LINDISFARNE CAFE – MEMOIR
My Dinner with Andre’ Gregory: Lindisfarne in Manhattan 1977-1979
When my second wife Beatrice looks back on Lindisfarne in Manhattan from the distance of thirty-eight years later in Zürich, one incident stands out for her and seems to sum up the whole spirit of the place. She was upstairs in the kitchen of the rectory of the old church, feeding our infant son Andrew his morning porridge and talking to him, as she always did, in the mother tongue of the Bernese dialect of Swiss German. Off to the corner of the kitchen at the breakfast table over their morning coffee, biologists and philosophers Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela were going at it full throttle in Chilean Spanish. They were scribbling diagrams with intensity, and anyone could see, no matter how weak one’s Spanish, that the young student, Varela, and the older master, Maturana, were experiencing divergent evolution.
Varela was about to publish his own book, Principles of Biological Autonomy, and you could sense that the book itself was expressing his own autonomy from Maturana. Heinz von Foerster, one of the founding fathers of cybernetics and the philosophy of self-organization, liked to call this couple “Maturella,” in recognition of their important contributions that culminated in their book Autopoiesis and Cognition.[i] To this day, Maturana insists that autopoiesis was his idea and that Varela was merely his student. Personally, I don’t believe him, as Maturana was the kind of scientist who could lecture about pure categories of the understanding–thinking that he had discovered something really big–and not be aware that Immanuel Kant had been there before him.
Varela had studied philosophy and phenomenology with the Jesuits in high school in Chile, so he came to university-level science with a good background in philosophy. Of course, the two scientists had been so closely ribbed for years in Santiago, that it would be difficult for anyone to say with certainty who had the idea first over morning coffee in Santiago. Over this particular morning coffee in a corner of Lindisfarne-in-Manhattan, one thing was certain to Beatrice, something important was going on.
Beatrice looked at them as she spooned the porridge over Andrew’s baby lips, and felt her own sense of satisfaction and deep nourishment. As a Swiss, she told me, she had always felt that culture was something that always was going on somewhere other than Switzerland. Whether it was the Summer of Love in 1967 in the Haight-Ashbury of San Francisco, or the student revolts in the Paris of 1968. But now for the first time she felt that she was finally “where it was at,” and that whatever these two guys were up to, it was an important part of what the work of her generation was all about.
In one room, Maturana and Varela were formulating autopoiesis as a model for the origins of life; and downstairs in the old Parish Hall, philosopher Gregory Bateson was lecturing about “the pattern that connects” mind and nature, and mathematician David Finkelstein was conducting a seminar with the stage and film director Andre Gregory on the philosophical implications of quantum physics, and I was giving the lectures that became my two books, Darkness and Scattered Lightand The Time Falling Bodies Take to Light.
New paradigm science played a large part in our lives, but the public events that really packed the old church were the artistic events. André Gregory taught a workshop on the material that became his film, My Dinner with André, and I laughed when I heard several of my dialogues with André put into the mouth of Wally Shawn. André had first appeared at Lindisfarne in Southampton one afternoon in 1975, and as we went for a walk along the shore of Fishcove and Peconic Bay he discussed his feelings of frustration and limitation with conventional theatre and recounted his experiences with his production of Alice in Wonderland.
I told him that the present moment was more about playing with consciousness than working with mimetic re-presentations of a consensual reality in conventional genres of art, that theatre had gone back to the rituals and ritual community that had preceded Greek comedy and tragedy, and that in places like Findhorn, where animism was being retrieved in the context of an electronic, postindustrial society, people were playing in a new Imaginary that included elves, nature spirits, and extraterrestrials, and were receiving transmissions from angelic Celestial Intelligences. Carlos Castaneda had opted for the solitary path of the Yaqui shaman, but at places like Findhorn in Scotland and Auroville in India, the theatre of group consciousness was the new shared Imaginary.
André dutifully went off to Findhorn, and then in his film with Louis Malle he mythologized this New Age community even more with his riff on the roof of the Universal Hall. When he returned to New York, he wanted me to sponsor a Lindisfarne workshop in which our New York students and resident members of the community would go off with him to the Morrocan desert to look for the Little Prince.
André was nothing if not a classic puer eternus, so his fascination with the Little Prince made sense for him, but not to me, as I felt Antoine de Saint Exupery’s novel was sentimental kitsch, so I declined the offer, and said that we at Lindisfarne did not have to go trapsing around the world on expensive workshops, that all we had to do was take a few steps into our meditation room to take our own cosmic voyage. My words ended up in Wally Shawn’s mouth, but this time not as the mystic, patronizing the rich puer and self-indulgent artist, but the unimaginative skeptic who lacked André’s risk-taking yet playful imagination.
It was good fun to argue with André Gregory, because he was always charming and polite, and only gently manipulative in his desire to seek dominance in any one-to-one relationship. My response to his need for dominance was to go along with the game, but play Dean to his professor and establish limits to what he could get away with at Lindisfarne. André didn’t seem to mind and made many contributions to our communal life: bringing actors from the Polish Lab Theatre in Warsaw to live with us for several weeks to teach a workshop, and on one memorable evening, manifesting an epiphany of the great Jerzy Grotowski himself. And for this shaman of theatre as the new Eleusinian Mystery religion, the old church was packed and we had standing room only.
