The Artist as Shaman
Ultimately we are all alone. Each of us has the option to confront, or refuse to confront the issue of our own life or death, both physical and psychic). Once we are aware--once we agree to confront this issue and, realize that it is first and last an issue for ourselves alone--then we can begin to act.
But there is nothing to be done about it. "In the fires that destroy the universe at the end of the kalpa what sourvives?" That was quoted by Gary Snyder in the draft of a work in progress, published in the "Difficult But Possible Supplement" to the Whole Earth Catalog (September, 1969). Gary Snyder gives no footnotes; there is no ownership of ideas. I mention Snyder however because he is one of my most important teachers. I met him two weeks ago, but he has been teaching me--I have been "knocking on his door -- for over a year. It began when I heard a tape entitled "Poetry and the Primitive," the title of a lecture Snyder delivered at Berkeley. Another teacher and friend, Jene La Rue (who used to teach classics at San Francisco State and now lectures in the world literature department, among other things) played the tape of Snyder lecturing and made a copy of it for me. It is an amazing performance. There are a hundred lessons an hour--and in most lectures, as we all know, it is fortunate to be presented with one genuinely new idea or association. When I met him, Snyder said well, I must not have been knocking very hard.
In the Whole Earth Catalog piece Snyder talks about "the realization that at the heart of things is some kind of serene and ecstatic process which is actually beyond qualities and beyond birth and death. 'No need to survive:' ...Knowing that nothing need be done, is where we begin to move from."
From a cosmic point of reference the life or death of ourselves or of the planet may be a matter of total indifference. "Necessary or unnecessary," "good or evil," "glorious or tragic" are all projections from our contending part. As likely as anything else, the Universe or the Great Spirit, in contemplating the fate of the Earth, may respond only with a gentle chortle--of the kind that keeps everything slowly turning over. This possibility renders philosophies of despair profitless.
Short of the cosmic, however, we must choose between life or death. Following that ultimate and isolated choice we may choose again and again, because short of the ultimate we have each other. We have our friends and our teachers; and some of us also have people trying to learn from us. Perhaps that is all we can do: try to learn from each other and help each other, to be kind, and when possible a little more loving. In this we are all together, with all other human beings. Life or death is now a total, global, planetary problem. As such, then, it involves not only human beings, but also all living creatures: all animals, all plants, all microscopic organisms. And on a more generous spiritual level (Does a rock have Buddha nature?) we share this question of existence, being or non-being, with all things of the earth.
The possibility of the death of the planet is more real to us now than it has ever been to any human beings. For more than merely believing it is possible (there have been people perhaps in all ages who have believed the Apocalypse was imminent), we now know it to be so. Previously men feared that some other power might destroy the earth; now we have that power ourselves. Further, such power is right now in the hands of men who give many indications that they indeed intend to use it. And for the earth to die, the politicians and military men with their captive scientists and technicians will never ask permission of any other living thing--not of any other human being, not of any dog or bird or cockroach, not of any tree or flower or weed, nor of any rock. And yet all of the earth may surely die by their hands. All of us know this.
Knowledge is power. But this knowledge of our perilous existence seems to play into the hands of those who would use us in their gigantic, insane games of power and control. Because to know that we all may be obliterated at any moment without any forewarning, or much less without our permission, is to compress our potentially infinite worlds into cramped and clammy traps of impotency and despair. That is just the way "they" want us, cowed and inactive, so mesmerized by the spectre of our own destruction that we cannot (or anyway will not) move until it gobbles us up along with everything else.
Apparently it does little good to point out to those men who maintain the power of life and death over the rest of us that destruction of the world also means their own suicides. To men of reason such an argument of enlightened self-interest might provide a hopeful desideratum whereby the world could be saved. But it is not an issue of reason. For example, to say (as one of our political leaders did recently) that U.S. troops could be withdrawn from Vietnam in a "reasonable period of time, say a year and a half or two years," is to distort the common meaning of that word "reasonable" so much that it remains virtually nude of significance. Reason would long since have led to disarmament, to the cessation of nuclear testing, to population control, to curtailing the use of DDT which poisons the earth and detergents which poison the sea and hydrocarbons which poison the air. But such reason is a mere scutcheon covering the keyhole through which we peer into that infinite abyss of non-being where smoulder the ashes of an insane Armageddon. It is the soul of humanity itself that has been poisoned already in the name of civilization.
