Why does Burning Man have no literary culture?


This dictionary has a lot of words in it, but picking a “word of the day” is not a literary culture.

John Curley once wrote that many of the world’s greatest photographers come from around the globe specifically to take pictures at Burning Man.  It’s obvious why.  Burning Man has pioneered a unique visual aesthetic.

Look at a picture:  there’s no question that it came from Burning Man.

It’s not just photography.  Look at sculptures, or installation art:  there’s no ambiguity which are in a “Burning Man” style and which aren’t.  Some people at Burning Man may do other things (God bless ‘em) but Burning Man has still pioneered a distinctive look in the fine arts that many imitate but no one else really owns.

Architecture?  Same thing.  Fashion?  You betcha.  Sure you’ll find people in all kinds of outfits out on the playa … but when we talk about “Burning Man fashion,” we all know what we’re talking about.

While the arts at Burning Man are very diverse, the fact remains:  for years Burning Man has been the center of major new trends in all the visual arts, and is still going strong, its distinctive influence only growing.

What about music, though?

That’s more complicated.  However many of us wish it were different, Burning Man definitely has a distinct sound:  a week of throbbing dubstep is practically synonymous with “Burning Man.”  Again, not the only thing you’ll hear out there (I for one sing sea chanties, and Adrian has been evangelizing mash-ups for years), but definitely a signature.  If someone says “Burning Man music” that’s what most people think of, and everyone knows it.

Unlike with the visual arts, however, I don’t think a serious case can be made that Burning Man is pioneering this sound.  In fact, it’s fairly derivative of rave culture and club music.  Sure, many of the world’s greatest DJs come to Burning Man to perform, but where the photographers are coming to take pictures that they couldn’t possibly take anywhere else in the world, the DJs are coming to do exactly what they do elsewhere for an audience.

It’s probably fair to say that Burner culture has an influence on that music, but we’re not leading the aesthetic.

That’s a pretty big jump down in influence from the visual arts to music.  And when you get to the written word the influence disappears entirely.

Burning Man has no signature writing style, derivative or otherwise.  For all the hundreds of books and articles that have been written about Burning Man over 26 years, for all the scholarly papers, the blog posts … no particular verbal style has emerged.  Saying “that’s like something you’d read at Burning Man” is nonsensical.  Could be anything.

Burning Man has no particular style of poetry, no particular authorial “voice.”  The Great Burning Man Novel has yet to be written – let alone to inspire others to write under its influence.

Why is that?  Why does Burning Man have such an advanced visual aesthetic … one that truly is influencing the whole world … and absolutely no literary culture at all?

I’m honestly asking here.  I don’t know.  I’m hoping someone can tell me.

I do have a few ideas to put out there, for what it’s worth, but nothing that adds up to a theory.  Here we go:

Visual Arts are often more collaborative

A single person can’t build the Man, or the Temple;  a single person can’t build the massive sculptures we take for granted, or be their own troop of fire dancers.  These kinds of visual projects need teams, they need communities, and so are well suited for the kind of culture Burning Man is and aspires to be.

Writing can be done collaboratively but … well … other than collections of stories and essays, can you name one great book that was written collaboratively?  Where a group of people got together and said “what’s the right word to put here?”  It doesn’t work that way – at least not well.  While there are forms of writing that are more social than others, writing as compared to the teamwork needed to construct massive installations and sculptures and architecture is a solitary pursuit, and thus perhaps doesn’t go well with Burner culture.

Reading and Writing aren’t really something we do at Burning Man

Not only is the experience of creating literature a more solitary process, but the experience of reading it is generally more solitary as well.  The archetypal novel, after all, is read quietly to oneself in a comfortable spot for hours on end.

There are, of course, poetry readings in which words are digested out loud – and Burning Man has those.  There’s even a regular spoken word series at the Center Camp Café stage.

But even these are harder to experience than most visual arts.  Want to see the temple?  Show up any time, day or night.  Stay as long as you want.  Chat with your friends.  Write something on the wall.

Want to see a poetry reading?  You have to show up exclusively when it’s happening, and the best way to experience it is to sit or stand quietly for a prolonged period of time.  Well, okay, it doesn’t have to be quiet necessarily:  if it’s especially awesome you’ll be shouting like a hyperactive Greek chorus … but that’s a best case scenario.  What you can’t do is talk with your friends, turn your back and go do something else and then come back later, or zone out.

Visual arts can be experienced on your schedule, at your level of engagement, and even be consumed passively.  Literature of the communal kind cannot.  You have to be an active participant at a specific time and place – even if being “active” in this case means sitting still and listening.

The way visual art is experienced is more conducive to Burner culture and Burning Man’s logistics.

There are exceptions, of course:  if you want to see the Man burn you need to be at a particular place at a particular time.  But that kind of event is a mainstay of Burner culture.  What would the literary equivalent of that be?

Nothing comes to mind.

Like attracts like

Burning Man was originally centered around an icon:  a literal wooden man burning on a beach.  All kinds of people can (and did) say “that’s cool, I want a piece of that,” but the people most eager to participate in the creation of startling visual images will be people interested in startling visual images.  It may be that Burning Man developed an extraordinary visual aesthetic over 26 years because people were doing extraordinary things with visual images at its beginning – and that it didn’t develop any kind of literary culture because that’s not what people were doing back when.  Like attracts like.

A literary culture takes longer to develop

I don’t know why this would be, exactly, but maybe it does.  If only we could know whether primitive homo sapiens were exchanging poems around the camp fire before they were painting cave walls.

Sheer coincidence

Can’t rule it out – though I find the idea unsatisfying.  But could be.

Any and all of these could be true, or not.  In any case, the important question is probably not “why hasn’t Burning Man developed a literary culture thus far?” but “is one going to develop in the future?”

If not, why not?  Will we be missing something important?  Is this gap relevant?

If so, what will it be like?  What would a Burning Man literary aesthetic be like?

Caveat is the Volunteer Coordinator for Media Mecca at Burning Man.  His opinions are in no way statements of the Burning Man organization.  Contact him at Caveat (at) Burningman.com

About the author: Caveat Magister

Caveat is Burning Man's Philosopher Laureate. A founding member of its Philosophical Center, he is the author of The Scene That Became Cities: what Burning Man philosophy can teach us about building better communities, and Turn Your Life Into Art: lessons in Psychologic from the San Francisco Underground. He has also written several books which have nothing to do with Burning Man. He has finally got his email address caveat (at) burningman (dot) org working again. He tweets, occasionally, as @BenjaminWachs

75 Comments on “Why does Burning Man have no literary culture?

  • Bruno says:

    Not sure I agree. I picked up a literary magazine at Center Camp in 2012 called Kerosene that seemed to be chocked full of style that I would say is uniquely Burning Man. Not to mention the Black Rock Gazette and Black Rock Beacon. I personally spent hours reading graffiti at Wall Street, The Temple, and at the Man that I would say captures a very unique style. Key here is though, just like other forms of art at Burning Man, most of what could be called literary style in BRC is ephemeral. It is created, exists, and then becomes part of the dust, just like the rest of the best of Home.

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  • Caveat Magister says:


    If you’ve seen it, tell me what it is. What was it about Kerosene that made the writing “uniquely Burning Man.” What stylistic aspects of the the Gazette and Beacon do you see that make them stand out as distinctly Burning Man? If I wanted to imitate what they did, what would I be imitating?

    I’d also suggest that other forms of art – as aesthetics – are not ephemeral. The specific buildings at Burning Man may change from year to year, but the architectural aesthetic of Burning Man is pretty constant. Similarly, the exact costumes may change from year to year, but but aesthetic of “Burner Fashion” is pretty constant. Pictures taken at Burning Man 2012 and Burning Man 2003 still look more like each other than they do anything else on earth.

    That’s what makes an aesthetic – and it’s what I don’t think Burning Man has when it comes to literature.

