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Mavericks of the Mind and Voices from the Edge contain thought-provoking interviews by David Jay Brown with over forty of the leading thinkers of our time on the subject of consciousness.

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Conversations on the Edge of the Apocalypse

 

In his latest interview collection, David Jay Brown has once again gathered some of the most interesting minds of today to consider the future of the human race, the mystery of consciousness, the evolution of technology, psychic phenomena, and more. The book includes conversations with celebrated visionaries and inspirational figures such as Ram Dass, Noam Chomsky, Deepak Chopra, and George Carlin. Part scientific exploration, part philosophical speculation, and part intellectual rollercoaster, the free-form discussions are original and captivating, and offer surprising revelations. Conversations on the Edge of the Apocalpyse is a new look into the minds of some of our groundbreaking leaders and is the perfect gift for science fiction and philosophy fans alike.

 
 

 

Politics, Poetry and Inspiration

"Language joiins heaven and earth and joins the mind and the body."

with Allen Ginsberg

 

Alien Ginsberg's poem "Howl, " published in 1956, caused such a controversy that it was the subject of an obscenity trial. Having received the court 's "approval, " it went on to become one of the most widely read and translated poems of the century. He is an extraordinarily prolific artist, having had over forty books published and eleven albums produced.

Alien's friendship and literary experimentation with Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs began in 1945, and a decade later as this core group expanded to include other poets and writers, it came to be known as the "Beat Generation. " He has received numerous honors, including the National Book Award for Poetry, a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, National Arts Club Medal, 1986 Struga Festival Golden Wreath, and the Manhattan Borough President David Dinkins Medal of Honor for Literary Excellence 1 989.

A potent figure in the cultural revolution of the sixties, he has been arrested with Dr. Benjamin Spock for blocking the Whitehall Draft Board steps, has testified at the U.S. Senate hearings for the legalization of psychedelics and been teargassed for chanting "Om" at the Lincoln Park Yippie Life Festival at the 1968 Presidential convention in Chicago.

His Collected Poems 1947-1980, were published in 1984 with White Shroud and the 30th Anniversary Howl annotated issue in 1 986. Several books of his photographs and a recordlCD of his poetry-jazz album, The Lion for Real, appeared in 1989. He is a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters, and is a Distinguished Professor at Brooklyn College and a member of the Executive Board of PEN American Center. A practicing Buddhist, Alien cofounded Naropa Institute's Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics in Boulder, Colorado.

We talked with Allen at the house of his cousin, Oscar Janiger, in Santa Monica. He presents a very dignified and unassuming figure, his non-conforming and wildly creative persona loosely disguised in a professorial suit and tie. We asked Allen about his relationship with Burroughs and Kerouac, his thoughts on madness and creativity, and the nature of politics and revolution. This interview took place on April 23, 1992, six days before the Los Angeles uprising.

RMN

 

DJB: What was is that originally inspired you to start writing poetry?

Allen: Itís a family business. My father was a poet, his Collected Poems were posthumously published - they just came out recently, in fact, from the Northern Lights Press in Maine. My father was in the 1930-50 Untermeyer anthologies, a standard poet of that genre, lyric poetry, that included Eleanor Wiley and Lisette Woodsworth Reece.

DJB: Was it something that you always knew you were going to do?

Allen: No, but I always wrote poetry; since I was a kid I knew poetry. My father taught high school and college, so I knew a lot of Milton, Poe, Shelley and Blake when I was five, six, seven years old. And I memorized it, or it just sort of stuck in my head. I started writing when I was maybe fifteen, or younger, but I never thought of myself as a poet. I just thought that it was something you did on the side, like my father had done. But then, when I met Jack Kerouac at the age of seventeen, I realized that he was the first person I had met who saw being a writer as a sacramental vocation. Rather than being a sailor who wrote, he was a writer who also went out on ships. That changed my attitude towards writing, because now I saw it as a sacred vocation.

DJB: How did you motherís struggle with mental illness affect your development?

