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(en) AT THE CENTER OF THE VOLCANO - Anarchism Killing King Abacus # 2

From worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Sun, 15 Jul 2001 07:58:09 -0400 (EDT)


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AT THE CENTER OF THE VOLCANO

                        by

                  Dominique Misein

Although put to a difficult test by the multiple catastrophes that weigh
upon humanity, the deep-seated conviction that all History has
developed following a progressive route that is more or less constant
if not really regular endures in its mind. This idea of progressive
evolution is not an odd opinion if it is true, as it is true, that having left
the caves we have now reached the point of traveling in space. Today
is better than yesterday—and worse than tomorrow. But what was the
point of departure for this unstoppable course? One of the fathers of
cultural anthropology, L.H. Morgan, in his study on the lines of human
progress from the savage state to civilization, divides the history of
humanity into three stages: the primitive state, the stage of barbarism
and that of civilization. Morgan claims that this last stage began with
the invention of a phonetic alphabet and with the spread of writing. "In
the beginning was the Word" the Bible says. It has been discourse
that has facilitated the course of humanity, allowing it to conjecture,
argue, retort, discuss, agree, conclude. Without discourse the tower of
Babel of the human community could not have been built. In the
persuasive force of the word, Reason manifests itself and thus
becomes the technique for the creation and government of the world,
making sure that human beings do not wear themselves out in turn,
but rather contrive an understanding in the way deemed best. And
Reason, as a Roman sage said, is the only thing by which "we
distinguish ourselves from the brutes."

Dante used the same expression to distinguish animals that were not
rational from the human being who was: "it is evident that to live as
animals is to feel—animals, I say, brutes—to live as a man is to use
reason." Indeed, humans themselves can also live like "brutes" when
they renounce the prerogatives that the Tuscan poet considers typical
of the human being and the source of his greatness. Effectively, all
philosophy teaches that the human being is different from animals
because he is gifted with reason. If she limited himself to the
satisfaction of her physiological needs, nothing would separate him
from the rest of the fauna, and life on this planet would still be holding
steady in prehistorical conditions. But this is not the case. And this
modification, that is the evolutionary process, is seen as an ascent.
The human being now walks erect and challenges the heavens while
the animals for the most part continue to graze the soil. This is why it
is thought that animals are guided by Instinct—which leads them to
preserve themselves and seek what is most beneficial—considered
as the lowness of the belly; while humans are guided by
Reason—which leads them to pursue the just and the useful—that is
seated at the crown of the head.

And Reason, as the ancient Greeks said, is common to all and
universal. Therefore, Reason is One. But who determines it? And,
above all, what happens if someone opposes it, not wanting to follow
it because she has other reasons that he does not intend to
renounce? If reason is manifested through discourse, what happens
when we don’t have the words to express that which enlivens us? The
world in which we live is a universe closed in on itself to such an
extent that it cannot tolerate that which escapes it, being capable of
accepting only that which is included in its cognitive and normative
schemas, and so it ends confining that which it cannot explain within
the limits of madness, barbarism and irrational utopia.

Even social critique—understood not only in its mere theoretical
expression, but also in its practical realization—has known its
brutality, a stage in which the struggle against the social order
provoked by dissatisfaction with one’s own wretched condition had not
yet developed an articulated form through projectual activity, but
rather assumed the form of sporadic revolts lacking theoretical
motivations and only aimed at immediate satisfaction. In other words,
when the vessel overflowed, a blind violence broke loose, that, though
it was able to identify the enemy, was not yet able to express its
reasons. And because of this, as soon as the rage calmed down, the
situation returned to normal. As with the human being, so also with
the social critique, it is possible to point to a moment of departure
when instinct abandons its place to reason.

In the first half of the 19th century one witnesses the last great
"senseless" revolt (luddism) and the appearance of the political
project that, without forgetting its illustrious predecessors, would
require the intervention of Marx and Engels to be fully developed. The
year 1848 was not only the year of the great social upheavals that
passed throughout Europe, but also the year in which the Communist
Manifesto saw the light of day. The desire to change the world came
out of the cave, dissolved a great part of its mystical and idealistic
characteristics in order to acquire its own rationality and become
social science. It was not by chance that Engels, in the preface to the
English edition of the Manifesto published in 1888, would describe
radical social movements before 1848 as supportive of "a crude,
rough-hewn, purely instinctive form of communism."

