The life of ’60s counterculture icon Abbie Hoffman ought to be read not just in light of the Marxism of Herbert Marcuse, whom Hoffman studied under while an undergrad at Brandeis, but also in light of the humanistic psychology of another of Abbie’s mentors at Brandeis, the famous psychologist Abraham Maslow. Abbie was a self-actualizer, a seeker of peak experiences, his writing in books like Woodstock Nation spontaneous prose performances of life lived hopefully in pursuit of revolutionary overthrow of the police state he saw and experienced around him, the “PIG NATION.” There’s a lot of Ego in this performance, but it’s an Ego self-identified with a movement in potentia, like the Whitman of “Song of Myself” or the Ginsberg of “America.” A collective voice coaxing participation in revolutionary transformation of being. Hoffman learned to perform revolution as living theater using the techniques of Artaud and the Diggers. Unlike those precursors, however, Abbie staged his happenings as guerilla seizures of the capitalist opponent’s mass media. The latter became the unwitting narrators and documenters — and to some extent, participants — in Abbie’s dramas. The story continues, carries over, into other books of the era: Ed Sanders’s Shards of God, Jerry Rubin’s DO IT! and We Are Everywhere. Time to visit Peter Coyote for criticism of some of this, and for more on the Diggers. Yet what a riveting performance! Studs Terkel described it as “ebullience and despair rolled into one.” Paul Krassner’s tale of taking acid before taking the witness stand at the Chicago Conspiracy Trial adds another level of anarchic psychedelic zaniness to all of this.
The Friday of the craziest week of my teaching career greets me with news of allowances, reason for happiness, a promotion. Friends and family email, text, and call to congratulate me, even as the local bakery announces temporary suspension of operations following state-wide “shelter in place” orders, community in a kind of lockdown of unspecified duration. Time to try one’s hand at a loaf of Pain au Levain.
A geodesic dome hangs from the double arched ceiling of the vibrant village. A child reaches up and grabs it, takes hold. The arches of the ceiling bounce gently each time she pulls. That was a few days ago. Today it’s azaleas, cottonwoods, dogwoods out and about, about to open up, baby laughing, all of us laughing: “She’s a beauty!” Spring is everywhere, profuse. Dandelions, clovers. Thick green moss. Amazing diffuse diverse sprouts of life.
In phone calls a mere hour apart from one another, I receive word that my department has voted to hire me into a better, more permanent position, and that my grandfather, my only remaining grandparent, has tested positive for the virus. He has a large, loving family — children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren — all of whom would like to be with him. It’s a lot to take in and process, these waters of March.
Nap-time on a rainy afternoon, rain a surprise, though no bother, for we know it, too, will pass. Plus it affords the occasion for the baby to nap and for me to write. I look back at Samuel R. Delany’s The Einstein Intersection and study his depiction of telepathic communication between mutant beings, posthumans who have grown new organs and developed special powers, abilities that reveal themselves over time. Why does a Christ figure, a character named Green-eye, ride peripherally in this narrative, his life and death a mere subplot? And why does another of these mutants, a character named Spider, evoke the ideas of two twentieth-century mathematical philosophers, theoretical physicist Albert Einstein and logician Kurt Gödel? One expresses mathematically how “the condition of the observer influences the thing he perceives” (111). The other introduces uncertainty back into systems, phenomena in excess of all immutable laws, logics, and equations. When Einstein and Gödel intersect, says Spider, humans disappear into another continuum. Something else arrives to take over: the mutants, the posthumans. (Delany, by the way, deliberately avoids both of those terms.) What are we to make, though, of the fact that the character who informs us of this is Spider, the novel’s Judas Iscariot? And why is Lobey, the novel’s protagonist, both Orpheus and Ringo Starr? In a 2017 reassessment of “the fourth Beatle” for the Guardian, Ben Cardew claims that the public viewed Ringo as “a non-musician who got lucky, a journeyman alongside three musical geniuses.” Perhaps Ringo is meant to serve, then, as the “faux-Orpheus” within the symbolism of Delany’s novel, making Lobey neither Orpheus nor faux-Orpheus, but some irreducibly “different,” variant, third term, uncapturable by existing terms or by any binary logic that precedes him.
The world can become different in a variety of ways. It needn’t become “Area X” — so why imagine it that way? Picture instead the differences imagined by Samuel R. Delany in books like Dhalgren, The Einstein Intersection, and Heavenly Breakfast. Events occur prompting ontological transformations — changes in the nature of reality — at which point language adjusts accordingly.
Out of dictated necessity one opens portals into alternative realms of possibility. The Way of Life According to Lao Tzu calls out to me, appears to me a book worth reading — though I await a translation that speaks to me as do birds with their songs. F. is now three months old and the world, the totality — it “adjusts” and we adjust with it, hoping through acts of care to re-establish right relations with others.
I lean back in a reclining chair on my back deck. Birds fly past as clouds roll in overhead. One does as one can. The proletarian’s work regime leaves him exhausted.
What does it mean to convert teaching into assembly of discussion forums plus creation and delivery of content within these forums within a piece of university-administered “classroom management” software? When do we get back to in-person gatherings of students and teachers? How under such circumstances does one practice a pedagogy of hope? Do we become video friends? Do we record little lectures, each of us seated before the camera-eye atop our laptops and smart phones, prisoners in a new kind of panopticon prison? But who knows? With a little practice, we can launch a jailbreak, a prison strike, a riot. Unless perhaps we use this as a moment to build ourselves up. I suppose it’s fitting that I started my career as a teacher, back all those years ago during training, with a short videotaped lecture on the panopticon. For that is what they’ve built around us with the camera atop the devices from which we work, now that our teaching is to be done online. These conditions have been imposed by fiat down a command chain, regional accrediting bodies the ones cracking the whip. Time to get to it.
Aloha, fellow islands in the net. This social distancing thing is weird, y’all. Takes some getting used to — even as that is exactly what we don’t want to happen. We go on walks amid flowers and vegetables. What will it be like when we move to a new home on the far edge of the city? We will walk amid our garden. The song on the soundtrack is a sad one, Link Wray’s “Ice People.” But then ESG comes to the rescue with their song “Come Away,” and all is better.