I’ve been reading Empty Phantoms: interviews and encounters with Jack Kerouac, a sad but necessary account of one of our great American writers’ descent into alcoholism. It’s funny and brutal.
Here’s Allen Ginsberg in 1980, looking back on his separating friendship with Jack as he dug into the anti-War movement of the Sixties while Jack stayed home and drank:
“One built-in stereotype which still exists and is poisoning the left here insists on “hatred” as a “revolutionary weapon,” an old-fashioned prepsychedelic nineteenth-century hatred…which was contrary to his nature as it is contrary to mine. This hatred is at the root of most radical consciousness in America […] when the entire left went into a completely masturbatory period of social violence, calling everybody pigs, with self-righteousness and self-isolation which finally led to the election of Nixon.
That gross element in the left repelled Kerouac, who felt it was a betrayal of what he had prophesied. He prophesied a spiritual, angelic generation that would ultimately take over with long hair and exquisite manners, you know, “wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” Instead they were, like, greedy as pigs and harmful as dogs. It’s still a problem, the left being poisoned by its own anger…
I always had Kerouac in mind when I got on a peace march and I always made sure it was, like really, straight, pure, surrealist, lamblike, nonviolent, magical, mantric, spiritual politics rather than just marching up and down the street screaming hatred at the president.”
So what has changed in the twenty-five years since Allen spoke? The warlords won, the left is impotent, screeching and snarling but with fewer teeth than in 1980, the world seems even bleaker than it was. The dark Sixties will soon be referred to by the media as “a time of innocence” like the Twenties, Thirties, Forties, and Fifties before them. And still no revolution wise as serpents and harmless as doves.
I, wistfully and with some trepidation, still demand the revolution of love to begin today. To the barricades, you guys. No more screeching and snarling but rather touching and healing with hearts of compassion. Even for that sonuvabitch in the White House.