Hakim Bey interviewed by geekgirl

gg: Your name sounds like a terrorist, where did it come from?

HB: Out of the air.

gg: Do you think there is a need to have secrecy and protect your identity - are you fearful of retribution for espousing radical ideas?

HB: No its more a question of making the ideas more anonymous and not having them connected to some kind of personality cult, to use an obvious pseudonym, but what I've inadvertantly seem to have done is created a personality cult for Hakim Bey who really doesn't exist thats landed me in some weird psychic situations sometimes so thats why I don't do any personal appearances as Hakim Bey. I do print though.

gg: You are the person who coined the term 'temporary autonomous zone'. Are you aware that a lot of underground culture refers to their rave parties as 'TAZ' referring to it in their flyers as having a meaning of reclaiming space?

HB: Yeah, I am aware of it. I am also aware that a big rave was sponsored by Pepsi, claiming to be a temporary autonomous zone. So, there's very little I can do to control the use of this term. I didn't mean to control it, I wanted it to become a term that people could use with very little reference to my writing, just as something added to the language. I did have specific meaning in mind, so there's no use complaining if people get it wrong, in my opinion.

gg: Let's talk more about combativeness, how do you combat companies like Pepsi Cola reworking an ideology like TAZ and trying to commodify it.

HB: I wish I knew! I think people need to build little mental bombs into their work that they won't notice that they take into themselves somehow that will explode later on like an aesthetic virus in a way. Of course this is almost a hopeless cause because the fact is the totality or what we used to call the spectacle is quite capable of absorbing almost anything into=20 itself and turning it back out as a commodity or product for sale. Any kind of revolutionary desire can be commodified in this way it would seem, here in New York for example, we have the Anarchy Cafe and a yuppy apartment block called Red Square, with pictures of Lenin on it, the revolution itself, and one of the things I was so against 10 years ago was this idea that the revolution was quite capable of being commodified and sold back to people as a lifestyle.

gg: What was the original context in which you used the term 'TAZ'?

HB: First of all, it couldn't possibly be a commercial event; I mean, it could not possibly be something that was a) planned or b) had money attached. You can set about to create a TAZ, although you can maximise its potential, from emerging from a situation. This would not be the case with a Pepsi sponsorship attached to the event or if you charge money. One of the points is that you're not autonomous if you haven't overcome capitalism.

gg: Did the term have anything to do with the Internet when you wrote the book? A lot of people now refer to on-line or virtual spaces as TAZs.

HB: No, I started writing the book in 1984, so parts of it are now more than 10 years old. A lot of things have changed in sociecy in 10 years. When I began writing it, the Internet wasn't really there. People were talking about Bulletin Boards. The form was apparent in the way the Internet might emerge but I'd be a liar if I told you that I had a crystal ball in which I could predict what the future was going to bring.

gg: Some people see your style as being very hypertext. Chunky paragraphs of richly-compressed information which refers or relates to other bits contained within the document, where you cite material and cross-reference using very complex political and socio-economic links; can we summise that some of these links might be fictitious?

HB: No, anything which is presented in the book is history, whether or not that history has been my own idiosyncratic take on something. Regarding the Internet, it certainly had no influence on the form that the book took: if there is a hypertext aspect to the text, it's only that originally it was separated pieces of writing. Some of it was Xerox flyers I handed or mailed out in the mid-'80s, but I saw the Internet as a possible tool that could be used to facilitate the TAZ to try to help such an event to take place. The BBS concept, which was what people were talking about then, seemed to me to be a more dense version of the phone tree or a quicker version of like an amateur press association like an APA form. An APA is a zine written by the subscribers =D0 the only people who receive it are the people who write for it; this form started back in the 19th Century. A lot of people did them in the '80s as zines. It took a long time for my flyers to get circulated around by snail mail, so the BBSs were an effective way to do this much more quickly.

gg: I saw some of your leaflets which were circulated after a riot we had at Sydney Park a year ago when police bashed up ravers. The police actions caused an internal inquiry. Your leaflets were distributed with an unsubtle message in French "kill the pigs!" Was that from TAZ?

HB: Uh-huh. Morte aux vaches. That was from TAZ. I also wrote Immediatism a few years later and it was originally circulated by an anarchist group in New York called Radio Sermonettes in 1990.

gg: Can you describe a 'TAZ' for me? If a rave is a good example have you been to one of those that turned into a TAZ?

