A Tribute to Peter Lamborn Wilson
Edited by Raymond Foye
My introduction to PLW was not through his writings but through his after-midnight radio show on WBAI, Manhattan’s branch of Pacifica public radio. His program was called the Moorish Orthodox Radio Crusade and it was freeform FM radio at its finest. In a deep and mellifluous voice, he told stories and read from zines, took phone calls from his listeners, and played music cassettes collected on his travels in Afghanistan, Iran, Bali, and Ireland. His free-associative patter was erudite and accessible, witty but never forced. The epitome of geniality, there was something all-knowing about him, a radio wizard. It was like wandering through the airwaves equivalent of a Middle Eastern bazaar. And after every show the same NYC cab driver was waiting outside the station, eager to ride him home for free, as a token of gratitude, or perhaps to spend another fifteen minutes in his presence.
Later I discovered Scandal: Essays in Islamic Heresy (1988) and Sacred Drift (1993), PLW’s books on “outsider” aspects of Islam—very rare information. When Shower of Stars: The Initiatic Dream in Sufism and Taoism (1996) appeared I knew this was a major figure. In theory and concept, they were in a category of their own. (Although best known for his illuminating writings on Sufism, his explications of Taoism are equally lucid.) Yes, they were erudite and esoteric, but most importantly they were readable and entertaining. This last point is not remarked on enough. I was aware of the Chaos Broadsheets (1985) that were later collected as Temporary Autonomous Zones (T.A.Z., 1991), but back then, like most people, I had no idea Hakim Bey and PLW were the same person.
By the late 1990s I got to know him and realized there were two Peter Wilsons, the public and the private. He was very much like William Burroughs in this regard. The public image was something of a Holy Monster, while the private individual was warm, humble, and wholly dedicated to his vocation as writer. Peter was discreet and courteous, and in all the years I knew him I never heard him gossip or say an ill word against anyone. Exquisitely articulate, he was never verbose. He listened carefully in conversation. He had a wonderful sense of humor, seldom cynical or even ironic. He considered nihilism the ultimate failing. Optimist was too fatuous for him; he preferred to call himself an anti-pessimist. I know he had a spiritual practice based on his ten years with the Sufis of Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and Iran, but the practice was deeply internalized, he didn’t need to discuss it. A lot of things with Peter were like that: a combination of privacy, and good manners.
In those days I was organizing a lot of museum and gallery exhibitions, and he soon became my first choice as author for those publications. His essays were a rare blend of scholarship and imagination, free of art world jargon. Not only did he never miss a deadline, he always handed the work in early and it never needed editing. (He told me he never suffered writer’s block even for one day.) The artists were always delighted with his texts, as he was clearly one of them. Peter used to quiz me carefully on the art market—how value was assigned, how consensus was formed, how that economy functioned, and how it could be manipulated. He wasn't looking for gossip, he actually wanted to understand the mechanics.
I wanted to spend more time with him, so I began inventing projects, and helped him with his own. We made little videos of him reading his poems in interesting locations in the Catskills. He began making artworks and “vanishing art” actions. For ten years we took regular weekend excursions, his tattered hundred-page road atlas of Ulster County on his lap. He told me when he moved to the Catskills it was his desire to travel every single road in the county, and he very nearly did. These excursions and art actions are recounted in his 2013 book riverpeople, written in cantos, with his beautiful artworks. The book traces the Esopus Creek from its headwaters until it empties into the Hudson River sixty-five miles later, commingling history, myth, folklore, and natural history. This was a period when he decided he would no longer travel, largely for ecological reasons. After a life of remarkable journeys, he settled down in a series of small Catskill villages. “I haven’t taken a vow never to fly again, but I doubt I ever will,” he said, and didn’t. He chose New Paltz first, because it had a university library, but after ten years he got sick of the excessive collegiate atmosphere. He told me the day he counted nineteen pizza parlors in the town he knew it was time to move. When he was searching for an apartment in Woodstock his only requirement was that it be next to running water, fortunately not a difficult thing to find there.
Many of his art actions never came off, such as hiring a skywriting plane to disseminate his mottos of poetic terrorism: GNOSTALGIA THIS IS NOT A LANDSCAPE DATA REFUSAL JOBS FOR HORSES WAS THERE THEN SPHINXISM NEGATE THE NEGATION WAKE UP AND DREAM … and so on. There was also a plan to go up in a hot air balloon (in homage to his hero Montgolfier) and rain down poems. The husband and wife team who piloted the balloon loved the idea but the wife became over-enthusiastic to an uncomfortable degree. “I’m not going up in a balloon with that person,” he said, and that was the end of it.
Often on these excursions we met local experts, such as the retired country lawyer in Rosendale who ran a small museum dedicated to cement (yes, cement). It turns out cement was a favorite topic of Peter’s, and I still remember the look on this lawyer’s face as the talk progressed through Vitruvius, types of volcanic ash, the differences between Rosendale and Portland cement, etc. Those two became fast friends and continued to meet for meals at the local inn. On another excursion to Big Indian, New York, Peter was looking for a railroad line that hadn’t been there for almost a hundred years. By chance the woman we stopped to ask directions of was the village historian, and a one-hour conversation ensued on her front porch. This type of information usually found its way into his poems, which for me are the equal to his visionary and historical texts. After Harry Smith died, Peter was asked to give the first in a series of annual Naropa lectures dedicated to Harry (they were close friends). Peter told the young poets they should adapt the methods of Anthropology to their work, the way Harry did in his films and recording projects.
Over the years I helped type and proofread many of his titles for publication, although I often joked I was always two-thousand pages behind. There’s no question that the earlier books are in many cases his “major” works, but all of his books deserve to be read. In later years he became more personal and retrospective. Some of the later studies such as The Temple of Perseus at Panopolis (2017), or Peacock Angel: The Esoteric Tradition of the Yezidis (2022), at first seemed like cut-and-paste jobs to me, and he even says this (deprecatingly) in the introduction to Perseus. But Peter was never the lazy type and the more I read the more I realize he was working with a new style, not unlike the late albums of Bob Dylan, where collage and re-creation are as important as original invention. Every single book of his has something great to offer.
As he became famous beyond all expectation, many in the anarchist movement resented him. The attacks that followed were mostly principled polemical ones, such as Murray Bookchin’s charge of elitism, or “lifestyle anarchism.” But over time Peter found himself canceled by both left and right largely as a result of skillful manipulations of his writings in a hate website. Peter knew the person who was behind it, a jealous political rival from the New York City anarchist movement. For example, his translations of homoerotic love poems by Rumi, Hafez, Abu Nuwas, and others were presented to give the impression that Wilson is speaking directly about these acts. A poem that Peter wrote about being ten years old and seeing a friend of that age naked in the bathtub is presented as if PLW the adult was having that experience. An image of him is Photoshopped in front of a playground. Et cetera.
This site I am referring to even claimed his ancestors were Southern plantation owners (based on the name “Lamborn”) and he lived off a trust fund—completely absurd. He was born on an army base outside of Baltimore, a base that no longer exists. His family was from New Jersey and he grew up in Highland Park. His mother was a high school English teacher; when she retired she ran a small herb shop in New Windsor, Connecticut. His father was an army colonel in the chemical corps, and in his retirement was the editor of the papers of Ralph Waldo Emerson for the Belknap Press at Harvard. For most of his life Peter supported himself as a pot and hashish dealer. His father helped with small checks, proud of his son’s writings. Peter made a few wise decisions in real estate, buying into an East Village tenement flat for five-thousand dollars key money. (This was the same apartment where Allen Ginsberg lived for many years, where the famous photos of Kerouac on the fire escape were taken.) He bought a small house in New Paltz in the 1990s with savings. He sublet his New York City apartment for many years and lived off the proceeds, until he sold these properties to fund his retirement. Aside from books, he had absolutely no material wants. He lived, in his own words, “independently poor.”
The sexual abuse of spiritual power, from ancient times to New Age cults, is a topic Wilson examines in Shower of Stars, and he clearly states this is a manifestation of the authoritarian nature of priestly power. In Scandal he examines historical traditions of pederasty in yoga—and any serious student of yoga knows such a thing exists. He does not condone such things, he shines a light on them.
It’s important to remember that Peter was one of the foremost radicals and provocateurs of his day. There is no question that Peter regretted things he had written, when he explored topics that NAMBLA was pushing into the public sphere. If one reads the gay alternative press from this time, such as Fag Rag or Gay Sunshine, these topics were commonly discussed. Peter and I discussed the dilemma frequently: “I thought that subject was the last taboo to be exposed as part of the liberation of body, mind, and word which began with the Beats. I made a mistake, I was wrong. But I never actually did anything. I never hurt anyone.” One should consider that not one person ever accused him of anything, and it is doubtful that he ever even had an intimate relationship with anyone. One important point that needs to be understood is that much writing is imaginal, and writers must be free to invent and dream, and this realm is not governed by the same rules and laws as the real world.
Over the years many of us tried to get him to answer the charges, because unless one refutes such charges they never go away. But he refused. Although there was only one person behind this website, the illusory nature of the internet makes it seem like there are millions involved. That is part of the dilemma with the internet, one person can whip up a panic via skillful manipulation of images, memes, and tropes, which colonize people’s imaginations. In his book Sacred Drift, Peter call this “Satanic Panic.” After the fatwah on Rushdie, Wilson feared for his own safety and would not allow his books Scandal and Sacred Drift to be republished.
Peter never owned a cell phone or computer, and never actually looked at the internet, which he considered a form of black magic because it could bewitch people into believing anything. He wrote about this phenomenon, early and often. In fact, from day one people were making false posts under his name, and he refused to call them out. It is no coincidence that the most penetrating critic of the internet should also be brought down by the internet. And this is the challenge that independent-minded people must face: are you going to believe something simply because you read it on the internet? And, what lengths are you willing to go to protect yourself from ideas you may not agree with?
The answer is to go to his books and read what he has written. Engage the texts directly, and not a website of cut-and-pasted excerpts taken entirely out of context. There you will find an entirely different person, as those of us who knew him did. Fortunately in later years there was a steady stream of young artists, poets, and activists making a pilgrimage to meet the person who touched them deeply, and they were never disappointed.
Our last conversation was a lengthy one over the phone a few days before he died. I was in Greece. We discussed a plan that was in the news, for the eurozone to go entirely cashless in a few years. He said this would be the apotheosis of money as the ultimate instrument of control, once combined with technocracy—a marriage of two black arts. He saw the captains of cyberspace as modern-day highway men who brought the roads right into people's homes so they could rob them there.
His final wish was that his work be placed in the public domain where it can be disseminated freely.
I first met Peter my last year in Bard College. I was hired by him to type his manuscripts, and drive him to specific sites in which he was readying to “re-enchant the landscape.” At first, I felt nervous meeting Peter who I knew more-so at that point as Hakim Bey. His works were powerfully liberating, and I did not know what to expect from the being behind them. I was quickly and graciously invited into the many streams of knowledge rushing and trickling through the interstices of his presence. While acting as his chauffeur of sorts, we could see a jogger and begin talking about the phenomenon of jogging. We could be—we were—in his house in New Paltz, when hearing the refrigerator buzz, and the development of refrigeration slid into focus as the momentary pivot of conversation. Nothing was lacking—nothing less important than any other thing, to be deserving of a chance to be the shifting center or setting of consciousness’s ever malleable play of light. It was in this light that I felt an intimacy I wouldn’t call personal. The closeness was in Peter’s devotion to the continuousness of questions, of seeking out, and salvaging hidden histories, of delighting in the sense doors of scent and taste and thought and seeing them, not as crude givens of the human organism, but as entrances to ecstatic immediacies.
Before Peter passed, I had wanted to attempt to write about his work, his body of thought. I instantly wanted to write from Avicenna, whose writings I always feel link me to Peter. I wanted to write about a feeling for Romance, in the traditional sense of the Troubadours, or how Robert Duncan expands the meaning of Romance as the experience in writing of the soul not yet in form, coming into form, and the lilting haunting of form. It was in this crevasse, in these rivulets and strong, secret waters I felt Peter’s investigations, where his work took place. He has so many writings I still have to encounter—but for me, reading The Old Calendrist, Escape from the Nineteenth Century, Riverpeople, and more, I felt the weight of the industrialized world beginning to shake from me. The spit and grime and ugliness of strip centers or decaying highways—the cheapness of social media and its lack of elegance—now pushed aside. There could be a more beautiful world, so many beautiful worlds, and in his works, he tells us there were. Some of them were insanely brief; some were unimaginably extended. The adventitious nature of reality was/is inescapable. But you could see that alone as an adventure. And this adventure was Romantic. Not all things given, no things truly known—and the crime of the modern world—or is it Creation itself?—that forms appear to be unchangeable, on societal, structural levels, in interpersonal, linguistic dynamics. Writing itself—in the form of an essay, in an attempt, or in poetry in the making—you enter into the truth, or perhaps the welcome illusion, of continuous change. And in a sense, in this, changes are permanent.
This explains the sunset I saw when driving away from Peter’s apartment after he had died. Pinks and operatic, canary yellows, and dark striations of gray symbolized the great distances and depths, the twinkling lore of Irish fairy tales, and the depravity of capitalist ills that Peter wasn’t afraid of seeing altogether in a single sky—what was most nefarious, selfish, and disdainful, and what was to be kept, embraced, and celebrated. It is hard to attempt to capture what his work stands for, represents—he dove so deeply and leapt into the heart of so many areas of knowledge, I feel in awe. When I was standing in his apartment with him no longer in it, I thought to myself, “This was a quest.” It may sound trite, but it felt of vital significance. His books appeared as stones on a traveler’s way over a mountain pass; or letters left behind in bottles, tossed out to sea; or terma hidden in the universe’s mindstream. He had been searching for something, I thought. Or something, was, so many things. So many things, were all things, as harp or lute-like accompaniments, masks, or veils, or necessary ends and means to place yourself on the edge of possible encounter—to garden, and be intent upon the conditions of a fertile world—a place one wants to be in, despite all disagreeable orders and indices, whether they be technologies or sentiments—and particularly now, the imaginal realm reaches forward with a hunger for my petty mind more vital to the organism than the seemingly most essential nutrients. Origins, of our species, of our universe, unknown, yet the unknown, or the mystery I saw his books as, that he read, that he wrote, not as the evidence of being “well-read,” or “productive,” or “prolific,” though surely these qualities all hold true—but I was standing there, in the pool of his mind, and thought, these are the myths, the imprints of the animism, of the impulse towards mystery, and the mystery itself, these books, these questions and answers, and questions, these shadows, echoes of his quest. The dream below is a dream I had many years ago, and I think it expands upon this sense, of the inseparable nature of books, writing, love, and friendship, and I thank Peter from the depths of my soul and the heights of my spirit for the nobility and beauty of his gifts.
It is not that they are my lovers, nor that I am their beloved, but each has come to me. Our eyes hold us to each other, while the space between our bodies, suspends us from each other. One of the messengers is a boy I knew when younger. He was painfully obese. Later, after having lost touch with him, he became a celebrity, seemingly loved by the world, by his fame. Now in dream he stands alone, in the light shadows of his trailer. He has lost much of his weight now—and there he stands—our blue eyes meet—he hands me a text of Ibn Arabi. Later, I am meeting with Peter Lamborn Wilson. We are sitting at a picnic table with other people. I feel a sense of sanctity marked by a movement underneath the table coming towards me. I am apprehending, anticipating, embracing what is soon to appear, then suddenly before me is a gift Peter is giving. It is an original text of Ibn Arabi. I can feel the weight of the age of the text and the weight of Peter’s head, bowing. Or perhaps the weight of his head is shading his heart, a hyena or a hummingbird, so wild yet so light, so defenseless—a tiny, utterly effusive offering—he shadows. The vigil of his head becomes his words, a solace marked by balance. The weight of his head gives us time, gives us text. With his head still lowered, he hands the text to me. The text has a French title, possibly written by Henry Corbin, sounding like, “Symbologique”. I feel a deep love but I am not so confused as to think I love “Peter”—it is clear to me it is the moment that loves us. A third messenger who might have been the first has also come with a text of Ibn Arabi. I am aware this is becoming a theme. Each messenger arrives in all the splendor of the beloved. The feeling in my chest canopies a resplendence, arches the heat of our hearts above our heads. But it is known to me, it is not through the body that their soul will meet my own. What each brings is an emotion I recognize as what romantic love in the past has come to give, but now, the text is what is given. The face of each man is lowered, hands held up. The text is held up. It overcomes us. It is without us. It is what makes us meet. This child that does not need us. This soul that divides us, and is divided from us, distances our bodies, yet holds us, momentarily, by the grace we see, in our eyes unspoken.
