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<nettime> Interview PLW

Telephone interview with Peter Lamborn Wilson

December 6, 2001

By Sakhra -l'Assal © 2002

To appear in Dutch in *Buiten de Orde*, Utrecht, vol. 13 # 1, March
2002. An abbreviated version appeared in *Ravage*, Amsterdam, # 2,
February 2002.

SA: Can you tell us something about the current state of affairs in the
USA? What do you make of this general idea that the "world will never be
the same"?

PLW: That's practically the first thing I heard on Sept. 11th -
"Everything has changed - now, everything's going to be different."
Everyone was saying that (except me, I wasn't saying that...) I'm still
not convinced that that's true. I mean obviously, in some way it's true,
it has to be, it's a big event, so things change. But in a broader
sense, a philosophical sense, if you want to put it that way, in a
philosophy of history sense, is anything different? Has anything
changed? It's not clear to me that it has. For example we can say that
in 1989 and '91, with the fall of Communism, that history came to a
stop. This is the expression of people both on the left and the right
who saw the dialectic of the social as essentially synonymous with
history. So when that came to an end, history came to an end. Alright,
let's accept this for a moment as a hypothesis and ask - I mean,
obviously there's some truth to it, whether you take it literally or
not, *some* sort of history came to an end - so, let's look at the event
of 09/11 and ask whether history begins again. As someone said to me,
Oh, I guess you'll agree that history has started up again. No, I'm not
sure I do agree. You can take this from two perspectives: The first
would be not just to look at the event. You saw a fascinating thing for
a few weeks, where people in the advertising industry, the fashion
industry, the media industry and so forth and so on all began to get
worried that what they were doing was irrelevant and perhaps even
tasteless, stupid, pointless and evil. Just some two days after the
event there was an interview with somebody from the fashion world
saying, "Oh, I'm not sure that what I do means anything anymore, I'm not
sure I can go back to work." At the same time, you had the media saying,
"We must get back to normal, you can't stop buying things, etc. etc."
And this, of course, was obviously their true position - that this
moment of self-doubt was not going to last, and it certainly wasn't
going to be encouraged. So it might be true on an individual level - and
certainly people have left their jobs, not because they got fired, but
because they felt some moral revulsion - but on the social level of
course, it couldn't be true. Because if it were true on the social
level, then capital - world, global capital - would be in danger; if
people stop buying, if people stop producing meaningless shit for other
people to buy, then global capital is in danger. So this could not be
allowed to happen, and of course it wasn't.

Everyone with an agenda thought, Aha, this is a big change, now my
agenda will be proven more feasible, but this all turned out not to be
so. I wrote a little piece¹ actually, a week after the event, in which I
discussed this, and I predicted that it would not be so. Which was an
easy prediction to make.

Then we could look at it from a larger perspective, from a global
political perspective, asking whether anything has changed. It doesn't
seem to me that anywhere in all of this there's any hope for the
movement of the social. Where would the social movement get a kickstart
again from these events? Clearly the Islamic extremists have nothing to
offer to both camps, certainly not to disaffected governments in the
non-Islamic world. There's no movement in a social aspect to the thing
at all, except inadvertently. The attack was carried out against a big
symbol of global capital, and for a moment some people on the left
convinced themselves that this was a blow against global capital, and
that somehow - even if it was carried out by a bunch of fascists -
somehow it was going to help start socialism again.

SA: Well, for a very short while it did seem to be a wake-up call for a
lot of people on the left as well, and that they were going to get over
this whole '89 end-of-history thing indeed. But it seems to have petered
out very quickly.

PLW: It did, because there's absolutely no structure.