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  • Jon Mitchell says:

    Great post, Caveat, and I think you nailed the problem straightaway. My friend Sarah and I tried to write a collaborative Burning Man story this year, and I think what we came up with was pretty burnerly: http://templestories.com

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  • Liz says:

    “There are exceptions, of course: if you want to see the Man burn you need to be at a particular place at a particular time. But that kind of event is a mainstay of Burner culture. What would the literary equivalent of that be?”

    If one’s goal was to create such a mainstay, the easiest would be to have a Burning Man Laureate who at a given time and place would ascend a stage and read the announcement of next years theme. You wouldn’t have to have the man base designed at that point, just an essay, or poem or whatever describing and announcing the theme.

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  • Caveat Magister says:

    But what makes that text “Burnery”? As opposed to, say, a Wall Street Journal article on Burning Man? Or is that Burnery too?

    I think the point is precisely that we’d have to create such an event: 26 years into the culture, nothing like it exists. Nor is it clear that Burners would respond to it. Nor am I sure the criteria by which a Burning Man Laureate would be established.

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  • Liz says:

    @caveat I think you nailed most of the reasons it doesn’t exist. It is inherently less visible and more personal than the art or music. But I will add one more. The sculptural art at burning man had a seed, a genesis. The man itself. People looked at that and then expanded. Fashion too. It started from sheer necessity, but now every fashion image that involves goggles is instantly recognizable as the burner look. Evolution, in this case the evolution of a new aesthetic, works fastest in small isolated populations. And that’s what early Burning Man was. A small genetic pool.

    EDM and rave culture evolved separately, but early on they found each other and formed a symbiotic relationship. They evolve together but remain separate organisms.

    For this reason, no matter what you do, literature will likely never develop that same cultural resonance, but if you really want to, it has to start somewhere, and given the size of our community now, it has to be big and official.

    How a laureate would be chosen? The same way art grants are. Applications. When aspiring laureates hear the one that was accepted, they will slightly alter their vision if they want to try again next year. As the most “fit” literature is accepted, it will evolve into an aesthetic. Whether the community accepts a laureate or not I don’t know. But come on, we’e accepted a ton of shit, incorporated it into our burn and we’re still here.

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  • _Wolf_ says:

    I think the primary reason that we can’t distinguish a burning man style of writing is that most written work that actually sees the light of day is very esoteric and people don’t know where to look for it or how to find it.
    Perhaps if someone dedicated time to review hundreds (more like thousands) of burning man literary works, they might see some writing algorithms.

    Also I think you might’ve nailed it with the “Reading and Writing aren’t really something we do at Burning Man” section

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  • Mattly says:

    Bruno mentioned the graffiti, and that’s what comes to my mind as well. Heartfelt words to lost loves. Hopes. Aspirations. Dreams. Despair. Cynicism. Occasionally a dialogue between writers. Sometimes a tapestry of ideas and words. Sometimes ramblings and drivel. Collaborative – at least the sense of finding a suitable empty space, where your words belong.

    Usually words that are given to the fire when the week ends.

    It may not always be good. But at least it’s short.

    Actually I’ve seen some pretty moving words out there. And I do think there are some common themes and styles, which make them distinct from writings one sees elsewhere. Passages tend to be short (between the heat, the exhaustion, and the infinite shiny distractions people are unlikely to craft novels in BRC), but often highly personal and reflective. Or occasionally snarky or striving for truth. http://www.flickr.com/photos/ratha/6151225637/ or http://media.portland.indymedia.org/images/2009/10/395171.jpg being two examples I could quickly find.

    I think if you’re looking for the literature of Black Rock City, look in the Temple or anywhere else with plywood and sharpies.

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  • Jon Mitchell says:

    A few things: the present tense, the multiple perspectives, but most of all, the readiness to accept the mirages and hallucinations and actual monsters as readily as the everyday people and mundane situations.

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  • Jared says:

    Caveat, Bruno hit the nail on the head but you missed it because you’ve got your modernist hat on. It’s still literature even if it’s not novel-length prose published by a respectable book publisher. The scrawlings on the Temple, the Man Base and other sculptures are the literature of Burning Man. (Aside: don’t bring art to the playa that it’s not okay to write on; writing on art is following the principles of Participation and Radical Self-Expression.) Burning Man has distinct graffiti that you won’t find anywhere else in the world.

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  • standfrog says:

    everything you need to know about burning man can be learned at urbandictionary.com

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  • JV says:

    The physical environment of the playa imposes itself on the physical art, and to a lesser extant, the music. You can’t escape it. The art installations out there look like they do out of necessity, almost. With the written word, that influence is not there.

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  • Will Chase says:

    Great post, Caveat, thank you. I’d point to two things that represent, in my mind, a literary tradition in Burning Man culture.

    One is Piss Clear, which effectively captured the Zeitgeist of what I’d call the middle years of Burning Man culture. This published-on-playa (e.g. in realtime) newspaper had a distinctive editorial style, filled with the parody, satire, pranksterism, misinformation-dressed-as-fact, bluster, bullshit and weapons-grade snark that fairly defined the 1995-2007 Burning Man era. And its issues were ultimately compiled into a compendium which makes for excellent toilet reading to this day.

    The second is the haiku. While Burners obviously didn’t invent the haiku, there was (and perhaps still is) a longstanding tradition on Burner bulletin board systems of utilizing this spare medium for expressing surrealist Zen tidbits of playa experience. I believe this is because the haiku format supports and reflects the sense of immediacy and ADD-ness of impressionist surrealism of Black Rock City.

    “What is better than sex?
    Sex on the playa,
    with a panda named Rico.”

    “how did i get here?
    the wild ride continues
    only knew i must”

    That said, I wouldn’t go as far as to say these examples are unique to the Burning Man experience (Piss Clear smells like an underground zine, after all; haikus were around well before the Man ever burned), but they certainly represent a literary tradition that is unique to the Burning Man experience. And I think that makes perfect sense, because Burning Man is the ultimate post-modernist mashup, known for taking traditional formats and constructs, sticking a fez on ’em, and making them dance to an altogether different tune.

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  • nncoco says:

    There is definitely a language of the Burner that I am aware of. Kind of a cross between New Age religion and rave goer. I’t is recognizable in the written word a poetry seen in places like the temple walls, camps, art, blogs, forums and the center camp stages.

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  • Jon Evans says:

    I think a lot of it is that literary traditions are reflective/retrospective, whereas Burning Man is a very live-in-the-moment, flash-of-satori, on-to-the-next-thing event. There’s an enormous amount of preparation and buildup for many people, of course, but there’s generally not a whole lot of looking back and/or considered reflection. (Not that there necessarily should be.)

    Also, on a more practical level, “literary culture” nowadays means stories with an “arc” (a word I kind of hate in this context, but it’s taken over) and a week-long event doesn’t give you much time for an arc.

    There are a few novels which include the event in some detail. One is by yours truly: “The Blood Price”, published by HarperCollins in the USA, now out of print, http://www.rezendi.com/bloodprice.htm . It’s a crime thriller whose last hundred pages take place at Burning Man 2003. Dann Cortez’s “The Man Burns Tonight,” another crime novel, takes place entirely at the event.

    Probably not a coincidence that they’re both crime/thriller novels. Crime is a genre accustomed to shortened timelines, so the compressed intensity of eight days in the desert seems like an advantage rather than a limitation/restriction.

    But I suspect that if and when there is such a thing as an ongoing and thriving Burning Man literary culture, it’ll mostly be flash fiction. Pardon the pun.

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  • Mitch says:

    >>>What stylistic aspects of the the Gazette and Beacon do you see that make them stand out as distinctly Burning Man? If I wanted to imitate what they did, what would I be imitating?<<<

    You'd write the truth and you'd be funny about it.

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  • Maybe there is a style that has evolved but it needs to be asked to come forth, be compiled, and examined.

    Maybe “our style” is a consciousness shift within the writer that can only be perceived by knowing previous writings compared to the devirginzed writings.

    For some of us, writing that comes during the experience or after may never be shared -especially by those that do not pursue it professionally or create it for the purpose of the BM community. Perhaps the answer hides in journals and random blogs.

