In The Amateur, Andy Merrifield shows us how the many spheres of our lives—work, knowledge, cities, politics—have fallen into the hands of box tickers, bean counters and rule followers.
In response, he corrals a team of independent thinkers, wayward poets, dabblers and square pegs who challenge the accepted wisdom. Such figures as Charles Baudelaire, Dostoevsky, Edward Said, Guy Debord, Hannah Arendt and Jane Jacobs show us the way. As we will see the amateur takes risks, thinks the unthinkable and seeks independence—and changes the world. The Amateur is a passionate manifesto for the liberated life, one that questions authority and reclaims the non–team player as a radical hero of our times.
“This treatise against commercialism, professionalism, and paid work partakes of the grand tradition of political literary criticism. Merrifield (Magical Marxism) finds the drudgery of today’s world was predicted and portrayed in the words of Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Franz Kafka, Laurence Sterne, and even the Grimm brothers. He also charges society with failing to heed the well-meaning directives of such great thinkers as Hannah Arendt, Rachel Carson, Karl Marx, and Plato. These true “amateurs” and their fictional doppelgangers, claims Merrifield, retained a quality of irreverence and joy needed to avoid “bourgeois values and professional pretensions.” With the help of these hallowed names, the author paints a vividly dystopian vision of higher education, city planning, the political system, big data, and numerous other modern phenomena. The beauty of this book is in its delightfully derisive phrases: “The political doors between the public and private don’t just revolve; they spin like washing machines”… The book is a satisfying celebration of the “great romantic dream… a society that breaks free of the vicious circle of undefined productivity.” Publishers Weekly, March 13, 2017
“Rather than thinking of amateurs as dabblers, weekend gardeners, busying themselves with unimportant tasks, Merrifield defends the creative and political potential of doing things we love for pleasure. Amateurs take risks, seek independence, innovate by choosing a less obvious direction. By exploring the work of figures like Baudelaire, Dostoevsky, and Hannah Arendt, and their impact on his own professional life, Merrifield succeeds in highlighting the revolutionary spirit of the amateur.” The Idler, May 2017
The New Urban Question (2014) is an exuberant and illuminating adventure through our current global urban condition, tracing the connections between radical urban theory and political activism.
From Haussmann’s attempts to use urban planning to rid 19th-century Paris of workers revolution to the contemporary metropolis, including urban disaster-zones such as downtown Detroit, Merrifield reveals how the urban experience has been profoundly shaped by class antagonism and been the battle-ground for conspiracies, revolts and social eruptions.
Going beyond the work of earlier urban theorists such as Manuel Castells, Merrifield identifies the new urban question that has emerged and demands urgent attention, as the city becomes a site of active plunder by capital and the setting for new forms of urban struggle, from Occupy to the Indignados.
The Politics of the Encounter (2013) is a spirited interrogation of the city as a site of both theoretical inquiry and global social struggle.
“Dip into any page of Merrifield’s idiosyncratic and learned commentary on urbanity and politics and you’ll take away memorable insights. Henri Lefebvre would surely have approved of this fulsome effort to extend and recalibrate his thoughts.”
—Andrew Ross, author of Bird on Fire: Lessons from the World’s Least Sustainable City
The city, writes Andy Merrifield, remains “important, virtually and materially, for progressive politics.” And yet, he notes, more than forty years have passed since Henri Lefebvre advanced the powerful ideas that still undergird much of our thinking about urbanization and urban society. Merrifield rethinks the city in light of the vast changes to our planet since 1970, when Lefebvre’s seminal Urban Revolution was first published. At the same time, he expands on Lefebvre’s notion of “the right to the city,” which was first conceived in the wake of the 1968 student uprising in Paris.
We need to think less of cities as “entities with borders and clear demarcations between what’s inside and what’s outside” and emphasize instead the effects of “planetary urbanization,” a concept of Lefebvre’s that Merrifield makes relevant for the ways we now experience the urban. The city—from Tahrir Square to Occupy Wall Street—seems to be the critical zone in which a new social protest is unfolding, yet dissenters’ aspirations are transcending the scale of the city physically and philosophically. Consequently, we must shift our perspective from “the right to the city” to “the politics of the encounter,” says Merrifield. We must ask how revolutionary crowds form, where they draw their energies from, what kind of spaces they occur in—and what kind of new spaces they produce.