SA: Yes, and it's funny because it seems to be a parallel of how this
whole new world order idea has likewise petered out immediately - like
you say, nothing's going to change in the world order, or not that I see

PLW: No, in fact it seems very clear that globalism comes out of these
events stronger than ever, since precisely what globalism lacked was a
credible enemy. In other words, where's the element of spectacle? There
has to be the element of spectacle. In a single world system, it's hard
to have a credible "evil empire," that you can carry out social
discipline in the name of struggle against it. So suddenly now, that
problem's been solved. Now we have a credible enemy, at least for the
next ten years, in the name of which all sorts of discipline can be
administered, and *is* being administered. And I don't see that what's
going on here, that people talk about their civil liberties, the Bill of
Rights and all this kind of thing, yes, that's true but on a deeper
level, this is discipline for global capital. Furthermore, the other
problem that was solved was America's role. It's clear that, even though
there was a lot of talk about it being the last, sole single superpower
and the American hegemony and so forth, it's clear that that was the
case. In fact, America was losing battles in various world courts and
world economic organizations. Just think of Seattle, Quebec, or Genoa.
In a certain respect, obviously, there was no real power raid against
global capital, but there was uncertainty about America's role. Well,
that uncertainty has ended. Now we see that America can have its cake
and eat it, too - globalism *and* hegemony. So it all seems hunky-dory
and it all seems - if more proof were needed - it seems to be proof that
an act of terrorism in the modern world always produces the opposite
effect from what it pretends to intend. Terrorism is automatically
recuperable, there's no question about it. So, yes, it would be
interesting to discuss any possible positive aspects of Islamic
extremism, that's an interesting question. But anything even possibly
positive has been destroyed by this very act supposedly in favor of the
militant struggle, on its behalf. But instead we get the opposite
effect. So this is in essence also a destruction of any kind of
possibility of a social movement within Islam.

So basically, the global capital structure, especially the American
branch of it, took a bad hit and it staggered, but now, yesterday the
papers were saying, "Well, it looks like the recession is over, there's
never been better Christmas shopping in the last 20 years, everyone
seems to be back out there buying their sports gear and cars, and the
gasoline is cheap..." It's a consumer paradise. Real estate prices have
gone down, there's bargains galore, travel is cheap... I'm being
sarcastic, of course.

SA: But it's also cynical how it seems that no sooner has the war in
Afghanistan developed or already we seem to be ready to pull out - "OK,
let somebody else sort it out." There's already much less of this
general indignation and this sense of "We're gonna police the world"
than there was, say, two months ago.

PLW: Well, there's a lot of talk here about "What happens next?" What's
the next stage of the glorious war on terrorism? For there *has* to be a
next stage, if this is going to be the equivalent of the spectacle for
the new millennium. I'm not saying that a strictly Situationist analysis
will reveal all the workings of this movement, yet I do see some
analogies with the Spectacle.

SA: To get back to the left, what are your thoughts on the possible role
of the anti-globalization movement, if any?

PLW: It's difficult to see what kind of role they could play, so much so
that we already feel that this movement has been dangerously sidelined
by these events. Just how much of this movement was a matter of
newspaper articles and soundbites? Because when suddenly all the
soundbites are about something else, it seems to have vanished and
evaporated. Also, the globalists are taking greater and greater care to
make sure first of all that the anti-globalists are equated with terror
and with terrorism, and second of all that they move all their meetings
to inaccessible places. So in other words, the one tactic that we had,
that was working for us, that is to say the broad-based, imaginative
protests and actions against meetings of World Trade-type organizations,
are already a thing of the past. Have we got the imagination and the
strength, the inner strength, to come up with totally new tactics, each
time we get a setback like this? In other words, does the anti-global
movement have a real strategy or does it just have tactics? That's the
big question. I don't feel like trying to answer it, but I'd like to
emphasize that if we can't *face* this question, then we might as well
just quit now.

SA: You sound very cynical about it. It may be just a matter of
recuperation, but it seems that ever since, say, Seattle or more
recently Genoa, although the repression is being stepped up, a lot of
points seem to have found their way onto the general political agenda.
Of course not in the way that we would voice them.

PLW: Such as?

SA: Well there seems to be more mainstream political attention towards
the dangers of globalization, albeit it always in a sense of how to
protect one's own market and so on.

PLW: I'd say it's just part of the strategy. For example in New York,
they wanted to destroy rent control. First they come up with a proposal,
"We're gonna destroy rent control *now*, all you little old ladies are
*dead*," you know. And then everyone goes, "Oh, no, you can't do that!!"
and the leftists get out and have marches and the liberals have fund
drives and everything and then they say, "Oh, okay, we won't do that
then, we'll be nice. We'll only take away *half* your rent control."
"Oh, thank you, thank you." You know? And something like this works on a
worldwide, far more complex scale as well, that you come along with a
Milton Freedman or US Federal Bank Alan Greenspan saying, "Kill the
poor, eat the poor!" And then when they don't *really* eat the poor,
everyone just feels gratitude - "Oh, oh, okay, we can have globalism
with a human face." And believe me, most of the so-called leftists would
fall for that.

