Friday, June 10, 2016


Cooper Union was a free university
just east along 8th Street, at Astor
Place. It was truly, the square there,
a hub of activity  -  the entry point
to St. Marks Place, a funnel through
which it seemed every damned and
dumb hippie in the world flowed,
(what's the super-past-participle of
that, 'flew'?, which is sometimes
what they did anyway). It's still
there, but, contentiously, is no
longer free. In 1967, as I was
there, it was the antithesis of
everything the Studio School
was and stood for  -  logic,
definition, precision, rigidity.
It was an engineering school.
Anything but Art. On the one
side there was a big statue of
Abraham Lincoln, who'd
addressed a huge throng from
there on Feb. 27, 1860. Then
he was elected President.
They made a pretty big
to-do about that for years.
On the other side, the rear,
with the big balcony and
staircase, there were usually
about 15 bums and hippies
camped out, and a bunch of
other people selling junk
from on blankets  -  the flea
market stuff you'd see
everywhere : old books
and photos, tea kettles and
lamps, shoes and coats; and
probably all of the stuff most
lastly reported stolen in a hundred
local break-ins. You had, literally,
to step over balls (I said 'balls',
as in clumps, not 'the balls') of
these people, cluttered, zoned-out,
smashed or rude or mean. I
used to just go there to watch
-  everyone's reaction was
different and the entire range
of things went by. I'd look in
the windows at ground level,
idly, and see rows and rows
of engineering and scientific
books, all arrayed on metal rows.
I'd have a laugh and a chuckle,
shaking my head  -  trying to
visualize the world that all this
would be making. All those
Civil Engineers and bridgemakers
and highway planners and builders,
educated for free because of the
largess of some 18th century
guy who would have no idea
the forces he unleashed to turn
and taunt the world he so valued.
I spent as many hours as I could.
studying. Anything I could as a
curriculum of life. Immersing
myself in William Blake I almost
became a Blake idiot-savant, and
then convinced myself I was him,
on Earth again. I lived by his
admonishings, and envisioned a
universe all in his terms : 'The
Ancient of Days' my touch-point.
God the Mathematician, scribing
the universe with Line and Form,
Logic and Reason, and creating
only things wrong and incorrect.
With no Salvation anywhere.
Logic used to scare me, befuddle
me. I was on an island that once
had been a beautiful, romantic,
outcropping of rock, soil, and
geography. Its original inhabitants
had been shoo'd off, killed and
decimated. By 1800, the
Commissioner's Plan had
ruled that the 'original' island,
over which people were
crawling, was to be no more.
The geography was to be
destroyed : rock outcroppings,
fens and gullies, caves and
hills, drooping meadows
and marshes, ponds and
streams, everything. Crowds
of workmen were hired, and a
huge 'municipal' and civic
enterprise was undertaken
-  all the blasting, cutting,
hewing and shoveling that
went into flattening the island
-  leaving only tiny suggestions
of things, like 'Murray Hill',
'Turtle Bay', in names as
echoes. A massive, logical,
stern and frightful 'grid' plan
was lain over the city  -  the
flattened plain of what was
left. So people could build,
so real-estate interests could
spread out, lucre made by the
crude buying and selling of
flattened, gridded streets  -
not even names, only the
most simple, most bare form
of numbers, streets by number
running uptown, avenues by
number running across town,
all with right angled and
four-squared corners. A
Cooper Union logician's
logic gone mad. That's where
I found myself  -  in Lucifer's
Lair, the Devil's own kingdom
of might and brute force. How
could anything, I'd ask myself,
how could anything creative
at all come out of a place
like this? And then I'd answer
my own question with the
realization that the very logic
and imprisoning of minds that
it implies actually WAS the
impetus for the creativity,
the 'opposite' force going
on everywhere. The place
teemed with creativity, Art
and advancement. It was a
paradoxical puzzle, but one
worth every minute. One
way or the other, it drove
people mad. Creatively mad
or mad through imprisonment.
As Jack Kerouac put it, in
1957: 'the only people for
me are the mad ones, the
ones who are mad to live,
mad to talk, mad to be saved,
desirous of everything at the
same time, the ones who never
yawn or say a commonplace
thing, but burn, burn, burn,
like fabulous yellow roman
candles like spiders across the
stars.'  Or Ginsberg, in 1956:
'the best minds of my generation,
angel-headed hipsters, burning
for the ancient heavenly connection
to the starry dynamo in the
machinery of night.' That was
me then, and that's still me
today, when I stand at Ginsberg's
grave, looking down at some beat,
obscure stone riddled with some
few words and dates. All beautiful,
all. A poem straight from the
heart of life, this world. I'm glad
I have those places, now, just as
I was glad I had them then.
Ginsberg, Melville, Crane,
Schwartz, and Singer, all in
one sacred pile.
I figured to myself  -  'that'll
do, because I'll make it do.'
All the indifference in the world
wouldn't make things any different.
I started finding humor in so many
things: how the most ancient of
religions was behind so many of
the most breaking things that were
new. New York was a huge and
traditional Jewish kingdom, and
amazingly so  -  well more than
eighty percent of the  names
everywhere  -  art world names,
music and film names, writers  -
were Jewish names. The most
traditional of people setting out
to destroy at the very same time,
through their works and art and
beings, the old, traditional world
in which they were coddled.
In the same way, the pervasive
gayness and homosexuality, male
and female, was just as equally
startling. The way it was done,
the way it was all kept hidden. 
I tried to just make sure I stayed
and remained on my own, one 
and true for me, path. It was
actually pretty easy  -  as a
corridor between worlds. I 
was able, certainly, to walk 
into and enter each of the
worlds around me, the people,
places and things I was living
amidst, but I always had my
straight and 'between-places'
corridor to return to and stay 
in. I swore to remain away from,
however, the room and doorway
marked 'strict logic and all
probability.' I wanted none of
it, and viewed it as a morgue.
Taken to its stupidest extreme,
as logic at its most illogical, I
give you this, 'Zeno's Paradox':
The story of Achilles and the 
tortoise  -   they decide to have 
a race. Achilles can run twice as
fast as the tortoise, so he gives
her a long start. By the time
Achilles reaches the tortoise's
starting point she will have moved
ahead by half the distance of her
lead. And by the time Achilles
reaches that point she will have
moved on by half of that distance.
And so on, and so forth, 'ad
infinitum.' Achilles is never 
able to catch up with the 
tortoise, because, at each 
point, by the time he has 
covered the distance between 
them she will always have 
moved on further by half of
that distance. So Achilles
never overtakes the tortoise.
(Try here thinking of always
cutting the distance in half, 
smaller and smaller, but 
always half, never reaching 
completion. Whatever you 
have can still again be halved). 
You want to say, 'Hang on!
Achilles of course overtakes 
the tortoise. Of course he does.
This is all nonsense.' Saying that,
you will be missing the point.
Achilles overtakes the tortoise,
of course he does, yes. The point
is that an impeccably logical 
argument, starting from 
objectionable premises and
then proceeded to with perfect
and logical steps, will bring you
to a false conclusion, one that is
manifestly untrue. This threatens
us with chaos. And thus, I give
you : THE WORLD!

No comments: