I turned around and it was Allen Ginsberg
I was always hungry. I metabolized my food quickly. Robert could go without eating much longer than me. If we were out of money we just didn’t eat. Robert might be able to function, even if he got a little shaky, but I would feel like I was going to pass out. One drizzly afternoon I had a hankering for one of those cheese-and-lettuce sandwiches. I went through our belongings and found exactly fifty-five cents, slipped on my gray trench coat and Mayakovsky cap, and headed to the Automat.
I got my tray and slipped in my coins but the window wouldn’t open. I tried again without luck and then I noticed the price had gone up to sixty-five cents. I was disappointed, to say the least, when I heard a voice say, “Can I help?”
I turned around and it was Allen Ginsberg. We had never met but there was no mistaking the face of one of our great poets and activists. I looked into those intense dark eyes punctuated by his dark curly beard and just nodded. Allen added the extra dime and also stood me to a cup of coffee. I wordlessly followed him to his table, and then plowed into the sandwich.
Allen introduced himself. He was talking about Walt Whitman and I mentioned I was raised near Camden, where Whitman was buried, when he leaned forward and looked at me intently. “Are you a girl?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I said. “Is that a problem?”
He just laughed. “I’m sorry. I took you for a very pretty boy.”
I got the picture immediately.
“Well, does this mean I return the sandwich?”
“No, enjoy it. It was my mistake.”
He told me he was writing a long elegy for Jack Kerouac, who had recently passed away. “Three days after Rimbaud’s birthday,” I said. I shook his hand and we parted company.
Sometime later Allen became my good friend and teacher. We often reminisced about our first encounter and he once asked how I would describe how we met. “I would say you fed me when I was hungry,” I told him. And he did.
Patti Smith in Just Kids
(Noted in 2023-11-19)
A new world is only a new mind
The first step toward a cure for the sickness is to realize it's there. The robot standardization of American consciousness is one side-effect feedback from a greedy, defective technology, just as ecological disorder is another feedback, and these systemic disorders reinforce each other fatally unless there is complete metabolic change. One could argue with the patient for years—forever. But the fact is that he is his own disease. That's what he must be taught to recognize. What we must first realize is the fact of our own diminished consciousness. "A new world is only a new mind," as William Carlos Williams said. Being willing to solve problems depends mostly on being aware that they exist.
Allen Ginsberg on what we should do about the ecological crisis (Playboy, April 1969, copied from here)
(Noted in 2023-07-24)
[A cyclist's] point of view — faster than a walk, slower than a train, often slightly higher than a person — became my panoramic window on much of the world over the last thirty years — and it still is. It’s a big window and it looks out on a mainly urban landscape. (I’m not a racer or sports cyclist.) Through this window I catch glimpses of the mind of my fellow man, as expressed in the cities he lives in. Cities, it occurred to me, are physical manifestations of our deepest beliefs and our often unconscious thoughts, not so much as individuals, but as the social animals we are. A cognitive scientist need only look at what we have made — the hives we have created — to know what we think and what we believe to be important, as well as how we structure those thoughts and beliefs. It’s all there, in plain view, right out in the open; you don’t need CAT scans and cultural anthropologists to show you what’s going on inside the human mind; its inner workings are manifested in three dimensions, all around us. Our values and hopes are sometimes awfully embarrassingly easy to read. They’re right there — in the storefronts, museums, temples, shops, and office buildings and in how these structures interrelate, or sometimes don’t. They say, in their unique visual language, “This is what we think matters, this is how we live and how we play.” Riding a bike through all this is like navigating the collective neural pathways of some vast global mind. It really is a trip inside the collective psyche of a compacted group of people. A Fantastic Voyage, but without the cheesy special effects. One can sense the collective brain — happy, cruel, deceitful, and generous — at work and at play. Endless variations on familiar themes repeat and recur: triumphant or melancholic, hopeful or resigned, the permutations keep unfolding and multiplying.
David Byrne in Bicycle Diaries
(Noted in 2023-01-14)
The premise of They Live – that aliens are hiding behind human masks, enslaving America with subliminal messages and can only be detected with special glasses that are being distributed by subversive cells around the country – is pretty close to Romero without the excess, a provocative metaphor for a thinly veiled reality. But what really makes the film so affecting is its feeling for the acrid tastes and smells of life on the margins, its boisterous physicality (yes, that is the longest fight scene in movie history between Piper and Keith David, with his terrific slow burn sneer), its sense of hollow, lapping desperation, its sad prole poetry. Who else had the cunning, the compassion, the ingenuity, and the efficiency to fashion an ode to the working class during such a rock-bottom, sickeningly cheerful moment in American history? Similarly, the metaphor for media saturation and paralysis in In the Mouth of Madness (the books of a King-ish writer named Sutter Cane literally drive people insane) seems a bit straightforward simply taken on its own. But the way Carpenter delineates the experience of going mad, in which a world seen through long lenses keeps ripping away its cheap surfaces to reveal more cheap surfaces underneath, is a brilliant feat of low-budget engineering and a very disturbing encapsulation of the experience of living amidst so many media and their endless supply of product.
