Paul Lund was a serial womanizer, a career criminal, and a friend of the Beats. He was also, as I recently found out, the father my mom never met.
I didn’t think about any of this as a child, except knowing that it was a good idea to keep a safe distance if I’d pissed her off. My school friends called her “Don Jo.” The pertinence of the moniker only occurred to me years later, after uncovering a buried family history that spans three continents and includes a once famous criminal, an upcoming murder trial, and a part in one of the 20th Century’s most important and disturbing novels. It is a history that taught me that nurture only goes so far in explaining who a person is. Sometimes, your blood does your thinking for you.
As I got to know my mom as an adult I realized she was capable of calmly making decisions that would cause others to shudder. In 2006, when I was 23 and she was 62, we spent two months backpacking around India. It was something my parents had planned to do when they retired. Tragically, my father took permanent retirement much earlier than we had expected, so I took his place. We had a great time driving up the Himalayas and trekking for elephants in the jungles of Kerala. However, one incident in particular convinced me that she could survive pretty much anything that life could throw at her.
We were walking along a beach in north Goa during monsoon season. It was overcast and windswept. There was a rusted cargo ship wrecked on the shoreline and large waves curled vindictively in on themselves before smashing into surf.
I jumped in.
It was an act of immense stupidity. I swam among the waves for a few minutes and then decided to exit. When I got to the shore and tried to stand, my feet didn’t touch the bottom. I went under and a wave pounded me and pulled me out. I swam hard to get back in.
I got to the shallows again. Except, I hadn’t. One foot down and it was like missing a step; a step into an empty elevator shaft. The current dragged me struggling from the land. As I swam back I could see my mom stood watching. Then she turned her back on me and walked up the beach. Two things ran through my mind: It can’t be that bad because she’s causal, she’s not in a hurry; she knows I’ll be fine. And, Maybe she’s going to find some help, since the village wasn’t that far away.
I tried to stand again. Back under. I was exhausted. I laid on my back and let the waves carry me on theirs. Up and down and back and forth. They wanted to rock me to sleep.
I had a word with myself: “You either do this. Or you die. Sort your life out.”
I swam hard. Then I swam harder. Then when I thought I’d made it, I swam harder still.
Foot down. Sand. Stagger. Collapse. The relief bordered on muted ecstasy. I heaved breaths. My hands gripped wet sand.
Mom walked back and stood over me.
“Are you OK?”
“I am now.”
“You look relieved.”
I caught my breath. My eyes squeezed shut while my fingers compacted the sand in my palms.
I looked up at my mom.
“Why did you walk away? Were you going to find help?”
“No. Where was I going to get help from?”
My mom looked at me like I was the contemptible idiot I’d just demonstrated myself to be.
“I wasn’t going to watch you die.”
There’s one aspect of my mom’s background that we didn’t speak about until recently, because she didn’t know of it, which lays in the mystery of “Don Josephine.” She never knew her father. He abandoned her mother in 1945 when he found out she was pregnant. My grandmother, Eileen, who died in 1959 of pneumonia when my mom was 13, dealt with the repercussions of refusing to abandon her daughter for the rest of her short life.
Orphaned into the care of a resentful stepfather, my mom buried all thoughts of her real dad, a habit that lasted for near on 60 years. I never heard her speak his name, and he was so removed from my consciousness that it never occurred to me to ask.
However, a year ago she called me in an agitated state.
“I found him. I found him,” she said.
“Paul Axel Lund. My father.”
A recent interest in using the internet had led her, after giving no clue of thinking of him for years and years, to google his name.
This is what infamous beat author William Burroughs had to say about my grandfather: “I am attenuating my relations with Lund and company. Too much of a bad thing.”
Quite a statement when you consider the man who made it shot his wife in the head during a “William Tell” party trick, afterwards saying he killed her while under the control of a “completely malevolent force.”
Burroughs and Lund met in Tangier in 1955. The city was an international free zone known for its liberal climate, skullduggerous inhabitants, and lack of extradition treaties. Lund had arrived the year before while on the run from the English police, and soon became established as a well known smuggler happy to regale his swashbuckling adventures to journalists. The city remained his home until he died of TB in 1966. The headline for his obituary in the News of World read: “The Buccaneer: He Played with Fire and His Women Loved It.”
Burroughs wrote that he “saw quite a lot of Lund and used some of his stories in Naked Lunch,” a novel that gave Jack Kerouac, who also knew my grandfather and wrote about him in “Desolate Angels,” nightmares while he was editing it. The friendship disintegrated when Lund was charged with opium smuggling in 1959. He dodged it by framing Burroughs.
Six months prior, and in unrelated circumstances, Burroughs had written to him from France with a whimsical plot that involved “pushing a little Moroccan tea in Paris.” My grandfather gave the letter to the cops and the Moroccans passed it on to the French authorities. He was free and Burroughs was arrested in Paris.
Paul Lund was a villain. So much so that author Rupert Croft-Cooke entitled his biography of him Smiling Damned Villain: The True Story of Paul Lund. His career choices included gun running for Haile Selassie, safe breaking, burglary, robbery, forgery, fraud, and smuggling. “Asked, as he entered prison for one of his sentences, what his occupation was, he said: ‘thief’ and refused to modify it,” writes Croft-Cooke. He spent time in jail in India, Egypt, Spain, Italy, and Britain.
One of my favorite passages from Smiling Damned Villain is an account of Lund’s desertion in Egypt during World War Two. After twice being mentioned in dispatches for bravery there was a lull in the fighting and he got restless. To counter the boredom he went AWOL in Cairo and settled in a warren-like slum officially off limits to Europeans.
Lund described it to Croft-Cooke: “It was full of gambling and opium dens, brothels of every kind, deserters, black marketeers, thieves, escaped POWs—every kind of villain you can imagine. Just the place to lie up quietly.”
He joined forces with three other deserters, and together they robbed a watch shop “with a very fine stock of expensive watches” while disguised as mechanics. After going on a crime spree across Cairo and Alexandria he realized that “we were too easily recognizable,” so he returned to his army unit. He avoided punishment because he was sent to fight at the battle of el Alamein.
Lund possessed qualities that made him a predator to society. Croft-Cooke highlights the ultimate manifestation of those qualities.
He writes: “Paul’s a killer, a fellow criminal of his once told me, not because he has ever committed a murder but because he obviously would do so if it seemed necessary to him.”
The point of Smiling Damned Villain, Croft-Cooke explains, is to present a “portrait” of Lund. He avoids attributing underlying psychological motivations to his subject.
