Archive for September, 2011

Peter Warshall

September 16, 2011

a presentation of the Maniacal Naturalist Society

“It’s the hunter gatherer tradition of sitting around at night, and sometimes there’s a fire, hopefully there’s enough wood for a fire, and just telling the day’s events. So were just talking through the day’s events, they’re just kind of ‘just so stories,’ like Kipling’s stories. In this case we are going to be sitting around the sun, and the stories will be about the suchness of the planet.”

She was born in a pompous and prejudiced Victorian society. Because she was a girl she was not sent to school. And she snuck out of her house with a little pad and went to the Natural History Museum in London, which was right in her neighborhood. She drew everything. She became shyer, she became more retiring. She drew the gills of mushrooms, the gills of fish, she drew anything she could draw in that museum. And then she was given a watercolor set and started to do it all over gain, this time in watercolors.

In the summers she was taken up to the Lake District and she met a postman and the postman was in love with fungus and mosses. And they became the greatest friends. And so she showed her pictures to the postman, who criticized her and told her how she could make better pictures of fungi and mushrooms, and her uncle noticed that she really loved natural history. Her uncle was Sir Henry Roscoe, one of the great chemists of England at that time, and gave her for her birthday a microscope. She started to do even more drawings. And she confirmed a suggestion by a very ridiculed and weird Swiss botanist that lichen was not a lowly plant but instead a fusion of two fully evolved beings, an algae and a fungus that had merged into a third being.

After she found out that this was actually two distinct beings fused together, Sir Henry said she should give this as a paper at the Linnaean Society, which is where Darwin had given his paper. There was one small problem, women were barred from the Linnaean Society, and they were even barred from open meetings, they couldn’t even go and listen. Well Sir Henry, this is a real Dickensian story, this is the period of Dickens, and Sir Henry Roscoe says, “I will go and give the paper myself and they can’t say no because I’ve been knighted.” So he won the right to give her paper, and oddly the proceedings of the time he gave that paper completely disappeared and no one has any record of what he said. But Beatrix in her journal, which has become encrypted, so that the Victorian scientific community can’t read it, discusses what Sir Henry had told her, which is that most people in the audience went “tut-tut,” and smirked, and said that lichen could not possibly be two different creatures because, and this reflects Gay Liberation and you’ve heard it before, “Lichen was an unnatural union, and therefore couldn’t possibly exist.”

Well, Sir Henry, the good uncle, would not give up and took her beautiful drawings, and I couldn’t get any pictures of them, which is in itself interesting, to the Royal Gardens at Kew, where the head of the Royal Gardens had another great Dickensian name, W.H. Thistleton Dire. The dire thistles in great quantity. Well, he took Beatrix over there, and Beatrix writes in her journal, again this is where we get all this information, she was a very good journal keeper. She was suspicious that anything good was going to happen because all the women who worked in Kew were required not to wear dresses, not to wear blouses, but only to wear knickerbockers. And every woman was required to wear the same knickerbockers. And so she writes that she thinks this isn’t going to work out. Well, she goes in and W.H. Thistleton Dire is puffing cigarettes and won’t even look at her. And he won’t look at the portfolio. And he talks looking straight at her uncle, and boasts that his hyacinths are more beautiful than the hyacinths you can fin in Holland, and doesn’t that prove that the Royal Gardens are better than any other place. And finally her uncle points to the beautiful drawings she does and he says, “ Well maybe Cambridge would like to look at this.” And he never opens it. Well she leaves, and she writes in her journal that this will be the end of her encounter with grown-up science. And that’s what she calls it. And she leaves that and moves finally to the Lake Country where instead we get Peter Rabbit.

So she ends up in the Lake Country writing about Peter Rabbit and Jemima Puddleduck and Squirrel Nutkin, and they took the place of her becoming a famous lichenologist. Finally in 1929, H.G. Wells and Julian Huxley get together and write a book called The Science Of Life, where they cite Beatrix Potter and agree with her that indeed this isn’t a lowly plant, on a lower echelon of the chain of being, but it is actually a fusion of two. This is the triumph of symbiosis, led by her. Although it took until 1967 when William Findlay, another guy, big scientist, finally took her paintings and drawings, which again I could not get hold of, but seventy years after being rejected by the Kew Gardens, publishes The Lichens Of England with her pictures in it. One hundred years later in 1997, the Linnaean Society issued a formal apology. It’s really not so bad if you consider how long it took the Vatican to apologize to Galileo for his house arrest. So the Linnaean Society might be liberal from that point of view.

What was interesting is that when she did her drawings for her children’s books she put lichens on all the trees, but because it was so controversial, this unnatural union she was talking about, all of her printers took the lichens off the trees. There has never been a republication of Peter Rabbit with the lichens on it. There is only one picture I could find which has shreds of lichens in the corners and lying around that they allowed to be left in any of her twenty-four stories that she ever wrote.

