I find calming and centering Suzanne Ciani and Kaitlin Aurelia Smith’s use of Buchla synthesizers on one of my favorite LPs of recent years, their FRKWYS record, Sunergy (2016).
(Best heard, BTW, in a darkened room while watching a muted version of this Joshua Light Show video. I find the experience of pairing the two thrillingly synesthetic.) Drone, darkness, repetition, primordial shapes, sketches, free improvisations, print-based consciousness supplanted by multi-sensory “happenings” — together, these form a potent combination. Birds fly near and perch beside me. Above I hear the roar of a plane. What I long for, though, is an alteration of the fundamentals of experience, like my sense of time and space. Out of the meltdown of consensus reality comes a voice like Whitman’s shouting, “Cheer up, slaves, and horrify foreign despots.” But perhaps reality also wants us to hear Seneca the Younger, to whom my initial response is wonder at the dude’s disdain for a figure akin to Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man.” (In his critique of the followers of Epicurus, Seneca writes that the situation is like that of “a sturdy man dressed in women’s clothes: your decency remains unimpaired, your virility unharmed, your person is free from any degrading submission, but in your hand is a tambourine.”) Let’s see: according to Dylanologists, the bearer of the tambourine is the Singer’s Muse. And the Singer’s Muse is one’s inner voice, is it not? The one that counsels “If you’re currently uncertain whether you’re located outside or inside the Gates of Eden, then stay home and ‘let virtue lead the way.'” When faced with this voice, the question is always, “Who are we? Are we already in accord? Are we already centered? If not, then who does the letting, who the leading? Who gets to be the shadow after whom the Other is always chasing?” Lucky for us, a card is a card, a hand a hand. It is in our moderation that we horrify despots.
In its final scene, the Netflix television series Russian Doll allows its time-looped protagonists, Nadia and Alan, to reunite as their best selves amid a parade of party people waving red flags of revolution. Given our current slime-pool polis, it seems reasonable to regard the show’s Groundhog Day purgatory as an allegory of that era of reaction since the defeat of the Sixties that Americans on the Left took to calling “neoliberalism.” The show boldly imagines that those who wish to live will one day get it right. In it I see a spirit similar to the one that animated Mitchell Goodman’s 1970 anthology The Movement Toward a New America, a book I wish I could somehow integrate into my classes. Let’s be straight with ourselves. “The Movement,” as Goodman defines it, “is the act of getting ourselves together. Clarity. Coherence. Community. It is also a vision” (vi). As if hearing a voice speaking out of myself, I read passages written by a man once known as Peter Marin. He tells me, from the future, to look for a book of his called The Free People. At the start of an essay of his featured in The Movement Toward a New America, Marin offers a description of a method of composition eerily similar to the one animating these Trance-Scripts. “Shuffling through my notes,” he writes, “I feel like an archaeologist with a mass of uncatalogued shards. There is a pattern to all this, a coherence of thought, but all I can do here is assemble the bits and pieces and lay them out for you and hope that you can sense how I get from one place to another” (vii). Like Marin, I am “impatient with transition, the habitual ways of getting ‘from here to there.’ I think restlessly; my mind, like the minds of my students, works in flashes, in sudden perceptions and brief extended clusters of intuition and abstraction — and I have stuck stubbornly to that method of composition” (vii).
Conversations keep gesturing ambivalently toward abstractions like East and West, if only because these categories occupy the thoughts of so many mid-century hippie modernists — particularly the Beats and the Black Mountain Poets, along with fellow-traveling first-generation psychedelic elders like Aldous Huxley. The class needs to move outdoors. Perhaps we could go for a walk. Educate the whole person, body integrated with mind. Today in particular would have been lovely. Sunny, mid-70s, birds singing, trees budding, squirrels squealing with delight. Instead we listened to Charles Olson reading “The Kingfishers,” a recording archived on PennSound. I wish I had also assigned “Maximus to Gloucester, Letter 27.”
