‘But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid ...’
In this second issue of Arena we aim to provide general insights into the role of the anarchist in fiction, both as protagonist (as angels and demons, but mostly demons) and author. Obviously, there will be writers whom some readers will think I have unjustifiably missed. All I can reply to such complainants is that you can’t please everyone and that there will be other opportunities in future issues. Meanwhile, it is best to allow the articles here included to speak for themselves, without comment.
David Weir’s essay ‘Anarchist Fiction, Anarchist Sensibilities’ focuses on the progenitor of anarchist fiction, William Godwin’s Caleb Williams, a highly political novel, published in 1794, that demonstrated, in fictional form, the pressing need for the utopian system he described in the first systematic elaboration of anarchist philosophy, Enquiry Concerning Political Justice. ‘Epic Pooh’ is a newly updated revision of a 1978 article by Michael Moorcock (later published in his 1989 book Wizardry and Wild Romance) reviewing epic fantasy literature for children, particularly J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.While researching early twentieth-century French anarchist plays translated into Italian, Santo Catanuto discovered interesting information on the literary side of the indomitable Communard Louise Michel, indicating that she was the author of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea. Strapped for cash, she reputedly sold the manuscript to Jules Verne for 100 francs. Stephen Schwartz, a longtime critic of the detective novel, evaluates the arc of French writer Leo Malet from anarchist to arabophobe and, in ‘Between Libel And Hoax’, counters Miguel Mir’s libellous depiction of the Spanish anarchist movement Entre el roig i el negre. In Stephen’s extended essay, ‘Reading the Runes’, he also takes a fresh look at the archival and related research on the historiography of the Spanish Civil War since the death of Franco.
In his discourse on B. Traven’s first full-length novel, The Death Ship, Ernest Larsen looks at the intractable modern problem of identity. Larsen’s short story ‘Bakunin At The Beach’ is about Mr and Mrs Bakunin holidaying at Lake Maggiore under the watchful eyes of Inspector Dupin of the Swiss Department of Justice and Police. Joseph Conrad’s short story ‘An Anarchist. A Desperate Tale’ is republished here from A Set of Six (1908), originally published in Harper’s Magazine in August 1906. ‘Anarchists in Fiction’ is a collection of idiosyncratic reviews of books in which anarchists are portrayed as an eclectic group of villains and criminal degenerates. Finally, we conclude this second issue of Arena with an article by our cinema editor Richard Porton on Dušan Makavejev’s playful, allusive 1971 film WR: Mysteries of the Organism.