“A criminologist will know that, perhaps, better than I,” he states.
I’m not a criminologist, but I was convinced after becoming acquainted with it that my grandfather’s portrait depicts a sociopath. I decided to consult criminal psychologist Robert Hare’s Psychopathy Checklist Revised—the 20-point gold standard for diagnosing psychopaths.
Lund gets full marks for most of them, including a lack of remorse, criminal versatility, recidivism, impulsivity, and being manipulative.
Paul Lund being interviewed about smuggling outside his bar in Tangier.
As for promiscuity and having many short-term marital relationships—both things cited in Hare’s list—the book is littered with examples (my grandmother being one of them), making superficial charm—another checkbox—almost obligatory. Inevitably, his charm resulted in a scattering of babies, and after some research I managed to find one of my mother’s half-sisters living in a trailer park in the Deep South. She had a shocking revelation: her son, who has a string of criminal convictions, is facing a murder trial. She believes he inherited his grandfather’s sociopathic genes.
My cousin is awaiting judgment in a state penitentiary. But where does that leave the rest of the family? Are we simply a line of evolutionary throwbacks? A lizard-brained collective only in existence because of the marauding lifestyle of a free-loving psychopath? I can’t speak for the wiring in my cousin’s head, nor I can I speak to growing up poor in the United States—a place that makes a walk in England’s mean streets seem like a country stroll.
In 2005, scientist James Fallon PET scanned his brain for a study on Alzheimer’s. At the time he was working on another project scanning the brains of psychopaths. To his surprise, it turned out his brain matched the pathological connections found in his psychopathic subjects. After delving into his family history, Fallon discovered he came from a long line of killers.
On Motherboard: How to Spot a Psychopath on Twitter
If he had the brain of a psychopath, why was he a law-abiding family man? Fallon concluded that his parents’ unconditional love had kept him from turning into a monster. Paul Lund also had a relatively decent upbringing; his mother was a dour and distant woman who left most of the child rearing to nannies, but his family was large, affluent, and well respected. I think this is perhaps why he didn’t do anything which could be typified as criminally insane or sadistic, despite being a proper bastard.
Writer and curator Ian Francis, who gives talks on Lund, agrees he lacked morality rather than being interested in the opposite of it. I called Francis before I investigated Lund’s past to enquire if my mother should be prepared to confront a hideous truth.
“He was amoral, not evil,” he told me.
Croft-Cooke said Lund was a man “who unblinkingly and intelligently faced the abomination of reality.” I recognize that ability in my mother. She accepted that I was going to drown in India, so she made a decision that would spare her any subsidiary pain. She wasn’t going to watch me die. Savage realism can be a useful tool to possess. It’s a hostile world out there, and making choices that break social convention is often an instrument of survival.
While Paul Lund used this ambiguous quality to help himself, his daughter has used it to help the people around her, despite having a much harder upbringing than her father. For example, at age ten I was unruly in class and falling behind. I had already been asked to leave one primary school. After being called into the head’s office over yet another issue, she found a way to inspire me. She handed me The Hobbit, told me to sit in the kitchen chair, and said if I moved or made any noise she would beat me to death. I had enough sense to do as I was told. Then I began to read.
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ART THAT KILLS
by George Petros
This is not a history, a series of biographies, or a compendium. Anyone looking for a reference work on the subjects herein must look elsewhere; I make no attempt to present complete, comprehensive data. Nor am I offering a critique.
This is a panoramic portrait of a scene, rendered in photos, documents, artwork and words. It illustrates the evolution of a movement.
I selected these materials because they most vividly animate the individual subjects. The narrative, in each subject’s own voice, offers little historical hype. From hours of taped conversations, I picked snippets that offered glimpses behind the masks of art and crime.
I asked all the questions herein, or presided over all interviews as editor (I note a few exceptions). In many cases I borrowed from the work of Michael Moynihan and Boyd Rice, my star interrogators from the days when I ran the all-interview Seconds magazine. I reproduce exchanges as they originally appeared in print. You’ll figure it out.
“Aesthetic Terrorism: Using the element of surprise through the usage of past clichés, knowledge and ‘home truths’ being flung out of joint, and therefore used as possibly a weapon or subversive force.”
— J.G. Thirlwell a.k.a. Foetus, 1984
1984 played out prophetically: George Orwell’s novel came to chronological coincidence, triggering the much-ballyhooed fulfillment of its dire predictions. 2001, however, didn’t see the Space Age promised in Stanley Kubrick’s film.
In the years between—an intense era bracketed by the Cold War and the Digital Age—rape, murder, torture, pedophilia, cannibalism, drugs, sedition, racism and blasphemy mixed with Pop Culture, history, literature, news, movies, TV, philosophy and science. All varieties of taboos and criminal advocacy coalesced, beyond “confrontation” or “shock.”
The artists, from a cross-section of American life, ranged from the abused to the spoiled, from successes to also-rans. Some basked in the limelight; some barely acknowledged their creativity.
Yes, I too am featured herein. You wouldn’t want a book like this from someone without an intimate knowledge of the subject matter, would you? The scene I describe I saw from my own vantage point. So what?
In the Eighties a new demographic arose: Caucasian, mostly Goy but including a few Jews, creative, urban, alienated, beat down by media, blamed for everything, very smart, looking for trouble, turned on by sex murders, happy to hurt others, eccentrically eclectic. The Sixties and Seventies had comprised the Golden Age of anything-goes; TV raised its offspring on equal doses of love and hate, good and bad, right and wrong. Traditionally compartmentalized taboos commingled haphazardly, their varied threats superimposing, juxtaposing, fusing.
The transgressive, subversive, pornographic and forbidden mixed with the legitimate, the approved, and the party line, sparking an aesthetic revolution. Rock provided the soundtrack; drugs provided the universal experience. A new outlaw type, a criminal aesthete, a true threat to society, flourished.
Starting circa 1984, through back-alley channels of Punk, zines, college radio, and a loose network of the like-minded, the artists found one another through mutual gravitation. Their inspirations included Manson, LaVey, Nietzsche, Crowley, the Occult, World War Two, drugs, murder. As their artwork and networking progressed, a unique look and feel developed. Only in retrospect does the scene come into focus; at the time it seemed to be simply a super-alienated version of Punk.
Two types found confluence in this scene: further-out elements of the Cinema of Transgression crowd, and those on the outer limits of Apocalypse Culture. Transgressive: New York, Heroin chic, all black, leftist/anarchist, fucked-up. Apocalyptic: West Coast, LSD, Speed, neo-psychedelic, fascistic, fucked-up. Generally speaking, the two currents merged into a loose, distant association of criminally-inclined artists in whose troubling work a multitude of taboos converged.
