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Sun, Mar. 12th, 2006 11:19 am
Ginsberg's ghost

I've found myself this week in the middle of a certain kind of New York conversation, the kind I used to hunger for, lively conversation about art and projects and ideas and ambition and politics, falling silent. It's not that I don't want to be in the conversation. It's not that the terms of the conversation make no sense to me. It's not even that I'm still a bit jet-lagged and tend to get tired early in the evening. It's just something to do with feeling bored with the way these New York conversations, these American conversations, are framed. I feel like, no matter how much I agree, I won't agree. No American definition of the good life will match mine. I want to opt out of the terms and framings of these conversations even before I get into them. These days I seem to prefer processing things visually; I find that more interesting. I'm sitting in a bar, and there's conversation, but I notice that there's an abacus lattice in front of me, and I want to concentrate on that. Or there's music playing, but the peripheral sounds (rain, ventilation, machinery) are more interesting. The landscape out the window of the plane is more interesting than the film. Silence is more interesting than speech. I just want to look at what people are wearing, watch a crane elevator moving up and down its metal spine, silhouetted against the western horizon.

At moments like this I think of Allen Ginsberg. I think of that gimmick he had -- and it also wasn't a gimmick -- of launching into a mantra at any given moment. Here's one, his Vajra Mantra. It's a lovely recording, a serious and sensuous pronunciation of holy syllables. And I think of Ginsberg's self-awarded license to pronounce these syllables as a strategy, in part, to avoid other syllables. His embrace of Buddhism might have been, amongst other things, a way for Ginsberg to be post-American, a way out of all sorts of conversations with people at universities, rallies, in cars and cafes, wherever; a way out of small talk which would ultimately just confirm certain American fixed ideas, and also confirm him as an American Jew. By becoming some sort of satyr-devotee, by mixing cultures and invoking gods who were non-gods, Ginsberg could escape all that rubbish, all that restricting clutter. I wish I had a gimmick like that! I wish I could break out a small electronic shruti box and just start chanting! Where do I need to apply for the license to do that? Do I need to be a 1960s person? An eccentric? A famous poet? A visiting lecturer?

Ginsberg is a man I admire a lot. He's dead, of course, and now we have Devendra Banhart, a sort of "fashion Hindu", in something approximating the same cultural space. Now, all sorts of objections could be raised to Devendra -- and what's he doing in the men's fashion section of the New York Times, anyway? What kind of transcendence is that? -- but I'm not really interested in any of them. Anything that lifts America away from its dull denims, its dreadful protestant practicality, is fine by me. A use of fashion that lifts America away from itself -- away from its endless small talk about the weather and projects and success -- towards a recognition of the wisdom of India is, well, a correct use of fashion. The ghost of Ginsberg is there, doing good work.

59CommentReplyFlag


(Anonymous)
Sun, Mar. 12th, 2006 04:43 pm (UTC)


reading this feels scary, a real bummer to be american. what should america talk about, what can we talk about? i can relate man, i talk about the weather, projects, success to some level with every one i know and dont know, i have other cares too, but these topics always come up over and over. why is there nothing to say. i'm finding my self speaking less and less, looking listening, the things i have to talk about dont excite me again, yet. and the things other people talk about are the same


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, Mar. 12th, 2006 04:50 pm (UTC)

You know, one of the reasons I enjoy Japan so much is that I don't speak Japanese. Maybe there's some way to un-learn English. If not written English, at least spoken English. That could liberate someone from a lot of tiresome boxes. Then we could all communicate with singing, or sex, or looking, instead.


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neciegabby
Necie-(denise)Gabby-(gabrielle)-Gingko(a tree)
Sun, Mar. 12th, 2006 04:50 pm (UTC)

oh, hip hip hooray, i like these ideas, and they made me smile. i like the idea of encountering things that way, processing visually, noise-ily. oh and another thing i really like about ginsberg is how he would interupt himself with his own gross noises - coughing up phlegm into a microphone, hacking coughs without apology, etc. theres a mantra in there somewhere maybe, a booger mantra.


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300letters
300letters
Manufactured Pretense
Sun, Mar. 12th, 2006 05:27 pm (UTC)

Some of us New Yorkers prefer the conversation of light and shadow to the overly verbose barroom culture. Although taken in a larger John Cage way they can be quite interesting pop songs.


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cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
Sun, Mar. 12th, 2006 05:35 pm (UTC)

We should all become kids again because kids can communicate with eachother even if they don't talk the same language I've heard. Atleast kids younger than 5-6 years or so.


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dr_deadmeat
dr_deadmeat
dr deadmeat
Sun, Mar. 12th, 2006 05:39 pm (UTC)

I've seen older people do that. Large doses of Ketamine seemed to be the key.


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dr_deadmeat
dr_deadmeat
dr deadmeat
Sun, Mar. 12th, 2006 06:03 pm (UTC)

I have a fair bit of fondness for Ginsberg, but I always feel that essentially he was a conman and a huckster. I don't mean that in a wholly pejorative way either - the grifter is an important US cultural icon, and the mindgames of the salesman contain a lot of interesting pyschological insight and hidden linguistic mechanisms etc. It's always been a powerful force in that strand of US counterculture, e.g. the English conman chap whose name I forget right now who introduced Leary to LSD... and more recently Terrence McKenna, the biggest psychedelic showman of them all, who talks in explicitly free market capitalist terms about dealing with the metaphysical 'entities' he encountered in his drug experiments.


