Overweening Generalist

Thursday, June 20, 2013

From Living in a Dystopian Science Fiction Novel to Living in a Watergate-Era Paranoid Thriller in One Week

Those of my fellow intellectual paranoids with a taste for great mid-to-late 1970s Hollywood thrillers like 1975's Three Days of the Condor to Alan J. Pakula's rousing 1974 Parallax View to Pakula's 1976 All The President's Men...and from there my consciousness mind-melds with all the times I spent viewing and re-re-re-viewing, late at night, alone in the dark, The Conversation, Chinatown, Cutter's Way, 1940s films noir, later-than 1979 stuff like Silkwood and Blow Up...and combined with my readings of 20th century history, books on the CIA, Robert Anton Wilson and Philip K. Dick and Thomas Pynchon, JFK...I could go on ad nauseum. Anyway: if this tableau resonates, read on.

Okay, so the NSA is watching you read this right now. Let's try to forget that for a moment and go back to a simpler time, a time that the summer of 2013 is trying to rival but just can't. Not yet, at least. The summer of 1975? Let's go back there. I was too young to "get it" but years later I derived numerous garish intellectual paranoia-amphetamine-like thrills from reading about the almost daily national dispatches of what were then new(!) discoveries by the Church Committee (Sen. Frank Church of Idaho), about the history of the CIA, FBI, NSA, etc. Try to imagine a time when we thought the CIA only gathered "intelligence" and no one knew what "covert operations" were, and the long-hairs who had been telling us and writing about the CIA overthrowing democratically elected leaders and installing fascist dictators friendly to Yale Men and Wall Street were "fringe" or "lunatics." It all seems so quaint now, but remember: we're in the Summer of '75.

                                         see http://www.privacysos.org/church

Revelations about Hoover and the FBI's antidemocratic maneuvers appeared almost daily in things called "newspapers," which were actually made of paper, and people actually read them. Research tells us that it was quite common to have the "news" delivered via car, truck, or bicycling youngster, to one's own driveway, or even doorstep. Think of it like this: newspapers were like Internet, only you got ink stains on your fingers, and the national security apparatus only noted that you subscribed.

Nixon's resignation and Ford's pardon of Nixon were fresh in Unistatian minds. So was Vietnam, just ending. So were the SLA, the Weather Underground, a new consciousness about oil-rich Sheiks, and...

Everything was topsy-turvy and not like the America you were taught about in your compulsory schooling, and if you were somewhat educated and had a sense of justice, you realized the cops were on the side of The Man, and even if you were a cop (Serpico) or a CIA analyst (Three Days of the Condor), there were murderous, corrupt, unsavory characters you worked side-by-side with.

The Illuminatus! appeared and spread among the underground cognoscenti. It was the perfect thing to chase Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow with; it had more laffs.

The world was rapidly being taken over by the Military-Industrial-Entertainment-Banking-Organized Crime-Complex, and only intrepid seekers/reporters/wizened citizens could do anything about it. How to regain your wits in the face of it all - the news and the films - in 1975? How to retain some semblance of sanity?

Richard Hofstadter, a brilliant academic, had written the seminal rationalist's text on "the paranoid style" in Unistatian history. But the news seemed to be overtaking his thesis. Or maybe it was the drugs. Or maybe the news, the drugs, the films, the novels, and talking to your friends about all those things.

                                            Carl Oglesby, SDS spokesman and later
                                            professor of political science at MIT and 
                                            Dartmouth. A writer/musician/academic.
                                            His book The Yankee and Cowboy War
                                            is one of the great works in what Peter 
                                            Dale Scott calls "deep politics"

Then one of SDS's braintrustees, Carl Oglesby wrote an article for Ramparts in 1974, after Nixon resigned. Titled "In Defense of Paranoia," Oglesby argued, as Francis Wheen wrote in his difficult-to-set-down history of this period, Strange Days Indeed: The 1970s: The Golden Age of Paranoia:

"Instead of leading to political madness, the paranoid style might be the necessary prerequisite for retaining one's political sanity - an echo of the 'anti-psychiatry' popularised at the time by R.D. Laing, who held that schizophrenics and paranoids were the only people sane enough to see that the world is deranged. The Hofstadter paradigm was shattered, and has been irreparable ever since. 'Since the assassination of John F. Kennedy,' Norman Mailer wrote in 1992, 'we have been marooned in one of two equally intolerable spiritual states, apathy or paranoia.' The Illuminatus! Trilogy, that key to all mythologies of the early Seventies, features an anarchist sect called the Crazies whose political position is deliberately unintelligible but seems to encompass the worship of Bugs Bunny and study of the Tarot as well as 'mass orgies of pot smoking  and fucking on every street corner.' One of the Crazies explains: 'What the world calls sanity has led us to the present planetary crisis and insanity is the only viable alternative.'" (pp.16-17)