LSD, Speed, Heroin, Cocaine, Ecstasy, Absinthe, Marijuana, uppers, downers, Xanax, Valium, Methadone, beer, whiskey, vodka, bourbon, rum, gin, NoDoz, sleeping tablets, cigarettes, coffee and caffeine made it happen. Throughout recessions, boom times, bubbles, the AIDS epidemic, the Pax Americana and the War On Drugs, the characters herein got by somehow, surviving and spewing venom. Their art hurt people, set a bad example, burrowed into impressionable minds, subliminally implanted time-bombs in the unstable.
New tools, and new uses for old tools: videos, cassettes and copy machines evolved into Sci-fi gadgets. For example, in the beginning (1987) Seconds went to the cheapest printer as hastily typeset, hand-made “mechanicals” on stacks of shaggy, re-used cardboard. In the end (2000) a Mac G3 processed everything, spitting it out on two CDs.
Since Day One art challenged everything; its history abounds with misanthropy and anti-authoritarianism. Some used art to inflame and overthrow. It always incited, excited or blasphemed!
Historically, an artist tackled a single taboo, driven by fetish, injustice, poverty or disease. However, the artists herein broke all taboos simultaneously. They mixed it all. Aesthetic Terrorism!
A history: When at first some unheralded individual, tripping on LSD, grabbed a ballpoint pen and on notebook paper doodled, Underground Art began. When every icon lay smashed, every hypocrisy got exposed, and every taboo was broken, Underground Art ended—or, more precisely, percolated into above-ground mainstream art, where the status quo appropriated it.
Underground Art kicked off when a new perceptual tool became available: LSD. Illegal and without psychological precedent, it inspired uninhibited outlaw art documenting Psychedelia’s expansion into a far-reaching culture ultimately ravaged by the War On Drugs.
The first generation of Underground Artists, while quite mischievous, ultimately sought living beauty and bliss. This book features the “second generation,” who sought death and destruction.
From an era of nothingness, emptiness, zero, from the end of time, the end of history, Hello There! From an era of egos, cocks, pussies, narcissism, solipsism, hedonism and nothingness! From this fabulous era of nothingness, Ahoy, You Of Tomorrow! Study this era, these exhilarating days. Learn these lessons, you weak ones of the future—you watered-down versions of this day’s denizens. You scum of tomorrow—Fuck You!
From an era of anger and hate, action and reaction, alienation, fucked-up people, lies, crime, blood and bullshit—from an era of primal passions, hard drugs, hard cocks, killer art et cetera, Hello There!!!
Ian Brady and Myra Hindley’s spree of torture, sexual abuse, and murder of children in the 1960s was one of the most appalling series of crimes ever committed in England, and remains almost daily fixated upon by the tabloid press. In The Gates of Janus, Ian Brady himself allows us a glimpse into the mind of a murderer as he analyzes a dozen other serial crimes and killers.
Criminal profiling by a criminal was not invented by the dramatists of Dexter.
Novelist and true-crime writer Colin Wilson, author of the famous and influential book The Outsider, remarks in his introduction to Brady’s book that one must first explore the depraved reaches of human consciousness to truly understand human character.
When first released in 2001, The Gates of Janus sparked controversy attended by a huge media splash. The new edition, the first in paperback, provides the reader with a decade and a half of updates, including Brady’s letters to the publisher, both providing information regarding his own demented history along with demands that Feral House remove its unflattering afterword written by author Peter Sotos.
It feels increasingly difficult to tell the difference between—on one hand—being old, sick, and defeated, and—on the other hand—living in a time-&-place that is itself senile, tired, and defeated. Sometimes I think it’s just me—but then I find that some younger, healthier people seem to be undergoing similar sensations of ennui, despair, and impotent anger. Maybe it’s not just me.
A friend of mine attributed the turn to disillusion with “everything”, including old-fashioned radical/activist positions, to disappointment over the present political regime in the US, which was somehow expected to usher in a turn away from the reactionary decades since the 1980s, or even a “progress” toward some sort of democratic socialism. Although I myself didn’t share this optimism (I always assume that anyone who even wants to be President of the US must be a psychopathic murderer) I can see that “youth” suffered a powerful disillusionment at the utter failure of Liberalism to turn the tide against Capitalism Triumphalism. The disillusion gave rise to OCCUPY and the failure of OCCUPY led to a move toward sheer negation.
However I think this merely political analysis of the “new nothing” may be too two-dimensional to do justice to the extent to which all hope of “change” has died under Kognitive Kapital and the technopathocracy. Despite my remnant hippy flower- power sentiments I too feel this “terminal” condition (as Nietzsche called it), which I express by saying, only half- jokingly, that we have at last reached the Future, and that the truly horrible truth of the End of the World is that it doesn’t end.
One big J.G. Ballard/Philip K. Dick shopping mall from now till eternity, basically.
This IS the future—how do you like it so far? Life in the Ruins: not so bad for the bourgeoisie, the loyal servants of the One Percent. Air-conditioned ruins! No Ragnarok, no Rapture, no dramatic closure: just an endless re-run of reality TV cop shows. 2012 has come and gone, and we’re still in debt to some faceless bank, still chained to our screens.
Most people—in order to live at all—seem to need around themselves a penumbra of “illusion” (to quote Nietzsche again):— that the world is just rolling along as usual, some good days some bad, but in essence no different now than in 10000 BC or 1492 AD or next year. Some even need to believe in Progress, that the Future will solve all our problems, and even that life is much better for us now than for (say) people in the 5th century AD. We live longer thanx to Modern Science—of course our extra years are largely spent as “medical objects”—sick and worn out but kept ticking by Machines & Pills that spin huge profits for a few megacorporations & insurance companies. Nation of Struldbugs.
True, we’re suffocating in the mire generated by our rule of sick machines under the Numisphere of Money. At least ten times as much money now exists than it would take to buy the whole world—and yet species are vanishing space itself is vanishing, icecaps melting, air and water grown toxic, culture grown toxic, landscape sacrificed to fracking and megamalls, noise-fascism, etc, etc. But Science will cure all that ills that Science has created—in the Future (in the “long run”, when we’re all dead, as Lord Keynes put it); so meanwhile we’ll carry on consuming the world and shitting it out as waste—because it’s convenient & efficient & profitable to do so, and because we like it.
