In a country that understands and extols those who dedicate themselves to the factual and pragmatic, Allen Ginsberg is an eccentric anomaly—and an amiable affront to nearly every "respectable" literary, intellectual, religious, political and moral convention. A poet, a mystic, a homosexual, a psychedelic proselyte, a revolutionary, a bearded prophet of doom for what he considers society's "sick" values, he is among the most famous and certainly the most controversial of living poets. Opinion is divided about whether he is also a great poet, but fan and foe seem to agree with critic Robert Hazel that Ginsberg "stands alone in the curious degnity of his work. He possesses a reckless imagination sustained by...the nearly incredible defects and almost unsurpassed excellences of largeness."
By the mid-Fifties, he was recognized, along with his confreres, as a cofounder of the Beat Generation—and an oddball celebrity of the first order. In the years since then, most of the Beats have faded into literary history; but Ginsberg continues to burn more brightly—and controversially—than ever. His protean poetic works are still variously rhapsodized as "great," "strange," "mad," "tragic," "angelic" and "apocalyptic," and reviled as "blasphemous," "degenerate," "pretentious," "incoherent" and "exhibitionistic" for their uninhibited evocation of homosexual desire and metaphysical visions. And the poet himself is both lionized and vilified as a seminal figure in the revolutionary ferment of changing attitudes and institutions.
In a recent profile, The New Yorker described Ginsberg as not merely poet but guru of the world-wide "amalgamated hippie-pacificist-activist-visionary-orgiastic-anarchist-Orientalist-psychedelic underground"—a role that finds him less often lecturing in literary salons than presiding benignly over "Human Be-ins," such as the huge hippie jamboree he helped organize three years ago in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, or demonstrating in the streets against everything from the Vietnam war to punitive narcotics laws. When the participants in the Berkeley Free Speech movement were sentenced to jail terms in 1966, Ginsberg was there—not carrying a placard, like the other protesters, but clanging finger cymbals and droning a Hindu chant, in order to "soothe and calm the heart of the judge." But no cause commands more of his public and private attention than the expansion of conciousness he feels is prerequisite to both world peace and personal freedom—self-enlargement through such mind-altering agents as LSD, through the spiritual disciplines of Hinduism and Zen Buddhism (the product of a two-year pilgrimage to the Far East) and through pansexual liberation from repressive Western moral codes.
Not surprisingly, all this unconventional advocacy and opposition has been seen as "un-American" by many guardians of the conventional wisdom and has made Ginsberg a target for police, academic and civil officials wherever he travels. One critic, in fact, has wryly characterized him as "the Rasputin of American letters—out to subvert the Stars and Stripes, Mom, Home and the boys of the 4-H Club." It's not a description Ginsberg bothers to refute, nor one that his feral, fiery poems would tend to contradict. Ever since the publication in 1956 of "Howl," the first collection of his works, he has been denounced for his "frantic defiance," "single-minded frenzy" and "childish obscenity"; the San Francisco police even attempted—unsuccessfully—to have the volume banned from local bookstores. But such distinguished critics as Kenneth Rexroth hailed it as a literary milestone of historic proportions; " 'Howl,' " wrote Rexroth, "is the confession of faith the generation that is going to be running the world in 1975."
The dark theme of these early writings was struck by the famous opening lines of the title poem in "Howl": "I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,/dragging themselves through the negro streets at down looking for an angry fix,/angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night." It was this theme of psychic and physical degradation, and the search for solace and love, that inspired William Carlos Williams to comment that Ginsberg "proves to us, in spite of the most debasing experiences that life can offer a man, the spirit of love survives to ennoble our lives if we have the wit and the courage and the faith—and the art!—to persist."
Ginsberg's poems in succeeding books have proved that he has indeed, persisted; in a long elegy titled "Kaddish," he attempted to purge himself of the memory of his mother, who went insane, and to write about his efforts to "widen the area of consciousness." Describing his experience with drugs, Ginsberg insisted in his poems that such chemical turn-ons as peyote, marijuana, mescaline, ether and lysergic acid open up an awareness of the supernatural, of the godhead whom he "invokes, hates, adores, mocks, and with whom he wants to copulate and in front of whom he weeps and prays." But in 1963, after conversations in Israel with philosopher Martin Buber and in India with various holy men, Ginsberg renounced drug-induced visions—such as the celebrated mystical experience he reported in 1948, when he claimed to have heard the voice of William Blake reciting poetry to him—and instead accepted "the primacy" of his own body and emotions.
More recent poems, collected in "Planet News," reveal his deepening concern with immediate physical experience and with political realities—in particular, the Vietnam war. In the best known of his poems concerning Vietnam—the long "Wichita Vortex Sutra"—Ginsberg attempted to assume the role called for by Shelley in his dictum that "poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world"; he sought to end hostilities in Vietnam by summoning the assistance of saints and deities to release the "holy and free" in President Johnson and his fellow Americans.
Ginsberg's growing involvement in the antiwar movement, as well as his "fraternal" empathy with the New Left and the hippies, finally took him Chicago last August to observe the Democratic National Convention and to participate in the proposed "Festival of Life" planned by the Yippies and other groups of New Left activists. While in Chicago, Ginsberg led several large group chantings of Hindu mantras in Lincoln park—the unofficial headquarters of the New Left—and he demonstrated from the gallery of the convention hall by chanting "Om," in an attempt to "exorcise" the delegates and Chicago's mayor, Richard J. Daley. Pied Piper—like, Ginsberg was followed wherever he went during convention week by groups of young people asking him for advice about everything from what books to read and how to pray to where to go for help during a bad LSD trip.
It was in Chicago some time later that the poet was interviewed for Playboy by fellow poet and critic Paul Carroll. His beard and hair in luxuriant disarray, Ginsberg stretched out on a sofa in Carroll's apartment on the city's North Side and talked for seven and a half hours. Taking Carroll's questions more and cues than as queries, Ginsberg held forth with authority, profanity, erudition and often lyricism about not only himself and his poetry but his passionate concern over the issues beleaguering this country and the world. "He also seemed amiably convinced," reports Carroll, "that only he and possibly a few enlightened friends know anything about the subjects he discussed. The fame he's acquired since I met him in 1958 seems to have given him a little more assurance than he needs. But he's become a happier and merrier man. And he has a strong capacity to keep growing. But one thing that's never changed—and I doubt if it ever will—is that Ginsberg's a poet first and last.
"When he was in his late 20s and early 30s, he'd read his poems on stage, often bristling with anger, but with a compelling aura of intelligence and sweetness, wearing soiled blue jeans, a lumberjack shirt or black turtleneck and owlish Columbia University intellectual glasses. Clutching an endlessly unfolding scroll of poems, he would hunch forward, thrashing a simian arm, weeping, haranguing, caressing, as he built and built the long, locomotive stanzas, his oddly boyish, grating New York voice hammering away until suddenly, magically, something seemed to explode and the audience felt transported. Since he's become a guru and a world-renowned poet, the gentleness and warmth that were once counterpoints to rage and indignation have begun to dominate his persona; candor, power and authority are still strongly evident; but for all his earthy profanity, I sensed about him, improbably enough, something of the holy man. Our conversations began with a discussion of his apparent evolution from Beat to beatific."
It's stereotyping—objectionable because not quite humane—to take something living and changeable and fix one robot-like Orwellian image on it, reduplicated to cover all situations, modes and selves. The guru image may fit once or twice, but I don't want to be responsible for being a "nice man" all of the time. It doesn't fit when I'm irritable, bugged, busy, want to run the gamut of any sexual desire, or when I just want to go to the movies and be left alone eating an ice-cream cone, or get angry because I'm afraid I'll be discovered secretly carrying a lot of money so I don't have to suffer street-starvation-vagrancy-jail like everybody else. Any stereotype image, like paterfamilias, imposes a role, freezing the life out of personal situations—just so there'll be a comfortable old-shoe guru for the readers of The New Yorker or Time. It's an image reassuring for them and presumably comfortable for me, but such a stereotype assumes that one's real-life situation has to be labeled all the time. It's the sort of thing that comes through electric mass media, homogenizing and reducing everything to dated lead paragraph terms "Beat" and "hippie" are all yesterday's headline bullshit.
How do you see yourself?
Not in a word or image; I see myself as a being who is being and being more and more. Sometimes that looks heroic, sometimes fucked-up heroic because of having to be at all. Such a bad karma!
Some years ago, you wrote, "The message is: Widen the area of consciousness." Critics such as Leslie Fiedler feel that this is the key to both your life and your poetry. Would you describe what you mean by widening the area of consciousness?
We are all blocked off from our own perceptions. The doors of perception have been closed, the gates of feeling shut, the paths of sensation overgrown, the roads of imagination barricaded, the fields of consciousness covered with smog. Blake said our five senses have been closed in, so that we're "moving about in worlds unrealized," as Wordsworth said. Everybody has momentary breakthroughs of consciousness—the vividness of comradely eyeglances, or the sisterliness of plant life, or the iron science-fiction enormity of a police van, or a cow in a glass cage standing silently being tended by an aluminum milking machine, or any crisis between childhood and deathbed, like war, marriage, mountaintop, saved from drowning, got fired, walked the streets and shuddered at the Wrigley Building, or broke your hip and four ribs in a car crash.
The world that opens up seems strange, familiar but forgotten: more real than the usual place because of deeper feeling—doom significance—but at the same time, frightening. We forgot it's been there all along; it means we have been mad all along. So people, out of shame and fear of exploring the future, and fear of death—fear of life itself—close the doors and go back to their old Safety Habit, and call their own breakthrough a hallucination or freakout abnormality.
Average young guys have been so heavily conditioned to living in the closed circle of night-club-money-machine-airplane-taxi-office-bank-roll-television-family that they distrust other modes of consciousness and pathways of existence—like knapsack-long-hair-farm-commune-picket-line-street-high-sign—that are viable and real. Here's the danger that the money man, thinking his security is dependent on money, afraid his supply will be cut off like junk from a junkie, may entirely reject his own unconscious, cutting himself off from his own nature and organic perceptions and becoming, as William Burroughs says, a "walking tape machine." That's a precise definition of square, because a limited and therefore defensive social consciousness is set up which shuts out other life forms. It causes fear of strange experiences and other people—suspicion of menace in black power and the yellow peril and flowery hippies and the purple virus from Venus—conspiracies to invade our consciousness. Thus rises the whole social paranoia, personal in nature and individual in each man, which is known as the cold war. Now, if it were really safe to stay inside the shell of the white American image—successful, protected, "viable," going up and down office buildings in carpeted elevators—it would be hard to get people out of that shell anymore. Limitations of perception imposed by such egotism are biologically and evolutionarily self-defeating. I mean that our refusal to coexist with other life forms is causing a planetary ecological crisis.
You've frequently said that LSD is one of the means whereby we can widen the area of consciousness and perception and break out of whatever shell we're in. How, specifically, can LSD accomplish this?
Dr. Jiri Rubicheck, Czechoslovakian psychiatrist, in his book Artificial Psychosis, wrorte: "LSD inhibits conditioned reflexes." Acid, then, can be considered a deconditioning catalyst; it rechannels reflexes. That's what's really significant—and so political—about LSD. That's why there's what's called an acid revolution, as well as why police are against its use. The same people who denounce acid are always calling other people "Communists" or "dope fiends" or "sex fiends" or "unwashed-hairy-nonhuman-creepo-un-Americans" or "intellectuals" or "beatnik-nigger-Jew-capitalist-conspirators"! Anybody who's different from the Communist-capitalist police-state image is the "enemy"—and particularly anyone who sees through the robot hallucination. If acid helps people see through conditioned hallucinations, then acid's a threat to such police states as now exist in America and in Russia.
How many times have you taken LSD?
Not often. Ten or fifteen times.
We are all blocked off from our own perceptions. The doors of perception have been closed, the gates of feeling shut, the paths of sensation overgrown, the roads of imagination barricaded, the fields of consciousness covered with smog.
LSD perceptions aren't indescribable. I've written some poems during trips I've taken—LSD 25, in 1959, and Wales Visitation, last year. Since the acid experience can be achieved by other means as well—such as meditation or the social breakthrough that almost everybody felt during the Democratic Convention, free and liberated on Grant Park grass, staring at the Hilton Hotel politics prison—LSD is really like some natural experiences. What does a trip feel like? A creeping sensation comes over your body, a change in the planetary nature of your mammal eyeballs and hearing orifices. Then comes sudden realization that you're a spirit inhabiting a vast animal body containing giant apertures, holes, circulatory systems, interior canals and mysterious back alleys of the mind. Any one of these back alleys can be explored for a long, long way, like going back into recollections of childhood or going forward into the future, imagining imaginary universes or recalling ones that existed, like Egypt.
Then you realize that all these exist in your mind simultaneously. Slowly you approach the mysterious feeling that if all these histories and universes exist in your mind at the same time, then what about this one you're "really" in—or think you are? Does that also exist only in your mind? Then comes a realization that it does exist only in your mind; the mind created it. Then you begin to wonder, Who is this mind? At the height of the acid experience, you realize that your mind's the same mind that's always existed in all people at all times in all places: This is the Great Mind—the very mind men call God. Then comes a fascinating suspicion: Is this mind what they call the Devil? Here's where a bum trip may begin—if you decide it's a demonic Creator. You get hung up wondering whether he should exist or not.
To get off that train of thought: You might open your eyes and see you're sitting on a sofa in a living room with green plants flowering on the mantel-piece. Outside the window, wind is moving through big trees; there's a huge being moving through the street in all of its forms—people walking under windy trees—all in one rhythm. And the more you observe the synchronous, animal, sentient details around you, the more you realize that everything is alive. You become aware that there's a plant with giant cellular leaves hanging over the fireplace, like a huge unnoticed creature, and you might feel a sudden, sympathetic and intimate relationship with that poor big leaf, wondering: What kind of an experience of bending and falling down over the fireplace has that stalk-blossom been having for several weeks now? And you realize that everything alive is experiencing on its own level a suchness existence as enormous to it as your existence is to you. Suddenly you get sympathetic, and feel a dear brotherly-sisterly relationship to all these selves. And humorous, for your own life experiences are no more or less absurd or weird than the life experience of that plant; you realize that you and plant are both here together in this strange existence where trees in the sunroom are blossoming and pawing toward the sky. Finally you find out that if you play them music, they grow better.
So, the widened area of consciousness on acid consists in your becoming aware of what's going on inside your own head cosmos—all those corridors leading into dreams, memories, fantasies—and also what's happening outside you. But if you go deep enough inside, you may find yourself confronted with the final problem: Is this all a dream-nature? Great ancient question: What is this existence we're in? Who are we? Then can come what Timothy Leary terms the "clear light" experience or, as they call it in South America, "looking into the eyes of the Veiled Lady"—looking to see who it is, doing or being all this. What's the self-nature of it all? This is the part of the acid experience that's supposed to be indescribable, and I'm not sure I've had the proper experience to describe it.
Everything turns out to be all one great conscious Self whose organs are every different living being, so that this Self conceives and perceives in every different possible way at once, vaster than words. But there's also a sensation that the entire universe is a Happening. Occasionally, the Happening seems a bit stage: I mean that it could exist in the form of fireplaces with the plants hanging over them and police states and the glare of blue lights and Chicago tear gas actually drifting through floodlit Lincoln Park in great waves over Christ's cross, like an old World War One movie scene.
Though LSD may have widened consciousness for you and others such as Dr. Leary, what do you think about attacks on the drug by a number of doctors and psychiatrists who argue that chromosome breakage in blood cells may occur after only two or three usages of the drug? Such breakage, they claim, could cause subsequent children of the users to be born abnormal, retarded—or both.
It's a pile of unscientific crap. Or in the favorite words of bureaucratic double talk, as one of the hydraheads of the Food and Drug Administration might put it: "No causal relationship between LSD use and chromosome breakdown has been experimentally established with scientific method other than the normal breakage equivalent to slight excess use of aspirin, coffee, Coca Cola. Besides which, Portland, Oregon, anti-hedonist Professor Irwin, the original chromosome-Frankenstein theorist, forgot that half his eight subjects were Meth freaks anyhow." Refreshing views from Dr. Goddard, ex-head of the FDA, or somebody using him intelligently for a ventriloquist dummy. Basically, the chromosome breakdown will turn out to be a spook story. Innumerable rigorous evaluations of the bibliography of learned scientific journals on the subject boil down to the conclusion that nothing special can or need be concluded except that everybody ought to do a lot more research on how to make acid 100 percent foolproof. The Government is not doing that; quite the opposite, in fact. It's spending appropriations in the Pentagon to produce bum-trip acid for military uses.
How do you know this?
One, I've read it in the under-ground newspapers; and two, it's been reported in The New York Times, under the terminology: "R and D appropriations allocated for investigation of military uses of psychotoxic and psychedelic substances with special sub-application to domestic riot control." Look it up in the Times index—or ask your Congressman before the credibility gap falls into the abyss.
OK. In a recent interview, Dr. Leary recalled that during an LSD trip you took in 1960 at his home in Cambridge, you said how "this mushroom episode had opened the door to women and heterosexuality" and how you could see "womanly body visions and family life ahead." Is that true?
Well, I get those feelings every time I take acid. On a trip, you enter corridors inside, and into the heart. Naturally, you'll come upon old feelings you didn't know were there and were ashamed of, like loving your mother and realizing that you and she were one and that you'd separated from her because you couldn't stand the fear of being one with her. And realizing that all women and your mother are one—for myself, at least—I cut myself off from all women because I was afraid I'd discover my mother in them, or that I'd have the same problems with them that I had with her.
