Updated: May 30
Cont from Memoir -1, 22 Jan. ’72 The Greenwood Press
Eventually, I want you to detail the relation of Page to Chadwick.
O.K. It is a good story. We were all in it together. And he wrote the epitaph for Chadwick, which I consider the last word.
So how did Chadwick manage?
He never made any demands. He just went about his business. He dug beds. He finally received a couple of hundred dollars a month and he lived on that with the most modest needs. He grew his own food for the most part right in the garden.
Wasn’t there a time when he was almost dismissed?
Oh, that’s a good one. The University, actually Howard Schontz, an administrator, called one tray and said he thought Chadwick would have to leave. He was sorry. I asked why. Because he was an alien (a British subject) and there was a law on the books of the University that no aliens could work on the campus–a hold over from removing Japanese from gardening positions during the Second World War. I said Chadwick wasn’t Japanese. Didn’t matter. A law is a law. I asked if they would try to work it out. I should have known better. Howard called back a few weeks later and said they had come up with a solution. Chadwick could enroll in a dummy class at Cabrillo College (a local community college) and that would make him a student and as a student he could continue to work in the garden. I couldn’t take it in, but I didn’t say a word. I went over to Cabrillo, paid his fee and enrolled for him. I don’t think I ever told him. I think it was $73.00. I thought of it as a blood tax for cooperating with the obtuse bureaucrat.
Chadwick sounds like a free spirit.
He was. How many free spirits do you get to meet in your life? There were no strings on him. It was the ground for his being a representative of an economy of gift. That’s the great thing Chadwick taught me. There is always more than enough. Who hoards the resources? And because he worked such hours he had almost no leisure time. He just went home to bed and got up before sunrise and was back at it. It wasn’t all work. We had our share of parties–Alan was a great cook and would prepare banquets with the greatest of care. He loved putting on a grand show. My wife and I marvelled at his stewpot, the way he would layer fish, meat, poultry, vegetables, etc. Then, when it was time to sit down and enjoy, something would set him off and he would split. So the party went on without him. His temper tantrums often got in the way of his enjoying a good time. It was a great strain for everyone. No one had ever met such a tempestuous and preposterous person, but there wasn’t anything anyone could do about it. He had been on a mine-sweeper in the Second World War and had broken his back and the strain of it all had made him neurasthenic, an old fashioned word for very neurotic. His nerves were permanently jangled, which is why he resorted to gardening. Other people were the problem. A loud cough could set him off. He could have a fit if you sneezed. Everyone had to get used to it, which was impossible; I should say, ignore it, which was impossible; O.K., live with it. It was impossible. Steve Kaffka, who worked with him the most, Chadwick called him “Cherubim”, would often come down to my house and complain that he couldn’t take it any more and I would give him my standard lecture on the distinction between idiosyncratic display and institutional process, and then send him back up into the lion’s maw. It worked for a while.
Didn’t Kaffka finally break with Chadwick?
Yes, he turned his back on Alan and became the student Director of the Farm Project and Alan was more or less stuck in the Garden, so he began to make plans to leave.
What was the story about going to New Zealand or Australia?
First of all, he repeatedly threatened to leave. There was always a small group of disciples who were willing to go off with him no matter where. The Seychelles, which no one had ever heard of before, was the first destination. Then New Zealand. He actually booked passage. One woman was going to leave her husband and a rag-tag of students were going to trip along. It seemed preposterous. I decided to subvert it. Huey Johnson, the head of the Trust for Public Lands, was coming to the campus to meet the Chancellor. I asked him to meet with Chadwick and tell him how important it was for Alan to continue to do his work in California. It did the trick. Huey was very persuasive and Alan changed his mind and decided to stay.
Where did he go when he did leave?
He went to Saratoga and began the garden there behind the Odd Fellows, which was pretty symbolic in itself, with the support of Betty Peck. She invited him to come over and she made a place for him. It was one of the best gardens Alan designed and it served the Saratoga school system. Every time I went to see it, I was impressed and inspired. It was an idyllic scene, a kind of small utopia. Everyone who entered that space was enchanted and transformed, somehow even more so than the UCSC garden. He had free rein for his magic and Betty Peck was his muse and she brought school children in and offered instruction. We had started that process somewhat in Santa Cruz. I got Alan to put in a little garden at West Lake School, where my daughter was a student. Eventually LifeLab, which is a national gardens in schools movement, using gardens as a science lab, developed out of this impulse. Now we hope to do the same with our Americorps grant, using homeless gardener labor to put productive organic gardens into local schools.
How did his departure come about.
Out of complete despair. I was at my wit’s end. He started sleeping on the floor in the little garden chalet. There was no bath room, no bed, no nothing. I remember lugging my grandmother’s refrigerator up there. I gave him a fancy horsehair mattress, Bill Russell, a student friend of mine from Harvard, had given me, which his grandmother had owned. I built a toilet and bath and paid for it myself. I hardly believe it looking back. Alan slept on the floor and I thought my god he has become Bartleby in the story by Melville. There was a great refusal going on and finally he left. Another play on words–refuse, refusal, and refuse, what you would throw away or what isn’t wanted anymore, garbage. Chadwick ended up like refuse. Compost. He suffered his own fate. His theme was life into death into life. So he left and went to Saratoga.
Then after Saratoga he went to Green Gulch, the Zen Farm at Muir Beach.
Yes. Alan was very fond of Richard and Virginia Baker, close friends of mine, as I said, and he started the famous farm at Green Gulch, which eventually became the supplier for Chez Panisse and the Greens, the great restaurants in Berkeley and San Francisco. I happened to be visiting the Bakers when Alice Waters showed up to discuss buying produce and I met her then. Deborah Madison, who trained at Chez Panisse and was the chef at the Greens, acknowledges Alan in her second Greens Cookbook. All of this is wonderfully connected for me–I think of Alan as having a central significance in the formation of California cuisine, which is associated with the success of Chez Panisse and the host of restaurants who have followed in Alice’s example. Chadwick’s produce, partly because of the French intensive system he employed, a system which supplies the Paris restaurant market, was a natural for a new high-quality restaurant trend in California. Strictly organic and of very high quality.
But your herbal theme still goes begging.
I would like to see this carried through with a major emphasis on herbal cuisine. No one has made culinary herbs the central feature of a new menu, but for a few herb garden restaurants, like the one outside of Seattle–the Herbfarm–with Ron Zimmerman and Jerry Traunfeld, at Fall City, which is a national model. I’m waiting and biding my time. It will happen. It is one thing I can predict as the obvious next step in terms of restaurant trends. There will be a new herbal cuisine where vital roots in the form of culinary herbs come to the dinner table and everything is subordinated to them. The menu will be organized around the herbs. That’s my dream cuisine.
No more sprig of parsley as throw away garnish. Aren’t there restaurants in China that operate on this herbal theme?
Yes, they’re called Public Health Restaurants and the menu is organized according to ailments and recipes with special herbal ingredients appropriate to those ailments. That’s the idea. In our country, this would be difficult because of the division between food and drug, where medicinal herbs constitute a kind of no man’s land in-between, thanks to their rejection by the medical profession and the suppression by the FDA, although this has lifted somewhat in the last few years due to legislation favorable to the health food industry. Medicinal food is an oxymoron to the Food and Drug Administration.
Didn’t you run a restaurant in Santa Cruz with such an herbal theme?
It was called The Wild Thyme. And it was. Page was the maitre d’ in his Gary Cooper shoes–he bought Gary Cooper’s loafers from the sale of his effects after his death. He was smashing, pouring coffee and seeing people to their tables, in his blue blazer and rep tie, the foremost American historian and one of the handsomest men I have ever known. He loved it. We had a great time, although I was out of my depth. Another example of “call my bluff’, which will be inscribed on my tombstone, as one of my two epitaphs. Eloise Smith and my wife were in the kitchen. Marta Gaines was our hostess with the mostest. We had fun, but I got sciatica from the strain, an admission that I was out of my depth.
You must have had some highlights.
When Buckminster came in he told me it was the greatest restaurant idea he knew of but for one in New York he was writing a book about. When someone like that resonates with your ideas you can put up with a lot of boobs. I had a whole story line about thyme and the thymus gland (we served them as Sweetbreads or Ris de Veau) and thymOs, the old Homeric root term. I happily gave my Physicalist/Vitalist spiel to anyone who would sit still for it. Jack Stauffacher designed the table text which included the main ideas. Virigina Baker was my big fan and goaded me into table-side recitations, which I finally could make to fit any time frame, from five minutes on. I had it all diagrammed on a large display card. It went well with dessert, like a vintage sauterne.
Why didn’t you launch your herbal cuisine from there?