The only contending issue that remains is whether or not that soul is to be made healthy, whole again--if the planet is to survive, the earth to live and to bear life. Of course, we may choose not to contend, but rather just to sit and watch and wait, smiling with either wry or oblivion, scowling with either fear or cynical disdain. Suppose there is nothing indeed to be done, that this is all a broad farina, a charade, a game. But no matter how long the odds are, it is the only game around that is really worth playing. Everything we do is a matter of life and death.
Perhaps there isn't much time. Serious, straight scientists have given us variously fifty, twenty-five, twenty, maybe fifteen years. Some have even suggested that the processes of global suicide have already progressed so far that they cannot be stopped. Such statements are not from men who bear the marks of the conventional religious kook, nor are they hippies, nor acid-heads, nor lunatics. They are zoologists and botanists and microbiologists and meteorologists. They are scientists who study the earth, the sea and the air--the conditions for life and death in each, and the interactions between them. They usually show an interest in ecology, dress and act like members of the Establishment. and (under the circumstances) seem remarkably non-hysterical. It would appear that even without a nuclear war we cannot escape a confrontation with the Apocalypse in one guise or another, within our time. Such anyway is the opinion of men whom we usually respect as knowing something about their business. Nor does there seem to be a serious and substantial body of scientific opinion tailing issue with these conclusions--saying, for example, that smog or radiation are good for us. (There was a recent miniscule news item noting that the global level of radiation had doubled within the last four years!) Is it surprising then that we should stand transfixed before the promise of our own murder, or turn away too stunned to want to follow out the implications of the threat, or to believe that the threat really exists at all?
In The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas S. Kuhn explains how, when new data creates anomalies and/or a situation of crisis within an existing, prevailing paradigm, those people and institutions deeply committed to that paradigm tend to ignore, or even to deny the existence of the new data. Revolutions (both scientific and political, and by extension cultural) emerge from crisis situations when there are created or discovered new paradigms which more successfully deal with that new data, provided that data is essential in nature. No matter how well a paradigm once worked, the failure to incorporate significant new data, and thus the decreasing ability to adapt to changing conditions, are indications of cybernetic senility. When any cybernetic structure, whether a conceptual, organic or mechanical system, approaches stasis with a failure to incorporate feedback (of the right kind, of at least minimal quantity and at an adequate rate) it is said to be cybernetically primitive. The fact is, quite apart from any philosophical judgments in the matter, when these crisis conditions exist all such primitive systems either change radically or they shatter and collapse, giving way to new, more cybernetically-sophisticated alternative structures.
To many thoughtful people in many different fields we now confront the alternatives of death or revolution. Civilization is in a crisis situation. There is a deep and pervasive need to change the meaning of concepts which have been established, familiar and by and large quite useful during the course of civilization's some five thousand years. But differences between the still-prevailing paradigm (of Western Civilization in general and of the current political-military-economicsocial-cultural establishment in particular) and the new paradigm of global total cultural revolution are both necessary and irreconcilable.
