Bruce Sterling on Fri, 30 Jul 2004 07:54:24 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Peter Lamborn Wilson, in all his splendid rurality

*I wondered what Peter had been up to, lately.
Now, I know.  My, is he grumpy.


Title: Jennifer Bleyer. In conversation with Peter Lamborn
Date: Tuesday July 27 2004, @12:37PM
Author:	nolympics
from the chicken-and-egg dept.

An Anarchist in the Hudson Valley
in conversation: Peter Lamborn Wilson
with Jennifer Bleyer
  From the excellent Brooklyn Rail

It's been nearly ten years since Peter Lamborn Wilson--née
Hakim Bey--looked at the pitiably state-bound, rule-bound
world around him and asked: "Are we who live in the present
doomed never to experience autonomy, never to stand for one
moment on a bit of land ruled only by freedom?" In a slim,
rattling volume called Temporary Autonomous Zone, Wilson
intoned that, in fact, freedom is already here. Autonomy
exists in time, he said, rather than space. It's in times of
wildness, revelry, abandon and revolution that for even just
one brief jail-breaking moment, as sweet as honey to the
tongue, one is freed of all political and social control.

Wilson rightly became celebrated as a kind of urban prophet.
It was an identity to add the others he bears seamlessly and
without contradiction: anarchist, poet, public intellectual,
psychedelic explorer, artist, social critic, Sufi mystic.
Six years ago he moved upstate from the East Village to New
Paltz, New York. The setting is different, but the ideas
have only deepened--notably his critique of global capital
and "technological determination." In his green wood-frame
house, trees rustling overhead and birds chirping outside,
we drank tea and talked.

Jennifer Bleyer: You left New York City six years ago and
moved upstate to New Paltz. There's a lot of art happening
here and in the Hudson Valley in general, which seems pretty

Peter Lamborn Wilson: The fact of it happening anywhere
makes it more interesting than a kick in the face. But the
fact of the matter is that America doesn't produce anything
anymore. A couple of years ago, we passed the halfway mark
from being a so-called productive economy to a services
economy. What are services? You tell me. Whatever it means,
we don't make pencils. We don't make cement. We don't make
ladies garments or roll cigars. We don't even manufacture
computers. In other words, we don't make anything,,
especially not around here. There are a few cement factories
left up in Greene County, but basically, industry died here
in the fifties. It was a long slow death, certainly over by
the seventies. There was a depression, so artists, who are
certainly blameless in this, discovered low real estate
prices and low rents, and they started to move up here. And
the gap between the artists and the real estate developers
has gotten very small in our modern times, down to where
it's almost nothing.

So for a few years the artists and their friends came up
here and got bargains and moved in, and now artists' studios
in Beacon sell for a quarter-million dollars. And we're
talking about a one-room building on a half-acre lot. You
want a house? Half-a-million. Do you know any artists who
can afford that? The point is that there's a lot of
boosterism for the arts in the Hudson Valley because there's
no other economy. It's either that or "green tourism," which
in my mind is a disgusting term and something that I don't
want to see promoted in any way. It's a commodification of
nature, turning nature into a source of profit for the
managerial caste in the Hudson Valley. That's not the
solution I'm interested in.

We have all these knee-jerk phrases that in the sixties
sounded like communist revolution, and now are just corpses
in the mouths of real estate developers. "Sustainable
development"--that means very expensive houses for vaguely
ecologically conscious idiots from New York. It has nothing
to do with a sustainable economy or permaculture. They talk
about agriculture, they get all weepy about it, but they
won't do anything for the family farms because family farms
use pesticides and fertilizers, which is a terrible sin in
the minds of these people. So they're perfectly happy to see
the old farms close down and build McMansions, as long as
they're green McMansions, of course, with maybe a little
solar power so they can boast about how they are almost off
the grid. This is just yuppie poseurism. It's fashionable to
be green, but it's not at all fashionable to wonder about
the actual working class and farming people and families
that you're dispossessing. This is a class war situation,
and the artists are unfortunately not on the right side of
the battle. If we would just honestly look at what function
we're serving in this economy, I'm afraid we would see that
we're basically shills for real estate developers.

Bleyer: Which is really the case in Beacon, I suppose.

Wilson: Oh, absolutely. Dead Hudson Valley industrial towns
reinventing themselves as prole-free zones and calling it
art. Now, everyone I know is involved in the arts, and I'm
involved in the arts, so what I'm saying here is a bit of a
mea culpa. I don't think that we can consider ourselves
guiltless and not implicated in all this because we're
creative and artsy and have leftist emotions. Where are our
actual alternative institution-building energies? Where are
our food co-ops? Where's our support for the Mexican migrant
agricultural workers? Most people here are not interested in

Bleyer: So where should people who consider themselves
radical be directing their energies?

