Paul Tillich: A Reminiscence
by Paul Lee
Paul Tillich came to lecture at St. Olaf College when I was a senior philosophy student, studying under Howard Hong, the translator of Kierkegaard. It was l953. He gave three lectures on Existentialism and I didn’t understand a word. Neither did my roommates. We argued long and loud into the night over whether it was important that we didn’t get it and whether what was said was important if we didn’t get it. I was certain it was important. Tillich was one of the most impressive figures I had ever heard. I knew I was right so I became a Tillichian. I thought a little humility was in order when confronted by the truth that was over one’s head.
For me, it was a providential encounter. I went on to Luther Theological Seminary, thinking I might pursue a career in the ministry and avoid the Korean war. There was some confusion at St. Olaf between a call to be a Christian and a call to the ministry. The latter seemed to be the way to strike a deal, as if to settle with it. “O.K., God, if I become a Lutheran minister, will You leave me alone?”
My mother’s family was filled with Missouri Synod Lutheran ministers and the name was a famous one because of the Old Testament theologian in Germany, one of the best–Otto Eissfeldt.
They didn’t like Tillich at the seminary and they didn’t teach Luther. They had to bring in a Finn to give special lectures. I came to call it Pseudo-Luther Non-theological Cemetary. The President was a character out of a bad Ingmar Bergman movie–Thaddeus T. Gullickson. He looked like his name.
I broke off and went to Union Theological Seminary the summer of l954, because Tillich was giving courses. It was like swimming in the ocean off the coast of Maine. Les Larson, who had been a student at Union and knew Tillich, took me in to meet him and he gave me a copy of Love, Power, and Justice, and autographed it “To My Defender,” after I told him about representing him to the critics at Luther.
He gave a special series of lectures at Columbia which became Biblical Religion and the Quest For Ultimate Reality, where he discussed the relation of Athens and Jerusalem, biblical revelation and Greek ontology. I thought the hair on the back of my head would never lie down. It was philosophical theology at the summit. We all looked down and breathed the rarefied air and were exhilarated to be in the presence of one who knew.
Who could formulate it like he could? The Great Formulator! It was Tillich’s chief strength–he knew how to put it and you were relieved that you were in the presence of someone who could. There was an adequacy that was almost Latinate. There is nothing like the right word: the adequatio between thought and thing.
Tillich had it down cold. I thrilled at the reformulation of the slogan of the Reformation which Lutherans had got wrong by abbreviating it: justificatioin through faith by grace, had turned into justification by faith, which meant you had to believe something unbelievable and then you were saved. Tillich exposed the distortion with “accept the fact that you are accepted in spite of being unacceptable.” Well, it had a certain ring at the time.
I had to return to Luther because I was caught copying a book report. It was Workman: On Monasticism. It forced me back for another year and then I transferred to Harvard because Tillich was there. I remember the moment, reading the acceptance letter, standing at the back door, off the driveway, in North Milwaukee. I was going to go to Harvard and study with Tillich.
I remember another moment, a few years later, when Bob Kimball said “you lucky bastard,” or something like that, when we were in Tillich’s apartment for a seminar and I said “why?”, and he said “you are going to succeed me as Tillich’s assistant for his last two years and he is going to teach a four semester sequence in Western thought: “The Self-Interpretation of Man” and you get to give every third lecture.”
I thought: “I can do that.”
I also had to read all the papers and give all the grades and I was so dumb, I didn’t think of asking for help. There were six hundred students in the class. The story about throwing papers down a long stairwell and grading accordingly, struck me as a really good idea.
One time Tillich took me by surprise and said: “How come you never ask me to do anything for you?” Like what? Tie my shoes? I didn’t know what to ask for. It was like my youth in Milwaukee and not knowing what to say to a girl. You mean you can just say: “Kiss me!”?
There had been an interlude the year or two before I assisted Paulus. It was my Bonhoeffer period. It was partially liberating and it made it even better to associate with him again and re-connect. I needed a little leverage and a little relief from my discipleship. Bonhoeffer, moreover, gave me the date for what Paulus called the end of the Protestant Era. It ended with Bonhoeffer’s execution.
The Post-Protestant Era would be lived out under the sign of “justified godlessness,” in a world come of age. In spite of Bonhoeffer’s Barthian rejection of Tillich, when he said that the world threw him from it’s saddle in his attempt to understand it, like a previous Paul, from his horse, he was the pre-eminent theologian of a secular Christianity. “Justified Godlessness,” which Eberhard Bethge told me summed up Bonhoeffer’s view, would be a good title for a book on Tillich.
I am envious of the memories of Tom Driver and Durwood Foster, and their uncanny ability to recall the intimacy and detail of knowing the Tillichs, mine seem so fitful and arbitrary now. I remember going in to tell Paulus I was going home to get married and he wished me well. He was more interested in meeting my wife than I could possibly know. The sly fox, the womanizer, escaped me entirely. He was just this absolute epitome of the German professor, in exile, who knew everything and knew how to put it. Everything. As though he had learned it, thought it through, in some former life and then came back to express it on any and every occasion. It was like what they said about Samuel Johnson speaking twice edited prose. In fact, Tillich was as good an example as you could get of Plato’s doctrine of recollection. He had seen the mystery of being on his chariot ride between death and rebirth and had returned to recall it and communicate to everyone who cared.
He would go to sleep in seminars. Everyone would notice. The heavy breathing, the volcanic sighs were always the case, anyhow; then the hands would fall limp, still fingering the signature paper clip fetish, and the head would tilt and he would be in deep slumberland. When it came time to comment he would rouse himself and get right to the point as if reading from cue cards. I always wondered how he could do that. There was something uncanny about it.
There was a time when I thought he was going to fall out of his chair while lecturing. His voice was hypnotic and the class was in a trance. It was an emergency situation. He started to list to the left. I had to ask him a question, interrupt him, just to wake him up, I was so worried he would roll out onto the floor. He was talking about the shock of nonbeing which sounds funny now and I raised my hand and said in a very loud voice: “Professor Tillich, I understand the shock of nonbeing regarding my death, but not regarding my birth, which, once born, is unassailable. There is no shock in terms of the hypothetical possibility that I might not have been born, given the fact of my existence.” Not bad for an emergency, I thought. Tillich mumbled something and revived. I had saved him from a broken neck, although I am still wondering if this existence really is necessary.
I gave a talk about Bonaventure in a seminar on mysticism. He looked perplexed. He grew increasingly agitated. He asked me what I was talking about, which frightened me, because I didn’t know myself. Bonaventure, I said, with my midwest nasal twang. He repeated it to himself a few times, shaking his head in confusion. “Oh, Bone-a-ven-toora!” He lit up. We went on.
I was in seventh heaven during the two year sequence. It was reflected glory like none other. We were applauded after every lecture. Sometimes they stamped their feet. I made Tillich clear to the students and they loved it. Who could blame them for confusing “virtue” for “worldview,”
We got to the bourgeoisie and I read D. H. Lawrence poems about Willy Wet Leg.
He gave an illustrated slide lecture of the great art of the period after each semester and it was as only as he could do it. But he was nervous and ill-tempered and worried about projector malfunction or slides upside down. I think it went without a glitch, but he was in a state and it was when I wished some gelassenheit for him. He needed it.
We were invited to East Hampton and saw his little backyard park where he had planted his trees, he was so proud of. On a stairway, I saw the photo of Hannah on the beach, in her youth, her hair all tousled by the wind, looking like a Brechtian Medusa. She was something else. I remember her Dodge Dart and how pleased she was to drive around and how much she liked the Disney film: A Hundred and One Dalmatians.
We went to see a matinee viewing of Last Year In Marienbad and walked around in the sunshine of Boston Commons afterward and talked about it, while we looked at the swanboats.
