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Cara Hoffman
About this Issue

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Welcome to Fifth Estate’s Anarchist Review of Books, edited by a collective based in Austin, Detroit, Chicago, New York, Oakland and Seattle. ARB brings you intelligent, subversive, non–dogmatic writing with an anti-authoritarian perspective.

We put this issue out at a time of grave concern in American publishing. A deadening combination of corporate consolidation and academic professionalization of writing has produced decades of embarrassing, dull work and uninspired critique that stands as a record of cowardice and complicity in literature; a one-two punch that has brought wily, vibrant work to its knees.

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Ashlyn Mooney
Body at Work

A review of

Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction, and Feminist Struggle: Beyond the Periphery of the Skin by Silvia Federici PM Press 2020

Before history appears on any page, it is written on the bodies of those who live it—as muscle, callous, stretch mark, wound. “The history of the body is the history of human beings,” writes Marxist and feminist scholar Silvia Federici, “for there is no cultural practice that is not first applied to the body.” The history of capitalism, then, is a history of bodies and their subjugation: of bodies exploited, enslaved, colonized and mechanized, bodies made work-machines in service of productive labor—or, for those bodies called “woman,” reproductive labor.

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Rory Elliot
Fight to Win

A review of

Mutual Aid: Building Solidarity During This Crisis (and the Next) by Dean Spade. Verso 2020

With Mutual Aid: Building Solidarity During This Crisis (and the Next), the trans activist and law professor Dean Spade challenges the reader, and the radical left as a whole, to realize the power of Mutual Aid in collective struggles toward liberation. Spade helps to define the long and often untold history of Mutual Aid as an act of “building subversive networks of care which are of utmost importance to engage, radicalize, and directly provide for our communities.” Citing revolutionary history and contemporary struggle from the Black Panther Party, the efforts of Mutual Aid Disaster Relief, to Hong Kong’s anti-government protest movement, Spade has dropped in our collective laps an easy-to-read road map toward seeding, cultivating, and strengthening our movements, exactly when we needed it most.

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Nick Mamatas
Promises, Promises

A review of

Promise Me You’ll Shoot Yourself by Florian Huber. Little Brown/Hachette 2019

“Follow Your Leader!” reads the joyous anti-Nazi sticker portraying Adolph Hitler blowing his brains out with a pistol. And in 1945, as the Soviet Army rolled in from the East and Allied forces held the West, thousands upon thousands of “ordinary Germans” did just that in wave of mass suicide. They turned their guns upon themselves, prepared nooses for their entire families, and gobbled up the widely available cyanide ampules distributed by Nazi Party functionaries. Historian Florian Huber finds the suicide wave fascinating, and the widespread allegiance to Hitler and the Reich inexplicable, but the resultant book, Promise Me You’ll Shoot Yourself, falls flat—it’s the German historian equivalent of the 93rd New York Times feature article about white Midwesterners who like Donald Trump.

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D.G. Gerard
Algorithms of Compliance

a review of

Uncanny Valley by Anna Wiener. Macmillan/Farrar Straus Giroux/MCD Books (Holtzbrinck Publishing Group) 2020

To escape her stagnant work as an assistant in publishing, Anna Wiener sold out and took a job in tech. Now she’s written about her experience, and published it. The result, Uncanny Valley, is a portrait of Silicon Valley from the perspective of a literary impostor, promising to reveal the scandalous truth.

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Ashlyn Mooney
School’s Out For Good

a review of

People’s Republic of Neverland: The Child versus the State by Robb Johnson. PM Press 2020

Raising Free People by Akilah Richards. PM Press 2020

In the grammar of education, children are often passive objects. Children get educated; children get schooled. And what does education do to them? Charles Dickens described schoolchildren as “little parrots and small calculating machines.” A century and an ocean away from Victorian-era England, another artist and resistance worker, the musician Bob Marley, disavowed traditional education entirely: “If I was educated, I would be a damn fool.”

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Nathaniel Hong
Of the Book and the Deed A Tribute to Stuart Christie

Stuart Christie, Scottish anarchist, who practiced both the propaganda of the deed and the book, died at age 74 on August 15, 2020. Farewell and thank you good comrade.