    I am a writer …I would love to be in touch with any other writers that attend or have attended Burning Man.

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  • It didn’t attract much attention at the time, and I doubt it answers any of the questions posed by this present debate, but curious cats can read the results of my own collaborative writing project for 2011, First Degree Burns: Transmissions from the Playa, here —


    In a nutshell, I recruited about 40 volunteers from around the world to transport same number of notebooks out to the playa, with one and only directive: Write something and pass along. Of those 40 notebooks, about about one third of them eventually showed up in my mailbox. These I scanned into the PDF files above.

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  • Laura H says:

    This blog and subsequent comments are distinctly Burning Man. Putting its essence into a succinct written genre is impossible. That’s why I love it!

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  • nonuniform says:

    I write all the time while on the playa. I observe, talk, play, dance, and capture what seem like brief moments of truth on paper as soon as I can. You can’t plan for a style to emerge, it just does or does not. I’m in the moment at Burning Man, without a plan, or fears or expectations. I try to pour that moment into my writing while I’m there. It’s hard to let go, words and language have such structure so different than the structure supporting a sculpture, center camp or a bicycle.

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  • Schmidtty says:

    As a writer myself, I suspect that a few simple, logistical obstacles have worked to discourage the emergence of a distinct Burner literary culture. One is the difficulty of researching and writing in an environment where meeting up with people is difficult, powering up modern writing devices takes at least a little work, and the focus is on immediacy. Whereas musicians and artists generally can both produce and share their products during Burning Man, producing a written work often takes a lot more time than one can carve out during the festival, and the task is made even more difficult when the people we wish to talk to are tough to track down, or a lack of electricity or access to other modern writing tools leaves us using old-school pen-and-paper notes. (Throw in exhaustion, a loud environment, or dust storms and the task gets even harder.) Logistical obstacles also conspire to deter people from sharing written works. Whereas musicians, dancers, and sculptors can easily find large audiences just by doing what they do, sharing a written work at Burning Man requires printing it out, getting it there if it is printed out beforehand, and approaching people on an individual basis to talk them into reading it. After all that, writers can only hope that people actually read their work, which they might be unlikely to do in an environment where there is often work to be done and distractions abound. I make my living reading and writing, but I’ve actually turned down opportunities to have my company pay my expenses to report from there because writing at Burning Man seems like such a hassle, and too solitary a task to attend to in such a social environment. Reading, at any great length, anyway, also seems to me to be a distraction from the better parts of the Burning Man experience, so I don’t hold much hope of getting large numbers of Burners to take the time at Black Rock to appreciate a written work of any length much beyond a haiku. (I’ve often lamented that, romantically anyway, shitty guitarists do far better than great poets, and Burning Man seems to me to be an environment where that observation holds especially true.) None of this is to say that Burning Man cannot influence writing, but that influence generally will be diluted by the writing being done after the fact, often without immediate feedback from like-minded people who can help hone the aesthetic. I suppose we might someday see The Great American Burner Novel, but it probably be written by someone whose work on it compromised their ability to fully take in Burning Man and fully enjoy their experience there.

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  • Here’s why I think this is so. I started by thinking, what are other examples of things that (probably) couldn’t be said to have a “literary” culture and might be analogous? Well, Mardi Gras. Major music fests. Raves in general. Other art festivals. Other big outdoor gatherings. Why are there certain areas where BM has created a distinctive aesthetic? Dress, art. Why? Because the event (to a great degree) DEMANDS or at least strongly requests a distinctive style of dress and it implicitly asks for and in some cases explicitly funds sculptural or physical art that has to meet the demands or expectations of a particular place or audience. However, no one is asking or demanding that anyone write anything at or about Burning Man. (Though I found in 2003 when I was writing notes toward my book THIS IS BURNING MAN out on open playa off esplanade on a manual typewriter, people did get very interested.) However, I also found a great deal of HOSTILITY openly expressed (less when I was actually doing it, more when talking about it elsewhere) toward the idea of writing at or about the experience—people thought it detracted from immediacy or sold out the community or whatever. These are some steps toward an explanation.

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  • Shenanigans says:

    This one time at Burning Man, there was a heated discussion in camp about the dominant literary style in our community. We decided that the personal narrative dominated, not only because the playa is such a ripe ground for creating stories, but also because personal narrative resonates best with the principles. An environment that encourages a high level of participation and personal involvement tends to push people to being far more involved in their own stories than we are used to. We do, create, and participate at a level that other environments don’t encourage, and then we tell stories about it.
    Obviously it’ll never be distinctly ours, as it’s a universal style, but it is something we all recognise and accept as ours.

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  • Grasshopper says:

    Great post, as always, Caveat. I agree there is no writing style unique to Burning Man, but there’s certainly a style I can expect to find more often than not, at least when we’re talking about more academic works: post-modernism. Prior to the 2011 burn, I read “After Burn: Reflections on Burning Man” by Lee Gilmore and other academics, with numerous passages like: “Postmodernism as a literary arena tends to question the authority of science, rationalism, and technology, and in turn the form of the economy, leadership, and bureaucracy built upon them.” I’ve read similar statements by Larry Harvey and in other books about Burning Man. This worldview builds upon the New Age mystical outlook shared by many camps and participants at Burning Man, and it’s not surprising it’s become part of the writings. It’s not an outlook I share. I love Burning Man in spite of it, for all its whimsey, absurdity and fun, and opportunity to connect and relate with strangers in a way that’s hard to do elsewhere. Like others, I’ve written about my burns, and shared with maybe 15-20 friends, my personal, analytical account of all its beauty and horrors.

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  • Stiltbat says:

    I feel like we make our own. Does this count? (The libretto for “How To Survive the Apocalypse: A Burning Opera” …home grown literature.)

    check it out at http://bit.ly/Y2aBrW Here’s an example:


    It used to be a desert out here
    A low rent look of khaki
    Denim and scruff
    But then the drag queens came
    And fabulosity reigned
    Feather boas and parasols
    Lingerie and stilettos
    Rubber thongs and vermilion lace
    Perversion and grace

    Leopard stockings and Chinese robes
    A menagerie of cheap shades
    Bones in your nose
    You know anything goes out here
    Anything goes out here

    Purple pudenda and dangling dongs
    Hippie dippy beads and formal gowns
    Thigh high boots and fairy wings
    Playboy robes and vinyl skirts
    So short they lift on their own
    Red hot panties on Santa Claus
    A strap-on for Jesus H. Christ

    Accessories for the body and mind
    So the body won’t mind you at all
    Accessories for the body and mind
    So the body won’t mind you at all

    Every man and woman
    Every guy and girl
    And tranny and tomboy
    And oldster running wild
    Is a blinky blinky star
    Strutting out on this dusty stage
    Shining out from this dusty stage

    Inside is out, outside is in
    The costume that you wear
    Is your marvelous, ridiculous,
    maniacal, lascivious, ostentatious
    dreamtime skin

    A romper room of mystics out here
    Aliens, angels, and beasts
    Devils and gods
    Halloween for the horny and high
    And fabulously hot
    Porn clowns and bunny boys
    Pirates, vampires, cupcakes
    From the heights of freakiness
    You have reached into the breach
    You as you never have been
    Cause you’ll never really know who you really are
    Til you manifest your avatar
    Every man and woman
    Every guy and girl
    And tranny and tomboy
    And oldster running wild
    Is a blinky blinky star
    Shining out in this dusty void
    Calling out from this dusty void
    Inside is out, outside is in
    The costume that you wear
    Is your marvelous, ridiculous,
    maniacal, lascivious, ostentatious dreamtime skin
    ~Erik Davis

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  • Bonjour la familia, je suis Claude, je vis en france et j’ai reconnu LA GRANDE FOULE de “burning man”. Ce message est destiné à ceux et celles qui auront la volonté de le traduire. Je souhaite vous faire part de ma vision des choses, il y a plusieurs années, suite à des événements mystiques Chrétiens qu’il serait trop long de raconter ici, il m’a été montré une GRANDE FOULE ARC-EN-CIEL qui part en caravane à travers le monde pour une DERNIERE tentative de sauvetage de cette humanité abîmé. J’ai reconnu cette foule en france et dans d’autres pays, je pense que VOUS EN FAITES PARTIE. Si des personnes souhaitent avoir des informations plus précises sur cet événement, qu’ils me contactent via facebook.
    frère Claude

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  • ren ster says:

    I’ve thought a lot about this. I’m in editing with a book about education and Burning Man that I’ll be publishing soon.

