Anarchism & Sexuality. Ethics, Relationships and Power

Article excerpt

Jamie Heckert and Richard Cleminson (eds.), Anarchism & Sexuality. Ethics, Relationships and Power London: Routledge, 201 1 ; 232 pp ISBN 978-0-415-59989-4; £75.00 (hbk)

This is a timely collection of original articles dealing with connections between anarchism and sexuality. Notably, it bears witness to an intensifying cross-fertilisation between queer theory and anarchism in the present day. The contemporary study of sexuality, particularly the philosophy of sexuality, is very much influenced by queer theory, a theory of sexuality which started to take shape around 1990, and which challenges existing norms governing our understanding of sex, gender and desire, and in particular, the relationship between the three:

Challenging established identities, questioning notions of family and society and even the very idea of what constitutes 'sex' (as both an activity and with respect to what are considered to be biological truths of male and female) can dramatically undercut the foundations of established ways of relating to ourselves, each other and the world (pp.9- 10).

Queer theory has evolved out of gay and lesbian studies, feminist theory and poststructuralism. The influence of the latter on anarchist thought has already led to the development of what is now commonly referred to as postanarchism, and this is a natural stepping stone facilitating intellectual links between queer theory and anarchism. Because of this, both postanarchism and queer theory are frequently referenced in this collection. This is particularly the case in Lena Eckert's 'Post(-) anarchism and the Contrasexual Practices of Cyborgs in Dildotopia: or "The War on the Phallus"', which focuses on the Countersexual Manifesto by queer theorist Beatriz Preciado, an important reference for those who read Spanish, French or German, yet little known in the English-speaking world. Furthermore, in his contribution 'Structures of Desire: Postanarchist Kink in the Speculative Fiction of Octavia Butler and Samuel Delany', the well-known postanarchist writer Lewis Call connects queer theory to his postanarchism, seeking to invent a new concept which he calls 'postanarchist kink'. The collection further contains an interview with the queen of queer theory (pun intended), Judith Butler, dealing with her relationship to anarchism. Those who enjoyed her recent participation at 'The Anarchist Turn' conference will welcome her thoughtful engagement with anarchism in this interview.1

Readers who are uncomfortable with the jargon-heavy disciplines of poststructuralist and queer theory will rejoice in those parts of the collection which are less dense, yet by no means less rigorous. In her contribution, Jenny Alexander argues that Alexander Berkman's Prison Memoirs are an example of sexual radicalism; a radicalism largely ignored in subsequent narratives. Many readers will have become familiar with Berkman's homoerotic experiences through Terence Kissack's 'Free Comrades: Anarchism and Homosexuality in the United States' (sec Anarchist Studies 17.1 for an appreciative review by Judy Greenway2), and may find Alexander's to be an interesting addition to the few existing accounts of Berkman's views on sexuality. The collection further contains a beautifully-written analysis of 'Love and revolution in Ursula Le Guin's Four Ways to Forgiveness' by Laurence Davis; and a highly informative overview of contemporary Czech anarchists' relationship to issues of sexuality by Marta Kolárová, which deals among other things with the recent appropriation of queer theory by Czech anarchists and anarchafeminists.

Overall, this is a nicely composed collection of historiographical, sociological, geographical, philosophical and literary analyses of connections between anarchism and sexuality, lightened up with 'poetic interludes'. …