Kent Jones about John Carpenter (copied from here)
(Noted in 2022-09-10)
The usual causes
He asked me, “what were the usual causes or motives that made one country go to war with another?” I answered “they were innumerable; but I should only mention a few of the chief. Sometimes the ambition of princes, who never think they have land or people enough to govern; sometimes the corruption of ministers, who engage their master in a war, in order to stifle or divert the clamour of the subjects against their evil administration. Difference in opinions has cost many millions of lives: for instance, whether flesh be bread, or bread be flesh; whether the juice of a certain berry be blood or wine; whether whistling be a vice or a virtue; whether it be better to kiss a post, or throw it into the fire; what is the best colour for a coat, whether black, white, red, or gray; and whether it should be long or short, narrow or wide, dirty or clean; with many more. Neither are any wars so furious and bloody, or of so long a continuance, as those occasioned by difference in opinion, especially if it be in things indifferent.
“Sometimes the quarrel between two princes is to decide which of them shall dispossess a third of his dominions, where neither of them pretend to any right. Sometimes one prince quarrels with another for fear the other should quarrel with him. Sometimes a war is entered upon, because the enemy is too strong; and sometimes, because he is too weak. Sometimes our neighbours want the things which we have, or have the things which we want, and we both fight, till they take ours, or give us theirs. It is a very justifiable cause of a war, to invade a country after the people have been wasted by famine, destroyed by pestilence, or embroiled by factions among themselves. It is justifiable to enter into war against our nearest ally, when one of his towns lies convenient for us, or a territory of land, that would render our dominions round and complete. If a prince sends forces into a nation, where the people are poor and ignorant, he may lawfully put half of them to death, and make slaves of the rest, in order to civilize and reduce them from their barbarous way of living. It is a very kingly, honourable, and frequent practice, when one prince desires the assistance of another, to secure him against an invasion, that the assistant, when he has driven out the invader, should seize on the dominions himself, and kill, imprison, or banish, the prince he came to relieve. Alliance by blood, or marriage, is a frequent cause of war between princes; and the nearer the kindred is, the greater their disposition to quarrel; poor nations are hungry, and rich nations are proud; and pride and hunger will ever be at variance. For these reasons, the trade of a soldier is held the most honourable of all others; because a soldier is a Yahoo hired to kill, in cold blood, as many of his own species, who have never offended him, as possibly he can.”
Jonathan Swift in Gulliver's Travels
(Noted in 2022-07-21)
Less than empty words
Any crude statements of optimism would be more than misplaced: it would be the kind of lie that deceives no one, least of all the sharpened moral senses of the young, who see through the empty promises and reassurances of politicians with an anger we know is justified. If we told them that everything will be OK, these are less than empty words: they are a failure to take their experience seriously, and that, as the pessimists would tell us, is the one thing guaranteed to make their suffering worse.
A thing is
For yourself, I have but this last thing to say. Do not be afraid of the past. If people tell you that it is irrevocable, do not believe them. The past, the present and the future are but one moment in the sight of God, in whose sight we should try to live. Time and space, succession and extension, are merely accidental conditions of Thought. The Imagination can transcend them, and move in a free sphere of ideal existences. Things, also, are in their essence what we choose to make them. A thing is, according to the mode in which one looks at it. ‘Where others’, says Blake, ‘see but the Dawn coming over the hill, I see the sons of God shouting for joy.’
Oscar Wilde in De Profundis
(Noted in 2022-04-17)
Society takes upon itself the right to inflict appalling punishments on the individual, but it also has the supreme vice of shallowness, and fails to realise what it has done. When the man’s punishment is over, it leaves him to himself: that is to say it abandons him at the very moment when its highest duty towards him begins. It is really ashamed of its own actions, and shuns those whom it has punished, as people shun a creditor whose debt they cannot pay, or one on whom they have inflicted an irreparable, an irredeemable wrong. I claim on my side that if I realise what I have suffered, Society should realise what it has inflicted on me: and there should be no bitterness or hate on either side.
Oscar Wilde in De Profundis
(Noted in 2022-03-25)
The sun has long been set
The sun has long been set,
The stars are out by twos and threes,
The little birds are piping yet
Among the bushes and trees;
There’s a cuckoo, and one or two thrushes,
And a far-off wind that rushes,
And a sound of water that gushes,
And the cuckoo’s sovereign cry
Fills all the hollow of the sky.
Who would “go parading”
In London, “and masquerading,”
On such a night of June
With that beautiful soft half-moon,
And all these innocent blisses?
On such a night as this is!
(Noted in 2021-08-18)
Considerations of Melville’s withdrawal, whether that withdrawal is dated from “The Confidence-Man” of 1857, or the move from Pittsfield in 1863, or “Battle-Pieces” of 1866, tend to center upon the neurasthenic symptoms reflected in family letters of the early fifties and come to a head in his long siege of illness in 1855. His biographers all — Newton Arvin most sensitively, Edwin Haviland Miller most relentlessly — read his life and works for the pattern of a neurosis that, after “Moby-Dick,” cramped and truncated a career of infinite promise. The ineffectual father, early dead in a dreadful scene of madness; the domineering mother; the shaming poverty amid genteel pretensions; the latent (or, in his shipboard years, active) these existed, as well as the pressing financial limitations of authorship and a general incomprehension of the expressive experiments the mature Melville was determined to make. But the golden day, as Lewis Mumford has called it, of American literature was no feast of best-sellers; of its four masterpieces — “The Scarlet Letter” (1850), “Moby-Dick” (1851), “Walden” (1854), and “Leaves of Grass” (first edition 1855) — only “The Scarlet Letter” was an immediate worldly success. There are other sorts of success, and Melville’s withdrawal — not so instant or so complete, we have seen, as the mythic image of it — can be viewed as itself a necessary and therefore successful artistic gesture.
John Updike in Herman Melville’s Soft Withdrawal (The New Yorker, May 1982)
(Noted in 2021-05-31)