Exploring the relationship between art and spirituality was much more our focus in Manhattan than it had been in Southampton. I asked Paul Winter to give a spring equinox concert for St. Cuthbert’s Day (March 20) in the church, and Dean James Parks Morton was so transported by the evening that he transported the whole program uptown to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, where these concerts evolved into the famous St. Francis Day Mass with the Animals and the annual celebration of the winter solstice. Robert Bly gave a reading of his Rumi translations, Gary Snyder and Paul Winter presented a poetry and jazz evening on the theme of Turtle Island, and Wendell Berry and Allen Ginsberg gave poetry readings. Wendell’s reading was inspiring and filled with that quiet dignity that emanates from Wendell when his rambunctious Huck Finn sense of humor isn’t up and running, but Allen filled the church with the scruffiest audience we ever had.
I became annoyed with Allen because he began to get off on the naughtiness of standing in the pulpit of the old church and reading a poem on licking assholes. The poem was quite literally a crappy work of art, more an expression of gay politics than poetics, but then, I have to confess that I never really liked Allen’s poetry and found it to be merely declamatory rhetoric. As the host of the evening, I was standing next to Allen at the end of the reading, after he had descended from the pulpit to the altar. An unctuous hippie fan came up to him and asked Allen to give him his autograph on a roll of toilet paper. Although I thought the request was appropriate to Allen’s subject, Allen himself was incensed and said the request was insulting. The absurdity of Allen’s reaction was not apparent to him, but I decided to avoid such future conflicts of taste by not asking Allen to give a reading at Lindisfarne again.
Much more appealing to me were the small, hard, tectonicly compressed carbon of Samuel Menashe’s short poems, which Samuel read to a much smaller audience, but one that included the English poet Kathleen Raine, in the Parish Hall. On the walls of this Parish Hall—which was our second largest building–was an exhibition of the abstract landscapes of Haydn Stubbing. (Later Yvonne Hagen Stubbing and I donated three of these large canvases to the Cathedral of St John the Divine, where they now should be found if the Cathedral is honoring the terms of our donation, which they haven’t in the past– in the St. James Chapel on the south side of the High Altar.)
Haydn Stubbing’s exhibition was part of our Fellows Conference on the theme of Art and the Sacred that we held both in Manhattan and Southampton in the spring of 1977. When I set up Lindisfarne in 1973 there was great pressure from the young generation to make Lindisfarne a clone of the Esalen of the sixties, and equal pressure from the older generation who had had their glorious moment in the fifties to make it a Hamptonite salon for artists. Dorothy Norman presided over a brilliant salon in East Hampton, where I saw such notables as Willem de Kooning, Lee Krasner, Alfonso Osorio, Clement Greenberg, Isamu Noguchi, Lewis Thomas, and Ivan Illich. Dorothy had heard of Lindisfarne from friends in East Hampton and began to show up at Fishcove quite often, even though our countercultural aesthetic was clearly not to her taste. I made it clear to her and everyone else I met in the Hamptons’ artisic scene that I regarded artists as fallen angels who had lost their cultural authority and prophetic leadership. When I met the English painter Haydn Stubbing—who lived nearby in Sagaponack—I tried to explain to him why I needed to keep the local artistic scene at arm’s length in order to find the space, in Emerson’s words, to do my own thing.
Haydn decided to challenge my prejudices. One day I was busy in the kitchen of the main Lodge at Fishcove, and as I came out hurriedly through the swinging doors to the kitchen to the buffet counter where we set out the food, I noticed that someone had put up a whole exhibition of small paintings. I was about to hurry on into the office, but was stopped by the presence of these works that hovered in clouds of colors between landscape and thoughtscape. I stopped and then began to study them more closely. To my surprise and delight, I found them to be truly contemplative works that gently forced you to stop whatever you were doing or thinking and just stay with them. I also noticed out of the corner of my eye, that Haydn was off in the corner of the dining room, studying me as intently as I was studying the canvases.
“Did you do these?,” I asked, for Haydn looked more like a British eccentric or bearded general from a Monty Python skit than a New York artist.
“Yes,” he answered with a clipped finality.
“But these are good!” I said, expressing a disbelief that anything around there really could be.
“Yes, I think so too,” Haydn said and smiled. He had given me a test to see if I was just an opinionated jerk, or was open to having my prejudices challenged.
Having lost the argument, I began to take Haydn very seriously, and visited his studio in Sagaponack, and then, in the fall of 1976, his studio in London. Together we began to work on an exhibition of his paintings for Lindisfarne-in-Manhattan for the spring of 1977.
To have Varela as our scientist in residence and Stubbing as our artist in residence brought forth an ecology of mind in which Varela’s studies of color perception and Haydn’s contemplative “spots of time” were dependant co-orginations of a shared culture. Ted Morgan’s essay on Lindisfarne in the New York Times Magazine was right. Lindisfarne was serving the function that had hitherto been characteristic of the Parisian café or salon. In Le Lapin Agile, Picasso would listen to discussions about the fourth dimension, the philosophy of Poincaré, the time-space of Einstein, and then go home to work on Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.[i] At Lindisfarne, Varela would describe in his lectures how color was not an impression made by frequencies of light on a passive subject, but a performance of the nervous system that used the entire body, and that color vision was a concert in which all the elements we might wish to single out as “red” did not come in as signals at the same time; they had to be orchestrated by the brain in order to perform the embodied experience we called “red.” Listening to Varela, Stubbing was confirmed in his artistic experiments in his own studio and worked even harder to cross the diachronic and the synchronic in which object and subject became participations of color, space, and time rather than representations of objects within a single linear source of light.
