Tuesday, July 28, 2020

More on Hakim Bey

In a recent post, I described Peter Lamborn Wilson (Hakim Bey) as a “former Maryami,” and wondered how he had moved from the Maryamiyya to the Temporary Autonomous Zone. I have since had two suggested explanations.

One, provided by someone who knew Wilson in Tehran, is that although Wilson was definitely “in the circle of Nasr,” he was not actually a Maryami. He considered himself a Muslim, and admired Frithjof Schuon—he thought his Transcendent Unity of Religions was the most important book of the twentieth century—but he did not follow any one ṭarīqa exclusively. As well as being in the circle of Nasr, he spent a lot of time with the Ni'matullāhīs (Javad Nurbakhsh had a large following at that time, including foreigners) and was always interested in other, less mainstream forms of Islam.

Christian Greer has meanwhile drawn my attention to the discussion between Arthur Versluis and Wilson (see earlier post) where Versluis asks Wilson about his relationship with Traditionalism, and Wilson responds that he never stopped being a Traditionalist, and just rejected “the party line,” “the rigid exclusivist neo-Traditionalism of the sort that leads to murky politics and interpersonal, interhuman relations.” “Murky politics” might refer to Nasr’s political relations with the Shah’s regime, and “murky… interhuman relations” might refer to difficulties in Bloomington. As the earlier post discusses, Wilson goes on to propose an alternative “even more traditional Traditionalism.”

Further reading: Zaheer Kazmi, “Automatic Islam: Divine Anarchy and the Machines of God,” Modern Intellectual History 12, 1 (2015): 33–64, which looks at Hakim Bey and two other “Muslim anarchists,” and Wilson’s own Scandal: Essays in Islamic Heresy (New York: Autonomedia, 1987) and his Sacred Drift: Essays on the Margins of Islam (San Francisco: City Lights, 1993).

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

American Jews and Sufism

Quite a lot of Traditionalists have been Jewish, perhaps disproportionately, just as quitea lof of American Sufis have been Jewish, and quite a lot of American Buddhists, too. A new book, Emily Sigalow's American JewBu: Jews, Buddhists, and Religious Change (Princeton University Press, 2019), asks why. her book and its implications for Sufism are discussed in a post on the sister of this blog, at "American Jews, Buddhism, and Sufism."

Monday, July 06, 2020

A new framing of Hakim Bey

A new PhD thesis places the anarchism of the former Maryami Peter Lamborn Wilson (also known as Hakim Bey) in a new context. This is J. Christian Greer, “Angel-Headed Hipsters: Psychedelic Militancy in Nineteen-Eighties North America” (University of Amsterdam, 2020), especially pp. 231-65.

Hakim Bey has already been discussed in two posts on this blog, the longest of which, “Anarchist Traditionalism,” draws largely on Arthur Versluis, “A Conversation with Peter Lamborn Wilson.” The other, “The Origins of Hakim Bey's Anarchism,” draws on a 2013 article by Greer.

Greer’s dissertation starts with the earliest US psychedelic militancy—Timothy Leary in the 1960s—and follows through to the “second wave” psychedelic militancy of the Church of SubGenius, one of the sources (along with the spread of the Xerox machine) of the later “Zine scene” to which Wilson contributed. As Greer argues, Wilson ties the two waves together, since his 1964 Moorish Orthodox Church of America (which was psychedelic) allied with Leary’s League for Spiritual Discovery in 1967. From this perspective, Wilson’s engagement with Traditionalism and the Maryamiyya appears as a sort of detour: the path from the Moorish Orthodox Church of America to the Temporary Autonomous Zone for which Wilson became famous runs relatively straight; it is Tehran and the Imperial Iranian Academy of Philosophy that make less sense. All three phases, however, can certainly be seen as part of a grand “quest to find a spiritual alternative to the alienation of modern civilization” (p. 2), as Greer says.

And yet, the mystery remains. The Maryamiyya replaces the Moorish Orthodox Church of America for Wilson, as Sufi Islam replaced the Universal Gnostic Church for René Guénon, in a transition from "pseudo-initiation" to "initiation"—putting it in Traditionalist terms. The Wilson of the Moorish Orthodox Church of America grew interested in what he called “Sufism of various unorthodox varieties”—which is one view of Sufism, once fairly prevalent, though one images that Seyyed Hossein Nasr would have disabused Wilson of it fairly quickly one Wilson reached Tehran. This makes sense. But how did the Temporary Autonomous Zone then replace initiation? Somewhere, something got lost.

