The Journals of André Gide

Wilde’s affected aes­theti­cism was for him merely an inge­nious cloak to hide, while half reveal­ing, what he could not let be seen openly … Here, as almost always, and often even with­out the artist’s know­ing it, it is the secret of the depths of his flesh that prompts, inspires, and decides…

Wilde’s plays reveal, beside the sur­face wit­ti­cisms, sparkling like false jew­els, many oddly rev­e­la­tory sen­tences of great psy­cho­log­i­cal inter­est. And it is for them that Wilde wrote the whole play––let there be no doubt about it…

Try to let some under­stand what one has an inter­est in hid­ing from all. As for me, I have always pre­ferred frank­ness. But Wilde made up his mind to make of false­hood a work of art. Noth­ing is more pre­cious, more tempt­ing, more flat­ter­ing than to see in the work of art a false­hood and, rec­i­p­ro­cally, to look upon false­hood as a work of art… This artis­tic hypocrisy was imposed on him… by the need of self-protection.

— André Gide, on Oscar Wilde, from The Jour­nals of André Gide

On ne décou­vre pas de terre nou­velle sans con­sen­tir à per­dre de vue, d’abord et longtemps, tout rivage.”

One doesn’t dis­cover new lands with­out con­sent­ing to lose sight, for a very long time, of the shore.“
― André Gide


Aldous Huxley’s LSD Death Trip

Aldous Hux­ley put him­self for­ever on the intel­lec­tual map when he wrote the dystopian sci-fi novel Brave New World in 1931. (Lis­ten to Hux­ley nar­rat­ing a dra­ma­tized ver­sion here.) The British-born writer was liv­ing in Italy at the time, a con­ti­nen­tal intel­lec­tual par excellence.

Then, six years later, Hux­ley turned all of this upside down. He headed West, to Hol­ly­wood, the newest of the New World, where he took a stab at writ­ing screen­plays (with not much luck) and started exper­i­ment­ing with mys­ti­cism and psy­che­delics — first mesca­line in 1953, then LSD in 1955. This put Hux­ley at the fore­front of the counterculture’s exper­i­men­ta­tion with psy­che­delic drugs, some­thing he doc­u­mented in his 1954 book, The Doors of Per­cep­tion.

Huxley’s exper­i­men­ta­tion con­tin­ued right through his death in Novem­ber 1963. When can­cer brought him to his death bed, he asked his wife to inject him with ”LSD, 100 µg, intra­mus­cu­lar.” He died later that day, just hours after Kennedy’s assas­si­na­tion. Three years later, LSD was offi­cially banned in California.

By way of foot­note, it’s worth men­tion­ing that the Amer­i­can med­ical estab­lish­ment is now giv­ing hal­lu­cino­gens a sec­ond look, con­duct­ing con­trolled stud­ies of how psilo­cy­bin and other psy­che­delics can help treat patients deal­ing with can­cer, obsessive-compulsive dis­or­der, post-traumatic stress dis­or­der, drug/alcohol addic­tion and end-of-life anx­i­ety. The New York Times has more on this story.


An Encounter With Simone Weil

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‘Atten­tion is the rarest and purest form of generosity.’

In her short life, Simone Weil (1909–1943) fought in the Span­ish Civil War, worked as a machine oper­a­tor and farm laborer, debated Trot­sky, taught high school stu­dents and union mem­bers, and was part of the French Resis­tance. The daugh­ter of afflu­ent Jew­ish par­ents, she spent her life advo­cat­ing for the poor and dis­en­fran­chised in France and for col­o­nized peo­ple around the world, bravely orga­niz­ing and writ­ing on their behalf. A con­sum­mate out­sider, who dis­trusted ide­olo­gies of any kind, Simone Weil left behind a body of work that fills fif­teen vol­umes and estab­lishes her as a bril­liant polit­i­cal, social, and spir­i­tual thinker.

