Ginsberg 1993 Oslo Interview – 6 (conclusion)

Allen Ginsberg’s interview with Audun Engh, recorded in Oslo in 1993, continues from here
& concludes here 

AE: You found Buddhism in Asia and lately you have brought your poetry back to Asia, to China. What kind of effect could your poetry have in an Eastern society?

AG: Well it’s already had quite a bit of an effect, oddly enough, not my poetry but the whole realm of the Buddhist American Beatnik Poetry. My Indian Journals went out of print (journals that I kept in India), went out of print in 1980 or so, but suddenly were reprinted in India by Viking and have sold very well, (much more than in America or England under the English imprint) and I now have a book in China, I think one of the first American, contemporary American poets with a whole book. But you know the contemporary poet-heroes – Shu Ting – in China, (who wrote romantic love poems at a time when it was considered blasphemous from Maos point of view) – Bei Dao (a modern intellectual poet)  – And many of the Shanghai poets were very influential on the student movement at Tiananmen Square and they were always influenced and interested in what was going on in the American movement from the ‘Fifties through the late ‘Sixties and took a certain amount of inspiration there. And I’m told that some verses of mine were written on boards on walls at Tiananmen Square by the student leaders and some statements by Abbie Hoffman. So that spirit of individualism and libertarian, anarcho-libertarian humor penetrated even through Moscow and China.

In Russia, the cultural revolution was what really changed the government rather than America’s military. It was in the jeans and rock n roll and modern computers  that made a big difference I think and brought down the Communist bureaucracy, the Stalinist bureaucracy, and certainly there was a huge influence of, not only American poetry but Bob Dylan, rock n roll, The Beatles , The Soft Machine, The Fugs, Kerouac, Burroughs, and the Charter 77 and the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia  (And I think that’s been the most interesting model

AE: So now maybe we need a strategy to deal with this attitude to young people in the Islamic countries?

AG: Yes, That would be the ideal. The particular..  The very interesting thing .. It’s there is the difference between a non-theistic and a very heavily theistic metaphysics. It’s a metaphysical question in a sense – a question of the origin of things. Some Buddhist teachers have said the real Armageddon, ultimate battle, will be the spiritual war between the theists and the non-theists, (which may mean Capitalists versus Communists), is nothing to what can go on between those who insist that everyone believe their God and those who feel that God is an ideological imposition on the mind, like putting a roof on the mind.

AE: But even with religions with a concept of God there are traditions of mysticism, like the Sufis within Islam, people who broke out of the politicized religious systems.

AG: Yeah, well Daoism is non-theistic, Confucianism is non-theistic, Buddhism is non-theistic, ultimately Hinduism should be (if it isn’t – at the moment fanatical Hindus are burning down Muslim temples for political advantage – but, usually, it’s politicians getting hold of that religion impulse and trying to exploit it for demagogic power means, as basically that’s all the Ayatollah  (sic) is doing…did.. I mean his whole  jihad against Salman Rushdie was basically a political ploy to use that as a symbol of Western intervention and fight it ideologically by imitating (William) Burroughs’  Hassan ibn Sabbah  – He’s sending out assassins to get the enemies of his power (the Ayatollah’s power) or the inheritors of his power. It’s tough though, because all over the world, in the United States,  in Germany, everywhere, there is this theo-political fundraising televangelistic power-hungry demagogue tendency, (whether it’s the head of Serbia, fighting for nationalistic and orthodox Serbian ideals against Moslem multi-cultural tolerance, or Catholicism in New York trying to persecute fairies and homosexuals, particularly on the Irish St Patrick’s Day parade, even after Ireland has legalized homosexuality beginning with the age of sixteen, or the theo-political fundamentalist television evangelists in America who are raising money to insist on censorship on television and in schools and insist on teaching that the earth was created in 404 BC, according to the Bible – even some of them saying that we should kill all the fairies and homosexuals because it says so in the Bible). So there’s a whole very strong group and they were allied with Reagan and with Bush, they were a power-group, and they’ve affected television – (like, my poetry can’t be recited on American television anymore until 8 pm at night. There’s a new rule – from censorship).  So there’s a powerful group even in America – and in Germany you have similar nationalisms and theo-cratic morale as well as the Islamic world.

And then you have the equivalent nationalistic ideological absolutism in China with its campaign against “spiritual corruption” (namely rock n roll and Western poetry and what-not).  When I was in China, I found that the Chinese students that I lectured to were eager to learn about meditation. So I gave a little… usually as a footnote to Gary Snyder’s poetry,  I gave a little instruction in meditation practices, as I did here. So then we practiced maybe five minutes of sitting and then I read them Gary Snyder and Philip Whalen’s poetry. They understood from the inside what was going on I think.

AE: You might soon be on MTV with U2 and Sonic Youth, I understand

AG: Well it depends on how it works. I was in Dublin and Bono of U2 came to my poetry  reading there (with quit a large audience) and then he asked me a few days later if I’d come into his You Tube television studio to record two poems – “Hum Bom!” and “Don’t Smoke” –  and he led me in time so that they could sync it with their.. one of their songs, for a three-channel  blockbuster tv production that they’re going to put on a couple of months in America – and Europe. But I don’t know if they’ll use it.

AE: Do you see even the commercial youth culture, presented by MTV, McDonalds Coca-Cola and Nike, as a way of telling the people all over the world to enjoy life and turning their backs on the fundamentalists?

AG: Well, I think that anything that will sell McDonald’s hamburgers..  (which I think is ecologically destructive to begin with – so you’ve got an immediate problem there) – They were, as far as I understand.. they rely upon the meat culture (which I think is a disaster – it’s an agronomic disaster, it’s an ecological disaster and it’s a dietary disaster – the whole meat thing, the whole meat consumption culture). So I don’t know how, you know… Gregory Corso  says “No good news can be written on bad news”  (talking about the newspapers, you have to cut down a forest to print the New York Times, so he said “No good news can be written on bad news”)

Yes and no  – certainly the bands themselves are liberated intellectuals who know what they’re doing, like Sonic Youth, and are very intelligent and trying to deal with the system directly and trying to infiltrate, or even dominate, or even enforce, their own inspiration. But in order to get through you really do have to have the economic power, either to own a station of your own, or to work with someone who’s powerful enough, like Ben & Jerry’s, the ice-cream people, who are liberal and open and ecologically aware, to subsidize your activities. I think U2 are big enough so they can subsidize their own activities. I think that’s what (Bob) Dylan wanted to do. That’s what the Beatles wanted to do originally, build up enough money so that they could own their own distribution and their own capital system rather than being dependent on the big corporate world, another corporate world.
But how good news can be written on bad news I don’t know.

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