recipes for disaster.

Don't be surprised if things slow down around here. I have found myself dutifully employed, M-F, 9-5.
No, it's not like that. At the moment, I am a bike courier. Soon I will be wearing tight pants and growing dreadlocks. But I digress... my copy of Recipes For Disaster came in the mail recently. It's over 600 pages, so don't be disappointed that I haven't had time to really dig deep into it.

Getting a package from Crimethinc always fills me with conflicted pleasure. It's like getting a distant postcard from that one 'crazy' friend you have, who tried to shoplift a case of beer from the LCBO while barefoot. The postcard is saturated with joy and stories beyond belief, and you are caught shaking your head, wondering if you could or would want to live like that. Hitchhiking in the bayou. Getting shot at in Kentucky. Sleeping in a ditch with dirt in your hair and woken up by an organic farmer in the morning. It is oh so tempting. But for now, you think, I will settle for this postcard and the certainty of a hot shower in the morning. Still, it nags.

And so it was for me again. I come downstairs, and there, like a pregnant belly, is the Crimethinc package. You tear it open and look at all the goodies-- Crimethinc absolutely spoils you with free stuff above and beyond what you buy. This time, there were two copies of a children's story by one of the authors of 'Off the Map.' The book itself, the byline being 'an anarchist cookbook', is definitely an achievement. If you are looking for technical information, how to, say, fix a tire or pick a lock, you'll be sorely disappointed. Also, unlike that other cookbook, there are no phony bomb recipes. No, the recipes included are those of the social persuasion.

The most substantial chapters in Recipes for Disaster those that focus on organization: creating anything from a bike collective to a black bloc. I'm sure there are a lot of people who have had previous experience with these efforts, but the book is full of creative hints and ideas that struck me as almost revelatory. If you've spent any time as an 'activist', a lot of the recipes in the book will be familiar; I doubt, however, that you won't be able to glean something of use from them.

From there you get into some of the deeper stuff. 'Surviving a Felony Trial', fr'instance, or 'Sabotage.' There is a chapter titled 'Evasion', but it focusses on actual Evasion and nothing to do with the book. What I found very compelling was a firsthand account of sabotage. The (anonymous) author detailed what went right, and what mistake ultimately led to a four-year prison term. The bullshit factor is nil. Nobody is pretending that actions don't carry a large amount of risk. The grating tone of activist self-congratulations is kept to a minimum.

So what sort of book is it? Where does it fit into the Crimethinc canon?

I admit that I really enjoy what Crimethinc does. Written in between their words is a harrowing level of joy. I can read Evasion and just drink it up, smiling to myself on the subway. Even if I'm not about to stop paying rent. There is a hectic kind of idealism in Crimethinc writings that gives me pause. I don't think my metabolism is quick enough to digest the infinite amounts of joy and danger that they prescribe. I'm not that sort of individual. I'm a self-styled rationalist... which is to say, chickenshit. So I do occasionally settle for reading about joy, instead of doing it...

Thus when I am reading the words of someone that resembles me not at all, am I defeating the purposes of having a Crimethinc? Do I rely on their works as an innoculation of adventure, when I'm not feeling adventurous enough? Has Crimethinc become what they hate most: a distributor of rebellion as a commodity, doing what the starved masses feel they can't do themselves, and then selling them the thirdhand account?

No, actually I don't. Let me go about explaining this by way of a confession. I used to listen to Rage Against the Machine. (copyright Epic/Sony, those murderous bastards) From there, I picked up a book that they had suggested in their liner notes. Chomsky, of course-- are you surprised? Built inside me already was a sort of undefined anger. I couldn't understand why I hated arrogance so much. I would root for Daffy Duck because I knew he would ultimately be humiliated by Bugs Bunny. Rooting for him didn't change the cartoon at all. But still I'd do it: root for the underdog. If I had kept doing that while watching tv, I probably would have ended up becoming a fashionable nihilist or something. I think a great many number of my age group fall into this category.

