LINDISFARNE CAFE – MEMOIR
The Founding of the Lindisfarne Association in New York, 1971-73 – Part Two
I finished my first book, At the Edge of History, in 1970 and sent it off in the mail to Harper and Row in New York. But while I was writing, I also began to experience another mode of artistic expression in lecturing.
At Cornell and MIT, my classes had been small, so teaching was simply talking to a close and familiar group and lecturing was only needed on occasion. But York in Toronto was a public university, and there I found myself asked to give lectures to classes of 200. In addition, I supervised a team of five to six teaching assistants.
At first, I was inexperienced and afraid of so large an audience. But I had acted in six plays in college, and this exposure to dramatic stage fright had given me some experience in getting past it, so I worked at steadying myself and overcoming my anxiety. And then, after a few lectures, something peculiar happened. I began to feel a different presence inside myself; actually, I began to feel a whole new sense of self. A larger kind of mind took over the field of my consciousness, and I would begin to say things I didn’t know, or didn’t realize I knew. I can remember the first time it happened, when I said to myself as I was lecturing, “Oh, that’s interesting. I didn’t know that.”
Along with the shift in my sense of self, came a shift in the general feeling-tone of the audience. Restless students became listeners. I seemed to be able to conjure an atmosphere in the room. There is something about public lecturing that forces you to think intensely. When you are writing, you can let your mind wander, or take a break, or look out the window; but public lecturing is like playing improvisational jazz before a live audience. You have to be absolutely present, and yet, paradoxically, know how to get out of the way to let the Daimon take over. Undoubtedly, the kriya yoga I was doing for three and a half hours each day aided this process of ego/Daimon restructuring.
I remember the first time I listened to the pianist Keith Jarrett’s Seventies classic, Köln Concert, how I realized in a shock of recognition that he played the piano in the same way that I thought, spoke, and improvised in a lecture. Unconsciously, I had stumbled into a new art form, one that wasn’t an academic lecture or a poetry reading. So I called this new form “mind jazz.”
I was told by one of my teaching assistants that some of the more psychedelic students would sit in the back row, smoke dope, and exhale: “Wow! that is vintage Thompson, man; he’s really whaling today!”
Another of my graduate teaching assistants–who himself had dropped acid scores of times–insisted he could pick out the word in which my mind went “clunk” as I shifted gears from a racing third to psychic overdrive. Faculty members began to sit in on my lectures. Some producers at CBC downtown heard about me and also began to sit in. People began to drive in from neighboring towns.
In 1971 after reading the reviews for my book in The New York Times, Gene Fairly–an advertizing executive from New York–flew up to sit in on one lecture, and then continued to fly up every week. He would be responsible for Lindisfarne moving, instead of onto a rural commune in Ontario or New England, to the Big Apple itself.
It was certainly unusual to have someone fly up every week from New York to sit in on my lectures for my freshman humanities class, so when Fairly asked to have coffee with me after a lecture I agreed. Over the weeks remaining in the term, the after-lecture coffee became a habit.
We talked of many things, and Fairly shared his interests in cultural history and the works of the German philosopher, Oswald Spengler. Gene had been in military intelligence at the very end of World War II, had learned German, and after the war gone into advertizing. He was part of the Mad Men generation, lived in Manhattan and also in East Hampton, and said he was at a turning point in his life when he saw the rave reviews for Edge and decided to read the book, and then to sit in on one of my lectures.
I told him that I too was at a turning point and was getting ready to leave the university. Together with my wife Gail and my college friends Leon and Linda Leeds, we planned to set up what Ivan Illich called a counterfoil institution.
At that, Gene’s ear’s picked up, his eyes brightened with interest, and he began his own slow and charming advertising campaign to get me to think of establishing Lindisfarne, not on some farm in rural Ontario, but more in proximity to New York either in the Hamptons where he lived, or around Litchfield in Connecticut.
As an advertizing executive, Gene was more habituated to the postwar fifties culture of success in Manhattan and the Hamptons, and had absolutely no feeling for or experience with the sixties counterculture, so our world-views were quite divergent from the start.
I confess to never having heard of “the Hamptons” at that time, so the area held out no caché to me at all. Since I had a lecture to give in New York, Gene offered to put me up at his apartment on the Upper East Side and drive me out to the East End of Long Island. I was impressed with this, for me hitherto unknown enclave, but the splendor of the Hamptons—especially East Hampton–put me off. I liked the New England whaling town ethos of Sag Harbor, and the woods around it, but the mansions of the rich and famous did not seem to me to be the right place to locate Lindisfarne, so I continued to think of the Berkshires.
But Gene knew that a promotional campaign was not simply a single ad, so he put off lobbying for one place over another and concentrated instead on offering to be of help in the difficult process of legal incorporation for a not-for-profit corporation. He had a wealthy friend in the person of John Upjohn, so he convinced me we should fly together to see Mr. Upjohn at his home and headquarters in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Mr. Upjohn obliged Gene, and donated the funds for the legal fees for our incorporation as what the I.R.S. calls a 501(c) 3 not-for-profit educational corporation. In keeping with Gene’s knowledge of what law firm the best people used in Manhattan, he chose the very expensive firm of Paul Weiss.
Now it began to be my turn to do the commuting to Manhattan by air. Over the weeks and months I began to be introduced to a whole new world of fund-raising lunches at the Century Association, the University Club, the Knickerbocker Club, the Harvard Club; and in most cases my little book had gone ahead of me, so people were willing to meet me and become interested in Lindisfarne.
