5 Book Plan: Non-Fascist Living
The first book from journalist and activist Natasha Lennard shatters the mainstream consensus on politics and personhood, offering in its place a bracing analysis of a perilous world and how we should live in it.
Here Natasha Lennard chooses five books that influenced her thinking on how the political is personal and how to live a non-fascist life.
Being Numerous: Essays on Non-Fascist Life is on sale for 40% off until Tuesday, May 14 at 11:59PM EST.
Philosophical Investigations by Ludwig Wittgenstein (Wiley, 1953)
While it might not seem immediately obvious what Wittgenstein's late great work has to do with fascism and contemporary political struggle, his are the concepts I perhaps rely most upon when it comes to the (deeply political terrain) of meaning-making. I'm not the first person to invoke Wittgenstein with reference to the question of what constitutes fascism. Umberto Eco suggested we employ Wittgenstein's famous "family resemblance" concept of naming when we think about what we do or do not call "fascism." “Fascism became an all-purpose term because one can eliminate from a fascist regime one or more features, and it will still be recognizable as fascist,” Eco wrote. In the first essay in my collection, I take this further and insist that, like so many concepts -- e.g. that of a "game" -- I can't tell you the boundary of what we should or should not name "fascism," but that doesn't make the term useless or incoherent. It does mean, however, that we must take seriously, and as we go, the collective work of meaning make and delineation.
I turn to Wittgenstein a few times in the book, almost always to talk about the messy and communal (although not communized) ways we should make sense of meaning and truth production. My background is in analytic philosophy, but (later) Wittgenstein transcends that dry discipline and offers powerful tools to apply to social and political life, which I believe tacitly demand fierce ethical consideration when used. Wittgenstein is also wonderful to read if you want to watch philosophy play out, both sprawling and rigorous. Wittgenstein's philosophy leaves room for enchantment.
Politics of The Very Worst by Paul Virilio (Semiotext(e); 1999)
I write in my introduction that, "in a sense, accidents are the proper subject of [my] book." I mean “accident” as it was used by late theorist and urbanist Paul Virilio: the accident which is contained within, and brought into the world by, the inventions of progress—or rather what gets hailed as progress.
“When you invent the ship, you also invent the shipwreck; when you invent the plane, you also invent the plane crash; and when you invent electricity, you invent electrocution,” he wrote. “Every technology carries its own negativity, which is invented at the same time as technical progress.” Virilio applied the concept of the “accident” to technological advancement and its logic of acceleration (which I explore in one essay about mass surveillance). But I apply the idea broadly, when looking at the operations through which society, selves and power are produced and organized. For example, if the current growth of fascism is an accident, in a sense cribbed from Virilio, it is not because it is a diversion, antithetical to liberal capitalism. The accident was baked into the context.
This short book is a conversation between Virilio and French journalist Phillipe Petit, in which Virilio expounds on his idea of the contemporary "accidents" and their planetary consequences.
The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson (Greywolf; 2016)
I feel like this one goes without saying for perhaps too many of us! Nelson is at once a stylistic inspiration; her elegance in weaving political and rhetorical analysis into memoir is unmatched. Many many books, especially by women who deal somewhat in theory, politics and "the personal", get pitched as "in the style of Maggie Nelson." Verso pitched my book this way; I just hope I earned it. Ideas wise, the Argonauts deals with the porousness of coherent selfhood and sovereignty -- which is in itself a jab at liberal ideology -- which I embrace and deploy!
Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guatarri, Preface by Michel Foucault (Penguin Classics; 1972)
It is from Deleuze and Guatarri, and how they built on the work of Wilhelm Reich, that I frame my thoughts about fascism permeating life under capitalism, rather than only residing in historic state regimes. Freudian acolyte Reich rejected narratives about fascism in which ignorant masses are duped or led into supporting a system they do not in fact want. Instead, he insisted that if we are to explain the rise of fascism, we must account for the fact that people, en masse, choose and desire fascism. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guatarri, have built on Reich’s idea of the perverted desire for fascism. They wrote that it is “too easy to be anti-fascist on the molar level, and not even see the fascist inside of you.” And it is in the introduction to Anti-Oedipus that Foucault talks about "non-fascist" life and the resistance to micro-fascisms. I use this terminology in my book's subtitle as a nod to Foucault, but also as a way to signal that mine is not just a book about anti-fascism in the sense it's typically used.
I read Anti-Oedipus in an anarchist reading group during Occupy Wall Street. I completely reject the idea (propounded by the authors) that it's a text you can open at any page and essentially play with. It's a dense and very strange book, that certainly is best read collectively! But it is an astounding and necessary assault on the way the world and our experience in it is, our very being(s), get organized such that we can't think outside of the organizing concepts we receive. And that is the challenge of radical political work, to believe (impossibly) that another world is possible whilst in the confines of this one.
Democracy Might Not Exist, But We'll Miss it When It's Gone by Astra Taylor (Metropolitan Books; 2019)
Astra's new book was published the same week as mine, so I can't name it as a direct influence to my collected essays. But I met Astra during Occupy and have long admired her ability to ground philosophical inquiry into the work of organizing. I feel like we've both been gestating and developing the ideas in our new books since the Occupy moment. "Democracy Might Not Exist", I think, compliments "Being Numerous" in that it, too, deals with a messy, if not impossible concept. As I suggest that anti-fascist is in some sense an impossible identity, but necessary work, Astra does the same with the question of democracy. Astra, as I do, rejects a banal and reductive notion of democracy (i.e. the liberal notion) which pretends we somehow had it, then lost it in the November 2016 election. She insists that democratic projects have always been undergirded by tensions and contradictions, which must live in and work through. Democratizing is never pure. I feel like anti-fascism can strive to work the same way, with the understanding that none of us, under capitalism, can claim to be wholly free of fascism. I see democratizing and anti-fascisting as thus two interrelated mutually reinforcing, messy, difficult and necessary efforts. Astra's book is also incredibly rich in information, historic research, political acuity, and a huge array of voices we should be listening to (most of whom aren't tenured experts!)