HB: In 1984, when I began working on this, there was no such thing as a rave: it wasn't a term that had been invented and if people used it back then I wasn't aware of it. That's why there is no mention of the word in the book. I don't think my book helped it come into being, either, but I think there is some wavelength between what the ravers are on about and the book that's fine with me: over the years I have met some very intelligent ravers who have appreciated the book. I don't go to raves and I don't enjoy the music or staying up all night taking crypto-speed and dancing my head off: it's great that other people do it but I don't have to follow every single form. On some level I myself disagree with some of the thoughts expressed in the book.

gg: Like what?

HB: Well, I was highly critical of the idea of revolution, for example. At the time I felt quite betrayed by the idea of the revolution On the one hand it was either the idea of the Soviet Union being a big mess and horror show or the idea of the revolution was some kind of promise of the future like religion or heaven: you never really get it til it's held out in front like a carrot on a stick, so I was critical of the idea of revolution and it gave certain people the impression it was kind of OK to slack off and stop working against oppression in society, which was not at all what I had intended, and now I think the situation has changed and there is no more Soviet Union.

Now that the revolution has vanished from that stage of history the very term 'revolution' takes on new meaning. Now that the world is not divided between the great 'Satan' and the evil empire, it's a whole new ball game and it's no longer possible to talk about if it were ever possible to talk about the TAZ as a form of withdrawal from contesting power. It is a contestation of power; it's just one that goes on in a temporary way.

I think since 1989-1991 and the disappearance of the Soviet Union and of international Marxism we have to re-assess the whole concept of revolution, if we want there to be an opposition to the one world of capitalism (which is basically in control of fucking everything), then we need to start talking about revolution again. I think objectively, over the last five years, we have moved into a pre-revolutionary situation, which doesn't mean that we are winning or anything marvellous like that or are even conscious of this. It took me five years to figure it out, but it's an aspect of the book I don't agree with anymore; in fact, I am working on something right now, an essay which will be, in a sense, my first major work since Immediatism, and I challenge my previous notions about revolution.

gg: Have you worked out a pathway to revolution? Any tips?

HB: No, not at all! As I said, I am working on this new piece and I am thinking about putting the piece up on the 'net before putting it in print this time: finally a 'net activist <laughs>. I think we are at the start of a whole new era we are in a one-world market situation now; the global market, the new world order, too-late capitalism call it what you will there are no more 'two worlds' and no 'third worlds', either. One world now; the opposition is shattered =D0 it's in disarray, it's even unaware of itself as opposition, in a lot of cases: just look at third world nationalism, for example, which was considered in the '70s to be the hot revolutionary force in the world: it's pretty much evaporated. For me, the only really nteresting revolutionary movement that's going on right now is the Zappatistas they are people who have f/thought their way through the absence of Moscow in Latin America and made a revolution without the KGB and a meaningful revolution without the KGB. Win or lose, they have added their meaningfulness to history at this point.

Hakim Bey vs. Enzo23: An Interview

The following is a conversation held between the celebrated Hakim Bey and me, the relatively unknown Enzo23. I telephoned Hakim at his New York City home and discussed some of the components at the core of both our writing.

E23: Let start with one simple question. One thing that I've noticed about your writing in particular is that it seems to stay outside of one particular space, namely space inside of colleges. Some of the literary figures you speak of in your writing (Burroughs, Thoreau, Sade, Oscar Wilde) have been gentrified and incorporated into society. Do you fear that type of assimilation or perhaps mediation of your writing?

HB: Yes. Obviously that is the paradox when you write books telling society to distrust the media your books are already a medium. There is no way out of that particular bind, that I've discovered. You either communicate or you don't communicate. I suppose that I could have taken a vow never to write anything but only speak to individual human beings. This I suppose would have been the ideal but I am a writer so I write. If media have a certain kind of maligned magic that makes them take the place of real experience in people hearts and minds then that's the paradox of my work. It's one that results in unpleasantly in the sense that people look to the book then instead of to themselves for judgment about behavior and attitude. I did not intend for the books or myself to become some sort of guru. It's happened before with a message that human beings should be free and make their own decisions. People take that message or that messenger as being valuable in itself. I never believed that was what I was doing so I take that as a failure on my part.

E23: I guess there are 2 ways of looking at your previous response. During the 50's the role of government in society was to replicate itself in society. Let me complete that thought. What I mean is that children more closely resembled their parents who resembled the government. Ideals at times seemed to run parallel on many levels. The rebellion factor was a bit lower key. With the advent of 1960's counter culture movement, much more introspection occurred. The offspring no longer seemed to want to perpetuate the status quo.

Today, we have the popularization of the global Internet which is almost a new catalyst if no a second generation electronic drug. Since your books are being distributed/published on the Internet, perhaps your philosophies can transcend the control systems that are in place. For example, scholars read your books then regurgitate a filtered synopsis of your intent. This is the McDonaldization of literature that has been occurring for centuries. Can the integrity of what you are saying be preserved through the Internet?

