A eulogy for Murray Bookchin, on the occasion of the anniversary of his birthday, January 14th, 1921:
Murray didn’t just love ideas.
He didn’t just read, discuss, or create them.
He lived for and through them.
Ideas were the light that streamed through his window
at the beginning of the day,
they were the flame
burned down to a tiny blue ghost
hovering over the candle’s nub
at day’s end.
Sometimes, it seemed,
Murray loved ideas more than life itself.
This is because, for Murray,
ideals of truth and reason were realer
than the irrational world that swirled around him.
And what a dizzying world Murray lived to see.
In his life-time, promises made
and broken by the Russian Revolution,
the savagery and sorrow of the Second World War,
the vanquish of the Old Left,
and the insipid rise of McCarthyism.
A true man of the Enlightenment,
Murray bore witness to a true counter-Enlightenment,
one composed of mysticism and religious fundamentalism,
a beveled looking glass, obscuring
the hand-mirror of reason, a vision
so many had fought and lost their lives for.
Living through these events,
Murray turned not to cynicism, but toward ideas.
There, he found more than solace, grist for the mill
of revolutionary vision and action. Like Plato loved
the shining geometric form, caressing it with the adoration of a lover,
Murray loved eternal truth as well. For Murray,
ideas were the triumph of a developing humanity
over a world of inhumane flux and change.
But Murray was not a Platonic idealist.
Like Marx, he put ideas into practice,
launching them, small paper boats to float out
on the vast waters of potentiality.
He not only worked ideas, he worked for them,
writing, organizing, lecturing, teaching,
all with an irreplaceable blend of fury,
intelligence, and commitment.
Murray had the ability to savor ideas
with epicurean devotion.
Cupping words in his palms, he relished
dialectic, eduction, rationality, and aufhebung,
perfect glistening oysters pried open on the half shell,
or pin-prick golden bubbles
zooming up from a glass of good champagne.
Murray’s eyes would dilate with pleasure,
his broad hands dancing through the air
as he pulled ideas from the hat of history,
plucking red and black silk scarves and sometimes,
blazing white doves of possibility.
Murray was a generous teacher.
He gave fully, without asking for much,
if anything, in return. He gave himself
to the many students who gathered around him
during lazy summer evenings at the ISE,
huddled in study-groups in living-rooms during the rest of the year,
or in great lecture halls full of strangers
ravenous for a bit of his utopian daring.
As a teacher, Murray had the unique ability
to stare deep into the minds of his students,
to see there a set of potentialities
curled up, sleeping, to be gently coaxed into action.
In this way, Murray offered students
the gift of recognition. And like many gifts,
his were tethered with strings.
Yet these strings were not those
of conditional love, so many of us knew
Murray’s love to be relentlessly unconditional.
The strings that wound out from Murray’s words
were gilded threads of potentiality.
These strings were entirely of our own making.
They were the chords that stretched
between who we were at a given moment
and who Murray showed us we ought to become.
Knowing Murray presented each of us
with a fierce and unforgiving dilemma.
How to live our lives as revolutionaries
as dedicated, brilliant, and relentless as he.
As this option lay simply outside the realm of possibility,
we were each faced with a second dilemma: how to live a life
moving nonetheless, in a revolutionary direction.
To know Murray was to know what we, as individuals
were capable of. It was also to know society’s capabilities as well.
Being stung by social ecology was to be bitten
by a fierce yet delightful pollen-seeking bee.
But instead of running frantically from the hive,
so many of us dove straight into it,
joining the search for the joyous streaming promise of honey.
It is little known that Murray could have been a fine artist.
Or an accomplished musician. Or an ingenious physician or engineer.
But he could have been all these things.
Once, years ago, he showed me small sketches he had drawn,
and although I am no artistic scholar,
even I could see that true genius lay there.
Murray told me once, privately, with great humility,
that being endowed with many talents represents a burden,
one that obliges an individual to make a series of difficult decisions
regarding the most ethical direction in which to orient their life.
He spoke of this many times when speaking of his beloved Katia,
his granddaughter whom Murray regarded
as being equally blessed and burdened.
But although Murray did not choose the life of an artist,
Murray was truly a painter of ideas. On his palette,
the silver and gold of Plato, the blazing white of Aristotle’s linen robes,
the rarified purple of Hegel’s Geist, the fiery red of Marx,
and the resplendent black of anarchist predecessors,
Bakunin and Kropotkin.
Murray invented colors that simply did not exist before.
Finding conventional lexicon impoverished,
he was obliged to instill new meaning to old words.
Rational took on the same resplendent hue as ethics, social, and utopian.
Libertarian was lifted from the palette
of a Frenchman gazing out a Parisian window,
pondering how to convey the color of freedom
that blazed, however momentarily, in the faces
of revolutionaries that forged the Parisian Sections,
drunk on the dream of a new world.
Murray, too, stared deep into the spectrum of light,
saw colorful frequencies to which his contemporaries were simply blind.
In ecology, he saw the chlorophyll tint of potentiality,
capable of igniting the dialectical tradition
with new resplendence and luster.
To describe Murray as a friend,
I am obliged to invoke an overly wrought metaphor.
For better or worse, it is the one that keeps coming back to me.
Murray was a kind of lighthouse keeper,
living in a light-house built from shining white stone,
jutting out from the coast, withstanding miles of tumultuous waves.
Rather than occupy an ivory tower,
Murray was indeed an engaged lighthouse keeper,
one who designed, built, and sailed ships,
offering careful instruction in the ways of the sea.
As a lighthouse keeper, Murray had a lofty perspective.
Dwelling several floors above sea-level,
he was able to note changes and possibilities on both land and sea.
He could read ripples scribbled across the surface of waves,
he could portend future storms or sun-filled days.
From his lighthouse, he was able to see, each and ever day,
the shining city, across the water, miles away,
a place where humanity walked with dignity,
in sumptuous harmony with the rest of evolution’s good fortune.
The reflection of this city blazed on Murray’s face
with such intensity, that none of us could look away.
We wanted to see it, live it, too.
Murray was also a buoy on shore, his mind
a flashing golden light—one that ships lost at sea
looked to as they searched for shore. Lighthouses
make the world navigable. Without their persistent guidance,
an individual in a boat is an unfettered thing,
lost in the fog, longing for a safe way home.
And this is how I have felt since Murray’s passing.
Unhinged, unanchored. I have grown terribly aware that,
for many years, Murray occupied a vital space
within my own internal sea-scape.
The pulse that forced blood through his veins,
was a light flickering on shore,
burning through an otherwise impenetrable fog.
After Chernobyl, the First Gulf War,
9/11, the inhumanity surrounding Katrina,
it was Murray I always called—shaken, wobbly,
longing for a sense of what to think, where to go.
And what would he say on such occasions?
“What can I tell you, Dawlin’,
your guess is as good as mine…What do you think?”
and then the conversation would begin.
I’d throw in a few stones, he’d toss in a few more,
and pretty soon, we’d have the whole thing sorted out.
Sort of. Because with Murray, nothing in the actual world
surrounding us could ever be truly sorted out—not yet,
not until things were finally understood, addressed
in the broadest sense. But in those moments,
at least, I felt re-hinged. Taking a deep breath,
I would feel my ankles, toes, feet,
slowly landing back on firm ground.
How lucky we are that a lighthouse outlives
its keeper. That the luminous tower remains,
pouring its bluish light on the shining city, pointing the way.
How lucky are we, to have washed up on this shore.
How lucky to have known Murray, to have loved him,
to feel forever the pulse of his own revolutionary heart,
still beating, steering us back home,
toward the future.