Convinced of the fatuity of thoughtless outbursts of hatred, the
struggle for freedom elaborates its programs, its strategies, and starts
to advocate the subversion of the entire society and its rebuilding on
other foundations. Scientific communism and all its variants are born,
as is the anarchist movement. For 150 years, authoritarian
communists and anarchists have both seen the seizure of
consciousness as the fundamental condition for every social change.
While the authoritarians have aspired to impose this consciousness
from above through their political organizations on a proletariat that
was prepared for it, the anarchists have tried to make it rise up
spontaneously through propaganda or example. Millions of writings
have been distributed with this aim, in the form of newspapers,
journals, books, pamphlets, posters, leaflets; conferences,
demonstrations and initiatives have been organized, and committees
and associations constituted; not to mention all the social struggles
and individual and collective actions carried out against institutions. In
the heart of every revolutionary there was a great deal of hope. There
was the certainty that all this activity would sooner or later lead to the
awakening of this consciousness in the exploited that would finally
make the revolution possible. The reason of Freedom—still thought of
as one, common to all and universal—would take the place of the
reason of Power that had usurped its legitimacy.

Today we know that this determinist process was only an illusion.
History does not inevitably go anywhere. And however that may be,
power has not stopped paying attention. If once the exploited were
moved at the mere mention of the word "strike"; if they gathered
together in every city, country, factory or quarter because life itself
was the collective life of the class; if the life of the oppressed had
included daily discussions of the conditions of existence and struggle
for so many years; if in spite of the heterogeneity of this
consciousness, they discussed the necessity of destroying capitalism,
of building a new society without exploited or exploiters, everywhere;
it is undeniable that, in the course of the last several decades, all this
has disappeared together with the so much dreaded
"proletariat"—considered as a class, vision of the world opposed to
that of Capital.

Not by chance. Capital has applied itself to reaching the point where it
can build an ideal society in which the enemy no longer exists, but
where only productive, good citizens live possibly along with
humanoids capable of reproducing society without posing questions.
In the face of the danger represented by revolutionary reason, a
dense group of flatterers—philosophers, artists, writers, linguists,
sociologists, psychoanalysts, historians—has devoted itself to
draining this reason of all meaning. The "end of History" means that
there is no longer any future one can claim to have an influence: the
instant, this abstract, artificial pulsation, disconnected from duration, is
elevated to the rank of supreme application. In a time without depth,
the thing is overcome by the appearance, the content withdraws
before the empty form, choice gives way to automatism, the individual
abdicates her autonomy. Thus, he finds herself wallowing once again
in the oppressive emptiness of advertising posters that render the
Absence somewhat attractive. The reason of the state has remained,
only to endure and manage, and this is the one thing that the
ecclesiastics of post-modernism have never dreamed of placing into
discussion.

In this way, power has tried to preventatively erase the reasons of the
revolutionaries. And not only the great reasons—Communism or
Anarchy—but the smallest and simplest ones as well, those that mark
the daily life of every exploited person allowing him to be aware of
what she wants and why he wants it, making her capable of
distinguishing the rich from the poor, the police from the prisoner, the
violence of the state from that of the rebel, charity from solidarity. But
of the intent was to put an end to rebellion forever, something has not
worked. Revolts continue to break out. What characterizes them is the
fact that there is no visible quantitative progression before the
explosion; the dimensions grow to the highest level without being
preceded by great partial struggles. Their spark is not the promise of
a future freedom but the awareness of a present misery, which, when
not economic, is certainly emotional. Now, revolt has no more
reasons to put forward, it is without precise and explicit objectives and
rarely proposes anything pro-positive. The point of departure is a
general negation in which economic, political, social and daily life
aspects are blended. Now revolt is characterized by the violent and
resolute action of insurgents who occupy the streets and clash
violently with all the organs of the state, and also among themselves.
We are at the threshold of civil war, we are already in civil war.

