Monday, July 23, 2012

Nathaniel Tarn, "From Anthropologist to Informant, a Field Record of Gary Snyder"

“Did you ever do any field work?”

GS: No, never formally. But I hung out a lot on the Warm Springs reservation collecting folktales pretty formally: noting, taping, typing. In the summers of 51 and 54. I also did some winter seasons as a student but didn’t use the material in the thesis. Then I worked as a logger (in 54) and got more information - it went in the “Berry Feast” piece. I hitched around and hung around and got onto very intimate terms with Indians.

(Powerful reminiscences of a great time. Smile. We agree to cool some of the talk. O.K. self-censorship. “Why did you put some of those Reviews into Earth House Hold? They strike me as Juvenilia, perhaps not worth reprinting?”)

GS: Well, Juvenilia yes, but they’re not as superficial as they might appear. They were done while I was studying Chinese: no credits involved. For “Midwest Folklore”. The Clark piece is a put-down of course. I’ve never seen any bad reviews of it and yet it’s a bad book. I really wanted to suggest that unexpurgated texts are needed rather than bowdlerized ones. But the Jaime do Angulo: well no one in Anthropology wrote a serious piece about A. But Jaime de Angulo you must realize was a great culture hero on the West Coast. He was a Spaniard with a Paris M.D., came to the South West, quit the army to live with Indians, moved to California. Self-taught linguist, a good one. He never had a regular appointment, he was just too wild. Burned a house down one night when drunk, rode about naked on a horse at Big Sur, member of the Native American Church, great friend of Jeffers - the only man Jeffers ever allowed to visit him day or night. No: I never met him or Jeffers. So: at the end of World War II, Jaime de Angulo was one of the few people alive to jazz up California. These reviews have more meaning than you think in terms of literary culture.

(Have to cool a wee bit more about J. de A’s exploits. Ah the secret within the secret within the secret! “Well, this is bringing us to Indiana...”)

GS: I wanted to go to Indiana to develop the study of oral literature, to study oral literature as style, as raconteur technique - yes, o.k., narrative technique. In summer 51 I’d been on the reservation. Then in the fall of 51 I had this fellowship. I only stayed one semester.

(Where was everybody at certain times? NT at Chicago working up to the Maya. When was Charles Olson at Yucatan? And Black Mountain...I think Black Mountain starting just about when NT leaving for the Maya. Why was I never told? “Who did you work with at Indiana?”)

GS: Well, Charles Vogelin, Thomas Sebeok, Fred Householder and a fine ethnomusicologist George Herzog.

And Dell Hymes...

(Strong reaction. Ha! Saw DH at Sussex ASA about 2-3 years ago. Conference on Linguistics: I’d already quit. Asked DH about whom to contact to get material on the secret history of the anthropoets and he was full of suggestions. GS pleased about conference.)

GS: Dell was at Reed, one year ahead of me and, or course, at Indiana one year ahead. He helped to get me to Indiana. He was my roommate for that semester. This putting of people in touch with each other: About 4 or 5 years ago, I put Stanley Diamond in touch with Jerry Rothenberg (I’d been corresponding with Jerry for about 10 years) and it was Dell who had put Stanley in touch with me. And now we’re altogether on the editorial board of Alcheringa ...

(“This reminds me that in 51 there was this great Wenner Gren thing in N.Y. Levi-Strauss was so surprised to see me in the corridors - I’d worked with him three years but we’d hardly exchanged as many words - that he took me for a drink along with Roman Jakobson. Do you remember about this?)

GS: No, but come to think of it I remember Sebeok talking to us about the great Anthrolinguists conference at Indiana. That must have come before it?

(Up and down the East Coast after Yale and before Chicago: Kardiner in N.Y., Stirling at the Smithsonian, Stewart and Kroeber at Columbia (Kroeber: “Young man, if you’re going to Chicago, you’ll need a thick scarf ”) ... back in Yale: Murdock and Linton who could not help me get on out from under Jefferson and American Democracy: Orientation! “O.K., we’re getting to the crunch: why did you quit?” We already both know this part by heart, I guess. ..)

GS: I decided to quit because it became evident that the things I wanted to do would be better done in poetrythan in scholarship. The economic reasons for a scholarly career weren’t incentive enough. At the magicsuperstitious level, let’s say the Muse is jealous. She won’t tolerate you having several mistresses. A commitment is required. On the practical level - Dell and I talked about this a lot, Dell was going through the same kind of thing - well if you’re going to do a good job it’s got to be whole time. I believe in scholarship if that’s what you want but it has to be well done. A Ph.D. in Anthropology is demanding. I did think about getting the Ph.D. and then quitting, but it seemed to me that the kind of effort one put into getting a Ph.D. was essentially proving some sort of point, almost like showing off. It wasn’t an easy decision. And I’m not sure I’ve found anyone to do what it was I wanted to do ...

1 comment:

  1. Andrew Schelling, in conversation with Shin Yu Pai, RAIN TAXI Review of Books (2002):

    "One last figure I should mention. I've been hoping to write a book on Jaime de Angulo ever since I dropped out of Berkeley in 1979. No professor would sponsor a thesis I wanted to write on de Angulo. He was an anarchist Spanish anthropologist who'd come to North America early in the 20th century. He made himself into a crack linguist, working on Native American languages that were threatened with extinction. He hung out with D.H. Lawrence, translated for Carl Jung, was pals with Mabel Dodge Luhan, Robinson Jeffers & Henry Miller. Near the end of his life he enjoyed a crackling correspondence with Ezra Pound. Pound championed his work & helped get him published.

    "In the Bay Area, before his death in 1949, he taught Jack Spicer linguistics and employed Robert Duncan as his secretary. His writings are very wild-game American, and much underrated. But in Northern California he's something of a legendary figure. His best known work, Indian Tales, has been continuously in print in a bowdlerized edition. The real edition is a series of broadcasts he did for KPFA radio in 1949, full of anthropological lore, vanished languages, California Indian songs used for hunting, gambling, and puberty rites. Jaime homesteaded at Big Sur before the bohemians got there, built his house, raised horses, hunted his meat, drank crazily, and recorded dozens of Indian languages under the patronage of Franz Boas. For a hobby he would do things like learn Chinese and translate the Tao te Ching. I keep in mind his hard living and practical skills-that he could homestead a house as well as write splendidly, or go into the field, make friends, and write up languages that had never been recorded. His example is a good balance to the sort of writers so common today, who come out of graduate schools and write very smart but rather cloistered poetry."