Thursday, February 11, 2016

Brief Thoughts 11

Anarchism by George Woodcock

I had a some bad luck with books the past couple months. I checked War and Peace out from my library and got halfway through it before it was due back. I couldn't renew it because someone had placed a hold on it, so I had to return it. Then right before that, I tried reading a copy of this book I had bought used a couple years ago. It turns out that version was a misprint that was missing the majority of the second half. There's 50 cents that's never coming back. I had to buy a new edition to finish it. Which wasn't an entirely bad thing since the newer edition had some updated information.

The first half is an engaging history of the roots of anarchist ideas. It covers most of the major thinkers like Godwin, Proudhon, Bakunin, etc, and provides a good summary of their lives and ideas. The chapter on Stirner is a bit lacking. It's clear that Woodcock was not a fan, and he doesn't analyze his ideas much. Still, he acknowledges Stirner's influence on anarchist thought in a pretty accurate manner. The section on Tolstoy also came from a more literary based perspective than from a political one. 

The second half deals with the history of anarchist movements from all over the world. I found this part to be a dryer read. That's probably my own bias. I tend to be more interested in individuals than mass movements. That said, this section had some good information on where the "classical" anarchist movements started and ended in many parts around the world. It mostly focuses on continental Europe, but the sections on Latin and North America are well done. There were also a few affecting moments here. The optimism that the success (however limited) of the Spanish anarchists during the Civil War instills, and the tragedy of how thoroughly the Soviet Union crushed the movement in a country that produced some of its most important thinkers.

Also, funny story about this book. Bernie Sanders was in my city when I first picked this up, and he ended up coming into the cafe I started reading this in. So I read the first chapter with Sanders sitting at the table next to me talking to his campaign manager

If you're at all interested in Anarchism, this is an essential read. It gives a good rundown on it's history and various streams of thought. It's a good jumping off point as well, naming off major thinkers and works to reference if you decide to delve deeper.

Buy Anarchism by George Woodcock here. 

Cocaine Nights by J.G. Ballard 

I've said in other places how much I love J.G. Ballard, but I actually haven't read a lot of his works. Just four novels (counting this one) and a few short stories. He's one of those authors that instantly "clicked" with me. Cocaine Nights is no exception. 

The plot of the novel is that a travel writer goes to Spain, where his brother has been locked up. He's been accused of starting a fire in a resort town that caused the death of five people. When he gets there, he finds that his brother has pleaded guilty. Convinced that something suspicious is going on, he sets out to find out who really started the fire and why. 

This book is the spiritual predecessor to Super-Cannes. They have similar plots and  both revolve around the theme of the place of crime and transgression in society. Specifically, they both put forward the idea that crime is a negative but necessary component of a healthy society. A lack of it creates complacency and breeds ennui.

Because Cocaine Nights reads more like a traditional mystery novel, many may find this to be more accessible than Super-Cannes. Despite that, I preferred Super-Cannes. It was a bit more subtle in its goals and created a better mood. I still liked this book a lot. In fact, it may be a good jumping on point for people new to Ballard. If you like mysteries and are looking to get into Ballard, this book is perfect.

Buy Cocaine Nights by J.G. Ballard here.

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