CALIFORNIA ROAD SCHOLAR: Anarcho-individualists

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June 1, 2013 · Posted in California Roads Scholar 


Alone With Everybody

the flesh covers the bone
and they put a mind
in there and
sometimes a soul,
and the women break
vases against the walls
and the men drink too
and nobody finds the
but keep
crawling in and out
of beds.
flesh covers
the bone and the
flesh searches
for more than

there’s no chance
at all:
we are all trapped
by a singular

nobody ever finds
the one.

the city dumps fill
the junkyards fill
the madhouses fill
the hospitals fill
the graveyards fill nothing else

(Charles Bukowski)

By Phyl Van Ammers 

Alison Lurie’s protagonist in The Nowhere City (1965) said, “You know what I saw the first day I got to Los Angeles, when Paul was driving me back from the airport, the first afternoon I was here?  We were driving back from the airport, and we passed a doughnut stand, and on top of it was this huge cement doughnut about twenty feet high, revolting around.  I mean revolving.  You know.  It was going around and around.”  Katherine waved her arm in demonstration.  “That was the first thing I saw, before I saw the stand.  From a long, long way off, that big empty hole going around and around up in the air, with some name painted on it.  Well I thought, that’s what this city is!  That’s what it is, a great big advertisement for nothing.”

In 1972, British writer Michael Davie wrote, “In California the European traveler cannot fail to be struck by the absence of the political, social and religious arrangements the rest of America derived from Europe.” America diluted the political, social and religious “arrangements” that arrived on the east coast from Europe.  California diluted them until only the faintest tint of order remains: that is largely the order of private property ownership.


English political philosophy reached the east coast and came west.  Property was our Constitution’s bulwark against governmental intrusion into private lives and the idea of property remains the fundament of what Canadian philosopher C.B. Macpherson called “possessive individualism” that threads through our shared ideology.  The self is what counts, working for his own best interests, is key to this worldview.


Everything spins out from the idea that owning property defines who we are: single family houses, freeways to get to them, patio furniture, getting rid of aphids on rose bushes, noir literature portraying villains and heroes that are all individuals against society, hatred of taxation, not enough money for public schools, closed libraries, few communal meeting places except elder retirement homes and tennis courts, much hunkering down in front of video games to blow away animated people.


California’s organization of its people and its wealth is dependent on water law and water policy, and California’s hybrid water laws rise out of different notions of possessive individualism:  riparian rights, which come to us from England, and the notions of reasonable use and prior appropriation, also property-related ideas.   Massive irrigation projects mean imperial land ownership patterns, what Carey McWilliams called “factories in the field.” Roman Polanski turned the story of the City’s theft of water from the Owens Valley into the film Chinatown in 1974.   The Department of Water and Power in Los Angeles transformed all of Southern California’s geography and its social, political and economic relationships.


The state’s American beginning with gold, and individualism, privation and greed that went along with the search for gold, was followed by oildorado, the development of the oil industry and its fueling of the automobile age, in Southern California.  Enormous wealth from oil — some of it leaking to small property owners — helped build Los Angeles.  Raymond Chandler acknowledged he almost inadvertent corruption that grew out of oil wealth in The Big Sleep.   Upton Sinclair connects the enormous greed of the time with the apocalypse in his 1927 novel Oil!”


“There was a tower of flame and the most amazing spectacle — the burning oil would hit the ground, and bounce up, and explode, and leap again and fall again, and great red masses of flame would unfold, and burst, and yield black masses of smoke, and these in turn red. Mountains of smoke rose to the sky, and mountains of flame came seething down to the earth; every jet that struck the ground turned into a volcano, and rose again, higher than before; the whole mass, boiling and bursting, became a river of fire, a lava flood that went streaming down the valley, turning everything it touched into flame, then swallowing it up and hiding the flames in a cloud of smoke.”


The City of Los Angeles and consequently its planning department  — planning in LA is mostly political and the politics mostly depend on real estate developer lobbyists — found the automobile the solution to its urban problems: Los Angeles would grow outwards, and the urban problems would dissipate in the distances between people.  Social “arrangements” became more illusory when people lived in single-family houses with lawns in front and taxpayer-subsidized streets, highways and freeways and where the only commons is the freeway system plus fairly neglected parks.


