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Signac's Retro Future

Signac's Retro Future
Signac's In the Time of Harmony: The Golden Age Has Not Passed, It is Yet to Come

Welcome back to Anarchist Hot Takes, the weekly newsletter from Everyday Anarchism! This is the second item in my new series, Dispossessing The Dispossessed, in which I suggest texts besides that novel to use as our vision of the anarchist utopian future.

I used Paul Signac's painting as the image for the first essay, but I had no plans for an essay about it. But I couldn't resist. It captures, in its pastel pointillist beauty, precisely my objection to The Dispossessed. The promise of anarchism is that the world doesn't have to be the kind of dour, survivalist place that the capitalists tell us it needs to me. As Kropotkin points out over and over again, we don't actually have to work that hard to give everyone enough to have a lovely life.

And that's what Signac promises in this painting. Sure, this particular scene clearly requires a temperate, Mediterranean climate to evoke what Ruth Kinna calls "an allusion to Eden," but the important thing is that the Golden Age in question isn't the future. According to the biblical story, sin brought toil into the world, and toil brought misery.

But that's not what we see in Signac's image. In Signac's golden age there are lots of people who aren't toiling. They are enjoying themselves, precisely as they should be able to in an anarchist utopia: playing lawn games, dancing, reading, painting. Above all, some of them are effortlessly plucking figs from a tree and sharing them with a farmer. But there's also lots of farming happening, and a clipper ship in the background which can only sailed with a great deal of human toil. But toil doesn't seem to be making anyone miserable. The sowers and reapers (some of whom are using machinery) seem to be a part of this age of harmony. The ship is sailed, not driven by belching clouds of coal fumes. Work, play, study, art, care...all of them are suffused in the golden glow of Signac's imagination. It's hard to tell whether some people are dancing or farming.

That's the world we can live in. Sure, it won't always be that sunny, and figs don't grow everywhere. But that sort of harmony is possible, if we work together and give up the ideologies of work, punishment, and hierarchy.