An Encounter With Rogue Author Len Bracken by Leif Fredrickson (firstname.lastname@example.org)
It seemed disappointingly pragmatic to sit in a Taco Bell with Len Bracken—author of the 1999 subterranean classic The Arch Conspirator, rebel novelist, translator of subversive and hedonistic literature—after a night of drinking and graffiti. Shortly after our arrival in Baltimore, Bracken, my friend Stuart, and I had hit the streets, double-fisting Magnum markers and bottles of beer. We doled out impromptu improvements to various billboards and bathrooms. The only one that now sticks out in my mind is the "No Stopping" sign, easily converted to "No Stopping Love"—much to the delight of a couple stopped beside it to make out.
Now, the day after, we were hungry, broke, and anxious to begin Bracken's psychogeographical introduction to downtown D.C. Nevertheless, we were having an interesting conversation about European exploits when Bracken's eye latched onto the hand of a customer next to us. I noticed a ring inset with a symbol on the man's hand.
"So you're mason?" Bracken asked the man point-blank. The mason, obviously annoyed at Len's indiscretion, put down his taco.
"Yes, I am. Are you a brother?" Bracken answered negatively, then noticed the mason's baseball cap, which was adorned with Hebrew characters. "What does your hat mean?"
"It's the initials of the Israeli Special Police."
"Oh, great, so you're a cop, too," Bracken spat coldly.
Such is the character of the Arch Conspirator: He is both well-informed about conspiracies and also intent on joyously and irreverently pushing his anti-authoritarian ideals. Where other conspiracy authors present conspiracies as though they were rare coins or exotic butterflies, Bracken presents them as a basic currency of history, a fundamental way that history is done, and perhaps might be undone. Where other conspiracy authors trade ideas in the whispered ink of underground publications, Bracken hands out pamphlets to newscasters, government officials, bankers and people on the street corner.
The Arch Conspirator begins with Bracken's sobering introduction to conspiracy: as a teenager living in Moscow, he became involved with a group of dissident Russians, one of whom ended up blowing himself up inside the United States Embassy. Bracken then moves on to "dispose with the ivory-tinted argument against conspiracy theories of history" by presenting a selection of historical conspiracies from ancient Greece to modern times.
The meat of the book bounces back and forth between Bracken's thoughts on conspiracies and his personal actions to disrupt, or promote, conspiracies. He pens the "Neo-Catiline Conspiracy for the Universal Cancellation of Debt" based on the failed conspiracy of aristocrat Catiline to end debt in ancient Rome. When the World Bank and IMF have their meetings in Washington, D.C.—"neo-Rome" as Bracken dubs his home base—he sneaks in to distribute his conspiratorial proposal. Bracken is also a gleeful proponent of radically reducing work and so takes and opportunity on Labor Day to pass out his "Aphorisms Against Work" at the Department of Labor's press conference.
Other essays deal with Poland's assimilation by NATO; a false report on African Intelligence Services; the interconnections between terrorism, fascism, and communism in Italy; and micro-radio broadcasting. Two essays, one on psychogeography and one on the Hacienda conference in Scotland, pertain to Bracken's interest in the Situationists, a radical Marxist group that peaked in the '60s but continues to be influential. There are also interviews with writer Joaquin Gutierrez and Ignacio Ramonet, editor of Le Monde Diplomatique. Unfortunately the deferential nature of interviews interferes with the tenor of the book, and perhaps would have been better left out.
The penultimate essay, "Solar Economics," is the most lyrical and oblique. It sets up a stark contrast to the final essay, "A Zerowork Theory of Revolution including the General Theory of Civil War." As dry as that sounds, it is really a diamond in the dust; its length and insight would even make it deserving of a book of its own. The essay is based on two masters theses that Bracken ghost wrote for a couple, Mr. and Mrs. A. The introduction to the piece is hilarious as Bracken traces his start in ghost writing ("I became a ghost through the good graces of a long-running Fourier-Taoist sect that once called itself the Divine CIA.") to his work with the A couple ("I met alone with Mrs. A ... never quite forgetting what my friends had told me about Middle Eastern women being bred for large clitori"). The essay itself is far too complex to do justice in a short review, but it reflects Bracken's interest in strategy and in the conspiracies we face, and foment, in everyday life—such as the dogma and refusal of work. This is really where Bracken excels, and where typical conspiracy authors fail: in bringing to light that conspiracies do not just occur at shady government meetings or in guarded air bases in Nevada. Conspiracies, and conspirators, are everywhere. Even in the mundane atmosphere of a fast food chain, one might be sitting next to you plotting counter measures to your plans for subversive adventure.