Violent Death of a Great Journalist
Which brings me to the death of Michael Hastings, a couple of days ago. Local Los Angeles TV news's coverage is HERE. David Sirota's obit at Salon. David Weigel, on Hastings, at Slate. Rachel Maddow, from her MSNBC show, HERE. 7 1/2 minutes from the Current TV show The Young Turks, where I felt like I got to "know" Hastings, HERE. Rolling Stone's obit, HERE.

Reading about his death jolted me back into the idiosyncrasies of watching something like Parallax View yet again, late at night, all's quiet, everyone asleep but me, looking for a paranoid fix. Warren Beatty is a radical reporter who only cares about getting to the truth.  It's Clinton or Bush43 or Obama in the White House, but I'm suddenly in the weltanschauung of artistic paranoid intellectuals circa late 1974. Why? Imprinting?

And then back again to my imagination of the crazy summer of 1975 (when, in truth, I was almost totally oblivious of all this ideation, being far too young to yet be warped by all this).

Hastings seemed to have been working on raising awareness of what he saw as the violation of free speech and persecution of another Enemy of the State, Barrett Brown, who was/is a spokesman for the Hacktivist group Anonymous. Here's Glenn Greenwald on the Brown situation. Here's a "Free Barrett Brown" site that includes Michael Hastings as a supporter.

Goddamn. This is all so...garish. To my nervous system...I don't like living in a dystopian science fiction novel. Nor do I enjoy living in a Watergate-era paranoid thriller-world. Or if I have to live in one of those, it feels like it's only fair for me to be able to shelve the book or stop the DVD, go outside and get some fresh air and sunshine, water the plants and exchange jokes with my neighbor, and I dunno...skip along whistling "Beth You Is My Woman Now"...?

I'm not saying rogue LAPD or some of Stanley McChrystal's men or some brutish operatives from the Republicans or Democrats (Hastings, being a rare True Journalist, had enemies in both parties) conspired to kill Hastings. His body was burned beyond recognition. Who knows what happened? Alcohol? Sleep-deprivation? It's probably Just One Of Those Things. (Yea...)

What I will admit is that I'm one of those who has meditated and analyzed and cogitated and fed my poetic faculty such a gawdawful amount of suspicion and paranoia about "official" stories, that it's only natural for me to suspect that just maybe...

And any of you who've been through a similar upbringing, are of a similar caste of mind, and possibly, of a similar mental age...will know exactly what I mean here. I will not spell it out. Just watch Parallax View after immersing yourself in "the news" for three hours a day for a week, reading Robert Anton Wilson in your "spare" time.

With Hastings's death, I experienced a "flashback" to a time I didn't experience when it occurred. It's my "historical imagination." I force-fed myself this stuff at a later date - of my own volition, I remind myself - when I had become "of age." By "stuff" I mean: probably the historical truth that most Unistatians can't face up to, or refuse to acknowledge. And, concomitant to all of this is the present-day world backdrop of confirmation of all the worst things we could have imagined from our own State, with its historically unprecedented technical apparatus to...well, know that you're reading this right where you are sitting now. And maybe you feel, lately, that you live in a particularly byzantine spy novel, given the knowledge. Or a Watergate-era Hollywood thriller. Or maybe you've read this far and you think this OG person is a loon and if so, bless you, blissful person...

I really don't mean to be glib or flippant about Hastings's death; I admired the guy. It's a huge loss for what I call the "truth."

 But maybe I'm so...damaged (?) that I noticed, in the hour or so after I began reading of his 4AM crash near Highland and Melrose...that somehow 1970s-era Robert Redford or Al Pacino or Warren Beatty might have known who was behind it. There are circuits in the brain that, if not paid attention to, can not distinguish between "reality" and "fiction." Or collective hallucination...Do I need to get back into therapy?


Will the Summer of 2013 keep its momentum going and give the Summer of 1975 a run for its money? Stay tuned. (There is no one with even half the guts of Frank Church in congress today, except maybe...Ron Wyden?)