I tried, but it was too early. And I was too inexperienced as well as too pre-occupied with the day-to-day strain. And nobody I was involved with shared my thematics. We had taken over a failed operation and it was all we could do to pull it up and make it a success, which we did. The cooks we inherited were basically fry cooks and thought I was a crank. Now it would work. I remember demanding from the kitchen that they make a hamburger to a Julia Child recipe, which included thyme. I thought that would be terrific–a thyme burger. Customers complained about the pork. There wasn’t any, but they associated the thyme flavor with pork sausage. So they all laughed at me. I made them serve Sweetbreads–thymus glands– which Joanne LeBoeuf made, a wonderful dish. Ris de Veau.
Why thymus glands?
I was a devoted student of immunology and was studying the relation of herbs to the immune system, e.g., thyme and thymus. Thyme is Thymus vulgaris in Latin which is what set up the whole line of thought–my Thymos Doctrine. Thymos is the Greek root word for both the herb and the gland. I learned about thymos from Tillich as “the courage to be”, which makes additional sense when you understand the thymus as the organ of courage, the center of the immune system, the defense against illness and disease. I still think this is one of the best connections I ever made.
What made you think this would work as a restaurant theme although I can see that this is a spectacular example of your associative abilities?
My ideas were fairly clear, but executing them was another matter, especially on a menu. I was still more professor than restaurateur. I thought the thymOs theme was perfect for a restaurant. I was just a little ahead of my thyme.
You started the Whole Earth Restaurant on the campus? That was before the Wild Thyme?
Yes. In 1970. So I already had some experience under my belt, although I was not involved with the day-to-day operations once it was set up. It was a good project and the purpose was to have the Chadwick Garden supply the produce. I returned to Santa Cruz, in January, of 1970, ready for Earth Day, just off of my sabbatical, knowing my days were numbered, as I was coming up for tenure. I had suffered a mild nervous breakdown while on sabbatical because a good friend and colleague of mine in philosophy went mad and shot himself and I had to fly back and bury him. I took Alan by surprise and showed up at the garden before the funeral just to say hello. He saw me and ran down the path and jumped full tilt into my arms. I don’t know how I kept my balance, his legs around my chest. It was a typical stunt. Then he looked into my eyes for the longest time as if searching my depths knowing the despair I was in. He sensed what this death meant to me. I was told in no uncertain terms that I was dead as far as my career at Santa Cruz was concerned and my colleague had acted it out for me by putting a pistol to his head. I took it personally.
What prompted him to take his life?
His suicide was a result of the Chancellor ruining his career over a Vietnam Teach-in talk he had given. He was singled out by the Chancellor as the scapegoat for the event–there must have been thirty of us who spoke– and the Chancellor brought censorship proceedings against him which was the death knell for his career. His death meant I could no longer avoid the end of my career at UCSC. I knew I was dead so I had to resurrect myself. I needed a new life free of the institutional confines of the obtuse bureaucrat. So I dreamt up a nonprofit corporation called USA–University Services Agency. I was going to reconstitute the US of A in myself, out of dread and concern over what was going to happen to me. It was the beginning of free fall and I didn’t have a parachute, golden or any other color.
What prompted you to think of starting a nonprofit corporation?
I had heard the Rev. Ike, on midnight radio, in Northern Wisconsin and had sent for his prayer cloth. He was one of the Black prosperity preachers. “You can’t lose with the stuff I use!” “The lack of money is the root of all evil.” That sort of thing. (I just read that he has died. His obituary was in the New York Times for July 31, 2009). I had visited Father Divine, another prosperity preacher, when I was at Union Theological Seminary, which was my introduction to the type. It sounds nuts to me, as well, but it’s what happened. I fingered this little piece of serrated cut red prosperity prayer cloth in my pocket and up came a million dollar non-profit corporation, so I said to myself, “O.K., let’s do it!” Upon my return to Santa Cruz, I ran into Herb Schmidt, the campus chaplain and a great friend of mine, we’re fellow Lutherans. It was January 3, 1970. He was the first person I met when we first visited Santa Cruz before we moved there. He met us at his front door on a Sunday afternoon, barely wearing a black bikini and holding a martini, my kind of guy.
So you fell in with him?
He was on his way to the administration to get the only public restaurant on the campus, so I nailed him and we started USA (University Services Agency) as the corporate entity and the Whole Earth Restaurant, our first of many affiliates. The Chadwick Garden supplied the restaurant. We couldn’t get Chadwick produce into the food services at the colleges, even though we tried, because organic was still out to lunch and sometimes his lettuce had a bug in it, which was unacceptable to an institutional food service, like Saga, where everything had to be pre-packaged and homogenized, not unlike a prison.
So who ran the Whole Earth Restaurant?
It started out as a group effort. My wife and I, and Jerry Lasko, who was the Roman Catholic Chaplain, and Herb Schmidt and his wife, Grace. We started it and then we hired Sharon Cadwallader, who wrote The Whole Earth Cookbook and sold a million copies. We celebrated the 25th Anniversary in 1995.
You should have franchised it?
I forget the name of the guy who started the Good Earth Restaurant chain, which I guess was very successful, as an organic restaurant effort. Yes, I thought of it, but I had no business training. The restaurant was the first in a series of nonprofit entities or project affiliates?
We lucked into a vein. I invited Stuart Brand, the Editor of the Whole Earth Catalog, to come and gave a talk at the restaurant and he spoke about the hip sub-economy that was going to appear in the 70’s as a consequence of the 60’s. He was part of the Briar Patch Trust, which was very much like our effort in Santa Cruz, another nonprofit umbrella for all kinds of entrepreneurial enterprises. Dick Raymond was the guiding light; they had a better sense of the economics involved, whereas I was just dabbling in community development, not knowing it was going to be my future career, even though I put myself deliberately on this path. I should have trained myself for it. I regret now not having gone to Harvard Business School as well as Divinity School.
So you added affiliates to USA.
It happened almost immediately, just as Stuart said it would. We started the Child Day Care Center at the University and then some hippies came up and talked to me and Herb about a food store downtown and I remember we looked at each other and bang!–we had a sense of what we had launched. We eventually had twenty affiliates. Herb applied his prodigious energy to the effort, his Lutheran manly chestiness of conviction, his thymos, which he has in abundance. We eventually passed the million dollar mark, on up to almost three million in cash flow. I wrote it up as How To Become A Spiritual Millionaire, Where Money Is No Object, but I never published it. I took an interest in the historical background of nonprofits and realized I had been trained to it anyhow at Harvard Divinity School by two professors–George Huntston Williams and James Luther Adams. George was the historian of the radical reformation and I learned from his book on the subject that the radical wing of the reformation included the Anabaptist movement which started on a given evening, I forget the date, when a priest was re-baptized. I do remember his name–Joseph Blaurock. This event established the right to assemble for the freedom of worship, in other words, a voluntary association, for which the nonprofit corporation is the legal form. I remembered the spiritual roots of the work we were doing in Santa Cruz when USA became a dynamic force in the community and it was extraordinary that the three of us running the show were all ministers. James Luther Adams was my professor of social ethics and taught the history of voluntary associations. Adams and Williams were Unitarians, so they were part of the free-spirited left wing of Protestantism, which had established a center at Harvard, which was in decline when I was a student there, the tail end of a great tradition. I found a book recently called: Knights of the Golden Rule, which tells the story of the great social reformers in the American tradition of the social gospel who preceded J. C. Penny, who was a great exponent of the Golden Rule. I learned about some of them from Jim Adams, who was the translator and interpreter of my teacher, Tillich, I might add.
Tillich had a social activist side, didn’t he?
Yes, he was a Religious Socialist in Germany between the two world wars out of concern for social action and he was President of SelfHelp, in New York, where he maintained an open door for all the refugees from Germany who beat their path to him for advice and aid. I include his wonderful essay on “The Philosophy Of Social Work”, in my book on homelessness–The Quality of Mercy.
So your nonprofit experience was another initiation into the Golden Rule and an economy of gift?
Exactly. I saw the nonprofit as the vehicle for addressing not only economic development but any social need. Ideally, it is the institution of free spirits. Adams was fond of mentioning that nonprofits, or an office with a phone and typewriter, was the first thing Hitler shut down when he came to power. Free spirits are anathema to dictators, in politics and religion.
How come the role of the nonprofit is so overlooked in terms of its importance for American life?
It is astonishing. There are millions of nonprofits in the U.S., representing every conceivable interest. It is the big institution between family and government and a kind of silent structure, drawing very little attention to itself. It is easy to start one, rather easy to run one, and mostly very rewarding in ways altogether different than the economy of greed. You almost never get rich in a nonprofit unless you are the former head of United Way, that jerk with the perks.
Doesn’t Malthus come in here again?
Yeah, another jerk. When I read about his population theory and the impact on capitalism and the starvation wage and the piling up of enormous profits for the business tycoon, the Captains of Industry, I put two and two together.
Wait a minute. Elaborate, if you please, on the themes you mention.
Well, Malthus argued that the food supply would always be out of phase with the population, inasmuch as population proceeds exponentially and the food supply arithmetically. There would always be more people than food and jobs. It was an argument regarding population theory applied to capitalist exploitation, the basis of Social Darwinism. If there would always be more people than jobs, you could pay a starvation wage and therefore build up enormous profits, which is what happened.
