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The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2021

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MAY 2021 Issue
Art In Conversation

Peter Lamborn Wilson with Lucía Hinojosa, Diego Gerard, Raymond Foye, and Anne Waldman

Civilization Equals Cannibalism Plus Electricity

Portrait of Peter Lamborn Wilson, pencil on paper by Phong H. Bui.
Portrait of Peter Lamborn Wilson, pencil on paper by Phong H. Bui.

I vividly recall the first time I read a text by Peter Lamborn Wilson. His work arrived in my hands as photocopied zines in Spanish, through a friend who was involved in the Zapatista Movement. Ever since, I have been reading and studying his ideas, dreaming of translating more of these magnetizing, wild, revelatory, hermetic texts, to expand the urgency of his critique and vision, and make it widely available to a Spanish speaking audience. How would I get to this, I wasn’t really sure, but a window of opportunity slid open in 2018, when I met Anne Waldman in Mexico City at a poetry workshop in UNAM and became very close. I later learned that she and Peter were old (best) friends.

On January 12, 2020, Diego Gerard, Anne Waldman, and myself, met at a café in MacDougal Street in the West Village and after a quick coffee, we headed to Penn Station and took a bus Upstate NY to meet Peter Lamborn Wilson. We had come from Mexico City (Diego & I) for an arts residency, but part of the plan had always been to visit Peter and pitch him the idea of translating and publishing his work for a Spanish speaking audience through diSONARE, our Mexico City based press and editorial project

Peter Lamborn Wilson, <em>Sombras Traslúcidas</em> (Translucent Shadows) (diSONARE, 2021).
Peter Lamborn Wilson, Sombras Traslúcidas (Translucent Shadows) (diSONARE, 2021).

Upon arrival at Kingston’s bus station, Raymond Foye greeted us and we drove straight to a nearby village to have lunch with Peter at a diner across the street from where he lives. After lunch we headed to his home, where we sat together and mostly listened to Peter’s astonishing, agile mind. We talked for hours—surrounded by his books and objects—about language and its origins, about technology, US-Mexican politics, and primordial societies, themes we were to pursue in the translation of his texts.

We are forever grateful to Anne Waldman, who was the bridge and conduit to bring us together, and to Raymond Foye for his openness, intelligence, and infinite kindness. We are very excited to publish Peter’s book Sombras Traslúcidas (Translucent Shadows) under diSONARE in June 2021, gathering work that spans decades including visual art, poems, and fascinating essays translated by Diego Gerard.

Peter Lamborn Wilson: 20 years ago I was criticizing the internet as a technology, not as something that was misused by capitalism. In the preface to the second edition of TAZ: The Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism (2003) I said that the internet was a mirror of capitalism, it couldn’t have existed without capitalism, it was the very structure of capitalism for the new age. In other words, the people who said something like, “in the early days of the internet, it was this libertarian paradise and we were all free, we were all young and beautiful, and everything was groovy, man, we could do what we wanted, we were going to destroy the world of banks, destroy capitalism. …” People actually thought that …

Raymond Foye: By having a medium that was so egalitarian?

Wilson: Yes. And what I was saying was that the technology itself was the problem. It’s not a question of who uses it. You can have all the saints in heaven using this technology and the result would be the same—the breakdown of human connection in the real world. The fact that Zuckerberg and these people made a fetish out of connectivity and communication is a sign of their satanic superiority. It’s exactly the opposite. It’s a machine that breaks down human connection.

Foye: Isn’t that the trajectory of all technology?

Wilson: Yes. Basically that’s true. Let’s put it this way: what we need to remember is that there’s a feedback situation where humans create the technology and then the technology creates humanity. It isn’t a one-way street. We created the steam engine and the steam engine created a new world where distance was not a meaningful expression of space and time—that’s a fucking big change.

Foye: So now you have a technology that’s permeating all the world and all of humanity on a personal level. What kind of changes do you see in terms of the evolution of human consciousness this could result in?

Wilson: Yes, it’s completely atomized. And humanity is atomized too. Evolution has been derailed. The evolutionary process itself is fucked by technology at this point.

Anne Waldman: How does that operate on a cellular level?

Wilson: One example would be the disappearance of sexuality in American society. The statistics on sexual behavior are extraordinary. In the last 10 years it’s gone down to like 50 percent of people saying they don’t have sex at all—they’re not even talking about good sex. Many people are not into that anymore, they’re not into human connectedness anymore.

