Thursday, February 25, 2010

Notes on Bolaño, 2666, and "The Part about the Crimes"

I read Roberto Bolaño's enormous 2666 over the last two weeks, finishing the other night. It's an incredible read. The other Bolaño books I've read are, in order, The Savage Detectives, By Night in Chile, Amulet, and Last Evenings on Earth. I'd say 2666 stands with the very short By Night in Chile as the best of these. I'd say further, among many other attributes, that both novels offer nice examples of viable political fiction, contrary to certain claims.

Backing up a bit: It's been difficult to avoid the Bolaño hype in recent years. The blog buzz was fairly deafening well in advance of the English translation of The Savage Detectives. For some readers, the appearance of that book likely marked the beginning of their awareness of the hype, but for me, wary of the hype itself, perhaps the main thing moving Bolaño onto my personal radar—as a writer I expected I would read, that is—was the fact that his shorter works were all being published by the excellent New Directions. My attention was elsewhere at the time, but my intention was to read some of these before tackling The Savage Detectives. But events dictated otherwise: a friend left her paperback at our house, and since I was between books, I picked it up and read. I was not immediately overwhelmed. I had great difficulty with the opening section of the novel—the diary of the 17 year-old poet Juan Garcia Madero, with all the tedium and exaggerated sexual exploits and so on: I was bored and was not looking forward to plowing my way through it, nor returning to that voice in the final section. But the middle section was something else. Here, with the testimony from many different characters who at one time or another knew our elusive poets, the Bolaño stand-in Arturo Belano and his partner Ulises Lima, there was much to like, plenty to love. Ultimately, though I wasn't quite convinced of Bolaño's genius, I saw enough there to continue reading. (Even looking back at the bookended diary extracts, I can see that that voice, like so many of the others, is expertly performed. I just didn't enjoy having him around, at least at that time.)

Then 2666 appeared and the hype was simply overwhelming. I still wanted to read the short stuff, but before doing so, I succumbed: I asked for and received the heavy hardcover of 2666 for Christmas 2008. Occasionally in 2009, I'd pull it down from the shelf and wonder why I didn't ask for the paperback. When was I going to want to be hauling this guy back and forth on the train? And my heart sank a bit as I'd read the not-very-exciting opening page of "The Part about the Critics", wondering if I'd ever get through this book. But then I read By Night In Chile, and I was impressed. I read Amulet, which is somewhat odder, a bit fantastic, a bit political, the novel fleshed out from one of the accounts in The Savage Detectives; I more or less enjoyed it. Then came Last Evenings on Earth, stories, some quite nice...

Ok, ok, so why this personal history with Bolaño? It occurs to me that there are numerous routes to any author, and Bolaño, with all of the misleading hype, can be difficult to read amidst it all. It can be tempting to dismiss an author with all of the attending noise. If your first awareness of Bolaño came with, say, a New York Times or New Yorker review of The Savage Detectives—perhaps you don't have any prior knowledge of New Directions—and you pick up that book and read it, and have more or less the experience that I did, or perhaps you liked it even less. Might not the urge to dismiss be strong? We have so much to read and selection is necessary and aren't we already subject to enough overrated writing?, isn't it true that the establishment controls enough as it is?, isn't Bolaño being pushed a bit too heavily? Maybe. But it happens that hype is fairly random and uncontrollable and sometimes the establishment favors something good, if perhaps for the wrong reasons (and anyway, hasn't it long been, um, established, that anything can be, and is, commodified?)—on this last point, take a look again at Edmond Caldwell's essay on James Wood's review. Caldwell's essay serves as both a brilliant critique, in political and literary terms—quite the same thing here—of Wood's characteristic domestication of Bolaño, as well as an invigorating interpretation of the novel, again, in political and literary terms.

