A self-deputized overseer whines helplessly about my unsanctioned use of his ship’s crow’s nest. Heads when high turn mutinous, he mutters, preferring I keep below deck with the others in the brig. Knowing that my ascent offends his cop-mind fills my heart with glee.
“You there,” says a cursor, a pointing finger: “Feed your head.” DC hardcore bands of the 1980s laughed off the hippies, refused to remember what the dormouse said. Contra Jefferson Airplane, they clamped down defensively, shouting “Flex your head” through speakers and sound systems across time. That stance appealed to me. I was hailed by it. It formed me into a position as a particular kind of subject. Emanating from the capital, coeval with an era of federally-waged drug war, straightedgers like Ian MacKaye denounced drugs as “crutches.” The stance conveyed an ableism that was simultaneously hyper-defensive, its anger a reaction to fear. As punks, MacKaye and his friends and bandmates faced routine bullying and marginalization. Early episodes of teenage drug use led to denunciations of party culture, as on Government Issue’s “Rock’n Roll Bullshit,” and dramatic public acts of abstention from drug-assisted Dionysian revelry, as on Minor Threat tracks like “Out of Step” and “Straight Edge.” Always flexing, never feeding. It took years for me to recover and loosen up — but loosen up I did.
The Hippie counterculture can be imagined as a kind of heroic collective subject. History needn’t be told only in the tragic and dystopian modes preferred by the Western hegemon. Picture instead “Evolvers” on the West Coast wearing sunglasses, edgelords opening portals onto virtual frontiers. The internet needn’t be cast only in the role of Dark Side of the Moon. Earth needn’t be distant. Earth and its profusion of life. The Revolution, as Gil Scott-Heron observed, “will be no rerun.” One hero’s fate needn’t be the fate of the character in each of the myth’s retellings. Time to bypass the past, pursue a different path.
Hints of other storylines lie about. Pay attention to what is changing: the growth and the decline, the continuity of an always ever-changing ever-changing “always.” It’s a narrative of “Individuation.” Baby busting out of its prison. That storyline, at various levels of being, staged alongside related myths of enlightenment and awakening. Sarah suggests I refine my focus. The book I’m writing is on acid and radical politics. The other stuff is just part of the theorization of that. The brew that rocked the boat. An elaborate Heavenly Breakfast-for-dinner feast. Feel better and change the world. What are we to make of this thread of desire that runs like a fuse through being: the desire to overcome the alienations imposed by capitalism and Western rationalism and patriarchy and settler colonialism and modernity? Can it be done by a living theatre? Can it be done by fusing art with life? What happened to Sam Cooke? The authorities were frightened of him. Cooke was having fun, putting trouble on the run with his support for Malcolm X and Black Power. Killed, Sarah says, under suspicious circumstances. Hard shift to Paul Simon’s “Kodachrome,” which makes me think of my father, a photographer who worked on a photo shoot with Muhammad Ali. Spotify extrapolates a playlist for the occasion, leading to Curtis Mayfield’s “Move on Up” and Ray Charles’s “What’d I Say, Pt. 1 & 2.” Afterwards Stevie Wonder warns of belief in “Superstition.” Van Morrison replies with “Into the Mystic,” after which point I lean back and marvel at the fact that this entire month is 4/20.
During break time, I stare at pinwheels, rosemary bushes, a neighbor with a cat on a leash, a Royal Enfield motorcycle with a Cozy sidecar parked in front of another neighbor’s home down the street. I walk about, listening to birds, the wind as it rustles the leaves in the trees, motivating as well some wooden wind chimes. The cry of a waking baby returns me indoors, where we dance to tunes by NEU! and Pere Ubu. Time for redirection. Sarah’s suggestion: download into being a children’s book on Buckminster Fuller. The baby rests on Sarah’s knees as the three of us chill on the couch vibing to Future Shock — Volume 1, a compilation released by Names You Can Trust.
As the sun descends, shining through the window in the room above the garage, I stare down at a book propped open on the dining room table: The Living Book of the Living Theatre. I learn about Judith Malina and Julian Beck and the direction they took from the philosophical anarchism of Paul Goodman at the time of the Theatre’s founding in the mid- to late- 1940s. The couple launched the Theatre at their 789 West End Avenue apartment in New York. In 1951, they staged four one-act plays by Goodman, Gertrude Stein, Bertolt Brecht, and Federico García Lorca. In later years, the Theatre became communal and nomadic.
I think about major and minor literatures — that distinction Deleuze and Guattari draw in their book on Kafka. Narrative takes a back seat; the work addresses other characters, who travel around a cloverleaf to a park. Coming soon: Phase II. Let there be owls, wisteria, faeries of the forest, babes singing in the woods.