We went to Camelot, when it opened in Boston before the Broadway run. The Tillichs were friends of Tanya Holm, the choreographer. We got to go backstage and saw Richard Burton take off his makeup and T. H. White, who had just arrived from England and Robert Goulet and Julie Andrews. We went to a restaurant with Tanya and they reminisced about Berlin.
They came to dinner often and loved being invited. We introduced them to Erik and Joan Erikson, who were mad to meet them. It was an ecstatic evening. They fell into one another’s arms and quoted Heine. We were swept away. I could get a good Rothschild Bordeaux at a wine store in Harvard Square–I think it was a l949. I had a case in the basement.
The last two years he was at Harvard live in my memory like a dream–they were halcyon days. I would go to pick him up before every lecture and we would chat about this and that. I remember giving him Kahn’s Anaximander and the Origins of Greek Cosmology, and he was happy to review it and concur with the main points, when he was covering the Presocratics, in the opening lectures of the course. I think it was the best course in the humanities ever given in this country, but I could be partial. It opened up Western culture for me, after having taught in the Harvard General Education program–Hum. 2, “The Epic and the Novel” and “The Epic and Drama”. Tillich filled in the gaps.
His lectures introduced me to the theme of the rise and evolution of rational self-consciousness, from Homer to Socrates. Although he didn’t use that phrase he knew how to chart the course. The subject matter became a life-long pursuit of great fascination and interest for me: the archaic smile, as the period of innocence before the emergence of rational self-consciousness and the subject object split, illustrated on the faces of archaic scuptures. The earliest gropings of thought trying to grasp the meaning of being through great symbolic concepts: water (Thales), air (Anaximines), fire (Heraclitus) and the apeiron (Anaximander).
And then the chariot ride of Parmenides to the vision of Being and that it is and can not not be! The unassailable affirmation of Greek ontology. Xenophanes, the first Greek theologian (although Plato coined the term) and his criticism of the Homeric gods. The hot, the cold, the dry, the moist: the elements and their opposites.
Empedocles on reincarnation and the play of love and strife. Anaxagarous and nous, the concept of mind in all things along with the Heraclitean logos. Democritus and atomism. All names on the rosary of philosophy to be reverently fingered and intoned, preparing the way for Socrates who would embody and fulfill the anticipation, not unlike the Messiah foretold by the Prophets. Only Tillich understood what appeared in the person of Socrates, the existential personification of the Platonic ideal. He was the great Idea whose existence grasped and transformed Plato, to whom he bore witness in the Dialogues, just as the Gospel writers bore witness to Jesus the Christ. With Athens as the birthplace, Reason was born from the forehead of Socrates, just as Athena was born from the forehead of Zeus.
His sermons were the high point. One held one’s breath and strained every nerve to catch every word. It was a form of lieder, as good as Fischer-Dieskau, singing the songs of Goethe, by Schubert. They were perfect existential vignettes–phenomenological exercises, on actuely at-home themes: “waiting,” “salvation,” “acceptance in spite of,” “forgetting and being forgotten,”–every one a jewel of homiletical acumen. I had a small church of Norwegian immigrant seamen families, in East Boston, and did my versions of Tillich sermons every Sunday, much to their complete perplexity.
I remember getting stuck on concepts and not knowing how to find my way through the murk: the actualization of potentialities and the play of possibilities, a persistent one, all the while it was happening, without my noticing; and what was the nature of the Christ before the Incarnation and after the Resurrection; and what about the relation of existence and finitude?
Peter John was always around and writing down every word Tillich said and we became close friends, helping me with my PhD thesis. I never would have done it without him.
Then Tillich went away to Chicago and I dreaded the thought of never seeing him again. I can’t remember the circumstances, but I once attended a seminar he gave with Charles Hartshorne, at Chicago, where Tillich would say something and then Hartshorne would put his head down on the desk and think for a long while, as we all sat there and waited and then he would sit up and respond. He would do that every time Tillich spoke. It was impressive.
I ran into Paulus at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. That might have been the last time. I have had recurrent dreams about him, often as though seeing him for the last time, standing outside of the residential hotel, where they lived, saying goodbye. I haven’t dreamt of him for a long time.
I had a terrible nightmare when I was at Harvard about being transported to a cave in Europe where life could be maintained. Now it can be told! Why be denied the progress of science? You could take up residence there and be hooked up to life-support systems and wait out the advances of science over the next fifty years. I was in the cave and observed the bodies in a comatose state, on slabs, covered with sheets, hooked up to a central machine. I woke up groaning “how horrible, how horrible.”
I told Paulus and he told me of his waking nightmare of sheep grazing under the Brandenburg Gate, in Berlin, in the 30′s, although Jim Adams remembers it as the Potzdamer Platz. It was an apocalyptic vision he was obsessed with, much to the perplexity of his friends. Then, when the Allies liberated Berlin, a photo appeared on the front page of the New York Times, of sheep grazing under the Brandenburg Gate.
Tillich taught me the phrase–”the late stage of the self-destruction of industrial society as a world above the given world of nature”. I have made it into a mantra and the center of my thought, along with the word thymós, which he also gave me, the courage to be, the unreflective striving toward what is noble, the bridge between reason and desire: what a word.
I took it into the herbal industry, where I developed a second career, in the late ’70′s, and exploited the cognates of thymos–the herb thyme (Thymus vulgarus) and the thymus gland, and pioneered the field of herbal immune enhancement. It was a great pleasure to apply the courage to be to herbal health care and immunology. I even opened a restaurant in Santa Cruz in the early ’70′s, called “The Wild Thyme” and served thymus glands (Ris de Veau) as the specialty of the house, all inspired by thymos.
If anything, any word, could sum up Tillich’s thought it would be thymós. He had it. He manifested it. He transmitted it. One had the sense that here was the fount of the cultural tradition, the thymic source, the lost élan, the vital root, opening up with all the fresh invigorating pulse of the substance of a culture transmitted intact. Just what nowadays is known as the tired, excuse me, dead, white, European, male line.
The Harvard course confirmed the attack: “The Self-Interpretation of Man!” And not a single woman was mentioned in the entire two thousand year sweep. No wonder Hannah Arendt called him “old mutton legs.” We didn’t know any better. Harvard was Harvard and Radcliffe women were sort of accommodated and allowed to attend classes. They were lucky to get a grade. Women’s lib, as well as psychedelics, were waiting in the wings. I remember Leary mentioning how he and Alpert saw Tillich at a hotel having breakfast and introduced themselves and told him what was happening now that they had synthesized the mystical experience. Tillich asked me if the whole context of the medieval town where his father was minister and all the formative forces that shaped his religious life could be condensed in a small tab of minute dosage. It was a little rhetorical, but, I conceded, I doubted it.
I went on to teach at M.I.T., at the invitation of Huston Smith. The Institute celebrated its centennial and Tillich was asked to speak, along with Aldous Huxley, and Robert Oppenheimer. His title was: “How Has Science Changed Man’s View Of Himself?” He spoke of the spiritual telos of the ancient and Renaissance periods and the meaningless telos of the modern period under the sway of science–progress for the sake of progress. For what? Don’t ask.
I would have pushed him into discussing whether science was evil, if I had the chance, all over again, showing him the essay with that title by Karl Jaspers, just to convince him it was all right to bring it up. In other words, the responsibility of science for the late stage of the self-destruction of industrial society. I would love to show him my notes on that one, including the worry of Fermi about a wayward reaction when he smashed the atom in the squash court in Chicago. Fermi did math for it to calculate the risk–the math for the late stage of the self-destruction of industrial society–there is an equation for it. Compton neglected to tell the Chancellor because he knew he would be asked about the risk and knew that Hutchins would be prompted to call it off if the entire universe was at stake. Compton said he took the responsibility on himself.
