Sunday, June 27, 2004

PINOCCHIO, Anarchist

Every classical liberal and libertarian should read the Adventures of Pinocchio. It’s a much darker story than the Disney movie, and well worth the time. Written by a disillusioned republican anti-monarchist, Carlo Lorenzini (AKA Carlo Collodi), a Tom Sawyer-like character emerges without any particular morals, roving through a corrupt world , aided by a talking cricket ("I refuse to leave this spot ... until I have told you a great truth.") and a blue fairy who helps in his process of self-discovery. The Blue Fairy may be a version of the Virgin Mary, according to your interpretation. Disney's version of the Talking Cricket, named Jiminy Cricket may have been Jesus Christ (Jiminy Cricket is a clear allusion to JC in American culture), but makes the Disney version a Protestant version of the tale. There also seem to be an evolution of one of the main charaters into an evil Jewish gypsy, which may be antisemitic, or perhaps even taking to task the Jewish dominance of the major movie production companies at the time of the development of the Disney Pinocchio. Walt Disney was not antisemitic, and the characterization may simply have been a commonly used plot element, like many of the other changes that were made in the story line. Even following Disney's death years ago, Disney Studios has been famous for Americanizing myths and fables, much to the chagrin of those from where the stories originated.

Lorenzini’s story hearkens back to the radical puppetry which was condemned as seditious in earlier ages.

Adventures of Pinocchio begins slowly, with a simple beginning as a tale told to children:

How it happened that Mastro Cherry, carpenter, found a piece of wood that wept and laughed like a child

Centuries ago there lived--

"A king!" my little readers will say immediately.

No, children, you are mistaken. Once upon a time there was a piece of wood. It was not an expensive piece of wood. Far from it. Just a common block of firewood, one of those thick, solid logs that are put on the fire in winter to make cold rooms cozy and warm.

He starts, not with kings, princes and princesses, but with a lowly, poor woodworker in Italy and some ordinary wood. His piece of wood has life within it with no control save for its own, doing this and that, going here and there, metamorphosing into different entities in its journey toward humanity. Often reminding me of a teenager, changing its nature from one creatire to another, searching for what is the right thing to do and not thinking about right and wrong but what is the next fun thing to do. Pinocchio battles authorities of all kinds, from family, church and state.

Pinocchio is a living spirit within a log with the dead wood trimmed to bring his life out of its confinement. The creation is a puppet without strings, with no master. A child in the Disney story, but more of a teenager in the Adventures of Pinocchio. Why does Lorenzini use a puppet as the main charater in the story? Here we come to some interesting themes historically. Kerry Mogg says in “A Short History of Radical Puppetry”:

In 1643, the English authorities ordered the theatres closed due to their fear of the spread of revolutionary propaganda. England was about to be plunged into the middle of a civil war, and radical elements … were already active.

… Puppetry was seen as a way of getting around the theatre ban and accusations from both clergy and out-of-work actors, raised concerns about the medium’s "corruption" of audiences. Perhaps they were right: Punch certainly was a corrupter.

This hunchback, with his large, hooked nose and insanely boorish manners, was a hero of the lower-classes. Punch broke the most sacrosanct laws imaginable in a time when conformity was imposed in every sphere of life, particularly entertainment. He mocked the law, God’s and king’s, and, by avoiding hanging, managed to trick even Death. As George Speight tells us in Punch and Judy: a History, Punch was a subversive jester, "the simpleton who could answer back to Bishop and King, the fool with the license to poke fun at anyone."

18th-century France had its own "Punch," which went by the name of Guignol. Guignol shows were "decidedly populist" and "off the cuff political comments slipped into the dialogue every evening’ according to John McCormick and Bernie Pratasik in their Popular Theatre in Europe, 1800-1914.

Saxony banned puppet shows in 1793, and by 1852, the French government was demanding texts not only be committed to paper (a death knell for -an oral, and to some extent, illiterate tradition), but banned improvisation of any sort. Puppetry was particularly controversial in Lyon, a hot spot for revolution. One of the last uprisings there, involving poverty-stricken weavers and miners, led to Kropotkin’s imprisonment and expulsion from France in 1888. According to McCormick and Pratasik, "Napoleon Ill’s police state was particularly nervous about places where numbers of people gathered together," so Guignol shows were placed under surveillance. Many new applications to perform Guignol were rejected outright. In a city once known for its puppetry culture, Lyon’s puppeteers were denied an audience.

From its beginnings, radical puppetry was treated as a criminal act. Both England and France enacted repressive laws against puppeteers, refusing to even license them like other performers and trades people. This relegated them to, in the performance hierarchy, a level lower than showmen.

Being itinerant, puppeteers were regarded with suspicion and accused of not only participating in crime, but of perpetuating it by attracting crowds of poverty-stricken individuals to respectable places of business. Although they were harangued by the authorities and merchants, the puppeteers were determined to engage in their livelihood, performing where they had to in order to make even a small income. They would pitch their stages in busy marketplaces, inevitably being forced to move on.

In the tradition of subversive theatre, the 19th century’s most notorious figure was the incomparable eccentric, anarchist puppeteer, Alfred Jarry. Known for carrying a pistol around with him as he obsessively bicycled through the streets of Paris, Jarry amused friends with his intellect and outrageous behavior.

Enamored of puppetry since his teens, in 1888, Jarry put on shows in his mother’s attic for Henri and Charles Morin, his future teenage partners in crime at the Lycee they attended. It was here that the first versions of Ubu Roi were performed, Jarry’s infamous, brutal attack on bourgeois mediocrity. Ubu Roi achieved instant notoriety for many reasons, not the least of which being the first word King Ubu utters on stage is "Shit!"

