May 8, 2021

Louise Michel, power it is indeed cursed and that’s why I’m an anarchist

received via email from AL3viE

AL3viE announces new English translation of recent book about Louise Michel.

“Louise Michel: power, it is indeed cursed and that’s why I’m an anarchist” by Anna Maria Farabbi. Translation by Luisa Taz Harris

Small Lines About Louise Michel

Each translation I completed was subsequent to a comprehensive study of the work itself and the artist’s personality: immersion, journeying, meditation, that’s how I approach the two languages for the creation of the bridge, with responsibility, rigor, and passion.

Louise Michel breathes alongside me for her generous impetuousness capable of defeating not only the roots of power, but also the cultural dynamics of her traveling companions, often suffering from the same decay they accused the powers to be.

Power contaminates in its relational, simplifying, authoritarian, definitive, and patriarchal modalities. This teacher educates us, with all her dramatic tension, proactive, humanitarian energy and decision-making capacity. Her need is to act within humanity, in seminal openness. Narrating it. She is not afraid of the death of the ego. She is afraid of the death of “us”.

Her welcoming the neglected ones knows no limits: she is moved by consideration, desire, need for common sense, the joy of sharing, and all flows in a writing that has a colloquial current in its eddies. Her quick hand lacks a rasp, tearing words from the air and lodging it on the sheet as she travels from one location to the next. Louise Michel denounces the cannibalisms of society, institutes new social and formative approaches to vitalize, include, integrate. She accuses the laziness of the renouncer as much as Creon’s arrogance.

She embodies anarchy as she personally breaks down doors, unafraid of facing the loaded barrel of a rifle or in front of a platoon: destitute and unarmed, but with honest, conscious, direct word. Louise Michel’s “us” does not allow for shadows. Everyone is included: blind, deaf, homeless children, idiotic creatures, as she defines them to indicate their very tender disadvantaged fragility, their psychic suffering, as a mental tattoo of their own inner and social exile. And also prostitutes, outcast prisoners, even the colonized people of the New Caledonia, anthropophagous, barbarian, but non-servant.

Her vein of compassion remains secular. This is the point. This is her fertile contemporaneity. This is her political, social, cultural, existential dictate. She believes in “us”. My work, after residing with Il Ponte Editore in conjunction with the Walter Binni Fund, now transitions to Al3vie. This changeover makes sense. With the experience of the first publication, once again, I wish to deeply thank Lanfranco Binni, where the winds of Walter Binni and Aldo Capitini are inserted. And I wish to thank Raffaella Polverini for the continuation of the journey. We carry our teachers within us. We take on their legacy. A good paper is created to dilute them in the ink so that they reach the beyond. A joy is fulfilled, a true joy, when, through our thinking hands, our hours, new encounters are born

Surveying Louise Michel’s Literary Works and Personality

One of the literary works that lives in me, there where I do my most profounds studies, is “A vanished world” by R-man Vishniac. His illuminating pages and his photos taken from 1934 to 1939 in eastern Europe, describe the already dire conditions of the Jewish people. When Vishniac was able to travel to the USA, at the risk of his own life, he smuggled many of his negatives by hiding them in his suit, with the hope of clearing the many Gestapo’s control. Only a few of the 16,000 or so photos made it. His obsession was to fight the obliteration of a nation and become the herald of lives and their worth to ensure they would live on. Among his photos, one stands out: the “Water carrier” which he took it in Lublino in 1937. Vishniac note reads “The water carrier’s job was quite difficult as he tried not to spill any water. First, he had to walk a mile on cobblestones and then climb stairs up to the third floor. His pay was just a penny. I don’t know how he did it. I’ve tried to imitate him, but I ended up spilling a third of the water before reaching my destination, and the lady refused to pay me”.

During my own personal discovery as an artist, I have worked intensely and at length at the complexity of the Italian language as well as searching the depth of existential intricacy and its extensions. The outcome are testimonial tensions where the creative poetry moves from paper to mind, and vice versa, with a political continuity, with a clear ethical cohesiveness.

I share with Vishniac these purports: the high worth of doing, of creating, with honesty, rigor, passion, and the in-tense journey of bringing a literary work to the audiences, in the bright clarity of choices on which to invest one’s own artistic and political commitment, two verbal cells that have now merged in me.

To me, translating and editing other people’s works has always had these strong connotations, together with the awareness of overthrowing, despite my attentive concentration, one third of the water.

