Welcome to the third issue of the Anarchist Review of Books, produced by a collective based in Atlanta, Austin, Chicago, Exarchia, New York, Oakland, and Seattle.
We bring you this issue at a time of new variants, mass resignations and strikes, of seemingly futile calls to open borders, close prisons, and lower emissions, of supply chain breakdowns, strategic chokepoints, and promises that a clean new germ-free world awaits in the metaverse—a concept first conceived in a dystopian novel, now the utopian dream of an American billionaire.
In the metaverse, the billionaire’s story goes, we will live through avatars.
But stories about avatars are nothing new. Think of Pythia at Delphi, high on the fumes of a decomposing serpent, perched on a tripod among the slave-built temples and treasuries, channeling Apollo. The Delphic Oracle persists in the collective imagination as a psychic who guided all who came to her. But the historical record shows that the fee to consult the oracle was steep, the questions the rich and powerful asked were nearly all about investing, real estate and war, and the answers were interpreted by a priest.
It still costs a fee to see the ruins at Delphi, a seat of power so symbolically significant the town that had been built over it thousands of years ago was razed and rebuilt nearby.
If the poor wanted advice during the classical period they went to a cave in the mountain above Delphi, where they divined the future by tossing dice made from the knucklebones of animals, communed directly with the Thriai, and left offerings to Pan. The vast interior of the Corycian cave, reachable today by a washed-out dirt road on the side of the mountain, smells like minerals and moss. The green walls and calcified formations resemble faces and figures and monsters. There are still offerings—bowls of honey and milk, oranges, flowers—left in a ring of stones in the cave’s central chamber. While the cave has been the site of common ritual since before the classical period through today, there are few artifacts of interest to tourists—thirty thousand knucklebones don’t capture the imagination like a statue of giant intertwined snakes.
A ruin is a glimpse of the future as well as the past. The remaining grid of a neighborhood, a cratered church or stadium—everyone sees what’s coming. But the cave is not a ruin. The stories of what happened there are largely lost to time, but they are the foundations of human engagement with the imagination, and in the mountain above Delphi this ritual engagement is ongoing.
Narratives about wealth and poverty have been central concerns in art and literature throughout time. But the stories that have come to dominate contemporary American literature have, in less than century, grown narrower and narrower—focusing on the prosaic lives of those with money, on those who rise from poverty, or on trauma narratives which paint all people deprived of income as leading lives of grief, struggle, and ignorance.
Americans have long internalized the bootstrap story—the one in which hard work, virtue and luck pay off and an impoverished protagonist rises to wealth, fame, dominance. But in literature and life, the bootstraps story is a record of failure. The protagonist knows firsthand the cruelty of the system, yet success means to rise in that system. There is no greater failure than joining the ranks of those who held you down. To succeed under capitalism is to fail as a human being.
There has always been another way.
In this issue Toshio Meronek interviews the legendary Miss Major, Cynthia Cruz examines class and the death drive in the work of Marguerite Duras, Dean Spade shines a light on a new edition of Kropotkin’s Mutual Aid, Glynis Hart and Ashlyn Mooney read the latest works on abolition, Brennan Vickery and Clementine Morrigan dish on cancelation, John Sims shows us how to hang the Confederate flag, Sam Hodge paints with coal from the Thames, and Sara Bennett reveals lives on the inside.
We invite you to open these pages, step away from the light of your screen and come toss some knucklebones by the fire.
All Power to the Imagination