Haydn Stubbing stopped time to turn space into a process of color in his exhibition of paintings in the Parish Hall, and in this same Parish Hall, the cinematographer Hilary Harris showed his films that sped up time to reveal the city as a giant organism that only became visible if we saw space and time in a different relationship. Harris’s footage became more widely known later when it showed up in Godfrey Reggio’s film Koyaanisquatsi, accompanied by the music of Phillip Glass.
When I was in London visiting Haydn in his studio in the fall of 1976, I also met with the Research into Lost Knowledge Group, and from this contact I invited Keith Critchlow, Warren Kenton, John Michell, and Kathleen Raine to come to spend a period of residency as scholars at Lindisfarne-in-Manhattan. This London quartet proved to be outstanding contributors to Lindisfarne’s program, and they delighted so much in being in New York that they taught me how to appreciate the city more deeply and not get caught by the negativity of our neighborhood’s crime and attempted and break-ins.
Warren Kenton had a wonderful sense of humor and was a companionable housemate, and he loved ranging all over the city on the days he was not teaching. He went to Brooklyn to meet with “the Rebbi” of the Lubuvitcher community, and on all the subways he bravely went where no Lindisfarner had gone before. Charming and charmed he was, and with his economy return ticket to London in hand, he was unexplainedly bumped up by British Airways to business class and given his flight home on the Concorde.
John Michell chose to walk all over the city, and for a farewell gift to the community, he hired his favorite street musician—a Country Western steel guitarist from the Village—to give a command performance for us all in the Parish Hall. Keith Critchlow and his beautiful daughters who accompanied him during his residency were especially popular and his course of lectures on sacred architecture inspired a whole group of followers. Keith shared with us the material from his new book, Time Stands Still. John Michell gave the material from his book The View over Atlantis and shared with us the material from what was to become his next book, Megalolithomania., Warren Kenton (a.k.a. Zev ben Shimon Halevi) taught a course on the Cabbalah that was a preview of his popular Thames and Hudson books on the Cabbalah, and Kathleen Raine gave a series of lectures on Blake’sBook of Job that also became her next book with Thames and Hudson. Lindisfarne, it seemed was indeed expressing a civilized riverine culture of both the Thames and the Hudson.
I was a little anxious in inviting the very proper Kathleen Raine to come to live in a commune, for Kathleen looked and talked like Agatha Christie’s Miss Marples. I bought flowers and a bottle of sherry for her guest room, and hoped what was really the rector’s converted dining room without an outside window would be acceptable to her. Upon her arrival, Kathleen surveryed the room, and said, “This will do nicely, but please get rid of that bottle of sherry and get me a bottle of Scotch. ” I relaxed and knew that we would get along nicely. I had introduced our Chilean scientist in residence to the esoteric mysteries of Laphroaig—the kind of Islay single malt Scotch you drink with a knife and fork–so Kathleen’s request was easier to accommodate than John Michel’s insistence on smoking his odiferous herbs so close to the entry.
In fact, Kathleen became the most enthusiastic Lindisfarne communard of the London Gang of Four. Kathleen ends her three volume autobiography on an elegiac note in contemplation of Gavin Maxwell’s death and her own readiness for death, but she took on a new life when she left Lindisfarne and she told me later, when we were traveling in the Lakes Country and Scotland with my daughter Hilary, that she was so impressed with my going ahead with Lindisfarne in spite of all the financial difficulties, that she decided that one should just go ahead and do whatever cultural project one felt was right for the time, and not worry about its economic feasibility. So upon returning to London after her scholar-in-residency, she established the elegant literary journal Temenos, kept it going for a decade, and then passed on her leadership to an expanded board, as she founded the even more ambitious Temenos Academy. In spite of her angina—or perhaps because of the Scotch she said she took for it—Kathleen kept at it into her nineties, when she received a C.B.E from the Queen. With the patronage of the Prince of Wales, the Temenos Academy and the Prince’s School of Sacred Architecture continued what Keith had started at Lindisfarne’s School of Sacred Architecture in New York and Crestone.
Amplifying this work of an anti-modernist recovery of the sacred was the work of another British scholar, Lindisfarne’s own community member, Christopher Bamford, who offered a seminar on the Western Hermetic tradition. The Jungian analysts Robin van Löben Sels and Julie Bresciani taught seminars on analytic psychology, Jungian astrology, or conducted dream workshops. David Spangler lectured on esoteric Christianity, and was picketed by members of a Greenwich Village cult whose rituals involved keeping no secrets among themselves and sleeping in lay equality with the leader. (They seemed particularly vexed that the church had been given to Lindisfarne and not to them.) And continuing with our theme of the planetization of the esoteric, Elaine Pagels from Princeton lectured on Christian Gnosticism, Pir Villayat Khan gave a program on Sufism, two Tibetan rinpoches lived with us as contemplatives in residence, and we developed a working partnership with Baker-roshi and the San Francisco Zen Center. Culturally, we were becoming bicoastal.