In San Francisco the group calling itself Ecology/Action has issued a "Declaration of Interdependence," obviously patterned after but going far beyond the limited implications of the eighteenth century "Declaration of Independence." Now is the time, they suggest, to cease exerting our presumed tyranny over all forms of life, and to recognize our necessary interdependence with all plants and animals so that life may be sustained on the face of the earth. The Committee of Concern for the Traditional Indian urges that we declare an end to the war on Indians, suggesting that the time may have come when we can learn a few things about ecological and spiritual survival from whatever remains of traditional native American culture. In an interview entitled "Down to Earth with Chet Helms and the Family Dog," Helms (one of America's leading rock concert/theater empressarios) said, "...although I cannot identify with the faith of my fathers and all that jazz, a very strong element in my life has always been the bringing of people together; religion, the rebinding of people, recreation in the sense of re-creation. rebirth and so on. I've been personally extremely interested in a lot of primitive religions, and I've done quite a bit of study. I dropped out of college and did most of my reading after I left college, really...". This was published in the San Francisco Oracle of the Spiritual Revolution (Vol. 1, No. 5), one of the world's most beautiful newspapers. The terms become clear: interdependence, respect for all forms of life, humility with dignity and freedom without arrogance, concentration upon radical issues--things that really matter for people: religion in the anthropological sense rather than in the sense of church, a turning from established institutions of many kinds (from colleges that promised education just as from churches that promised religion, neither of which seem able to deliver in ways that are fulfilling and relevant). Characteristic of the revolutionary stance are also fun, high-seriousness and ecstatic states of being.
The most consistent revolutionary theme, however, emphatic and ubiquitous, is that of wholeness, unity, a coming together, a dissolving of previous boundaries and distinctions. This means "getting it together" on all levels: inside your own head, in the most intimate relationships with other people, within your community of friends and the people with whom you live, with other human beings, with all of mankind, with animals and plants, with the whole earth--and thus, in the same spirit, to establish a new and more harmonious, more loving, more peaceful relationship to cosmic principles. When people talk now about being "together" or "really together," they mean this in the sense of sane and healthy--which in many of the world's languages is the same word as "whole."
Opposed to this cultural revolution is a concept of the self, a theory of society, a Weltanschauung and a sense of cosmic principles that not only frequently contradict each other but which are also at odds with themselves--the image of fragmentation. A little reflection shows that this fragmentation typifies much of what we have come to accept as the given: our lives as the children of our times, as the inheritors of all those five thousand years of civilization (not without its glories, to be sure).
This fragmentation within the self used to be thought of in terms of schizophrenia, as if it were the same thing to be mad and to be ill. But R.D. Laing brilliantly demonstrated in his revolutionary work in psychiatry that "schizophrenics have more to teach psychiatrists about the inner world than psychiatrists their patients" (The Politics of Experience, p. 109). The voyage to inner realms that typifies the schizophrenic experience is the healing trip seeking to make the psyche whole again--an extreme, often desperate and unsuccessful but essentially creative effort of human beings to cure themselves. In contrast, a bizarre, self-destructive, truly insane syndrome is manifested by our so-called "normal" society. "An a whole, we are a generation of men so estranged from the inner World that many are. arguing that it does not exist; and that even if it does exist, it does not matter. Even if it has some significance, it is not the hard stuff of science, and if it is not, then let's make it hard. Let it be measured and counted. Quantify the heart's agony and ecstasy in a world in which, when the inner world is first discovered, we are liable to find ourselves bereft and derelict. For without the inner the outer loses its meaning, and without the outer the inner loses its substance." Laing's irony is only one of many cloaks for his intensity; reason, passion and poetic revelation are other guises he dons in a medium, in a profession and in a culture that abhors, represses and denies the genuine intensity of direct experience. And yet here we are like Artaud's "victims burning at the stake, signalling through the flames."
it is the outer world that is literally insane: in (not) sanus (healthy). It is the so-called normal world that is poisoning itself and threatening to blow itself to bits--so far estranged is it from the inner worlds of meaning, purpose and value, and from a sense of the sacred joy of life. "Society highly values its normal man. It educates children to lose themselves and to become absurd, and thus to be normal. Normal men have killed perhaps 100,000,000 of their fellow men in the last fifty years." In this context it is the madman, the half-crazed creature in a totally crazy world, who seeks to cure himself, to make himself whole again through uniting the inner with the outer worlds.
"As this external human world is almost completely and totally estranged from the inner, any personal direct awareness of the inner world already has grave risks. But since society, without knowing it, is starving for the inner, the demands on people to evoke its presence in a "safe" way, in a way that need not be taken seriously, etc., is tremendous--while the ambivalence is equally intense. Small wonder that the list of artists, in say the last 150 years, who have become shipwrecked on these reefs is so long-- Holderlin, John Clare, Rimbaud, Van Gogh, Nietzsche, Antonin Artaud..."