Foye: And what about artificial intelligence? The scenario of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) was that you reach the point where the machine has taken over—HAL won’t open the pod door. Now when Stephen Hawking died, his heirs issued his last statement which said that the greatest threat to the survival of humanity was artificial intelligence. Somebody that smart could’ve named any number of things, so to say that AI would be the end of humankind …

Wilson: If there were such a thing as real, hard AI—what is called the hard AI problem, which is a machine that has consciousness. The fact is that this is unnecessary from the point of view of technology and economy. You just make what I call the end run around that problem, which is that you keep on increasing the density and complexity of machine capacity in terms of analyzing information, then you don’t need intelligence. It’s quite clear that the world gets along quite fine without intelligence. The idea that there would be a HAL, you know, the HAL concept, that the machine gets consciousness and wants to take over, this is science-fiction nonsense, it’s science fiction recreating the idle dreams of medieval magicians.

Diego Gerard: Is this because AI has no other purpose but to serve capital and create revenue?

Wilson: Yes. It’s all about the money. And this is the end run, just avoiding the whole issue of consciousness and completely transforming the world through technology alone. It’s what is referred to as the information ontology. It never tips off into intelligence. Now we come to other sets of questions. The Japanese, the Shinto people, are such perfect animists that if they accidentally kick the table, they apologize to it. This is why Japanese people are so good at robotics. They think that there is consciousness or soul in there, anima.

Waldman: Can this be measured?

Wilson: I’m not buying it in that sense. I’ll buy the idea that all matter has soul, but just because you rearrange the matter in the form of a machine that works on an algorithm processing information doesn’t make it conscious … or to have any more soul than a rock.

Foye: And it will increasingly not matter as people lose more and more empathy as they’re not connecting. The whole matter of consciousness won’t be as important.

Wilson: That’s what I’m saying, it’s the end run. You avoid the whole, hard AI question. My prediction is within a few years you won’t even hear people talking about it anymore, and I think Stephen Hawking was hallucinating. Some things could come true, but will it be the next stage of human evolution? No!

Waldman: But what is consciousness then, how do you measure it?

Wilson: It can’t be measured, that’s the whole point.

Lucía Hinojosa: Do you think there will be an evolution in terms of the erotic experience—the Eros? Where is Eros heading today?

Wilson: Well that is a very good question. It’s going into the machine, basically. The investment in the machine is a kind of erotic investment—the relationships people have with their telephones, it’s a purely masturbatory relation … So that’s why people aren’t having actual sex, because the communication technology is a weird combination of real alienation and crushing but fake intimacy, and between the two, it has been driving people crazy, and there’s things like micro-aggression there, which is a kind of intimacy gone bad.

Foye: That’s all in Marshall McLuhan, he speaks about it in “The Gadget Lover.”

Wilson: Everybody now thinks that McLuhan foretold the internet, that he was a great prophet of the technological era, but he was a Catholic Reactionary Mystic, he hated all that. That’s why he had such a keen perception.

Foye: Yes, he hated technology. He once told a friend of mine he even hated the toaster. He had one of those things that you put on the stove, you folded the toast in and turned the heat on underneath.

Wilson: That’s a Luddite toaster …

Foye: But would you say he was a prophet?

Wilson: Yes, despite himself.

Foye: What are examples of other prophets, in your opinion?

Wilson: Oh, Ivan Illich. A totally forgotten man at this point. The two essays about him I have included in a book about the image [The Critique of the Image Is the Defense of the Imagination, Autonomedia, 2020] is kind of an extension, although he doesn’t say it, of the idea of the “Society of the Spectacle”—that the image consumes everything. And to do that, it does it through technology.

Foye: So Guy Debord is a prophet?

Wilson: I think so, yes.

Foye: What is prophecy? Is it just somebody who can see 50 or 60 years ahead? What is the nature of prophecy?

Wilson: Well first of all, it means having no honor in your own country. [Laughter] That’s important.

Foye: Is there a Biblical implication?

Wilson: Well it’s the Cassandra complex—you know and nobody believes that you know.

Waldman: Don’t you feel that way sometimes?