    People don’t go to Burning Man to read. Greater diversity is possible in written expression, so I wouldn’t expect a particular aesthetic to emerge, and publishing is cut-throat–few mainstream writers get read. The advent of self-publishing changes that, and self-publishing is growing in legitimacy among established authors. Book publishing is worse for artists than the music industry in terms of support and revenues.

    Playa art has a personal elements that speak to off-playa experiences, so I don’t feel a Burner writer should necessarily have to write about Burning Man to be a Burner author. It becomes Burning Man art by virtue of being in Black Rock City. If Burning is an attitude with an accompanying set of values, if something’s written by a Burner as a means of self-expression, I believe that makes it Burner writing. It just doesn’t port well to the playa.

    My big dream is to run a company that gifts aggregate publishing services to Burner writers of any genre, any stories, playa-themed or no. To provide a place of support for writing as an art form for our peeps. We’ll see. =)

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  • Roissy says:

    “Why are there certain areas where BM has created a distinctive aesthetic? Dress, art. Why? Because the event (to a great degree) DEMANDS or at least strongly requests a distinctive style of dress”

    I disagree the event demands demands the distinctive style that is so prevalent…
    Truthfully, a lot of the participants are “followers” and they dress in a way in order to easily fit in. About 20% is unique, but even they have morphed into a “burner style”.
    I would agree about the music, I have not heard anything interesting since Dub Step came to the Playa. (BMIR is perfect example, everything I hear is the same stuff I hear on the outside.)
    I for one strive in both my style of dress and my five hour DJ set, to play something you will not hear anywhere else on Playa.

    As far as having a literary culture at Burning Man, the event is so visual. If one was to pause in order to write, you would be missing what you should be writing about. It is a lot like bringing a television on playa…
    This have given me a few ideas for a future art project…

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  • Peter Madden says:

    I think we have reached a point in our general American culture (outside of BRC) where reading has become less important. Why read a newspaper article when I can read it online…why read an article online when I can watch a video of it…why watch a video when I can receive a text with an article summary.

    When people dont read then writing cant develop.

    If BM had attracted journalists or librarians when it started to develop then things might be different but it attracted artists. Visual is so much easier. Yes, there is a great deal of enjoyment reading a compelling story of say, a “giant metal dragon chasing people and spewing fire in a display that lights up the night sky in a way that is both spectacular and horrifying.” However it tends to be much more satisfying to actually see it…especially as it is rolling across BRC…being chased by several other dragons, a fish and several large cupcakes.

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  • Aitch says:

    Writers are artist Too! Burning Man is a festival about the senses so writers go there to do what they are supposed to do there. You don’t go to a Reggae concert and question the lack of there being a proper representation of a new Pop Act. Stay your course “Burning Man” you start to loose your footing, you start to loose yourself.

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  • Mitch says:

    This is a lot of misinformation, even by Burning Man standards.

    1. The Black Rock Beacon has been publishing at least five issues a year in Black Rock City since 2005, and the Black Rock Gazette, effectively its predecessor, began in 1992. So when you say “Reading and Writing aren’t really something we do at Burning Man” who do you mean by “we”?

    2. There have been other on-Playa publications: The Shroom, Spock Science Monitor, a few others. (For the record: PissClear was never, ever, not once, written or printed at Burning Man though lots of people read it — and current read its reincarnation, the Weekly, there).

    3. Publishing a paper from scratch at Burning Man — or anywhere — is a massively collaborative effort.

    4. As Schmidtty says, there are logistical obstacles, and as Brian Doherty (nice book) implies but seems not to know, these obstacles form the basis of Burner literature as it has been practiced for two decades. The Beacon is researched on Playa by people who GO TO WHERE THE INFORMATION IS AND ASK QUESTIONS, just like writers used to do 150 years ago. We bring “modern” writing tools (Apple G3 computers, mainly, very sturdy model) and electricity is provided by generator. We have a distribution staff that circulates the paper throughout the city in the mornings, and hundreds of Burners come to our camp to pick up some of the thousands of copies of each issue that we print. We have no trouble convincing people to read the paper, and we see them doing so and then read about it on the Internet when we get home.

    The environment makes demands that shape the newspaper: It’s one tabloid page a day (cost, weight, printing difficulties) and both to accommodate an interesting diversity of articles and to match the typical Playa attention span, articles are short, usually no more than 350 words and often much less. A long newspaper article typically runs 1000 words. We run a large number of photos and illustrations, since Black Rock City is a visual place. We strive to be fair but snarky, in part because that’s what plays on the Playa, but also because sometimes we get annoyed.

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  • Nick/Wolfeye says:

    Thank you Caveat for the provocative post as well as the many responses. As both a photographer and writer, I appreciate all of the comments. Perhaps this helps explain why I’ve had some difficulty getting writers to contribute to the photo books I am creating. See “Burners Portrait Book” on Facebook.

    As for a literary “style”, I think Shenanigans & Grasshopper’s are espically relevant. The experiences each of us have at the burn appear to be so individualistic, overwhelming and compacted into an intense week that it is no wonder that a unified literary voice is not yet recognizable. Burning Man is a fractal adventure with few connected elements beyond the 10 principles. And, it does fit into a post-authoritarian milieu that self-consciously tries to reject past modes of thinking and behavior.

    Thus, it is not surprising that the best writing I’ve seen focuses on the unique experiences of burners telling their stories in their own raw voices.

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  • Ellie says:

    Dude… on the Burning Blog even.

    The literary culture comes mostly in the form of personal narratives and technical papers shared on the internet. Not exactly a traditional format for a literary culture, granted, but still a thriving one. Kind of nerdy. And there are the writings that are actively published on playa.

    But even then, there are print writers who go to burning Man and either write about Burning Man or things that are inspired by Burning Man, Cory Doctrow and that dude from the SF Chronicle immediately come to mind.

    Doctrow writes a sort of mix between cyber punk, but more contemporary with and equal amount of hardware hacking for good measure. Stephen T. Jones writes personal anecdotes/stories of happenings for SF Gate, which hosts the articles of several journalists who attend the even. Another, probably more esoteric format you’d occasionally see are the personal manifestos of artists, which often included enough multi-media that you might gloss over the written bits, but they’re there.

    There are even formats and stylistic cues that I’ve come to expect from the literary tradition:

    1. Most usually start off with, ‘One time in 2009…’ or ‘Last year at Burning Man I…’

    2. Snark is mixed with helpful advice in equal measure. Dirty limericks seem to be the preferred poetic device.

    3. It’s either a story about something gross/difficult that happened to you or includes technical advice, presumably to avoid the former sort of tale.

    4. Might conclude with a better thing that happened in subsequent years or with the phrase, ‘Next year I’ll…’

    5. Is meant to be read as a parable or lesson.

    6. Is generally very matter of fact, and focused in the present tense.

    7. Might just be written on a wooden platform. Or in a port-a-potty. Often embodied in the most ephemeral of forms.

    I suppose you could call that ‘not a literary tradition of Burning Man’ because the writing usually doesn’t happen on the playa, but then, most of the work that goes into the art doesn’t happen on the playa either. I suppose if you’re looking for the philosophical navel-gazing of typical writers, you won’t find those either. This is a literary tradition that speaks from a voice outside the head.

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  • Some Seeing Eye says:

    Burningman participants are largely drawn from a post literary culture.

    The event has had little to no impact on visual art or architecture. The only exception would be to revive geodesic domes enough for them to enter the electronic dance festival culture then be used at events like E3. And just because people photograph the event does not mean that the event has had any impact on photographic aesthetics.

