excerpts from

Minding the Darkness:
A Poem for the Year 2000

Peter Dale Scott

     Almost twenty years ago, in 1980, I began, without realizing it, the project that has
become a trilogy, tentatively entitled
Seculum. The initial draft of the
first volume,
Coming to Jakarta: A Poem About Terror (published 1988), was
completed in six weeks, in healing response to a personal crisis after a publisher
suppressed a prose book of mine that was already in page proofs for a print run of
250,000 copies. The book began with a diffuse sense of nausea and terror, but quickly
defined a focus: my stifling inability to dispel by prose the wide-spread denial of US
involvement in the 1965 Indonesian army massacre of leftists, when perhaps a million
people were killed. Soon however I was looking at the same process of denial in myself,
since I had once sought to discount my own university's support of elements in
collaboration with the army. Thus the poem took the form of an argument, initially
with the external world, but increasingly with myself.

     In the eight years it took me to complete and publish Jakarta, I found that I
could not bring it to closure until I had engaged on an unpredicted sequel,
to the Candle
. My wife laughs at that book's subtitle, "A Poem on Impulse," since
it was composed and eventually polished over ten years, before being published in
Candle was unfocussed, a poem of penumbras and shadows. I saw it as a
corrective contrast to the worldly purposiveness of
Jakarta, which came more
and more to strike me as poetically one-sided. Thus
Candle began by exploring
inner, aesthetic, and personal experience; as it progressed it moved into a more
deeply spiritual and explicitly Buddhist perspective.

     This left me with an even more acute problem of closure than I had with Jakarta.
I now had two parts of a whole whose movements and directions were almost
antithetical, each negating the attempted holism of the other. Thus I could not
close the pages of
Candle until I had promised a third volume, of which I could
then visualize no more than the opening sections. This third volume,
Minding the
, incorporates both the secular yang elements of the first (dedicated to my
father the rationalist reformer) and the spiritual yin elements of the second
(dedicated to my mother the Nietzschean artist). Thus the poem contains a yang
followed by a yin movement, though each of these is presented as (like day and
night) arising out of and evolving into its opposite. (The following sections appear
near the middle of the yang movement.)

     Minding the Darkness has emerged as an effort to reconcile the movements of
secular (historical) Enlightenment, and of spiritual (personal) enlightenment, that
are represented by the first two volumes. Like other long poems by older men
(I am now seventy), it toys dangerously with abstract didactic impulses at the end;
and predicts with Shelley that both outer and inner enlightenment (the current word
is development) are damned, even murderous, if they do not honor each other.


