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Tuesday, 3 January 2012

reflections on "MY REVOLUTIONS", novel by Hari Kunzru

Several friends and old comrades have been informing me for years now that I'm mentioned in the novel My Revolutions by esteemed British author Hari Kunzru. Last week I visited the Chapters bookstore in Belleville, where I found a copy marked down to $5 from the original price of $28.50. The omens were obvious - it was time to read this fictionalized account of Britain's radical 1970s revolutionaries, The Angry Brigade.

My Revolutions by Hari Kunzru
published by Dutton, Penguin Group
January 2008/copyright 2007

isbn 978-0-525-94932-9
280 pages


barebones of the plot:
A member of the late 1960s-early 1970s British revolutionary group, The Angry Brigade, has lived underground for 16 years. Over the years he has drifted from the revolutionary vanguard of squats and Marxist-Leninist politics and activism, including bombings, to accepting an awkward, and secret, middleclass existence. Then circumstances suddenly force him to surface.
- added Jan. 7/12


I'm going to type away, Stones blasting Let It Bleed in the background, while I sip Triple Sec and swig a Zywiec beer or two to stimulate reflections on the book and those distant, terrifying but beautifully inspiring, times  : )   ... bear with me ... if you dare ...

(The reference to me comes under the heading Historical Note on pages 279 - 280. "I have drawn on Ron Bailey's account of actions by London Squatters and Chris Faiers's account of the occupation of 144 Piccadilly by the London Street Commune, among many other sources.) - I wish Hari had given credit to my 1990 book,  Eel Pie Dharma: a memoir/haibun, as well as to me. In a conversation with friend Terry Barker, he suggested the publisher's lawyers would likely have had a say in who, and how, sources were referenced in the credits. I am most grateful, no matter, to Hari, for receiving mentions both in his book and on his interesting blog.


Canadian literary icon Josef Skvorecky died today. In 1968 he fled the brutal Soviet invasion of his country, Czechoslovakia, following the Prague Spring. It was 1969 when I left the U.S. of A. forever to avoid conscription in their brutal imperialist war against the Vietnamese.

It's an ironic historical confluence that so many writers, poets esp., escaped these two dominant Cold War imperialist superpowers at the end of the 1960s and converged in Canada. Josef was escaping the Iron Curtain, while I, and tens of thousands of others Amerikan residents, were escaping the viciousness of the Amerikan imperialist war on Vietnam.

Capitalist & Communist escapees converge in Canada - late 1960s!

Oh, Kanada, (OH WORLD!), what lessons you have received from your literary escapees! Are you even fu**ing listening!?


Yeah, back to the book, my memories ... (too many hits of Triple Sec already?) ...

I had problems with the first 50 or 60+ pages of the novel, and the protagonist, Chris Carver (hmm, interesting name choice) had become a middleclass Brit, very boring, and I couldn't feel any empathy, much less sympathy, for him. I almost gave up reading the book.

The next night I gave the novel a final chance. And then the power of the story kicked in, and I couldn't put the book down!


Like the novel's protagonist, Chris Carver, I've been a progressive "radical",  political activist, eventually a Marxist-Leninist, and an occupier of 'hippie' squats in the 1960s-70s, even a meditating Buddhist. I don't know of any other literary protagonist who has shared these seemingly disparate belief systems, lifestyles and practices.


break and dinner time - back later - will post what's written so far ...

- Chris 

parallels with Earle Birney's novel Down the Long Table

Once I got into the book I was struck by the similarities between Kunzru's narrative and that of Canadian poet and novelist Earle Birney's semi-autobiographical novel Down the Long Table (1955). Both books share a very similar narrative arc, in which the protagonist, a somewhat callow and disaffected youth, joins a Trotskyist group to gain the attention and affections of a beautiful young woman.
It's been about 35 years since I read Down the Long Table. I read it after spending three years as an active comrade in the Canadian Liberation Movement, which finally dissolved in sectarian squabbles around 1975. I felt very naive and foolish when I finally read Birney's account, but while reading My Revolutions I recognized this same pattern repeating itself with this story of the Angry Brigade - a socially idealistic political naif becoming sucked into a Marxist-Leninist cult.

I strongly recommend the next generation of young political activists, the "Occupy People", read both these novels. Doing so may save them much time and angst.


... more to follow

what was I thinking back then?

After my mother read my late 1980s memoir of those times, Eel Pie Dharma: a memoir/haibun,  she asked me what I was thinking during those troubled times. Perhaps Kunzru's novel better answers this question  than my own narrative. In EPD I wrote thumbnail sketches of my life squatting in the abandoned Eel Pie Island Hotel, my impressions of other hippies, narratives of various travels to exotic locales like Formentera, Wales and Ireland. But WHAT was I thinking?

Kunzru has protagonist Chris Carver reflecting from time to time on the horrors of the Vietnam War. I shared this dominant thought during that period - basically, "Thank God I'm alive and not dropping
napalm on innocent women and children and the courageous fighters of a third world country being invaded by a vicious imperialist power!" 

The Vietnam War, and our opposition to it, the collective horror those of us with a conscience, this we constantly felt and experienced as our primary and ongoing thought. Kunzru captures this well. This was my personal mantra back then, & over 4 decades later, I still reflect from time to time that Thank God I didn't participate in that evil war.

I first opposed the Vietnam War with a mimeographed 'underground' newspaper cleverly titled Papers (more of a leaflet), organizing a campus group, the Student Action Committee (SAC - get the pun? - same acronym as Strategic Air Command) - then finally and desperately leaving the U.S. when I received 3 draft notices in a single week in early June 1969. These are the proudest things I've done in my life. From discussions with other Vietnam War resisters, 'dodgers', and deserters, this was the proudest and most defining action of all of our lives.

added Jan. 7/12


Hyper social conscience* as pathology?

I read very little fiction these days, after having been a confirmed bookworm since a young age. Several years ago I decided to take an extended break from this lifelong addiction, and  one benefit is I have far more time to reflect on the few books of fiction I do carefully choose. I'm finding My Revolutions was a wise choice and is worthy of continued reflections and analysis.

                                                        - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 

The protagonist, Chris Carver, and the other main characters who are members of the Angry Brigade, perhaps share what I'm naming a "hyper social conscience". Perhaps this psychological condition can most easily be explained by its counterparts, sociopathy and psychopathology. The Angry Brigaders care too much. If such a thing is possible, they have developed far too much of a social conscience. too much geopolitikal awareness, to function "normally" in their society. This hyper sensitivity and awareness is the complete opposite of sociopaths and psychopaths, who lack any normal feelings of empathy and concern for other human beings. 

*hyper social conscience:  I believe I am coining the term in this piece - maybe not? As a widely published poet I've coined many neologisms (new words/terms) over the years, including the term emotional IQ in my 1983/84 poem Five Minutes Ago They Dropped the Bomb. A decade later I was browsing a Belleville, Ontario bookstore and came across a best seller with this very title. Coincidence? Appropriation of intellectual property? Who knows, who cares? Some clever psych grad student may find this term and expand it into their thesis, or a better-connected popular writer may publish a bestseller with this idea. Power to you - but I'd appreciate a credit  :  )

note: I Googled the words hyper social conscience, and altho there were almost 55,000 hits, none of these were exact matches for these three words (at least in the first 3 pages I looked at). So maybe I have coined a new term!
added Jan. 8/12


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