Wilson: I think that a radical life is not something that
depends on Internet connections or websites or demos or even
on politics, like having Green mayors. This may sound dull
to people who think that having a really hot website is a
revolutionary act. Or that getting a million people to come
out and wave symbolic signs at a symbolic march is a
political act. If it doesn't involve alternative economic
institution building, it's not. As an anarchist, I've had
this critique for years, and experience has only deepened
it. Here, there are people who are very concerned with
trying to preserve whatever natural beauty and farmland
exists in this region, and my heart's with them. But I think
it's done by and large without any consciousness that this
is already a privileged enclave. We're saying that this is
our backyard and we don't want any cement factories.
However, we're not saying that we volunteer to do without
cement. What we're saying is cement is fine, as long as the
factories are in Mexico.

Bleyer: Or in Sullivan County.

Wilson: Or Sullivan County. Although Sullivan County is fast
reinventing itself, too.

Bleyer: You mentioned hot websites. I'm curious about your
thoughts on the web now, because ten years ago you seemed
optimistic about its potential.

Wilson: Well, I wouldn't say I was an optimist. I was
curious and attempted an anti-pessimist view. I went to
about 25 conferences in Europe in seven years, and in all
that time, I never had a computer or was on the Internet
myself. I never have been. So I went to these conferences as
the voice of caution, the one guy who doesn't own a
computer. Little by little, my talks at these conferences
would become more and more Luddite, sounding the knell of
warning about mechanization of consciousness and alienation
and separation. There was a time when everything was so
confused and chaotic that it was easy to believe that this
technology would be an exception to all the other
technologies, and instead of enslaving us, it would liberate
us. I never actually believed that, but I was willing to
talk to people who did. Now I'm not willing to talk to them
anymore. I have no interest in this dialogue. It's finished.
The Internet revealed itself as the perfect mirror image of
global capital. It has no borders? Neither does global
capital. Governments can't control it? Neither can they
control global capital. Nor do they want to. They've given
up trying, and now they basically serve as the mercenary
armed forces for the corporate interstate--the 200 or 300
megacorporations that actually run the world. Fine. But
let's not call this radical politics, and let's not call
this liberation, and let's not talk about cyberfeminism or
virtual community. Basically, I'm a Luddite. Certain
technologies hurt the commonality, as they used to say in
the early 19th century. Any machinery that was hurtful to
the commonality, they took their sledgehammers out and tried
to smash. Direct action. That's the Luddite critique--you do
it with a sledgehammer. What it means now to live as a
Luddite seems to me to involve a strict attention to what
technologies one allows into one's life.

Bleyer: And I guess the Internet has really come to be the
pinnacle of this hurtful technology, in our age.

Wilson: Yes. You're slumped in front of a screen, in the
same physical situation as a TV watcher, you've just added a
typewriter. And you're "interactive." What does that mean?
It does not mean community. It's catatonic schizophrenia. So
blah blah blah, communicate communicate, data data data. It
doesn't mean anything more than catatonics babbling and
drooling in a mental institution. Why can't we stop? How is
it that five years ago there were no cell phones, and now
everyone needs a cell phone? You can pick up any book by any
half-brained post-Marxist jerkoff and read about how
capitalism creates false needs. Yet we allow it to go on.

Bleyer: But isn't there something to be said for the
subversive use of technologies?

Wilson: We believed that in the '80s. The idea was that
alternative media would allow us the space in which to
organize other things. Even in the '80s I said I'm waiting
for my turkey and my turnips. I want some material benefits
from the Internet. I want to see somebody set up a barter
network where I could trade poetry for turnips. Or not even
poetry--lawn cutting, whatever. I want to see the Internet
used to spread the Ithaca dollar system around America so
that every community could start using alternative labor
dollars. It is not happening. And so I wonder, why isn't it
happening? And finally the Luddite philosophy becomes clear.
We create the machines and therefore we think we control
them, but then the machines create us, so we can create new
machines, which then can create us. It's a feedback
situation between humanity and technology. There is some
truth to the idea of technological determination, especially
when you're unconscious, drifting around like a sleepwalker.
Especially when you've given up believing in anti-capitalism
because they've convinced you that the free market is a
natural law, and we just have to accept that and hope for a
free market with a friendly smiling face. Smiley-faced
fascism. I see so many people working for that as if it were
a real cause. "If we have to have capitalism, let's make it
green capitalism." There's no such thing. It's a
hallucination of the worst sort, because it isn't even a
pleasurable one. It's a nightmare.

Bleyer: I'm curious if you think we're hallucinating more
now than ever before--if the psychic energy for liberation
is gone.

