Among other things, I finished Manituana. As I said before, y’all should go buy this book. I haven’t at all processed the book so I’m not sure what to say about it yet. For now, let me just say this. The book is set during the American Revolution and centers around native people who ended up siding with the British. It’s hard to read at some points because of the terrible violence – people’s heads getting smashed in, torture of prisoners etc. It’s very historically accurate. I learned a great deal about US history that I didn’t know about, like for instance the attacks on native civilians by early American military forces, a real scorched earth policy. Above all the novel is really gripping. I remember reading an interview at some point a few years ago where one of the Wu Ming members compared archival research to using peyote. I didn’t get that. At this point, I’ve gotten to like archival research but I wouldn’t compare it to a drug (I’ve never used peyote but I imagine it’s more interesting than my archival experiences). Reading Manituana, though, I can see that. The lives and events in the novel are narrated very compellingly, and in a way that makes them come alive. As someone who doesn’t read much fiction, I appreciate that very much. And as someone who reads very little historical fiction, I sort of have associate that quality with lives that are made up; knowing that this bookt is in many ways true works a sort of transfer of energy – from my enjoyment of the fictional world presented in the book I then want to know more about actual world that the book is based on (as opposed to works that are solely fictional, where the feeling is just one of “I wish they’d written more…”, which I also feel here; happily it’s book 1 of a trilogy). Anyway, go buy the book.

A few other thoughts… on the “I want the world I’ve been reading to continue…!” feeling that all good fiction leaves, I said that I like the conjunction of that with the fact that Manituana evokes a real historical world, one that I for one know little about (but know much more about for having read the novel and poked around a bit in response to reading it). The other thing I should mention here is that the authors have a plan or at least a framework for the novel’s world to continue to be expanded, with the novel’s web site as the hub – there are additional stories there, as well as images and sounds, and they’ve invited others to contribute to that expansion of Manituana-world, by writing more components to the world. I’m less excited about the collaborative component and the process … I think that’s cool, I agree with it, I’m glad they’re doing so, I recognize an important political and probably literary perspective here and points to be made etc, etc, but all of that happens at the top and front of my head where I think about political matters at something of an arm’s length distance. Rather, I’m more excited about the prospective outcome of that process – which is to say, more Manituana-world – and this excitement is of the back of the head, the base of the neck, the parts that are gripped by gripping reading, nothing arm’s length about that.

On some of the contents and themes of the novel… from reading the reviews and interviews on the Manituana site, there are some occasional references to primitive accumulation and enclosures. I’m very interested in the history of capitalism in the U.S., and in the relationship between the history of capitalism and the history of the U.S., those are subjects near the top of the very long list of things I want to know more about. For now, a few preliminary thoughts. The political change of hands following U.S. independence facilitated primitive accumulation in the U.S., that’s very clear, and vague. Among the elements of that process, the actions of the U.S. military (and proto-U.S. military/militias) are one particular and particularly brutal form. More on this eventually. Another thought, on the ideological level … Michael Perelman’s book, I think it’s called The Invention of Capitalism, details how many british classical political economists only had an ostensible commitment to the ‘free’ market and the idea that markets are self-constituting and self-regulating entities. That’s not news. What is news in Perelman’s book is that many of these political economists were aware of this; their public writings about capitalism were ideological cover, their less public analyses and advocacy of actions/policies demonstrates that they understood fairly well the role of force – of unfreedom? – in making and maintaining ‘free’ markets. An analogous point could be made, and has often been made, with respect to the values of freedom and so forth expressed by the early American politicians and writers and so on. I’m not convinced that all universalism has a dark side like this (among other things, that sort of idea is itself a universal one…) but it’s clear that the ones related to the novel do. I’d be quite interested to know how much those two bodies of writing and of practices related to and influenced each other (british political economy+primitive accumulation and/vs. american political ideas+military actions and/as primitive accumulation). The novel suggests a strong relationship between them – cabals of early capitalists, free marketeer ideologists – but the flow in the novel seems largely from Britain to America (in the sense of ideas and scheming about and reflecting on the economy, there’s action and reaction and influence otherwise in both directions).