Film-making came to California as a result of flight from private property rights – Thomas Edison’s Motion Picture Patents Company – which meant that Edison owned all the major patents related to movies.  The dominating myth, however, of the dominating individual as the source of creativity underlies the entertainment industry and is the stuff of a lot of movies.


Mike Davis’s Hegelian-dialectic history in City of Quartz (1990) attacks privatization and gated-community urbanism almost as if they were anomalies.   They are not.  Los Angeles government continues to privatize municipally owned land and continues to subsidize private property.   The reality of this state and its cities is individualism that, in its more extreme form, looks like and may be psychosis, possibly group psychosis.


Nathaniel West’s The Day of the Locust (1933) illustrates the superficiality of life experienced in a city that is a lot like a stage set, and then the rage that rises impotently against that emptiness.


“The edges of the trees burned with a pale violet light and their centers gradually turned from deep purple to black.  The same violet piping, like a Neon tube, outlined the tops of the ugly, hump-backed hills and they were almost beautiful.


“But not even the soft wash of dusk could help the houses.  Only dynamite would be of any use against the Mexican ranch houses, Samoan huts, Mediterranean villas, Egyptian and Japanese temples, Swiss chalets, Tudor cottages, and every possibly combination of these styles that lined the slopes of the canyon.  ….


“On the corner of La Huerta Road was a miniature Rhine castle with tarpaper turrets pierced for archers.  Next to it was a highly colored shack with domes and minarets out of the Arabian Nights….It is hard to laugh at the need for beauty and romance, no matter how tasteless, even horrible, the results of that are….Few things are sadder than the truly monstrous.”


At the end of Locust, a crowd arrives at Kahn’s Pleasure Palace (Grauman’s Chinese).   “New groups, whole families, kept arriving.  He could see a change come over them as soon as they had become part of the crowd.  ….  They were savage and bitter, especially the middle-aged and the old, and had been made so by boredom and disappointment.


“All their lives they had slaved at some kind of dull, heavy labor, behind desks and counters, in the fields and at tedious machines of all sorts…Their boredom becomes more and more terrible….”


A terrible mob rises — biting, screaming, pushing, hitting, and feeling up women’s breasts.  The primary character is carried and lifted into a police car.  “The siren began to scream and at first he thought he was making the noise himself.  He felt his lips with his hands.  They were clamped tight.  He knew then it was the siren.  For some reason this made him laugh and he began to imitate the siren as loud as he could.”


Edgar Rice Burrough’s Tarzan/Adventures of Lord Greystone novels paid for his ranch in the San Fernando Valley.    Tarzan is a psycho-guy.   He kills animals for sport although animals raised him.  He lynches black people.  He is inherently superior because he is white and has taught himself how to read and write.


He published The Girl from Hollywood in 1923.  The story begins on the “Pennington Ranch,” which is actually the Tarzan Ranch near Encino.   Burroughs bought the ranch from Los Angeles Times publisher Harrison Gray Otis, who purchased it in anticipation of all the water that was going to flow to the area from the Owens valley swindle and the subsequent annexation of the ranch by the City of Los Angeles.


The woman who first appears in the healthy outdoors riding a horse and looking at swooping hawks, wants to be a movie star.   She ends up dead from domestic violence, an out of wedlock pregnancy and opium addiction.


Ten years after his indictment of Hollywood women, Burroughs began a relationship with silent film actor Florence Gilbert – almost 30 years younger than him.   In 1935, he married Gilbert, who later complained that he was cold and hostile to her, and that he drank heavily.  She divorced him.


Burroughs – who idealized ranch life in his The Girl from Hollywood – subdivided the ranch and turned it into Tarzana.  The authors of the new neighborhood’s advertising directed white supremacist themes and established restrictive covenants limiting ownership to white people.


Thomas Pynchon’s Crying of Lot 49 (1966) is an exercise in paranoia as a way of organizing the anarchic experience of life in the Bay Area:


Pynchon’s protagonist Oedipa Maas tails a mailman who may be carrying a bag of letters that will explain everything about what may be an historical conspiracy to deliver mail.  The number 49 may have to do with the second year of the Gold Rush.   A forty-niner is both a term for someone who was in the Gold Rush and the San Francisco Forty-niners is a football team.  The football team’s fans wear orange clothing and shoes, which I had not known until sometime after I got on a BART train full of fans coming from a game and experienced an Oedipa Mass moment.