Harrison Salisbury, the Editor of The New York Times; Harry Hollins of the World Law Fund, Amyas Ames, the Chairman of Lincoln Center, and his wife Evelyn Ames; James Morton, the newly appointed Dean of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Nancy Wilson Ross, Jean and Sydney Lanier, all became part of a new circle that gathered around the founding of the Lindisfarne Association in New York, and many of them agreed to serve on Lindisfarne’s founding Board of Advisers.
When I returned from Lindisfarne in Northumbria to our rented farm in Bradford, Ontario, the time had come to quit my professorship and choose the land and location for the establishment of the Association. The property of the Theosophical Association in Ojai, California was on the market, and this facility was singularly appropriate as it had been the site of the counterfoil institution of the previous generation in the Trabuco College of the philosopher Gerald Heard, but I vetoed going to California as I felt there was too much gravitational pull toward making Lindisfarne into another Esalen.
Large houses and farms in Connecticut didn’t offer us enough rooms for students, so once again Gene campaigned for the Hamptons, and since our constituency had developed over the year in New York City, there was a stronger case now for being close and distant to New York at the same time. So Gene and I went out to look at two properties on the market in Southampton.
The first was an elegant, if run-down, great estate in the village in walking distance from the beach. This Stanford White mansion had recently been a private school, and as we inspected its grand wood paneled ballroom, Gene loved it, but its F. Scot Fitzgerald atmosphere of wealth and privilege turned me off. The price was close to a million dollars, so I felt it was out of the question.
The second property was the old Fishcove Inn, which had been built in the Depression. With its 29 half-log cabins and main Lodge overlooking Fishcove, adjacent and connected to Peconic Bay, the facility looked like a Boy Scout camp. Its small thirteen acre site had fourteen hundred feet of private beach and a large open field surrounded by scrub oaks. Gene disliked it intensely, but I loved it for its simplicity and lack of pretention, and its much lower price tag of $270,000—a figure I still found daunting.
I firmly refused to go along with making an offer on the grand Stanford White estate and told Gene that I wanted the Fishcove Inn. Gene was deeply disappointed, but as he also deeply wanted Lindisfarne to locate in the Hamptons where he had a rental place and many friends, he reluctantly agreed. And so we made a down payment, established a mortgage held by the owner, and I prepared to move down from rural Ontario to Southampton and set to work full time with my first wife Gail on turning a summer’s inn into a winterized year-round facility for Lindisfarne.
Gail became the office manager who held the whole project together, but we could not hold our marriage together as the glue that holds an intentional community together is often extracted from the nuclear family. As happened particularly in Findhorn and San Francisco Zen Center, and generally throughout intentional communities and spiritual centers in the seventies and eighties, the sexual liberation of the sixties became applied to the communal living experiments of the seventies. The solid containing cube of the nuclear family became the complex geometry of the tesseract in which unseen geometries and facets of relationships proved to be fascinating but unstable in the three dimensional space of ordinary human time.
It seems that at the same time humanity was growing beyond the simple Copernican model of the solar system, the family was also growing beyond the patriarchal model of the solar father Zeus. Feminism was on the rise, and many intentional communities became caught up in projects of cultural retrieval of the matristic culture of the early neolithic era. Homosexuality was coming out of the closet after the Stonewall riots, and monogamy was becoming challenged by an eroticization of culture in the seventies in which multiple partners embodied its own chaotic dynamical system.
Gene Fairly had his own hidden agenda in wishing to work for Lindisfarne, but without Gene’s help, I would never have come to know all the people in New York who would become part of Lindisfarne’s twenty-five years of cultural activity. I would have pursued a rural vision of escape in a millenarian fantasy of waiting for the edge to become the end. I did not understand at that time that these sorts of historical visions express the imagination’s ability to pick up on multiple and diffuse signals and compress them into images, dreams, and visions that the narrower field of consciousness can recognize and react to. For example, in Hieronymus Bosch’s painting, “The Temptation of St. Anthony,” he presents a vision of the end of the world, with fish, swans, and flying ships dropping fire onto a burning city. Around 1500, many felt that the end of the world was imminent. It wasn’t the end of the world, but it was most definitely the end of the old world-system, and Bosch’s imaginative perception of aerial bombardment and burning cities was truly prophetic.
At their best, as in the paintings of Bosch or William Blake, such mystical visions can be prophetic; at their worst they can be manic delusions that substitute historical events for long-term cultural transformations. One can feel the implications of a cultural transformation in one’s lifetime, but one cannot experience phenomena like the hominization of the primates or the shift from hunting and gathering to agriculture. One could feel the spirit of a new age at the meetings of Ficino’s Academy in Florence, but no one there could experience the Italian Renaissance as an event.
In the working of the hypnagogic state that turns sensory signals into images and dreams, the imaginative sensitive can fall victim to what A. N. Whitehead called “misplaced concreteness.” I was indeed living in a time of the transition from one world-system to another, but the place to experience this newly emerging “planetary culture” was not in a return to nature on a farm in rural Ontario, but in concert with others whose creative lives were the true location of the event.
So Lindisfarne began in New York and Southampton, but as it developed it never fulfilled the needs and longings of Gene Fairly. His fifties and my sixties sensibility were almost a generation apart. Eventually, we went our separate ways, but without him, there never would have been a way to start.
2 For a philosophical discussion of the aesthetics of improvisation, see Edgar Landgraf’s “Improvisation: Form and Event” in Emergence and Embodiment, Ed. Bruce Clarke and Mark B. N. Hansen (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009), p. 179.
To read Part 1, click here.
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