February 21, 1994
The events which have happened and those (more philosophical) which might happen Aristotle Poetics 9.2 How far back must we search the source of this separation through which poetry has shrunk from being the truth of the tribe to a tolerated indulgence in a productive world? And if we ask as have those who have given us justice and the state (The Tao: when justice appears so does great confusion Tao Te Ching 18 Unde hoc malum?. Whence this evil? Brown 394 the problematic answer is Far! Very far! the heavy cannon on the hills above Sarajevo and now in Orahovac from centuries of reaction to the tyranny of the Turks after Sultan Murad at the Battle of Kosovo liberated the Bogomils from Christian persecution to enter the light of Islam as before them the Berber Donatists most of them country people simple folk who did not even know Latin Jones II, 955 then rose up from the latifundia rural estates across North Africa to welcome the armies of the Vandals and after them Mohammed It was St. Augustine who made the painful decision to persecute them and enforce the word with power (Fearfulness and trembling are come over me and horror overwhelmed me and I said O that I had the wings of a dove for then I would fly away Psalm 55:2 and be at rest Aug. Ep. 95, 3; Brown 243 but nonetheless it was better that a few perish in their own flames than that all should burn in the flames of Hell!) Aug. Ep. 204, 2; Brown 336 whose mother Monnica (a Berber name) Frend 230 had like the Donatist peasants set out food for the saints and even before that the decision to discover a fragment of the cross to conquer with from the top to the bottom a worldly restitution that leads to the eternity of downfall Benjamin 313 reverting a global message back to a tribal one ringed by the ominously oppressed and where in such African regions as Hippo Diarrhytos (Bizerte) the Catholic landowners would not trouble to hand Circumcellions over to Augustine to be `instructed': they merely dealt with them on the spot Brown 241 so there today the college-educated Algerian military junta still deal in like fashion with the Hamas And where in the Middle East the persecutions of the Nestorians and Monophysites and Monotheletes by the imperial Councils of Chalcedon and Constantinople 451 C.E.; 680 C.E. led to the 19th-Century massacres of Maronites by the Hakimite Druses the French occupation of Syria and most recently the displacement of Lebanese moderates in the Switzerland of the Middle East by the troops of the Phalange the murder of Bashir Gemayel and retaliatory massacres in the Sabra and Shatila camps Hezbollah, the taking of hostages the bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks Newman 218 orthodoxy always the doctrine enforced with political power hence it always makes room for the corrupting influence of state It is this legacy that we in the East and West have been left to believe in my father's belief in law and hence in sovereignty being what I lost that year with the post-war best and brightest protecting the needs of our states in the Third Committee against the spectre of the UN Charter on Human Rights no place to be mindful the other choice -- St. Martin who chose to convert from the bottom not the top the pagani of the countryside whom Augustine never knew Martin whose powers were weakened when he went in vain to the bishops to plead for a heretic's life -- Sulp. Sev. Dial. II.xiii; Hoare 137 by now the forgotten one In his place the Maoism of the Long March which answered millennia of mandarin indifference to the fate of peasants with the Cultural Revolution the armies of Tienanmen and now the Khmères Rouges killing people on highways for driving a motor car We have seen it from Lebanon to Afghanistan where it decays to war of city against countryside (the fatal weakness of Lenin's conspiratorial revolution at the top to enforce by will the apocalyptic telos of the peaceable kingdom) the countryside will win and what is proven is not the weakness of books (the faith in leadership in the Thoughts of the poet Mao is from the Book of Odes) but of the cities' loss of restraint by words till the rich compete to impoverish the poor Those who search for evil Brown 394 (which is the excuse for power) have always prevailed Sulpicius Severus who recorded how Saint Martin felt from his guilty communion with bishops in order to save a sinner a diminution of spiritual power) Sulp. Sev. Dial. II.xiii; Hoare 137 (a loss such as Gandhi felt) Kytle 173; Scott '88 116 later condemned by Augustine as a semi-Pelagian for his belief it is not from genes or the fall of Eve that we have seen evil prevail (much as Wang Yang-ming believed in the truth of original mind unselfish not beclouded) Wang Yang-ming; Chan 674 but from mala condotta evil governance; Dante Purg.16.103 a world ill-governed in our time
Quick! first stack the plates pushed through the wicket window dump glasses dunk flatware meat goes in can for the dog the rest into the garbage scour out enormous pots I could have slept in as a child which don't even fit in the sink say You're welcome! to those who peek through and say Thanks! maybe some two hundred servings in the space of one hour more near the end of the month when the homeless are waiting for their next welfare checks I owe to Ronna this nostalgia of working hard one hour a week in the soup kitchen at the McGee Avenue Baptist Church (it is years since I have used my hands like this though I remember kitchen work somewhere in my youth the stoop labor in the tobacco fields) or some days taking the names as they come filing in so many of them it strikes me writing their names left-handed misfits who with my better luck might have become poets who have been joking some time outside even when it is raining (though once Mack had to phone the police) when things are hopeless enough you no longer have to worry! not by any means all black like the family of deaf-mutes signing excitedly except when carrying their trays the blind Byron whom I got to serve at table because he liked to talk about Byron and by then it had got around I was an English teacher not just at a high school like Winston who sets out the forks but at the university especially after Selma who helps serve vegetables on the women's side of the kitchen (that is -- next to the stove) and who has been to Europe on a Berkeley Co-op travel package in one and the same week saw Ronna's Glamor magazine piece on Dieters Feed the Hungry and me on TV and made much of this after one of the prayer circles when for a minute we join hands asking the spirit to join us and those outside we are about to feed I want all of you to know that our Ronna here is DOCTOR Ronna Kabatznick Well! now it's my turn to tell all of you Isaac who could never get me to slow down Betty the former cook at whose reception we served after she got remarried to someone in the line Mack so silent the day his son had been found dead Mrs. Harper whose granddaughter was murdered (you know about trials all you women who spoke at Pearl's funeral about how you had moved together from Richmond to Berkeley to worship at the same church) how grateful we are not just because it is easier to walk through the heaps of seated bodies on the sidewalks near the Automated Teller Machines much as Gibbon described them clogging the city streets in his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire because it is a privilege to encounter dignity the dignity of those in the line (the old lady in a knitted tam who chews so quietly through three successive servings after a while you get to know the ones who will say Thank you) but above all your dignity who organized this kitchen for what you thought at first would be only one winter because it was a job someone had to take care of and come back day after day with patience and the grace of simplicity Eliot talked about in Wordsworth from trying to imitate and as far as possible to adopt the very language of men as a profound spiritual revival Eliot '34 74, 75, 80 no less than an education to speak more simply to be in touch again as when in my youth I felt this good ache in my shoulders from scything during the war with work so very simple we need only do it without raising any question it has to be done
February 19, 1994
They banished Solzhenitsyn to the West where he preached against détente and the rot of Western life billboards and tabloids the lyrics of rock music the exploits of Daniel Ellsberg "Freedom! to divulge the defense secrets of one's country for personal political gain" Remnick 70 and because of his knowledge of Soviet defense secrets they imprisoned Sakharov at home leaving Solzhenitsyn by default to exploit his reputation as the dominant writer of this century causing the nouveaux philosophes like André Glucksmann to take a strong anti-Communist stance and end the spell of Jean-Paul Sartre Remnick 70, 73 as well as encourage those inside and outside the Agency who agreed that the U.S. was still "being deceived There are still P.O.W.s in Vietnam" Remnick 74 whereas Sakharov could speak only in the quiet of his living room to people like you Dan Daniel Ellsberg leaving us to wonder what if the Cold War as you and Sakharov had wished had ended in disarmament instead as Solzhenitsyn had wished being "essentially won by Ronald Reagan when he embarked on the Star Wars program and the Soviet Union could not take this next step" Remnick 77 Star Wars a response to the predictable finding of the B Team that CIA Estimates had underestimated Soviet strength the United States had not prepared sufficiently Ranelagh 623 and this in turn on the alleged telemetry doublecross and war of the moles Epstein 162-99, 260 a war not noticed by my colleagues who had marched so many times and been driven into hopeful intensities of togetherness and high eloquence by the simplicities of Vietnam As Plato once wrote you cannot be both powerful in the state and unlike it in character Plato Gorgias 513B but it was not just those wishing peace even Kissinger sent a memo to the White House we recommend that the President not receive Solzhenitsyn Remnick 72 the net result of the clamor coming partly from Helms's CIA and in a small way perhaps even from myself (when I put Jeff Gerth on to the Murchisons and Fisher Island the secret name Angleton Nixon and the Mafia Weissman 251, 265, 270 not knowing what dark forces were engaged in domestic battle high over our civilian heads) the net result of all this was to bring down Nixon Kissinger in the end William Colby thus opening up the way to Carter and Brzezinski pushing through a decision to support the opium-growing Afghan rebels Scott '91 178, 254; Brzezinski 427 and then Bush and the B Team the Bloomingdale Kitchen Cabinet General Graham's High Frontier Marshall Scott & Hunter 62, 76 supported by Texas oilmen who from the early '80s were lusting after Central Asian oil It would be wrong to derive some Manichaean moral there was no one evil strain it having been the great Enlightenment failing to demonize church or class No! I can agree like Havel with some of Solzhenitsyn's obsessions the need for a spiritual dimension the need for the East to see capitalism and democracy with a clear eye Remnick 74-75 his view of Yeltsin's mistake in appointing Gaidar a theorist under the influence of the International Monetary Fund with total ignorance of the situation in Russia Remnick 78 And despite his so-called poems in the English language which appear in every public place I can agree with Brodsky (who inspired Susan Sontag to suggest that the Reader's Digest had been more accurate than The Nation in its assessment of Communism) Remnick 73 that Western man is a mental bourgeois who cherishes his mental comfort It is almost impossible for him to admit disturbing evidence Remnick 73 one must admire both of them in a tyranny a real writer is like a second government Remnick 79 their ability to stand up and push history back even if in a wrong direction unlike the thinkers of the west using ghostly Marxist dialect in their classroom wargames But if you Dan and Sakharov had been the ones who had been heard and given us disarmament would we now have in Afghanistan the Hezb-i-Islami of Hekmatyar the bombing of the World Trade Center the slaughters in Sarajevo?


