Review - Liminal by Natasha Alvarez

  • Posted on: 12 November 2014
  • By: worker

From Anarcho-Geek Review - by Natasha Alvarez
2014, Black and Green Press

Recommended? Yes

I study anarchist fiction. I read fiction that anarchists write and I read what other people write about what anarchists do. And in all that time, I can’t say I’ve read anarchist fiction that’s more deeply engaged and poetic than Liminal, a novella published by Black and Green Press.

To be honest, I’m cynical about activist fiction (or whatever you want to call it when people hoping to transform the world write fiction). I’m cynical for a bunch of reasons (most of which I learned by interviewing people who are much smarter than me). For one thing, fiction is generally more adept at asking questions than it is at providing answers. For another thing, writing fiction is really fucking hard to do well, and most anarchists and radicals and activists just haven’t put in the work required to create beautiful, compelling narratives.

That’s definitely not a problem that Alvarez has. Her prose is florid without turning purple, and it’s evocative as hell. It could have used another proofreading pass, but couldn’t everything?

Regardless of what you think of the specific strategy and tactics endorsed in the book, Liminal stands on its own as literature. It shows us the emotional stress—and emotional strength—of a committed eco-warrior. It’s a heartbreaking love story and it captures the finest side of family.

As is my habit with books, I read the story first before I read the introductory matter—the foreword by anarcho-primtivist Kevin Tucker and the introduction by the author. I’d suggest any reader do the same, though both are worth reading afterwards to get the full grasp of the story that’s told. The book is bittersweet and full of love and happiness. The introduction reveals that the story came out of—and in many ways, is a journal of—depression and mourning. This adds important character to the narrative—the happiness depicted is a desperate happiness, a striving for happiness. It’s the kind of happiness that teeters on a knife’s edge with sorrow on one side and misery on the other.

Tucker’s introduction is simple and compelling, and in the first few paragraphs he manages to express something I’ve been trying to wrap my brain around for years:

Revolutionaries are ideologues.
Indigenous struggles are not about ideas, they are about what is already known. Community, wildness, existence; these aren’t ideas. They’re not notions that we won’t understand until after some revolution. They’re not ideas that are separate from our being.

My fear of spoiling the book for you prevents me from getting into critique of the political strategy and tactics discussed in Liminal, and frankly I feel off the hook. There’s no reason my opinions on the matter should influence your own. But I suppose it’s worth noting that my wholehearted endorsement of Liminal as anarchist literature doesn’t translate to wholehearted endorsement of what the characters in the book get up to.

And damn, that last, poetic line of the book. That’ll sit weird in your brain for awhile.



Rydra interviews Natasha Alvarez, author of the new novella "Liminal," and

Natasha discusses direct action, how the novella came to be, what mourning looks like on a planet gone mad with ecocide, our connection with the world around us, destroying civilization, and what happiness means in this world.

Where Natasha ‘is coming from’ is the same place as where Nietzsche and Bohm are coming from [which has been tied to the ‘sacred feminine’; the ‘path’ of indigenous anarchism, the Tao of Taoism and the relational space of modern physics]

the ‘sacred feminine’ is not necessarily ‘female’, as natasha points out, but ‘that which gives life to inside-outward asserting sproutings in an outside-inward accommodating/nurturing manner, ... like Lamarck’s outside-inward exciting ‘fluides incontenables’ that orchestrate inside-outward fountaining of ‘fluides contenables’, .. and/or like Nietzsche’s ‘outside-inward endosmosis that induces inside-outward exosmosis’.

‘mourning’ for what is continually being lost is key to transforming ourselves in emotional, philosophical, spiritual ways, according to Natasha. this is also true in indigenous anarchism. building a house in the forest can be done without destroying some forest. having a feed of fish can’t be done without destroying the lives of fish, and celebrating our 'winnings' without mourning and paying our respects to what we are losing, we have the mess that we now call ‘Western civilization’.