"Those who have survived have had exceptional qualities--a capacity for secrecy, slyness, cunning--a thoroughly realistic appraisal of the risks they run, not only from the spiritual realms they frequent, but from the hatred of their fellows for anyone engaged in this pursuit." These are the archetypal qualities, and the ancient problem, of Odysseus: the wily and cunning (polymetis) hero, the man of many turns (polytropos) who is turned in many ways during the course of the immense voyage undertaken to make his world whole." (Liang, The Politics of Experience)
The list of extraordinary, visionary, madman artists can be extended back much further than Laing's 150 years. There were Blake and Goya. Before them were artists like the "Bohemian" Caravaggio, a murderer with a vicious temper and an "uninterrupted criminal record" (Rudolf and Margot Wittkower, Born Under Saturn, P. 195). There was Leonardo's "aloofness" and other characteristics investigated by Freud in his Study in Psychosexuality; there was Michelangelo's "distress of mind and temper." Hugo van der Goes was committed as insane. Hieronymus Bosch was a member of a lay religious brotherhood whose adepts "sought salvation of the soul and fellowship with God without the aid of the official Church; they regarded themselves as the brethren of the true religion and openly dissociated themselves from those whom the called 'false brothers.' ... Already in the seventeenth century a Spanish contemporary of El Greco, Frey Joseph Siguença, could pass the following judgement of Bosch; 'The difference...between the pictures of this painter and those of others lies in the fact that the others sought to paint man as he is outside--but he alone had the courage to paint him as he is inside.'" (Charles de Tolnay, Hieronymus Bosch, P. 23, 49). It has also been suggested that Bosch was the first artist to truly, accurately and realistically depict life as it is in the twentieth century. The German playwright Georg Buchner and the Czech Franz Kafka also had visions that have become manifest--but like Bosch's contemporary, Sebastian Brandt, their revelations are so permeated by starkness and terror that they are denied a view of those other options which include paradisical ecstasy.
It may be that great artists, or all the really interesting ones anyway, are necessarily mediators between the outer and inner worlds. This would include poets and architects, musicians, dreamers and dancers in addition to painters and sculptors. How have they survived then in such a perilous occupation? And the answer is that they have not--or at least not very well--since the beginnings of civilization. Artists have always been more or less poorly-rewarded servants or slaves of politics, religion and commerce. There have been a few occasions when the artist was fully and supportively integrated into a total social context--possibly when some of the great cathedrals were being built, if the religious sense then was truly alive. Even so, there was never any question about art being in the service of and submissive to the organized religious institutions. And when the art ran counter to theological dogma, the art was replaced, changed or destroyed, with no defenses successfully maintained on esthetic grounds. The Gothic cathedrals in Holland were leveled by the Dutch Reformation. Savanarola burned the art of Florence in the city square assisted by Sandro Botticelli who threw his own paintings on the bonfire--even though this wave of politico-religion was shortly followed by the burning of Savanarola himself. Neither the Greeks nor the Persians, nor the Romans, nor the Moors, nor the Allies in World War II compromised major military objectives in order to spare works of art. True, they say the Pentagon had originally planned to drop the atomic bomb on the magnificent temples and shrines of Kyoto--and they were dissuaded by the reaction of aghast horror on the part of those who knew that city's art and architecture. So instead President Truman authorized the annihilation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki--cities whose shrines were not well-known from illustrated art books. And we did demolish Dresden, and Hamburg, with firestorms. And Hitler held a great exhibition in 1937 of Entartete Kunst, "degenerate art," much of which was publicly destroyed because it might affect people (in the way that art sometimes has of getting to people) and rend the moral fabric of Aryan cultural consciousness. Secretly, some of the modern masters were held aside for the private collections of Nazi leaders, and others were spirited out to Swizerland where they were sold for handsome returns: Kommerz uber alles!