Allen: Iíve written a great deal about that in the poem "Kaddish," in White Shroud. I developed a tremendous tolerance for chaos; other peopleís illness, irrationality and contradictory behavior. I tend to throw it off like water off a duckís back, but it also dulls me to hearing what people are saying when theyíre complaining about their troubles. I sometimes just shut off and give them a bowl of chicken soup instead of listening carefully. I tend to be more concerned with peopleís comfort and welfare - like a Jewish mother - rather than trying to solve a mental problem, a financial problem or whatever. So I sometimes miss the boat. Quite often thereís a tragedy happening and somebodyís sinking right in front of me, but I donít see it. On the other hand I have a lot of tolerance for people who use drugs or are half mad. Sort of like how the children of alcoholics, in order to develop a kind of balance, clean up after everybody else and have a more neat and orderly life because theyíve seen the chaos and have reacted against it.

DJB: It seems that you would go one way or another. Whenever people are confronted at an early age with overwhelming circumstances, they either come out as a total mess or so strong that they can deal with most anything. Either you learn to become comfortable with chaos or you become overwhelmed by it.

Allen: I compensated by becoming more stable, probably because I realized that if everybody began disagreeing with me all at once, there was probably something wrong with my perception of the universe. So I took a more pragmatic view rather than an absolute view.

DJB: How has all the traveling youíve done affected your perception of the world?

Allen: Well, again itís the same thing; because Iíve seen so much chaos, I donít really see everything. In a sense, I donít see a lot of detail and have a tendency towards abstraction. Thatís why Iím so concerned with it - itís the medicine for my own neurosis. I use it to help create a sense of stability. I sort of turn off the chaotic aspect of travel too and just continue in whatever work Iím doing like keeping a journal or taking photographs. You might even say Iím sort of neurotically untouched by interaction.

DJB: By whatís happening around you?

Allen: Yeah. Itís maybe part of the same process with which I used to shield myself from the chaos, and itís made me sort of aloof. Iím just guessing. I mean since we started talking about one thing, I just transferred it over to the other - from my mother to travel. I might have a different answer for a different context, but since we started out with a very definite idea, I just transferred it to the other, because itís an aspect of the other, but itís not the whole story. I mean, obviously I saw a lot of anthropological blah blah. A lot of different views, a lot of different folk ways, different ways of wiping your behind after going to the bathroom, different ways of eating, talking, different kinds of poetics, different religions, meditation practices, different primitive rituals, different takes on the universe, different nationalisms, different chauvinisms. Experiencing a lot of different things makes your mind more wide-screened, or more tolerant. It makes you more sophisticated - or maybe less sophisticated. One of the basic things thatís changed is my habit of wiping my ass with toilet paper. Now I wash my behind afterwards. I got that from North Africa and India. Kerouac has a whole book about that.

DJB: Iím curious as to how important you think it is for writers and artists to have a sense of community. How did your experience with other writers like Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs affect the style of your own writing?

Allen: Oh, it affected it very much. Kerouac persuaded me to stop writing rhyme poems and revising everything fifty thousand times; to just lay it out on the page in the sequence of thought-forms that arise in my mind during the time of composition. This is traditional with twentieth century painting and calligraphy style. Shakespeare never blotted a line according to Ben Johnson. With Kerouac and Burroughs, it wasnít so much their instruction as the whole ambiance - their directive candor and informality. We were writing for our own amusement and the amusement of our friends, rather than for money or for publication. We assumed that nothing would be published from the very beginning . So the private world of my friends became the center of our artistic activities, rather than the public world of publishing, media, universities and literature.

DJB: The collaboration lowered your inhibitions, in terms of the way you expressed the creative urge?

Allen: Well, no. If youíre just writing for yourself and your friends, then you donít have to develop inhibitions. People develop inhibitions from the commercial or social situation, theyíre not born with them. So in this case, since we didnít expect to succeed and we were just having fun with each other, we just never developed those inhibitions. So as a result, we never developed the manner or style of counterfeit literariness that is characteristic of most university or academic poetry or prose. You know that Burroughís scene, the routine about the talking asshole in Naked Lunch? Well, it wasnít necessarily meant to be published. I mean, at that time it was considered impossible, so it wasnít thought of in that realm at all. It was thought of as being just intelligent humor between friends.

DJB: Speaking of Naked Lunch, what did you think of the way that you, Burroughs and Kerouac were portrayed in the film adaptation?