So what did they do with the money?
They made so much money, they had to find a means of giving some of it away, so they started charitable foundations of which the nonprofit corporation is the recipient in terms of tax-deductible grants. So you have a major structure of twin institutions–the charitable foundation and the nonprofit corporation, as the triumph of Protestantism and the capitalist spirit–the old Max Weber theme in action.
Does that bother you?
Not if I get some of the grants. You know the ad for scotch: “While you’re up get me a Grant.”
Why didn’t you institutionalize the garden as a nonprofit?
It never occurred to me. Sometimes it is better to let a project go its own way and not impose a structure on it. The nonprofit has a lot of disadvantages and is rather cumbersome in terms of hands on activities. In other ways, it would have helped, I can see that now. We just never thought of it. Chadwick would have found it stifling, just as he eventually found the University stifling. We received a few donations along the line, but not much.
Isn’t there a story about the first donation?
Oh, you mean the Easter Event. Putney and Perry run an auto repair firm in Santa Cruz and Vern Putney took an interest in Chadwick and wanted to make a contribution. I think it was $400, which in those days was considerable. So I staged a little ceremony. It was Easter Sunday and it hailed and Chadwick went bananas. He thought it was some kind of bad omen, big hail, snowballs of ice, busting through the garden. He ran and hid in his fury and I had to send Jasper Rose to look for him so we could receive the contribution. Chadwick finally reappeared and I gave a little speech and Vern stood there with the check and then Chadwick ceremoniously opened his hands very slowly–he had these enormous hands–and looked at everyone and said: “Do you see these hands? Do these hands look like they would touch money?” He meant to say filthy lucre. We were all a little dumbfounded. I grabbed for the check and missed, but we eventually got it. It was a typical Chadwick stunt. The dramatic note squeezed for all it was worth. One time I was going to have him record something and we went over to the studio on campus and he stood in front of the mike and was about to speak and suddenly said the hell with it and left in a huff. That’s how unpredictable and skittish he was, although he did perform in some theatrical works on the campus and did that as a seasoned professional.
Are there any good memories of events?
Oh, lots of them. One of the best was when I wanted to read the “Smokey the Bear Sutra”, by Gary Snyder. I knew Gary through the Zen Circle around Baker-roshi. I got my dad to dress up as Smokey the Bear, in an actual bear costume. It was hilarious. My father always reminded me of a bear–there is a poem by Delmore Schwartz–which begins with a line from Whitehead: “The withness of the body”. My father was that line. I had Chadwick present him with his shovel. an came forward at his stentorian best and intoned in a loud voice–“I do believe, no, do I perceive, no, could it be, will wonders never cease–is it Mickey Mouse?, No!, Donald Duck?, NO!–it’s SMOKEY THE BEAR!” And with the greatest Shakespearian flourish, he presented the shovel to my bear-dad and then I read the Sutra, in the courtyard of Crown College. My daughter was along for the show.
She was still on good terms with Chadwick?
Oh, you know that one, as well? That was another bad episode. We had an open house at the garden and my wife and daughter came up with me–there were lots of people milling about. Chadwick had a pet bird in a cage and my daughter, who was about five, opened the door and reached in to pet it or hold it and squeezed it to death. It was inadvertent. One of my favorite words for such occasions. As opposed to criminal negligence. Chadwick came a moment later and had a fit. I pretended to spank her and got her out of there and she never went back. When Chadwick had a fit it had a lasting effect.
In spite of the temper tantrums, Chadwick was a generous person?
Yes, he was. He was very patient with students. The first talk we had I remember telling him about the drug problem on campus, what with students experimenting with psychedelics. I told him the Garden would probably function as a therapy station and I was right about that. Students would stumble in coming off of a wayward LSD high and Chadwick would patiently show them how to dig a bed and plant seed in a flat and prick out into double-dug beds after germination. The garden played a crucial role in this respect and some students actually dropped out of school to work in the Garden because it was more meaningful for them. Turn on, tune in and drop out. Chadwick became the flower power guru for that generation of students who were trying to find the root again.
What is your best memory?
There are two. One is the picture of Alan taken by Lucy Kennard, when she was a student at UCSC, now a famous photographer, sitting among the delphinium, columbine and foxglove. It was a breathtaking setting, one of my favorite memories of the glory of the garden. The other is getting up early and going up and picking flowers with the students at sunrise, practically to Hayden’s Oratorio: Creation. I can hear the music now, the dawning of the day on the Third Day of Creation, when God planted a Garden. You can’t beat bending over to pick daisies or tulips at daybreak with beautiful coeds who also had the bloom. You could hardly tell the difference between them and the flowers. All of the flowers would be put out in a kiosk across from the garden, so University people and students could stop and pick up a bouquet for their office or room. It was the economy of gift in action. Chadwick never wanted money for it–he wanted to give it away. It was an uncompromised principle of his. It was the principle of plenitude and an economy of gift. That’s where I learned it in practice, although Erik Erikson first told it to me in theory.
How was that?
He came over one day shortly after my daughter, Jessica, was born and we were chatting in the study and he said: “Do you know how I define my theory of identity? I said, “How?” He said: “You have it to give it away!”
So gardens are this image of self-sacrifice and transcendence toward the ground and therefore gardens are associated with creation?
Of course. You put it well. I have been struggling with Voegelin’s phrase–“transcendence toward the ground” as a term for spirituality and you could almost take it literally in terms of the symbolism of gardens and their association with creation and paradise and our essential being. It is a little complicated, but not if you understand the metaphorical meaning of “rooted” when applied to spiritual life. Think of transcendence toward the ground and the restoration and reaffirmation of vital roots in juxtaposition with industrial society as a world above the given world of nature and you have a good contrast.
And the garden has always suggested the horizon of original goodness in creation, more original than original sin.
The theme of the unambiguous affirmation of the goodness of creation, a theme I learned from Paul Ricoeur, came alive in the Chadwick Garden. It is complicated because the first account of creation (Genesis 1–2:4) is the unambiguous goodness account; the second account (Genesis 2:4 ff.) is the ambiguous one, where, on the Third Day, the Garden of Eden comes in and the prohibition not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge That Everything Is Possible, otherwise known as the Knowledge of Good and Evil. This would take us into a disquisition on the Genesis account of Creation and the Myth of the Fall, and the two texts involved. I learned about it from Kierkegaard, Buber and Erich Voegelin, as well as Tillich and Ricoeur. Gardens, nevertheless, are reminders of paradise and anticipations of the Kingdom of God, so that’s enough for me.
Why did you change your title?
It has to do with this theological problem. The salvation of nature, where nature participates in the Fall, is a theme I picked up from Tillich, although it goes back to the Apostle Paul, and the Paradise/Arcadian Garden theme. I thought the latter was simpler and more direct. I hesitate to get into the theology of the salvation of nature. It is part of my despair over the future, I guess. I was going to include Tillich’s sermon on the salvation of nature, but I gave that up, as well. I regret it, because the title spoke to me and I wanted to think it through. It was important to me because Tillich spoke of salvation as an act of cosmic healing, where nature and society, as well as human beings, are saved. This goes against the Protestant dumb-down where only our souls are the object of salvation, a kind of terrible effect of Cartesianism. Nature and the social order can go to hell. The manipulation and control of nature in industrial society and modern Physicalist science and technology has contributed to this view even though most scientists would deny the meaning of the soul let alone saving it. Spiritual life is at such a flat stage, I didn’t know how to carry through the theme of the salvation of nature.
Like Rosenstock-Huessy said: “The sound of the axe is the natural philosophy of America.” Only now it is the chain saw. There is a need for a new philosophy of nature, with a theological dimension.
Isn’t there another sermon of Tillich’s that relates to your theme?
Yes, it is the line from Schelling, that I thought of when Chadwick died, which is the title of Tillich’s sermon in The Shaking Of the Foundations: “Nature, Also, Mourns For A Lost Good.” Tillich begins with the words of Paul, which are profound, to say the least:
“For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.” Romans 8:19-22.
This ecstatic Pauline meditation on nature has had a great play in what you call the theological dimension of the environmental movement.
As well it should. Lynn White, Jr., opened the debate with his obtuse attack on the Christian or biblical tradition in a famous article on the historic roots of the environmental crisis, and the theme of stewardship of creation which he took to mean domination and exploitation which is an absurd distortion of the biblical meaning and then tried to make up for it by extolling St. Francis as the patron saint of the environmental movement. Anyhow, there is a great resource for reflection in the biblical tradition, foremost being the garden/wilderness theme that George Williams elucidates in his wonderful book–Wilderness and Paradise–which, as I mentioned, figured so centrally as an inspiration for me.
So you took the easy way out by using the slogan of the Garden derived from Goethe’s Italian Journey, which gave you a quasi-pagan reference rather than a biblical one.
