As a public intellectual for the most shadowy of publics (anarchists, magicians, lovers of heresy), PETER LAMBORN WILSON (born 1945) has written and lectured on a crazy quilt of esoteric topics: pirates, angels, alchemists, utopians. The central thread running through this material is spiritual anarchy, those nomad zones in history and religion where authority gives way to vertiginous freedoms that are at once sacred, political, and, at least in some sublimated sense, erotic. Blessed with enough family money to have remained “independently poor,” Wilson has lived the bohemian life since the 1960s, dodging both academy and the hipster limelight. He spent a decade abroad, most of it in Tehran, where he sought out devil-worshippers and hash-smoking Sufis, and studied Islamic mysticism at the Iranian Academy of Philosophy, which drew heavy-weights like and Henry Corbin and Seyyed Hossein Nasr. Current events lend a special urgency to Wilson’s evocative explorations of Islamic heresy in classic works like Scandal and Sacred Drift, although of late his work has been more concerned with hermetic ecology and the local history of upstate New York.
Wilson also has an extremely intimate relationship to HAKIM BEY, the pseudonymous author of incendiary poetic rants like Black Fez Manifesto and the groundbreaking T.A.Z.: The Temporary Autonomous Zone, an invocation of nomadic collectivity that, among other things, became a blueprint for Burning Man and other radical festival cultures. The relationship between Wilson and Bey incarnates a tension apparent in the work of both men: a subversive and delicious tango between historically informed critique and the realm of “poetic facts,” a term that defines, against the cruel literalism of the present, the unflagging glimmer of the half-truths that drive religious experience and utopian possibility.
READ MORE about members of the Blank Generation (1944-53).