Well, this is all a bunch of whiney left-liberal cliches, no? Heard it before a million times. Yawn. How boring, how infantile, how useless. Even if it were all true… what can we do about it? If our Anointed Leaders can’t or won’t stop it, who will? God? Satan? The “People”?”
All the fashionable “solutions” to the “crisis”, from electronic democracy to revolutionary violence, from locavorism to solar- powered dingbats, from financial market regulation to the General Strike—all of them, however ridiculous or sublime, depend on one preliminary radical change—a seismic shift in human consciousness. Without such a change all the hope of reform is futile. And if such a change were somehow to occur, no “reform” would be necessary. The world would simply change. The whales would be saved. War no more. And so on.
What force could (even in theory) bring about such a shift? Religion? In 6,000 years of organized religion matters have only gotten worse. Psychedelic drugs in the reservoirs? The Mayan calendar? Nostalgia? Terror?
If catastrophic disaster is now inevitable, perhaps the “Survival- ist” scenario will ensue, and a few brave millions will create a green utopia in the smoking waste. But won’t Capitalism find a way to profit even from the End of the World? Some would claim that it’s doing so already. The true catastrophe may be the final apotheosis of commodity fetishism.
Let’s assume for the sake of argument that this paradise of power tools and back-up alarms is all we’ve got & all we’re going to get. Capitalism can deal with global warming—it can sell water- wings and disaster insurance. So it’s all over, let’s say—but we’ve still got television & Twitter. Childhood’s End—i.e. the child as ultimate consumer, eager for the brand. Terrorism or home shopping network—take yr pick (democracy means choice).
Since the death of the Historical Movement of the Social in 1989 (last gasp of the hideous “short” XXth century that started in 1914) the only “alternative” to Capitalist Neo-Liberal totalitarianism that seems to have emerged is religious neo-fascism. I understand why someone would want to be a violent fundamentalist bigot—I even sympathize—but just because I feel sorry for lepers doesn’t mean I want to be one.
When I attempt to retain some shreds of my former antipessimism I fantasize that History may not be over, that some sort ofPopulist Green Social Democracy might yet emerge to challenge the obscene smugness of“Money Interests”—something along the lines of 1970s Scandinavian monarcho-socialism—which in retrospect now looks the most humane form of the State ever to have emerged from the putrid suck-hole of Civilization. (Think of Amsterdam in its hey-day.) Of course as an anarchist I’d still have to oppose it—but at least I’d have the luxury of believing that, in such a situation, anarchy might actually stand some chance of success. Even if such a movement were to emerge, however, we can rest damn-well assured it won’t happen in the USA. Or anywhere in the ghost-realm of dead Marxism, either. Maybe Scotland!
It would seem quite pointless to wait around for such a rebirth of the Social. Years ago many radicals gave up all hope of The Revolution, and the few who still adhere to it remind me of religious fanatics. It might be soothing to lapse into such doctrinaire revolutionism, just as it might be soothing to sink into mystical religion—but for me at least both options have lost their savor. Again, I sympathize with those true believers (although not so much when they lapse into authoritarian leftism or fascism)— nevertheless, frankly, I’m too depressed to embrace their Illusions.
If the End-Time scenario sketched above be considered actually true, what alternatives might exist besides suicidal despair? After much thought I’ve come up with three basic strategies.
1) Passive Escapism. Keep your head down, don’t make waves. Capitalism permits all sorts of “life-styles” (I hate that word)—just pick one & try to enjoy it. You’re even allowed to live as a dirt farmer without electricity & infernal combustion, like a sort of secular Amish refusnik. Well, maybe not. But at least you could flirt with such a life. “Smoke Pot, Eat Chicken, Drink Tea,” as we used to say in the 60s in the Moorish Church of America, our psychedelic cult. Hope they don’t catch you. Fit yourself into some Permitted Category such as Neo-Hippy or even Anabaptist.
2) Active Escapism. In this scenario you attempt to create the optimal conditions for the emergence of Autonomous Zones, whether temprorary, periodic or even (semi)permanent. In 1984 when I first coined the term Temporary Autonomous Zone (TAZ)
I envisioned it as a complent to The Revolution—although I was already, to be truthful, tired of waiting for a moment that seemed to have failed in 1968. The TAZ would give a taste or premonition of real liberties: in effect you would attempt to live as if the Revolution had already occurred, so as not to die without ever having experienced “free freedom” (as Rimbaud called it, liberte libre). Create your own pirate utopia.
Of course the TAZ can be as brief & simple as a really good dinner party, but the true autonomist will want to maximize the potential for longer & deeper experiences of authentic lived life. Almost inevitably this will involve crime, so it’s necessary to think like a criminal, not a victim. A “Johnson” as Burroughs used to say—not a “mark”. How else can one live (and live well) without Work. Work, the curse of the thinking class. Wage slavery. If you’re lucky enough to be a successful artist, you can perhaps achieve relative autonomy without breaking any obvious laws (except the laws of good taste, perhaps). Or you could inherit a million. (More than a million would be a curse.) Forget revolutionary morality—the question is, can you afford your taste of freedom? For most of us, crime will be not only a pleasure but a necessity. The old anarcho-Illegalists showed the way: individual expropriation. Getting caught of course spoils the whole thing—but risk is an aspect of self-authenticity.
One scenario I’ve imagined for active Escapism would be to move to a remote rural area along with several hundred other libertarian social- ists—enough to take over the local government (municipal or even county) and elect or control the sheriffs & judges, the parent/teacher association, volunteer fire department and even the water authority. Fund the venture with cultivation of illegal phantastice and carry on a discreet trade. Organize as a “Union of Egoists” for mutual benefit & ecstatic plea- sures—perhaps under the guise of “communes” or even monasteries, who cares. Enjoy it as long as it lasts.
I know for a fact that this plan is being worked on in several places in America—but of course I’m not going to say where.
Another possible model for individual escapists might be the nomadic adventurer. Given that the whole world seems to be turning into a giant parking lot or social network, I don’t know if this option remains open, but I suspect that it might. The trick would be to travel in places where tourists don’t—if such places still exist—and to involve oneself in fascinating and dangerous situations. For example if I were young and healthy I’d’ve gone to France to take part in the TAZ that grew around resistance to the new airport—or to Greece—or Mexico—wherever the perverse spirit of rebellion crops up. The problem here is of course funding. (Sending back statues stuffed with hash is no longer a good idea.) How to pay for yr life of adventure? Love will find a way. It doesn’t matter so much if one agrees with the ideals of Tahrir Square or Zucotti Park—the point is just to be there.
