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.
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?
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.
Sustainability depends upon acts of reparation. Property needs to be redistributed. Families are struggling. Digital communication penetrates the life-world with anxiety. Demand a general strike. Or just slog through, do one’s best, whatever that means each day. Behave joyously. Memes have me wanting to re-watch The Big Lebowski. But when is there time? Hop in, do what is necessary, step out. Thus I scramble through the work-life balance complexities of remote teaching and parenting amid shelter-in-place. (While also trying to buy a home.) Seated, arms up across the top of a bench like a slouched cowboy, the protagonist eyes the room. Tips an imaginary hat in greeting. “In Dorn’s allegorical scheme,” writes Marjorie Perloff in her introduction to Ed Dorn’s poem Gunslinger, “characters exist, not as particular individuals but as functions of a larger mechanism, relational properties that take on meaning only in their interaction” (viii).
She’s growing quickly. She’s active, inquisitive, communicative, discerning. We hang out. We go for walks. We return home to home cooking and mother’s breast. The household looms large around the edges of each day. I come home from walks eyes heavy with pollen. Allergy season. I’m interested to see what students do with this week’s readings: texts by Abbie Hoffman and John Sinclair. I dig in and learn about Abbie’s friendship with Allen Ginsberg. The two writers admired each other’s work. Ginsberg influenced Yippie politics and Hoffman’s brand of revolutionary political theater through a piece he wrote called “Demonstration or Spectacle as Example, As Communication.” (Abbie’s archives are available, by the way, at University of Texas at Austin.)
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.
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.