Rip up this book: transgression in print

A quick quiz to all you revolutionaries and would-be literary radicals out there:
Question: What book makes demands on its reader that rival the activism of Abbie Hoffman, and yet operates on a more liberating economics of information exchange than David Shields’ so-called free-appropriation manifesto of 2010?
Answer: A 1790 novella by François-Félix Nogaret, Le Miroir des événemens actuels (The Looking Glass of Actuality).
The frontispiece of Le Miroir underlines its boldness and importance for revolutionary political history. Where Abbie Hoffman exhorted readers to destroy property belonging to the US government and the rich, Nogaret demands that readers destroy his own book! This move is unprecedented in revolutionary France or any other radical movement, as far as we know. The only other writer approaching Nogaret’s disregard for the book-as-object is perhaps Shields, who asks his readers to take a pair of scissors and remove the appendix that the publisher’s lawyers required him to include, listing the many sources he plagiarized and acquired through copyright infringement.
But while Shields’ act points to a selfish free-market libertarianism which works to his advantage alone, Nogaret’s is a generous attempt to provide free education to the masses. The frontispiece lays out two modes of reading: if one seeks only diversion, one should read the whole book. If one seeks to help the revolutionary cause, however, one should turn directly to page 69, where there is a reproduction of an article by Voltaire reminding readers of the hypocrisy and violent actions supported by Church leaders in prior years, with the startling advice: “Informed reader, you know [Voltaire’s article]; but the common people are not familiar with it, and it is they who must be enlightened. The common man … does not have the means to buy sixty volumes to read the twenty lines … Rip these useful pages out of my book, give them to him, they should not cost him a cent. Thus you and I, we will have done some good.”
Doing some good through printed pages passed from hand to hand.
No one has said it better.

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