And to insure that we were not simply arty and other-worldly, we also had a colloquium on world order with Saul Mendlovitz’s Institute for World Order, and various global thinkers such as Richard Falk, Elise Boulding, Ali Mazrui, John Mbuti, Alasdair Taylor, Seyed Hosein Nasr, and Nechung Rinpoche—who had been Tibet’s ambassador to China when he was imprisoned by Mao–gave public lectures.
Elise Boulding discussed her work on a Feminist re-visioning of history in her book, The Underside of History and her presence as a Lindisfarne Fellow energized a whole new emphasis on the role of women in the transformation of culture. Hazel Henderson and Michaela Walsh lectured on green economics and micro-markets and microfinance for women’s artisanal industries around the world. Alice Tepper Marlin lectured on her efforts with her group, the Council on Economic Priorities, in deconstructing the dominant corporate model of economic development, and Nancy Jack Todd spoke of her work with John Todd with Ocean Arks on renewable resources for boats in the coastal fishing industries of Costa Rica.
And I, for my contribution to the curriculum, gave the lectures that became my two books—one on contemporary affairs, the other on the re-visioning of patriarchal prehistory—Darkness and Scattered Light: Four Talks on the Futureand The Time Falling Bodies Take to Light: Mythology, Sexuality, and the Origins of Culture.
Paradoxically, this high time of the seventies that was Lindisfarne’s bright moment of cultural relevance was, economically, the worst possible time to try to fund-raise to restore our historical landmark church. The Carter years of stagflation was a time of grime and crime for New York and the city was going bankrupt. Every cultural and social institution was hard-pressed and calling down on the limited economic resources of the city. In spite of all our activity for three years, every single foundation, individual, or group turned us down for the funds needed to restore the four buildings of the church, which at that time was only $250,000. The only funds I was able to raise were one general operating grant from the Lilly Endowment and two grants for our scholars in residence program from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Humanities Division of the larger Rockefeller Foundation, as well as an anonymous donation from one of our resident students.
For the twenty-five years of building three different centers for Lindisfarne–in Southampton, Manhattan, and Crestone–my life was fundamentally shaped by the all too real cultural process of fund-raising. And if I have anything like grandfatherly advice to pass on to the generation of my grandchildren about founding new cultural projects and institutions, it is not to look to foundations, wealthy individuals, and the general process of fund-raising to support the work. The institution should be a wealth-producing collective from the start and its Fellows should not only be poets and painters, but scientists whose discoveries and inventions can produce the royalties to support the whole endeavor on its own activities. No doubt, this strategy will generate conflict between the scientists with patents and fat checks versus the poets with slim volumes, but if all donate a percentage of their royalties, a poet with a bestseller—like Robert Bly with his Iron John—may be able to match a scientist with a new drug, technology, or software. Lindisfarne was too dependant on fund-raising, and in this process, it could not possibly compete with Columbia and Princeton, or with social services desperately in need of funds for people in extreme situations.
The most important supporter of Lindisfarne throughout its history was Laurance Rockefeller. I had met “Mr. Laurance”–after the plantation fashion of distinguishing among the Rockefeller brothers in Room 5600 at Rockefeller Center–for the first time when he came to one of my public lectures, in March of 1974, at Synod House in the Close of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York. He liked my lecture and invited me to lunch with him and Jean Lanier the following week at a small restaurant on the Upper East Side, and there he invited me to serve on his brother Nelson’s “Critical Choices Commission” for Nelson’s run for the presidency.
When I declined, and explained that basic to my philosophy with Lindisfarne was the necessity for the separation of cultural authority from political power, he was pleasantly surprised. He seemed to be taking it for granted that those who rise in the career open to talents—men such as Harvard’s Henry Kissinger or Columbia’s Zbigniew Brzezinski—reach a point where they are invited to switch from the academic to the governing class, and usually jump for it. When we had lunch together again in 1978—this time by ourselves atop Rockefeller Center–I was afraid to ask outright for the hundreds of thousands of dollars it would have taken to sustain Lindisfarne-in-Manhattan. I found it difficult to be direct with Laurance because he spoke about various people and projects in an indirect and eliptical manner that always baffled me.
Over the years, and in no small measure because of Laurance’s firm corrections, I began to understand that I was too brusque and candid in intellectually criticizing others, and just too blunt for the social norms of his class. Since I never really had a father present during my adolescence to teach me how the social world worked, I thought I could just study, work hard, and get ahead. But in Laurance’s class, there is a whole set of unspoken rules and inbred manners that one learns from one’s parents and that become reinforced in prepschool and Ivy League universities. In this social world, I was completely lost. But, unfortunately for Lindisfarne, this world is the world of fund-raising for schools, institutes, museums, universities, and charities.
Gregory Bateson also came from a privileged class, but he spent most of his life trying to escape that world, and for Gregory, unlike many of his British compatriots, intelligence always trumped class, so I could relax in his presence and enjoy the philosophical banter. In fact, Gregory’s arrival to live at the Lindisfarne Association as its scholar-in-residence in 1977 marked a turning point in my own development. At the beginning of Lindisfarne in Southampton in 1973, I was very much under the influence of the spiritual communities of Findhorn in Scotland and Auroville in India.
