Elevate Difference

Mythmakers and Lawbreakers: Anarchist Writers on Fiction

When the term “anarchy” is heard, most people think of the “circle-A” graffiti on crumbling buildings and the T-shirts of punk rock kids, or else imagine a state of complete lawlessness and the breakdown of society. Popular culture does nothing to dispel these collective thoughts. In theory and philosophy, anarchy refers to the absence of a state or rulers and a society in which there is no vertical hierarchy of class, but instead a horizontal equality of societal participants. Margaret Killjoy, the editor of Steampunk Magazine and an avowed anarchist, collected fourteen interviews with varying writers in the compact book Mythmakers and Lawbreakers; the common thread between the featured writers is that each is a professed anarchist, writes positively about anarchist societies, or maintains anarchist sympathies.

Reading each of the interviews, I quickly learned that there are as many varying definitions of anarchy as there are practitioners and theorizers. There is a vague commonality of a desire to see an end to free-market capitalism and democracy (the writers interviewed are mostly American and British) and the desire for complete equality and a gift- or barter-based economy, but otherwise each author has his or her own personal philosophy as it ties in to the theory of anarchy. This is not a criticism, and it does not seem as if anarchists are so loosely connected as to not have any sense of community at all. Rather, it appears as if there are just factions within the anarchist community, perhaps comparable to American democracy's political parties. Each interview in its turn is wholly fascinating to read, as the subjects are certainly outside of the mainstream, literature-wise. The most recognizable names are feminist sci-fi author Ursula K. LeGuin, graphic novel writer Alan Moore, fantasy writer Michael Moorcock, and eco-feminist/neo-pagan author Starhawk.

Margaret Killjoy (who, despite his traditionally feminine moniker, is male) is mostly interested in learning from his interview subjects how they define the intersection of anarchy and fiction, or how anarchist sympathies have defined their writing. This may be considered the theme of the book, although each writer tends to wax tangential about choice pet subjects rather than directly answering the question asked. Killjoy is an obvious fan of each featured writer and brings his own knowledge of anarchy and literature to the fore in his prepared and improvised questions.

One common thread throughout the varying writers' remarks is anarchy and its benefit to feminism. Anarchy would necessitate a breakdown of the patriarchy and optimally result in full equality of citizens. This is a beautiful idea, but I'm perhaps too cynical to accept that this could be the case; I tend to believe that peoples' inherent prejudices would still rule the day, resulting in unequal divisions of labor and other gender discrimination. This and other queries and criticisms occurred to me while learning more about the varying schools of thought in anarchist philosophy. Its practitioners, at least within Killjoy's book, are very idealistic and enthusiastic about their ideas, but also seem to think that these ideas could easily be instituted as the prevailing societal norm. This to me seems hopelessly naive. However, the book itself, the interviewees, and Margaret Killjoy are all refreshingly intelligent and passionate about their work and politics.

Written by: Natalie Ballard, January 23rd 2010