Maquina Lectora

Notes of a curious mind

Category: Biography (Page 2 of 3)

Γαμήλιο Ταξίδι ή ένας εκούσιος εξοστρακισμός;

Όποιος νιώθει απόλυτα σίγουρος για την ορθότητα της πολιτικής του δεν θα μπορούσε ποτέ να δει πέρα από τη μύτη του. (p 124)

Είναι Οκτώβριος του 1921. Το Aquitania, ένα από τα πιο γνωστά υπερωκεάνια της εποχής, σαλπάρει από το λιμάνι του Southampton με προορισμό την Νέα Υόρκη. Ανάμεσα στους επιβάτες της πρώτης  θέσης, βρίσκεται και ο πρώην πρωθυπουργός της Ελλάδας, Ελευθέριος Βενιζέλος, με την σύζυγό του ‘Ελενα Σκυλίτση-Βενιζέλου. Ο γάμος τους είχε γίνει στις 15 Σεπτεμβρίου στο Λονδίνο και αυτό ήταν το γαμήλιο ταξίδι τους. Eνα ταξίδι που θα κρατήσει επτά ολόκληρους μήνες.

Με μια συναρπαστική περιγραφή, ερευνώντας πλήθος εγγράφων και ιστορικό υλικό, ο Μίμης Ανδρουλάκης, περιγράφει στο νέο του βιβλίο Ταξίδι Μέλιτος (εκδόσεις Πατάκη), το άγνωστο αυτό ταξίδι των επτά μηνών και μια ημέρα. 12 Μαρτίου 1936, η ημέρα που ο Βενιζέλος, μετά από ένα θυελλώδη καυγά με την γυναίκα του Έλενα, παθαίνει ένα σοβαρό εγκεφαλικό και πεθαίνει.

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Ecology or Catastrophe – The Lfe of Murray Bookchin by Janet Bookchin

The owl of Minerva, takes flight at dusk

Hegel

Ecology or Catastrophe is not just a biography of Murray Bookchin, the founder of social ecology and  the one who developed the doctrine of libertarian municipalism. It is also a memoir.

The author Janet Biehl was Bookchin’s lover, editor, researcher, and, finally, nurse for about two decades. In this well documented biography, she invites the reader to traverse the full arc of Bookchin’s life from his earliest days to New York City, his Marxist education and his participation in the revolutionary Left to his transformation into a green libertarian anarchist, and to his latest and isolated days to Burlington, Vermont.

2016-03-05 12.31.56After the death of his grandmother Zeitel, a “strict and strong” Russian émigré that first “groomed him to become a Russian revolutionary”, in 1930, Bookchin entered, at the age of nine, the international Communist movement as a member of the Young Pioneers of America, the Communist children section. “It was the Communist movement that truly raised me”, he would recall. ….. “They [the Communist movement] taught him to subsume his personal distress into an intense devotion to Communist Party, the Soviet Union and the coming revolution. …..The Communist movement became, in effect, his home”, they educated him, “they provided him with stability and validation.”

In the 1950s, under Joseph Weber’s influence, (Weber was an intellectual and heterodox communist from Germany and Bookchin’s mentor) and especially, after reading Fairfield Osborn’s Our Plundered Planet and William Vogt’s The Road to Survival, Bookchin had started to rethink the impact of chemicals to the environment and food. He realised that the subject had enormous implications, that “the adulteration of food was part of ‘the misuse of industry as whole.’ ……. Chemicalization was part of the instrumentalization of food production, which commodified both farming and gustation. Capitalism as a system, it turned out, was harmful to human health and well-being. The very concept, Bookchin recognised, was explosive.”

Bookchin was also moved by Lewis Munford’s The Culture of Cities (1938) that culminated that gigantic cities, corrupted by capitalism and authority, are organised for power and money. The “small, close-knit European cities”, Munford had written, “had been human in scale, ….. attractive, communal and traversable on foot. In their many green spaces, people could gossip, trade, pray and politic face to face.”

Inspired by both Marx and Mumford, Bookchin concluded that the “possibilities of the cities are exhausted” and proposed that eco-decentralisation “could open magnificent vistas for individual and social development”. He said that they would have to break up the giant metropolises into small, highly-integrated, “humanistic in scale and appearance” free communities of [people] whose “social relations are blemished neither by property nor production for exchange.”

Hierarchical society could be replaced by a society of small-scale, organic, renewable – energy powered, self-governing communities. Against all things impersonal, anonymous, authoritarian, and commodified, Bookchin championed the cooperative, mutually responsible, libertarian and ethical. Authoritarian approaches to reason, science, technology, and ethics would be overturned in favour of libertarian ones. And this transformation not only could but must happen, because the ecology crisis affected everyone, giving rise to the need for a general social revolution. Such was the basic argument of the book that, written in fits and starts over the following years, would be called The Ecology of Freedom (p144-145).