A friend asked me the other day, re: the NSA/Snowden fallout:
-Are you keeping up?

-(Me): Yea, but I'm not sure how much more I can hack for now; I'm reaching critical mass. Maybe I'm gettin' old, man. I need a break. Let's hike the redwoods all day, STAT!

The key, as I see it, is to find a ground between Mailer's apathy and paranoia, to be creative, have a good time, get high, do good for someone else, get paid, and get home in time for dinner.

Trailer for 1974's Parallax View:


Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

Really good post, Michael.

Related post on another blog:


Anonymous said...

The trouble with the city environment
is that it can generate far more input of a negative nature than we are hardwired to process.

By heading out into the woods you can allow your Basically invisible modular neural system to relax into its cognitive normal state.

Once you have allowed that to happen your ability to process via your conscious can start to work the way it should.

Otherwise you internalize the "man" and start to jump at every shadow and leaf that falls.

Your own experience is paramount no busy body voyeurs with a mouth full of donut crumbs should be able to drag you off center.

You are the centre of Natures mandala.

Eric Wagner said...

Terrific post, as usual. I love Three Days of the Condor. One might see Condor as an overweening generalist.

Does Illuminatus! contain more laughs than Gravity's Rainbow? I love both books and find them both very funny, but the English candy scene in Gravity's Rainbow seems the funniest thing I've ever read. And GR has a funny drug poem in the second half.

I see the 1960's coming to a transcendent phase from 1971 to 1974, with the McKenna experiments, Leary's Starseed, Phil Dick's revelations, and Bob's 7/23/1973 aftermath (Monica Lewinski's birthday). GR, Illuminatus!, Mumbo Jumbo, and Phil Dick's last four novels seem the fruits of this period. (The end of Neuromancer refers to this, I think.)

Coincidentally, some Deadheads I respect see the period 1972-1974 as their transcendent peak. I look forward to seeing the remastered Sunshine Daydream.

I just started rewatching The Wire Season 5. Their wiretap technology seems antiquated today by NSA standards, but I can related more to the story than I could the first time I watched it.

My film history class will watch All the President's Men in a few weeks. I look forward to watching that again. I just reread William Goldman's chapter on that movie in his Adventures in the Screen Trade.

Your blog also makes me think of the great Red Riding films.

Happy Solstice.

michael said...

@Tom: thanks, man. And thanks for the link; I feel a touch discomfited suggesting it's difficult to take the LAPD's word on Hastings's death at face value. It's good to know I have at least SOME articulate company.

I thought of you when I wrote this. I don't have to answer to the public or authorities or anyone, really...for my writing. But you do. If you tick off someone - even if you are acting with impeccable hard-nosed yet fair journalistic ethics...you are still dealing with the Naked Ape.

I love that clip from The Young Turks where Hastings is being interviewed by Cenk Uygur and he just spells it out. I remember reading, very long ago, a book by Mark Hertsgaard called On Bended Knee, where he outlines how the Reagan admin cut off access to any reporter that wouldn't just print their press releases. He saw it as an ominous turn. I think Hastings had seen too many brown-noser-journalists act subservient to power, NOT as the 4th Estate, and it pissed him off. I love guys like this! That's a big reason why it's such a drag he died.

I always look for guys like Hastings, Scahill, Greenwald, and yea, even old guys like Scheer: they don't give a shit if the person in power has a D or R after their name: they expose lies, bullshit, mendacity, no matter who.


michael said...

@ Anonymous: Thanks for taking all this to that level. 'Cuz it's right. Or I've found it is.

I can get all worked up over the latest mammalian-territorial politics as played out by rival gangs of sociopaths, and then I go out for a long bicycle ride and my nervous system says, "Why didn't you do this sooner? You KNOW this is the best thing!"

Aye. I "know" it and yet I forget it all the time. Even when I feel like I'm living in a Watergate-era thriller, I tell myself, "Maybe if you get out and lose yourself in the woods your stress levels will go way down and your perspective on all this will be increased," because intellectually I know this has worked over and over. But when I'm IN it? I doubt it can work. And I make myself go hike among the redwoods and wonder how I ever forget what a tremendous power They have for me. The Old Ones.

Thanks for articulating it for all of us. Some of us need a reminder every now and then. We have to open up the processing...

michael said...

