Updated: May 29, 2022
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 and controlling or technical or instrumental reason. He was friends with the Frankfort School members, of which Horkheimer and Adorno were foremost, so they were on the same wave length. I am trying to organize a line of thought on these themes and have been working on it every summer for the past three years. I am interested in the theme of mathesis universalis and what is universally true. It raises so many issues it makes one’s head swim, but I am getting clearer about it. What interests me is the progression of thought from the Kantian problem of “existence is not a predicate”, to Husserl’s “bracketing of existence”, to Heidegger’s “cancellation of being”, to Derrida’s “deconstruction” and Godel’s “incompleteness” and “undecidability” themes. It is a continuous clearing of the decks, as we have said, in the preparation for chaos thought which characterizes the current trend as well as the age.
You think this is the Age of Chaos?
Look around. It’s as good a term as any.
You seem to have a renegade streak that makes you gravitate to far-out or controversial subjects and movements, such as your involvement in the herbal industry. Your herbal interests followed from your interest in the theoretical issues and your involvement with the Chadwick Garden?
When I entered the herbal industry, it was a logical progression for me from Chadwick’s Gardena I was slightly bemused over being denied tenure and kicked out of my teaching career and ending up identified with the most despised and rejected subject matter–herbalism.
Why is it rejected and despised?
Oh, come on. It practically disappeared for fifty years, because it was identified with quackery, as a result of the Physicalist influence on the medical sciences. Here is a good quote from a novel I stayed up reading most of the night–The Cunning Man, by Robertson Davies:
“The spirit of the medical school was firmly hierarchical; you crept upward, begging acceptance of the greater ones above you, questioning only when questioning seemed to be asked for, and if you had the makings of a True Believer, a Saved Soul, in you, you acquired a detestation of patent medicines, of osteopaths and chiropractors, of homeopaths and herbalists, of all quacks, midwives, and pretenders to medical knowledge, which was the property of your botherhood, and you knew with whatever modesty lay in you, that you were a measure apart.” p. 164.
So herbalism, for you, was another example of the elimination of Vitalism?
An example that practically defines the split.A direct consequence. I saw how herbalism, the botanical basis of health care, with thousands of years of tradition behind it, was practically wiped out by industrial allopathy or modern medicine, as a Physicalist form of health care, the direct consequence of the synthesis of urea and the development of Organic Chemistry. Synthetic drugs supplanted medicinal herbs, just as allopathy replaced homeopathy. In one stroke medicine became predominantly curative rather than preventive in terms of focus. Allopathy is big dose medicine–.millions of units of penicillin, as opposed to the inverse dose principle of homeopathy, which is about the best example of the Physicalist/Vitalist conflict I know–Physicalist bomb versus Vitalist trace.
So homeopathy is the Vitalist counterpart to Physicalist allopathy and your best illustration of the split.
Homeopathy and herbalism represent the Vitalist side and they practically had to go underground for half a century. Now there is a big revival, but only with healthcare consumers, influenced by the organic movement and the return to natural products, as they are called. As I said, there has been almost no impact on professional health care training and practice on the part of what I call the herb renaissance, the rebirth and recovery of the botanical basis of health care. Conventional medical science, which is industrial society medicine, thinks of herbalism as quackery thanks to the implicit identification of herbalism with defeated and rejected Vitalism. There is nothing like a good explanatory line of thought to bring these ideological grudges to the surface. Herbal health care versus synthetic drug health care, or traditional medicine versus industrial medicine, or homeopathy versus allopathy, are my favorite illustrations of the Physicalist/Vitalist conflict. The contrasts are practically self cancelling they are such logical extremes of the theme.
So you pursued your theme of “vital roots” from the Chadwick Method into the field of herbal medicine, which carries through your understanding of the move from the Vitalist garden to the Physicalist lab?
It was providential for me, a perfectly natural sequence. It all happened because of my obsessive interest in the herb thyme and the ThymOs Doctrine, as I call it, and the three components: vitality, herbs, and immunity.
Chadwick introduced you to herbs?
I knew almost nothing until he opened my eyes, partly by teaching me the significance of the binomials, the Latin names for herbs, and the legends they include.
How do you mean?
Well, Chadwick would delight in telling fairy stories about Rosemarinus and Lavendula, rosemary and lavender, and everyone would become a child, listening to him. It was “Let’s Pretend”, all over again, a radio program I adored when I was a child. It played every Saturday morning. I can even hum the tune and hear the magic whistle that transported you to the land of make-believe.
So you pursued the meaning of herbal nomenclature in Latin?
And Greek. It is one of my best memories in learning this new subject matter. I had to sit down and develop a repertoire of herbs after I became the Executive Director of the Herb Trade Association with responsibilities for organizing the national industry.
How did you get the position?
Ben Zaricor, of the Finali Herb Company, in Santa Cruz, was one of the founding members of the Herb Trade Association and he sponsored me for the position when I was working for him. I was the only one with a Ph.D. from Harvard, although it wasn’t in botany or traditional medicine. When I was in the Leary Group at Harvard and Editor of the Psychedelic Review, I knew Richard Schultes, an authority in ethno and psychedelic botany, because he came to our discussion group. He was the main figure in traditional or herbal medicine at Harvard, known as ethno-botany, the use of medicinal plants by native peoples and he specialized in the psycho-active ones. That was it.
So psychedelics were an introduction to herbalism.
Some of the guys in the industry dealt marijuana before they got into the other medicinals, so that was kind of an in-joke, although they were the first to admit it. All I knew about was thyme, Thymus vulgaris, so I set myself the task of developing a repertoire, beyond the few that Chadwick had introduced me to. I needed to learn as much as I could as fast as I could. I sat down and wrote a self-instructional manual which I called: The Long Lost Herbal of Cabeza de Vaca. I was much taken by his story, this Spanish conquistador, who landed on the coast of Florida with a large expedition of hundreds, which was reduced to
Was that his name? Head of a cow?
