The Anarchist Encyclopedia:
(February 10, 1920 — March 26, 2000)
British physician, anarchist, poet, novelist, anti-nuke activist, sexologist, etc...Alex Comfort was psychiatry lecturer at Stanford.
A member of the anti-nuclear Committee of 100, he regularly broke into evening newscasts of the BBC to denounce nuclear weapons and the "pathology of power."
Comfort is on record as having rather despised his sex books, for all they had made him so amazingly rich, and wanting to be remembered for his poetry, politics, novels and science. Yet, in a sense, he is so remembered by those millions of readers.
The Joy of Sex is often anarchic — frequently poetic and sometimes funny Alex Comfort's first book, The Silver River, an account of a voyage to Argentina and Senegal, was published in 1938, when he was still a pupil at Highgate School, the son of an LCC education officer.
From there, he went to Trinity College, Cambridge, to read natural sciences. He had a dazzling academic career — and, until his early 30s, a dazzling literary career.
His fictional debut came in 1941 with No Such Liberty, written while he was at Cambridge. The Power House, a long and acclaimed third novel, appeared in 1944. On This Side Nothing, probably Comfort's best novel, followed in 1949. There were also several books of verse. Art And Social Responsibility (1946), was his first collection of articles.
His lifelong pacifism dated from his schooldays; during the second world war, he was, he said, "an aggressive anti-militarist". It came to a head in the campaign against the indiscriminate bombing of Germany. Pacifism led to anarchism, for he came to believe that pacifism rested "solely upon the historical theory of anarchism".
The finest single statement of Comfort's anarchism is Peace And Disobedience (1946), one of the many pamphlets he wrote for Peace News and the Peace Pledge Union (and reprinted in 1994 in Against Power And Death). But his classic contribution to anarchist thought is Authority And Delinquency In The Modern State (1950), a remarkable application of the findings of psychiatry and social psychology to contemporary politics .
The 1950s saw his main effort concentrated on the biology of ageing. After the volume of poetry, And All ButHe Departed (1951), there was nothing until Haste To The Wedding (1962). After A Giant's Strength (1952) no novel appeared until Come Out to Play (1961). A second collection of articles, Darwin And The Naked Lady, was not published till 1962.
There followed a transitional decade for Comfort. Barbarism And Sexual Freedom (1948) had been thestarting point for Sexual Behaviour In Society (1950), which was revised as Sex In Society (1963). Then, in 1962, came a formative experience, when he visited India. A translation from the Sanskrit of the erotological mediaeval classic, The Koka Shastra, resulted in 1964. In the 1970s, came Comfort's own manuals on sex.
In 1973, he moved to the Center For The Study of DemocraticInstitutions at Santa Barbara, California.The center soon folded, but he remained onthe west coast, in a series of medicaland academic posts. In 1985, he retired to England.
Comfort had written several works of scientificpopularisation in the 1960s, but later books, such as I And That: Notes On The Biology ofReligion (1979) and Reality And Empathy:Physics, Mind, And Science In The 21st Century (1984), were a good deal more abstruse. After the 1960s, he published another three novels, but only two collections ofpoetry. He was now a household name, butas something he always denied being: a sexologist.
David Hall writes:Towards the end of the 1950s, gerontologycould hardly be called a well-defined orhighly- respected discipline. The Club For Ageing,founded in 1947, had split into two, andit was to be nearly 30 years beforeclinicians and biologists found it possible tocollaborate convincingly again. There was, however,a small group farsighted enough torealise that this dichotomy could onlydetract from the development of ageresearch. One of this group was Comfort.
His early medical career enabled him to bring a clinician'spoint of view to his research,acknowledging that the ultimate aim of age researchmust be the interpretation ofthe ageing process to the human subject. Onthe other hand, he had an insatiablecuriosity, which, on his arrival in the physiologydepartment at the London Hospital MedicalSchool, and later in the zoology departmentof University College, encouraged him tostudy age phenomena from whatever sourceappropriate data could be obtained. This led him toexamine ageing processes in both wild andcaptive populations of fish and other animals.He also realised that other people'sstudies could often be employed to goodeffect. For instance, he found it possible touse information from horse breeders' studbooks to explain genetic factorsassociated with ageing. This biological researchled to the publication of The Biology OfSenescence (1961), to be followed by Ageing:The Biology Of Senescence (1964).And one of the milestones ofpopular gerontology in the 1960s was atelevision interview featuring Comfort and the"red" dean of Canterbury, Hewlett Johnson.
