Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The Death of an Anarchist

Today’s post borrows from the title of a play by Dario Fo. He is an Italian writer who was given something very large like the Nobel Peace Prize for Literature, but don’t take the scribe’s word for that.

the scribe has not read anything of Fo’s, but he can offer you this bit of verse from Italian filmmaker Paolo Pasolini:

“My God, but then what assets
do you have?...”
“Me? - [nefariously stammering
not having taken my medication,
my sickly boy’s voice trembles] -
Me? A desperate vitality.”

That’s from a longish piece called “A Desperate Vitality,” which is an okay poem, the value of which has increased by the finite number of like pieces available, since Pasolini is gone.

Pasolini was an aesthetic anarchist of sorts and made some very provocative and ingenious things. Nobody, however, wants to honor him today because of his scandalous love for boys and his dark death, which was somehow related to his scandalous love for boys.

The highwayscribery staff has dedicated its time and energy to anarchy in the past (“Anarchy in the P.A.” June 23; “Big Joke,” May 3) and written the novel (that you can purchase for your mother by clicking on the “button” just left of what you are now reading) “Vedette,” which has something to do with anarchy, too.

Keeping this tradition on track and ending the longest segue in journalistic history, today’s focus is on an odd obituary published in the “The Los Angeles Times” about a Chinese anarchist from another time and place.

Ba Jin is described in Anthony Kuhn’s piece as, “a staunch anarchist whose writings inspired a generation of youth to join the Communist Revolution...” He was 100 years old when he died on October 17.

Here’s an interesting historical bit from the piece:

“During the first two decades of the 20th century, anarchism captivated China’s intellectual avant-garde, eclipsing even Marxism. Despite debates between the two schools, anarchism helped pave the way for communism’s rise by radicalizing China’s intelligentsia. In talks with U.S. journalist Edgar Snow in 1936, Mao Tse-tung said anarchism had played a profound role in his intellectual development.”

Which may or may not be why Mao wrote this in his little Red Book:

“Conversations, speeches, articles and resolutions should all be clear and concise. At the same time, meetings shouldn’t run too long...”

But back to Ba Jin. He was born into a wealthy family, but his parents died during his youth and, according to the article, “Ba escaped from his sadness into the world of books, memorizing Chinese literary classics and studying English.”

At 16, he started reading Kropotkin (again “Anarchy in the P.A.” June 23) and later became his translator. He corresponded with the American anarchist Emma Goldman whom he referred to as his “spiritual mother.”

There is much written about Emma Goldman, whose New York brownstone (by the way) can be found at 210 E. 13th St., but the most fetching portrait is found in E.L. Doctorow’s “Ragtime” (the novel).

Kuhn notes that Ba’s anarchism was standard fare for the time. “He called for revolution and the abolition of private property. He saw patriotism as the root of war. He advocated the use of Esperanto, the universal language, and supported the Industrial Workers of the World, the radical union known as the Wobblies.” http://www.iww.org/

Ba Jin went to Paris in 1927, which was a hell of a year to be there, and got his revolutionary spirit puffed up further. He went home to China and wrote a series of novels (“Spring” “Autumn” and “Family”) that, apparently, inspired a generation of repressed young men to buck their fathers' wishes and throw in with Mao.

We will, you know, let each decide on his/her own exactly how that all worked out for humanity. We're just making sure an anarchist doesn't die forgotten or unknown.

He later got a post in one of the early Communist goverments, but, as his formation might portend, ran afoul of the regime and got mixed up in the muck so many progressives did in those days before the benefit of hindsight.

When there were purges of intellectuals he “named names,” but that didn’t save him during the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution where his works were referred to in the government daily as “anti-party, anti-socialist poisonous weeds.”

Mao also wrote that, “the party rules with the rifle, but will never permit itself to be ruled by it.”

Things hit their nadir when Ba Jin, basically a writer, was forced to sit on stage in a public arena and be harangued for two hours. The obligatory banishment to the provinces ensued. He had fallen a long way. He was 64 years-old by then.

The climb back up was slow and incomplete. Ba's conscience was ill-at-ease and he lamented his having hurt the innocent despite the limited options tendered him at the time. The lesson he drew from it all was to speak the truth.

When I say speak the truth, I don’t mean an absolute truth or correct words. What you think is what you say. That’s speaking the truth.”

A reminder that the scribe will read from the novel “Vedette”, to the flamenco stylings of guitarist Omar Torrez, http://www.omartorrez.com/ at 33 1/3 Books & Collective. Corner of Sunset Blvd. and Alvarado. There are four pieces and then we’ll sign books and drink or something. We urge you to go by the collective any time. They have a unique collection of books, radical t’s, and graffiti-ish, multi-media art installations.


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