His full name was Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca. Cabeza de Vaca, or Head of a Cow, is his noble title going back to a shepherd, named Alhaja, who helped the King of Spain beat the Moors in a decisive battle by staking out a remote mountain pass with the head of a cow. The King’s forces went through the pass and were victorious and the King knighted the shepherd with the title: Cabeza de Vaca. The title descends to Alvar Nunez through his mother. As the only survivors, he leads the other three on an eight year walk to Mexico City. In the area of El Paso, they were told by the natives there, who were naked and starving, either heal our sick, or die. So Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca prayed over the sick Indians and they were healed. He was initiated into the herbal medicine of the tribe and became a curandero. The transformation is stunning–a miracle: from conquistador to curandero. There is a wonderful literature on all this, not least his own letter to the King of Spain, which he wrote when he reached Mexico City, called Los Naufragios, the Shipwrecked Ones or the Castaways. It is an existential theme, made famous in philosophy by Karl Jaspers and his concept of “foundering”. I was very moved by this when Rolf Von Eckartsberg sent me a tape, reading the story of Cabeza de Vaca, by Haniel Long, a kind of imaginative update, as if Alvar Nunez wrote again and said what was between the lines in the original letter. It is a remarkable piece. Henry Miller wrote the Preface to it: An Interlinear to the Letter of Cabeza de Vaca to the King of Spain. Page Smith and I happened to go on retreat with students in a class we were teaching on the thought of Rosenstock-Huessy, to an Episcopal Monastery, in Santa Barbara and I listened to the tape in my cell. It was a great experience. “I am that Alvar Nunez, Cabeza de Vaca, who….”
Isn’t there a fairly recent Mexican movie on his life?
Yes, it is very surreal and exotic. I saw it in Santa Cruz. I thought about doing a film script myself but never got around to it.
So you wrote your self-instructional manual in his spirit?
Yes. I invoked a form of guidance. I asked for the blessing of his healing power on the herb renaissance and on my project to develop a self-instructional manual under his inspiration. I started with the question: what is the origin of the herbal tradition in Ancient Greece? My motive was to reconstitute the herbal tradition in myself–to receive the transmission of the spiritual substance of herbal lore and practice from its origins in ancient Greece all the way up to myself–and thereby overcome the short-circuit that had occurred as a result of the loss of the botanical basis of health care in the last generation in this country.
Your father was a doctor wasn’t he?
Yes. He was the son of immigrant Norwegian farmers in Wisconsin, which is important to me, as the family lineage is very strong–it’s where my vital roots are– and he practiced medicine in Milwaukee for fifty years. He died in 1995, at the age of one hundred. I was supposed to go to medical school, but I was too clumsy and inept for chemistry, so I transferred from pre-med to philosophy, at St. Olaf College. I felt I had betrayed my father’s hopes that I would eventually assume his practice. The herbal career was a kind of make-up, although he was mostly amused by it.
Was your self-instructional manual a success?
Let me tell you. I sat down with my sources and opened a Master’s Thesis from the University of Texas on the medicinal herbs of Texas that Mark Blumenthal found for me. I thought these were herbs Cabeza de Vaca could have used, herbs he was introduced to as a result of his initiation as a curandero in that very region. I started with the first herb–yarrow. I was going to fill out the culinary and medicinal uses and effects of about one hundred of the most popular herbs. I looked at the binomial–Achillea millefolium. I was stunned. I had the herb of Achilles as an opener. Remember, I asked to have the origins of the herbal tradition in ancient Greece revealed to me and the first herb I pick bears the name of the hero. of the Iliad. I found out Achilles used the herb to stop the wounds of his comrades at Troy, because yarrow was a styptic and coagulated blood when topically applied. I remember a slight shudder of bewilderment and wonder at the find. The next herb was wormwood. The binomial was Artemisia absinthium. I knew it was used to make Absinthe which does not make the heart grow fonder, because it stimulates the brain, leading to brain rot if you drink too much, as painted by Toulouse- Lautrec. Another stunner. I had the herb of Artemis. She was the goddess of the hunt, the woods, and the moon. A wild goddess. This was her herb. It glowed in the moonlight. It was the first herb I planted, in her honor, when I turned my backyard lawn into an herb garden. It grew to about fifteen feet in height which no one had ever seen before. I have had other such experiences with herbs planted or appearing as volunteers. She turned out to be the first in the genealogy, the source, the herb goddess of the ancient Greeks.
Who did she teach?
She taught Chiron the Centaur, who opened the first herb school in his cave at the foot of Mt. Pelion, where all the Greek heroes were apprenticed in their youth, beginning with Achilles. I was on a roll. The next herb, believe it or not, was Centaury which is the herb of Chiron, the medicinal gentian. There is a wonderful depiction showing Chiron receiving Achilles and Peleus, (or Plato and Asclepias, the attributions are a dispute), which adorns the herbal of Apuleius-Platonicus. Then came milkweed, the herb of Asclepias, the Greek god of healing and I had the first four, the Fab Four of the Herb Renaissance, right there in my garage, which was the office of the Platonic Academy of the Herb Renaissance. My prayer was answered. As I said– I had prayed for this in the name of the healing power of Alvar Nunez, which I wanted him to bestow upon me, vouchsafe to me, and it came to pass. I added Odysseus, just for fun, and gave him garlic: Allium sativum. I made up a story about how all of the heroes, upon successful completion of their herbal studies, at their graduation ceremony, were given an herb by Chiron that would forever after bear their name.