The very fact that revolt can assume the form of an unforeseen
explosion brings out an element of important force: the surprise effect.
The old reformist social democratic arsenal is disarmed in the face of
the actions of insurgents. Syndicalism also finds itself completely
unable to respond and incorporate the violence into itself. Social
workers and all state agents of social mediation generally find
themselves completely overwhelmed. The absence of precise
demands renders the work of recuperation even more difficult, and
there is nothing left for these people to do but denigrate those who
don’t hesitate by referring to the "autism of the rebels." But it is not just
the counselors of the king who are dismayed. Revolutionaries as well,
who have been accustomed for years to the constant repetition of the
concept that the revolution "has nothing in common with the explosion
of a powder barrel", find themselves displaced, taken unawares. How
do you reason with one who has no reasons? How do you discuss
with one who has no words? The revolt may be fierce, but it is not
currently able to make distinctions that require an analysis. Any one of
us could find ourselves in the position of the truck driver who was
beaten and attacked with stones in the course of the revolt in Los
Angeles in 1992.

The rooster constrained in the narrowness of the stall,
surrounded by horses, with no other bedding at hand, was
compelled to seek out a place on the treacherous floor with
horse tramping all around. Being in serious danger for his fragile
life, the rooster put forth the following prudent invitation: "I beg
you, gentlemen, let us seek to keep ourselves steady on our
feet; I fear that otherwise we may trample one another."

With the lantern of our more or less critical awareness, we wander
about in the vain attempt to illuminate the black night that surrounds
us today. All the texts that we have read are proving inadequate,
incapable of providing us with a thread to lead us out of this labyrinth.
When daily events present themselves before us, we are no longer
capable of deciphering them. Revolts continue to break out around the
world, but not a trace of them appears in our handbooks. Thus, when
we come to denigrate the bad insurrection in Albania
[1997—translator] and applaud the good revolt in Seattle, following the
suggestion of a reason stuffed with bookish notions, we don’t act so
very differently from the rooster of the fable: we counsel everyone to
hold themselves steady. At last, a revolt as it should be! That all the
insurgents of the world take as a model!

Thus, we see once again how the requirement put forward by
revolutionaries in the course of history has always been almost
exclusively of the logical type, which is to say normative. And the
norm, the reason consistent with itself, does its best to compel reality
to conform itself to it. But reality escapes from it, because no ideology
is in a position to exhaust it. In spite of our best intentions, nothing
guarantees that the revolt of Seattle becomes a model. In fact, it
seems that the wind is blowing the other way.

For years, we have upheld the virtue of reason as the sole guide of
our actions, and now we find ourselves with little or nothing in hand. In
the search for a way of escape from the absurdity that threatens our
existence, it is difficult to resist the temptation to reverse direction and
turn our attention to that which is usually considered as the antipode
of reason, namely, passion. After all, there are already those who
have made the rediscovery of the passions one of the most
dangerous arms in the attack against the world of authority and
money. We can dust off the old texts of Bakunin and Coeurderoy, the
anarchists from the 19th century who exalted the "unchaining of the
wicked passions" and "revolution as the work of the Cossacks".

Let’s listen to the shattering voice of Coeurderoy: "…we have no hope
except in the human deluge; we have no future except in chaos; we
have no expedient except in general war that, mixing all the races and
shattering all stable relationships, will remove the tools from the
hands of the ruling class with which it violates the freedom required at
the price of blood. We establish a revolution in action, we inspire it in
foundations; so that it is inoculated through the sword into the
organism of society, in a way that none could any longer escape from
it! So that the human tide mounts and overflows. When all the
disinherited will be taken with hunger, property will no longer be a
sacred thing; in the clash of arms, the sword will resound more
strongly than money; when everyone will fight for his own cause, no
one will have any more need to be represented; in the midst of the
confusion of tongues, the lawyers, the journalists, the dictators of
opinion will lose their speech. Between its steel fingers, the revolution
shatters all the Gordian knots; it is without compromise with privilege,
without pity for hypocrisy, without fear in battle, without restraint on
the passions, ardent with its lovers, implacable with its enemies. By
god! Let’s do it then and sing its praises like the mariner sings the
great caprices of the sea, his master!"

Claiming chaos after having futilely tried to set things in order for
years. Exalting barbarism after we have identified it for so long with
capitalism. It might even seem contradictory, but in doing so, don’t we
perhaps feel that much nearer to the goal?