Auroville was full of youthful energy, redolent of the French utopian socialism of the nineteenth century, and full of a twentieth century’s concern for ecological thinking, so I tried to set up a network of cultural exchange in which people from Arcosanti, San Francisco Zen Center, Auroville, the Research Foundation for Eastern Wisdom and Western Science in Starnberg, Germany, and Findhorn in Scotland could come to Lindisfarne. But the only connections that really took hold were with Zen Center and Findhorn. Because I did not wish to turn Lindisfarne into a spiritual ashram with me as its guru or central personality, I made myself emotionally unavailable to followers, and this frustrated the majority of the people living in the community precisely because they had dropped out of school in search of more personally sustaining forms of knowledge.
Consequently our community members often tried to make David Spangler into their guru; indeed at that time, David became my own councilor and confessor, but he steadfastly resisted becoming a guru for the community. Frustrated, some turned to the charismatic Richard Baker-roshi as the abbot people were looking for and missing in me, and Baker-roshi sent his senior monks from the San Francisco Zen Center, Dan Welch and Reb Anderson, to serve as our first contemplatives in residence and teaching fellows. But along with this process of positive projection onto David Spangler or Baker-roshi also came a negative oedipal psychodynamic, and I served as the screen for the communitiy’s resentments. Intentional communities tend to attract people from failed or broken families who come to community in pain and in search of a second chance with another kind of family.
Since they were all entirely dependent upon my fund-raising abilities to sustain our household, I became the shadow parental figure. Because I was not comfortable being admired, or lovingly caring for a garden of followers, I tended to give an unconscious energy to the community members’ psychological attacks, as these were useful in proving that Lindisfarne was democratic and not hierarchical like Paolo Soleri’s Arcosanti or Steve Gaskin’s The Farm. So when Gregory Bateson came to live with us, this articulator of the double-bind was the perfect anthropologist to begin the process of my shifting Lindisfarne away from the emotional swamp of utopian community to the brighter air of a scientific circle working to articulate a new planetary culture.
I had discovered Gregory’s Naven in the stacks of Honnold Library at Pomona College when I was doing my research for my senior honors thesis. My teachers at Pomona were still working on the difference between Wittgenstein and the Vienna circle, and no one there knew enough to point me in the direction of cybernetics, the Macy Conferences, and the birth of what we would now call complex dynamical systems. Furthermore, no one on the faculty at Pomona knew enough to point me in the direction of Vico when I rediscovered the wheel of the Viconian cycle. As I articulated the isomorphic processes in the cultural progression of archaic Greek statuary, Mayan architecture, and English poetry, no one there was familiar with Jean Gebser’s first articulation of cultural phenomenology in the nineteen-forties. But at least Pomona, in the spirit of a good liberal arts college, did allow me to write a thesis on my own philosophy of history instead of insisting that I do a study of a single author or a single text.
When I read Varela’s paper on non-dualism, “Not One, Not Two,” in The Whole Earth Quarterly, I knew that I wanted Varela to succeed Bateson as our second scholar-in-residence for our new facility of Lindisfarne-in-Manhattan. Varela’s non-dualism seemed to get at the heart of my discomfort with Gregory’s dualism of object and information, pleroma and creatura, mind and nature. And where I looked to Whitehead for help in thinking my way out of what Whitehead called “the bifurcation of nature,” Varela looked to Nagarjuna and Indian Buddhist Madhyamika philosophy, and appeared to be working on a synthesis ofphilosophies East and West that was highly appropriate for Lindisfarne’s mission to articulate a new planetary culture. At the time Varela published, “Not One, Not Two,” he was finishing the work on his book Principles of Biological Autonomy, so with his residency at Lindisfarne we were taking a big step forward in the emergence of the new mentality, or what I would now call the shift from the linear causal systems of the Galilean Dynamical Mentality to the Complex Dynamical Mentality—a mentality ushered in by Poincaré in Paris in 1889.[i]
In the universities at this time modernism–like a comet breaking up into a shower of smaller meteorites—was breaking up into postmodernism. The “Big Narratives,” as Francois Lyotard had argued–of Darwin, Marx, and Freud–were breaking up into les pétits récits of Richard Dawkins, Michel Foucault, and Jacques Lacan. The reductionism of linear causality was being replaced by a decentered system of Jacques Derrida’s différance and Paul De Man’s deconstructionism. In Gebser’s terms, I would classify this as the deficient mode of the dying Mental structure and not the efficent mode of the emerging Integral structure. While my former graduate school classmate from Cornell, Gayatri Spivak, was leading the charge for deconstructionism uptown at Columbia, I was downtown at Lindisfarne in Chelsea working to articulate the new Integral mentality.
Because I came to Lindisfarne out of a university background at Cornell, MIT, and York University, I kept looking back to the academic community for recognition, but its entering into the era of postmodernism and deconstructionism insured that it would never accept anything I was trying to do. I suppose because universities are owned and operated by big business and big sports, the faculty in the humanities are alienated from this success culture of Winners and locked into a mood of anger and resentment in their unending cold war of Marxism versus capitalism. Stalinism can be discredited, the Berlin Wall can fall, and the Soviet Union can disintegrate, but academics in the humanities–like Jehovah Witnesses waiting for the End of the World–simply cannot let go of their Marxist materialist world view; they simply move from Marxism to postmarxism and just keep on trucking from postmodernism to the New Historicism. It was a complete waste of time for me to look to academe for the constituency of Lindisfarne.