I first met PLW at Naropa Institute; I was there for the dedication of the Allen Ginsberg Library. He was forty-nine, I, fifty-one. We had many common interests and the conversation flowed. The tone and tempo was like an experience with lifelong homies. Whatever the subject he seemed to know something about it. Later I realized how well-read and erudite he was.
“You should go on Jeopardy.”
“I’m weak on Opera.”
He was a rarity among modern poets, a poet who actually read contemporary poetry.
One night at the Boulder Theater, the Ken Kesey-produced play Twister was to open for a band from the Midwest. Twister was the Wizard of Oz discombobulated. It was a marathon, almost four hours.
There were many parts to criticize. As a whole, it was mostly boring and self-indulgent. At the finale all eighty cast members took the stage to sing the rock song “Gloria” for close to an hour, “G-L-O-RIA GLORIA!” The band never did take the stage.
Peter attended with a group of his students and they would critique it the next day in class. Peter and company were appalled and flabbergasted. There was a scene with two crows like Heckle and Jeckle in Amos ‘n’ Andy, using Ebonics and patois, exposing how stupid they were to destroy their own fields (in the metaphor, their own neighborhoods, i.e., Rodney King riots). Also, there was a scene where the “wrong” practice of sex had angered God and that’s why they contracted AIDS. The next day, Peter and his band of students decided to confront Kesey about this. Kesey got wind of it and his entire entourage left in a long automotive procession led by Kesey and Ken Babbs in a beautifully-preserved old Cadillac ragtop.
The last time AG was at Naropa, he and Peter each had an upstairs bedroom at the Varsity apartments. I slept on the downstairs couch. I wasn’t a scheduled reader and was passing through, headed to Upstate New York. For a couple of weeks in the morning the three of us had coffee, sometimes breakfast, which Allen would make. Most of the time, all I could say was, “Jesus, you guys are smart!”
They knew the detailed history of poetry, religion, art, sexuality, politics. Allen vigorously enjoyed not only Peter’s encyclopedic knowledge, but his ability to correct or inform Ginsberg on nuances of fact or misconception, which seemed to delight Allen.
As far as personal philosophy, Peter often would, like Plato's Socrates, not present a world problem, but would question adroitly & deeply the solutions others would offer.
His great short story collection, Night Market Noodles, has a fascinating, extremely clever story about time traveling, art thieves & dealers.
What amazed me were the details of the meals consumed—not only the ingredients corresponding with time & place consumed, also the details—how it was prepared or grown.
His last couple of years was plenumed with bucket-list food, sometimes exotic or obscure, sometimes “down-home” dishes.
I never heard him say ‘this topic is beyond me.’ He knew a little something about, it seemed, anything… and much about many subjects and topics. His extensive personal library was amazing; I asked questions about many titles. He had read most all of them. He was a gracious gentleman yet was adamant about his POV. He liked to guffaw, chuckle, and laugh at the ironies of modern life. Often my working class Occam's Razor interpretations made him smile and chuckle.
Though the direness of our present situation would elicit a veneer of philosophic aloofness (“That's the way it goes”), I could tell it saddened him. He enjoyed talking to those that understood his writings, like Chuck Stein, Mikhail Horowitz, Carey Harrison. My memoir BEAT: The Latter Days of the Beat Generation might still be looking for a publisher if it wasn't for Peter’s influence at Autonomedia.
I know the Tibetans say one hangs around for forty-nine days after bodily death. I hear his voice answering the literary and historical questions I have. He has left quite a brilliant legacy.
DIG IN THE EARTH/ Escabar La Tierra
Anne Waldman on Peter Lamborn Wilson. Preface for his book Sombras Taslucidas, published by diSONARE Ediorial, Mexico City, 2021, Translated by Diego Gerard, edited by Lucía Hinojosa and designed by Tatina Vázquez. The original text, in English, is published here for the first time.
Peter Lamborn Wilson’s tentacular poet-mind has always been interested in primordial beginnings, chaos, ecstasy, anarchy. Haunting the middens, the mounds, exploring numerous conjunctions of heavenly and earthly history. Lore. Magick. How far back can you actually go? Who are your guides? What ancient libraries hold the keys to transporting wisdom? What jogged Neanderthal consciousness? How do entheogens infiltrate the leap to empathy, to bodhicitta?
How can you link the satoris—flashes of crazy-wisdom-mind—into a steady fabric, an elegant weave? Where can we date the psychotic split from a Green Utopia before the alienation of self from self, when humans were thinking with animals, flora, and mindboggling astral wonders to the cyborgian-AI-technohumanic mess we are in now?
Peter is one of the most prodigious writers I know, as poet, translator, essayist. He frequently burns the midnight oil, scribing in an eloquent steady hand. For many of us who were striving in the 60s & 70s to create radical anti-academic infrastructure for poetry, discourse, and activism, his concept of TAZ, the “Temporary Autonomous Zone,” was crucial, elemental. We experienced that these creative zones didn’t have to become institutionalized. Their vision and practice could ripple out into counter-cultural nodes all over the world.
His talks for the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University, the MFA program co-founded with Allen Ginsberg, where Peter frequently lectured (and where I first got to know him well) were always magnifying “transmissions” and became legendary. He was always the antithesis of Master Narrative. Anarchy, Sufism, Alchemy, Hermeticism are practices of the left-hand path. They twirl, co-arise; they meander, grow ecstatic. His brain seemed to contain libraries and alchemical laboratories. In Chaldean, chaos meant without a library. His is a restless desk; and his erudition a living rhizome, a horizontal tuber system. While somewhat of a hermit himself and outlier, he is driven by a passion for interconnectivity. He once said “Poetry wants to get its hand in, it wants to dig in the earth.” What’s still possible for a living, fertile universe.
His obsession is origins. Origins of language, consciousness, art, megaliths, Paleolithic caves. Digging for them. Creating a palimpsest of origins. “I see my palimpsest written on animation cells, on transparent shelves of paper.” He wanted to take all his theories and stories and research about origins and pile them like a stack of animation cells. Then hold them up to sunlight and see where the light comes through. He calls it a “cabalistic approach”. Where the space between the letters is more significant than the letters themselves. Divine illumination could break & pass through, intervene. Where are we headed as a species and how are all times contemporaneous? This is one of Peter Lamborn Wilson’s fundamental questions and a meditation this book explores through a multi-layered range of subjects.
Sombras Traslucidas is a Wunderkammer, from one of the most prodigious literary alchemists of our day, collected for a new audience of readers in Spanish. And it’s fortuitous that the generative cross-cultural magazine/press diSONARE is translating and publishing this selection at this time. A time of late hominid reckoning, of massive upheaval in every sphere of existence where we need to keep agile of mind & spirit to explore our endangered worlds. To think with the world and cultivate our empathy. Our gnosis. To stay curious. Consciousness is precious on many levels, as Peter reminds us, through the chimeras of time, history, spiritual reckoning; and into future memory as well.
Kerouac School, Boulder, Colorado, December 2020
Meeting Hakim Bey, Talking With Peter Lamborn Wilson
1991–95, Seattle, Washington. During four fecund years I was part of a team of poets, artists, and writers who published Talking Raven Quarterly, an alt-literary zine published every equinox and solstice and distributed free on the Seattle streets. Our average quarterly print run of five thousand was mostly paid for by locals who attended our benefit performances at The Weathered Wall, a large saloon-type bar set in a 1920s bohemian aesthetic and managed by David Meinert. Here, a myriad of local performance artists, bands, stand-up comics, poets, video artists, and the occasional underground celebrity like Peter Lamborn Wilson, aka Hakim Bey, worked the stage. As the editor, I was thrilled to publish excerpts from T.A.Z.: The Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism several years earlier when the book first came out.
Our Art Director, collage wizard James Koehnline created most of the cover art for each issue that was defined by a different theme relating to the purpose of our art-lit zine: The Insurrection of the Poetic Imagination (inspired by T.A.Z.)—themes such as “Invisibility,” “Intoxication,” “Terror,” “Sanctuary.” The Insurrection of the Poetic Imagination became our motto and battle cry against the default overly-literalist culture and its pandemic of imagination lobotomy. It also became the guiding principle underlying all the feature art films I started making in 1993 that persists to the current day.
I met Peter at James’s apartment while he was visiting there during one of our biannual Talking Raven benefits. I was struck by his uncommon calm and depth of presence, not at all like the wilder manic persona I had imagined of Hakim Bey while reading T.A.Z. We chatted a bit about permaculture and the impermanence of all revolutions. Again with the uncommon calm and depth of presence. He was very real, very human, no pretense. I asked him if he’d be open to performing T.A.Z. excerpts at The Weathered Wall where we staged our benefits. He agreed. A year or so passed, and then he arrived Tuesday June 28, 1994 to The Weathered Wall. The internet had barely started up and I was in charge of making posters to get the word out (this poster was made with James).
In 1991 a friend of my older brother’s who was a distant descended relative of the Public Universal Friend, sent me a copy of T.A.Z.: The Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism, along with a long letter about Hakim Bey written on the back of his Working Assets bills. While I was too much of a Rust Belt kid to fully invest in individualist anarchism (solidarity forever)—and I never bought the idea that plastering bank lobbies with pictures of teenagers jerking off was a revolutionary act—Hakim Bey’s (Peter’s) writing on self-determination and autonomy and his concept of living fully in the brief significant moments when we are ungoverned, had profound meaning for me—I recognized it. These ideas, as well as his thoughts on dismantling the state through art, served as the framework around which I wrote and lived, and around which I still write and live today.
A decade after reading T.A.Z., I would be immersed again in Peter’s ideas through the anarchist magazine Fifth Estate, for which we both wrote. His work crossed over and back between borders of art and madness; it was divinatory, open, filled with the kind of loose associations that allow one to dream and think and find meaning. In the pages of FE he published pieces on Gnostic dualism, Greek cynics, heretical Islamic mysticism, traveling in Afghanistan; about Benjamin Franklin stealing electricity from the Hermetic tradition and giving it to profane politicians and merchants, who had been intentionally kept in the dark for millennia by alchemists. He wrote that “capitalism will have to vanish by evolutionary necessity in order for re-enchantment to triumph.” He wrote about night and darkness and primitivity and how every recording is the tombstone of a living act.
From the start Peter was critical of technology and of the internet as tools of capitalism and authoritarian control. Later his ideas would be borrowed, stolen, poorly reiterated by squares and opinion writers, and completely misunderstood by kids on drugs wearing vinyl pants listening to EDM.
In the mid-aughts, through pure chance, I was mentored at Goddard College by Peter’s close friend Rachel Pollack, a writer, tarot master, and mystic who was a classically educated organic anarchist like Peter. I was eager for stories of this witch and warlock wandering the city together—even when these stories were prosaic—like the two of them shopping for knockoff Chanel handbags in Chinatown before heading to the village for “magic supplies.”
The years after Peter became ill were, by all telling, terrible. A few days after his death I wrote to Rachel. “Even though he was in so many ways miserable,” she said, “he never lost his brilliance, and his caring for friends. Everyone who knew him recognized what a gift it was to learn from, and with him, to enjoy the range of his writing, and his wit, and his love of life.”
Like many, my work owes a debt to Hakim Bey. Peter reframed and made strange the foundational texts of nineteenth and twentieth-century anarchism. Without Peter Lamborn Wilson I might never have reached escape velocity.
You wouldn’t think of him as a flashy dresser because in later years he would live in the same costume for weeks it would seem. But when we became friends back in the early 1960s, he came to Columbia University dressed like a rocker, with high heeled rock ‘n’ roll boots and tight black pants. He wore Chesterfield jackets with velvet collars and his hair was in quite a ducktail ’do. He was on the line to buy meal tickets, it was the third or fourth day of freshman orientation, and I was ahead of him in line. He was standing there with his mother, a tiny woman, very proper, dressed like the prep school English teacher that she was. Peter was dressed obviously as wild as she would let him, clearly an exceptional guy. I spotted him and I said, “This is who my friend is going to be…”
He was probably the youngest person in our class, and at the same time had read everything, and everybody knew it. You could sense it right away. He was a unique character. He was always trying to shock the bourgeoisie and to be a little offensive, but not in a nasty way. There was a sense of humor and an intellectual quality that made it elevated, and not just vulgar snubbing. I never saw him behave rudely. He was famous amongst all of us for writing papers that were filled with fantasies and made-up references that hoodwinked his teachers. And I guess he succeeded because they passed him with flying colors. He was a gifted student in Latin and he probably would have majored in it.
We shot a lot of pool. We also went down to 42nd Street for double features: ninety-nine cents for two movies, and sometimes a double-double feature—four films. When exam time rolled around, we found that we had even more time on our hands than when we went to classes, so we doubled the number of movies we saw. At the time the French New Wave attracted us, those were in different movie houses of course.
At first, when we were freshmen, Peter didn’t get high. He was smoking Camel cigarettes like everybody else, but he just said, “I don’t get high.” We were all sitting around smoking pot and listening to Ornette Coleman. But then, about a year or so later, he said that it had started to work for him.
He was much more open to popular culture than he was later in life. He was into rock ‘n’ roll. The Rolling Stones. I’m sure he was into the Beatles first, but as soon as there was the dark side, he would find himself comfortably there. He liked the Stones much more.
Around 1963 Peter went to England and he got busted coming back. He had a piece of hash in his pocket. He was about seventeen, had hair down to his collar, the rock ‘n’ roll boots, and all the rest of it, and the customs officials pulled him aside. I knew his mother by this time. She called me and we met at a cafe across from the Queens County Courthouse. We found a lawyer in the neighborhood, and we went into the courtroom, and when they marched Peter into the room the judge looked at him and said, “Where’s his violin?” They let him go because he had no prior offenses. We had him out of there pretty fast.
In our sophomore year he dropped out the first week. He installed himself in this apartment on West 74th Street and Columbus Avenue, we called it the 74th Street Recreation Center. He was into Mattachine Society literature, he went to meetings. He used to get something called Grecian Guild, a male pictorial magazine. But he didn’t really practice, I mean he didn’t have a boyfriend or a partner of any sort at any time ever in his life.
He avoided the draft as a conscientious objector. He swore that he believed in a supreme being that didn’t tolerate killing. He had a full relationship with the draft board. He was counseled by the Quakers. He did service in Maryland cleaning the kitchen in a mental institution, for quite a few months, if not for a year or two. That relates to a period when he lived in Baltimore with a fellow friend of ours named Sasha Zill who was S. (Pasha) Zill El of the Moorish Orthodox Church. That’s how we became introduced to the MOC.
I think like most things with him there is always an aesthetic element involved, a matter of taste. For one thing, it being somewhat offensive to polite society to say you are a Muslim. To be a Sufi rather than a Buddhist. The Orientalism appealed to him, the fez, the hookah, the carpets, all of the decorative elements. Peter loved the calligraphy. Then there was Hazrat Inayat Khan, and his son Vilayat Khan. They taught a kind of Sufism that was really Vedanta. The church was in the back of my apartment 244 West 103rd Street, the back room of the basement. The front of the back room was a very early headshop called The Crypt, and Peter lived in apartment number seven. I became the super of the building. Peter’s apartment was called The Mad Arabs Mod Boutique. We listened to the Rolling Stones and smoked hash and did all the things you’d do in 1965.
There was something Peter called “making a grand entrance.” We would go buy clothes on 42nd Street in a place called Dixie Haberdashery, which sold sort of pimped up stuff, very rock ‘n’ roll oriented. We would dress up like crazy and go around town making random entrances. I called him Petrus for many years because of Petrus Borel. Peter was a romp in those days. We did nothing but have a good time.
The Case of Peter Wilson
The writings of Peter Wilson/Hakim Bey are grandly inspired by the hunting out and celebration of actual experience of a mystical or shamanic source, and the attempt to read history—and the history of religions—in terms of these hidden attempts to practice and manifest possible truths of a transcendental kind. Esoteric Antinomianism was the working title of his last book (on the Yezidis) and that will do for characterizing the general theme of Peter’s work.
Antinomianism: obeying divine inspiration rather than “Law.” Pantheism, the Esoteric, heresies, doctrinal deviations—all social movements that embody rejection of instituted dogmas. The actual practice of such is incredibly difficult because it means you have to confront all the things that you judge negatively and transform them and find that they are in fact good. It’s only through the dissolution of the forms of belief, the Nigredo as they say in Alchemy—the putrefaction, the darkness— that the actual experience of the nature of being occurs.