3. Revenge. I call it Zarathustra’s Revenge because as Nietzsche said, revenge may be second rate but it’s not nothing. One might enjoy the satisfaction of terrifying the bastards for at least a few moments. Formerly I advocated “Poetic Terrorism” rather than actual violence, the idea being that art could be wielded as a weapon. Now I’ve rather come to doubt it. But perhaps weapons might be wielded as art. From the sledgehammer of the Luddites to the black bomb of the attentat, destruction could serve as a form of creativity, for its own sake, or for purely aesthetic reasons, without any illusions about revolution. Oscar Wilde meets the acte gratuit: a dandyism of despair.
What troubles me about this idea is that it seems impossible to distinguish here between the action of post-leftist anarcho-nihil- ists and the action of post-rightist neo-traditionalist reactionaries. For that matter, a bomb may as well be detonated by fundamentalist fanatics—what difference would it make to the victims or the “innocent bystanders”? Blowing up a nanotechnology lab—why shouldn’t this be the act of a desperate monarchist as easily as that of a Nietzschean anarchist?
In a recent book by Tiqqun (Theory of Bloom), it was fascinating to come suddenly across the constellation of Nietzsche, Rene Guenon, Julius Evola, et al. as examples of a sharp and just critique of the Bloom syndrome—i.e., of progress-as-illusion. Of course the “beyond left and right” position has two sides—one approaching from the left, the other from the right. The European New Right (Alain de Benoist & his gang) are big admirers of Guy Debord, for a similar reason (his critique, not his proposals).
The post-left can now appreciate Traditionalism as a reaction against modernity just as the neo-traditionalists can appreciate Situationism. But this doesn’t mean that post-anarchist anarchists are identical with post-fascism fascists!
I’m reminded of the situation in fin-de-siecle France that gave rise to the strange alliance between anarchists and monarchists; for example the Cerce Proudhon. This surreal conjunction came about for two reasons: a) both factions hated liberal democracy, and b) the monarchists had money. The marriage gave birth to weird progeny, such as Georges Sorel. And Mussolini famously began his career as an Individualist anarchist!
Another link between left & right could be analyzed as a kind of existentialism; once again Nietzsche is the founding parent here, I think. On the left there were thinkers like Gide or Camus. On the right, that illuminated villain Baron Julius Evola used to tell his little ultra-right groupus- cules in Rome to attack the Modern World—even though the restoraton of tradition was a hopeless dream—if only as an act of magical self-creation. Being trumps essence. One must cherish no attachment to mere results. Surely Tiqqun’s advocacy of the “perfect Surrealist act” (firing a revolver at random into a crowd of “innocent by-standers”) partakes of this form of action- as-despair. (Incidentally I have to confess that this is the sort of thing that has always—to my regret—prevented my embraing Surrealism: it’s just too cruel. I don’t admire de Sade, either.)
Of course, as we know, the problem with the Traditionalists is that they were never traditional enough. They looked back at a lost civilization as their “goal” (religion, mysticism, monarchism, arts-&-crafts, etc.) whereas they should have realized that the real tradition is the “primordial anarchy” of the Stone Age, tribalism, hunting/gathering, animism—what I call the Neanderthal Liberation Front. Paul Goodman used the term “Neolithic Conservatism” to describe his brand of anarchism—but “Paleolithic Reaction” might be more appropriate!
The other major problem with the Traditionalist Right is that the entire emotional tone of the movement is rooted in self-repression. Here a rough Reichean analysis suffices to demonstrate that the authoritarian body reflects a damaged soul, and that only anarchy is compatible with real self-realization.
The European New Right that arose in the 90s still carries on its propaganda—and these chaps are not just vulgar nationalist chauvenist anti-semitic homophobic thugs—they’re intellectuals & artists. I think they’re evil, but that doesn’t mean I find them boring. Or even wrong on certain points. They also hate the nanotechnologists!
Although I attempted to set off a few bombs back in the 1960s (against the war in Vietnam) I’m glad, on the whole, that they failed to detonate (technology was never my metier). It saves me from wondering if I would’ve experienced “moral qualms”. Instead I chose the path of the propagandist and remained an activist in anarchist media from 1984 to about 2004. I collaborated with the Autonomedia publishing collective, the IWW, the John Henry Mack- ay Society (Left Stirnerites) and the old NYC Libertarian Book Club (founded by comrades of Emma Goldman, some of whom I knew, & who are now all dead). I had a radio show on WBAI (Pacifica) for 18 years. I lectured all over Europe and East Europe in the 90s. I had a very nice time, thank you. But anarchism seems even farther off now than it looked in 1984, or indeed in 1958, when I first became an anarchist by reading George Harriman’s Krazy Kat. Well, being an existentialist means you never have to say you’re sorry.
In the last few years in anarchist circles there’s appeared a trend “back” to Stirner/Nietzsche Individualism—because after all, who can take revolutionary anarcho- communism or syndicalism seriously anymore? Since I’ve adhered to this Individualist position for decades (although tempered by admiration for Charles Fourier and certain “spiritual anarchists” like Gustave Landauer) I naturally find this trend agreeable.
“Green anarchists” & AntiCivilization Neo-primitivists seem (some of them) to be moving toward a new pole of attraction, nihilism. Perhaps neo-nihilism would serve as a better label, since this tendency is not simply replicating the nihilism of the Russian narodniks or the French attentatists of circa 1890 to 1912, however much the new nihilists look to the old ones as precursors. I share their critique—in fact I think I’ve been mirroring it to a large extent in this essay: creative despair, let’s call it. What I do not understand however is their proposal—if any. “What is to be done?” was originally a nihilist slogan, after all, before Lenin appropriated it. I presume that my option #1, passive escape, would not suit the agenda. As for Active Escapism, to use the suffix “ism” implies some form not only of ideology but also some action. What is the logical outcome of this train of thought?
As an animist I experience the world (outside Civilization) as essentially sentient. The death of God means the rebirth of the gods, as Nietzsche implied in his last “mad” letters from Turin— the resurrection of the great god PAN—chaos, Eros, Gaia, & Old Night, as Hesiod put it—Ontological anarchy, Desire, Life itself, & the Darkness of revolt & negation—all seem to me as real as they need to be.
I still adhere to a certain kind of spiritual anarchism—but only as heresy and paganism, not as orthodoxy and monotheism. I have great respect for Dorothy Day—her writing influenced me in the 60s—and Ivan Illich, whom I knew personally—but in the end I cannot deal with the cognitive dissonance between anarchism and the Pope! Nevertheless I can believe in the re-paganaziation of monotheism. I hold to this pagan tradition because I sense the universe as alive, not as “dead matter.” As a life-long psychedelicist I have always thought that matter & spirit are identical, and that this fact alone legitimizes what Theory calls “desire”.