Wilson: Yes. I would boast that I was onto these problems 25 years ago, at least. There was a period when I had not quite made up my mind about communication technology in the ’90s. I was going to all those conferences in Europe and I was always the odd man out. I was the one who didn’t have a computer and was trying to maintain an objective stance towards this technology. And I happen to like a lot of the people who were involved in it—liking or disliking people has nothing to do with this. Some of them were great intellects, and good people, so I was enjoying myself. In the first edition of TAZ (Temporary Autonomous Zone) I had a few positive things to say about it, even. Some people think I invented the term “The Web.”

Hinojosa: But you were referring to something much more mystical.

Wilson: I was, yes. When the double world of communism and capitalism collapsed in 1989, leaving only capitalism standing, I began to think that this was a major change and that I had to rethink my position. It took me a long time, but by 1995 I had it figured out.

Hinojosa: And what were you reading during those years?

Wilson: I was reading everything. I decided to devote 20 years to figure out what the hell is going on. The position I ended up in was very close to the critics of civilization—like James C. Scott, the Yale anthropologist, who recently came out with a book called Against the Grain (2017), or also Marshall Sahlins, who started talking about this in 1972 already, in the book called Stone Age Economics, in which he for the first time mooted the idea that agriculture was an irrational move, because it created civilization with all its hideous discontents. As long as you’re on top of civilization it looks like a good thing—oh yeah, it is good to be the king, but it’s not so good to be the fellahin who are crushed underneath the weight of the pyramid. Before that, when you had a society that was not hegemonically organized, when everybody was more or less, roughly equal in terms of wealth and power, when leaders were people who just were a little smarter than others, if they made a mistake you stabbed them in the back and pushed them over a cliff. The leader in a hunter-gatherer society is the person who gives the most away—the society of the gift. If you killed three deer in a hunter-gatherer society you gave all the meat to the tribe so they don’t have to do anything, they have a festival, and you’re a big man.

Foye: In the Museum of Cycladic Art in Athens, they have a display of ostraka, these oyster shells with people's names written on them—this is where the word ostracism comes from—every 10 years people would get together to decide to kick somebody out of society and it would usually be the person who had the most power. So, dominate society at your own risk.

Wilson: This is a remnant of the ancient primordial society, on its way to our situation. As soon as you get rid of the idea of the ostraka you’re in the modern world, towards politics and so on. The tipping moment I came to feel was in Sumeria, about 4000 BC, when irrigation, agriculture, and writing developed together. This made possible action at a distance and social hegemony. One city could conquer another city and turn everybody into a serf. And then you have civilization. Recently I coined my new slogan, which is Civilization Equals Cannibalism Plus Electricity—to paraphrase Lenin.

Waldman: So what are the antidotes?

Wilson: I don’t know. I do what I can, which is education and propaganda. In the anarchist movement we always said: if it’s not revolution time, then the best thing you can do is education and propaganda. I always took that seriously, so that’s what I did. When I became active again in the anarchist movement in 1984, I said to myself, OK, it has to be a 50-50 deal—50 percent altruism, working for the cause, and the other 50 percent had to be spending a good time with my friends. If I can’t get that out of it, I’m not going to do it.

Foye: Where did that come from? Was that just personal?

Wilson: It was my personal take, yes.

Foye: How do you feel about anarchism and the anarchist scene today, given how much you’ve invested in it all your life?

Wilson: I don’t think I ever had a moment after 1968 when I seriously believed in the revolution. That’s not why I’m involved in it. I’m involved in it because it’s true. It’s not about efficacy. The world is going to come to an end because of efficiency. I don’t like efficiency. And it’s not a question of anarchism having all the answers. It’s not a question about having a revolution and taking over—what could that possibly mean for anti-authoritarians? That’s why I criticized the whole idea of the revolution in TAZ. The problem with the revolution is that the inevitable result is just another government.

Foye: We’ve seen that in the Middle East, haven’t we?

Wilson: My heart always goes out to these people, with their color revolutions and their democratic striving—I always think that in five years they’re going to be so unhappy, disillusioned, imprisoned, or dead. The same happens with the ecological movement. I got extremely angry at it putting so much emphasis on individual responsibility—as if by not recycling your garbage you’re part of the problem and not part of the solution. Let’s see the pharmaceutical companies start recycling something.

Foye: Then you take a Blakean view towards scientific positivism, that the very seed of man’s doom is rooted in scientific quest?