True. It did make it easier and it was our motto. Arcadia is a great theme and serves me well. There is a nice essay by Bruno Snell in his Discovery Of the Mind, I should reread: “Arcadia and the Discovery of the Spiritual Landscape.”
Wasn’t there a movie made of the Garden?
Michael Stusser was a student and I obtained a small grant and he shot a half hour film. There is only one brief glimpse of Chadwick in the entire film, which is odd; he was so dramatic he should have been the star. But Stusser focused on the Garden and the students working in it. The remarkable part was the night he went to the studio to look at the rushes and coincidentally Norman 0. Brown, our big shot professor at the time, was recording his meditation on the garden, which he called “My Georgics” and it happened to come over the loud speaker in Stusser’s studio. Stusser ran around looking for him and talked him into letting him use it as the sound track for the film.
Eventually, Chadwick ended up in Covelo?
Yes. Huey Johnson was riding on an airplane with Richard Wilson, who was an environmentalist-rancher in Round Valley, or Covelo, in Northern California. Huey asked Richard Wilson to take him on and move him up to Covelo. Baker had to move him out–they couldn’t take him any more at the Zen Farm at Green Gulch. He thought they sat too much and rode around in fast cars, when they should have been gardening. So Wilson took him and set him up with a garden project in Covelo, a small town in Round Valley, in Northern California. Dennis Tamura and Steve Decatur and Ramon Chavez went up with him and they carved out a garden only to watch it wash away in the odd flash floods in Covelo. Then he moved to a small farm area and developed a wonderful garden and an apprentice training group. It was a further consolidation of the Chadwick network where many young people were coming to receive the training and the discipline from the Taskmaster. He took on the role of a Master and proceeded to reveal mysteries. Richard Wilson was devoted to Alan and provided for him and the remarkable community that gathered, including woodworkers and crafts people, as well as gardeners. It was a very powerful time and Chadwick came into his own, much more so than at the University. We have over a hundred fifty lectures, all of them on tape, in an archive preserved by Wilson and Craig Siska and Virginia Baker, which we have developed at UCSC Special Collections.
You must have visited him there.
Yes, Page and I made a number of trips over the years. They were memorable. Page was fun to travel with because he was like a shield and he always paid for everything. He was generosity personified.
What do you mean by “shield”?
He was “larger than life”, as the saying goes, so he opened up this space for you, which was very protective and nurturing and inspiring, at least it was for me. He made you feel invulnerable by following in the swath he cut. I remember the little motel where we stayed the first time we went up to Covelo, which, you have to realize, was like Shangri-la, a perfectly intact round valley you drop into, about thirty miles in diameter, surrounded by the Trinity Alps. We venture into the Buckthorn Bar, a redneck hangout, where you had to be careful. Page ordered a double bourbon with a particular flourish. I never knew anyone who routinely ordered a double, so I was impressed. We had a wonderful trip there one Easter and I arranged for an Easter egg hunt and have this photo of Page proudly showing off an egg he found which is special because Page referred to himself as a chicken rancher. He had taught a seminar and written a book-The Chicken Book–which he was proud of. I remember one episode where we stopped at the edge of the valley on our way home and Page bought some bantam chickens from an old Indian woman. He was a connoisseur of chickens. Late in life, under the influence of his wife, Eloise, he became an artist and did etchings of chickens and barnyard foul.
He illustrated your childrens’ book on the homeless–Florence The Goose.
Yes, he did. I was thinking who I might recruit in Santa Cruz to do the illustrations and one day I realized that Page had all these etchings of geese, so I asked him for them and they just fell into place for the book. It was magical. There was Florence in all manner of poses.
You brought Chadwick into your C.C.C. connection with Gov. Brown.
We had a C.C.C. Encampment at Covelo and Frank Davidson, who had been instrumental, along with Page, in starting Camp William James, in 1940, came out from Boston. We slept out on the lawn in front of Chadwick’s house and I sneaked in and slept in Chadwick’s bed and he had a fit when he found out–I should say FIT. He was also outraged over our cleaning the fridge which was filthy, which must have embarrassed him. I found a book from the UCSC Library taken out in my name: Goethe The Scientist, by Steiner, so I put it in my car to return. This all made him mad. Freya Von Moltke was there visiting and they had been up at Richard Wilson’s place in the mountains. We were going to have a great banquet in Freya’s honor and Chadwick stalked off in his temper and we were left to carry on without him. That was the last straw for me, so I didn’t speak to him for a year. I was just fed up. He finally came down to Santa Cruz and called me and we had a reconciliation and he told me about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table and so on and I didn’t have a clue. He was telling me about the future of his work and my role in it and speaking in Arthurian Round Table riddles and then asked me if I understood what he was alluding to and I sort of nodded my head and then he hollered at me knowing I didn’t get it at all. It was embarrassing.
But this was an entry point for your interest in the Elizabethan Arcadia, including Dee and Bacon.
I knew nothing about it at the time. Now we could talk. Chadwick would have loved to have re-established the Entertainments which were famous in England, beginning in the summer of 1575, in a kind of aesthetic outburst of these themes. The Entertainments revived the Order of the Round Table and introduced the Faerie Queen who is Astraea or Gloriana–the Virgin Queen and the British Minerva. All of these associations were intact in a kind of morphic resonance–they were alive in their meaningfulness with Queen Elizabeth as their embodiment. The Good Shepherd (Poimandres) and the Hermit (Hermes) or wise man were incorporated in the Entertainments and set the scene for the Arthurian and Arcadian imagery of Sydney’s Arcadia and Spenser’s Fairie Queen. So my current interest in Arcadia and Ecotopia is another version of this kind of utopian thought of the Golden Age, “which permeated and influenced the whole development of Elizabethan pageantry, culture, learning, politics and national belief’, as Peter Dawkins puts it in his essay: Arcadia.
Then Chadwick fell ill, didn’t he?
Then he got cancer and he left for parts unknown. He lived in a cabin for a while with a friend and then he went to West Virginia on a hooey hooey venture, where he was taken in, in both senses of the phrase, by a spiritualist teacher named Paul Solomon, both names assumed–the Apostle and the King– in a remarkable act of self-aggrandizement. Talk about an egomaniac. It was in the Shenanodah Valley, the place of my favorite song, sung by the St. Olaf Choir. It was a New Age center, a spin-off from Edgar Cayce, who was Solomon’s guru, where the esoteric and occult were available for breakfast. Paul Solomon had a belly like a basketball and I was so shocked when I met him, I asked him how he could be a New Age Guru and not be able to tie his shoes. He didn’t think it was funny. Tara Singh was there, an Indian mystic, who was as delicious looking as a chocolate bar. At the Conference, Tara spoke about the two masters in residence, one false and one true, and we were supposed to guess which one was Chadwick and which one was Solomon.
What was the occasion for your going there?
I went there to give a lecture at the Conference Solomon organized. I knew Alan was dying and I wanted to see him. When I went in to see Alan I saw the Angel of Death hovering over him. It was heartbreaking. Bucky Fuller was there and gave a talk so it was nice to see him again although this time I don’t think he remembered me. Sir George Trevelyan was there, a famous Anthroposophist, from England and Barbara Marx Hubbard. My great friend, Rolf von Eckartsberg went with me and I remember driving up into the mountains for breakfast and having a shorty beer and the people around us talking as though they had won the Civil War.
Did Alan seek any medical treatment?
Alan refused conventional medical therapy, but I had heard that he had undergone psychic surgery and I found a woman who had witnessed it and asked her to tell me about it. I should have taken notes. It was very bizarre. She told me in detail about the “entities” who entered the room and did their bit and then sat in a row against the wall. She was able to see them. She described them to me. It was not successful. Alan finally left when it was clear he was dying and he came back to Green Gulch, along with Acacia, his devoted nurse-attendant, who saw to his every need. I arranged for his return with the Bakers and they were willing to care for him. People lined up to hear his last words, including Jerry Brown. There was the Governor of California, with hat in hand, waiting to go in to hear him. Why not? Chadwick revealed nature’s mysteries from his deathbed.
Didn’t you have a final conference meeting before he died.
Yes, I organized a good-bye at Green Gulch. Jack Stauffacher did the broadside for it. I asked Alan to speak. I had seen him do it in West Virginia, where he was already so ill, it was curtains. He got himself up in his powder-blue Good Will suit, and came in to tell
us, again, the fairy tales of Rosemarinus and Calendula and the Nightingale and the Emperor. Everyone was moved, except for one guy who thought Alan was a ham, which I thought was ungenerous, given the circumstances. There was a huge storm, you could hardly move, as though nature itself was acting up, a horrendous ocean storm, a stage setting for Alan as King Lear, to rage against the coming night and the dying of the light.
Are you glad you knew Alan?