I began toappreciate the way Alex could explain the growingpoints of age research when, in the late1960s, we were both officers of theBritish Society for Research on Ageing, in which heplayed an important role. It was about thistime that he became a popular presenter atinternational meetings. These lectures werecharacterised by such a degree of optimismabout the future development ofgerontology - and the possible enhancementof lifespan - as to make some of hismore conservative colleagues cringe.Thus, in Washington, in 1969, he suggestedthat, within 20 years, human life spanmight extend to 120 years.
Throughout Comfort's career, it was his ability to be deeplyand simultaneously engaged in a varietyof fields which characterised hisactivities. Such activities were not alwaysscientific or literary. I attended ascientific meeting with him in Czechoslovakia,during the 1968 Prague spring, where hesurprised his hosts at a social evening bysinging a socialist ditty extolling the work ethic. He informed us he had attempted toteach it to Bertrand Russell when they were bothon remand following a CND protest.
That Alex packedsuch a variety of activities into one life istruly remarkable. Whatever the assessment of thevalue of his research, and of hisnon-scientific studies, from the standpoint of the21st century, he will be remembered assomeone who left an indelible mark onthe one that preceded it.
"You have only to speak for once -- they will melt like the dust:
you have only to spit in their faces -- they will go
howling like devils to swindle somebody else
but if you choose to obey, we shall not blame you
for every lesson is new. We will make room for you
in the cold hall were every cause is just.
Perhaps you'll go with us to frosty windows
putting the same choice as the years go round
or sit debating 'When will they disobey?'
wrapped in our coats against the imaprtial cold."
All this I think the buried me would say,
clutching their white ribs & their rusted helmets
nationless bones, under the still ground.
---Alex Comfort (2/10/1920-3/26/2000), excerpt from The Soldiers
By PETER STAIR
Professor Alex Comfort, British-born physician, novelist, anarchist, pacifist, well-known as the author of "The Joy of Sex: A Gourmet Guide to Lovemaking" and psychiatry lecturer at Stanford between 1974 and 1983 died March 26 after suffering the last in a series of strokes. He was 80.
2:37 PM EST; March 28, 2000; London, UK (AP & CNN) -- British authorAlex Comfort, who gained international fame for his best selling The Joy of Sex, has died at the age of 80. Comfort, who was also a poet and nuclear disarmament campaigner, died Sunday night in Oxfordshire, England. The Joy of Sex, published in 1972, sold 12 million copies worldwide and was translated into two dozen languages.
Billed as the "gourmet guide to lovemaking," it contained text and numerous illustrations. The book gained Comfort a reputation -- unfairly in the view of his supporters -- as an advocatefor "promiscuity." Comfort, who frequently said he was irritatedthat he was always remembered for the sex manual rather than his otherextensive work, nevertheless acknowledged that it waspioneering. "Before my book, writing about sex gave the impression ofbeing written by non-playing coaches," he once said.
He Also Wrote Poetry, Novels, Textbooks
The Joy of Sex was one of 50 books written by Comfort. He also produced novels, poetry, criticism, scientific textbooks, and books on oriental philosophy. It was followed in 1974 by More Joy of Sex and The New Joy of Sex in 1991. He was a leading anarchist, pacifist, and a member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and was a conscientious objector during World War II.
In the 1970s, he moved to the United States, lecturing at the Department of Psychiatry at Stanford University from 1974-1983. From 1980-1991 he was a professor at the Neuropsychiatric Institute at the University of California in Santa Barbara. http://daily.stanford.org/daily99-00/04-11-2000/news/NEWobit11.html
There have been few serious studies of anarchist psychology, but those that do exist agree that the first step on the way to anarchism is frequently the rejection of religion. Nevertheless, there are plenty of exceptions to this rule. In Britain, for example, Edward Carpenter was a mystic, Herbert Read saw anarchism as a religious philosophy, Alex Comfort moved from scientific to quasi-religious humanism...Nicolas Walter, Anarchism and Religion
See also, Writings Against Power & Death. Alex Comfort. 168 pages. Freedom Press.
A nice collection of poetry online at: http://www.angelfire.com/mn2/anarchistpoetry/Comfortdir/Comfort.html
Page last updated March 2003
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The Anarchist Encyclopedia is freely sponsored & produced by Recollection Used Books