No, where art has flourished in history it will be seen that it has always given a convincing appearance of serving the ends of the state, the church or the marketplace. When artist-critics lose their power or defenders they either retire or they die. Even after selling out to the forces of Realpolitik the artist has still had to have "a capacity for secrecy, slyness, cunning." We know that Bosch was married to a wealthy patrician woman, Aleyt van der Mervenne, and that he "spent his life in a small castle near Hertogenbosch, in material independence" (de Tolnay, p. 23). Under such conditions, freedom may come rather easier than in the outside world. In a famous letter offering to sell-out to the Duke of Milan, Leonardo da Vinci explained his talents as an engineer, inventor of war machines and designer of fortifications; in only the last three lines does he mention, as if it were an afterthought, that he "can also paint as well as any man." That demonstrates a realistic appraisal of values calculated for survival.
Louis XIV had an enormous program of support for the arts and crafts--all of it in the service of the state, to glorify his personalized political mega-institution of power and control. Totalitarian states always seem to be interested in the arts as visible legitimizers of the authority of the state--hence the predisposition for usurpers of power to prefer styles, such as the neo-classical in architecture, which they hope will add dignity through association. This was true of Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia and is still true of Washington, D.C. today.
Ever since the beginnings of civilization art has ceased to work as it previously did when fully integrated in a total social and cultural context. We know that art did once work in this way. The best evidence for this is provided by examples of surviving primitive cultures. There still are some such cultures, although to be sure they exist in marginal areas and in most cases are on the verge of extinction as the global, cybernetic, electronic, mass culture of the twentieth century penetrates to the last remaining pockets of heretofore isolated terrestial geography. What these primitive cultures demonstrate is precisely a total, integrated, harmonious social and cultural context which is whole and healthy because it really works for the people who live in it. Not that all primitive cultures are alike by any means--the astounding thing about them is their diversity: the wildest variations are not only possible but actually do occur. Yet what they all have in common is that they work. And that is just what our civilization, it now appears, simply cannot do.
The advantages of fragmentation--the division of labor, and with it the development of specialization, followed by the growth of social functions that could be rationally analyzed and controlled--enabled the early civilizations to press some decided tactical advantages they enjoyed over their primitive neighbors. In perhaps his most intelligent book, The Gutenberg Galaxy, Marshall McLuhan has traced the history of cultural and psychic fragmentation from the time of the invention of movable type to the present. But really the history of the process begins with the invention of writing. For the beginning of civilization is the beginning of the written word, which is the essential element in the establishment of the civilized milltary-polltlcal-rellgious-economlc state. The first written words, wherever archaeology has discovered them, have dealt with either of two topics: economic surpluses or the organization for and exploits of war. As Gary Snyder remarked, lyric poetry came only long after.
When the artist was totally integrated into his society, there were no mechanical distinctions between his function as philosopher, teacher, priest, medicine man and psychoanalyst, craftsman or living repository of the people's myths and sacred history. The prospect that currently confronts us is that of piecing together a revolutionary new culture, formulating new myths and discovering anew our sacred hlstory--that which transcends mere "historical" time (the time of written records and of civilization, the last 5,000 or so years). That sacred history must provide a continuity and psychic context for us that extends backward at least to the creation of the earth itself. For that is the time perspective which continues to be of paramount psychic significance for us, even though we have worn out or forgotten other, older creation myths.
Visionaries, prophets, seers and seekers, psychic explorers, poets, artists, madmen--creative mentalities of all kinds--comprise the principal human software resources available for the creation of a radical and revolutionary, pluralistic and syncretic global culture. The artist in his new role--or the new kind of artist, if you will--is the key person in this process which attempts nothing less than the salvation of the earth.
