Time to help people live creatively. Help them change the game. Something’s happening, something wonderful and unprecedented. The reddest rose unfolds. I’ve somehow through practice manifested in my students’ lives opportunities to live collectively and spontaneously, with minimal script or plan, but for the fact that our study of literature has been training us for this performance since our first days of class, however little we may have been conscious of that collective purpose at the time. A certain set of desires to live differently have intersected and begun to fructuate.
One of capitalism’s most effective tactics of late is its placement of knowledge workers into permanent states of emergency and precarity. Each day churns up a new threat, a new outrage, a new lame letter from the university president, lackey of the university’s racist alums and trustees, many of whom remember fondly the days when they used to pose with confederate flags hung proudly in front of their fraternities. I defend myself by meeting with workers and comrades, groups of us planning and strategizing over tacos. We who operate in the Undercommons. Somehow in the midst of this, I also find time to practice radical loving kindness: watching, hoping, reading cookbooks, cooking. As a character notes in a recent episode of High Maintenance, “Life is funny — bees make honey.”
Conversations keep gesturing ambivalently toward abstractions like East and West, if only because these categories occupy the thoughts of so many mid-century hippie modernists — particularly the Beats and the Black Mountain Poets, along with fellow-traveling first-generation psychedelic elders like Aldous Huxley. The class needs to move outdoors. Perhaps we could go for a walk. Educate the whole person, body integrated with mind. Today in particular would have been lovely. Sunny, mid-70s, birds singing, trees budding, squirrels squealing with delight. Instead we listened to Charles Olson reading “The Kingfishers,” a recording archived on PennSound. I wish I had also assigned “Maximus to Gloucester, Letter 27.”
No question of the linking of the zones, the various scales of being. Olson faces no impediments other than the geography, to which the poem always returns, even at its beginning. By going back, we also go forward. And we hear in all of Olson’s poems a lamentation about the effects of global economy on a locality, as Greekness moves West. How do we get from the Word to the Dance? Perhaps I should introduce into the discourse mention of Marshall McLuhan. He too foresaw a retribalization and remediation of society into a post-Gutenberg global village. Is that what this was about, both then and now? Are we struggling to adjust ourselves to a new sensory environment made mandatory by automation and digitization? “The artist,” according to McLuhan, “is the only person who does not shrink from this challenge. He exults in the novelties of perception afforded by innovation. The pain that the ordinary person feels in perceiving the confusion is charged with thrills for the artist in the discovery of new boundaries and territories for the human spirit” (War and Peace in the Global Village, p. 12). What I hear McLuhan and Olson saying, in other words, is: Wake to other senses, supersede visual space, step free of the West.
I love when neighborhood cats approach me on the sidewalk and show me love, rub against me. I tap trees, I observe grass. And when teaching, I perform a narrative to help students test — in the classroom, in lived practice — the prescriptions of the texts that serve as our objects of study. “What would it mean to live out, here and now,” I ask them, “the utopian teachings of our authors?” The classroom as “safe space,” the classroom as “floating zendo.” Wish well all things. Intuit a way toward collective emancipation and equality — Person and Nature balanced and centered. Through discussion and interpretation, we arrive at a shared, contemplative way of being. Hippie modernist literature guides readers toward precisely this end: “seeing the systems we live by,” and then centering. Beginning with self-study so as to set things right in the fullness of each of our collective spheres of influence. By studying this literature, we bring a child’s innocence and trust and enthusiasm. We birth a child: a new person, a new society! In so doing, we “lay the ground,” as M.C. Richards says, “for the ordeals of self-examination and transformation that lie ahead” (Centering, p. 124).
Another splendid day — cold, filled with challenging tasks, and yet splendid all the same. By teaching, I’m learning, the collective intelligence of a class dwarfing that of its members.
We perform a kind of living theater in the way we hold space together as a class. What we’re demanding of one another is the freedom to be enraptured, the freedom to be enchanted in public.
It is my job, my duty and responsibility, to help youth remember the experiments of past generations of liberationist youth. My hope is that by these means, students may gain a fuller understanding of seeds planted, potentials as yet unrealized. Let us learn all that was learned before, and somehow try again. My friend’s father — a kind of shaman, one who initiated me into a secret universe — once starred in a grand movie production, a collective 3-day performance of peace, love, and music known as Woodstock. “Climb close, listen here,” he told me a few nights ago over dinner. “The conditions were terrible,” he began, “yet love prevailed.” Grace Slick navigated her way to stage and announced, “Alright, friends, you have seen the heavy groups, now you will see morning maniac music. Believe me, yeah — it’s a new dawn.” Soon they’ve launched into “Won’t You Try / Saturday Afternoon,” the band’s homage to the Summer of Love. When John Sebastian takes the stage in beautifully tie-dyed denim, he reflects back to the community of 300,000 its image of itself as an impromptu city, a temporarily autonomous global village. The lyrics to Sebastian’s “Younger Generation” speak sounds of accord into my present moment. Country Joe rouses the entire city to its feet in opposition to the War in Vietnam. Sly & The Family Stone arrive like angels and take the crowd heavenward, peace signs in the sky, voices raised in song. By the time of Hendrix’s performance, one realizes one is in the presence of peaceful visitation by starmen of the future. Enough! Let’s get ourselves back to the garden, as Crosby, Stills & Nash instruct in the film’s finale, “Woodstock.”