Zoning Out, Temporarily with Hakim Bey and Genesis P-Orridgeby John Perry Barlow, Mondo 2000 No. 9 1993
It was Queen Mu who made this happen - her conspiratorial whisper suggesting that I get myself together with Hakim Bey, Genesis P-Orridge, and a MONDO tape recorder. I wasn't too sure what she had in mind.
I mean, aside from the fact that all three of us are white, male acid-altered, old enough to know better, and crazy enough to do it anyway... Our resumes just didn't hook up and I wondered if we would.
Mr. Orridge, for example, is one singular fellow. He's got hardware dangling all over a body which sports more ritual scars and tattoos than Melville's Queequeg (with whom he shares other characteristics, most notably a nightmarish appearance cloaking a sweet and reasonable mind). He also happens to be the father of modern primitivism, the post-industrial tribes, the Rave Movement, the avant-garde band Psychic TV, and a couple of beautiful young daughters.
Orridge has been willfully causing such grave offense to British proprietary for the last twenty years that they've finally seen no alternative but to seize all his works and archives and pass laws which, though tailored to outlaw him, also make it a crime to give any other British subject so much as a hickey. (Or cause any physical harm to oneself or another consenting adult in the pursuit of dark pleasures.)
Finally, agents of the Crown have sent him packing into exile in California - a place so much more congenial to abominations that Mr. Orridge is having to scratch around for something to sink his sharpened teeth into.
Hakim Bey is another whose deviances have forced him to hide behind another name. Spending much of his life disguised as a mild-mannered comparative religion scholar, he emerges in print as an anarcho-gay drug fiend and Sufi pirate, compared to whom Salmon Rushdie is as orthodox as an ayatollah. Hakim's the guy who put the Temporary Autonomous Zone on the map.
However similar they might seem in their jointly unspeakable practices, their unabashedly unnatural acts, Bey and Orridge are quite different. Bey is reclusive and ascetic, a closeted natural philosopher, whereas Orridge is a performer, indeed something of a rock star.
And there's my own staid self, known to MONDO readers as a retired cattle rancher, rural gentlemen of such probity that, a couple years ago, I came within one vote of a Republican state senate seat in Wyoming, the most conservative part of the non-Islamic world. I'm a Freemason, a jack-Mormon, and a problem if I've been drinking. In short, just about everything these two are not.
When, by virtue of a couple minor miracles, I was able to horse all three of us into my borrowed apartment in San Francisco's Potero Hill, a curiously complete zone of shared understanding arose between us. It felt as if we'd been opining around the same cracker barrel for years. During the hour and a half this field remained intact, we covered a vast stretch of philosophical country which the hacked and decimated thing below can only hint at.
JOHN PERRY BARLOW: I want to talk with you guys about the Shadow. There is a way we have of concealing, projecting or wearing - in a peculiar fashion - that which we don't want to admit about ourselves. The thing that's interesting to me about you, Genesis, is that you look like an evil sonuvubitch from a distance. You look like a goddamn cannibal. And yet you are an extremely pleasant, polite, decent fellow.
GENESIS P-ORRIDGE: I think I look really West Coast.
HKIM BEY: I'm reading Hermes by Michel Sarres. And he brought up an interesting idea. He was talking precisely about this duality in Western culture... that there's always the on/off, dark/light, good/bad, up/down. He says that the third person is lost in Western discourse. Where any two are, there's a the third who has to be ignored. Apparently, he's going to suggest ways in which the third person can be re-integrated. Perhaps that's what we need, instead of paradox. He even calls it "the parasite" - the guest who gives words for food instead of food for food. The interlocutor... the third interlocutor.
GEN: Have you read The Third Mind by Brion Gysin? When he and William Burroughs came together and applied the cut-up method to their text, they produced a third mind.
HAKIM: ...as a parasite on that interaction! That's what Sarres is talking about.
