Book Talk 58: Vivian Gornick on Emma Goldman


What Is to Be Done?

In her luminous biography Emma Goldman: Revolution as a Way of Life (Yale UP, 2011), Vivian Gornick brings us back to this question, originally made by Lenin after a novel which suggests that in order to achieve egalitarianism and sexual liberation, revolutionaries have to live “as though hunted:” no romance, no sex, no friends, no conversation. This was the revolutionary tradition from - and against - which legendary anarchist feminist Emma Goldman sprung. Goldman refused the austere image of the revolutionary. For her, sex, passion, and love were inextricable from the human experience, and thus also inextricable from political life. She maintained, as Gornick says, a “timeless hunger for living life on a grand scale.” In her own—now famous—words: “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be in your revolution.”

Goldman had immigrated from Lithuania to Rochester, New York in 1885 and became America's "most dangerous woman" by the powers that be of her time. Gornick, the radical feminist critic celebrated for Fierce Attachments (1987) and The Romance of American Communism (1977), recounts Goldman’s progression as an anarchist and feminist. Goldman’s feminism was often ambiguous. But Gornick suggests that precisely these conflicts explain her continued influence over generations of feminists after her. On the podcast, we spoke about Goldman’s radical political program and their resonance in our time.

Gornick also wrote an original preface for a new Goldman reader from Warbler Press, The Essential Emma Goldman—Anarchism, Feminism, Liberation (2022).

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Uli Baer

Uli Baer teaches literature and photography as University Professor at New York University. A recipient of Guggenheim, Getty and Humboldt awards, in addition to hosting "Think About It” he hosts (with Caroline Weber) the podcast "The Proust Questionnaire” and is Editorial Director at Warbler Press. Email; Twitter @UliBaer.

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