Allen: Well, Kerouac was a good deal better looking than the character in the movie. Martin was somewhat of a wimp. I donít mind that because Iím a wimp, but I can read ĎThe Market Sectioní - which was what he read over the couple fucking - much more vividly than the poet in the film. Four days before I saw the film I was teaching a graduate course at CUNY entitled, ĎLiterary History and the Beat Generation.í I didnít know that scene was in the film, but I read ĎThe Market Sectioní to the students when we were discussing Naked Lunch to give them a sense of Burroughs as a panoramic poet. Itís one of the most beautiful passages in Burroughs, and the seed of all of Naked Lunch basically, as it intersects the past and future. "In expeditions arrived from unknown places, leave for unknown places with unknown purpose. Followers of obsolete trades....Carriers of viruses not yet born." This is the interplanetary time-zone market. The guy who played Burroughs did well, except when it came to doing the routines like the talking asshole or the "Hespano Suiza" auto blowout. Burroughs always did that much more uproariously and with fascinating vigor that youíd roll around on the floor laughing. The guy in the movie did it in a relatively dignified monotone, so that you donít get any of the gregarious wildness.

RMN: Did you like the movie otherwise?

Allen: I thought that Burroughsí plot was better than the movie plot. The movie plot begins with the Kafka figure being assassinated by two detectives who come to hassle him. Then, in the book, when he rebels against the authority figures, the whole long novel scene turns out to have been an hallucination. So it paralleled many mystical experiences, where you suddenly realize that everything before was maya or samsaric delusion. Burroughs empowered himself, so to speak, by rebelling against Law. It was a very important point that Burroughs was making, but that point is not made in the movie. On the other hand, Burroughs approves of cut-ups, thatís his genre. So he enjoyed it, because itís an improvisation on his work, in his own style, that he might well have done himself. The bug powder comes from a book called The Exterminator, so they made combinations of Naked Lunch and this other work plus Queer. Burroughs says a very funny thing. He quotes John Steinbeck when asked, "What do you think of what theyíve done to your book?" and he says, "They didnít do anything to my book. My book is up there on the shelf." (laughter) So I think he liked the idea of them cutting up and improvising on his texts. I went to visit Burroughs about three weeks ago. We made thirteen 90-minute tapes, which are being transcribed for an interview for a Japanese magazine, so we went to the movies and saw the picture.

DJB: That was the first time either of you had seen it?

Allen: It was only the second time heíd seen it and it was the third time Iíd seen it. I liked it more watching it with him because I began to see that the hooks which interpolate the movie make a little more sense than Iíd thought. It may make complete sense, but I havenít been able to figure out the very end. Is that reality, or is that unreality?

RMN: That was left unanswered.

DJB: Maybe intentionally. Tell me, how do you see the beat movement of the fifties having influenced the hippy movement of the sixties - and how do you see these cultural movements influencing events occurring today?

Allen: There are a lot of different themes that were either catalyzed, adapted, inaugurated, transformed or initiated by the literary movement of the fifties and a community of friends from the forties. The central theme was a transformation of consciousness, and as time unrolled, experiences that Kerouac, Burroughs and I had, related to this notion - at least to "widening the arena of consciousness." For example, this world is absolutely real and final and ultimate and at the same time, absolutely unreal and transitory and of the nature of dream-stuff, without contradiction. I think Kerouac had the most insightful grasp of that already by 1958. So that one spiritual insight - which is permanently universal - led to the exploration of mind or consciousness in any way shape or form. Whether it was Burroughs through his exploration of the criminal world, or Kerouac through his exploration of Buddhism, or Gary Snyderís zen meditation practices, or myself who worked with the Naropa Institute under Tibetan Buddhist auspices. Spiritual liberation is the center, and from spiritual liberation comes candor or frankness. So from 1948 on, Burroughs was writing on the Mind, and this somehow moved on to gay liberation, although at the time it wasnít called that. You simply called it Ďexplicitnessí and Ďopenness.í In 1952 Burroughs presents his manuscript and itís totally overt, 100% out front and out of the closet - not even thinking heís being out front, itís just there because there never was a closet. So that would take us to Ď55 with Gary Snyder and Michael McClure. The latterís major theme is in biology and he had insights regarding the reclamation of consciousness, ecological themes. Itís not your traditional poetry. Itís modern American folklore, and it influenced everybody. By 1950, Kerouac had already written On the Road which included the sentence, ĎThe Earth is an Indian thing.í A very beautiful slogan.