Ironically, it was Hollywood and the business community that appropriated the whole New Age movement and found out how to make millions out of it. I simply entered the market too early with Lindisfarne in the Hamptons. Like Kaiser’s Henry J small car that was introduced in the late forties, failed, and then was succeeded by the Volkswagen beetle, my meta-academic center with lectures on holistic health, meditation, yoga, Tai Chi, Sufi drumming, and new paradigm science was too soon and too cheap. Had we ignored students and academic drop-outs and addressed ourselves to professionals in search of an interesting weekend in the Hamptons, and charged five times as much as we did, we would not have lost Fishcove but would have been the Next New Thing for the seventies and on into the eighties, but I simply didn’t have the heart, or the stomach, for that kind of market-driven popular cultural activity.
As modernism was disintegrating into numerous postmodernisms in the university, a small intellectual elite was at work on articulating the new Integral mentality, but a greater number of people in the counterculture were at work trying to culturally retrieve the premodernist world-view that had been obsolesced by modernism at the beginning of our era. As Marshall McLuhan pointed out in his Laws of Media[ii], when a new medium comes in, it obsolesces the dominant medium and culturally retrieves the previously obsolesced medium. At Lindisfarne-in-Manhattan, we worked to effect the shift from the Mental to the Integral, and, at the same time, we worked to retrieve the premodern in a fanciful “return to nature.” In one part of the program, we had Bateson and Varela, and the shift to complex dynamical systems, but at the other pole we had courses on the Western Esoteric tradition, the Cabbalah, sacred geometry and medieval architecture.
To sustain our program of classes and public lectures, to man the doors, take tickets, and clean the streets of all the litter of a single downtown day, our resident urban commune of 24 people had to work as our support staff in exchange for their room in the facility and a small stipend. In the spirit of democracy, I took the same stipend and shared in the communal labor.
The non-resident members and students of Lindisfarne who lived in Manhattan had jobs and independent lives, were interested in Lindisfarne’s program and responded enthusiastically, but their tuition for courses only made up 13% of our budget. They, for the most part, disliked the resident commune. The commune returned the favor, as many of them hated living in the city and wanted to be living a crunchy granola way of life in the country. Lindisfarne was psychically split down the middle and was simply unsustainable, both psychologically and economically. When I received the 28th rejection for funds to restore the buildings, I knew I would have to give up. Ironically, after we left, a Canadian millionaire acquired the four buildings and spent millions to turn the church into the hot disco,Limelight. By then the seven year cycle of the seventies’ idealistic counterculture was over and the Reagan anti-environmental eighties were on their way, fifties’ materialism was back in, and the hippie became a yuppie as the new pattern of drug abuse became, not looking for God with LSD, but searching for pleasurable contacts with cocaine and ecstasy. It was definitely not a time to hang on, waiting for Lindisfarne to be appreciated.
When Lindisfarne-in-Manhattan did disband in 1979, it dispersed in three groups. Beatrice and I accepted Maurice and Hanne Strong’s invitation to establish Lindisfarne as a retreat and conference center in Crestone, Colorado. Christopher Bamford, Dian Woodner Bamford, Will Marsh, and Dana Cummings moved to the Berkshires to expand the series of Lindisfarne Books I had established with Harper and Row into an independent small publishing venture, The Lindisfarne Press. And Michael Katz and Nina Hagen, and the O’Shea family moved to the San Francisco Zen Center to continue studying with Baker-roshi and Reb Anderson. To help develop our relation with Zen Center, we also made a donation to the San Francisco Zen Center from funds Lindisfarne had received amounting to $32,000 to buy a facility outside the city to serve as our conference center. I had looked at the Bob Dylan House in Woodstock, as well as other houses upstate in Cooperstown, but these funds were not sufficient for a down payment and mortgage payments, so we donated the funds to Zen Center toward building a guest house for their Green Gulch conference center, where we hoped to hold our future Fellows meetings. Baker-roshi was able to raise other matching funds and the Lindisfarne Guest House is still there as part of Zen Center’s Green Gulch farm.
From 1976 to 1979, Lindisfarne in Manhattan sustained a non-stop concert of ideas, artistic expressions, and a political vision that was neither red nor blue, but green a good seven years before the Greens in Germany tried to articulate the third way between socialism and capitalism. In designing our 1978 Lindisfarne Fellows Conference on “The Cultural Contradictions of Power,” which took place in Manhattan and not Southampton, I tried to challenge Stewart Brand’s eager desire to serve as a countercultural Brzezinski in Jerry Brown’s campaign for the presidency by casting all our shadows into the light. To me, it seemed as if the counterculture was becoming the over-the-counter culture. In this outrightly political conference, Hazel Henderson, Wendell Berry, and Francisco Varela challenged Howard T. Odum’s engineering approach to the environment and biological systems, Robert Thurman gave a talk on “The Politics of Enlightenment,” and Sim Van der Ryn spoke of the difficulties of being a green State Architect for California. But I need not have worried about our gang becoming corrupted in the move from mystique to politique, for the Governor of California who was going to become President was Ronald Reagan and not Jerry Brown.
