Review: ‘False Documents’ by Peter Lamborn Wilson

False-Documents-SQThe cover of False Documents shows two commedia dell’arte characters — medieval Italian clowns — dancing audaciously above the surface of the moon. I was surprised to discover that this literally illustrates a scene from the story “Lunar Mansions or, The Whole Rabbit” which concludes the collection. Set in a prison on the moon a couple centuries in the future, “Lunar Mansions” consists largely of individual prisoners recounting their semi-tragical life stories, while feasting on extravagant meals catered by their host Wali al-Taha, “poet and fat flautist.”

False Documents is the selected fiction of Peter Lamborn Wilson, anarchist, theological scholar, artist, poet and local historian. (Wilson lives in the Hudson Valley.) Almost all the pieces in this volume are portraits of communities, in the tradition of Looking Backward: 2000-1887 by Edward Bellamy, the novel in which a man named Julian West falls asleep in 1887 and wakes up 113 years later in a perfectly egalitarian society (in Boston, Massachusetts!). “Pastoral Letter: A Fragment,” a memo from the fictitious Sion County, a rural paradise of hippies, “Amish-type farmers,” a small Iroquois reservation and a band of Anglican Benedictine monks (at the Monastery of St. John-in-the-Wilderness) could be a blueprint for a Catskills utopia:

The county capital, Sion City (pop. 18,000 or so), has the plastic rural highway fast-food sprawl and rundown 19th century backstreet gloom of any similar sad place in the bioregion — but in a way this is mere camouflage. The fast-food franchises have been bought-out by whole-food/organic collectives, which are funded by the County. Still they use names like Tastee Burgers or Salad Bar & Grill…The Public Library consists of four pink double-wide mobile homes, but contains amazing collections. It’s as if the whole town were a disguise.


The Sion County experiment began with a conspiracy of “hemp growers and smugglers” and the libertarian faction of the local Republican Party, creating a cash-rich county with progressive values: marijuana socialism!

Those of us who have read Nietzsche with pleasure and have idly wondered, “Could his ideas succeed in the real world?” will enjoy “A Nietzschean Coup D’état,” the history of a state based on the principles of the prophetic German philosopher. Wilson recounts the tale of the Autonomous Sanjak of Cumantsa, which controlled a tiny corner of Romania for two years, beginning in 1918. A small Nietzschean study group seized power and governed through a system called “Councilism,” based on a council with one member from each Cumantsan ethnic group. The governing body redistributed land seized from the aristocracy, legalized smuggling, and organized an impressive concert series. The (proposed) Cumantsa Constitution was a collection of quotations from Nietzsche, such as: “What good is all the art of our works of art if we lose that higher art, the art of festivals? Formally, all works of art adorned the great festival road of humanity, to commemorate high and happy moments.” “A Nietzschean Coup D’état” is a delightful history, even if it is imaginary. (One might call this genre “speculative utopianism.”)

Jorge Luis Borges suggested that instead of actually writing a book it would be better to imagine the book and review it; Wilson does just this in “Incunabula: A Catalog of Rare Books, Manuscripts & Curiosa,” a hoax-brochure of obscure literature — such as “The Sacred Jihad of Our Lady of Chaos.” Reading this “catalog,” one slowly recognizes that all its books and pamphlets suggest ways to escape this universe in a trans-dimensional vehicle known as the “Egg.” As “The Sacred Jihad” says: “to vanish without having to kill yourself may be the ultimate revolutionary act.”

Wilson is returning to the origins of fiction-as-hoax, in the tradition of Gulliver’s Travels and Robinson Crusoe. His social utopias include vivid characters like Emory Cranston, half-mad “proprietor” of the Incunabula Catalog, and Nestor Makhno, an anarchist revolutionary who resembles a Ukrainian Robin Hood: young, fearless, and spontaneously generous. (Makhno was a real person, who appears in the story “Nestor Makhno and the Elixir of Life,” based on a true anecdote.)

The most rhapsodic, literary work is the mock-medieval romance “Glatisant and Grail: An Arthurian Fragment” by the Chevalier Isador de Boron. (Wilson claims to have translated it.) For example: And Palamydes struck steel and flint, kindled a small fire, and ordered the boy to pour out wine mixed with cool streamwater; the Saracen keyed his voice to the indigo drone of night insects and nightjars, whippoorwills, nightingales and owls; and began to speak.

Sir Palamydes the Saracen is a mysterious black-robed figure “of Babylonian lineage,” a master of alchemy and seeker of the Holy Grail. In this age of Islamophobia, it’s comforting to read a volume of Islamophilia. (Wilson is not being “politically correct”; he honestly admires Islamic culture.)

An anarchist always seeks a better world, even if she has to invent it. Wilson envisions a multifaceted revolution against gender, war, work and capitalism — plus people who are just no fun. The purpose of False Documents is to transform intellectually curious hipsters into daring anarchist pirates. There should be a label on the cover: “Warning: After Reading This Book, You May Quit Your Job!”