I have regretted meeting some people in my life, but not Alan Chadwick. It was a fate. There is no subjective opinion about it. That’s what I meant about institutional process–what we had to do with one another, small scale conceded, was far beyond our personalities or our own subjectivities. That was idiosyncratic. Even though it kept getting in the way as it usually does.
Wasn’t there some other event involving a psychic?
Yes, the lady in Santa Barbara. I went down to see Lotus Land, a fabulous garden developed by Ganna Walska, who was a famous Russian beauty and an opera singer. Her garden is very famous, especially for the Blue Garden section and the planting of Euphorbias around the house–unforgettable. This was some years after Alan had died. I met this woman psychic there. She saw an aborigine lurking behind a tree. She looked like she sold shoes at a military commissary, one of those utterly dumpy women with psychic powers. Somewhat later, I received a tape of her seance with Alan and it was quite remarkable. I don’t have any reason to believe she knew Acacia, who took care of Alan during his illness and she refers to her by her other name. Alan had asked after her and had a message for her. He had a message for me. He described me standing on the great greensward or meadow in front of the Pogonip Club, overlooking Santa Cruz and Monterey Bay and said something about how one day I would save it or be involved with it in some special way. There would be a garden there on a great scale. I was amazed because I went on to organize the Greenbelt Initiative to save Pogonip and have plans for a large-scale botanical garden there in Chadwick’s memory which may still come to pass with our Homeless Garden Project. So what do I know?
Tell about the opening of the Whole Earth Restaurant.
Sharon Cadwallader, was doing filing for me and she said she was writing a cookbook. We had just taken on the Whole Earth Restaurant Project and we needed a manager and chief bottle washer and Sharon was willing to do it. That was a big success. She made a career out of it as a famous cookbook author.
How come you were so good at getting other people jobs?
He saved others but he couldn’t save himself. One of my favorite lines. Ironically, one of our most successful projects–The William James Work Company, found about thirty thousand jobs for people during the late ’70’s. Page and I were very proud of that achievement. It was the preparatory training for our homeless work.
Isn’t there some other story about the opening of the Whole Earth?
Oh, that. We had the Red Mountain Boys play and the party went on to two in the morning. I completely forgot that Chadwick’s apartment was across the street. We hollered good-bye to everyone in the parking lot hanging out over the balcony as they drove away. After everyone left, my wife and I got into our Volvo Station wagon and started up the hill and here came Chadwick in his bathrobe, like a Banshee Owl, he seemed to be flying. He jumped up onto the hood of my car and looked into the window and said: “I knew it was you! You miscreant! You blackguard! Don’t move! You are under arrest! This is a Citizens’ Arrest! Wait here for the police!” I thought this guy has gone apeshit. I speeded up and swerved. He swung off and we were gone. That was a thriller. We had escaped the clutches of the Mad Gardener. The next day he acted like all was forgotten.
Didn’t something similar happen with Page Smith?
You mean acting like it never happened? It had to do with a reception my wife and I gave for Alan at Cowell College when we began the Garden to introduce him to the university community. We served watercress sandwiches, with watercress from our stream, which, if it had been polluted, might have killed someone. Polluted watercress. Nobody told me. Fortunately, it was o.k. We get so soon old and yet so late schmart. And we served champagne, which we thought was pretty fancy. I got a letter from Page congratulating me with the greatest sarcasm about thinking myself a pretty smart fellow for breaking the rules about alcohol. I didn’t know that a terrible, near fatal, accident, had occurred the year before after a cocktail party and everyone was up tight, as a result. He, if anything, was personally more cordial and gracious to me in person, after that. I still have the letter.
Didn’t you organize some lectures for Chadwick?
Yes, I was on to the Physicalist/Vitalist conflict and I thought it was important to tell as the context for Alan’s work at the University, so I talked him into giving a series. I gave an opening lecture: “Up With Goethe and Down With Newton”. We started in a classroom and wound up in the Quarry, which was a perfect setting for Alan, a large amphitheater in a natural setting on the campus where commencement and special events are held. Jack and Josephine Stauffacher had become friends by then and they brought a group from the City, including the artists–Gordon and Jacqueline Onslow-Ford and people from the opera and the theatre. Alan was charmed and it reminded him of his theatre days in London. We had wonderful lunches at the Whole Earth Restaurant after his lectures. It was the period of the Chadwick Salon and some of the happiest events as an was on his best behavior. I had to go away one weekend and Jack Stauffacher introduced him. His son, Mario, took some wonderful pictures.
These lectures are available?
Yes. We have audio tapes and transcribed texts. We made a false start at publishing them. Virginia Baker and I fell in with Sam Francis, the famous painter, who started the Lapis Press, with Jack Stauffacher, as the typographer and designer and we were going to do a book, but they were impossible to edit. Virginia is trying her hand at it again and they may come out after all. It is the perfect example of the dead letter versus the living voice or Chadwick versus Derrida.
Derrida is the French philosopher who makes so much of the distinction between writing and speech. It is a very large contemporary discussion. Jack Stauffacher and I developed a perfect friendship over the Chadwick Garden. He is the fine printer and typographer of the Greenwood Press, in San Francisco and a Goethean, so when I told him about our Goethean Garden at UCSC, he was eager to meet Chadwick. He did a series of Greenwood Press Broadsides commemorating our work, utilizing the theme of Goethe’s Italian Journey–Et In Arcadia Ego. The first was executed on Jan. 22, 1972. He did another for the last meeting with Chadwick at Green Gulch and he did one for me when I gave a talk commemorating the 200th anniversary of Goethe’s “Italian Journey”. They are treasures. So our collaboration on this book is the culmination of a great friendship.
Tell about meeting Robert Rodale and Wendall Berry.
I can’t remember the year. Whether I was still teaching or not. It was around 1972. I heard they had come. I knew about Rodale, of course. His father had single-handedly restored the integrity of the organic in the true meaning of the word, although credit has to be given to Frank Lloyd Wright, as well. They were two voices crying in the wilderness of industrial society, affirming the theme of the organic, against all odds. Rodale made a publishing empire out of it. I was first introduced to Rodale and Organic Gardening Magazine, at St. Olaf College, by Mrs. Julius Larson. She received grain from some organic wheat farm in Montana and made the best bread I ever had. She lived in a home designed by her son, Les, a good friend of mine, in the Frank Lloyd Wright style, called “Wheatledge”. Edna Hong’s bread was just as good, as I remember. She may have used the same source for flour. This was my second experience with the “organic”, in terms of the staff of life, after synthetic vanilla. It was 1950. The bread was an epiphany. It was a way of life. The Hongs lived it with the utmost consistency. They had an enormous influence on me as witnesses to the good life. We had Thursday afternoon philosophy discussions at their home on the campus which they had built and designed out of native stone and Edna would bring in freshly baked bread and cheese and it was heavenly to an impressionable young student sick of cafeteria food and Wonder Bread.
So you had an early understanding of the organic/synthetic confusion.
Then, years later, Robert Rodale, the son, and Wendall Berry, the poet; arrived to pay homage to Chadwick. Robert and Wendall had come to Santa Cruz, because Robert’s daughter, Heidi, was working in the Garden. They made the mistake of first going to the Farm and meeting Kaffka and then going up to meet Chadwick at the Garden. He refused to see them. It was a breach of protocol. So I intercepted them and brought them down to my house–I live just below the campus– and we had a talk. I gave my Physicalist/Vitalist spiel and Robert got it in a flash.
So you told Robert Rodale how his father re-constituted the integrity of the organic?
It was no news to him. Can you imagine single-handedly restoring the meaning of a word and the word is ‘organic’? I was keen on giving the philosophical and historical context which was news to him. He appreciated that. We kept up contact over the years until his tragic death in Russia. He called me before he went to China and we talked about the future of organic food production in China. I see Wendall every once in a while and revere him as the poet of organic integrity. He exemplifies it and he defends it as well as anyone I know. He should get the Nobel Prize just for the stand he has taken and the voice he has given to it: the witness to the organic. His book on the decline of the family farm–The Unsettling Of America– is an important contribution to the discussion.
You have as good a view as anyone of the Chadwick legacy–what can you say about it?
Well, the meeting with Alan before he died was designed to establish his legacy in some organized form: the Chadwick Archive, which would be a deposit of his tapes and memorabilia, the Chadwick Apprentice Network or Guild, namely, everyone who carried on the work, and the Chadwick Society, devoted to Alan’s memory. We did it for a while, with Virginia Baker as the Director, but we never found any money to sustain it. We did a fancy newsletter. It finally faded. Now we are trying to establish an archival deposit at UCSC Special Collections, at the McHenry Library, with Carol Champion. Craig Siska has over one hundred fifty tapes, as I mentioned, and is willing to donate them and we have other things to include. Siska is just now securing 1300 acres in North Carolina in order to fulfill the legacy of Chadwick in a project he calls Verdant Earth. It is a wonderful vision. Doug Boyd has joined him there–the biographer of Rolling Thunder. He came for a visit recently and we had a discussion of mutual interests and concerns.