And yet, if we think it over well, it is odd that in order to advance the
thesis that wants barbarism to be not only that which most inspires
fear in us, but also a possibility on which to wager, one must appeal to
such forerunners. As if we felt ourselves at fault and thus in need of
finding new justifications behind which to hide our doubts and
insecurities. But then, what is served by dedicating ourselves to
making analyses of the profound changes that the social structure has
undergone, illustrating the technological restructuring of capital,
exposing the atomization of the production system, taking action for
the end of the great ideologies, stemming the decline of meaning,
lamenting the degradation of language, etc., etc.? Reason after
reason, analysis after analysis, citation after citation, perhaps all that
we have done is raise yet another insurmountable wall, in a position to
protect us if not from external reality, at least from ourselves.

If reason is a compass, the passions are the winds

In reality, we are the victims of a great deception, designed by
ourselves, when we appropriate the texts of a Bakunin or a
Coeurderoy in order to alleviate the burning sensation left by the
disappointment caused by the breakdown of every great social
project. We don’t take into proper consideration that these anarchists
are not our contemporaries, have not witnessed the fall of the Berlin
wall, have not lived in the era of the Internet. We propose their ideas
again, but avoid reflecting motives that moved them—in a historical
context completely different from the one in which we live today—to
place their hope for a radical transformation not in adherence to an
ideal program, but in the wild irruption of the darkest human forces.
Thus, we can leave for the pigs so many questions on why—as
Coeurderoy said—"the social revolution can no longer be made
through a partial initiative, the easy way, through the Good. It is
necessary that Humanity deliver itself through a general revolt,
through a counter-strike, through Evil."

Better to dress the old certitudes up in new clothes than to rid
ourselves of them. Better to look at ourselves in the mirror tat reflects
the image of a civilized and thinking individual, even though inside a
free and savage barbarian is on the lookout only waiting for the
propitious occasion to show itself. If one can no longer have faith in
the virtue of progress, better to swear on the genuine and
spontaneous substantial nature of the individual upon which
civilization has superimposed its vulgar social conventions through
the course of the centuries. But isn’t this also an ideological
projection, an updated version of the sun of the future that will sooner
or later rise behind the peaks as if by magic? And the problem does
not only consist in not knowing whether there even is a human nature
uncontaminated by television that could be rediscovered, or whether
the human unconscious could be reclaimed from the poisoning of
Capital.

In fact, in spite of appearances, the texts of Bakunin and Coeurderoy
are the fruit of a perfectly logical reasoning. The aim one wants to
achieve determines the means to be used. If our goal was to redeal
the cards in the game, on could easily present a rational argument for
what means to use. It would be understood that each in their turn
should hold the bank. But if our objective is to destroy the game itself,
with all its rules, its cards and the players who take part in it, then
things change. In other words, if our desires would limited themselves
to the replacement of a ruling class, the restoration of areas presently
not in use, a reduction in prices, the lowering of interest rates, better
ventilation of prison cells and whatever else as well, it would remain in
the ambit of rational possibility. If instead we want to put an end to the
world as we know it and consequently enter into a world that is utterly
fantastic to imagine, then we are facing a project considered
impossible, extraordinary, superhuman, that requires impossible,
extraordinary, superhuman means in order to be realized. A revolt
weighed in the balance of convenience, with the eye attentive to the
advantages and disadvantages at every step, is defeated from the
start, because it can only advance to a certain point and then stop.
>From the point of view of logic, it is always better to find a
compromise than to fight. It is not reasonable for an exploited person
to rebel against society, because she will be overpowered by it. The
barricade may still have its charm, but it’s useless to hide that many
will meet their death there. And no one knows in advance in whose
chest the bullet will stop.

This is why the only allies left are the passions, those wicked
passions to which everything is possible, even the impossible.
Bakunin and Coeurderoy understood this. One cannot make
revolution with good sense. Only passion is capable of overwhelming
the human mind, carrying it toward unthinkable ends, arming it with
invincible strength. Only individuals who have gone "out of their mind",
on whom reason no longer exercises any control, are capable of
accomplishing the undertakings necessary to the destruction of an
age-old ruling order. As we can see, it is not a question of converting
as many people as possible to an ideal deemed just, but of stirring
them up since—as an old anarchist loved to say: "it is normal that
people very much share the qualities of coal: an inconvenient and
filthy mass when extinguished; luminous and fiery when ignited."

