Discover more from From The Forests of Arduinna
Book Club: Caliban & The Witch
Let's read Silvia Federici's brilliant work together!
As I announced late last year, I’m beginning an occasional series here at From The Forests of Arduinna where we’ll read a book together and discuss it over several posts. The first book I’ve chosen for this is Silvia Federici’s Caliban & The Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation.
How it works
Starting next month, I’ll post a series of essays discussing the book, spaced apart to give everyone a chance to read the relevant chapters I’m covering. Each of these essays will include a short summation of the chapters, but will also be expansions on the topics she discusses, as well as notes I think might help readers understand more.
Those essays will also be open for comments and questions, as a place for readers to ask for clarifications, share their own observations, and also add even more to our understanding.
What if I don’t have time to read the book?
You’ll still get something from these essays and discussions, but it will be a lot more enriching if you’ve read the text.
About Caliban & The Witch
There are really two ways of thinking about modern capitalist life within “leftism.” The first, which is what we might call techno-utopianism or utopian socialism, embraces all the disruptive technological “advances” of capitalism while imagining that we can just re-arrange society so that everyone benefits equally from it. This is the kind of “leftism” most common in the United States and the United Kingdom, and is very often identitarian. The DSA, Jacobin, “solarpunk” anarchists, much of the Antifa hierarchy, the “left-wing” of the Democratic Party, and transhumanists and “family-abolitionists” like Sophie Lewis are all part of this tendency.
The second kind of leftism, on the other hand, is highly critical of capitalist technology and the deep alienation that capitalism creates. Rather than constantly proposing future technologies that might one day save us from capitalist exploitation and environmental collapse, it insists that the way of fighting capitalism is recovering and reclaiming our humanity, our connection to body and land, and our older forms of social and economic life. The de-growth movement, eco-feminism, indigenous resistance groups such as the Zapatistas, land-access struggles and anti-development movements—especially in the Global South—are all part of this tendency, and so am I.
That’s why Silvia Federici’s Caliban & The Witch is so important. Usually, the transition from pre-capitalist social arrangements to capitalist ones is presented as an act of progress, a “liberation” of primitive peasants from life on the land into the enlightenment of urban subjectivity. Even many socialists narrate the Enclosures and the displacement of peoples as a moment of progress, or, if critical, still present it as a necessary transition. Federici, on the other hand, insists these transitions were part of a larger capitalist project of alienation that continues today.
Reading Schedule and Book Information
Depending on the edition, Caliban & The Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation is between 200-240 pages long, and it is divided into five chapters. While Federici’s writing is quite straightforward, she references many ideas that will probably be new to many readers, especially if they’ve not read similar books before.
I’ll be dividing the book into three portions and writing essays on the following schedule:
Part One (10 March): Introduction, Preface, and Chapter One (All The World Needs A Jolt)
Part Two (24 March): Chapters Two and Three (The Accumulation of Labor and the Degradation of Women, The Great Caliban)
Part Three (7 April): Chapters Four and Five (The Great Witch-Hunt in Europe, Colonization and Christianity)
Where to Get the Book
Silvia Federici published Caliban & The Witch under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license, allowing it to be freely copied and distributed, provided it’s not done so for profit. So, if you do not mind reading digitally, you can download free digital versions (pdf, epub, kindle) at this link.
There are several print editions, also. Its first publisher, Autonomedia, offers it for US $16, and there is now a new Penguin edition for £ 10.99 at Bookshop.org. That latter option might also be the best for EU-based readers.
For my francophone readers, c’était aussi traduit en français. Here’s a PDF download link for that translation.
Well, we start reading! This will be my fifth read-through of the book, and each time I notice more than the last. So I’ll be reading it again along with you all.
Try to have the first part read by 10 March, but don’t feel bad if you’re not there yet.
If you’ll be participating or think you might, please consider leaving a comment below.
Also, if you’ve got friends you’d like to read this book with, consider sharing this post to get them interested.
Also, the essays for this edition of the book club will all be public, since it’s an extremely important book. That being said, if you’d like to support my work as a paid subscriber, all levels of paid subscription are 20% off until the end of February (use the link below for that).
And if you’re new here and just want to be a free subscriber for now, here’s the link for that: