There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
Polemicist/surfer/work-shirker Len Bracken interrupts our conversation to complain that he is sleep-deprived. In pursuit of principled joblessness, he has just finished standing in a line outside the Capitol for 12 hoursstarting at 2 a.m. the previous morning. “I was working as a paid place-keeper for a lobbyist,” he explainsthat is, reserving a place at a hearing on the Telecommunications Act of 1996 for a lobbyist willing to pay Bracken $18 an hour to do it for him. “It’s not bad money,” he says, sounding sleepy and wired. “You can have $200 days.” The avoidance of a real job, it turns out, can be hard work.
Writers without independent means have always had to take weird gigs to pay the rent, and that’s part of Bracken’s rationale for such marginal employment. He recently published Guy Debord: Revolutionary, a critical biography of the influential French neo-Marxist who shot himself in the heart in 1994. And Bracken tries to get out his ‘zine Extraphile (“a journal of sub-proletarian revolution, utopian fantasy, pornography, and conspiracy theory”) as regularly as he can. Bracken worked for years at what he calls “the ultimate shirker job”: lining up clients for bike-courier companies. “You just get tips from riders about who the big-volume customers are, go out and line up a lot of future orders, and then go goof off,” he confides.
But with Bracken, not working is personal as well as strategic. He is an enthusiastic follower of Debord’s “non-workerist Marxism.” As Bracken explains, “There are two dominant strains of Marxism: The work-oriented line is about labor unions and organizing through workplaces, and so on….[But] there’s another line based on Marx’s perception that all work under capitalism is inherently exploitivethat the more you work the more you impoverish yourself.” That was the line of Debord and the Situationist Internationalthe loose, contentious group of radical thinkers and artists Debord helped assemble in Paris in the late 1950s. Le Nouvel Observatoire called Debord’s 1967 work The Society of the Spectacle “the Capital of the new generation”; Bracken calls it “the most poignant and relevant critique of our times.” The Situationists are probably best known for being at the center of events during the student uprisings in Paris in May 1968; Bracken sees their legacy in today’s aggressive joblessness movement in France, in which the unemployed have taken to turning up at supermarkets and restaurants and demanding to be fed for free.
Bracken keeps the Situationist flag flying by enjoying life (“I’m a surfer from way back,” he says; one of his haunts is the Dominican Republic), by avoiding real work as subversively as possible (he financed his last trip to France by authoring somebody else’s master’s thesis), and by spreading the word in Extraphile. The soon-to-appear Extraphile No. 7 will open with “a pornographic satire of Monica and Bill” followed by Bracken’s “Open Letter to the Citizens of Poland,” an anti-NATO polemic claiming that Italy has been ruled by the CIA since 1948 (“That’s been pretty well established”) and that CIA agents, not the Red Brigade, kidnapped and murdered Aldo Moro in 1978. Bracken may distribute Extraphile No. 7 to a few small places like Atticus Books, or he may make it available only by mail. “I’m asking that people send a self-addressed 9-by-12 envelope with $2 worth of stamps, an age statement [you must be at least 21], and something stolen from work.”John DeVault
Write for Extraphile No. 7 to: P.O. Box 5585, Arlington, VA 22205. Bracken’s home page is at myhouse.com.