So Achilles got yarrow and Asclepias milkweed. Why did Odysseus get garlic?
Odysseus was such a smart-alec, Chiron gave him an herb as a task, one that was not named after him, but would figure in the prophecy given him by Tiresias in the Underworld when Odysseus is told that Hermes will give him a special form of yellow flowering garlic–Holy Moly–to ward off Circe’s snares. So Odysseus was given garlic and the task of planting it wherever he went on his extensive travels. It is not widely known that after Odysseus returned to Ithaca he sailed again after he killed the suitors and reclaimed his kingdom, the second sail that lead to his discovering America and winding up in Gilroy. Very few people know about it. He landed just north of Watsonville, on the Monterey Bay Coast, south of Santa Cruz, and walked inland over Mount Madonna, into Gilroy, where he met a Gilroy Indian, who asked him why he was carrying a winnowing fan (an oar) over his shoulder.
Why did the Gilroy Indian ask him that?
Tiresias, the blind prophet of the Underworld, had told Odysseus his fate, how he would have to sail forth again after returning to Ithaca, West, beyond the sun, where eventually he would land and walk inland with an oar over his shoulder, until someone
asked him about the winnowing fan, mistaking the oar for a fan. This was the prophesy.
So that’s what the Gilroy Indian asked him?
He was then to plant the oar in the ground and that would be the point where he realized his destiny. At the very moment he planted the oar, he remembered that garlic literally meant “spear” or “oar shaped” (because of the leaves) and he had some in his pocket–some of the original stash given to him by Chiron– and that was how Odysseus discovered America and planted garlic in Gilroy.
Isn’t there a famous essay by Hermann Brock on this second voyage of Odysseus and how he discovered America.
Yes, there is. It is one of my sources for the legend.
Have you ever communicated your story to anyone?
I read my story at the Nickelodeon Movie Theatre in Santa Cruz when they showed Les Blanc’s film: “Garlic Is As Good As Ten Mothers”. My reading bombed because no one wanted to hear it–they wanted to see the movie. There was no light at the front of the theatre and they had to run around and find a flashlight for me to read by. People became restless. They threw paper airplanes at me and booed. My wife refused to walk out with me and met me in the parking lot. She just waved me on and acted like she did’nt know me when I walked up the aisle to pick her up. Can you believe it? It was one of those nights. I had to go back and do it the next evening, so instead of reading it, I recited it from memory running up and down the aisles. That didn’t help much but at least they didn’t boo. Energetic presentations carry a lot of weight.
Didn’t you want to re-enact it for the Gilroy Garlic Festival?
You would think I would have learned my lesson. I thought it would be a great ritual for opening the festival which is very famous. I called the Director of the Garlic Festival, he had gone to school with my friend Burney LeBoeuf; this is years ago, and told him the story over the phone and he said: “Odysseus who?”, in a very incredulous tone, like I was representing some pushy Greek in the wholesale business, so I knew he was more interested in portable toilets than my landing somewhat north of Watsonville and walking over Mount Madonna in a dress with an oar over my shoulder and a pocketful of garlic. It wasn’t the first time my best laid plans went nowhere.
What was another?
I wanted to introduce the citizens of Santa Cruz County to their thymus gland–it was before people knew they had one as the central organ of their immune system. This was over twenty years ago. I was going to give them a thyme ointment to rub on their thymus, called a Thyme Balm, so they could commune with their thymus after being introduced to it. I wrote to John Travolta and asked him if he would come and introduce “the Thymus Thump” as a new disco dance step. I thought that would catch everyone’s attention. He wrote back and said “no”. I thought we could lower the incidence of cancer by just that much. I thought it was an interesting application of the placebo effect. I wanted everyone in the County to eat a little thyme a day, to keep cancer away. I still think it’s a good idea.
Would you say your ideas are a little too imaginative for your own good?
I’m definitely before my thyme.
So you had the herb tradition at its origins. Then what?
The rest was easy. All I had to do was look it up. Hippocrates was born into the priestly family of doctors that took their direct descent from Asclepias, in order for the myth to enter history. From there, the sequence is clear. I found an herbal by Apuleius-Platonicus, linking the herbal tradition to Plato, who is famous for thinking of philosophy as therapy (overcoming the anxiety of having-to-die) and who thinks of Socrates as the phal makon or the poison/remedy/scapegoat. This is a brilliant theme that Jacques Derrida opened up for me in his essay on “Plato’s Pharmacy”, in Disseminations. It is one of my favorite essays in the philosophical literature. I have been a student of Derrida’s ever since, although I am an onto-theological exponent and a defender of everything he stands against. It is good to learn from your sharpest critical enemy. Derrida is one of the last steps on the way to chaos philosophy, which I am working on. The scapegoat theme is also pursued in a brilliant way by Rene Girard in his: Things Hidden From the Foundation Of the World. It is easy to think of herbalism as the scapegoat of industrial medicine seeing how the theme is part of the meaning of the word for drug or medicinal remedy or pharmaceutical.
How did scapegoat get to be part of the meaning of the word for drug?
Well, you have the tradition of the poison/remedy. Poisons in proper doses are medicines, that’s the ambiguity. And then you have the tradition of the wounded healer, for which the Crucified is the primary exemplar, which is where the scapegoat theme enters, the sacrificial one, who takes away the sins of the world. In the Greek case, it is to rid the city of pollution that the festival of the pharmakon was celebrated every year on the 6th Day of Thargelion in the Athenian calendar, the day on which Socrates was born, the one who was scapegoated by Athens. It is an extraordinary association for Derrida to have made–this conjunction between the scapegoat festival and the birth and death of Socrates.