GEN: I always found The Third Mind one of the most interesting subversive manuals. I never recommend the novels and stories of Burroughs or Gysin, I just say read The Third Mind and try some of those exercises. A lot of implications concerning inherited perception are revealed.
Scotland Yard has now got lots of videotapes that I made of Brion in Paris talking about psychic hygiene, the alchemical variations in the temperatures of boiling water, through the Master Musicians of Jajouka, all the events in Morocco that led him to many of his most intimate theories, even explaining how to make a good cup of tea by detailed observation of the bubbles, each of which he had named to denote each step. There's a lot of unique stuff there.
JOHN: I think they suppress that stuff mainly because they're afraid its reality could disturb what they wish to project about it. The image of Burroughs or you is so much easier to abuse. That's the scary thing about the information society - mythology completely detached from any reality but the one it's in the business of manufacturing. Pure simulation.
HAKIM: You know, the big difference between shamanic cultures and religious cultures is that dualistic shadow/anti-shadow thing is missing from shamanic culture. It was pre-Manichean, and now we're looking for something which is post-Manichean. Urban shamanism.
JOHN: I saw a very old Tantric Buddhist shrine near Kyoto. And the central icon of this place was a large sculpture of two dragons- one on the top with his tail coming up, and the other on the top, with his tail going down, entwining with the first dragon's tail around the middle. It reminded me of the Caduceus and its snakes, except that implied no value judgment between the upper and lower chakras. The point was the even interaction of the tails in the middle. So there was a duality, but it wasn't a weighted duality. It was more like a Yin/Yang.
HAKIM: No. The Yin/Yang theory is not Gnostic dualism. It's not the same thing. Eliade called it "dyadic." It's not the same as good and evil. It becomes so later in neo-Confucian thinking.
JOHN: Right, Taoism has no truck with good and evil at all.
HAKIM: Taoism seems to be the one religion that doesn't have the Gnostic trace.
JOHN: In our culture, the problem arose with the Romans.
HAKIM: I think it goes further back. It's Babylon. It's just like the Rastas say, "It happened in Babylon." It's Marduk and Tiamat. It's Mr. Hard-on God up against Sloppy Mom. In China, chaos is a benevolent property. Huntun is the gourd or the egg out of which everything comes. He's a wonton. Huntun and wonton are the same words. He's like this little dumpling and everything good comes out of him. In Babylon, chaos is the disgusting monster vagina that has to be ripped up by Marduk into myriad blobs of shit and slime. And we are those globs of slime. That's how the human race came into being. What is the purpose of the human race? To serve Marduk, to serve the masculine principle, to store up grain in the granary for the priests, to pay for the priests for their sacrifice so they get the free hamburgers. That's the whole Western myth. It's St. George and the Dragon. St. George pins the dragon down.
In China, the dragon is the free expression of creativity. He's the mixture of Yin and Yang, the principle of power. But here's evil, plain and simple. This is why chaos has kicked off, for me, for Ralph Abraham, and others, an interest in making a critique of this Western mythology, and saying, "Let's put Humpty Dumpty back together."
JOHN: There's been an interesting co-evolution lately of a lot of apparently disconnected things, like chaos mathematics and neo-tribalism, a sudden interest in Taoism and what I perceive to be a deep feminization of Western culture.
GEN: Some philosophers feel that there's a risk in absolute unconditional surrender of that male-God power, even though it's obviously failed miserably. Should we seek out every possible male trait and subordinate it to a female principle?
HAKIM: I didn't like the rule of Dad, but I don't think I'm going to like the rule of Mom either.
GEN: I'm involved with raves and live events because they're celebrations of an autonomous tribal unit. I think that was one of the real reasons for the attack on Psychic TV. It was the fact that we were doing unannounced, unadvertised, private parties where three thousand young people would aways turn up and bring one more friend next time. We were building this entire, separate, parallel vision - what Alaura calls "The Lost Tribe." We would discuss taboos, body modifications, self-empowerment, women's rights, animal rights, and all these different things as a spin-off. They weren't any of them essential in themselves. But what people always kept saying, over and over again, was that they felt they could relax and be themselves. The most obvious, ordinary condition that so very rarely happens.
