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This review is taken from PN Review 169, Volume 32 Number 5, May - June 2006.

OLIVER'S ARMY DOUGLAS OLIVER, Whisper 'Louise' (Reality Street) £15.00
SIMON JARVIS, The Unconditional (Barque Press) £20.00

Whisper 'Louise' is Douglas Oliver's last book, and in a way it is his last testament. A 'double-memoir' of himself and Louise Michel, the famous anarchist 'red virgin' of the Paris commune, his narrative moves freely back and forth between Michel's life and his own. Michel was a feminist pamphleteer, street-fighter, anarchist, advocate of revolutionary violence to overthrow the Second Empire. Oliver's account of her is based on her own Memoires, her history of the Commune and her poetry, which he counterpoints with an account of his own life, his upbringing, his work as a journalist, lecturer and 'footloose' poet in New York and Paris, and his own pacifist, moderate socialist politics.

The idea is that their interwoven stories will illuminate each other. But Oliver does little justice to Louise Michel's point of view, surprisingly but relentlessly characterised as 'hokey', 'blood-thirsty' and 'evil'. Her sufferings and struggles, including imprisonment and transportation, her extreme generosity and self-sacrificing spirit, made her an anarchist saint, but his point is that the exhortations of such people lead to bloodbaths and fresh tyrannies. Whisper 'Louise' continues his search for what he earlier called 'a wider politics of self'. He accuses himself of solipsism, rebuts the self-charge by being a resolutely political poet, yet compulsively makes himself look rather vain and ridiculous in the part. Oliver sweepingly dismisses the philosophies of Karl Marx, Jean-Paul Sartre, Sigmund Freud, Louis Althusser and Jacques Lacan, but ...


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