I think Peter was essentially an extremely well-developed autodidact. He was always going against the grain in the present world and he brings you into his own discomforts. He didn’t accept anything that he himself hadn’t worked through. As a model of public intelligence that’s perfectly traditional, and that’s the seriousness of this issue of the false charges of pederasty, because what it shows is that even the public intellectual who is Peter therefore can’t do everything he wants to do intellectually.
Peter writes extensively about the surprisingly many heretical cults within Islam. He champions Hermeticists and magicians in the West precisely for the manifestations of variant (even deviant) senses of “what is.” This was a consequence of Peter’s life-long commitment to anarchist thought. He was for a period a “card-carrying” anarchist, if there is such a thing. But he was generally at odds with aspects of official anarchist doctrine, and he himself was under suspicion to tried-and-true anarchists for the complexity of his relation to religion, or for his willingness to entertain religious thought and practice at all.
Another, particularly hostile, anarchist with much envy and a political bone to pick, has chosen to portray Peter online as a pedophile and a generally monstrous human being. The website is a skillful manipulation of poems, translations, and essays, taken entirely out of context, full of lies about Peter’s personal life and family background, and even a Photoshopped portrait of Peter in front of a playground. Peter Lamborn Wilson was not a pedophile. I would much prefer to expound on Peter’s ideas and remember him for the actual content of his works than to address this point, but it needs to be addressed.
If you take the Freudian tradition that goes from Levi-Strauss to Lacan, the argument is that whatever organizes any society is the taboo system: you can sleep with this, you can’t sleep with that. The very notion of sexual or gender differentiation as an artifact of cultural process becomes a crucial topic. Once you accept this you don’t have a way of deciding what you can or cannot discuss. The principle here that intrigued Peter was the deeper issue of gay liberation, the question of what the Jungians call the sexual shadow: the “shadow archetype” is the principle of “darkness” in the psyche that projects a vivid sense of “evil” onto persons, philosophies, social movements, whole religions, the world. The Shadow is the condition for a phenomenology of evil. Where one feels most strongly that a behavior or trait or condition is unquestionably “evil”—the shadow is projected. Unquestionability is its mark.
In the early years of the gay liberation movement, a profound issue that lay as it were under the surface was the matter of sexual taboos generally. All the various modes of libido were under political/ethical review. In early books such as Scandal: Essays in Islamic Heresy (1988) and Sacred Drift: Essays on the Margins of Islam (1993), Peter wrote about the sexual practices in the Middle East which did not necessarily forbid such relationships. (After the fatwah on Rushdie, Peter refused to publish these works because he feared for his physical safety, and that prevented many people from having an acquaintance with these primary texts.) The NAMBLA organization at the time had raised the issue of the taboo on child love, and the opening of the question in fact opened the door to a flood of censure and condemnatory dismay. As standard Western psychological theory saw sexual relationships between adults and underaged juveniles categorically abusive, the subject itself was almost impossible to raise and in fact remains so today, such that to even use the word “pedophile” in a sentence—whatever the context—were to already raise the suspicion that one was one. That’s the shadow.
His writing on the subject of pederasty was totally principled in relation to his work. The fact that this is one of the things people are not allowed to think about was not something to deter Peter. Having encountered the subject, he wasn’t not going to go there. And if one is so overwhelmed by the Jungian shadow of the topic, then you cannot make use of his work. Because the whole purpose of the work was to throw light on the shadow.
* * *
Perhaps my greatest hope is that the poetry of Peter Lamborn Wilson will come as something of a revelation to the world: a revelation that poetry this good and good in this way can be produced in our times. Good as rhythmically and sonorously exciting, expressive, intuitive, intelligent, well-measured, suitably barbaric, historically redolent, politically, metaphysically, even soteriologically astute. A revelation because we are unaccustomed to poetry that is neither predominately ironical in statement, excessively self-reflective in attitude, committed to the demolition of its own means, or self-serving in confessional frankness about common experience untransformed by individuated intuition or imaginational intrigue. Peter’s poetry is at once extraordinarily urbane in spirit, erudite in apt reference, and down-home downright funky in expressive spontaneity, intellectual complexity, and a generous salting of literary wit and cognitive play.
If moral rigor as practiced until now proves to be the absolute repression of the divine in the world and the vassal of Statist discipline, even relaxation and license become tactics for the recovery of natural and divine values. It turns out, however, as any reader of Peter’s poetry may very well attest, that the attentions and affirmations demanded by pantheist-anarchism may prove anything but easily achieved. The affirmation of everything will test the stomach of any of us. It is the discipline and conscience of such an ontological perspective and the transgressive sacrality that it entails, that there where one cannot imagine the sacred is precisely where one's practice must seek it out. In that sense Peter’s poetry, prose tales, art work and essays are themselves spiritual praxis, for reader and author alike.
In the nine months before Peter’s death, he was physically unable to write, due to numerous illnesses, but still had plenty to say. He and I initiated a series of conversations about his work that occurred in one or two hour sessions often two or three times a week—until the day before he died. We completed a valuable memoir of his years in Iran where he worked as a journalist, studied with great Sufi masters, edited publications for the Imperial Iranian Academy of Philosophy, and helped organize the annual Shiraz Arts Festival. A further extensive series of conversations dealing with whether Peter’s conception of the Temporary Autonomous Zone—how to act under a revolutionary principle, when no such action is immediately promising of fulfillment—will be his final statement, published in short order together with a new edition of the original T.A.Z. book. It is presently being transcribed and edited.
I first met Peter when Robert Kelly and I were at Naropa in 1992.1, 2 He introduced himself to Robert and not long after suggested we go out for dinner. I had no idea that this ritual of eating and talking would continue for thirty years.
The night before Peter a disparu (disappeared, from disparaître—one of the French terms for passing away), I had a dream that I was lost in the woods outside of Great Barrington; when I finally found my way into the town, Peter was waiting for me, with his wooden cane. He suggested we go for lunch at a place only he knew about, so we climbed a steep flight of stairs to a place that Peter said made the best tacos in the world.
Peter famously complained about a lot of things—the government, our dismal political situation, institutions in general—but I never heard him say a bad word about his friends, or this Valley where he chose to live. I think he created his own Temporary Autonomous Zone here, with those close to him; this was even truer whenever he sat down to dinner (or lunch, or Levi and Gret’s annual bonfire). Not long after I first met Peter, I asked him about his current views on Temporary Autonomous Zones, and I remember him saying that even a small gathering—two or three people—sitting around the dinner table creates something greater than the whole, something lasting and creative and timeless.
In the Tibetan tantric tradition there is something called a ganachakra (Sanskrit), or tsok (Tibetan): once a number of practitioners have completed a deity practice (which can last from a few days to many months), they hold a feast in celebration. This feast can be modest in the food that’s offered; the important thing is the collective gathering, since the merit of all is shared and amplified by this act of generosity and love.
Meals with Peter were always a kind of tsok: in a small but important way, they established a reality beyond government, with its hatred and fear of the Other, and created a kind of community of friendship and love. Something magical happens during this kind of meal: food (and wine, for those who drank it) fuels ideas and conversation; the gathering becomes something greater than itself, outside of time; something is created that will be remembered and savored later on, in a Proustian way. Such gatherings are a form of protest in themselves, a protest against governmental decrees trying to control our bodies, a protest against conformity. A bond of shared awareness is created.
And so, I would propose that Peter helped to create another kind of Temporary Autonomous Zone: a Lasting Interdependent Realm of Enjoyers, or LIRE, “to read” in French (reading and writing are, of course, another form of magic, but that will have to wait till another tribute). This Realm’s device is Azure, a gryphon rampant Or, holding aloft a crystal bowl proper. Its flag is seemingly transparent, but looks exactly the way each individual envisions it. Its motto is borrowed from Baudelaire: Hypocrite lecteur, mon semblable, mon frère.
- July 11, 1992 Reading: Ted Pearson, Robert Kelly, Lorna Dee Cervantes, and Peter Lamborn Wilson
- Another of Peter’s Naropa readings, with more links to Peter’s work at the bottom of the page: Peter Lamborn Wilson – Utopian poetics – Naropa, 1993
recording Peter Lamborn Wilson
Discussing his poetry in advance of our 2015 recording sessions, Peter said that in 1999 he “realized contemporary poetry was not communicating,” and that he didn’t understand “what the fuck was going on” with poets. So he set out to write a lengthy series of clearly written poems, even if they unsparingly contain a wide range of reference points (i.e., he drops in many obscure orientations that would be foreign to the masses). When I asked about his writing process, he reported that during the period this work was composed (1999–2012) he wrote six to seven poems a day, and kept about two-thirds of what he wrote.
We envisioned having morning sessions “once a week,” and largely kept to that plan, meeting five times in April, three in May, and once in June, recording more than five-hundred poems upon which the Peter Lamborn Wilson PennSound archive is based. The poems, for the most part, are brief. Time-wise, we discovered he could record about a poem a minute. Recording this way, he opined, “takes a lot of energy,” and in order to maintain vigor, he asked me to keep count of how many poems he read, so I did. Each session lasted about an hour. With the exception of a few poems I’d heard at a reading in 2014, where Peter was introduced as, “nothing less than a national treasure,” all of the material was new to me.
One of the first poems he read, “Moribund New Brunkswick NJ…” contains a line, “The other is nothing like me.” I already knew this was true of Peter as a person, but I did not expect to hear him then reading poems labeled as sonnets, ghazals, haiku, and quatrains (loosely interpreted of course). Given the fact that Peter never used a computer or software, it was delightfully shocking to hear him use the word “hypertextuality” at one point. Another surprise was hearing him claim Washington Irving’s Tales of the Alhambra (1832) as the “First great American book,” and, further, his insight on how Frederic Church’s home Olana, “comes from this.” On second thought, however, given the profound role exoticism plays within some of his works, maybe his regard for Irving shouldn’t have been a surprise. Being familiar with some of Peter’s drug-oriented writing (e.g., Opium Dens I Have Known ), hearing a poem about a city of cannabis (“CANNABILOPOLIS”) came as no shock at all.
Every aspect of organizing and conducting these sessions was a learning experience. The character of his work often speaks against my own waspy upbringing (now forsaken), and hearing poems such as Peter’s helped me further learn and expand, with their wide/wild range of references (he called touchstones he referred to often “thematic angels”). Beyond that, I had recorded many authors and readings previously, but never so extensively over such a short period. One particularly valuable thing I learned—and pass along, as far as audio production of poetry goes—is that having the poet’s manuscript in hand while listening/recording benefits the experience and efficiency of production. It is easier to edit audio files if you can register where edits, lengthy pauses, and interruptions transpire. Stylistically, Peter’s poems reminded me how poetically effective removing articles from poems can be.
Doing this work was unquestionably a pleasure, though I can’t really say it was fun in a conventional sense. Peter was anything but rigidly organized. Since there was so much material I worried a bit that we’d be accidentally re-recording poems, which thankfully happened very little (redundancy being inefficient in terms of completion, though somehow with him it seemed okay). I had known Peter for more that twenty-five years already, and it was great to share time with him. It was a terrific interval of work (mainly), plus a bit of socializing (reward), as our sessions always involved having lunch afterwards. We both did our best to aestheticize the experience. For me, it was important to establish rituals as part of the proceedings, so, beyond lunching, we created certain communications protocols on days we met, took tea during our sessions, and I always brought along small pieces of visual artwork to keep us company. Our good friend Chuck Stein was present on a couple of occasions. During the sessions I got into the habit of using color-coded pens and developed a method of using them, as well as various symbols, in my notebook—which, years later now, I have had to figure out how to decode!
I perceive many of these poems to be addressing evolution and degradation, as well as memory and authority. Peter was extremely gifted at making clever list and aphorism poems, sometimes designated as bumper stickers, graffiti, for use as stencils, and other types of public display. He was a fantastic reader, who knew to raise and otherwise use his voice before the microphone. Almost no retakes occurred during the sessions, although since he was reluctant to unplug his phone, we did have to pause many times in order for him to take a call. Any such delays were not a problem, as his voice tended to strengthen after taking phone calls, taking sips of tea, and our brief interstitial conversations.
David Levi Strauss
I Remember Peter Lamborn Wilson
I always thought of Peter as primarily a historian of religion, but he was also a wonderful poet and fiction writer, and he wrote many essays and books on a wide variety of subjects spanning art, politics, religion, pirates, angels, Green Hermeticism, and the Yezidis. He gained international fame as a political theorist early on for one book, T.A.Z.: The Temporary Autonomous Zone that was translated and read around the world, and continues to be. T.A.Z. was the first book entered into the People’s Library at Occupy Wall Street, and the first book saved when the library was destroyed by Bloomberg’s cops. Peter always said he would have preferred that his book be destroyed by the cops, that he would consider that an honor.
Two weeks before he died, Peter asked me to do another book with him (after our book on the Rojava Revolution, To Dare Imagining, and the one on image magic, The Critique of the Image Is the Defense of the Imagination). He thought this book could focus on images and imagination, and on the question of why and how the Right had managed to take over the imagination in our time. It has been a central tenet of Left politics that the defense of the imagination is a Left principle, at least since Blake, Keats, and Shelley. One of my main teachers, Diane di Prima (also beloved by Peter), said. “The war that matters is the war against the imagination / all other wars are subsumed in it.” And yet, today, the Right has claimed the imagination. How did this shift happen and what does it mean going forward?
We were all set to begin recording the conversations for this book together when he died. The last book he wanted me to read in advance of our conversations was Benjamin Teitelbaum’s War for Eternity, on Steve Bannon’s base in the Traditionalists (some of whom Peter had studied with in Iran) and the last book I gave him to read was Jonathan Crary’s Scorched Earth: Beyond the Digital Age to a Post-Capitalist World, in which Crary basically agrees with what Peter had been saying for forty years about technology. To Peter, the “Question of Technology” was a settled matter, in philosophical and political terms. He thought the digital world was infernal, and the internet was the apotheosis of capital.
Peter and I first met at Naropa Institute in Boulder in the eighties, when we were both teaching in the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. Was it Ginsberg who introduced us? Or Diane di Prima? Or Anne Waldman? As Peter wrote in his prolegomenon to my book Between Dog & Wolf in 2010:
In those good old days when Ginsberg was still “above room temperature” (as Tuli Kupferberg says), Boulder experienced such limpid azure caressing afternoons and rainbow poetics weather that people would come in for a week, then cancel their flights home and linger on and on, falling in love with the wrong people and staying up all night. Consequently, details are blurred; but I do recall especially Levi’s compassionate and upsetting lecture on landmines in Cambodia (from where he’d just come), and episodes from his ongoing (perhaps lifelong) meditation on photography and memory, Odile & Odette.
When we first met, Peter was living in a shack in New Jersey, but he still owned a sixth-floor walkup apartment on 7th Street between B and C (where Ginsberg once lived), and eventually my daughter Maya and her mate Evan bought that place from Peter and they still live there.
After Naropa, Peter came to stay with us in San Francisco, where I was studying with Robert Duncan and driving a cab. Gret and Maya and I moved from San Francisco to Ulster County in the Hudson Valley in 1993. Peter then moved up to New Paltz, circa 2000, to the house on Water Street, on the banks of the Wallkill River, and I began to visit him there very often and we became fast friends and collaborators.
The longest physical trip we took together was to Ireland in 2000 to plant seven thousand native Irish oak trees on the Hill of Uisneach in the ancient Celtic center of Ireland, in honor of Joseph Beuys’s 7000 Oaks, and then to Northern Ireland to visit the Iron Age fort of Grianan Ailech, “where we beheld a huge, thick, dense, epiphanic rainbow spring into life virtually at our feet and arch across half of County Donegal to the West,” as Peter recalled in 2009. Peter was a radical Romantic through and through, and he knew better than almost anyone what that meant, historically, and what it cost.
A little later, Peter and I, along with Carolee Schneemann and Michael Taussig, formed what Mick called (in his book Walter Benjamin’s Grave) “the Shawangunks School of Art and Philosophy, Anarchy and Mysticism,” meeting regularly to talk, usually around a fire at Mick’s place on the banks of the Rondout Creek in High Falls.
Writing has always been an agon for me, but it was a pleasure for Peter, and my agony also gave him pleasure. He was dauntingly prolific in all genres, and in the last ten years he was given, after being diagnosed with chronic kidney disease, he wrote a steady stream of new books. His agon was elsewhere.