JOHN: That's also why they go to Grateful Dead concerts. It's a sense of belonging which makes it possible for you to be yourself. When you're part of somethign on an organic level, then the self has some meaning. If you're only...
HAKIM: What about the problem of mediation? It sounds to me like you're less interested in media and more interested in the immediate, the un-mediated. A street concert is participator. It's got to be something you experience.
JOHN: Until McDonald's finds out about it and turns it into an ad.
GEN: Basically, the way you set your events up is the key to whether or not they're absorbed. And so far we haven't been absorbed. That's why we're being spat out. If your tension is not to sell yourself and your imagination, then there's a real problem with people in authority, because their normal debilitiser is the money carrot. They have a really patronizing view of the creative mind, that it really want to whore itself to them.
JOHN: Most commerce in this country is based on the unfulfilled psychic needs. The media have one message: "Eat this, drink that, wear this, put this on your body, do something about the horrible loathsome disconnected thing that you are."
HAKIM: The trick is that none of it works. It's what Walter Benjamin calls the "Utopian trace," which is built into those commodities that make you dream of the perfection that's being sold to you. But it's only a trace, like a trace element. It's like homeopathic; it's hardly even there. So, of course, it doesn't work.
JOHN: Recently I was on an NBC show about LSD. And they also had a self-described "recovering LSD addict." It was a real set-up. But I noticed that almost every ad was either for a drug or for something that would make everything somehow different. So the LSD which actually can make you different in a fundamental and satisfying way, represented the Demonic. LSD was the Shadow.
HAKIM: I read a quote from Malcom McLaren, where he said, "Why are drugs popular? I'll tell you. Because only drugs can make you feel like people in TV ads look like they're feeling." Drugs are the only commodity that's actually more than just a trace. It is - in some ways - the thing.
JOHN: It's close. And that makes it an enormous threat to the culture, which is base don unfulfillable need.
HAKIM: The best way to impose stability is through violence. Within every rational system is terror and death, unless you admit the third mind... the parasite. As long as linear reason calls the shots, it's always death and terror.
GEN: There's a great tape of Gyson, Gregory Corso, and Burroughs in Paris during the 50's. A letter arrives from some businessman in London, and you can actually hear Burroughs as he snips it with his scissors saying, "Now let's see what it really says." And then he reads it aloud and it basically goes, "... money... money ... money." I took that very much to heart. When in doubt, be extreme and see what it really says. There's a need for people to smash the shop windows because that debris can be reassembled into amazing things.
JOHN: There's a particular need when you've got a culture which has placed such an inordinate value on stability. We'll have to go some distance to re-assert the dynamic.
HAKIM: That's what's so useful about chaos and complex dynamical system analysis, which is now cutting edge. It's going to take a while. The popular discourse is still Cartesian.
So what's the social anti-spasmodic for the spasms we've been talking about? Again, what about... tactics?
JOHN: The best anti-spasmodic is a joke. Take a leaf from Catastrophe Theory, which is really the science of the punch line. IT's the thing that suddenly takes you out of the locks system and helps you go meta.
There's a great Neal Cassady story about this. The PRanksters all went into a bar in Oakland after a rally in Berkeley, and everybody was high on acid. It turned out to be the wrong kind of bar. Basically, there was a group of guys about to pretty much disembowel someone. But it was a perfectly symmetrical situation with nowhere for things to go but bad. Cassady strutted over to the assailant group, and said, "Hey, anybody want some gum?" And this was the catastrophe that caused the whole thing to dematerialize. For these locked symmetries, the most powerful cure is the prank.
HAKIM: That's an interesting way of looking at it. Poetic terrorism. Pirate humor.
GEN: That's why Dada and surrealism and happenings and acid and cut-ups are actually tools of survival.
HAKIM: They're anti-spasmodics.