    The event impact on fashion has primarily been in costuming for film, television and gaming, in the post apocalyptic, scifi and fantasy realms. That is because it’s a common vacation in the industry, and industry people know where to look for post event photographs. Increasingly they can bypass BM for open source curation via Pinterest.

    The event has had an impact on the Bay area Tech industry culture. Musicians like the Mutatyor and Bassnectar have gotten a start from BM audiences on the West Coast. BM itself has been highly influenced by Potlatch, The Suicide Club, Cacaphony and follow-ons. The event is a pretty good representation of ostentatious material waste in service of a temporary city, remote camping and ritual which thankfully hasn’t spread. And of course BM is a business. I have seen it’s business model copied.

    There is plenty of creativity and there are plenty of creative people in the world changing it every day. BM is not the center of the creative universe, but it is a creative vacation for a very small number of creative influencers.

    I think of the event as a tool, not a culture.

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  • Bruno says:

    Caveat, if I were going to put a label on it I guess I would call it equal parts jack-assery, irony, first-person narrative, sometimes heart wrenching honesty, mostly irreverent and, well, relevant to the context within which it was conceived. The thing about burning man literary aesthetic, if there even is such a thing, is that it first has to exist within burning man. It’s like this… I picked up a flyer in a “free gifts” mailbox at a camp that included a coupon for a free beverage at center camp, compliments of the BMORG for fucking up the ticket situation in 2012. Brilliant! Everyone fell for it because of its immediacy and because all of us felt it. Yes it was a joke, but I kept the damn thing because it was awesome and because it pissed off everyone who picked it up thinking it would work and everyone at Center Camp who kept receiving the damn things not knowing what to do with them. Or the “Lost Cat” poster at Arctica, which everyone figured was a joke because everyone knows that pets aren’t allowed at BM, but turned out to be real because someone smuggled in a cat and then lost it. But it’s also the “graffiti” in the temple from a burner who wrote something along the lines of ‘fuck you! I came here to find myself and all I got was pregnant!’. So I don’t know, maybe we don’t have an aesthetic but more of a cohesive theme. That much said, it sure would be fun to witness someone electing a poet laureate of BM 2013. My personal vote goes to the anonymous and unrecognized Port-a-Potty-Poets whose very genre goes against the rule of defacing commercial property at a decommodified event. There’s enough irony there for a book in and of itself!

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  • Grasshopper says:

    There’s definitely a variety of writing and styles of writing at and about Burning Man, but I think that was Caveat’s main point, as I took it. The Beacon reads like a newspaper. What was formerly Piss Clear is snark. Caveat is his own thing. Lots of different writing, but read a few lines at random from any of them and there’s nothing that screams Burning Man. Not so with aesthetics. If you see someone waiting at the airport, there are some who are clearly going to Burning Man. There’s art that just a brief glance and you think that looks like something that belongs at Burning Man.

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  • Ali Baba says:

    I’ll second Mitch’s point,

    So when you say “Reading and Writing aren’t really something we do at Burning Man” who do you mean by “we”?

    I would think that a Media Mecca volunteer would meet quite a few writers.

    Full disclosure: I’ve volunteered for the Beacon and Gazette myself, for many years. I’ve seen a LOT of reading and writing, from that position.

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  • Rat Lady says:

    There are the beginnings of a Burning Man Culture of writing, abet a gifting one. For many, many years there was a Bookmobile at BM dispensing free books.
    I myself have personally brought a BookCrossing Zone to BM in 2011 and 2012 again, offering free books for the taking. I have been gifted books at BM each year as well. BookCrossing itself is very much in line with a “gifting ” economy. (see bookcrossing(dot)com
    The newspapers available on playa have been mentioned already, but they also represent the art of writing. Even something as simple as the census involves setting things down on paper!
    As far as writing, I believe part of the problem is that word artists are hesitant to write something that will be sold about BM, as that is counter to the 10 principals. Art from BM can be used for financial gain after the event (if it isn’t burnt) but books? I’m not sure they would be looked at as an artists “intellectual property” when sold on the open market. (photography Books and Art books have been exempted from those rules in the past)

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  • Jack Trash says:

    Let’s start with a koan:

    “What is the style of one Burner writing?”

    I say this so that I can understand the breakdown of your question. Writing is a solitary effort, not really conducive to a collective project. We could also ask why is there no distinctive painting style that has come out of BM, or particular dance move. These are very individualistic and quite personal.

    Also, I think all of us special snowflakes would shake off as annoying any comments such as “Hey, you write like someone who goes to BM” and would probably try to edit the style to hide it.

    Plus, any attempt to write fiction about the event lends itself to the “so incredible it must be true!” paradox that cheapens any serious use of the event as a backdrop. However, I do think there is a great “Columbo”-like TV episode where the tenacious detective finally finds out who left the cooler lid open when everyone left camp…”Ahhh, and one more question, if I may…”

    Now, this leads us to another koan: “What was the original playa smell, before anyone was there to smell it?”

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  • Drew says:

    I am a six year veteran Burner. Not a day in the default world went by between year one and six that I didn’t try to tell the exuberant story of Burning Man, my story, at least. This past year, year six, for reasons I won’t go into here, my experience changed. The playa began to turn against me, and me against it. The people, the noise, the elements, the music, the art- everything that is that once excited me, now repelled me. On a warm Thursday morning, two days before the Man would burn, sitting around with camp mates who did not know their existence was irritating me to no end, I stopped myself. I realized that if I did not change my mindset that I would leave on Sunday hating the fact I gave up six years of my life…for what? In that instance I decided to write my thoughts down. I have been known to make my living writing. Some of my words have actually been published for people other than my mother to enjoy. It never occurred to me, ever, in my six years, that Burning Man would be anything more than my own private journey (you thought I was going to write ‘Idaho,’ right?!). It never occurred to me that I would want to share in writing what Burning Man has been to me, has meant to me, has done to me. If any one reading this actually cares, a full length play will soon be complete that might see the light of day in or around Los Angeles. Then the world, of course. (Keep your eyes on the LA Burning Man Facebook page) Anyone who knows my work will attest to its relative literary quality, and the style is unique to me. I guess that’s ‘a’ legacy, if not ‘the’ legacy of the literary culture of Burning Man.

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  • Drew says:

    PS- in 2011 when the theme was “Rites of Passage,” each day and night I dressed in all white and gifted permanent markers for people to use at their discretion on my clothing. The markers had printed on them, “Write a Passage.”

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  • Parker East says:

    The things that make a text ‘burnery’ as in the Beacon or Piss Clear or (possibly as I haven’t read it) Kerosene, is more than just the ol’ pornographic eye test, although that shouldn’t be forgotten:

    1) complete disregard for the fourth wall

    2) lack of functional fixedness

    3) adherence to the ten principles (this is something that floats under the surface, generally, and may be almost unnoticeable to someone who lives them on a daily basis around like minded people)

    4) libertine sensibilities

    5) attempts to engage the reader -Actively- in a process of discovery/evolution, often by using experimental literary techniques

    6) disrespect for hierarchical realities (privileging waking life over dreams, imagination, myth, etc.)

    7) Why don’t you go drink some water.

    Have some haikus (from 2011’s Rites of Passage:)

    doorway cusp of home
    pass this child to freedom’s door
    golden ticket bliss

    first time’s virginal
    second’s all that hear the call
    safety third motherfucker

    journey’s start long past,
    lay asleep through lives piled high
    final passage key

    man on fire seeks same
    for el wire lit playa walks
    you are matchmaker

    Larry Harvery writes:
    ticket price too high this year
    must busk haiku fare

    each year a yardstick
    hopes evolving, cities, pass
    new initiate

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  • kay says:

    Well….PissClear was definitely and example of Burning Man literary culture.
    I have a book of all of them that were published and they are hilarious…

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  • Jan Ellison says:

    Maybe Burning Man doesn’t need a literary culture. I’m a writer. I thought I might write a bit at Burning Man, or at least after Burning Man about the experience. Two years in, one short poem. That’s it. Reading meaningful writing meaningfully takes focus and time and concentration, which in my case felt in short supply at Burning Man, even though unlike in my everyday life, I had nobody to take care of but myself. Writing something takes even more time and focus and attention. I didn’t want to have to concentrate so hard; I didn’t want to live the way I normally do; once for real, and a second time trying to re-capture the experience in words. I have a friend who wrote a chapter of her novel on a white unitard as one of her Burning Man costumes; I didn’t even have the concentration to read a single sentence (even the one printed on her gorgeous chest.)