The John Cage Mushroom Library Collection is at UCSC isn’t it?
Yes. Cage came to visit around 1969 and I introduced him to Chadwick. We took him mushroom hunting and it was one of those legendary days. Alan was in great form, leaping like a deer down Marshall Field, jumping in the air and clicking his heels. Robert Duncan, the poet, came along. We found bushel baskets of mushrooms, a few varieties Cage had never seen before. He was completely charmed by Chadwick and even wrote a piece about it. * He came back to my house afterwards and we had a bottle of wine and he said he’d like to give his collection of mushroom books to Alan and the Garden Project. So he did. The collection wound up in the McHenry Library in Special Collections.
You had met Cage in New York before you moved to Santa Cruz?
Yes. My former student at Harvard, Jake Brackman, who is famous for writing the cult film, “Main’s Gardens” and songs for Carly Simon, was a friend of his and he arranged for us to have lunch at Barbetta’s, a wonderful restaurant in New York. Jake was writing for The New Yorker and he put the following anecdote about the lunch in “The Talk Of The Town”:
Overheard at Barbetta’s Restaurant:
`My father recently died and my mother was depressed, so I told her to go out to California and visit our relatives and have a good time. She said, Oh, John, you know, I’ve never enjoyed having a good time.’
It was pure Cage.
So the Chadwick legacy lives on?
Oh big time! John Jeavons has done as much as anyone to carry the Chadwick message to the world. Meeting him was an event. It was Sunday night about 10:00 p.m.. The doorbell rang and there was Jeavons looking like a gypsy vagabond with a couple of wives out in the van. He wanted to know if we could speak in private. I was alone in my front room. I thought of looking behind the couch. We went out into an adjoining patio. He whispered something I couldn’t quite hear. After repeated “what’s?” I finally heard him. “Did I understand the importance of what was happening”, he kept muttering under his breath? What? Our standing out in the cold and whispering? He meant Chadwick. He was an efficiency engineer and he decided to apply his skills to the Chadwick Method. I remember delivering his slide show on the Chadwick Method to Madam Deng, Chou En Lai’s widow, who was probably the most powerful woman in the world at the time, when I was in China, in 1988, leading an herbal delegation. I continue to get John’s newsletter–Ecology Action– and keep up with his work. He is incredibly energetic and devoted to the cause. I talked to Jerry Brown on the phone today about his interest in homeless gardens and he told me about Jeavons advising him on a roof garden he has begun in Oakland. I hear from time to time of old apprentices and what they are doing. We have many Chadwick disciples in the area devoted to organic gardening and farming. Alan touched many people’s lives with the message and quite a number have made it into a life style. Jim Nelson’s “Camp Joy” is my favorite local example, as well as Dennis Tamura’s “Blue Heron Farm”. This is where the Chadwick legacy lives in the students who have assumed the lifestyle of organic integrity.
Would you say that the Steiner connection opened up some remarkable lines of thought, what chaos theory would call “strange attractors”?
Yes, that’s true. Once you get unstuck from the University, you become more open for otherwise taboo-type influences. It is one of the unfortunate aspects of reductionism, where openness is sacrificed for an ever more specific accuracy, so a requisite narrowing of vision is demanded. Page Smith always deplored this tendency even in historiography, e.g.,”The History of the Wisconsin Dairy Industry From 1899-1900.” He poured scorn on monographic history and marshaled his energy for the big picture narrative view.
What would be a theme you consider controversial?
I suppose the monopole is one example of a far-out theme that has grasped me and fascinates me.
What is the monopole?
It could be the physics of the life-force or vital-force of the old Vitalists, for which there was no physics, unless you resort to “occult qualities”. The monopole is a strict extrapolation of quantum theory, formulated by Paul Dirac, in 1931, the year I was born and the same year of Godel’s “Incompleteness Theorem”. The monopole is a magnetic force with only one pole which contradicts the definition of a magnet and undermines the distinction between magnetism and electricity. I have followed the work of Phil Callahan, the entomologist, whom I mentioned, who did the monopole detection and has worked out detailed experiments and an elaborate theory which interests me. You can get a pretty good summary of Callahan’s work from Christopher Bird’s book: The Secrets of the Soils. If you google Phil Callahan and look for his publications with Acres USA, you will see what I mean.
Didn’t he write: The Secret Life of Plants?
Yes, with Thompkins. Both volumes are concerned with the esoteric or Vitalist scientific side of botany and related fields. Remember how Clive Baxter had to hook up plants to a lie detector and then threaten to burn them with a cigarette to find out they were alive. That was cute. I met Baxter at the same time I met Callahan at a conference in Witchita, organized by Hugh Riordan, at the Garvey Center. Callahan has a number of books which are a good read, published by Acres USA, in Kansas City, Kansas.
Callahan’s monopole work reminds me of Rupert Sheldrake’s “morphic resonance”.
Rupert Sheldrake could be added to this mix, as one of the main philosophical exponents of neo-Vitalism. When we met, he told me his father had been an herbalist, which I was happy to learn. Sheldrake would go so far as to endorse pan-psychism, also known as hylozoism, in his effort to renew organic integrity. He is like a PreSocratic Greek in his understanding of life forms and his theme of morphic resonance. He has reversed the trend of an ontology of death, characterizing modern science ever since Newton and Galileo and has recovered an ontology of life. No mean feat.
What other figures follow in this tradition?
Arthur Koestler preceded him in this vein and his last book: Janus. A Summing Up, is a great testimony for neo-Vitalist themes cracking open the physicalist shell of modern science, which Koestler humorously calls the Trojan Horse syndrome. Koestler had a keen understanding of the issues. It’s very exciting stuff and I have enjoyed following it. Fritjov Capra is another neo-Vitalist scientist who has turned from physics to the green revolution. His Tao of Physics was a pioneer effort in the reaction to Physicalism. Sim Van Der Ryn, as an architect, is another example of a heroic dedication to organic integrity and environmental awareness and sustainability. He was the innovative genius as State Architect under Jerry Brown and a visionary environmentalist as a founder of the Farallones Institute. He arranged for a debate between Chadwick and Paolo Soleri which I had the pleasure of attending–I introduced Chadwick. I have lectured on the Physicalist/Vitalist conflict to Sim’s design classes at UC Berkeley over the years and we enjoy a close collaboration. Chadwick would have been delighted to know of these subsequent projects and these representatives of a modern Vitalism.
Who is your favorite writer on the issue?
The best single piece I know of on this larger issue of the Physicalist/Vitalist theme, taking into account the history of Western cultural thought altogether, is by Hans Jonas, who taught at the New School, in New York. He discusses the themes of “the ontology of life” versus “the ontology of death” in a very insightful way in the first chapter of The Phenomenon of Life. The Philosophy of Life or Lebensphilosophie was a strong tradition in Germany and has had some play in this country.
Are there allied influences?
William James’ Pragmatism has affinities with it, as well as with Existentialism. The same with Whitehead under the theme of organicism and process philosophy. Frank Lloyd Wright is very comparable to Steiner in his concern for organic architecture and was a beacon of light throughout this century. I bemoan the fact that Wright didn’t have an even greater influence, but it is remarkable that he was a force at all given the trend. Corbusier would represent the Physicalist or industrial side of the coin. The Bauhaus movement, as well. I wish I could give a course on this material because you learn something new in collaboration with students.
Can you give a summary of what Jonas puts forth?
The question is a little daunting inasmuch as the essay deals with the entire history of Western thought, but there is a page or so that gives a good capsulated version. The essay has a very strange title–you would hardly know what lurks there–“Life, Death, and the Body in the Theory of Being”–what an awful title! He should have called it “The Physicalist/Vitalist Conflict In the History of Western Thought” or “An Ontology of Death versus an Ontology of Life–the Role of Science in the History of Western Culture”.
Here is what he says:
“Modern thought which began with the Renaissance is placed in exactly the opposite theoretic situation. [From the ancient view which is a concentration on life, with death as the great mystery]. Death is the natural thing, life the problem. From the physical sciences there spread over the conception of all existence an ontology whose model entity is pure matter, stripped of all features of life. What at the animistic stage was not even discovered has in the meantime conquered the vision. of reality, entirely ousting its counterpart. The tremendously enlarged universe of modern cosmology is conceived as a field of inanimate masses and forces which operate according to the laws of inertia and of quantitative distribution in space. This denuded substratum of all reality could only be arrived at through a progressive expurgation of vital features from the physical record and through strict abstention from projecting into its image our own felt aliveness. In the process the ban on anthropomorphism was extended to zoomorphism in general, at remained is the residue of the reduction toward the properties of mere extension which submit to measurement and hence to mathematics. These properties alone satisfy the requirements of what is now called exact knowledge: and representing the only knowable aspect of nature they, by a tempting substitution, came to be regarded as its essential aspect too: and if this, then as the only real in reality. This means that the lifeless has become the knowable par excellence and is for that reason also considered the true and only foundation of reality. It is the “natural” as well as the original state of things. Not only in terms of relative quantity but also in terms of ontological genuineness, non life is the rule, life the puzzling exception in physical existence.