SA: But then of course, social movements have always had to face up to
this sort of effect.

PLW: Yes, but even more so now, because it's such a built-in mechanism.
It's deeply, deeply rooted in the mass media which have succeeded in
basically entrancing the masses. A lot of people think they're not part
of the masses, that they have critical consciousness, but we're just
swamped by the media, and you could see that in the wake of 09/11, that
most of the people I know were just hypnotized by the media for two or
three or four weeks. Hypnotized. I myself managed to not look at one bit
of television the whole time, I didn't see any television coverage. And
I did that in a deliberate attempt to keep my brain from dying. I don't
know if I succeeded, but that was my strategy, was to absolutely stay
away from the neurotic, obsessive, trance-like consciousness it resulted

SA: I certainly allowed myself to get absorbed in a mass of
"alternative" news, but the effect is exactly the same, it just swamps

PLW: It doesn't matter whether you do it on the internet or on
commercial television or radio, because the internet just manages to
make itself a kind of mirror image of the regular media.

SA: Well, there seems to be a potential of informing one another, but
then the sheer overload remains the same.

PLW: Ultimately, all the information in the world - if it doesn't make
any difference, it doesn't make any difference. That's a stupid truism,
but it's one that very few people seem to grasp. Because mass media and
television hypnotics have made everybody believe on the unconscious
level that to participate in a media event is to participate in reality.

SA: But then, can one still retreat to an informationless sphere? How
can we avoid this?

PLW: Yes, well, I don't know. I wouldn't want to be prescriptive about
it. But I would say that I think there really does have to be a refusal
of what's called "information" on behalf of what we might call
"knowledge," or even "wisdom" if you wanted to use dangerous words. My
personal response to this is to refuse the data. You know, how much more
do I need to know? Do I really need to know over and over and over again
that governments are bad and that human beings are made to suffer? Do I
need to know a thousand new details about the ways in which poor
humanity is being stepped on once again? Is that really news? It's also
a psychological truth that information that you don't work for, that you
don't go after, that you don't struggle to get, really doesn't mean very
much to you on a deep level. So when you can press a button and get
6,000 hits - and you saw the same thing happening after 09/11, it
doesn't take any work at all, not the least bit of effort, not even
physical effort - so what is it going to mean ultimately, to the
development of your higher consciousness shall we say? I don't think it
means very much. In fact I think it can have a paradoxical counter
effect, which is that the more of this information you take in, the
darker things get. I call it the "lite age" as opposed to the dark ages.
A situation where you have all the information all the time - completely
accessible - where in other words there are no secrets, or there's a
perception that there are no secrets, that there's no information that
we can't get. This kind of false omnipotence, this superman of
information. It's an image that we all have of ourselves now, in the age
where nothing remains, well, secret, where there are no mysteries. In
this way, there is also no knowledge: None of these data have any more
value than any of the other data. It's never processed into knowledge.
And knowledge is never processed into wisdom. So, yes, I think that you
do actually have to refuse, or at least to a certain extent. Years ago a
friend of mine called it "media fasting." The idea is that in order to
overcome the difficulties that certainly the unconscious gets into when
you just immerse yourself in this data flow night and day, you just have
to stop, at least for some time. My solution in recent months was to
limit myself to print, which is poisonous enough, believe me, really
poisonous, and I can only imagine how awful the electronic media must

SA: Maybe the written media still allow for a little more time.

PLW: It's simply a question of time, of course. A little bit of

SA: This reminds me of that Sufi technique, to "Halt."

PLW: Yes, that's a Naqshbandi concept.² It's a way of bringing
everything to a stop once in a while. I really would strongly recommend
it to people on the communication left, like us.

SA: So perhaps people need to get back to a realization that to acquire
knowledge requires work, or an effort.

PLW: Yes, you have to make it your own. That's what "appropriation" in
the good sense would be.