He asked me to accompany him to the MIT celebration and I remember sitting with Werner Jaeger, the great scholar of Classical Greece, author of Paideia; it was always like that, the most important figures filing through. I teased Tillich about being a Stoic Emperor, in terms of his lecturing everywhere in the country, a domain, a fiefdom, he relished and encouraged and sustained with indefatigable zeal. He was always buoyed up by his audience and the demand of communicating, taking energy from what was expected of him and the adulation he encountered everywhere.
It was interesting to watch the mail in the office: letters from academics surreptitiously writing to express their appreciation that he knew how to apologize for the Christian message, in a way that meant something to them, although they didn’t want to openly admit it.
Harvard staged a celebration for him, upon his retirement, at the Busch Reisinger Museum. I asked Lotte Lenya to come and sing songs from Mahogonny, but she had a conflict. I gave Tillich the album and he was pleased. He had known Brecht in New York, in the old days.
I think it was the summer of l961, when the Tillichs returned to Germany and had their great reunion with Heidegger. Hannah was especially impressed and compared him to a Zen master. Nothing was said about Heidegger’s Nazi sympathies in those days. His reputation was unsullied and Paulus never brought it up and if it was brought up he would apologize for him, as I heard him do at a talk he gave at the Cooper Union in New York. What most of us around Tillich didn’t know when we were with him at Harvard was that he had delivered 150 or more radio talks to the German nation during the war. They were beamed in from New York and if you were caught listening to them in Germany you were executed. I finally obtained a copy after they were published and fell apart while reading them. They are the most sensitve, tender, probing and profound sermons, addressed to the soul of the German people, anyone could ask for. They should be required reading for anyone entering a Jewish museum dedicated to the holocaust. It was certainly one of Tillich’s finest hours, cumulatively, when he poured out his grief and empathy for the German people suffering under the evil that was Hitler.
Hisamatsu came to Harvard, the Zen Buddhist master and had a seminar with Tillich and the discussion was terrific. I remember sitting there completely mystified but enthralled by the look of the man and his bearing. Tillich’s trip to Japan had been a major event for him and he was fascinated by Asian religion, lamenting that the encounter with Asian culture had come too late in his life.
He gave a series of lectures, again at Columbia: The Encounter of Christianity With World Relgions, which I edited for him and did a very good job, but neglected to remind him to mention me in his preface. Oh well.
I wish I could talk to Paulus now and ask him about Dionysius the Areopagite and whether Paul’s reference to the man who was carried into the Third Heaven, where he saw things that no one should dare utter, that God will be all in all, was Dionysius, his convert. I wish I could discuss the apophatic tradition of negative theology. And I would like to ask him what he thought about my Physicalist/Vitalist conflict in the system of the sciences and my formulation regarding Existentialism as chief mourner for defeated Vitalism. I would like to show him Gödel’s proof for the existence of God, in the tradition of Leibniz, and ask him what he thought about it and whether it made existence a predicate again, after Kant.
There are three other greats to mention, along with Tillich, as the foremost teachers of the time, as far as I am concerned: Erich Voegelin, Paul Ricoeur, and Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy. I remember asking Hannah what Paulus thought of Rosenstock-Huessy and she said: “Not everyone can be a genius,” which is very funny. I am grateful for all of them. But Paulus was my doctor vater.
“His fatherly kindness, his compassion,” my wife said, when I asked her what came to mind when she thought about him. When I introduced him to my wife, she told him she was an atheist and he threw up his hands in delight and said it was good because she was still thinking. That won her over forever. She was also impressed by the devotion they displayed toward one another, especially Hannah, doting on him and helping with everything. He proudly showed me the split of champagne they had at night for dinner as a little indulgence. He had to watch his health, having fallen ill with diverticulitis. I went to see him in the hospital and he was deathly ill, swollen, feverish. But he recovered and stepped back into his duties with renewed relish. He was fond of talking about some past illness and staring at the red beam in the ceiling and how the color red sustained him and made him live.
I wondered about his clairvoyance–how he knew so much and seemed to have a special channel that was open only to him and now that I look back, I wonder about the subtext that one only gets a sense of, a hint, now and then, a glimpse, rather like the Greek word for truth–aletheia, unconcealedness, the un-understandable translation of Heidegger’s abstruse interpretation. Occultation, is better. Or palimpsest. Freud spoke of the mystic writing pad as a metaphor for consciousness. The sense that some undercurrent one is unmindful of, but that insinuates itself, a kind of manifest absence, what is it Hamlet refers to–there is a divinity that shapes our ends, rough hew them how we will, or the special providence in the fall of a sparrow. It used to be life in the Spirit; now, it is the hollow reverb in the void. There was a depth once upon a time most of us are now unable to fathom.
Nevertheless, we knew we were in the presence of greatness, that he was one of the most impressive intellectuals of the century, in a direct line from St. Paul, St. Augustine, Luther, Schelling, and Kierkegaard. He carried the tradition. When he recited the fragment from Parmenides, everyone in the class thrilled at the intact transmission from the source. It was carried in his voice and in the substance of his person.
After he left Harvard, an exhibit was mounted at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, of the work of Max Beckmann. I was stunned to see an Expressionist artist version of Tillich’s thought. I mentioned it to Erikson and he told me he had exhibited with Beckmann when he was a young artist in Germany. I was in Erikson’s post-graduate seminar on “History and Life-history,” and was struck by the many self-portraits of Beckmann, as a record of his identity, through the course of his life. I communed with them. I wrote a review of the show for the Harvard Crimson. I took Paul Ricoeur. I went so often I met Perry Rathbone, the Director, and he invited my wife and me to dinner to meet Mrs. Beckmann–Quappi. She invited us to New York and took us to Beckmann’s dealer–Catherine Viviano, who brought out five lithographs from his Hell Series. There they were–expressions of Germany after the lst World War, where Beckmann had been an ambulance driver and suffered a nervous breakdown, just as Tillich had been a chaplain at the front and listened to the screams of leiber gott from the trenches and saw the end of Western culture, as prophesized by Nietzsche, as the death of God.
“Did I want them?”, she asked. “How much?”, I asked back. I knew I could borrow the money from Harvard at l% per annum for “general household expenses”. I looked at my wife and she rolled her eyes. I had already borrowed money from Harvard for a Mark lV Jaguar, so I said: “Sure.”
I had my Tillich icons.
Five great lithographs. Two of them are mundane: a nightclub scene, with people dancing, having a good time; a tavern scene with drunken soldiers singing to a violin, as the exhausted owner’s wife waits for them to leave. It is called: “The Patriotic Song.” the other three seem to be in a set apart: one shows an old couple walking through a crowded Berlin street, carrying a corpse, like a loaf of French bread. I think of the corpse as the decline and fall of Western culture, tucked under the man’s arm, a strained look on his face. Another depicts Beckmann looking at a veteran with his face shot off and pointing to his breast, as if to say, your face is shattered like my soul. The third is prophetic, showing Beckmann in a trance, below a pulpit, where a Hitler figure stands screaming his guts out and a Goebbels figure lurks behind him, like an evil menace. A Jew is answering back. An industrialist stands with his arms folded behind his back, eyeball bulging out. Beckmann’s Aunt Minna is in prayer. A hangman sits at the side, his face hooded. A lamp in the shape of a duncecap is over the Hitler figure’s head. It is called: “Die Ideologue.”
The series was done in l9l9, before Hitler knew he was Hitler.
I can remember, as though yesterday, standing outside his office door in Widener and knocking and waiting until I heard his voice to enter and there he would be sitting in his swivel chair at his desk fingering his paperclip and we would confer before going to class. Then we would walk out into the light of Harvard Yard, over to Emerson, where the floorboards squeaked and it reeked of atmosphere, now gone, thanks to the remodel. Students would pour in. The excitement of hearing Tillich would mount and he would assume his position at the lectern and off we would go with his picking up his place in his little brown notebook where he wrote the phrases that would turn into sentences as he spoke. That was another trick. He composed as he went along, speaking slowly enough to give him time to fill out the thought.
