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ON THE MIND INVADERS ANTHOLOGY
What I want to talk about tonight relates to the collection of avant-bardist texts I anthologised under the title Mind Invaders: A reader in psychic warfare, cultural sabotage and semiotic terrorism (Serpent's Tail, London 1997). Many of the pieces included in the book were attributed to 'groups' such as Decadent Action, Equi-Phallic Alliance, Association of Autonomous Astronauts , London Psychogeographical Association, Neoist Alliance, Anti-Euclidean Action, Outer Spaceways Incorporated, International Gravediggers. Most of these 'organisations' only exist on paper, they don't have any members just a stream of publications issued by one or more individuals. Thus these 'groups' can be viewed as parodying debates about organisation initiated by both Marxists and anarchists.
Theoretically, by restricting avant-bardist groups to a maximum of one member the likelihood of splits and schisms ought to be reduced. In practice, this has proved not to be the case. Issue 21 of the London Psychogeographical Association Newsletter (Tahbrain 399 MKE or Spring 1998 according to the Christian calendar rejected by the LPA) announced the inharmonious dissolution of the group: 'with a veritable schism within the Richard Essex persona. One faction, William Essex, has linked up with a neo-nashist faction (modelling themselves on Thomas Nashe rather than Jorgen Nash) called the Poplar Secession. The remaining faction, Richard "Sedgemoor" Bussex, has adopted a purer Debordian stance, and finding no-one else left within the LPA, promptly expelled himself.'
To those familiar with the relevant ultra-leftist disputes of the previous fifty years, it isn't necessary to explain that this is a parody of the posturing of the Situationist International with its Nashist tendencies and well publicised expulsions. Even more ridiculously, several contemporary political fractions such as the International Communist Current have spent years denouncing the non-existent LPA. To take another - yet more reactionary - example, Green Anarchist with its four 'members' is no more substantial than the various avant-bardist groups it constantly denounces for making anarchists look silly. It doesn't seem to have occurred to 'Green Anarchist' that anarchism is, in and of itself, silly. The nature of the swindle they are unsuccessfully attempting to perpetrate results in 'groups' and publications such as Green Anarchist and The Fifth Estate being forced to treat 'organisations' like the LPA and Neoist Alliance as if they actually existed. If David Watson in his article 'Swamp Fever, Primitivism & the "Ideological Vortex": Farewell to All That' (Fifth Estate Vol. 32 #2, Fall 1997) acknowledged that the Neoist Alliance is a literary conceit, his handful of readers might draw parallels with the fictitious 'constituency' this sad skunk has singularly failed to theorise into any kind of material existence.
Returning to the London Psychogeographical Association, among other things it was a humorous response to the assimilation of situationist theory within academic discourse. The LPA took situationist explorations of urban geography and mixed these with mystic ley line theories. Since occult discourse is considered unacceptable among academics, by stressing and elaborating the occult element within situationist theory that had been taken up from surrealism and elsewhere, the LPA had the aparatchiki throwing their hands up in horror. Of course, while utilising conspiracy theory, the approach of the LPA was very different to that usually associated with this area of discourse. Rather than attempting to uncover conspiracies after they'd taken place, the LPA set out to predict conspiracies and then prevent them from happening.
While the work(ings) of the LPA and several other contributors to Mind Invaders are rooted in a materialist concern with constantly reforging the passage between theory and practice, convincing a commercial publisher to take the book necessitated the inclusion of other 'groups' whose perspectives were somewhat more limited. For example, Decadent Action (dis)organise themselves around a few simple ideas and this makes them ideal subjects for media coverage. While the LPA was featured in the broadsheet press and the Richard Essex persona even appeared on television, media coverage of Decadent Action has been more extensive. This has included tabloid, broadsheet and magazine coverage, as well as a half-hour television programme dedicated to the group (Gluttony broadcast on UK Channel 4, 20 October 1997 at 22.55 hrs).
Decadent Action describe themselves as 'a High Street anarchist- guerrilla organisation whose main aim is to destroy the capitalist system by a leisurely campaign of good living and overspending.' Likewise they claim that: 'credit is the decadent's friend. It is inflationary, it is free money, it is fun to spend. Credit cards are best, yours or someone else's. Available now from high street banks all you have to do is convince them you can pay it back... When the monetary system collapses your bill will simply disappear. Keep several with you at all times.' Taken at face value such ideas appear silly. After being contacted by a Radio Scotland researcher, an economist from Strathclyde University was moved to comment about the group's newsletter 'I didn't laugh once,' and 'it's not exactly Private Eye is it?'. The unnamed economist refused an invitation to go into the radio station to talk about Decadent Action but his response was used on air by Jan Byrne on 25 September 1995.
Decadent Action also promote an annual 'phone-in sick day', a news event on which the media can 'hang' stories about their (in)activities. However, Decadent Action do not restrict themselves to infiltrating the mass media. They are also extremely adept at upsetting anarchists - and in my opinion this is one of the most positive qualities of the group. Personally, I view their self- description as anarchists to be poetic, ironic and a very good way of pissing off brain dead ideologues. Bill Brewer's letter to the anarchist newspaper Freedom of 19/7/97 provides just one example of this: 'If, after a hundred years, our paper is going to become an appendage to the rag trade like so many of the Sunday supplements, then I fear that I shall not be the only one to cancel my subscription. 'Decadent Action" (21st June 1997) is probably a person rather than a group, as he or she says "a £100 skirt and jacket sound like pretty cheap garments to me'... I wouldn't wear any of the labels that 'Decadent Action' - obviously with an insider knowledge of this so-called industry - names, even if they were given away... T- shirts are basically coloured vests and jeans are cowboy or goldminers trousers... 'Decadent Action' sounds like the child of over- indulgent parents and an art college drop out too...'
As well as exposing the moralising conservatism of much contemporary anarchist discourse, Decadent Action's propaganda successfully avoids the more blatantly stupid and inherently reactionary aspects of hippie hedonism. While advocating credit card fraud and shoplifting, Decadent Action don't screw up these and other scams for those who depend upon them for their survival. They understand that publishing information of this type immediately renders it obsolete. Sixties Yippie poser Abbie Hoffman gave the security industry a boost by producing a check list of cons for voyeuristic consumption in the form of Steal This Book. Rather than abetting the redistribution of property, alerting the security industry to scams by publicising them serves to retard this process. Steal This Book is partially reprinted in The Best Of Abbie Hoffman (Four Walls Eight Windows, New York 1989). The reprinted introduction (p.189) begins: 'It's universally wrong to steal from your neighbor, but once you go beyond the one to one level... it becomes strictly a value judgement to decide exactly who is stealing from whom.' This claim illustrates the limitations of both Hoffman and Yippie 'politics'. In projecting private property as a universal phenomenon and theft as a universally valid response to it, Hoffman implicitly rejects communism in favour of attempts to live differently in this world. All of anarchism can be found in this inability to think or act in terms other than those dictated by the reigning society.
The reactionary and exploitative aspects of Hoffman's hedonism are blatantly apparent in pieces such as 'Mexico: Less Money, More Fun' included in his collection of occasional journalism Square Dancing In the Ice Age (South End Press, Boston 1982, p. 106- 107): 'the best way to see Mexico is by car... Think compact, and if there's a choice think Volkswagen... Before you begin, invest some greenbacks. I say invest because you can pack the van with valuable equipment that you can easily unload for three or four times your investment price, and if you're hustling you can cover nearly all your expenses... Music tapes cost ten dollars in Mexico and good ones are hard to come by... Don't be shy about loading up with a few TVs or car stereos... It's important to remember that if you have trouble at the border, you can return to the States, drive a hundred miles and cross at another point. And remember, every border guard and every cop in Mexico is corrupt...' Hoffman's brand of hip capitalism was no different to square varieties of exploitation when it came to squeezing profits out of those not resident in the overdeveloped world.
While Decadent Action's agenda is perhaps a tad limited, it is not blatantly reactionary or stupid. The handful of individuals who constitute the 'group' have to date remained anonymous, so it seems reasonable to assume their 'media manipulations' don't grow out of the facile desire for recognition that characterised the activities of Yippie scumbag Jerry Rubin. In Growing (Up) At 37 (Warner Books, New York 1977, p. 96/7), Rubin prattles: 'I have been famous in each phase of my life: in my high school as a reporter, in Cincinnati as a reporter, in Berkeley as radical agitator, and nationally as radical, author, and symbol... I became famous so that I could meet other famous people on an equal basis. They're meeting "Jerry Rubin," and I'm meeting "Walter Cronkite." Very often with famous people the fame- mask drops and people get to know each other quickly. There is an immediate intimacy; you feel you can say or ask anything. I love meeting other famous people!'