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niddrie_edge
niddrie_edge
raymond
Sun, Mar. 12th, 2006 11:34 pm (UTC)

You both capture my feelings about Ginsberg well.

I used to think he was a flake and a conman, especially with all those "working for the CIA" rumours but recently I have been reappraising his importance on culture and on my own life. Yoko Ono will have to wait.

He seems to be a custodian for a lineage in a sense, being an important connector of people and events. His quips about having fucked Whitman by proxy due to a teacher/lover he had carnal knowledge of being three fucks removed from Whitman's lovers. His interpretation of Bob Dylan as a trickster/changeling. His love of Blake and the Romantics. His active encouragement of Kerouac and Burroughs.

I read recently that he and Gary Snyder felt some karmic guilt for actively encouraging a generation to take sometimes dangerous psychedelics. They had to take responsibility for some damaged minds and lives.

Watching a documentary, "What happened to Kerouac" recently, I was deeply moved by Ginsberg's take on Kerouac's search for the core of experience and its infinite sadness. Something he expresses at times in his own recorded "songs".


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tassellrealm
tassellrealm
XWSF Tassell
Sun, Mar. 12th, 2006 06:25 pm (UTC)

I'm sure Alan Whicker often had similar feelings.

That's part of the business of being a transient passenger in an ambient world.

I don't necessarily think it need have anything to do with autism.

Decades ago when I was into Northern Soul I used to live in a timeless zoneless dayless nightless motorway cafe blur.

Later on when I became an international model it was pretty similar but a lot more comfortable. I love the interzone way of things. Airports, Motorways, Trains and Boats and Planes.

I hate being rooted. I hate the mentality that goes with rootedness. I spend most of my time in London convinced that I'm just a tourist.


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squidb0i
squidb0i
ENDIF
Sun, Mar. 12th, 2006 06:40 pm (UTC)

Aah! Thank you for the electronic Shruti Box.
*adds it to the sonic arsenal*


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yanatonage
yanatonage
love you from the heart
Sun, Mar. 12th, 2006 06:51 pm (UTC)

The wisdom of India? What wisdom would that be?


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(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand

mcfnord
mcfnord
shoop
Sun, Mar. 12th, 2006 06:53 pm (UTC)

Once i picked up a young drifter who was dying of AIDS. I'm not particularly naive or shallow, but whenever I would say something vapid and meaningless, he would start coughing uncontrollably. It was his involuntary mantra.


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(Anonymous)
Sun, Mar. 12th, 2006 07:59 pm (UTC)

Your definition of Post-American seems to be what American is. You can pretty much adopt whatever from whereever and for the most part people don't care.

America from its start was a global nation - not to get all preachy and Super America Is Awesome, but it's the truth. When you grow up and go to school, you automatically learn about the entire world because you're in classes with kids whose families come from nearly every continent on earth. Also, you grow up hearing stories about your ancestral homeland, where some family still is, etc. You're automatically tied to the world as a whole.

Post-Americanism sounds like regular Americanism, at least in the congested NY Metro area. It surprises me all these art critics insist this globalism and internationalism is something new ... as far as I remember, it's always been around here.

With the advent of the internet, the same thing has only gotten more intense. This just sounds like another case of nothing.


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nomorepolitics
nomorepolitics
Sun, Mar. 12th, 2006 08:05 pm (UTC)

It's just something to do with feeling bored with the way these New York conversations, these American conversations, are framed. I feel like, no matter how much I agree, I won't agree. No American definition of the good life will match mine. I want to opt out of the terms and framings of these conversations even before I get into them.

Although I think that beatnik culture has mostly become Americanized in the same sense that you describe here, I agree. I find that in many of my conversations whatever I say is put through a matrix of accepted "American" or "Canadian" ideas. My ideas are matched with similar sounding, though completely different ideas, and either accepted or rejected according to those terms. It seems that many people here don't really listen, or perhaps they can't hear because they have never stepped out of this accepted way of thinking. I tend to find myself repeating things, often without any achievement at true communication. And like you I often fall silent, becoming bored with talking to myself.


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stanleylieber
stanleylieber
Stanley Lieber
Tue, Mar. 14th, 2006 09:57 am (UTC)

The branch that doesn't flex, breaks.


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frontporchmafia
frontporchmafia
Sun, Mar. 12th, 2006 08:58 pm (UTC)

Oh, what a good post. I'm so thankful that I've found you for this reason:

You teach me something new(literally)every post. But not only that, but that you have a walking type brilliance that is willing to share.

So,yeah. Go Momus.


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cityramica
cityramica
cityramica
Sun, Mar. 12th, 2006 09:12 pm (UTC)

i heard a refrigerator sing today.


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charleshatcher
charleshatcher
charleshatcher
Sun, Mar. 12th, 2006 09:40 pm (UTC)

How insular, inflexible, insipid and insolent post-Americans seem. Not very much unlike pre-post-Americans. Thankfully I'm post-post-American.


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(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand

nato_dakke
nate
Sun, Mar. 12th, 2006 10:03 pm (UTC)

maybe you're turning autistic later in life?

also, it makes sense that you'd love the so-called post american, who is in his/her rejection of cultural values, precisely the most american ideal... after all, you've always loved the post-japanese japanese (the only ones who bother to learn english). Rejection of the japanese cultural values is precisely the most american ideal.
Look at Murakami Ryuu's "Almost Transparent Blue" for a hint as to where the thoughtful, directionless youth culture of japan grew up.


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