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Bey's Temporary Autonomous Zone


T.A.Z.: The Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism.

Bey, Hakim. Brooklyn, NY: Autonomedia, (anticopyright) 1985. 144p., $8.00 (free online), softcover. ISBN: 0936756764.

Critical theory never died. It just assumed the façade of an academic discipline that is as spectacular as it is impotent. However, behind the façade there still lurk a few radical lunatics who, at times, may really be on to something. One such figure is Hakim Bey.

Even if you have never read the Temporary Autonomous Zone, you may have seen some of its results. Just as The Matrix was ripped unfaithfully from Society of the Spectacle, Fight Club -- particularly Project Mayhem -- owes a large debt (which it has far from repaid) to Bey's work. If Baudrillard inspires graduate students to write strange papers that frustrate their advisors, then Bey inspires them to get drunk and scrawl amazing, nerdy and vile things on bathroom walls in the library. While this may be from far the revolution it feels much closer to it than a term paper.

And the way things feel is what is important to Bey. The Temporary Autonomous Zone is smart, for sure, but what is important for Bey is what we can do in our lives to live a critique, not just write one and how we can take part in an uprising rather than theorize about one. His work is sensual and poetic but also irreverent and accessible. For example, the phenomenon that is Weber's Iron Cage, Debord's Spectacle, De Certeau's grid, and Castell's network is just as sophisticatedly outlined by Bey as "shit-for-brains."

Predictably, the text itself is unconventional. It begins as something like a (un)holy text revealing the divine nature of life and sensation through a pastiche of all known religions and political movements and then moves onto a catalog of tactics that may help you seize upon the exuberant energy of life. None of the tactics have anything to do with reading or writing (unless you mean graffiti) or even marching in protest. Many of them do involve nudity though. Remarkably, Bey never comes across as religious, didactic or new agey -- just smart, inspired and surprisingly happy.

However, while Bey may come across as playful it would be a mistake to dismiss him as flippant. In fact, I argue that he is more closely in line with the tradition of criticism that includes the early Marx and Nietzsche than the Jamesons and Harveys of the conference circuit (no offense to Harvey). He drops enough hints that he is very well read -- from Plato to de Sade to Derrida -- but this is not a man who is writing to get tenure or maintain a scholarly reputation. He simply wants to live in incessant uprising, getting off the whole time, and, by the way he describes a life of delirious and obsessive play, he could get the rest of us to go along with him.

R. Stewart Varner