The Colosseum of Rome, built in Rome in A.D. 70-80. Unsplash photo by David Köhler.
By Eric Wagner
Special guest blogger
Exercise one asks the reader to “Compare Greece in the 4th Century BC, Rome in the First Century AD, Southern Europe at the beginning of the Renaissance, England c.1600-1900, New York c. 1900-1950, and California today.” I find it interesting that the first four categories parallel the structure of Asimov’s Guide to Shakespeare. Asimov divides the poems and plays into four categories. He begins with works set in Greece, then in Rome, then in Italy and southern Europe, and then in England. Now the dates don’t exactly parallel those Wilson gives, but Shakespeare seems fascinated by those times and places teeming with new ideas: Classical Greece and Rome, Renaissance Italy and his own England. He also had a fascination with the deep background for the England he lived in. Ezra Pound’s Cantos also focus a great deal on the focal points of Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, southern Europe in the late Middle Ages and the early Renaissance, and Early Modern England.
I love Robert Graves’s I, Claudius and Claudius the God and the BBC television series based on them. I have had the pleasure of showing the TV series to a number of high school classes, often after teaching Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra. I found it interesting to teach these works during the last three presidential administrations. I found it interesting to see the parallels between Ancient Rome and contemporary America.
Contemplating New York from 1900 to 1950 I think of Henry James’s visit to New York in 1904. He seemed deeply aware of the cultures of both London and New York at the time of this transition of world power and wealth. Louis Zukofsky found it significant that James visited New York in the year of Zukofsky’s birth. Zukofsky lived mostly in New York, and Pound had a huge influence on him. Zukofsky’s “A” seems to me a valuable work for examining the shifting strands of world culture and history during this period. Contemplating this period I also think of the evolution of jazz, from the music of Louis Armstrong to that of Duke Ellington to the new bebop of the 1940 developed by Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and others.
“California today” has at least three meanings: the California of 1983, the original publication date; the California of 1997, the revised second edition’s publication date, and the California of 2021. I first read Prometheus Rising in Arizona in 1985, and I looked towards California as sort of a promised land where Leary lived and Bob had lived (and would live again). I reread the book many times in Arizona and did most of the exercises there. I moved back to California in 1997. (My family had moved from San Jose to Tucson in 1978). It seems less of a promised land to me today, but it also seems as though we find the fastest growing economies today in Asia. In the future I suspect that a lot of future wealth will come from space as we have completed our circumnavigation of the globe over the past few thousand years.
I started reading Timaeus by Plato to get a feel for the cosmology, hot off the press, of 4th Century B.C. Greece. Greece didn't get unified as a country until that century and only then due to getting whupped by the Macedonians imperialistically expanding their empire. We find a tremendous wealth of new ideas then, at the height of Classical Greece, that, whether for better or worse, continues to profoundly influence how the majority of Western civilization experiences life.
Timaeus, an elaborately detailed and sophisticated creation myth - incorporating Pythagorean musical, mathematical harmonic ratios and the geometric Platonic solids among much else - talks about multiple circuits of the soul recalling Leary's brain circuits. Some of the behavior Plato writes about regarding higher and lower circuits parallels Leary's terrestrial and extraterrestrial circuits. In fact, we discover seed ideas in this discourse turning up in much more elaborate expression in the presentations of Korzybski, Gurdjieff, Crowley and Leary and no doubt many others. For instance, Timaeus says not to use words indicating the verb "to be" to describe phenomena because it always changes so can't get pinned down to an "are" or an "is."
I need to research Rome in the First Century AD. That seems the height of the Roman Empire as they went about expanding their domain imperialistically taking along and spreading new information, much of it influenced by the Greeks.
The printing press went online near the beginning of the Renaissance kicking off modern literature and providing an explosion of more information to more people. I don't remember living then, from what I've gathered it seemed a period transitioning from great intellectual and artistic darkness. One aspect of the Renaissance signified a return to ancient Greek ideas.