No question of the linking of the zones, the various scales of being. Olson faces no impediments other than the geography, to which the poem always returns, even at its beginning. By going back, we also go forward. And we hear in all of Olson’s poems a lamentation about the effects of global economy on a locality, as Greekness moves West. How do we get from the Word to the Dance? Perhaps I should introduce into the discourse mention of Marshall McLuhan. He too foresaw a retribalization and remediation of society into a post-Gutenberg global village. Is that what this was about, both then and now? Are we struggling to adjust ourselves to a new sensory environment made mandatory by automation and digitization? “The artist,” according to McLuhan, “is the only person who does not shrink from this challenge. He exults in the novelties of perception afforded by innovation. The pain that the ordinary person feels in perceiving the confusion is charged with thrills for the artist in the discovery of new boundaries and territories for the human spirit” (War and Peace in the Global Village, p. 12). What I hear McLuhan and Olson saying, in other words, is: Wake to other senses, supersede visual space, step free of the West.
A tall amaryllis sits beside me, both of us seeking light. Subjects must act: punch and kneed dough. As Sarah says, “Something doubles in an hour — it’s exciting!” Imagine change and witness it. Invent a good wizard, in the tradition more of Yoda than of Gandalf. I worry, though, about the prevalence of battle in the myths that house these characters. I suppose one enters the role, as Huxley says, “by knowing what had to be done — what always and everywhere has to be done by anyone who has a clear idea about what’s what” (Island, p. 40). In my case, it begins with a shift from soda to fruit juice. One has to live out total acceptance, even of conflict. We proceed by acquiring knowledge of what we think we are, but are not. The knowledge we imagine we lack we in fact possess. Trust the mind to furnish images to guide us. Move into a non-dual perspective, subjects and objects released from use. Dream now of pyramids lifting from a base: “Whitey on the Moon.” The whole face of the world down to details as small as Cleopatra’s nose, as seen from above.
When writing poetry, one ought to put one’s breath into it. Count the length of one’s line, listening to thought’s syllables. Practice what Charles Olson calls “composition by FIELD.” When we set aside old fears, we unlock our hidden capacity to resonate in sympathy with others. Keep going, keep learning, keep growing. Open windows, let in light, sit outdoors. When I do so, I see trees, the modest, low-slung buildings of an invisible campus.
I love when neighborhood cats approach me on the sidewalk and show me love, rub against me. I tap trees, I observe grass. And when teaching, I perform a narrative to help students test — in the classroom, in lived practice — the prescriptions of the texts that serve as our objects of study. “What would it mean to live out, here and now,” I ask them, “the utopian teachings of our authors?” The classroom as “safe space,” the classroom as “floating zendo.” Wish well all things. Intuit a way toward collective emancipation and equality — Person and Nature balanced and centered. Through discussion and interpretation, we arrive at a shared, contemplative way of being. Hippie modernist literature guides readers toward precisely this end: “seeing the systems we live by,” and then centering. Beginning with self-study so as to set things right in the fullness of each of our collective spheres of influence. By studying this literature, we bring a child’s innocence and trust and enthusiasm. We birth a child: a new person, a new society! In so doing, we “lay the ground,” as M.C. Richards says, “for the ordeals of self-examination and transformation that lie ahead” (Centering, p. 124).
I resonate with the music of M.C. Richards’s prose in her book Centering. These trance-scripts share some of that book’s form and sentiment. “Its form,” as Richards intones, “is a demonstration of what I say in it. Themes recur and vary. There are passages of development and recapitulation. I wish to offer its meaning not as rationale but as physical presence in language. Iteration and reiteration like days in a season, and we come to the feel of its weather. […]. Sudden changes of tone — from refinement to coarseness, from mechanics to rapture — are moods of nature” (6). Like Olson, she points to breath as the tender, limber thread we walk on our journey between life and death. Breathe deeply and wish well one’s entire sphere. Let the world enter one’s awareness with each breath. Wish well, wish love and bliss to all. It’s such a simple task, and yet I’ve struggled throughout my life to keep it first in my thoughts. To behave well and bring happiness to others. Why can’t we just imagine that and do it?