In much the same way, the heterosexual man may discover during a trip the natural homosexual identity in himself—an identity suppressed by our culture but not by many others. As Whitman observed, if the natural love of man for man is suppressed, men won't be good citizens and democracy will be enfeebled. What Whitman prophesied was an adhesive element between comrades—the "sane, healthy love of man for man." But because of suppression of feelings in America, the overemphasis on competition and rivalry—a tough guy, macho, hard, sadistic police-state mentality—American men are afraid of relationships with each other. It's almost as if there's been a plot to separate man from his heart by making him afraid of being a fairy or a queer or a faggot or a queen. Real feeling can be recovered, though, because it's natural. But the official police form is that masculine tenderness is homosexuality, to be treated as a womanly weakness or poodle-dog-like perversion. So finally men are ashamed of themselves and as a result tend to torture each other. What you see recently, however, is the reappearance, in the form of long hair and joyful dress, of the affectionate feminine in the natural Adamic man, the whole man, the man of many parts.
Would you explain what you mean when you say there's a natural element of homosexuality in every man?
There's homosexuality in every Playboy reader. To say that in a Playboy Interview is interesting because obviously every Playboy reader expects me to say that; so I'll say it and liberate him from his fear that somebody will say it sooner or later. So I hereby announce: Everybody is acknowledged not as a homosexual or heterosexual but as a complete person with all the aspects of that completeness—all the dreams, hard-ons, wet night-mares, anxieties, buddies, all secret masturbations and all refusals to masturbate. Any more rigid masculine ideal would be a perversion of human nature—heartbreaking because unsatisfiable.
Have you been able to fully accept your own homosexuality?
Homosexuality has been like a koan—a Zen riddle—for me. Whole areas with my mother were screwed up and conditioned me in this way sexually. The riddle was: How do I deal with my homosexuality? Do I accept it or reject it or freak out, or do I go into it and find out what it is? Another problem: Is it something public? Anything that common is public; anything that happens to us is as good or bad as anything else as a subject for poetry. It's actual. So I can write naturally about my own homosexuality. The poems get misinterpreted as promotion of homosexuality. Actually, it's more like promotion of frankness, about any subject. If you're a foot fetishist, you write about feet; or if you're a stock-market freak, you can write about the rising sales-curve erections in the Standard Oil chart. When a few people get frank about homosexuality in public, it breaks the ice; then anybody can be frank about anything. That's socially useful.
As Whitman observed, if the natural love of man for man is suppressed, men be good citizens and democracy will be enfeebled.
Yes, then anybody who wants to can get up and say, like, "I fuck girls!" or "I'm not scared to wear a Brooks Brothers suit" or "I wear my hat indoors or out as I please," Which Whitman said. But I don't stand up in public and suddenly announce, "I'm a bearded-beatnik-bohemian-faggot-dope-fiend" to boat about it. When somebody asks me: "Why don't you shave?" or "Are you willing to admit you smoke marijuana?" and "You look as if you have Communistic tendencies" or "You need a good bath!"—well, then, I say: "My beard just grows, I didn't plant it, I don't get up every morning and try to murder my hair and obliterate my human image. It's just Adam's hair. Yes, I like to make it with boys; I'm not sure whether it's good or bad; it feels all right so I describe it. And I admit I smoke dope. But I think police-state bureaucrats mounted their secret conspiracy to suppress marijuana in order to create police-state conditions. And I am a Communist of the heart, except that I've been bricked off the set by police in Communist Prague and Communist Havana—and 'Communist' Chicago. I was kicked out of Havana and Prague for talking about homosexuality."
It doesn't sound as if you buy the psychoanalytic theory that homosexuality is a neurosis that cripples or limits a man's emotional growth.
Homosexuality is a condition, and like all average things, it has advantages and disadvantages. Obvious disadvantages are that it keeps you from reproducing your own image, if that's biologically important anymore; and it shuts me off from full relations with women. Though unless a chick is really trying to make it with me, I'm affectionate and physical and sexy enough toward women to give out some normal social, happy cheer when I'm with them. The advantages are that homosexuality provides me with sufficient affection and gasoline to communicate on a tender level with my fellow citizens, especially the Prussian butch-crewcut freaky military types—the old Socratic situation. Also, because it alienated or set me apart from the beginning, homosexuality served as a catalyst for self-examination, for a detailed realization of my environment and the reasons why everybody else is different and why I am different. In a tank-military hyper-sadistic and the unconscious and the full man, my homosexual specialization made me aware of the rigid armoring, defensiveness, overcompensation and high camp put on by police-state police.
It's like the old shamans who are often androgynous or homosexual: Since they're outside normal routine, they're specialized social critics and have sensitivities that others don't have; they're men who see aspects of male history from a woman's point of view. That spectrum of experience is a useful information bank of supplementary intelligence that can be of real value in community self-understanding and awareness. Anyone in that position has enough troubles fulfilling such heavy duties to the society without being hit on the head for being a fairy; he should be kissed, instead. In fact, innumerable young men ought to offer their bodies to him in order to recompense him for the suffering solitariness of his freaky prophecy-hood. And they should come up offering their bodies before I get too old to enjoy it.
You mentioned that not having children is one of the disadvantages of being homosexual, and that you envision "family life" ahead during LSD trips. Do you still want to be a father?
I did a while back, but I ran into a funny, long-haired Indian Vishnuite to whom I talked a lot about my problems. He said, oddly, "Give up desire for children." Which made me mad. Who was he to tell me to cut myself from that desire? Later, I realized what he meant: Give up attachment, compulsion to have children on account of you're a Jewish boy from New Jersey; if you want children or if they come, fine, but don't have children because you're supposed to. Anyway, there are already too many people and lost unattached children in the world today. So I'm an old cranky bachelor wanting to stay with my poetry and run around doing what ever thing I'm doing, and I think I might be satisfied to leave it at that. Still, it might be good to have this self-importance broken up by "a Zen master in the house all the time," which is how Gary Snyder, the poet, describes his first child.
Do you think you'll ever marry?
I don't yet feel enough of that erotic romance around the belly for a chick—not enough to want to contract to stick with one woman the rest of my life. I don't even have that kind of erotic heat anymore to want to sleep with just one man. But I certainly have more heat for men, so it would be a shame to hang up some chick I dug who had the same detachment as myself and who wouldn't suffer continually from being unsatisfied by my lack of erotic interest, a marriage would be all right. Certainly I wouldn't get Married just to have the appearance of being married.
Have you ever made love to women?
Lots of times.
Do you enjoy it as much as you do with a man?
Well, sometimes it's just as good. I get into a deeper emotional intimacy if the chick is lissome and springy, skinny and pretty. I like little blonde furry dolls.
Is there any kind of sexual act that you'd consider a perversion—with a man or woman?
I don't know what we mean by perversion. Some sex acts are "perverted" when they get self-destructive or obsessive; incest might be one. I've always had an anti-incest block, a hypersensitivity about that. I've had wet dreams about everybody in my family; I suppose everybody has, whether they remember them or not. But grooving incestuously at a very early age with brother or sister or father or mother would tend to close in the circle of contact, limit the expansion of social mobility and become a habit—like junk. Incest would really complicate the normal problems of independence that most people have, which they solve by leaving home or you agree on the road.
Would you agree with Norman Mailer's claim in his Playboy Interview (January 1968) that such acts as cunnilingus and fellatio are perversions because they substitute for the normal heterosexual act of penile orgasm within the vagina?
Ideally, orgasm inside a woman is a complete act natural to the construction of the genitalia and pelvis and the whole interlocking muscular system from top of scalp to tip of toes. In a complete Reichean orgasm, one would presumably experience a total orgasmic conscious glow throughout the body—tingling everywhere. So when you get or give head, there are probably dysfunctions of cosmic glow.
But, like "Let the crooked flower bespeak its purpose in crookedness, to seek the light/Let the straight flower bespeak its purpose in straightness, to seek the light." The anal-sphincter-prostate orgasm some men are capable of having is a great opening of feeling and delight and an extraordinarily beautiful experience, and rare. Possibly everybody should experience it for his own humanity, good judgment, tolerance and empathy in understanding feminine sensations as well as masculine nature in the human mammal and the universe itself. I don't know whether it's anything that needs to be recommended universally, but I do feel that whenever it happens, it should be honored rather than despised, just as mountain climbing and courage in the boxing ring are honored—or any extension of natural faculties to experience high, luminous extremes of awareness of nature.
In an interview in The Paris Review, you told how you felt despair in 1948 about the possibility of ever finding any "psycho-spiritual sexo-cock jewel fulfillment" in your life. Have you found it?
Yes, I've found the lightness and liberty of experiencing the satisfaction of most of my sexual fantasies. But I've also found the resulting bad karma—like now, ten years after Peter Orlovsky and I become lovers, we've had to detach ourselves sexually from each other.
Our relationship was a big long fantasy that finally got played out. Time changes, the body turns to ashes.
Will you and Peter stay together?
There's homosexuality in every Playboy reader.