Wilson: The answer would have to be extremely complex,
because I don't have any snappy aphorisms to explain this.
You might say that it wouldn't matter if every government in
the world was taken over by screaming green socialists
tomorrow morning, they couldn't reverse the damage. I don't
know. It seems clear that in human society, despite the best
intentions, technology has alienated people to such an
extent that they mistake technological and symbolic action
for social/political action. This is the commodity stance.
You buy a certain product, and you've made a political
statement. You buy a car that runs on salad oil. It's still
a car! Or make a documentary. Where did we cross that line
where we forgot that making a documentary about how everyone
would like to have a food co-op is not the same as having a
food co-op? I think some people have lost that distinction.
Now, about art in the service of the revolution: There is no
art in the service of the revolution, because
if there's no revolution, there's no art in its service. So
to say that you're an artist but you're progressive is a
schizo position. We have only capital, so all art is either
in its service or it fails. Those are the two alternatives.
If it's successful, it's in the service of capital. I don't
care what the content is. The content could be Malcolm X
crucified on a bed of lettuce. It doesn't matter.

Bleyer: But what about the growing protest movement of the
past five years, which really does seem significant?

Wilson: You mean people who are building puppets and going
around the world being radical tourists?

Bleyer: The perhaps one million people coming to the streets
of New York to protest the RNC in August, for example.

Wilson: Well, make it two million. It can be like the
biggest anti-war marches ever held, they were forgotten five
minutes later. All they're doing is assuaging their
conscience a little. At best, it's symbolic discourse and it
never goes beyond that. Especially in North America. It's
not going to save the world to dump Bush and these people
are deluded.

Bleyer: What do you think about Burning Man and other events
that are in essence Temporary Autonomous Zones (TAZ) but
don't necessarily dismantle the power structures of global

Wilson: I've never been to Burning Man, but that's just
accidental, because I’ve given up travel. As far as I can
tell it's a lovely thing. I call those things "periodic
autonomous zones." The thing about the TAZ is I didn't
invent it, I just gave it a name. I think it's a
sociological reality that groups of people will come
together to maximize some concept of freedom that they share
as naturally as breathing. When all the potential for the
emergence for a TAZ is maximized, either because you've
helped to maximize it or because your local situation has
arrived at a certain point where it becomes possible, you'll
do it. Like I've said before, a TAZ is anywhere from two to
several thousand people, who for as little as two or three
hours or for as much as a couple of years manage to keep
that mood going. And it's incredibly vital. It's vital that
every human being should have some such experience, or else
they'll never know that another world is possible. So
Burning Man is a kind of periodic autonomous zone. As soon
as the first hint of commercialization or tiredness appears,
then I would think the best thing to do is to close it down.
Move on, reappear somewhere else. And ultimately, I do
believe that another world is possible and that permanent
changes could be made. But that's different. That's a

Bleyer: You lived abroad for about 12 years, mostly in the
Islamic world. What's your perception of Islamic
fundamentalists, "terrorists" and otherwise?

Wilson: Certainly, these Islamic fundamentalists are of no
interest intellectually. They have no ideas, they're not
anti-capitalist; they love technology and money.
Ideologically, they're not offering any alternatives to
anything. By and large, they're an imagistic froth that has
very little to do with most people's experience of Islam. In
their manifestations as tiny terrorist groups, they don't
have much of a social role, only as symbolic figureheads,
and that's why their actual support in the Muslim world is
rather shallow. Right now it depends largely on the fact
that the Bushies have made the name of America stink forever
in the nostrils of the world. When I was traveling in the
East, I was always amazed at the unearned reservoir of
goodwill toward Americans. It existed everywhere. Now I
reckon they'd throw rocks at you.

Bleyer: And do you think that's irreparable?

Wilson: Almost irreparable. Even the Vietnam War, which was
still going on when I began my travels, never aroused this
much hatred and unpopularity.

Bleyer: Is there anything you could see altering the current
course of the American empire?

Wilson: Yes. If all our emotion for resistance could somehow
pull us together instead of apart. This is the brilliant
thing they've managed to do--set us all at each other's
throats. If I think of the anarchist movement, we spend all
our time screaming at each other over various sub-sectarian
impurities we perceive in each other's writing. That is what
anarchist activity now boils down to. But it's not entirely
our fault--when there's no movement, there's no movement.
But a new coherence could appear. Frankly, I think it would
have to be of a spiritual nature. It would have to involve a
kind of fanaticism that would involve real
sacrifice--sacrifice of comforts, sacrifice of cell phones,
sacrifice of this privileged life in the belly of the beast
that we all acquiesce in. There's a lot of symbolic
discourse, but no action. I suppose that could come back,
which is why I'm ready to cut slack for spiritual movements,
which have nothing necessarily to do with religion.

