Beyond the anarch--Stirner, Pessoa, Junger.

Author:Campagna, Federico
Position:Fernando Pessoa, Ernst Junger and Max Stirner - Critical essay

When he died on 30 November 1935, at the age of forty-seven, the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa had already been over eighty different people. Writing and living through heteronyms since the age of six, Pessoa led an existence that far exceeded the limits imposed over the life of a normalised self. Pessoa jealously guarded his existential autonomy, to the point of structuring himself around an abundant void, which had much more in common with Stirner's idea of a 'creative nothing' than with the tidy demands of social conformism. As one of his incarnations wrote--the shepherd Alberto Caeiro, to whom we shall return:

If, after I die, somebody wants to write my biography, there's nothing simpler. It has just two dates--the day I was born and the day I died. Between the two, all the days are mine. (2) Yet, we shouldn't imagine that such an unbridled internal autonomy corresponded to an equally extravagant display of external freedom. Similarly to Italo Svevo--the Italian writer of his same generation, who spent his life quietly working in a paint factory--Pessoa's visible life unfolded over the grey tones of a career as a translator for an import-export firm. As it will be argued in the rest of this essay, Pessoa developed a practice of deep--yet invisible--existential anarchism, which is as distant from traditional anarchism, as it is close to a Stirnerian, Jungerian vision of the anarch.

When asked to explain his understanding of the figure of anarch, as opposed to that of the anarchist, the German writer Ernst Junger replied:

The anarchist is a man with plans, for example to kill the tsar or something to that effect, while this is less so with the anarch. The anarch is more established within himself, and the condition of the anarch is in reality the condition which every man carries within himself. [...] An anarch can for example work calmly in an office, but when he leaves in the evening, he plays quite another role. And aware of his own superiority, he is able to take a complaisant view of the political system currently in power. Stirner said that the anarch is a man who [...] perceives what can be of use to him and to the world at large, but he does not involve himself in ideologies. With this in view, I'd like to call the condition of the anarch quite natural. First there is man, then comes his environment. (3) Commenting on the reactive character of anarchism, the young Pessoa also remarked: 'The anarchist is a product of civilization. Very much as smoke is the product of fire'. (4)

It is clear how the vision of the anarch can lean both towards a proudly detached existential nobility, as well as towards an Ayn Rand-esque complicity with the existing economic and political status quo. Pessoa faced this issue in the dryly satirical short story 'The Anarchist Banker', published in May 1922 on the first issue of the Portuguese journal Contemporanea. In this story, resembling the structure of a Platonic dialogue, a wealthy banker defends his lifelong commitment to the anarchist cause, portraying his career as the natural outcome of a clever practice of radical individual freedom:

'I had established that, in the true anarchism, each person had to create freedom and to combat social fictions by his own efforts. [...] What does combating social fictions means in practical terms? It means war, it is war. [...] How do you conquer the enemy in war? By one of two ways: by killing him, that is, by destroying him; or by imprisoning him, that is, by subjugating him, by rendering him powerless. I couldn't destroy all social fictions; that could only be carried out by a social revolution. [...] I would have to subjugate them, I would have to overcome them by subjugation, by rendering them powerless. [...] The most important [social fiction], at least in our day and age, is money. How could I subjugate money, or to be more precise, the power and tyranny of money? There was only one way forward, I would have to acquire money, I would have to acquire enough of it not to feel its influence, and the more I acquired the freer I would be from that influence. When I saw this clearly, with all the force of my anarchist convictions and all the logic of a clear-thinking man, only then did I enter the present phase--the commercial and banking phase--of my anarchism.' (5) Pessoa's banker resembles the protagonist of Junger's short novel Aladdin's Problem. (6) Having escaped from Communist Russia to West Germany, Junger's protagonist begins an astonishing career as funeral director, quickly rising to the role of CEO of a visionary multinational funeral firm. Like Pessoa's banker, Junger's character passes through the jaws of a capitalist society with the sharp ruthlessness of a pure egoist. However, unlike...

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