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  • durgy says:

    Et tu, PQ? I’ve always viewed my participation in on-playa publication as my art and gift to the community (drink). We’ve given you a real-time chronicling of the event and have played playfully even accepting volunteers (sometimes first-timers) off the street and widened the circle. The discounting of my art project since 2001 is like a swift kick to the jimmies. You can search black rock gazettes on this Burning Man site and also see what has been published since 2005 at blackrockbeacon(dot)org.

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  • I have written while at Burning Man and I have encountered amazing writing (thank you Bookmobile!), but I’ve never felt part of a community of writers. I think there may be ways to encourage such a community to develop.

    Thoughts on the problem: Writers who come from a similar school don’t all sound alike or have the same voice, but they tend to touch on overlapping themes, inhabit overlapping worlds, tackle overlapping struggles. Writers must read and respond to one another to form a community and this takes time. To build a robust writing culture, you need more than a week in the desert. You need infrastructure, prolonged effort. Or do you?

    Opportunities abound!

    * Flash fiction and timed writing is a great way to write together and get to know people in a hurry.

    * Writing workshops: Anyone who cares about writing and knows how to do it well could hold a workshop or a critique session. I’ve done this professionally and I can’t believe I’ve never thought about doing it at Burning Man before. Aha!

    * Writing camps? A camp to celebrate writing and reading could be totally awesome.

    The answer is simple: Community. The key to building community: All of us who care have to do it.

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  • Short story: (TL; DR.)
    I produced, and tried to display (in ’12) a rather literary piece (a faux art tour of the playa gallery, woven from two dozen signs each with at-Burn-written text) , but was prohibited from placing the piece by the Artery.

    I ask: does Burning Man culture value the commentary that literary works provide… or perhaps impose?

    Long story:
    I attempted a distinctly literary art piece this year, but was denied — one might say censored — by the Artery, or more particularly, by the Artery Vandalism Policy.

    I, with Gregor Talbot, built about 2 dozen rather nice metal signs from angle iron; they were shadow boxes about 3′ off the ground, 16″ x 9″, backlit (solar powered), and playa-safe. (I’ve worked on a many an installation piece — most notably the giant Rubik’s Cube from 2009; this was not a careless effort!) This project took hundreds of hours, and cost several thousand dollars.

    My plan was to find art pieces I found moving or notable, write text of which perhaps Swift (or at least Kokopelli!) would be proud, placing the signs with the text, heat transfered onto polycarbonate, along side the artworks, and in so doing fashion a faux art tour through the gallery that is our playa.

    Through a variety of plot twists I shan’t bore you with, this was deemed on Tuesday during the ’12 burn, by the Artery, all the way up to Bettie June, in violation of the “Vandalism” policy, and that unless I had permission from the artist, they would be removed. (Regardless of what each sign said.)

    I respect the Artery; it is their art show. I question in this case if the application of said Vandalism Policy (which is written down… where?) is in accordance with the principals of immediacy, participation, radical self expression and communal effort.

    Art deserves to be protected from harm. Is commentary harm?

    Art should be presented in the form intended, unless that is, say, stifling to other princples. Any visual disturbance would be far less than the background or a single bicycle in the foreground.

    As for conceptual disturbance… well, this is to the heart of this discussion. We have such a limited time to comment on, engage with, play with, absorb, interact, and otherwise BE with the art at the burn. I feel fairly strongly that culturally we should err on the side of more interaction, more commentary, more participation — not a carefully curated display, strangely constrained by Default World precepts.

    With the art gone, what mechanisms have we for building on the intellectual and conceptual tradition? Should we be looking to expand such, rather than such them down?

    This is one data point, perhaps insightful, to our lack of literary culture.

    Your thoughts are welcome.

    Barry Brumitt
    barryb at big surprise gmail dot com

    ps. What to do now with the 700lbs of signs I have?

    pps. Here is the text from one sign, included here to give the sense of what ABRACSIS (the Association of Black Rock Art Curators, Sign-makers, and Sigilists) was all about; this was to be placed in front of the Bull, a core art project located around 1 o’clock:

    Recent years have shown the complexity and unexpected behavior possible in world economic markets. The bull is a visual representation of the fiscal optimism so prevalent in the typical Burning Man attendee.

    Climbing from the ground like the prototypical up-and-to-the-right graph, the bull is the harbinger of wealth to chartists worldwide.

    Closer inspection, however, reveals that the apparent granite composition of the piece is but distressed wood: dry and insubstantial, ready, nay, even specifically designed for ignition.

    The paradox is thus laid: hordes of wealthy folk celebrating a coming return to prosperity at a hideously expensive event, further emboldened by this, a “solid” emblem of prosperity, destined, but days hence, for ashes.

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  • Franko says:

    like all koans, it’s simple, really: burning man isn’t a literary culture because we’ve actively cultivated the culture of *experiencing it*: YOU JUST GOTTA LIVE IT. writing about it doesn’t quite capture it.

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  • heatherly says:

    In general, Burning Man begs participation, and writing tends to be a solitary and *reflective* process, rather than a participatory one. I’ve written for a publication on-playa before, and sometimes I journal or write poetry out there. While the act of submitting my writing is participatory, the act of writing itself is about stopping my interactions with the outer world and engaging in my inner one. As such, writing has not become a major facet of the bman culture because it’s not something we partake of together on playa. It’s not a shared experience. Exceptions include graffiti and other forms of public writing mentioned upthread. These work precisely because they are not “literary.” That is to say, they don’t refer to the art of written work. They are experiential in nature. Taken out of the context of their native place and time, they become photos, artifacts, relics– reflections of experiences and imaginings, rather than the physical manifestations of these. Also, reading and writing are both very difficult when you’re high as balls and a little drunk and haven’t slept in 4 days and it’s hard to sit still and your eyeballs are swimming with dust. The physical/chemical environment lends itself to quick blurbs like haiku and slogan-graffiti.

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  • Parker East says:


    I think that is seriously underestimating the power of the literary format.

    Have you ever heard of fluxkits?

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  • Zvisuscrisis says:

    My first experience of Burningman WAS literary, reading the signs on the way in. But you’re right. That type of experience usually ends at the gate.

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  • It didn’t attract much attention at the time, and I doubt it answers many of the questions posed by this debate, but curious cats might be interested to see the results of my collaborative writing project from 2011, First Degree Burns: Transmissions from the Playa.

    Basically, I recruited about 40 volunteers from around the world to transport same number of notebooks out to the playa, all with one directive: Write something and pass along. Of those 40 notebooks, about about a third of them eventually showed up in my mailbox, the contents of which I scanned into PDF files. Drawings, stories, poems, chili stains — you name it, it’s in there!

    Anyway, I’d post the links, but there are 7 total and that’s about 6 too many if I read the forum guidelines correctly. If anyone would like to see them, just holler at arthur (dot) graham (dot) pub (at) gmail (dot) com.

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  • Back in 2003 I became captivated by the idea that Wallace Stevens’ poem “The Palm at he End of the Mind” captured the essence of the theme concept – The Realm of the Wholly Other – and HAD to be there on playa…. This led to a rather ill-fated but fun installation. The story can be found at http://www.sharktown.com/burningman03b/html. From there you can click on a link to the resulting correspondence with Lady Bee, which may be sort-of illuminating. (:o)

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  • Mesmera says:

    As an author of five published novels, I’ve participated on the Word Stage in Center Camp. For the Metropolis theme I read from a novel in progress THE LAST HOTEL about a residential hotel in NYC 1979. These readings are never publicized and have an audience of whoever happens to around, awake or asleep. I would like to participate in creating a more cohesive literary community.

