AG: Balloons! – Well, first of all, the beginning. Carl Solomon was a friend of mine and Kerouac’s who was in New York State Psychiatric Institute with me in 1959 and later was Kerouac’s editor, or supposed editor-to-be, at Ace Books when Kerouac submitted On The Road to him and Visions of Cody, and they were rejected. So Carl Solomon was “a sharp Jew” he knew, and Carl was a metaphysician of a sort and said that the universe was void and didn’t mean anything, following French literary ideas of Antonin Artaud. And so he came to New York State Psychiatric Institute with a shaved head and he sat on the steps and when they asked him what he was doing there he said he wanted a lobotomy because the world was not there anyway so what difference does it make? He wanted to stop thinking because if the world wasn’t there, what was he thinking about?
Student: Did they give them to him?
AG: No, they just took him in and gave him shock treatment instead.
Student: For how long?
AG: About a year.
Student: How did he feel about all these shock treatments?
AG: Oh, he’s got a lot of writing, which is in the library. (“Report from The Asylum) “Afterthoughts of a Shock Patient”) – a very great essay of 1948, which influenced Kerouac and influenced everybody – literary thinking about what was going on in the hospitals, because he was the first articulate – quote “madman” unquote – and he was following in the tradition of Antonin Artaud, (who also suffered shock at Rodez Asylum)..
Student: Do you know if…
AG: ..and he carried copies of Artaud into the hospital and showed them around to me.
Student: ((Did he have some) really strange disease…
AG: Later maybe.
Student: No, all through his life.
AG: I don’t know. He said….
Student: How do you spell (his name)?
AG: Well, one strange disease he had was withdrawal symptoms from opiates.
Student: Yeah, but getting the opiates because he couldn’t stand …
Student: … the pain. It was like…
Student: … some really strange neurological disorder which kept him in perpetual agony.
AG: Probably interiorly. The external explanation was that he felt that life was so horrible he couldn’t bare the pain. But I don’t know if there was a specific disease, although by now the scholars … my knowledge of Artaud goes back to hanging around with Carl and reading….
Student: It’s spelled A-R-T-A-U-D.
AG: Yeah, Antonin Artaud.
Student: I was saying Ar-tral.
AG: No, Ar-Toe.
Anybody know Artaud here, or know of him? There’s a very famous book he wrote called The Theatre and its Double, which influenced all of American Theatre, including The Living Theater. His idea was that theatre should be like a burning man signaling from the flames. And his theory of poetry was that certain vibrations of the voice pronounced in theatre, in poetry, had such a rare penetrant frequency that they would enter into the nervous system and permanently alter the molecular structure of the nervous system and make it thereafter vulnerable to very subtle messages. Or once and for all change it and human experience. So his theory of poetry was that the voice of the poet – of his own voice, particularly – was an ultimate instrument for getting into the consciousness of the hearer and altering his consciousness = altering sensitivity.
So, Carl in Bedlam, Bedlam is the Bethlehem Hospital in England, and “bedlam” is a general word for mental hospitals. You know?
“Say that all’s already ended,/A dream a long time done./Sit in the Bedlam high/Inside Mind/ Sit in the Bedlam high/Inside Mind listening dreaming/To the music of the time/Coming through the Aura Hole..” – (Aura means “aura,” like a… (Student: Glow) – Glow…. glow – the aurora – but it also means “aural” – A-U-R-A-L, which means sound. So “the Aura Hole” is the ear) – “Sit in the Bedlam high/ Inside Mind listening dreaming/To the music of the time/ Coming through the…’ – (Ear hole) – “…through the Aura Hole/Of Old Father Time”
to be continued
Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately twenty-seven minutes in and concluding at approximately thirty-one-and-three-quarter minutes in