Thursday, February 02, 2006

Poetic Terrorism

By Hakim Bey

Weird dancing in all-night computer-banking lobbies. Unauthorized pyrotechnic displays. Land-art, earth-works as bizarre alien artifacts strewn in State Parks. Burglarize houses but instead of stealing, leave Poetic-Terrorist objects. Kidnap someone & make them happy. Pick someone at random & convince them they're the heir to an enormous, useless & amazing fortune - say 5000 square miles of Antarctica, or an aging circus elephant, or an orphanage in Bombay, or a collection of alchemical manuscripts. Later they will come to realize that for a few moments they believed in something extraordinary, & will perhaps be driven as a result to seek out some more intense mode of existence.

Bolt up brass commemorative plaques in places (public or private) where you have experienced a revelation or had a particularly fulfilling sexual experience, etc.

Go naked for a sign.

Organize a strike in your school or workplace on the grounds that it does not satisfy your need for indolence & spiritual beauty.

Grafitti-art loaned some grace to ugly subways & rigid public momuments - PT-art can also be created for public places: poems scrawled in courthouse lavatories, small fetishes abandoned in parks & restaurants, xerox-art under windshield-wipers of parked cars, Big Character Slogans pasted on playground walls, anonymous letters mailed to random or chosen recipients (mail fraud), pirate radio transmissions, wet cement…

The audience reaction or æsthetic-shock produced by PT ought to be at least as strong as the emotion of terror - powerful disgust, sexual arousal, superstitious awe, sudden intuitive breakthrough, dada-esque angst - no matter whether the PT is aimed at one person or many, no matter whether it is “signed” or anonymous, if it does not change someone's life (aside from the artist) it fails.

PT is an act in a Theater of Cruelty which has no stage, no rows of seats, no tickets & no walls. In order to work at all, PT must categorically be divorced from all conventional structures for art consumption (galleries, publications, media). Even the guerrilla Situationist tactics of street theater are perhaps too well known & expected now.

An exquisite seduction carried out not only in the cause of mutual satisfaction but also as a conscious act in a deliberately beautiful life - may be the ultimate PT. The PTerrorist behaves like a confidence-trickster whose aim is not money but change.

Don't do PT for other artists, do it for people who will not realize (at least for a few moments) that what you have done is art. Avoid recognizable art-categories, avoid politics, don't stick around to argue, don't be sentimental; be ruthless, take risks, vandalize only what must be defaced, do something children will remember all their lives - but don't be spontaneous unless the PT Muse has possessed you.

Dress up. Leave a false name. Be legendary. The best PT is against the law, but don't get caught. Art as crime; crime as art.

[The Surrealist Society - My mates and I started the Surrealist Society at University of Sussex near Brighton in England and gave copies of Poetic Terrorism at our first campus society party - free if you came with a beard.)


Anonymous T. Aragno said...

For what it's worth -- here's a piece that I did/wrote about 10 years ago that might qualify as "poetic terrorism." The thrust of the piece went in a different direction, but the action I'm talking about is obvious enough.

