RD: Do you think that America is still, in a way, (at the) forefront, in terms of bringing together what the ‘Sixties, in terms of the consciousness that comes out of the shifts in time and space and the shifts about reality and all that, do you think that..do you feel it’s still a kind of a viable growth these days?
AG: Yeah Because. I think so these days because America’s also in the forefront in the destruction of nature, in the development of acquisitive….
RD: Yeah, That polarization seems fiercer and fiercer and so more energy in the..
AG: So the antibody to that, the anti-body developed in America, which leads the industrialization, in the sense that as a stereotype of America, like, it was “the American Century”, we industrialized the rest of the world, gave them a model (and saw) the Japanese began becoming American, the Germans becoming packaged,the French and Italian packaging again, so the antibodies developed by that, by whatever’s wrong with that (which we won’t get into yet) are stronger in America, just as an antibody to police-state dumb bureaucracy is probably stronger in Russia, with the exiled and dissident writers, than anywhere in the world, They beat us out in that, The other deal..
RD: Well the question is, does it have to go in anti-sense? I mean, is it going to continue to be this kind of pendulum thing? Do, like, the Reaganomics have to force the Left or the kind of political anger again – is that the only way the thing keeps growing? Or is that… whatever happened in the ‘Sixties create(d) a kind of a zeitgeist of consciousness that allows an appreciation of Reaganomics, or the Reagan thing, as a kind of a.. something just coming to a death and allows something to evolve that isn’t just anti-that (because there were a lotof good things (out of) that)
AG: Well, let’s see, my idea was, around 1948, the crush of American materialism over American consciousness got so heavy that it collapsed and let in some light, so, not quite antibodies (but) the conditions developed where people recognized that they were, suddenly, not in New York, not Americans – they were on a planet, they were spiritual beings as well as physical and mental and emotional.. a new sense of ecology came in.. so these were the sort of.. let’s say from (the) (19)40’s up to the (19)70’s, what were the gains in consciousness?. Let’s try and figure those out.
AG: Not what were the gains, but what were the changes?
RD: Right. Well one of the big ones was just what (Albert) Einstein did to (Isaac) Newton, It was a shift from absolute to relative reality, really. That was the big one..shifts in time and space concepts.
AG: Right, so.. and, psychologically, what that meant, I think, was that people recognized that their subjective experience was the only actual scientific data that they had..
RD: Yeah, yeah.
AG: …the objective data they had.
RD: Into sciencethat the experimenter was part of the experiment.
RD: That was a big part of that
AG: Into all the arts..that happened when (James) Joyce and (Ezra) Poundand (Gertrude) Stein, and everybody, that the measuring instrument, or recorder, that the subject, is mind, rather than the external universe, the realization that ‘the mind altering, alters all”.. “the eye altering, alters all”, “a new world is only anew mind”, [Editorial note – Allen is, of course, quoting William Blake and William Carlos Williams here], I think broke through in the (19)50s and (19)60s
RD: Hearkening back to William James..
RD: ..that other states of consciousness may be real, and suddenly there they are and they’re reality.
RD: And his line (that it) “forbids our closing accounts with reality”, and that’s now..listened (to).. that was now heard.
AG: I think it was the first realization on a large scale, say, during the ‘Sixties, on a large group of people, partly through history, partly through the intrusion of grass and psychedelics, partly through..
RD: Partly through the immediacy of the Bomb too..
AG: Yes, the Bomb, of course.
RD: See, the Bomb is a big one, because it changed the meaning of Death in relation to Life, and it changed the way in which people felt part of a..very rigid social structures in which they would grow up, grow old and die, and it was all, like, a small-town mental(ity), like “Our Town” . It didn’t have an “Our Town”. That was cut through by that.
AG: So, the new apocalyptic sense of a human life, a revision of the old American high-school shibboleth of everybody is an individual and that God’s eye is on the sparrow and every fallen leaf, and you’re not a number, you’re not a cipher in the void, you’re actually number(ed), the government’s supposed to take care, private industry supposed to take care, if you call up Wonder Bread and they give you a bad pack, there’ll..or, the President will send you a letter if you’re nine(ty) years old … so that everybody should be taken care of and if you live in a hotel and the water isn’t hot, they give you big apologies!
