O le plus violent Paradis de la grimace enragée! Pas de comparaison avec vos Fakirs et les autres bouffonneries scéniques. Dans des costumes improvisés avec le gout du mauvais rêve ils jouent des complaintes, des tragedies de malandrins et des demi-dieux spirituels comme l’histoire ou les religions ne l’ont jamais été. Chinois, Hottentots, bohémiens, niais, hyènes, Molochs, vieilles démences, démons sinistres, ils mêlent les tours populaires, maternels, avec les poses et les tendresses bestiales…Maîtres jongleurs, ils transforment le lieu et les personnes et usent de la comédie magnétique. Les yeux flambent, le sang chante, les os s’élargissent, les larmes et des filets rouges ruisselent. Leur raillerie ou leur terreur dure une minute, ou des mois entiers.
Berkeley, California, five years ago. A typical spring day. From its vernal tangent the sun slowly dissipates the morning fog. The breeze carries a taste of salt from the ocean. Towards the west streets descend to the waterfront. One sees a radius of bay interrupted by islands, the hazy curve of San Francisco, Marin County rising into the peaks of Mount Tamalpais. Beyond the Golden Gate the horizontal sea turns into sky. Behind, towards the east, the Berkeley Hills limit and define the background. Eucalyptus, oak and pine merge into a sporadic green among a cumulous of laboratory buildings. Where cows once grazed, a cyclotron now shatters unseen universes.
In the center lies the University of California. East, west, north and south its portals lead to the higher academe—the “Athens of the West,” pulsing with 30,000 students. A mass of buildings, squaring the past, rise to the third power in an ode to growth. The tower, once a landmark, is already a dwarfed symbol.
The scene narrows, focuses on the southern approach to the University—Telegraph Avenue. In one direction the Avenue leads to the city of Oakland. It is a wide, long transit full of cars, devoid of pedestrians. A typical American façade—stereotyped into interminability. A repetition of gasoline stations, automobile salesrooms, used car lots, drive-in restaurants, supermarkets, banks. It is a world designed to serve the automobile. A city flattened and elongated into highway.
In the opposite direction the Avenue narrows for four blocks and terminates at the University plaza. It is a Telegraph Avenue weirdly subverted into another world. It is a transit that has become a point of transition in American society. One enters and receives a severe shock. One feels turned inside out, as if one’s normal, everyday persona is torn open to reveal the inner tumult it masks.
O le plus violent Paradis de la grimace enragée!
A bizarre montage! Animals, people, shops—jumbled, juxtaposed, distorted objects, colors, sounds, seen and heard as in a nightmare! One enters the stage of a theatre of the Absurd, with a scenario created and populated by Dante, by Hieronymus Bosch, by Edgar Allen Poe, by Ionesco, by Rimbaud. A mirage of apparitions summoned into life!
Pas de comparaison avec vos Fakirs et les autres bouffoneries scéniques.
The stage fluctuates, forms and disintegrates in the current of one’s vision. A shop window shimmers with psychedelic posters: blow-ups of Walt Whitman and a Bengal tiger, Sigmund Freud and Albert Einstein and an American Indian-hair, noses, eyes, mouths, wrinkles and pouches dissolve into the schizophrenic lines and colors of a psychedelic smear. Reason has gone mythical, chaotic, mad…disappearing into its Eocene jungles.
The conventional and the bizarre emerge counter posed, contradictory. Their images shift, waver and then merge transposed. The orderliness and sterile reassurance of a Christian Science reading room, presided over by a middle-aged dowager is set against a shop selling Tarot cards, oriental esoterica, ginseng, fancy papers in which to roll marijuana, herbs and books on acupuncture, aikido, the I Ching. From a bookstore selling second-hand books and records a stereophonic measure of Bach suddenly explodes into a volcano of rock music. A neatly-dressed middle-class woman enters a Viennese bakery. Out comes a half-naked, wild-haired, unwashed female cramming a tart like contraband into her mouth.
Counter posed: a hot dog, hamburger, doughnut and Coca Cola restaurant serving the standardized American stomach. And nearby, an Italian café, Chinese and Mexican restaurants, a German hofbrau catering to newly stimulated appetites. Larry Blake’s, Robbie’s, the Mediterranean, La Fiesta, the Heidelberg. Posed, counter posed and transposed: the establishment jewelry store displaying clocks, diamond engagement rings, wristwatches and strings of pearls; a supermarket drugstore, a radio shop, dress and shoe stores…familiar consumer marts. And nearby, in between, below and above, funky boutiques in the style of Carnaby Street; Persian, East Indian, South American shops with exoticism for sale.
And then…a battleground!