Accordingly, it is the existence of life within a mechanical universe which now calls for an explanation, and explanation has to be in terms of the lifeless. Left over as a borderline case in the homogenous physical world-view, life has to be accounted for by the terms of that view. Quantitatively infinitesimal in the immensity of cosmic matter, qualitatively an exception from the rule of its properties, cognitively the unexplained in the general plainness of physical things, it has become the stumbling block of theory. That there is life at all, and how such a thing is possible in a world of mere matter, is now the problem posed to thought. The very fact that we have nowadays to deal with the theoretical problem of life, instead of the problem of death, testifies to the status of death as the natural and intelligible condition.
Here again, the problem consists in the collision between a comprehensive view and a particular fact: as formerly panvitalism, so now panmechanism is the comprehensive hypothesis; and the rare case of life, realized under the exceptional, perhaps unique conditions of our planet, is the improbably particular that seems to elude the basic law and therefore must be denied its autonomy–that is, must be integrated into the general law. To take life as a problem is here to acknowledge its strangeness in the mechanical world which is the world; to explain it is–in this climate of a universal ontology of death–to negate it by making it one of the possible variants of the lifeless. Such a negation is the mechanistic theory of the organism, as the funeral rites of prehistory were a negation of death. L’Homme machine signifies in the modern scheme what conversely hylozoism signified in the ancient scheme: the usurpation of one, dissembled realm by the other which enjoys an ontological monopoly. Vitalistic monism is replaced by mechanistic monism, in whose rules of evidence the standard of life is exchanged for that of death.” p.11.
You could hardly get a more succinct formulation with greater clarity. I have been studying Husserl and his Crisis of Western Science, which is a superb critique of Physicalism. He talks about the mathematization of nature by Galileo as the beginning of the massive effort to control and exploit nature. I didn’t realize that Phenomenology was a correction and major critic of Physicalism until I read this essay. Now I have a great appreciation for Husserl even though he is rather old-fashioned in his belief in Western rationality and science. Jonas continues the critique of Physicalism with his discussion of an ontology of death. The entire essay is so tightly formulated it is a classic, in my estimation. This is intelligence at work at a very high level of conceptual ability. I add organic nature to his use of the term life. It is hard to believe that a revolution in physics and then chemistry should have presaged the entire reorganization of what counts for knowledge, but this is exactly what happened in what is known as modernity. We are going through a comparable re-organization now, under the theme of post-modernity. I’m sorry I never had the chance to meet Jonas. He and Tillich must have been friends.
Does Jonas say anything about the organism or the organic?
Yes, he does.
” …what the general nature of the world is, has been decided in advance: mere matter in space. Therefore, since organism represents “life” in the world, the question regarding life now poses itself thus: How does the organism stand in the total context already defined, how is this special order or function of it reducible to its general laws–how, in short is life reducible to non-life? To reduce life to the lifeless is nothing less than to resolve the particular into the general, the complex into the simple, and the apparent exception into the accepted rule. Precisely this is the task set to modern biological science by the goal of “science” as such. The degree of approximation to this goal is the measure of its success; and the unresolved remainder left at any time denotes its provisional limit, to be advanced by the next move.”
I wish I could put it as well. His essay deserves a book length elaboration and interpretation. I have thought of doing a Jonas Reader where I would put together his discussion of the Physicalist/Vitalist conflict along with a commentary. His discussion is rather embedded in various essays and he never attempted a systematic approach to the problem even though he has the best formulations I have read.
One more sentence says it all:
“Today the living, feeling, striving organism has taken over this role (of the corpse in ancient thought) and is being unmasked as a ludibrium materiae, a subtle hoax of matter. Only when a corpse is the body plainly intelligible: then it returns from its puzzling and unorthodox behavior of aliveness to the unambiguous, “familiar” state of a body within the world of bodies, whose general laws provide the canon of all comprehensibility. To approximate the laws of the organic body to this canon, i.e., to efface in this sense the boundaries between life and death, is the direction of modern thought on life as a physical fact. Our thinking today is under the ontological dominance of death.” p.12
I see what you mean. In other words, Oparin’s definition of life as a qualification of dead matter is just a more formal pronouncement of the ludibrium materiae, a subtle hoax.
Exactly. Life as a “subtle hoax of matter”, what a perfect way to put the Physicalist view. Freud’s qualitative leap in the neurone as the origin of consciousness is of the same conceptual ilk. I was reading Habermas today: The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity and he has something very similar to say:
“The cognitive-instrumental one-sidedness of cultural and societal rationalization was also expressed in philosophical attempts to establish an objectivistic self-understanding of human beings and their world–initially in mechanistic and later in materialistic and physicalistic world views, which reduced the mental to the physical by means of more or less complicated theories. In Anglo-Saxon countries to this very day, analytical materialism keeps discussion of the mind/body relationship alive; to this very day, physicalistic or other scientistic background convictions underwrite the demand that everything intuitively known be alienated from the perspective of a natural-scientific observer–that we understand ourselves in terms of objects. For objectivistic self-understanding, what matters, naturally, is not any explanation of detail but the unique act of inverting the natural attitude to the world. The lifeworld itself is to be brought into the perspective of self-objectification in such a way that everything that is normally disclosed to us within its horizon- per-formatively, as it were–appears from an extramundane angle of vision as an occurrence purely and simply foreign to all meaning, extrinsic and accidental, explicable only in accord with natural-scientific models.
As long as mechanics, biochemistry, and neurophysiology have supplied the languages and models, we have not been able to get beyond general and abstract correlations and foundational discussions about mind and body. Descriptive systems stemming from the natural sciences are too remote from everyday experiences to be suitable for channeling distantiating self-descriptions into the lifeworld in a differentiated manner and along a broad front. This changes with the language of general systems theory that has developed from cybernetics and with the application of its models in various life sciences. The models derived from intelligent performances and tailored to organic life come a lot closer to the sociocultural form of life than classical mechanics.” pp 384-5.
Well, that’s mostly technical jargon, following in the tradition of Husserl and his effort to recover the Lifeworld or Lebenswelt, but the point is made for our side. It is reassuring to know that the discussion is there, if you know where to look for it. Systems theory is a way of overcoming the Physicalist/Vitalist split. Likewise, organicism.
How do you find your way with these themes unless you know a lot about Western philosophy, let alone all the other fields you read in?
Well, start reading. The history of Western humanities is now an endangered species. The entire spiritual tradition, beginning with the presocratic philosophers and culminating in Socrates and the witness to him on the part of Plato, and then Aristotle, coupled with the biblical tradition and their eventual confluence in the late Ancient and early Medieval periods, is now so dead and buried we can hardly account for the death of the human spirit in modern times. The spiritual outburst of Greek culture, the origins of rational self-consciousness, the experiential context on which the meaning of reason depends, all of this is in need of restoration once the attack on the Dead White European Male has spent itself and is overcome. I am hoping the course I did with Tillich at Harvard in the early ’60’s eventually will be published as the restoration of the classic Core–what every intelligent person ought to know, but it will probably not happen. It would be nice to anticipate another Renaissance renewal of the ancient sources of Western culture at the end of the self-destruction of industrial society with all the attendant renewal of creativity in cultural and spiritual life this entails sometime in the next millennium. If it only happens every five hundred years we are about due.
Let’s go back to the monopole. I don’t get what the monopole has to do with anything.
You’re not alone. My association with the life force of Vitalism was just a guess but everything developed by Callahan bears this out. It is just that almost no one, I mean almost no one, pays attention to him. Callahan draws the implications for soils in his work, so you would have to look there for that line. I found out about the monopole in a completely fortuitous way. I was in Wisconsin campaigning for Brown for President when a reporter from the L.A. Times asked me why I was interested in Jerry Brown and I launched into my urea pitch only to show that Brown was the only politician who took into account the late stage of the self-destruction of industrial society, until someone kicked me. The reporter quoted me, making me look like a jerk: “When asked why he was campaigning for Brown, Herb Guru, Paul Lee, said, ‘In 1828, a German chemist’…”, and so on, and this guy reads about it and calls me up from Lockheed. His name was Dr. Randall Frost. I thought it was my friend, Earl McGrath, playing a prank on me and I kept saying, “O.K. Earl. I know it’s you.” Well, it really was Dr. Frost from Lockheed. Dr. Frost was involved with urea in the aging of metals, which was news to me. We fell into an interesting talk. It must have lasted for an hour. I thought this might be the guy I can ask about the difference between organic and synthetic urea. He told me about Lehninger, who wrote a classic text on organic chemistry and then we proceeded to discuss the difference. I remember the call as if it happened yesterday.
Here is my retrieval of the main part:
Lee: What’s the difference between organic and synthetic urea?
Frost: Oh, that’s well known. The formulae are given in Lehninger’s text on organic chemistry.
