Thursday, April 25, 2019

All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace

Richard Brautigan was one of my literary heroes when I was younger. I think I probably bought his book Trout Fishing in America in the early 1970's because I thought it was about trout America. Richard Brautigan loved to fish but that book (like most of what he wrote) was a combination of stories, poems, fragmentary thoughts, and occasionally - amazingly creative use of language. Richard was born in Tacoma, Washington. The Brautigan Library of Unpublished Manuscripts from everyday writers is located in Vancouver Washington.

I had a beer beside Richard Brautigan at the Eagles Club in Bozeman, Montana...I think about 1981 or so. They had dollar burger night on Fridays at the Eagles. B and I were there drinking and eating cheap burgers and to my surprise Richard Brautigan was sitting at the bar by himself. We talked a little and I told him I was a fan but I got the feeling he wanted to be left alone, so didn't bug him.

In this review of "Trout Fishing in America" the reviewer calls it a book for losers.

The reviewer says that, " the way Brautigan sees it is comforting, funny and delightful only to people who haven't yet invested too heavily in what used to be called greed and hypocrisy."

He then goes on to say, "To give you an idea of the kind of person he is (and why the big people in New York are afraid of him), he raised the money for his book of poems all by himself, got the paper and press, printed it, and then gave the entire issue away. I'm not kidding. The book is called All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace, and right in the front it says, "This book is printed in an edition of 1500 copies by the Communications Company. None of the copies are for sale, they are all free."


"You can go up to the City Lights Book Store right now and take a copy off the shelves without paying for it. You can take two copies and give one to a friend. You can take the whole stack, if you're a hog, and throw them in the garbage can. Free means free."


"All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace" is a poem, in a book by the same name, written by Richard Brautigan in 1967. On the surface one might read it as an ode to a future technological nirvana. I'm not so sure it isn't a bit of ironic humor poking fun at well meaning but naive people who believe in a future technological nirvana.

All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace

I like to think (and
the sooner the better!)
of a cybernetic meadow
where mammals and computers
live together in mutually
programming harmony
like pure water
touching clear sky.

I like to think
(right now, please!)
of a cybernetic forest
filled with pines and electronics
where deer stroll peacefully
past computers
as if they were flowers
with spinning blossoms.

I like to think
(it has to be!)
of a cybernetic ecology
where we are free of our labors
and joined back to nature,
returned to our mammal
brothers and sisters,
and all watched over
by machines of loving grace.


"All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace" was used as the name for a BBC documentary series by Adam Curtis. I only watched the first episode. It's an interesting take on faith in technology, free markets, corrupt financial institutions, various financial collapses, Bill Clinton, Robert Rubin and Alan Greenspan (among other things)...with a lot of references to Ayn Rand.

Alan Greenspan was a member of Ayn Rand's inner circle. I'm not sure if he was still on board the radical libertarian capitalism train after the financial collapses of the last couple of decades showed those willing to see, just how much damage unregulated markets and financial institutions can do to people and the countries they live in.

Looking at Ayn Rand's face in the documentary I can only feel sorry for her - she looks frightened and sad.

It doesn't take a great deal of imagination to see that someone following Rand's "philosophy" of self above all else - would end up afraid, sad and lonely. If you are a mother or a father, husband or wife, brother or sister...her ideas seem quite out of touch with how authentic human beings live in real world loving families and relationships.