At three and a half months, the baby is all smiles, dressed in a jumper with bright yellow sneakers, chatty with a speech of sounds, sighs, efforts toward words. Sarah plays her “Bulletproof” by La Roux. I scoot next door and dip into Design for Utopia: Selected Writings of Charles Fourier. In his 1971 Foreword, Frank E. Manuel says Fourier’s ideal “calls to mind the ‘synergic’ society originated by Ruth Benedict and expounded by Abraham H. Maslow, who found it consonant with his own doctrine of self-actualization. In synergy, as Maslow defined it, the individual acting in his own behalf at the same time furthers social ends, fulfilling simultaneously and harmoniously his obligations to himself and his responsibilities to society” (4-5). Manuel maintains an attitude of bemused skepticism, maybe even a haughty distance, with regard to all such doctrines and ideals, his imagination far too stingy and conservative for my taste.
We adjust into our roles, that which is demanded of us, we grow into the space-time afforded. By these means we deliver unto each other spontaneous collective beatific visions. Turning ourselves into players in a living theater, we pursue walks, meditations, digressions; we deliver field reports and other odd utterances from wonderlands and other elsewheres. Dreamwork integrated into each day. Julian Beck was one of the invited guests — one of the performers, we might say — at the Dialectics of Liberation conference. Beck was a co-founder and director of The Living Theater. He published a book of poems years later called Living in Volkswagen Buses and Other Songs of the Revolution. Forming a story out of it is up to us. Look, perhaps, to Steven Foster and his School of Lost Borders. Foster taught romantic poetry in the Humanities department at San Francisco State University. During the strike that occurred there in 1968, he sided with the students: an act of rebellion that got him fired. After that, he became a kind of “white shaman,” I guess, and started staging modern initiation rites, “vision quests” involving three-day, three-night fasts, alone, in nature. That’s the problem with so many of these characters of the Sixties — most of them disappoint as they fade. The trick, then, is to imagine the alternate future, where they successfully walk away.
Finished with midterms, I wander the neighborhood, admiring a field of periwinkles (never mind others’ designation of them as weeds). See me there, walking in the streets, whistling and singing, banging on a tambourine, telling the story of the society that opts for peace. Can one get there without a fight? Joanna Russ includes an epigraph at the start of The Female Man: a passage from R.D. Laing’s book The Politics of Experience. Laing was a thinker of the New Left: one of the era’s radical “anti-psychiatrists,” best known for his studies of schizophrenia. Check out Robert Klinkert and Iain Sinclair’s short film Ah, Sunflower (1967), shot on location at the Dialectics of Liberation conference, with appearances by Laing, Allen Ginsberg, Stokely Carmichael, and others. Sinclair also published a diary he kept during the filming called The Kodak Mantra Diaries. Sinclair says of himself that he was “captured” by Charles Olson and the Black Mountain Poets, writers who served as some of his “first enthusiasms” when starting out as a writer in the early 1960s. Olson taught him that life is an allegory — a large, potent myth. The “amniotic fluid,” as Sinclair says, through which we swim and struggle. Is this sifting of texts a kind of purgatory? Are we characters in a ghost story?
On these walks each day around my neighborhood, I weigh possibilities for revolution and admire trees and gardens. Yet so much else of the capitalist neighborhood seems distant, alien, preconstituted, practico-inert. Little sense of community other than polite hellos. Nods of the head, the assumption being all of us are “about our business,” do not disturb. This is what it’s like, existentially, to live under the regime of social distancing — while in some more abstract sense, everything around one is the land of Trump. Time to practice drumming and horn-blowing. Noisy, clamorous complaint. Yet the parent in me knows to be quiet so as not to wake the baby during her nap. She’ll wake on her own when she’s ready. Or WE will: into happier times, each day tending toward the better. So too with consciousness. The surrealist revolution attempted a synthesis, an overcoming of dualisms, did a stately pleasure-dome decree: dream-states and pleasure-states reconciled with reality. Or so it seemed as I sat after my walk, mind at play. A student’s paper has me thinking about the politics of “liberation.” By dream or by memory I summon up before me a book from Verso, The Dialectics of Liberation, resting in a stack of books across from me atop Lenore Kandel’s Word Alchemy. What better thing to read? Dialectics of Liberation was a congress held at the Roundhouse in London in 1967. Radical “anti-psychiatrists” like David Cooper and R.D. Laing met with Marxist philosopher Herbert Marcuse and Black Power leader Stokely Carmichael, among others. Paul Goodman was there, as was Gregory Bateson. A “curious pastiche,” as Cooper says in his introduction. In a kind of “circus poster” at the start of her book Word Alchemy, meanwhile, Kandel announces, “ALL dreams ARE true / THIS is a dream / THIS is TRUE.” Kandel’s poems are funky, wonderful, and witchy.