Which, in fact, brings me back to 2666. As noted, as time wore on, I was rather dreading this novel, its size, the unpromising opening, and, especially, the notorious fourth book, "The Part about the Crimes". I heard so much griping about this portion of the novel—page after page, 300 pages, we were told, of flat, graphic police reports of dead women, most of whom were raped and tortured and then tossed aside like so much garbage. We were told variously that it was a bad joke, a tedious experiment, that it was offensive, that it's a big "fuck you" to the readers, that it was unreadable, indefensible, etc, etc and so on. I felt I was going to need to brace myself, if I ever bothered to start. But then two weeks ago I was unexpectedly home for a week (snow), and I picked it up and began reading.

I'm not planning to review the novel properly, or to write in any great detail about it—this post is already long enough, and I'm not really up for it—but I will offer some thoughts, in particular about that fourth part (I'm sorry to say I won't be providing any passages from the novel; with this book, I just read, taking no notes). Though I'd obviously been able to glean some details about the book over the several months since it appeared, in general I managed to avoid reading most reviews. Having now finished, I have gone back and read only Waggish's quartet of posts (1, 2, 3, 4). In addition, it happened that Adam Roberts was reading 2666 at the same time I was and posting his thoughts in a quintet of posts at The Valve, one for each of the novel's parts (1, 2, 3, 4, 5; actually, each post is a fairly detailed synopsis of the part under discussion, so I'm going to direct you there for the summaries, though I don't always agree with Adam's perspective); his posts elicited the usual combination of excellent, helpful comments and not-so-helpful comments (as well as several characteristically lengthy and impertinent comments from one reader in particular). I thought Adam had some interesting things to say about the novel, but I find I generally agree with Waggish's take. I, too, found the first book, "The Part about the Critics" comparatively boring. It wasn't bad—there are some amusing bits about academia, to be sure; the critics of the title are experts on a German writer named Archimboldi and attend various conferences and ultimately try to find their hero—but it turned out to be easily the least good part of the novel. The second, "The Part about Amalfitano", which follows a minor character from the end of the first part, was much better. "The Part about Fate" was a bit meandering, and I agree with Adam Roberts that it really picks up about fifty pages from the end, the momentum leading us right into the much-dreaded "Part about the Crimes". After which we come to "The Part about Archimboldi", which in part tells us the story of the writer who was the focus of the critics in book one. This part has some stunning writing, including some fascinating meta stuff about writing, but I admit that my attention flagged on occasion, in part, I think, because more than once, all of a sudden the story comes to a halt and we embark on another biographical sketch, from the beginning. This fifth book resolves virtually none of the major story elements raised in the other four.

But I want to talk, finally, about "The Part about the Crimes". Adam calls it "a thoroughly grueling read", "a horrible read", "monotonously intense and repetitive": "It is unpleasant to read; it must have been deeply unpleasant to write." He is not alone, and of course this is exactly what I feared, but it turns out that I strenuously disagree. I disagree, but I nevertheless think Adam's on to something when he wonders whether the repetitiveness "isn’t designed to say something about men":
The point is not just that they so often relate to women only in terms of sexualized aggression and hostility; but more precisely that there is something mechanical, a structuring monotonous repetition, about that violence. Men are like jack-hammers, banging away over and over and over (banging in a sexual sense; banging in a discursive sense—banging, in this man’s novel at this point, in a textual sense); and it is women who find themselves underneath the hammerhead. This vision, that the world is always and everywhere horribly the same dominates the section, and justifies its experimental form.
He notes that there are some passages that challenge this idea, but they are overwhelmed by "the masculine vision that everything is everywhere remorselessly the same; and that sameness is the repetitive monotony of male sexual violence, of hatred and suffering inflicted and death." I'll take this up in a moment. First I want to say that I agree with Waggish, and some of Adam's commenters, that this section is the key to the book. I also found it an incredibly powerful, and politically resonant, reading experience. I see an example of fiction's willingness to not look away, and yet this is not violence porn: the violence is not narrated, only reported forensically. And the traditional order of the detective novel is undermined, as no satisfactory resolution is found. Some other features that stood out for me: we are given several glimpses of some of the lives of the women, and it is invariably in the context of seeking work and the promise of a better life; nearly all of the women were employees of maquiladoras (the real-life murders are also known as the "maquiladora murders"); the period of time begins just prior to the implementation of NAFTA and runs throughout its first decade; maquiladora officials are completely indifferent, and cruel towards family members, in the manner consistent with faceless corporate managers—these women are workers, women in the workplace; at one point it is explicitly observed that these were workers. We hear from a few feminist organizations, large and small, publicly decrying the ongoing violence, outraged at the inability of the police to stop it.