SA: That brings me to another question: We hear that Hakim Bey, with
whom you developed the concept of the TAZ in the 1980's and 90's,³ is a
little fed up with the whole idea. Secondly, in his *Millennium*, Bey
touches on the concept of a local nationalism if you will, not
nationalist in the classic sense, but it also refers back to the whole
globalization question: are you going to be anti-universalist, or is it
possible to stress one's own identity from an autonomous point of view?
I believe you also touched on this in your *Escape From the 19th

PLW: First of all, I wouldn't say that we've discarded the idea of
Temporay Autonomous Zones. I think in some ways it's more important than
ever. It's just that I see it in a new context. I think that before I
was seeing it in a kind of Deleuze/Guattari molecular context, a context
which has a deep distrust of strategy; it wants tactics but no strategy,
because strategy is authoritarian.

SA: Which is the reverse of what you were saying before, of course.

PLW: Yes, now I see that we're forced into a strategic position, that
the disappearance of the spectacle in a divided world forces us into a
position where we have to have a strategic response, somehow, magically,
without the authoritarianism. That's the problem facing the anti-global
movement right now: How to be a global anti-global movement without
giving up your particularity, your difference.

SA: But if you start articulating yourself in those terms, wouldn't you
run the risk of getting sucked up into that very same spectacle again?

PLW: Well, yes, so that's why there has to be some kind of a new
concept. I don't know what that is. I have a feeling that in the
broadest possible sense it must be a spiritual concept. It must have to
do with a change of consciousness. Not simply with food or economic
structures. But you know, how do you separate the spirit from the
structure in that case, or rather, how do you *not* separate them or
bring them together? That's a big question, and one which I have simply
nothing to say about, because it's not happening. There isn't this
change of consciousness, it's just not happening. And one of the reasons
why it's not happening is because everyone's fucking glued to the tube,
or glued to the computer, which is another form of the tube.

SA: Plus, within leftist circles, the old left, and that includes the
young old left I believe, would probably be all over you for even
mentioning the word "spiritual." It's a mechanism that makes it hard to
strive towards something like that.

PLW: Well, I'm not worried about that. But yes, I agree. But I'm not
going to hide the fact that I'm some kind of "spiritual anarchist."
Because it doesn't do me any good, or good or bad one way or the other,
so I might just as well come out with it. There's something - call it
consciousness, if we need a politically sound term.

SA: It just seems a hard point to articulate even within your own

PLW: I'm not sure I have circles.

SA: Hakim Bey's *Millennium* featured a somewhat elusive chapter
entitled "Jihad." Do you think this was a reflection on the personal,
spiritual jihad, as opposed to the fundamentalist concept of the jihad?

PLW: I haven't seen the essay in a long while, but yes, of course it's
an interesting question whether Islam can be a social movement, in the
sense of taking a historical position against globalism. Maybe at the
time the idea was that things were unformed enough - it also seemed
probable that so-called fundamentalism was going to fail, much more
clearly than it has done so far. Because it is after all a very
inadequate response. The fact is, nothing has improved in the Islamic
world; fundamentalism hasn't collapsed or failed and it's continued to
spread in a certain way, and I would be much less hopeful now than I was
five or six years ago about any kind of potential in the Islamic world.
Because we don't any longer see the really interesting forms of Islamic
socialism or Libyan idealism and so forth; these are no longer the key
players, no longer the thin edge of the wedge. Now it's all this
Islamism, which is really boring from an intellectual point of view. And
I'd have to say that the old Marxist historian, Maxime Rodinson, who
wrote the book *Islamic Capitalism*, still remains correct in saying
that Islam has never really developed as a whole, as a whole cultural
world, much less as a theological structure, and it's never really
developed a coherent critique of capital. You can see this in the kind
of communiques that Al-Qaeda and these other groups put out. No,
absolutely no concept about capital. It's not part of their
consciousness even to think about it. They are in fact fascistic, and
that's the end of it. Their economics never goes beyond crude fascism.
I'm talking about the Islamists now, but in the 60's and 70's and even
in the 80's there were plenty of thinkers and activists in Islam who had
a much more interesting and broader concept and really were trying to
develop some kind of critique of capital. But where are they now?

SA: I was going to ask you that. Have they been defeated? Are they all
in jail, or dead, or...?

