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.
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.
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.
White roses overgrow a trellis beside the driveway. I admire them from atop my perch on my front stoop as I shelter in place. Look at all the lovely everything, the leafy and flowery manifold Earth, sunlit and glorious, waving in the wind! A softness, a gentleness, enters into one’s manner. A grey tabby that likes to visit now and then sleeps out on my porch. I let it. Dreamboat baby tell all. At some point, though, I plan to grill some hot dogs. In a journal I note down the following: “In an imaginary interview published in his book Revolution for the Hell of It, Abbie Hoffman uses language borrowed from his mentor Abraham Maslow to signal how his own approach and vision differed from those of his contemporaries in the New Left. Movements for change should be built, he says, not on sacrifice, dedication, responsibility, anger, frustration, and guilt, but on fun. ‘When I say fun,’ he tells the interviewer, ‘I mean an experience so intense that you actualize your full potential. You become LIFE. LIFE IS FUN’ (61-62).”
Time to start a garden. Peonies, tulips. Some gardeners plant by projecting forms into space, dressing the Other with squares, lines, and colors. But perhaps we can keep faith with something looser, more profuse. Hyacinths. We definitely want some kale. In the meantime, dig into George McKay’s book Radical Gardening: Politics, Idealism and Rebellion in the Garden. But we also need something practical, a DIY how-to.
Old women chalk up kind words on the sidewalks. Actions are what make it a vibrant village, arched dome overhead. Neighborhoods can also appear as they do in Lyubov Popova’s 1913 painting Composition with Figures. I’m reminded of old books like Eric S. Raymond’s The Cathedral and the Bazaar. Distributed control systems — when what I really want is a garden. I can’t hear the title of John Sinclair’s essay, “Rock and Roll is a Weapon of Cultural Revolution,” without picturing the Orpheus character in Samuel R. Delany’s The Einstein Intersection, who makes music with his blade. In the one, instruments are re-imagined as weapons; in the other, the weapon and the instrument are one.
“Get out into the open. Sit outdoors if possible,” reads the script of a “growth game,” a game people play. Shall we play? Imagine “getting it together” at a scale sufficient to the fact that we are everywhere. World-build a global network of people caring and tending to needs. A place like Whileaway, the cybernetic feminist utopia from Joanna Russ’s novel The Female Man. Shall we revive the tradition of cybernetic socialism, essential to many of the hippie utopias of the 1960s and 1970s? Better that than Silent Running. But to be honest, I’d rather be gardening. Callenbach lacks the sheer linguistic inventiveness and wit of a writer like Russ. Maybe we should read Michael Reynolds’s book about Earthships and Eden Medina’s book on Project Cybersyn. Anyway, Russ is the author on my mind this week, for work if not for play. As a character of hers says of Whileaway, “the ecological housekeeping is enormous” (14).
Abbie Hoffman was a countercultural revolutionary, but he was also a comedian, wise and gleeful in his writings and his actions. When the government came after him, he went underground, lived as a fugitive. Perhaps I should teach a course on prison writing: Antonio Gramsci, Martin Luther King Jr., Eldridge Cleaver, George Jackson, John Sinclair. But man, that’s a lot of weight to carry. Better to stick with joyous liberatory texts like Hoffman’s Revolution for the Hell of It (written under the alias “FREE”), or direct action Movement manifestos like Jerry Rubin’s DO IT! Rubin, of course, dodged Abbie’s fate — and in a sense, dodged out of the cultural revolution, exploring various West Coast New Age self-help / therapy groups in the 1970s and transforming into a Reagan-era Yuppie by the time of his former comrade’s resurfacing in the 1980s. The two paired up and performed together in a countrywide speaking tour as political sparring partners.
Be that as it may, I remain charmed by Rubin’s 1976 memoir of his time in the human potential movement, Growing (Up) at 37. Point being, LSD was various in its effects, serving at one and the same time as catalyst for, implement of, and impediment to the era’s cultural revolution.
I circle back as in a refrain toward M.C. Richards, her theme “the act of centering” returning again amid radical declarations, revolutionary self-fashionings, “Movement” speeches, street writings, prison writings, books like Abbie Hoffman’s Woodstock Nation and John Sinclair’s Guitar Army. The personal was fused with the political for these authors. They took psychedelic civil disobedience as locally staged stoned action and amplified it via seizure of airwaves, campuses, streets, courts of law. Kesey and the Pranksters did something similar a few years earlier, though without the militant intent. Theirs was more of a traveling roadshow, coast-to-coast trips across America, La Honda to New York and back. Minds changing themselves on the road, and in so doing, changing the minds of others.