In what way, then, does this resonate for me, beyond the brilliant piece of writing I believe it to be? I naturally don't know precisely what Bolaño intended, and I'm not convinced it matters, but as I was reading this book I had firmly in mind Maria Mies' Patriarchy & Accumulation on a World Scale. If we link what Adam says about what "The Part about the Crimes" could appear to be saying about men with the kind of argument Mies makes in her book, I think something very interesting emerges, which I will only briefly discuss here. Among the many important points Mies makes is that periods of modernization and proletarianization are always accompanied by increased violence against women, as men in general seek to maintain some semblance of control in the drastically changing political and economic landscape, some power at home as relative power is reduced outside it. (For example, she discusses at length increases in rape and dowry murders during the modernization process in India since the late 1960s.) She describes various production relations, each "based on violence and coercion" in which "we can observe an interplay between men (fathers, brothers, husbands, pimps, sons), the patriarchal family, the state and capitalist enterprises." Of course, Bolaño does not pedantically mention NAFTA or American hegemony. And some might say I'm taking liberties. Perhaps, perhaps. But I think that, to the extent that art is politically resonant, it allows us to think not only in those terms only laid out in the text, and it provides us with unforeseen opportunities in which to do so. I would like to suggest that, in refusing to look away, in brilliantly structuring this part the way he did, at least one thing Bolaño accomplished is he provided a powerful aesthetic experience which allows us see what doesn't get seen in the push to progress, to structure the overwhelming and repetitive violence immanent in such processes, to finally bear witness to its unfolding.

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Saturday, February 20, 2010

"the movement, the transitions!"

As I've noted, I've been reading occasionally in the recently published edition of The Letters of Samuel Beckett. This first edition covers the years 1929-1940. So far, I've been reading approximately a year at a time, and I am up to the beginning of 1934. Beckett is a young man, and there is much ado about placing stories and poems and reviews, as well as attempts to get his first novel, Dream of Fair to Middling Women, published. I was surprised by the latter business. This novel never appeared in Beckett's lifetime, and I hadn't known that he'd ever tried to get it published—I'd had it filed away as a failed first attempt, much like Proust's Jean Santeuil. This notion certainly fits in with what we know of, for example, Beckett's attempts to escape the shadow of James Joyce. But I've yet to read either of the two enormous biographies, Deidre Bair's Samuel Beckett and James Knowlson's Damned to Fame. If I had, perhaps I'd already have been disabused of this idea. Even so, in his introduction to the Grove centenary set, Paul Auster says that Dream of Fair to Middling Women is not included because Beckett had blocked it from being published in his lifetime; it is, so to speak, not canonical. I suppose he only blocked after it had been dead and buried and plundered for other work, and he'd later found his own voice.

