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Promethean Autonomous Zone

article by Sobek published November 26, 2003,
with a postscript written April 30th, 2007

 

One of the most influential counter/oc/sub/cultural visionaries of these times is Hakim Bey. I think that this status is well-deserved and would like to write briefly (using selective quotes) about how the ideas in his book "TAZ: The Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism" relate to the Promethean Movement and can inspire Prometheans and our allies.

So first, let me talk about what is "wrong" with Bey so that we can move past it and get to what is right.

For one thing, while Bey is certainly no Trotskyite or anything, he definitely carries some "leftist" baggage. This causes him to occasionally make foolish remarks against "Capitalism" (or what he calls "Capitalism"...probably the lite-fascist corporatism that is commonly misperceived as Capitalism). This is in conflict with our affirmation and promotion of Promethean Capitalism, so it might be considered a bit of a problem. It is my understanding that Bey sermonizes against "Capitalism" more severely in his book MILLENNIUM. I have not read that book and can not comment on it. However, in TAZ, the anti-"Capitalism" remarks are limited to the occasional off-handed snipe, and Bey actually promotes "black market" Capitalism in the final section of the book dealing with Autonomous Zones. So while these occasional remarks are mildly irritating, they are not any kind of serious obstacle in appreciating and adopting the message of this book.

Another thing that might not appeal to certain Prometheans or some of our allies is the spiritual dimension of Bey's writing. The spiritual vision underlying the book is a form of casual Monism, where the Material is the exuberant creative expression of the Ideal. Life-affirming Materialists among us really should not have much trouble with this viewpoint, though they might not have much use for Bey's writings on Paganism, Sorcery and "Black Magic as Revolutionary Action".

Now, let us move on to consider what this book has to offer, which is MUCH.

TAZ is divided into three sections. The first of these is "The Broadsheets of Ontological Anarchism". These are word-paintings on such themes as Chaos, Amour Fou, Wild Children, Pyrotechnics, Pornography, Crime and Sorcery. There are also introductions to the tactics of Poetic Terrorism and Art Sabotage. This section defines the spirit and aesthetic of what is to come. Particularly inspiring for us might be the vision of The Assassins, gathered together in an Autonomous Zone of their own creation and making their own oasis in the midst of a barren landscape. The next section is the "Communiques of the Association for Ontological Anarchy" which address a variety of ideas, trends and tactics with the apparent purpose of distinguishing Bey's Ontological Anarchy from the more usual kind. The final section of the book is the work "The Temporary Autonomous Zone", the TAZ from which the book gets its name and which offers us an important counterpoint to the goal of a Promethean Society.

Concerning the TAZ, Bey says:

"I believe that by extrapolating from past and future stories about "islands in the net" we may collect evidence to suggest that a certain kind of "free enclave" is not only possible in our time but also existent. All my research and speculation has crystallized around the concept of the TEMPORARY AUTONOMOUS ZONE (hereafter abbreviated TAZ). Despite its synthesizing force for my own thinking, however, I don't intend the TAZ to be taken as more than an essay ("attempt"), a suggestion, almost a poetic fancy. Despite the occasional Ranterish enthusiasm of my language I am not trying to construct political dogma. In fact I have deliberately refrained from defining the TAZ--I circle around the subject, firing off exploratory beams. In the end the TAZ is almost self-explanatory. If the phrase became current it would be understood without difficulty...understood in action."

But we can define the TAZ rather simply. The Autonomous Zone is a space, large or small, where (to use of one of Bey's favored phrases) "the chains of the law have been broken". Bey explains how and where such spaces may exist:

"The "map" is a political abstract grid, a gigantic con enforced by the carrot/stick conditioning of the "Expert" State, until for most of us the map becomes the territory- -no longer "Turtle Island," but "the USA." And yet because the map is an abstraction it cannot cover Earth with 1:1 accuracy. Within the fractal complexities of actual geography the map can see only dimensional grids. Hidden enfolded immensities escape the measuring rod. The map is not accurate; the map cannot be accurate [...] We are looking for "spaces" (geographic, social, cultural, imaginal) with potential to flower as autonomous zones--and we are looking for times in which these spaces are relatively open, either through neglect on the part of the State or because they have somehow escaped notice by the mapmakers, or for whatever reason. Psychotopology is the art of dowsing for potential TAZs."