Peter read everything. He was much more Catholic in his reading than I am. We once figured that Peter had probably averaged reading a book a day since he learned to read, so the accumulation was astounding. On virtually any subject that arose between us, he had read something pertinent, and often something key. He was actually quite a meticulous scholar, when he bore down on a subject.
In those last ten years, we talked on the phone every other day, about what we were reading and writing and about what was going on in the world and what was going to happen next. Toward the end, my greatest pleasure was to make him laugh. He hated straight American society as much as I do, and he relished my finding humor in our predicament.
When Peter began dialysis, the only thing he could do during the procedures was to watch daytime TV. This was the first time he’d seen TV in fifty years (he didn’t own a TV or a computer), and he told me he was shocked to find that it was all about hatred and cruelty. He told me he’d never believed in Freud’s Death Drive before, but daytime TV changed his mind.
When Peter asked me to write a blurb for his book Heresies: Anarchist Memoirs, Anarchist Art in 2016, I wrote this: “Beware all you ENEMIES OF THE FUTURE! All you MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE and dour, cowering APOLOGISTS—Oppressors and Oppressed alike! Here is the living testimony of your worst nightmare: a free man!”
As a young writer, Peter famously made a thorough study of all the angelic orders, and I hope some renegade band of them ushered him home with all the flourishes he deserved.
Diego Gerard Morrison
Peter Lamborn Wilson – A Translator’s Note
When I first delved into Peter Lamborn Wilson’s work, I considered myself a translator in crisis. The practice of translation through the years had given a nihilistic view of it, and the more I worked on translations the more I would question them, and the practice as a whole. I wondered, sometimes out loud, sometimes only in my mind, if some of the translations I was doing were really necessary in our world—did the work before me demand its translation or would it do any good when inserted in a different culture, a different zeitgeist? The questions began to be endless, maelstrom shaped, even: Can a translation always, from the outset, be wrong? Is translation sensitive to cross-cultural significance? Is translation transcreation? Can translation be activism? Can it be a way of doing politics? I found myself, more often than not, answering negatively. What is more, translation began to be, for me, a practice where my brain was starting to give in, to enter a fog.
Peter’s work came to shatter all these notions. In a way, he gave me back the joy of translation, while at the same time I became his reader and, inevitably, his student. All those questions I had previously posed to myself began to be countered and reversed, the maelstrom and the nihilism turned over. As I traveled across Peter’s words on the page, rewriting them into a language I call my own, I felt how my brain pinged with unreal activity, how it was bathed in a sudden, lucid glow. I was becoming full of an alternate knowledge. I even began a separate list of questions, spurred on by the notion of how translation might help undo and reform, how it could, as a practice, revolutionize distant cultures and communities. I even went the length of asking Can one ravenously translate?
Reading more closely though, I had to take a step back to realize that the magic radiated only from his words, and not at all from the practice of literary translation.
As I read him now, only months after his passing, I find solace in knowing that he is the only writer I know whose books give me a tangible feeling of him as a person. He wrote as gallantly as he spoke. To read him is to listen to him, to his soft, loaded voice, and I like to think that as I read him, I am with him.
P.S. When I think of Peter, I think of him, above all, as wise, so uniquely and differently wise. This is why I leave you with a piece by him I was asked to translate that instantly became my favorite—I see Peter in all his power every time I read it:
El sabio puede
(Drunk / The sage can / get high on / plain H2O)
For the occasion of the Brooklyn Rail tribute to Peter Lamborn Wilson, I’m now placing online the full twenty-nine-minute video I made with Peter in 2015, for my “poetry is” series. This is the uncut version, and only a few brief minutes have ever been seen before. The full dialogue is terrific and records Peter’s thinking about poetry and magic in considerable detail. At the time I felt that I had gotten Peter to talk about things that he had not been willing to discuss previously. The conversation is quite profound and to the point—and is evidently the only interview with him on the subject of his own poetry. It’s a beautiful portrait of Peter thinking out-loud. Frankly it made me very sad during the editing. I realize how much I miss him. With Peter there always seemed an infinite amount left unsaid.
Peter Lamborn Wilson speaking portrait for POETRY IS (uncut) by George Quasha from George Quasha on Vimeo.
I knew Peter for forty years; I hope I had the intelligence to understand him—I certainly had the time.
When I met him he had just returned from Iran, fleeing the fundamentalist revolution. He was then abandoning his adherence to Islam in favor of an active and magical mysticism. He meant to storm heaven, to realize Rimbaud's “alchemy of the word” by living out the promises of the apocalypse in daily life. The first move in this campaign was his acceptance and declaration of his own sexuality—from which he had fled into Islamic orthodoxy in the first place.
When we met, I was embarked on a parallel project: I was finding my intellectual way in the modern world to which I had just awakened, at the age of twenty-two, from my own “dogmatic slumbers.”
Peter was a great friend and a great inspiration to me. A world traveler, particularly in the lands of the Silk Route, the most widely read person I have ever met, and a true poet.
Poetry was always the goal: to translate lived life through the intuitive and symbolic magic of words. Peter's attempt to realize the quest, to find the Grail, was always a literal one. He wanted it physically, in the here and now, and his plan of action was largely bracketed between marijuana and anarchist theory. Peter’s venture into Islamic orthodoxy left him forever disenchanted with any spiritual path that required renunciation or detachment.
His strategy was not a complete success. The saddest and most poignant poem he ever wrote was his “Critique of the Listener,” in his book Radio Sermonettes. There he declared the failure of his mystical endeavor with heartbreaking candor. But though he lost his faith, he continued indefatigably on a parallel course. His epic work, The Search for Irish Soma, was a scholarly insistence that psychedelics were and had always been the answer. I agree that drugs offer a genuine spiritual experience, though I am not as persuaded as Peter was of its high quality.
Likewise Peter persisted in his belief in politics, generating critiques of the internet, leftist political initiatives, and popular culture that were brilliant, hilarious, and resonant with poetic expression. But Peter’s assumption was always that the problems that most needed dealing with were external social and historical ones. This position resulted at last in absolute pessimism, which he himself called, not without humor, “the New Nihilism.”
Peter believed that desire was the surest of guides, and that those who saw it as a problem were only seeking to bamboozle others into joining a self-punishment club. Peter’s critique was spot-on as regards the orthodox of any belief system, but no system can be fully and fairly judged if we consider only the behavior of its most rigid adherents.
Peter’s early hopes were so noble, his imagination so rich, his poetic voice so resonant! I was with Peter the summer he wrote the first Chaos broadsheets. We were inseparable friends, eight hour conversations several times a week—it was an intellectual love-affair. We both resolved to seek a means of poetic expression that would allow, and indeed entail, only what was so urgent it had to be said. We would tell all the real secrets, spill the Pythagorean beans!
Looking back at that first wondrous flurry of Chaos essays, which were gorgeously printed by Brett Rutherford’s Grim Reaper Books, yes, some of it seems quaint, one could come up with hindsighted explanations of its success that are less than flattering, but there was in them a core of Whitmanesque ecstasy, a spiritual fire I can still discern—in Peter’s words, “urgent as the blueness of the sky.”
Peter was my oldest and closest friend. Ours was a relationship based on love and trust, though our communication suffered some lapses over time—need I mention the regret … I never even memorized his birthday (of course I have now). Nor did Peter acknowledge mine. Neither of us much cared, as we were bound together in other, deeper ways during the course of our fifty-six year friendship.
At age nineteen, I met the twenty-one-year-old Peter Wilson through a mutual friend—this was in NYC. Peter soon invited me to join the Moorish Orthodox Church, and to this day it is the religion to which I adhere—insofar as one may pretty much “do what one wilt” under any banner, and still be a devoted, even fervent member.
Soon after we became friends, Peter left the USA and embarked on a search for adventure in the Mysterious East. I soon followed, and in early September of 1969 we joined forces in Kathmandu. It would have been easy enough to join the army of young wanderers then visiting the designated venues along the Hippie Trail. But Peter was no hippie, and had no taste for passing the days in cheap, bedbug-ridden hotel rooms, sitting on string-beds smoking chillums, allowing life to pass by, unremembered.
It was mostly Peter who mapped out our journey through Nepal, India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. It was Peter who led the way to the opium dens of Bombay and Calcutta. He knew of Rishikesh and Haridwar, and knew what Durga Puja and Diwali were all about. We marveled at the shockingly short fuses possessed by the Krishna Crackersⓒ the locals lit during Diwali in Varanasi. (Krishna Crackers were then, and continue to be produced in Sivakasi, the matchbox and fireworks capital of India. Child labor, especially involving girls from four to ten years old, has always been the rule. Deadly factory explosions are common occurrences—no surprise there.)
He knew to track down the Aghoris, to visit the Dargah of Khawaja Moinuddin Hasan Chishti at Ajmer Sharif. He knew of then-pristine Calangute Beach in Goa, where we hung out with the renowned Eight Finger Eddie while renting a dung-floored flea-ridden beach hut just a few yards from the shore for a few rupees a month. We visited the Taj Mahal under a full moon. Peter led the way to the gorgeous Blue Mosque of Mazar-i-Sharif in Afghanistan (nine years before the Russkie invasion). We shared many other unforgettable adventures during those youthful, magical days.
We engaged in a typically lively conversation over the phone on the evening of May 21, 2022. Yet, by then his voice had assumed a thoughtful earnestness, his goodbyes more meaningful.
Peter and I twice shared apartments in New York—both on the “Upper Left Side.” First, even before we set out on our flügeljahre in the East, we shared a tiny dilapidated, overheated apartment on 106th Street, just across from The Jewish Home and Hospital for the Aged. Peter’s virtuosity as a communicator served us—especially myself—well in those days. One late wintry night in 1968, as we returned home together, two young bad boys followed us into the building and held us up on the stairwell.
Peter explained that we were not wealthy, and did not have much to give. One thing led to another and we ended up having a long conversation with our assailants while sitting on the stairs—I remember not concerning exactly what, but it was nothing if not wide-ranging. Of course it was Peter who guided the convo, speaking words that forged a connection. After about an hour the boys, after pocketing our combined twenty or so dollars, turned apologetic and said they were sorry they had to take our money, but they needed to bail out a friend who had just been arrested and jailed. When they were once again in the money, they promised to leave a half-load of dope for us on the second floor windowsill of the stairwell. Peter and I formulaically thanked them in advance for their generosity, they exited the building, and that was that.
“Fast forward,” as they say, to Thursday April 4, around 9 p.m. I was just leaving a friend’s building on West 92nd Street between West End Avenue and Riverside Drive. The streets were deserted, but I soon noticed a group of about ten young roughs walking in my direction from West End. This was decidedly not their home turf. As they were approaching on the same side of the street, I considered crossing over to the other side before they reached me. Martin Luther King had just been assassinated only a few hours before.
I resolutely continued walking on the same side. As I reached them I felt a hand roughly grab me by the coat collar and saw a fist held in the air over my head, about to pound me. A voice called out from the pack, “WAIT! WAIT! THAT’S MY BOY!!”
It was one of the youths whom Peter and I had met in our building some months previous. He explained the situation to his posse and said to me, “You see? I told you I’d pay you back. You oughta thank your Hippie God I was here!” Laughs all around.
I walked away, shaken, and aware that Peter, with his gift for communication, his empathy, had saved my life.
Random thoughts of Peter:
His generosity. During a lamentable stretch of NYC existence, Peter never ever refused when I asked, dope sick, for his help, which was often. I didn’t have to invent a tale. Peter had indeed expressed a desire to resolve “this insanity,” as he once put it. But he never refused, nor begged off.
Peter had a way of answering the telephone, consistent right up to the end. He’d pick up, and I would say “Hey.” He would come back with an expressionless, even disappointed-sounding “Oh hi”—as if he were hoping it would be someone else.
Peter was, of course, an “opinionist.” He always sent a copy of his latest production. I preferred the light-hearted books that Peter produced, such as Night Market Noodles & Other Tales, “Anticopyright @ 2017,” though in recent years I have grown to appreciate the scope of his writing. His books occupy the lion's share of two shelves in my library, from Ustad Selim’s Veridical Dream Book, limited to one hundred copies, printed in Quetta “West” Pakistan in early 1971, to a draft of his not-yet-printed “Monsoon Raga” (2020–22).
Despite possessing a mind that spun out ideas and opinions non-stop, Peter could accept a view that conflicted with his own. He could be turned. To mention an extreme example: in his early letters from the East, Peter wrote of the inestimable value of salat, Islamic prayer—namaz as we knew it from the subcontinent. He of course knew that I had pronounced the shahada before an Imam at a darul ifta. He urged me to continue performing that meditational rite, as it would lead to salvation. Indeed namaz would seem to be the perfect form of prayer. Yet Peter’s deepening knowledge eventually absorbed namaz.
Dearest Selim bhai, farewell! And prosperous voyage…
My original intention was to assemble a tribute with stolen bits and pieces from Peter’s letters to my late husband, Jack Collom. But that correspondence, comprising news, poetry, booklets, and Peter’s just-plain-over-the-top-brilliance are now locked away in Jack’s archives, so secure I can’t get to them.
When Peter Lamborn Wilson first landed at Naropa University, he was absolutely Hakim Bey and we were all about T.A.Z. He and I bonded over our experiences in Iran and Afghanistan and our love of Irish lore and mysticism, occasionally celebrating with shots of Jameson. Peter loved to set off firecrackers in our backyard, which completely unnerved me. Somewhere along the way, he gave me a copy of The Book of Common Prayer. And somewhere else along the line, he married two young men in a ceremony on the Naropa campus. His prescience was breathtaking. In my novel, El Repelente (or the 2012 Antics of Anabela), the sage, insubordinate words of protagonist Tio Ramon, aka Motherfather 7Moth, are largely borrowed from Peter’s marvelous book, Chaos: The Broadsheets of Ontological Anarchism.
Peter came to Naropa year after year and was our resident holy man, shaman, priest, heretic, utopian, revolutionary leader, supper companion, fellow art curator, poetry collaborator, friend, and brother. After the terror of 9/11, he refused to fly and thus retreated from our Summer Writing Program community. No one can or will ever replace him.
I never saw Peter again, but Jack visited him several times in New Paltz, joking that an avalanche of Peter’s piles and piles of books might collapse and crush him in his sleep.
When Jack died, so many kind and loving folk sent flowers and cards filled with good wishes and nostalgia, sentimental in the sweet, comforting way of condolences. Not Peter. He sent me an affectionate, brief, straightforward note reminding me that death is inevitable. Five years later, as if to make up for Peter’s astute lack of mawkishness, the day before I heard he’d died, I was rampaging through bookshelves and his Angels: Messengers of the Gods fell smack on my foot.
Death is inevitable and, like most everyone else, I wish it weren’t. I miss Jack often desperately and now my heart is full of missing PLW, too.
And On This Rock
a remembrance of Peter Lamborn Wilson,
the 17th of May, an afternoon
I am the animal of writing nothing.
There are lovely and fragrant flowers,
and there are flowers of nothing.
At least to write this down today:
The last time I saw Peter there was an adventure of lilacs. Tamas had asked me beforehand to find some lavender for Peter. I was busy, I didn’t do it. When we arrived in Saugerties, Tamas said, well, there’s a bush of lavender in the parking lot, or overhanging its fence, where we can pick some to bring him. But we looked, we looked and found nothing.
We went up to Peter’s apartment, we let ourselves in. Peter walked out of his bedroom, and, when we told him we saw no flowers, he was dismayed. Now of course it is the end of their season, he said, but, O, I was certain that there was at least one bush of flowers and that they were still growing.
I offered to look again. But down in the lot I saw nothing, except for a bush in the neighbor’s yard, beyond the fence, where lilacs were growing. And I was accosted by a visitor or some tenant of Peter’s building … what are you doing here? Do you need any help?
Upstairs I told Peter the sad news. We took it as the final word on that matter, no flowers, and sat down to speak. We spoke of those flowers, their seasons, what country roads they grow on. Lilacs … he said.
Lilacs! Not lavender. I told him I had seen some lilacs in the parking lot, and that I would pick some for him before we left. We only stayed a little while that day, maybe an hour, talking of Visconti, of his year in Rome.
When we left, of course with plans to return, to begin a series of conversations with Peter about (of all things!) “metaphysics,” we went back to the bush that was of lilacs, not lavender. There were two clusters of flowers on the bush, only one we could reach, and it only with a blossom or two. We picked it, brought it upstairs to Peter.