The stuff about efforts at publishing is interesting only to a point. Then there are the many expressions of angst about how poorly writing is coming, how awful it is. And he includes poems in some of these letters, some to friends, others to publishers. The excessive influence of Joyce is unmistakable, in the worst way: I find I cannot read Beckett's poetry, the early poems anyway. (Much as I have difficulty chewing on many of the early stories, whereas I felt an affinity with the great trilogy.) Then there are the remarks about other authors, assessments. This is, unsurprisingly, some of the best stuff here (along with Beckett's own ideas on what writing is and ought to be, about which I hope to blog, time permitting). During this time he was reading Proust and working on his critical monograph (as yet unread by me, though included in the Grove set) about In Search of Lost Time, so there are scattered comments about different sections of the book. In a letter from December 1932, for example, he writes about re-reading Le Temps Retrouvé [Time Regained] and finding himself unable to "get on with" the "Balzac gush" of the first half, while the second includes "surely [...] as great a piece of sustained writing as anything to be found anywhere." I find such remarks bracing. But somehow my favorite so far are about Dostoevsky, in part, I think, because of my own troubles with that author. Here, Beckett is reading a French translation of that novel which is variously rendered in English as The Possessed or Devils or Demons:
I'm reading the 'Possédés' in a foul translation. Even so it must be very carelessly & badly written in the Russian, full of clichés & journalese: but the movement, the transitions! No one moves about like Dostoievski. No one ever caught the insanity of dialogue like he did.
More to come. . .

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"a slow, inquiring narration"

In the preface to the American edition of his book A Journey to the Rivers: Justice for Serbia, after noting the (some might say hysterical) commotion the text caused when it first appeared in Europe, Peter Handke wrote this:
Now the text is translated, and I trust that you will read it as it is; I need not defend or take back a single word. I wrote about my journey through the country of Serbia exactly as I have always written my books, my literature: a slow, inquiring narration; every paragraph dealing with and narrating a problem, of representation, of form, of grammar—of aesthetic veracity; that has always been the case in what I have written, from the beginning to the final period. Dear reader: that, and that alone, I offer here for your perusal.
[Update: it has just come to my attention that by coincidence, at The Goalie's Anxiety, Scott Abbott has excerpted part of this same preface, to an actual purpose: taking issue with James Agee's offhand criticisms of Krishna Winston's recently published translation of Handke's Don Juan, His Own Version. Abbott has himself translated Handke in the past (and, in fact, translated A Journey to the Rivers), and he takes the time to look at certain decisions Winston made in the translation, comparing them with what he might have come up with, not unfavorably. Time, that is, that Agee does not take, at least not in the space he's provided in the New York Times. The whole post is worth a read, especially if you're interested in questions of translation.]

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Saturday, February 13, 2010

Wishing Away One's Own Existence

Late in the first chapter of Seeing Like a State (discussed in the last post), James Scott has moved on to discussing the pre-revolutionary Russian state and its efforts to make legible the peasantry, in the years after the emancipation of the serfs. While reading this section, I felt uncannily as though I were listening to my old professor of Russian history, George Yaney, talking about "the peasant problem". And then the next thing I know, Scott has mentioned Yaney by name! Much later in the book, he quotes from Yaney’s The Urge to Mobilize thus:
It sometimes seems to me that if I could persuade everyone to say "systematize" each time he wanted to say "liberate" and to say "mobilization" every time he wanted to say "reform" or "progress" I would not have to write long books about government-peasant interaction in Russia.
Well, indeed. And as Scott notes, Yaney could just as easily have been talking about the Leninist USSR .

I previously invoked Professor Yaney, though not by name, in an entry from more than three years ago, in which I touched on the concept of "hauntology", which was then buzzing rather loudly through certain parts of blogville (namely, k-punk & blissblog & others) (by the way, people seem very curious still about hauntology; my two posts—here is the second one—on the topic receive constant hits, more than most anything else I've written here, I think). I wrote that he had one day "said something to the effect that, as horrible as what happened to the Native Americans was, he was nevertheless happy it had happened." And: "To wish otherwise was to wish away his own existence." At the time, I had been reminded of these words by k-punk's observation, viz. Octavia Butler's novel Kindred, that "The deep, unbearable ache in Kindred arises from the horrible realisation that, for contemporary black America, to wish for the erasure of slavery is to call for the erasure of itself." (See here for my own take on Kindred, and, while we're at it, though it's not strictly relevant, here on Butler's Parable of the Sower.)