Wilson: Yes. I’m a Luddite. I believe in technology that is appropriate to human happiness, to being human—let’s leave happiness out of the equation, just being human. This is what the original Luddites were upset about—why were they smashing looms? Because the looms were taking their jobs away, ruining their lives economically and socially.

Waldman: What would a Luddite future look like?

Wilson: In order to do it, one must have a community of a certain size. You need to have, like the Amish, at least five neighbors living around you who are doing the same thing.

Waldman: How do libraries figure now and in the future?

Wilson: The book is already, of course, a problem—writing is a problem. Anything that takes away from presence—the face to face—presentiality—is problematic. Writing was invented in order to create hegemony. Writing came out of temples that were also serving as banks.

Foye: So you see writing and money as similar. When you say action at a distance, do you mean a form of magic?

Wilson: Absolutely, yes. The magic of the State.

Foye: What about the image? Do you put the image in there too?

Wilson: The image is very vague. But yes, in a way.

Hinojosa: You’ve said that writing is also an image, right?

Wilson: Yes, if you look at Neolithic societies, they had images. If you go to Ireland and look at Newgrange, you’ll see that the whole outside of it has these big boulders with images on them. Nobody knows what they mean because it’s not alphabetic, there is no way to decode. Some people call it proto-writing. My idea is that it is to prevent writing from emerging. I think people intuitively would know that the idea of writing is possible and that it’s evil.

Waldman: Now you’re scaring me.

Wilson: Hey, I’m a writer too. As a Luddite I think books are less evil than the internet, that’s all. A Luddite is not an absolutist, it’s always a relative thing. Is it relatively better or relatively worse? The automatic loom, is that really an improvement? Not for the workers. This is clear. And writing, I’m afraid, did not make the world better for the serfs. The purpose of writing was to keep track of money in the bank, of proto-money, and to communicate between one city and another without anybody knowing what the message was—so the king could send a message to the other king.

Waldman: What would happen if the serf learned writing?

Wilson: That would happen. Writing is appropriated by the people and over an exceedingly long period literacy trickles down to the world in general. But to look at it as an honest blessing, sorry, I can’t do that, it’s far too complicated a question to call it that. It’s like Amiri Baraka explaining dialectic, “it means there are things that are good and things that are bad,”—that’s dialectic, you don’t have to read Hegel. Everything has a shadow, that’s what Blake said, it has a form and a specter. For example, when he criticized the Druids, he said that they were terrible priests who committed human sacrifices, and another time he says, “I’m a Druid.” Is he crazy? No, he’s talking about form and specter—the Druid has a shadow and the Druid has a light, and they are in the same package. There’s a German word that means “the dialectic overcoming,” which synthesizes between the good and the bad to come up with the new platform, so to speak—a very Hegelian word.

Waldman: What are some traditions that looked at these sorts of dualities?

Wilson: It’s a long process. Humanity doesn’t give up its freedom, if I can use such a word, in one fell swoop—just because writing is invented or pyramids are invented.

Waldman: What would we be doing without writing, though?

Wilson: This is why you should read Marshall Sahlins’s Stone Age Economics, because he talks about how joyful and fulfilling the life of the hunter-gatherer is, where instead of reading the newspaper we would tell stories to each other. The average hunter-gatherer in a situation which is not ecologically stressed spends an average of four to five hours a day at “work,” most of which are rather entertaining—it’s hunting, which is terribly exciting for the people who do it, gathering, which is loads of fun for the people who do it. The average primitive agriculturalist worked on average 16 hours a day. The hunter-gatherer society has on average 400 basic foodstuffs, and the primitive agricultural society had I think 12.

Hinojosa: Hunter-gatherers societies also get that time to develop their own myths.

Wilson: Yes. People who study sleep habits, for example, noticed that hunter-gatherers, if you don’t stress them out, they woke up in the middle of the night, stirred the fire up and asked whether anybody had any interesting dreams. Then between midnight and two in the morning they’d tell each other dreams and stories and then have another long nap until dawn.

Hinojosa: A nourishing way of developing imagination …

Foye: And probably the second half of the sleep is informed by what they were telling each other.

Wilson: Hunter-gatherers also slept more—if you think that’s a good thing …

Foye: What were you going to say about the pyramids?

Wilson: Well, space is so important. Architecture absolutely gives everything away. The pyramid is the absolute shape of the hegemonic society, it’s got a top and a bottom, the bottom is flat, the top is pointy, you know, it’s perfect. Both in Mesopotamia and Egypt, and later on in South America.

