Document: Convention Coverage

By Kaplan, Bruce | Chicago Review, Summer-Fall 1996 | Go to article overview

Document: Convention Coverage


Kaplan, Bruce, Chicago Review


The Spring-Summer 1969 issue of Chicago Review was devoted to "Fantastic Art and Literature": it included translations of drama by Vladimir Mayakovsky and Tristan Tzara, fiction by Kenji Miyazawa, and poetry by Georg Trakl. But as the editors noted, during the preparation of the issue the "fantastic of actual events, commonly known as reality" intervened as the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention and the confrontation between the Chicago police and young protesters in Lincoln Park provoked a fantastic spectacle that summer. Editor IVEN LOURIE remembers how this transcript of interviews from Lincoln Park came together:

I recruited my friend and Folklore Society associate, Bruce Kaplan, to take his Uher tape recorder out in the park during the "riots" and see what he could get. Being Bruce, as soon as he waved his mike at the crowd, he attracted off-beat and unusual interviewees. Bruce got on tape a young civil disobedience veteran explaining all her self-defense and riot protection gear; stories of encounters with the police and hysteria in the city streets; a woman walking her dog who complained about the litter in the park; a man who immediately identified himself as the author of all this activity, a god-like being whose will was being served by the demonstrations; a hippie who described taking a lot of LSD and becoming convinced he was a vampire, sleeping in a coffin and emerging only at night and so on. I did a few of these interviews, but most were Bruce's. He was a folklorist, student of Mircea Eliade and several prominent scholars in South Asian Studies, and uniquely qualified in field recording. We hired an anthropologist friend of Bruce's to transcribe the tapes, then edited them for crispness and a cinematic rhythm, and presto! - we had a text that ended up in another Big Table anthology of prose experiments. Bruce never quite finished his Ph.D., instead founded Flying Fish Records, where he did a great deal of memorable recording. He died suddenly in 1992, a loss to the music business and to all his friends and family.

The transcript runs over fifty pages; we've included some excerpts from it here.

Were you around last night?

Yeh, and I want to talk in general about what a lot of quote leadership of a lot of the activities of the convention, mainly Mobilization people have been doing. They've been acting basically, though not in alliance, they've been acting in the interest of the cops. They've been preserving law and order. They've been keeping people on the sidewalks, obeying the law. Now it's the law that's putting people in jail, it's the law that's got Huey Newton in jail, it's the law of this land that's napalming peasant guerillas in Peru. It's the law of this land that sent people to the Dominican Republic. The law of this land is what people have got to be fighting against. You don't fight against it by obeying it. You don't make revolution by standing on the sidewalk. And people have to to take to the streets because all action that takes place on the street is illegal and it's political and a crowd doesn't need leadership because it has an organic sense of its own. People in a crowd, political people, making political action know what to do and they don't have to be told it. The fact is that the technology in this situation which is one big microphone, megaphone that the Mobilization people had, was the thing that messed up the natural organism, the natural organic quality of the crowd, because it imposed a structure on it which, and it perpetuated a leadership that was both unreal and, I felt, you know, criminally counterrevolutionary. For what could have been accomplished, there were yesterday afternoon, you know thousands of people in the streets pissed off because Hayden was arrested and what did they do, they stayed on the sidewalks for several hours obeying the law and they marched around 'til all the political energy of the thing was dissipated completely. I really think uh that the hang-up that most people have here is that they're confusing and trying to mix education and sabotage. …

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