In her writ­ings, she ana­lyzed power and its dehu­man­iz­ing effects, out­lined a doc­trine of atten­tion and empa­thy for human suf­fer­ing, and cri­tiqued Stal­in­ism long before most of the French left-wing. She believed intel­lec­tual work should be com­bined with phys­i­cal work, and that the­o­ries should evolve from close obser­va­tion and direct expe­ri­ence.  And, after three Chris­t­ian mys­ti­cal expe­ri­ences, she began grap­pling with reli­gious faith, its role in human his­tory, and the short­com­ings of orga­nized reli­gion. Her best-known works, all pub­lished posthu­mously, are Grav­ity & Grace, Oppres­sion & Lib­erty, Wait­ing for God, and The Need for Roots.

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Simone Weil died in obscu­rity in Lon­don in 1943. She was just 34. Her rep­u­ta­tion rested mainly on her involve­ment in left-wing pol­i­tics in France dur­ing the 1930s. Then after the war, she was dis­cov­ered. T.S. Eliot intro­duced her to Eng­lish read­ers, with the claim that she pos­sessed “a genius akin to saint­hood.” A lot of atten­tion was focused on Weil’s extreme per­son­al­ity and her extra­or­di­nary life. Now, schol­ars and read­ers are pay­ing atten­tion to the endur­ing sig­nif­i­cance of her polit­i­cal and reli­gious thought.

The New York Times described her as “one of the most bril­liant and orig­i­nal minds of twentieth-century France.” But by far her biggest advo­cate was the exis­ten­tial­ist philoso­pher Albert Camus who played a major role in get­ting her work pub­lished after her death. He even made a pil­grim­age to her writ­ing room before leav­ing for Stock­holm to receive the Nobel Prize in 1957. Yet, despite these lumi­nary sup­port­ers, Simone Weil is a little-known fig­ure, prac­ti­cally for­got­ten in her native France, and rarely taught in uni­ver­si­ties or sec­ondary schools. Slowly that is start­ing to change.

Albert Camus described her as “the only great spirit of our times”.


Aubrey Beardsley

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Aubrey Beard­s­ley was born on 21 August, 1872, in Brighton, Eng­land. The fam­ily, of mid­dle and upper mid­dle class ori­gins, was often nearly des­ti­tute. He attended Bris­tol Gram­mar School for four years as a boarder, indulging in his tal­ents by draw­ing car­i­ca­tures of his teachers.

In Feb­ru­ary of 1893, Wilde’s scan­dalous play Salome was pub­lished in its orig­i­nal French ver­sion. An illus­tra­tion inspired by the drama was admired by Wilde and Beard­s­ley was com­mis­sioned to Illus­trate the Eng­lish edi­tion (1894).

Not con­tent with art alone, Beard­s­ley expressed an intense desire to trans­late the French text after Wilde found the trans­la­tion by his inti­mate, Lord Alfred Dou­glas, to be unsat­is­fac­tory. This assign­ment was the begin­ning of celebrity but also of an uneasy, and at times unpleas­ant, friend­ship with Wilde, which offi­cially ended when Wilde was tried and con­victed of sodomy in 1895.

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Beardsley’s fame was estab­lished for all time when the first vol­ume The Yel­low Book appeared in April 1894. This famous quar­terly of art and lit­er­a­ture, for which Beard­s­ley served as art edi­tor and the Amer­i­can expa­tri­ate Henry Har­land as lit­er­ary edi­tor, brought the artist’s work to a larger public.

It was Beardsley’s star­ling black-and-white draw­ings, titlepages, and cov­ers which, com­bined with the writ­ings of the so-called “deca­dents,” a unique for­mat, and pub­lisher John Lane’s remark­able mar­ket­ing strate­gies, made the jour­nal an overnight sen­sa­tion. Although well received by much of the pub­lic, The Yel­low Book was attacked by crit­ics as inde­cent. So strong was the per­ceived link between Beard­s­ley, Wilde, and The Yel­low Book that Beard­s­ley was dis­missed in April 1895 from his post as art edi­tor fol­low­ing Wilde’s arrest, even though Wilde had in fact never con­tributed to the magazine.