At first he smelled it, and smelled nothing. He looked up at us in dismay, confused. He smelled it again. Nothing. I suggested he might get something out of it if he crushed it. So he crushed, smudged the flowers between his fingers (arthritic, they say), and inhaled. It was good, he said. It was sumptuous, delicious, it was so good. Then he repeated a strange promise or blessing he had given us twice already that afternoon: you will be rewarded for this in heaven.
I was a friend of Peter in his last decades, having been unaware of his earlier ones. We started a correspondence around the turn of the millennium, after his series of “Vanishing Art for the Endarkenment” and his promotion of the “repaganization of monotheism,” and soon discovered a broad vein of mutual interest. I can’t define it, only say that it included the pagan Renaissance; Italian gardens, especially the sacred wood of Bomarzo; the eccentric illuminates of Upstate New York and the genii locorum of the region, to some of which we made pilgrimages; Sir William Johnson and the Mohawk Anglicans; the Traditionalists, especially René Guénon, Frithjof Schuon, and Seyyed Hossein Nasr; our English friends Marco Pallis and Kathleen Raine; Woodstock, New York and its characters, especially Archbishop Francis and his wooden church on the mountain; other Wandering Bishops and their sects; the fin de siècle of Wilde, Beardsley, Rolfe/Corvo, the Symbolist painters; alchemical and Rosicrucian fantasies, like The Chemical Wedding; late antiquity, as celebrated in The Temple of Perseus at Panopolis; English cathedral music, which we had both sung as choirboys; the courtly music of the seventeenth century; William Beckford (the moment we heard about the Beckford Society, we joined it) and Lord Courtenay, who took refuge in Poughkeepsie of all places; the Mapp and Lucia books of E. F. Benson; John Meade Falkner’s cult novel The Nebuly Coat; Athanasius Kircher and his gloriously wrong theories of everything; William Morris with his hopelessly utopian socialism and fine printing; the Shaver Mystery and other anomalous phenomena; John Michell and Megalithomania; the immortal Charles Fourier, enemy of civilization; a shared aversion to scientism, bureaucracy, technolatry, and the killjoys of both right and left.
These themes are harvested from our correspondence and memories of long telephone conversations. Yet for all this, I realize that I was only touching one side of PLW’s polyhedral character. Others who have known him better and longer could make comparable lists of entirely different foci.
In our last talk, he was getting very interested in the heretical messiah Jacob Frank, and was planning, later this year, to become ordained as an abbot in some recondite Apostolic rite. The publication of Peacock Angel gave him great pleasure. But he was terribly weary of the thrice-weekly ordeal of dialysis, from which there was no prospect of release—or only one, which occurred four days later. Peace be to his manes, and may we meet again.
i was always very anti hero
but when pressed i could come up with maybe three
and when writing this i felt a weird swell of hubristic stroking
from claiming him as a friend now
peter and i didn’t spend much time together
but somehow i really came to feel like some kind of true contending inheritor, my being a tumorlike growth off his prose
another of ghengis' mutant children clamouring for the splintering rhizomatic khanate of the imagination
surely my mind could never be without his having been
almost more than any -- skol. thanks.
Before we met
I had half completed a probably mediocre audiobook of Pirate Utopias
which theorized that western democracy was not emergent from Greek states really at all, but much rather from the combination of European peasants fleeing medieval prudery to the libertine moorish corsair states -- and this remains clear still: that America was founded by Pirates pretending to be Demosthenes...
Then I was in a few shows already titled and hellbent in his frame of thought...Periodically we worked ourselves like clay in the homage of his image:
Weird Dancing in All night Banking Lobbies: done.
Go...for a Sign...Convince someone...
Towards some kind of ekphrastic TAZzy opus I'd still like to finish
i remember how i leapt to hear my friend was living and Working Literary with him
later when i went up to meet him with alice
already I understood he was sick but somehow protected
thanks also to those of you who really fended for him
how can i thank someone enough for having contributed so much
both personally and socially
after explaining so any times in painstaking detail to free school students and other Conrads [sic] Bookchin's critique of Bey's "lifestylism" -- there certainly seems to be a moment at least in the flows of North American Anarchism where there was hardly a more influential thinker than Peter
all the train hoppers dumpster divers and cosmic weirdos: 'feral children'
whatever deranged crosswired bougie tangle burning man turned into
he theorized it, electrified it, meated the bones
Hakim Bey was Zarathustra
and Peter was Nietzsche
even if you hadn't read him, he dripped into you through the culture and was working on you
prismatic in the drift of that individualistic amerikana ethos
at the RAT and in every infoshop
his intellectual shadow loomed like some liminal fusion of Krampus and St. Nick for the Milieu
we called him first one evening for his consultation on the Rimbaud's Grave / Beef Tongue Puppet Profanation Incident [if you don't know, now ya know/if you have to ask you'll never know...we see]
he of course riddled us with suggestions for
subsequent interventions in Harar
once jason invited me upstate to amanda and neil's fancy kindgom
to brainstorm this vague river circus
or something about hans bellmer's onion cellar
and i invited peter and my friend's parents
(revolutionary sandanista smuggling librarians who lived nearby)
so we all sat pondering and shot the shit for a few hours
until ---- had some sardonic explosion about the bourgeoisie
and left in a huff
and i did my Classic Anarchist Nihilist Philosophy & Literary Theory Puppet Show on the huge oak table.
afterwards Peter sort of gently blustered to me,
"your art is on a level with max ernst"
and i melted.
we talked about rojava, deleuze, nihilism
i started delving further into his more recent writings on revolutionary gatronomies and historiographies of the calendar
(get them! read them!)
(has anyone issued a compendium? let's go!)
Someone explained to me that in some sort of vast reduction
Peter was a Beat who, when everyone else went to India and came back seminal hippies, he instead dropped into Persian culture with a different bent, and forged that deep sufi assassin's alchemical brew.
THE CRITICAL GESTURE: a pseudo-something? the wrong foot forward? old white guy? cultural appropriation? is poetry a soft science? well.
i remember hearing about these pedo nambla accusations
because he depicted the sexuality of children in text
but meeting tons of young people who grew up with him
it became totally evident he had never hurt anyone
and people were just freaked out by his writing
like of course in every cannibalistic anarchist subculture
extinguishing their most brilliant inspirational stars
for some kind of sublimated instinctual antihierarchical fad
he got dismissed at the drop of a pin.
we talked about it obliquely
and exchanged some letters
me accused of murder rape evil
by an obsessed nonromantic ex-friend
possessed with some kind of 24/7 jealous craze
he said in this bullshit era it doesn't matter
there's nothing you can do just suffer the slings and arrows
if anyone accuses you of something you're fucked
nothing to be done
i thought at one point i could be the person to do this
strange potentially rehabilitative interview
and it weirdly remains one of the lasting pangs of his death
for me a door now forever closed.
I called him one bright day in from the CHAZ in Seattle
and we chatted for a bit
in a general way wondering if Temporary Autonomous Zones might come at the expense of permanent ones
What did he think of the carnivalesque, the relationship between the festival and the revolution
a few weeks later I heard him interviewed on Its Going Down
and snorted rosily when he said in his gruffest santa clausest northeastern scrouge,
"I did speak to a young Performance Artist friend of mine named Kalan"
and shed an awkwardly proud little sigh at our now public connection
A week after he died
I met the serious translator
of his books for the Hong Kong Revolution
for which his thought was apparently invaluable
she worked assiduously for eight months pouring over the text
and had wanted desperately to be able to meet him
can i write a poem summing him up
after he changed my life and
how many heroes died penniless and abused by those they toiled to serve
who got rich off of peter
really it was all of us everyone the whole world
[CLICHE STRIKER-RIPPER: there were so many things i had wanted to send him // to talk to him about]
when we last spoke
my first tiny crop of highschoolers was graduating
(RING RING: "Peter! What translation of Abu Nuwas should I use for my kids?"
SILENCE: "Do Not Teach Abu Nuwas To Kids.")
he told me to make a book
so i will
this is a call
for an ongoing monument
of immaculately grotesque, lyrical videography
let's keep making things for Peter
Though it is impossible to provide anything approaching a satisfactory account of who Peter was, to me let alone in the world, I believe that he would want me to write something about how I knew him.
The night of May 21 this year Peter called me in New Orleans around 10 a.m., to ask for my address to send some of his poems for a little chapbook series I was starting. In my living room that morning was a package I had been assembling to send him: assorted conjure oils, prayer cards, and carefully curated Mardi Gras throws. He had asked me to send him some Mardi Gras doubloons, so I made a point of trying to get one from every parade, and I saved them all in a coin purse. Peter had told me he was dying, so it was very important that the package be completed and sent without delay.
When I learned he was gone I drove downtown to light a candle for him at the statue of St. Expedite at Our Lady of Guadalupe on Rampart. A few years ago, Peter had been surprised to learn that the saint was not only a figure in hoodoo but actually venerated by real live Catholics in New Orleans. On my way I passed St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, where Marie Laveau is buried, and remembered that the last time I’d gone home to New Orleans Peter had requested that I light a white candle at the foot of her tomb for him. He’d told me how when he was much younger, younger than ten, he’d made a trip down with his parents and insisted that they visit the tomb. He described this event as having initiated him into his exploration of hoodoo. At the time of our conversation I had asked him how he had come to learn at such a young age who Marie Laveau even was, but now I’m struggling to remember his answer.
What to say about Peter Lamborn Wilson? He was my friend. I loved him. My world is less fun without him in it. I am looking forward to becoming more like him. We became very close in the past five years, especially last year when he, as part of my COVID bubble, kept me wonderful company and was one the best friends a person could ask for. He was generous and unselfish. He liked food; he liked music; he liked people. He requested that I ask my Cajun friends’ parents for their family recipes so he could recreate them. When one of my friends who was visiting expressed his anguish at not being able to live outside the US, Peter detailed how he qualified for Irish citizenship and, to my friend’s astonishment, extracted from a great pile of literature the exact magazine advertisement he had in mind and gave it to him. He was a teacher of infinite possibility, meaning, I could learn something from him about anything. We could talk about Alan Lomax or Theocritus or life in India or doing drugs. He wasn’t an elitist. He was happy to hear something that contradicted his way of thinking about a topic. He took me to strange little museums in the Catskills. When I invited him over for tea and trays of cucumber sandwiches and lemon cookies, he ate everything I’d made. He ordained me as a Papessa in one of his churches. When served a slice of apple pie that was less than perfect, he explained why but was not any less happy to eat it. When I was planning to move to Greece in 2020 we theorized, for a hopeful moment, a way that he could come with me. I don’t know that I’ve met anyone who loved life as much as he, or who got as much out of it. Any nihilism that he possessed was only the shadow of his passionate romanticism.
The fact that I have not yet read the whole of Peter’s corpus of work used to give me a feeling of great anxiety about being able to thoroughly understand him as an artist and thinker, but now it is, as I imagine it is for others, a source of hope and joy—to know that he is not gone from the world, that there is much of him still waiting for me to get to know, and that he knew, as any writer does, that this would be the case. An axiomatic fact, but one that provides immense comfort when I remember it. Now, I have until the end of my life to figure out what it is that I think he would have wanted. Now, as not only a writer but as a friend, I get to have the privilege of circling through again and again the infinite possibilities present in the ideas found in the universe of his writing in which he immortalized them. In other words, I gave him my friendship until the end of his life, and he will give me his until the end of mine.
Louise Landes Levi
atE - he recited
many manTras to TARA when
he was travEling in India & I was
also aRound but we
never met aLas - finally doing so
at NaropA & onwards for
all Manner of
meetings, Bound by secret
faith in the Occult botanica. Pe -
ter: Rigorous & inventive,
ShamaN & scholar, Sa-
cred Drift - Where are the
pilgrims? We dIscussed Ostad Elahi
& MalLarme, I was
very Shy, he was
so erudite & alsO so humble, befitting
LLL 4.8.22 Castel del Piano, Gr. Italy
I met Peter in various circumstances—
the first at Naropa Institute, I had never heard
of PLW, tho our travels led us to similar routes,
but understood something of his nature
when he said—in a talk—Peace is
worked for, it is not a political
realm (loose quote).
I met him most intimately in the
archives of the Dream House, finding
the review from which I quote below—Journal No.
3 of the 8th Iran Festival of the Arts, Shiraz, 1974.
It is said of Alauddin Ahmed Sabir Chishti, one of the five great masters of the Chishti Sufi Order of Northern India, that late in his life he would allow one human being to come hear him, a musician. So fierce was Sabir’s personality, so overwhelming the aura about him that the musician had to sit some fifty feet away from the saint, and face in the other direction while he played and sang.
From that one disciple descended the present day Sabiri Chishti's, and their devotion to music continues as well. When I attended the annual urs (death anniversary) last year at Kaliyar Sharif, I heard a great deal of devotional singing. I also saw men the like of which I never witnessed before in India: powerful men with faces like hawks with an aspect of intense asceticism, all dressed as if they had stepped out of a Mughal miniature, one of the purest experiences I have ever had of the continuity of Tradition. Each of these men seemed to be a reflection of the saint who was buried there: austere, mysterious, almost forbidding.
I say all this because Pandit Pran Nath's master was a Sabiri Chishti, and as I listened to him sing at the Hafezieh on Friday night I was transported in my imagination back to that parched clearing in the forest. Pran Nath's music is the sonic equivalent of the ambiance which surrounds that strange tomb.
That Prab Nath is a Hindu should surprise no one familiar with Indian religion or music, for India is the land that lives (or used to live) the doctrine of the Transcendent Unity of Religion. Kirana style, like other styles of North Indian Music, is the child of an alchemical marriage of two cultures, each rooted in divine revelation, each expressing itself in an exalted scientia of sound.
(Peter Lamborn Wilson, Shiraz Arts Festival Journal No. 3, 1974)
Lucía Hinojosa Gaxiola
“This text is/was/will be scripture unmediated by consciousness, an irruption of language in nature—text as miraculous initiatory force.” — Peter Lamborn Wilson (Green Hermeticism)
Peter’s mind is/was/will be always in the crossroads. A gigantic noble spirit, full simultaneously of humor, humbleness and power. When Anne Waldman secretly gave me his number and I called him from Mexico City, we spent a while talking on the phone. Then it became a regular activity. We talked about Leonora Carrington, secret alphabets and Mexican street food most of the time. I liked the way he answered, his voice, and the visions I had imagining him in his studio, sitting down surrounded by his books and papers. Once, I gave him my email so a friend from Autonomedia could send me some of his books, he joked that my name was so long he would run out of space writing it down on the sheet of paper. I asked him what he was having for dinner and he replied “you don’t wanna know.” I loved the way he truly enjoyed every aspect of what he could: reading, eating, listening to music, investigating, talking, knowing. His approach towards alchemy and ecology, and especially his notion and perception of poetry and consciousness throughout time, is something that has affected me and my practice profoundly.
Most of the time during the pandemic, Diego and I worked on translating and editing a selection of his work. It was a joy to do these close readings and have the freedom to select any work we wanted, thanks to Raymond Foye. And with Diego’s witty translation into Spanish, which really captures Peter’s wisdom, humorous ranting and critiques, his thinking has permeated into a small audience here in Mexico, and we’re hoping it continues to do so.
When we visited him we spent the whole evening talking, but it was more like a listening session. Listening to Peter’s fertile, flawless imagination and incredible heaps of precious information. The last time we went, with Lee Ann Brown, he told us incredible anecdotes with Harry Smith and Louise Landes Levi, and recommended an endless list of films and books that he demanded I had to write down on my notebook. We talked about pozole and how it used to be a sacrificial meal during Aztec times. I actually brought him a tortilla as a gift, all the way from Mexico City and heated it in his stove, he couldn’t eat many things at that stage, but he accepted the tortilla and said it was “ok” while smiling mischievously. When we left the room I looked at him before closing the door and his hands were on a praying position, over his mouth and nose, his deep gaze looking straight at me, saying thank you without words. I will never forget this image, a haunted blessing of some kind.
for peter lamborn wilson
on the telephone
a small crowd
- Read Peter Lamborn Wilson’s SOMBRAS TRASLÚCIDAS // TRANSLUCENT SHADOWS
- Listen to Peter Lamborn Wilson’s “Moorish Orthodox Radio Crusade” here
I first met Peter in the eighties, when I occasionally attended meetings of the Libertarian Book Club (“libertarian” in the old sense) at the Workmen’s Circle. He was vigorous, taking charge in a leaderless forum, able to speak to the young and the old alike—there were people there who had known Emma Goldman. At the time, Peter was propounding the ideas of John Henry Mackay (1864–1933), the German individualist anarchist, and had formed the Arrow Society to translate and publish his works. I already knew of Hakim Bey’s T.A.Z., and had heard rumors that Peter was the author. I asked an acquaintance involved in the downtown anarchist scene about it—and he wouldn’t tell me, which was all the confirmation I needed.
