in White Shroud. I developed a tremendous tolerance for chaos; other people’s illness, irrationality and contradictory behavior. I tend to throw it off like water off a duck’s back, but it also dulls me to hearing what people are saying when they’re complaining about their troubles. I sometimes just shut off and give them a bowl of chicken soup instead of listening carefully. I tend to be more concerned with people’s comfort and welfare – like a Jewish mother – rather than trying to solve a mental problem, a financial problem or whatever. So I sometimes miss the boat. Quite often there’s a tragedy happening and somebody’s sinking right in front of me, but I don’t see it. On the other hand I have a lot of tolerance for people who use drugs or are half mad. Sort of like how the children of alcoholics, in order to develop a kind of balance, clean up after everybody else and have a more neat and orderly life because they’ve seen the chaos and have reacted against it.
DJB: It seems that you would go one way or another. Whenever people are confronted at an early age with overwhelming circumstances, they either come out as a total mess or so strong that they can deal with most anything. Either you learn to become comfortable with chaos or you become overwhelmed by it.
Allen: I compensated by becoming more stable, probably because I realized that if everybody began disagreeing with me all at once, there was probably something wrong with my perception of the universe. So I took a more pragmatic view rather than an absolute view.
DJB: How has all the traveling you’ve done affected your perception of the world?
Allen: Well, again it’s the same thing; because I’ve seen so much chaos, I don’t really see everything. In a sense, I don’t see a lot of detail and have a tendency towards abstraction. That’s why I’m so concerned with it – it’s the medicine for my own neurosis. I use it to help create a sense of stability. I sort of turn off the chaotic aspect of travel too and just continue in whatever work I’m doing like keeping a journal or taking photographs. You might even say I’m sort of neurotically untouched by interaction.
DJB: By what’s happening around you?
Allen: Yeah. It’s maybe part of the same process with which I used to shield myself from the chaos, and it’s made me sort of aloof. I’m just guessing. I mean since we started talking about one thing, I just transferred it over to the other – from my mother to travel. I might have a different answer for a different context, but since we started out with a very definite idea, I just transferred it to the other, because it’s an aspect of the other, but it’s not the whole story. I mean, obviously I saw a lot of anthropological blah blah. A lot of different views, a lot of different folk ways, different ways of wiping your behind after going to the bathroom, different ways of eating, talking, different kinds of poetics, different religions, meditation practices, different primitive rituals, different takes on the universe, different nationalisms, different chauvinisms. Experiencing a lot of different things makes your mind more wide-screened, or more tolerant. It makes you more sophisticated – or maybe less sophisticated. One of the basic things that’s changed is my habit of wiping my ass with toilet paper. Now I wash my behind afterwards. I got that from North Africa and India. Kerouac has a whole book about that.
DJB: I’m curious as to how important you think it is for writers and artists to have a sense of community. How did your experience with other writers like Jack Kerouac andWilliam Burroughs affect the style of your own writing?
Allen: Oh, it affected it very much. Kerouac persuaded me to stop writing rhyme poems and revising everything fifty thousand times; to just lay it out on the page in the sequence of thought-forms that arise in my mind during the time of composition. This is traditional with twentieth century painting and calligraphy style. Shakespeare never blotted a line according to Ben Johnson. With Kerouac and Burroughs, it wasn’t so much their instruction as the whole ambiance – their directive candor and informality. We were writing for our own amusement and the amusement of our friends, rather than for money or for publication. We assumed that nothing would be published from the very beginning . So the private world of my