Rubin's one-dimensional attitudes are even more glaringly evident as regards the murder of Holly Maddux, who appears to have been killed by her boyfriend Ira Einhorn. Einhorn was a hippie activist who involved himself in ecological and new age politics during the seventies - he was a very prominent figure in the Earth Day and Sun Day events. Rubin was a friend of Einhorn and used to let his Philadelphia based comrade crash at his New York pad when 'The Unicorn' was visiting the Big Apple. In The Unicorn's Secret: Murder in the age of Acquarius by Steven Levy (Prentice Hall Press, New York 1988, p. 335), Rubin is quoted as saying: 'Ira betrayed everything I stood for and possibly everything that he stood for... The ultimate crime... is that Ira betrayed the sixties.' Rubin's fatuous self- regard is evident from the fact that he considers it worse to tarnish an abstraction with which he identifies himself - "the sixties" - than to batter another human being to death. The back cover of The Unicorn's Secret features a prototypically callous puff from the media conscious Rubin: 'The Unicorn's Secret blew me away. Besides being an unforgettable murder mystery, it's a fabulous study of our time. I really loved it.'
Even those friends of the Yippie leadership who have voiced disapproval of Jerry Rubin's political 'evolution', tend to do so in terms that undermine confidence in their own powers of judgement. For example, Bertell Ollman in Class Struggle Is The Name Of The Game: True confessions of a marxist businessman (William Morrow & Company, New York 1983, p. 285) states: 'When Jerry Rubin... became a banker recently, he gave as his main purpose - to help small businesspeople: "Let's make capitalism work for everyone," he said. But that's just the point: It can't be done... Capitalism's way of solving problems is to pass them on to the next person, who - if he has the economic muscle - passes them on again until they arrive at those who are too weak to do anything but live with them. Or die from them. Squeezed on all sides by a variety of big neighbors, this is the lot of small business. The class struggle of small business, therefore, is first and foremost a struggle against big business, and only secondarily against the workers, who are its employees.' Ollman, who in his capacity as a college professor has been touted as an expert on Marx, doesn't seem to realise that the conclusions he reached as a result of his activities as a small businessman are incompatible with marxist or communist political positions, but can easily be assimilated to Proudhonian anarchism and other equally unsavoury doctrines.
My problem with the Yippies is not with the fact that they attempted to utilise the media for political ends but that their political perspectives were patently reactionary. Media pranking is a question of tactics rather than strategy and so it did not form a criterion for inclusion in or exclusion from Mind Invaders. Thus, for example, while the Workshop For A Non-Linear Architecture has received little press this is due to the WNLA's indifference towards media coverage rather than a matter of policy. Indeed, the WNLA text 'The Joker: A Game of Incidental Urban Poker' included in the anthology describes exactly the sort of 'unusual' activity - teams of players scavenging city streets for playing cards that make up the hands in games of poker which go on for months - that might receive coverage in the press if those involved had the slightest interest in publicising their activities.
While it is humorous, the poetic of placelessness pursued by the Equi- Phallic Alliance is simply too intellectually demanding to attract the attention of the media. By way of contrast, the Luther Blissett Project managed to combine media scams with head banging ultra-leftism. This group hoaxed a prime- time Italian TV missing persons show into searching for the fictitious Harry Kipper, who had allegedly disappeared while cycling around Europe on a route that spelt out the word ART and simultaneously exhorting everyone he met to adopt the name Luther Blissett. After the story broke in the press a statement was issued in which it was explained that: 'We wanted to do more than simply throw discredit on the show, we wanted to make them waste their time tracking a non- existent person, so that the real runaways could stay free.'
Mind Invaders is a commercially published book that consists principally of texts that had previously been distributed non- commercially. This resulted in some glaring contradictions which the publisher found difficult to accept. For example, a number of texts written by diverse hands are attributed to the multiple identity Luther Blissett and yet at Serpent's Tail's insistence there is a copyright page incorporating all the standard 'moral rights' guff designed to make professional writers feel good about constituting themselves as centred bourgeois subjects with an 'individual' and 'identifiable' 'voice': 'The right of the individual contributors to be acknowledged as authors of their work has been asserted by them in accordance with the Copyright, Patents and Designs Act 1988.' This is a legal fiction and it simply wasn't true, as should be obvious to anyone who reads the book. The fact is, very few contributions were attributed to specific individuals.