Bleyer: I'm curious about this intersection between the
political and spiritual.

Wilson: There are those of us who are usually called
spiritualist anarchists. I'm willing to accept that label if
I can have other labels as well. It's a well-known fact that
there's no secular Luddite community anywhere. The only
Luddite communities are Anabaptists--Amish, Mennonite,
seventh day Baptists, all those kind of Germano-Anabaptist
groups that originate in Pennsylvania. I guess it's
religious fanaticism. Well, we need some equivalent of that.
I can only see that coming from what people would identify
as a spiritual movement. Nowadays it would probably have to
have a neo-pagan shamanic quality to it, but I think it
would also have to keep the door open to people in the
established religions who are rethinking their positions,
including some Catholics. It would have to be very
inclusive, non-dogmatic, and not involve any central cult of
authority. It would have to be a spontaneous crystallization
of all the pagan-LSD stuff we've been going through since
the sixties. It will have to crystallize and provide this
psychic power for self-sacrifice.

Bleyer: Are you still a Sufi?

Wilson: That's a hard question to answer. No, I'm not a
practicing Muslim. I don't spend a lot of time saying my
beads, but I don't consider myself utterly broken away from
all that. In fact, I have very good friends and allies
within the Sufi movement.

Bleyer: Who among other anarchist thinkers do you admire?

Wilson: René Riesel in France is an admirable character.
He's faced with a jail sentence now in France for a heavily
militant action--destroying genetically manipulated crops
and possibly other things as well. Some of his followers are
engaged in blowing up electric power lines. And José Bové,
the farmer from the south of France, has done a lot of
interesting stuff.

Bleyer: What are you studying now?

Wilson: I'm very interested in early Romanticism now. To me,
the Romantics were the first people to consciously deal with
these issues. Some of the most interesting aspects of this
come from the early Romantic movement in Germany around
1795. The early German Romantics have been forgotten as a
source for our movement, especially from an artistic point
of view. They informed all the art movements since then, the
ones that tried to do what Hegelians call the "suppression
and realization of art"--suppressing art as an elitist
consumption activity of the wealthy, suppressing it as
something that alienates other people who aren't artists and
makes them less important or less significant, and somehow
universalizing it. That's the realization or art, so that
somehow or another everyone is an artist or some sort, fully
free and encouraged to be as creative as possible. There's
no privileged position to the art that ends up in galleries
or museums. That would be the suppression and realization of
art, and that was basically a Romantic program and a program
of every avant-garde art movement since then. They've all
begun by saying, "We hate art as alienation, we want to
restore it somehow to the kind of universal experience that
we sense, for example, among a tribe of pygmies, where
everyone is a singer and no one leads the singing." That
goal has been there for every single art movement since

Bleyer: What have you experienced personally of TAZ
realities, lately?

Wilson: A lot of people tell me that they have enjoyed or
benefited from my work, for which I'm naturally very
pleased. But in a lot of cases they have very different
tastes than I do. I'm a sixties guy. I don't like industrial
music or even rock 'n' roll. I am willing to accept rock 'n'
roll as an orgiastic music, but I think it's disgusting that
I have to have orgiastic music spewed at me from every
single orifice of modern civilization, all the time,
nonstop, to make me buy more products and lose my
intellectual acuity and start shopping. I also don't like
the drugs that they use--I prefer mushrooms and pot. I don't
enjoy raves. The ravers were among my biggest
readers--they're now getting a little old themselves.
Personally, I don't enjoy those parties. This is a matter of
taste. I'm happy that they're happy, but I don't want to go
to the party. I'm not 20-years-old anymore, I get tired. But
fine for them. Terrific. I wish they would rethink all this
techno stuff--they didn't get that part of my writing. I
think it would be very interesting if they took some of my
ideas about immediatism and the bee. Small groups should do
art for each other, and stay out of the media as much as
possible, and this will eventually cause a buzz and make
people want to be part of it. I'm waiting--maybe before I
die there will be a hip Luddite movement. I'll probably like
their parties and go to them. But it's not happening. Most
of the people interested in TAZ tend to be very
techno-oriented. But as I say, if they're having a good
time, God bless them. Allah bless them. Goddess bless them.
Just bless them. I think that's terrific. It's important to
have those TAZ experiences. If you didn't, you wouldn't know
what there is to struggle for.

Wilson's books are available from Autonomedia. His next book
of essays, Lost Histories, will be out this fall.

Jennifer Bleyer is a journalist and activist who lives in
Fort Greene. She is the founder and former editor of Heeb

1. "Brooklyn Rail" --
2. "Autonomedia." --

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