England 1600-1900, a period and Empire with great imperialistic expansion around the globe giving out and gathering in new information. The beginning of the Industrial Revolution, all kinds of artistic, alchemical and scientific breakthroughs: Shakespeare, John Dee, and Darwin all lived in England then. The mapping of the world.
To Be Continued.
To continue the exercize: New York's first Grand Central Station, a six story building, went up after the Grand Central Depot building got demolished there. The current Grand Central Station started construction in 1903 and took ten years to complete.
New York from 1900 - the 1950s appeared the biggest economic center in the world. Aleister Crowley visited in 1900, landing on July 6th, on his way to climb mountains in Mexico. He gave his first impression of New York at the beginning of Chapter 23 in his Autohaigiography: "The vanity of the natives led them therefore to concentrate their enthusiasm on a rejected statue of commerce intended for the Suez Canal. This they had purchased at secondhand and grandiloquently labelled 'Liberty enlightening the World.' They had been prophetic enough to put it on an island with its back to the mainland." Crowley appears to have contrived a fictional story about the origin of the Statue of Liberty. Later, in the period right before and during WWI, Crowley moved to New York and mostly lived there during that time. He had another adventure regarding the Statue of Liberty that got him in the papers and began painting a lot then.
Gurdjieff lived in New York for several months in the 1920s and visited it six or seven times up through the early 30s. He presented performances in Carnegie Hall with his students doing his system of dance movements. Gurdjieff visited and hung out with Buckminster Fuller a few times in a famous Greenwich Village bar on 8th Street where years later Jimi Hendrix built his Electric Lady recording studio.
Korzybski lectured at Columbia University in the 1930s. Ginsberg, Burroughs, and Kerouac met there in the 1940s eventually leading to a multiplicity of literary expression, an explosion of artistic information. Science and art transforming the use of language.
New York became the capital of the world for music innovation during that era. Eric already mentioned the evolutionary swing up to bebop jazz in the 1950s - every night they would play all night at places like Birdland on Broadway near 52nd Street. If we include the whole of New York State - the first "performance"of John Cage's breakthrough piece, 4'33" took place in Woodstock, New York in 1952.
Comparing California today with the other places and eras in the exercize indicates that the intelligence of humans to organize and build progressive societies currently appears in decline, regressing. We find much wealth and information here, but lack a collective intelligence of the heart to effectively apply it. There seems a certain percentage of the population that would rather fight than solve problems. California just spent $276 million to run a recall election that got the exact same result as the last one; we head to the polls for the same thing in only a year. A great deal of wealth, both financial and informational, resides in Silicon Gulch, as RAW used to call it, and has a profound influence on the entire world.
Tesla is here, Elon Musk helps develop a lot of new technology including sending humans into Space which could lead to eventual migration. California wasted billions of dollars trying to build a high speed train line, I think they may have abandoned that plan. Meanwhile we have a serious water shortage and forest fire problem not to mention an extremely severe housing crisis in the urban areas; the latter, a problem that could get eased and eventually fixed by not wasting money reading and applying Buckminster Fuller's design science regarding housing. That requires people agreeing on things, agreeing to solve problems.
The six historical periods RAW describes seem to describe the movement west of political/military power, material prosperity, individual liberty and the flowering of the arts and philosophy.
Will all of that continue moving west? China appears to be growing both in wealth and in power. Will there be an equal flourishing in East Asia of art and liberty? I think the jury is still out, but Taiwan and South Korea have gone from dicatorships to democracies, Japan is more free than it was decades ago and China is certainly more free than it was in the `1960s, although recent developments involving Hong Kong and other regions of the country are discouraging.
Many thanks to everyone for some very interesting posts this week.
In order to follow through with the previous chapter's exercizes, I just got a copy of the latest Scientific American. It features articles on topics such as longevity, the spread of information, the need for interdisciplinary collaboration in science, and something about germs which mentions polio in the opening paragraph.
I am very curious about it all.
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