But the ardor of the passions doesn’t last long, it is fleeting, just like
the current revolts. It is an intoxication that thrust beyond itself, but
that is slept off by morning. One can gather from this that if reason
alone is not able to guide us toward freedom, neither is passion alone.
But no one has ever claimed such a thing. Here we are before the
consequences of a misunderstanding that occurs when one opposes
a supposedly irrational passion to a presumably indifferent reason,
generating an antithesis that does not exist in reality. Because, far
from being rash and unreflective, passion is quite capable of taking
time and giving itself a perspective in order to achieve its goal. Just as
the acrobatics of reason often only serve to justify the outcome of our
passions after the fact. Perhaps nothing has shown how logic and
passion complete each other, interpenetrate each other and contain
each other in turn like the work of Sade with its continuous linking
together of orgiastic scenes with philosophical argumentation.
Compass and winds are both indispensable. Whatever voyage one
means to undertake, one cannot do without either one of these. This is
why Bakunin invoked the fury, but also spoke of the need for an
"invisible pilot." Now however the point is that it is not possible to pilot
a tempest. One can only endure it.

"The violent revolution that we felt rising for some years and
that I had personally desired so much passed before my
window, before my eyes, and it found me confused, incredulous.
[…] The first three months were the worst. Like many others I
was one obsessed by the terrible loss of control. I, who had
desired the subversion, the overturning of the established order,
with all my might, indeed I, now at the center of the volcano, I
abhor the summary executions, the pillage, all the acts of
banditry. I was torn as always between the theoretical and
emotional attraction for the disorder and the basic need for
order and peace."

                                       —Luis Bunuel

It is not only the political and economic person, worried about
electoral and commodity markets, who takes the field against the
tempest, against the chaos and the primordial forces of barbarism,
but, above all, the ethical person. To repudiate social norms, to
abandon oneself to the instincts means to fall back into the darkness
of wildness to the point of reviving the horrors of the primordial horde.
Civilization, then, could only be Reason, Order, Law, and not
necessarily those of the State. Bakunin’s comrades in Lyon don’t fail
to reproach for this. One of them will remember how conflicts broke
out between them "the principle cause of which was Bakunin’s great
theory on the necessity of allowing all the passions, all the appetites,
all the wrath of the people to manifest themselves and to freely rumble
unchained, free of the muzzle." There was one comrade in particular
who "did not view this possible deluge of violence of the human beast"
and "condemned every sort of crime and abomination, which would
give the revolution a sinister countenance, rob the greatness of the
idea through the brutishness of the instincts, rising against all those
who have love in their hearts for the great things and whose
consciousness has a sense of the just and the good." How is it
possible—he asked—"that people who represent the idea of the future
could have the right to defile through contact with the most ancient
barbarism which the most elementary civilizations seek to repress?"

The observations of this comrade of Bakunin have made much more
headway than the texts of the Russian anarchist. The proof of it is the
oblivion to which these latter have been relegated together with those
of Coeurderoy. Barbarism cannot be the door to freedom, so we are
reminded by those ethical people who, for the most part, are the very
same ones who on other occasions have found ways of affirming that
war produces peace, the rich preserve the poor, force guarantees
equality. So what can open the door to freedom? Perhaps the
expansion of markets? An increase in the number of parties? The
consolidation in the forces of order? A better scholastic education?
The general strike? A revolutionary organization with a million
members? The development of the productive forces? And why ever,
if not out of respect for the determinist mechanism which is
considered the motor of history? It is a mystification, however, to paint
a situation of anomie—that is to say, of an absence or great
weakening of the norms that rule the conduct of individuals—with the
darkest hues. It is yet to be demonstrated that inside the individual a
monster quick to torture innocents is concealed. In reality this is
merely a hypothesis—as often refuted as affirmed by historical
experience—spread to benefit those who rule, decide and impose.
Nevertheless, even if it were so, could one perhaps decide
beforehand which direction a situation of anomie would assume?