I’m just trying to give you a feeling of how resistant people were to the intimate love of the algae and the fungus. The fungus envelops the algae, or sometimes green bacteria, and keeps it hydrated. Fungi are really great at holding water in, unlike us more evolved beings, we leak our water. It also helps shield it from ultraviolet light which would otherwise break apart and bust up the algae or the green bacteria inside. And this fungus is so sensitive that it crawls all over the trees till it finds the right algae. And it tests the algae, it touches the algae. Sometimes even entering into the algae a little bit to make sure it’s the right species. And if it’s not it says “No, no, I’ve had this affair before,” and goes on and the fungus keeps crawling the tree until it finds the right algae.

The algae supplies the fungus with sugar, to get high, because fungi can’t make sugars. And it does that of course by trapping light and converting water and CO2 into sugar. So close is this turn-on of each other that if you separated out the algae and the fungus you’d have a green blob and a brownish blob with no form at all. The two come together and create new forms. This has occurred not once, but 15,000 times on the planet. Now remember that these are not species, these are two different creatures. Only 300 of the 15,000 fungi have had their bacteria and algae identified. So there’s a little work to be done there.

The interesting part about this symbiosis, this living together, is it protected itself all over the planet. Here we’re looking at watermelon snow, pink snow in the Antarctic. Here again the fungi is protecting the green bacteria, which are hidden under the red bacteria, from being blown up by UV and from getting too cold by creating a warm water blanket around it, the red part is the bacteria living inside the fungus. What’s interesting is that this is the way that plants gained a hold on the earth. I’m going to quote Lynn Margulis here, who is kind of the inventor and modern heir of Beatrix Potter, and she says “Symbiogenesis was the moon that pulled the tide of life from the oceanic depths to dry land and up into the air.” Really for a scientist, that’s a pretty nice sentence. And what happened is that out of the sea came these two creatures together, not separate, and they started to cover the earth. And they kept the ocean with them inside. The salinity of a fungus is about the salinity of the ocean. You may know also that the salinity of our eyeball is about the same salinity as the ocean. We keep the ocean in our eye because that’s where we first receive light and so we already developed the filtering mechanism, the apparatus to deal with light in the ocean. So when you come out of the ocean you just keep the ocean inside your eyeball.

Well, the fungus did the same thing and it created this net, this huge net across the planet. I mean this is the first real World Wide Web. And this web of animated water, for instance just one was discovered in Michigan, to give you an idea of this web of fungus, and it is the same fungus and covers thirty-one miles. It’s the biggest creature on the planet. Not the blue whale or the elephant or anything like that but this fungal mat, and they took DNA from one end to the other to make sure it was the same critter. And so, we see as this is happening we have this one first symbiosis that is creating more life on the planet and beginning to infect the planet and become a great Gaian physiology, which I’ll get to. I want to say that this is for me part of the Maniacal Natural History Society Commentary, really worked up with Kafka, who wrote that the real sin of human beings was not that they ate an apple from the tree of knowledge, but that they ignored an apple from the tree of life. And had they eaten an apple from the tree of life they would have gotten immortality, which would have given them lots of time to think about and learn things.

But he didn’t look underneath the ocean, he didn’t look underneath the trees. And if you looked underneath it, the tree of life and the tree of knowledge are connected by a mycorrhizal mat, by a mat of fungi, that connect all trees together, in fact without it, they wouldn’t live. If you hurt one tree it communicates to the next tree so that it can prepare for an attack of insects. If you break the connection by just taking a bulldozer between two trees, both trees go into stress mode because they are no longer in communication.

The fungal mat actually connects those trees, and what you have is not the image of all the Abrahamic religions, that things come out as the tree of life, with branches that go further and further apart with humans over here and elephants and frogs over there, but you actually have the image that symbiosis teaches, that life is a braided river. That things come apart, like an algae and a fungus and then come back together again. And then they spread out and come back together again. So the whole imagery of symbiosis is contrary to the prevailing religions all over the world in not thinking of life as a tree but more or less as a braided river.

So what I’m saying here is that this symbiosis is not just something to throw away or not think about. The Kafka, by the way, is in Parables and Paradoxes, which is one of the great books of all times, where he goes through the Bible and re-does almost every story in it.