Where does the herbal tradition go from Plato?
Aristotle’s father was an herbalist and ran an herb shop in Athens and was a physician to the King. Aristotle delivered herbs for him and hung out at the shop. Botany is the big theme for Aristotle which he conceptualizes as the transition from potentiality to actuality as in a seed to a plant, or an acorn to an oak. I can just see Aristotle’s father showing him an acorn when he was a boy and saying if you want to become a philosopher make this potential oak tree–this acorn–the center of your thought. Aristotle never forgot it. His philosophy is one of botanical dynamics which is what he meant by bringing the Platonic ideas down from heaven where they had been mathematized forms. I found an unknown text by Aristotle–his secret herbal that he wrote for Alexander the Great.
How did that happen? What does it contain?
It’s a secret.
You won’t disclose it?
No. It wouldn’t be a secret anymore, would it? But I can say this. I found out that Aristotle’s Metaphysics is another secret herbal, albeit abstract.
How is that?
He wanted to write an herbal, a public one, to honor his father and the influence herbalism and botany had on his work He saw it as a critical piece in his authorship–a kind of herbal theology, a meditation on the vital roots of being. His father talked him out of it because he knew herbalism would be suspect. Even in Ancient Athens, herbalism was a dubious enterprise, which mostly referred to the rhizotomists, the root-pickers. We would call them Simplers. They were a dirty lot, dirty feet, dirty hands and fingernails. Aristotle’s father found them repulsive and thought they gave herbalism a bad name, so after they talked about it his father thought of a compromise. He told Aristotle that he should write the herbal, but every time he used the word herb he should substitute the word–being. And to tuck it into his writings after the Physics, as a play on physick, as in herbal medicine or health care. So it became the Metaphysics, which literally means the book after the Physics. It is the original meditation on vital roots or being as such. This was a big eye-opener for me. The vital roots of being. Kind of puts a new twist on the text. It is as much of the secret as I can disclose. Metaphysics is good for you. Take a (meta)physic (powder).
Then who follows in the sequence?
Theophrastus. He was the great student of Aristotle, who helped tend his herb garden at the Lyceum, Aristotle’s school, the site of which was just discovered, by the way. Theophrastus went on the expeditions of Alexander the Great, another famous student of Aristotle’s, for whom Aristotle wrote the secret herbal, or the Secret of Secrets. Theophrastus collected medicinal plants along the way on these travels. He wrote the first great herbal in the tradition. Then comes Dioscorides who up-dated it. His herbal became classical up until the modern period. I include Mithridates Eupator the Vlth, because I like his name, although he was one of the worst rulers ever. A monstrously despicable tyrant. He was worried about being poisoned, as well he might have. He had a Court Physician, Krateuas, who is known as the father of botanical illustration. They cooked up the first immune enhancer, a tradition that interests me, as I helped establish the contemporary interest in herbs that promote immunity–it was probably my biggest contribution to the herb renaissance. It came off of my thymos, thyme, thymus connection, which formed the conceptual basis for my notion of herbal immunity.
What you call your Thymos Doctrine.
Right. The concoction that Krateuas cooked up became known as the Mithridate. The King took it in graduated doses, thus building his immunity to poison. He lost an important battle to Pompey and tried to commit suicide by taking poison and it didn’t work, because he was immune. So the recipe became famous and was improved upon if you could call it an improvement. Anyhow, added to. The Mithridate was made up in formal civic ceremonies throughout Europe until the 18th century. I have a broadside or poster showing the recipe from the University of Strasbourg, which Ralph Abraham obtained for me on a visit there. It is gnarly, as our surfers would say, the oddest combination of stuff, from vipers to opium.
What are your sources for this information?
After my own discovery of the mythical and legendary sources, I turned to Charles Singer, a famous medical historian, who gave me the ancient and medieval sequence, in an excellent article, although he expresses his complete contempt for modern herbalism, calling it a “perversion at fortieth hand”, given the generations involved, from Ancient Greece, until now. Thanks a lot, Charles. You could hardly put the herbal tradition in a worse light. His bias is so obvious as to be absurd. Agnes Artier has the classic study of herbalism–Herbals–which follows upon Singer, from the Renaissance on up, although she is completely sympathetic, just the opposite of Singer in attitude. She was an interpreter of Goethe’s botany and a wonderful scholar. It’s odd to have the Physicalist/Vitalist conflict in the herbal field, but Singer and Arber represent the two sides in terms of the history of medicine. There are other examples.
What is another one?
The field of pharmacognosy, which is the herbal basis for medicinal products, within medicine. Varro Tyler is a great example of someone who represents the split in himself. He is a Physicalist in pharmacognosy, where he considers the herbal basis as merely the source for synthetic derivatives, in the strict line from Woehler, his hero. With his left hand, he wrote an herbal, called The Honest Herbal, one of my favorite books to dislike. He comes from a line of Hoosier Herbalists, whom he betrays, such that “honest” means more or less “useless”, as far as efficacy is concerned. Honest means disabusing people of the notion that herbs are effective for anything. “It used to be thought that…but now we know better…” That kind of line. He has softened up over the years and his contribution is important now that he has become more sympathetic and somewhat liberated from his Physicalist bias. He is an excellent exemplary case of my theme, as he occupies both camps.
Did you ever publish your manual?
No, but I had a strange experience, one of my best, as a consequence of writing the manual. I put it in my file and forgot about it. A year or two later, I was introduced to Hanne and Maurice Strong, of Crestone, Colorado. Hanne was interested in starting an herb school as part of her new age development in Crestone, so I was asked to go and talk to her. Baker-roshi introduced us. His Zen Center is now located there. I was eager to go, because I was born near there–in La Veta, Colorado, some miles away, where my father began practicing medicine. It was a strange coincidence.