Leif Fredrickson, Mumblage
"Conspiracy," n. from the Latin to breathe together. A secret agreement or combination between two or more persons to commit an unlawful act that may prejudice any third person.
How much Len Bracken's new book has benefited from the popularity of dramas like The X-Files remains to be seen. Nevertheless, the persistence of Elvis sightings, stories of alien abductions and continued interest in the Bermuda Triangle are testimony to the public's continuing interest in unexplained mysteries. And while interest in renegade CIA agents and neo-Nazis in the White House has abated since its peak with Oliver Stone's movie JFK, there is still sufficient popularity for a show like Conspiracy Zone with ex-Saturday Night Live comedian Kevin Nealon. Yet regular readers of Adventures Unlimited titles, along with the casual-conspiracy buff picking up this tome hoping for a John Judge style expose are likely to be disappointed.
Len Bracken is best known for his 1998 critical biography of Situationist International leader/founder Guy Debord. In this current collection of essays, Bracken does not depart from his interest in the Situationists, but incorporates their ideas into the broader theme of conspiracy in history.
For those familiar with Bracken's work in Guy Debord: Revolutionary or in his zine Extraphile, much of the material covered here will be familiar. In addition to the Situationists in essays such as "Psychogeographical Map into the Third Millennium" and the hilarious "Situation Report on the Hacienda conference," Bracken also includes his anti-work ideas in "Anti-Labor Day 1997" which includes selected aphorisms against work. In addition each chapter is introduced by examples of Bracken's interest in photography.
The book can be divided into two sections. First a collection of shorter pieces. The book begins with an account of a Russian conspiracy. It is followed by "Considerations on Conspiracies," which assesses past conspiracies as such Catiline, Spartacus, and of course JFK. Beginning, Bracken notes "hidden actions are the most admirable." This is for most people the definition of conspiracy, but Bracken's use of the term is clearly broader than most would have. In citing these examples, he clearly intends to prove a conspiracy theory of history.
The last third of the book is given over a sweeping historical account of revolutionary and counter-revolutionary moments in history. "A Zerowork Theory of Revolution and A General Theory of Civil War" is an examination by Bracken of the theory of civil war and also the possibilities for revolutionary transformation.
Ostensibly ghostwritten as a master's thesis for money for a foreign student at a Washington university, the text was re-written for publication here.
Here Bracken distinguishes between six categories of civil war and three types. What follows is a historical examination of the causes and methods of civil war, including both left wing, and right wing. Of particular interest is Bracken's ideas about the refusal of work in struggle, where he comments favourably upon the work of such groups as Echanges and Kamunist Kranti. The zero work council then would also be about reducing work. An important notion when the left babbles about workers councils as if a future society would be reduced to a huge factory and self-managed alienation.
It also seems that Bracken's mission here is to rescue the notion of conspiracy from the right, and to subject the idea to detournement. Detournement, to use a Situationist term, is the taking of familiar images or ideas and subverting their intent by filling them with revolutionary content. For example the use of familiar images such as the Terry and the Pirates comic strip and re-writing the dialogue.
Nevertheless, this idea can be problematic. The Situationist International began its existence as political avant guarde art group. In 1962 they adopted the political programme of workers councils as filtered through the lens of the French ultra-left group Socialisme ou Barbarie, of which Debord had briefly been a member.
Bracken describes the 'moments' of council communism, including the German Revolution of 1919, and the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, as the "greatest moments of political intelligence of the twentieth century."
Bracken endorses the Situationist credo that poetry must be made by everyone or by no one, but the advocacy of conspiracy seems to contradict that notion. For the council communists have pointed out the advocacy of political programmes and efforts to organize the workers, must ultimately lead to a substitution for the masses. A successful conspiracy without new forms of organization would merely introduce old forms of oppression.
