It seems most of your writings are released through Semiotext(e) and Autonomedia. Could you give a brief description of the 2 and the differences between them?
Hakim Bey: Well, it's the same company. Semiotext(e) is the magazine, founded in 1974 by Sylvere Lotringer, a French scholar working for Columbia University whose self-appointed task was to introduce the Paris of '68 radical French philosophers to America. That would include Baudrillard, Lyotard, Foucault, etc. And then, somewhere around 1982, Autonomedia became the umbrella book company. So there are some Semiotext(e) books, the little Foreign Agents series, and there are Autonomedia series books, but it's all the same company. And the gist of it is, we are not only not-for-profit, but the people who work for the company don't take salaries; some of the writers don't take royalties or turn some of them back over to the company. The reason for this is so the company does not have to face the world of commodity publishing, and in this way the prices are kept low. We do small paperbacks for $7 and large for $10 to $12, and these are prices which completely undercut any other publisher of critical theory or radical philosophy like Zone or whatnot. I mean give them credit, they're doing great work, but they're running it like a real publishing company and paying themselves salaries, royalties, and so forth. And it means they can't do as much as Autonomedia can do. In the past 2 years we've gone from 7 books to 20 books, which puts us well into the midrange, publishing a lot more than many so-called midrange publishers. We do this for specific political reasons, because we believe in what we publish, we want it out there, and we want it cheap. It's run as a collective and we have other sub- collectives that come in and make proposals to us. These people invariably work for nothing, they work on a project because they want to work on a project. It's important and, if we agree, we publish it.
So they get to see Autonomedia as a distribution opportunity?
Bey: Of course. We have an excellent distribution network. We've been in business for 20 years, we bloody well should have.
Your best known work is TAZ. What was the time span of the essays in it?
Bey: I guess around '84 to '88, something like that.
Now you have a tape and CD of selections from the book out. How did that come about and what are your goals for a CD release as opposed to a book release?
Bey: Well, first of all, it came about because Bill Laswell asked me to do it. He's seen our work and is extremely fond of Jim Koehnline's collages, he's bought several for his recordings, and he also apparently read my work and invited me to do this and I said, "Why not?". I have no goals for it whatsoever. If it gets out there... I never had any goals for the book either. I mean I meant to publish a book, but I never expected the book to do what it's done and I'm not even sure I like what's happened to the book.
What do you mean by that?
Bey: Well, I think there are a lot of people who are desperately seeking someone to tell them what to do, always a human factor, and somehow one way or another even though the pseudonym was meant to keep an ego trip or star factor out of this, it backfired. It worked the opposite of the way I thought it was going to work. The anti-copyright worked the opposite way I thought it would work too. I thought we would publish one edition of the book and after that people who were interested in it would go out and copy it themselves. But instead it makes people buy the book, like they're getting something from the book. Like they can copy parts of it out then and put parts of it in their zines or send it in letters to their friends. The book has sold a great deal more than I ever expected and the reason I don't make public appearances is because I don't like this whole star aspect of writing books on this kind of extropean, anarchist, cyberpunk, or all these kind of strains I'm pulling together. I don't want to be a star in any of these circles. That wasn't my intention at all. My intention was very much an anarchist one. Looking for ways to revivify anarchist theory, some contacts with Oriental spirituality on one hand and, on the other, European philosophy that had been so ignored in the Anglo-Saxon English speaking world. The point of the thing was to do it yourself, and not to fetishize the book or the author of the book. And not to make the book in any respect a substitute for one's own autonomy. The book was an experiment in my own autonomy, an exploration of my autonomy and my thoughts on autonomy and I hoped it would inspire people to do likewise, not become fans of the book. So after a few, to me, very unsatisfactory public appearances I finally decided, "This needs to be nipped in the bud". This is not what it's about. This tape may be the cause of more of these problems, but as I said it was Bill's idea, not my idea. I enjoyed working with Bill. He's really, really, good at this. It's an extremely tasteful job. I hope, so tasteful that people will find it boring. That this will give a bit of distance, what Brecht called alienation, which is so necessary to not get sucked into these authorial worlds. The author as authority is a deadly trap, at least in this endeavor. Actually the best response the book got was to be burnt in an art event in New York. I thought that was an appropriate response.