The fungus lives inside the root of a tree, too. The fungus does the same thing, it provides a moist environment around the root. It actually breaks down some of the soil particles, takes phosphorus and calcium, the minerals you need, and gives it to the plant. The plant pumps out all these sugars and sends it down to the fungus. And together, if they are one organism or two, or however you want to look at it, that’s how they feed each other. Over the billions of years, the fungus has turned into a kind of nerve net for forests so that the forests are completely communicating between the trees.

from a lecture enititled Symbiosis given by Peter Warshall at Naropa University on June 13, 2003 and transcribed in the incredible collection Civil Disobediences: Poetics And Politics In Action

Lew Welch’s Din Poem

September 8, 2011

Welch saw poems on the page as a score for performance. The text (more or less as published) follows, but the recording really is this poem for me.

Din Poem

Tizuvthee, Old Soapy, land where Thoreau sat and Whitman
walked, despised of all nations, Strontium, alone


Fucked L.A. starlet of tiny dream untrue even to your
tiny dream intolerable up-tight dirty noise New
York, rusty muscle Chicago, hopeless Cleveland
Akron Visalia alcoholic San Francisco suicide

Tizuvthee, I sing

Super Anahist cough syrup tastes as good as the syrup they put
on ice cream.

Hi Man, what’s happening. See you people later.
Hi Man, what’s happening. See you people later.

Lowering the butterfat
to meet marketing requirements
actually increases the percentage of Calcium,
Potassium, Phosphorous,
and other food elements

You could make this marriage work if you’d only try!

I am in Personnel.

Anti-personnel bomb. Exceptional Children. Homogenized.
Over-kill. Hydrogenated. Apostolic Faith. Pentecostal.

He died for our sins.

Pentecostal holy-mission. United Brotherhood of the Sons
of Father Baptism Apostolic. Virgin Mother house of
Grace the holy ghost immersion. Sanctuary redemption.
Death. Devil finds work for idle excommunicate. Confess
thy total pentecostal immersion, my son.

I pledge allegiance.

You never say you love me anymore.


Nigger town.

Nigger car. Nigger suit. Gypsy.

Nigger gypsy poet wop. Jew.


Nigger gypsy poet wop beatnic. Spic wop. Wop wop.

Jew nigger beatnic poet wop spic commie. Beat commie.
Poet commie. Faggot wop. Nigger.

Nigger house. Nigger fence. Nigger poet beatnic wop.

Wop wop. Dope fiend.

Dope fiend nigger. Yellah nigger. Nigger lovin’ beatnic wop. Nigger.
Ashtray nigger. Billboard nigger. Nigger wall nigger
suit nigger shoes nigger.

Nigger nigger.



Nigger flower

The Christmas message carries a great and wondrous hope.
This hope, advanced with courage and determination, is a
very present help to you and to your doctors and nurses.
As they assist you in your effort for full recovery to
health, you can count upon the continuing gratitude and
concern of your fellow Americans.

Dwight D. Eisenhower

If I told you once,
I told you a thousand times

All right fella!

Where’s your I.D.?

How long you lived at that address?

Get in the car.

“I don’t know what’s the matter honey, I’m not always this

“Oh baby, that’s all right, the sex thing is only a part of it.”

“Yeah but I want you so bad and the damned thing . . .”

“Ahh, don’t worry about it, please, the sex thing . . .”

“I’m perfectly all right and then I try to roll on top
and the god damn thing . . .”

“Shhh. Shhh. Don’t. I mean it, really, it’s all right.
Really baby. The sex thing’s only a little part of it and . . .”

Here kitty kitty. Here kitty kitty kitty. Where’s that
damn cat anyway. Kitty? Here kitty kitty. Here you
god damn kitty kitty . . .

Apostolic Faith Mission Love in Christ of God Salvation
gave his life for YOU in virgin house of love lady in
Christ BEHOLDEN and KNOW, Believe on his words better to
avoid the bait of sin than STRUGGLE on the hook, beholden,
hope. Nameless name IMMACULATE yearning for him
DAUGHTERS of sin beholden and NOT ASKED before his

You’ve been late four times this month.

Jiveassmuthafucka, Javassmuthafucka

Jive. Ass. Mother. Fucker.

Chickens can’t lay eggs unless there’s a rooster around
can they?

What’s that girl doing down the hall, anyway?

Where you workin’ fella? Get in the car.

Let’s get him fixed. They’re much nicer pets if you get ’em

Do you still feel bad?

I am on top of the Empire State Building leaning on the
railing which I have carefully examined to see if it’s
strongly made. The sound of it comes all that way, up,
to me. A hum. Thousands of ventilators far away. Now
and then I hear an improbable clank. The air, even up
here, is warmed by it.

To the north a large green rectangle, Central Park, lies
flat, clean-edged, indented. A skin has been pulled off,
a bandage removed, and a small section of the Planet has
been allowed to grow.

I think, “They have chosen to do this in order to save
their lives.” And then I think, “It is not really a section
of the Planet, it is a perfect imitation of a section of the Planet
(remembering the zoo). It is how they think it might look.”
I am struck by their wisdom. Moved.