Although it is post-historical in nature, the revolution already has a history. Its roots are sunk deeply into the past. There are prototype figures and situations, and there are false starts, but the great global cultural revolution begins its outward, consistent development after the Second World War, in the mid-1950s--most emphatically and openly since 1954. The first nationwide color TV transmission took place on January 1, 1954. In 1954 the Korean War "ended" (talks at Panmunjam are still going on as of this writing), i.e., America's first clear "non-win," demonstrating to intuitive kids and to some of their perceptive elders that war as an instrument of national policy was no longer even politically feasible--not even for the most fantastically strong, over-armed nation in the history of the earth confronting a rather poor and weak, disorganized and ill-equipped adversary. Also, in February:of 1954, President Eisenhower announced to our elected representatives in Congress that some fifteen months earlier, the Atomic Energy Commission had detonated the world's first thermonuclear device on Enewetak atoll, thus informing them: that they were superfluous in the really important decisions of government, that the principle of government by representation had been effectively discarded in America, and that we had entered an age of nuclear power in which the real and complete destruction of the earth was at hand. Over fifteen years later Senator Stuart Symington complained, in the Fall of 1969, that information about a secret war (in Laos, over which America was sending some two hundred B-52s on daily bombing raids) was being deliberately withheld from those members of Congress concerned with foreign affairs and military spending. The shocked naive and sad fantasies continue as the lessons of reality become sharper in the perspective of the recent past. Not many kids believe the myths of government clung to still by their parents and by politicians like Senator Symington, who should know better.
Since the term "avant garde" began to be used, there has persisted an intimate connection between its political and artistic applicatlons. But the avant garde is dead. Accommodating change on the leading edge is no longer a viable compromise with established institutions. Now, as a truly revolutionary culture begins to emerge in increasing clarity, it becomes apparent that neither the political activist nor the conventional "Fine" artist can supply an inspiring and relevant model of being. New patterns of action characterize the leaders, gurus, heros and exemplars within this newly coalescing context. What the avant garde used to mean in terms of social and cultural roles has never represented, for the revolution, areas of primary concern--not since its first significant, broadscale manifestations in 1954, nor during its ten years of incubation, after which it broke out on a permeating, global scale. The most important artists anywhere in the world in 1964 were the Beatles--and thus the strangle-hold of the highly mythologized so-called Fine Arts was finally broken. Indeed it may have required the full ten preceding years of rock and roll to make this possible, because during that period popular music generally (and specifically rock) became one of the leading media of artistic energy and cultural change. This assault on the walls of Fine Art's esthetic castle was of course abetted by the key role of Pop Art, as the barbarian within the walls. Individual artists in other media also provided paradigms of revolutionary function: John Cage, Lenny Bruce, Ken Kesey, Tim Leary, William Burroughs, Buckminster Fuller, Ed (Big Daddy) Roth," Bruce Conner, Jean Luc Goddard, and Yvonne Ranier, Viva, Yoko Ono, and depending on how you call it, Janis Joplin and Grace Slick, or Joan Baez and Buffy St. Marie.
When those engaged in the realm of political activity have emerged as revolutionary heroes,they have either commanded the exotic romantic appeal of Che, or (at home) have appeared as specialists in the politics of the absurd or the absurd of politics. H.L. Mencken would have enjoyed Abbie Hoffman.
Similarly, when those engaged in more or less conventional esthetic pursuits have attained the status of genuine revolutionaries, it has generally been because of the way they work in different media rather than because of any particular subject matter or style within an artistic medium. For example, Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg are master tripsters, multifaceted artists, thoroughly uncontained by any medium or tradition. There have been prototypes, such as Yves Klein and Marcel Duchamp earlier in the century, or Leonardo and Michelangelo in the Renaissance: men who transcended boundaries, bridged gaps between various modes of creativity and perception. With an intriguing frequency such great artists demonstrate a pattern of bringing together different areas and levels of consciousness--of which multi-functioning process of integration William Blake provides another superb example. Even when they are active in but a limited medium and tradition, like Bosch the painter, they typically have not produced art at all in the service of commerce, religion or politics. Rather have such artists functioned something like explorers and prophets in realms of experience which the rest of us know are very real indeed, but in which most of us would soon lose our way without some kind of psychic map or guide. In this sense the leaders of the current cultural revolution are the suppliers of programmed trips, the psychic Lowell Thomasses of our times.