Magical Marxism (2011)
Following his hugely popular book, The Wisdom of Donkeys, Andy Merrifield breathes new life into the Marxist tradition.
“Andy Merrifield brings us a Marxism that is ‘warmer’ than most recent forms, Marxism as it might have been imagined by DH Lawrence or one of the great Latin American novelists. He wants us to reimagine Marxism without bureaucracy and without commissars. If we can get deep into the ideas themselves, they can be a life force for us. Andy helps us see how Marxism can make us more authentic human beings” –Marshall Berman
Magical Marxism demands something more of traditional Marxism – something more interesting and liberating. It asks that we imagine a Marxism that moves beyond debates about class, the role of the state and the dictatorship of the proletariat. In escaping the formalist straitjacket of orthodox Marxist critique, Merrifield argues for a reconsideration of Marxism and its potential, applying previously unexplored approaches to Marxist thinking that will reveal vital new modes of political activism and debate.
This book will provoke and inspire in equal measure. It gives us a Marxism for the 21st century, which offers dramatic new possibilities for political engagement.
“Searching for silence after a life of noise, he hears rain, birds, insects, church bells, wind and owls — some of these for the first time. ‘I can’t help thinking,’ he notes at the end of his trip, ‘that daydreams make us, that our little life is rounded with reverie rather than sleep.’” – Los Angeles Times
“The demon of speed is often associated with forgetting, with avoidance … and slowness with memory and confronting,” observes Milan Kundera in his novel Slowness. With that purpose in mind-a search for slowness and tranquility-Andy Merrifield sets out on a journey of the soul with a friend’s donkey, Gribouille, to walk amid the ruins and spectacular vistas of southern France’s Haute-Auvergne. As Merrifield contemplates literature, science, truth, and beauty amid the French countryside, Gribouille surprises him with his subtle wisdom, reminding him time and again that enlightenment is all around us if we but seek it.”
John Berger (Critical Lives) (2012)
“Merrifield’s writing is laced with radical politics and he brilliantly echoes Berger’s unbridled fascination with people, animals, natural forces and human expression, hope and endurance” — Socialist Review
With a career in literature and art spanning more than sixty years, John Berger is characterized by an independent and anti-institutional approach to creativity. Working in a range of media including novels, painting, essays and scriptwriting, Berger’s voice has resounded through mainstream and alternative culture alike. He is perhaps best known for his seminal book of art criticism Ways of Seeing, published in 1972. Tied directly into a four-part BBC television series, the book presented a radical new interpretation of Western cultural aesthetics. In the same year, Berger’s experimental novel G. was awarded the Man Booker Prize for Fiction, cementing his reputation as a boundary-pushing writer and thinker. In this concise yet detailed study of Berger’s life and work, the first for decades, Andy Merrifield sheds light on Berger the man, the artist, and the concerned citizen. Merrifield shows Berger to be a figure who constantly strives to open up new horizons, and also reveals the depth of feeling that infuses even his most intellectual work. In this sense, Berger is a creator who feels reality like the irrationalist Rousseau, yet is also a meticulous realist, probing objects critically and rationally like Spinoza. John Berger stitches together art, literature, biography and politics into a lucid, coherent whole. The result is a reader-friendly, freewheeling narrative, which gives fascinating insight into one of the most influential thinkers of our times. The book is essential reading for students and scholars of art, literature and twentieth-century culture.
Henri Lefebvre – A Critical Introduction (2006)
“Guy Debord and now Henri Lefebvre….Merrifield’s talent for putting together the person, the life, the times, and the intellectual and political contributions is here displayed in all its splendor. This brief but inspiring portrait of the astonishing range of Lefebvre’s work is of intense relevance to our own times” –David Harvey
Philosopher, sociologist and urban theorist, Henri Lefebvre is one of the great social theorists of the twentieth century. This accessible and innovative introduction to the work of Lefebvre combines biography and theory in a critical assessment of the dynamics of Lefebvre’s character, thought, and times. Exploring key Lefebvrian concepts, Andy Merrifield demonstrates the evolution of Lefebvre’s philosophy, while stressing the way his long and adventurous life of ideas and political engagement live on as an enduring and inspiring interrelated whole.