Aside from wanting to note the excitement at seeing my professor's name, I revisit these ideas now in part because I find I am often at risk of wishing away my own existence. When I read history, my sympathies are always with the resisters. And yet were those resisters to have won, at almost any point, my existence would have been not just unlikely, but impossible. (Hell, for me, the Vietnam War was quite possibly a necessary pre-condition for my existence, given when and how my parents got together and decided to get married.) Yes, our lives are all contingent. What I'm trying to get at isn't something so banal as that (at least I hope it isn't). The point is that we are well beyond being merely complicit in the evil of the system. The point, contra my professor's apparent meaning in his remarks, is not that simply because we value our own lives—the fact that we exist—that we thus blithely accept as in a sense good that which led to our existence. I want to be able to re-capture something good in what was lost, while always being aware of the fact that my life—my existence—has depended on that loss. So when I write about not being automatically given to anti-modernity, it is in part to keep upfront that awareness. Since I have been trying to argue that modernization has been, step-by-step, an illegitimate, unjustifiable violence on real people, the maintaining of awareness is meant to make it clear that in any re-capturing I would have much to learn to even be able to survive on a day-to-day basis, and it is meant to make it clear that I am ultimately arguing not just against that which I hate, but against that which I like, that which I take for granted, that which I love.

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Notes on Seeing Like a State

At American Leftist, Richard Estes calls James C. Scott's book Seeing Like a State "eccentric" and "pathbreaking". Perhaps it is eccentric—certainly I'd read nothing like it before and found its perspective highly illuminating. As such, I call it also brilliant and necessary. As the title suggests, Scott explores the ways in which the State sees things, indeed how it must see things in order to function at all. In the opening chapter, he explains the concept of "legibility": the state desires to make its subjects or citizens, and its territory, more legible, more readable, reducible. To illustrate what he means, he opens with an example describing how the 18th c. Prussian state viewed the forest as a source of revenue, and only as a source of revenue, and how scientific forestry developed out of this narrowing of vision, while all other uses of the forest were ignored, including the vast majority of flora and fauna native to the forest, as well the "vast, complex, and negotiated social uses of the forest for hunting and gathering, pasturage, fishing, charcoal making, trapping, and collecting food and valuable minerals as well as the forest’s significance for magic, worship, ritual, and so on". This translates into other areas of state-making. Mapping is more precise, the population is more definable, taxing more easily collected and tracked. Much is missed, lost, but the result is “a high degree of schematic knowledge, control, and manipulation” which is a necessary pre-condition for any sort of governing, for good and bad.

