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September 8, 2005

Temporary Autonomous Zones


The anarchist cultural theorist Hakim Bey (a nom de guerre of Peter Lamborn Wilson) admired the Pirate Utopias, islands used by 18th century pirates for rest and relaxation.

He morphed these into his conception of the temporary autonomous zone, or TAZ, "an enclave established by stealth or subterfuge under the nose of the authorities," wrote David Honigmann in his "Brain Waves" column in yesterday's Financial Times.

Honigmann's interesting piece noted that such places today are mostly in cyberspace.

Here's his essay.

    A Pirate Utopia of One's Own

    Last month the Irish sean nos singer Iarla O'Lionaird launched his new compact disc with a small set at the Real World studios in Box.

    In the August sun, Wiltshire glowed like Tuscany.

    World music worthies had dropped in for the launch and to socialise, like Bedouin meeting at an oasis.

    Ben Mandelson and Justin Adams swapped tales of buying a new bendir and life on the road with Robert Plant.

    Sheila Chandra smiled through gritted teeth at star-struck sales execs who remembered her from the TV series Grange Hill.

    The veteran producer John Leckie hailed the Cotswold stone buildings, with swans on the lake and cooks picking rosemary from bushes for the kebabs, as "one of the few first-class residential studios left".

    If I ever take a career detour into rock stardom, this is where I want to record.

    It has the atmosphere of a place where creative work can be done.

    Space dedicated to creativity is the goal of artists of all kinds.

    Virginia Woolf lauded the "room of one's own".

    Joseph Campbell thought it a fundamental requirement of sanity.

    "You must have a room, or a certain hour or so a day, where you don't know what was in the newspapers that morning... This is the place of creative incubation... If you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen."

    A sacred place can be small.

    Jane Austen's was a table in the parlour of her family's house at Chawton with a squeaky door to alert her to intruders, so that she could quickly resume her embroidery.

    Po Bronson, the American writer, re-created the claustrophobic atmosphere of his first job as a bond salesman by working in a confined space with loud music in both ears.

    He now has a "cement closet".

    Most writers dream of booklined studies with huge mahogany desks, like Thomas Hardy's.

    Bronson has, at least, fewer distractions.

    Collaborative workshops have more complications than solitary garrets.

    In his "Incomplete Manifesto for Growth," Bruce Mau, the Canadian designer, notes that "people visiting the studio often comment on how much we laugh. Since I've become aware of this, I use it as a barometer of how comfortably we are expressing ourselves."

    But this can be dangerous.

    A script-writers' assistant on the television series Friends is suing on the grounds that lewd banter between the writers constituted sexual harassment. (The lawsuit lingers on after the show, like the Cheshire Cat's grin.)

    Self-censorship is the antithesis of creativity, which thrives on the mulch of bad or not-quite-right ideas that finally produce one good one.

    Mau also advises that "Real growth often happens outside of where we intend it to, in the interstitial spaces - what Dr Seuss calls 'the waiting place'."

    The innovation consultancy ?What If! [sic] recommends a technique it calls hothousing.

    "Make it isolated. Most of us don't get much isolation and when we do it's great. Hot-housing does not include mobile phones, faxes or secret early morning meetings. Ban them." (John Leckie recommends Sawmills studios in Cornwall, reachable only by taking a boat up the river Fowey, and then only at high tide.)

    The most successful hothousing is temporary: a rush of adrenaline that gets the job done.

    Live in creative bliss for ever, and you will never produce.

    The best description of this kind of space came from the anarchist cultural theorist Hakim Bey (a nom de guerre of Peter Lamborn Wilson).

    Bey championed the Pirate Utopias, islands used by 18th-century pirates for rest and relaxation.

    To admirers they were paradises of multicultural, gender-bending, non-hierarchical riotous living.

    Bey parlayed this notion into the idea of the temporary autonomous zone, or TAZ: an enclave established by stealth or subterfuge under the nose of the authorities.

    These can be squats, or bubbles of geographical space whose jurisdiction is unclear in the aftermath of a war. These days, they can be found in cyberspace.

    The essence of a TAZ, insists Bey, is the "tactic of disappearance".

    True creative space is a polder, an embattled refuge all the sweeter for being precarious.

September 8, 2005 at 10:01 AM | Permalink


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This is so very true, and wise, and too sane for our current school systems.

I just inaugurated my six-year-old into the concept of private mental space, something I hope can carry her through the next twelve years. She started first grade last week, and has averaged two yellings-at a day. I encouraged her to figure out how to daydream while adhering to the outlines of her teacher's required behavior.

My daughter moaned, "but you don't understand, there's just no place for me to do that." After I painstakingly explained how the place I meant was more mental than spatial, she said, "I just don't think you get what I'm saying. We don't have desks or our own places, we're all at tables right next to each other."

Imagine that. The architecture of today's first-grade classroom, so cozy and sweet to our bird's-eye perspective, is a mental foxhole of anxiety and overcrowding to the people for whom it matters most.

Posted by: teacher's pet | Sep 8, 2005 11:32:43 AM

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