- I Belong Only to Myself: The Life and Writings of Leda Rafanelli by Andrea Pakieser
Oakland, CA: AK Press, 2014; 175 pages. $12.63 (paperback), ISBN 978-1849351959
IBelong Only to Myself: The Life and Writings of Leda Rafanelli by Andrea Pakieser is a complex biography, one that deconstructs radicalism and highlights the continued relevance of Rafanelli's individualistic interpretations of religion, gender, and politics. Pakieser [End Page 209] incorporates traditionally biographical prose alongside Rafanelli's personal and professional writings to construct a unique and compelling record of Rafanelli's beliefs and work, while simultaneously framing Rafanelli's principles and writing as revolutionarily, even by contemporary standards.
Leda Rafanelli self-identifies as an anarchist Muslim. Neither Rafanelli nor Pakieser shy away from the fact that this is an unusual and contradictory concept of identity. As this biography is grounded in Rafanelli's personal letters and propaganda, the reader is better equipped to recognize and reconcile Rafanelli's ideological complexities. This biography is only meant to be an introduction to Leda Rafanelli's remarkable life, and Pakieser limits the scope of this book judiciously, allowing the audience to contemplate the extraordinary views that Rafanelli espoused throughout her life by explaining, "The translations presented here represent but a fraction of her total output, falling far short of providing a comprehensive review of her work in its totality . . . We can only grow wiser from increasing our understanding of different perspectives on feminism, Islam, and anarchism, particularly given the stigma of social and physical violence often and incorrectly attributed to the latter two" (11). As Pakieser intends to inspire readers to continue to learn about Rafanelli and her beliefs, the fact that this biography includes so much of Rafanelli's own writing makes for an engrossing and effortless reading experience.
Rafanelli's ideas about feminism, Islam, and anarchism are presented in a clear and objective way by Pakieser, and then, it is through Rafanelli's own writing that the reader can see Rafanelli's skill as a propagandist and understand the ways in which she crafted and sustained her belief systems. While she is known for her anarchist writings, it is the style in which she wrote her propaganda that sets Rafanelli apart: "Leda's propaganda could be understood as a form of pulp fiction: cheaply produced and widely accessible (due to its low or even free price) reading entertainment for the masses, focused on themes that reflected anarchist causes and convictions" (47). Although she did not just write propaganda fiction, even her critical nonfiction calls to action were careful not to "infringe upon an individual's freedom of choice and association, which would be inherently contradictory to the anarchist cause" (48). One of the reasons that Rafanelli's fictional propaganda and, by extension, this biography are so successful in achieving their respective goals is because of Rafanelli's ability to transcend time and [End Page 210] place with her writing. As Pakieser points out, "Rarely do any of the characters have names, nor are the cities or years pinpointed; narrated in the third person, these sketches are rendered as templates that the reader can hopefully apply to his or her life in order to finally understand the mechanisms at work behind the misery or oppression experience in an everyday context" (51). Because much of Rafanelli's writing used in this book is fictional and is not constricted by time or place, Pakieser's audience is able to consider the key concepts of religion, feminism, and anarchism in a current context, which seems to be a reasonable extension of Rafanelli's intention when writing the pieces.
In writing this biography, Andrea Pakieser not only provides an insight into a fascinating woman's life and work, she also contributes meaningfully to current cultural debates regarding religion, feminism, and politics. For those who are not familiar with Leda Rafanelli, this biography provides an important and enjoyable introduction to and history of nontraditional views and activism, which seems to be of endless interest in today's world. This biography is an excellent starting point for anyone interested...