Bookchin was a dynamic thinker and produced a huge amount of work. It was Murray Bookchin’s book Our Synthetic Environment (1962), which was published six months before Rachel Carson’s book The Silent Spring, that signalled the beginning of the modern ecology movement in the U.S. In this book, Bookchin presented a comprehensive account of environmental contaminants, pesticides, food additives, and X-radiation as sources of human illness, including cancer, while he also indicated the social and economic interests that underlay these contaminants.

In the early 1980s, Bookchin developed the doctrine of “libertarian municipalism” a vision of a political system based on the idea of direct democracy on a local level, formed by confederated municipalities and councils of recallable delegates with policy mandates on higher levels. ‘The potential for social freedom’ Bookchin argued, ‘still reposes in the municipality. …. existing municipal governments, with their city managers, mayors, and councils, are states-in-miniatures, but popular democratic struggle could rework them into citizens assemblies.’ He presented these ideas and arguments, in their fullest form in The Rise of Urbanization and the Decline of Citizenship, published in 1986.

Delving into the anarchist history to find support for his movement, Bookckin mounted a veritable and unsuccessful campaign to try to persuade anarchists to adopt libertarian municipalism. He became pivotal figure in the history of anarchism, but anarchists will never participate in elections. Municipalism is statism, it is parliamentarism, they said. Bookchin, had finally broken with anarchism considering it as fundamentally individualistic.

Biehl met Bookchin in 1986. She was mesmerised  by him. It was she was a mess but gradually the “hyperanxious, underachieving drifter-through-life” gave way to a competent and creative woman”, transformed by Bookchin’s “extraordinary affection”. She, finally, broke with social ecology and reverted to the political identity she had before meeting Bookchin, a liberal Democrat.

Ecology or Catastrophe is in  an insightful, but rather incomplete  biography of a radical and complicated person that lived a fascinated life. Janet Biehl tells a personal tale, at the same time, she vividly captures the most relevant environmental and social movements of the 20th century.

The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World

‘With Knowledge comes thought and with thought comes power’

Alexander Von Humboldt

This a wonderful book about one of the most greatest polymaths and inter-disciplinarians of all time. Alexander von Humboldt is a forgotten hero of science, an exceptional man, a restless explorer, “a man who sought to see and understand everything”, a passionate scientist who could speak to the soul of people.

Ralph Waldo Emerson described him as ‘one of those wonders of the world, like Aristotle, like Julius Caesar… who appear from time to time, as if to show us the possibilities of the human mind’, and Simon Bolivar said that Humboldt ‘has done more good for America than all her conquerors’. His name lingers everywhere, there is the Humboldt current that flows north along the west coast of South America from the southern tip of Chile to northern Peru, there is the Humboldt penguin, the Humboldt’s lily, Lilium humboldtii, a perennial herb that is native to California. There are mountains, parks, and rivers named after him.

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V.S. Naipaul – The Middle Passage

The Middle Passage (1962) is V.S. Naipaul’s first work of travel writing. It is an account of his returning journey to five Caribbean “post-colonial” societies, Trinidad, Guyana, Surinam, Martinique and Jamaica.

The Middle Passage, Naipaul takes the title of his book from the name for the route travelled by the slaves as they were transported from Africa to the colonies of the West Indies, is a highly personal book. Naipaul is continuously confronted with his feelings, the fear of returning to tropical Trinidad, the fear of remembering. Not surprisingly, emotions make him unconsciously biased toward the people of his native country and the other post colonial Caribbean countries. He lucks that kind of stimuli, the rigour and the emotional curiosity of a traveller.

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Phantoms on the Bookselves

After owning books, almost the next best thing is to talk about them, once said Charles Nodier.

This is a book about books. Jacques Bonnet writes about his private library, comprised of more than forty thousand volumes, about its origins, contents and organisation.

This is also a book about a life built around reading, about the seductive power of books, the joy of a serendipitous find in a second-hand bookstore.

“The love of books, the possession of them, can be thought of as an extension of one’s self or being” says James Salter, “ not separate from the love of life but rather as an extra dimension of it, and even of what comes after.”

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"We were a little group of geniuses thrown together by chance"

‘The Man who wasn’t Maigret: A Portrait of Georges Simenon’ by Patrick Marnham

La Caque (named after a type of barrel used for packing herring) was a group of young men (painters, artists and writers), most of them former students of the Académie des Beaux-Arts (the Academy of Fine Art) in the city of Liège, Belgium. La Caque had a symbol, the scorpion biting its own tail, which  is sometimes taken as a symbol of eternity but could also be seen as a symbol of suicide. The leader of the group was the artist Luc Lafnet.

In her 1977 study of Simenon, “Georges Simenon: Maigrets and the Roman Durs”, Lucille Frackman Becker writes about the ‘La Caque’.

“….they feverishly sought intense excitement, any kind of ecstasy, of the boby, of the senses, of the mind, by any means imaginable and even using artifices, by meticulously codified formulas that resembled those of sexual maniacs”.

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