Glancing from my workshop, I want to immediately open wide the reader’s eyes on Louise Michel’s face. Her 1871 photograph on p.16 reveals it: clean, direct, acute, singular, targeted. I chose her because her life and her pen lived in one body, with secular, anticlerical, disruptive, charismatic power. Because her revolutionary determination overturns every occlusive and exclusive power and sanctions the right for each individual to live in intellectual growth and in economic dignity. Because she breaks the male chauvinistic prevarication that stupefies women or prostitutes them in seductive dynamics of exploitation. Because she reveals every stupidity of the people, always easily manipulated, as well as any opportunism of politicians linked only to the cynical possession of their own chairs. Because she explores complex experiences such as those of mental illness and of prison, having experienced them firsthand, proposing opportunity to recover and soliciting regaining even the slightest worth. Because she breaks every architectural barrier between the self and the colonized foreigner, even the anthropophagous, threading a dialogue of listening, respect, reciprocity by learning the richness of the other cultures and redistributing it in one’s own. Because she ranks, with proud transparency and impetuous naturalness, alongside the humblest, the children, the elderly, even animals. Because she senses a cosmic sense of existence, in its becoming, relativizing all absoluteness and peeling off rhetoric.

Above all, Louise Michel considers society as a single organic body where every life, vegetable, animal, mineral, has rights of existence and for whose respect is necessary to fight, tearing away abuse, fatalism and indifference.

I thought it necessary, therefore, to carry this female ‘fire’ to Italy, where she is still fairly unknown, yet quite current and stimulating in a climate of confusion, decay and general debasement.

The anthology of the proposed texts can be viewed as a map to elaborate on Louise Michel’s life and writing style. In the vastness of her works such as ‘The Commune and Memories’, I chose, for reasons of space, certain sections, with a relative hop, skip, and a jump approach. Somewhere else, the nature of a single article translated by me, vividly collects the weight of the rest of the book from which it is taken. It becomes the focal point. The slats in the lyric folding fan expands to the more significant poems in a chronological method.

Overall, the entire landscape of this work presents itself to the reader’s eyes with a fluidity both in narrative and lyric, with a rhythmic that articulates and intertwines action, thought, pressure, individual and choral tension. Every single word is bathed in Louise Michel’s bleeding timbre. As for the principle on the succession of the texts, I considered the time frame of their creation. However, the first two criteria allowed me to start directly with presenting the writer herself, in a disarming and breakthrough epiphany: it is her voice, not her pen, her seminal voice that suddenly silences the accusatory thunder of power.

Red virgin, lay saint, the bloodthirsty she-wolf, the good Louise, the great citizens, the great queen of light, are just some of the names evoking Louise Michel as one of the most interesting characters of the nineteenth century, in her anticipatory determination of future intellectual achievements, passionate in her struggle, proud feminist anarchist, writer and poet.

Her whole personality does not separate action, thinking and writing. Her civil and political commitment through her daily testimony is tangible, transparent, and practiced everywhere in society, with any individual. Her social writings vibrate dry, free from deceptive rhetoric and affirms, in an irrevocable and peremptory way, the human duty to react and fight for one’s dignity, at any cost. Her life and works allow us to bridge a fundamental cross-section of cultural, political, and social European history, not just French. Her voice intertwined with other great personalities of the time, including Victor Hugo, Auguste Blanqui, Théophile Ferré, Jules Vallès, Eugène Varlin, Nathalie Lemel.

I do specify some of the thematic she experienced, engraved in her writing, always autobiographical, alarmed and urgent, with no time or patience for re-reading and filing. Here are the central points: the didactic quality of teachers and study courses that should have been open, in her opinion, without distinction, to male and female students of any social class; respect for the rights of animals against unnecessary pseudoscientific speculations; respect and consideration to-wards all cultures, recognizing their true worth; an in-depth analysis of the origins and the problems of deviance, proposing solutions and cures still current today, in particular for individuals in prison, in prostitution, with mental problems, and for children with mental disabilities; social writings on the proletariat’s life, with the claim for fundamental rights and in favor of adequate working hours; studies and experiences of psychotherapy and psychobiology, neologism coined by her; reflections on pedophilia; fight against racist and sexophobic prejudices; analysis on the female condition with an openly feminist approach; proposals for a secular society, dialoguing and tolerant, without reins imposed by clerical hierarchies.