When I was elected the King of May in Prague in 1965, I made it with all sorts of beautiful Middle European 17-year-old blond cats. Having a fame identity makes it easy to make it with young kids who are, like, friendly. I went through a big run of making it with young cats in San Francisco last July. I went to bed with almost everybody who'd stand still for it. About a month before, I'd written a long poem exploring the anal slave-master sexual-drama fantasy. In this poem, I wanted to be the slave. I'd already written another in which I was master; I wanted to try the whole thing.
At first, I wasn't sure I could read the new poem in public—it was so far-out and intimate and real. But I finally decided that this kind of fantasy is sufficiently universal to be of general interest, that it isn't a peculiar of private aberration, and that reading it wouldn't be an act of excessive exhibitionism. So I read it at the "Rolling Renaissance" poetry reading in San Francisco before a giant funny audience of squares, hippies, high school kids and old bohemian poetry lovers; they seemed to dig it. Later, I was in a gay bar on Grant Avenue—gay bars there are groovy now, all the kids have long hair and motorcycle jackets, they're friendly and first-rate and don't look like fairies but like strong young men-and I met this kid who said my poem had turned him on. So we made it. It was like living out the fantasy described in the poem.
Why do you say that anal eroticism is a universal fantasy?
When I was an adolescent, I'd have assumed it was just my particular Dr.Jekyll-Mr.Hyde scene, though everybody's got something going, whether it's foot fetishism, licking eyebrows or God known what. But in 42 years, I've read books and made it with a lot of cats and talked with married friends, and realized that anal pleasures are so common that they're recognizable as part of almost everybody's secret mythology. Almost everybody enjoys what could be called the erotic pleasure of a good shit; Being screwed in the ass is only an extension of that sensation. Since on our separate islands we all have that same coconut tree, there's no harm; and it might be a blessing to take the hex and bane and guilt off the subject with a "Public" poem. Once it becomes no longer a secret, romantic thing, it turns into another common, charming quiddity—a "humour." in Ben Jonson's sense of the term.
As a poet who's become famous for his erotic verse—and for his brutal candor—why were you so hesitant to read this poem before an audience?
I don't know; it was the first time in years that I've really been scared to read something I'd written. When I get to a barrier of shame like the one I felt when writing this poem, I know it's the sign of a good poem, because I'm entering new public territory. I write for private amusement and for the golden ears of friends who'll understand and forgive everything from the point of view of humani nihil a me alienum puto—"Nothing human is foreign to me"—but it's fearsome to make private reality public.
Are you saying that your poetry is an exorcism of shame?
An exorcism of fear. Shame is just one aspect of fear. I felt much the same when I wrote Howl in 1955. That poem also refers to getting fucked in the ass, but only by allusive mention. In this poem, it's a deep-end description from the lips of the anus to the bottom of the bowels—what it feels like and what the fantasies are—all done in an ecstatic, rhetorical manner.
In your poem Death to Van Gogh's Ear!, you wrote that you'd "die only for poetry that will save the world." What, exactly, did you mean?
I meant that the only thing that can save the world is the reclaiming of the awareness of the world. That's what poetry does. By poetry I mean the imagining of what has been lost and what we are and the slow realization of it. First come prophetic images from the unconscious—like the scary image of Moloch, "eater of children," in Howl—and then the gradual realization that such an image isn't merely an "image" but an articulation of what one actually sees and experiences. See, back in 1959, Peter [Orlovsky] and Gregory [Corso] and I read at a benefit for Big Table magazine in Chicago. Not quite unconsciously, we said there was a god abroad in the land that ate children. At that time, it wasn't clear whether Moloch existed only in our imaginations. But today, that same Moloch, "whose eyes are a thousand blind windows," looks like Mayor Daley's main civic concern; he's building larger and larger, more demonic robotlike Moloch buildings in mid-Chicago till finally one sees this 100-story black John Hancock Tower of Babel, whose site and shape are by-products of usurious land speculation. What's sacrificed to such a Moloch are the care and cultivation of Chicago's tear-gassed children—and greenery, and the souls of men. In a more general sense, Moloch is the military-ward-heeling-IBM police state we've been living in for years with-out knowing it. What I didn't realize twenty and even ten years ago was that images from the unconscious that went into my poems which I thought were visionary and transcendental, were really literal realism, simple common sense.
If you say so, Allen. Do many other poets share your conception of poetry as an embodiment of prophetic perceptions rather than visionary imaginings?
Yeah, I think most do. American poets have always been one of the real sources of news—news you couldn't get from Time/Life. A lot of poetry is coming true today, in the same way that a photograph reveals itself as it's being developed. Like Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind"; that song could have been any little boy's lyric fancy, but when it was played one afternoon during the convention in Grant Park across from The Hilton, it revealed itself as prophecy all along, because it described what was going on right there on the grass. Crowds of strange children with long hair, who weren't afraid to have their bodies hit by police phantoms armed with billy clubs, were demanding reality and truth from business-delegates who were walking around in upstairs Hilton rooms scared of the stink of their own karma. Tear-gassed! That scene was, literally, blowing in the wind. Was it going to be a police state or a liberation from what had been a police state all along?
When I wrote "Howl," I thought it was like something in the Gnostic tradition, in that only a few companions of the Grail would recognize the humor of a lot of the rhythms and images. What I didn't anticipate was that there were so many companions of the Holy Spirit in America—or that everybody is really inhabited by the Holy Spirit. By Holy Spirit I mean the recognition of a common self in all of us and our acceptance of the fact that we're all the same one.
Hundreds of thousands have read your poems and many have been disarmed by your frankness. But many critics and some of your fellow poets complain about what you conceded a few minutes ago was a degree of exhibitionism. What do you think of such charges?
Exhibitionism as they use the word is a classification of so-called psychosis invented in a society so repressive that any frank revelation of what's going on has to be characterized as a from of madness. It would be inappropriate revelation if you'd seize on the revelation or your own genitals in the park, scaring people, as a symbol of that common self and desire to get through. But that's all exhibitionism is: somebody trying to communicate, get out of his shell, break out of this prison we're all in. As such, it should be acknowledged: A guy should be allowed to parade himself; in fact, the cure for exhibitionism would be to have a special day for walking along Michigan Avenue exhibiting one's genitals. That should satisfy an exhibitionist; he'd really be out of his prison then; we wouldn't have to worry about the problem anymore. What I was digging in poems like Howl was the humor of exhibitionism. You're free to say any damn thing you want; but people are so scared of heating you say what's unconsciously universal that it's comical. So I wrote with an element of comedy—partly intended to soften the blow. At first, people think this is overexertive exhibitionism. but on second thought, they realize that it's entirely serious and perfectly normal, natural and real.
Is that what you intended when you took off your clothes in 1957 during a reading is Los Angeles? The story goes that a heckler in the audience asked, "What are you trying to prove in this poem?" and you answered, "Nakedness," and when he demanded, "What do you mean by that?" you took off your clothes without a word.
Yes, but the act was in context. After he'd asked what I meant by nakedness, I wondered, What did I mean? And I thought: Nakedness. That's what I meant. So I took off my clothes. That story gets retold with the implication that I take off my clothes at innumerable poetry readings or that nobody had asked me any question in the first place, which takes out of focus the precision, clarity and normalcy of the gesture. Another anecdote that keeps recurring is about the question a lady asked me at that Big Table reading in Chicago: "Why is there so much homosexual imagery in your poems?" My answer was: "Because I'm queer." I was writing about actual feelings; those images arose naturally. I wasn't boasting that I was queer; I was simply answering her question. But the story gets retold as if I intended some kind of Oscar Wilde sensationalist answer. The point was: The lady didn't understand that I had homosexual feelings; she seemed to feel that poetry meant writing about flowers one never saw or places one never visited—like the seacoast of Bohemia. Apparently it never occurred to her that I was writing about something simple and real. She was probably also challenging me to be ashamed of being homosexual. If that lady read Shakespeare's Sonnets, she'd probably feel that all his allusions to his young boyfriend were some kind of literary conceit or flowery imagery. What rose out of Shakespeare's soul was universal; he was angry because his buddy went off with a Dark Lady on another motorcycle.
Your longtime interest in Eastern religions—particularly Zen—as well as your revelations about homosexuality, adds to your image as one who stands outside the mainstream of American life. How did your interest in Zen Buddhism begin?
In 1948, as I mentioned earlier, I'd had some visionary experiences while reading Blake, but I hadn't been able to find words that seemed to articulate them. Then, in 1953, I saw scroll painting by Liang Kai called Sakyamuni Coming Out from the Mountain, which showed Sakyamuni Buddha with long, tearful eyebrows and big ears, looking, ascetic year and had experienced a comedown enlightenment of some kind. Around the same time, I got a big sorrowful, enthusiastic letter from Jack Kerouac in San Jose about the Diamond Sutra and Satori, or illumination. The word satori, seemed to fit my earlier spontaneous illuminations. That led into Oriental poetry, yoga and travels.