Isn’t there a LaVeta pass, through the mountains, over to Taos?
Yes, there is. It was a great place to be born, because LaVeta nestles at the base of two twin-capped peaks, the Huajatollas, or Spanish Peaks. It means woman’s breasts. So the first day I go to LaVeta to see where I was born and look at the breasts. You can see them right down the main street in front of the house where my folks had a small residential hospital. The next day we sat down at the Ranch to talk. The Strong ranch is called “The Baca Grande Ranch”, so I innocently asked what Baca means. Hanne says “cow”. I say, “no, that’s vaca”. Hanne says “v’s and b’s are the same in Spanish and interchangeable in English”. I say, just to be funny, “Cabeza de Vaca?” and Hanne says: “Yes! This is his ranch!” That was a show stopper. It took a couple of hours before I stopped vibrating from that hit.
Was it really his ranch?
It was a direct descendent, but it was good enough for me.
Did you do the herb school?
Not in Crestone, but I did in Santa Cruz and Hanne sent her daughter and her friend to enroll. We ran a two year course. I think it was one of the first such efforts in the country, although Rosemary Gladstar was ahead of me in terms of herbal education. We had grant support from Kit Tremaine, bless her heart, but we terminated it after two years because the money ran out and it was too difficult to sustain. I didn’t like being an administrator.
It was at least ten years before it’s time. I was keen on training a new generation of American herbalists as basic health care providers in the spirit of the Bare-foot Doctor of China. I even took Norman Bethune as our guide or bridge.
Who was Norman Bethune?
He was a Canadian doctor who went to China during the Revolution and worked for Mao at the front and was eventually martyred. His name still rings a big bell there. In fact, I took a copy of his film biography made by the Canadian Film Board and presented it to the Academy of Traditional Medicine in Beijing on my first trip. It was shown after my talk to a large audience of health professionals and most of them were weeping when the lights came on. Bethune is a communist saint.
You have mentioned the thymos doctrine a couple of times, particularly in terms of your theme of herbal immunity. What is the Thymos Doctrine?
I can give you a partial summary. It is built upon the meaning of the Greek word thymos, meaning courage, vitality, spirit, in the sense of biological spirit–it is exactly what we have lost or are deficient in–the middle ground of our being in the structure of consciousness. Thymos is the background word for Vitalism. It is Vitalism at its source, it’s linguistic vital root in Ancient Greek culture, beginning with Achilles, in Homer’s Iliad.
He has the most thymos, which accounts for his manslaughtering vitality and his rage or wrath. Thymos is in the middle, between brain and groin, associated with the region of the actual thymus gland, in the throat, in the upper chest. Because it is in the middle, it can go both ways, which makes it is a dynamic center–up or down. The upward vector is “the unreflective striving toward what is noble” (Eros) and the downward vector is “the impulse to self-destruction” (Ate).
Can you give an illustration from Homer?
Think of the moment when Achilles has the impulse to run his sword through Agamemnon because Agamemnon threatens to take his mistress away from him. Athena appears and stops him. Achilles has to internalize his aggression by suppressing it. He turns black with rage. This is the downward stroke of thymos, the self-destructive stroke, vitality suppressed, turned against itself.
Where does Ate come in?
The Greeks were masters at characterizing the self-destructive nature of impulses. The Greeks personified the “imp” in impulse as a goddess–Ate–who leads everyone astray. She figures in the confession of Agamemnon in the Iliad, where he tells her myth about how she once deluded Zeus. She is the figure for internalized aggression, the inability to carry out the aggressive impulse. This internalized aggression is what Nietzsche called ressentiment, which is French for Ate, the self-destructive part of thymos.
Hold it. Let me see if I follow you. The Greek Ate is the French ressentiment, because it means internalized aggression, impulsive forces that are self-destructive. There is a compact meaning here that needs more careful differentiation.
Nietzsche develops the concept of ressentiment in his essay on the Genealogy of Morals. The best translation of ressentiment, besides the obvious cognate–resentment– would be our expression–“eat your heart out”. It is Freud’s “death instinct”, which he simply called:
thanatos, after the Greek word for death, but he meant thymos in the downward stroke-the impulse to self-destruction, what Homer personified in the goddess, Ate . This is a wonderful line of thought–I remember listening to a talk Aldous Huxley gave when he came to MIT, where he mentions this theme, which forms the basis or background for the theme of the confession of self-delusion, which I hope to work out at some point. The Socratic confession of self-delusion, misunderstood as ignorance, is in a direct line from the confession of Agamemnon and the Myth of Ate.
Ate is a goddess and her myth or story is told in the Iliad, in what is known as “Agamemnon’s Confession” and you call her the “imp” in impulse, or the motive force leading to self-destruction, the opposite of Eros, another god, who is the upward striving toward what is noble. That much I understand as the dynamic of thymos, which sits in the middle, between the head and the groin, or between reason and desire.
Ate is Freud’s death instinct–although he called it “thanatos”. Ate is much more to the point. So the inability to carry out the aggressive impulse is resented, internalized, and is developed in Nietzsche’s famous notion of ressentiment, the checking of impulses, which he descried. All of this is given such graphic treatment by Homer because these themes are viewed as mythical forces acting on the subject who is like a playing field at their mercy. So let me repeat the dynamic conflict again, as I want to make this line of thought crystal clear. It is one of my best discoveries and it leads directly to the Platonic structure of consciousness as adumbrated in the Republic.