Guy Debord (1931-94) was one of the most important and intriguing intellectual figures of the twentieth century. Filmmaker and poet, urban critic and political theorist, adventurer and activist extraordinaire during Paris’ May 1968 uprisings, Debord was simultaneously behind and ahead of his times.
“This aberrant and playful book would almost certainly have pleased its subject. And for us, who have survived Debord’s dire prophesies, it’s like a happy accident, a flashing chance-encounter, a bit before dawn. To be read” –John Berger
Best-known as guru of the avant-garde revolutionary movement the Situationist International (1957-72), and for a classic indictment of post-war capitalist consumerism The Society of the Spectacle (1967), Debord’s life and work remains fascinating to this day. Yet the man himself remained elusive and enigmatic throughout his life. Master urban tactician in the 1950s, political muckraker, organizer and theorist during the 1960s, vagabond throughout the 1970s, fleeing to Spain and Italy, he lived as a recluse during the 1980s and early 1990s in an isolated farmhouse in Champot (Auvergne), behind a high stone wall. Guy Debord crosses over that Champot wall, pushes back Debord’s shutters and peers through his windows. It crosses his threshold, drinks his wine, and listens to him talk. Andy Merrifield focuses on the particulars of Debord’s life, shedding light on this admirable yet apparently impenetrable figure, a free spirit who was radically at odds with life but at the same time loved many things in it, and thought them worth fighting for. The book reveals the dynamics of the man, his ideas, and his times which have much to say to our own, equally troubled times. The ideas of Guy Debord, who died only 10 years ago, continue to expose the fragility of our democracy and the mismatch between people and political power today; this book shows that the lessons of Debord are as fresh, subversive, and relevant now as they were forty years ago.
Metromarxism (2002) discusses Marxism’s relationship with the city from the 1850s to the present by way of biographical chapters on figures from the Marxist tradition, including Marx, Walter Benjamin, Guy Debord, Henri Lefebvre, Marshall Berman, and David Harvey.
“People who equate Marxism with drabness have not been keeping up with their shopping (Prada) or their reading. Merrifield is accessible, optimistic and even fun. The urban center, Merrifield argues, is the site of economic extremes and for that reason the most promising field for social change. A primer for the postindustrial ‘children of Marx and Coca-Cola'” –Herbert Muschamp, The New York Times
Metromarxism combines lively biographical anecdotes with an accessible analysis of each individual’s contribution to an always-transforming Marxist theory of the city. It suggests the interplay between the city as a centre of economic and social life and its potential for progressive change. That work has been key in advancing progressive political and social transformations.
Life in the city can be both liberating and oppressive. The contemporary city is an arena in which new and unexpected personal identities and collective agencies are forged and at the same time the major focus of market forces intent on making all life a commodity. Dialectical Urbanism (2002) explores both sides of the urban experience, developing a perspective from which the contradictory nature of the politics of the city comes more clearly into view.
“Intellectually stimulating, morally passionate” —Peter Marcuse
Dialectical Urbanism discusses a range of issues, conflicts, and struggles through detailed case-studies set in Liverpool, Baltimore, New York, and Los Angeles. Issues which affect the quality of everyday life in the city — gentrification and development, affordable rents, the accountability of local government, the domination of the urban landscape by new corporate giants, policing — are located in the context of larger political and economic forces. At the same time, the narrative constantly returns to those moments in which city-dwellers discover and develop their capacity to challenge larger forces and decide their own conditions of life, becoming active citizens rather than the passive consumers.
Merrifield draws on a wide range of sources — from interviews with activists and tenants fighting eviction to government and corporate reports — and uncovers surprising connections, for example, between the rise of junk bonds in the 1980s and urban improvement schemes in a working-class neighborhood in Baltimore. This lively and many-sided narrative is constantly informed by broader analyses and reflections on the city and engages with these analyses in turn. It fuses scholarship and political engagement into a powerful defense of the possibilities of life in the metropolis today.