In 42 years, I've read books and made it with a lot of cats and talked with married friends, and realized that anal pleasures are so common that they're recognizable as part of almost everybody's secret mythology.
Well, I had a trance experience with mantra chanting in Chicago during the Democratic Convention. You may know, a mantra is a short magic formula or prayer with syllables consisting of the names of deities—Hindu, Buddhist, Tibetan, Japanese—who can be interpreted as aspects of one's unconscious hopes, desires, fears. For example: Krishna is Hope for the Preservation of the World. Siva: Realization of Enormous Changes. Tara: Mother's Tears and Compassion. Dharma: Brothers' Justice. Buddha: Self's Throne-Power, OM. According to the Hindus, there are three major aspects of experience to dig: One is the inconceivable, the unborn, the void—what we know is out there after death, and perhaps also before birth; the ground out of which the universe imagined itself. That's called Brahma.
Then comes the second aspect—the world of names and forms, preservation, stability and responsibility, and the hope that returns after the Flood. Noah, and Christ resurrected, return to save human beings every time human evil gets so heavy, as it has today, that the planet seems threatened with destruction. That's Vishnu. Vishnu has many forms and returns over and over again. Krishna is one of his forms—a blue-bodied cowboy with a flute. Creation and destruction, birth and death, change: That's the third aspect, Siva.
The Hare Krishna mantra is a round of the names of Vishnu repeated again and again: "Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama Hare Hare." If you sing it continually in a sweet tone, you can use it as a vehicle for any emotion you're feeling, and also as a method to regulate breathing and point your consciousness to one place where your body is. Repeated over and over, the mantra can lead to a regularization of all the body's rhythms in one even, tranquil, harmonious, continual, unending, pleasurable, recurrent, reassuring tune. You can take these mantras, sing them over and over again in any tune you want, and you'l find it's a way to involve your whole mind and body, through breathing, in one single-minded activity that's both contemplative and expressive. Although there are all sorts of intellectual-mystical-theological potentials involved in chanting a mantra, on its simplest, most Americanesque level, it's just like singing in the shower or an interesting phys. ed. that can get you high.
High on what—your own consciousness?
That would be too inaccurate a way to put it. High by means of focusing your consciousness in one place to deepen your awareness of that pace, which is your body. By means of rhythmical regularization of breathing, there's a slow alteration of chemical metabolism in the body, which, in turn, awakens existent but unrealized physiologic electric sensations and densities and neural patterns, and clarifies the consciousness of the inner observer who's putting the body through such motions and training it and the mind to sit still and think.
Who is the inner observer? One's self?
Us. It. One. Chicago. The planet. Anyway, I had this extraordinary experience chanting OM here in Chicago. On Sunday afternoon—the day before the convention began—a lot of us were wandering around Lincoln Park when unexpectedly the police showed up with guns and clubs. Nobody knew why or if the police were going to attack. Panic—a few people freaked out. Some of the Maoists were acting insulting and revolutionary in their ideological prophetic style. Police fear everywhere. So I sat down and began chanting OM. I thought I'd chant for about 20 minutes and calm myself down, but the chanting stretched into hours, and a big circle surrounded me. A lot of people joined in the chanting. Then somebody passed me a note on which an Indian had written: "Will you please stop playing with the mantra and do it seriously by pronouncing the 'M' in OM properly for at least five minutes? See how it develops." I realized I'd been using the mantra as song instead of concentration, so I started doing it his way. After about 15 minutes, my breathing became more regular, even, steady—as if I were breathing the air of heaven into myself and then circulating it back out into heaven. After a while, the air inside and outside became the same—what the Indians call prajna, the vital, silvery, evanescent air.
Then I began to feel a funny tingling in my feet that spread until my whole body was one rigid electrical tingling—a solid mass of lights. It was around eight P.M. now and I'd been facing the John Hancock Building, which was beginning to light up. I felt like the building, except I realized it wasn't alive and I was. Then I felt a rigidity inside my body, almost like a muscle armor plating. With all this electric going up and down and this rigid muscle thing, I had to straighten my back to make a clear passage for whatever flow there was; my hands began vibrating. Five or six people were touching them. Suddenly, I realized I was going through some kind of weird trance thing like I'd read about in books. But it wasn't mystical. It was the product of six continuous hours of chanting OM, regularizing breathing and altering rhythmic body chemistry.
Did it feel good, Allen?
Oh, yeah! Powerful, good, solid. I felt my body was mine in a funny way; I put my legs in a full lotus position, which I can rarely do. I realized that it was possible, through chanting, to make advances on the body and literally to alter states of consciousness. I'd got to euphorias, ecstasies of pleasure, years before; I'd gotten very far with feelings—but this was the first time I'd gotten into neurological body sensations, cellular extensions of some kind of cosmic consciousness within my body. I was able to look at the Hancock Building and see it as a tiny little tower of electrical lights—a very superficial toy compared with the power, grandeur and immensity of one human body.
Another familiar thing I recognized during the trance was the animal, brown, snaky, sentient living presence of some big trees standing outside the circle of chanters. I realized that those trees had more going for them than the Hancock Building; they were alive, at least, and so to be respected, observed and communed with—in the sense of being noticed in one's consciousness as they hiply signified their own trunkhood and leafage. They looked like great big doggy-trees.
How long did this go on?
I kept chanting till ten P.M. Boy, what a thing! I'd never chanted for eight hours before and thank God I could do it on that occasion. It felt like grace. It felt harmoniously right that some psychophysical rarity should be happening on that political occasion as Sunday dusk fell on Lincoln Park and the Hancock Building lit up on the horizon. If there'd been panic and police clubs at that moment, I don't think I would have minded the damage. Clubbing would have seemed a curiously impertinent intrusion from skeleton phantoms—unreal compared with the natural omnipresent electric universe I was in; the cops would have been hitting only one form of electric. The fear of death was gone, in the sense that I recognized I was already dead; I was a revolving mass of electricity. I was in a dimension of feeling other than the normal one of save-your-own-skin. I was so amazed and gratified that I don't think I would have minded any experiment, including death. That was the most interesting thing that happened, for me, in Chicago—more interesting than marches and conventions and glittering Hilteons and giant Galbraiths moving like phantoms through the city. But I think everybody who watched television during the convention experienced a widening of consciousness.
In the sense you spoke of earlier?
Yes. Because of the social imagery they saw on the screen. Outright police brutality was shown so clearly that even TV and radio commentators were saying: "This is a police state!" Before Chicago, that would have been considered an impropriety, even though many already felt it was true, secretly. To make it official like that turns things over in people's minds; suddenly they wake up in a different country from where they thought they were. But it was there all along! People realized that they knew it was there but were afraid to recognize it, because that would mean being caught in a nightmare they didn't (continued on page 236) Playboy Interview (continued from page 92) want to confront. It's like a smoking cough; you'd prefer to ignore it rather than face the fact that you're getting cancer. Or like not wanting to turn around to see if anybody's following you, for fear somebody really is. But when you do turn around to see, you widen your area of consciousness.
What made you decide to go to Chicago in the first place? Surely you're not that interested in party politics.
Well, the original fantasy was to hold a Festival of Life; I thought of it as a continuation of the Human Be-in that happened in January 1966 in San Francisco. What would happen if all the psychic heroes of America—breakthrough artists and manifesters of consciousness like Tim Leary, William Burroughs, Ed Sanders, Buckminster Fuller, Paul Goodman and some of the great Digger-anarchist cats—were to assemble a universal academy in Chicago and give everything away free, mingle with each other and all the younger people whose consciousness is in tune on the new transcendental rock-'n'-roll revolutionary sexual aesthetic planet level? Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman began the idea, and the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and Dylan were supposed to be invited to celebrate, as well as all the swamis and Hare Krishna singers in America and anybody else with a non-grasping nature and a constructive demeanor. Like, have a wild grass-roots planet academy festival where teeny-bopper poet-revolutionaries and technological prophets could be let loose to sing naked and exercise the great humane arts free—and blueprint a new nation.
Imagine all those mad folk together in a classical Kumbh Mela—a gathering of the tribes. Every young kid in America who had any spiritual or artistic interests or any penetration into his consciousness would want to come, learn, contribute, get laid, amuse himself, turn on—and think. And it would be a marvelous way to expose young kids to traditional intelligence as it's been adapted to psychedelic consciousness by their elders, making them aware of the larger world of planet history, new attainments in articulation of community and the links with older traditions.
Couldn't you have held your festival more peacefully in a less troubled place and time?
The whole idea of a street-theater festival was to gas out the political-drag-Neanderthal scene in the Amphitheater. What kind of show could the Democratic National Convention stage that would have rivaled that? Old, tired theater—that's what the convention was, with its showbiz bunting, bands, flags, people making speeches written for them and acting roles ordered by city bosses. No joy or spontaneity at all.
How do you feel your Festival of Life turned out?
