Hippies marked down

Hippies e-copies down to $2.99 this week (click book cover for link).

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Struggling with the contradictions of the 1960s counterculture, a group of hippies finds an LSD-spinoff that sparks past life regressions and sweeps them to a dramatic climax.

Signed copies of Hippies and other books below also available by Christmas with email query by Dec. 10: drggautier@gmail.com.

(Click covers to view online; email drggautier@gmail.com to order signed copies. If you see something you like, order now. Limited number of signed copies in stock.)

Hippies
Audience: Adult Readers
Book price: $11 (see shipping cost below)

Late 1960s. A beautiful naive idealism. Blasted by the Establishment. Torn by its own contradictions. Jazmine, Ziggy, Ragman, and a coterie of hippies run loose and free until they discover an LSD-spinoff drug that triggers past life regressions and sweeps them toward a dramatic climax. This epic tale of hippiedom is intimate in the lives of its characters but panoramic in its coverage of the sights, sounds, and ideals of the Age of Aquarius.

 

Mr. Robert’s Bones
Audience: Ages 14-99
Book price: $10 (see shipping cost below)

In a neighborhood full of quirky characters, three kids’ search for hidden silver in an abandoned house pits them against forgotten ghosts and the house’s dark memories of racism and betrayal. The quest for the silver is especially nerve-racking for Annie, the kid who actually sees the ghosts. Her friends want to believe her but can’t, and she herself is torn between running away from it all and following the ghosts into the house’s dark history.

 

Year of the Butterfly  
Audience: Poetry, General
Book cost: $6 (see shipping cost below)

One year, four seasons, an archetypal journey, a poetic landscape rich in the flora and fauna of intimate human connection, joyous and sad. The poems in this 42-page chapbook are mostly short and pithy, formally sculpted, but each is packed with concept and image, and together they build up an unforgettable sense of how much life can be lived in a year and how quickly that year can slip away.

 

Phineas Frecklehopper
Audience: Ages 8-12
Book cost: $8 (see shipping cost below)

From pies to pizza, Phineas loved to cook. But could rendering a recipe really make a hero? Absolutely! Just ask the bullies who got smarty-pantsed back by Phineas, with the help of some magical creatures from the other side of the bushes. And after the magical journey, try some do-it-yourself samples from Phineas’s recipe box!

 

 

Spaghetti and Peas
Audience: Ages 2-8
Book price: $14 (see shipping cost below)

What would you do if you saw a snake in the lettuce? Rachael had to figure that out fast. And she found a magical adventure in her own back yard, within smelling distance of the spaghetti sauce her dad was cooking on the stove. Enjoy this zany, richly illustrated, hardbound picture book as a read-aloud or early reader.

Shipping (USA):
First book                                             $3.50
Second book in same shipment          $2.00
Additional books in same shipment    $1.00

Goodbye, Maggie on NetGalley

Goodbye, Maggie (160 pages), which was short-listed in the 2019 William Faulkner — Wisdom Competition, is available here on NetGalley for any bloggers, hippies, lovers, or friends who are in that program and want to download and read the advance copy. Spread the news.

The rest of you losers will have to wait for the official January 27 release (though you can pre-order the Kindle version here on Amazon now).

In a culture of health nuts, gurus, quacks and seekers, Phil’s stagnant life collapses when his charismatic brother, Magnus, announces that he has murdered Maggie Leblanc and asks for sanctuary. Thus starts a comic drama of rollicking misdirection, as Magnus disappears – with Phil’s girlfriend, Hermia – and Phil lands on an uneasy road trip through small town Louisiana with Gus, another rival for Hermia’s attention. Phil and Gus, white and black, find racism, madness, and unlikely friendships as they roll through the swampland and return empty-handed to New Orleans. But are they really empty-handed? And has Maggie really gone gentle into that good night?