GEN: It's really empowering when you break up or collage stuff together, bring in the unexpected or the inappropriate. Those who are trying to impose the status quo and a linear view can't read that language.
JOHN: It's too ambiguous for neurotics.
GEN: They're unable to deal with the anarchic, confused, colliding, or absolutely illogical combinations. Tim Leary believes that's what is really behind the attacks on us. What SCotland Yard is actually attacking is my archive. For over 25 years I've collected things that don't fit together. I've got Dada stuff, Fluxus stuff, Brion Gysin's stuff, Burroughs' stuff, Leary's stuff... psychedelic, tragic, radical, trivial, random, and mathematical stuff. And we have no "agenda," as they like to say these days.
We've followed the logical path. One day we just sold a spare Austin Osman painting to Chris Stein [of Blondie] and left. We spent time in Thailand, then we went to Nepal. Nepal was an amplifier and the confirmation of so many threads we have been unraveling and following for so much of our lives. The basic premise being AGORI... the path of no distinction. In this, everything is equal. There is on Shadow. All aspects of life and death, the minute to grandiose scales are fully integrated. Thus, no comment upon this amazing state of affairs is necessary. The most fabulous is commonplace. Devotion is as ordinary as taking a breath... and, of course, as extraordinary. We'd leave the hotel and cross the river, and there'd be dead dogs floating in sacks, or lodged in the mud banks with huge pigs eating their remains. There'd be children's corpses being cremated on the burning chats, their ashes swept into the same river while, further downstream, women were washing their cooking pots. Next to the burning children, there'd be workers eating breakfast, lepers begging, tourists taking pictures, Hindus prostrate... all in devotion , all simply living...
That's where we were just as we were being attacked in England. And thus we were better able to deal with the attack and its ramifications. We were able to say, "So what?" I mean, here were the Tibetans dealing with genocide. They've lost everything and yet they were embracing us without asking "Who are you, what do you believe, what do you do...?" There was a deeper sense of connection and recognition that instantly allowed us all to converse and be together. No justification was necessary. Ah, blessed relief! In the same way, the Shiva saddhus, the Nagas and the Agoria Baba... all highly evolved, threshold pushing, ascetic strands of Hinduism that believe in the "Path of No Distinction" ... they welcomed us too. We were on a bridge at Pashapati, near the main burning ghats, when suddenly the most revered holy man of the Agori was standing by us in his dreadlocks, and took us into his chamber where Europeans are not ordinarily allowed. There we sat around a fire which hasn't gone out once in over a thousand years. We exchanged spontaneous gifts, suspended Western categories of thought, and absorbed the peace of primal vision. To be trusted is such a fabulous gift, even greater when one is given that trust under no obligation. The Agori Baba gave us a white ash form the thousand-year-old-fire, "to take with you to bless America" he said.
Strength. We've kept that strength through everything that's happened since then. It's very reassuring, an embrace in a realm beyond thought or sense. It is this momentary experience of "belonging" that is carrying us through; this basic task of navigating through the unexpected conjoining and juxtaposition, grappling with the grinding together of things is like learning a martial art. To bend, flow, parry, using the strengths and rushes as our own muscles.
That's the first step, getting these survival tools. Then the game is: do we finally evolve, or not? I talk about a human(e) race where the extra "e" is added to suggest ecstasy, eager, evolutionary, evil, experiential, egolessness, etc. In other words, whatever happens next. Above all else, a risk-taking explosion with the eeego tacked onto this story. We are each there within this mystery. We're at a point where there's going to be an evolution away from the previous static system into the embracing of chaos.
HAKIM: I don't think that we're evolving towards anything, in the Teilhard de Chardin sense of evolution being directed toward the collective organism of human mind. I have a lot of problems with that. But if you start to look at the way the world is going: political - you have a fragmentation of structure that is devolving down to smaller and smaller discrete communities at the same time that there's a globalization going on, then you can start to think of the paradoxical interaction of the global mind, the "all mind," becoming an increasingly coherent unity, even as individuation is becoming more profound. That seems hopeful, to me.
