The Collected Writings of Renzo Novatore (2012, Ardent Press), edited by Wolfi Landstriecher is split up chronologically and features most of Novatore’s known work at the time. It most notably features his longest and relatively best known work “Towards the Creative Nothing” which takes up a big portion of the book at thirty-five pages. In addition you can find Novatore’s poetry, his short stories, sketches and of course many of his other political essays. Novatore’s style throughout is a unique showing of how one can write very beautifully and poetically by capturing the darkness in ourselves or the world around us. In this way Novatore didn’t illuminate with sunshine and rainbows but his prosaic love of tackling this darkness.
Novatore, however, was just a pen name. Novatore’s real name was Abele Rizieri Ferrari and was born May 12, 1890 in Acrola, Italy to a poor peasant family. He grew up and quickly became disinterested in school, attending only briefly before dropping out. From there he began exploring philosophy and other topics outside the educational system by authors such as Oscar Wilde, Friedrich Nietzsche and many others. He never returned to school and would continue to educate himself on his own terms.
Through his self-education he came to a conclusion about the day and the night and often spoke of finding solace and freedom in the sun. His discussions of the sun and its role for the free spirit are likely the reason the cover of this book depicts an ambiguous passing or beginning of a solar eclipse.
Early on in this collection he explains why free spirits would find solace in the sun:
When the dawn came, with its silvery motes, to find the eyes of the free sleepers, to announce the birth of a new day, they leapt to their feet with an even more fiery flame in their eyes. They sang a hymn to life and focused intensely on the distance. (Intellectual Vagabonds, 14)
The sun represents the start of something new and a fresh way of looking at the world. It gives free spirits a new hope that on this day they will be able to live their life as their own and more fully than the last. The sun gives the free spirit a sense of hope because it reminds them that it is a new day for conquering. And it reminds them that all hope is not gone. The individual has not been completely crushed and our eyes can still see whatever is in front of us. But for Novatore it isn’t just a matter of seeing what’s in front of us but also seeing the obstacles that deny us something better.
For Novatore this new way of thinking was primarily a way to revolt against some specific obstacles such as morality, God, society and so forth. Novatore saw all three of these things as a big part of the war against individuality. This war was done, he summarized, “by Christ in the name of god, [which] was developed by democracy in the name of society and threatens to complete itself in socialism in the name of humanity.” (Towards the Creative Nothing, 27)
This socialism that Novatore was referring to was primarily the socialism of the Russian Revolution for Novatore would die before the USSR was fully formed. To him, it seemed as if the socialism of the Russian Revolution was more interested in “leveling” the individual spirit then seeing it grow. That it would regulate and monitor it and make sure it was never raised above others in the name of “equality”. Interestingly enough we can see that Marx, in his 1844 manuscript “Private Property and Communism”, also didn’t appreciate this sort of communism, which he dubbed “crude communism”.
To oppose society, God and the state Novatore grew to crave a life based on negation. For Novatore this sort of life wasn’t comparable to the one socialism seemed to desire which was one of maybe. He used the example that socialism seemed to not believe in war but then the socialists will argue that maybe if it’s for equality and humanity then it’s okay. Novatore’s nihilism is instead rooted firmly in negation, disruption and discontinuance of the usual.
Nihilism, to Novatore, meant:
Negation of every society, of every cult, of every rule and of every religion. But I don’t yearn for Nirvana, any more than I yearn for Schopenhauer’s desperate and powerless pessimism, which is a worse thing than the violent renunciation of life itself. [My nihilism] is an enthusiastic and Dionysian pessimism, like a flame that sets my vital exuberance ablaze, that mocks at any theoretical, scientific or moral prison. (I am Also a Nihilist, 137)
Although he was a nihilist, Novatore was not a misanthrope or someone who despaired at everything around him. He was not an optimist by any means, but he certainly saw great promise for the individual. He even went as far as to say that all individuals are inherently perfect but merely lack the courage to seize upon this inner perfection.
In Novatore’s life, this courage realizes itself in certain beliefs, practices and tools. It was the negation element of himself that led him to desert the Italian army during the First World War. It was the egoist anarchism that led him to denounce the efforts of other anarchists to merely rebuild another society that would similarly oppress the individual. This oppression, to Novatore, would simply restart the war on the individual.
For anarcho-communists in particular Novatore had his criticisms of another road he saw as a dead end for the individual:
In realizing libertarian communism, the great majority would be the ruling Goddess. But libertarian communism … would have to take extreme measures against those who want to come out, advance rise up to a more ample affirmation of individual life. Libertarian communism would then be forced to repress in order to preserve itself. But its materialistic preservation would be the categorical negation of the very spirit that informs and exhalts it! (The Revolt of the Unique, p. 164)
Novaore’s own solution to the war on individuality was anarchism but of a specific sort. One that expressed itself as a form of individualism and saw that as its goal and not anarchy itself as its goal:
For me, Anarchy is a means for achieving the realization of the individual, and not the other way around. Otherwise, Anarchy would also be a phantom. … Individualism, as I feel, understand and mean it has neither socialism, nor communism, nor humanity for an end. Individualism is its own end. (Noontime Songs, 226 and My Iconoclastic Individualism, 128)
To Novatore then, anarchism is primarily for the benefit of a minority in society that understands their potential and uses their will to reach it. Whether this means resisting society, morality, democracy, the state, capitalism or anything else is of no real concern. What matters is that the lives of individuals remain their own and that their wills can be freely exerted. Being that these groups of people are autocratic or generally superior to the masses around them, the exertion of their will is more likely to be interconnected to a uniqueness that also corresponds and helps create more freedom for themselves.
