Anarchy, Teresa Claramunt

Anarchy
Teresa Claramunt
1903

What is anarchy? Is it art? It’s more than that. Is it science? It is more than that. Is it labour? Still more. Is it love? More, more.

Anarchy is life.

There are great artists, men of science, people who love and millions of people who work use their efforts in manual labour, but in all this group of activities we can see a flaw. Life’s creative aspiration is fatal. The oppressive environment of this society only interested in money absorbs its potential. The artist has a stomach and those who have the means to satisfy its needs are idiots, which impossibility to be able to elevate themselves to the regions towards which progress leads. The inspiration they have to protect the monopoly of ignorant people who have money cannot make life more beautiful or better.

There are also references to the men of science who see themselves forced to mix generally with the contemptible traders who put a price on science as if they were dealing with bottles of wine. And what to say of this other human army of the workers, who try to find how to survive, something to eat. Eyes without faces. This is the most exact representation of death, terrifying members mutilated by the insatiability of parasitism.

Love, the delicate plant which comes to life finds death. Current society lacks the atmosphere for this whole factor of happiness. People replace it by selfishness, by a conventionalism disguised in a thousand ways.

Art, science, labour, and love. The revitalising sun denies its warmth to human beings because evil capital creates thick storm clouds among which move the idiots, the wicked, the hypocrites, all the parasites who conspire against life. Those who adore art, those who love science, those who celebrate the cult of labour and love continue to thrash about in the womb of death if they are not manly, and don’t shed the prejudices which wrap them up and fight against everything for the full enjoyment of life: Anarchy.

Caryatids!, by Madeleine Vernet

[Translated by Jesse Cohn]

CARYATIDS!

Magnificent arms raised over their heads,
Half-naked, bent-backed, faces furrowed in distress,
The caryatids, bearing weight, bearing contempt,
Seem to join their grace to an athlete’s strength.

For days, for months, for years, in ranks
They have stood there, fixed in that granite façade
Where the sculptor had molded their beautiful bodies,
The shapes of their breasts, the curves of their flanks.

There have they been passed by the years and days
While they bear up the weight of the tragedy
That pins them to the rock, as in antiquity
The conqueror’s chariot trailed slaves in chains, —

Slaves! — for such they are, in spite of the hand
Of the Artist who carved them in stone to be loved;
Those arms are oppressed by the weight of the roof
That has nailed them down upon this pillory of pain!…

And are these not pictures of you, woman? Yes,
As old as the world is the yoke that you know;
You, for whom yesterday’s slavery stays new,
You, who are pinned in a shameful arrest

In the dreary, implacable rock of the past! —
— In vain to sing you have the artists and poets
Made their lyres resound at countless feasts,
In vain by their love is your body caressed;

In vain they proclaim, in their songs, their mistress;
You are nevertheless still the slave who was carved
By a Master’s self-love: woman, whom he subdued
By drowning you slowly in false tenderness.

— Long centuries of error, of ignorant night,
The vacuous preachments of hypocrites,
Draining and dwindling you, blanching your face,
Have shaped you well to suit his might.

— The beauty of life within you has grown warped:
The sparkle of jewels that fascinates your eyes
Has robbed you of the serene splendor of skies
Where an insubordinate thought goes to soar.

Heavy dresses have encumbered your steps;
Corsets, iron fists that wound and oppress,
Have muted the harmony of your suppleness —
And bracelets of gold have shackled your arms…

— And because they told you that you were not made
To act and think; because they praised
The sweetness of your heart, the beauty of your flesh;
Because they heaped roses on your head; —

Because they caught you with sentiment,
Because they set a halo on your head,
And because you have been told your part is servitude,
Obedience in duty, patience in punishment;

You then bowed to the decrees of Man
That crushed you under their authority,
O woman! — O Caryatid of Humanity! —
That made you a luxury — or a beast of burden…!

But how suddenly do we hear freedom’s name,
How, in this keener air, the fever is undone,
O Woman! — and by the light of a new sun
The edifice that crushes you shows its age.

— “No, we would be neither masters nor slaves,”
So the peasants in revolt once declared; —
Well! Woman, in your turn, make your wishes heard,
Break your shackles, proclaim your rights.

Proud sisters have pointed the way to go;
Dare to follow their road of wrath and hate,
— For love cannot be where there are chains —
Forsake love, O sisters — until tomorrow!

And dare to follow Revolt where she’s headed,
Through clouds and thunder, through ruddy skies,
To conquer your share of clear air and light,
O Woman: lay your burden down, Caryatid!