DJB: Iím not sure I understand.

Allen: Well, it ainít an Empire State thing! Local knowledge of plants, geography and geology, comes to the people who live a long, long, time in one place without a lot of mechanical aids and who relate to the land itself. Itís like bioregionalism, which comes out of a sort of Indian-type thinking.

DJB: So then do indigenous and Indian come from the same root?

Allen: I donít know. Kerouac also in On the Road, reflected Oswald Speaglerís view of the "Fellaheen" people living on the land near the Nile, tilling the soil and sailing their boats up and down, who were not affected by the changes of the Egyptian empire. They just stuck there, century after century, putting in whatever crop they were putting in, gathering it and pounding rice. So, "the earth is an Indian thing."

DJB: Do you see the earth as being like an organism?

Allen: No, no, no, absolutely not. None of that bullshit! No Gaia hypothesis. (laughter) No theism need sneak in here. No monotheistic hallucinations needed in this. Not another fascist central authority.

DJB: Thatís interesting, that you see the Gaia hypothesis as monotheistic and fascist whereas other see it as liberating.

Allen: Well, youíve got this one big thing. Who says itís got to be one? Why does everything have to be one? I think thereís no such thing as one - only many eyes looking out in all directions. The center is everywhere, not in any one spot. Does it have to be one organism, in the sense of one brain, or one consciousness?

DJB: Well, it could be like you said earlier, about how reality is simultaneously real and a dream. Maybe the earth or the universe is many and one at the same time.

Allen: Well, yeah, but the tendency is to sentimentalize it into another godhead and to re-inaugurate the whole Judeo-Christian-Islamic mind-trap.

RMN: What do you think about the New Age movement?

Allen: I donít think all this crystal beads and channeling is spiritual. I donít want to put down the New Age, but only an aspect that seems like "spiritual materialism."

RMN: Do you see it as a less valid phenomenon than say, the sixties counter-culture?

Allen: No. I think the New Age movement is basically a very good thing. Healthy foods, ecological understanding - thatís all fine. Itís just very specific spiritual materialism that seems to me to be the problem; accumulating experiences as credentials for the ego.

RMN: In the fifties, did you anticipate that a cultural revolution was in the making?

Allen: Not in the fifties, no. But I think that the sixties were politically awry because of animosity. You know, the notions of rising up and getting angry, i.e., using anger a a motif.

RMN: Didnít that anger lead to a lot of positive social change though, like in the area of human rights?

Allen: No, no. Things started fucking up when people got angry because they started action from that angry pride. By 1968, 52% of the American people thought the war over in Vietnam was a big mistake, but instead of leading people out of the war, seducing them out, people got out onto the streets and got angry.

RMN: Just because half the people in America thought the war was a bad idea doesnít mean that would translate into political action. It was the anti-war movement which vocalized those concerns and effectively changed government policy--whether they were angry or not.

Allen: No, if you do it that way you get it all wrong. You immediately open the door for crazies and the double agents to come in and fuck everything up. You need absolute discipline and for everything to be calm, otherwise where do you get to? You know that if you get excited while youíre doing martial arts, you lose. You have to be stabilized, balanced and centered. The guy who gets excited becomes off-center, off-balance, and falls on his own weight. So there was this idea that if you set one blade of grass alight, the whole nation will follow suit, "prairie file". All we have to do is to get together and physically attack the police and then all the negroes and hippies in America will rise up and abracadabra! (laughter) Oh God! Lunatics! A bunch of lunatics! And it prolonged the war.

RMN: In the present situation, growing unrest and dissatisfaction has spread from farmers in the mid-west to the unemployed in inner cities to middle-class suburbia. Keeping in mind what weíve seen in Eastern Europe, do you believe that an American revolution is possible?