He liked getting questions. Another one of his best traits. He could turn a dumb question into a major insight. One time I asked him a question about something, as we walked over to class and he rolled out an answer that even impressed him and he said: “See what you brought out of me?” I think he enjoyed his talent.
Others radiated with it–James Luther Adams, Wilhelm Pauck, John Dillenberger, immediately come to mind. Others resented it, probably out of envy, like Krister Stendahl, or maybe they just wanted to pour some cold water on the adulation to watch the steam.
When I moved to California, I became great friends with Richard Baker-roshi, the Abbott of Zen Center, in San Francisco. At the High Mountain Throne of the Buddha Ceremony, when he succeeded his teacher, Suzuki-roshi, who was dying of cancer and was so ill we thought he might die during the ceremony, he turned and offered incense to him, and said:
“Walking in Buddha’s gentle rain
Our robes are soaked through.
But on the lotus,
not a drop remains.
When Paulus died, with Hannah by his side, according to her account, he blew his life away in one great gasp and on his forehead a lotus bloomed.
Santa Cruz in the ’60′s
“How could I fail to be grateful to my whole life? —and I tell my life to myself.”
Nietzsche: Ecce Homo
by Paul A. Lee
Bumping into a friend at the Harvard Coop who told me he had applied for a position at Santa Cruz but had changed his mind, I said, “Well, maybe I’ll apply.” He looked at me askance and said: “Do you know anything about the California University sssssystem?” I didn’t, but I registered the hiss in the way he pronounced the word system. I thought: snake in the grass? I was teaching at M.I.T. and my term was about to expire and I needed a job. Soon after an article appeared in the New York Times that Kenneth Thimann had been appointed Provost of Crown College, UCSC. I went to the phone. I was a Fellow of a Radcliffe House where Thimann was Provost and I knew him. He was a very distinguished professor of botany at Harvard. We went over for tea and he hired me.
Richard Baker, the eventual Zentatsu Myoyu and Zen Roshi, called, looking for Tillich and Erikson to invite to a conference he was organizing at Asilomar. I had been Tillich’s Teaching Assistant and Erikson was my thesis advisor. They weren’t available so I offered myself and he bought it, including my wife, so we flew out and got a look at Santa Cruz before moving there.
Driving down Pacific Ave. in l965 was like driving down the main street in Paducah, in l937, although I had never been to Paducah. It looked impossibly dull and old-fashioned. There was a men’s clothing store that looked like used Sears. Definitely unhip. And then–stop the car!–the Hip Pocket Bookstore and over the door a Ron Boise sculpting from the kama sutra, a couple in a position, flagrant and delectio. Definitely hip! I double-parked and ran in to take a look and picked up a copy of the Black Mountain Press, an underground newspaper, edited by Claire somebody. It was an island in the forthcoming “ocean of desire”.
We met the Bakers at Asilomar and over drinks found out they were practising Zen Buddhists. I didn’t know any up to then, although I had attended a seminar given by Tillich and Hisamatsu, at Harvard. Hisamatsu, a famous Zen Master, was in residence at Harvard. I hardly understood a word, but he was interesting to observe and made a pronounced impression. I was intrigued by the challenge of an American, like Baker, taking on an Asian religion–an experiment in the cross-fertilization of cultures, or mind and migration, the title of an essay Tillich had written about the affinity of the mind for the migratory impulse. Here was a living instance, my new-found friends. I decided to appoint myself as Baker’s protestant theological witness.
As I was a member of the Leary Group at Harvard and a founding editor of the Psychedelic Review, I told Baker, who was organizing conferences and symposia for the University Extension, he should do one on LSD, as it was going to become a big
deal. He did. Berkeley tried to cancel it after they woke up to the hot potato and Baker had to compromise by moving the venue to the San Francisco campus and disinviting Allen Ginsberg, who showed up anyhow but did not appear on the program.
So a month or so before we moved to Santa Cruz, in l966, I gave the opening address at the notorious LSD Conference in San Francisco. The conference was scheduled for a week which meant lots of time for parties and lots of fun. I thought of it as my reception to taking up residence for a new life in California. The first stop was the Psychedelic Bookstore in the Haight. Then on to the party thrown by the Grateful Dead in Marin with Owsley handing out his homemade acid to everyone who wanted it. It was a hoot. Hundreds of people on a big estate, almost all of them naked, swimming and passing joints rolled in newspapers. I had never seen anything like that before. I was there with Nina Graboi whom we picked up at Alan Watts’ houseboat in Sausalito. She wrote up the event in her book on the ’60′s. I wasn’t clear about what I was going to speak about so I decided to describe the party as the wave of the future and called my talk: “Psychedelic Style”. I had never seen freaks before and there were a lot of them. We wore button down shirts and Brooks Brothers suits and thought we were running the show from Harvard. We were wrong and stood corrected. At one point a guy came out and announced that everyone had to move their cars as the neighbor had complained and they didn’t want the cops to come. There were a lot of cars and everyone was stoned. An elephant seal like groan went up from the group. I thought, o.k., this is a test. If it happens without mishap it bodes well for the movement. It did. I felt hopeful. The Dead came out and played. A guy stood with his head inside one of the huge speakers and I asked: “Who is that?” Neil Cassady, I was told.
The week long conference was great–Rolf and Elsa Von Eckartsberg, Ralph Metzner, Leary, Huston Smith, our gang from Harvard, and Gerd Stern, and a host of others working in the psychedelic vineyard, took their turn. We had a party every night and Owsley hung around because someone had taken his dealer customer list by mistake in a purse exchange. He finally recovered it. When we met he was wearing a powder blue jump suit and looked up at me and said in a slightly blurred drawl: “My you have a friendly and familiar face!”
Someone fresh from down south gave me a joint of Panama Red as a present and the Von Eckartsbergs and my wife and I drove down to Santa Cruz, rented the wedding suite at the Dream Inn, lit up and watched Herman and the Hermits on Ed Sullivan. After I scraped myself off the wall, we went out and rode the roller coaster and thought we were goners, pitched out over Monterey Bay, although we landed instead at Manuel’s Restaurant at Seacliff Beach. Oh boy! Chicken mole and red snapper. We talked about the Conference and there was Claire from the Hip Pocket Bookstore with John Lingemann at the next table and he was straining every nerve to hear every word and finally unable to restrain himself came over and introduced himself and could hardly believe his good fortune at meeting a psychedelic philosopher and a psychedelic existential phenomenological psychologist who had taken acid at Harvard and were founding editors of the Psychedelic Review. John was a psychedelic well digger and a witcher, given his ability to locate water. Of German ancestry, he was a rude force. He eventually bulldozed his house from which his wife fled and ended up living in a cave on the property with a young woman. He offered to take us around and show us Santa Cruz the next day and we took him up on it. Some intro.
We had to go back to our summer home in Northern Wisconsin to collect our things and our daughter and drive back, so we did. After a week in motels, a different one every night, as I had some kind of phobic reaction to the smell, we finally landed in Rio del Mar, at Hidden Beach, just off the ocean. It was paradise. I stood on the deck and listened to the roar of the surf and wondered how long it would take to get used to it.
We met some of the early Heads in the area: Zoo, who was a wild Irish mover and had Superman painted on his truck, aka Gary Dunne; Tox, without the vobiscum; and Charlie Nothing, whose wedding to Carol Cole, one of Nat’s daughters, my sister-in-law had attended in Los Angeles. They were complete nuts and had formed a group called Eternity, partly because it seemed like that long before they stopped playing. They had Ron Boise’s Thunder Machine as their lead instrument and they performed at an ice cream store next to Shoppers’ Corner. They always took acid and so they played for at least eight hours. I neglected to take it in. I never went to the Barn, either, the main psychedelic venue in the area.
