Locating Statelessness: The Multiple Forms of Anarchist Utopia in B. Traven’s The Death Ship Book Chapter

Cadle, N. (2022). Locating Statelessness: The Multiple Forms of Anarchist Utopia in B. Traven’s The Death Ship . 77-93. 10.1007/978-3-030-96494-8_4

cited authors

  • Cadle, N

fiu authors

abstract

  • The central paradox of anarchist political theory is that any utopian vision of a community organizing itself on anarchist principles is self-contradictory because of its inherent prescriptiveness. The anarchist writer B. Traven directly addresses this problem in his novel The Death Ship, which follows a merchant seaman who finds himself a stateless person in interwar Europe. Once the protagonist finally reaches communities that accept him, Traven’s novel offers readers not one but two alternative models of social organization, ranging from the concrete and particular to the abstract and utopian. The first is grounded in the specific context of Spain, which shortly after the English-language publication of Traven’s novel would undergo an anarcho-syndicalist revolution and collectivization of its economy. The second takes place in the fictional space of a ship’s engine room, where the protagonist unexpectedly finds freedom and meaning in solidarity with his fellow, mostly stateless, laboring seamen. In the latter utopia, Traven reimagines statelessness itself less as a “state of exception,” as philosopher Giorgio Agamben would have it, and more along the lines of what political scientist and anthropologist James Scott calls “zones of refuge,” that is, as the deliberate avoidance of becoming incorporated—or reincorporated—into a state while still forming a functional community.

publication date

  • January 1, 2022

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

start page

  • 77

end page

  • 93