PLW: I don't know where they are. I guess that's all you can say, is
that they're dead. All those people in Algeria, all those journalists
and writers and intellectuals who got shot, it's like that.

SA: But that's the end of it then? There's no hope left?

PLW: Well... I don't know. I certainly don't any longer hold out any
hope for Islamic socialism. I just don't see any - in the whole series
of events and statements and talk and publishing and so forth that have
happened since 09/11 I haven't seen one response from this world, this
radical Islamic world of the 70's. Those people really are dead, they
were killed.

SA: You have no contacts left that provide you with any hope?

PLW: Well, the only thing - you mentioned Sufism before, and there is
*some* small Sufi politics. If we look at Chechnya for example - people
are laboring under a very dangerous misapprehension about Chechnya when
they assume that the resistance there is Islamist or fundamentalist. But
historically, it's Sufism, it's the Naqshbandi order. The Naqshbandis
are also quite political in Turkey and they try to take a position
between the secular army types and the Islamists. They try to offer a
politics of Islam that is tolerant and open to a certain extent. Even if
it might not be so pleasing to people in the West, but from a Turkish
point of view it's quite liberal. They're willing to accept the Kurds,
they're willing to accept other religions and other citizens of Turkey.
Also in Afghanistan, there were at least two Sufi orders during the
mujahedin period. The Qadiri order is still an active militia, the
other, the Naqshbandis, I'm not sure about. Pir Jilani is the current
head of the Qadiri order in Afghanistan and an important player. I think
he's been taking part in the recent negotiations.

But Sufism is just not emerging on an Islam-wide basis as a real
response to so-called fundamentalism.

SA: But couldn't it? Doesn't it have the potential?

PLW: It seems to me that theoretically it could. I don't know what it
will take though; some charismatic leadership or something.

SA: Is Sufism by definition a progressive or liberal force?

PLW: No, I don't think so. Well, more so than Wahhabism, by definition.
The thing is about Sufism it can take many different forms. I think if
you wanted to make a broad general statement about it, you could say
that it has more potential for a liberal Islam in the broadest sense.

SA: But would Central Asians who consider themselves Sufis see
themselves as more tolerant, as opposed to fundamentalism?

PLW: Yes, I think they would. Let's not confuse ourselves about the lack
of education or sheer ignorance that's out there in the world. But I
think a lot of people in the East now have been swept up in what on the
surface would seem to be a wave of Islamism, because of the spectacular
events that have been occurring and also because Bin Laden has a certain
charisma. So probably with a lot of people, say the man in the street in
Kabul or Peshawar or someplace, you might find a lot of support for
these things and also a lot of resentment against the West, which this
gives some focus, some symbol, which they can be rallied around. It
doesn't go very deep I don't think, it doesn't mean that all these
people are suddenly converted to Wahhabi principles. The Afghanis, the
way I remember them, if they weren't Sufis, they had respect for Sufism.
If they were very orthodox in their practice, nevertheless they were not
hateful to foreigners or to Christians, quite the reverse. If they did
have prejudices, it was the way you'd expect some hillbilly to be
prejudiced, because they didn't know very much. I mean, gosh, lost up in
those mountain valleys that haven't changed for centuries. So, generally
speaking the Afghan people were always very nice, you know; once you
were on their good side anyway, they were nice. And they could be open
and tolerant if they wanted. Yet they had a kind of self-assurance and
strong character that comes from not being colonized.

SA: Their hospitality is legendary.

PLW: Right. When you haven't been colonized, then you have a more open
view toward people who come to visit you. I mean, the conflict with
Islam in India was really in large part the fault of British imperialist
colonialism. The Moguls had this problem under control. The British let
it get out of control because it had economic and political benefits for
them to do so. But maybe this is a vast over-simplification.

SA: To get back to Afghanistan, it seems interesting how on the one
hand, Sufism seems to play a major role there, while on the other hand,
the Taliban are violently opposed to that.