HB: That is an interesting question. I would say that the Internet is not something new in this case. Each new medium as it appears has a tendency to tyrannize and to absorb all discourse. You can see for example when the US took over the postal system there was a big exciting political event that made everyone focus their attention on this new administration of old technology. Even when the telegraph net came into existence about the same time and added instantaneity, ultra speed to the medium making it very exciting and magical. People's attention focused on it but at the same time repression focused on it. You see a character like Anthony Comstock who appointed himself and was accepted by the government to the post of censor and chief of US mails. He had gone through people's mail looking for obscenity which in his mind was birth control. So in the early 20th century you had people going to jail for sending birth control information through the mail. Naturally the liberals squawked about freedom of speech and the radicals complained about repression. It some became apparent the government had this right to snoop into anybody's mail. Same with the telephone, when it appeared. Printing was a terrible blow to the powers that be. As a matter of fact brought about the Protestant reformation when the bible and other religious works were brought into the vernacular. Multiple copies allowed for wide distribution.

So each medium does this as it comes along. It stirs the shit and then has to be brought under control some way or another. So far this process has worked out with historical regularity. So if we are to relate social behavior to the media, which certainly can be done to a certain extent, we don't want to make a single all-encompassing explanation for all social behavior out of the media. Nevertheless there is a relation, this much is clear. So as each of the generations meet up with whatever the latest medium is, all sorts of strange sociological things transpire. I guess for my generation it was television and for yours it is the Internet. In the early 50's television began to creep in and somehow by the late 50's early 60's there was some kind of strange relationship going on between that medium and a whole new generation of people that we exposed to it. My generation.

I think that this is because each new medium despite what it is planned to do actually potentially creates.... Now how can I say this ... now if I say freedoms I don't want to imply that they are positive they are just releases of energy. So television comes along and releases a great deal of energy on the imagination level on the level of images and the imagination. At the same time we have the historical paradox of LSD and other psychedelics are discovered on a social level. Perhaps you can even look on that as a medium. Those things combine and produced a heady period which I can remember in the early 60's when people actually escaped mediation to the extent of creating a sub -culture on their own without actual direction from the media. It was an act of resistance that was spread out over the whole society. It was not very politically conscious. If in America we could have combined the energy of the psychedelic revolution with the political sophistication of what was going on in Europe at the time who knows, maybe we would have gotten somewhere.

E23: But it appears to me that by the 70's there was a concerted effort by the media to redirect social actions and standards of interaction.

HB: Exactly what I was going to say. By the 1970's particularly the Vietnam war, the television medium had a chance to explore in a very practical way the relations between the media and social actions/reactions. The medium of television more or less perfected it's routine.

E23: The sound bite, trivialization and commercialization.

HB: Yes, it's basically the way we see it today. Basically what we are seeing now is the post-Vietnam war era medium of television which we saw in action during the gulf war. It was the perfect realization of all the lessons that were learned during the Vietnamese war. For example it was very apparent that there weren't going to be endless shots of body bags or dead prisoners and stuff like that which were assumed to cause revulsion in the American people.

By another paradox or joke of history the Internet comes along and more or less the same time that the older technology was perfected. The new tech is not perfected and whose controls are not discerned clearly by the powers that be or would be. It seems apparent that the net cannot be controlled technologically or from within the Net. However you can say the same for any medium. You can say that printing is not controllable or the telephone is not controllable the mail is not controllable because no one can open and inspect every letter. So this is nothing new in a sense that there should be this out -of-control aspect for the net. Each medium that comes into being has this illusion of being uncontrollable from within the medium. The post office can't control the mail.

To talk about the net specifically is to impose that control from outside the Net. The military designed the net in a very non-centered way to prevent any key data site being wiped out during a nuclear attack. So they designed this highly or perhaps even more uncontrollable medium that eventually got out of their hands. Big surprise. Suddenly the hackers and the surfers and eventually everybody got into it. Right now you are looking at a tech system that cannot be controlled from within because there is no way for the net to be redesigned, centralized and controlled.

However it is very easy to terrorize people into behaving properly. If you make an example, the more ludicrous the better. Take a guy who steals a 99 cent document from Bell Telephone (this actually happened). Well you smash the shit out of him and take away all of his computer equipment and put him in jail. You make a big thing out of it to let everyone know that this happened and guys guy who stole 99 cents worth of data is being persecuted to the max. Everyone then goes "Oops, I had better not do that."