The Arch Conspirator is a sling shot. Some of its stones find targets, others miss their mark. Nevertheless, it is an erudite and witty read. And above all, it is an argument that ought to make the reader pause for reflection. Now there's a conspiracy that worked.
Dave Elswith, Red and Black Notes
American author and self-styled "arch conspirator" Len Bracken has some nerve stamping his favorite moniker on his new book, but it's in keeping with his roguish style that permeates his writings on conspiracy theory and history. Bracken has his own conspiracy zine, Extraphile, and is a contributor to alternative publications, such as Steamshovel Press, whose editor, Kenn Thomas, contributed the cryptic foreword to this collection of essays.
Bracken's anarchic approach takes in the psychological dimension of geography across time; thus it's not surprising to find references to ancient Greek wars, Roman slave revolts, Machiavelli and the streets of New York City in the same flow of argument, all connected in a conspiracy sense to basic drives like instinct and lust for life. As for the definition of psychogeography, Bracken offers more than a dozen, including that it "is intentionally vague," but "is the outlook of the lookout, an inspection of the spectacle," which gives some vague idea!
Included is an Anti-Labor Day polemic against work which is further highlighted in the so-called Neo-Catiline conspiracy where he argues for the cancellation of all Third World debt in the face of the forces of global capitalism. There are raves taking in conspiratorial underpinnings in Russia, Poland, Italy, Central America and South Africa, as well as his lengthy thesis on a zero-work theory of revolution and general theory of civil war. Some of this material is off the wall, but Bracken is ultimately witty, entertaining and mind-expanding.
"Zerowork" offers an excellent critique of the state of work in industrialized societies as well as an insightful discussion of the historical maintenance of authoritarian social relations. His searing indictment of Leninist-style revolutions and strategies for 16;waging civil war' against capitalism from an insurrectionary standpoint are a real breath of fresh air. Bluntly put, "Zerowork" is cogently written and makes the book worthwhile.
Allan Antliff, Alternative Press Review
This is a radical departure for Adventures Unlimited. No UFOs, no lost cities. It's a difficult book, a book you might expect to find on the shelf of a SoHo bookstore. Could this book, virtually free of typos, be publisher David Childress's foray into legitimacy?
Kenn Thomas, in his foreword, writes that Air Force personnel told Len about a hangar concealing UFOs. In truth, that's what got me going. But it quickly became apparent there would be no mention of UFOs or details about Kenn's anecdote inside the book. Instead what we find is a collection of writings about European politics, previously published in Len's zine Extraphile. The fourteen chapters weave together to form a thesis on the abolition of work and the causes of civil war.
I don't fancy myself an intellectual and never hung out in Paris cafes to discuss existentialism. This was not an easy book to read. But it gave me insight on places and periods of history that had left big gaps in my education. Arch Conspirator is about the news beneath the headlines that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall. There's a great line in a movie called The Fall, shot in Budapest, where a French actress says: "Behind every big fortune there's a crime." Len in his book says: "Negation of life has been suppressed by the slaves who govern." Do slaves with big fortunes, then, govern us?
Such phrases as "We become both the subject and object of history," or "Souls depend on others for expression," lift the reader above the backdrop of war and mayhem to identify with the author's personal quest. The book is illustrated with Len's own photographs. You can feel his identification with the subject, through its women, its land and culture, a cardinal sin for a reporter wishing to remain impartial. Len quotes Ignacio Ramonet, editor of Le Monde diplomatique: "Journalism must be combat. To be a journalist is to resist an oppressive system run by a norm-producing machine, to tear away the veil and reveal what is hidden, and to think and to write against it." Ramonet laments young journalists doing piecework, rewriting news dispatches without the possibility of making a complete investigation. Arch Conspirator is advocacy journalism at its best, relating sentiment about Eastern Europe that so far US writers have not been able to express, just as it took decades to finally analyze South East Asia, Central America or the Middle East.
Remy Chevalier, Paranoia
"Len Bracken is the conspirator's conspirator. He is well read and is one of the most famous of the so-called 'Leftist' conspirators (in conspiracy there is no 'Left' or 'Right'). Bracken is the thinking man's conspirator! This book includes his famous essay on the universal cancellation of debt and his exposé on the South African police!"