Well, it didn't come anywhere near its goal, obviously. For one thing, few people realized what a locked-up police state Chicago was, just like Prague—and how much stealing, guns and Mafia and outright illegality there was. Police and City Hall break laws and lie. Chicago has no government; it's just anarchy maintained by pistol. Inside the convention hall it was rigged like an old Mussolini strong-arm scene—police and party hacks everywhere illegally, delegates shoved around and kidnaped, telephone lines cut. And Daley himself mounting curses at Ribicoff on TV.
I think that there's no legitimate Government to overthrow in America. The military industry has already overthrown it by armed violence.
None of those assemblies in the park or marches were violently provocative. Provocation was ultimately on the part of the city, whose threats, shows of force, tear gas and physical attacks triggered every specific instance of violence. The city also helped to provoke the violence by insisting on technical interpretations of law that only foment riots—such as refusing to make humane adaptations of rules to let people sleep in the park. And the city's restrictions prohibited free movement of people in what is, after all, their own territory. "The streets belong to the people," as Abbie Hoffman kept saying. "The streets belong to whoever we say can have them," the cops replied. Obviously, that's a confrontation.
Did you see any acts of violence by the demonstrators?
Sure. There was lots of violent language after people were beat up, but there weren't many kids who wanted outright revolutionary violence or bloody confrontation. Of course, there was a small group of "terrorists" who believed in stink-bomb sabotage as therapy, and a few youthful drunks who were violently resentful of all symbolic authority. But there were no more of these than in the normal population of any country club.
Actually, the tragicomedy of the Daley-police position was that the city was paranoiacally obsessed with any sign of inflammatory language or behavior by rare revolutionary birds. So they beat up an entire cross section of typical healthy American youths, avant-grade flowery longhairs, the entire mass media and all those in the "Clean for Gene" suite at the Hilton. They also tear-grassed half of their own force on occasion. As Burroughs remarked, it wasn't that the police intended to beat up on citizens; it was that they literally did not see whom they were attacking in their hysteria.
It became a question of how to handle such confrontations. What kind of street theater would best make one's point? One possibility was a theater of resistance—by using your body to try to hold the ground and being ready to have your head clubbed.
Isn't that what the police would call "asking for it"?
Are Americans reduced to having to regain liberty by violence—like in the American Revolution? Obviously this is the question on everybody's mind. I'm convinced there's another way. Blake has some lines appropriate to armed resistance: "Thy brother has armed himself in steel / To avenge the wrongs thy children feel; / But vain the sword and vain the bow / They never can work war's overthrow." I'm willing to die for freedom, but I'm not willing to kill for it.
Would you literally die for freedom?
After this Chicago experience, yes. This police state's unreal.
You mentioned resistance as one form of "street theater" with which the police could be confronted. That was just what happened in Chicago. How would you have preferred to confront them?
Organized chanting and organized massive rhythmic behavior on the streets, shamanistic white magic, ghost-dance rituals, massive nakedness and distribution of flowers might have broken through the police-state hallucination-politics theater wall. Now, nobody got naked in Chicago, but the few times there was communal chanting of mantras, that proved helpful. I've described one of them. A few other times, when everybody felt trapped in confrontation-fear—lights glaring and tear-gas anxiety and Mace and police ready to attack at midnight and a few people up front on useless barricades shouting and banging on trash barrels, like some scene from a Warsaw-ghetto movie—a group came along chanting OM and transformed the scene into another kind of glorious pageant theater. It was like a religious service, chorales under the trees and midnight sky.
But the chanting, of course, didn't stop the violence.
As a matter of fact, it did stop a lot of violence; it really calmed several scenes where police didn't have remote-control orders to attack. But it didn't stop all the violence, because the chanting wasn't participated in universally by all the people in the park. To succeed, it would have required an unbroken circle or at least a majority of participants in order to set up mammal-vibrations strong enough to be irresistible.
If that's true, why did you chant OM all alone one night from the gallery of the convention hall?
Better one prayer than none at all—and by then lots of people knew what it was for. When the Wisconsin delegate asked that the convention be adjourned for two weeks because of all the beatings in the streets, I jumped to my feet in the balcony and began shouting OM. It was sort of a Phantom of the Opera feeling—like I was swinging down from the chandelier with my weapon mudras.
Mudras are Buddhist hand gestures, magic swords that cut down phantoms of illusion.
Fake flag imagery, hallucinatory patriotic band music drowning out antiwar delegate language, ghostly cops listening everywhere on the convention floor, black-magic curses coming from Daley's throat, complete blackout of popularly expressed vote against the Humphrey-Johnson-Nixon war psychosis, take-over of convention-hall procedure by an elite group of ward heelers in the name of old-fashioned democratic procedure, rigged electronics and seating arrangements, dead telephones, galleries illegally packed with a party-hack audience, and physical intimidation of delegates and observers by secret police. Zap! The convention illusion was staged by self-interested power conspirators against the expressed wish of the majority of citizens of the nation; and their shoddy sleight-of-hand shell game was meant to make voters think they were getting a choice, while actually phantom manipulators were nominating a candidate who continued to apologize for a war the voters wanted to reject. The whole convention, in fact, was an exercise in black magic and mass hallucination—just as the Vietnam war has been.
So when the priest began to pronounce benediction on all this massacre and hypocrisy, it seemed to me that a complete formal exorcism of the convention was necessary. So I stood up and went into some kind of fit of total ecstasy and started chanting OM over and over again—louder and louder, until almost everybody in the convention heard it, and officials on the platform turned to look at the balcony where I was standing. I went at it for five solid minutes; nobody stopped me, they were all so guilty. It was a ritual to exorcise all demons in sight, including myself.
It obviously didn't succeed.
Well, it had exactly the same effect, on whoever heard it, as the priest praying and hypnotizing people into a state of stupefaction so that they believed they were all doing something traditionally moral together. Since my chant was untraditional but ritual, formal, everybody noticed an interruption opposite from what they expected. It did shake their consciousness a bit because it was out of context. It was white-magic theater; it helped to break up the mass hallucination of political respectability that the priest's prayer created for the convention as a whole—if only for a few minutes.
How would you reply to the explanation that most of the people who heard your exorcism did nothing to stop you not because they felt guilty but because they thought you were some kind of nut?
Perhaps, but I'm not.
Were there any other "positive experiences" that came out of the confrontation between the establishment and the New Left?
There was the sudden recognition of eyes between blacks and the whites who'd been beaten—the whites discovering with relief that blacks are allies, not enemies, and have been there all along. An enormous relief for everybody! Blacks got what they had hungered for: companionship instead of lip service and the usual brush-off. Several times during that week, the social fog lifted; there was a psychedelic clarity in the air. All week I felt touches of what were almost acid illuminations when I talked with people—everybody conscious of a crisis of public reality—or looked in their eyes on the street. Everybody was looking at one another, wondering: "Is he aware what's happening, or is he one of the brainwashed police-state robot-like forms? Is he a good German, a good Russian bureaucrat, or a free man?" A whole society of respectable people became beat.
Do you mean beat as in beat-up, Beat Generation or beatific?
I mean beat-illuminated the way Kerouac defined it over and over. After the Chicago convention, that word should be clear to the youth of America; they'd seen the shambles of authority as it authorized itself to issue its own image. Everyone who had been so hopeful—like the McCarthyites—wound up beat. Even Humphrey and Daley were beat, all dust and ashes. The day after Humphrey'd been nominated, beat McCarthyites came down from the Hilton and discovered that free territory in Grant Park. They mixed with the Yippies, all eyes glancing at each other, everybody bankrupt and suddenly discovering a holy community on the grass—so holy that Senators and delegates, and finally McCarthy himself, came down and mingled with the youngsters who had been considered dirty, despised, bathless, bearded terrorists. A marvelous afternoon. So, beat also in the sense of crazy new feelings of joy vibrations right in the middle of America—as Kerouac always linked beat with "beatitude." Now that enough people have had this experience, it's time everybody stopped making believe they don't understand the term.
What do you feel will be the long-term results of the confrontation in Chicago?
The populace is a bit cowed; the military take-over has already happened, in the sense that the tactics of take-over—arms, Mace and so on—were prepared and tested in Chicago. Whether such tactics will be used on a large scale in every city may not be up to mayors anymore, because the country has already been taken over by the police, the Birch Society, the CIA, the military industry, the party hacks. Exactly the same type of hard-line people whose tanks rolled into Czechoslovakia last August. That kind of communism really means a strong-arm, authoritarian police state—involving occasional illegal violence, mostly on the part of police agencies and their collaborators. The Chicago Tribune, in U. S. context, is a collaborator, in that it's been manipulating readers' minds for years to think that America needs stronger, more powerful police and military agencies in order to combat the "Red menace." But the police state itself is the Red menace. Actually, it gets to be a question of two versions of communism: the Russian and American police states. Both dig the same hot cold war.
To what extent do you think the new "hip planetary consciousness" you've mentioned can resist a police state?
