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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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Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore
Sparks

“How can one speak of the present, when one feels abandoned by it?”

—Lara Mimosa Montes, Thresholes (Coffee House Press 2020)

“Grief is not always sharp, but grief is always.”

—Mairead Case, Tiny (Featherproof Books 2020)

“How did we get entrenched in this insidious wage labor relationship—where we’re servants to that really repulsive phrase, ‘making a living’? I hate that phrase. We have a living—we have lives. How dare that wage labor relationship—how dare work—overlay itself onto life—and even pretend that it is life?”

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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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A. Rose
Cracked Houses

I was seven years old when my mother fell in love with our landlord. The apartment we lived in, in retrospect, was a slum.

It was a three story red paneled building with eight units, two on each floor, all occupied by cartoonish caricatures of poverty, myself and my mother included. My father was battling alcoholism, and my mother, yearning for stability, filed for divorce and moved us into the red apartment. She got a job down the street waiting tables at a restaurant, and we lived in that apartment for the next five years.

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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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Morgan Talty
We the People Fiction

25 november 2019. 7:30 am. husson university, bangor, maine.

The memory begins here: we’re young, us skicins, and we’re somewhere on the reservation, the island. We could have been anywhere, but when we look back on it, we’re in the woods alongside the dirt road that runs against the Penobscot River down to the graveyard, a dead end (unless you count the path at the end wide enough for a car to shoulder through, in which case it is not a dead end, but just a continuation to another part of this place). Again, we could have been anywhere, but we remember the sound of water crashing in the distance, the tumultuous noise as the brown river rose, crescendoed, smashed against rock, water spilling onto the shore like a bowl filled too high and set not gently on a table. It must have been spring, when the ice on the river thawed, the bowl of our world filled too high.

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Charlie Hix
David Alex Campbell Released From Rikers ARB Interview

On the evening of January 19th, 2018, while over 200,000 people gathered in New York City for the Women’s March, a thousand alt-right supporters converged for a “Night of Freedom” at Hell’s Kitchen FREQ NYC nightclub. Outside, a brawl broke out between one of the gala’s drunken attendees and David Alex Campbell, a 30-year-old anti-fascist activist. An NYPD officer threw Campbell to the ground, breaking his leg in two places. Later the cop alleged that Campbell had stalked, punched, and strangled a party goer. These allegations, later shown to be false by surveillance footage, were heavily circulated by the event’s organizer Mike Cernovich.

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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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Panagiotis Kechagias
The Third Book ARB Fiction

This is the square and the building it serves is black and from above the glorious midday sunlight falls in long beams like wooden staves driven into the ground. I stand outside the entrance. The square is built in such a way that its four sides slope gently downwards to a wide flat surface at its center. The building is made of marble and granite and slate, all black and shining darkly. I am here. The double gates stand open. The air inside is cool and inviting. I am here, in the island of Myrmidon, in the Mandragora Archipelago, because I have to know.

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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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Corrine Manning
The Other Mother

A review of

The Great Offshore Grounds by Vanessa Vaselka. Knopf Penguin/Random House (Bertelsmann) 2020

In Steinbeck’s East of Eden, an indecent woman comes gives birth to a set of twins: one cheats poor farmers to make back money for his father, one drops out of college and is eventually killed in World War I. Before all that can happen the sociopathic mother tells the cheating son that they are just alike but he refuses to believe it. He brings his altruistic brother to meet her and the shame he inflicts upon her is the end of her life. These characters are a mix of settlers: early colonial era, as well as recent Irish and Chinese immigrants. Of these settlers, only one set achieves whiteness in America. All benefit from stolen land. All think they have a choice like Cain and Abel. They can choose righteousness or they can choose sin. This is supposed to be freedom; that they can undo generational harm.

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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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Jim Feast
Reticent Verse

A review of

Digigram by Barbara Henning. United Artists Books 2020

Many poets have used broad strokes to deplore the current reactionary environment (as Eliot Katz does so superbly in President Predator), expressing their outrage, disgust and sadness, but Barbara Henning in Digigram takes a different route, examining how the coarsened political climate has insinuated itself into all the interstices of everyday life.