Foye: I guess the thumbtack is more where we are at now. Maybe that’s why we have all these pencil-thin towers going up now.

Wilson: That’s architecture telling us what’s going on. If you draw a graph of the distribution of money in our society, that’s exactly the shape you get—isn’t that interesting? The study of architecture through history is so important—the only thing that might be more important than that is the study of family. But yes, there are fantastic works about indigenous architecture. One of them was Shelter (1973) by Lloyd Kahn, who was Buckminster Fuller’s right-hand man, but who eventually broke with Fuller—when they asked him why, he said, “the world is not a Spaceship.” Calling the Earth a spaceship is like going out into the desert at midnight, looking up at the sky and saying, “Wow, man, it’s just like a planetarium.”

Foye: That was also Gregory Corso’s argument with Burroughs and Tim Leary. He called them the Leaky Lifeboat Boys, when Burroughs said “we’re going to get on a spaceship and go into outer space.” Gregory told them no, that's not going to work, you're going to have to deal with the mess you made here.

Wilson: That’s very good. Did he write about it?

Foye: A poem called "The Leaky Lifeboat Boys" in his book Herald of the Autochthonic Spirit (1981).

Wilson: I’d love to see that. I’d love to send it to the Silicon Valley Escape to Mars Boys.

Gerard: What do you think of them and all their sci-fi rhetoric?

Wilson: I think they’re stupid. The amazing thing is that the billionaires are so stupid. How can they be so stupid? You can’t live on Mars. They are these sci-fi, libertarian, little geek boys who grew up thinking, “Oh, someday I’m going to Mars.”

Gerard: But why does this idea actually stick to so many people to the point where it’s seriously pursued, not to mention so heavily funded?

Wilson: Because most people are stupid. Let’s not cut any corners here. Elon Musk, what a jerk! No, I mean, really stupid—a stupid jerk! Apparently this helps to make a billion dollars.

Gerard: Is it also about them being in denial about how bad they’ve trashed the planet? A delusion fueled by guilt?

Wilson: Yes. I read an interesting article about this—about the preparation for the end, for survival—and the Silicon Valley lads are at the head of this movement. They are the ones who have purchased 100,000 acres in Paraguay, and they are the ones who have a helicopter waiting, fired up, gassed up, with a pilot in the helicopter outside their office for when the peasants show up with the pitchforks. First they’re going to have to go to Paraguay. Outer space is not ready, and it never will be. It’s an insane idea that we can live in outer space.

Waldman: We are in outer space already …

Hinojosa: I wanted to ask you something going back to the issue of language—about language without writing, and how shamanism comes from this root.

Wilson: Yes, I wrote about this in Escape From the Nineteenth Century (1998), in the essay “The Shamanic Trace. My idea, which I already mentioned, is that the so-called proto-writing systems are actually devices to prevent the emergence of writing. For example, wampum, in the American Indian tradition of the Eastern Woodlands Tribes, is one of these systems. They use belts with shells, and according to the design on the belt they commemorate various important events. But if you don’t know the oral tradition behind the piece of wampum, you can’t read it, it’s not alphabetic, it’s actually not writing. You have to be taught the oral tradition to understand it. This increases connection between people who are present with each other. The French anthropologist who wrote Society Against the State (1977), Pierre Clastres, said that there was no such thing as a naïve primitive person, one who doesn’t understand the possibility of a hegemonic takeover by big bullies—everybody understands that there are bullies, and if you give them too much rope they’ll take over. It’s an inherent understanding that human beings have, and therefore you arrive at a set of customs that prevent the emergence of hegemony. Like the idea of the gift. In order to have any prestige in a society like that, you must give away all the wealth that you accumulate and start over again. The main idea is that there would be an intuitive understanding that a signal system that developed into a form of writing would be the end of human society as they understood it in the Stone Age, where human societies were based on human presence. If you break that presence by making action at a distance—which is possible with writing—then you have put the whole society in jeopardy. Within minutes it can change from what we would consider a “utopian situation.” This is also true of the creation of language and technology—look at what happens when primitive societies get money: within minutes the whole traditional structure falls apart. It takes minutes, it happens overnight. It’s not a long, drawn out, evolutionary process. This is because they didn’t evolve the money themselves, they’re having it thrust upon them from outside, and it’s like pneumonia germs—they never had pneumonia before and you bring it to them, they’re all dead the next day. That’s what money is. And that’s what writing is, basically. Money is writing. Money is when you take the valuta of lumps of silver, for example, and you put writing on it, which now determines the value of that piece of silver.