From here, Scott goes on to discuss what he calls "authoritarian high modernism"; this is, as Richard puts it, "a form of modernism marked by an extreme tendency to impose technocratic solutions upon a populace reduced to fungibility". Lenin and Le Corbusier emerge as villains in the book, largely because of Scott's choice of examples: enforced collectivization in the Soviet Union and Le Corbusier's design schemes and the influence of his ideas, for example in the planned city of Brasilia (incidentally, if I was previously somewhat ambivalent about Lenin and his pre-Stalin legacy, this book leaves me in no doubt that I am not a fan; but more on that later). In this context, Scott stresses that high modernism was a widely held outlook among elites—planners, designers, and statesmen—in the late 19th-early 20th centuries, but elites were often thwarted in their attempts to impose their grandiose ideas on how cities and agricultural concerns should be organized (in their conception, cities as they are are too messy, not rational enough; agriculture should be more "scientific", in the narrow sense of scientific understood by such technocrats). For example, "the belief in huge, mechanized, industrial farms" was common among both American and Russian agronomists, who kept in close contact, "working together to create a new world of large-scale, rational, industrial agriculture", the Americans in particular were thrilled to not have to work around any political process:
the Russians tended to be envious of the level of capitalization, particularly in mechanization, of American farms while the Americans were envious of the political scope of Soviet planning.
After exploring this particular set of relationships, he expands the point to note a general "'elective affinity' between authoritarian high modernism and certain institutional arrangements":
High-modernist ideologies embody a doctrinal preference for certain social arrangements. Authoritarian high-modernist states, on the other hand, take the next step. They attempt, and often succeed, in imposing those preferences on their population. Most of the preferences can be deduced from the criteria of legibility, appropriation, and centralization of control. To the degree that the institutional arrangements can be readily monitored and directed from the center and can be easily taxed (in the broadest sense of taxation), then they are likely to be promoted. The implicit goals behind these comparisons are not unlike the goals of pre-modern statecraft. Legibility, after all, is a prerequisite of appropriation as well as of authoritarian transformation. The difference, and it is a crucial one, lies in the wholly new scale of ambition and intervention entertained by high modernism.
I could explore in great detail the different aspects of the book, but I'm chiefly interested in the implications on real people caught in these schemes (Scott: "The transformation of peripheral nonstate spaces into state spaces by the modern, developmentalist nation-state is ubiquitous and, for the inhabitants of such spaces, frequently traumatic"), schemes which rarely turned out the way the planners had intended, because they inevitably missed something, didn't understand something about what they were eliminating (weren't as scientific as they thought), didn't count on people ("The pretense of authoritarian high-modernist schemes to discipline virtually everything within their ambit is bound to encounter intractable resistance."). I'm interested in what gets lost. Indeed, though Scott makes several asides observing that much that we think of as good is also a function of the sort of narrowing of vision he describes, he focuses heavily on what gets missed and the effects on actual people. For example, with respect to collectivization, he notes that
The concentration of population in planned settlements may not create what state planners had in mind, but it has almost always disrupted or destroyed prior communities whose cohesion derived mostly from non-state sources. The communities thus superseded—however objectionable they may have been on normative grounds—were likely to have had their own unique histories, social ties, mythology, and capacity for joint action. Virtually by definition, the state-designated settlement must start from the beginning to build its own sources of cohesion and joint action. A new community is thus, also by definition, a community demobilized, and hence a community more amenable to control from above and outside.
Since a key reason I am interested in such matters has to do with figuring out how a better world might emerge given what we know about past failures, as well as successes, Scott's footnote to this point is highly pertinent:
I believe that this logic of social demobilization is the key element in the commonly observed fact that, at the beginning of industrialization, the declining rural community is often more likely to be a source of collective protest than is the newly constituted proletariat, notwithstanding standard Marxist reasoning to the contrary. Resettlement, whether forced or unforced, often eliminates a prior community and replaces it with a temporarily disaggregated mass of new arrivals. It is ironically just such a population that may, for the time being, more closely resemble the "potatoes in a sack" than the peasantry of the bocage described by Marx in The Eighteenth Brumaire.
Similarly, it has been further observed, by several others, that it's no accident that where successful revolutions have taken place, it has been largely due to the peasantry, their gains almost immediately undermined in favor of the implementation of some theory or other. Thus I've been reading about anarchism and about subsistence strategies and peasant resistance. And of course feminism, which incidentally reminds me that Scott's counter-examples to Lenin and Le Corbusier are, respectively, Rosa Luxemburg and Jane Jacobs. I think it is no accident that they were women. As ever, more to come.

[By the way, Richard Estes' post, which I link to above, is an application of Scott's book to the phenomenon of Olympic villages and facilities, specifically this year's winter games in Vancouver. His observations are interesting and relevant:
the Olympics endures as one of the sanctuaries of high modernist urban aspirations, and this is evident in the 2010 Winter Olympics about to commence in Vancouver. Vancouver has a deserved reputation as a socially vibrant place, and, yet, it is precisely this vibrance that must be eradicated in order for the Olympics to go forward.
With Scott's book in mind, in particular his example of Baron Haussmann's reconstruction of 19th c. Paris, Richard notes the "attempt to sanitize Vancouver and the surrounding areas of [every aspect of social unpredictability and transgression] in order to make it suitable for the event to go forward" and the "strict controls [placed] upon athletes, spectators, and, implicitly, the people who work within the Olympic Village and specific competitive sites". It's worth reading the whole thing.]

