Allen Ginsberg on Visionary Experience – 3


Allen Ginsberg on Visionary Experience – continues from here

Student:  Was there anything (that made you) not eat or not sleep?

AG:  I had not been seeing friends.  I’d had sort of social breakdown.  Burroughs was away and Kerouac was away and I had graduated from school so I was sort of at the end of my youthful rope.  I was living up in East Harlem and I was eating mostly vegetables, lacklove, more or less.  I’d kind of gone through a nervous breakdown and given up on my life and didn’t know where I was and was living alone, so there was a kind of absence of preoccupation, or an absence of plans, a dead end.  I’d come to a dead end, like most kids do when they get out of college and they’ve got to make it into the world and get a job and don’t know what to do and don’t want to confront the anxiety of going out to an employment office or getting their shit organized, getting a suit of clothes, or whatever you’ve got to do.  Reality becoming real, or social reality being real, so I was in a kind of limbo interim period where I had no security, no assurance of what I was headed for, so there was a kind of open future that way.  The only special thing on the specific occasion was that I had just jacked off while reading Blake.  I don’t know if anybody has ever done that, but jacking off while you’re reading so you have sort of an absentminded jack off?  So as kind of a special kind of masturbatory pleasure of being distracted in the mind. So it was kind of the body having its own life, if the mind is occupied.  Yeah?

Student:  Do I understand this particular poetry has a rhythm (to it) like songs that..

AG:  Well, this particular poetry (that) I was reading was Blake’s, which has a rhyme and rhythm.

Student:  (Both rhythm and) both rhyme.

AG (begins reciting):  “Ah! Sun-flower!, weary of time,/That counts the steps of the Sun:/Seeking after that sweet golden clime/Where the travellers journey is done.//Where the Youth pined away with desire….”

Student:  (But) this kind of poetry doesn’t have to rhyme, is that right?  It has (it’s own) rhythm, like song.

AG:  Yeah, that’s modern poetry.  We’ll be talking about it later.  Actually right now I was just talking about old-fashioned rhymed poetry, of which Blake was a great exemplar and some rhymed old-fashioned style poetry that I used to write when I was twenty to twenty-five, or eighteen  to twenty-five.

Student:  Hadn’t you been reading San Juan De La Cruz and….

St John of the Cross (1656) –  oil painting attributed to Francisco de Zurbarán – 39.3 ins  x 30.3 ins – currently in the collection of the Archdiocesan Museum, Katowice, Poland

AG:  Yeah, I was reading St. John of the Cross, I was reading Plato’s “Phaedrus” and I was reading some (Martin) Luther and a little bit of Plotinus.  I had a large library of theology at hand from a student from whom I’d sublet an apartment.  St. Theresa of Avila, Blake, a little bit of  (Andrew) Marvell.

But getting back, what was the quality of that kind of breakthrough experience?   (Allen again directly addresses the students) –  Has anybody here had visionary experiences, or what they thought were visionary experiences outside of drug scene?  Raise your hand.  Really raise your hand so we get some … Outside of drug scene?  Well then, okay.  How many people here don’t feel they’ve had any visionary experience outside of drug scene?  Raise your hand if you don’t.  Okay.  And how many people have had some sort of visionary experience with drugs?  Yeah.  Okay, how many have had no visionary experience of any kind, raise your hand?  That’s terrific.  Okay.  Then probably the saints are here.  The Saint people are around. Well, okay, so everybody’s had … it’s amazing.  I hadn’t realized that.  I mean, I didn’t realize it was so common for people to have had.

Student:  But the quality and length of your visionary period is much different than….

AG:  I don’t think so.  Probably I’m more loud-mouthed about it, that’s all.  I’m articulate, I can describe….

Student:  Tell him how long it lasted, exactly.

Student (2):  How did you express it in your work?

AG:  “Many seek and never see,/anyone can tell them why./O they weep and O they cry/and never take until they try/unless they try it in their sleep/and never some until they die./I ask many, they ask me./This is a great mystery.”(Allen is quoting here from his 1948 poem in The Gates of Wrath, “The Eye Altering Alters All” )

Well, it was just that thing –  “I ask many, they ask me./This is a great mystery.”   Except there was a slightly paranoid element there, because I was thinking that all the time everybody is going around really secretly asking everybody else, “Have you seen the light, have you seen it, really?”  So that was that, “I ask many, they ask me./This is a great mystery.”  I had the idea that all conversation, even about the butcher shop, secretly referred to the suchness of the mystical experience.

Student:  And you changed your mind?

AG:  Well, yes.  Sure, why not?  Yeah, I’ll get to that later.  I want just to stay where we are.  So my immediate thought was that, so, “Many seek and never see.”  Meaning that many people have the idea of looking for God, or looking for truth, or looking for beauty, but actually never attain some breakthrough of consciousness into a totally fresh eternal awesome world of visionary experience.  However, everybody does experience it, whether they know it or not, but most people push it to the back of their mind, or have had some glimpse but put it into the back of their mind and don’t bank on it, or don’t count it as social currency, or don’t talk about it.  For that reason, “Anyone can tell them why.”  “Many seek and never see/anyone can tell them why.”  In other words, anyone is everybody.  Apparently the majority in this class can tell them why.  “O they weep and O they cry/and never take until they try.”  I thought that perhaps there was some element (by which) you could catalyze it.  If you were willful or if you really threw yourself into the search for a vision you could bring it about.  “Unless they try it in their sleep.”

How many have had visionary experiences in dreams?  Has anybody not had a visionary experience in a dream?  Has anybody never had a dream with a vision?  You haven’t.  Did you have any with drugs?  Did you have any without drugs?  But you haven’t had any in your sleep?

to be continued


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *