In 1946, my parents took me to my first movie, Pinocchio, at the Loew’s Orpheum on Mass. Ave in Boston. I was fascinated by the flashing bright colors and the lively music, and the escape from the whale’s belly seemed superbly entertaining. I was yet too young to comprehend the rich intellectual nuances of the film, but one scene stuck: the precinct called Pleasure Island in which the little boys, helpless and Apuleius-like, became transformed into braying donkeys.
Much later, I concluded that the film was referring metaphorically to the asinine transmogrification endemic to the American education process, from which, as Sartre might have suggested, there was, in my childhood years at least, no exit. Grasping for alternatives to institutionalized stupidity, and fearing seizure by the U.S. military, I opted for five years of graduate school in Germany. At the Free University in Berlin, sealed off from the rest of Europe in those years by the Socialist peace forces, I was fortunate enough to hear occasional guest lectures by Theodore W. Adorno. He proposed that the real task in life was not merely to escape capitulation before the power of the system, but equally to the consciousness of one’s own powerlessness within the system. This made sense. I moved to San Francisco in the Summer of 1967, embraced psychedelics, zen practice, gay and straight love, poetry, music performance, motorcycles, and backpack traveling around the world. It was for me an enterprise philosophically driven, not a quest for unreflected sensationalism. I wanted my Pleasure Island to serve as a polis for Pinochio, an alternate city, imaginary, built and informed by dreams and desire, whose history I would now invoke and describe.