anarchism

Whatever its future success as a historical movement, anarchism will remain a fundamental part of the human experience, for the drive for freedom is one of our deepest needs and the vision of a free society is one of our oldest dreams.  Neither can be ever fully repressed ; both will outlive all rulers and their States.

– Peter Marshall, in Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism.

The above book is a fine companion to The Rebel by Camus, another book which I have nearly completed.  Again both of the above are books that I am reading slowly, letting the words and ideas from history slowly tumble down and impregnate themselves as my mind wrestles with their concepts.  In this day and age of mass state surveillance, corruption and rank greed, it is hard to think of what one should hold a loyalty to and to why.  This is not just the state but also the social, the personal.

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The Rebel

Some light reading in the breaks at work today.

But this clue lures the individual from his solitude.  Rebellion is the common ground on which every man bases his first values.  I rebel – therefore we exist.

The Rebel, by Albert Camus.

I have also ordered a large tome on the history and theory of anarchism.  I think it pays to be informed of all sides, regardless of any gut feeling.

Kafka 1915

My parents recently returned from a visit to Prague, in the Czech Republic, and presented me with a gift of Franz Kafka‘s ‘The Metamorphosis’.  It is a beautiful edition of the short novella, wonderfully bound with obvious care taken to present the work in the historical context in which it was wrote.  I have a deep fondness for Central Europe, and hope to travel to the Czech Republic myself one day, but this gift helped highlight the literary scene in the early 20th century, before the rug of peace was well and truly ripped from under Europe in 1914.

As I re-read ‘The Metamorphosis’ it became clear that I had not appreciated the tale on a previous read many years ago.  The disgust of which Gregor Sama’s family feel about him in the weeks and months after his ‘change’ renders the reader uncomfortable as we learn of Gregor’s own views on his new life climbing walls whilst starvation slowly sets in.  Kafka never wanted his ‘vermin’ illustrated and the original edition, published in German in 1915, required careful consideration translation of the language used when it was published in English a few years later.  Having finished ‘The Metamorphosis’, I delved back into my book shelf and read a few more of his short stories and excerpts.  His work often deals with the themes of alienation, family conflict, isolation and psychological suffering.  His substantial works, including ‘The Castle’, ‘The Trial’ and ‘The Judgement’, often deal with the above themes and the roles that are thrust upon the characters.  Frustration is borne out of a maddening bureaucracy in ‘The Castle’, possibly influenced by the domination of Kafka’s own all consuming insurance job, whilst family conflict can be found throughout most of his fictional works.

By chance I’m currently reading Albert Camus‘s ‘The Rebel’, a philosophical essay on the role, meaning and context of rebellions throughout the past 300 years.  It is a heavy going but enlightening read, and builds upon themes discussed in his previous novels, ‘The Plague’ and ‘The Stranger’ (heavily recommended!).  Kafka, it is noted, heavily influenced existentialism, and this is reflected in the works of Camus and his contemporary friend and sparring partner Sartre.  (Although it perhaps should be noted Camus is noted more for his opposition to nihilism and his closer links to the philosophy and debating of absurdism).

Influenced by terrible and sad tale of Gregor Samsa, I began a quick little painting portraying an allusion to the ‘vermin’, and the title and publication date of Kafka’s tale.

'Kafka 1915', an acrylic and gesso painting on stretched canvas.   Available to buy from here on Etsy,

‘Kafka 1915’, an acrylic and gesso painting on stretched canvas by the author.  (Sold! Well given to free to a friend in Belgium).

The tale of Kafka himself is perhaps to throw light onto the dark material that he wrote.  Although publishing little during his lifetime, Kafka gained fame relatively soon after his death.  Before dying of tuberculosis at the age of 40 in 1924, he ordered his friend Max Brod to burn his remaining unpublished body of literature and letters.  Thankfully Brod disobeyed this last demand of his dear friend, and helped publish the short stories, unfinished manuscripts and letters to widespread literary acclaim.  A prolific letter writer during his life, Kafka has left behind a substantial amount of letters describing his lifestyle and demonstrating his writing commitment.  Lauded by the literary establishment and by the public as a true innovative writer of the early 20th century, Kafka would surely be happy with his status.

  • Nightmarish rather than surreal‘, a talk on the works and themes of Kafka by David Foster Wallace.  Well worth a listen, as he explains Kafka’s plain and elegant writing style.

Roads To My Reading

Here I present some of my favorite books of 2012 (and a few from before).  You’ll notice they are mostly travel/history books in one form or another, often about places outside of my home country.  Reading for me often opens up the mind, and I tend to gravitate towards travel as this opens up the realms of history and prehistory for the writer, something I’m particularly keen in.  However I am keen on a good novel, so please let me know if you come across any, and I am always open to reading about travel writing, no matter where in the world.  I’d heavily recommend you take a look at the blurbs of the books as they are awfully interesting, and I’m happy for any suggestions to add to my pile.  I’ve put ‘Anna Karenina’ by Leo Tolstoy on this list, but I’ve only just managed to hunt down a copy from my local library after having to hand back in my University copy unfinished.  Rest assured though that Oblonsky, Levin, Vronsky and Anna will live long in my imagination.  Click the links to learn more about each book.

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  • And Quiet Flows the Don‘ (1978, USSR 1920) as the first part of the Don Epic by the Russian Nobel Prize winning novelist Mikhail Sholokhov (I think the Melekhov family will be with me always).
  • The Don Flows Home to the Sea‘ (1978, USSR 1940) as the second part of the Don Epic by the Russian Nobel Prize winning novelist Mikhail Sholokhov.
  • Anna Karenina‘ (1995, serial installments 1873-77) by Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy (not pictured).
  • The Periodic Table‘ (2000) by the Italian chemist and writer Primo Levi (not pictured).
  • Timequake‘ (1997) by the American novelist Kurt Vonnegut (not pictured).
  • The Stranger‘ (also known as The Outsider, or L’Etranger in the original French version) (or.1942) by the French author and philosopher Albert Camus (not pictured).

Of course this is just a selection of some of my favourite recent books that I have come across.  Every time I enter a library I feel honoured to share the same space as so many great works of literature and art.  The beauty of the written word never ceases to amaze me, whether it is from a novel, a poem or a piece of travel writing.  It can open up new ways of thinking about every day events, or provide new views on events or people you thought you knew.  It can move you to the edge of tears, or terrify you to point of horror.  The sign of a truly great book is one that keeps you hooked, long after you should have been asleep after a busy day.

I shall forever have treasured and fond memories of volunteering in a Oxfam book and music store, and mulling over which book I should buy next when my shift ended.  One of the pure joys of books is passing them onto friends once you have finished it to lend it out or give it to someone else to enjoy.  I haven’t included any brief synopsis’ of the books here because I want you to take a minute or two to click the link and have an explore, and see what you think is interesting.