The publication of another John Zerzan book will likely be responded to in entirely predictable ways by the majority of the anarchist milieu. Anyone who is not interested in green anarchist or anti-civilization thought will dismiss the book out of hand. It is a non-event. Similarly, since John is the best known North American anarchist, there will be those who turn to the book as a State of the state-haters , seeing it as something Zerzan has never claimed to be, but perhaps is needed. For us this serves as an opportunity to revisit the role that primitivism is currently taking in anti-civilization thought and how Zerzan is serving in his role as its guardian.
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John Zerzan has infuriated and fascinated readers for decades. And, at the bottom of his resolutely nihilistic denunciation of the present, is a beautiful and poetic vision of life free of mediation and alienation, and based instead on love and empathy. Zerzan claims that anthropological evidence shows that before the emergence of these forms, people lived in an unmediated oneness and harmony with their world.
We now live in a world of complete alienation, where everything we experience has been standardized and controlled, turned into quantifiable forms that are repeatable and exchangeable. Zerzan calls us to throw off these alienated forms and return to our true being, which is intuitive, primal, spontaneous, and which still exists underneath.
Most of the essays in Twilight of the Machines first appeared in Green Anarchy, where he is a contributing editor. Starting in the mids, Zerzan published most of his new works in the Fifth Estate, until a final falling out with members of the editorial collective in over his theoretical views. Afterwards, he became a contributing editor at Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed , until it shifted hands into the new Bay Area collective a few years ago.
For example, he repeats the same stories about toddlers on anti-depressants and teen suicide rates which can be found in his s essays. The most interesting parts of this book are the essays in the first half which look at the origins of war, patriarchy, religion and cities. Zerzan gives an account of the development of each of these four concepts in line with his basic perspective. In the Origins essays, he identifies agriculture as the material embodiment of the mediations of time, language, art and number.
Now, he adds the city as a second form of alienation that assumes a concrete, three-dimensional, material form. However, the only evidence of any fundamental reconception of his position is, in the interview with Kevin Tucker, the admission that spoken language may be up to half a million years old.
If this comes to be accepted, it would potentially problematise his initial list of the five sins of alienation, or at least his periodization of them. In particular, it is difficult to understand how he conceives of the relationship between technology, civilization and symbolic representation. For example, despite the reputation of primitivists as focusing their fury on technology, Zerzan has written surprisingly little about it. How would knowledge of spear-making be passed on without culture; and if so, is there non-symbolic culture?
Indeed, once you grasp the basic essence of his perspective, one can find elements that back up parts of it in a large number of writings on a variety of topics and from various perspectives.
One example is Frankfurt School philosopher Theodor Adorno, a caustic critic of contemporary mass society and even civilization. But Adorno forcefully repudiated the notion that there can ever be a self-identical, subject-object identity i. In fact, Adorno argues that this kind of perspective is intrinsically fascist. This however, does not stop Zerzan from citing Adorno when it suits him, while simply discarding the remainder of his arguments—or dismissing them with a single sentence.
Despite his wide-ranging reading, one gets the impression that Zerzan is simply mining these books for choice quotes which are hung as adornments on an already-completed argument. Despite occasional claims from detractors, it is clear that Zerzan is absolutely not a fascist and that he has no sympathies for their politics.
For example, recently a crypto-fascist website which did not reveal its politics openly asked for an interview with him; he later denounced them when their politics were exposed. But his books have also been reviewed in pagan-fascist literary journals, and his ideas are discussed on fascist internet forums.
Zerzan also cites Romanian thinker Mircea Eliade, who not just supported the fascist Iron Guard before WW2, but in the s supported GRECE, a think tank that was the brainchild of Alain de Benoist, who is the most sophisticated of contemporary neo-fascist philosophers.
Benoist publishes his English-language pieces in the same journal, Telos , which occasionally runs Zerzan as well. Lastly, Zerzan also continues to cite phenomenological philosopher Martin Heidegger, who was an avid Nazi supporter before the war and continued to defend his interest in them after.
In the past, Zerzan has been very critical about Heidegger. Adorno, in The Jargon of Authenticity , said that thinkers who championed the unmediated self such as Heidegger and psychologist Carl Jung forwarded intrinsically fascist perspectives.
Adorno, along with many post-structuralists, also questioned the existence of any kind of complete social totality, as well as the possibility of an unfragmented self.
In fact, it is easy to see why Nazis see his attack on symbolic thought as the same as their attack on the Jews who they claim are the source of alienation, decadence, and abstraction. Nazis see his championing of the unmediated community as the same as their desire for a homogenous, racially-pure community, which they think will exist as a unified whole, free of fragmentation.
Zerzan is not sympathetic to Nazi ideas, but in terms of certain philosophical categories, there is a closeness. Zerzan needs to explain why his views are fundamentally different, and incompatible, with theirs. Fascist References Despite occasional claims from detractors, it is clear that Zerzan is absolutely not a fascist and that he has no sympathies for their politics.
Twilight of the Machines
His works criticize agricultural civilization as inherently oppressive, and advocates drawing upon the ways of life of hunter-gatherers as an inspiration for what a free society should look like. Some subjects of his criticism include domestication , language , symbolic thought such as mathematics and art and the concept of time. The Stand Against Civilization Zerzan was born in Salem , Oregon. He received his bachelor's degree from Stanford University and later received a master's degree in History from San Francisco State University. He completed his coursework towards a PhD at the University of Southern California but dropped out before completing his dissertation. He is of Czech descent.
Review: Twilight of the Machines
Future Primitive Revisited is one more precious gift for us all. This doesn't mean abandoning material needs, tools, or skills, but ending our obsession with such concerns. Declaring for community, our true origin: personal autonomy, trust, mutual support in pursuit of all the joys and troubles of life. Society was a trap--massive, demanding, impersonal and debilitating from day one. So hurry back to the community, friends, and welcome all the consequences of such an orientation. The reasons for fear and despair will only multiply if we remain in this brutal and dangerous state of civilization. As our society is stricken with repeated technological disasters, and the apocalyptic problems that go with them, the "neo-primitivist" essays of John Zerzan seem more relevant than ever.
The mentor of the green anarchist and neo-primitive movements is back with his first book in six years, confronting civilization, mass society, and modernity and technoculture—both the history of its developing crisis and the possibilities for its human and humane solutions. When everything is at stake, all must be confronted and superseded. At this moment, there is the distinct possibility of doing just that. Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read. Want to Read saving…. Want to Read Currently Reading Read. Other editions.