The thesis is also interesting for a new take on the vexed topic of Wilson’s commitment to “man-boy love,” which Greer argues should be seen as a reaction to the normalization of gay sexuality by the mainstream Gay Rights movement, which in the process abandoned the earlier aim of total sexual liberation. Greer also points out that the two crucial special issues of Semiotext(e) that Wilson edited, on Loving Boys and Polysexuality, attracted contributions from Michel Foucault, William Burroughs, and Jacques Lacan—that is, some sort of liberation mainstream.

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

Guénon, Voegelin, and Brexit

Thomas F. Bertonneau has published an interesting article comparing René Guénon's Spiritual Authority and Temporal Power (1929) with the thought of Eric Voegelin (1901-85), "René Guénon and Eric Voegelin on the Degeneration of Right Order," Voegelin View September 18, 2017.

The German-American philosopher Voegelin is hard to categorize. On the one hand, he was a powerful critic of Nazism, from which he had to flee to the US in 1938. On the other hand, his criticism of “gnostic” political religions such as Nazism was so thorough that it included liberalism, which he saw as a step on the road to Marxism.

Bertonneau argues that Guénon’s understanding of the revolt of the Kshatriyas, which destroys the “right order,” fits neatly with Voegelin’s understanding of the ecumene, the conquered empire that is “not a subject of order but an object of conquest and organization... a graveyard of societies, including those of the conquerors, rather than a society in its own right” (Voegelin, Ecumenic Age). One consequence of this destruction, for Voegelin, is spiritual disorder.

Bertonneau then applies what he sees as the Guénon-Voegelin view to contemporary issues in a way that I doubt either Guénon or Voegelin would have recognized, but which does provide an instructive example of the thought of the contemporary radical right, and also of how Guénon can contribute to such thought. Bertonneau sees the European Union as the counterpart of the US Federal Government, remote and technocratic, engaged in “a larger, Twentieth-Century Revolt of Kshatriyas” and working to “progressively obliterate the concrete societies that come under their imperial-entrepreneurial sway.” This is the basis for a long final section to the article, discussing Brexit.

Bertonneau also argues that
Guénon grasps that symbols and myths – while they might be, as Voegelin would later call them, compact – articulate reality more fully and more truly than the clichés of modern reductive thinking and that therefore one best wrests intoxicated minds from the drug of those clichés by jerking them around (rhetorically, of course) so as to get them to face and contemplate the symbols themselves in their numinous fullness.
This may indeed be how Guénon’s use of symbol and myth works on some or even many readers, even if I do not think that Guénon intended to use symbol and myth quite as instrumentally as Bertonneau seems to think.

My thanks to Georg Wink for drawing my attention to this article.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Eliade and the radical right

Mark Weitzman of the Simon Wiesenthal Center has just published an (open-access) article, "'One Knows the Tree by the Fruit That It Bears:' Mircea Eliade’s Influence on Current Far-Right Ideology," Religions 2020, 11, 250.

In this, he revisits Eliade's Romanian years and his relationship with Julius Evola, and shows how he has been cited by Alain de Benoist, Guillaume Faye, Alexander Dugin, Claudio Mutti, and Paul Gottfried, and is present on Arktos and Counter-Currents. He concludes that "almost thirty-five years after his death, Mircea Eliade is unquestionably a figure of some influence in extremist intellectual circles today, perhaps even more so than in respectable academic circles."

It is clearly true that Eliade is a figure of some influence for thinkers of the radical right. What Weitzman spends less time on is the (perhaps more interesting) question of exactly what it is in Eliade's work that all these thinkers are using. Weitzman suggests that Eliade's project of (in Eliade's own words) "recovering and reestablishing meanings that have been forgotten, discredited, or abolished" may fit with the project of "those who want to restore an archaic world that embraces traditional forms of human inequality and who reject modernity and its associated vices and failings." This is probably true. But is this all there is to it?