Samples below:

Opening scene

Phil’s next surprise

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Tartuffe at Delgado’s Theater

I hadn’t been to a play at Delgado Community College in Mid City, New Orleans, since they opened the expansive Timothy K. Baker Theatre. Great venue! The show, Moliere’s Tartuffe, from the age of Louis XIV, was lavishly performed in period sets and costumes (set dir. James Means, costume design by Cecile Casey Covert and Shelby Lynn Marie Butera).

The set was gorgeous, with the possible down side of very limited set changes through the course of the play. Director Kris LaMorte did a great job blocking and managing at least 11 characters with speaking roles, and pulled the best from each actor, as each contributed with full personality to the scenes at hand. A few with smaller parts could have done a better job with vocal clarity, but this was hardly noticeable as the principal actors kept the rollicking comedy of hypocrisy and misdirection going. Orgon (Ryan J. Vidrine), Dorine (Gabriella DiMaria) and Tartuffe (Brian C. Rosenthal) were all excellent, but the showstopper in this production was the grand dame of the family, Madame Pernelle (Magnus McConnell). McConnell’s part was not large, but from costume and makeup to the magnificent vocal delivery of aristocratic affectation to her command of the stage, she left the strongest imprint.

Bravo to the whole crew at Delgago, who have proven once again that a solid community college theater department, with passion and joie de vivre, can stage productions every bit as good as those at big league (and better funded) universities.

(Images from Delgado Community College website and Facebook page)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Plumed Serpent: Race, Gender, and Primal Consciousness

Review and analysis of The Plumed Serpent, D. H. Lawrence (1926)
by Gary Gautier

First, the gorilla in the room. As The Plumed Serpent tells of a white woman (Kate) who finds herself in early 20th-century Mexico, a strange, frightening, and exhilarating place for her, many reviewers bog down in race/ethnicity/colonialism. Kate in fact gets mixed up with two Mexican men, Ramon (of mixed blood) and Cipriano (pure Indian), who seek renewal for Mexico through its ancient pagan cultures. The shallowest of reviewers see D. H. Lawrence promoting the “white man’s burden” of civilizing the savages, while the better ones remain ambivalent, sensing something different going on in the novel but fearing being tainted as enablers of the racist Western master narrative.

In fact, anyone not cowed by the politics of academic criticism can see, on the contrary, that The Plumed Serpent is Lawrence’s specific refutation of “the white man’s burden” narrative. Especially at this late point in his life (he died a few years later at age 44), Lawrence despised the place to which white man’s Western culture had brought us, with its deadening Christianity and its machines and its dehumanizing political ideologies. The cultural spread of The Plumed Serpent can be roughly divided into the white Western world, the modern Mexican world, and the pre-Hispanic world of ancient Mesoamerica, and Lawrence fleshes out a rich, writerly ambivalence toward all three, but his ultimate allegiance is clearly with the pre-Hispanic pagan world view. The whites have a world of “mechanical dominance” (2145*) and “mechanical connections” (2406), but even Kate is “weary to death of American automatism” (2145) and its deadening effects on the human soul. Lawrence doesn’t mince words about his view: “White men brought no salvation to Mexico. On the contrary, they find themselves at last shut in the tomb along with their dead god and the conquered race” (3110). The modern Mexican fares not much better, “divided against himself” (1461), torn between envy and resentment in both directions – toward the encroaching white culture and toward their repressed pagan roots. For all practical purposes, they – the modern Mexicans – “are swamped under the stagnant water of the white man’s Dead Sea consciousness” (1486). The only hope – and Lawrence had become increasingly misanthropic after the Great War, though his journeys in Mexico and southwest US after 1922 had lifted him somewhat – lies in “that timeless, primeval passion of the prehistoric races” (2686), of Quetzalcoatl and Huitzilopochtli, back when humans lived breast-to-breast with the cosmos, before Christianity tore the soul from the body, back when one’s allegiance to the greater community was visceral and human, not ideological and abstract. “We must go back and pick up the old threads. We must take up the old broken impulse that will connect us with the mystery of the cosmos again” (3154).