Louise Michel was born on May 29, 1830 in the castle of Vroncourt-la-Côte, a tiny village in Alta Marna. Her family was part of a minor landed nobility. At twenty years of age, she has the maturity to confide in a letter to Victor Hugo her own illegitimate birth. Indeed Marianne Michel, her mother, had a short sting with Laurent Demahis, son of the castellan in whose service she worked. Louise was raised by her paternal grandparents, from whom she inherits an indelible imprint of liberal enlightenment between Voltaire and Rousseau, despite the traditionalist and Catholic beliefs of her mother and aunt. On the death of her grandparents in 1850, Louise received a small cash inheritance. With her mother she leaves the castle that was put up for sale by the widow of Laurent Demahis. From 1851, she continues her studies in Chaumont earning a teacher diploma, the highest level of education allowed to women for whom a university education was forbidden. But in order to teach in public schools she must take an oath to the emperor Napoleon III. Not wanting to recognize his authority, she opens a private school in Audeloncourt, where she teaches for one year. In 1854 she opens another school in Clefmont.

In Chaumont she begins writing for a local newspaper. In order to escape the regime censorship she presents ancient history topics that allude to the political situation of the time.In 1856 she leaves the province of Alta Marne and settles down in Paris teaching in Madame Voillier’s boarding house. In 1865 she opens a school in rue Houdon and, in 1868, another one in rue Oudot. Her teaching is very popular with both students and parents and it becomes a real laboratory of ideas and projects for secular and liberal didactics, without distinction of class and sex. She nurtures her literary studies, appointing as her own master Victor Hugo, with whom she has entwined a heartfelt correspondence since 1850, and to whom she sends her own poems. Hugo will dedicate the poem Viro Major (More than a man) to her, after her trial in 1871. She also used the nom de plume ‘Enjolras’ referring to the republican character of the Miserables by Hugo.

In 1861, financed by her mother, she publishes a first collection of verses, Lueurs dans l’ombre. Plus d’idiots. Plus de fous. The following year she enrolls in the “Union des poètes ”and begins to frequent republican revolutionary groups. In 1869 she becomes secretary of the «Societé démocratique de moralisation», association mainly dealing with the condition of prostitutes and to give dignity and work to women. While in this position, she comes in close contact with Auguste Blanqui’s Republican Socialist Movement. The following year she is elected president of the Committee of Citizens Supervision of the XVIII Arrondissement of Paris, where Théophile Ferré is active. The committee, based in Montmartre, focuses all its efforts to support the neediest citizens.

In 1871, during the Franco-Prussian War, the Municipality of Paris is born. It is one of the most important and radical experiences of political, social, and cultural subversion, destined, in its own dramatic defeat, to become an example and a symbol of the struggle of the proletariat class against bourgeois power. Louise Michel becomes one of the protagonists together with the insurgents: more than thirty-six thousand communards of all social categories, most of them from popular roots, illiterate or semi-illiterate. She collaborates with newspapers who support the revolution, and in March, she participates in setting fire to the Hôtel de Ville. She fights in Montmartre, in Clamart, in Issy-les-Moulineaux where she is wounded, in Neuilly, in Clignancourt.

In May, while the repression of the defeated Commune continued by the Versailles, she gives herself up to replace her mother who was taken hostage in her place. With pride and posture and without attempting to defend herself, she collectedly faces the trial, instigating the accusation and ridiculing it. She is condemned to deportation for life to New Caledonia and for twenty months she is incarcerated, first in the concentration camp of Satory, where she witnesses the shooting of numerous communards including the beloved Théophile Ferré, and later in the abbey by Auberive.

In August 1873 she is embarked on the Virginie, with Henri Rochefort and Nathalie Lemel. During the trip for New Caledonia, which lasts four months, she becomes an anarchist. In the penal colony she refuses to have a preferential treatment over men. Here she spends seven years, creating the newspaper «Petites Affiches de la Nouvelle-Calédonie », writing zoology and botany pieces for the French Institute of Geography, as well as poems, narrations, documentation on the life of the Canachi natives.

She learns their language and their culture, and she begins teaching. Unlike the other deportees, she stands in solidarity with the native during the insurrection of 1878 against the French colonialists. In 1879 she is authorized to move to the capital of the island, in Nouméa, to teach the children of deportees and at a girls’ school. The following year, after the amnesty, she returns to France to assist her dying mother.

She resumes her political militancy through writing and a series of lectures supporting the anarchist movement. In 1881 she participates in the International Anarchist London Congress, preferring the thesis of trade union action as a penetrating force in the culture of the people, more effective and lasting than direct and isolated action. In 1882 she published La Misère, her first of a series of social novels. In 1883 she is arrested in Paris on charges of having organized, with Émile Pouget, a protest by the unemployed. She is sentenced to six years. In 1886, she is pardoned, without having asked for it. However that same year, during a demonstration held with Jules Guesde and Paul Lafargue, she goes back to prison, sentenced for a speech given in favor of the miners of Decazeville. She entrusts her own existential and political path to a volume of Mémoires, published in 1886.