This is terror. This is nothing other than terrorism. The state as everybody knows is the major purveyor of terror. The individual has no where near the resources to establish the level of terror that the state can. Plus, on top of that capitalism in the form of the media corporations that are eager to penetrate the net have the same goals which is to say social control of the net through terror on one hand and greed on the other. Two very powerful human emotions needless to say. We are now looking at the future of 600 channels where everyone will have something to watch to keep them inactivated. On the other hand, whatever quarters of tech possibilities for free exchange of information or freedom may still exist on the net just as it persists in other mediums will be reduced to an infinitesimal, ever receding aspect of the medium. This will come about through terror -- through the control of people's behavior through terror.

E23: Is that your pessimistic take on the Internet?

HB: That is my pessimistic take on the net. There is also an optimistic take on the net which says that the people who are involved or value highly the potential for free exchange of information and ideas will somehow organize resistance within and outside the net. However, I don't see much sign of this happening as you might expect. Resistance inside the net is virtual resistance, show of resistance, not the substance. People talk about free speech but it's all intellectual, abstract and virtual.

E23: How do we turn dreams of freedom into reality?

HB: What we need is a link up between the net and the real world. If I grow a crop of something and wanted to trade someone for some ham, why can't I do that through the net. Avoiding taxes, even the use of money thereby freeing myself from the particular medium. Money is a very mediating medium (laughter). I'm not some kind of nut who wants everybody to go back to the woods and trade. This could supplement our economic life somewhat to increase our free time.

E23: I remember reading TAZ, "Final transcendence of the body. Cybergnosis." That is perhaps why the digital world tends not to leak into the three-dimensional world. We are on a level trying to escape from the real world.

HB: You are correct. The medium itself encourages a disengagement from bodily reality. In some sense every medium has done that. By very definition a medium is a bridge that allows a connection. A bridge also serves a function of separating.

Hakim Bey / Mordecai Watts

A Telephone Interview

June 25, 1995

MW: I just got the T.A.Z. audio tape--after listening, I dreamed of a commercial for an amusement park ride that carried its passengers through a rapid sequence of images appropriated from Dali and other surrealists.

Bey: There was such an amusement park. It wasn't really appropriated from surrealists. The other way around, if anything. It was called Dreamland, and it was at Coney Island around the turn of the century. Jim Koehnline knows a lot about it. I don't know if it was deliberately meant to be surrealist or not, but the effect certainly was. There's a book about old New York, or old Coney Island, that has some pictures.

MW: I believe Kim Deitch did something about it in one of his comics...

Bey: Yes, he did. You're absolutely right. He's a fan of it, too.

MW: One of the points in T.A.Z. and on the album is that imagination has been co-opted by the media, almost as if people no longer have imaginations of their own... imagination is now something people are fed, as opposed to what they used to excrete by nature. You mentioned virtual reality in passing, referring to it as the latest form of entertainment the least amount of imagination to date...

Bey: It just seems to become more and more apparent to me... I have to admit I felt a certain intense interest, perhaps even amounting to a potential enthusiasm, when this tech was first being discussed. I'd read Gibson like the rest of us, and I certainly understood his dystopian point, but nevertheless , when Tim Leary and people like that began to get enthusiastic, I had to investigate on that level. I haven't seen much evidence that what Uncle Tim thought was going to happen is really happening. Once again, any technology could be democratic if it were distributed, you know what I mean? It's a simple Marxist thing about means of production. There's nothing inherently authoritarian-- at least at first glance-- to any technology, although one could argue about how technology then shapes the society that has already shaped the technology in a kind of feedback loop that can move towards greater and greater authoritarianism/lack of autonomy. And in fact, I think that something like that is what's happening with communications technology. The potential for what, back in the '50s and '60s, people were calling electronic democracy, is obviously still there as a potential structure, and you can see certain elements of it in the Net, but when you're talking about the high tech involved in virtual reality you're really talking about something that is not accessible to most people. And I think it probably never will be. There's never going to be any cheap VR kit that's going to allow a dock worker in Manila to get on some kind of cyberspace Internet, much less a dock worker in Atlanta-- or me, for example. So to talk about electronic democracy when you're still dealing within a capitalist framework that deliberately prices things along class lines, you know, we're going to have an information highway but it's going to be policed by the likes of the Democrats and the Republicans. It's not going to be any more of an electronic democracy than America is now a legislative democracy.