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  • Parker East says:

    Perhaps this discussion is just neglecting the oral aspect of our word based culture. These oral tradition are the roots of modern literary culture.

    The Burning Man oral tradition is strong (and girthy.) Almost any repeat offender can relate to the process of settling in / adjusting to the playa’s social atmosphere each year. This is largely because there is a strong and idiosyncratic style to Burning Man’s oral communication tradition.

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  • jemetzger says:

    I hoped to participate in an open mic at center camp, to share my own readings and ruminations, but the scheduling fell away and I was pushed back more than once. Hardly a surprise. I went to deliver mail and never made it back and shrugged off my later “performance” time.

    In most instances, the mic was given over to music.

    I’ve never met a writer who was a writer.

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  • Michael Ernest says:

    I’ve only been to one Burn to date. I can’t say I saw, heard, felt, smelled, tasted, or sensed anything to make me wonder why there wasn’t some written imprint of the experience too.

    But I think I’d go to Center Camp for an open mike session or two and hear what people are trying to capture in words about it and see if it makes me wonder why there isn’t more of that too.

    At least so long as it doesn’t cut into my playing in the dirt time or regress into writer’s workshop shtuff. Get enough of that on the rest of the planet.

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  • Hi Caveat–

    So glad you’ve brought up this topic. I’m the organizer of the magazine, KEROSENE, that was mentioned in an early comment on this post. KEROSENE is, essentially, collaborative writing. Although each person wrote his or her own story or poem, for me as the organizer, the real beauty of it was how these many stories illuminated each other collectively. KEROSENE was uncurated–fully inclusive, anyone who offered a piece was published. At first I (and some others) were worried we’d just get a mishmash and a lot of junk. But as things revealed themselves, it was the mix that was truly interesting. KEROSENE was offered as a magazine but also as a literary kiosk at Center Camp. The kiosk was there 24/7 so anyone could read it. People were also asked to write new pieces and offer them through a mail chute in the kiosk (I was supposed to create a KEROSENE supplement with them and have been lazy about getting it together). And there was a web posting of KEROSENE, although in a difficult format that I wish I had done differently. Wanna see? Go to http://www.brcnyc.com/kerosene.html

    Was there a specific “Burner” writing style? Nope, I really don’t think so. And shit, I sure wouldn’t want that, either. When we all start to sound like each other, then I think things start to suck. Plus, is there *really* a Burner art style? The art projects run the gamut–for instance, what is similar about the zip tie project that the German newbies brought to the play in 2012 and, let’s say, the giant Kokopelli construction that was the New Mexico 2012 CORE project? Or the small fire-breathing metal dragon robot that I saw attached to the top of a gate at a camp on Esplanade and, for instance, the giant octagula star built out of wood by Philly Burners for their CORE project? Maybe snark is a Burner writing style but if so, let’s let it die a simple death.

    Because I was creating KEROSENE, I heard about more of the literary things going on at the Burn. People were offering writing workshops and readings around the playa. Although I didn’t see any libraries on the playa in 2012, I saw two in 2011. The most incredible Burner literary art in 2012 were the Captain’s Logs on the pirate ship. I took the time to sit down and read them cover to cover. They were beautiful and well worth the time. Sure, people were outside dancing under the burning sun, but inside the ship, it was quiet and shady as I read. People thought I was a mannequin as I sat so still, and they took pictures of me and were shocked when I moved. A little boy told me his grandfather told him that if you read too much, your head will fall off and he wanted to sit around and watch me read to see if mine did. I call this Burner literary culture!

    One things about literary projects is that Burning Man Org doesn’t fund literary magazines or printing projects the way they do art projects… and it’s expensive to print. I definitely think they should rethink that policy. I offered KEROSENE in three formats–printed, kiosk and website. This year, as I’m poor, if I do KEROSENE at all, I’ll do the kiosk and webbie and save money on printing (even though it really was a beautiful printed book).

    As for KEROSENE, I thought it made a very small splash at the Burn in 2012 and, since I’m not even sure I’m going this year, I’ve held off on putting out a 2013 call for writing. But this conversation is heartening. I do think KEROSENE needs to keep going–not just in 2013 but for many years to come. Then Burning writing will develop. I’d love to communicate with anyone on Burning writing. ESPECIALLY, IF YOU’D LIKE TO TALK ABOTU HOW TO GET KEROSENE BACK TO THE PLAYA IN 2013 (possibly without me being physically present) I WOULD LOVE TO TALK TO YOU: KeroseneKrew@gmail.com.

    That aside, if we want Burning writing to grow, then we need to talk. Thanks so much, Caveat, for getting the conversation going in a good public venue.

    Dusty hugs,

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  • Steaze McGee says:

    There are a few hardships in writing about Burning Man. Faulkner once said that every novel must have conflict. Truthfully there is not much conflict at festivals… on the surface. I know many of us realize that the celebration of life and seeing the world as a festive environment can greatly change the way the world works through changing perspective. For this reason the festival is the solution for many, and in being that we discover a way to solve all problems away from the playa. The playa and the occurrences on it can even be the tip of movement if you like, the higher lifted and light layers which lack the weight of what Burning Man attempts to solve within it. It does not have within it is poverty, hunger, and suffering (though it does have love pangs). Again this all does not occur because these things are not allowed to enter the small time at Burning Man. Well done people.

    That being said, I am sure that there are many who think or even are working on writings. A great novel, a philosophical inquiry into the way of life, a cultural masterpiece may even be in the works, but for it to have any real literary power it must look at the question of conflict and ask what conflicts does Burning Man have and approach.

    One last tid bit. The people of Burning Man and the world will love a piece of literature, because 40+ weeks of the year we are not at Burning Man. As we know the culture and presence of Burning Man is not only on the playa, it is at our homes, our parties, it is in our dreams and permeates through our entire consciousness. With time a literary work and maybe a few will arise each as unique as the countless experiences on the playa.

    Enjoy the Day,
    Cherish the Night

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  • Jess says:

    I believe the children of Black Rock City will create the literary culture, if they haven’t already. Those Burners born into the culture, who have visited BRC every year of their lives, will write the novels.

    I imagine a ‘Catcher in the Rye’ set in our ephemeral desert city. It may be a scathing critique of the old order, the expression of a rebellion against the Burning Man culture represented by the founding generation (Larry Harvey, et al).

    Caveat, look to the under 20 crowd, your friends’ kids, and you may be pleasantly surprised at what they are creating.

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  • Grasshopper says:

    Now I’m thinking that Burning Man does have a literary culture, a social, evolving part of what makes it what it is. There’s the 10 principles, BM newspapers distributed on playa, this blog, eplaya, books and articles, shared personal writings, etc. Writing may not be the first thing most people, including most burners, think of when they think of Burning Man, but it’s there and it’s important to the experience for those of us who write and read. As I said, I don’t see a unifying style, but that’s not surprising. Our writing style develops long before we’ve heard of Burning Man and that style likely continues largely unchanged as we start attending burns. As part of a shared experience, writings may share similar topics, jokes, concerns, etc., that may be relatable to other burners. There’s also a style difference in forums (eplaya, books, etc.) but it can all rightly be considered part of Burning Man’s literary culture.

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  • Dr. Realz says:

    I think burning man dose have a literary culture it just dose not, as of yet, have a place to show case it. I see bits and pieces of literature here and their. Here are a couple of poems for your amusement.

