Revolutionizing Literature: Anarchism in the Lives and Works of Emma Goldman, Dorothy Day, and Bernard Shaw

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Costello, Virginia
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My dissertation seeks both to discover and analyze a current of anarchism present in the autobiographies and other works of two early-twentieth-century radical and radically different women: Emma Goldman and Dorothy Day. Both activists sought to express their anarchism, not primarily through political theory or through anarchist political action but through an explicit form of living: their radicalism was an aesthetic anarchism in that they advocated and exemplified a practice of radical self-creation. For Goldman this meant she synthesized politics, sexuality, and aesthetic sensibility. In her lectures and essays she employed drama, particularly George Bernard Shaw's, to convey her anarchist message. Whereas Goldman became a leading force in the anarchist movement, Day founded the Catholic Worker movement, which combined two apparently disparate ideas: Catholicism and anarchism. To explain the contradictory elements in these ideas, Day employed Fyodor Dostoyevsky's work, particularly his description of a harsh and dreadful love. This aesthetic anarchism practiced by Goldman and Day can be fruitfully contrasted to the tradition of aesthetics that privileges literary work such as that found in T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land, over the work of living day-to-day.During the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, fed by a handful of acts of political violence committed by self-declared anarchists, sensationalized press coverage of those acts, and government surveillance of anarchist meetings and anarchists themselves, anarchism in the United States became virtually synonymous with political violence. Theoretically, however, anarchism is nonviolent; at the same time, its reputation for violence is not entirely undeserved. Viewed not as a political theory but as a form of life, anarchism requires a revolution that would dismantle the existing political state. This ideal anarchism, this aesthetic ideal, advocates the dismantling of every form of political power as necessary step to a more profound and challenging way of life. Thus I employ the notion of aesthetic anarchism both to describe its relation to and also to distinguish it from the various anarchisms, political and otherwise, that were current during the period of my concern and that influenced both Goldman and Day. This dissertation attempts to avoid the literature/theory hierarchy by focusing on the socio/historical/political moment as expressed through autobiography. Thus, the autobiographies of Goldman and Day are read as literary works as well as historical documents. Grounded in evidence from these autobiographies, personal and political correspondence, particularly correspondence between Goldman and Shaw, essays, lectures, a novel, and archival documents including Secret Service files, my dissertation seeks to show that Goldman and Day's aesthetic vision of anarchism was based on their belief in and commitment to the capacity of human goodness.
The Graduate School, Stony Brook University: Stony Brook, NY.
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