Still, I didn’t get to know Peter until we had both moved upstate. We settled into a routine where I would take him out to lunch every so often, to some strip-mall Indian or Japanese. Our bond was time-travel. We imagined Parisian opium dens in the 1890s, communities deep in the woods that had managed to avoid detection by the outside world. Peter was fascinated by the Jukes, the “degenerate” clan from Ulster County studied by eugenicists beginning in the 1870s—he thought he had figured out who they were. This spring, at El Rastro, the great flea market in Madrid, I found a lurid handbill for a Dick Powell film called Opio (To the Ends of the Earth) (1948) and planned to give it to Peter when we next met. But I never got the chance.
Mark Aelred Sullivan
Peter Lamborn Wilson -- 1945-2022
Our Dear Comrade Peter defied all categories. He thought, spoke
and lived outside the names, forms and norms we use to play
hide-and-seek with our world and our selves.
Like Emma Goldman, he was "Living My Life" in a unique way.
He especially enjoyed juggling and dancing with ideas and images.
He tossed them into the Air and then caught them as they fell to Earth.
His prophetic words were Fire—his gentlemanly manners were Water.
Like the Zen master of the familiar parable, he enjoyed eating the
strawberry of Life even while plunging into the abyss of Time.
He was an anarchist devotee of both King Charles the Martyr
and Catholic Worker Dorothy Day.
An Irish bard, his Muses included Rumi, Blake, Stirner, Nietzsche, Wilde,
Whitman, John Henry Mackay and Noble Drew Ali. And like them all,
Peter embodied opposite tendencies in dynamic tension …
and he contained multitudes.
"The kingdom is spread out upon the Earth, and people do not see it,"
according to Peter's favorite Gospel, Thomas (Logion 113).
The Earth, the Sacred Earth, is where we once found Peter, and it there
—or rather, here—that we can indeed still find Peter and his Logos-Sophia,
his words-and-wisdom, even now.
Peter Lamborn Wilson
I first met Peter in 1987 at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery during the opening for William Burroughs’s target paintings. He was wearing a foulard around his neck, a multi-colored shirt, and penny loafers—altogether quite dapper. We started talking.
At that time, Peter was renting a room in an apartment on the Upper West Side. On my first visit I was confronted with a small space jammed with piles of books, books blocking everything except a narrow track leading to a pallet on the floor and a card table overflowing with papers. He sat and I stood and we continued talking. His range of knowledge was virtually endless, but we had areas of common interest, among them a rejection of materialism, the absolute necessity to do away with capitalism, and a fascination with vanished cultures.
After he moved to East 7th Street near where I lived on East 2nd Street, we often met for dinner. His focus came together on topics resulting in the 1991 publication of what for me is his magnum opus: T.A.Z.: The Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism by Hakim Bey. Why his magnum opus? Because it broke free of the poetry ghetto to deeply influence the culture at large.
Much as with Allen Ginsberg’s Howl in the fifties, many thousands of people’s lives have been changed by T.A.Z. True anarchism is not dead because the desire never dies to be free of hierarchy, free of the stranglehold of the state and its corporate overlords. Temporary autonomous zones really take their inspiration from the non-private property lives of hunter-gatherers. Perpetually breaking camp and moving on beyond the reach of The Man, temporary autonomous zones include an attitude toward time which can even be called spiritual.
Peter Lamborn Wilson, Naropa Institute, Boulder, 1996. Courtesy the Estate of Allen Ginsberg. Photo: Allen Ginsberg.
PLW On Ice
Here we are in early August. It’s one hundred degrees in Peter’s blessed Upstate New York but I assume he is cool in his newfound TAZ. He was not a complainer, anyway, what with his abundance of historical, poetic, philosophical, history-of-religions frame of reference, and anarchist viewpoints. But those months on dialysis. Yes. That was beyond cruel. Enough to make you switch the lights off. And here we are at one hundred degrees and I am rifling through essays he would send me and, lo and behold, here is one dedicated to me. And it’s called “Ice.”
We must have been talking about ice one summer night, Peter, Carolee Schneemann, Levi Strauss, and me, by the Rondout Creek with the fireflies wilder by the minute as the creek sung its song and some stray image lodged in his mind and next thing you know he’s off writing.
It is a wonderful essay, but like quite a bit of his work did not, as far as I know, get published. (By the way—who is going to round up these gems and get them into print?)
First thing that strikes me is that this seventeen-page essay is typewritten with few mistakes or additions; maybe one every two pages. He had no laptop. Never. He was a sworn-to-the-death antagonist of all things digital which he saw as a cultural force that would destroy people and communities. He was the first out of the box with this fear, but now many people have, after criticizing the critic, come to join him.
He wrote a beautiful cursive script as if he himself was a medieval printing machine or, as he would prefer, a “neolithic one in Modern Times.” I see in front of me his typewriter laid on its side when not in use. “That’s how we journalists did it,” he told me, referring to his time working on the English-language newspaper in Iran.
Which is why the first half of his essay on “Ice” is centered on Iran and, after a fantastically beautiful poem on winter landscapes by Erasmus Darwin, abruptly begins:
“The Persian word yakh means ‘ice,’ and both words might stem from the same Indo-European root. Ice is alchemical, one of the mysteries of water. Symbolizes thought: crystallizations of fluid awareness. Jewel that melts.”
Pages follow with descriptions of Persian cold drinks and the invention of ice cream. “Snow lays its head to rest on heaven’s breast,” wrote the poet Kamaluddin Esma’ll in the twelfth century boasting he was the first to write poetry about snow.
The second half discusses the technology and economics of ice making in New England in the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries with ingenious farmers and bustling sea captains taking this precious cargo from the massively frozen Hudson to Jamaica and Cuba and even India. America supplied the world with ice. The Cubans paid five hundred dollars a ton in 1818. We read of strange things like “icehouses” and “ice harvesting.”
The essay skates on stories that cannot but cool you. The writer recalls horse-drawn wagons in Baltimore, where he lived as a kid, bringing blocks of ice in the 1950s as there were few refrigerators then—and the same could be said of Upstate New York.
So, the Rondout rolls by as we become crystallizations of fluid awareness. Alchemical, of course.
Peter Lamborn Wilson, aka Hakim Bey, aka (to me) the Episcopalian Pirate, will no longer haunt the coffee shops and bistros of Saugerties, New York, a village that had no inkling of the Hidden Master in its midst. We’ve all heard it said that someone is “a poet’s poet”; Peter was a polymath’s polymath. There was nothing he couldn’t discourse upon, brilliantly, for hours at a time, be it the foundational texts of philosophical Taoism; Anglican polyphonic sacred music; the history of anarchism; the utopian societies of buccaneers; the hallucinogenic properties of acacia. His passing, for me, is analogous to the destruction of the Alexandrian Library, the razing of a monumental archive filled with hundreds of thousands of irreplaceable volumes, recondite tomes that only he could amass, access, and cross-reference. Nor did he accomplish his multifarious culling of the knowledge, traditions, languages and lore of diverse cultures with the aid of a prosthetic memory, i.e., a computer—he was not enamored of the digital age, in which clocks do not tell time but take time from us; he railed against technopathocracy wherever it reared its fiber-optic Hydra heads. Others have tilted at the same windmills, but few of their arguments have possessed the free-ranging erudition, the intellectual rigor, the slashing wit and the implacable radicalism of PLW, who has even dared to attack (and barbecue) the liberal sacred cow of “sustainability.” I never left his presence unenlightened on many scores, or unendarkened by his gallows humor. The last time I visited him, on Easter Sunday 2022, he held forth, appropriately enough, on the legacy of false messiahs, in his cramped apartment littered with books, pamphlets, newspapers, zines, and works-in-progress. If America was a civilized country, he would long ago have been designated a Living National Treasure, an honor the Japanese confer on their master artists and craftsmen. And knowing Peter, he would have graciously declined the honor, which might have made him into the last thing he wanted or that we needed him to be: respectable.
Miriam and Ed Sanders
Treasureful Times with PLW
Ed Sanders and Peter Lamborn Wilson, The Mothership Gallery, Woodstock, New York, August 11, 2019.
In the mind’s eye you spot Peter as you spotted him at readings, openings, galleries, sitting outdoors at cafés, and where he excelled especially—at dinner parties where his wit and brilliance made those events shine.
Whereas many “literary” people enjoy demonstrating their own cleverness and ability to turn a phrase to the detriment of others, we never heard Peter say an unkind word about any person.
During the Vietnam War, Peter chose to be a conscientious objector. He was assigned to a scientific lab, where he saw the mistreatment and suffering of rodents. When he moved to New Paltz, New York, his house had many mouse occupants. He tried to live-trap them, with the hope of releasing them to a better place, but he had little success. Nevertheless, he would never hurt or harm them.
We very much enjoyed having dinners at Raymond Foye’s, where many interesting people gathered. A dinner at Raymond’s meant delicious food, pleasant company, and if Peter were to be there, the possibility of learning from him new facts about science, medicine, history, tribal lore, politics, just anything and everything.
He was fascinating and a treasure.
From the back of a crowded room at an anarchist gathering, I watched a scruffily-bearded man deep in concentration pacing energetically back and forth. His gaze was turned inwards as he spoke rapid-fire to a group of (mostly) men who listened attentively. He was building his complex argument—more of a scholarly disquisition than a public speech—and seemed unaware of his public who seemed captivated by his theories.
A few years later we met around a fire late in the night at a winter solstice event in Upstate New York, and then it was a warm, funny, and friendly Peter I encountered. From that moment an invaluable connection was forged. We stayed in touch, but unfortunately saw each other infrequently, as he rarely came to the city.
In 2016 Peter suggested we collaborate on a book of his poems paired with a selection of my images. The result was School of Nite (Spuyten Duyvil Publishing). Working together was an adventure, for Peter was a fellow of strong opinions, incisive but at the same time generous. The work went slowly since he worked on a typewriter and we communicated only by phone. But the experience drew us much closer and I wish we had had time for another volume. He had some two hundred poems at the ready.
Past erupts into Present like hot lava…
Past erupts into Present like hot lava
blurting from underground volcano vents
Yellowstone geyser from pharaonic caverns
where it wintered over, hibernated bearishly
in a dim dream of itself, bloodless & wan.
10,000 top opera hats spurt into the sky
silky ravens with diamonds in their beaks
BLAM the whole Library of Alexandria
rains papyrus like confetti at an astronaut’s parade.
A crack opens in the sidewalk & pedestrians
hurtle through down into 1934, 1911, 1881
crawl out bruised dazed weeping w/ emotion.
Next day all the cracks are sealed
mass amnesia—the anomaly erased
reports suppressed & only a few remember
but say nothing. But even so
one has to admit that lingering post-
eruption dust makes for spectacular
sunsets over New Jersey, Land of the Dead.
–Peter Lamborn Wilson, from School of Nite, Spuyten Duyvil Publishing, 2016
Sitting at the Feet of Gamaliel
for Peter Lamborn Wilson
a hard person to know
full of himself
he knows Everything
generous without mentioning it
brushes off Thanks with a change of subject
he’s forgotten more than most
will ever know
sneaky sense of humor
sometimes one won’t even realize
they’ve Heard a joke
let alone get it
Everything Must Be Just So
combinations of foods he “can’t have”
oddly juxtaposed with Junk Food
(only Upscale junk food Imported
labels written in foreign languages)
“Get me a haggis!” he says, Insists
though it has to be ordered from god knows where
arrives encased in Styrofoam & ice
and now to prepare it - “How?”
“I don’t know! I’ve never Had it before!”
ducklings Must be from Long Island
there’s only One duck farm on LI now
but they’re no longer tender like they used to be
“Contact that Amish farm somewhere in PA
I think their name’s Miller; just google it “
he Refuses to have a computer or to use email
that’s My job or Raymond’s
he can Never remember the doctor’s instructions
says when the doc starts talking
there’s a buzzing sound in his head
so I have to go into the exam room with him
be his ears there
the doctors & nurses somehow immune
to his orders it falls on me to figure out
how to achieve what the doctor ordered
sometimes he just Won’t
he just Won’t to his own detriment
but he goes on
he goes on seems like Forever
as younger healthier people than he
go down to dust
I can Still hardly remember he’s gone
his presence in My life in Andy’s in Raymond’s
he still conducts Teachings and Interviews
still spends Hours & Days on the phone
with his few or only intellectual peers
speaking of esoteric subjects
at the Pinnacle of Knowledge
the tip or the peak of the mountain
that no one else has managed to hike to
his personal Everest
Lines of elders & youngers striving
to reach that peak
gasping for breath but still climbing
to sit at his feet for as long as they can
All this Time
I Know he must depart sometime
but was Sure he’d outlive Me
just as stubborn as could be
he’d Never succumb to the Universe’s orders
but eventually he did
alone in his home and Everyone Shocked
How Can This Be?
but he did and we are the poorer
whenever I cook with his utensils
or turn on the lamp from his bedroom
whenever we drive down the road
passing ridiculous billboards
his commentary his persona again Living
I expect to see his first entry
into the Calendar of Radical Honor
the Calendar of Jubilee Saints
his place in that heavenly hierarchy assured
by the youth still gathered at his feet
I was lucky to make three late publications with Peter Lamborn Wilson under the imprint of my small press in Troy, New York: Publication Studio Hudson. We released the poetry collection Eclogues in December 2014 and followed that with two illustrated essays in the ensuing years. In Polyphony, Peter speculated about and guided readers through the golden age of English choral polyphony. With the longer Mohawk Anglican Freemasons, he posited the history of religious blending (or “syncretism”) of three normatively quite different eighteenth-century traditions: the spiritualism of Native Mohawk peoples of modern-day New York State, Freemasonry, and Anglicanism. To call Peter’s erudition eclectic, unorthodox, and original would be an understatement. It could certainly be intimidating. But as a person and friend, I treasured his gentle humor, natural modesty, and no-bullshit directness. His presence, just like his writing, often provoked me out of momentary complaisance. In particular, I loved our visits in his Woodstock apartment, always laden with books and the trace steam from teacups; and then later in Saugerties at a diner across the street from the apartment building he lived in. Most of all, I hark back to the event we held in December of 2014 to celebrate the launch of Eclogues, bound in marbled paper made by our collaborator in that book, Christin Ripley. Peter read his poems to a packed audience on Main Street in Catskill, and we were accompanied by the live music of a harpist, who concluded with a gorgeous rendition of O’Carolan’s “Farewell.” I can still hear it. RIP to a Traveler.
Filmmakers Nick Dorsky and Jerome Hiler, with Peter Lamborn Wilson. Photo: Phyllis Segura.
Peter was a dear friend of mine. I was also his unofficial private chef and sometime driver/companion. He would not want to follow a map and certainly not a GPS because “there’s no fun unless you can get lost.”
He was conversant in matters of food (and its imbibing). I was delighted to have someone interested so I could experiment with a variety of cuisines, mostly Persian. He left before the chow fun rice noodles, our next culinary adventure, could be prepared.
I think of Peter as a human version of that jar filled with jelly beans, coins, trinkets, or buttons. You can reach in and there is always another one to pull out. In his case another topic he knew the history of, or had a story about, or it would be the start of a long discussion. The topics of his books were the same: varied and esoteric, and for a long moment, visionary. One could sit for hours just dipping into that jar and seeing what came up next.
We hung out, chatting away, the evening before he passed. I’d brought him a compote of rhubarb and whipped cream he’d been craving. As I left, he said, as always, “Ciao. See you soon.”
Memories of my friend, Peter Lamborn Wilson, who died May 22, 2022
In 1990, when I told John and Caitlin Matthews I was moving to New York, they said I should meet Peter Lamborn Wilson. I’m indebted to Caitlin and John for many things—friendship, wisdom, inspiration—but meeting Peter goes near the very top.
When I called him, he suggested we meet in a restaurant in Chinatown called New Chao Chou, and as soon as I saw the place, a hole-in-the-wall with “real” Chinese food, I knew I was meeting a friend. Peter was a gourmet cook, but as with scholarship he was never a snob.
