Tuesday January 29, 2019

What do Fred Moten and Stefano Harney call that act of “calling to order” performed by instructors each day in classrooms? What if I were to introduce into this act a degree of self-consciousness by discussing the theory with students? Perhaps it’s as simple as noticing things along the way. Refunctioning the space we hold together, structuring conversation differently. Freeing one another to speak. Perhaps it’s a matter of organizing improvised collective speech into story, as would a dungeon master, but with the dungeon reformed into a zendo. This is what Kerouac models for us in The Dharma Bums: space to be crazy and free in life and speech. Perhaps I can’t recreate that space in our classroom. Perhaps I need to advance further in my study of Buddhism. Perhaps a class is just a class, and it needn’t be a democracy. But then the same would be true of our lives. No, my sense is that the conversation is developing, people are finding one another as voices in the classroom. I prepare as they do: by coming to class having read and annotated the material, with questions for discussion.

Monday January 28, 2019

The Ray Smith character in Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums uses his Beat Zen Buddhism as a cover, an intellectual veil behind which to hide a misogynistic fear of women and of post-WWII white heteronormative domesticity. What is the source of this fear? He seems torn throughout the novel between desire for solitude and desire for something like family or companionship or community. The novel’s great utopian figure for this desired community is the “floating zendo,” a network of mountaintop monasteries strung across the Americas to sustain the wandering bhikkus of the coming “rucksack revolution.”

Sunday January 27, 2019

The Dharma Bums at its very least furnishes its readers with new prayers, word-patterns one can recite and insert daily into consciousness. Modeled after Kerouac himself, the book’s narrator Ray Smith sings brief improvisations with words like “Raindrops are ecstasy, raindrops are not different from ecstasy” (105). The character invents these songs while sitting and meditating in the woods behind his mother’s home in North Carolina. There is no difference, he knows, between what we do and what happens to us. There is only tathata, or “suchness,” and comparisons are odious. And yet, as I re-read the novel for class, the quality of my life seems vastly improved when, after a day of laboring with cut-backs and ‘Marie Kondo’-style purgation, I run myself a bath.

Saturday January 26, 2019

I miss living in neighborhoods where people sit around together outdoors talking and listening to music. It happens sometimes — but so much of the current era’s technology is too small for sound to be shared by random parties, large gatherings, our bodies all wiggling on the dance floor to the same felt vibrations. What this allows, however, is silent, adoring contemplation of the magical languages of birds. A wonderful loud one with a high-pitched cry in a branch a mere few feet above me. The hippie modernists tried to communicate to us, in however fragmentary a way, a genuinely new, experimental, loving way of being, each psychedelic head of the General Intellect projecting in works of art back to others diamond-dimensioned reflections of the total picture. Classrooms should be spaces where we learn to hang out with others. Announce straightforwardly that we’re sifting through the artifactual rubble of the last period of revolution in American history, looking for keys to unlock the Age of Aquarius. (For those who wish to enlist in this cause, check out Vera W. Reid’s Towards Aquarius. Weird, interesting mythological thinking, at the very least. But also quite possibly a clue. Then again, maybe just New Age fantasy. My sense is that the astrology is gibberish, meant only as a means of transmitting a poetic sentiment: humanity’s great wish, the wish for a New Age.) Was there not always some revolutionary promise there? For those of us born after the 1960s, in the age of postmodernity, ours has been “a time when faith in modern science’s founding sacraments — its claims to unimpeachable objectivity, axiomatic certitude, and autonomy from the prejudices of power — is rapidly disintegrating,” as Andrew Ross notes, “under the pressure not only of demythologizing critics and activists within the priesthood, but also from the thoroughgoing historical critiques of scientism waged by feminists and ecologists with one foot in the door, and from public disaffection with science’s starring role in the grisly drama of global degradation” (Strange Weather, p. 22). I am an Acid Communist, a Dharma Revolutionary. I subscribe to a cosmology in which consciousness interacts with what appears to consciousness: a 3-D immersive parallelogram of dynamic bodies, forces, and energies. And consciousness is no fixed vantage-point, no mere camera-eye; like the world it reflects, it’s always growing and changing. I’m willing to organize around whatever helps us go on ahead.

Why is so much of the Nuggets anthology mired in thwarted romance, love unrequited? What role did that trope occupy in the 60s zeitgeist? Garage rockers were teens on hormonal and drug-induced bad trips, not yet woke to psychedelic love. The group situated on the precipice of these two modes was The Chocolate Watchband, particularly on their classic, “I’m Not Like Everybody Else.”

Dudes who elsewhere in their discography display the genre’s signature: an unhealthy relationship to booze, to women, and to sexuality, away from which the band retreats into beautiful reverb- and distortion-drenched sonic floating zendos like their glorious track, “Dark Side of the Mushroom.”

What we find throughout the era of hippie modernism are works that cultivate a keen sense of group identity — youth as members of a shared Age. Take the collective “we” in the following timeline of the Beat Generation as proposed by Allen Ginsberg: “We’d already had, by ’48,” he told an interviewer, “some sort of alteration of our own private consciousness; by ’55 we had made some kind of public articulation of it; by ’58 it had spread sufficiently so that the mass media were coming around for information.” And as Leerom Medovoi notes, the Beats utilized this attention from the mass media “to wage an impressively successful campaign affirming their own version of what a ‘beat generation’ of young Americans meant” — the group thus building for itself “a reputation as the legitimate representatives of the young” (Rebels, p. 221).

Friday January 25, 2019

I sense a play of voices rising, entering into the realm of the heard. The voices I’m hearing this year are sounding increasingly heroic. Students leaning in, revolutionary, inspired. The preparation is at a very advanced stage: TSA unions grounding flights, teachers striking successfully in Los Angeles. Andrew Fluegelman sounds the call in his introduction to The New Games Book of 1976 where he announces to us today, “You can change the rules if you don’t like them. So long as you all agree on what’s fair, you can make the game into whatever you want it to be. Or you can invent a new one.” “All you need,” he adds, “are a few of your friends and the desire to celebrate the day with play. In New Games there are no spectators.” There will be no instant replays, brothers and sisters. The revolution, as Gil Scott-Heron promised, will be live. Whole Earth Catalog founder Stewart Brand participated in the New Games movement. As a head, Brand was committed to exploring new and more satisfying ways to live. As was fellow New Gamer George Leonard, for whom games signify “nothing less than our way of being in the world.” Brand staged the first New Games Tournament in October 1973, a public event held in a 2200-acre valley just north of the Golden Gate Bridge, “where people could create and share their games, and everyone could play” (10). Community organizer Pat Farrington was instrumental in planning the event. “Games are not so much a way to compare our abilities,” she believed, “as a way to celebrate them.”