As for being Temporary, that may even be an intentional part of its design...such as in an underground party held at some hidden or remote location. The idea is to get what you can while you can, as Bey also makes clear:

"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? Are we reduced either to nostalgia for the past or nostalgia for the future? Must we wait until the entire world is freed of political control before even one of us can claim to know freedom? Logic and emotion unite to condemn such a supposition. Reason demands that one cannot struggle for what one does not know; and the heart revolts at a universe so cruel as to visit such injustices on our generation alone of humankind."

...and...

"If History IS "Time," as it claims to be, then the uprising is a moment that springs up and out of Time, violates the "law" of History. If the State IS History, as it claims to be, then the insurrection is the forbidden moment, an unforgivable denial of the dialectic--shimmying up the pole and out of the smokehole, a shaman's maneuver carried out at an "impossible angle" to the universe. History says the Revolution attains "permanence," or at least duration, while the uprising is "temporary." In this sense an uprising is like a "peak experience" as opposed to the standard of "ordinary" consciousness and experience."

While the TAZ is an invaluable tactic which we can and should enthusiastically employ, it is THIS INSIGHT that is the true treasure contained in this book. As Prometheans and members of the Promethean Movement, we must certainly plan, prepare and work for the future. However, it is even more necessary that we BE PROMETHEAN NOW. We must create and live our vision HERE in the present moment. Our life-affirming philosophy is in complete resonance with the literal and dynamic meaning of "uprising". This is what Ontological Anarchy has for us.

"Between tragic Past & impossible Future, anarchism seems to lack a Present--as if afraid to ask itself, here & now, WHAT ARE MY TRUE DESIRES?--& what can I DO before it's too late?...Yes, imagine yourself confronted by a sorcerer who stares you down balefully & demands, "What is your True Desire?" Do you hem & haw, stammer, take refuge in ideological platitudes? Do you possess both Imagination & Will, can you both dream & dare--or are you the dupe of an impotent fantasy?" - from the essay "Post-Anarchism Anarchy"

 


UPDATE April 30th, 2007 e.v.

The postman brought my copy of the second edition of Hakim Bey's T.A.Z. this afternoon. It has a new preface which I feel compelled to comment upon as an update to my previous remarks on the book. I had written that the purity of Bey's vision was hobbled by occasional regressions to "leftist" ideology and a misunderstanding of Capitalism. Despite this flaw, I strongly recommended T.A.Z. as a collection of valuable insights and ideas to inspire the Promethean aim of the real advancement of Individual Life.

And it is. So, it is not surprising that Bey and his work have since been denounced by would-be commissars and outright nutcases ranging from Murray Bookchin to John Zerzan. Bey talks about things that real Individuals should think about in creating freer, more fulfilling, REAL lives here and now. For this, his faux-anarchist detractors criticize him for being a "Lifestyle Anarchist" and irreconcilable with their "Social" vision. It is funny that "Social" is supposed to mean serious and "Lifestyle" is supposed to mean not serious, when in most contexts it is the other way around. Anyway, in the new preface, Bey makes a reference to Bookchin's criticism as having boosted sales.

However, any hopes that this will lead to a rant about the tiresome "social" and "communalist" ideology that has so largely replaced the aim of real Anarchy (at least in some circles) are quickly dashed as Bey repeats his previous errors in a more concentrated form. He shows his economic misunderstandings more blatantly as he describes a world in the grip of "Global Capital" - a world that Anarchist readers of Murray Rothbard and David Friedman could only wish was real, but that very plainly is not. Worse, he points to the authoritarian and stasist "Green" and "social" trends as being possible components of a new, liberating movement. Is he trying to win Bookchin and Zerzan (or their fans) over?

Finally, Bey is critical of his own optimism for the the potential of the internet. He is correct that the internet has become saturated with advertizing and banal crap. However, that depends a lot on where you "surf" to. The networking that Bey envisioned in T.A.Z. is occurring. Just because he might not be seeing it, that does not mean that it is not there. Bey, himself, advised keeping these things out of sight. He must have forgotten.

In the end, despite these new criticisms, I still recommend T.A.Z. with all of my heart as essential and inspirational reading. I wish that I could talk to Hakim Bey about some of these things and tell him about things that are going on of which he is apparently unaware...but I would also thank him profusely. If you have not yet read T.A.Z., definitely get a copy as soon as possible. Just tear out the new preface and send it back to the publisher...perhaps traced with that sigil on p. 56.

 

contents in this section determined by Sobek
page updated July 24, 2007 23:10

 

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