Discovery #1 (in the Emmett Grogan Papers)

The Emmett Grogan Papers at the New York Public Library consists of around 200 sheets (letter/legal size and a few odd dimensions) comprising 50 items. Many of these are drafts of the articles/pieces that went into the Realist/Digger Papers publication which the Diggers distributed in June, 1968. The story that I have been told is that one of the Diggers was sent to New York to deliver the typewritten manuscript of these articles to Paul Krassner who ultimately published them as an issue of The Realist while also providing 40,000 Free copies to the Diggers (with a separate cover sheet but everything else the same).

The Digger Papers quickly joined the tidal wave of underground news media that inundated the American counterculture of the 1960s+ — however, among those who were attuned to the radical ideological & philosophical attainments of Digger literary output, the publication achieved a cult following. To this day, a copy of the (now “sunned” and “tanned”) issue on newsprint brings big bucks in the rare book/ephemera dealer circles. For anyone not obsessed with holding actual history in hand but having access to the record of such manifestations, here is a link to a PDF copy of the Digger Papers.

One of the articles in the Digger Papers was “Dialectics of Liberation (A Speech)” which was important for articulating an approach to the deep social divisions that were becoming clear in 1967, suggesting that expanded consciousness grounded in loving autonomous communities creating alternative visions of future society was the answer beyond the paranoid style of politics and an impending ecological crisis. [Were that this message could be heard today!]

[Note: in my researches, this article is the first mention in both “above-ground” and “underground” media of the disaster-in-making of the trapped atmospheric carbon-dioxide leading to the greenhouse effect and subsequent melting of polar ice caps with sea level rise and massive coastal flooding. An important bellwether of the future half-century controversy.]

In the descriptive catalog for the Emmett Grogan Papers appears the following entry:

Box 2, folder 1
Dialects of Liberation: A Speech. Typed transcript of Emmett Grogan’s speech delivered at the Dialectics of Liberation Conference in London, July 1967, containing significant autograph emendations by Emmett Grogan in preparation for publication in The Digger Papers, including the crossing through of entire paragraphs which were not printed in The Digger Papers. 13 pp.

I have always assumed that Allen Ginsberg was the author of “Dialectics of Liberation.” He attended the conference by the same name in July, 1967 at London’s Roundhouse. Ginsberg is seen on various videos of the proceedings using similar phrasing as appears in the “Dialectics of Liberation” article published in the Digger Papers. But I have never seen him explicitly credited. I feel certain that Ginsberg — not Grogan — is the author. So, the NYPL catalog needs to be corrected (beside which, the title is mis-transcribed).

However, even though Ginsberg was the author, what is so interesting is that Emmett obviously edited the version that appeared in the Digger Papers. See the page scan (below) which clearly shows edits in Emmett’s handwriting.

scans from Joshua McKeon COMBINED_Page_27-ORIGSIZE

One correction in particular is telling. Ginsberg wrote:

So I’m going to get on now to what I should have been on all along which is praxis — practical plans. | That has been classed generically as Flower Power, which is a euphuistic term, but I guess it’s as pretty a term as there is and why not then, Flower Power. Though it’s one that’s easy to put down and goof off with, but it’s a correct image — in the sense of correct in its origin and literal as to some of its techniques. and [sic] the original phrase seemed to rise up out of the streets — along with another phrase: “Make San Francisco an electric Tibet”.

Here’s how Grogan edited it:

I’m going to get on now to praxis — practical plans. Social action and plans have been cased in autonomy, it’s a correct term — in the sense of correct in its power and literal as to some of the new activists’ techniques. And the original style seemed to rise up out of the streets: “Standing on a street corner waiting for no one is power” — along with the phrase: “Make San Francisco an electric Tibet.”

Hmm, here we see Grogan substituting one of his favorite terms — autonomy — for Ginsberg’s discussion of “flower power.” The sense of the term as representing a concept that “seemed to rise up out of the streets” is maintained in both versions. It’s just that Ginsberg was talking about a generalized counterculture, and Grogan was substituting a tighter construction.

The whole article is full of such details.

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Visiting the Emmett Grogan Papers

For a last minute whirlwind journey before fall semester in grad school began, I trekked via several modes of transportation (train, plane, automobile, and Greyhound bus) to New York City and back. The primary reason was to visit the newly-accessible collection of papers that Emmett Grogan left with his friend Harvey Kornspan in 1968 before taking off for new horizons, never to return and retrieve the odd stash of documents. Instead, Harvey sold the collection in 2014 to a London dealer of ephemera who in turn “placed” it with the Special Collections department at the New York Public Library. Located in the Stephen A. Schwarzman building (the main branch of NYPL) at 42nd street and Fifth Avenue, the Special Collections department is impressive and spans three floors in numerous divisions. Over a four-day period, I studied all the documents in the Emmett Grogan Papers and made several discoveries that will be of interest to historians and bibliographers of the Digger movement. I will make a report in the coming weeks/months in this blog space.

First, the only two photographs contained in the papers, these are of Emmett before he arrived in San Francisco. I thought it appropriate to share these first. Thanks to Max, Emmett’s son and heir, for permission to publish these here.