Jesse Cohn and Ania Aizman celebrate Why? or, How a Peasant Got Into the Land of Anarchy

Pilsen Community Books is excited to welcome Jesse Cohn and Ania Aizman for an event in celebration of Jesse Cohn's new translation of Why? or, How a Peasant Got Into the Land of Anarchy. A revolutionary fairy tale for adults that makes sharpening your critique of capitalism fun, Why? follows the travels of a boy named Pochemu—“Why” in Russian—as he tries to understand the tsar’s empire, capitalism, state violence, and more. The answers his rapid-fire questions elicit, which make less and less sense the deeper he probes, are just as ridiculous today as they were a century ago, and just as descriptive of a society gone wrong. When Pochemu eventually enters the Land of Anarchy, he is confronted by his own strangeness to its citizens, who study the bizarre customs he brings to their free society. This is a timeless tale of the ludicrousness of power and its deluded defenders. In this fable, a child’s innocent questions meet the lies used to justify a world of cruelty and inequality. The result is quasi-absurdist, political comedy. Abba and Wolf Gordin, Jewish anarchists in the Russian Revolution, wrote proletarian literature to enlighten and entertain. It’s a genre that no longer really exists, but given this delightful book, maybe it should. Jesse Cohn, a lover of languages, is a member of the Board of the Institute for Anarchist Studies (IAS) and the author of Underground Passages: Anarchist Resistance Culture, 1848-2011. He teaches courses in English lit, theory, and popular culture at Purdue University Northwest. His partner in this work of translation is Eugene Kuchinov, a prolific theorist and writer based in Kaliningrad who shares Jesse's fascination with the Gordin Brothers. This is Jesse's second book-length translation and his first from Russian. Ania Aizman is assistant professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Chicago. She previously taught at the University of Michigan as a postdoc in the Michigan Society of Fellows. She is working on a study of antiwar sabotage in Russia as well as a book called Anarchist Currents in Russian Culture.