Part of that hip consciousness is the realization that authoritarianism of any nature is a usurpation of human consciousness—open manipulation, brutalization and arbitrary manhandling of bodies and consciousness. Student rebellions in Prague and New York are the same. More and more people will become alienated from the authoritarian state and its images, such as angry mayors and police. One way to oppose such authoritarian images will be increased community action. The problem here will be how to transform the "greasers"—the blue-collar class which is always in favor of a strong police force and the persecution of minorities. Naked street theater ain't going to transform them. But giant rock 'n' roll might get greasers into rock concerts and turn them on. The spread of psychedelics—which is a person-to-person matter, like all grass-roots procedures—might be another weapon. So might new electronic art forms. And long, intensive conversations and explanations among blacks and greasers and squares and kids and Yippies and party hacks might be another. What would you do if you were in Prague? Fight? Propagandize? Infiltrate?
How successful do you believe this re-education of "greasers and squares" will be?
One of the big questions here, as in Prague, is how free the news media will remain. For the first time, there was a breakthrough in Chicago: Actual social reality, with unmistakable images of social truth, was shown on TV and reported in the papers. Minority groups have been beaten and clubbed and jailed for years—hippies, teaheads, Negroes, avant-garde literary folk, underground-newspaper editors. But now white middle-class McCarthyites were suddenly shown being beaten on the head—and the message got through. There'd been a breakthrough in graphic coverage of American armed violence in Vietnam; now there was one on American armed violence at home. A lot of people have begun putting the two images together and realizing they're the same: natives getting napalmed and citizens getting beaten in their own streets. Newsmen finally realized these things really happened, because it started happening to them, too. But then a big campaign began to convince newsmen and other people who saw or read about the beatings that it was all a subjective hallucination. It's like what happened in Prague. During the eight-month freedom there, everybody blew their tops and told the truth; then the Putsch set in. Authoritarian Communists like the Tribune and Pravda, Mayor Daley and the commissars, foster the hallucination by calling the demonstrators who'd been clubbed "agitators" and "terrorists."
Though opinion is polarized on the subject, a great many people seem to agree with that description. What do you call them?
Good, old-fashioned Americans trying to be free men on free territory, manifesting the American dream. And it's amazing how many of them there are. In Chicago, I met lots of kids who'd spent a year or two in Alabama working as civil rights workers, and then another year in SNCC and VISTA and maybe two in the Students for a Democratic Society. Others are "professional revolutionaries" totally dedicated to social activity and community work—like the post-Digger "Motherfuckers." It's marvelous. And many of them are high a lot psychedelically, so there seems to be a joining of forces between social-activist and hippie youths.
What do you think about the fact that some of these groups are pledged to overthrow the U. S. Government?
I think that there's no legitimate Government to overthrow in America. The military industry has already overthrown it by armed violence. We're living in an anarchic state. Already, the power structure's upheld by guns, not equal law. To mistake Daley's Putsch in Chicago for democratic procedure would be a phantom illusion. Humphrey's nomination was taken by force. I wasn't in Miami for Nixon's theater.
Do you agree with those who feel that these young people will "sell out" and turn into middle-class conformists as they grow older?
No; impossible. Time or Life may think them misguided youths who'll straighten out in time and return to the ways of their collaborating fathers. But how can they go back? The way's been barred by beatings and arrests. What bridges they haven't burned behind them have been burned for them with pot busts. What's happened to young people is a sudden breakthrough of cosmic consciousness catalyzed in part by psychedelic drugs. Another factor was the deconditioning caused by alienation from social authority as it proved itself completely incomprehensible and mad and burned its own bridges from Hiroshima to Vietnam. What happened in Chicago is only one local example. Suddenly a lot of people have awakened and asked: What in hell am I doing on this poisoned planet, where everybody else is running around waving flags and shooting guns? In answer, many of the longhaired kids are turning into Adam and realizing—as they realized when they walked on the Grant Park grass across from the Hilton in Chicago—that they're walking on the green of antiquity, a "green and pleasant land," the ancient New Jerusalem Blake envisioned as possible in England. It's much like in a science-fiction story where suddenly this spontaneous generation appears that realized it's living in eternity, in the sense of having a whole new planetary consciousness. Now these kids can check back through ancient symbols and learn about the traditions from which they've sprung or to which they correspond. One source would be early Gnostic texts about the nature of man and the universe—in particular, the nature of the guardians of cosmic order who try to keep man locked in the body stump: the establishment.
What kind of life do you think these young people want to lead?
Here I can talk only about the life I'd like: more contact with nature; more and more occupation with exploration of subjective consciousness and enlargement of areas of inner and outer sensibility; more participation in rhythmic theater; and liberation of sexual energy from population reproduction. Since the Biblical injunction to "be fruitful and multiply" isn't sacramentally appropriate anymore, it seems to me that the time has come for the orgy to become a communal form of "adhesive" democratic festival. Ideally, what should have happened in Chicago, for example, was that the Festival of Life should have eclipsed the convention with the glow of thousands of naked bodies intertwined, making love, spurting semen all over the newsmen and TV cameras and one another on the grass, all to the accompaniment of yab-yum mantras and naked rock-'n'-roll artists swinging through trees.
You've got to be kidding.
On the contrary. Life should be ecstasy. We need life styles of ecstasy and social forms appropriate to whatever ecstasy is available for whoever wants it.
Beyond man's natural ecstasy is total serenity and tranquillity: cessation of desire, which the Buddhists talk of, which is liberation from grasping and craving. I think many of the younger children have already liberated themselves from grasping after the things of this world and have begun to grasp for wisdom; eventually they may even liberate themselves from grasping after wisdom. Everybody wants, needs, deserves and will have this free kingdom, which the police state, whether it triumphs or not, can never touch.
Is that one of the reasons why you recently moved to a farm in upper New York State—to try to find such a life?
It's just a place of privacy. A retreat. A hermitage.
Do you think there'll be an increase in communal retreats among the hip-psychedelic generation?
The kids say so. Communal living's a good experiment; it provides another family. Most older people, on the other hand, are so sold on television sets and superfluous commercial gimmick amusements that they've forgotten about electric being and inside space and outside nature relationships in the human universe. Some garden, but too many of them are occupied in purely abstract mental worlds, like money power. They externalize their abstractions in creations like that John Hancock Building. Instead of using our space to create a humane construction overflowing with imagination and delight, a real-estate computer computed what the profitable angles, stresses, strains and maximum height should be, based on a big-money downtown building site. That black tower is the product of nonhuman automatism, total squareness built literally on greed—usury extended in robotic directions and with robotic tenacity.
Such desensitization has been closing in on human consciousness for centuries now, leading to complete disregard of the sensitive skin of the earth, the pollution of water and poisoning of the atmosphere. Who's grooving and profiting from disrupting our ecology? What alternative economic structures are inevitable if the planet isn't going to explode? The whole greed-money thing must be kicked like a junk habit. Obviously some type of equal use of moneys—as well as of sunlight and water—is appropriate, especially since in a mechanized society nobody really works. The guy who buys and sells the land on which the Hancock Building stands doesn't do any productive work. Instead of making money by producing some product, he only plays with paper, with telephones on his desk, and makes money out of money; that's usury, and usury creates these visible hells. The alternative is for the resources to belong to everybody.
Are you talking about collectivism, socialism—or anarchy?
Those are just words. To say that nature's resources—sun, water and air—should be available to all makes more sense. How that can be done is not the great problem. Lots of blueprints are available: Buckminster Fuller, Robert Theobald, Paul Goodman, Fourier, Leary, Burroughs and Bakunin offer practical directions. The main problem will be how to dry out the money-property junkies. Try to break the money-property-power men of their habits and they'll act just like junkies—lie, steal, scream, rob, live in your house and swipe your last Tibetan tanka in order to sell it to the pawnbroker and buy themselves some more real estate, sell the ground from under unborn feet, cut down forests, raze hills, make uninhabitable box houses. Such acts literally destroy the billionfold delicate balance of relationships between man and nature on the planet in so many ways that today the main technological problem is in attempting to calculate what have been the effects of our intrusion on the planet. That's a problem so vast, scientific and manly that it staggers the imagination of most real-estate operators. Wheelers and dealers of property are stuck in tiny little corners making piles, mortally ignorant of how the terrible feedback from their power plants affects all life around them.
I'm talking about the fact that this planet is in the midst of a probably fatal sickness; the by-products of that sickness include not only the political violence of real-estate developers but all the giant fantasies of the Cold War—the witch-hunts, race paranoia, projections of threat and doom. The sickness will end in our destroying our own planet. All sorts of Presidential and scientific advisory commission reports, books on biology and ecology, prove that we are literally destroying the earth because of vulgarly applied technology, irresponsibly planned military-consumer industrialization and waste of resources. We've got about 30 years left to get straight—or else. The sickness may even be irreversible already; Burroughs thinks it is.