Schroedinger might express this in the terms that in the relational space of modern physics, the only possible PHYSICALLY REAL dynamic is ‘transformation’; i.e. ‘creation’ and ‘destruction’ are simultaneous conjugate aspects of the one dynamic of ‘transformation’. ‘mourning’ or ‘condolence’ [Taiaiake Alfred] restores the non-natural, one-sided Western view of dynamics [all hitting and no fielding] by acknowledging the primary role of ‘fielding’ [endosmosis, les fluides incontenables]. in authoritarian structures, the ‘big hitters’ at the top are only ‘big hitters’ because of workers burning themselves out by continual ignition by lightning bolt triggers cast down from the top. if the workers refuse to subject themselves to burnout, like rocket fuel propulsion for the high flyers, when the signals to ignite are cast down on them, they will be ‘fired’.

Do we really believe that the ‘big hitters’ at the top of authoritarian structures are responsible for ‘their results’ [just because they pay themselves that way?], Meaningful lives are being lost, burnt up to give propulsion to the ‘big hitters’ at the top. Celebrating years of faithful service in an authoritarian structure doesn’t make nearly as much sense as mourning the loss of a meaningful life. Acknowledging that ‘destruction’ is the mother of creation is what Natasha is talking about re ‘mourning’. the ‘mother’ is the one who gives of herself, the milk from her breasts, the labours of love that are continually consumed in the new generation's developing. what is being lost must be mourned and mourning is ‘giving respect’ to that which is being lost.

Natasha encourages us to restore our ‘self-reliance’ [Emerson style], using the term ‘re-wilding’ since this concerns our relationship with the land [the re-establishment of such relations].

Patriarchal society ‘exploits natural beauty and then mocks the exhausted shells like some men mock women’s sagging breasts’, though the flip side of this destruction is creation. Natasha encourages ‘women’ to come together, not to pit them against the male gender, but as part of a healing process in the wake of a long stretch of abuse in patriarchal society. [this is like einstein’s support for zionism in the sense of jews coming together as part of a healing process, not to form an exclusive political identity.]

Natasha’s ‘sacred feminine’ is the banished [by Western civilization] ‘anima mundi’, the connecting relational medium/plenum. as she points out, it is something that is physically real, a vital force and not simply an idea.

“The idea [the understanding signified by ‘anima mundi’] originated with Plato and was an important component of most Neoplatonic systems:
Therefore, we may consequently state that: this world is indeed a living being endowed with a soul and intelligence ... a single visible living entity containing all other living entities, which by their nature are all related.
The Stoics believed it to be the only vital force in the universe. Similar concepts also hold in systems of eastern philosophy in the Brahman-Atman of Hinduism, the Buddha-Nature in Mahayana Buddhism, and in the School of Yin-Yang, Taoism, and Neo-Confucianism as qi.” --Wikipedia

All of these beliefs incorporate the core theme that there is a relational organizing principle immanent in nature [space as an energy-charged relational plenum] and thus conceive of man as a ‘relational form’ in a relational activity continuum otherwise known as ‘nature’ or ‘the universe’.

Natasha points out that many people dislike the ‘politics’ of anarchism in that it seems to always be talking about ‘how fucked up the world is’, but if that were all there were to it, there would be no point in anarchists continuing to live and raise children. the world is, at the same time, incredibly beautiful and this is what holds everything together. the strong and able bodies of workers who burn themselves out in blue- and white-collar ‘factory’ jobs over the course of their working lives are losses that should be mourned and respected, and likewise the well formed breasts of the mother of the infant, that flatten and droop, giving themselves up in their continual nurturing and renewing of beauty in new forms and sizes.

In this setting, ‘direct action’ becomes the ritual of respect that associates with mourning our losses and defending against their debasement.