The elevator is not too crowded. We are all silent and
perfectly behaved, except a little girl who is whispering
something to her mother. Her mother holds her hand and
bends down to listen. The little girl giggles. Hunching
her shoulders and screwing up her face. She has told her
mother something outrageous.

In the lobby are people who are really doing it, not like us,
just looking around. They wear the current costume and read
the office directories beside the banks and banks of
elevators. I realize there are offices in the Empire State
Building! It is not just a tower to look from!

It all starts coming in, on the street. Each one is going
somewhere, thinking. Many are moving their lips, talking
to themselves. In 2 blocks I am walking as fast as they
are. We all agree to wait when the light turns red.

In the subway it is more intense. Something about being
under the ground? It is horrifying to let it all come in,
in the subway.

A small Jew with crazed eyes and a little bent old body is
carrying a shopping bag and is wearing two brown vests. He
has, for a walking stick, a length of curtain rod, solid brass.
He avoids a post and doesn’t look into the large trash-basket.
His lips are moving.

A gust of dirty air hits me as I rise out of it at the 7th Ave.
subway exit. I am relieved, perhaps because the buildings
are lower, the street wider, the intersection a jumble of
crazy angles?

The white walls of an apartment generously lent by a girl
I hardly know. She moved up to the Bronx, to her mother’s,
just to give us a place to stay. I lock the doors and think
how perfect an apartment it is.

The top of the brandy bottle is correctly designed. I don’t
have to fuss with a difficult plastic seal. All I have to do is
twist it off.

Outside, a ventilator randomly clanks …..

Years ago, somewhere inconceivably else, I could have been
given a strange assignment.

He was a short man, gray haired but mostly bald. He explained
the thing to me in a homey kind of office.

“I can fix you up to be, actually be, a Native of a World!”
he said. “You won’t be like them, you will be one of them.
Think the way they do, see as they see etc with exactly
their physical and mental equipment. You can see, of course,
what this means! It means your data, for the first time, will
be absolutely accurate. You will, in every sense, know
what it is to be one.”

I have forgotten all he said about the reports I’d have to make
on my return, but I can almost remember the taste of the
potion I got. Brassy, but not too bad.

And what is happening during moments like that on the Empire
State building is simply that the potion’s effect is flickering
out. There are moments of wakefulness, and it all starts coming

You see it on the faces of the others. They are all more or
less drugged. Many are as straight or straighter than you
are, but are pretending not to be. As you are pretending
not to be.

It is then, while watching the ones who are actually doing
it (not like us, just looking around), that you realize there
are only people more or less drugged into this vast, insane,

There are no natives!

I pledge allegiance to the Pentecostal Brotherhood of
the Faith in. I never felt worse. Do you still feel bad?
How long have you lived at that address? Get in the car.

I’ve never been so ashamed in my life.

You don’t know how much better I feel. It’s like having
some beautiful thing protecting you all the time. A soft
and lovely power that’s devoted only to good. Get in the

“It’s called Conation and Affect.”

Exceptional Children. Anti-Personnel Bomb. Top Secret.

“What kind of books does he read?”

I told you a thousand times.

It is better not to marry but it is better to marry than to
burn. Water seeks its own level.

You’ve been late four times this month.

You could make this marriage work if you’d only try.

Adieu, adieu

Soleil cou coupe



Do you resent it?

September 7, 2011

Master Ssu, Master Yu, Master Li, and Master Lai were all four talking together. “Who can look upon nonbeing as his head, on life as his back, and on death as his rump?” they said. “Who knows that life and death, existence and annihilation, are all a single body? I will be his friend!”

The four men looked at each other and smiled. There was no disagreement in their hearts and so the four of them became friends

All at once Master Yu fell ill. Master Ssu went to ask how he was. “Amazing” said Master Yu. “The Creator is making me all crookedy like this! My back sticks up like a hunchback and my vital organs are on top of me. My chin is hidden in my navel, my shoulders are up above my head, and my pigtail points at the sky. It must be some dislocation of the yin and yang!”

Yet he seemed calm at heart and unconcerned. Dragging himself haltingly to the well, he looked at his reflection and said, “My, my! So the Creator is making me all crookedy like this!”

“Do you resent it?” asked Master Ssu.

“Why no, what would I resent? If the process continues, perhaps in time he’ll transform my left arm into a rooster. In that case I’ll keep watch on the night. Or perhaps in time he’ll transform my right arm into a crossbow and I’ll shoot down an owl for roasting. Or perhaps in time he’ll turn my butt into cartwheels. Then, with my spirit for a horse, I’ll climb up and go for a ride. What need will I ever have for a carriage again?

from the Complete Chuang Tzu translated by Burton Watson