They went down to Esalen as often as they could where they acted like the house band for the employees who liked getting stoned at night after work and going crazy until the wee hours, jumping across bonfires in an orgy of psychedelic bravado. I had occasion to witness this when I gave a seminar with Alan Watts on the future of consciousness. It didn’t look good, but it was lots of fun, the future I mean. One night in the baths two mountain men hippies who had gone native living in the woods for some years stumbled in on their first night out and wanted to know who was President and what had happened in the world in their absence. Everyone in the baths laughed out loud.
The Eternity boys ended up living at Lingemann’s in the trees. They came down one night and tracked mud into my house and laughed derisively and poked fun at my Buddha, a Siamese Walking Buddha, a beautiful bronze sculpting. I never liked them after that.
I assumed my teaching duties. Santa Cruz was a hotbed for psychedelics and the university was thought of as a country club retreat in the redwoods where students could turn on. Dealers, so I was told, went up and down the corridors of the dormitories, on Saturday, hawking their wares. Like Alice’s Restaurant, you could get anything you want. I thought of an apt metaphor for the students: oceans of desire. The place had a way of releasing this particular longing, this surplus desire, a Marxist concept I should look up on google, but one that seemed to fit as there was definitely a lot of it. I remember going to Berkeley where there was even a greater buzz in the air than Santa Cruz and noticing a phenomenon I called the psychedelic eye. When you made eye contact with someone passing in the street there was an unspoken helllooooo and a goodbyeeeeee….as if time had stopped and the eternal now had had its moment. Ships in the night in broadest daylight. The ache of longing, the desire to get it on, the interest in chance encounters and willingness to risk it, seize the moment, all in a glance–it was that kind of a time.
We had arrived in Santa Cruz just after the demise of the Sticky Wicket, a local watering hole, where everyone hung out. We found out that Manuel Santana, who was a remarkably talented artist as well as a restauranteur and Al Johnsen, a local potter, had organized the art scene in town. I bought a piece by Tony Magee and a construction piece by Joe Lysowski, a chair, a table, a pair of skis and a painting, in a fabulous psychedelic style. I still have the group minus the painting.
We started making pilgrimages to San Francisco at least once a month to visit the Bakers and catch the action. Quicksilver Messenger Service was my favorite group. The first Be-in took place. Leary was there, the guest of honor, and so was Suzuki-roshi. We had a picnic on the grass and everyone was mellow on grass. The tribe had gathered. I took slides. Afterward we went to Margot Doss’ for dinner with Leary who was flushed with excitement over the day. Margot wrote a popular column on walking in the Bay area for the San Francisco Chronicle. She fixed up Tim with a lovely young thing who was in a trance state over the encounter. Margot had a mound of crab on a buffet that was eye boggling. A mountain of fresh crab, the delicacy of the area; more than anyone could possibly eat.
I was invited to give a talk on the Be-in by my first Santa Cruz friend, the Rev. Herb Schmidt, whom my wife and I had met on our Asilomar trip. He met us at the front door wearing a black bikini and holding a martini. I thought this is my kind of Lutheran. He set it up as a debate with the Assistant Chief of Police, Officer Overton, a big mistake. I showed my slides thinking they would educate the group to the new style of life and what to expect from the younger generation. They were appalled. They thought Overton should cuff me and take me away before I was lynched. Fortunately, I lived a block away and figured I could make a run for it if I could only get out the door. A young Sunday school teacher stood up and berated the group for their ill will toward me and started to weep which further alerted me to my peril. That settled things down a bit and I got home safely. The experience didn’t make me any more cautious and I continued to speak publicly about psychedelics thinking I was carrying on my duties as an educator. I went to Rice University and spoke and met Rusty Schwiekert, the astronaut, who was on his way into outer space without the use of drugs. I met Danny Lyon, the photographer, who was doing a shoot on the Texas penitentiary system and had met one of the symbolic prisoners in the country, Billy McKuen, who had cut his penis off in prison; we carried on a correspondence.
I was critical of the psychedelic movement after it became clear that there were casualties to take into account. Students who never recovered from a bad trip became a new type of social welfare recipient–crippled for life, they went on the dole. I talked about the tyranny of being hip and the pressure to take drugs although it deterred no one. I was worried about deformation, about the de-structuring of consciousness that
occurred under the influence of the drug, often associated with a death experience, from which some experimenters never recovered. They were permanently de-structured and found it impossible to return to what they had been if you want to call that normal. They became wards of the State. I met one of the casualties out on the road in front of Stevenson College. I remember the moment vividly–a former student, Tom somebody, who, for a year or more had been living on the beaches and probably in a cave and whose eyes flashed like a movie projector gone haywire, you could almost hear the sound of the film flapping off the reel.
I understood the yearning of the spirit and the desire to form an opposition
movement against the socially dominant authorities–Leary summed it up in the slogan of the time: Turn on, tune in, and drop out. “She’s leaving home……” the Beatles sang. This inner emigration swept through the younger generation like a wave and they disengaged psychically from the collective insanity that was going on around them, learning how to hide in public view. I was fascinated by this covert ethic, as I called it, exemplified by watching students in a circle, say, at a wedding, or some social gathering, passing a joint and taking a toke, as if no one noticed. An invisible line separated the straights from the hip. It was clear that this freedom of the spirit was indistinguishable from arbitrary willfulness.
It became apparent to me that there were certain users who lived to light up. They were constantly looking for the moment when they could get stoned, all other experience, including time spent with one another was subordinate to their central and all-consuming obsession; they were addicts. It was a matter of observation to watch them bide their time and to give off the impression that at any given moment they could repeat the ritual they lived for: to light up! They seemed to be entirely oblivious that this was the case and that an observer such as myself could call them to account. The reason for doing so was because one had the feeling of being used–manipulated– for the purpose of collusion in the assumed mutually shared interest in getting stoned. There was a perceived psychic drumming of fingers and an imperceptible hum to mark the time.
It reminded me of visiting relatives in Norway who put on a Sunday afternoon spread for a prince. Plums in clotted cream and aquavit, the national drink, which entailed a ritual. Everyone raises their glass and says skol, looks one another in the eye, clinks glasses and bottoms up. Refill. Wait. Small talk. Some quiet drumming of fingers and a little humming. And then someone breaks the suspense when the appropriate time has passed and says skol and the ritual is repeated. Needless to say, as this goes on, the intervals get shorter and shorter and the sham of waiting becomes more and more transparent and provokes great hilarity. It was the Norwegian version of stoned.
I taught at Cowell College the first year before I moved to Crown. Page Smith had hired me accomodating me until Crown opened. We became great friends, along with his wife, Eloise. They were the spirit of the place and imbued Cowell with a charm and culture that was stunning and unforgettable. I met Mary Holmes, Professor of Art History, at Cowell, and we fell in
love on the spot, the beginning of a lifelong friendship. And then came Chadwick.
I have had a few clairvoyant experiences in my life but this was one of the best. Maybe clairvoyant isn’t the word. It was more like being guided. I thought a student garden project would be a good thing for the campus, even though I wasn’t interested in gardening and didn’t know where the idea came from, although, after all, the campus was on a splendid ranch landscape; the weather was perfect, and “Flower Power” was in the air, another slogan of the times, wafting down on a cloud of smoke from the Haight. We all got a whiff of that. So I asked the Chancellor to lead a walk to look for a prospective site. He thought it was a good idea. Quite a few people showed up and I carried my daughter on my shoulders and we looked around up behind Crown where there were running streams and gorgeous stands of redwoods, eucalyptus and oak.
