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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.