Allen: Well, what do you mean by revolution? No, I donít think so, because if you mean violence, I donít want to be around - and it wouldnít be interesting. It would be just another group of jerks getting up there with their fucking gun, thinking they have this power. It happens every time. It happens endlessly. If we ever get into one of those left-wing, right-wing revolutions, it could be worse than any country on earth. The Americans are the most stupid and heartless....

RMN: And the best armed.

Allen: Yeah. It would be worse than Cambodia. Theyíll be sending junkies off to concentration camps.

RMN: With social attitudes tending to swing from openness and tolerance to discrimination and fear, do you feel there can ever be any real collective advance towards enlightenment?

Allen: Maybe not. Maybe the very nature of high technology imposes centralized authority. The nature of the bomb is such that once you have created it you need to have some kind of omnipresent surveillance to monitor itís use. You canít be open to people in other countries very much because you are constantly suspicious of their activities, maybe theyíre making H-bombs just like you did.

RMN: Do you feel hopeful that someday the spirit of cooperation will overcome humanityís competitive and territorial urges?

Allen: I donít think that hope is useful at all here. I donít think in terms of progress, particularly in the face of the hyperindustrialization because it carries too many connotations. It is technology which imposes more and more goals. "Science is a lie," said Harry Smith.

RMN: Do you see the current hostility towards gays as a minor hiccup or as a serious regressive trend?

Allen: Yeah, itís a minor hiccup, but itísa classic political thing - a lot of Republicans are cocksuckers.

RMN: Looking at the general rise in fundamentalism, Iím left wondering, what went wrong? Why has it happened again?

Allen: Well, I think the left fumbled the ball by allowing right-wing style closed-minded aggression to be part of their policy. Itís a fuck up, but it should be seen as a fuck up rather than something to be penalized for. Unless people get the idea, theyíll just repeat it over and over again, rising up angry, and then wondering why no permanent change has occurred. Thereís a small band of thieves, right and left, taking it upon themselves to be dictators and leading everybody astray. On the left, theyíre painting "Die Yuppie Scum!" all over the Lower East Side, but nobody knows who is a yuppie - do they mean me? Everybody thinks it means somebody else.

RMN: We have witnessed the failure of communism and the inadequacies of capitalism. Do you think there is a political system which, if diligently applied by good people, could work?

Allen: Well, I donít think weíve seen any real communism or capitalism.

RMN: Do you think there are just too many people with too many special interests to be successfully governed?

Allen: Well, no, itís not that. One - itís technological. ĎThe hyper-technology fuels the non-human within me.í Burroughs said that.

DJB: Are you sure that itís science and technology thatís the problem, or is it the way that the technology is applied?

Allen: I think itís science and technology. Once youíve got an absolute weapon, then you have to have absolute control.

DJB: Technology doesnít have to be used for weapons.

Allen: What has most of it been used for so far?

RMN: To blow people to smithereens. But still, the availability of technology on a local, private level has vastly increased peopleís access to information and has encouraged a decentralization of control. People are making their own TV programs, creating their own entertainment.

Allen: Okay, so everyone can be a communicator, electronically hooked up with one another. Still, the central intelligence agency type human eye is the very nature of the machine. I wouldnít want to absolute about it, but there is definitely two sides to the story that the solution for the worldís problems lies in the advancement of technology.

RMN: What do you think are some of the biggest practical and perceptual errors that the government has made in itís policy towards drugs?

Allen: Well, obviously lumping all of the drugs together in one category but regarding the use of nicotine and alcohol as something apart. My proposition for drugs is: have marijuana as a cash crop for the otherwise ailing family farm. For junkies, well it would probably be better to get off the methadone - apparently itís more addictive than heroin. Then once youíve separated grass and psychedelics from "the drug problem" public consciousness, as Oscar Janiger is trying to do in his work with the Albert Hofmann Foundation, then you have to deal with cocaine and crack. So the consequences of the present drug policies have been further criminalization, further prohibition, more and more police and more and more surveillance. As Noam Chomsky has pointed out, the war on drugs has created a niche for military-minded demigods to prosper in.

RMN: As history shows that prohibition does nothing to decrease demand, and as most of the money in the drug-war is being used to fight off the criminal element, why is it that so few politicians are willing to voice their support for legalization?