Two weeks later, Chadwick arrived. I was alerted to his coming by Countess Freya von Moltke, who was visiting the campus and had heard of my project. She said she had my gardener for me. I met Chadwick at the Cowell Fountain and asked him if he would take on the task and he said he would. The next day he went out and bought a spade and picked out the slope below Merrill College and started to dig. I remember driving up to school and catching him out of the corner of my eye and thinking oh boy here we go! I think it was the first organic garden at a university in the country. The year was l967.
We were right in line for Earth Day, three years later, as if the garden had been planned as a place to celebrate it. The garden jeopardized my career, although not publishing was another factor. I thought the garden would count as a bad book but I was wrong. And it didn’t help that I was the founding chair of religious studies and my field was the philosophy of religion. My colleagues at Crown, mostly scientists, gave me the thumbs down. The handwriting on the wall appeared fairly early. After the suicide of a colleague, I thought the message was clear. I was finished. So I dreamt up a nonprofit corporation as a pipe dream that might afford me a place to work–I called it U.S.A., University Services Agency. Three days after the new year–l970–I ran into my pal, Herb Schmidt, who was campus chaplain, as he was about to get the franchise for the only public restaurant on the campus and I proposed my idea. The non-profit took off like a rocket. We started the Whole Earth Restaurant and Sharon Cadwallader took on the task and her cookbook sold a million copies. Eventually we had something like thirty affiliates and millions in cashflow. I thought of writing it up as: How To Become A Spiritual Millionaire When Money Is No Object. It anticipated Page Smith and me starting the William James Association, after I was bounced. When Page retired in protest over the issue, he said: “any place that doesn’t have room for Paul Lee doesn’t have room for me.” Even today it has a nice ring.
The Loyalty Oath was an attempt to break the spirit of American intellectuals and one was practically forced to sign it in order to get paid. University professors were suspect in principle. It was a test of one’s mettle–what I call thymic juice or the ability to say No! (Thymos is the ancient Greek word for courage.) It takes courage to resist and the willingness to accept the penalty for noncompliance with evil which is Gandhi’s definition of satyagraha, his term for the moral equivalent of war. There was a penalty
to pay either way: might as well come out with one’s integrity intact. I witnessed the courage of colleagues at M.I.T., when I saw them take a stand and refuse to sign. I didn’t have to sign because I was on my way to Santa Cruz. I knew Erik Erikson at Harvard and I knew he had refused to sign at Berkeley and was forced to leave his position. He told me they had an office for the purpose that was open 24 hours a day so faculty could sneak in at three in the morning undetected. I admired him for his courage but I signed. I was ashamed of myself because I transgressed a scruple against swearing my true faith and allegiance to the constitution of the State of California. Allegiance, sure, but true faith? That was reserved for more transcendent swearing. I went to Santa Barbara to be on a panel. The lady in charge offered me a piece of paper to sign after I finished speaking. I asked what it was and she said the Loyalty Oath. I told her I had signed it. She said it didn’t matter. I had to sign every time I spoke at another campus in order for them to pay me. I handed the paper back. No thanks. Keep your honorarium. Years later, the Loyalty Oath was overturned and I called Santa Barbara and they sent the check. No interest. I realized I had lost and won a round with myself. How many rounds does one get?
I remember the first time I saw Ralph Abraham. It was at a Faculty meeting in the fall of l968. He was sitting in the front row. I did a doubletake as I walked by. I thought holy shit, they hired Abbie Hoffman; now they’ve gone too far! We were asked to lead a student protest against the regents who were making a visit to the campus. Reagan was governor. The Democratic convention police riot in Chicago had happened a few months before and the campus was a tinder box ready to explode. Ronnie and the regents were the match.
I arrived for the march wearing my Harvard PhD robe, red silk with black bands, a representative of lawful order and adult circumspection; Ralph showed up wearing an American flag shirt wouldn’t you know. We both had beards and Ralph had an afro out to there.
The students for the most part behaved but there were some outside agitators from Berkeley who acted as provocateurs and wanted to foment trouble. I invited the biggest loudmouth out into the parking lot but he declined.
Bill Moore, who was to become a graduate student in the History of Consciousness Program, had called for a Black Studies College in honor of Malcolm X and the Chancellor, McHenry, had laughed derisively at the suggestion. Bill was considered an inside agitator and was persona non grata for making speeches on the campus. In the middle of the ruckus he was removed from the campus by the police. I found out about it and picked him up at the bottom of the campus where he had been deposited and brought him back where we were met by student supporters with whom we locked arms and marched into the Crown College courtyard where we were met by Rich Townsend, a student sympathetic to Moore’s proposal, who told us that Jesse Unruh and a number of regents were waiting to talk to Bill. In we went to the Crown Library and Bill sat down to repeat his proposal, this time to sympathetic ears. Eventually, the X in Malcolm X was transposed to Oakes and a college devoted to Black Studies was instituted.
Ralph’s and my picture appeared in many of the state newspapers in articles about the demonstration. Hate mail poured in. People didn’t like professors with beards and they really didn’t like their flag worn as a shirt. McHenry dutifully sent copies to us with a little red check on a tab on the side of the document. One of them suggested we fill our pockets with shit and lie down in front of a bus and become instantly embalmed. I thought that was an example of a rare imagination. Ralph had tenure and I didn’t. I thought the jig was up for me and it turned out to be true even though the Crown faculty gave me a vote of confidence at the time which was really a veiled kiss of death.
A Vietnam Teach-in was organized and many of us spoke, including John Kroyer, my colleague in philosophy, who recommended that students hand back their draft cards; after all it was government property, let the government take care of it. The Chancellor took umbrage at the event and especially Kroyer’s remarks and proceeded to censure him which meant his advancement was jeopardized. It precipitated a nervous breakdown not helped by a bad mescaline trip and I had to have him institutionalized. He was eventually released after shock treatment and bought a gun and shot himself. I thought it was a message sent to me that I was dead as far as my teaching career was concerned. I had to conduct his funeral service. I quoted Dylan Thomas: oh you who could not cry on to the ground, now break a giant tear, for this little known fall.
McHenry eventually went after Ralph Abraham. McHenry was an ex-marine, which explains something. Steno pool wastepaper baskets were raided for incriminating evidence. Are you kidding? Charges were trumped up. Ralph decided to write to all the major mathematicians in the world to complain. He was fed up. The day after they got the letters McHenry called it off. Chalk up one round for the good guys.
I started to get critical of the institution, remembering the hissed ‘s’ and appalled at McHenry’s repressive behavior. I thought of three things haunting higher education: the triumph of the obtuse, the bureaucratization of the learning process and the principle of anonymity, where students would never find roots or a place to nurture them. And I could tell that the first five years, from l965 to 1970, when the humanities counted, would soon be swept away or at least under the carpet by the triumph of the sciences. We were enjoying what was only a brief grace period. Short but sweet. It always surprised me that for Page Smith this was enough. That it had had it’s time at all seemed to be a matter of unassailable affirmation for him. Sometimes brief flowerings of the spirit are better than no flowerings at all.
Page did have second thoughts about it, though. Late in life he wrote a blistering indictment of the university system entitled: Killing the Spirit, his critique of the deadening force of reductionism that had descended on higher education like a pall with the message that only the sciences counted for knowledge and all the rest was a waste of time to be reluctantly tolerated. To pay homage to the book and the critique, I wanted to install a spiritual cloakroom at the entrance to the campus in front of the sign bearing the school slogan: Fiat Lux. Incoming students would check their spirits for safekeeping and I would give them a number and when they graduated it would be returned to them if we could find it. It didn’t surprise me at all when the chancellor at the time, M.R.C. Greenwood, consistently referred to the university as a major research institution, not a university.
