PASSING THE TEST
Ah, Ken Kesey ["Shameless Shaman," Jan. 21]. You know, it's possible that he only had two good books in him. He's not the only one. Ralph Ellison finished just one book. But that was Invisible Man, one of the greatest American novels of the 20th century. Joseph Heller wrote only one indisputably fine novel. But that was Catch-22.
Kesey wrote two wonderful books, plus he helped invent the horse that millions of us rode in on. I wish he'd had more great novels in him, too. But if I'd spun Sometimes a Great Notion, I'd die a happy and proud writer.
KESEY'S SHINING MAGIC
I am writing in response to Tim Appelo's story about Ken Kesey ["Shameless Shaman," Jan. 21]. I recently published a Kesey article (San Francisco Chronicle, Nov. 30, 2003). Mr. Appelo called me for further exploration of that article, or so I thought. Instead, I discovered that my ideas and words were broken up and scattered like a corrosive salt across Kesey's reputation, distorting and destroying rather than clarifying. To set the record straight:
Kesey didn't succumb to the "high life," as Appelo asserts, but to family life, sweet, warm, extended, a marriage of more than 35 yearsthis work occupied his time and is a greater achievement than his novels, and far harder to accomplish. He was not a "Shameless Shaman" but the real deal, living through personal tragedy, pain, illness, and life without losing joy, humor, wonder, or dignity. This magic shines strongly in his children's books, which Appelo does not even mention.
The forthcoming memoir, Writing Under the Influence, is being co-written by most of the students from the Caverns class, not by myself alone, and is a tribute to the ceaseless energy and work Kesey put into that class.
My article and discussion with Appelo explored how American expectation and demands on an artist wring art and joy from them, ultimately killing art and artist. Appelo's focus on Kesey's drug use adds little to our understanding of the man, his work, or ourselves. Kesey said, "If it doesn't uplift the human spirit, piss on it." Indeed.
KESEY'S CULTURAL LEGACY
Tim Appelo's article on Ken Kesey seems to have been written by someone who only knew Kesey from books ["Shameless Shaman," Jan. 21]. To reduce Kesey down to a writer and drug user is one-dimensional. He excelled at ambiance and social facilitation. He painted beautiful backdrops for stages, so to speak. Kesey's greatest legacy is a cultural one, not a literary one, although his contributions to literature are notable. I remember being enraptured as he recited a poem about utopia, with a string quartet accompanying him, at a Berkeley benefit full of Deadheads. He helped legitimize hippies, and dosed the hippie scene with high art and culture. He brought culture, environmental awareness, and education to the lives he touched. To say Kesey's big life interrupted, or overshadowed, his writing is to not understand his legacy. He was a performer, a dreamer, a healer, a community activist, and, yes, a writer. He was not perfect. He and I had fights about sexism, for example. But his vision of alternative lifestyles helped me find a colorful place in the world, and I am thankful for the paths he blazed.
GREAT JOKE FALLS FLAT
When I was at the University of Kansas in 1973, it was clearly a momentous occasion when Ken Kesey came to speak ["Shameless Shaman," Jan. 21]. However, it wasn't clear exactly what he was saying, nor was it certain that he had anything to say, or that he believed there was anything worth saying. Unsurprisingly, there were many prolonged pauses, during which he merely beamed boyishly as if we were all in on a Great Joke, while, apropos of nothing, collective Pentecostal murmurs arose from the crowd.
At no point in his "lecture" did he give any indication that he had read anything, or acknowledge that the apprehension of meaning could be an allusive endeavor, or demonstrate that he had acquired any more insight or self-knowledge than the average pixilated 15-year-old. Of course, to the post-literate wowsers of the "Be Here Now" generation, for whom all history and tradition were an antiquarian irritant, the illuminated man of the hour was all the more enlightened for having come from Nowhere.
Kesey's creative difficulties were a metaphor for the culture war between circumspection and "spontaneity," discipline and self-indulgence, tradition and willful deracination. His literary career (to answer the question posed on the cover) was destroyed not by drugs per se, but by the attendant antinomian presumption that we already knew the Truth (having been pole-axed by it with the help of hallucinogens), and that there was nothing left to do but act upon our every unexamined impulse as if it were a divine directive. The Head Bozo on the Bus, with his public advertisements for the possible unity of thought and action (and his private complaints about his inability to write anymore ), had arrived to oversee an orgy of solipsism.
Scott Chauncey Munson
GEN. CLARK ON TRIAL
I'm writing in response to Geov Parrish's smear of Gen. Wesley Clark ["Nuremberg Candidate," Jan. 21]. Parrish uses tired arguments from both the extreme right and left to paint Clark as a Nazi war criminal.
Who is Parrish's "peaceful alternative to Bush"? Surely we all are aware of the stakes in this election. One more right-wing justice on the Supreme Court would be far worse than one President Clark.
Clark is to the left of Howard Dean on a number of issues, such as taxation, the military budget, civil rights, etc. He proposes eliminating income taxes for the poor and making the rich pay their share. He wants to take money from the military budget and use it to pay for kids' health insurance!
Michael Moore has come out for Clark. Moore's credentials as a progressive are above reproach. I invite those who haven't read his statement to visit www.michaelmoore.com. It is a good counter to Parrish's absurd, ill-considered attack on Clark.
CLARK'S 'SCHOOL' DAYS
One thing that was absent from Geov Parrish's assessment of Wesley Clark's military career was that he oversaw the notorious School of the Americas ["Nuremberg Candidate," Jan. 21]. Graduates have committed many human rights abuses, the most notable being Manuel Noriega. I saw Clark asked about this. He said the school is the best way to spread human rights abroad. He used the analogy that if someone with a Harvard MBA commits a white-collar crime, it isn't Harvard's fault, and Harvard will only try to teach business laws and ethics better. However, even after the school changed its name to the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, trying to distance itself from tyrannical alumni, it still only offers one, eight-hour course on "human rights, the rule of law, due process, civilian control of the military, and the role of the military in a democratic society." That's a lot to cover in one day's work! I sent an e-mail asking for clarification on this issue and got a canned response talking about the environment, of all things. Perhaps the Weekly might have better luck getting a response.
DEMS ARE READY
Interesting article, but casting a wider net would have yielded a different point of view ["Caucus Chaos," Jan. 21]. In the 43rd District, we've mailed 15,000 letters telling voters where caucuses are and how they operate. We've had one training session for the precinct committee officers who will be running meetings and will have another. We've publicized the locations through our newsletter and local outlets. Thank you for printing the state Democratic Party's information number, but if the Weekly is concerned about participation, the best thing you could do is print the caucus locations.
Chair, 43rd District Democrats, Seattle
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