Waldman: Is this the beginning of debt as well?

Wilson: No, debt you can have before. You don’t need actual money to have debt. You could have commodity currency with records of it kept in the temple. In a wonderful book called Before Writing (1992), Denise Schmandt-Besserat talks about how writing and money develop as a form of bookkeeping in the temple to see who owes what to whom.

Gerard: Then what happens if you add the State to all these matters? It seems like more tools available for control of its citizens.

Wilson: Well, Leopold Kohr’s thesis is very simple, and you can agree with it or disagree with it, but it’s an interesting thesis, which is that the more you break down the state the less power it has over its citizens. Today, Luxembourg has a lot less ability to ruin your life than the Soviet Empire. There are many ways and devices to enforce control.

Waldman: It just seems like we live in such old forms of society …

Wilson: Do they have to be governmental forms, though?

Waldman: Well, no they don’t, that’s what I’m saying, but it seems like we are seeing things come back, like nationalism …

Wilson: Perhaps a nationalism on a human scale, a mini-nationalism, can be theoretically preferred. I’m not saying that I do, but it might be preferred to internationalism on the bureaucratic scale of the European Union, for example. It’s like Baudelaire said: “Progress? What a Belgian idea.”

Foye: It's funny that now they’re on top of the European bureaucratic food chain …

Wilson: Yes it is … I’ve always thought of the European Union as the Fourth Reich—this is a scam for Germany to take over the world.

Foye: It's almost as if what they couldn’t achieve militarily they achieved economically—the domination of Europe.

Waldman: What do you guys think from the Mexican perspective?

Gerard: As you spoke, I was thinking about how insularity might help modern societies …

Wilson: I don’t see anything wrong with insularity either. Why would it be wrong?

Gerard: I was thinking in terms of the relationship between Mexico and the United States, for example. Mexico has historically been the country that relies on the American economy, and I was having a hard time thinking how Mexico could withdraw from something like that.

Wilson: Well, first of all, the American Empire would have to start disintegrating.

Foye: Is that not already happening?

Wilson: Yes, it is happening. Little by little Canada, Mexico, Guam, even, all these places will get more autonomy.

Waldman: But even that disintegration could be very brutal for Mexico.

Wilson: It could be …

Gerard: A very large swath of the Mexican economy is remittances coming from the US, of Mexicans sending money back home to their families.

Foye: I would also like to hear from you and Lucía about your situation in Mexico and the social and cultural collectives you’re trying to create, and how you relate to society and the rest of the world. What is the main predicament you are facing in Mexico, right now?

Gerard: My personal opinion is that in Mexico, it’s hard to avert the eyes from the current and ongoing paradigm of the country, which is the drug war, and which is also very US-geared. It’s yet another issue that sets back our hopes for insularity and sovereignty. There’s this macro-power who is the main consumer of a commodity that is killing hundreds of thousands of people in Mexico.

Foye: The US is also where the guns are coming from.

Gerard: Yes it is. Basically, the violence we see in the news every day in Mexico has to do with drug cartels fighting the State, or rival cartels, to get access to routes to smuggle drugs across the US border, and with US guns feeding the violence.

Hinojosa: I think socially and economically it’s an illusion that these are two separate countries. Everything between the two countries operates on the same levels, there’s a strong codependency in more than one way—you could even say, sadly, that it’s a master-slave relationship.

Wilson: From a Leopold Kohr point of view, if you could break-up both America and Mexico into small units and have some kind of confederal democracy, you would have a much better chance of equality than you have by these two giant entities smashing at each other, butting heads with each other. Because Mexico, let’s face it, it might be the junior partner but it’s still pretty big.

Hinojosa True. I feel that after 1994, which was a very important year in Mexico’s history, when the NAFTA agreement was signed, and also when the Zapatista movement began—two very different paradigms came to a collision—and certainly, neoliberalism got the upper hand. It seems like there’s no way back now…

Wilson: For years my slogan was Urban Zapatismo I wanted to see the idea of the Encuentro Zapatista spread into urban centers and larger economies. Unfortunately, this didn’t happen.