From this p.o.v. the phrase “revolution of everyday life” still seems to have some validity—if only in terms of the second proposal, Active Escapism or the TAZ. As for the third possibility— Zarathustra’s Revenge—this seems like a possible path for the new nihilism, at least from a philosophical perspective. But since I am unable personally to advocate it, I leave the question open.
But here—I think—is the point at which I both meet with & diverge from the new nihilism. I too seem to believe that Predatory Capitalism has won and that no revolution is possible in the classical sense of that term. But somehow I can’t bring myself to be “against everything.” Within the Temporary Autonomous Zone there still seems to persist the possiblity of “authentic life,” if only for a moment— and if this position amounts to mere Escapism, then let us become Houdini. The new surge of interest in Individualism is obviously a response to the Death of the Social. But does the new nihilism imply the death even of the individual and the “union of egoists” or Nietzschean free spirits? On my good days, I like to think not.
No matter which of the three paths one takes (or others I can’t yet imagine) it seems to me that the essential thing is not to collapse into mere apathy. Depression we may have to accept, impotent rage we may have to accept, revolutionary pessimism we may have to accept. But as e.e. cummings (anarchist poet) said, there is some shit we will not take, lest we simply become the enemy by default. Can’t go on, must go on. Cultivate rosebuds, even selfish pleasures, as long as a few birds & flowers still remain. Even love may not be impossible…
SOURCE: The Anvil Review http://theanvilreview.org/
for further inquiry follow the comments here: http://anarchistnews.org/content/new-nihilism and here: http://www.anarchistnews.org/content/new-nihilism-forum-topic-comment-section
a comment at the essay by Emile:
THE FOURTH OPTION NOT MENTIONED BY WILSON
i kind of like this author’s [peter lamborn wilson’s] writing style with its nuance of coolness and humour, and have the feeling that it’s been on anarchistnews.org before (it was evidently written in july, 2014).
meanwhile, my gut reaction is rejection of this boring and repeated insistence that change in the world is something we are going to see. ‘here it comes, folks, … things are starting to move in the right direction, … we’re on our way now, … put your shoulder behind it and we’ll take it the full hundred yards down to touchdown.
surely this impression that we have to see change happening is our ego talking. how about “life is what happens to us while we’re busy making other plans” [john lennon]. what about that sort of change? … where we’re blind-sided by it?
are we not too much the puppet of our own intention? “i want this to happen and it is not happening,… here’ comes my childhood-tantrum”.
there are quite a few references to nietzsche here, but none to ‘amor fati’, love of fate;
“My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it…but love it. — Nietzsche, ‘Ecce Homo’
it is only a cheap form of anti-authorianism that rejects all imposition of authority except one’s own. “this revolution or transition has to start happening now, damn it, or i am going to have to give up on this world”.
in true anarchist style, nietzsche sees the world in terms of a ceaseless, goal-less Becoming, as in the ‘transforming relational activity continuum of modern physics’;
“And do you know what “the world” is to me? Shall I show it to you in my mirror? This world: a monster of energy, without beginning, without end; a firm, iron magnitude of force that does not grow bigger or smaller, that does not expend itself but only transforms itself; as a whole, of unalterable size, a household without expenses or losses, but likewise without increase or income …” –Nietzsche, ‘The Will to Power’, 1067
Such a world is not in the state of ‘becoming’ in the sense of working its way towards a goal outside of it, in which case, it’s current state would be deficient relative to that goal, kind of like a sinful world that is in the process of being redeemed.
no doubt, most of us are not keen on even ‘trying on’ this amor fati because we don’t want to ‘get comfortable’ with ‘not caring’ whether anything changes in the way we want to see it change. we don’t want to lose our Atman individuality and dissolve into pure Brahman holeness.
But, maybe its possible to be ‘both at the same time’ so it could be interesting to follow along with Nietzsche and see what he’s up to with the Amor fati thing, per this guided tour by ulfers and cohen;
“Amor fati is the embrace of the world that is as it is—eternally Becoming—not as it “should” be, for there is no “should,” no imperative that it be, or be transformed into, something other than it is. Put differently, Amor fati is the embrace of a world that is an implicate order of freedom and necessity: of freedom in that it is free from any “should” that would judge it to be deficient, and from any goal that “should” be attained, and of necessity because the lack of a goal to be achieved allows the world its “must,” its having to be what it is, not what it is made by an authority beyond the perimeters of the world.
… In other words, fate, as Nietzsche interprets it, is the emblem of his insight that there is nothing—nihil—outside the transitoriness of the world of eternal Becoming. Fate, then, is the name for a totally immanent, perpetually transitory world that is not subject to the finality of a goal outside of it, the achievement of which would redeem the “guiltiness” of Becoming. Amor fati is the embrace of the world that is as it is—eternally Becoming—not as it “should” be, for there is no “should,” no imperative that it be, or be transformed into, something other than it is. Put differently, Amor fati is the embrace of a world that is an implicate order of freedom and necessity: of freedom in that it is free from any “should” that would judge it to be deficient, and from any goal that “should” be attained, and of necessity because the lack of a goal to be achieved allows the world its “must,” its having to be what it is, not what it is made by an authority beyond the perimeters of the world.
In particular, it can be said that Nietzsche’s appeal to love of fate is the consequence of his thesis of the “death of God,” love of a supreme center of the value of Being that guaranteed meaning to a meaningless world of Becoming—the authority beyond the limits of the world. The fate of Amor fati “frees” us, then, to a world of radical immanence, a world beyond the dualism of immanence and transcendence. Nietzsche characterizes this world as whole in the sense of an interconnectedness or web-like structure Nietzsche describes as Verhängnis (literally a “hanging together”), a word that also means “fate.” Given that the world of interconnectedness (Verhängnis) is its own fate (Verhängnis), it is beyond any outside determinism because there is no outside to the whole. Given a radically holistic world, there is no outside to its Verhängnis, and thus we must be what we are: Verhängnis. As Nietzsche puts it succinctly: “One is necessary, one is a piece of fatefulness [Verhängnis], one belongs to the whole, one is the whole.” — Friedrich Ulfers and Mark Daniel Cohen. Nietzsche’s Amor Fati – The Embracing of an Undecided Fate. Poiesis – A Journal of the Arts and Communication. 2002. (English)
whether or not we can ‘get into it’, there is this suggestion here that everything finds its meaning and value in everything else in a relational web-structure. this is a shift from where we are when we are impatient for change to start rolling out in the direction we want it to. because that has to be coming from our ego, and our confidence that we know what’s good for the world and we want to help ‘bring it on’. but in a ‘web-of-life’ situation, we are the pushing and pulling we are situationally included in. we are the evolving world. we are the agents of transformation.
