Student: You were talking about political disillusionment the other day.
Student: What’s the nature now  of your political commitment?
AG: Very complicated. I felt that I had left that hanging in the air, unresolved. In fact, hadn’t even formulated what I was trying to say but what I was doing was presenting specimens. I guess that was obvious. I was presenting specimens of different political attitudes, (from Shelley to Wordsworth to Whitman, (and) with a little reference to (Timothy) Leary.
Student (Can you talk about your own development?)
AG: Well, okay, I began, basically, in terms of culture, as interested in “cultural revolution”, as they call it now (I don’t think we had that phrase in the (19)40’s or (19)50’s), but I was interested in, at that time, a “new vision”, or, ten years later, (19)58, (19)57, a “new consciousness” (which, actually, probably was just looking for the old consciousness which had been forgotten, or just an old basic consciousness, but what we called “new consciousness”)
Political activity on my part was a by-product, later, in the early (19)60’s, of a search for recollection of my own awareness (which had begun with various visionary experiences in the late (19)40’s), and so I was just trying to break through a lot of custom, institution, and heavy-mindedness laid on me by parents, school, Paterson, Columbia, New York, sexual mores as I knew then. I was just trying to find my own “unity of being” (it’s a phrase that (W.B.) Yeats uses). And so, I had various different, at different times in my life, ideas of what that might be. From some Williams–esque sense of “No ideas but in things” (so, direct perceptions), or perhaps some Zen notion of living in present time, or Burroughs-ian notion of living in present time, or some Olson-ian notion of being “one with my skin”. So that most of the political activity I was involved with was, actually, just trying to assert my own skin, against the hallucinatory person created by media or state or CIA or FBI. So, actually, it was an attempt to sift through and search out from my own authentic, original, personhood (as Whitman would say), through the illusions created either by our industrial civilization – or by the state itself (consciously, with paranoid intentions – because there was a point where the FBI was attempting to create illusions that would make people paranoid. They specifically had Beatniks in mind. There was a time, back in (19)61, when J.Edgar Hoover said, “The three biggest threats to America are the Communists, the Beatniks and the Eggheads”. And that was around the time they were formulating Operation CoIntel – Counter-Intelligence – And I wouldn’t be surprised if they were spreading all sorts of nasty, unwashed, bearded, unkempt, dirty-footed, axe-murderer visions of Beatniks in the mass media. by assembling, from all sorts of small towns, all of the little outrageous deeds committed by long-hairs, and circulating them out to the wire services, through the FBI press-room in Washington. In other words, there was a certain amount of paranoiac content, politically, there, in terms of image in poetry.
So what I’m trying to say is my original intention was just to clarify my own consciousness, and, in the course of that, I got tangled up dealing with.. well, what?.. The police state (of different kinds), or police repression. Books, censorship of books, my own book, Burroughs’ book, Kerouac’s books, at first. I couldn’t get hold of a copy of Henry Miller. So I suddenly realized that there was this heavy police state going on, or some kind of Garden of Eden prohibition against the Tree of Knowledge. And I think most of my political activity came out of that kind of conflict. Some visionary search – that involved marijuana, smoking marijuana in (19)45 or (194)6, and discovering that it was just this little herb that sharpened your perceptions. (I thought, “so why is this against the law?”). And, all of a sudden, the notion of there being a law limiting perceptions put me into a Blake-an universe again (in a universe of “Urizen”, as a dictator, “Your Reason”, as a dictator, a mythological monster of consciousness as the dictator, trying to tyrannize everybody’s consciousness).
(And) then, around (19)58, I began seeing the Industrial State and Capitalism – and Communism – any police bureaucracy, as being a vast conspiracy to homogenize consciousness, or to enforce one single form of consciousness on everybody. So my attitude has always been that, in politics, or that’s been a clandestine reference-point.
At the moment, I would, I would say, be interested in a peace protest, or some sort of disarmament protest involving (a) demonstration (for) peace, which would involve several tens of thousands, or hundreds, or a million, people, gathering around the White House to do ten-hour-a-day sittings, sesshins, for ten days. (I think that would be really interesting – and possible), and would require, perhaps, less organization than a chaotic, anarchic address or angry demonstration would involve.
[tape ends here – tape continues – to be continued tomorrow]
[Audio for the above may be heard here, starting at approximately fifty-one-and-three-quarter minutes in]