Anarchism and Literature, online seminar, November 18 2020

Wednesday 18th November, 5.00-6.30 pm
Online seminar at the University of Westminster

Anarchism and Literature: A Discussion
Joanna Freer (Exeter University) & Frankie Hines (University of Westminster) 

“Starting back toward life”: Anarchism and Mental Health in Toni Cade Bambara’s The Salt Eaters
Joanna Freer (Exeter)

Anarchism, in my understanding, seeks to promote maximum individual autonomy in combination with flexible, cooperative communities. Bambara’s novel The Salt Eaters (1980) emphasises the mental health impacts of a lack of individual political autonomy, as the protagonist Velma Henry suffers a breakdown resulting from her experience working in representative politics in the highly politicized landscape of the American south in the 1970s. The novel details Velma’s frustration with traditional left political campaigns that completely side-track women, who end up doing most of the work for none of the rewards. This frustration and overwork, it is suggested, leads to Velma’s breakdown, but her recovery is achieved via a healing practice that eschews exploitative hierarchies. I argue that a reading of the experiences that trigger Velma’s suicide attempt and of the successful healing process that she undergoes in the novel provides insights into how communities that work on anarchist principles may play a role in encouraging good mental health.

Toward an Anarchist Literary Instrumentalism
Frankie Hines (Westminster)

Anarchist theory and practice pursue a pointed critique of the incipient authoritarianism of representation, rejecting both the institutions of liberal-democratic states and the representative function of the revolutionary party. In place of representation, anarchists pursue an ethic of direct action which emphasises the possibilities afforded by unmediated intervention in the political sphere. I argue that an anarchist literary theory—one capable of apprehending texts produced by anarchist movements—must similarly foreground anarchism’s hostility to representation: adhering to the direct action ethic, it must understand texts in terms of their effects. Introducing such a “literary instrumentalism”, I will explore anarchist texts in terms of their multifaceted relationships to anarchist movements in the United States since the 1970s.

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