Also, on the subject of the recuperation of the imagination, I would say that my thinking has gotten more gloomy over the past few years in relation to VR and VR type technology. I think that even the Internet-- although I've had some enjoyable moments myself in connection with the Internet, and I certainly don't want to put it down in and of itself-- it's a fascinating phenomenon-- and it does show some features of what an autonomous, non-hierarchical Web could be like in cyberspace-- but it's also under assault from power, as we all know. And eventually, power will win, because power has the power. It actually owns the kilowatts, not to mention the big battalions, as Stalin said in relation to the Pope. So I'm a little gloomy about20the future of the Internet if Carter-- not Carter, I keep calling that asshole Carter-- Clinton and his assholes are really serious about the information highway and about the policing of the information highway, I think you'll see that even the smiley-faced liberal Democrats will act in no wise different from cyber-fascists. In fact, they are one and the same thing. So there's still room for contestation, room for struggle, whatever you want to call that, and the Internet is an interesting area of contestation, but 90 per cent of what goes out over the Internet-- correct me if I'm wrong, I don't play on the Internet myself-- my impression is that 90 per cent of what goes out over it is completely unrelated to any kind of freedom interests or autonomy proposals or projects, or struggles for genuine non-hierarchical, non-authoritarian group dynamic. Most of it is just chit-chat-- banal chit-chat that could just as easily be carried out over an old fashioned party line phone. You're probably not old enough to remember those, when there would be five or six people on a phone line, there'd have to be signals so you'd pick up when it was for you, and so forth... I don't see that there's been any kind of great advance there over my dear old Aunt Janice who used to pick up the phone and listen to other people's conversations when she wasn't supposed to. If that's autonomy then we've had it.

[Here MW brings up the Hakim Bey Web site maintained by Marius Watz (similar name, but no relation!) and must explain the basic notion of the WWW to Bey....]

Bey: That's why the stuff is out there in anti-copyright. I encourage people to distribute it by any means that they can.

MW: How are you handling anti-copyright with the T.A.Z. album?

Bey: At the minimum, there will be a statement from me that, as also representing the publisher of the book, Autonomedia, that the text is anti-copyright and can be copied and distributed at will. We're still working on the legal thing with the people who own Island/Axiom. I'm hoping that we can get the whole thing out with some kind of very obvious invitation to copy freely. Bill [Laswell] and everybody I've been working with with Bill is entirely in agreement with this, but on the other hand it's not worth their jobs. So they're not putting their jobs on the line over this, but they're trying their best to get rid of all the usual copyright bullshit. Even from a marketing point of view, in my mind that kind of stuff is largely irrelevant. People copy anyway. What we found out--oddly enough, this is something I didn't expect-- but I think putting an anti-copyright on the book actually made the book sell better. When people got hold of an outtake from the book, and then saw there was an anti-copyright, they said, 'Oh, I can copy this,' so they went out and bought a copy of the book and then copied it. That way, three and four more people maybe got to read bits and pieces of the book, or the whole book, but it also sold one more copy of the book. I explained all this to Laswell and his crew, and they saw the logic of it, and I think it very is much the logic of the Net at work. Intellectual property, as a legal problem, might just evaporate if the net really behaved in this truly non-hierarchic fashion that we were talking about earlier. And as long as there is a net or a counter-net that does behave that way, it can raise its own money.

MW: Do you have any thoughts on how one could best realize the Internet as a T.A.Z.?

Bey: I'm led to believe, through conversations with people who are much more techie and active than I am, that cypher-- unbreakable code-- is the key. So the cypher-punks are the people to keep an eye on at this moment. And they also tend to be the ones who are most active around freedom of speech issues and so forth, whether legal or extra-legal. If Clipper were to prove impossible due to an ever-receding technological horizon of impenetrability, then this would-- God knows what they would do, I suppose they would have to try to physically break down the technology in the households, and the actual people who were key and central to such a system. There certainly would be a declaration of war of some kind or another, I should think. I think there's one now. I think Clipper was a declaration of war on the Net. Now that the egg is on their face, because within ten minutes some hacker figured out how to beat the Clipper, is sort of an indication of-- oh, let's call it an area of chaos. Within areas of chaos, either horrible destruction and disease and death occur, or, if you're flowing the right way, and if all hearts are beating in unison to a certain degree, then that area of chaos can become the T.A.Z. Now I've said over and over again, that there's no such thing as a T.A.Z. that's only on the Net, and I maintain that that's true. In order to have autonomy, you have to have physicality. Autonomy is not something that can only exist in the imagination or in the world of images. I think that it involves the entirety, the whole axial being, and that is rooted in the earth and concerns physicality, materiality, the body, mortality, if you like, as contrasted to the spurious immortality of cyberspace. But I still maintain that, at least in theory, the net could be an adjunc. . .

[Transfer interrupted!]