Thus, those moderns who chafe at the “white supremacist” aspect of Lawrence’s work are sort of like those who see racial slurs in probably the most impactful anti-racist novel in history, Huck Finn, and absurdly conclude that the novel promotes racism. Such reading requires a degree of resistance to critical thinking that can only be found at the graduate level of US universities today. These are exactly the people Lawrence is fighting against. Wearing their ideological blinders, they miss the whole point of both books. Are some of the racial expressions unacceptable by today’s standards? Of course, but if we are to appreciate cultural history at all, we must resist rejecting past works that fail to meet present standards, and, as Bill Maher says, “just grandfather in all the shit that you would have done yourself if you were alive then.” We don’t need to approve of a past era but we do need to read with a little context if we are to get at the nuance. In terms of the racial spread of characters, do I wish Lawrence had given more rounded Mexican characters in the novel? Sure, but then again, we have no range of white people either – only the struggling (Irish) Kate and the two unlikeable American men in the opening chapters. The novel is less about individual characters than about primeval forces working through the characters. Lawrence connects with the pagan roots and hidden blood of Mexico at a depth that “woke” critics can never know, since their analytic approach sees Mexicans and Mexico as flattened out caricatures of oppressor and oppressed in their political metric, which precludes their engaging at such a depth.

This doesn’t mean I am all-in with Lawrence. As he re-envisions what it would be like for the old pagan world view to break through the crust of deadened modernity, he never quite sorts out, e.g., what to do with the brutality of blood sacrifice and the violence in general that cannot be easily separated from the old world view. But at least he does not sweep it under the rug. Much like Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Lawrence’s Plumed Serpent finds a cultural pathway, exotic and primeval to the European mind, that brings him to a depth in the collective unconscious that is a place of both fascination and horror. Lawrence seems certain that the old pagan ways offer the only hope for renewal, but seems not quite certain of how to account for the blood violence in those ways. Kate feels the full weight of the ambivalence, as she “felt she had met the mystery of the natives, the strange and mysterious gentleness between a Scylla and Charybdis of violence” (2162). Indeed, the Homeric reference is no random allusion. Cipriano’s treatment of the prisoners near the end echoes The Odyssey’s slaughter in the great hall, where the generally admirable Odysseus dispatches the traitors with a brutality that gives the modern reader pause. Through Kate, Lawrence deals with the pagan world view of the ancients as honestly as he can, not with the philosopher’s eye on closing the syllogism, but with the poet’s eye on opening the vista with all of its beauties, its horrors, and its ambiguities.

Critics of Lawrence on gender are partly subject to the same rebuke as those in the postcolonial category above, but not quite as completely. Throughout his corpus, and The Plumed Serpent is no exception, the archetypal struggle of male and female forces, cosmic in scope, play out through individual characters. Such a binary may not be de rigueur today, and indeed may not be an accurate representation of gender in any universal sense. But the transcendental struggle of opposites, often cast as male and female, played out through the subjectivities of individuals, holds a large place in the history of ideas and has given rich food for thought, populating the landscapes of some of our most creative minds, from the visionary poems of William Blake, to Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell, to Camille Paglia and Virginia Woolf. If someone wants to complain that this archetypal struggle is too binary, I have no rebuttal. If someone wants to complain that the female principle in Lawrence’s particular iteration comes up short, I have mixed feelings. He frequently says and dramatizes that male and female are cosmic forces equal in potency, “the mystery of the Two Ways” (8284), Kate’s “woman’s greater self, and the greater self of man” (3011), a “slow wheel of dance” between “two great streams” (3019). Each needs the other to complete itself but each must remain in some way opaque, its strangeness forever intact. At times, the female ideal as pondered by Kate indeed seems a bit too aligned with passivity or submission. But she always makes her own final decisions, she is never eclipsed by the male potency (“though her woman’s nature was reciprocal to his male, surely it was more than that,” 9427), and it is she who saves Ramon, the hero, with the physical force of her own will. So there are legitimate bits to pick with gender, but it would be a mistake to let those bits negate the fantastic archetypal dynamics worked out in the novel.