PLW: I've just been writing a little article about this, where I said
that it obviously would take twenty or thirty years of sheer hell, of
absolute destruction, of oppression and death and murder for people like
the Afghanis to suddenly start seeing the Taliban as the least of all
possible evils. Because in the old days, that kind of attitude would
never have gotten off the ground in Afghanistan. I mean, yes, these
people were strict, they were orthodox and they were poor, but Jesus
Christ, no kite flying? I mean, the Afghanis love their sports, you
know. They love all those games and animal fights and kite battles and
*buzkashi* and all that stuff, so it's unthinkable that a group could
come to power on an anti-fun platform. So, to me that's a measure of how
utterly destroyed the Afghanistan that I remember must be, for people
like that to come into power, who are really foreigners or were raised
outside Afghanistan in the refugee camps during the 80's. So it's
something very alien to the Afghan character, or for me anyway.

SA: In his forthcoming book *Jihad. The Rise of Militant Islam in
Central Asia*, Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid mentions the role the
West has played in the rise of fundamentalism in the region, but his
emphasis is on the decades of Soviet oppression. Interestingly, he
explains how it was exactly this oppression which made Sufism gain in
popularity, since with the destruction of the mosques and the ban on
Islam and so forth by the Soviets, the traditional wandering Sufi
teacher was the only one who was still in a position to spread Islamic

PLW: Well, yes, the Soviets have been the power on the ground for more
than fifty years. America has only played a very minor role in
comparison. During the 70's and 80's we used to hear that Sufism was
strong in that part of the world, strong and militant. But except for
the countries already mentioned, we haven't heard from them yet. We
don't know what's going on in those countries. We only know what we hear
in the press, who are going to be insensitive to the subtleties of
Islamic theology. So I don't know what's become of Sufism in Kazakhstan
or Tadzhikistan or Uzbekistan, or what's even more interesting, in
Chinese Central Asia.

SA: Apparently China is stepping up its actions against the South West.

PLW: Yes, that's what we hear, but we don't know what the hell is going
on. There's no reporters out there, no papers or televison. So God knows
what's going to happen. I don't know what kind of role Sufism is
actually playing right now in those countries, or in Afghanistan.
Because it's not being reported, there's no one sensitive enough to
these issues to ask the right questions.

SA: It sounds like you'd have to go looking with a candle in the dark.

PLW: Well, maybe that would be a nice task for some younger person to
take on. I think I'm getting too old for that, but yes, that would be a
nice idea.

¹ "9/11 and the Crisis of Meaning" (Sept. 18, 2001), appeared on
InterActivist Info Exchange,

² The Naqshbandis are one of numerous Sufi orders. The discussed
technique involves all of the participants in a meeting stopping any
activities on a sign of the master.

³ See Hakim Bey, *TAZ, The Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological
Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism*, Autonomedia, Brooklyn, NY 1991.

Peter Lamborn Wilson is the author of among others:

*Kings of Love: The Poetry and History of the Nimatullahi Sufi Order of
Iran* (with Nasrollah Pourjavady), Tehran 1978.

*Angels*, Thames & Hudson, London 1980.

*Weaver of Tales. Persian Picture Rugs* (with Karl Schlamminger),
Callwey, Munich 1980.

*The Drunken Universe. An Anthology of Persian Sufi Poetry* (with
Nasrollah Pourjavady), Phanes Press, Grand Rapids 1987.

*Scandal. Essays in Islamic Heresy*, Autonomedia, Brooklyn, NY 1988.

*Radio Sermonettes* (with the Moorish Orthodox Radio Crusade
Collective), The Libertarian Book Club, New York 1992. Reprinted as
*Immediatism*, AKA Press, Edinburgh/San Francisco 1994.

*Sacred Drift. Essays on the Margins of Islam*, City Lights Books, San
Francisco 1993.

*Pirate Utopias. Moorish Corsairs & European Renegadoes*, Autonomedia,
Brooklyn, NY 1995.

*"Shower of Stars." Dream & Book: The Initiatic Dream in Sufism and
Taoism*, Autonomedia, Brooklyn, NY 1996.

*Escape From the 19th Century. Essays on Marx, Fourier, Proudhon &
Nietzsche*, Autonomedia, Brooklyn, NY 1998.

*Ploughing the Clouds: The Search for Irish Soma*, City Lights Books,
San Francisco 1999.

Sakhra -l'Assal is independently unemployed. As a member of the
Amsterdam collective for applied schizophrenics, ZZ Produkties, he was
involved with translations of work by Peter Lamborn Wilson and Hakim
Bey, among others. He spends his spare time drinking beer.

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