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The film Af­ter Be­ards­ley at­tempts to de­pict to­day’s world through Be­ards­ley’s eyes and in his draw­ing style. Show­ing Be­ards­ley’s bet­ter known draw­ings, so­me of which ta­ke on a dif­fe­rent gui­se la­ter in the film. Writ­ten and drawn by Chris James.

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Leonard Weisgard’s 1949 Alice in Wonderland Illustrations

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Here’s the beau­ti­ful 1949 edi­tion of Alice’s Adven­tures in Won­der­land and Through the Look­ing Glass, illus­trated by Leonard Weis­gard — only the sec­ond ver­sion of the Lewis Car­roll clas­sic, and the first with color illus­tra­tions. The vibrant, tex­tured art­work exudes a cer­tain mid-century bold­ness that makes it as much a time­less cel­e­bra­tion of the beloved children’s book as it is a time-capsule of bygone aes­thetic from the golden age of illus­tra­tion and graphic design.

A vibrant mid-century homage to one of the most beloved children’s books of all time.

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” Alice was begin­ning to get tired of sit­ting by her sis­ter on the bank, and hav­ing noth­ing to do; once or twice she had peeped into the book her sis­ter was read­ing, but it had no pic­tures or con­ver­sa­tion in it, ‘and what is the use of a book’ thought Alice, ‘with­out pic­tures or conversations?’”

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Dial-a-poem | John Giorno

In 1969 John Giorno started a poetry ser­vice that was years ahead of its time. He called it Dial-a-poem and here is how it worked:

15 phone lines were conected with indi­vid­ual answer­ing machines, peo­ple could call and lis­ten to a poem. Many of the poems on Dial-a-poem were by hip­ster New York poets that Giorno had recorded like Allen Gins­berg, Anne Wald­man, Ted Berri­gan, the East Vil­lage crowd. Dial-a-poem was a big hit. In the first five months over a mil­lion calls came in and sud­denly dial­ing a poem was assigned as home­work in some New York City schools. But not all the poems were con­sid­ered appro­pri­ate for school kids.

The Board of Edu­ca­tion in New York City received com­plaints about Dial-a-poem, lawyers got involved; John Giorno won the legal bat­tle but he lost fund­ing and you couldn’t dial a poem any­more. Today, most of the record­ings of this extra­or­di­nary audio poetry col­lec­tion an be found online on the web­site ubuweb.com. You can also lis­ten to some of this poems at MoMA. You can also lis­ten to some exam­ples like the fol­low­ing through­out this post:

One day a New York mother saw her 12-year-old son with two friends lis­ten­ing to the tele­phone and gig­gle­ing. She grabbed the phone from them and what she heard freaked her out. This was when Dial-A-Poem was at The Archi­tec­tural League of New York with world­wide media cov­er­age, and Junior Scholas­tic Mag­a­zine had just done an arti­cle and lis­ten­ing to Dial-A-Poem was home­work in New York City Pub­lic Schools. It was also at a time when I was putting out a lot of erotic poetry, like Jim Car­roll’s porno­graphic “Bas­ket­ball Diaries,” so it became hip for the tee­nies to call. The mother and other reac­tionary mem­bers of the com­mu­nity started has­sling us, and The Board of Edu­ca­tion put press­sure on the Tele­phone Com­pany and there were has­sles and more has­sles and they cut us off. Ken Dewey and the New York State Coun­cil on The Arts were our cham­pi­ons, and the heavy lawyers threat­ened The Tele­phone Com­pany with a law­suit and we were instantly on again. Soon after our funds were cut, and we couldn’t pay the tele­phone bill so it ended.