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Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Noted: Maria Mies

In light of the short discussion that occurred in the comments to my post on One Dimensional Woman, this excerpt from chapter 2, "Social Origins of the Sexual Division of Labour", from Maria Mies' brilliant Patriarchy & Accumulation on a World Scale: Women in the International Division of Labour is, I find, enormously helpful:
What characterizes women's object-relation to nature, to their own as well as to the external nature? First, we see that women can experience their whole body as productive, not only their hands or their heads. Out of their body they produce new children as well as the first food for these children. It is of crucial importance for our subject that women's activity in producing children and milk is understood as truly human, that is, conscious, social activity. Women appropriated their own nature, their capacity to give birth and to produce milk in the same way as men appropriated their own bodily nature, in the sense that their hands and head, etc., acquired skills through work and reflection to make and handle tools. In this sense, the activity of women in bearing and rearing children has to be understood as work. It is one of the greatest obstacles to women's liberation, that is, humanization, that these activities are still interpreted as purely physiological functions, comparable to those of other mammals, and lying outside the sphere of conscious human influence. This view that the productivity of the female body is identical with animal fertility—a view which is presently propagated and popularized the world over by demographers and population planners—has to be understood as result of the patriarchal and capitalist division of labour and not as its precondition.

In the course of their history, women observed the changes in their own bodies and acquired through observation and experiment a vast body of experiential knowledge about the function of their bodies, about the rhythms of menstruation, about pregnancy and childbirth. This appropriation of their own bodily nature was closely related to the acquisition of knowledge about the generative forces of external nature, about plants, animals, the earth, water and air.

Thus, they did not simply breed children like cows, but they appropriated their own generative and productive forces, they analysed and reflected upon their own and former experiences and passed them on to their daughters. This means they were not helpless victims of the generative forces of their bodies, but learned to influence them, including the number of children they wanted to have.

We are in possession of enough evidence today to conclude that women in pre-patriarchal societies knew better how to regulate the number of their children and the frequency of births than do modern women, who have lost this knowledge through their subjection to the patriarchal capitalist civilizing process.
Mies goes on to discuss the numerous methods of contraception and abortion known to women in gatherer-hunter groups, plus evidence which shows that women lowered their fertility through such methods as prolonged breastfeeding. And though she here talks about pre-patriarchal women, later she discusses the types of knowledge formerly known by pre-capitalist women and the ways in which that knowledge, along with women's power, was destroyed in the transition to capitalism (this is a major theme in Silvia Federici's Caliban and the Witch, too).

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Noted: David Graeber

From "The Twilight of Vanguardism", collected in Possibilities:
[W]hy is it that artists have so often been drawn to revolutionary politics to begin with? Because it does seem to be the case that, even in times and places when there is next to no other constituency for revolutionary change, the place one is most likely to find one is among artists, authors, and musicians; even more so, in fact, than among professional intellectuals. It seems to me the answer must have something to do with alienation. There would appear to be a direct link between the experience of first imagining things and then bringing them into being (individually or collectively)—that is, the experience of certain forms of unalienated production—and the ability to imagine social alternatives; particularly, the possibility of a society itself premised on less alienated forms of creativity. Which would allow us to see the historical shift between seeing the vanguard as the relatively unalienated artists (or perhaps intellectuals) to seeing them as the representatives of the "most oppressed" in a new light. In fact, I would suggest, revolutionary coalitions always tend to consist of an alliance between a society's least alienated and its most oppressed. And this is less elitist a formulation than it might sound, because it also seems to be the case that actual revolutions tend to occur when these two categories come to overlap. That would, at any rate, explain why it almost always seems to be peasants and craftspeople—or alternately, newly proletarianized former peasants and craftspeople—who actually rise up and overthrow capitalist regimes, and not those inured to generations of wage-labor.

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