    Deep playa plunge

    Be careful in the deep playa, something has been awakened
    It was the middle of the night and my mind was altered
    With the energy of the evening pounding
    Foolishly I decided to do a deep playa plunge
    I hit the esplanade then passed the man
    The music, lights, and art slowly settled behind me
    My two wheels floating me into the abyss
    I raced on to parts of the playa that few go
    How far out was I one mile, two?
    The darkness spilled out before me
    The tone of the night still playing in my head
    Suddenly the wind started molesting me with it’s dirty fingers
    Then the sand reached up and grabbed my tires
    I fell over and when I arose I could see it… off in the distance…something?
    What is that?
    The soiled wind shielded it from me
    Is that art? Or… my mind and eyes strained
    The wind shifted and I could see it was moving in a ghostly way
    I looked around for others…only darkness
    It suddenly turned and started to move towards me
    As if.. as if it sensed my presence
    I felt a primal fear, something is wrong
    I tried to ride away but the playa keep griping my tire and the wind pushing me down
    Closer and closer it came I could feel it’s presents
    After I hit the ground the third time I rolled over and looked up
    It loomed over me
    It reached down and grabbed me
    I tried to get away but to no avail
    Like the terrible beast it was it devoured me whole
    I had confronted my own reality

    By Dr. Realz

    Stay dusty

    To all the virgins who have been de-flowers
    To all the one two and long timers who have been re-dusted
    you got your kicks your fix, your attitude recomplexed
    You will try to explain to others
    but unless they have been they just won’t get
    not a spectator but part
    we build nothing from not
    what proof do we have?
    we burnt all art!
    did that really happen!
    let’s go back and see..
    sorry you will just have to wait another year to be
    keep dusty bitches

    Dr. Real’z

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  • Bonanza says:

    I think of Burning Man as having a literary element. Like many who have already posted I see the graffiti on the Temple to be a form of our collective story, and one that literally burns and gets released back into nothing. Is the burning of our collectively written book (the man, the temple, etc.) not an intense statement? If book burning is meant to destroy knowledge is our act then possibly finding empowerment and knowledge through the immediacy of life and not through others words? An interesting thing for me to ponder.

    Also, if the emerging form of Burning Man literature is experienced like we experience the playa, is it possible that we would not notice the difference and only outsiders would see?

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  • seth fried says:

    Great question that opens the doors inside. But right here, on this comment page– behold the writing! How we write 2013. The writing of the posts here and the various opinons and insights are the parts that equal the sum of social media literary work. I make my living writing advertising. I also write my personal work. For me, the visual, the image is more potent than language. Language is becoming, in some ways, obsolete–or at least evolving. And there are all types of language-visual, cinematic language, musical language. It’s extremely, extremely hard to capture a mind changing, consciousness elevator like Burning Man–because it’s a state of mind and states of mind are just hard to present That’s why most films that try, say, to capture the previous eras, the 50’s Beats, 60’s, just come off corny. The only person in my opinion who did capture the 60’s mind/consciousness renovation was Tom Wolfe in Electric Kool Aid Acid Test. But he did it cinematically and even with sounds, not just words and his words were electric…he used his eye. But there are so many wonderful thoughts and sentences here–maybe this is the book.

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  • dirtwheel says:

    I don’t know much about righting or literary styles. All though, all the writings have been diverse in directions of spiritualness, emotions, concepts, directions, sarcasm, defiance & FREEDOM! All, are just pointers in the end, as they. If I somehow, someway, somewhere were to write…”Don’t put your cell phone in your front pocket. Because it will destroy T-Cells and you’ll end up with a low sperm count.” Is that a literaty style or is it just a pointer, as to what is…or what could be. Look to the pointers, which could in turn become the style/essence of what we’re looking fir. I perfer symbols. Instantly revieling feeeling/thought. ‘BM. Helping you, to help yourself. How may I help you?’

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  • dirtwheel says:


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  • Marscrumbs says:


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  • Michelle K. Feisty says:

    Wow! Thank you for this blog. I am a writer, and I am always boggled that the literary arts are the one thing that seems to be missing from BM, and I have been wondering how to change that.

    Just yesterday I spent some time wondering how to receive an art grant from BM for writing. I have some ideas, but none of them would actually have much of an impact ON playa. I have never made it to any readings at Center Camp. In fact I can’t remember attending anything at any pre-set time during BM. OMFG I missed Infected Mushroom!!!

    Anyway, as a writer, the idea I have brewing could be fairly impactful off Playa, and not just to Burners. But is it grant-worthy? I can’t think of any art projects awarded grants that were literature based.

    So maybe it’s not a Burner “style” of writing we looking for. If anything, it’s probably the most individual aspect of Burner culture-just look at the comments on this page. What I question is how to bring the litarary arts into the actual grant process and recognize individual literary projects that might even reach beyond that one week in the desert. Lots of BM projects are istalled off Playa. Writing could be as well.

    Literary grants are awarded every year from various insututions-private, educational, governmental. Nevada has a dedicated jackpot grant for Literary Arts. While BM might not deny they wouldn’t consider a grant for a writing project, I wonder how much of a possibility it actually is.

    By their own definition, The Event has grown beyond the scope of one year. It has become a culture, one they hope to spread year-round. It seems to me writing could be a wonderful opportunity to open that door. Personally, I would LOVE to see the Org select a writing project for a grant.

    Thank you for starting this disucssion!


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  • joe graca says:

    I went to burning man 2012 and gifted readings from leaves of grass. I set up a poetry stop next to the bus stop. Anyone who stopped heard a reading from leaves of grass 1945 edition and I gifted them the page from which I read to them. the people who I shared this spiritual literary experience have I hoped taken their page home and thus this copy of leaves is now distributed across the globe. This could only happen at burning man. Please stop by at the poetry stop at the bus stop from 1 to about 3 and experience it with me.

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  • TCM says:

    one – wrote/sent an art grant (“spines”), slept epically, & now finally time to jot notes under caveat’s article.

    two – wrote/sent an art grant that won’t bend cargocult, but hopes poems are upped and stomached atypically.

    three – suppose/want a library camp, with banker’s lamps, long tables, thesauruses, smoking okay, but no talking, shh…. (dear “courtney sherwood”: wanna?)

    four – those blunt sentences aren’t art, nor are essayists ever moving. (hyperbole! (apology.))

    five – post-mod needn’t be gobbledygook, poem forms not rickety and stanzaic. fluxus is us, if anything is. (dear “parker east”: hat-tip!)

    six – drove past entry lane for fertility, sad to not see signs describing theme with a script, usually visionary and anticipate it, a prose “laureate” ought to write that welcoming, or was larry harvey feeling sick?

    seven – toastmasters? debate teams? sudden salons, “nuck name” knuckle-tattoo games, “island style” poetry slams (happens at seattle’s regional). even book-animists must have funerals for paper’s impermanence.

    eight – b. brumitt with plastic placard gig: still can be done (brilliant!), but adapt to what will stick, or be cool when taken down, then make more, just like great graffiti-ists.

    nine – i did! i do! proud loud me! me! narratives: i accept your ego, but come to burn mine, or at least mutate it, keeps coming back.

    ten – ego sculpture floored me: charring golden babies, guns and praying-hands. not really literary, but total poetry.

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  • Curly Fry says:

    Hey there just wanted to drop into the conversation and say that one of the goals of the new camp my “brother” and I are starting this year — The Royal Safarians — is to bring back some power to the written word, gather the voice of the Playa, and give a place of quiet to hash out some thoughts 1950s style (via Royal Safarian typewriters).

    As a writer who attended BM last year for the first time, I have to say I didn’t really stumble across too many venues (or people, for that matter) devoted to the literary arts. Yet, there’s power in words. how they’re arranged on the page (or the playa), word choice, the subtleties of silence between sound. It’s our mode of communication, —advanced yet archaic, ritualistic yet primal — and there’s such a profound value to sharing thought on paper that I don’t understand why we don’t see more spontaneous literature.

    I’ve got a lot more thoughts to process on the matter, and hopefully they pan out by the time BM comes around so I can bring some fresh ideas to the playa, through the Royal Safarians, and see if we can help bring some literary minds together and make something beautiful. :D

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    Wow, superb weblog format! How lengthy have you ever been running a blog for?
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  • zos says:

    If there is a particular style to Burner writing, I would call it “snarky”. http://www.burners.me

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