Allen: We have this vanguard of fundamentalism that donít want abortions, that donít want drugs - and theyíre very powerful. Thereís a hard nut, a residue of energetic, active, organized, networked, technologically sophisticated censors - the neo-conservatives and the born-agains. Itís a composite of religious fanaticism and economic interest. The pharmaceutical companies are among the people opposing decriminaliztion because they make a lot of money in the drug business. The Coors beer people support the right-wing Heritage Foundation and then you have Jesse Helms representing tobacco. So thereís that combination of economic interest. Then the national and state drug bureaucracies have one of the most protective lobbies in the nation, with a 12 billion dollar budget monopoly, hundreds of thousands of telephones, FAX machines, PR people, resources and files. So how do we get out of that? I donít know, itís always been a source of confusion.

DJB: Iím curious about how your experiences with psychedelics affected your writing and your life in general.

Allen: Well, I wrote a couple of good poems on them - with mescaline, acid, nitrous oxide, marijuana and amphetamines. So those are direct influences on my writing. But aside from 60 or so pages, the spiritual effect of drugs was not extensive in creation of texts.

DJB: What kind of relationship do you see between madness and creativity?

Allen: I donít really know, itís an old stereotype. When we talk about certain states of madness, what are we talking about exactly? Somebody on a roll, whoís very active and talking to himself, dominating his space and people working around him, like Picasso? Or someone in a manic phase of manic depression, which is often very creative? Or how about full-blown schizophrenia? In a lot of those states, youíre cut off from the surrounding environment so it would be impossible to produce anything concrete.

DJB: Have you ever experienced the fear of going mad?

Allen: A couple of times, on psychedelics. I remember in 1948 I had a hell of an experience; an ominous, threatening universe. Iím sure that madness, paranoia or megalomania came in then.

RMN: I read something you once said in reference to language which was, Ďmanís power of abstraction dooms us to lose touch with detail.í What did you mean by this? Isnít that what poets do?

Allen: Well, when did I say it and under what circumstances? How do I know what I said? (laughter) Thatís a very common, almost trite, stereotypical thought. Iím sure itís, in general true, but I probably never said it in those words. I probably said some general thing like that, but Ďmanís power of abstractioní - bullshit!

RMN: I take it you donít agree with the statement.

Allen: Well, Iím struck just now by the vulgarity of the expression, the phrasing.

RMN: (laughter) I have a problem with the first word, actually.

Allen: Well, so do I. "Womanís power of abstraction?..." Actually, I donít think thatís true. I think itís a temptation to think that. I think itís civilizationís power of abstraction, or the development of abstracted power that could lead to a loss of contact with detail. Hypertechnology so to speak.

RMN: And language, in that context, plays a part in the process?

Allen: No. Thatís the semiotic, deconstructionist, Burroughsian view. Thatís not my view at all. Itís the opposite, in fact. I think itís a fascist statement, frankly. It attacks language and it attacks people talking. Itís an attack on communication, actually. I would say that language joins heaven and earth and joins mind with body. It synchronizes them through speech, poetry, language and words which connect abstraction with the ground. It is also obvious that continuous generalization and abstraction lead to mixed judgment and manipulation of phenomena in an inappropriate way; but to make a general statement as blanket as that discourages the attempt at sincere communication, or description of what you are experiencing. By using that kind of generalization like Ďmanís power of abstractioní, the Marxists had to convince writers that they are not worthy of writing because they donít really represent the proletariat - only the abstract interests of the upper-middle-class or the bourgeoisie. The Catholics have convinced people to burn books and burn people because they or their work doesnít represent the true word of God. And deconstructionist, semiotic poets have used it as a way of avoiding interacting with phenomena, of interacting on a heart-felt level with their own experience of living. That generalization has always been an excuse to hard-nosed students of their own perceptions to be cool, you know, to play it cool. That is to say, that words donít count, that this is abstract, therefore I donít want to make any comment. Itís been a way of diminishing expression. In Blakeís description of the Urizen quality - "boundedness" arises. Your-Reason, the figurative reason of the symbolic description, creates a hyper-abstraction, a hyper-rationalization.

RMN: What do you think was so special about Blake as a poet?