Lee: Well, that’s news to me. The assumption is that they are identical, which is the basis for the refutation of Vitalism.
Frost: No, I’ll send you the pages from Lehninger.
Lee: If Lehninger gives the different formulae for organic and synthetic urea, how do you account for the difference?
Frost: Oh, that’s an interesting question. It is due to the monopole.
Lee: at is the monopole?
Frost: It is a magnetic force, with only one pole, postulated by Dirac as a strict extrapolation from quantum theory. It is infinitely long and infinitely thin.
Lee: Infinitely long and infinitely thin? What is it? God?
Frost: I’ve wondered about that myself.
Lee: Is it the life-force of the old vitalists?
Frost: That’s interesting. You might say so.
Lee: How do monopoles make the difference?
Frost: Monopoles don’t link to synthetics; only to organic entities. Lee: How do they do that?
Frost: Through soliton particles.
Lee: What are soliton particles?
Frost: This is getting complicated. I’ll send you articles on the monopole and soliton particles from Scientific American.
Lee: O.K. Nice talking to you.
So that was when I became interested in the monopole. I was teaching a class on philosophy to high school students at the time and told them about the monopole and they took an interest in it and so we invited Dr. Frost to come and talk to us and it was one of those magical evenings where the subject caught fire. The next morning, the San Francisco Chronicle announced the detection of the monopole at Stanford. The next morning! Another remarkable coincidence. Then I met Phil Callahan at a Wholistic Health conference in Kansas and he handed me his paper on the detection of the monopole as we shook hands. He detected monopole events by hooking up a Ficus benjaminus tree in his front room and got monopole fluctuations over a seven year period, especially on the equinox and especially the summer equinox, or St. John’s Day, June 22nd. Keep it in mind next June and go with the flow.
You have developed contrasting examples right down the line, haven’t you? The monopole filled the bill as the physics for the integrity of organic nature with soliton particles as the link between monopoles and organic entities?
Yes, although this is still at such a preliminary stage of discussion and formulation all it does is open a door to a possible line of inquiry of which I am incapable of pursuing. It would take some collaboration the nature of which I have as yet to invite or find. Ralph Abraham has taken an interest in the theme, so we’ll see what he does with it. Rupert Sheldrake acted bored when I brought it up, but it is a natural for his morphic resonance theme.
Maybe this discussion will elicit some response.
Wouldn’t that be nice. I have an e-mail address:
DRPALEE@aol.com. Although I prefer: email@example.com
You seem to be in a difficult position in terms of everything you think not just your demise at the university.
Tell me about it. What has opened up is a long discourse which I can only outline. Maybe after this gets out I can turn my mind to it. I have already started thinking about it.
What is that?
Well, I formed a kind of study program three years ago when Ralph Abraham asked me to sketch out the philosophical origins of chaos theory. He was working on a new edition of Euclid as a result of our studying John Dee. Dee had been responsible for the first English translation of Euclid by Billingsley and had written a famous introduction to it which could be cited as an effort at a ma thesis univeralis, namely an attempt to develop a mathematical system of the sciences or a mathematically based system of the sciences. Dee’s introduction became the ground plan for mathematical studies for subsequent generations. It was even used at Harvard. Inspired by the confluence of Dee and Euclid for Elizabethan England, Ralph decided to go back and chart the transmission of the Euclid text throughout Western culture from its origins up to Dee and the 16th century. Then he decided to do a new edition of Euclid, complete with computer graphics. So this gave us the theme of the origins of geometry, which is practically the axiomatic science of all sciences, the reference point for a ma thesis universalis.
Didn’t Tillich write a System of the Sciences?
Yes, he did. He was always apologetic about it, as though it was a kind of aberration of his over-ambitious youth, but it is an interesting effort in the tradition, although instead of
mathematics, he utilizes theology as his thematic ground, the very subject matter to be excluded and rejected by Physicalism and Positivism and now the target of Derrida’s “Deconstruction”, in terms of onto-theology and logocentrism, which Tillich represented as well as anyone.
So you were able to supply the philosophical antecedents to chaos theory?
Yes. It turned out that a very interesting discussion was ascertainable, beginning with Husserl, who wrote two important essays: The Origins Of Mathematics and The Origins Of Geometry. The latter was distinguished by a very long introduction by Derrida, his doctoral thesis and his first published piece. This brought up all kinds of problems to think about. It took me to Husserl’s last work, the famous Crisis, which is his great commentary on Descartes, his critique of Galileo and the mathematization of nature, and his discussion of the telos of Western culture as the inner aim of history, beginning with the “Greek eccentrics”, as he calls them and their theme of thaumazein or wonder. This is all great stuff, because in the course of discussing all this, Husserl beats up on the Physicalists as dumb-down guys, much to my delight.
Where did this take you?
Well, I knew that Heidegger, as the student of Husserl, whom he betrayed after Hitler came to power, tried to carry through these themes, where they pretty much foundered, compounded as they were by his flirtation with Nazism, which introduced a virus or a taint into his thought, which no one can ignore, now that it has come to light. But he is so central to much of modern or post-modern thought, the line goes through him. Derrida picks it up and incorporates Godel, which is very important for me, as Godel is a key figure.
So this is where deconstruction and the incompleteness theorems and the undecidability problem prepare the way for chaos thought or chaos philosophy.
Exactly. It is a logical progression. You can see how the decks were cleared for chaos theory just by the sequence of terms which are symbolic of the trend: bracketing of existence (Husserl), cancellation of being (Heidegger), incompleteness and undecidability (Godel), and deconstruction (Derrida).
So you utilize the theme from Heidegger on the recoil from the unknown root in his critique of Kant and you play with his discussion of the Greek word for truth–aletheia–or unconnectedness.
It is one of the most obfuscating words anyone could imagine, but his discussion, especially in his lecture series, published as Parmenides, is compelling, because he takes it into a discussion of “The Myth of Er”, at the end of Plato’s Republic, one of my favorite texts, so I had to pay attention. And he is a very uncanny commentator. I have learned a lot from him. It’s just that he is controversial and practically impossible to apologize for.
Because he extolled Hitler as the savior of Germany.
Can you imagine making a mistake like that–as the nation’s foremost philosopher– and then never a word about it, afterwards, as the mistake of a lifetime? Karl Jaspers asked him, why he was so interested in Hitler–someone with such a low and vulgar intelligence– and Heidegger said: “But he has such beautiful hands.” Now that is one of the weirdest responses in the history of 20th century thought.
Doesn’t Derrida have an essay on Heidegger’s hands?
Weirdness compounded. Holding hands with Hitler. What is important for me in all this is the theme of what is hidden and revealed at the same time. The word for it is “occultation”. I am fascinated by it. I recently read Horkheimer and Adorno on The Dialectic of the Enlightenment and they have a handle on it which is very interesting to me because they utilize the myth of the Song of the Sirens, in the Odyssey, which I am fond of because of the parable of “The Silence of the Sirens”, by Kafka. Their discussion is a commentary on Kafka’s Parable, although they didn’t know of it, as far as I can tell. It is one rare coincidental juxtaposition of text and commentary.
This is related to your interest in the historical origins of rational self-consciousness, as you call it.
Yes, it is. From the Archaic Smile, through Homer, to the Presocratics and Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. It is a laboratory for the evolution of rational self-consciousness, predicated on literacy.
How did you get on to the theme?
Tillich introduced me to the whole sweep when we did the Harvard Course. It was a fabulous panoramic view of the Western cultural tradition. Then Havelock, whom I knew at Harvard, published: Preface To Plato. It was a bombshell. I remember John Finley, a rival classics professor, at Harvard, told me he stayed up all night reading it straight through in a fit of envy. It’s that kind of book. Havelock set the theme of the transition from native-oral-tribal Homeric culture to rational-literate-civic Socratic/Platonic culture. It is the classic study of the rise of rational self-consciousness and builds upon a school of thinkers, including Bruno Snell, E. R. Dodds, and the oral tradition scholars at Harvard–Milman Parry and Albert Lord. I was ready for Havelock because of the work of Bruno Snell on oral society and Homeric anthropology. All of this lead to my interest in thymos as a key term for vitality, courage and spirit or spiritedness, the bridge between reason and desire and the unreflective striving for what is noble (eros), as Tillich translated it in his study of thymos: The Courage To Be.
So thymos became your reference point for the evolution of rational self-consciousness on the track from Homer to Socrates/Plato.
As I said, it is my favorite word. In a way, thymos comprehends life in the biological spirit and life in the rational spirit. It is the linguistic basis for “soul” and represents exactly what we have lost. I have the model clearly in mind, as characterized by Socrates in the Republic. It is the basis for understanding the meaning of philosophy as the love of wisdom, the friend of Sophia.
And Tillich gave you the history of the term in his Courage To Be.
Tillich also alerted me to the theme of the two types of reason in his distinction between receiving or revelatory reason a