There are many and varying historical manifestations of such roles, both in primitive cultures and in the heretical or otherwise outré traditions within Western civilization. Shamanism is one of these ancient patterns of personal, social, earthly and cosmic reintegrations (or the reestablishing of sympathetiC interdependence and harmony on these four levels). And although its relevance has been largely overlooked by current cultural historians. its tradition may provide us with the key paradigm of the revolution as return to archaic values.
The body~ the shaman or future shaman is cut up into pieces--dismembered and disembowelled. Sometimes the fragments of organs, flesh and bones are widely scattered, dispersed throughout the earth, buried in hidden places. Through the power of older shamans, some perhaps long since dead, through the sustaining and renewing, supportive context of tradition within the shaman's culture, or through the special magic of initiatory ritual, the aspirant to shamanic powers may learn how to get it all back together again. Or he may go insane, or he may die. There are psychic risks, and they are real indeed, and sometimes extreme.
The dismemberment and evisceration are symbolic--metaphors of psychic fragmentation. A world has been shattered: a bolt of lightning may have struck the man, or a hunter may experience an unusually long streak of ill luck. Excentricities and anti-social behavior may manifest this sense of fragmentation in terms of a man's relations to his fellow men. Inside his own head there is a breakdown, things "go to pieces." He is a man apart and in parts. All of this may happen in a dream or vision, but the experience forces a confrontation with the most radical and penetrating of realities. It is a question of life or death, in which the symbolic, the material, the social and the psychic have all achieved a crucial equivalence.
The artist as shaman performs an essential function in the great current cultural revolution, in the creation of counter-environments, that is, potentially revolutionary models for action. This is not to say that art has been aider and abettor, instigator and fomenter of revolution since the beginnings of art, nor since the beginning of man. Indeed, revolution may only be possible when a culture is so organized that a splitting-off process can not be effected--whether gentle parting of the ways or violent schism. Before the rise of civilization some five thousand years ago--as still today in the few scattered surviving "primitive" cultures--the artist was integrated in the total social and cultural fabric or" the people. The counter-environments he created were concerned with other psychic levels of being, and not with other alternate systems of worldly power and control. Projected onto our global situation this is another way of saying that if the revolution is to be won, the primary tactical objective lies within that inner world composed of deeper and higher levels of psychic awareness than most of us ordinarily experience in the outer world of bullets, bombs and business suits.
The resources available to us for the creation of revolutionary models comprise all of the trips of psychic reintegration that have been preserved from all times and places and cultures. In the long run the history of our "Civilization," the last mere 5,000 years, is only the short run--less than one tenth of the total time mankind has managed to Survive on the face of the earth in the "modern" form in which we know him, and ourselves, today. The cultural structures that have worked for the other nine-tenths of our real human history deserve our close attention before the impending irony of our wiping out the pockets, tag ends or vestigial remnants of these primitive societies, before we might learn from them the mechanisms of consciousness which now appear to be essential for our own survival. Wherever shamanic traditions have flourished (in Native Amerlcan, South American, Indonesian, TIbetan and especially in Siberian and Central Asian societies) we may still find preserved clues or lessons from the structured human experiences that are records or patterns of psychic voyages and in themselves often esthetic statements as illuminating and powerful as any of the Fine Art "masterpieces" of civilization.
We are now beyond the concepts and limited ways of experiencing time that have characterized the civilized mentality associated with the written word, typified by lineal, sequential, logical and analyzable relationships. Through the feedback effects of the very most sophistcated end products of those 5,000 years (color television, computers, LSD-25 and all the other synthesized psychedelics, plus the key communication systems based on the camera and tape recorder) we have recently encountered the possibilities of a post-historical, post-ideological, fully-integrated, global, total world culture, transcending and uniting all those social and psychic fragmentations perpetuated by civilization. We also must confront that other end product of civilization, the Apocalypse: a choice between the life or the death of the planet, a final fragmentation into ultimate aloneness or getting it all together. And short of the ultimate we are all in it together.
Kurt von Meier