But to initiate an energy in a culture is not the same thing as institutionalizing it. Ralph White came from Findhorn in Scotland to visit Lindisfarne-in-Manhattan, and he always credited us with being the precursors for what he set up after us as The Open Center in Soho. The metaphor I often used was that Lindisfarne was the crocus announcing a change of season, but not the tree that would bear fruit for the autumn of another season.
My Andy Warhol fifteen minutes of fame that had enabled me to establish Lindisfarne actually lasted for seven years–from the interview with me in Timemagazine in 1972 to the Bill Moyers’ Journal television program in 1979. This PBS program aired in March, but by then it was too late to do Lindisfarne any good, and the public response only confirmed me in my distaste for a celebrity life in America. The program was repeated about five times around the country, I got hundreds of letters, some of them absolutely crazy, and some full of hate or a desire to convert me to their sect. To be a public figure in America–be it politician, rock star, or famous writer–you obviously had to be rich enough not just to have personal assistants but your own personal Secret Service.
There was simply no such thing as an authentic intellectual in the new Technetronic America. You were either a figure of power like Kissinger or Brzezinski, or an egomaniac and TV celebrity hungry for media canonization. The era of my childhood in which cultural figures such as Thomas Mann or William Faulkner could be writers and concentrate on their work was gone. Two experiences at that time confirmed my contact dermatitis to fame and my disgust at the vulgarity it took to survive in book tour America.
The first was on a lecture in Ohio. I had finished my talk and was walking out when a young woman came up to me, jammed a microphone into my face and said:
“I didn’t hear your lecture, and I haven’t read any of your books, but give me the jist of your message for our radio station.” She assumed, as did many working in the media, that she was doing me a favor to take notice of me, and that like any salesman on the road, I should have a pitch ready that could be compressed into a soundbite or two.
I refused to give her the interview, but I thought of her again when a man from Stockholm interviewed me a few months later in Greenwich Village for Swedish radio. He had read several of my books and actually asked me questions that had to do with ideas and philosophy, and not with my favorite flavor of ice cream or the kind of pop music I liked.
The second experience came when I was packing up at Lindisfarne-in-Manhattan and preparing to move out. When the doorbell rang, I thought it was one of our shippers, but I was met by a middle-aged woman with what looked to be her teenage daughter. When she saw me, the mother screamed in delight like an aging Beatles fan: “Oh! It’s you! I brought my daughter to meet you! I saw you on theBill Moyer’s Journal.”
I tried to be polite, as this woman was not rude and insulting, even if she was overenthusiastic. She went on in a torrent of questions that had nothing to do with books, ideas, or anything else I had discussed with Bill Moyers. Finally, after going on at length, even she realized it was time to go, so she thanked me for taking the time with her, and as she turned, she looked back at me and said:
“Oh, by the way, what was your name again?”
As I closed the door, I smiled to myself as I realized that the interview must have lasted sixteen minutes because my Warholian fifteen minutes of fame had obviously expired while we were talking.
Now when I visit the old neighborhood in the Flatiron-Chelsea section, I do find myself fantasizing what it would have been like if I had been able to raise the funds to restore the church and effect a shift for Lindisfarne from what Joan Halifax-roshi calls “the volunteerany” of a commune to a professionally hired and competent staff. In the gritty and dark culture of New York in the seventies, the neighborhood was filthy with garbage and litter, we had several break-ins, and one student was raped going home after a lecture. Now the neighborhood has been completely transformed. Cambridge University Press is directly across the street, along with several other academic publishers, a block-long Barnes and Noble bookstore is on Sixth Avenue, Armani is around the corner on Fifth Avenue, and scores of art galleries are scattered throughout Chelsea. In keeping with the hypercapitalism of the new century, the old church has been transformed into a minimall of boutiques.
Once again, as with a New Age intellectual spa in the Hamptons in 1973, I was too early in articulating cultural trends and too unskilled and uninterested in the business of generating wealth to be a real American. I was just too full of a working class kid’s naïve fantasies of wanting to grow up to be an authentic European intellectual to know how to survive as an intellectual in Baudrillard’s simulacrum of Amérique.[i]
[i] See Jean Baudrillard, Amérique (Paris: Grasset, 1986).
Humberto Maturana and Francisco J. Varela, Autopoiesis and Cognition: the realization of the living (Dordrecht, Holland ; Boston : D. Reidel Pub. Co., 1980.).
 See Arthur I. Miller, “How Picasso Discovered Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” in Einstein, Picasso: Space, Time, and the Beauty That Creates Havoc (New York: Basic Books, 2001), 85-127.
 See William Irwin Thompson, “Literary and Archetypal Mathematical Mentalities in the Evolution of Culture” in Self and Society: Studies in the Evolution of Culture (Exeter, UK: Academic Imprint, 2004).
 Marshall and Eric McLuhan, The Laws of Media (Toronto; University of Toronto Press, 1988), p. 7.
 See Jean Baudrillard, Amérique (Paris: Grasset, 1986).
[i] See William Irwin Thompson, “Literary and Archetypal Mathematical Mentalities in the Evolution of Culture” inSelf and Society: Studies in the Evolution of Culture (Exeter, UK: Academic Imprint, 2004).