It's an ecological cancer. We're polluting more and more of the world's freshwater sources, for one example. Right now, Lake Erie's just a great dead pool of green goo, a toilet. If it were left alone today, it would take 500 years for it to return to any kind of freshness and normal balance of life. But we need that water now—not only to keep up with the population explosion but also to help freshen the atmosphere, not to mention for our own pleasure. Then there's the thermopollution of the oceans. Oceans are getting hotter and dirtier on account of all the atomic and DDT waste we're pouring into them; it's begun poisoning fish and some rare bird species. If all the atomic power plants now on the drawing boards are put into operation in the next 30 years, the atomic waste from them will alter the entire heat balance of ocean and land, change all marine forms and generate enough heat to melt the polar icecaps, causing a world-wide flood just like in the Bible! "The icecaps are melting to wash away our sins," as Tiny Tim sings.
The possibility of a world flood seems remote to most people. Can you honestly expect them to relate now to this almost-inconceivable future catastrophe?
They don't have to. Catastrophe is more immediate than that. Miscalculations about the rising strontium-90 count have already damaged entire young pine forests in northern Canada, poisoned arctic dolphins and probably changed the weather a little. Continuous use of insecticides not only pollutes oceans and kills fish and birds, but it accumulates in people's livers and poisons them and perhaps causes freak-outs in subliminal ways. In the same way, the use of synthetic nitrates in fertilizers depletes the soil. It's like people taking speed; it may give more energy and productivity for a few years, but it ends by depleting the system. In addition, such fertilizer eventually turns into certain nitrogen forms which are poisonous in baby foods. And this is continuing when the nitrate level in baby food has already passed what's clinically considered the health level. We're poisoning our own babies.
Don't you feel that the technological strides now being taken by medical science hold out some hope of coping with these health hazards?
The cancer is more than a purely medical problem. Car waste products and industry gases not only pollute the atmosphere but they cut us off from the clarity of Mediterranean azure by turning the sky into shit-colored smog through which you can't see the moon and sun and stars. People no longer know the procession of the seasons. And they don't know they're on a planet anymore—much less in a vast galaxy. They think they're in "Chicago" or "New York." Seventy percent of them are. Their conceptual awareness of the world consists of little piled blocks, streets, radios, politicians, TV stations, city halls. We're living in somebody's comic science fiction nightmare rather than on a fresh planet.
Not only does smog cut off eyeball consciousness and mental awareness but it also cuts in on your breathing, poisons the body, causes suffocation, heart attacks and nervous anxiety. Add to that the noise in the cities. Most city noise is subliminal; you get used to it, but it's bugging you all the time. Noise attrition is considerable on the nervous system, but it also damages the heart—cardiovascular-cell freak-outs. If you've never lived for any length of time in the country, you think the city is the normal condition of existence, Pretty soon people are going to begin mutating and adapting to smog, noise, pollution of lakes and rivers, living in high-rise apartments and experiencing politics on TV and human relations through police-state stereotypes.
Most luxury products we use are useless and destructive—like the no-deposit, no-return bottles littering the planet; it will take hundreds of years to get rid of them. Aluminum throwaway cans! Everything's being turned into plastics and synthetics. Living forms are being turned into inorganic ones; cancer has exactly the same effect. Instead of continuous spontaneous consumption of matter reduced to dead form. That's a pretty degraded human environment, I think. All I've been saying is symbolized by the fate of the very emblem of America—the bald eagle. The species is almost extinct.
Some scientists believe that man's ability to control genetics and natural environment will lead to higher evolution of our species rather than to extinction. Do you think this is unrealistic?
If technological mismanagement continues to take us in the direction we've been going—and there's reason to presume that it will, at a geometrically increasing speed—ecological damage, waste of resources and overpopulation will eventually create more and more fighting and anxiety and aimless Chicago beings and police states and grabbings of power and presumptions of authority and terrorism. It will all lead to giant genetic, intercontinental starvation—wars and rebellions in every direction which may ultimately end with people shooting arrows from windows of the Hancock Building and defending the last canned goods for some fat old banker's nephew.
Do you seriously believe it's that bad?
Absolutely—and young kids know it; that's the basis for their conduct. They're being cheated out of the Garden of Eden. While this science-fiction crisis is building, the old power and money freaks remain so self-involved that they don't even see the planet beginning to smoke under their feet. They're busy destroying on a more and more massive scale, polluting the atmosphere, defoliating Mekong Deltas and wreaking such vast havoc that newspapers get thicker and thicker, and larger and larger forests have to be cut down to print the news—all of it bring-down, or irrelevant.
What do you think can be done?
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.
The specific cure probably lies in the direction of a technology that will restore living forms to the surface of the planet—revitalize the planet's skin—without setting up a feedback that further pollutes or disturbs that living, breathing skin. Then—assuming that we maintain our giant population—we'll face the terrific technological problem of finding a place for everybody to live. We'll have to tear down the cities—they stink—then decentralize and miniaturize our machinery. But these are just technological problems; there's no reason why they can't be solved. After all, we can split atoms, create giant computers, articulate the shapes of DNA molecules, go to the moon and wage vast wars. Why shouldn't we be able to solve our specific conservation and population problems?
Even if we solve these problems and make continued human life at least feasible, what do you think can be done to enhance the quality of life?
All sorts of propositions are available. Dr. Barry Commoner's books cover ecological reconstruction, and Gregory Bateson has the technical ideas. How the human community can reorganize and decentralize itself has been written about by Paul Goodman. Pound and others describe how to decentralize the monopolistic control of money by banks and individuals, and invent new forms of social credit. Robert Theobald has suggested structures adaptable for economic liberation from the domination of money. The Diggers have told us how to organize Adamic communes. The Chinese Reds and other Communists can teach us about some structures for group organization. Capitalists know a lot about certain aspects of production. We should also listen to Dick Gregory and the macrobiotic people about healthy foods; to the American Indians about seasonal and communal rituals and how to respect the sacred body of the land we inhabit; to shamans like Aldous Huxley about the appropriate use of natural and synthetic psychedelics; to Leary and Gary Snyder about enlarged variant family structures; to Burroughs about the reorganization of educational systems in order to provide proper training in non-conditioned, spontaneous consciousness; to scientologists on mind training to rub out hang-ups like fear of death, sexual obsession and either love or hate for the American flag; to poet Charles Olson about suggestions for temporary reorganization of American police so they'll all be black or female; and to a million Oriental Zen masters and yogis about physical education and consciousness therapy. So plenty of prescriptions are available. Practical problems can be solved in practical ways.
Then why—in your view—aren't they being solved?
Because our governments are addressing themselves in precisely the opposite direction: how further to fuck up the surface of the earth. Most of our national consciousness is invested in an 80-billion-dollar "defense" budget still preoccupied with the completely hallucinatory and paranoid problem of attack from the outside—by "the Communist conspiracy"—and with competition for supremacy over colored races and other life forms. Intermarriage would produce a golden race, which obviously would be one solution to such hallucinatory problems, as well as to the problem of race itself. Otherwise, we'll have a war for the survival of one color: a war which will destroy the planet. Progress requires abolition of race ego, national ego, boundaries; it requires planet-citizen consciousness.
Although a minority is aware what that next step is, what about the majority who are plunged in darkness, flood, apocalypse and destruction? How to redeem these "ignorant armies" who clash by night from their own bad karma? Violent confrontation? Violence begets violence. Revolutionary violence begets fascist tyranny. So, though the noble impetuosity of confrontation by some New Leftists may seem appropriate to a situation in which long-haired angels are surrounded by pigs, the problem remains: how to cast the Devil from the hearts of the swine?
We'll bite. How do you?
Since we're in an apocalyptic situation, old historical dialectics no longer apply. I prophesy that the only way to reverse the apocalypse is white magic, because the apocalypse itself is incarnate black magic. What would be the effect of total sacramental harmonious shamanistic ritual prayer magic massively performed in the American or Russian political theater?
We're beginning to feel like a straight man. What would be the effect?
Exorcism. We need a million children saints adept at high unhexings, technological vaudeville, rhythmic behaviors, hypnotic acrobatics, street trapeze artistries, naked circus vibrations—magic politics to exorcise the police state. Is there a kind of poetry and theater sublime enough to change the national will and to open up consciousness in the populace? If the direction of the will can be changed and consciousness widened, then we may be able to solve the practical problems outlined: ecological reconstruction and the achievement of clear ecstasy as a social condition. And once that is achieved, people could relax and start looking for the highest, perfect wisdom.
And what is that?
The realization that even visionary ecstasy is unnecessary because the universe was neither born nor will it be annihilated. The universe is an illusion. Once you realize this—with LSD or without it—you get into the ultimate science of ZimZum, as the cabalists call it. ZimZum is the science of the expansion and contraction of the universe—the appearance and disappearance of the universe itself. This is ultimate physics and also ultimate consciousness. But for this ultimate theater we need the advice of the Dalai Lama, Daitokuji Roshi, Lubovitcher Rebbe, Krishna and a hip Pope.