Then we moved to The Museum of Mod­ern Art, where one half the con­tent of Dial-A-Poem was polit­i­cally rad­i­cal poetry At the time, with the war and repres­sion and every­thing, we thought this was a good way for the Move­ment to reach peo­ple. TIME mag­a­zine picked up on how you could call David and Nel­son Rockefeller’s museum and learn how to build a bomb. This was when the Weath­er­men were bomb­ing New York office build­ings. TIME ran the piece on The Nation page, next to the photo of a dead cop shot talk­ing on the tele­phone in Philadel­phia. How­ever, Bobby Seale, Eldridge Cleaver and The Black Pan­thers were well rep­re­sented. This cou­pled with rag pub­lic­ity really freaked the Trustees of the museum and mem­bers resigned and thou­sands com­plained and the FBI arrived one morn­ing to inves­ti­gate. The Musuem of Mod­ern Art is a ware­house of the plun­der and rip off for the Rock­e­feller fam­ily and they got upset at being in the sit­u­a­tion of sup­port­ing a sys­tem that would self-destruct or self purify, so they ordered the sys­tem shut down. John High­tower, MOMA Direc­tor, was our cham­pion with some heavy changes of con­science, and he wouldn’t let them silence us, for a short while. Then later John High­tower was fired from MOMA and Ken Dewey recently fly­ing alone in a small plane crashed and died.

In the mid­dle of the Dial-A-Poem expe­ri­ence was the giant self-consuming media machine choos­ing you as some of its food, which also lets you get your hands on the con­trols because you’ve made a new sys­tem of com­mu­ni­cat­ing poetry. The news­pa­per, mag­a­zine, TV and radio cov­er­age had the effect of mak­ing every­one want to call the Dial-A-Poem. We got up to the max­i­mum limit of the equip­ment and stayed there. 60,000 calls a week and it was totally great. The busiest time was 9 AM to 5 PM, so one fig­ured that all those peo­ple sit­ting at desks in New York office build­ings spend a lot of time on the tele­phone, then the sec­ond busiest time was 8:30 PM to 11:30 PM was the after-dinner crowd, then the Cal­i­for­nia calls and those trip­ping on acid or couldn’t sleep 2 AM to 6 PM. So using an exist­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tions sys­tem we estab­lished a new poet-audience relationship.

Dial-A-Poem began at the Archi­tec­tural League of New York in Jan­u­ary 1969 with 10 tele­phone lines and ran for 5 months, dur­ing which time 1,112,337 calls were received. It con­tin­uted at MOMA in July 1970 with 12 tele­phone lines and ran for 2 and a half months and 200,087 calls were received. It was at The Musuem of Con­tem­po­rary Art, Chicago for 6 weeks in Novem­ber 1969 and since then has cropped up every­where. This was with equip­ment work­ing at max­i­mum capac­ity and some­times jam­ming the entire exchange. At MOMA, the 12 lines were each con­nected to an auto­matic answer­ing set, which holds a pre-recorded mes­sage. Some­one call­ing got ran­domly one of 12 dif­fer­ent poems, which were changed daily. There were around 700 selec­tions of 55 poets.”

John Giorno, August 1972

Giorno extended Dial-a-Poem into the 1970s and 1980s, pro­duc­ing five LP records under the label John Giorno Poetry Sys­tems that include works by estab­lished poets like Ash­bery and young artists and musi­cians such as John Cage, Patti Smith, and David Byrne. This ver­sion of Dial-a-Poem includes the 30 orig­i­nal poets fea­tured in Infor­ma­tion, plus 50 culled from Giorno’s sub­se­quent recordings.

You can now lis­ten to Dial-a-Poem by call­ing the local New York num­ber 347-POET001 on your own phone. (Dial-a-Poem is free, but your mobile phone fees will apply.)

Watch below a recent inter­view of John Giorno where he pro­vides more details of his rela­tion­ship with Andy Warhol, the poets of the Beat Gen­er­a­tion and Dial-a-Poem.


Samuel Beckett’s Film

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Beckett’s own cin­e­matic short, star­ring a some­what reluc­tant Buster Keaton.

Samuel Beckett’s only ven­ture into the medium of cin­ema, Film was writ­ten in 1963 and filmed in New York in the sum­mer of 1964, directed by Alan Schnei­der and fea­tur­ing Buster Keaton. For the shoot­ing Mr. Beck­ett made his only trip to Amer­ica. The film, which has no dia­logue, takes its basis Berkeley’s the­ory Esse est per­cepti, that is “to be is to be per­ceived”: even after all out­side per­cep­tion — be it ani­mal, human or divine — has been sup­pressed, self per­cep­tion remains.

