• Mon. Sep 25th, 2023


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Peter Lamborn Wilson, Advocate of ‘Poetic Terrorism,’ Dies at 76

Mr. Wilson’s background, unsurprisingly, was eclectic. He was a classics major at Columbia University but dropped out. He helped start a psychedelic church, and he pondered, briefly, a career as an antiwar activist (an attempt to bomb a draft headquarters in red paint fizzled) before hitting the hippie hashish trail, as many of his peers did, traveling through the Middle East and South Asia.

He visited all the usual spots and had all the usual adventures before settling in Tehran to study Persian Sufism. With the ouster of the Shah of Iran in 1979, he returned to the United States and moved into an apartment on the Lower East Side.

He worked out his disillusionment with the failed promise of the 1960s — the revolution that never came — in provocative writing that appeared in avant-garde journals like Semiotext(e), where French intellectuals like Michel Foucault mingled with American Beats like Ginsberg and William Burroughs and radical feminists like Kate Millett and Kathy Acker, the postpunk novelist and performance artist.

By all accounts, Mr. Wilson was erudite about the recondite, a prolific author of some 60 books on topics ranging from angels to pirate utopias and all manner of renegade religions. He was for years an East Village fixture and the host of “The Moorish Orthodox Radio Crusade,” a late-night program on WBAI, Manhattan’s countercultural radio station. On his show, he might declaim on higher mathematics, play a selection of esoteric music like Sufi chants or Greek rembetika, and review zines, the D.I.Y. journals that flourished in the late 1980s and ‘90s.

But because his writing often included erotic imagery of young teenage boys, he was controversial.

“I always had a fairly conflicted position about how to handle the issue,” Mr. Fleming said. “Whether to downplay it or try to defend it in some way. He identified as gay, but I never knew him to have a sexual partner, or an actual sex life. His sexual practices were what I call Whitmanesque, imaginal only.”

Peter Lamborn Wilson was born on Oct. 20, 1945, in Baltimore. The only child of Douglas Emory Wilson, a career Army officer and English professor, and Laura (Packwood) Wilson, a high school teacher, he grew in New Brunswick N.J.