O le plus violent Paradis…
Victims of a guerrilla war. Shops empty. Windows boarded up. Windows broken. Windows whose glass mirrors a turbulent street life. Reflections of demonstrations. Echoes of an incitement to action! Slogans turning into a hysteria of taunts, screams, laughs. The drum of running feet on the pavement. Rocks tossed. The shadows of police. Clouds of tear-gas. “End the War!” “Down with Nixon!” “Peace in Vietnam!” “Take People’s Park!” “Kill the Pigs!” “Streets for the People!” Low-keyed pleas for “Love and Peace” winding up into frenzied chants of hate and violence.
Ils jouent des complaintes, des tragedies de malandrins et des demi-dieux spirituels…
Street People! A bacchanalia encircles and inundates the Avenue. Nymphs and satyrs of blasphemous attire and attitudes surge from all sides, playing out a desperate mockery of the American Reality.
Dans des costumes improvises avec le gout du mauvais rêve…
Straight People into Street People! The parade has overtaken, overwhelmed and absorbed the great middle-class of shaven and shorn dry-cleaned males with their button-down shirts, their pressed and pleated trousers…of deodorized females with their bouffant hairdos and polyester pants-suits. People dehydrated of juices and processed into anonymity.
Chinois, Hottentots, bohemiens, niais, hyenes, Molochs, vieilles démences, démons sinistres…
…rise against their parents like the plagues escaped from Pandora’s box. Oedipus, Orestes, Electra in masquerade, revengeful demons pursuing the suppressed generations that gave them birth.
Boys, wild-haired, in torn blue-jeans, patched and decorated with beads, amulets, headbands, earrings. Boys, primitive, in love with profanity, heresy, degradation—barefoot, bare-chested, de-civilized, in pilgrimage for the primitive—leaping, running, sinuously weaving in and out. Lurching, strutting, stumbling, dragging, falling—lost in their private Saison en Enfer.
…ils mêlent les tours populaires, maternels, avec les poses et les tendresses bestiales…
Girls, provocative, insinuating, half-naked in mini-mini skirts and see-through blouses. Tattooed and decorated as artlessly as children. Girls, simulating masculine gestures, antagonistic and aggressive, in blue-jeans and heavy shoes. Girls in long ragged dresses dragging about their bare feet, wandering hesitantly, without direction. Sad, unkempt, innocent-experienced, foolish-wise. Cradling kittens, puppies, babies, tentatively in their childish arms. Babies trailing behind, nude or half-dressed, uncombed, unwashed, experienced-innocent pale faces. Dogs bounding ahead or slinking at their ankles.
On a corner a boy and girl are locked in a rigid and interminable embrace—in an attitude profoundly private turned public, tender turned obscene. On another corner a Raphaelite-faced girl in ragged pants touches the arm of a passerby. Her hand stretches out, palm turned from defiance to supplication. “Spare change?” Her tone changes from mockery to desperation. Nearby a girl huddles on a curb, surrounded by a pile of pornographic newspapers. In the background a youth stands in the alcove of a shop. He murmurs softly into the ears of the passersby, offering drugs or his body for sale.
Maîtres jongleurs, ils transforment le lieu et les personnes et usent de la comédie magnétique.
Crouched in a haphazard circle young black and white men gamble at cards on the sidewalk. The whites are disreputable in rags, émigrés from some Dickensian slum. The blacks are resplendent dandies in exaggerated styles and colors: fancy vests, striped or ruffled shirts, wide-lapelled jackets, electric ties, tight-creased pants and lustrous shoes.
A sorceress approaches. Barefoot, gypsy-skirted, a feathered Robin Hood hat on her head—blowing bubbles through a pipe and weaving spherical rainbows over the heads of the crowd while chanting an inaudible and endless poem.
A large modern bookstore with a tremendous glass shell of a window reflects a burlesque market of vendors, lounging under trees thrust into cement boxes. Spread on the pavement around them: candles of indigestible hues, handmade belts and buckles, bracelets made from bent silver spoons, table bases made from diseased tree trunks, tie-dyed T-shirts. A value and a price stamped upon the refuse of machine society. Salvaged junk, flotsam and jetsam turned into a defiant art. At one side a flower stand shimmers and trembles with the tender, delicate flowers of spring.
…comme l’histoire ou les religions ne l’ont jamais été.
“Hare Krishna! Hare Krishna! Hare Krishna!” The rhythmic sound of chanting and cymbals rises above the chaotic rupturing noise of the street. An exotic parade-within-a-parade of singing, dancing, devotees to Krishna approaches. A reek of incense. They clap their hands, leap into the air, twirl and nod their heads back and forth hypnotically in ascetic delirium. Orange, Hindu garments flap about their bodies. Young Anglo-Saxon, rosy-cheeked Protestant faces are masked with powder. The chaste braids of the women and the limp tufts of hair on the shaven heads of the men flop up and down frenetically. A black youth, in a wild jungle dance, out leaps, out-twirls the others.