Darkness on the edge of town
by J. Gluckstern

I've always been somewhat nocturnal. The darkness of night
surrounds me; it allows me to think, allows me to reaffirm where I leave
off and the world begins. This predisposition has manifested itself in a
habit of late-night walks around my neighborhood, where I've lived for a
number of years. My route seldom varies. Like an interpretation I've heard
of what it means to keep kosher, I feel that exercising a certain kind of
discipline in one area - in my case, habitual walks over the same
inflexible circuit - allows for greater flexibility in matters of the mind.
The result of this lack of variety is that not only do I walk the
same sidewalks night after night, I also walk by the same homes and sights
- the house with year-round Christmas tree lights, the house with the Ava
baby playroom that, because of the late hour of my cycle, never has
children in it, and the uneven portions of sidewalk that fill with rain in
the shadows and drench my shoes. Sometimes, I pretend that I'm a kid again
and consider "cutting" through a neighbor's yard in order to get home more
surreptitiously, and I ponder the "adult" feelings that prevent me from
Mostly, these sights come and go unremarkably, a kind of theater
backdrop behind the play of my mind. But within the last six months, one
house has preoccupied my walks more than I probably should let it.
First, some context. Six months ago, the weather was cold and my
girlfriend and I had just broken up. It was an important enough breakup
that reassessment seemed in order, and in the process of using my walks to
make sense of my wavering boundaries, I began to notice that one house
along the way was occupied by a man who, as far as I could tell, lay on his
couch watching T.V. - every night for at least six hours. And he always
left his living room curtains open, making him look much like a beached
whale who'd stayed too long out of water and decided to go native by
subscribing to cable.
Before my breakup, I never had much interest in this man and his
habit. I figured that to the casual observer, I probably watched "too much
T.V." as well and decided to live and let vegetate. But after a week or two
of the kind of utter hopelessness that only the dissolution of romance can
really invoke, this nameless man brought out in me a peculiar mix of
compassion and contempt, of reaction and pro-action. I wanted to shake him
- very likely as I wanted to shake myself - and tell him that he was
wasting his life. Somehow I saw this man as my future, and figured that if
I could make him stop what I believed to be unproductive behavior, I could
somehow stop myself when the time came.
I tried to think up reasons why he might be doing this, reasons
that would embarrass me into giving up the quest: he was mentally disabled;
he was the mentally disabled relative of the person who lived there; he was
actually working, overseeing various oblique and arcane cable T.V.
regulations; he was paralyzed from the waist down and really couldn't do
much else. And even if none of that were true, what, exactly, did I have in
It came to me one night in a flash. I decided to leave him a note.
On the sports car in the driveway. It was simple enough, something to the
effect that life was precious and that he shouldn't watch so much T.V.
Somewhat proud of myself for having poked my nose in what was very
likely none of my business for such a profoundly self-righteous reason, I
walked by his house the next couple of nights with high hopes, if not
particularly high spirits.
As I remember, nothing happened. He hadn't moved an inch from the
previous nights. But, instead of feeling crushed, I was undaunted and left
another note, this time on the four-wheel drive truck out front.
The next night, pay dirt. Of a sort.
He closed his curtains.
He'd probably felt harassed, and perhaps rightly so. I noticed,
though, he didn't close his curtains all the way, making sure that even the
smallest gap was covered the way a more obsessive man might have. This
allowed me to see just enough to realize that his habits within the walls
hadn't changed any, but his willingness to broadcast those habits to the
world had most definitely changed. In a crude way, we'd had a conversation,
a dialogue.

More recently, the company I work for underwent a corporate
face-lift. The CEO resigned after a series of escalating struggles with
management and the board of directors, and, as an employee-owned company,
we were in the position to rewrite the bylaws so that that particular
situation would, hopefully, never happen again.
After months of hashing out the concepts company-wide and drafting
the wording, some reasonable structural changes were voted on and now
awaited implementation. Two members of the board of directors, however,
took it upon themselves to meet with each shareholder and find out just
what possessed us to pass such an obvious slap in the face of old-school
corporate hierarchy.
My own meeting with one of the board members was largely
uneventful, except for an overwhelming feeling that I was defending myself
to an overprotective mother. Do you have any idea, she asked, what might
happen if you go out in the rain without a demagogue as CEO? We might get
wet, I told her. But, she went on, do you really, really understand what
being wet means? As far as you're concerned, I told her, I've probably been
wet all my life. Why change now?
I can only hope her meetings with other shareholders were more
But, later that night, as I walked by my old friend in his theater
of excited phosphor and disorganized discourse, I couldn't help thinking
that our "dialogue" was of the same nature as my "dialogue" with that
disgruntled board member. While the cosmetic results may have been
different - I opened my curtains instead of closing them - the inference
was the same: Mind your own business.
In a post-literate world, where the idea that self-determination is
the only thing worth fighting for, what else can anything mean? "Mind your
own business" covers all the bases, says virtually everything that can be

I have always been nocturnal by nature. As I grow older, I can see
that I'm merely following an instinct, a desire to surround myself with
darkness of one form or another so as to define and revel in my own light.
I can also see that I am not alone.
Like the board member who questioned our collective shareholder
motives in order to illuminate the darkness of our perceived ignorance, or
the couch-whale who continues to embrace a two-dimensional world as his
personal chrysalid of darkness, we've all chosen to map out the dimness in
our lives and see the utility of it in order to maintain equilibrium.
As a society, becoming nocturnal may be a road to ruin, a
scavenger's badlands with only the most brutal kind of equilibrium to
depend upon. But as an individual, there can be no other way to fully
assess one's own frequency than to hold it up against the blankness of
night and not flinch. And since a true absolute zero would kill us, we must
seek out a naught that suffices.

3:04 PM, February 05, 2006  

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