I didn't. Seattle happened in November 99. I heard about it on the radio. In April, I was in Washington D.C. Then onwards and onwards, and so forth. That first morning, though, driving through the empty streets of a place much bigger than me, I was terrified. It was maybe the first genuine emotion of my entire life.

It's a shame that we live so utterly in a spectacle society that we use it to define what is possible. It's a shame, but there it is. I don't know how people live as I once did: rooting for the slick villian with something to say, even as they know convention demands that he be killed. All I know is that I might have been there, in front of the television, if there hadn't been a Seattle. If there hadn't been that chance to redefine the possible. While reading Evasion I dumpster dove for the first time. (my first time shoplifting, however, was six years before that.) After reading a zine, I graffitied(sic) for the first time. It's not a matter of innoculation but of gentle pushes, baby steps. Baby steps because revolutions don't come natural to me. Sorry. But I'm working on it. And some of us need this, need these stories to be told. It may take fifty postcards, but eventually I may come to see New Orleans.

And that explains my conflicted love of Crimethinc canon. The nagging feeling I get is coming from me, telling me to Go Out and Do It now that I know how to do it. Crimethinc act as one of the last bastions of cultural idealism. They continue to do what they do because ultimately they still believe that culture can be force for political change. That's right! Even after punk died. Even after all the Che t-shirts at Parasuco. Even after corporations took the aesthetics of culture-jamming and made it into 'guerilla marketing.' (uuuuuuggggh....) Culture can be dangerous. Which is why I'm so happy to see this big book on my desk. Crimethinc could have settled for publishing fifty more Evasion-type travelogues. But they didn't. They filled a book with personal accounts to triumph and adventure and defeat, and then pointedly tell you how to Do It Yourself.
So go Buy the Book. Or write your own.


At 2:21 p.m., Blogger Robert said...

(dude, you got a job? yer young and u gotcher health...whatcha wanna fuck it up widda job for?)

sorry, that line is a habit by now

the Evasion book was so laughably horrible i had just about written the Crimethinc crew off...i just may check out the new one based on your review

At 9:39 p.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

"'crazy' friend you have, who tried to shoplift a case of beer from the LCBO while barefoot."

i didn't know he was barefoot too. excelsior. (i assume we're talking about the same person here)

rob- crimethinc has some problems (they seem to have inherited their situationist predecessors' sense of privileged self-satisfaction), but evasion is a great book (and i feel i should point out that know it was a zine too, lest some crusties and traveler kids assail me with bagels and empties). not a Great Book, of course, but a great book. cracking good read. what didn't you like about it?

and if crimethinc become just more purveyors of rebellion as commodity, well, that would be the fault of their readers, wouldn't it? i mostly respect them. Days Of War is probably the single most accessible thing to ever come out of the intellectual anarchist milieu, and we can tell this because it's actually read by people who aren't anarchists, and gets them talking and thinking about more than nit-picking dead theory over the internet with other shutins.

just... just like this.


At 10:28 p.m., Blogger Robert said...

well, i actually did like Days of War

what i didnt like about Evasion is the whole revolution of white middle class teenagers...anyone who romanticizes living outta dumpsters obviously hasnt had to...i also dont see survivalism as revolutionary or particularly liberating...living on the streets is ok when youre 18...try it when you are 36...the bones ache from a night on the streets in February, trust me

im not talking simple class resentment...we need MORE revolutionary white middle class teenagers, not less...i also recognize that we are all privileged to some degree...and i can understand exactly why some of the "privileged" wld be revolutionary/insurrectionary/dissatisfied...they do know their own forms of oppression...no, really

but, whereas i thought Days was pretty inspirational and well-written/poetic, Evasion was not and glaringly lacked any pretense of a class perspective...i think that alienated me from it a bit

if i had my copy handy/hadnt read it so long ago, i cld give a more in-depth review, but that's basically it

At 11:06 p.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey eric - what's yer job, anyway?