Pas de comparaison avec vos Fakirs…
On the other side of the street looms the accusative apparition of a black pastor in rigid black clothes and stark white collar. He raises a Bible in one hand and in a Cuban accent loudly exhorts the Protestant way of Christ. Sacred and profane forces mingle, collide, separate. The parade straggles on.
Les yeux flambent, le sang chante, les os s’élargissent, les larmes et des filet rouges ruissellant.
The heat and light of the sun breaking through the fog strikes and illuminates the stage. Individual, alienated dramas create a street of affliction. Pariahs, criminals, drug addicts, delinquents, drop-outs and rebels from the middle-class metamorphose into a doomed pageant of pilgrims seeking some mythical salvation.
Efficiency, abundance, order. Sanity, reason, progress, health. Eternal youth, the satisfaction of every desire. Comfort and conformity…the production and consumption of the splendid machine of technological society, all these are negated here on Telegraph Avenue. Incarnated here are the demons pursuing Strindberg in the bourgeois ambiance of Paris; evils foreseen by Dostoyevsky in the new industrial society of London; the oracular perversions celebrated by Baudelaire and Rimbaud. The Fleurs du Mal have taken root in the center of this civilization, at the gates of its temple. Privation, suffering, illness, aging, death—everything subversive of American goals; everything that American society has always tried to evade, ignore, deny, returns to haunt Telegraph Avenue. The specters of disorder, irrationalism, suppressed desires, insanity, flee from suburbia and supermarket, bank turned into art gallery, air-conditioned office, factory and Disneyland…to parade, strut, dance, gesticulate here—to create a scene in counterpoint.
The parade ends at the University—at the temple of reason, of erudition, of investigation—with its accumulation of histories and hagiographies, charts and graphs, with its libraries, museums, lecture halls, auditoriums, theaters, laboratories…with its computers, audio-visual machines, researchers, apprentices and pedagogues. On the steps of the student center the parade halts. The paraders drop backpack and guitar, collapse, sprawl, huddle in numb silence, mumble, shout or sing. A small band with fiddle and harmonica plays a frenzied country music. A youth dressed in a shiny tinsel space suit sells parcels of land on the moon. A crazy profane reality begins to engulf the fragile chimera of civilization.
Has American society finally evoked its own antithesis? Has it created a modern myth of the Inferno and staged it on its streets, finally illuminating and dramatizing its technological insanity? Has it named its nemesis in the satisfaction of every desire? Has it produced its counter-image that now usurps and destroys it?
Leur raillerie ou leur terreur dure une minute our des mois entiers.
Time telescopes into the present. The stage has another dimension. The spectator has been changed by the drama. The shock has been absorbed; the mask replaced, the exposed persona tentatively contained. The scene is now superimposed upon a private film of memory. It focuses again on Telegraph Avenue.
Today, five years later, where the Avenue widens in the direction of Oakland, there are signs of transition. There no longer exists the sharp contrast between the traditional middle-class facades and the hippie bazaar. The counter-scene no longer is enclosed within the original four blocks next to the University. It is spreading, building by building, into the ramparts of American society.
Small shops are beginning to appear amidst the gasoline stations, supermarkets and long stretches of used-car lots. The exotic is now becoming marketable, standardized. Junk is now becoming valuable. Used-furniture stores have become “antique shops.” The new, shiny, clean, is now deliberately marred, aged and soiled. The manufactured, mass-produced, is given an air of hand-made. The obscene protest of the hippies is now institutionalized in pornographic magazines sold openly everywhere. “Porno” films are shown on the main streets. “Massage parlors” have mushroomed.
Where Telegraph Avenue narrows in its approach to the University-the original site of the “counter-culture” explosion—some of the shops have endured. The pastry shop remains, the bookstores, the psychedelic poster shop, the Persian and Hindu bazaars, the German hofbrau and Mexican restaurants. Other stores and restaurants have disappeared. Increasingly, the traditional marts have been replaced by those serving the new counter-culture tastes. There are now Greek, Persian, Vietnamese, Indian restaurants, international bazaars and shops.
The conventional stores, banks, shops, that remain have become fortresses. There are bars over windows; windows replaced by wood, brick and mortar; walls reinforced by steel or brick. But the onslaught is no longer violent, from the streets. It is insidious, from within.