The name Luther Blissett was first used as a collective identity in Italy. It was there that the Watford striker Luther Blissett suffered a disastrous football season playing for Milan, and as a result became a much loved symbol of heroic failure. The publisher suggested that using the Luther Blissett name was trading off the footballer's reputation and that he might sue. It took eight months of argument and consultation with lawyers before Serpent's Tail agreed that it was in fact possible to use the Blissett multiple identity. The publishers also disliked what they saw as the more 'difficult' material I'd included - suggesting in particular that I might remove a piece by the Equi-Phallic Alliance. I resisted this and the Serpent's Tail gave way. I am sure they would have been more intransigent if they'd understood what the piece they found incomprehensible was actually about.
From the purely commercial standpoint they use for judgement, Serpent's Tail were probably correct to suggest the removal of certain pieces. A number of journalists expressed irritation at the more theoretically informed material - see, in particular, the feature 'A Shopper's Guide To Cultural Terrorism' by Tony Naylor in the Independent On Sunday 14/9/97. I saw the mix of texts included as the best way of achieving a relatively wide distribution for precisely the kind of material the publishers disliked. While I prefer theoretically informed humour, what I viewed as the weakness of Decadent Action's consumerist approach was in fact a strong selling point as far as the publishers were concerned. Decadent Action do what they do very well, and judged on their own terms they have been remarkably successful. Likewise, without the inclusion of material by Ross Birrell and the Association of Autonomous Astronauts with which I had certain disagreements, it may not have been possible to get Mind Invaders commercially published.
This, of course, raises the issue of distribution and the ways in which those featured in Mind Invaders make use of both commercial and non-commercial media for delivering anti-capitalist messages, as well as white noise and information overload. The favoured form of publication among those featured in the anthology tends to be newsletters that are given away free and/or sent out to subscribers at irregular intervals in exchange for a few stamps. As a result of publishing texts in this ephemeral form several of the 'groups' featured in the book received press coverage. Had the material not previously attracted media attention through its initial non- commercial publication, it would have been impossible to sell the idea of the Mind Invaders anthology to a commercial operation such as Serpent's Tail. Thus small scale 'non- commercial' publication can function as a means of valorising material of this type. That said, it shouldn't need stating that texts published non-commercially solely for such reasons were rigorously excluded from Mind Invaders.
Marx observed that we make our own history but not in circumstances of our own choosing. While most contributors to Mind Invaders appear to be critical of the ongoing commodification of culture, it is as impossible to avoid the effects of 'economic reason' as it is necessary to fight against them. Commercial distribution channels for written literature tend to result in very different audience formations to those created by non-commercial methods of dissemination. In this society, a book with a cover price and ISBN is easily ordered by anyone aware of the text and with the wherewithal to pay for it. Texts exploited by commercial publishers for financial gain generally receive better distribution than self- published newsletters. For 'groups' and individuals who do not have the organisational structure to distribute commercially, producing free literature is very attractive. Books and magazines are usually taken by shops on a sale or return basis. Therefore, if one's publication has a cover price, one not only has to persuade shops to take it, but also to collect the money at a later date. By way of contrast, free newsletters can be mailed cheaply to interested parties or handed out at 'relevant' events.
Since these different systems of distribution create quite different audiences, those seeking interaction with diverse sets of readers are likely to find it advantageous to use both commercial and non-commercial channels for distributing their works. Ultimately, such tactics may play a small part in the overthrow of the inequitable system the 'groups' I've been describing vehemently oppose. Publishers judge the success of the books they issue on whether they are bought rather than upon whether they are read. Since the content of books is a use value rather than an exchange value, content doesn't really concern the average publisher beyond an insistence that it ought to be as bland as possible so that potential consumers are neither shocked nor challenged. Rather than addressing the multiplicity of differences between the actual readers of books, publishers concern themselves with an abstract and universalised consumer. Since a great number of the books manufactured and marketed on the basis of this lowest common denominator approach fail to produce a profit, capitalist firms will publish almost anything if they can be convinced it will sell. This is something the avant-bard sets out to exploit, as well as decry.
Notes for a lecture at Public Netbase, Vienna. 29 April 1998.
Re:Action (the newsletter of the Neoist Alliance various issues pdfs)
Stewart Home tells it like it is...
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