meanwhile, we tend to think of ourselves as little ants who can’t make a mark on world change unless we can band together and have a whole lot of ants pulling or pushing together in the same direction. and if that’s no happening then we feel like giving up on changing the world, and when that happens, its like the world is drifting along without us and is impervious to our attempts to change it.
this is the nihilism that nietzsche warns about. it comes from ‘the death of God’ in a simple sense of leaving the world and life ‘meaningless’ since there is nothing above it all to give it meaning. however, the death of a source of meaning that lies beyond the world of becoming could mean that the ‘meaning’ or ‘value’ is inside the world in the evolutionary web-of-life itself. in this case, whatever is unfolding is unfolding the way it must.
so, … we go [in our understanding of ourselves] from being an ant amongst ants who need to band together to construct a future state of the world that we know is a ‘good’ state, … to abandoning the notion that the world needs to go to some state that is improved over where it is and understanding ourselves as being co-evolver of the world, … then we are never ‘out of the game’ and never rendered ‘useless’. instead of seeing ourselves as ‘doers of deeds’ that must somehow make a mark on the world, we see ourselves ‘as the world’, as agent of transformation flow features in the fluid world.
nietzsche was on the same wavelength as emerson on this;
“Whilst a necessity so great caused the man to exist, his health and erectness consist in the fidelity with which he transmits influences from the vast and universal to the point on which his genius can act. The ends are momentary: they are vents for the current of inward life which increases as it is spent. A man’s wisdom is to know that all ends are momentary, that the best end must be superseded by a better. But there is a mischievous tendency in him to transfer his thought from the life to the ends, to quit his agency and rest in his acts: the tools run away with the workman, the human with the divine.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson, ‘The Method of Nature’
dealing with the frustration of our ego in this way, is not amongst the options given by wilson, but it clearly seems to be one that was actually exercised by nietzsche, who felt that the sort of change he was looking for; i.e. the tranvaluation of all values, … was a couple of centuries away which would be punctuated by a bad bout of nihilism before we had cultivated the amor fati antidote.
it’s not that this transition isn’t possible. indigenous anarchist infants are brought up with this web-of-life worldview foundation. but the challenge in getting back into it after being raised a Western civilized kid, is enormous. while it is more difficult than the three options that wilson mentioned, it is not impossible and it is therefore worth mentioning it as a fourth (and preferred) option.
Some of the wealthiest people in America—in Silicon Valley, New York, and beyond—are getting ready for the crackup of civilization.
Steve Huffman, the thirty-three-year-old co-founder and C.E.O. of Reddit, which is valued at six hundred million dollars, was nearsighted until November, 2015, when he arranged to have laser eye surgery. He underwent the procedure not for the sake of convenience or appearance but, rather, for a reason he doesn’t usually talk much about: he hopes that it will improve his odds of surviving a disaster, whether natural or man-made. “If the world ends—and not even if the world ends, but if we have trouble—getting contacts or glasses is going to be a huge pain in the ass,” he told me recently. “Without them, I’m fucked.”
Huffman, who lives in San Francisco, has large blue eyes, thick, sandy hair, and an air of restless curiosity; at the University of Virginia, he was a competitive ballroom dancer, who hacked his roommate’s Web site as a prank. He is less focussed on a specific threat—a quake on the San Andreas, a pandemic, a dirty bomb—than he is on the aftermath, “the temporary collapse of our government and structures,” as he puts it. “I own a couple of motorcycles. I have a bunch of guns and ammo. Food. I figure that, with that, I can hole up in my house for some amount of time.”
Survivalism, the practice of preparing for a crackup of civilization, tends to evoke a certain picture: the woodsman in the tinfoil hat, the hysteric with the hoard of beans, the religious doomsayer. But in recent years survivalism has expanded to more affluent quarters, taking root in Silicon Valley and New York City, among technology executives, hedge-fund managers, and others in their economic cohort.
Last spring, as the Presidential campaign exposed increasingly toxic divisions in America, Antonio García Martínez, a forty-year-old former Facebook product manager living in San Francisco, bought five wooded acres on an island in the Pacific Northwest and brought in generators, solar panels, and thousands of rounds of ammunition. “When society loses a healthy founding myth, it descends into chaos,” he told me. The author of “Chaos Monkeys,” an acerbic Silicon Valley memoir, García Martínez wanted a refuge that would be far from cities but not entirely isolated. “All these dudes think that one guy alone could somehow withstand the roving mob,” he said. “No, you’re going to need to form a local militia. You just need so many things to actually ride out the apocalypse.” Once he started telling peers in the Bay Area about his “little island project,” they came “out of the woodwork” to describe their own preparations, he said. “I think people who are particularly attuned to the levers by which society actually works understand that we are skating on really thin cultural ice right now.”
In private Facebook groups, wealthy survivalists swap tips on gas masks, bunkers, and locations safe from the effects of climate change. One member, the head of an investment firm, told me, “I keep a helicopter gassed up all the time, and I have an underground bunker with an air-filtration system.” He said that his preparations probably put him at the “extreme” end among his peers. But he added, “A lot of my friends do the guns and the motorcycles and the gold coins. That’s not too rare anymore.”
Tim Chang, a forty-four-year-old managing director at Mayfield Fund, a venture-capital firm, told me, “There’s a bunch of us in the Valley. We meet up and have these financial-hacking dinners and talk about backup plans people are doing. It runs the gamut from a lot of people stocking up on Bitcoin and cryptocurrency, to figuring out how to get second passports if they need it, to having vacation homes in other countries that could be escape havens.” He said, “I’ll be candid: I’m stockpiling now on real estate to generate passive income but also to have havens to go to.” He and his wife, who is in technology, keep a set of bags packed for themselves and their four-year-old daughter. He told me, “I kind of have this terror scenario: ‘Oh, my God, if there is a civil war or a giant earthquake that cleaves off part of California, we want to be ready.’ ”
When Marvin Liao, a former Yahoo executive who is now a partner at 500 Startups, a venture-capital firm, considered his preparations, he decided that his caches of water and food were not enough. “What if someone comes and takes this?” he asked me. To protect his wife and daughter, he said, “I don’t have guns, but I have a lot of other weaponry. I took classes in archery.”