Throughout all of this I disagree or am unsure of Novatore’s claims many times over. For example his ideas on strategy or on what he thought of the prospects for a society that could benefit the individual are some things I’d argue against. But regardless of my disagreements with him I love his spirit of “no” and his refusal to compromise or silence himself. He wouldn’t ever compromise his positions or quiet himself for “the greater good” whether that be society or for the larger anarchist movement.
For example, in My Iconoclastic Individualism Novatore tells us that his conception of freedom of thought aligns with Persio Falchi when Persio wrote that,
If I were to keep a still unpublished manuscript locked up in my drawer, the manuscript of a most beautiful work that would give the reader thrills of unknown pleasure and would uncover unknown worlds; if I were certain that men would grow pale with fear over these pages, and then slowly wander through deserted pathways with eyes fiercely dilated in the void, and later would cynically seek death when madness didn’t run to meet them with its sinister laughter like the roaring of winds and its grim drumming of invisible fingers on their devastated brains; if I were certain that women would smile obscenely and lie down with skirts lifted on the edge of footpaths, awaiting any male, and that males would suddenly throw themselves upon them lacerating vulva and throat with their teeth; if intoxicated, hungry mobs were to chase down the few elusive men with knives and there was death between being and being perpetuating their deep hatred; if the peace of an hour, tranquility of the spirit, love, loyalty, friendship would have to disappear from the face of the earth, and turbulence, restlessness, hatred, deception, hostility, madness, darkness and death would have to reign in their place forever; if a most beautiful book that I wrote, still unpublished and locked in my drawer, would have to do all this, I would publish that book and have no peace until it was published. (My Iconoclastic Individualism, p. 134)
On the other hand Novatore’s ideas about having a fusion of the Stirnerite “union of egoists” and a Nietzschean aristocratic elite dominating never made sense to me within the context of anarchism. Part of what makes it hard for me to understand this is Novatore’s dark and poetic language which sometimes obscured more than it enlightened. Adding to that, he was usually on the run from authorities, so theoretical clarity likely wasn’t his top concern.
Most of his writings on this topic came from his essay, The Revolt of the Unique, wherein he says that anarchy is the triumph of the “higher ‘type”, the ones who are “noble by nature” who will “stand above the others and dominate them”. I am not sure what sort of freedom it is to exemplify life as “dominating and being dominated” as Novatore saw it. This seems to me to make anarchism an impossible goal.
Then again, I can sympathize with making anarchism an impossible goal, though in a more general sense. After all, anarchism is not my goal; my “goal” (if I could ever say to have some sort of final end to my life and my desires) is for the fullest expression of individuals and their own lives. If this means we must eventually move past anarchism then so be it.
To me, if their fullest expression of who they are is domination then it is good to be clear that we as anarchists should resist such individuals. Novatore may not disagree and instead say that this resistance is up to the individual and their will instead of a collective concern but this strikes me as a non-answer. The bottom line is that those who would use their will to dominate other individuals to their own needs may be expressing who they feel they are but their individual identity is not something that is just de facto acceptable. Especially in this case where the expression of themselves is the sort that smothers the potential for others to express themselves and live their own lives happily.
Despite this disagreement, I am with Novatore on a major part of his thought, the role of fringes in society. That there will always be a part of society that rebels, challenges and tries to usurp the power of the larger society. A segment of society will always challenge, establish new discourse and disrupt whatever new status quo is put in line.
I agree with Novatore that this is necessary now and in an anarchist society.
The new society established, we will return to its margins to live our lives dangerously as noble criminals and audacious sinners! Because the anarchist individualists still means eternal renewal in the field of art, thought and action.
Anarchist individualism still means eternal revolt against eternal sorrow, the eternal search for new springs of life, joy and beauty. And we will still be such in Anarchy. (77)
Overall The Collected Writings of Novatore is a fascinating look into the ideas and actions of a man who lived and died fighting for his ideas. He always spoke as he saw fit and with as much force as possible. His will imposed on the pages in beautiful and breathtaking prose against society, morality and almost anything one may take for granted.
His revolution was his own and it was comprised more often than not by what he wanted than by what society, morality, government or other external authorities dictated. There’s a lot of dismissal in the current anarchist scene about “lifestylism” but when you live the life Novatore did I think you can call your own life a revolution.
This revolution, however, came to an unfortunate end when in 1922 Novatore got caught by Italian military police while he was with his comrade Sante Pollastro in Telgia, Italy. They were visiting a tavern and upon trying to exit the police started shooting at both of them. Novatore was killed but Sante was able to kill the officer who shot Novatore and get away without having to shoot the other. Even in this death though Novatore died as he lived, a resistor of tyranny and oppression and a soldier for the war that he thought individualism needed.
On the whole this collection of writings was fascinating and often times very entertaining. My hope is that others will read this, if for no other reason that they conclude as Novatore did,
You are waiting for the revolution! Very well! My own began a long time ago! When you are ready—God, what an endless wait!—it won’t nauseate me to go along the road awhile with you!
But when you stop, I will continue on my mad and triumphant march towards the great and sublime conquest of Nothing!
Every society you build will have its fringes, and on the fringes of every society, heroic and restless vagabonds will wander, with their wild and virgin thoughts, only able to live by preparing ever new and terrible outbreaks of rebellion!
I shall be among them! (135)
And so shall I.
The Collected Writings of Renzo Novatore by Renzo Novatore, published by Ardent Press. $13