Sex, Violence, and the Avant-Garde Anarchism in Interwar France Synopsis
By the end of World War I, the conflict between anarchism and the state had largely been eclipsed by the competing forces of liberalism, fascism, and communism. To combat their slide into irrelevance, French anarchists, especially those called individualists, redirected their attentions from violent revolution and general strikes to ethical issues that focused on personal liberation. Chief among these issues was sexual freedom, sought not only for the sake of pleasure but also to undermine the authoritarian family, bulwark of the patriarchal state. In this revelatory book, Richard Sonn approaches the French anarchist movement during this period from a sociocultural perspective, considering the relationships among anarchism and the artistic avant-garde and surrealism, political violence and terrorism, sexuality and sexual politics, and gender roles. He shows that, contrary to popular belief, anarchism in theory and practice played a significant role in the culture of interwar France.
Sex, Violence, and the Avant-Garde Anarchism in Interwar France Press Reviews
Sex, Violence, and the Avant-Garde is a fascinating work that will make an important contribution to studies of anarchism, politics, violence, immigration, and sexuality. Richard Sonn demonstrates that the anarchists were not a fringe group but were visible and significant in the arts, politics, and the causes c l bres of the interwar period. Furthermore, Sonn provides a refreshing new look at the relationship between gender and violence. Sonn's breadth of vision goes beyond French anarchism to include Russian and American anarchists, analyzing their impact on their French cohort. --Rachel G. Fuchs, Arizona State University In sharp contrast to the anarchists of Spain, French anarchists seem to have disappeared during the interwar period. Or did they? In this compelling book, Richard Sonn examines fascinating, complex cultural themes and takes us into the lives of figures such as Andr Breton, Robert Desnos, Manuel Devald s, and Eug ne and Jeanne Humbert as they confronted the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, the rise of fascism, continued French depopulation, and the politics of sexuality and of eugenics. --John Merriman, Charles Seymour Professor of History, Yale University, author of The Dynamite Club: How a Bombing in Fin-de-Si cle Paris Ignited the Age of Modern Terror and A History of Modern Europe Since the Renaissance Drawing on a wealth of new sources and a lifetime immersion in the history of European anarchism, Richard Sonn has fashioned a fresh and arresting account of the libertarian and libertine Left in France between the wars. Unflinchingly acknowledging their more dubious passions, such as eugenics, he nonetheless provides us with a sympathetic portrait of men and women dreaming of a better world, free of economic injustice, state tyranny, and the repression of the body. Rather than a period of decline for anarchism, the interwar years in France were an era of renewal based on ethical principles and the repudiation of violence, whose echoes reverberated in the l960s and beyond. --Martin Jay, University of California, Berkeley Sex, Violence, and the Avant-Garde is an illuminating study, the eclectic nature of which seems to reflect the individualism so prevalent in the interwar anarchist movement and the personal liberties its followers held dear. --Robyn Roslak, H-France Book Reviews I am aware of no fuller treatment of French interwar anarchism than Richard Sonn's Sex, Violence, and the Avant-Garde. In addition to providing a rich examination of anarchism's engagement with the politics of sexuality and the body, it demonstrates how important the movement was to surrealism as well. --Christopher E. Forth, The University of Kansas, author of The Dreyfus Affair and the Crisis of French Manhood In this continuation of his study of French anarchism, Richard Sonn demonstrates persuasively that anarchism as theory and practice survived in some of its characteristic forms throughout the 1920s and '30s and later provided a remote but genuine inspiration for the radical and personal experiments of the 1960s. His history is a series of lively portraits of the declining fortunes or tragic failures of individual anarchists whose efforts to reform or destabilize the social and political order ranged from aesthetic experiments and eugenics to schemes for transforming human sexuality and gender. --Robert A. Nye, Oregon State University