Yes, I am still plowing through the stories of the Paris Commune, about two weeks after everyone has promptly forgotten May Day. Yes, I know this is obsessive. On the other hand, this is a critical unforgettable moment that is formed by mashing together by context, mass action, and the waves of history
Presently I am studying Civil War in France, written by Karl “Marxism” Marx; I am already THOROUGHLY familiar with the events of the Commune, but that is not the point behind reading canonical texts. The statements made in the canon, the philosophies that lurk behind the ostensible focus of the work, are eternal. The text could deal with a tiny, very specific topic, but you’ll know when a text rises above simplistic categorization and makes statements that are relevant now, relevant in the future, as much as they were relevant in the past.
The enormity of the Commune, the sheer amount of focus that is drawn to this singularity, means that there are LOTS of information, points of view, and lessons to be learned when studying those three months in detail. But the canon is not by any means set in stone. nor are they formed on book lists written by academic super-Marxists. The canon is malleable; it depends wholly upon the worth of the lessons taught in the text, the relevance that the text holds for the reader, and as is what happens to any reader, a compelling mixture of time and place.
Life-changing books are innumerable, and the best break open some kind of code, some set of horizons that were previously unknown to the reader. These are essential texts, and they truly are suspect devices. They are little bombs waiting to be set off. Naturally the combo of real lived-in situations AND the texts that are connected somehow (either via philosophy or context) constitute the best scenario for the canonical.
As much as punk rock saved my life when I was a teenager, there was one specific text that I read later in life, which I felt represented me and produced a philosophy that I felt spoke for and to me. A text that could be contextualized and re-contextualized to fit different scenarios in life: that book was The Fountainhead.
I’M KIDDING. The book that I speak of is Daily Life in Revolutionary China, a text written by an Italian Communist woman named Maria Theresa Macciocci in 1970, one of the quieter moments in the Cultural Revolution. But the canon is virtually indefinite – this will be shaped by the events that we speak of, and if they maintain any kind of viewpoints that address scenarios that routinely get repeated through history. More on that later – I want to address the new Marxist wave which has saved Spain yet again. Some situations are all too familiar for some of us.
Anyway, let the living and breathing canon continue to grow, as the continuum of radicalism shapes the world, as more people find an articulation that they feel sums up not only the topic at hand, but also the bare basics of human life trapped in late period Capitalism.