Dead Man Talking

Bill Brown responds to Bob Black

It is quite fitting that Bob Black should write of the voiceless dead in "Brownian Motion," his review of my review of Len Bracken's lifeless book Guy Debord: Revolutionary. "It is just not possible at this late date," Black explains to the brain-dead idiots of the world, "to interview Washington, Lincoln, Marx, Bakunin, or Janis Joplin." Black should know: he himself has been a proverbial DEAD DUCK since 21 February 1996, when he sent a letter to the Narcotics Division of the Seattle Police Department about the personal habits of author and publisher Jim Hogshire, with whom Black had had an argument. This deadly letter (widely distributed since then) and its unapologetic author have been unequivocably condemned by almost everyone in the anarchist milieu and on the ultraleft -- except for the poor schmucks at CAL Press, though they learned their lesson soon after they foolishly agreed to work with Black and publish his attack on Murray Bookchin, which is entitled Anarchism After Leftism. And yet Bob Black's corpse continues to stagger on, to show its awful face, to put its voiceless words into published texts about events in the world of the living.

Black's "critique" of me -- one "Critic" critiques another -- is literally full of ghosts, spirits that continue to haunt him, sometimes years after their putative passing. There is Bookchin, of course, who just wouldn't stay dead after Black's book came out. Ken Knabb and Michel Prigent -- another wooden stake in the heart should finally fix the both of them! And poor Baboon Dooley -- no one knows who he is anymore, but Black clearly cannot restrain himself from shooting the mortally-wounded just one more time.

As for me, I am someone who -- in the lifeless eyes of Bob Black -- was dead and buried way back in the mid-1980s, when Black filled up the pages of Rev. Crowbar's Popular Reality with my obituary. (I had dared to question Black's glib dismissal of "feminism as fascism," and had dared to object to the degree of hostility with which Black was then attacking Processed World; and so Black judged me to be deserving of the ultimate penalty.) But I was neither mortally wounded by Black's attacks, nor was I inclined to give up the ghost voluntarily. I still live, and have as little fear of criticizing Debord as I have of "Big Bad" Bob Black coming after me, again, after all these years. (And Black says that he wants the evil Critics of the world to "fear" that "anyone of them . . . might be next"! Har de har har.)

The person who really seems scared stiff here is Bob Black. Read what he says in the heart of his article, that is, in the paragraph in which I have emphasized Black's obsessive use of the terminology of the criminal justice system (interviewees are "informants" and information is "evidence").

Bracken (complains Brown), unlike Brown's idol Greil Marcus, neglected to interview such crucial informants as Henri Lefebvre, Alexander Trocchi, and Gil Wolman. A sentence later, Brown hints at a possible explanation: Like Debord, these guys are now dead. This is a difficulty experienced by many biographers. It is just not possible at this late date to interview Washington, Lincoln, Marx, Bakunin, or Janis Joplin. Brown has this addled idea that the oral interview is a privileged historical source. Historians are now making a lot of use of oral history -- the only way they can, like the social scientists, they generate evidence, not just find it -- but they also appreciate its limitations. Oral informants may be forgetful, their memories may be influenced by later experiences, and they may be lying. When historians cross-check oral history with written records, they find that oral histories are very uneven in their reliability. Not only do (often elderly) informants forget things that did not happen, they sometimes remember things that didn't happen, but that they heard about later. History is yet another of the practices that Brown doesn't know how to do.

When Black -- who has a law degree -- writes of "the published evidence of Guy Debord's career," it appears as if he has Debord's "career" as a criminal -- the image of Guy Debord as a "career criminal" -- in mind. But Black's tone is dispirited, full of despair; he hardly sounds like a confident prosecuting attorney. Indeed, he sounds like a man pleading his own case in front of a jury that he knows will convict him and sentence him to death. "Oral informants" such as Jim Hogshire and his wife "may be forgetful, their memories may be influenced by later memories, and they may be lying." But they might also be telling the truth. In this case, it seems quite clear that the Hogshire's oral testimony is quite accurate, and that Bob Black is both a police informant and a liar.

Just as the cultural world simply cannot be divided into Performers, Fans and Critics (as Black wishes to do), a person such as myself cannot be pigeonholed as a Critic and dismissed generically. While it is true that I am a writer of cultural criticism, I am also a "performer," a creator of culture: I have created paintings, photographs, zines, websites, postcards, films, and musical recordings (I can play bass, guitar and drums). But, most importantly, to the police I am a writer of graffiti, NOT AN INFORMANT, and have been one since the Ann Arbor days (as even Bob Black must admit).



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