Get out your scissors for that standard map of the possible! There have been some bold scouting parties for a world of liberated desire the last few years, and some of the boldest have just put a book out on their discoveries. More Out Than In: Notes on Sex, Art, and Community, edited by Rachel Kaplan and Keith Hennessy; a collection of writings about the 848 community space, a do-it-yourself multi-use space available to all manner of experimenters, crossing the boundaries of art, oppositional politics, and sexual liberation. Since it opened in San Francisco in 1992, the 848 has probably hosted a wider range and volume of sex-positive events than any other public space in the world. I'd like this response to generate interest in the book, offer some critical commentary, and explore some of the introspections it has prompted in me.

I happened to be in SF when there was an open forum on the book, and, truth be told, it left me pretty frustrated. I had no idea it had gotten so late, and the conversation ended, way too limited to discussions of S/M. It wasn't until three others and I were leaving that we fully realized how we didn't even touch on so many things that would've been fruitful to talk about. (So I started to boil over and think about writing this....) The editors asked for submissions of "critical writings," and they got them. A good portion of the twenty-four contributors are more than less dissatisfied with some aspect of the sex events or their perceived disproportion, and criticism of the S/M scene is a recurring theme. Oddly, the main proponents of S/M-critical views did not show up at the forum, but there were some eloquent advocates of S/M. The main thing that stands out for me is the dampening effect of the resulting dissension taking up so much of the forum - and the book.

The book is remarkable for its introspectiveness and invitation to criticism. But the more I think about it, the more irritated I get with much of that criticism. Phrases like: "too much sex," and advocating for "sacrifice and service" are used amid discussions of the "relative exchange weight" of "issues of sexual identity to issues of inequality...." I just read Murry Bookchin's new book, Lifestyle Anarchism or Social Anarchism: An Unbridgeable Chasm, which is largely an attack on Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed, Fifth Estate, and Haquim Bey for focusing on the liberation of desire and the expansion of autonomy for authentic lives of adventure and rebellion - as opposed to programmatic political organization building - and much of the criticism of "sex and pleasure activism" seems akin to this morality-based "social" anarchist perspective. To speak of "pleasure activism" and "class war activism" as distinct and competing is curious and foreign to me. Maybe that's because I haven't been too involved in the queer sex party milieu there or taken part in planned "spiritual and/or educational" sex events that apparently are distinctly "safe spaces" protected and separated from the rest of life. But might not the problem therefore lie less in there being "too much pleasure activism," as in the limited nature of the events? "Safe spaces" can also keep the rest of the world safe from your spaces.

On the other hand, much of the criticism seems sincerely aimed at a further evolution of the dialogue on sex and liberation, which could be very positive. The book includes an excerpt from a 1966 interview with Henry Miller about the shallowness of the "sexual revolution" at that time. "It was always more the total liberation of one's self that I was concerned with" as he saw it; "Sexual freedom and the effort toward that should only be one aspect of a movement toward much larger freedom, to think and act freely and creatively, in every domain!" One more effort, sex-pots.... We don't just want better sex lives, we want our whole lives to be sex lives!

My tendency is to foment an insurgence of erotic, playful activity that knows no boundaries. To pursue the "emergence and rapid spread of creatures that will be living embodiments of the surreal, those who will stop the world and open up new possibilities for meeting our needs and relating to one another and the natural world in a more balanced and pleasurable way" - as my fried Paul E. Morphous puts it. In the past this has taken such forms as the Gardeners Against the Work Ethic Association in Carbondale, IL: a 1994 attempt at a summer of sprawling festivity which included a costumed lawn rip-up for a "free feast garden," many mind-altering experiments in non-verbal behavior and non-sexual but intense physical touch and play ("eroplay" as Frank Moore calls it), a prank in which the city council was made to declare Wednesdays a holiday, and various "space poaching" contestations of normalcy like a group erotic stumbling exercise in a mall. I've also traveled across country with a nomadic band in a school bus as another anarchic experiment. In contrast to the socialistic soberness of Bookchin's anarchism, we seek to create anarchy on the level of immediate experience. Our activity is an underground current of libertarian enticement to a revolutionary transformation that is a geyser of pleasure pushing away all constraints.

When I read about the 848 space, I feel a deep resonance as well as significant differences. Inspired largely by the Living Theater's call for an "art that would instigate and support and be a revolution," the 848's approach to the fusion of art/politics/life might benefit from an encounter with that of the situationists, with their call for a revolution that would abolish art as a separate category by realizing it in every day life. At the same time, the situationist-inspired milieu has largely ceased to have any living creative practice - whereas 848 has much of the vital quality of a launching pad for contestation beyond the boundaries of art anyway.

It's inspiring to read the personal anecdotes of public, fully uncloseted love; and just to hear of the incredible diversity!

It takes a rare courage to step back and examine what you've done the way they have, and to open up to seeing if you might want to try something else. As I dream of what could be next for me and my shifting webwork of collaborators, I'm asking more now: what have been the limits of insurgent play? Are we ready for something more intense? Deeper and more conscious alterations of consciousness, post-linguistic frolics and eroplay? There is momentum building for "centers" of experimental ludic life, such as rural base camps in dynamic interplay with urban areas. How might we attempt a sustained psycho-geographic assault on an environment? And how might our projects be informed by the 848 experience?

Unru Lee


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