Despairing Knowledge

For Alfredo Bonanno

Despairing Knowledge

I keep wanting to say something about events, to post something here, something angry or interpretive or informative or hopeful, but I get about a sentence in and get overwhelmed by the desire to scream. For a few weeks now I've been stuck in this pattern, it felt like despair or exhaustion or hopelessness.

But on Wednesday, Alfredo Bonanno, the Italian revolutionary who gave birth to insurrectionary anarchism with his pamphlet Armed Joy, a pamphlet that also helped give birth to me, passed away. And in the wake of his death, in my grief, I reread Armed Joy as well as his essay “Anarchists and Action”, and he reminded me that this desire to scream was wisdom, not despair.

I am sick of explaining, arguing, pointing out the facts. I do not want to try to say something clever or profound or revealing about Palestine or Maduro or anti-semitism or elections or Zionism or Armenia or COVID or Trump. Right now it feels awful to even consider doing so: the facts are so clear, the situation so dire.

And maybe there really are people wanting explaining who somehow I might still reach, maybe it isn't just a Big Other projected out, I know intellectually that saying the right thing in the right way is always important and valuable—It's not like I ever met Bonanno, or to my knowledge even the people he was in movement with. My relationship to him is just through his words, and even there his words in translation. But there's something about the way they say such hard heavy things while feeling so light and easy, the way they hold so much complexity while being so obvious and clear, it makes them feel like more than words.

I understand why the state found Armed Joy so dangerous it ordered all copies destroyed and sent him to jail for 18 months just for writing it: despite the rhetorical gestures that don’t hold up today, it’s still not just agitprop, a sectarian argument or a cri du coeur, it’s something more material, closer to a set of lockpicks, a manual for destroying their world.

My body needs me to scream, to recognize the way being angry about discourse and debate keeps me still, to allow my desire to flow into my capacity to act, to stop trying to prove that I'm right to anyone else but mostly to myself, to trust that I know as much as I can at this moment, that all any of us can do is enough, but for that to be true we still have to do it.

No more carefully drawn out arguments designed to challenge some unconvinced audience out there, which just serves to preserve that un-convinced part in myself, rhetorical ballast, my hesitancy and fear tilted at again and again: providing a relief that guarantees their maintenance. I cannot stop needing to scream until I have screamed enough to slake my desire, or, better yet, until we make a world once more worthy of our words.

RIP Bonanno, in your memory we will set their streets aflame to dance and laugh together in the warm glow of the burn, in your honor I promise to scream.