Although in the eventual staging of the play Jarry used human actors, he designed Ubu’s costume and choreographed the stage directions to be as puppet-like as possible. The anti-colonial, anti-militaristic tone of Jarry’s writings are quite evident, as are their anti-establishment "primitivism" (by way of puppets), a popular strategy among dissidents, artists and anarchists at that time in France.

More acts of cultural subversion soon followed in the early 20th-century. In Germany, puppeteer Gerhart Hauptmann performed angry plays criticizing the Kaiser. In Portugal, Rosado performed anti-government plays as well.

Czechoslovakia, now an undisputed leader in puppetry, began its saga in the nineteenth century. The Czech language was banned by the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, but puppeteers performed in Czech as an act of defiance. During the Nazi invasions, puppeteers resisted, despite the forced closing and banning of literally hundreds of theatres. Anti-fascist plays by Karel Capek [see his powerful "Why I am Not a Communist", by the way--Ken] were staged in underground venues along with theatrical interpretations of modern poetry. During public performances, they used allegory in order to slip subversive (and with audiences’ expectations, anticipated) remarks past the censors.

Lorenzini has made a tale for the ages. Don’t just go see the movie, read the original.

Ken Gregg

Friday, June 11, 2004


I find it more than a little amazing that there is no full-fledged biography of this great libertarian. His influence has been great, but little-studied. His consistency during invasions of civil liberties (such as the incarceration of Japanese-Americans during WWII), his strident opposition to public school education (his frequently quoted “21 Ways.. is below), and his advocacy of individual rights has no match in the newspaper business.

Now that the spat between his children and heirs over control of the Freedom Newspapers is more or less over (I’ll let you google that), perhaps we can now look at Hoiles’ influence. I was introduced to his son, Harry Hoiles, by Bob LeFevre and enjoyed discussing matters with him, ideological and otherwise. As Bob mentioned to me, Harry was his father's ideological child as well as his biological.

Here are some online articles on RC:
one by Carl Watner
and some others--1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.

Freedom Newspapers now has a website dedicated to RC Hoiles and a humorous commentary about the website is here
Hoiles’ “Unlimited Voluntary Exchanges
21 Ways “Public Schools” Harm Your Children
another version of “21 Ways…” with added commentary by Russell Bingman
CLASSical Liberalism

Dr. Margaret C. Jacob is perhaps the most preeminent scholar on the history of science, Enlightenment, Newton and the scientific culture of the 17th and 18th centuries (take a look at some of her books on or some of the other sites). I 'm not sure what her politics are, save that of a strong interest in freethought, but her writings follow in line with classical liberalism. She has now written/coauthored about two dozen books. If you are interested in the best research on enlightenment thought, you won’t go wrong by looking up her books. She has covered a lot of cultural issues in her writings, including analyzing the role of Masonic lodges in the formation of the scientific societies and the trickling down of scientific ideas both within the economy and society in general. You can find feminist-related discussions within her books, although I don’t recall any book of hers devoted exclusively to it.

Her UCLA webpage

Videocast/audiocast of her UCLA Faculty Research Lecture given 4/15/04, “Science and the Origins of Western Cosmopolitanism”. This lecture is based upon a book that she is currently working on. Also gives you a good grasp of Dr. Jacob's personality and her love of historical research. Looking forward to reading the book when it's published.

Jacob’s online essay, “The Clandestine Universe of the Early Eighteenth Century”

One of my favorite books of hers is The Radical Enlightenment: Pantheists, Freemasons and Republicans" (George Allen & Unwin, London and Boston, 1981; Italian translation, L'Illuminismo Radicale, published by Societa Editrice Il Mulino,1983. Second edition, revised, Temple Books, 2003). I have used this as well as her books on the Newtonians in various lectures. On both freethought history and libertarian history (there is frequently a merge of the two strains of thought), she has managed to bring in new insights and exciting possibilities for research. Her books include Newton and the Culture of Newtonianism, with Betty Jo Teeter Dobbs (Humanity Press, 1995), Living the Enlightenment: Freemasonry and Politics in Eighteenth Century Europe (1991, 350pp. Oxford University Press, also available from Temple Books), The Cultural Meaning of the Scientific Revolution (Alfred Knopf, New York, 1988, 273 pp), The Newtonians and the English Revolution, 1689-1720 (Cornell University Press and Harvester Press, Ltd., 1976, Italian translation, I Newtoniani e la rivoluzione inglese, 1689-I720, 1980 by Feltrinelli Editore, Milan. Reprinted, 1983; Japanese translation, 1990. Available from Gordon and Breach, "Classics in the History of Science").

One of the thoughts that came to mind as I was doing research for a talk on Methodist history (of all things) was a somewhat side-subject that became important in the question and answer period. This was the role of the masonic church in promoting independent thinking and making banned literature available (I had discussed mainly religious/political, but it included fiction as well). Jacob has several books touching upon this. One book (mentioned above)discusses the role that Masonic Lodges had in developing crucial experiments in self-government for its members, applied in various ways. Intriguing possibilities here that lead to the framing of American government.

I'm going to make a fairly long post on Pirate Revisionism soon, and I want to come back to one of the themes that Jacob uses. Both pirates and filibusters were part of a long-term smuggling tradition, trading in goods without the interference of government regulations and taxes. Marcus Rediker and others make the point that there was a connection between the European radical traditions and piracy. Were they the means for the transportation of banned writings as well as illegal goods? Certainly the flow of goods would indicate this. Was there more than just an economic convenience involved? We shall see.

Just a thought.
Just Ken