Peter was inspired, devoted to many fields of wisdom and history. From that very first meeting I loved simply talking with him. His brilliance, his wit, his passion were present in every moment.
A couple of times we were able to share our conversations with an audience. We would sit in front of a group—New York’s Open Center was one place—and just begin talking. Magic and tribal shamanism might be a starting point—and from there it would go where it wanted to go…
One of the last times I saw Peter he told me that he and Charles Stein, brilliant (and radical) poet and scholar, were recording their conversations. I so hope that project was developed enough for publication. What a treasure that will be.
Peter’s scholarly writing, whether on esoteric orders, or prehistoric cave art, or werewolf cults, was so powerful because it was never simply an exercise. Academics who study magic and folk practices are not supposed to believe in any of these things. Peter dedicated himself to such subjects because he accepted the truth, and wisdom, of people’s experiences.
And through that, and the passionate eloquence of his writing, we too can discover that the world is bigger—and stranger—than what we learned in school. And even more, that learning such things can change us—and even the world itself.
Peter cared about his readers, he wanted us to expand our lives. In the wonderfully titled collection Escape from the Nineteenth Century, Peter wrote about the late eighteenth century “mad” genius, Charles Fourier, who saw colors beyond the visible spectrum and traveled to other worlds. At the start of his essay Peter wrote that if you truly loved someone you would buy a first edition of Fourier, then leave it somewhere where that person would find it and believe it had appeared wondrously just for them. Which of course is the truth, since as Peter knew, we ourselves become the agents of other people’s magic—Peter far more than most of us.
The Jews have a saying when someone dies: may his memory be a blessing. Simply knowing Peter and spending time with him were a blessing. And now his memory will be as well.
PLW: HERESY AS HISTORY
The poet and the anarchist share one essential obligation—they must question story, especially the official story called History (his story indeed, annals of the patriarchy). Question it, change it, destroy it. Make a new story, one we can live in, true to our knowledge and desire.
PLW was a brilliant example of both human tasks, and he was a good and earnest man, and honest; he knew that history has to be taken apart piece by piece, and his years were full of exacting and particular scholarly and imaginative research. Hillbilly hoodoo; Yezidis sheltered under angel wings from Islam and Christianity; mountain sages of the Catskills, the mountains close to where he ended his days.
No TV in his house, no computer! He wanted it to be just before the First World War—though I think he listened to the radio, and certainly got caught up in sixteenth century church music unavailable to the ears of 1910. Inconsistency is the kindly stepmother of genius. PLW would obey no laws easily, not even his own.
I met the man first at Naropa, the bubbling cauldron of poetry Ginsberg and Waldman had set boiling under the aegis of a great Tibetan master—one that, as far as I know, PLW was not the least bit interested in. Religion was his thing, maybe even his hobby. But not that religion—maybe he respected it too much (I’d like to think that) or maybe never got around to doing with it what he did with Islam and Christianity.
He lived for years in India and in Iran, exploring inner and outer methods of wisdom, the Persian years spent close to the Sufi, the mystical traditions, but also alert to the Yezidis (the subject of his last book published in his lifetime). I don’t know enough about the shapes and shades of Islam to have a real sense of how much and how deep it ran in his mind and work. I do know that in later years he continued his connection with American Sufism.
But I do have a clearer sense of his joyous, bumptious, hyper-heretical Christianity. He was an Anglican—but a Non-Juring Anglican, therefore at variance with the bulk of the Church of England and its versions throughout the world. But he was also a Stuart, by blood and conviction, anxious to cast out the hated Hanoverian usurpers who have ruled England for three hundred years, and to bring back the Stuarts.
But, as with history and human affairs, it’s not enough just to observe them, you must plunge into them, so PLW did with religion. He was an Archbishop of the Moorish Orthodox Church (a curious Episcopalianism tinted with Islam) and appointed his friends bishops of that church too. More than that, he actively involved himself with all the strands and threads of the Old Catholic movement, a dozen independent churches—usually with more priests than congregants—developed from the original shock of the schismatic churches that broke away from Rome in the late nineteenth century after, and mostly because, of the declaration of Papal Infallibility by the first Vatican Council. Old Catholic, Old Roman Catholic, Old Roman Catholic of North America … the names weave together, and some great figures stand out, Archbishop Brothers (the famous Father Francis of Woodstock) the Patriarch, wee Michael Itkin the mischievous lad in the downtown of the fifties who became Archbishop Itkin, an important figure for PLW. I knew some of these people too, the great Charles O’Malley of Cornelia Street, Richard Marchenna the Archbishop of Newark, so I had some sense of the intricate and serious nature of what looks so often to reg’lar Chistnens like boys playing at religion. Towards the end of his life, PLW arranged for his friend and authority, Bishop Mark Sullivan, to conduct a Non-Juring Anglican Mass at an actual Anglican (well, Episcopal) church in Barrytown, through the kindness of the Rev. Ginger Grab, chaplain at Bard College. PLW’s friends of all species attended, some amused, some moved to tears. Yes, he took religion seriously, in the gayest and most detail-obsessed way.
All of which is to say that as much as anyone I’ve ever known Peter lived in exact accord with his interests and his principles. He took seriously every detail he discovered in his historical research—and he was thorough and unsparing of effort in research. The business of no TV and no computer wasn’t laziness—it was a form of athletic exercise in living as his heart and mind shaped the world.
to Peter Lamborn Wilson’s part in this story telling’s king figure as a cat’s cradle crow’s nest in the fold unfolding out of each other’s thread.)
No matter typos. He could not tolerate, grated on his nerves, but Peter was guilty of them as well and that was easily forgiven toward the end. I was beginning to miss his letters. Because he could no longer write or type, we often talked on the phone during the week except during dialysis days. Sunday, though, was the main to catch up on. Peter’s voice and disposition remained the paragon of the calm, cool, and collected right up to the end. As a covert Tory, Peter kept me cautious about a number of matters that emerged from writing, especially Hessians—never trust Hessians. Hired mercenary hands are always problematic. Employed for writing those forces invariably spell the end of the entire enterprise Peter was quick to iterate. He fully ascribed to he story of Socrates in the Phaedrus about Thoth’s bestowal of writing to the Greeks. In that tale King Thamus objected to the so-called gift because he felt people would put their trust in external characters that weren’t really part of themselves. Peter never trusted those damned Hessians for good reason.
Sunday, May 22, 2022. Around 11 a.m. I ring Peter to let him know that I finally located his “Five Bucolic Epigrams for Daphnis” Imitations of Theocritus the Sicilian that he had lost the original draft for. It was in an old issue of Ken Warren’s rag-tag magazine, House Organ. Peter wanted to reissue it in a chapbook along with his rendition of the Priapeia and a few other pieces.
2 p.m. Peter calls back wanting to make sure I was going to get him a copy of Prospero’s America by Walter W. Woodward, and Kabbalah and the Founding of America by Brian Ogren. The latter was pertinent to his immediate study of Jacob Frank, the eighteenth-century heretical prophet who followed in the footsteps of Sabbatai Zevi. Peter had just finished Olga Tokarczuk’s The Books of Jacob, that represents, in part, a fictitious account of Frank’s life and actions. The thing that most caught our attention was Tokarczuk’s bibliography of reference works on Jacob Frank that Peter was hungrily tracking down. I believe he was planning on doing his own study on Frank’s actual writings and thinking.
5 p.m. Peter calls again to make sure I had ordered the books and reassures me he is having someone forward the funds to cover the cost. There was an urgency in his voice interspersed with that disturbing cough I’ll never forget. Then after a night of bewildering dreams I learned the next morning that Peter had traipsed off into the immensity. It was only then that I understood that urgency.
I’m compelled to defer to Milton’s insistence that the poet’s life should be a poem even though Peter was no great fan of Milton due to his support for Oliver Cromwell and his established commonweal (I write this as I look over a little card Peter sent me entitled: REMEMBER: A Prayer in Honour of Charles I, King & Martyr. Despite such a polarity the significance of his actions remain. Having hiked the Khyber Pass, living in Iran, and acting as Henry Corbin’s secretary were to name but a few of his poetic acts. And speaking of such actions, after engaging in a “poem-act” where Peter “threw 3 gold rings into the confluence of rivers at Mombaccus … for the re-enchantment of the landscape—to create new superstitions and Endarkment (that is, fear & respect as well as love for nature),” he said of:
The art, such as it is, comes into existence only in the moment of its own disappearance; afterwards it will be invisible—except to the spirits
(House Organ, No. 73, Winter 2011)
How Peter became one of the invisible (falling back on David Rattray’s formulation) was due, without a doubt, to his life-long project led in the purposefully obscure. In his penumbra we are fortunate enough to have the legacy of his vast paper trail of books to trace and retrace about these borderlands. A ceaseless resubmergence at the periphery.
A Little Lower than the Angels
For Peter Lamborn Wilson
a life of disgrace would be long forgotten
if it were not for disgraceful writers
In the currant of edible
That were shared
Masticated in the mouth of motion
Chewed & consumed
Like the pearlescent elect
Noodles of midnight’s craving
Burials all along when they’re living
Banquets feeding each other
Off one another continually
The Marriage Knot
For Chuang Tzu’s true sage
But not certain ingredients:
Blasphemy, heresy and apostasy
In the recipe for sure fire acquisition
Looking at the feed
Language upon a string
That’s led up to writing has spelled the end
In a ledger
For keeping the books
Thoth’s bestowal was no gift at all
And that we’d all grow lazy by print
Still, the culprit’s harnessed
That’s a hippopede
Rendered into a sign of infinity
Soma for the horse
Emblem for the land and sky and stars
It’s only a life
Staked out on a remote encampment
Where they’re still singing the song about
In a gathering disregarding time, day, and duty to possessions
With wild abandon’s
Joy of the share.
AA#02 Volume 1: Jan Beaver, page 33, Ghost Eagle’s Nest mound group.
I first met Peter in southwestern Wisconsin in the summer of ninety-three, at a community called Dreamtime Village, founded by a conjunction (mIEKAL aND) and a verb (Liz Was) and their zon (Liaizon Wakest). Of course, being an article, and a didgeridoo player (the name Dreamtime Village referring to the Australian Aboriginal sense of the term), I had to join in—“in” being in the middle of the Driftless region, a large pocket of the upper Midwest that missed the scouring effect of the glaciers of previous ice ages.
That summer and the next Peter and I and others from Dreamtime took many road trips exploring the effigy mound, glyph and Native cave sites in the area. On some of these we had the help of a guide from the Ho-Chunk nation, Merlin Redcloud, who shared an oral history of his people that goes back thousands of years to the last ice age. Attached is a map of one such site we visited just north of the town of Muscoda: the Ghost Eagle’s Nest (as the late Jan Beaver, who did much to save the site, referred to it). Posterity is fortunate that a nineteenth-century surveyor, T.H. Lewis, carefully mapped out many of these mound formations (and thousands of others throughout the Midwest) before they were plowed flat or otherwise damaged.
Over the following decades, Peter shared with me his vast knowledge of alternative escapes from History and social refusals—and for this I owe him much. It was he who introduced me (and many others) to the rich and mostly forgotten legacy of nineteenth-century American utopian social experimentation, in which the ideas of Charles Fourier loomed large. It is odd that this early visionary thinker—who coined the word “feminism” and was gender and preference tolerant in ways that many later leftists weren’t—is not more well known today. It seems that it has taken two-hundred years for the rest of the world to partially catch up with Fourier.
When I later joined Peter in relocating to the mid-Hudson Valley, we continued our road trips, and our dialogue (and my education from him) continued—up until a few days before his unexpected passing. Treatment was rough and uncomfortable—as he was on dialysis and had refused the option of a transplant—but he kept his humor and countenance like a modern Epicurus. As I recall during our last talk we had our only discussion about a television program—Star Trek: The Next Generation—because one of the realities of hospitalization is being forced to deal with TV, and that was his only tolerable viewing option. He liked the show.
Peter Lamborn Wilson at the 1992 Networker Congress at Dreamtime Village. Photo: Stephen Perkins.
My remembrance begins in the fertile entanglements of the Eternal Network , a pre-computer grapevine where mail art marginals could (and still can) encounter kindred spirits. In 1986, James Koehnline and I co-curated the Haymarket Centennial International Mail Art Exhibition at the late great Axe Street Arena in Chicago. Axe Street was a radical artists’ collective space where he lived and where I often stayed when visiting Chicago. The mail art show was a cultural event associated with the Chicago Anarchist Gathering festivities of that same Haymarket commemorative year. Haymarket was a pivotal moment not only in Chicago but in anarchist history worldwide. The Haymarket anarchists had issued a frontal attack on wage slavery using a variety of tactics, but the final event that sent shockwaves through the world radiated out from the aftermath of the explosion of a bomb thrown at the police by persons unknown. The immediate result was the roundup/arrest of eight anarchists who were subsequently sentenced to imprisonment or death by hanging. A century later, Koehnline and I, as anarchists who were both deeply into mail art at that time, decided to do a network call-out for artistic contributions related to the one-hundredth anniversary of the Haymarket uprising of 1886. All of the amazing art that we received was to be displayed at the Axe Street Arena gallery. Selected items were featured in the first issue of a zine which he would edit called PANIC, named after the mythic Pan himself, who is renowned as the natural enemy of all governments and coercive control. The zine contained a cover collage by Koehnline, who also did the layout and design. It included a collage of my own and a short poem of mine which, as was the case with all of the other deliciously diverse material published within, centered around the watershed Haymarket theme.
One of the first contributions that we received was a full-color homage to fiercely defiant anarchist, Louis Lingg, sent by Hakim Bey. It was entitled Holy Xeroneirikon of Louis Lingg and arrived with communiques from the Association for Ontological Anarchy and the Moorish Orthodox Church. These communiques were a premonition of even more dazzling things to come. A few years later, in 1991, Peter Lamborn Wilson in his Hakim Bey persona would publish his wildly popular anarchist book, T.A.Z., which poetically conceptualized the liberatory possibilities of temporary autonomous zones. I had not yet met him, but I was passionately attracted (à la Fourier) to the way he poetically reimagined anarchist organizational ideas like autonomous zones in inventive immediatist ways that questioned standard leftist assumptions about institutional permanence as the mark of success. Peter’s chosen mail art subject, Lingg, had not been present at Haymarket Square and the exploded bomb in question could not be definitively traced to him, though a police search of his house revealed that he was indeed a prolific bombmaker. Even though the State couldn’t prove evidentially that he was connected to the Haymarket bomb, he was railroaded along with the other Haymarket anarchists anyway. Speaking to the court at his sentencing, Lingg spit venom at the judge and the legal system, “I despise you, I despise your order, your laws, your propped-up authority. Hang me for it!” he declared. But secretly, he planned to cheat the gallows. The day before he was scheduled to hang, he was able to detonate a blasting cap smuggled in to him by a fellow prisoner to boldly blow himself up so as not to give the State the satisfaction of executing him.
To know that Peter chose Lingg to memorialize from among all the other Haymarket anarchists might seem strange to anyone who has been taken in by Murray Bookchin’s vituperative attack on the author. Bookchin clearly seems to have viewed Bey as a contemporary rival for anarchist affections, and sought to discredit his name by dismissively referring to him as a mere “lifestyle anarchist.” Actually Peter’s position on Lingg, as laid out in T.A.Z. and published five years earlier in our PANIC zine, was more complex than Bookchin would have liked to admit. In the eyes of some anarchists, Lingg is best remembered as a martyr. While Peter made clear that he was inspired by Lingg’s rebellious defiance of the State, he did not fetishize his death as a martyr. As Peter would explain, “We mix our veneration with irony—it’s not martyrdom itself we propose but the courage of the dynamiter”. His larger than life (or lifestyle) image of the anarchist as “poetic terrorist”/illuminated outlaw would inspire other anarchists not to self-destruct by blowing open our heads in the custody of the cops as Lingg did, but to killing the cops in our heads and living to fight another day as subversively shape-shifting insurrectionists or disappearing dervishes. The anarchist bedtime story doesn’t always have to solemnly end with martyred revolutionary heroes who must tragically die for The Cause or even The Beautiful Idea.
