Saturday, July 2, 2011

Forget Dionysus

Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas by Rebecca Solnit, U.C. Press 2010, is a sort of San Francisco field guide for thinking people, the basic message being that life here is AWFULLY DIVERSE. To prove it there is a map of "queer public spaces"—we used to call them gay bars—coexisting, just to be clever, on the same page with a chart of local butterfly habitats. Three pages of euphoric prose by Aaron Shurin follow, coyly celebrating the “soul” that gays continue to bestow upon the city.

Well, whatever. What I thought uncompromisingly stupid was the relegation of  resident “whites” solely to Pacific Heights, indicated on the map entitled “Tribes of  San Francisco.”  But I won’t bother to be bothered by the absence of any mention of hippies, which happens, in the words of a UC alumni magazine reviewer, because the author “eschews the prepackaged narrative of Love and Haight.”

Regardless of its ensuing commodification / reification, the hippie experience affected the lives of tens of thousands, and helped enable all kinds of social change. What followed in the Reagan period was a sort of damnatio memoriae of the hippies. It still continues, and I suspect the present volume is more evidence of the same.

Speaking as an unrepentant hippie, I refuse to be upset. It always occurred to me that the Haight in 1967 resembled not an infinite city, but more accurately an invisible one. It descends from the skies every hundred years or so like Brigadoon, enabling the more percipient members of society to worship Dionysus with all means at our exposal before it goes away again. It’s like the movie “King of Hearts” (1966), when the doors to a French nuthouse are accidentally unlocked during WWI, and the inmates run out to play in the deserted streets of the town and enact their various phantasies.

It’s a question of grace, not merit, and the best way to ensure that Dionysus returns with his cult to our city is to forget about him completely.


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