“They rode over the bridge and into the great, empty glare of the Oakland afternoon.  The landscape lost all variety.  The carrier got off in a neighborhood Oedipa couldn’t identify.  She followed him for hours along streets whose names she never knew, across arterials that even with the afternoon’s lull nearly murdered her, into slums and out, up long hillsides jammed solid with two- or three-bedroom houses, all their windows giving blankly back only the sun.  One by one his sack of letters emptied….”



The spokeswoman for individualist anarchist political economy was Ayn Rand (1905-1982), born Alisa Zinov’yevna Rosenbaum.  I find it too much of a challenge to say she wrote was literature but she continues to have followers.


In Rand’s The Fountainhead (1943), Howard Roark is an individualist young architect.  Rand stated that its primary theme was “individualism versus collectivism, not in politics but within a man’s soul.”  It is about one man against a system that requires compromise and group effort towards a common goal.  Indeed, Roark destroys his own work rather than let it be used for a collective purpose.  His courtroom speech is wonderfully narcissist and entirely self-involved.  It’s not possible to adequately summarize this glorious paean to egotism.  It stirs the soul:  “All that which proceeds from man’s independent ego is good. All that which proceeds from man’s dependence upon men is evil.”  Gary Cooper starred in the movie.


Her Atlas Shrugged, published in 1957, is partly science fiction, partly a mystery and partly a romance. In the novel, many of society’s most productive citizens refuse to be exploited by increasing taxation and government regulations and disappear, shutting down their vital industries.


Anais Nin (1903-1977) is a different kind of narcissist.   Rand, at least, believed everyone including her protagonists should be entirely selfish; that is, she had a theory, which she called Objectivism.   Nin’s writing is only about Nin’s wonderfulness.  She mentions other people but she is the drama queen and everyone else has a peripheral role intended to support her.


Oddly, she got lots of people, including feminists, to admire her and was married to two men at the same time including my junior high school science teacher at Thomas Starr King Jr. High Rupert Pole. She swanned around in her swimming pool with her head above the water performing an elegant dog paddle in Baylis Glascock’s film of her in her Hidalgo Street house. (Anais Nin Observed,1973).  She spoke softly as if imparting great secrets. Elida Castenda at Elida’s Beauty Box on Hyperion had artfully massed her hair.   She glided as she moved from room to room.  She posed coyly with her chin resting on the back of her hand.


Elida said to me when I was 12 back in 1957 when Nin first moved to our neighborhood,  “My customer gave me these books.  I don’t understand them.  Maybe you will.  My customer is unusual.  She wears large hats and clothing you can see through. She wears nothing underneath.”  In those days in my neighborhood, no one wore hats anymore, and women wore girdles as sturdy as armored tanks and brassieres that made their breasts look like the torpedo grilles of Buicks.


The author did not much care for Californians:  “The people around me are so standardized that they are colorless, anonymous, and have no distinguishing characteristics,” she recorded in her diary. “Once, a neighbor came, and in the middle of colorless talk, broke down and wept: ‘I am so unhappy with my husband.’ I responded, and we discussed the situation. But the next day the door was closed again and she talked about the weather.”


Nin aimed at seducing the reader, just as she aimed at seducing men, including an affair with her father composer Joaquin Nin, the success of which offset the fact that he so often told her she was ugly.  Her House of Incest (1936) alludes to this love affair although reviewers indicate the “incest” is metaphorical, meaning love of self (No big surprise.  “Love of self” defines her writing):


“Stumbling from room to room I came into the room of paintings, and there sat Lot with his hand upon his daughter’s breast while the city burned behind them, cracking open and falling into the sea.”


Nin kept an index card box full of notes that she called her “trapeze” to keep her lies straight.   Not was everything she said a lie, she criticized Henry Miller’s former wife June as a liar in a letter to him about June, which was the pot calling the kettle black.  (Henry and June is a 1990 Philip Kaufman film loosely based on the interaction between Anais Nin and the Millers’ relationships in Paris in 1931.) She was a feminist icon supported by two husbands at the same time.  She never had to have a job.  When she got pregnant, she had an abortion and wrote a slender book about it describing the experience as a still birth.


