Anarchism Is Not Enough
Edited, with an introduction by Lisa Samuels
Published by Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001
Creating Criticism, An Introduction to Anarchism Is Not Enough
"Death is the sanction of everything the storyteller can tell. He has borrowed his authority from death".
"The poem is at last between two persons instead of two pages. In all modesty, I confess that it may be the death of literature as we know it".
Anarchism Is Not Enough is a manifesto against systematized thinking, a difficult book by a famously "difficult" writer. The scope of its critical imagination makes it the most radical work of Laura Riding's early period. This period begins in 1923 with her first published poem, intensifies in late 1925, when she left America for Europe and Robert Graves, and ends in 1939, when she returned to America. Soon thereafter she renounced any further writing of poetry, married Schuyler Jackson, and published almost nothing for a quarter of a century.
Published when Riding was 27, Anarchism is a kind of early biographia literaria. It begins with "The Myth," a defiant genesis tale that depicts poetry as a contrary baby who overthrows the socializing dictates of adulthood. The eleven subsequent pieces move through half-explained attitudes toward music, painting, collective literary consciousness, and the nature of language and poetry, as though Riding is turning over various cards of literary belief. Then comes a fully fashioned critical essay, "Jocasta," in which Riding questions the purposes of canon-making, representationalist fiction, and professionalized literary traditions and argues for the primacy of what she calls the "individual-unreal". After setting out her critical principles in the first thirteen pieces, the book moves into eight final pieces that enact these compellingly strange beliefs. These last pieces engage problems of identity - personal, authorial, and textual - by way of various narrative, familial, and sexual points of view. The book ends with a "Letter of Abdication," a triumphant declaration of its inevitable "failure".
Anarchism's iconoclasm and variety, its swings between intense authority and intensely felt selfexposure, are unique in Riding's early critical work. Two texts she wrote with Graves, A Survey of Modernist Poetry (1927) and A Pamphlet Against Anthologies (1928), present more normative approaches to criticism. The Survey provided William Empson with some of the close-reading tools he developed in his highly successful Seven Types of Ambiguity (1930). Riding's Contemporaries and Snobs (1928) shares Anarchism's antipathy toward critical systematizing and literary professionalism, but it is more single-minded, with no creative sketches enacting its beliefs. Anarchism might be thought of as the culminant dream of these other critical texts, a fuller realization of their antisystematic mandates.