With college basketball coverage silenced temporarily on my in-laws’ massive television, I settle in and watch The Muppet Christmas Carol. Gonzo the Great stars as the work’s author Charles Dickens. Christmas is a time of gift-exchange, the film reminds us. It ought to be a time of global Jubilee. In Leviticus, Jubilee is a time when slaves and prisoners are freed and debts are forgiven. But darkness is cheap, and the Scrooges of the world like it. Time for their minds to encounter chain-rattling dancing Marleys. Come, all ye Scrooges — there is much to see. I’m often deeply divided in my resolve regarding education and discipline. How does one make time for these meditations while parenting? It’s a matter to which mind is applied, I suppose, a gift of attention. Do it: wash some cookie trays and settle atop a bed in a pile of pillows and read hippie modernist poet and potter Mary Caroline Richards’s Centering: In Pottery, Poetry, and the Person (1964), a book Richards published more than a decade after her departure from Black Mountain College. Through this book, Richards instructs us in how to materialize “as force in the world the unifying energy of our perceptions” (3). Discipline is something the book struggles “with, toward” (5). This is what allows it to express and convey a “whole person” — or as Richards translates, “mankind as many-membered being” (5). Richards asks us to contemplate a moral question: “How do we perform the CRAFT of life? How do we love our enemies?” (5-6). This craft requires discipline — though not a kind involving toughness, not a “tough love,” in the words of conservatives, so much as a “firm, tender, sensitive pressure which yields as much as it asserts” (9). I look forward to sharing Richards’s book in my course this spring and discussing her ideas with others.
The etymology of “gonzo” unlocks a new level in my understanding of countercultural history. To celebrate, I sing along to the “Moratorium” chorus from John Ylvisaker and David Blakeley’s Recorded at a Housewarming for Fritzie, a rare private-press christian psych-folk LP released in 1972 on Soular Module.
Ylvisaker’s obituary refers to him as the “Bob Dylan of Lutheranism.” Reawakened by its use as slang among beats and hippies and entered into print to name Hunter S. Thompson’s drug-fueled brand of New Journalism, “gonzo” probably derives from the Italian figure of the simpleton or fool, the great lightener of moods who speaks cheerfully of the miracle of reconciliation. Also a play on “gone,” as in “out there,” wild and crazy, mind unfurling in the midst of a great trip. My courses are basically guided tours of elaborate, personally crafted memory palaces, demonstrations of compatibility among multiple systems of gnosis, literary, philosophical, cultural, and political texts woven into a vast assemblage, my eyes like those of the Muppet conveying moment by moment a “zany, bombastic appreciation for life.”