Allen Ginsberg on William Blake’s “The Mental Traveler” continues from here
AG: (In Existentialism) God was dead. There was nothing but a vast desert of space all around, in which man had to make up his own meaning. But in (John Paul) Sartre‘s Nausea, and in books by (Albert) Camus, very often the hero.. Or the general notion was that there was no way of making up anything. People were committing suicide, and wearing black stockings and painting their eyelids black, and going through pre-punk rock decor and fashion style. Because “no future for you, no future for me,” no hope, no spirit, no ideal, nothing but a mechanistic desert in every direction
Student: But there was freedom, though.
AG: What? But there was freedom.
Student: It was a meaningless freedom.
AG: Yes, it was meaningless. It was considered a meaningless freedom. For those of you who have ever studied that genre of literature. It was sort of a Western… sort of a last gasp of western rationalism, you know, seeing the universe as nothing but atoms rushing into space. But still seeing it in the kind of Newtonian way, as a bunch of atoms, rather than blackboards or pink cheeks, or something. Pink cheeks in the void. Atoms in the void rather than pink cheeks in the void.
Student: Being and Nothingness
AG: Pardon me?
AG: Yeah, Being and Nothingness
Student: (Like formlessness and…)
AG: Yes, but this (“the Mental Traveler”) seems to hint that, or something. So it may be this is the acme of the guy who gets entangled in Nature. The mind entangled in Nature, dying, trying to revive itself with a young lady, maybe, but I don’t know if that will apply. But anyway, the mind entangled in Nature. He wanders far away and “Oft blind and age-bent, sore distrest”. A cottage “fades before his sight”. He begins to die. Entangled in Nature, Nature begins to shrink itself, or his own body begins to shrink – “The stars, sun, moon, all shrink away”… “..nothing left to eat and drink/ (And) a dark desert all around.”
Now, who is this young maiden with infant lips, sweet smile and roving eye that beguiles him to infancy? (“The honey of her infant lips,/ The bread and wine of her sweet smile/the wild game of her roving eye”)
Peter Orlovsky: Young love.
Peter Orlovsky: What line? What line are you on?
AG: Well, desire.. we’re on line seventy, actually, of that. I’m trying to figure it out as we’re going along.
Student: Maybe it’s the balancing of the energies, you know, male and female. He keeps going from male to female, male to female…
AG: Uh-huh, but in this particular passage between them, what’s happening? He’s actually gotten old, he’s on the verge of death, except he has a glimpse of the feminine again, falls in love with an infant feminine. Now, he’s already.. he’s already.. he’s met an Old Woman. She grew young as he grew older. Then, they got into a balance. Then, when he got to be very old, she’s very young.
Student: Right, they get out of balance.
AG: Get out of balance again. And so, as he’s very, very old, finally, and almost on the verge of death, or disappearance, there’s this little female Babe. If the female.. If he was Liberty and the female was the prison of Nature, then Liberty grown old, and what..Nature grown..? … (what’s happened to Society?) [to Student] Yes, sir.
Student: It’s a re-emergence into cyclical time, kind of going to the well of non-time, non-space, he re-emerges into his basic existence again. Which really doesn’t matter, because it’s all the same anyway.
AG: Well, but something dramatic is happening here, because it turns into “a desert”. See, she grows young, and because she grows young, he begins growing young again. First, he fed on her age and took years on from her. It’s hard to figure out. If you start.. We started out with (Foster) Damon’s interpretation, actually, that it was Revolution, (that she was the State, and he was Revolution). Or Nature and Mind. Mind, continual revolution, Nature, solidification. State. Then, in this case of State and Nature.. the Mind has grown old, having married Nature, the Mind has conceived of itself as old and dying), but the Nature itself is reborn, (or Babe, or infant-like, or the Nature that he merges himself into, or the primal.., or whatever it was you said? the “Primal Consciousness”?
Student: What I said?
AG: What was it you said it was? Primal?
Student: I just said “cyclical time”.
AG: Cyclical time. Yes?
Student: Often in society and law and revolution, as society grows older it creates new laws …which would be the birth of the thing pursuing society’s overthrow, and then it becomes a new society as the laws grow old. I mean, it’s just a reversal of the society being traditional and the new laws being created and then being overthrown, as the laws….
AG: So that might be a little revolution in society – her Babe infancy?
Student: Yeah. And the laws grow old… I mean, while the society’s young and the laws, become traditional and society, and the laws change.
AG: Well, I’m sure that’s part of it. That notion of a society growing old and stratified and solidified or maybe going through revolution.
Student: (So) new laws which are the infant Babe which society has to….
AG: The new laws, I think, would have to be something as big as a revolution, not just a new set of laws like the New Deal or the New Foundation, or something like that. Or the legalization of grass, or something. The decriminalization of marijuana. That wouldn’t be enough.
Anyway, it winds up “Her fear..” – (she flees away from him) – “Her fear plants many a thicket wild” – (and he’s pursuing her now). “By various arts of Love beguild.” – (Now, what is that? He really wants to continue the love of Nature, maybe. Or he wants to continue his mortal existence, or his heart has gotten young and gay again and he’s like an old fool running around trying to entrap the whore, (Nature, who’s a babe at this point)
“By various arts of Love & Hate/ Till the wide desart planted oer/ With Labyrinths of wayward Love” – (So, I guess, passion, aggression, and ignorance are being created – “Lion Wolf & Boar.” He’s populated the earth with his aggressive passions, clinging passions, or passions in which he’s trying to cling to existence, cling to some still-possible hard-on virility, or viability, as a body, as a living being) – “Till he becomes a wayward Babe” – (now he’s a babe again, now she’s “a weeping Woman Old (and many) a Lover wanders here/The Sun & Stars are nearer rolld.” – Then, “The trees bring forth sweet Extacy” – ( so apparently it’s working out in some funny way). “A city.. is built/..a pleasant shepherd’s home”).
But then, let’s see now, he becomes “a wayward Babe”, and then “the Frowning Babe” is born again. So that might be Revolution again or some new vision of Nature.? But terrifying to everybody.
to be continued
[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately forty-eight-and-a-quarter minutes in and concluding at approximately fifty-seven-and-a-half minutes in]