So repeat the double vector of thymos. It is a little hard to take in because this middle ground, as you say, is not well understood, because it is missing from contemporary models of consciousness determined by the Cartesian cogito and the subject/object relation.
Think of vitality in the service of the erotic flight to self-transcendence and self-fulfillment as the upward vector, personified by the god–Eros. Think of vitality that drives us to self-destruction, our vitality turned against ourselves, the wrath of God, as the downward vector, personified by the goddess, Ate These two vectors constitute the dynamic of thymos, the dynamism of the middle ground between reason and desire.
This sounds like the ancient basis for our sense of self-conflict or our being in opposition to ourselves.
Exactly. The Greeks gave us the classic model. Now it is just this double-vectored middle region that has dropped out, after Descartes, with the enthronement of the subject-object split that set up the Physicalist/Vitalist conflict I’m fond of saying that thymos became the hyphen in the subject-object split, after it was dropped as the middle ground, between reason and desire.
So the elimination of Vitalism is the consequence of the subject-object split in the doctrine of knowledge?
And the loss of the thymos base which is biological spirit! You can see the sequence here quite clearly. Once the middle ground of vitality was eliminated from the classic concept of the structure of consciousness, the self-world correlation, as Tillich called it, was minimized or cancelled in favor of the subject-object split: the epistemological subject, over and against extended objects, is the Cartesian program of the Cogito, the “I think”. The Lebenswelt, Husserl’s term, was disregarded. In fact, with the rejection and elimination of Vitalism, it was proscribed in favor of objectifying science or Physicalism.
So the history of Western rationality is the history of an ever narrower understanding of reason with an accompanying diminution in vitality or the sad fate of thymos.
It is worth while to pursue the diminution of vitality from Homer on, where it is paramount, especially in Achilles, through to Socrates, with the rise of rational self-consciousness and the model of the self in Plato, where thymos is prominently in the middle, the upper chest, the sphere between reason and desire or the head and the groin. This is Nietzsche’s complaint. He favors Achilles over Socrates because of his native vitality, his impulsiveness. Nietzsche favored heroic action over rational deliberation. Think of Hamlet as the greatest dramatic expression of this conflict whom Nietzsche would have despised for his brooding inaction.
So Nietzsche was a proponent of thymic vitality. Go on with the characterization.
Thymos is the dynamic middle ground of the centered self, the seat of vitality and the region of courage, understood as the vital root of virtues. The dethronement of thymos from Descartes on, due to the subject-object split and the enthronement of the Cogito, or epistemological subjectivity, means that the calculating part of reason takes over and mathematical reasoning becomes the model to the exclusion or the subordination of other forms of reason such as intuition and imagination or reason open to revelation. The middle sphere drops out and we inherit this truncated self. It is why Nietzsche called men hollow, with no chest–the thymos has gone out of them. The middle sphere is filled with ressentiment, best translated as “eat your heart (thymos) out”.
So you see a decline in vitality as a consequence of the rise of rational self-consciousness? You first learned this line from Tillich?
Tillich, most of all, but also his pals at the Frankfort School of Social Research, such as Adorno and Horkheimer. They wrote about The Eclipse of Reason and about The Dialectic of the Enlightenment, in this vein, that reason establishes the conditions for its own self-destruction. It is a very interesting line of thought which must have had an influence on Tillich. I recently gave a lecture on the Enlightenment in Ralph Abraham’s Euclid Class which gave me an occasion to review this theme. I was amazed, as I mentioned, at how the Adorno/Horkheimer line worked as an interpretation of Kafka’s parable of “The Silence of the Sirens”, which is a brilliant expression of the ambiguity of reason. Here is the critical quote from Habermas’ exposition of this theme in his interpretation of Adorno/Horkheimer.
“Man’s domination over himself, which grounds his selfhood, is almost always the destruction of the subject in whose service it is undertaken; for the substance which is dominated, suppressed and dissolved through self-preservation is none other than that very life as a function of which the achievements of self-preservation are defined; it is, in fact, what is to be preserved.”
Dialectic of the Enlightenment, quoted in Habermas: “The Entwinement of Myth and Enlightenment: Horkheimer and Adorno”, The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity, p. 109. It is reminiscent of Karl Kraus’ famous mot which Wittgenstein took up: philosophy is the disease of which it should be the cure.
So what about Tillich?
He was aware of these themes in his epistemology, where he calls Horkheimer’s instrumental reason, controlling or technical reasoning, as opposed to receiving or revelatory reason, in tune with the logos. He brought his therapeutic analysis to bear on the trend of technical reason in his analysis of the pathology of anxiety. He characterizes our present day mood as the anxiety of meaninglessness and emptiness, which is as close to the mark as you can get, especially if you see it as the loss of vitality: courage in reference to self-affirmation–the loss of the courage to be, the loss of thymos. Tillich pursues this line in his historical account of the philosophical meditation on thymos– –The Courage To Be, which I was delighted to hear is included in a New York Public Library display of the hundred most important books of the 20th century.
This obviously provides the background for your account of the Physicalist/Vitalist conflict.
By the time you get to the Physicalist/Vitalist controversy, there is almost no thymos left and the thymus gland itself has shrunk in size, which it does after puberty, an anomaly of the gland, which no one understands. I have associated this atrophy of the organ of vitality, the central organ of our immune system, with the rise of literacy, the corollary and practical basis of rational self-consciousness: the culture of the book. You sit at a desk and read a book with your chin almost pressing on your chest which suppresses the thymus gland and it atrophies. I should add you sit still at a desk.
You don’t mean this literally.