Besides the risk of some infelicities in gender representations (a risk taken by any creative work of this magnitude), there are perhaps larger risks to Lawrence’s social vision. I do not mean the “white man’s burden” risk formulaically raised by woke critics, as this risk only applies if one skims the barest surface of the novel. But in his eagerness to strip away the ideological clutter of modernity and get back to human-to-human based structures of power, Lawrence leaves the dangers of hero-worship and fascism intact even at the depths of the novel. Ramon, with all of his good intentions regarding the spiritual renewal of a world become deadened, emerges as the cult leader par excellence. If Lawrence’s social vision differs from Ramon’s, this is difficult to decipher from the actual text on the page.

An interesting cinematic equivalent to this phenomenon might be Sam Peckinpah’s Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (with Kris Kristofferson, James Coburn, and Bob Dylan). In that fine film, Pat and Billy wander villages separately, but each is clearly a man of power. The people in this frontier setting intuitively recognize what Lawrence calls “the voice of a master and authority” (6196). Whether they are breaking the law, helping a stranger, or killing someone who stands in the way, it matters not. There is an automatic allegiance to Billy when he is in town, and an automatic (though perhaps more grudging) allegiance to Pat when he is in town. To people in this outlier region, the laws of the state or ideological alignments are impossibly abstract. They recognize a man of power when they see one, and their allegiance naturally alights upon that man. One recognizes the phenomenon in the film, and it seems quite natural in context, but, as both Pat and Billy show by their moral ambiguity and unpredictability, there is a dark side to this natural expression of human bonding into power relations in a pre-state, pre-ideological manner. What if the man of power is Charles Manson or one of the fascist leaders who darkened the 20th century?

The Plumed Serpent runs the same risk as the Peckinpah film. There is something tantalizing about breaking through the crust of deadened modernity with a renewed spiritual energy based on the forgotten pagan ways, based not on ideological abstraction but on breast-to-breast contact with fellow humans and with the physicality of the cosmos. But there is a risk there that I’m not sure Lawrence addresses adequately. Ramon and Cipriano lead the renewal in this novel, but who will the leaders of power be tomorrow? To cast this back into psychoanalytic terms, note that Lawrence is contemporary with Freud as well as Jung. Besides the book’s rich exploration of the collective unconscious and its call to find redemptive energy in the primitive roots of consciousness, one can cast it in Freudian terms as well. Lawrence is a creature of the id, always trying to tease the dark power of the id into breaking through the soft tissue of the ego and the hard crust of the superego. Therein lies redemption for Lawrence, but I think it is safe to say that there is also a danger in giving the reins to the unregulated drives of the id.

One final note worth mentioning, just on the formal elements of fiction. As with the other novels of D. H. Lawrence (and those of his modernist peers like Virginia Woolf and James Joyce), The Plumed Serpent advances not along a linear plot with a strong throughline but rather by circling deeper and deeper into the subjective and intersubjective spaces within and between the characters. Woolf’s To the Lighthouse is perhaps the most successful example of this kind of narrative structure, but D. H. Lawrence does it and does it well. And Lawrence is perhaps better than Woolf at filling in the physical landscape, creating a scene, in this case rich with the specific flora and fauna of Mexico, night sky and night rivers, villages and villagers, a sense of wonder and a sense of foreboding. It is wonderful indeed in that regard, but readers beware if you are looking for a suspense-driven novel with a strong plot. Also, be ready for a bit of long-windedness as Lawrence has Ramon create his own cycle of hymns and myths for the return of Quetzalcoatl. Lawrence was a formidable poet in his own right (see, e.g., Birds, Beasts, and Flowers), but it was a bit much in this context.

By the way, if you doubt my assessment of the novel’s themes, you might look to Lawrence’s non-fiction Apocalypse, written just a few years later (on his death bed) and published posthumously. Stripped of the powerful ambivalence and intersubjective force fields that make for great fiction, Lawrence goes straight to the point in that extended essay and makes his case. In his own voice, he speaks of the dead end of modernity and of the need to rejuvenate the old pagan world view, which we indeed still carry within us just as we still carry the primeval archetypes of Jung’s collective unconscious.