I decided to teach a course that would critically examine the university. I called it “Organizational Climate”, a term developed by a former colleague who taught at the Harvard Business School. I thought the students should study the institution they were enrolled in and not take it for granted. I organized the class as a non-profit corporation, as I was enamored of the form, and issued stock. We took on some interesting projects, the first having to do with a seasonal erosion of a hillside at the entrance to the campus where the soil spilled down onto the road every winter in the rainy season. There was a dispute between the County and the University over jurisdiction and responsibility. The class met in the only geodesic dome on the campus and we called in the appropriate authorities and interrogated them and the dispute was resolved. Then we decided to build a retaining wall in front of the Chadwick Garden as it was also eroding in the rains. We got the stone from the quarry on the campus and a crew turned out and we did a nice job. I got a nasty letter sent to me with a copy to the chancellor from Building and Grounds disavowing any responsibility with the wall and the possibility of it tumbling down in the first rain. It’s still there.
One student said she wanted to make bread and give it away. I said ok. She wanted some money for supplies so I gave her some and she obtained the kitchen at the Congregational Church on High Street. Her name was Bonny. She was famous for taking acid in high school and taking her clothes off before she was arrested. I forget how many loaves she baked. That summer, while we were in Wisconsin, I got a letter from her saying this guy is hitchhiking out to see me and borrow some money to start a bakery. He had the ovens but he needed money for flour. I winced. Days later I get a call from Eagle River, a town ten miles away. It was him.
I drove in to pick him up. He didn’t talk. Another mute head who had smoked too much dope. We sat on the back porch steps for a few days enjoying the quiet and I finally mention I will take him back to the phone booth in Eagle River and he can hitchhike back. He didn’t say a word. Shortly after, I got word that my colleague, John Kroyer, had shot himself and I was asked to return to perform his funeral service. I was so down I looked up the baker and there he was in a little hole in the wall on Seabright and Murray, sitting on his oven. I gave him the rent I was collecting on our home so he could buy flour. He got started and eventually sold it and it became the Staff of Life Bakery. I never got my money back, just like my rent for the Bookshop Santa Cruz. I should have gone to Harvard Business School instead of Harvard Divinity School. But I developed a pained appreciation for an economy of gift and the application of Erik Erikson’s definition of identity: you have it to give it away!
One day after an Organizational Climate class, a coed came up and said she was going home to visit her grandmother. I was a little perplexed but I said say hello to her for me. She came back after the break and handed me a check for ten grand. I said
who’s your grandmother? Mrs. J. C. Penney. So we designed a project for the summer. A group from the class would spend the summer with Hassler, a former Merry Prankster, who lived on Last Chance Road. They had a ball. I was a little concerned about accountability so I asked Hassler to write up the project. He handed in a very nice document of about 25 pages entltled: “No Holes Barred Finishing School, The Same Eastern Polish at a Fraction of the Cost.”
A student got caught in an elevator malfunction with Ken Kesey in San Francisco. For some hours. I guess it was a life-transforming experience. She came into my office and wanted me to agree that she should drop out of school. I agreed. Then she fell in love with Hassler and wanted me to marry them. I agreed and we performed the ceremony at the Sacred Oak in the middle of Pogonip. My daughter, Jessica, was the bridesmaid.
I had a horse that I kept on campus. His name was Charley when I bought him and I renamed him Xanthos, the horse of Achilles, who prophesied Achilles’ death. I thought it was a good name for a philosopher’s horse. I had gone riding with Mary Holmes and she said why don’t I get a horse. I almost fell off. I had wanted to be a cowboy in the summer and a fireman in the winter when I was a boy. I never thought I would fulfill one of them. She found a quarter horse gelding, a magnificent specimen. I was in seventh heaven, another name for the saddle. I had to move him eventually and found a stable up on Spring Street at Windy Hill Farm with a lady who had run polo ponies at Pogonip.
I could get on to the Pogonip across the road and it afforded me 614 acres of prime riding space. One day while doing a turn in a meadow I looked up at the solitary oak standing in the middle and saw the Crucified. The oak tree was in the form of the Crucified, a major limb had broken off leaving a head. The outstretched limbs below looked like arms. It was the place name–Santa Cruz, Holy Cross–in an oak. I started having services there on Thanksgiving, Christmans and Easter. The year was l977 Pogonip was threatened with development by the Cowell Foundation and I thought: over my dead body. I started the Save Pogonip Greenbelt Group with Mark Primack and he drew the oak for the poster and we passed an initiative that lead to the city acquiring the property as a park. I continued to do services there with my colleague, Herb Schmidt, although I am sorry to report that the Sacred Oak died in 2011. No more services.
In l970, I met Jack Stauffacher, of the Greenwood Press, in San Francisco, one of the great fine press typographers in the world. He was a devotee of Goethe and when he found out we had a Goethean Gardener in Alan Chadwick, he wanted to meet him.
Alan practised biodynamics, a form of horticulture developed by Rudolf Steiner in the early part of the last century. Steiner was a Goethean and took much of his inspiration from Goethe and particularly Goethe’s botany. We had adopted the slogan of Goethe’s Italian Journey: Et in Arcadia Ego, for our garden. Arcadia is the garden theme of Greek letters, comparable to Eden. Virgil’s Georgics is the classic text. Jack did a broadside devoted to the theme, commemorating the garden. We formed a lifelong friendship and eventually he did a fine press edition of Plato’s Phaedrus and dedicated it to me.
I nominated Jack for a Regents’ Professorship and he came to Cowell College and started the Cowell Press. He had a distinguished group of students some of whom went into fine printing and have had great careers. I gave a talk at Holy Cross Church on Goethe’s Italian Journey on the occasion of the 200th anniversary and Jack did an exquisite broadside for the occasion.
When Page Smith and I left the university in l972, we started the William James Association. Page wanted to start the Civilian Conservation Corps over again as he had been in a leadership training camp in Norwich, Vermont, in l940, inspired by William James’ address at Stanford in l906: “A Moral Equivalent of War.” It involved his beloved teacher–Rosenstock Huessy–to whom he was devoted for the rest of his life. Camp William James was an experience he never got over. It was something like an unpaid debt as the camp was shortlived due to the war and Page was drafted. So we went to Washington, D. C., to drum up interest, but we didn’t get anywhere. Then Eloise asked me to ask Baker-roshi to ask Gov. Brown to nominate her as the Chair of the State Arts Council, about to be newly formed. She knew I was friends with Baker-roshi and he was a friend of Brown and so I did and she was picked. When she and Page were in Brown’s office in Sacramento to be named he gave the State of the State Address and announced the forthcoming California Conservation Corps. Page jumped in his seat and told Brown about our work to that end at the national level. Brown said be my guest and so we got to do the early planning for the corps. That was a coincidence of an unusual sort. Makes one wonder. We had our corps handed to us on a platter.
After some months, this guy appears in our office in Santa Cruz, and introduces himself as the new director of the Corps–Boyd Horner. I ask him what he had done before. He had studied for the Rudolf Steiner Priesthood in England. I said oh, go on, you must be kidding. In fact, I looked up my sleeve thinking something strange and weird had crawled out. Something named Boyd. He proceeded to make the Corps a Rudolf Steiner Corps. God wot! He was the moonbeam in the Governor’s office. I was sent to England to the Steiner School–Emerson College, to recruit. He wanted Steiner gymnasts, Steiner dieticians, Steiner dancers (Eurythmy), and probably Steiner geometers. Anything Steiner I could get. I went into a pub in Forest Row and they could tell right off I was from California. When I told them I was visitng Emerson, they ducked. I thought a bat had flown in thru the window. The Steiner group was pretty weird. I had fun going into London on weekends and hanging out with Harrison Ford, my brother-in-law, who was acting in Star Wars. We drank single malt scotch. McCallums. I got to go to the set and watch him being made up and thought his uniform was the dickiest thing I had ever seen, like they had made it out of old handkerchiefs. I thought this thing is never going to fly.
