Thursday, January 20, 2011
AROUND & ABOUT RICHARD GROSSINGER’S 2013 : Raising the Earth to the Next Vibration (North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, Cal; 2010)
The last occasion I found myself in Richard Grossinger’s vicinity was the mid ’80s when the equation I’d coined, Being Here (body : text : world), at last seemed a way of making sense of the sometimes contradictory concerns I’d followed since the 1960s (–e.g., the local & the international — which at times meant junking one to attend to the other– the hermetic & expressive notions of the art, and literature vis a vis social & political domains).
My head was full of Deep Ecology then –my lack of activism assuaged by the spiritual & non-instrumental imperatives of this revamped environmentalism. It was initially funded by John Martin’s perspective, via The Deep Ecologist (his newsletter from Warracknabeal, Victoria), which also included poetry as a category of its eclectic consciousness-raising. And then came Warwick Fox’s mind-blowing lecture at a Deep Ecology conference in Melbourne (ca ’86) in which he collided psychology, philosophy & the environment in transpersonalism’s headiest mix –all the more remarkable, I felt, for his linking of some authors & ideas I’d ‘discovered’ for myself amongst the dozens he cited never broached at all! I took up his reading list with alacrity!
Editing the Being Here issue of my magazine H/EAR in 1985 allowed me to recover some key references from the magazine’s first series, Earth Ship, ca 1970-72 (Southampton, UK). I named them then as Kenneth Irby, John Thorpe, Richard Grossinger & Carolee Schneemann, and heralded “the reconsideration of Richard Grossinger’s work, which is prolific & still accumulating…” Unfortunately I never managed to do it.
This mid ’80s’ reaching back to the late ’60s/early ’70s uncovered an interweaving of references involving Richard Grossinger & Clayton Eshleman, and the second bite as exciting as before.
I felt that Grossinger’s Io magazine & Eshleman’s Caterpillar together contributed “a desperate restatement of visionary poetics”, specifically identifying Eshleman’s Open Letter to George Stanley, Concerning the State of Our Nation, The American Spiritual Body, Which I first glimpsed in Peru; Schneemann’s Notations (1958-66); Robert Duncan’s Man’s Fulfillment in Order and Strife (which I called “a rich & dramatic argument concerning the orders of poetry, & the Orders of the World, incorporating universal poetical & local political commentary, relating to that reality which is an order born of language other than the political, which contained a magnificent plea for a new language to repulse the slanders of the era.” ).
About Grossinger’s Io magazine I wrote : “Io was a further shift away from the ‘literary’, after Olson’s example. (The whole import of the ‘projective’, for instance : that human act which prospered thereafter as one of Nature’s things; active concordance, together productive.) Io’s interdisciplinism was exciting, exotic yet practical because so evidently resonant of the planetary lot.”
Grossinger’s shift (explained in his preface to Charles Stein’s Poems and Glyphs (Io, # 17, 1973), which I read in ’84 via Melbourne poet John Anderson who’d bought it after I named Stein as a reference for his own writing) derived from his sense that the New American Poetry figures “The Beats, the Bay area poets, the Black Mountain people, and our own group are all concerned with matters of consciousness, vision, prophecy, cosmology, geography, etc., few of which are even peripheral to academic poetry in America, which is more involved in description, emotional reality, wit, and political rationalism…”
My own direction was subsequently away from the mutual exclusivity implied in Grossinger’s distinction & my endorsement of it. The ‘Whole House’ idea I came up with in the late ’90s, whilst relieving some observers, doesnt do justice to the contenders. But, that’s another (& continuing) story…
Richard Grossinger, either held in Olson & co’s force-field or that of his own making, always walked with an aura . He saw things, he said things –a bit like one felt about Bob Dylan in the mid ’60s –the young seer. (Grossinger’s image of flocks of seagulls on city rubbish dumps as evidence of the ocean’s depletion has stayed with me from the first –such a thought wasnt common in 1970…)
Every time I encounter him these days I think “long time no see” –yet a year or two ago I had looked at The Bardo of Waking Life (& liked Robert Kelly’s compliment to him, “To talk about the world as it happens in your head when you are in it.” –which is the mercurial nub of our project), –and years earlier books like Planet Medicine & The Night Sky. It seemed to me that our counter-culture, new-writing buddy was now addressing the world audience that the Sixties’ oracles assumed.
But it’s as if no time has intervened between then & now –no time since the cyclone which that era submitted as our cultural beginning & whose windfall we might be forever gathering (probably the truth of every beginning so perceived).
Imagined as one of ‘our generation’, admired as ‘one of us’ who’d already achieved more than a little of our own ambition (like, for example, 20 year-old Tom Pickard being published in Paris Review!), Grossinger’s publication of a book with Black Sparrow Press in addition to his magazine Io (not just a poetry mag but a gathering of all categories of enquiry that a poet of the field, let’s say, as of Olson’s multidisciplinary curriculum, could naturally come into) was awe-inspiring.
The achievement was celebrated by Robert Duncan (or ratified –such was the connotation of the New American Poetry hierarchy one had accepted –& gratefully, as though it were the ascendancy of Camelot).
I hold again Duncan’s pamphlet, Notes on Grossinger’s Solar Journal: Oecological Sections, which accompanied the Black Sparrow book, and relive the thrill of it — truly the older generation blessing the younger. And although, typically, two-thirds of the text doesnt name Grossinger, Duncan’s concerned to bear the prodigy up & through the literature –that is, literature as though science or as evidently revelatory (–& instantly I’m pinged by memory of Roland Barthes’ reference to Marxism as science, the absurdity of which appeared ever clearer for the time succeeding its brazen assertion : ‘science’ as authority against poetry, philosophy, religion? –considered speculations or, after Merleau-Ponty, events in language but not of the world? –miscasting objectivity, then, within the most ridiculous binary, misapprehending subjectivity also therefore). Robert Duncan’s exemplars –Darwin, Whitehead –distinguish the latter. In this view literature is a portal (to use Grossinger lingo), thus Pound, Williams, &, inevitably, Olson –: through that Literature & into the beyond that the visionary, whom Duncan would take Grossinger to be, always made his here & now.
Now it is we encounter an important problem –and I may as well make this its occasion as another more precisely located : the status of the discrete object in a context of the winningly suggestive & infinitely analogical expanse. I suppose the problem isnt so much with the golden chain (perhaps we’d say ‘string’ now!) but with the damage such understanding deals the discrete object (poem, person, place). Although Duncan himself had it that the truly ‘open’ poetics necessarily contained the ‘closed’, the transformational attitude as regards poetry tends to disqualify (certainly traditional) craft. I’ve always wondered why avant-garde friends could entertain the poem as performing every possible role, as vehicle &/or vector, except its function as poem. Of course, there’s just as much error from the other direction : lifeless, soulless form. Yet, since Language-poetry & other strategic practices, ‘lifeless & soulless’ could describe an array of both conventional & experimental poetry.
Cut to the chase : In the foreword to Grossinger’s book, Daniel Pinchbeck (author of 2012 : The Return of Quetzalcoatl) asks these rhetorical questions : “Is there some other dimension of being that our human species has the capacity to access as our current mistreated world convulses around us? Does the tremendous intelligence and integral efficiency of our biological matrix suggest some deeper wisdom operating in the greater universe with which we can resonate and harmonize?” (And his instant caveat : “My own quandary –it has almost silenced me recently– is the question of what the writer, the artist, the thinker should practically and actually do in this ruinous era.”) [p ix]
The first proposition is actually premised upon the second –a reiteration of a philosophical commonplace that one is within Meaning whatever it may be (thus also the World, the Universe, God, Being et al).
Regarding the New Age excitement around the Mayan prophecy, Grossinger cautions, “But I am not looking for indications of renewal externally and historically. I am looking for a gateway inside –inside consciousness, inside DNA potential, inside the zodiac. My book is not what is going to happen (or not) on December 21st, 2012 or January 1, 2013 but a 2013 context for what is already happening and has been happening since the emergence of our species, the advent of life on Earth, and the creation of this universe –impossibly big venues that cannot be queried but that mark abysses we must explore.” [Introduction, pp2/3]
I identify with Grossinger’s style of thinking & writing; by no means haphazard but the natural order of an intelligence following the maze of references his experience has endowed. Closer to innocence than magic, one’s also been receptive to that internal/external match-up of which Grossinger derives a dramatic concordance. But it’s the scale of his table & therefore the ability to exclaim & encompass (literally the same breath, the same perception) that distinguishes him.
Reflecting on his lack of recognition of Jose Arguelles’ Mayan thesis at the time he was offered it for publication, Grossinger submits, “My snub became an unconscious throwback to old elitist publishing habits as to what constituted a worthy curriculum, attitudes that I was in the bare beginnings of overcoming and that were still largely unexamined. I was an intellectual snob, with vestiges of Black Mountain literary machismo in my head, and I was pretty much in thrall to the anti-kitsch imperatives of Charles Olson, Robert Creeley, Ed Dorn, Robert Kelly and crew.” (Introduction, p15) True enough. Which is why, perhaps, the New York Scene is what it is –serious, sincere & hilarious with the junk of the everyday –and not Black Mountain!
I simply havent delved into the authors Grossinger respects as teachers & companions –Richard Hoagland, Arguelles, Terrence McKenna among others. Some I remember from Io magazine & the milieu North Atlantic Books described. I respect that he’s done the hard yards (to use an appropriate Australianism) in the mind/body practices either side of orthodoxy.