Allen: He had a good mind. From Blakeís point of view, hyper-rationality, hyper-abstraction leads to the nuclear bomb, from the point of view of reason, trying to assert power over feeling, imagination and the body. If any one of them tries to take over, then it disrupts the whole balance of nature.

DJB: What do you think happens to human consciousness after biological death?

Allen: I donít know. The Tibetans say that some kind of aetheric electricity or some kind of impulse moves on. I think itís a good idea to cultivate an openness to the possibilities that might occur. When youíre drowning, once youíve stopped breathing, thereís still about eight minutes of consciousness before brain death, and there have been people who have been resuscitated, so something is there. In that eight minutes, what should you prepare for? My meditation practices are on the breath, so then what happens after I stop breathing? (laughter) I asked my guru this question and he started laughing. He said that was the purpose of the advanced meditation practices, the visualization, the mantra, the mandala, all that stuff. He said, "If I were you, I wouldnít pretend this or that, openness or emptiness, I would go along with whatever made the process more comfortable." As for what happens after death, Iíve always been a little skeptical about anything persevering. I think the process of dying takes over, whatever you think, and goes on automatic. What you think may be harmonious with what happens, but what happens is going to happen in any case. Sometimes I think that you enter open space and become open space. In the last moment you donít want to be pissed off, even if thereís no re-birth. So itís a good idea to get into the frequency of some kind of meditative practice, in case thereís no after-life. In case there is, itís also a good idea. It prepare you for whatever situation. "Do not go gently into that good night, rage, rage against the dying of the light." You know that poem? It seems the worst advice possible.

RMN: Do you see death as an adventure, or are you afraid?

Allen: Iím a little scared, yeah, but Iím not afraid to admit it.

DJB: What do you think it is about death that youíre afraid of?

Allen: How about entering a realm where thereís twenty-nine devils sticking red hot pokers up my behind and into my feet. (laughter) Maybe Iíll turn into a big prick with this little tiny asshole.

DJB: Do you think that the fear of death could be the fear of non-existence?

Allen: Well, no, that wouldnít be so bad. It would be the fear of existing again, in another life. Popping up again, like pop goes the weasel, and being stuck with whatever hard-on you started out with. You could have an obsession and think, oh, I should have cut that out long ago! I should have stopped lusting after pretty boys long ago! (laughter) Youíre born into a universe with nothing but pretty boys and you get stuck there for another 100 years until you realize, uh oh, youíre going to die. Something like that. Iím not quite up to the adventure yet (laughter) but on the other hand.......

DJB: Do you have a personal understanding of God?

Allen: Yes. There is no God.

DJB: Thereís no question about it?

Allen: No. Itís a big mistake. It means "6,000 years of sleep" as Blake said. It means a Judeo-Christian-Islamic control system. It means war and centralization.

DJB: What about the concept of God as a state of consciousness?

Allen: Too easy. Why do you need a concept of God when youíve already got a concept of a state of consciousness? Why do you have to add God onto it? Itís sneaking in a centralized state of consciousness, itís sneaking in a metaphysical CIA. In an open universe, nothing is closed in, no judgment of beliefs, just infinite possibilities of roles to role-play. If God made everything the way it is, then itís already done and itís pre-ordained all the way, so thereís no movement. God means stasis, as Burroughs points out. When you consider the whole notion of God, thatís what it comes to, unless you redefine God so that it doesnít mean God anymore.

DJB: Well, what if you define God as being the notion of a greater organism of which weíre all tiny cells or parts?

Allen: You still have this one greater organism that started everything and knows where itís all going.

DJB: Not necessarily. It could be evolving itself, just as we are.

Allen: Then it ainít God, the omniscient, omnipotent etc...

RMN: If you donít believe in God, do you believe in love?

