Temporary Autonomous Zone

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Anarchist poet and social activist Hakim Bey's radical proposal for a concept of utopia suited to the historical conditions of late capitalism. Conceived in the late 1980s when the Cold War still dominated geopolitical thought and the Internet was in its infancy, the temporary autonomous zone proposed to deploy the resources of the latter in order to offer an alternative political model to the capitalism/socialism binary underpinning the former. Arguing that the all or nothing rhetoric of revolution paralyses politics, because the sheer scale of the task of trying to change the world inevitably overwhelms even the hardiest of activists, Bey instead suggests that activism should look to insurrection as its model. Rather than take power, as revolution demands, the TAZ looks simply to create a space or enclave for an alternative to power. Inspired by Deleuze and Guattari's concept of nomadism, though it derives its historical precedents from sea-going pirates rather than desert tribes, its logic anticipates the anti-WTO(World Trade Organization) slogans that circulated in the late 1990s, e.g. ‘one world with many worlds in it’ and ‘another world is possible’, in that it is not concerned with seizing territory, but simply wants to mobilize any thing it can find to hand—art, ideas, slogans, festivals, theatre—to open up a space for new ways of thinking and living. He refers to this process as either ‘ontological anarchy’ or ‘poetic terrorism’. But it is also more radical than the anti-WTO movement in that it wants to break with existing social structures, such as that of the family, and it eschews permanence in favour of transience. Bey insists that the TAZ is not a political doctrine and offers no programme for creating it, claiming instead that as a kind of psycho-spiritual or existentialist state it is always already being created (in this regard it also anticipates Hardt and Negri's concept of the multitude and could usefully be compared to Deleuze and Guattari's notion of the rhizome).

Further Reading:

H. Bey T.A.Z.: Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism (1985).

Subjects: Literary Theory and Cultural Studies.

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