Thus, rightly or wrongly, smugly or humbly, I claim the man himself as my number one backup 😊

*Citations are to Kindle version locations. Most paperback editions are around 450 pages.

Selected references / click for links

                 

              

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(Click below for reviewer’s links)

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I have a bird to whistle

Review of Robert Okaji’s chapbook of poems, I Have a Bird to Whistle (Luminous Press, 2019, 27 pages), by Gary Gautier

Beautifully crafted, each poem is an uneasy marriage of image and concept, of fullness and emptiness. Each is suggestive without yielding a fixed meaning. Meaning, like the sense-rich images, follows geometric curves through space to the vanishing point. The logic moving through each poem is like an extended haiku concatenation, jumping from one discrete image or cluster to another sometimes unrelated one. So far, so good. But the discontinuity, suggestive as it is, is sometimes too much, and I wish Okaji had given us a more stable throughline to hang onto as we move across the flow of language. When I set these prose-poem paragraphs against Okaji’s pre-existing work (see his blog here), for my taste he flourishes better with the more traditional poetic line structure. Still, those who revel in the sheer beauty of poetic language, in the compression of image and concept, in this case coming in bite-sized, one-paragraph chunks, will be pleased with this short collection.

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The Life of the Bee

Naturalists just don’t write with the same style and imaginative power as they did 100 years ago, as in this excerpt from “The Life of the Bee” (Maurice Maeterlinck, 1901).

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“The queen started laying again in the first days of February. The workers have flocked to the willows and nut-trees, gorse and violets, anemones and lungworts. Then spring invades the earth, and cellar and stream with honey and pollen, while each day beholds the birth of thousands of bees. The overgrown males now all sally forth from their cells, and disport themselves on the combs; and so crowded does the too prosperous city become that hundreds of belated workers, coming back from the flowers towards evening, will vainly seek shelter within, and will be forced to spend the night on the threshold, where they will be decimated by the cold. Restlessness seizes the people, and the old queen begins to stir. She feels that a new destiny is being prepared. She has religiously fulfilled her duty as a good creatress; and from this duty done there result only tribulation and sorrow; she will soon be forced to quit this city of hers, where she has reigned. But this city is her work, it is she, herself . . . . She has peopled it with her own substance; and all who move within its walls – workers, males, larvae, nymphs, and the young princesses whose approaching birth will hasten her own departure …

“What is this ‘spirit of the hive’ . . . that after the queen’s impregnation, when flowers begin to close sooner … will coldly decree the simultaneous and general massacre of every male? It allots their task to the nurses who tend the nymphs and the larvae, the ladies of honour who wait on the queen and never allow her out of their sight; the house-bees who air, refresh, or heat the hive by fanning their wings, and hasten the evaporation of the honey that may be too highly charged with water, the architects, masons, wax-workers, and sculptors who form the chain and construct the combs, the foragers who sally forth to the flowers in search of the nectar that turns into honey, of the pollen that feeds the nymphs and the larvae, the propolis that welds and strengthens the buildings of the city, or the water and salt required by the youth of the nation. Its orders have gone to the chemists who ensure the preservation of the honey by letting a drop of formic acid fall in from the end of their sting; to the capsule-makers who seal down the cells when the treasure is ripe, to the sweepers who maintain public places and streets most irreproachably clean, to the bearers whose duty it is to remove the corpses, and to the amazons of the guard who keep watch on the threshold by night and by day . . . .

“Finally, it is the spirit of the hive that fixes the hour of the great annual sacrifice to the genius of the race: the hour, that is, of the swarm; when we find a whole people, who have attained the topmost pinnacle of prosperity and power, suddenly abandoning to the generation to come their wealth and their palaces, their homes and the fruits of their labour; themselves content to encounter the hardships and perils of a new and distant country.”

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