Film was edited by Syd­ney Mey­ers and the cin­e­matog­ra­phy was by Boris Kauf­man, both of whom were pre­em­i­nent in their fields. Film was pro­duced by Bar­ney Ros­set and Ever­green The­ater. (USA, 1965 — 20′+)

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Vi Subversa — Poison Girls — She’s a Punk Rocker U.K.

Vi Sub­versa real name Frances Sokolov San­som (born 20 June 1935, Lon­don) was the singer and gui­tarist of UK anarcho-punk band Poi­son Girls. She was born of East-European Jew­ish par­ents. She spent two years in Israel in the late 1950s, before return­ing to the UK. She had two chil­dren, Pete Fender (born Daniel San­som, 1964) and Gem Stone (born Gemma San­som, 1967) who were both mem­bers of the punk bands Fatal Microbes and Rubella Bal­let.
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Vi’s first pub­lic singing was not with Poi­son Girls; it was as part of The Body Show at Sus­sex Uni­ver­sity in 1975.

In 1979, at 44 years old and a mother of two, Vi Sub­versa released the first sin­gle with the Poi­son Girls. Her lyrics were writ­ten from a rad­i­cal fem­i­nist punk perspective.

She is fea­tured in the doc­u­men­tary film She’s a Punk Rocker.

She’s a Punk Rocker U.K.”: A doc­u­men­tary by and about punk rock women.

Punk women changed the pub­lic face of females. It was very uni­ver­sally empow­er­ing for women. The story of punk could almost be a women’s lib­er­a­tion story.

Doc­u­men­tary direc­tor and punk rocker Zil­lah Minx reveals the true punk rock his­tory from the women who were there. This doc­u­men­tary tells the story directly from the punk women who cre­ated the punk scene in UK. These are the punk women on the streets of the UK. Before the Sex Pis­tols appeared on TV and revealed an under­ground punk world, to the pub­lic. These are the women punks who shocked the world. This is their story of being punk told in an oral his­tory format.

Fea­tur­ing: Poly Styrene (X-ray Spex), Gee Vaucher (Crass), Eve Lib­er­tine (Crass), Gaye Advert (The Adverts), Helen Of Troy (FU-2), Julie Burchill (jour­nal­ist), Vi Sub­versa (Poi­son Girls), Honey Bane (Fatal Microbes), Lulu Moon (Evil I), Car­o­line Coon (jour­nal­ist), Zil­lah Minx (Rubella Bal­let), Michelle (Brig­andage), Olga Orbit (Youth in Asia), Net­tie Baker (jour­nal­ist, poet), Ruth & Janet (Hagar The Womb), Rachel Minx (Rubella Ballet)


William S. Burroughs Reading Junky

Above is an illus­tra­tion by artist ~cal­tron (Isam S. Prado) of William Bur­roughs’ novel Junky.

“The ques­tion is fre­quently asked: Why does a man become a drug addict?
The answer is that he usu­ally does not intend to become an addict. You don’t wake up one morn­ing and decide to be a drug addict. It takes at least three months’ shoot­ing twice a day to get any habit at all. And you don’t really know what junk sick­ness is until you have had sev­eral habits. It took me almost six months to get my first habit, and then the with­drawal symp­toms were mild. I think it no exag­ger­a­tion to say it takes about a year and sev­eral hun­dred injec­tions to make an addict.”

Six years before he pub­lished his break­through novel, Naked Lunch (1959), William S. Bur­roughs broke into the lit­er­ary scene with Junky (some­times also called Junkie), a can­did, semi-autobiographical account of an “unre­deemed drug addict.” It’s safe to say that the book wouldn’t have seen the light of day if Allen Gins­berg hadn’t taken Bur­roughs under his wing and edited the man­u­script. The book, orig­i­nally pub­lished under the pseu­do­nym “William Lee,” was dis­trib­uted by Ace Books, a pub­lish­ing house that tar­geted New York City sub­way rid­ers. Below, you can lis­ten to Bur­roughs read­ing a three-hour abridged ver­sion of the text.