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Jess Flarity
Diamond Dogs

a review of

Isle of Dogs by Jon Frankel. Whiskey Tit 2020

Every time Jon Frankel releases a novel it feels as if he’s managed to twist the English language into a new, illusory shape: a mobius strip made of words. Specimen Tank, his debut in 1994, is a lurid nightmarescape with one foot in the grimiest alley of 1980’s New York City and the other in the bizarro universe it took David Wong and all those Eraserhead Press writers another twenty years to finally tap into. If you strip down his latest book from Whiskey Tit, Isle of Dogs, it appears to resemble a political thriller—but it takes place in the year 2500 and all the politicians are multi-generational clones who ride flesh-eating horses around a war-torn, biopunk, feudalist-dystopian version of crumbling America. It’s like sitting down to watch a familiar courtroom drama and discovering your couch is releasing hallucinogenic spores while Netflix beams into your tv from two dimensions away. A word of warning: if you don’t first read Gaha: Babes of the Abyss (the sequel), you may ricochet off this book’s first chapter like a bullet shot into a centrifuge. Frankel must have snorted some Gene Wolfe recently, because he throws his reader directly into the center of the Sargon 4’s political web without wasting a single page on backstory, making it feel like a contemporary novel about life on Capitol Hill except now all the congress members have been replaced by techno-Spartans with delicate, epicurean palates. In a single scene, a couple of two-hundred year old clones might casually discuss mass genocide while drinking jasmine tea and referencing the latest issue of The New York Times, and Frankel continually mixes the familiarity of our modern day with his surreal vision of the future to keep the prose highly readable, yet somehow...askew. His style is a fusion of literary realism and highly imaginative science fiction that harkens back to works such as Philip K. Dick’s Martian Time-Slip, Samuel Delaney’s Trouble on Triton, and Ursula Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven. But compared to his other novels, such as The Man Who Can’t Die, Frankel has pumped the brakes on his graphic depictions of sexuality and violence, to the relief of some his readers and to the disappointment of others. This is possibly because Isle of Dogs is told from the perspective of the tyrannical Rulers rather than from their “genetically inferior” victims, and so the story has a familial warmth as the plot passes from character to character, almost as if the reader is peeking behind the curtains of the powerful kings or queens more typical of a high fantasy setting. Again, it’s difficult to pin a single genre on this or any of Frankel’s other works, but for the kind of reader who longs for a story that doesn’t have the slapped-together feel of too much of today’s popular fiction or the overwrought stylism of the literary novels hemorrhaging from Brooklyn’s coffee shops, this book will activate a part of your mind that you didn’t know was there before.

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D.G. Gerard
Housing is a Human Right ARB Interview

By August 2020, nearly one third of all Americans had outstanding rent or mortgage payments. As eviction moratoriums expire, communities should look to successful actions against the American housing system for inspiration. Moms 4 Housing of Oakland, California is a notable example. The organization formed when Carroll Fife, the director of Oakland Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) was approached by several mothers who had recently become homeless. The moms formed a collective, and together, they occupied a spectator property that had remained vacant for years. The occupation continued for two months while a legal battle to evict them ensued. As the case dragged on, Moms 4 Housing became a media sensation, gaining support from liberal journalists and politicians. Moms 4 Housing lost their court case on January 10th 2020, and the mothers were evicted during a nighttime raid four days later. But the community stood by them, attempting to block the eviction and demanding justice. In response to the outcry, the landlord agreed to sell the property to a community land trust. Moms 4 Housing has drawn substantial attention to the severe failures of market housing.

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Marissa Holmes
The Political Vision of David Graeber

Throughout his life, David Graeber remained an eternal optimist who refused to accept the world as it is, and saw only what it could be. He envisioned international, directly democratic, and egalitarian politics. To achieve this required practice.

An Hypothesis

In Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology, Graeber made an hypothesis: majoritarian democracy was in its origins essentially a military institution, a coercive political process in which the minority was compelled by force to do as the majority wanted. Often the “majority,” as in the case of Ancient Athens, was comprised only of white property-owning men. A real democracy could be found in non-Western examples, where people made decisions based on consent rather than coercion. He wrote, “If there is no way to compel those who find a majority decision distasteful to go along with it, then the last thing one would want to do is to hold a vote: a public contest which someone will be seen to lose.” Thus, in communities where the mechanism of coercion, most commonly the state, was absent, there was no reason to engage in a majoritarian process. Instead, he claimed, they operated by not only a formal consensus decision-making process, but a culture of consensus.

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Octavio Alberola
Farewell Comrade David Graeber’s Practical Anarchism

Perpignan, 18 September 2020

The untimely death of anthropologist and activist David Graeber has triggered a wave of emotion in social networks and, in the world press, generated headlines recognizing the intellectual worth of his wide-ranging work and militant activism.

Which is why, in the posthumous tributes, there have been frequent references—more or less well-meaning—to his anarchist activism and his conception of anarchism. Although it needs to be highlighted that he did not enjoy being classified as an “anarchist anthropologist” because, in his view, anarchism is a practice rather than an identity: “anarchism is a matter of doing, not of being.”

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Heather Bowlan
More and Better Trouble

A review of

We Want It All: An Anthology of Radical Trans Poetics edited by Andrea Abi-Karam and Kay Gabriel. Nightboat Books 2020

We Want It All is a big, unwieldy, overflowing book—in this particular moment, there is a need for excess to respond to excess; to the smug American Horror Story of overblown, overglossed oppression and hatred. As We Want It All’s editors, Andrea Abi-Karam and Kay Gabriel, state, “Our aim in the present collection is therefore both to register and to amplify this tendency” to write against these excesses of power. They identify eight separate “overlapping strategies and concerns” in this anthology, acknowledging they are far from comprehensive, among them explorations of the ecological and the historical, collaborative exchanges and serial poems, satire and lyricism.

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