I don't know what you just said.

as natasha says in her interview, many people are not ready to hear a radically different view such as hers [earth based culture], and there is no point, she says, it trying to force it on others who are not ready.

my comments were just acknowledging [as Mach did] that the world is only given once and we have many different 'portals' of investigation into it such as biology, chemistry, physics, philosophy, sociology, psychology, anthropology, evolutionary biology, theology, each with their own 'language game' (jargon), and that there is much support [fragmented within rebel findings across multiple disciplines] for natasha's affinity for earth-based culture [relational-space based culture aka 'inhabitant-habitat-INTERdependent'culture].

"the ‘sacred feminine’ is not necessarily ‘female’, as natasha points out, but ‘that which gives life to..."

yeah, and THAT's not a value-laden spin on "feminine".

Femenine is "abstract" sex. "Skirts are femenine," it was said. These hippys are just rationalizing the fuck out of it.

the sacred feminine is the 'creative nothingness' of eastern and indigenous aboriginal philosophy;

"The spirit of the valley never dies.
This is called the mysterious female.
The gateway of the mysterious female
Is called the root of heaven and earth.
Dimly visible, it seems as if it were there,
Yet use will never drain it." -- Lao Tsu, Tao Te Ching

the 'mysterious female' is NOT the physical/material female, although physical/material females may be intensively inhabited by the 'mysterious female'.

when one acknowledges that space is an energy-charged relational plenum [modern physics] that is continually transforming, then we can understanding 'creative nothingness' as 'field' that outside-inwardly excites/orchestrates the confluence/synthesis of inside-outward asserting actions (blossomings, fountainings).

The orchestrating/organizing force is 'creative nothingness' aka 'the mysterious female'; i.e. it is a force/influence rather than a material thing.

"For the Eastern mind, ultimate reality is essentially `nameless' or `unnamable'. It can only be alluded to or spoken off elliptically, paradoxically or under erasure. As Jan van Bragt, the able translator of Nishitani Keiji's Religion and Nothingness puts it nicely, there is a general Eastern antipathy to overly direct and assertive language in everyday discourse. Thus, in place of the kind of aggressive `trumpeting of opinion in terms that the listener should not be able to disregard' (van Bragt, in Nishitani, 1982: xl) and the insistence on straight-line clarity and distinctiveness in logical argumentation, the Eastern mind prefers to `circumnavigate an issue, tossing out subtle hints that permit only a careful listener to surmise where the unspoken core of the question lies' (ibid). Communication of thought is often indirect, suggestive, and symbolic rather than descriptive and precise. This cautious indirectness and circularity as well as oftentimes paradoxical nature of utterances, as a deliberate intellectual strategy of communication, is particularly exemplified in the philosophical explorations of Eastern thinkers such as Nishida Kitaro, the founding member of the Kyoto School in Japan whose work arguably represents a most thorough and systematic confrontation of the limits of Western metaphysics. It is one which Shimomura describes well:
`Like a musical theme, the basic theme is repeated and emphasized many times over, and while executing variations and performing spiral rotations, continues to ascend' (Shimomura, in Nishida: Nishida, 'An Inquiry into the Good')
Here, the emphasis does not lie in grasping the meaning of individual distinct notes or words. Instead the relentless combinations, variations and recombinations involved in the thematic build-up, work to awaken our hitherto dormant sensitivities to the implicit master-theme that lies beyond the individual instantiations. As the eminent Buddhist monk Kao-seng Chuan puts it:
`Symbols are to express ideas. When ideas have been understood, symbols should be forgotten. Words are to interpret thoughts. When thoughts have been absorbed, words stop.. .Only those who can take the fish and forget the net are worthy to seek the truth' (Kao-seng Chuan, in Chang,'Creativity and Taoism')
In matters of deep comprehension one must be able to grasp the absolute by an unmediated act of intuition. Such an intuition entails a direct, primitive penetration into the heart of things which can only be achieved in a state of pure self-conscious experiencing in which the boundaries between knower and known, subject and object have been completely dissolved. This is reminiscent of Bergson' s celebrated distinction between intellectual knowledge and intuitive understanding.
For Bergson, intellectual analysis stops at a relative kind of knowledge. On the other hand, `If there exists a means of possessing reality absolutely.. ..of grasping it over and above all expression' (Bergson,'The Creative Mind'), metaphysical intuition is that act. Intuition, he maintains is the `sympathy by which one is transported into the interior of an object in order to coincide with what there is unique and consequently inexpressible in it' (ibid: 161). Yet, Bergson does not advocate abandoning intellectual analysis. Instead, he merely points out that it is only through a long and intimate intellectual `companionship' with the object of one's attention that it becomes possible to penetrate beyond the realms of symbolic representation to attain a direct and unmediated understanding of the phenomenon. For Bergson and for Eastern thought, therefore, intuitive knowledge represents the interfusion and interpenetration of the universe with all things and is therefore the highest form of insight entirely different from ordinary intellectual knowledge."