Stuart came of age and political awareness in Glasgow in the early 1960s. The arc of his early politics went from a prospective Protestant Orange Lodge member to the anti-nuclear war movement of the Committee of 100 to the Glasgow Federation of Anarchists by the time he was 16. He was drawn to anarchism because it “was a way of life rather than an abstract view of a remote future. It was not a theory, a philosophy, a ‘programme for life,’ nor yet a description of how individuals and society should one day be, but a whole new way of looking at the world we were in.... [It was] something I could measure myself in my actions right now.”

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Stacy Flynn
Bullet Points two reviews

Big Girl by Meg Elison. PM Press 2020

The body is the locus of authoritarian control in Meg Elison’s Big Girl (number twenty-five in PM Press’s Outspoken Authors series.) Gorgeously surreal, the collection includes speculative short stories, essays and an interview with Elison by Terri Bisson.

Elison, whose debut novel Book of the Unnamed Midwife won a Phillip K Dick Award in 2014, has a stunning emotional range. Her work can be prosaic, comic, rageful, grotesque and full of sorrow, all within the same piece, sometimes within the same sentence. The title story recounts, through news reports, the journey of a sixteen-year old girl who grows to enormous proportions. She wakes one morning with birds roosting on her eyelashes, she slogs through the San Francisco bay, she flicks away men who climb her, and she comes to occupy her own island like a B-movie monster.

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Carrie Laben
Freedom in the Marshes

A review of

The Beast and Other Tales by Jóusè d’Arbaud, translated by Joyce Zonana. Northwestern University Press 2020

“I was happy on this barren land that barely provides what I need to sustain this ancient body, but which grants me the wild wind I cannot live without…”

These are the words of The Beast of Vacares, the title character of the title story in Jóusè d’Arbaud’s powerful collection. First published in Provençal in 1926 and long treasured in its native land, the book has only now been translated into English. For many American readers it will be their first glimpse of a landscape, way of life, and language that were under threat even at the time this book was written, founded on the freedom of open spaces and solitude.

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Nick Mamatas
Individualism’s Dandy Daddy

A review of

Resist Everything Except Temptation: The Anarchist Philosophy of Oscar Wilde by Kristian Williams. AK Press 2020

At first blush, Kristian Williams’ literary and political biography Resist Everything Except Temptation: The Anarchist Philosophy of Oscar Wilde, could have been an interesting blog post about the famed playwright. After all, the details of Wilde’s politics are well-known enough, articulated as they are in the essay “The Soul of Man Under Socialism.” He was an enemy of the state as well, and was arrested and imprisoned for gross indecency and sodomy. All that needs doing is to rifle through the man’s creative works and surviving correspondence to find some political bons mot, and behold—clickbait!

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Carrie Laben
Plague for Profit

a review of

The Monster Enters: COVID-19 and the Plagues of Capitalism by Mike Davis. O/R Books 2020

As he has done in the past for California wildfires and famine in India, Mike Davis contextualizes pandemic disease in a matrix of capitalism and deprivation that make a particular kind of disaster inevitable. In The Monster Enters, Davis chronicles the emergence of a new virus; confusion reigns about how it spreads, how deadly it might prove, and how best to stop it. Some governments downplay the danger for political or economic reasons; others are hamstrung in their response by neglected public health infrastructure. People suffer and die—poor people most of all.

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Scout Lee
Exile, Revelation, Revolution McKenzie Wark Interrogates the Body

A review of

Reverse Cowgirl by McKenzie Wark. Semiotext(e) 2020

Told in vignettes, Reverse Cowgirl follows McKenzie Wark’s life through the ever-evolving landscape of Sydney’s gay and straight universes, exploring how the self is fashioned by time, clothes, class, music and sex. Wark’s multi-textual memoir pulls fragments of fiction, theory and correspondence into her own narrative, uncovering meaning through rewriting and reinscribing myth. Both a conversation with herself, and with the reader, Wark interrogates how the body’s meaning becomes created, observed, and interpreted. Her writing refuses a coherent trans memoir, imparting a sense of reverence for both that which the body knows but cannot name, and the power of self-definition. Essentially though, Reverse Cowgirl is about fucking, or more accurately, about being fucked.

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