This is the first part in a series (part of the over-arching theme of The Brilliant in 2018) on egoism. While not an egoist myself I consider myself a fellow traveler and consider egoism to a core theoretical concept in anarchist thinking for better and worse.
Post-left anarchism is a modern, North American, veneer on egoism. The Situationists, while arguably marxist, were also using thematic elements from egoism (especially The Treatise). Several prominent North American anarchists have been working on Stirner and the general concepts around egoism for decades.
For anyone following the themes we cover in The Brilliant, post-left anarchism, or Stirner our guest this episode needs no introduction. Wolfi Landstreicher has been a translator, writer, and merry interlocutor for decades. He has been an inspiration for my own projectuality for a long time and I count him as a friend. Our conversation in this issue is centered on the effort Wolfi made in translating The Unique and all the details around it.
PS Note that this episode is the first effort of our newest sound engineer. Welcome Daniel (birds)!
(**Apologies in advance for the rather lengthy post, but somebody needs to say this.)
It was really cool to hear Wolfi speak for the first time! Along with Stirner himself, Wolfi’s writings were among my greatest influences when I finally made a decisive break from left-anarchism back in the mid-2000s. I’m not sure if he’s taking questions, but I have one that I’d be really interested in hearing him speak a little more about: What are his thoughts on intellectuality and anti-intellectualism within the North American anarchist milieu; and how, if at all, have they changed over the years?
My own critique of anti-intellectualism within the anarchist subculture was, to a large extent, influenced by Wolfi’s article, “Neither Intellectualism Nor Stupidity” from the “Against The Logic of Submission” series [http://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/wolfi-landstreicher-against-the-logic-of-submission#toc11]. My understanding of this article (and he can correct me if I’m wrong) is that, in Wolfi’s view, “the Intellectual” as a social role emerges not because certain people are innately more intelligent than others, but because of the mental/manual division of labour that is inherent to the industrial mode of production. This leads to the creation of a formal academic/intellectual bureaucracy in which various “experts” come to dominate the production and distribution of what passes for ‘knowledge’ in their respective fields. However, as Foucault so rightly pointed out, ‘knowledge’ is always intimately bound up with relations of power, vested interests, and social control. In Wolfi’s own words:
“Because I sincerely want to end all domination and exploitation and to begin opening the possibilities for creating a world where there are neither exploited or exploiters, slaves or masters, I choose to grasp all of my intelligence passionately, using every mental weapon — along with the physical ones — to attack the present social order.”
I agree with this statement wholeheartedly. However, when I compare it with an earlier piece of writing on the same subject that he wrote under the name Feral Faun, it seems to me that he may have undergone a shift in perspective at some point in the ensuing years. I’m referring to an article called “Intellectual Revolution, or How to Get Nowhere Fast,” [http://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/feral-faun-rants-essays-and-polemics#toc16], in which he said that,
“Intellectual-revolution was as averse to the living passions and desires as Christianity. Reason was its guiding force, and passions and desires are unreasonable. Reason demands the possible. It demands that social relations be made to coincide with production relations in the way that allows for the greatest efficiency in the flow of production. Intellectual revolution was not a revolution of desire, but the revolution of productivity.”
Just to be clear, I’m not saying that I think there’s any inherent contradiction between these two statements. It could very well be the case that the “intellectual revolutionaries” he was referring to in the Feral Faun article were the sorts of people who cloistered themselves up within the academic bureaucracy and stylized themselves as “experts” in the liberation of desire. If that’s the case, then I see at least *some* merit to this critique. Still, I can’t help but wonder if Feral Faun would have differed with Wolfi Landstreicher on the subject of intellectuality; and, if so, what changed in the transition from one persona to the other?
I see this as an especially important question when trying to discuss Stirner because, as soon as you start talking about ‘Ego’ as being something other than just another spook, you immediately broach on philosophical territory that many within the anarchist subculture consider too abstract to even be worth their time. Specifically, I’m referring to questions about the nature and ontological basis of individual subjectivity and whether it even makes sense to speak of the Stirnerian ‘Ego’ as being in any way analogous to the Cartesian Cogito. I get the fact that the need to dispel this confusion is why Wolfi hasn’t used the word ‘Ego’ in his new translation of Stirner’s work, but the confusion persists nonetheless and I’m not so sure that simply abandoning the word in favour of something different is enough to overcome it. The fact that a large segment of the anarchist milieu has already decided that the discussion is “too academic” for them just makes the problem worse.
Does Wolfi also see this as a problem and, if so, what does he think can be done about it? Is it simply a matter of getting into these discussions with people who are actually interested in having them and saying to hell with everybody else? Or is there a way to approach discussions about Stirner with people who may be reluctant to have them without it turning into an exercise in frustration for everyone involved? On the one hand, I get the fact that this type of writing isn’t everyone’s cup of tea and that you can’t browbeat people into having a discussion that they just don’t want to have; but, on the other hand, it can get pretty tiresome when some of Stirner’s most vocal critics are so ridiculously out their depth that they don’t even have the first clue what they’re talking about – and not just among the left-anarchist crowd either.
Anyway, I’d be really interested to hear what Wolfi has to say on the phenomenon of anti-intellectualism within the anarchist milieu and how his views on it may have changed over the years. Maybe he could expand about on what he was saying about Stirner “using Philosophy to destroy Philosophy” and how such an approach might differ from someone who simply refuses to engage with philosophical theories in the first place (or at least ones that don’t mesh with the ideological views that they already held).
Great episode and I look forward to the others in this series!
YES!! Thank you A! and Wolfi! Keep the conversations coming! And Is there a way to contact Wolfi?
A bit of constructive criticism here Aragorn:
I think the arbitrarily 1 hour-ish conversation limit needs to be dropped.I know the average millennial/gen Z person only has the attention span of a goldfish but there are people like myself who actually enjoy lengthy insightful discussions.
I think not forcing the conversation to only go where you want it to go would have benefited this episode. I was interested in a few things that Wolfi started to discuss but you kinda cut him off and shifted the conversation elsewhere.
I’m also interested in what Wolfi generally thinks of Nietzsche, and Nietzsche’s relationship to Stirner?
How Wolfi defines Individualism and how existential individualism differs from Lockean possessive individualism (and how so many small minded leftists fail to understand the nuance and dismiss all of individualism as Lockean/Randian).
And are there any other influential texts or thinkers that he would recommend?
I can’t speak for Wolfi, but you may want to check out Gilbert Simondon’s essay, “The Genesis of The Individual,” which can be found here:
He doesn’t discuss Nietzsche specifically, but Simondon’s concept of “individuation” was a strong influence on Deleuze who, in turn, definitely *was* also influenced by Nietzsche. I found this to be a really interesting read that fundamentally subverts analytic notions of “the Individual” as having some presupposed internal unity. Definitely worth a look.
Awesome episode. On an unrelated note, who is the hardcore punk band in the intro? Phenomenal as well.
Can you maybe help identify the track in the intro?
would also like to know if you find out