This is fanciful, of course, but it illustrates the point. It is why we associate vitality with pre-literate or non-literate peoples. It is what is called ‘soul’. They don’t sit still for most of the day and read; they dance as the natural grace of their bodily being. They have not moved up into their heads to occupy their brains at the expense of their bodies or their vital center–the thymic region of affective vitality. When I found out that the thymus was the central gland of the immune system, the master organ of immunity, all of this fell into place as a field for speculation. My formulations are metaphorical and heuristic. I am well aware of that, but it is still a line of thought where I am trying to pursue the implications. I can see this as the basis for chaos theory, this dynamic center is the chaos center of the human psyche and it is being restored. This partly accounts for my interest in chaos theory.
What does heuristic mean?
It is a speculative formulation serving as a guide in the investigation of a solution or problem.
Thanks. Go on. Have you tried to pursue your ideas with empirical research?
I have thought about inquiring after the size of pre-literate thymus glands, but I don’t know where to go and it probably would not yield the results I would want. The metaphor works without empirical confirmation. I would very much like to link this to some deep structure in order to develop a code that would account for such phenomena. I am very interested in the work of Carl Schuster, based on the scholarly efforts of Edmund Carpenter, who has published a twelve volume work of Schuster’s thesis on paleolithic iconography and now a one volume summary: Patterns That Connect, which, by the way, I edited. I see a possible convergence of linguistics, in terms of the origin of language, paleolithic iconography, and the origins of mathematics, in this context. It is the task of deciphering a deep code, one that is transmitted through these branches before it all breaks up into independent and discrete fields of thought, where it is very difficult to comprehend the whole. Umberto Eco has just published a book on the origins of language which I have as yet to read. He probably would debunk the effort as do most scholars who are against unitary themes, in favor of discrete lines of research. Goethe was one of the unifiers with his urplant theme. I only have a dim sense of the possible unitary themes involved her. I was inspired by the Nobel Prize speech of Niels Jerne, whose work is in immunology, where he talks about language as a biological phenomenon after the model of the immune system, which is a kind of language, in its ostensibly infinite diversity, like all the possible variations of words in sentences. A language to the power of ten or more.
I don’t follow.
Jerne understands the immune system as a proto-brain, which I had already perceived when I found out about immune memory as a function of the thymus, which makes it a proto-brain because it demonstrates cognitive function–memory. The Homeric hero, for instance, is an exemplar of this thymus or thymos driven dynamic, before the rise of rational self-consciousness and literacy, which we all take for granted. The Homeric hero gave me the model of the deep structure I am looking for, an innate structure of consciousness, before it is covered over by brain function. Homeric culture is a memory culture which is the same as an Oral Culture, namely, preliterate. So Jerne’s speculation on the immune system was of great interest to me.
So this is all grist for your Thymos Doctrine mill?
There is an excellent scholarly line on these ideas relating to thymos, from Onions to Bruno Snell to Havelock, that turns into the larger issue of the relation of pre-literate or oral societies, native cultures, to literate rational self-conscious or civic societies, what we understand as Western culture. A major transformation took place when we became literate and rational in the Greek sense and acquired centered selves, dominated by the mind, with the move up from the thymus to the brain. Along with the anthropological literature, there is a large feminist literature on this theme–a kind of ideological attack on this history as if it were just a male conspiracy–the Riane Eisler line. It has great critical merit but I’m afraid they often throw the baby out with the bath.
What do you mean?
It involves such a complicated review of the history of Western thought. First, there is the supplanting of native society by rational self-conscious society, what is called the transition from oral to literate. Rational society seems to drive towards industrial and technical society, the Max Weber theme on bureaucracy, unique to the West, and this includes the racist component, to the extent that `white’ represents rational and `black’ represents native. I have just finished reading David Malouf: Remembering Babylon, a superb rendering of the problem, set in 19th century Australia. The theme of domination and violence is obvious. Second, there is the gender issue, which has come to the forefront of the debate in terms of deconstructing Western thought. I had to wince at the title Tillich gave to his lectures at Harvard when I recently proposed them for publication–“The Self-Interpretation of Man”–and, characteristically, not a single woman is mentioned in the four semester survey of Western thought. No wonder Hannah Arendt called him “old mutton legs”. But it was par for the period when gender was not an explicit issue and uppermost in everyone’s mind. In fact, it wasn’t in anyone’s mind.
But, as you say, you owe Tillich for introducing you to the thymos theme.
I can remember the first paragraphs on the subject in the article, which I must have read in the late ’50’s and later published in The Meaning of Health–“The Relation of Religion and Health”, where Tillich discusses the loss of the middle or thymic region of the self. You see, we’re really talking about the convergence of vitality and spirituality, something we hardly associate, because we think of spirit as non-vital, an old ghost. Tillich gave me the concept of biological spirit in his discussion of thymos.
As you develop this, I can see why soul and spirit are so easy to confuse and difficult to define, because the biological basis was abandoned in favor of the bloodless intellect.
Here is the quote from Tillich in the essay I remember copying out by hand when I found it at the Union Theological Library, when I was a summer student there in l955:
“`Psychic’ is here used, as it always should be, (1) not in the sense of occultistic, and (2) not in the sense of consciousness, but (3) as designating the sphere between the biological and the mental, as representating a middle sphere in which both these participate. This middle sphere can no longer be called “soul,” since the Augustinian-Franciscan-Cartesian separation of soul and body has led to an indentification of soul and mind.” The Meaning of Health, p. 26.
Didn’t you anticipate the field of psycho-neuro-immunology with your Thymos Doctrine?