Nin was more of a California character than a California writer in that she did not write much about California except for passages in her later diaries.


She her diaries she writes in Fall 1961:


“There are some lovely mountains around Silver Lake in East Hollywood.  I often walked there.  From the steep mountains on the east side of the lake , one could look west at endless rows of purple mountains around the Griffith Park Observatory.  One behind another.  They looked like a Japanese screen.  As the sun set, every evening presented a spectacle equal to a Russian ballet, all gold and trailing saris, or the Chinese opera, all red and smoky incense, or the opal coral islands of the South Seas, the flaming spill of Mexican sunsets.  Every color shone like a jewel for a moment and then dissolved; and even the gray clouds, the smoky scarves, were iridescent.  For a few instants, all the sunsets of the world, Nordic, tropical, exotic, condensed over Silver Lake, displaying their sumptuous spectacle.”


Well.  No.  That’s ridiculous.  Hills surround the Silver Lake and Ivanhoe reservoirs not steep mountains.  There were sunsets in 1961, yes.


She writes that she sees a house being built on the side of a mountain (there were no mountains) facing the sunset and the lake.  She discovers the architect was Eric Wright, the son of Lloyd Wright and grandson of Frank Lloyd Wright.  She dreams of moving into it and she does.  She has a little room to write in.  “I thought a house would be a burden which would make traveling difficult.  It never was.  There was always someone willing to care for it, and it made my returns from travel joyous rather than regretful.”


Rupert Pole paid for the house.  Eric Wright was his stepbrother.   She did not find the house on a steep hill.  One of her husbands commissioned the construction.   There was always someone to take care of it because that husband stayed in it and took care of it when she went to New York to live with her other husband and to convince that husband that the Los Angeles husband was merely a fan of her writing.


Libertine-libertarianism/feral being worked its way into California writing.  One of those writers was Charles Bukowski. .  His father insisted he go to “Chelsey High,” really Dorsey High, where rich boys who drove cars and would go to USC attended.   Now, most of the students at Dorsey High are African-American and only some are USC-directed.    Another libertine-libertarian/feral is James Ellroy, our psycho-nerd, a teenager haunted by the murder of his mother – the murder was never solved – a golf caddy who stole the underwear of girls he liked.


In Ham on Rye (1982), Los Angeles poet Charles Bukowski’s alter ego Henry Chianiski starts the story of his life in 1922, when he was one or two years old sitting under the family dinner table in Germany.  The loud unpleasant adults speak German.  They move to Los Angeles and everyone in his family speaks American but when he asks his mother why she doesn’t stop his father from hitting him, she says, “The father is right,” which sounds foreign even though she says it in American.  The father is a milkman, who – peculiarly if they were German – had gone to the University of Indiana.  He starts with a milk cart drawn by a horse and after a few years drives a milk truck powered by an engine, and he has a Model T.  The father, also Henry, also beats up the mother.  She hides in the trunk of the Model T and finds out about his mistress.  Children and women are still property.  That wasn’t to change for a long time.   Boys in his grammar school violently attack smaller children.  His best friend David is odd, and the boys beat him up and then when David returns home, his mother beats him for having torn clothing.


The father who is also Henry takes the family out in the Model-T and drives to an orange grove and has his wife pick oranges.  He doesn’t care at all that he’s taking anyone else’0s property.  The orchard owner comes out with a shotgun and makes the family return the oranges.  Henry the child doesn’t pass judgment.  Things are as they are.   By the time he was in what is now called middle school, his father left him alone.


The definition of psychopathy is that it is a personality disorder identified by lack of empathy and remorse, criminality, anti-social behavior, superficial charm, manipulation, impulsivity and a parasitic lifestyle.     Bukowski did not become one of the California psychopaths that grew up abused — Charles Manson or Kenneth Bianchi, the Hillside Strangler.  UCLA Professor Fawn Brodie’s research on Richard Nixon – her book was eventually published in 1981 – revealed President Nixon’s father had been brutal to his children but not to Richard, which leaves open the possibility that Nixon was the one child to escape violence through guile.