Horner didn’t last long and that was the end of that as far as our relation to the Corps was concerned.
I thought land reform was going to be the next big thing after civil rights. I organized a conference at the Civic Auditorium. There was a guy running for the presidency on a land reform plank, his name escapes me. I was his local campaign manager. Harris. His name was Harris. There was Riis Tijerina, who was a Southwestern radical and had staged a demonstration in favor of minority rights. And there was Cesar Chavez.
I thought they were continuing the tradition of a moral equivalent of war.
No one came. Fortunately, I had invited about forty speakers. They made for a small audience and talked to themselves. Stauffacher did a broadside. I was not only ahead of my time, I was out of my time. But it did lead to my starting the Northern California Land Trust, with Erich Hansch and Warren Webber, an organic farmer in Marin, who just hosted the Prince of Wales. The idea of a land trust had just come to me as the vehicle for land reform and land conservation and someone said there was a guy who had just moved to Santa Cruz and had written a book on how to do it. Take me to him. It was Erich. He was living in a garage with Don Newey. I remember the shirts and pants on hangers on a pole. Erich was a follower of Steiner. He was an Anthroposophist. Really, the coincidences were piling up. I thought this makes up for a lot. Erich was wonderful and I loved him dearly. He reminded me of my grandfather in Milwaukee who was into the occult.
Migrating hippies wandering through Santa Cruz became known as the Undesirable Transient Element or “Ute’s”. Some inspired local bureaucrat must have made up that one. One of the first things Page and I did in the William James Association was to organize the Work Company so that the transients could find short term, part time, employment. We found 30,000 jobs during the life of the project. Not bad. We started a Community Garden project with Rock Pfotenhauer. Page and Eloise started the Prison Arts Project which had a remarkable success and became a national model. And then we got involved with the homeless in l985 and opened the first public shelter in Santa Cruz, and then the homeless church program, with churches taking in the overflow, and then the Homeless Garden Project and then then the Page Smith Community House. But that takes us out of the 60′s and 70′s.
I almost forgot about the Wild Thyme Restaurant. That was in the ’70′s. Max Walden had developed Cooper House from the old County Court House and made it into the center of downtown life. Bob Page and Ed Gaines and I opened the first shop in the Cooper House–The Wilderness Store. The first one in Santa Cruz. We even got the first Levi Franchise. Max had a series of failed restaurants in the basement and so I offered to start one. I was enamoured of the herb thyme because of the Greek root–thymos–my favorite word and the herb was thymus vulgaris in the Latin, derived from the Greek. So was the thymus gland, the master organ of the immune system. So we served sweetbreads which are calve thymus glands, the supreme achievement of French cuisine–Joanne LeBoeuf was the chef and had a knack with the glands, and hamburgers with thyme, which made people protest because they thought it was pork, so I got laughed at. I went around and lectured people on their thymus glands, remember this was early, so almost no one knew they had one, and once I had their
attention, on the physicalist/vitalist conflict in the system of the sciences as a rap on the late stage of the self-destruction of industrial society. I had a cue card that gave the bullets so you could get the main points at a glance.
Buckminster Fuller came in one night with a student from the University. He said hello, Paul, which knocked me out as I had met him with a hundred other people at a reception in Los Gatos, months before. I was having a meeting in the back room of a group that was going to publish a journal as part of our Bicentennial Grant which Page and I had received for art projects for Santa Cruz. Page was the Bicentennial Historian as the first two volumes of his History of the U.S. were to coincide with the Bicentennial. I asked Bucky if he would say a few words to the group and he was glad to oblige and charmed everyone with his remarks. He invited me to his table and I sat down. I thought this was my chance to ask him what he thought about Kurt Godel and the incompleteness theorems and the undecidability problem. He never heard of Godel. I was stunned but I proceeded to tell him what I knew as the kid with him grew more and more agitated and kept saying, Bucky, do you realize the importance of what this man is saying. I enjoyed the response but he seemed a little over-heated. Finally, he ran out and I asked Bucky what was the deal and he said the kid had been raised at Synanon, the ex-drugger group, where his mother was in residence and he was rather hyper-active. Maybe I should check on him. I went to the front of the restaurant and there he was on the phone booking a plane for Princeton to see Godel. He said he had a document in his pocket that was fraught with the greatest importance for mankind and he wanted to show it to Godel. I asked him what it was and he wouldn’t show it to me. Only Godel. I was sorry I had told him.
I met Bucky once again at a conference where Chadwick was in residence. He came out of a portable potty standing in a field. It looked like he had just landed. He didn’t remember me.
Jay Greenberg, a mathematician colleague at UCSC, had told me about Godel around l970. He told me that Godel had written a proof for the existence of God. I saw stars. I thought if I could get the proof and publish it in a journal I was promoting for the History of Consciousness Program in order to fulfill the publish or perish demand that I knew they were going to get me on, I would be safe. I would get tenure on Godel’s Proof. Moreover, a proof by the world’s leading mathematical logician would be irrefutable. I wrote to Godel. He wrote back and said the proof was incomplete. Everyone laughed. I was waiting for Godel. And, he asked, what did theology have to do with consciousness. That threw me for awhile. I had occasion to call him at Princeton when I told a friend of mine, Adelaide de Menil, to take a picture of him, as she was going to Princeton to visit her brother. Adelaide is a fine photographer. She said I had to set it up. Hello, Prof. Godel. This is Prof. Lee. Remember me? Yes. I wrote to you about your proof. Is it complete? No. Oh, too bad. And when you asked about the relation of theology to consciousness, oh, never mind. Could I have a friend of mine come and take your picture. No. Why not? I have two perfectly good pictures of myself.
I had occasion to have coffee with Octavio Paz shortly after that and I told him the story about Godel. He spilled his coffee in his lap. I thought that’s how startled and excited a world renowned poet gets when he hears that existence has become a predicate again. Kant said existence is not a predicate because it doesn’t add anything conceptual to a thought. Existence is always assumed in the thinking of anything. At least conceptual existence. If you say that you have the thought of a hundred dollars and then that the hundred dollars exists you can’t find it in your pocket. So with that Kant undermined arguments for the existence of God. He thought it was like pulling a rabbit out of a hat. Since Kant, such arguments, which constitute a major theme in the history of philosophy have suffered in validity. Not after Godel. Ha ha. And the proof is now complete and is to be found in the third volume of his collected papers. The only problem is it is completely unintelligible, at least to me and anyone else who is not a technically proficient mathematical logician. But I don’t care. I still like the way it looks and am proud of having corresponded with Godel and spoken to him on the phone even if it didn’t save my ass.
So much for the ’60′s and 70′s. They were fine while they lasted and I got my kicks on Route 66. Psychedelics were certainly the defining feature, and even though in many ways the 60′s were a disappointment, psychedelics were terrific as a defining style. But it was thought to be more than that. It was hoped to be more than that. What happened to the longing that was released? The utopianism? It was nowhere, literally. And then it ended. They had a ceremony for it in the Haight. It was the death of the hippie. It had been co-opted by commercialism. Industrial society had absorbed it more than it was transformed by it or undermined by it. The opening of the doors of perception, the inter-modal sense quality experience, synesthesia, mystical flights, seeing the world in a flower, listening to Leary read from James Joyce, walking through a doorway, the revelatory power of a painting like when I discovered Cezanne at the Museum of Fine Arts in Chicago and my eyes were opened to his brush stroke and use of color, the symbiotic rapport and the sense of clairvoyance, Don Juan and Castaneda and the renewed appreciation of shamans, and all the gurus who filed through, many of them bogus and frauds, and then came that evil creep, Manson, and the Hells Angels beating to death an innocent bystander at a Rolling Stones concert.
Well, what is marijuana, after all, but an herb that burns?