The problem is looking at it as an Omega Point. It's still teleological. And not only that, it's unjust. Because if Paleolithic human and medieval human and modern human are excluded from that Omega Point, then God is even a worse sonuvabith than we suspected. That's what I've always objected to in Teilhard, and that's the problem I have with the idea of an evolution. I can't see it as an evolution. I see it as an infolding. Change. This is why I've tried to develop the idea of the Temporary Autonomous Zone. Because I'm sick and fucking tired of waiting for the revolution or the evolution. A certain degree of selfishness is required. And that selfifshness also involves an altruism, because what I want for myself obviously must be available to the other.
I want to get away from the Newtonian force and talk about the power in a fractal design. It's not teleological, nor vitalistic. It's not pointing to the future. It's not pointing to the past. Ilya Prigogine talks about "creative evolution," which to me is an infolding. It doesn't fold itself out towards the future, but it infolds itself towards desire.
JOHN: The basin of attraction.
HAKIM: The basin of attraction is the infolding of desire.
GEN: Basically, if what you're doing is dragging people across the line of what they'll accept, then it's endorseable. It was actually Tim Poston, my catastrophe theory friend, who gave me direction in this area. We did a magazine together called Delusions of Grandeur in the 60's. The original slogan was "The Possibilities Alone are Endless." As he pointed out, the "The Impossibilities are Endless" too, as are all those phenomena which are neither possible nor impossible. The addenda are implied, not necessarily alluded to. There is a geological term I was made aware of later by a kinetic artist named Gerald Fitzgerald. (He was a prime mover in the Exploding Galaxy fluxus and happening group at the time, along with Derek Jarman and myself.) The term is quaquaversal, which means "pointing in every direction simultaneously."
JOHN: The challenge, at this point, is learning to read the tea leaves in such a fashion that your interpretive assumptions bear some relationship to the next person's. So your society doesn't just dissolve into babble; so you're not isolated by everybody's unique magical universe. One approach might be the ritualization and the re-tribalization of society. The point isn't that we agree. The point is that we all dance.
HAKIM: Nietzche said that if we want to be a dancing star, we must have chaos within us. So, already in the 1880's, this concept was out there.
JOHN: Well, it was out there long before Nietzsche. Don't forget Shiva.
GEN: That's one of the most rejuvenating things about traveling in the Far East. There's a deep sense of continuity, a time-depth to the exploration.
HAKIM: It's only a very small time we've had history. It's useful to think of history as this thin layer of slime over a huge sea of the Paleolithic. It's not a question of a return to the Paleolithic but a return of the Paleolithic.
GEN: Now we really don't even belong to Her Majesty. We were subject. Theoretically, we were actually owned by Her Majesty.
HAKIM: Along with the swans and Scottish Deerhounds.
GEN: I'm basically on the run and feeling good about it. The Global Village definitely seems to be forming. We're commuting to Japan. The Japanese are commuting here. Computer terminals and modems are linking people up. In all this action forms the wraith-like Global Village. There seem to be a lot more doors and windows left open than there were a few years ago.
On the good days - which are many - we think about sending postcards to D.C. Yeoull at Scotland Yard. Pictures of us on the beach in Thailand or giving rice and dal to lepers in Kathmandu, or onstage with Timothy Leary, or sitting by a fire here in California with our creek in the background. We think of saying, "D.C. Yeoull! Thank you very much for your interest in our work, and more importantly, for letting us go free so we can finally travel this world and do so much more of it!"
HAKIM: Jesse Helms deserves a few letters like that too.
GEN: Did I tell you what Yeoull said when some friends of mine went and tried to demand our archive back? He said, "My job, as I see it, is to rid the world once and for all of this art scum." [laughter]
There's a lot to be said for the fanatic on your tail.
HAKIM: A good enemy is hard to find in this wishy-washy world of ours.