— Madeleine Vernet (1905)
Translated by Jesse Cohn

Translator’s comments:

What strikes me as interesting about this piece is the way that a didactic poem – which, trained to read by modernists, we tend to see as heavy-handed, overdone, clumsy, crude, simplistic – actually incorporates a good deal of complexity. The overall idea absolutely can’t be missed: it’s meant to condemn sexism. Beyond that, though, it’s also putting its finger on some of the terrible ironies of life for women under patriarchy: you can be both overvalued and devalued at the same time, treated as a kind of living prop “supporting” the social edifice that weighs down on you (by dutifully reproducing it), and at the same time aestheticized to the point of absurdity, so that your life is made into a kind of work of art, a decorative “luxury,” to be regarded as superfluous and ornamental, socially prized (by men) but also fundamentally worthless (without them). It does most of this work of thinking through the contradictions of patriarchy using a single image, which is really pretty economical (not in the spirit of modernist terseness, but in an effort not to waste any of the effect). There are also ideas in play here about sexuality as a field for political struggle – the suggestion not only of a grève des ventres, a “birth strike,” as was not uncommon in the anarchist and syndicalist press, but also of a kind of emotional strike, a refusal to accept the false coin of male romantic sentiment, that presages things like Adrienne Rich’s notion of waging resistance against “compulsory heterosexuality” by ceasing to draw most of one’s emotional sustenance from relationships with men. Much as Proudhon, as a real patriarch, would have hated to admit it, this is a Proudhonian strategy, too.

From Paris to Barcelona, Rirette Maitrejean

From Paris to Barcelona
Rirette Maîtrejean
1959
Témoins

He had arrived one day from Brussels, where he was our correspondent for the small anarchist newspaper I was taking care of since Libertad’s death. He was only 20. He was handsome as a god: a face of a very pure oval, a high forehead, a straight nose with quivering nostrils, a thin and sensitive mouth, with a slightly distant smile; on all of this, an expression of great detachment, continuously contradicted by a constant need to work, to discuss, to write.

Almost straight away we made a habit of meeting almost every day, in libraries, along the embankments he loved, at the Luxemburg near the pond of the Médicis Fountain, or at my place, in my small home rue de la Seine. In the warm season, we often took the bateau-mouche to Saint-Cloud, a few books or translation and correction work under our arms.

Then, one grey autumn day, as we were reading and commenting François Villon together, in my silent home, love came… from this moment on my life was completely transfigured.

We were both full of enthusiasm, and we worked with much bravery to animate the small newspaper which was in our care: he at the redaction, and I mainly at administration, and even at housework tasks which often presented formidable difficulties.

Several months passed by in this manner, quite peacefully. Then came the awful torment that was to be called the case of the “tragic bandits”, in which we were both taken away, each in a different prison. Even the dangers of the formidable accusation seemed less terrible, less hard to face than being apart. But he was n exceptionally serene soul, and, during the five long years of his imprisonment, he never complained even once. He needed paper, quills, books, many books. He knew I was very poor, but it was as if he had no material needs at all. He never asked for anything.

The last day of the trial – when I was freed – he wrote me, as soon as he was back in prison: “Do not worry for me, my sweet friend, I will stand all of this very well. I am so happy that you are out of this. It will soon be springtime. Enjoy Paris, enjoy life. Keep me only your tenderness and I will be happy.”

At the Melun central prison, where he was transferred, he was soon admitted in the printing workshop, where he learnt typography. We were in the middle of the great war, the prisoners’ food was dreadful, and three times he had to be moved to the infirmary where they were treated slightly better. He made the best of this forced leisure to learn German, Spanish and Esperanto. He worked ceaselessly, studying, reading, translating, writing. From the Santé prison and the Melun central prison, I received 528 letters, every single one numbered for control, every one more tender, more affectionate and braver than the other.

As soon as he arrived in Melun, the question of our relationship was raised. We were not married, and from the moment he had been convicted, we were no longer allowed to write to each other, and I was not allowed to visit him. We decided to marry, but we needed the authorisation from the Home Office for this. When it finally reached us, and when the marriage was announced, I went to Melun. The ceremony took place with his two witnesses – prison wardens – and mine -some journalist friends. Then, we were left alone in a small council office, for about an hour. It had been around two years since we had last been close to one another. And our emotion was so great we could hardly speak. Hands joined, eyes blurry with tenderness, we uttered a few meaningless sentences, while our hearts were so full of each other.

Alas! After the five years, we did not find each other again: he was deported, as a foreigner, and he chose the Spanish border. In Barcelona, where I joined him, I could not find the means to support my two children, and I had to leave for Paris. At that time, I found him still resigned ad brave as per usual. He had been hired as a typographer and had joined the – revolutionary – union where he immediately took part in the already great agitation among Spanish militants.

When the Russian revolution broke out, he couldn’t resist: he felt like he had to go there, be on the ground, take part, give of himself. He came back to France thanks to some consulate indulgence, and I had to help him struggle to find a way to leave. We only managed to have him put in a concentration camp, where he spent another two years. After that, he managed to be part of a transport of hostages leaving for Russia.

The life he led there, he told in his Memories of a Revolutionary. Everyone has been able to follow him through his work, which I deem of such great importance, but of which it is not my place to write. But all along this incredible journey, we never left each other, morally speaking. I have his letters from everywhere – Russia, germany, Austria, Silesia, and, finally, Mexico. I followed him thus through his travels and adventures, with the same tenderness, the same inalterable friendship. I had at some point planned also to leave for Mexico, tired of this abominable life under the occupation. He encouraged me ad promised to help me to land on my feet over there. Circumstances did not allow it, but we both delighted in the idea.

It was at lunchtime that I learnt, on the radio, the news of his sudden death, by a heart attack. And I can easily say that it was one of the greatest sorrows in my life.