I think so, although it’s a little vainglorious to put it that way. I could have predicted the field, but it never occurred to me in those terms. I thought I was a lone wolf out there with an eccentric fix on three words, the Greek root, the herb, and the gland. I remember the moment at Cisco Point, our summer home in Wisconsin, when I put it all together in a formulation: “there is an herb code in the immune memory of DNA.” This formulation unites immunology, herbology and molecular biology, or genetics. It was the beginning of trying to ground these ideas in a quasi-biological way. Immune memory as a genetic principle fascinates me and the notion of a code where we have imprinted in our deep (immune) memories our affinity for certain plants selected by the race or our ancestors for their medicinal properties is irresistible, although it is Lamarckian and therefore difficult to argue, given the current climate, but I don’t care.
The inheritance of acquired characters is supposed to be a refuted Vitalist theme, but the immune memory has restored it. I bemoan the fact that we suffer from a kind of immune amnesia as a result of our departure from the botanical basis of health care to the near exclusive dependence on synthetic drugs.
We have forgotten the herb code in our immune memories. It is a form of amnesia. The entire profession of conventional health care in America neglects this botanical basis in favor of synthetic prescription drugs. Their Physicalist bias prevents them from re-discovering it. They think this Vitalist form of health care represented by botanicals is the superstition that Physicalism rejected in order to be scientific. They accept the side-effects of synthetics and their deleterious consequences. A friend of mine told me yesterday how he got a bleeding ulcer from taking aspirin as a preventive for stroke and when he had to undergo a second angio-plasti, his mouth filled up with blood on the operating table because blood leaked through the ulcer when they thinned it. This shouldn’t happen. There are thousands of deaths due to aspirin poisoning every year and they tell you to take it every night as a preventive. And yet hawthorne or Crataegus as the perfect heart tonic is almost completely unknown by health professionals, not to speak of the National Heart Association. I give up. If you could overcome this amnesia regarding the botanical basis of health care among health care professionals you could make a great contribution to public health, but it is beyond my capabilities. At least the health consumer has awakened; hence, the herb renaissance.
An herb code in the immune memory of DNA: do you have any evidence for this? It sounds like Rupert Sheldrake’s work on memory and morphic resonance.
This is exactly what a smart looking Chinese physicist in the front row asked me when I gave a talk in Beijing to a group of health professionals and scientists on my first trip in 1982. He was the first to raise his hand. “What evidence do you have for an herb code in the immune memory of DNA”, he asked. I told him I made it up. Everyone gasped.
Why did they gasp?
I guess because you’re not supposed to admit to being the instigator of a new idea. It was another example of the heuristic. I was proud of the gasp, because it is a good idea. It is a good example of what Polanyi calls an idea without empirical foundation, but one that might lead to the discovery of such a foundation. Most scientists turn their back rather than help in the effort to think the issue through to a possible experimental confirmation. Heuristic is a bad word among experimental scientists. They want it up front. Otherwise, keep your mouth shut until the empirical data is in. Smart ideas are a dime a dozen in this state of affairs. Sheldrake is a perfect example of this pilloried process. He offers prizes to anyone who can empirically confirm his notion of morphic resonance after the science establishment in England called for the burning of his book.
So you opened a restaurant to promote these views? You could have called it “Rupert’s”.
I didn’t know him then, although I am a keen admirer of his work and his effort to develop a neo-Vitalist point of view. He is one of the best theoreticians in this regard along with Koestler, Capra, Van Der Ryn, Abraham, Bohm, Nick Herbert, Theodore Roszack, on and on, a converging line of thinkers who have this affinity. One day we may come into our own. The restaurant, if you want to think of it as another type of laboratory, was an experiment in these ideas. It’s amazing what you’re handed in the course of your life. I’ve done everything I can think of to promote these ideas, this side of standing on a street corner with a sign. That could be next.
Wasn’t there an episode at the Wild Thyme Restaurant where someone found an essay for you on the three terms: thymos, thyme and thymus?
Yes. That was a wonderful event. Nilo and Patricia Lindgren were devoted patrons of the restaurant and got a kick out of my theme. Nilo asked me if I had ever done a computer search on the Thymos Doctrine and I said no, I had never done a computer search on anything. It never dawned on me that someone else was on to the same line. It was 1974. Nilo was associated with Xerox and so he said he would do one. He came back a week later, rather shamefaced, as if he hadn’t found much and he handed me a three page essay from the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). I was stunned when I read the title: “A Thymos Primer”, by Dr. Everett Spees. There it was: a column on the Greek root, a column on the herb, and a column on the gland, with a nice little bibliography. I learned that Rufus of Ephesus had named the gland.
Now, really, I have to say that things like this are very rare. What did you do with that information?
It took me a while to locate him, but I finally met Dr. Spees in Washington, D.C., where he was a transplant surgeon at Walter Reed Hospital. He looked like Jack Armstrong in his Navy whites. We had a great talk and he agreed to conduct an experiment for me to demonstrate the efficacy of oil of thyme on the incidence of cancer in mice. I asked Henry Hilgard, my colleague at the University, whose field is immunology, to do the same. Within a week, a student involved in the process, handed me a paper by Dr. Leonell Strong, from the American Journal of Cancer, 1935, entitled: “The Possible Effect of the Oil of Thyme on the Incidence of Spontaneous Cancer in Mice,” showing a substantial reduction in spontaneous tumors in mice fed with oil of thyme in their diet.
What happened then?
It took a while to locate Strong. He had been at Yale, but was long gone, had linked up with Salk, where he had discovered the genetic correction for cancer in mice, but Salk put him out because of a lack of funding. He was more interested in Picasso’s mistress. Leonell sued and won a judgment and set himself up with his C3H mice, so we finally found him operating a cancer research lab in San Diego. I went down to visit him. Nothing came of the my research project because I was distracted by Strong’s own work in cancer and his introducing me to the Voynich Manuscript and John Dee.