The sidewalk bazaar, originally contained within the small space in front of the bookstore, now spreads along the Avenue, blocking sidewalks, obscuring stores, and overflowing into the University Plaza. Wares have proliferated: lurid T-shirts stamped with a fantasy of legends, hand-crafted jewelry with Indian motifs, a variety of plants and pots knotted with macramé, mirrors and carved frames, leather crafts…items artfully manufactured to look handmade. A new industry has sprung up-simulating the natural; dissimulating the manufactured.
The University itself has become a bazaar—intriguing, exciting, decadent, depressing. The Plaza, formerly a mere student transit; then transformed into the arena of political harangues and rallies, rock-throwing and tear gas, is now a Roman circus of ear-splitting, amplified rock-concerts, flamenco guitar recitals, country music, all competing simultaneously for an audience…or rather absorbing and converting everything into a performance…while the political haranguer gesticulates alone, lost in the echo of his voice. Tables distributing leaflets for various causes line the Plaza where a belly dancer moves mindlessly to the hypnotic sounds of an oriental flute. At the fringes a number of small booths serve Mexican, Chinese, Israeli, Spanish food along with the standard doughnuts and coffee.
A short distance from the University massage parlors and porno cinemas operate openly. Their clientele are not “dirty old men,” but young girls and boys. Within the University itself porno films are now shown to the students at their demand. The hippie rebellion has now become institutionalized, absorbed in the manner that Marcuse describes.
Who is the crowd along Telegraph today? On weekends it is besieged by tourists in weird dishabille: polyester mingled with Indian gauze and denim; mothers in tight pants or out-dated mini-skirts; fathers in jeans and love-beads…long-haired and bearded, distinguished from their sons only by corpulence and wrinkles. What was formerly the cult of bland, milk-fed youth has become an anxious, joyless cult of “liberated” irresponsibility. Exaggeratedly stylish blacks, tilting on platform soles, stroll among the crowd as if they’ve claimed and possessed a new territory. Occasionally a drunken Indian staggers along the street. The tourists move aside in deference, promenade, snap pictures, stare at one another, finger the sidewalk wares. They are unaware that what they see is their own image transformed.
During the week mostly students en route to and from classes pass along Telegraph Avenue. At night it is virtually deserted. What was once an oasis of freedom has now become a desert, shunned, unpatronized. It is an area of exhausted energies, feeding upon and destroying itself. What was once an energetic barbarian band of defiant hippies, romantic rebels from consumer society, idealistic pilgrims in search of new modes of life, have now become a sick and scruffy crowd of stragglers-the defeated and mind-blown, trembling in palsies, their mouths uttering the broken, incoherent phrases of a dying Baudelaire.
The girls, who once leaped defiantly into the street gesturing for a ride, are gone–a few murdered, others ravished of their innocent white middle-class faith in a happy Disneyland ending. The seductive nymphs who once strolled in see-through blouses and mini-skirts are now replaced by bra-less, patrolling, militantly anti-feminine, man-hating Women’s Liberation advocates.
Others, the idealistic “flower children,” have thrust into their backpacks their books by Thoreau, Castaneda, Hesse, the I Ching, Zen Buddhism; slung their guitars over their shoulders and headed for the beaches of Hawaii or Mexico, for the ghettos of Canada or Europe, for the mountains of Tibet or Nepal…leaving behind vacuums of disorder, subversion, counter-images and metamorphoses of style, taste and need. The “Green Revolution,” the “Counter-culture,” the “Expanded Awareness,” the “Commune”—Ecology, vegetarianism, Eastern mysticism. New forces, new directions—integrative or disintegrative?—in American society.
The war in Vietnam is finished. There have been no new street demonstrations since the re-election of President Nixon. A new university generation has replaced the old. Are the Fleurs du Mal prospering? The hippie revolt has extended beyond the environs of the University. Drug use is common among the suburbia crowd. The porno and violent films are commonplace and spreading to television. The family newspapers have adopted the presentation of the underground journals. Crime in the area around the University has increased rapidly and continues to increase, as in the rest of the United States. There no longer are zones of safety and trust. On the other side of the Berkeley Hills, in the typical, white, middle-class community of Walnut Creek, suburban America is breaking apart. Divorce, drug use, crime, are rampant. Blacks are still tacitly more or less excluded.
But the Obscene has already set up its own contradictions. Reactions are integrating into counter-cultures. There are vigilante groups forming to protect their property. Students are concentrating on future security. There are spiritual revivals and spiritual rebellions. Evil is now institutionalized, marketed and consumed, but within its expanded boundaries grow the Little Flowers of Saint Francis.
Leur raillerie ou leur terreur dure une minute, ou des mois entiers.