A book called Realizing the Impossible called out to me the other day, the title resonating with a phrase I’d recalled in an email the day prior. A friend had recommended an article commending the importance of utopian visionary thinking in times of crisis. I replied with a line of Che Guevara’s spraypainted on the walls on the streets of Paris during May ’68: “Be realistic — demand the impossible.” Opening the book, I came upon an interview with late 60s acid anarchist Ben Morea, central figure in New York freak-left political-art groups Black Mask and Up Against the Wall Motherfucker, as well as — to my surprise — a later, short-lived collective called International Werewolf Conspiracy. The name pricks up one’s ears, does it not? For a short time in the late 60s and early 70s the group made and printed posters and manifestos. They’d pass out leaflets to fellow heads on the streets. Morea was friends with Valerie Solanas, author of The SCUM Manifesto. Morea wrote a pamphlet in support of Solanas when she shot Andy Warhol, an act shunned and disowned by the rest of the left and the art world. There’s a character based on Morea in the 1996 film I Shot Andy Warhol. By 1969, he was heading the International Werewolf Conspiracy. The group’s broadsheets amplify the gothic element in Marx and Engels. The specter evoked in the first sentences of The Communist Manifesto has given way to a pack of werewolves birthed when American youth drink the era’s “magic potion,” LSD. These werewolves are thus in origin a bit like Frankenstein’s monster — one of capitalist science’s Faustian lab experiments gone awry. The pose strikes me as pure Attentat. Then again, maybe it’s just an American “horror-show” version of épater la bourgeoisie: an attempt to shock the middle class out of its complacency as the country transforms into Nixonland.
Di Prima was born in Brooklyn, NY in 1934. Her maternal grandfather was an active anarchist — a friend and confidant, in fact, of another author I’m teaching this semester, Emma Goldman. Like her fellow Beat writer Allen Ginsberg, Di Prima grew and evolved over the course of her long career alongside the leading countercultural movements of her time. She protested the Vietnam War; she experimented with free love and lived communally with others; she promoted mind expansion through use of psychedelics. After editing a newsletter called The Floating Bear with Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones), Di Prima spent much of 1966 with Timothy Leary’s crew of utopian psychonauts and psychedelic spiritualists at Millbrook. Her Poets Press published the first two editions of Leary’s Psychedelic Prayers in Spring 1966.
Reviewing past trance-scripts, I find in them a portrait of a divided self. I find myself caught in these moments struggling to maintain a shaky détente between two personas representing two competing political orientations: the peaceful, happy-go-lucky hippie and the thwarted, indignant Marxist. This self-discovery of sorts puts me in mind of two books from the early 1970s that washed up yesterday at Goodwill: Gil Green’s The New Radicalism: Anarchist or Marxist? and Adam Curle’s Mystics and Militants: A Study of Awareness, Identity, and Social Action.
Despite their differences (more pronounced, I think, in the excitement of the sixties and seventies), I persist in thinking the necessity of both of these personas (and other, more minor ones besides). They grow from the same soil. Their utopias reply to the same intolerable contradiction at the foundation of my existence: land to be lived upon is beautiful and bountiful, yet I lack it. All habits, all ways of living, take this immiserating lack as their premise. But enough with the tragedy, I tell myself. Dwell instead on that which gives joy, no apologies. Let it just be said: so long as the above, the public will remain equal parts rational and deluded, owing always to its positioning with respect to property. Whenever a society compels people of diverse potential to act as apathetic and accepting subjects, a violence is done to consciousness. Such a relationship, as Curle observes, “cannot be termed peaceful.” It leaves all parties disgraced, able to persist under the illusion of separation from open warfare only because lack of parity between combatants is too great. Given these conditions, I find it hard to think and write other than in kinship with twilight, even amid blaze of day. I recommend, though, as a way of conditioning this condition, freeing one’s head through a listen of Roland Kirk’s Volunteered Slavery, by which I mean “I Say a Little Prayer.” Such sonic outpourings have the power to transform social relations, if at least in the instant.