Benjamin, Walter, edited and annotated by Gershom Scholem and Theodor W. Adorno. The Correspondence of Walter Benjamin, 1910-1940. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995.

Brown, Peter. Augustine of Hippo: A Biography. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1969.

Brzezinski, Zbigniew. Power and Principle. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1983.

Chan, Wing-tsit. A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1963.

Eliot, T.S. The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism. London: Faber, 1934.

Epstein, Edward Jay. Deception. The Invisible War Between the KGB and the CIA. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1989.

Frend, W.C.S. The Donatist Church: A Movement of Protest in Roman North Africa. Oxford: Clarendon, 1971.

Hoare, F.R., trans. The Western Fathers. New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1954.

Kytle, Calvin. Gandhi, Soldier of Nonviolence: His effect on India and the World Today. New York, Grosset & Dunlap, 1969.

Marshall, Jonathan, Peter Dale Scott, and Jane Hunter. The Iran-Contra Connection. Boston: South End Press, 1987.

Newman, Barbara. The Covenant: Love and Death in Beirut. New York: Crown, 1989.

Ranelagh, John. The Agency: The Rise and Decline of the CIA. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1986.

Remnick, David. "The Exile Returns." New Yorker, February 14, 1994.

Scott, Peter Dale. "To Dream the Republic: Meditation, Epic, and the Future City in Shelley, Yeats and Pound: An Essay on Cultural Politics and Poetic Politics." Unpublished Paper. Presented at University of Maine, Orono, 1991.

Weissman, Steve, ed. Big Brother and the Holding Company: The World Behind Watergate. Palo Alto, CA: Ramparts Press, 1974.

Peter Dale Scott's "A Ballad of Drugs and 9/11"
appears in
FlashP°int #8.

Prof. Scott's website can be found at http://ist-socrates.berkeley.edu/~pdscott/