AG: Suddenly a new element of emergency broke down all the manners and all the official-ness.. things I learned in grammar school – that everybody was supposed to be taken care of
RD: And then television was a major, major, big, force, because that madetrue the kind of vicarious involvement, that made us burning out, and living out, myth after myth after myth after myth, so that a twelve-year-old kid had been through, like, two hundred adult roles, so how’s he gonna grow up to become the post-master of his local town when he’s already been..
AG: A gangster
RD: A gangster for the FBI, you know, and he’s already gone to the moon and done all this stuff? So I don’t think we should..
AG: A gangster for the FBI.. (huh?) A gangster for the FBI?
AG: Right on.
RD: Well, don’t they have… television..yeah..well (that was a way..) but that was a big one in my estimation, and that’s one of the things that’s interesting to me, because people say, “Gee, the ordinary American family watches four-and-a-half, or five, hours of television (a day), isn’t that terrible?”Well, it’s a mixed blessing because (it’s) a way of burning out attachments, burning out fantasies, burning out myths. And all of the mythic figures of our culture are suddenly right there for you to see – Frank Sinatra and all those lines [Ram Dass traces his fingers across his face at this point, indicating Sinatra’s furrowed complexion] and all the horror of Spiro Agnew and (Richard) Nixon, and all, I mean, it all..
AG: And the war (and the wars).
RD: And the war. And the immediacy of killing people, and all that stuff.
AG: So well I think that helped (them) for the sense of dehumanization and lack of feeling (that)..
RD: But also an awakening, I mean, don’t see it all as negative, see it all as.. it’s the dehumanization, but also..
AG: Yeah. Well, dehumanization is a funny kind of enlightenment.
AG: It is an enlightenment, if you take kind of a.. the idea that a sunyata, or ego-less state, involves the demystification of certain traditional ideas – identity, personality..
RD: Exactly, right, what I called “de-romanticizing” it, in a way
AG: ..but, on the other hand, it didn’t propose a compassion, or tenderness, or mutual involvement, or Buddha-nature
RD: Right, That’s true.
AG: …as an alternaive. It proposed a complete annihilating void.
ED: A nothingness and that’s part of what the punk rock and all that is a kind of resonance about, isn’t it?
RD: A kind of an emptiness, it’s all free but the whole.. the hedonism of the (19)70’s, is that all that’s going on?.
AG: I think it’s a protest against the emptiness. I don’t think it’s a going along with the emptiness. It’s an ironic state(ment), it’s an ironic comment. I think it’s very healthy.
RD: I agree.
AG: It’s an enactment of the social proposition of empty void. You see the words for the Sex Pistols were “No future for you/No future for me”.
AG: …as the most frank and artistic and political statement made at that time.
AG: …a couple of years ago [(1977) – [Editorial note – this interview was recorded approximately 1980-1981] They were saying that, because of the Bomb, because of the economics in England, there is (was)“No future for you”, (in terms of what used to prophesize..be prophesied, the “British Empire”..)
RD: What are you gonna do when you grow up? You’re just not.. it’s irrelevant.
AG: Yeah, so I think it was like the new wave and punk movement, I think was a..like the Beat thing, (and like the older Bohemian.. the flappers!) – I think it was a healthy individualistic statement of character.
AG: …(as against character-less homogenization), and a certain aesthetic intelligence – and also a revolt..
RD: Except, it didn’t have in it very deep, the depth of compassion that then emerges out of that. That was still the seed out of which it would later come. That, in itself, isn’t compassion.
AG: Yeah. New groups, like The Clash, have a great deal of intelligence and conscious awareness of where they’re at and aren’t hard (in fact) at all, are very open
AG: Peter Orlovsky my friend had – has – a girlfriend (Denise Mercedes) who lives with us who has a new wave punk band (The Stimulators), playing at CBGB’s and Max’s (Kansas City)
RD: Yeah, I met her.
