Few books are called “evil” these days.
Yet that’s exactly how Glenn Beck described the Invisible Committee’s first book, The Coming Insurrection.
Beck isn’t necessarily someone we should turn to when deciding when or when not to read something (although he did actually encourage his fans to read the book as a way of essentially knowing the enemy better). Nevertheless, his comment hints at something unique about this book.
And that is its aura.
The Invisible Committee and, by extension, their books have an aura of mystery around them that is frankly impressive and bold in an age of social media where everyone seems to know about everyone (and everyone wants everyone to know about them).
There is also an aura of danger surrounding the author(s?) and these texts, which can make you feel as if you are doing something radical simply by reading them.
The same is true of their latest book – Now.
Before getting to the book itself, I should tell you more about the Invisible Committee. Or, rather, how little there is to know.
The Invisible Committee is an anonymous author or group of authors whose French works have been translated into English and published by MIT Press. If you look them up online, you’ll see that there are some potential ties to a French political activist, though the activist himself denies there’s any relation. The only things we know for sure about them are what they tell us in their books, which are scorching political tracts that can’t easily be labeled or connected to a particular ideology, let alone group. They express ideas that could undoubtedly appeal to the extreme Right or extreme Left. And while they often talk about communism, they are often quite critical – even contemptuous – of certain communist organizations.
But as I said, what I find most intriguing about them is their anonymity. There are certain authors I can think of who were or are reclusive (such as American novelist Thomas Pynchon), but we often at least know who they are even if they don’t have a facebook page or tweet constantly. The Invisible Committee could be one person or a hundred. They could be anyone. They are literally invisible.
Their writing, in stark contrast, is – whatever you think of the ideas – anything but invisible. It is also unforgettable, because their books exemplify the most important kind of writing.
Writing that is clear, uncompromising, passionate, and relevant.
It’s easy for a book to have one or two of these qualities – you can be clear about something stupid, uncompromising about something no sane person would dispute (such as a fiery argument against genocide, for example), passionate yet write in incomprehensible jargon (I’m thinking especially of philosophy books I’ve been told are profound yet make me think either I, or the author, doesn’t understand the English language), or relevant but trivial.
Now, like the Invisible Committee’s other two books, checks all four boxes. It may, at times, stray into more academic-sounding prose, but the vast majority is intensely clear.
Consider these opening sentences: “All the reasons for making a revolution are there. Not one is lacking. The shipwreck of politics, the arrogance of the powerful, the reign of falsehood, the vulgarity of the wealthy…but it’s not reasons that make revolutions, it’s bodies. And the bodies are in front of screens.”
Or: “Official politics has become so manifestly a repugnant sphere of deception that the only events still happening in that sphere reduce down to a paradoxical expression of hatred of politics.”
The second quote demonstrates how they may at times write in a way reminiscent of academic or philosophical books (not that either is a bad thing by definition, incidentally – it simply might alienate some readers). However, a few moments of reflection is usually enough to understand what they’re saying.
And what they’re saying is clearly passionate. No doubt about it. It is also just as obviously uncompromising, but not in an obstinate or stubborn way. You cannot read Now and conclude the authors are ignorant. Even if you think they’re wrong, proving it to yourself requires serious consideration.
I realize I’ve said things like “whatever you think of their ideas” or “even if you think they’re wrong,” a couple times already. That’s because this is not a book for the timid, or anyone who is content to think every side of every issue is equally valid. It is a book that stands its ground without apology.
I’d prefer not to say what I thought about the book in this review for two reasons. First, I need time to consider the many complex arguments the Invisible Committee laid out, some of which I found instantly compelling and convincing, others which I was instinctively hostile to. But second, and more importantly, I don’t think this is a book that should only be read by people who are inclined to agree with the authors. It may even be good for people who are likely not to agree with it to read it, because Now is truly a book about our present historical moment. It’s a book that attempts to make sense of our world not for any partisan purpose or in the service of a particular political candidate or party. It is meant to argue how things could be better. And – with the usual caveat about whether you think they’re right or wrong – that alone makes the effort admirable.
It also makes it a jarring reading experience, as we are confronted with authors who are clear in their ideas, passionate in their convictions, uncompromising in their moral and political outlook, and deeply concerned and engaged with a reality we all find ourselves in, whoever and wherever we might be.
Does this mean I agree with Glenn Beck? Not really, because I don’t think this should be read as a way of knowing your enemy and I certainly don’t think it’s evil.
It should be read because the Invisible Committee and their books are a truly unique phenomenon and worth taking seriously.
It should be read because the writing – both in content and in style – is revolutionary, which is to say the best kind of writing.
And it should be read because whether you read them or not, the ideas expressed in their volcanic books are out there, right now, shaping ideas, which shapes people, which shapes the world.
So go read it. Now.