like Picasso? Or someone in a manic phase of manic depression, which is often very creative? Or how about full-blown schizophrenia? In a lot of those states, you’re cut off from the surrounding environment so it would be impossible to produce anything concrete.
DJB: Have you ever experienced the fear of going mad?
Allen: A couple of times, on psychedelics. I remember in 1948 I had a hell of an experience; an ominous, threatening universe. I’m sure that madness, paranoia or megalomania came in then.
RMN: I read something you once said in reference to language which was, ‘man’s power of abstraction dooms us to lose touch with detail.’ What did you mean by this? Isn’t that what poets do?
Allen: Well, when did I say it and under what circumstances? How do I know what I said? (laughter) That’s a very common, almost trite, stereotypical thought. I’m sure it’s, in general true, but I probably never said it in those words. I probably said some general thing like that, but ‘man’s power of abstraction’ – bullshit!
RMN: I take it you don’t agree with the statement.
Allen: Well, I’m struck just now by the vulgarity of the expression, the phrasing.
RMN: (laughter) I have a problem with the first word, actually.
Allen: Well, so do I. “Woman’s power of abstraction?…” Actually, I don’t think that’s true. I think it’s a temptation to think that. I think it’s civilization’s power of abstraction, or the development of abstracted power that could lead to a loss of contact with detail. Hypertechnology so to speak.
RMN: And language, in that context, plays a part in the process?
Allen: No. That’s the semiotic, deconstructionist, Burroughsian view. That’s not my view at all. It’s the opposite, in fact. I think it’s a fascist statement, frankly. It attacks language and it attacks people talking. It’s an attack on communication, actually. I would say that language joins heaven and earth and joins mind with body. It synchronizes them through speech, poetry, language and words which connect abstraction with the ground. It is also obvious that continuous generalization and abstraction lead to mixed judgment and manipulation of phenomena in an inappropriate way; but to make a general statement as blanket as that discourages the attempt at sincere communication, or description of what you are experiencing. By using that kind of generalization like ‘man’s power of abstraction’, the Marxists had to convince writers that they are not worthy of writing because they don’t really represent the proletariat – only the abstract interests of the upper-middle-class or the bourgeoisie. The Catholics have convinced people to burn books and burn people because they or their work doesn’t represent the true word of God. And deconstructionist, semiotic poets have used it as a way of avoiding interacting with phenomena, of interacting on a heart-felt level with their own experience of living. That generalization has always been an excuse to hard-nosed students of their own perceptions to be cool, you know, to play it cool. That is to say, that words don’t count, that this is abstract, therefore I don’t want to make any comment. It’s been a way of diminishing expression. In Blake’s description of the Urizen quality – “boundedness” arises. Your-Reason, the figurative reason of the symbolic description, creates a hyper-abstraction, a hyper-rationalization.
RMN: What do you think was so special about Blake as a poet?
Allen: He had a good mind. From Blake’s point of view, hyper-rationality, hyper-abstraction leads to the nuclear bomb, from the point of view of reason, trying to assert power over feeling, imagination and the body. If any one of them tries to take over, then it disrupts the whole balance of nature.
DJB: What do you think happens to human consciousness after biological death?
Allen: I don’t know. The Tibetans say that some kind of aetheric electricity or some kind of impulse moves on. I think it’s a good idea to cultivate an openness to the possibilities that might occur. When you’re drowning, once you’ve stopped breathing, there’s still about eight minutes of consciousness before brain death, and there have been people who have been resuscitated, so something is there. In that eight minutes, what should you prepare for? My meditation practices are on the breath, so then what happens after I stop breathing? (laughter) I asked my guru this question and he started laughing. He said that was the purpose of the advanced meditation practices, the visualization, the mantra, the mandala, all that stuff. He said, “If I were you, I wouldn’t pretend this or that, openness or