Foye: But don’t you think we’re also trapped in the trajectory of our own history—what is happening now in the US with Trump and Republican reactionaries, this war on people of color. It’s all a continuation of this subjugation and decimation of Native Americans.

Gerard: Yes, very much. It’s strikingly similar when we talk of issues of Native Americans, whether it be in the US or in Mexico, about the restitution of the lands that were theirs. It all has happened very similarly, even though you could argue that the conquest of Mexico happened under the hands of a Catholic movement and in the US under the hands of Protestants, who held different ideals, but who ended up sacking what they saw as the new continent in brutally similar ways.

Wilson: In my opinion what happened was this: in 1989 there was a dialectic between the Soviet empire and the American Empire. This dialectic collapsed. Capitalism became all-pervasive, triumphalist, the Cold War is over and we won. Now, obviously, capitalism didn’t win the hearts and minds of everybody in the world. There was something that had to take the place of communism and it wasn’t the left—the left failed, it clung to its old paradigms and did not come up with new solutions. Who came up with new solutions? Fascists, religious maniacs, and they were good solutions, some of them—like, who built public bathhouses and elementary schools in Egypt? It was not the left, it was the Muslim Brotherhood, they actually do things for people.

Gerard: As it happens with drug cartels in Mexico …

Wilson: Right. It’s like I say, I have great sympathy for people who have leprosy, I just don’t want to have leprosy myself. I’m sorry that this is their idea of a solution to the world problem, but I understand why they are doing it, it’s because they detest Coca-Colonization.

Waldman: But let’s go back to these issues about racism and fascism around the globe. In Mexico you have a new president …

Gerard: Yes, he came in with a leftist ideal, and his big platform is austerity, and he came up with slogans about dismantling corruption and the political elite, who are largely and historically responsible for corruption in Mexico …

Wilson: But he is a leftist, right?

Gerard: He labels himself a leftist, yes. That the policies lean towards the left is a different conversation. I think most people would call him a populist.

Wilson: See, I think that the left could have gotten to the idea of populism before the fascists. Populism itself is neither left nor right, it can be taken up by either. In America, around the year 1900, we had a leftist populism, and it’s probably the most revolutionary movement that had any success at all.

Gerard: Do you think politics these days are only rhetoric in the end?

Wilson: Yes. The last thing we should do is pay serious attention to a politician. They are like devils in Catholic theology.

Lucía Hinojosa, Raymond Foye, Anne Waldman, Diego Gerard. Woodstock, January, 2020.
Lucía Hinojosa, Raymond Foye, Anne Waldman, Diego Gerard. Woodstock, January, 2020.

Anne Waldman and Diego Gerard. Photo by Raymond Foye. NY, 2020.
Anne Waldman and Diego Gerard. Photo by Raymond Foye. NY, 2020.

Lucía Hinojosa, Peter Lamborn Wilson, Anne Waldman, Diego Gerard. Photo by Raymond Foye. January 2020.
Lucía Hinojosa, Peter Lamborn Wilson, Anne Waldman, Diego Gerard. Photo by Raymond Foye. January 2020.

Peter Lamborn Wilson, Diego Gerard, Anne Waldman. NY. Photo by Lucía Hinojosa. January 2020.
Peter Lamborn Wilson, Diego Gerard, Anne Waldman. NY. Photo by Lucía Hinojosa. January 2020.

Anne Waldman, Diego Gerard, Raymond Foye. Photo by Lucia Hinojosa. Woodstock January 2020.
Anne Waldman, Diego Gerard, Raymond Foye. Photo by Lucia Hinojosa. Woodstock January 2020.

Contributors

Raymond Foye

Raymond Foye is a curator, writer, and publisher who lives in the Chelsea Hotel in New York City. He recently co-edited The Collected Poems of Bob Kaufman for City Lights Books.

Anne Waldman

Anne Waldman is the author most recently of Trickster Feminism (Penguin), Sanctuary (Spuyten Duyvil) , co-translator of The Songs of the Sons & Daughter Of Buddha (Shambhala) and the album SCIAMACHY (Levy Gorvy).

Diego Gerard

Diego Gerard is a writer, editor and translator based in Mexico City. He is the co-founding editor of diSONARE.

Lucia Hinojosa

Lucía Hinojosa (Mexico City, 1987) is a writer and artist working with poetry, film, sound and mixed media. She’s the artistic director of diSONARE, an experimental press of art and literature.

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The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2021

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