The ques­tions, of course, could be asked: Why did you ever try nar­cotics? Why did you con­tinue using it long enough to become an addict? You become a nar­cotics addict because you do not have strong moti­va­tions in the other direc­tion. Junk wins by default. I tried it as a mat­ter of curios­ity. I drifted along tak­ing shots when I could score. I ended up hooked. Most addicts I have talked to report a sim­i­lar expe­ri­ence. They did not start using drugs for any rea­son they can remem­ber. They just drifted along until they got hooked. If you have never been addicted, you can have no clear idea what it means to need junk with the addict’s spe­cial need. You don’t decide to be an addict. One morn­ing you wake up sick and you’re an addict.”

If like me, you can not get enough of William Bur­roughs, I invite you to stay with us a lit­tle longer and watch the fol­low­ing 1983 doc­u­men­tary by Howard Brookner. At the begin­ning of it, you will be able to see William S. Bur­roughs’ first appear­ance on Amer­i­can national tele­vi­sion. Appro­pri­ately, it was on the irrev­er­ent, late-night com­edy show, Sat­ur­day Night Live. I hope you enjoy it.


The Beat Hotel

The Beat Hotel, a new film by Doc­u­men­tary Arts, goes deep into the legacy of the Amer­i­can Beats in Paris dur­ing the heady years between 1957 and 1963, when Allen Gins­berg, Peter Orlovsky and Gre­gory Corso fled the obscen­ity tri­als in the United States sur­round­ing the pub­li­ca­tion of Gins­bergs poem Howl. They took refuge in a cheap no-name hotel they had heard about at 9, Rue Git le Coeur and were soon joined by William Bur­roughs, Ian Somerville, Brion Gysin, and oth­ers from Eng­land and else­where in Europe, seek­ing out the free­dom that the Latin Quar­ter of Paris might provide.

The Beat Hotel, as it came to be called, was a sanc­tu­ary of cre­ativ­ity, but was also, as British pho­tog­ra­pher Harold Chap­man recalls, an entire com­mu­nity of com­plete odd­balls, bizarre, strange peo­ple, poets, writ­ers, artists, musi­cians, pimps, pros­ti­tutes, police­men, and every­body you could imag­ine. And in this envi­ron­ment, Bur­roughs fin­ished his con­tro­ver­sial book Naked Lunch; Ian Somerville and Brion Gysin invented the Dream Machine; Corso wrote some of his great­est poems; and Harold Norse, in his own cut-up exper­i­ments, wrote the novella, aptly called The Beat Hotel.

The film tracks down Harold Chap­man in the small sea­side town of Deal in Kent Eng­land. Chap­mans pho­tographs are iconic of a time and place when Gins­berg, Orlovsky, Corso, Bur­roughs, Gysin, Somerville and Norse were just begin­ning to estab­lish them­selves on the inter­na­tional scene. Chap­man lived in the attic of the hotel, and accord­ing to Gins­berg didnt say a word for two years because he wanted to be invis­i­ble and to doc­u­ment the scene as it actu­ally happened.

In the film, Chap­mans pho­tographs and styl­ized dra­matic recre­ations of his sto­ries meld with the rec­ol­lec­tions of Elliot Rudie, a Scot­tish artist, whose draw­ings of his time in the hotel offer a poignant and some­times humor­ous coun­ter­point. The mem­o­ries of Chap­man and Rudie inter­weave with the insights of French artist Jean-Jacques Lebel, author Barry Miles, Dan­ish film­maker Lars Movin, and the first hand accounts of Oliver Har­ris, Regina Wein­rich, Patrick Amie, Eddie Woods, and 95 year old George Whit­man, among oth­ers, to evoke a por­trait of Gins­berg, Bur­roughs, Corso and the odd­i­ties of the Beat Hotel that is at once unex­pected and revealing.