David Bohm doesnt figure in Grossinger’s cavalcade but remembering my ’80s reading prompts the hologramic here as relevant to his perspective. And my own sense of the infinite trajectory of pivotal, that is life endowing/defining, events which are always available to intersection & continuation (according to the apprehension one has of any one of them; that is, to reengage with the event’s infinite possibility against apparent historical closure; remembering, crucially, that the dynamic is personal), assuredly resonates with Grossinger.
No surprise, really, that Grossinger shivers off association with Ken Wilber –not only because erstwhile comrades criticise him as a “self-aggrandizing, parasitical worm; even worse, a Ken Wilber wannabe” (p 551). He reflects, “Without your accusation, without its gauntlet, my writing is just fancy words, shoplifted at best, restless and hollow, dispensable, a betrayal and a failure of everything they stand for –not even third-rate Ken Wilber, as you duly say. But given what else my work must withstand, the trials coming this way in an ill and binding wind, it must be judged, scoured, and obliterated anyway, and then allowed whatever smidgen of truth and honour, if any, endure. That is the only goal worth striving for, the only reverie that might redeem us both at the final call. What I’m attempting here, consumer-culture drivel albeit, is more interesting to me than what Ken Wilber is attempting, but that is beside the point. He is doing fine at what he’s doing and he’s not on my radar and I don’t wannabe him.” (p554).
For my part, what I call the existential imperative, the here & now, flesh & blood vouchsafing of any vision, is what’s sacrificed in formalizing & abstracting (whether or not intended) any definition of reality. (In my unschooled mind, totality & the totalitarian conspire.) I seem always to prefer the poet to the logician, the authorial to the theoretical, poetry to the prose of systematization…
One pitfall of history or critical commentary as autobiography is the lack of distinction between the ‘gross natural array’ (Goethe) & the valued (by attribution or inherent), between the en passant & the gleanings of perception. But Richard Grossinger doesnt want to evade his own fact in the midst of it all. Par for the course in poetry, problematic in prose (because laid bare, unsynthesised).
I give him the benefit of the doubt despite intemperate & wrongheaded political judgments –e.g., what a truly awful analogy here, “In China people who manipulate goods or markets are executed. In the US they are allowed to keep their ill-gotten gains because they are too big to fail and anything else would be class warfare, and, god forbid, socialism…” The context for his comment is an aside on the billionaire swindler, Bernie Madoff, that he wasnt the worst : “The worst are names we will never know, secret bankers behind the global conspiracy and its invisible depositories and exchequers (and maybe even 9/11 and the missing black boxes too).” (p281) Naturally, then, the chic Left conflation with conspiracy theory on Bush, the Clintons, Obama, on Israel, even the Al Qaeda terrorists, monstrously bloated by their New Age appendices.
One’s appalled that the American complexion of this politics doesnt cause the embarrassment that might engender a humility and then occasion some worldly reality to the prognostications.
Grossinger’s partisan political swipes & snipes –sounding off as a lefty whose profound disappointment with the Democratic Party is matched by the vitriol he would always pour upon the Republicans– and his rallying to the belated cause of American Pop-music in the wash of the ‘the British Invasion’, strike me as odd indulgences for a Time Lord. At least, though, he demonstrates fallibility, that is a humanity pursuant on This-world desires & responsibilities.
Can’t help thinking that alchemy, homeopathy arent, perhaps, the best analytical tools for This-world politics! Esoteric understanding of the behavior of opposites cannot release us from our solid & historical weight, nor do dreams replace daily discourse. The contrary pertains.
To speak as though one were a player in the Big Scheme, in which game present-day humanity is qualitatitively reduced, smacks of the kind of bad faith which Michael McClure might be compelled to protest (in capital letters) : “I AM A MAMMAL PATRIOT!” Of course it’s a conundrum, especially fraught because the transformative impulse, the suite for the new, arises within the breast of unknowing.
We are always in progress, knowledgeable or wise, forever on the way. And no doubt at all Richard Grossinger knows all this & more. He remains tuned in & turned on, abounding in brilliant ideas & memorable expression –loquacious, erudite & gratifyingly flawed.
The ‘idiot’s guide’ to Richard Grossinger’s book would instruct that the author doesnt expect anything to happen on December 20th, 2012 or 1st January, 2013. Nothing will necessarily happen except what is always happening. Whatever the Mayan calendar construes is held by DNA & dreamt, as it were, by the consciousness in which humanity is subsumed. Prophecy, it might continue, concentrates the mind. Transformation is inevitable; life in all its forms teleological.
In short, 2013 : Raising the Earth to the Next Vibration is a music of the spheres, and it could only have been written in 2010, in America, on this planet!