Bukowski became a stockroom boy, a janitor, a mailman, a drunk, a gambler, a womanizer and a gifted empathetic writer disgusted by the world around him.


It may not be a good idea to look for his childhood home in Los Angeles.   According to an anonymous Internet source:


“I went in search of Bukowski’s childhood home (which he himself was only too eager to escape due to the suffering he endured there) in order to get a more physical sense of the places described in so much of his writing. The streets there are wide, the houses neat and trim, the lawns all seemingly manicured with the same meticulous attention demanded of Bukowski by his abusive father 70 years ago. After asking directions a few times, I parked the rented car across the street and shot a quick movie. Just as I finished, the homeowner stormed up his driveway (I hadn’t noticed him previously) and came quickly across the street where he loomed over me. I had to squint and shield my eyes to look at him, the noon sun blazing over his head with a fury to match his. What gave me the right to invade his privacy? Why hadn’t I asked permission? What would I do if he came and took pictures of my house? You’d call the police! This went on for something like ten minutes. A famous writer lived here, I lamely explained. My favorite writer…(as if that mattered to him). I know–Charles Bukowski. The first time this happened, I looked him up in the library. This has been going on for 9 years. People come from as far as Japan. I’m sick of this. Just get away from my house, man. I felt really bad.”


The house is at 2122 S. Longwood Drive, a little above the 10 Freeway.  The 10 did not exist when Bukowski was a boy. The 10’s final segment did not open until 1966, and it exacerbated the division between the West Adams district and mid city Los Angeles, and adding to “white flight” from urban areas.  He lived at 5124 De Longpre, 151 S. Oxford, 1623 N. Mariposa and 580 N. Kingsley when he was grown up.


Chester Himes If He Hollers Let Him Go – about Bob Jones an African-American shipyard worker in 1945, living in South Central Los Angeles — describes from the inside the life of an African-American man in a white society that substitutes racial hatred as the lodestar by which they navigate their lives in an anarchistic city.


Developers ensured many areas of Los Angeles would be white through restrictive covenants that ran with the land.  Blacks, Mexicans, Jews, Japanese and Chines were consequently limited to certain neighborhoods.  In 1919, the California Supreme Court ruled in Los Angeles Investment Co. v Gary 181 Cal. 680 that it was not legal to restrict sales of property on the basis of race but owners could restrict who lived on that property.  Consequently African-Americans could buy property but not live on it until the United States Supreme Court held in Shelly v. Kramer 334 U.S. 1 (1948) that a state court’s enforcement of racially restrictive covenants was a violation of the fourteenth amendment of the United States Constitution.


Bob drives a ’42 Buick Roadmaster down 54th “in the stretch between San Pedro and Avalon” and meets up with his friends, who wait for him a few blocks east at Central Avenue and 54th, part of the area now called “South Los Angeles,” and before that “South Central.”  Until 1947, black people in Los Angeles were concentrated along Central Avenue in the Main-Slauson-Alameda-Washington “box” and in Watts.     Bob Jones’ short drive along 54th was within the “box” where most black people lived until Shelly v. Kramer, about 7 miles south of 2122 S. Longwood Drive, where Bukowski spent his miserable childhood ten years earlier.


In the 1940s, Chester Himes  (1909 to 1984) spent time in Los Angeles, working as a screenwriter for Warner Brothers.  Mike Davis, in City of Quartz: Excavating the Future of Los Angeles (1990) wrote that, when Jack Warner found out Himes was working for him, said. “I don’t want no niggers on this lot.”   Himes later wrote in his autobiography,


“ Up to the age of thirty-one I had been hurt emotionally, spiritually and physically as much as thirty-one years can bear. I had lived in the South, I had fallen down an elevator shaft, I had been kicked out of college, I had served seven and one half years in prison, I had survived the humiliating last five years of Depression in Cleveland; and still I was entire, complete, functional; my mind was sharp, my reflexes were good, and I was not bitter. But under the mental corrosion of race prejudice in Los Angeles I became bitter and saturated with hate.”


