The Luddite critique.

from the Brooklyn Rail

An Anarchist in the Hudson Valley
in conversation: Peter Lamborn Wilson
with Jennifer Bleyer
July 2004

It’s been nearly ten years since Peter Lamborn Wilson–nee Hakim Bey–looked at the pitiably state-bound, rule-bound world around him and asked: “Are we who live in the present doomed never to experience autonomy, never to stand for one moment on a bit of land ruled only by freedom?” In a slim, rattling volume called Temporary Autonomous Zone, Wilson intoned that, in fact, freedom is already here. Autonomy exists in time, he said, rather than space. It’s in times of wildness, revelry, abandon and revolution that for even just one brief jail-breaking moment, as sweet as honey to the tongue, one is freed of all political and social control.

Wilson rightly became celebrated as a kind of urban prophet. It was an identity to add the others he bears seamlessly and without contradiction: anarchist, poet, public intellectual, psychedelic explorer, artist, social critic, Sufi mystic. Six years ago he moved upstate from the East Village to New Paltz, New York. The setting is different, but the ideas have only deepened–notably his critique of global capital and “technological determination.” In his green wood-frame house, trees rustling overhead and birds chirping outside, we drank tea and talked.

Jennifer Bleyer: You left New York City six years ago and moved upstate to New Paltz. There’s a lot of art happening here and in the Hudson Valley in general, which seems pretty cool.

Peter Lamborn Wilson: The fact of it happening anywhere makes it more interesting than a kick in the face. But the fact of the matter is that America doesn’t produce anything anymore. A couple of years ago, we passed the halfway mark from being a so-called productive economy to a services economy. What are services? You tell me. Whatever it means, we don’t make pencils. We don’t make cement. We don’t make ladies garments or roll cigars. We don’t even manufacture computers. In other words, we don’t make anything,, especially not around here. There are a few cement factories left up in Greene County, but basically, industry died here in the fifties. It was a long slow death, certainly over by the seventies. There was a depression, so artists, who are certainly blameless in this, discovered low real estate prices and low rents, and they started to move up here. And the gap between the artists and the real estate developers has gotten very small in our modern times, down to where it’s almost nothing.

So for a few years the artists and their friends came up here and got bargains and moved in, and now artists’ studios in Beacon sell for a quarter-million dollars. And we’re talking about a one-room building on a half-acre lot. You want a house? Half-a-million. Do you know any artists who can afford that? The point is that there’s a lot of boosterism for the arts in the Hudson Valley because there’s no other economy. It’s either that or “green tourism,” which in my mind is a disgusting term and something that I don’t want to see promoted in any way. It’s a commodification of nature, turning nature into a source of profit for the managerial caste in the Hudson Valley. That’s not the solution I’m interested in.

We have all these knee-jerk phrases that in the sixties sounded like communist revolution, and now are just corpses in the mouths of real estate developers. “Sustainable development”–that means very expensive houses for vaguely ecologically conscious idiots from New York. It has nothing to do with a sustainable economy or permaculture. They talk about agriculture, they get all weepy about it, but they won’t do anything for the family farms because family farms use pesticides and fertilizers, which is a terrible sin in the minds of these people. So they’re perfectly happy to see the old farms close down and build McMansions, as long as they’re green McMansions, of course, with maybe a little solar power so they can boast about how they are almost off the grid. This is just yuppie poseurism. It’s fashionable to be green, but it’s not at all fashionable to wonder about the actual working class and farming people and families that you’re dispossessing. This is a class war situation, and the artists are unfortunately not on the right side of the battle. If we would just honestly look at what function we’re serving in this economy, I’m afraid we would see that we’re basically shills for real estate developers.

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