For some, it’s just “brogrammer” entertainment, a kind of real-world sci-fi, with gear; for others, like Huffman, it’s been a concern for years. “Ever since I saw the movie ‘Deep Impact,’ ” he said. The film, released in 1998, depicts a comet striking the Atlantic, and a race to escape the tsunami. “Everybody’s trying to get out, and they’re stuck in traffic. That scene happened to be filmed near my high school. Every time I drove through that stretch of road, I would think, I need to own a motorcycle because everybody else is screwed.”
Huffman has been a frequent attendee at Burning Man, the annual, clothing-optional festival in the Nevada desert, where artists mingle with moguls. He fell in love with one of its core principles, “radical self-reliance,” which he takes to mean “happy to help others, but not wanting to require others.” (Among survivalists, or “preppers,” as some call themselves, fema, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, stands for “Foolishly Expecting Meaningful Aid.”) Huffman has calculated that, in the event of a disaster, he would seek out some form of community: “Being around other people is a good thing. I also have this somewhat egotistical view that I’m a pretty good leader. I will probably be in charge, or at least not a slave, when push comes to shove.”
Over the years, Huffman has become increasingly concerned about basic American political stability and the risk of large-scale unrest. He said, “Some sort of institutional collapse, then you just lose shipping—that sort of stuff.” (Prepper blogs call such a scenario W.R.O.L., “without rule of law.”) Huffman has come to believe that contemporary life rests on a fragile consensus. “I think, to some degree, we all collectively take it on faith that our country works, that our currency is valuable, the peaceful transfer of power—that all of these things that we hold dear work because we believe they work. While I do believe they’re quite resilient, and we’ve been through a lot, certainly we’re going to go through a lot more.”
In building Reddit, a community of thousands of discussion threads, into one of the most frequently visited sites in the world, Huffman has grown aware of the way that technology alters our relations with one another, for better and for worse. He has witnessed how social media can magnify public fear. “It’s easier for people to panic when they’re together,” he said, pointing out that “the Internet has made it easier for people to be together,” yet it also alerts people to emerging risks. Long before the financial crisis became front-page news, early signs appeared in user comments on Reddit. “People were starting to whisper about mortgages. They were worried about student debt. They were worried about debt in general. There was a lot of, ‘This is too good to be true. This doesn’t smell right.’ ” He added, “There’s probably some false positives in there as well, but, in general, I think we’re a pretty good gauge of public sentiment. When we’re talking about a faith-based collapse, you’re going to start to see the chips in the foundation on social media first.”
How did a preoccupation with the apocalypse come to flourish in Silicon Valley, a place known, to the point of cliché, for unstinting confidence in its ability to change the world for the better?
read more about who to raid if it all comes down 😉
The beautiful idea: Anarchism means many things to many people. Classical anarchism in Europe defined itself in relief to its three opponents: the church, state, and capital. In our historical estimation, we find that anarchism in America has been known in any given time much more through its associated struggles. Decades ago, it was synonymous with punk rock. Even before that, it bore the face of immigrants: Emma Goldman, Johann Most, Sacco and Vanzetti. Contemporary anarchism has been linked to the anti-globalization movement and more recently, Occupy. The picture gets even more complicated if we expand our gaze globally, especially when we include Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Does the same fire burn in all of these times and places? Is there something that persists beyond a shared name? To be direct: what is anarchism?The answer I now give to this question is that anarchism is the start to a conversation. As someone who loves that particular conversation, I use the word freely, contradictorily, and in public places. I continue to find the implications of words – words spoken out loud, not hidden behind word-processing software – to be bracing. The power of saying “I am for a Beautiful Idea called anarchism” out loud still makes me feel something –something akin to how I felt at a punk rock show (where my politics did originate), something not jaded.But that conversation quickly turns to something else. We may share a dream of a world without coercion-in-the-form-of-the-State or persuasion-in-the-form-of-Capitalism but it is likely we share little else. I am happy to keep it simple, to talk about the glorious history that ended in the Spanish Civil War, or about how doggone rotten this world is, with its politicians and captains of industry. But of course for many (most even), they want to turn the conversation somewhere else entirely. Their interest is an Anarchism as revolutionary ideology, and when they cut to the chase, they could not be more clear what the idea is all about for them: What is to be Done?This wholly other direction tends to lead to (or be) sets of men acting like pocket Lenins pretending to rigorously and honestly consider how they and theirs are going to Take Down the Whole Fucking System! (See https://itsgoingdown.org for many examples.) The delusional conversations about building movements and the logistics of such hold little interest to me.I am absolutely concerned with the implications of the idea in my daily life. I am also concerned with living out, with my body, these implications. Mostly, this has involved something unattractive to many people. For me, the daily life of anarchism is one of conflict, of taking responsibility for the people you disagree with by being in that disagreement (versus pretending it does not exist), by not suffering fools, by honoring my hostility, and by being willing to admit when I am wrong. As I have aged, the tenor of this changed – I am not as willing, for example, to scrap with people who are dumb online, and my living is more comfortable than most – but it is not particularly difficult to get me to shout. But at this point in my life I would almost always rather have a conversation.
“What we call ‘normal’ is a product of repression, denial, splitting, projection, introjection and other forms of destructive action on experience. It is radically estranged from the structure of being. The more one sees this, the more senseless it is to continue with generalized descriptions of supposedly specifically schizoid, schizophrenic, hysterical ‘mechanisms.’ There are forms of alienation that are relatively strange to statistically ‘normal’ forms of alienation. The ‘normally’ alienated person, by reason of the fact that he acts more or less like everyone else, is taken to be sane. Other forms of alienation that are out of step with the prevailing state of alienation are those that are labeled by the ‘formal’ majority as bad or mad.”
–R. D. Laing, The Politics of Experience
Before becoming one of America’s greatest writers, Charles Bukowski was a blue-collar worker with an alcohol problem, acne scars and the dream of writing his way out of mediocrity. Before pissing on literary cliches to bring the written word to a more natural tone, Bukowski worked at the U.S. Postal Service. Before that he worked at a pickle factory. It wasn’t until he was 49 years old in 1969 that publisher John Martin offered to pay Bukowski $100 every month until he died on the condition that he quit his day job and become a full-time writer. So Bukowski wrote, “I have one of two choices—stay in the post office and go crazy…or stay out here and play writer and starve. I have decided to starve.” Bukowski published his first book with Martin’s publishing company. He went on to publish six novels and thousands of poems. Bukowski wrote this letter to Martin 17 years later about what it felt like when he ditched the 9-5.