[ii] Marshall and Eric McLuhan, The Laws of Media (Toronto; University of Toronto Press, 1988), p. 7.
[i] See Arthur I. Miller, “How Picasso Discovered Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” in Einstein, Picasso: Space, Time, and the Beauty That Creates Havoc (New York: Basic Books, 2001), 85-127.
[i] Humberto Maturana and Francisco J. Varela, Autopoiesis and Cognition: the realization of the living(Dordrecht, Holland ; Boston : D. Reidel Pub. Co., 1980.).
William Irwin Thompson (born July, 1938) is known primarily as a social philosopher and cultural critic, but he has also been writing and publishing poetry throughout his career and received the Oslo International Poetry Festival Award in 1986. He has made significant contributions to cultural history, social criticism, the philosophy of science, and the study of myth. He describes his writing and speaking style as “mind-jazz on ancient texts”. He is an astute reader of science, social science, history, and literature. He is the founder of the Lindisfarne Association.
His book, Still Travels: Three Long Poems was published in 2009 by Wild River Books. Order a copy from Amazon.
Works by William Irwin Thompson
Memoir – Farewell Address at the Lindisfarne Fellows Conference
Memoir – Pilgrimage to Lindisfarne: 1972
Memoir – The Founding of the Lindisfarne Association in New York, 1971-73 – Part I
Memoir – The Founding of the Lindisfarne Association in New York, 1971-73 – Part 2: A Community in Fishcove, Long Island
Memoir – Building a Dream – Part One: Lindisfarne in Crestone, Colorado, 1979-1997
Memoir – My Dinner with Andre Gregory: Lindisfarne-in-Manhattan, 1977-1979
Memoir – Building a Dream/The Shadow Side Part Two: Lindisfarne in Crestone, Colorado, 1979-1997
Memoir – Building a Dream/The Cathedral Part Three: Lindisfarne in Crestone, Colorado, 1979-1997
Memoir – Conclusion: The Economic Relevance of Lindisfarne
Memoir – Raising Evan and Hilary: Reflections of a Homeschooling Parent
Memoir – Sex and the Commune
Memoir – Raising Evan and Hilary
Memoir – With Gregory Bateson’s Mind in Nature
After Heart Surgery: Hokusai’s Great Wave
A Lazy Sunday Afternoon
Nancy Grayson’s Bookstore
On Reading “The Penguin Book of English Verse”: on my iPad and Exercise Bike
Wild River Books/Poetry – Nightwatch and Dayshift: Cezanne
Anatolian Days and Nights and the Cultural Evolution of Spirituality
And the Votes are In: The American Elections of 2010
Avatar – When Technology Displaces Culture
Bedtime Story for a Civilization
The Big Picture: Reflections on Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines
The Big Picture, II
Child Abuse and the Catholic Church
The Digital Economy of W. Brian Arthur
From Shamanism to Religion, Part Two
From Religion to Post-Religious Spirituality, Part Three
From Religion to Post-Religious Spirituality: Conclusion
January 1, 2011: Reflections on the Philosophical Notions of Republicans
January 6, 2011 – Part Two: The Etherealization of Capitalism
Nature and Invisible Environments
Of Culture and the Nature of Extinction
On Nuclear Power
On Religion – Part One
On Religion and Nationalism: Ireland, Israel, and Palestine
On Transnational Military Interventions
A Pagan Ur-Text of the Lebor Gebála Érenn
Part 1 – The Shift from Industrial to a Planetary Civilization
Part 2 – The Shift from an Industrial to Planetary Civilization
Part 3 – The Shift from an Industrial to a Planetary Civilization – The Recovery of a Cosmic Orientation
Part 4 – The Shift from an Industrial to a Planetary Civlization – The Global War for Drugs
Part 5 – The Shift from an Industrial to a Planetary Civilization – The New Jerusalem
Part 6 – The Shift from an Industrial to a Planetary Civilization – Catastrophes as the Spur to Institute Tricameral Legislature
Part 7 – The Shift from an Industrial to a Planetary Civilization – Complex Dynamical Systems and Tricameral Legislatures
Part 8 – The Shift from a Industrial to a Planetary Civilization – Israel and Palestine: Sic transit gloria mundi
Part 9 – The Shift from an Industrial to a Planetary Civlization – On Sarah Palin and the Technocratic Society
Part 10 – The Shift from an Industrial to a Planetary Civilization – On Conspiracy Narratives as Expressive of the Transition from the Nation: State to the Noetic Polity
Part 11 – The Shift from an Industrial to a Planetary Civilization – Global Awareness and Personal Identity
Part 12 – The Shift from an Industrial to a Planetary Civilization – Conclusion: The United Nations
Political Meditation for the Fourth of July, 2011: Can We Shift from Empire Back to Republic?
St. David’s Day, 2011, Technology and Social Change
Saint Patrick’s Day, 2010: Us and Them: Identity and the State
Some Reflections on Hurricane Sandy and an Outline for a New Civilization
Technical Hubris: and the Sinkhole of Obama’s Centrism
Television and Social Class
Thanksgiving Day, 2010: The Uses and Abuses of History
The Elections of 2010
Thoughts on My new Kindle App: on My Mac iPad