hey rob - you're absolutely right. but i don't think evasion was ever intended to be some grand revolutionary project. it just started as a little rag for a "niche market" (pardon the expression) - kids who like to scam shit. i think the fault lies with those who've held it up to be some manifesto or treatise, and not necessarily with the book itself. although, i suppose that in choosing to publish it as a book, crimethinc should have added a preface presenting the critique you just did.

anyway, we need more middle class dropouts. and hopefully more than a few of them get past the romantic bullshit. many do.

yknow, we need a toronto anarchist/scary-left discussion board or something (please, no one say indymedia). or, even better - pub nite. tho there are some people i could stand on the internet but not drunk and in person. present company excepted. maybe a tea nite.


At 11:14 p.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

the one thing with DIY is having to actually DO IT YOURSELF...which means actually having the energy to act and being healthy enough to continue to act.

i know i sound like the last person to talk about this, but i think one major thing people/activists/revolutinaries/cynics should be better at is taking care of themselves.

now i'm not asking people to be saints, but just doing a few simple things every day like...
1: realizing that only a coffee doesn't count as breakfast
2: realizing that only a coffee and a cigarette doesn't count as lunch
3: realizing that only a pitch and some wings doesn't count as a *healthy* dinner

...can make us healtier people. for the one revolutionary moment and the 99 other every day moments we go thru in our lives: dancing to music with friends, going on long walks with loved ones, playing with children, shopping for groceries, shovelling the walk.

one of the best ways to beat those bastards is to not let them grind you down.

anyway, ya, so i'm running now, eating properly (and more or less healthy), sleeping and relaxing and not sucking back toxs, i don't think that's gonna bring on the revolution, but at least i don't feel like shit when i wake up *every* morning.

sorry to sound preachy, but like i said, we don't have to be saints, but we do owe it to ourselves, and each other, to take care of ourselves.


At 11:20 p.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

eric, if you like erratic art/language of crimethinc, i've got some bukowski and lynn crosbie poetry to lend you.

(roberts, you're bang on about your evasion crit.)

At 7:22 p.m., Blogger eric said...

mike -- my job, theoretically, is a bike courier. i dunno. that might change soon. and i'm not sure who you're thinking of when i mention this LCBO chap.
'excelsior' <== this is decidedly cryptic.

rob-- i'm pretty sure i didn't read too much political consciousness in evasion; sometimes, i'm at a loss to explain why i enjoy that book so much. 85% of it is about madonna and eating bagels. but somehow i get that same sugarrush of enjoyment reading it as i do reading, say, henry miller or thoreau. Recipes for Disaster, in contrast, is pure healthfood. It's just chockfull of ideas and schemes. i actually wish it had less about creating activist social groups, and more about the weird eccentric diy stuff i enjoy.
Example: my old pal/boss gerry had a book that explained how one could survive off of the minimal amount of arable land. i think it was 20 square yards. anyway let's just say that you'd be eating a lot of kale, squash and beans. fascinating, though. i wish i had taken that book.

At 1:00 a.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

Slender, curved wood shavings used especially for packing."

i think it's pretty clear, eric:
i am an idiot.
oh, and now i see that you already said what your new job was. i am doubly an idiot. fine, i'm an idiot.

At 12:56 p.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey, i worked on RfD, and i found your page while googling for reviews. i was very glad to find yours and read about your experience with the book and crimethinc in general--very informative and rather heartening as well. thanks for taking the time to write it up.

ps: i agree with what everyone here has said about evasion, good and bad. it is not a perfect book by any means, and its value is as a story not as an ideology.

At 4:23 p.m., Blogger eric said...

dear anonymous,
Thanks for the post and the visit, and most of all, thanks for RfD. I'm still leafing through it, and i just keep getting more impressed with it. Sort of an anthology of what's worked so far. It's really heartening that it's also so damn thick. Hopefully with some effort we'll have another book's worth of material to print in a few years. Thanks again!


Post a Comment

<< Home