@Eric: I see Illuminatus! as funnier than GR if only because the whole thing can be seen as a shaggy dog story; there's something met-satirical about it. GR has some tremendous laffs, and you pointed out the candy scene and drug poem as two exponents, and I agree...but the overall tenor of GR seems pretty absurd and stark to me. My nervous system has interpreted these two novels in such a way, so far, is what I mean to say...

I LOVE the ideas about specific times - even months - between 1971 and 1974. I think about this all the time. PKD's High Weirdness around same time RAW experiences contact with Sirius. Tons of left-wing radical's bombs going off in Unistat. Nixon's crimes seeping into reportage in underground press. Concomitant scenes in popular culture. Apathy and paranoia, as Mailer said. Doris Lessing - who found much meaning in Sufism - had Sirius contact experiences too. Nobel Prize winner. A book, _1973 Nervous Breakdown_, by Killen: UFO sightings "began in late summer and climaxed in October." RAW's involvement with the Berkeley hippie PhD physicists and Stanford Research Institute, and Targ and Puthoff. Later wonders about their CIA connections. Later arch reporting by Jon Ronson in The Men Who Stare At Goats. RAW's quantum-pal Sirag and Puharich and Uri Geller, who has supposedly been outed as both a Mossad and a CIA agent: Uri Geller's life as psychic spy for CIA and Mossad revealed in documentary?:

I found out RAW interviewed Doris Lessing for the 1984-85 Fall/Winter ish of Critique, but I've never read it.

I could go on and on w/this stuff...

WHAT was going on in Unistat, 1971-74? Some sort of mass collective psychic-emotional pressure valve, as yet undetected? Or something more..."worldly"?

Eric Wagner said...

I've tried to tune in to that Wilson 7/23/1973 vibe without much success. I just applied to teach a business writing class at Cal State Fullerton. The library there has Phil Dick's paper. If I get the job I may look through them.

Speaking of Sufism, I look forward to your blog on I, Wabenzi, which also obliquely mentions Uri Geller.

I've never read that Wilson Lessing interview.

What does Saul Paul Sirag do these days?

Perhaps the summer of 2013 will prove interesting.

Anonymous said...

The summer is starting off with a conspiracy bang. According to Cory
the Freemasons and various justice types have conspired to cover up a wide range of criminal hacking.

Hastings also looks terribly like a very odd occurrence. There are a few people who could reprogram a Mercedes but you'd have to have a lot of money or a lot of pull to cause that wreck with malice.

Its perfect for upping the paranoia level though, I would like to see that accident report.

I wonder if Mercedes is interested since that really didn't look good.

I noticed from one of your links that the Syrian rebel had a shiny new AK47 in the picture, that means somebody has already been giving them arms to play with.

michael said...

@Eric: Of lat I've become an itinerate, and my notes taken while reading I, Wabenzi elude me, which will only make me spend more time in another sort of re-reading while I finally settle. Rafi professes Proust as perhaps his main influence? My reading of Proust is cursory, and I thought I detected a lot of Joyce infl...

I'm not sure if Gathers has gathered the RAW interview of Lessing. Yet.

Sirag looks to be on FB.

I wonder what the ground rules are at CS Fullerton for getting into the PKD archives?

michael said...

@Anon: it turns out that hacking a car is way too easy, something I did not know:


Having read all the political dissident writers the NYT/WaPO/LAT never review: I'd be completely stunned if elements in the Unistat national security state apparatus had NOT supplied weapons to Syria.

I want more whistleblowers. Since Snowden it's become incredibly easy to separate the Control people in Congress and the media with those who still have their eyes on basic 4th Amendment-y rights.

Eric Wagner said...

Man, a ton of writers have influence Rafi. I think he would include Ibn 'Arabi, Rumi, Tolstoy, Chehkov and Proust, etc., with a smidgeon of Joyce.

FB meaning Facebook? Well, one of these decades perhaps I will take the plunge into that alternative reality.

Oz Fritz said...

Michael, I think you would really enjoy the book Poker Without Cards: A Consciousness Thriller by Ben Mack which touches on the same subjects you brought up in this blog. If you haven't read it already. It comes with a high recommendation by RAW.

michael said...

Oz: someone recommended that book to me about a year ago, and I've been unable to find a library copy, so will probably have to see if I can find an affordable copy at someplace like half.com.

Maybe YOU recommended it? If so, I know I can't go wrong.

Meanwhile, check out Tom Jackson's interview with Nick Menutti over at RAWillumination.