Anarchism

Another theme of my work has been politics--not only in writing about them in literature, as in the M.A. thesis mentioned before, but in evolving a personal praxis for action. Once I read Paul Goodman, midway through college, I knew myself an anarchist, which is to say someone who believes in less government rather than more, in less social control than more, in egalitarian structures as preferable to hierarchies, in the diffusion of power rather than its concentration, in behavioral independence over conformity, etc. This anarchism informs not only the four anthologies of future-centered social thought noted before; it also informs an essay, first written in 1966 (and reprinted in Twenties in the Sixties [1979]), called "Technoanarchism," which tried to show how certain anarchist ideals could be realized through technological advance, rather than, as most anarchists thought, in opposition to it.

Since the early 1970s, I've been voting the Libertarian line, especially in local elections, simply because it is the only party on my ballot to represent anarchist values. What initially attracted me to that new indigenous party, which mixes "right" with "left" in a relevant way, was its stand on drug usage. Having lived in New York all my life, I suspect that the only true "solution" to the crime that threatens our lives is the abolition of laws prohibiting drugs. If marijuana, cocaine, and, yes, even heroin could be made freely available, addicts would have no need for exorbitant sums required to purchase drugs on a black market--no need at all. (Remembering that the black market is a free market, I also suspect that every time the police confiscate a large amount of drugs off the street the only result is cutting down the supply, driving up the price and thus causing an increase in crime. Conversely, it would be cheaper for New York City to give these drugs away than pay for the law enforcement! Why have the lessons taught by the failure of alcohol prohibition been so completely forgotten.) On the other hand, I also agree with my party over the virtues of owning property and of running a small business (as I've done for over two decades now, the business being me), a sense of America as a land of opportunity (as someone like me could happen only here), the unparalleled beneficence of American democratic capitalism, the need to halt America's role as the Western world's policeman, and to eliminate as well all laws proscribing victimless crimes, and much, much else.

“Person of Letters in the Contemporary World” (1989)

It should not be forgotten that the three major strands of anarchism are quite different--one emphasizing individual liberty against the state and even the duly empowered majority, another emphasizing decentralized democratic communities (and usually a concomitant pacifism), and the third the apocalyptic overthrow of existing institutions.

The Maturity of American Thought (c. 1980, 2006)

During the 1970s the most immediate vehicle for my anarchist politics was the annual Assembling that I cofounded with Henry James Korn. Rejecting the artificial authoritarianism of most literary magazines, we invited artists and writers whom we knew to be doing "otherwise unpublishable work" to contribute a thousand copies of whatever they wanted to include. In return, we promised to bind their submissions into a thousand books, returning two copies to each contributor. My feeling was that if anyone felt strongly enough about their work to make a thousand copies of it, they deserved membership in Assembling's community. What I had not fully realized at the beginning was the more profound libertarian implications. Since the contributions were printed in alphabetical order, there was no way of featuring one over the others. Indeed, what every contributor risked in this egalitarian structure was being compared with all the others. Second, as we never refused anyone, there was no cachet in appearing in Assembling--no stamp of approval. A contributor earned only what other readers chose to recognize; and needless to say, given a diversity greater than that in any other magazine, most readers found certain contributions much stronger than others.

The libertarian politics implicit in Assembling were so attractive that we wanted to extend them to other vehicles. Thanks to a grant, we sponsored a Critical Assembling, where we invited artist-critics to submit no more than two pages of whatever camera-ready criticism they wanted to see published, 8 1/2" x 11", which we then reproduced. (We knew that we didn't want any writer unable to produce camera-ready copy and so by that requirement let them disqualify themselves.) We sponsored a Pilot Proposals (1981), again requiring camera-ready copy, in response to the question: If you could apply for a grant of $500,000, what precisely would you propose to do? The answers were reproduced alphabetically in a perfectbound book. We also applied to the National Endowment for the Arts to do "American Writing in 1980" which would invite a thousand American writers of note to represent themselves with one camera-ready page of their own choice, published or unpublished, that would be bound alphabetically into a hardbound book that would become a kind of current inventory in which every contributor has equal space (thus remaining true to the politics); but this was not funded. By 1981 Korn had retired to a career in arts administration; and, as I was spending more and more time working in Europe, I gave the Assembling Press away to people who, after some flurries, let it die.

There has also been an anarchist politics implicit in the way I handle Epiphanies. Manuscripts of these single-sentence stories have been customarily offered to editors with the advice—no, encouragement--that they can chose whichever ones they like and then set their selections in whatever order they wish. I am willing to abdicate the authority of ordering not because I'm lazy but because I think that editors, if they are true to their trade of selecting and arranging, might discover an experience beyond my own designs. Some editors have, my favorite being Gene van Troyer's in the Portland Review [with a spectacular design he subsequently reprinted in his own anthology, Collaborations (2007)] while others have not; and someday I would like to exhibit the two dozen or so publications in which the stories have appeared, along with correspondence, illustrating what happens when an opportunity comparable to that of Assembling--do your own thing within the guidelines--is extended to literary editors.

“Person of Letters in the Contemporary World” (1988)