A mariner who sings of the force of the sea is not likely to exalt the
beauty of shipwreck with it. In the same way, recognizing the role
developed in every process of social transformation for the passions,
even for the darkest ones, does not mean making a defense for rape,
the bloodbath or lynching. There is no use in hiding that every
revolution has known its excesses. However, this does not mean
either renouncing revolution for fear that these will happen, as the
so-called beautiful souls always claimed, nor cheerfully taking part in
them. Because the people unchain even their wicked passions that
have been repressed for far too long. In this, the revolutionaries will
hardly be at their side. Indeed, one presumes that they have quite
different things to do than shut themselves up in their house or lose
themselves in the midst of a howling marasmus. Even in the midst of
the tempest, the mariner who knows where e wants to go always has
his eye on the compass and his hand on the rudder—and in his heart
the hope tat he can exploit the force of the water as much as possible
in order to arrive at his destination and have his embarkation
prearranged because he endures all the blows of the billows. Without
any certainty of rescue, naturally, but without giving it up in advance.

The reflections of Bakunin and Coeurderoy—that some would
describe as meta-historical and that, as we have seen, have not
roused much agreement among revolutionaries—have found
unwonted support in the conclusions that some observers of human
behavior have drawn. When Bakunin speaks of the revolution as a
festival in which the participants are overwhelmed by intoxication
("some from mad terror, others from mad ecstasy") and where it
seems that "the whole world was turned upside down, the incredible
had become familiar, the impossible possible, and the possible and
familiar senseless," this is taken literally.

For example, Roger Caillois, in his essay that analyzes the meaning
that the festival has had in different types of human society, speaks of
the "contagion of an exaltation…that prompts one to abandon oneself,
without control, to the most irrational impulses." Describing it as
"intermittent explosion", the French scholar explains how the festival
"appears to the individual as another world, where he feels himself
supported and transformed by the forces that overcome him." His aim
is that of "beginning the creation of the world again." "The cosmos has
emerged from the chaos"—Caillois writes—according to which the
human being looks with nostalgia at a world that didn’t know the
hardship of work, where the desires were realized without finding
themselves mutilated by any social prohibition. The Golden Age
answers to this conception of a world without war and without
commerce, without slavery and without private property. "But this
world of light, of serene joy, of a simple and happy life"—Caillois
clarifies further—"is at the same time a world of exuberant and
disorderly creations, of monstrous and excessive fruitions."

The innovation of barbarism, if so we choose to call it, is found in the
fact that it invites us neither to slaughter, torture or slit throats, nor to
imagine an egalitarian and happy society. In the explosion of its
frenzy, barbarism proposes to us that we courageously rise to the
dangerous, even unacceptable and anti-social, side of ourselves.
>From birth, we have found ourselves projected into an ethico-surgical
social system, the purpose of which is to perform the maximum
number of amputations on us in the name of the maximum level of
order. Facing barbarism, we only have to give an answer to the basic
question of our fullness.

It is no longer necessary to rely on goodwill or special favors.
One can no longer pay ransom to the chief of purgatory, nor oil
the palm of the guardian of hell; there is no longer a paradise
where one could secure a seat in advance.

                                      —Rene Daumal

The world in which we live is a prison, the sections of which are called
Work, Money, Commodity, and the yard time of which is granted as
summer vacation. We were born and have always lived inside this
prison universe. Hence, it is all we know. It is our nightmare and our
security at the same time. And yet. As every prisoner knows well, our
heart has counted the steps that separate us from the wall thousands
and thousands of times, afterwards calculating the meters of bricks
that it is necessary to climb. As every prisoner knows well, our eyes
have scrutinized that thin line on the horizon that divides the barbed
wire from the sky thousands and thousands of times so that we can
then muse on the forms and colors that we glimpse dimly there. But
we don’t know what is there beyond the wall of this enclosure.
Perhaps a marvelous landscape. Perhaps a dangerous jungle.
Perhaps both. Every proposed conjecture is a lie. Certainly, there is
freedom, whatever that may be. Once conquered, it is up to us to
know how to maintain it and be able to take pleasure in it. It is up to
us, as well, if we so choose, to renounce it, but not before we have
tried it.

Now more than ever, it is time for defiance. To think one can escape
from daily life is madness. And, besides, a solitary escapee would end
up living a miserable life. But wanting to utterly destroy the prison in
order to liberate everyone is a barbarity. By what right do we interfere
in the lives of others? And yet. And yet, there is a point at which the
desperation and anguish of having only incomplete and temporary
prospects overturn in the determination to be oneself without delay,
identify means and ends and found the sovereignty of revolt on
nothing. When we arrive at this point, if we are not already there, will
we know what to do? Or will we retreat in order to return to that which
we know too well?





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