In contrast to the unpredictability of life that underscores noir literature, black peoples’ writing shows predictable consequences.  Time after time blacks weren’t allowed to live on their own property, weren’t allowed to go to hotels, got the worst jobs if any, and were generally characterized in movies of the time as people whose eyes bugged out at the thought of ghosts.


Himes’ character Bob Jones constantly has violent thoughts against white people but does not act on them.


Disgust with our militaristic, sexually repressed and economically materialistic society is Allen Ginsberg’s Howl (1956), written in San Francisco in the North Beach district.   Ginsberg’s outrage against American society thrusts his writing into the same sub-category of anarcho-individualism as Himes; that is, both authors are defiant in the face of a static status quo:


“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving   hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry   fix, angel headed hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night, who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the   supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz…. and Blake-light tragedy among the scholars of war, who were expelled from the academies for crazy & publishing obscene odes   on the windows of the skull, who cowered in unshaven rooms in underwear, burning their money in   wastebaskets and listening to the Terror through the wall….”


Steven Gaskin is in his own subcategory of anarcho-individualist, the eco-hippie.   He is co-founder of the Farm in Tennessee, which is a collective – making him more of an anarcho-syndicalist — and I should therefore write a different chapter about him and probably include Ken Kesey in that but perhaps I should put him in with environmentalists.  Nonetheless, some of Gaskin’s writing about Haight-Ashbury and about drugs edges him sometimes into the anarcho-individualist side of things, if it has one, because a life spent on drugs is an interior life even though, especially to Steven Gaskin, that life may seem to be telepathic.


In Amazing Dope Tales (1980), he writes:  “Early on, way back on my earliest trips, I felt like acid was something I understood instinctively, and was good at.  I always knew from the very first times I tripped that I dug it. I loved it.  It seemed – not exactly easy to do, but it seemed like the only really natural thing I’d ever done in my life.  It was like someone who was a good swimmer, but had lived where there was never any water, and the first time you threw him in the water he could swim….”


“…We got very sensitive from tripping that much and working to clear our circuits that much.  I could be in the living room reading a book, and feel that somebody was smooching and getting it on in the other end of the house; and I could walk to the other end of the house, and sure enough, there would be somebody smooching.  I would just feel that vibe wash through me, and light up all my electricity.  It would feel just like somebody getting it on, somebody smooching.  It was a warm, lovely, sexy feeling, projected down a long San Francisco shotgun flat, some fifty or sixty feet.”


If Ellroy genuinely has a political philosophy, I don’t know what it is.  He once said he was a Nazi but that could have been to get attention.  He strongly supports the Los Angeles Police Department.   The LAPD logo on the side of its patrol car reads, “To protect and serve,” and the writing is enclosed in quotation marks, whatever that signifies.


At public appearances, he says: “Good evening peepers, prowlers, pederasts, panty-sniffers, punks and pimps. I’m James Ellroy, the demon dog, the foul owl with the death growl, the white knight of the far right, and the slick trick with the donkey dick. I’m the author of 16 books, masterpieces all; they precede all my future masterpieces. These books will leave you reamed, steamed and drycleaned, tie-dyed, swept to the side, true-blued, tattooed and bah fongooed. These are books for the whole fuckin’ family, if the name of your family is Manson.”


As archetypical Los Angeles woman Annie Hall/Diane Keaton said:


La-di-da, la-di-da, la la.





Deidre Bair, Anais Nin, a Biography (1995)

Charles Bukowski, Ham on Rye (Black Sparrow Press 1982)

Vincent Bugliosi, Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders (W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. 1994)

James Ellroy, L.A. Confidential (1990)

Robert Fogelson, Bourgeois Nightmares (Sheridan Books, Inc. 2005)

Robert Fogelson, Fragmented Metropolis (University of California Press 1967)

Chester Himes, If He Hollers Let Him Go (1945)

Norris Hundley, Jr. The Great Thirst: Californians and Water (University of California Press 2001)

Kevin Starr, Material Dreams (Oxford University Press 1990)


Don’t read:


Charles Bukowski, Notes of a Dirty Old Man (Virgin Books 2009)

Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged (1957)

Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead (1943)


Visit: — bus tour of Bukowski’s haunts — Black Dahlia murder tour — Weird West Adams Tour


















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