AG: And I saw it was like a.. a Catholic school-girl who had no future, except as a typist, becoming an artist. And the dress was art.. I was amazed by the art of it.Like theater, it was theater, basically.
AG: Punk was theater. It wasn’t people making themselves grotesque for.. but it was street-theater.
RD: Right on.
AG: .. and I don’t know if it was seen as theater but it was definitely theater.
RD: It was only scary because it had so much kind of..It threatened so much existing cultural mores
AG: Well it blew my mind because I was saying that the Beatniks did their street-theater with their beards and their things, so..but what are these people doing? -they don’t even have beards, they don’t even have bangles, they’re wearing purple hair!
RD: Safety-pins going through their cheeks!
AG: Well, actually most of them wore them just in the clothes and it was baby-diaper pins, actually ..
RD: (Oh God!)
AG: …I found.. someone gave me one…and it was a baby-diaper pin, you know.. to put it to wear here [Allen, laughing, indicates his lapel]
RD: To wear (t)here! [laughing] – oh well, that’s a whole different level of the game..
AG: Well, no, some very intelligent kid, that looked outrageous…
RD: ..(that) I met in front of the Mudd Club, (and he said) “I adore your poetry, have a pin!” and put it on me – “joining the younger generation”!
RD: That’s very funny
AG: And I said, “What kind of horrible type of pin is that?, and he said, “it’s a baby-diaper pin, didn’t you realize?”
RD: So what else was there?
AG: The ecological, Apocalyptic Bomb, threat, teaching both mortality and the disregard of the tenderness of the human form..
RD: Yeah, that’s right.
AG: …and so symbolizing the whole impulse of organized classical society that had brought itself.. of rationalistic society, that had created this, chaos. And that, with all the computers, and all the wise generals, and Oxford-degrees, and confabulations, and cocktails in Zurich, what it had brought about, was – what everybody says – from the grandmamas, to the old Wall Street pundits, to the young punks – looks like it could be the end! So that meant that a dymystification of history, and of governments, and of authority, and authorities, and economics, and so that meant that everybody had to start thinking for themselves. And the second thing was a recognition of the interdependency of nature, the Eco.. (what is known as the Ecology movement) and a greater sensitization to plants..dolphins [sic]
RD: ..which would be forced upon us by the obviously very visible, or obvious, things, like smog and all this stuff , and the disappearance of species. That was a very slow awakening but that became a very real part.. – that we were using up.. we were using up our system…
AG Well the destruction was fast and, you know, it accelerated in the twentieth-century. And the awakening was fast, accelerating from the (19)40’s to the..(last few years)
RD: Yes, very very fast.
AG: ..for a change of history, a historic reminder, what they call “paradigm (shift)“, a change of reference point as to what the world was all about, and what mind’s all about, that was very swift. It was swifter than (with) Galileo.
RD: Yes. The other thing was that television and transportation made us much more aware of the collectivity of.. like I mean..that the World Federalists years ago, didn’t get much hearing really, because nobody could deal with the time-lags, it was too vast, the neighbors were too far away. This has now changed (as that changed). That was a big one too
AG: So then, lacking a fixed identity, fixed bourgeois identity, say, or fixed national identity, or afixed personal identity, or having one that could be snuffed out overnight..
AG: … then (this) made people think about what is the nature of identity and consciousness. And then, I think, people, naturally, spontaneously, had experiences of.. of a larger consciousness, a “big mind” (as Suzuki Roshi used to say) (a) world mind, in many different forms, whether from..thinking there was a God, or thinking there was like a great, spacious, empty, vast sentience
RD: Or the Tao – becoming to..to the law, to the vastness of it all
AG: But what I think happened is that people had personal experiences independent of drugs
AG: Then.. by the time this…
RD: It (sounds) obvious now. It’s obvious now to us…Because now as it’s surfacing, (as) an integrated thing, (like, I call it like a Martian take-over, because you can feelit happened to a lot of people in a way that had nothing to do at all with the way we thought it was going to happen to them)