In 1888, in Le Havre, young Catholic Pierre Lucas fires two gunshots at her at the conclusion of one of her speeches. She is wounded but she doesn’t report the boy, rather she asks for his release. In 1890, she is again arrested at a demonstration in Vienne; she refuses bail to fully share the same fate as her companions still in prison. Because of her stubborn temper, an internment in a psychiatric hospital is proposed; she is accused of having hallucinations and states of irrepressible violence, confusion, and disorder, suggesting a premature senile dementia. She is hospitalized at the Vienne hospital where Doctor Fauré makers such diagnosis official; other medical certificates will confirm it. The Minister of the Interior preferring not to feed further scandal, decrees her release.

She leaves France and moves to London to organize an anarchist school. In 1895 she returns to Paris, greeted by a large supportive demonstration at the station of Saint-Lazare. The same year she founds with Sébastian Fauré the newspaper «Le Libertaire». In 1896 she is again in London, where she participates in the International Socialist Congress which establishes the definitive separation between socialists and anarchists. For some years she travels continuously to hold numerous conferences, in France, England, and even in Algeria. In 1898 she publishes La Commune, to reconstruct its experience through documents and her own direct testimony.

She dies in Marseille on January 9, 1905, right after having held yet another conference. Her funeral, without religious ceremony, takes place on January 25 in Paris with a large participation of workers and comrades from all over Europe. According to her wishes, she is buried in the cemetery of Levallois-Perret, next to her mother.

To read and study Louise Michel

Since 1999 the Presses Universitaires de Lyon have been publishing an edition of Oeuvres de Louise Michel, desig-ned and started by Xavière Gauthier, now directed by Sarah Al-Matery.To date the following volumes have been published: Histoire de ma vie, seconde et troisième partie, curated by Xavière Gautier, 2000; “Le Livre du bagne” précédé de “Lueurs dans l’ombre, plus d’idiots, plus de fous” et du” Li-vre d’Hermann”, edited by Véronique Fau-Vincenti, 2001; Légendes et chansons de gestes canaques, curated by François Bogliolo, 2006; La Misère, curated by Xavière Gauthier and Daniel Armogathe, 2006.

An anastatic edition of “La Commune” (Paris, Stock, 1898) was published by the same publisher in 1971; the Italian translation is of note (La Comune, Milan, Social Publishing House, 1922), with preface by Pietro Gori, now availa-ble at A large collection of poems has been edited by Daniel Armogathe and Marion Piper in “Louise Michel, À travers la vie et la mort”, Paris, François Maspero, 1982.

Louise Michel’s general correspondence, Je vous écris de ma nuit. Correspondance générale 1850-1904, edited by Xavière Gauthier, was published in 1999, Les Éditions de Paris, second edition augmented in 2005.

Among the biographical studies, the reference works are: Edith Thomas, Louise Michel, the Velléda de l’anarchie, Paris, Gallimard, 1971, and Xavière Gauthier, L’insoumise. Biographie de Louise Michel, Paris, Manya, 1990, new edi-tion with the title La Vierge rouge, ibid., Les Éditions de Paris, 1999.

Among the critical studies: Paule Lejeune, Louise Michel, l’indomptable, Paris, Éditions des Femmes, 1978; Pierre Durand, Louise Michel, la passion, Paris, Messidor, 1987.

About the publisher:

AL3viE is a new Italian publishing house, brand Kaba edizioni, born on March 15th. The historical moment is particularly difficult and even more felt is the need to look beyond with confidence and with the desire for a strong social commitment.

Al3viE offers this first work, the book Louise Michel, power it is cursed and that’s why I’am an anarchist, with an international project, the text in Italian has been translated into French and English, with an important ethical testimony that radiates more fronts, from the social, artistic, to the anthropological.

In this work, a first re-edition that continues the important work done in 2017 by Il Ponte editore, the poet Anna Maria Farabbi, curator of the book, presents a complete portrait of Louise Michel, of her personality, of all her artistic extension, thought, writing: fiction, poems and correspondence with Victor Hugo and his mother. A chapter was dedicated to the experience lived by Louise Michel in the French Commune, whose 150th anniversary has been celebrated on March 18, 2021.
Raffaella Polverini

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