Postscript (2000, 2007)

         I still cry every time I read this text, feeling all that again in deep echo -- for it was truly a raw slice from my heart and soul, from the deep core of my self as well as of our experience together.

         Yet in view of my remarks in later chapters about the making of history, and the actual uncanniness of this episode, I must confess that my story was also a deceptive construct, a sanitized façade. In how many ways and how deeply so, I can hardly know, or suspect save by inference beyond those I can recognize. For though some were conscious from the start, others were scarcely so.

         For to whom was I speaking, wild with all that, alone in my room? To say that I wanted to bear witness is inadequate, for I was driven to testify, to something so momentous and strange that I could hardly grasp or describe it in the rational and political language that was all I had. I knew only, though clearly beyond words, that I was present in a turning-point of history even more profound than the one I had lived through consciously at City Hall in San Francisco four years before; and hoped that my testament of its moment might be precious to the future.

         I wish now that I could have given myself permission simply to open up and let it all pour out -- as I later claimed and long thought I had done; and who could doubt this after reading the text, let alone hearing the tape? I wish I could have let myself rave on and on, saying whatever and all that came to my mind from within and beyond, freed even from the need to construe the sense of the fragments until I had done. I wish this selfishly; for without such fleeting evidence I shall never know how much I grasped beyond the cautious net of my expression; how much I tucked away so thoroughly that one decade would pass before I could even begin to unpack it and nearly three more before I could go a little way further; how much more I might have grasped how much earlier, and by now. I wish this defensively, for I think the fragments would have served in their way as evidence -- if not "objective," at least immediate -- for what I have since construed in retrospect, of the raw impression lingering in my core.

         But of course, such evidence would prove nothing, save perhaps that I was nuts all along. And of course, this defensiveness is largely beyond my control. I can lower my guard against hostile judgment far enough to venture as I did in later chapters here (The FSM As An Altered State and The ‘Rossman Report’), yet it rules me still from within, too thoroughly to venture much further even to myself, as it did from the start, or nearly. Only in that moment, ripped open so deeply, did I have a chance to escape my internal censor, I think now. But I shall never know, for the record shows instead how carefully and narrowly I constructed my account, how hard I tried to stay within the boundaries, how rigorously I suppressed whatever did not fit its purposeful sense, in a deliberate reflex that governed and bound me from within. I would kick my younger self for the lost chance, if I were not obliged to forgive him by grasping why.

         For as bold and certain as I was, I was equally a confused coward, a shirker grasping a broom to clean up the mess on the floor in order to claim that he did his duty, while the blown roof gaped open to heaven above the stunned and glowing survivors. I could not take myself seriously enough to cry fully to the far horizon in confidence of meaning. How could I have dared the presumption of the role, even if I had had the necessary vocabulary? Instead, I settled for a lesser, nearer, clearer role and purpose, still worthy enough to save me guilt: to make history of our making of history, clearly enough to serve as a present tool, without reference to what might lie beyond history. And I became in this service as censorious as open, from caution about how I might be taken and dismissed by whomsoever, in ordinary, editorial ways that reinforced the reflexes holding me from more.

         In this perspective, I review the more obvious of my various censorships of the text before it came out of my mouth to be recorded. I had bound myself narrowly in the first place by making a careful, limited outline before I began; and bound myself more deeply than I understood by automatically constructing it as a narrative -- wide open to the future, but still subject to the rule of narrative, that everything must follow from the beginning and fit into order, make sense.

        Such journalism presupposes a reader interested in the current affair – and one with all sorts of biases. In that era, prejudices against Communists, Beatniks, and student activists led the list. Dressed up here as a Woodrow Wilson Fellow, I’m hardly visible as a Red-diaper baby, or as the shabby bohemian once profiled (Carribean Quarterly 6:4, 1960) as a Beatnik poet. I could scarcely deny the activism that had given me such a personal perspective on the history I recounted; but I sure did try to minimize its recent component.

        “Over the past three years I've been in very few political activities,” says the detached scholar, choosing his era carefully to begin just after the end of his tenure as recording secretary for the busy Bay Area Student Coalition against the House Un-American Activities Committee. During those years, I picketed, sat-in and shopped-in at the Oakland Tribune, Mel's Drive-In, Lucky's Supermarket, the Sheraton-Palace Hotel, and dealerships on Auto Row; and demonstrated against the Cuban Missile Crisis and for Fair Play for Cuba. Those are the high points as I recall them thirty-five years later. Doubtless, there were more; but as I never got arrested,  “very few” seemed a fair summary, or at least not an outright lie.

        In reviewing the earlier weeks of the FSM, I emphasized my alienation so well that I subsequently mistook this report for the whole truth, until 2000, when I was reminded that I had spoken at the very first gathering of the dawning movement. As for my involvement during the police-car siege, I do say, “well, I got very upset by their tone," referring to the faculty visitors in Sproul Hall; but I don’t confess how I stood up and raved at them for their betrayal. And I don’t mention that I removed my shoes to stand atop the car and take my own turn in speaking. Granted, I couldn’t yet realize that my brief talk there had prepared my later, major role in the FSM; but surely I knew that it made me visible as one of our demonstration’s many leaders.

         In short, then, I did nearly everything I could to minimize and efface my role as a political actor before and during the event I was reporting – reducing myself nearly to a receptive witness, waiting to be beaten. There was truth enough in this to satisfy my purpose and any reasonable audience – if not the reactionary fanatics who felt that I and my friends had shaken civilization itself by so aggressively opposing the will of the State; and the me in me who agreed with them.

         I rehearse these evidences of self-censorship less to testify to the purpose that consciously occasioned them – to make my report more palatable and credible to a disapproving world – than to present them as the surface dynamics of deeper, less-describable forms of self-censorship.

        For I was, of course, my own first audience. Writing now, decades after the advent of the subjectively-involved “New Journalism” that began after the FSM, it is difficult to recall the full force of the conventions that governed the trade before that. I was subject to them twice over – not only as a journalist and a journalist’s son, but as a scientist, for much the same rules governed both pursuits. We were not supposed to be overly involved with what we studied, for fear of losing our “objectivity,” our critical distance. So my self-effacement in this recording  was not simply to deceive a hostile audience. It was as much or more to reassure myself, to actually try to manage an “objective” journalist’s role, as best I could, despite the obvious contradictions this involved.

        All this is to say how thoroughly I had bound and gagged myself, before and during my testimony, in order to seem coherent and acceptable to myself as well as to the world.  Given such constraints and my conscious purpose, how could I have begun to speak, or to even to think of speaking, of dimensions of experience so novel that I had no language for them, so strange that I could not face them directly, so weird that even now, forty-odd years later, I fear being dismissed as a loonie for referring to them so awkwardly, so brokenly, so obsessively. If ever there were a moment to speak of them, it was the morning after, if not from the very roof of that car – but how could that have been possible, when so much that was strange and unprecedented was already filling our minds, our mouths, and straining the power of our young tongues?


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