Allen Ginsberg on Counterpoetics and Oppositional Action

Allen Ginsberg – September 1991 – photo: Rick Dickerson – courtesy Stanford University Libraries/Allen Ginsberg Estate

July 20 1992 – Following up from yesterday – transcription of a panel-discussion at Naropa featuring Allen Ginsberg, Anne Waldman, Amiri Baraka, Peter Lamborne Wilson and Joanne Kyger

Here is Allen’s contribution:

AG: As background –  present domestic, introspective, and sexual preoccupations form the continuity for my own work, as distinct from my own ideas about macro-politics, although ideas about larger social issues emerge naturally and have had some influence through my poetry, but, nonetheless, the continuity seems to be what most preoccupies me day to day in immediate sensory and mental life and emotional life.

The personal also seems to provide a touchstone for the authenticity of public pronouncements, that is to say, how “close to the nose”, or how authentic, one’s own expression of one’s own life is, aside from a theoretical proposition for public action.  Well, the personal does draw all threads together, both your sexual and emotional, familial, health and social connections, including the macro-,  the larger, network of interrelationships and politics, and large-scale politics, (whether autonomous, or Marxist, or Situationist, or poetic.)  {Editorial note – Allen is tipping his hat to his fellow panelists here]

However there does seem to boil down very often in these dialogues, particularly between myself and Amiri (Baraka), the traditional materialist political dialogue between the self and political action as… We touched on it in a very casual conversation before (last night, actually). I said something about the 1960s Vietnam War in relation to (Jack) Kerouac denouncing “those Jews, Jerry Rubin, Allen Ginsberg and Abbie Hoffman” for “inventing new reasons for spitefulness”  as a motif for political action in the 1968 Democratic Convention.  And I thought there was some real sharp wisdom and insight in what Kerouac said. My own thought was that perhaps the Left had prolonged the Vietnam War by offending the middle-class and not leading the middle-class out of the war, since by 1968, June, fifty-two percent of the American people already thought the war had been a mistake. And so it seemed to me that the slogan, Kill your parents”, “Bring the War Home”, waving the Vietcong flag, drove the middle-class back into paralysis, rather than let it out of the war. But Amiri proposes a totally different interpretation – which is it should have been organized as a much more active, violent… well, I think, that was the idea, a much more active violent political sharpness and organization, to oppose the war, to make it impossible to continue, which would then have made the direction of the Weathermen insurrection a life-saving tactic for the Vietnamese, whose blood was spilled because of American inaction and the inability of the Left to bring the country out of war. And that reminds me also of a remark by Andrei Voznesensky in a poem I translated of his talking about the burning in Los Angeles. Voznesenky says, “Who am I to criticize? I, who crapped up my own homeland” (thinking about the fall-out after the demise of Stalinism and the Stalinist bureaucracy, which Amiri mentioned with a tone of regret).

So that’s an interesting paradox did the… Amiri’s term was the reaction, I guess, or the retrogression, at the decline of the Communist system, rather than, let us say, the purification of it..  But the microbes of Capitalism are creating more violence – or nationalism and capitalism and economic inequality and racial inequality  are creeping into the Socialist, former-Socialist, states. So that also brought a parallel problem, should we vote for Clinton (sic) or start a new party?  (Editorial note – this is July 1992 –sic)  – and what to do, almost immediately, in the next months.. I’ll probably vote for Clinton and Amiri proposed somebody else that he would vote for that would be the beginning of a third party, (as he spoke here). So it’s an interesting dialogue and it’s a constant question, I think, in everybody’s mind, between various courses of action (not just those two, but those are main Y-turns here, or main junctions).  Then, plus, the question of a third-party, on what basis? – of Marxism? ecology? libertarianism? or Buddhist relief of suffering? – or, what would be the criterea?  And also, can the world be fixed-up or will we lose it, in any case, under any system dependent on technology?  But then the person who’s proposed by this is confronted by the fact that you can’t do everything. So, as Ed Sanders said, pick your specialty and work with the community in your own specialization, “refuse to be burnt out”. Amiri proposed a series of very specific steps, activities, networking, some of which we’ve tried working out here in permanent institutions of education like Naropa or the on-going café that Baraka has in his household, or Bolinas civic action, or even Peter (Lamborne) Wilson’s autonomous liberated areas, or Anne Waldman’s constant support of the meditative and politically-active community as well, with the spiritual poetics of Naropa. [Allen, again, tipping his hat to his fellow panelists]   But among other resources or conclusions was the notion at the beginning of the ‘Seventies to “clean up your own act”, purify the motive for action, (which also could be, in its spectral phase, Yuppie hedonism affordable by upwardly-mobile elite, but also, lets clean up your act so that any political gesture you take is not founded on aggression, or resentment of parents, but is actually clear action that will not bring any payback that destroys the actor or the ideal acted for).

What interested me was that most of the conversation between myself and Amiri, with this political difference in the background, concerned our teeth, smoking, drinking, and food! Both of us are suffering in the body (me, with heart failure and diabetes, Amiri, also, recently, with diabetes), and both of us interested in a purer diet, or a diet that actually worked for our bodies. And the interesting pun (or macro- micro-pun in that) is that, with certain aspects of vegetarian, or grain, or macrobiotic activity, you also have political or economic changes, since one of the suggestions is to eat local foods. Thus (not only) making it a more autonomous self-supporting individual community (even possible in a city), but also avoiding the waste of fossil fuel in transporting goods from one hemisphere to another, and exploiting the banana worker in Honduras, or creating monocultures in client states, or isolating economies into single production of single dependent crops or manufacturing.
Or the question… There was also the question in our minds about what do we do about our teeth (we both gave up smoking some time ago). So a lot of the actual everyday preoccupations, particularly for us who are getting on in our white hair, as elder citizens, (which we hope the younger people will pick up on also), is with questions of health and diet and just keeping a sane mind and a sound body (with some regret on my part that I hadn’t started earlier).

So. That brings me back again to the micro-, or smaller, individual area, as something which does involve everybody, and “cleaning up our own act”, particularly food and intoxicants, (which) weaves into larger issues like “The War on Drugs”.  Like, the big death-drug is nicotine – four hundred thousand dead in America from cancer, heart-attack, high blood-pressure, because of the crop subsidized as a result of Senator Jesse Helms (of North Carolina) lobbying for subsidy for tobacco agriculture. What is ”the War on Drugs” then?  And so I totally approve and join with Amiri in his vision, (which is very controversial among minorities), about the liberation from the drugs controlled by the government.   So that’s just a few thoughts.

Audio for the above may be heard here (beginning at approximately forty-six-and-a-half minutes in and concluding at approximately fifty-seven-and-a-quarter minutes in   

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