Once the mail art show was slapped up on the walls, it wasn’t long before Franklin and Penelope Rosemont of the Chicago Surrealist Group would enthusiastically visit the Haymarket Exhibition at Axe Street Arena. I was enamored with both surrealism and anarchy. By that point, both Franklin and Penelope had already been major inspirations of my own anarcho-surrealist thinking for twenty years, but it was not until that year of 1986 that I would actually meet them in person at the centennial May Day march. I would later find out when interviewing them for my Surrealist Subversions book that they had been members of Chicago’s Louis Lingg chapter of Students for Democratic Society (SDS) and could be found amongst the more freewheeling renegades of the Anarchist Horde in the sixties, a fact that was one of what would be many future confluences between anarchy and surrealism heralded by Peter’s Lingg submission to the Haymarket mail art show. When I look back on my life, it seems to me that the key individuals and ideas that would ultimately shape and animate my most fervent political and intellectual passions came together at that Haymarket mail art show with Peter himself providing the Linggian link that would ignite my dreams of anarcho-surrealism with the flames of insurrectionary desire. With mention of that compelling illustration of objective chance in action, we really have come full circle in this story with the final link to Peter belonging to my now sadly departed friend and surrealist mentor, Franklin Rosemont, who was buried at the Waldheim Cemetery in Chicago not far from that badass Louis Lingg and the other Haymarket anarchists who lit up the sky in 1886 to reveal unlimited horizons.
Oriental Dr. Wilson
Spinner of the golden thread Lion tamer of the circus of the dead
The bold eagle of the MOC
Teller of tantrik tales
Weaver of primordial poetry
Each treatise a veritable feast
The proverbial beast
oozing the orgone energy of the East
Hakim Bey can you write us a prescription?
imbued with mystical mitochondrial life affirming psychedelic Orientalism?
We first met through poet Ira Cohen who was visiting Woodstock
to do a reading I’d organized for him in 1999
He had encouraged PLW to take the public bus over from New Paltz
Ira said “Give him one of your books, Peter is a real famous writer!”
We visited actor & artist Allen Midgette that day
who was renting a lovely old house on the stream
paid for by a bequest of the late choreographer Jerome Robbins
& he was living with Ossian the Tibetan lama son of Angus & Hetty Maclise
We smoked lots of herb, drank tea, told stories, took photos
Then it was time for Peter to catch the bus back home
Little did I know then he’d soon be moving to Woodstock
& we would be publishing & organizing & reading poetry together
as part of our Bohemian community
of fascinating beat hippie writers & philosophers
& teaching me so much about the carefree life of an artist
Peter was brilliant & prolific
I always joked that I need to read his books with a dictionary in one hand
because there was always one esoteric word
on each page that I didn’t understand
but Peter never condescended or grew angry when explaining
He was always a relaxed, generous, & kind friend
until the ultimate end
May the words of Peter Lamborn Wilson live on
in the Akashic records in our hearts in perpetuity
Peter Lamborn Wilson, Shiv Mirabito, and Raymond Foye, Bread Alone, Woodstock August 22, 2019. Photo: Miriam Sanders.
Peter’s death left an encyclopedia-sized hole in my life. He was the most erudite person I ever met. We were both Ivy League failures—he dropped out of Columbia, I flunked out of Cornell—but Peter cultivated his mind with endless reading, especially in history and religion. (I just read books I find on the free shelves of thrift shops.)
Peter subscribed to every magazine, I was about to write, which of course is untrue, but the variety of publications he read was intimidating: the Times Literary Supplement, the London Review of Books, the New York Review of Books, three archeology magazines, the Flat Earth Society newsletter, the journal of the Oscar Wilde Society, the journal for collectors of railroad insulators (he was one). Even Time magazine and The New Yorker! Plus lots of book catalogues. “People say you should watch television to understand the state of the culture, and that’s true, but you only need to watch one minute a year,” Peter said.
He would often talk about his current research: the origins of Rosicrucianism, the Grange. He had great respect for German Romanticism. Rarely did we discuss his role as psychedelic prophet, perhaps because he recognized that I am a Puritan (or, to put it kindly, a straight-edge Punk).
He was an extreme Luddite. Peter composed all his writings on a manual typewriter, which he would lean backwards when he was finished for the day. (Peter said this was the style in newspaper offices in Tehran in the seventies—it kept the dust out of the works.)
He hadn’t seen a movie since 1983. A young friend of his insisted he watch one of the Lord of the Rings movies, and showed it to him on a computer. “It was awful,” quoth Peter. When Pirates of the Caribbean 2 was being produced, someone from Hollywood called Peter to ask him to consult with the filmmakers. (Because Peter had done crucial research on pirate gangs as anti-racist anarchist utopias.) Of course Peter never called him back.
He deeply resented stores that broadcast music into the street, especially rock music. Though he quite possibly was the first person to play the Beatles’s songs in the USA. He’d been to London in 1963, when he heard the Moptops, purchased one of their records, and played it on his radio program at Columbia.
Mr. Lamborn Wilson hated money. He thought it was a demonic force that had bewitched the human race in the twelfth century BC. Yet he was adamantly opposed to writers laboring for free—especially on the internet. He thought of it as voluntary slavery. And Peter loved crime. He was very disturbed by the declining felony rates in the USA. To him, it meant that the working class was losing its will to resist.
And when the New York Times wanted to do a profile of him, he refused to cooperate.
As an anarchist, Peter was against mystery novels about police inspectors. (I raved to him about the Inspector George Gently series, but he told me he only liked private detectives—especially Nero Wolfe, the eccentric crypto-gay overweight sleuth, who lives in Chelsea and rarely leaves his townhouse.) He would chide me for being a liberal, and maybe I am. Certainly I love to vote. Peter claimed that he never voted in his entire life.
He and I both admired the Epic of Gilgamesh. It’s the first book ever written and the best, we agreed.
Peter always put on elegant clothing when he went out, for any reason. He would wear a straw hat that made him look like Claude Monet. He said: “Americans dress like they’ve been enslaved by an extraterrestrial race.” He meant all the sweatpants, baseball caps, t-shirts.
Once I asked him, “Did the early Christians invent communism?” and he replied, “No one ever invented anything. Everything goes back further and further into the distant past.”
Peter yearned for Ireland. He was offered a chance to move there, to a castle, in the nineties, but he didn’t, a decision he regretted.
We often reminisced about India. (We both had Tantrik gurus.) Peter spoke fondly of the opium dens of Calcutta. “There is a connection between opiates and writing,” he observed. Peter went to racetracks in India! One in Bombay, one somewhere else. “You have to bet, or it’s not interesting,” Peter said, but he didn’t win much.
Peter told me fairly amazing stories about his life in a circus in India. I forget what hill station he was living at, but the circus traveled on to Mysuru, and Peter and his friend James traveled with them. James was in charge of getting the ragtag orchestra into shape, Peter made a few posters for them. Neither got paid, but it was delightful. Their main friend, the motorcycle daredevil, was a Muslim. Muslims, Hindus, men, women, even Christians, banded together to amuse the masses. “It was a temporary autonomous zone,” I said.
Peter was dubious that this pandemic would be a quintessential change in the world, as some suggested. “I guess it won’t destroy capitalism then,” Peter remarked, upon hearing all the fighting over toilet paper at Target.
I am retelling these anecdotes because it’s so difficult to describe Peter’s kindness, and the staggering breadth of his mind. Knowing him was like knowing Tolstoy. It’s hard not to feel that a certain sort of aristocratic gentility died with Peter.
PLW at Rokeby House, Annedale-on-Hudson, New York, 2012. Photo: Raymond Foye.
I was a latecomer to Peter Lamborn Wilson’s circle, but I am so grateful for the five glorious years I had with him as a friend. Our meeting was fantastical, at least to me. Out of the blue I received a phone call from an unknown source, “Hello, this is Peter Wilson and I am writing on Leonora Carrington, do you have any work of hers that I can see in person?” Every day it seems I get all sorts of strange calls, emails, and letters regarding this artist, but this time it was his name that stopped me in my tracks … was this some kind of a joke? The melodious quality of his voice convinced me right away and without skipping a beat I replied, “Yes, please come over for tea tomorrow.” Peter arrived at the appointed hour (with his friend Chuck Stein)—he was an impressive sight—long flowing white hair and beard, a wide-brimmed hat, with a tall carved walking stick in hand—I know a sorcerer when I see one. At the time I lived in a beautiful 1860 Octagon house in Catskill, owned still by my dear friend the artist Jesse Bransford. Acting on instinct I had prepared a British tea replete with cucumber sandwiches and shortbread—it was a big hit. The only Carrington I own is a lithograph titled Crow Soup (1997) (a spooky scene of pipe-smoking crones in a deep cave with crows), but that seemed to be enough. Taking everything in—me, our conversation on Carrington, the magical octagon house with its thousands of books from floor to ceiling, and the food—he nodded his head in approval and declared, “This house suits you.” From that day forward he showed me great generosity and kindness and very soon introduced me to a person who is now one of my dearest friends, Rachel Pollack.
The three of us (sometimes four with Rachel’s friend Zoe Matoff) had numerous small adventures that usually revolved around Chinese food, church concerts, and used books. Peter and I mostly spoke of magic and books, and I never got tired of his fantastical stories of the people he knew and places he had visited—it was like listening to a Celtic bard tell tales around an evening fire. I got him copies of Ithell Colquhoun’s Sword of Wisdom and Leonora Carrington’s The Stone Door—he loved them both. In turn he gifted me so many of his books, but my favorites were The Temple of Perseus at Panopolis, and his last book Peacock Angel: The Esoteric Tradition of the Yezidis. He always surprised me—with his love of classic cars even though he never learned to drive, his love of tartan plaids (especially the pattern of his family clan), his courtly politeness and countless other small idiosyncrasies that just made me love him all the more. His brilliant mind never failed to remember an obscure author or book title, he could speak on any political subject at length, and yet he was full of fun and joy and was game for any caper. As I walked down the halls of his subsidized apartment building, filled with framed puzzles of Thomas Kinkade paintings, I could not imagine a more perfect disguise for the home of an esoteric sage. The day he died I was far away in Stockholm and I had a dream we were holding hands and crying. I woke up feeling distraught, as if it had really happened. It was only two days later, after someone told me he had died, that I realized he had come to bid me farewell.
Peter Lamborn Wilson, the whimsical esotericist
Sharing many common friends is how Peter Lamborn Wilson came into our orbit. His kindness and simplicity in making a first contact did not hide the fact that we were meeting one of those under-the-radar geniuses, a man of great literary knowledge, immense creativity, and researched spirituality. For him the world was marvelously mysterious; he was deeply curious of all archeological findings, of people’s history, of geology, cosmology, anthropology and mythology. Poetry created a thread among all the things he loved, and frankly he loved everything, including food to a fault. That love is what really attracted me to him, it extended to all people as long as they didn’t impede on his ways, his personal space, his particular needs that were at the same time many but also very plain. He was a true gentleman. It is how I invited him to create a performance for my little gallery, also to show his intricate collages/drawings. He accepted immediately due to our beautiful location and developed an elaborate ritual to consecrate that land as sacred. It wasn’t the first time he sanctified locations across New York State, nor the last. This way of working was due to his sense of wonder, his understanding of the uniqueness of certain places, of location impregnated by the presence of particular beings with strange and unique destiny. For him, all performances were ritualistic, a belief I shared deeply.
He proceeded to create a map/collage with mystical figures, a special parfum that contained opium, and built a fire in the slit of an enormous boulder that had to burn blue, the hottest flame. It was scary and exciting; we wetted the whole land around for hours. The event was a big success, the show was gorgeous, his presence radiating through everything with sparkles of humor, and whimsical esoteric, a truly magical day.
Peter Lamborn Wilson. Photo: Sylvie Degiez.
I was fortunate to see him many times after that, he came to visit too. We had animated conversations on everything and if not always seeing eye to eye, it was never lost in argumentations because if you could make sense of your position, he accepted it graciously. Another element that made me love him deeply was this perfect mix between a male and a female sensibility that conferred him a certain authority on understanding people. His death, not entirely unexpected, has been a big loss for the community of poets and thinkers, scholars of the Hudson Valley.
(from the Platteclove Gallery with Wayne Lopes)
Peter Lamborn Wilson
Wilson was discovered hanging upside down from a bridge when he collided with a gondola and its passengers.
Wilson was found among the puppets in a traveling Punch & Judy show.
Shot in his black limousine in a case of mistaken identity.
Found covered in red paint at the scene of the explosion.
Smoking a cigar, dead or alive.
Found swimming off the Long Island Sound.
Geoff screamed, and we heard the horrible clatter of reassembling bones.
Caught by fishermen in the Virgin Islands: melancholic yet joyful.
Found in a back room of Mott St., clutching the mummified hand of Charles Fourier.
In a black Packard enjoying the smell of fall hay.
Found with his sash and epaulets perfectly in place, sleeping in Benares.
Found in the belfry of St. Peter’s, in the bell.
In a green turban and red shoes, depicted walking through tiny flowers.
Answers to “Cranston.”
Found to have vanished.
A living Main-de-Gloire, Wilson was privately employed for the finding of treasure.
Floating down the Ganges, engorged with tomatoes, contemplating a human skull.
In the arms of desire.
He was fond of jumping backwards out of his bath.
Last seen leaving a black gift at the house of a demon.
Bears a mark like the footprint of a spider.
Discovered to have eaten the stolen manuscripts: said to be drifting among the trees.
According to the Renaissance scholar and hermetic philosopher Athanasius Kircher, “the world is bound by secret knots.” And Peter Lamborn Wilson couldn’t keep a secret. Peter’s verse are revelations told in exquisite prose and poetry. A language bound to occult wisdom and tied to anarchist hipster talk. He understood the sacred continuum. And his historical range was deep and wide, from the Paleolithic cave painters and shamans to the Sufi mystics of Medieval Persia to the Indigenous peoples of the Eastern Woodlands. Peter knew the score. The bottom line. He was the real deal—always keeping that holy awareness within reach, and moving as a living presence.
Memes, Translation, and Hong Kong’s Protest Culture
Did you know that none of Hakim Bey’s work is translated into Chinese? Some texts will never be translated into certain languages. What is culturally acceptable in one language might not meet the same embrace in another. Sometimes, though, the right person will run into the right book at the right time, and that text occupies an untracked language domain.
While anarchism is far from a mainstream concept in Hong Kong, decentralized organization and mutual aid are a common phenomenon in the city that calls protest its tradition. Intentional communities spawned whenever circumstances necessitated. Colleagues came together to provide free legal services to arrested protesters; citizen journalists collaborated to reveal government misconduct; underground Chinese New Year markets raised funds to support protesters in need. The hi-tech youth uses Telegram channels to safekeep the epics, songs, genealogies, and legends of their tribe; they decide where the elusive, be-water enclave of the hour is going to be with the hyper-fluidity afforded by instantaneous communication. Running into Bey’s Temporary Autonomous Zone in 2019 amid waves of anti-extradition protests felt like discovering a prophecy long forgotten. The description, analysis, and historic context of ad hoc communities in political turmoil are perfectly encapsulated in T.A.Z.; that is ultimately why I decided to translate the body of essays into Traditional Chinese. Bey’s words occupied the entirety of my personhood for the months in which the translation work took place. He and I have never connected, yet his thoughts were connected to mine. I’ve never read a book the way I have read T.A.Z.
On a lukewarm winter night at the dawn of 2020, a group of literature-loving Hong Kongers came together to support this guerilla publishing project by releasing five thousand copies of the translation into the wild. Little towers of white books erected in the cracks and crevices of the city. They appeared on university campuses, neighborhood bookstores, pro-democracy shops, and Lennon Walls where protestors frequented. Moonlight reflected off of the pure white spines; the books were stacked so neatly that they looked like a monument, a monument which commemorates a text that is about to conjure a new countercurrent in a meme pool foreign to its own.
Peter Lamborn Wilson, in memoriam
We ate at Joshua Tree in Woodstock
Where you had arrived from New Paltz
Headed for a poetry reading at the Colony Café
Peter the anarchist, the clumsy alchemist
Alone, a teacher at the “School of Nite”
Verses falling from deep in his body
Each line a breakdown, death and resurrection
Whispering, “welcome to the dark whose spiral
Delineates the esoteric axis of a hermit crab”
We spoke of Ira Cohen reminiscing in Saugerties
I’m still searching for you through the empire of delight
You left yourself in your last will and testament
Your many books, your eyeglasses and your hats
The magic of those mismatched words
Flow as a drumbeat, every stanza a repressed desire
Van Gogh Ear, Baudelairean melting tiger
The rhythms of a wild shaman’s last dance
Omnia Tua Tecum Portas!
All what you had, you carried with you!