Bob Black – Afterword To The Feh! Press Edition
The Anarchist Library
Title: Afterword To The Feh! Press Edition
Notes: A postscript to my “first and worst book,” The Baby and the Bathwater, or, Post-Partum Repression: The Unspeakable Truth About “Processed World, reprinted by Feh! Press several years ago and now again available from Rodney E. Griffith/Inspiracy in Cleveland.
Never a chart-buster, this book, to my amazement, just won’t go away. I brought out the “first edition,” if I may so dignify 100 Velo-bound photocopies, in early 1985 as the conflict it recounted continued. By then I was living — as secretly as I could — in an unheated room in Berkeley. I soon made a few additions and corrections for what I called the “1-1/2th edition”; a dissident office worker ran off 30 copies for me at work. I sold some of these 130 copies but sent most to local media or to leftist or anti-authoritarian publications nationwide (and several abroad) which usually ignored them. I’d done all I could, I felt, to settle the record by the time I moved to Boston with ex-PW Donna Kossy (and my familiar, The Anarcat) in fall 1985.
Unexpectedly, there was a small but persistent interest in the book. Rev. David Crowbar of Popular Reality (1984–1987), one of the few publications to cover the Processed World scandal, for several years made photocopies of the book available. Those who owned copies often loaned them out to others — especially to the kind of political neophytes the PW’s specialize in flimflamming. I would not infrequently hear from these readers and welcomed their queries. Cynically, I always urged them to question PW too, well aware that they’d get snubbed and placed on an enemies list. I’ve heard from second-hand B/B readers from as far away as England, where no more than two or three copies could have penetrated.
Between the writing of B/B and the Hegira to Boston, I passed 4-1/2 months in Los Angeles working for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, at work/study wages, doing legal research and writing in support of some of their victimless-crime litigation. For the first time in almost a year I felt safe. I was also in love. Although PW had pronounced me monomaniacal and obsessive, what I did next, ignoring those who’d exiled me, was produce some of my best-known and (in my opinion) best texts, such as “The Abolition of Work,” “The Best Book Catalog in the World,” and “Elementary Watsonianism.” (Writing well is the best revenge.) The first two provoked Loompanics Unlimited to propose to publish the collection which came out a year later as The Abolition of Work and Other Essays. The second I sold to one left-yuppie throwaway after another, beginning with the LA Reader; it remains my all-time moneymaker.
“The Abolition of Work” has assumed the dimensions of a minor classic (I daresay). Thousands read it in the Semiotext(e) “USA” issue (for which I opened my files to provide a lot of other bumf too) and other thousands in Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed. It’s been translated into French, German, Dutch, Slovene and Italian (a Spanish translation is in the works). In trying to suppress or marginalize me, Processed World has, at best, failed miserably, and at worst, given my project a boost.
Readers of my first book (or my second, Friendly Fire [Autonomedia 1992]) have come across fresh whacks st PW, but not because there is anything fresh about PW, which Gary Brown well and long ago characterized as “the magazine with a bad smell.” B/B exudes an anxiety, not unreasonable when (and under the circumstances in which) it was written, that the PW drive for local hegemony might prevail. In the event, PW never got out of the leftist ghetto or greatly increased its market share. The myth of the hip, happy-go-lucky dissident office workers still sometimes slithers into print, but it’s clear by now that the formula is no more than a maintenance dose. Not even the publication of a greatest-hits coffee-table book, Bad Attitude — which, characteristically, includes (without explanation or apology) the productions of defectors — pulled the PW’s out of their stagnant isolation. They are all that they’ll ever be, and they aren’t much.
If so, of what interest is a book like this? The danger of which it warns (and, in hindsight, exaggerated) is long past. About a year after this book appeared, one of its purchasers, Lawrence — a sometime volunteer at Bound Together Books — came out as the Slasher. Wisely, the PW’s left him severely alone. By then Bay Area anti-authoritarians were so polarized that I was not getting any intelligence about the PW’s because nobody on either side of the conflict was on speaking terms with anybody on the other. In 1985, Processed World announced it was preparing a rebuttal to this book. Alert to the lesson of the Tar Baby, it never issued one.
If this book is of any lasting interest (except to my biographers) it is as a case study in political pathology. Professing an anti-authoritarian (if unnamed) ideology, college-educated, longstanding residents of as cosmopolitan a metropolis as any in the world, the PW control group nonetheless constructed as introverted and self-referential a cult as Jim Jones did. If the leadership consciously deceived the followers — as this book proves beyond a reasonable doubt — at a higher level it was self-delusive too. Even the victims and critics, myself included, came to share (even as we despised and denounced) the cult’s sense of self-importance. Unwittingly we played into their hands, which is why, locally, the PW’s triumphed. Even I, who took them so seriously, never took them as seriously as they took themselves.