one could therefore critique natasha's inference that it is PHYSICAL females that need to come together to help one another 'heal' from the long bout of patriarchal abuse, and shift the interpretation to 'intuitives' [we each have on inside of us] coming together to help one another 'heal' from the long bout of patriarchal abuse which relates to putting rational thinking into an unnatural precedence over intuition.

in other words; .. your objection has merit (natasha's view on feminism is 'incomplete' rather than straight-out 'wrong'.

More like Libiral. Am I rite?

Doesn't even says what it's about.

>Revolutionaries are ideologues.
Indigenous struggles are not about ideas, they are about what is already known. Community, wildness, existence; these aren’t ideas. They’re not notions that we won’t understand until after some revolution. They’re not ideas that are separate from our being.

What is dis nigga sayin, that anarchists are like maoists and should feel ashamed and defer to the "Indigeneous?" Bleg.

>Community, wildness, existence; these aren’t ideas.

No, they are english terms.

Kevin tucker does fetishize this idea of indigenous movements as puritanical resistance, but like to say that's comparable to maoism makes you seem like some bordigist who got lost on his way to revleft.

no no the nigga was wanting to compare anarchists with maoists. "Ideologue" is usually used for authoritarian leftists. Anarchists, maoists? All "ideologues."

his idea on ideas is whack as fuck

Reads a bit more like an advertisement than a review of substance.
Bit awkward.

why aren't there more better anarcho storytellers out there.surely people who write are at least marginalized and want to destroy all systems. so why not more anarchist fiction that blows peoples minds

b/c the only options left in the hollowed out anarchist non-space is guilt, shame, retribution and bowing to oppressed peoples demands; where you walk on egg shells everywhere you go because the weak demand you cater to and verify them and their uniqueness. anarchy has been reduced to breaking things, "ruptures", allyship, speaking truth to power (rhetorical feel good activity) and, maybe, gardening(?). any 'intellectual' or creative pursuit is considered "privileged." talk about slave morality and a race to the fucking bottom!

but do it! write it! bring back the heroic will!

You have some things you need to unpack I can see. I'm sure you are some fucking MAN, you sure sound like one.

"bowing to oppressed peoples demands"

Duh? The oppressed should be the leaders showing the way as those with the most astute critique of the system. It is everyone else's duty as allies (again those with less privilege must be the ones to lead us to revolution, other wise we are doomed from the start!) to support their cause which is in turn all our cause. Because no one is free while others are oppressed!

Maybe you should stop thinking about yourself so much (hard I know because you are just some MAN) and begin to put in some hard work toward Collective Liberation. May I suggest a Challenging White Supremacy Program?

P.S. All this "weak" and "will" talk makes you sound like a nazi.

"the oppressed should be the leaders showing the way as those with the most astute critique of the system."
"the oppressed should be the leaders" (leaders?)
"the oppressed should"

Spoken from true privilege.

Duh, we need leaders, duh, cause oppression. Check your privilege before dating to have any thoughts of your own, nazi man!!!!

IGTT 9.2/10

This book isn't anarchist. It's obvious from reading it that the author is against abortion and believes in God(s).

How does holding those positions make one not an anarchist? consider the autonomy of an unborn child../what is god? What is to believe?

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