Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

May 21, 2018

Old Bardians

Filed under: bard college — louisproyect @ 4:59 pm

Dalt Wonk

Jeffrey Marlin (on the right)

Richard Allen

When I entered Bard College in 1961, I soon heard the term “old Bard”, which was a reference to the halcyon days before it became just like every other college. If you were blessed enough to have attended the old Bard, you were called an “old Bardian”. As a freshman, I sought out the companionship of old Bardians because they were the enlightened ones.

If you weren’t sold on the old Bardians legend, you might regard them as the mental patients running the institution just the Alan Bates movie “Queen of Hearts”. That good old Bard was what Walter Winchell called the “little red whorehouse on the Hudson”. I can tell you that despite being defiantly opposed to the status quo, there was very little red about it unless you considered Max Lerner to be a Communist (not an uncommon perception in 1961).

Bard was part of a collection of private colleges that incorporated “experimental” educational theories. This included Black Mountain, Goddard, Antioch, Bennington, and Franconia as well. To escape inevitable financial collapse, all of these schools were forced to become more conventional. In an obvious nepotistic maneuver (he married the chairman of the board of trustee’s daughter), Leon Botstein—then only 23—became President of Franconia in 1970 in order to turn the place around. The ultrarightist William Loeb published an article in his Manchester Guardian with the headline: “Bare Debauchery at Franconia College: Sex, Liquor, Drugs Rampant on Campus” that made it sound even cooler than Bard. Apparently Leon was in over his head since the school went broke on his watch. He has been much more successful in turning Bard around even though the school might have been renamed Botstein College in light of his now 43-year tenure.

As you probably already know if you are a regular reader of this blog, I have been feuding with Leon since 1987 when Martin Peretz became a board of trustee member. At the time I was very involved with Sandinista Nicaragua and was shocked to see someone who supported Reagan’s war that included destroying schoolhouses put in such a position.

Somewhere along the line Leon must have decided to keep me out of the loop because about 4 years ago I noticed that I was no longer receiving communications from the school. It was one thing to be spared requests for donations to the endowment fund that was flush from the millions that George Soros had poured into it but I missed getting the print edition of the alumni magazine. I could read it online but it was probably designed by someone who felt the need to torment people with poor vision such as me. It could not be downloaded into a pdf and if you magnified a page, it would only be readable for that page. Every time you turned a page, you had to remagnify it once again. Since the alumni magazine was typically 100 pages or so, that was a pain in the ass.

I finally complained to the alumni office and they told me that they would put my name in the alumni database (how it got dropped was another question.) About a year ago I stopped getting communications once again. Was it my open letter to a Bard professor who had appeared in Leo DeCaprio’s movie on climate change? Maybe he and Leon didn’t like being reminded that board of trustee member Stewart Resnick had a long and sordid anti-environmental rap sheet, from stealing water in Fiji to using his political clout to do just about the same thing in California. To keep his pistachio nut plantation going, poor people in the area had to cross their fingers when it came to being able to flush their toilets.

So I called the alumni office again and left a message about not getting mailings. Since nobody called back, I guess I am still on Leon’s shit-list. A fair trade-off, I suppose

Today, my only connection to the school is to the old Bardians that I have stayed in contact with over the years or reconnected with over the net.

For me, old Bardians are the kind of people that Jack Kerouac described in “On the Road”:

[…]the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!

But they are also literally old like me and still going strong. Like me, they will probably die working on a film or a novel and take their last breath as believers in the need to live a bold and creative life—just the kind of life that Socrates led in ancient Greece. If there was thing our guru Heinrich Blucher (Hannah Arendt’s husband) made clear in his Common Course, it was the need to fight to the death for truth and for beauty.

With that as background let me refer you to some works by old Bardians that have come my way recently.

In March, 2011 an article appeared in the N.Y. Times titled “Life and Art, Side by Side in the French Quarter” that profiled a married couple that go by the name Dalt Wonk and Josephine Sacabo. I knew them as Richard Cohen and Mary Alice Martin and there were no two more beautiful people at Bard both on the surface and in their soul. Dalt became a writer and Josephine a photographer, using their base in the French Quarter of New Orleans as an ongoing inspiration.

Referring to her provenance, a New Orleans reporter noted that “Josephine’s influences are the French Symbolist poets. But being a Latina, she has that sort of magic realist DNA in her blood.” (You can see her work at: http://josephinesacabo.com/).

Recently Dalt sent me a copy of a 2002 collection of short stories based on his plays titled “Spiritual Gifts” that is redolent of Tennessee Williams. Set in the French Quarter, his mostly Black and poor characters are struggling to assert their dignity against crushing poverty, including a once-famous rhythm and blues singer named Grace who now in her old age stays afloat by working as a cleaning lady in a nightclub. An elderly Black man named Emile passes out flyers on the street but insists on wearing a suit and tie, even in the baking heat.

These are the kinds of people who have become victims of Hurricane Katrina as the city’s elite chose to ethnically cleanse exactly the people who made it a gumbo of distinct ethnicities and cultural backgrounds.

While “Spiritual Gifts” is out of print, I can recommend a more recent work from Luna Press that serves as a reminder of the old New Orleans just as the life that Dalt and Josephine live is a reminder of the old Bard. The 2014 French Quarter Fables is based on Dalt’s Aesop-like tales and is described on the publisher’s page as:

Little animals wearing clothes. Hard to resist in their bittersweet comic struggles.

These fables are, in a sense, Dalt Wonk’s love letter to the French Quarter — his home for over 40 years. The animals, flowers, and insects are almost all Quarter denizens: a frog in his courtyard lily pond, a rat in the stone riprap on the levee and a roach in the kitchen of a restaurant. They call to mind people you know. Difficulties you’ve faced.

A sample page:

As the French Quarter is to Dalt Wonk, so is Far Rockaway to Jeffrey Marlin, my friend of 57 years and long-time chess partner. A recent fairly serious illness led him to consider the problem faced by older married couples when the death of one will leave the survivor in what might be a lonely and untenable position.

This led him to write a novel titled “A Wolf Behind Every Tree” that can be purchased from Amazon.com. Written in the voice of a young Jamaican handyman named Felix, it shares the identification with the underdog found in Dalt’s “Spiritual Gifts”.

While the Rockaways are not specifically mentioned in Jeffrey’s novel, it is clear to me that the narrative is as much about life in this peninsula that was ravaged by a hurricane just like New Orleans. In fact, the handyman Felix is based on a Caribbean native who helped make Jeffrey’s house livable in the months following superstorm Sandy.

The plot centers on Felix’s role in cleaning out the garage of a despairing and elderly man who has chosen to kill himself after his wife’s death has made his own life not worth living. Cleaning out the garage is a prerequisite for being able to drive the old man’s car inside where it can become an instrument for suicide via carbon monoxide poisoning, just like “Death of a Salesman”. While Felix might subconsciously be aware of enabling a suicide to take place, he also held out the possibility that the man’s recent visit to see his son and grandchildren in Colorado might have given him reason to go on. As so often happens with Tolstoy’s unhappy families, including his own, suicide is the only rational choice even if an irrational state power in thrall to organized religion robs you of that choice.

The novel is very timely given the likelihood that a Trump presidency and successive reactionary presidencies will only deepen such tendencies. “A Wolf Behind Every Tree” is a welcome contribution to the ongoing debate.

Last month my old friend Richard Allen, who was a couple of years behind me at Bard, dropped me a line to let me know that his “One-Armed Bandit” had received the Sony Classics Short Film Prize at the 2018 Asbury Park and Music Festival.

This is a 12-minue 1971 Max Sennett-style silent comedy (sans subtitles since none are really needed) that features Paul B. Price as a bandit with one arm in a sling who accosts a well-dressed man walking through what looks like the ruins around Avenue D on the Lower East Side that evoke the New York City of the late Tom Wolfe’s “The Bonfire of the Vanities”. The moral of the story is that you need two arms to do a proper stick-up.

This is a New York that Richard was intimately familiar with as a denizen of a long lost bohemia in the 70s that like the rest of the city has become gentrified. Like Josephine Sacabo’s homage to the French Quarter, Richard paid his own homage to this world in a photography book titled “Street Shots / Hooky: New York City Photographs 1970” that can be purchased here. Like “One-Armed Bandit”, it is a comedy of errors as the blurb indicates: “Photographs and story about a New York City bike messenger who begins filming a movie called Hooky using kids on East 3rd St. It turns into a turf war with the Hells Angels who live across the street. Someone is knifed to death and a great fire guts the building. The author escapes, barely.”

“One-Armed Bandit” grew out of a skit that Richard worked on with Ken Shapiro and Chevy Chase, another couple of old Bardians, on Channel One—the off-off-Broadway revue that was turned into “Groove Tube”. You can’t see his face but the cop who pursues the one-armed bandit is Chevy.

Like every other old Bardian, Richard is still going strong as he wrote me: “My new Movie HOME COOKIN – Over 100 Years in the Making – 87 Min. – you’ve seen unfinished pieces -should be back from color correction in Toronto in a week or so and that will be done after 5 years almost.

It seems funny to say, but I feel my best years and most success is still in front of me. I attribute this to a good sense of imagination. Want to read the new script SMALL POTATOES?

I wrote Richard back telling him to send it along.

2 Comments »

  1. Thank you Louis.- ben boretz

    Comment by Ben boretz — May 21, 2018 @ 5:13 pm

  2. How about an article on the abundance of sexual predator professors at Bard College who manipulated quiet, weak-willed young female students into disastrous sexual relationships, emotional and mental trauma and mind control?

    All the while projecting a facade of “radical” expressivity in the name of disgusting, self-serving manipulation of vulnerable, trusting, developing, post-adolescent, young adults?

    Many of whom dropped out of Bard College after surviving a sickening sexual relationship with a professor while living in his home in Barrytown during the summer?

    A professor who would invite female students to his bucolic home and ask them to mow his lawn naked while he played the piano and watched from them from inside his creep cave?

    How about out-of-wedlock children being the by product of some of these despicable malignant narcissistic sociopaths?

    How about crowd sourcing some funds for the benefit of the survivor/victims of said scumbag “pedo” gogues?

    How about a fucking #METOO movement for the benefit of the survivors of an “Emeritus” sexual predator?

    Comment by Comb-Over-Creep-Watcher — May 23, 2018 @ 4:33 pm


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