“THE MAX STIRNER OF FEMINISM” ?

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The development of Marsden’s theory formation is of interest here only insofar as it directly relates to the theme of anarchism in the relatively short period from ca. 1912 to 1914. Until 1912, Marsden’s viewpoint had progressed from a socialist to a feminist and humanist and finally to an individualist point of view, which she termed egoist and in which all that had come previously was “alike contained and transcended.” Literary “egoisms” had come into vogue since ca. 1890, most from the Continent, penetrating the Anglo-Saxon sphere (Nietzsche, Barrès, and others) and causing the discourse in Marsden’s »Freewoman« to affirm egoism before the name of Stirner was even mentioned. Nevertheless, the American culture critic Floyd Dell addressed Marsden even then — due to her programmatic opening article (»Bondwomen,« 23 Nov 1911) — admiringly as “The Max Stirner of Feminism” (»Women as World Builders,« p.103).

After Stirner’s »The Ego and His Own« appeared in English (London, 1912) this book seemed to Marsden to be of especially remarkable value. Contrary to habit, she even spoke about the book once, enthusiastically and with unchecked superlatives: it was (not “one of the,” but rather) “the” “most powerful work” that had ever appeared (1 Sept 1913). — Only he or she who is familiar with the peculiar ways in which Stirner’s thought was received, particularly those approving (Mackay, Ruest, Jünger; see Laska, 1996), will look more closely here.

The first time Marsden dealt with Stirner was in her article, »The Growing Ego« (8 Aug 1912). An unidentified correspondent had asked her to subject Stirner’s theories to the most thorough of tests. This, she said at the outset, “we” (she always used the plural here) will without a doubt soon do; for the time being, however, we need to gain control over the penetrative influence which Stirner’s book exerts on us, and namely, we must first put aside the profound truth which it contains and instead expose the “abrupt and impossible termination of its thesis.”

Marsden then proceeded as follows: She qualified and reduced Stirner, as she, like many authors before and after her, interpreted his theories as being tautological. She opined that Stirner had indeed done away with the concept of ethics, religion, God, and the human being as external powers that affected the ego — which, incidentally, was nothing great, because these are, in any case, unreal — but: “If the Ego needs the realisation in itself of morality, or religion, or God, then by virtue of its own supremacy, the realisation will be forthcoming.” The problem lies within each ego itself. Fortunately, there are some few “positive persons whom we call personalities,” and from them, the “poets and creative Thinkers,” we (we, incl. Marsden?, who are not that) could experience what such a positive ego “realizes.” This is, above all, the idea of God. It originates spontaneously from the ego and has nothing to do with external authority. The bottom line: “Let us agree with Stirner that God neither postulates nor controls the Ego. But the Ego does  postulate God…”

Marsden’s resistance to Stirner’s “penetrative influence” gives an impression of hastiness. How she handled Stirner can only be inferred, because she never wrote the in-depth, argumentative analysis of him which she had promised. Instead, a year later, one read the cited, gushing — but at the same time oddly casual and isolated, and above all, previously disclaimed — judgment of Stirner’s »Ego.« Soon after, in reply to reader’s letters, which attacked Marsden, claiming her magazine was purely “Stirnerian,” Marsden wrote (15 Jan 1914) that, while Stirner’s certain influence undoubtedly suited her work, such was certainly not the appropriate adjective for the periodical meanwhile being published under the name of »The Egoist.«

This statement held true. Marsden let the matter concerning Stirner drop without any public argumentation. He was barely mentioned again in »The Egoist«; at most, one of his showier sayings was paraphrased from time to time. In the aforementioned series of articles, with which Marsden began to develop her “egoist” anthropology and cosmology, Stirner never appeared again, not even in the chapter titled »The “I” and the “Ego.” – A differentiation« (Sept 1916). Floyd Dell’s opinion that Marsden was the (female, Anglo-American) counterpart to Stirner, which can still be found in texts every now and then, barely stands on solid ground.

 

 

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