021 - Tuning In


This is Bombay Daak and you signed up for this when? I suppose it was when you read this or this or maybe this. Suffice to say these letters are about reading this and reading that.

Casey Neistat is back and I am on this same boat as him. It speaks of retirement, the video. Casey makes a sabbatical sound like retirement. The thing is, even when he doesn’t know what to do next, he makes imperious vlogs!

Meanwhile I get on with reading

This week I read a transcript of Alan Watts’ The Houseboat Session. The participants- poets Allen Ginsberg and Gary Snyder and psychologist Timothy Leary. The setting, Watts’ ferryboat. The conversation revolved around the subjects covered in Leary’s philosophy of Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out.

The Houseboat Session is so far from my world and time that it didn’t move me much, so I have nothing to say about it. It is a 43 year old conversation, and is perhaps a good study of what Avant-garde ideas of 1967 were. There are certainly passages that make you wonder with admiration and disgust about these men and their lives and ideas.

However, there’s a segment in it that speaks of the culture of the Sioux Indians of learning from the wilderness. It reminded me of an article of excerpts from the life of Charles Alexander Eastman. That piece was my entry way into knowing more about Eastman’s storied life as well as the Sioux culture. It was fascinating and meditative to learn about him and his tribe.

Stumbling on Ginsberg after so long made me think of another thing. I read it sometime in April this year.

What do you think of these two stanzas from Ginsberg’s poem Howl -

Moloch whose brief mind is the barrel of gleaming stars! Moloch whose soul is choices of fragrance! Moloch whose framing is glitz and half-cheerios!

Moloch whose daily life is private; his daily strength hoarse! Moloch whose soft desires become culture burning smoke in a palace of eyes! Moloch whose breeding in the caves sweeps wild and rippling flower-like shapes!

If you’ve read Howl and know it well, you know that this isn’t what Ginsberg wrote. Which is true, because this is written by a machine (GPT 2, I’m sure you have come across the histrionics of its successor GPT 3 that came out in June this year). If AI for poetry is something you are curious about, then you will definitely love Gwern’s experiments on using AI for creative fiction.

If you haven’t read or don’t remember the Moloch section, here’s a link to it. The similarity is astonishing, but you also feel the difference somehow.

Separately if you are of the opinion that it is not poetry but prose, then you definitely need to read how Howl changed the world.

Here’s an interesting turn of events.

In my previous letter I spoke about Frank o Hara’s Meditations in an Emergency. I wrote down and shared a video of the narration of one of the poems in it - Mayakovsky. But Meditations in an Emergency is also a poem in the book - here’s a beautiful rendition of it. The secret to its beauty is the music, a song called In the Nature of Daylight by Max Richter - Here’s a stunning video of it. Now who do I see that in the video? It’s Peggy Olson!! Elizabeth Moss in Mad Men. Wait, didn’t Don Draper read Mayakovsky in Mad Men? Which episode was it? Meditations in an Emergency.

This is why I love the show and that’s where we end today.

Evidently, most of my September went to YouTube instead of books or essays. Let’s see if we can remedy that.

That’s it from me then. Have a fabulous week!