Allen: Perhaps itís a uselessly out-worn four letter word that substitutes for awareness to cover all cruel facts. But you have to first agree with people how you want to use the word. You know, a word doesnít mean anything by itself, thereís no built-in intrinsic meaning, itís just how you want to use it. Itís an abstraction like, "What is the truth?" Itís a semantic blind-alley. It doesnít have a meaning except that which you assign to it, and if people donít agree on the meaning then youíre going to have endless feuds over nothing, which is what happens all the time. A student and I spent time with Burroughs in 1944. We got into an argument about what is art? If we carved a walking-stick and put in on the moon, where nobody saw it, is that art? Or does art have to be social? So we took the argument to Burroughs and he said, "Art is a three-letter word. If you guys will agree on what you mean and how you want to use it, then you can use it. But to say that it has an absolute inherent meaning one way or an absolute inherent meaning the other way, thatís a semantic problem and Ďtis too too starved an argument for my sword." You ask a large question using a large word which can mean anything, and then expect somebody to give you a sensible answer. Now, if you had said, what do you think of love? or how do you see using the word "love" for the experience of wonder at the sight of a sunset? Then I might be able to find an instance where it was used well, or I might not and Iíd have to invent one. If I couldnít invent an instance and I couldnít remember any instance where the word was used will, I would say itís probably not the right word.

RMN: Well, Iím glad I disappointed you and got such an answer! (laughter) Talking about the nature of wordplay, I read in a lecture you gave that you believe itís possible to teach inspiration. How do you do this?

Allen: Inspiration means breathing in. The process of breathing is or course, central to meditation practice, but itís also central to poetry. You have thoughts which are mental and impalpable, like heaven and then you have body, which is ground or earth. So when you speak, the breath comes out as a physiological body thing but itís also a vehicle for the impalpable thoughts of the mind. So, you could say that speech joins heaven and earth, or synchronizes mind and body. Exhalation or expiration - as in "he expired" - is the vehicle on which poetry comes out whereas inhalation or inspiration, takes in. So, you can say that certain kinds of poetry like Shelleyís famous romantic poem, "Ode to the West Wind" has a certain elevated unobstructed breath about it; unobstructed intelligence, unobstructed production of images, unobstructed self-confidence, unobstructed majestic proclamation.

RMN: So youíre saying that if people can learn to first breathe properly, they can then stimulate their imaginations?

Allen: To be a good example of what they call Ďpoetic inspirationí, is to be alive with this physiological (exhales breath) attitude. A sense of a proclamation echoing to the outside space with no difference between the outside space and the inside space. So you teach inspiration by teaching people both meditation and spontaneous improvisation, a sense of self-confidence, the notion of unobstructed breath and also how to allow their minds to speak out loud without thinking in advance. Thatís the way poetry is taught at the Naropa Institute. You can also cultivate or point out the notion of the space in the room so that somebody can talk loud enough so that the furthest person in the room can hear. You need a panoramic awareness of the space around you, rather than looking inward and mumbling. So, itís maybe hyperbole to say you could teach inspiration. You can teach the physiological posture of it, but thatís only half the battle. One of the teachings is about proclamation - to mouth the syllables in an interesting way. If you listen to Dylan records or Kerouacís recordings, youíll hear an intelligence in the actual pronunciation which is the difference between a mumbling poet and a poet who actually enjoys the language in his own mouth. If you listen to the recordings of Ezra Pound youíll hear that sense of elegant imperial mouth.

RMN: William Blake actually sang a lot of his poetry.

Allen: Yeah, he actually sang "Songs of Innocence."

RMN: You put that to music didnít you?

Allen: Yeah. There was a record in 1969 called, "Songs of Innocence and Of Experience." Itís out of print now, but itís going to be re-issued next year.

DJB: Cool. What else have you been doing?

Allen: Well I collaborated with Philip Glass on an opera, Hydrogen Jukebox, putting together poetry and music. Iím working on a record with Hal Wilner and with Fransesco Clemente on a series of books. Iím teaching at the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado and at Brooklyn College, and Iím writing a lot of poems. Iíve just about got another book ready and am also coalescing my journals from the Ď50ís. Another project called History of the Beat Generation drawn from my lectures over the years. Iím also trying to raise money for the Naropa Institute, the Buddhist school formed by Chogyam Trungpa in 1974. Within it is the school of poetry. We asked Trungpa if we could call it the Jack Kerouac School of Poetry, but it sounded a little boring. So then June Waldman said, well, heís dead, so heís disembodied. So now itís The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. And then will people misunderstand? Yes, well, thatís permissible. (laughter) Theyíll just have to ask what it means.

DJB: Do you still feel guilty about not doing enough?

Allen: Always. Itís a workaholic problem. (laughter)

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