PUBLIC LAVORATORIES are generally dim, grimy places with wet cement floors and grimy white porcelain. Either that, or they are new and shiny with gleaming chrome faucets, row on row. In an effort to make such places interesting, since they were already necessary, grafitti were invented. There, in a cold, impersonal chrome-and-steel world is one man's mark upon the wall, a blow against the empire: JUAN LOVES MARIA, forever and ever.
The CoEvolution Quarterly reminds one of this bathroom wall style. Subtitled "A Supplement to the Whole Earth Catalog," it is put out by POINT, some sort of non-profit subsidiary of Portola Institute, the wonderful people who brought you The Last Whole Earth Catalog, Epilog, and numerous other updates. The Quarterly shares the slapdash grafitti layout that made The Catalog great bedtime reading, interspersed with long articles on topics like saddles and trappings, space colonies, and what's left of the New Left. There are also interviews with at least nominally interesting people like Marlon Brando and astronaut Russell Schweickart.
The subtitle of The Whole Earth Catalog was "access to tools," and The Quarterly provides information about many strange and interesting implements. Need a solar-energized food dehydrator? How about a Type 122 Volkswagen industrial engine? You will find them opposite each other on pages 98 and 99 in the Spring Quarterly.
The longer articles are often as slipshod as the layout. For instance, an article in the Spring issue, "Take as Directed," tells the story of a 1969 high school class that developed into a mass psychology project. It attempts to make a statement on fascism in America and suggests how easily it could happen here. But it makes no statement; and ironically, the editors have devoted four pages earlier in the issue to ascetic unto death California Governor Jerry Brown's prayer breakfast. The prayer breakfast is a favorite arm-twisting device of southern Democratic senators. Brown's was replete with a Sufi "choir" and Brown saying, "Since I have been in Sacramento I find that everyone is coming to government to find out what's going on. I have to ask myself where does government go to find out what's going on?"
THE MAIN ARTICLE in the Spring issue deals with space colonies. It runs 48 pages, featuring 76 famous people or friends of Stewart Brand (guiding light of The Catalog and editor of The Quarterly) writing on what they think about the possibilities of building cities in space. The article includes not only such popular scientists as Carl Sagan, Lewis Mumford, and Buckminister Fuller, but also Richard Brautigan and poet Gary Snyder.
It seems rather pointless and maybe just a little silly to discuss cities in space when New York is in such a predicament, and to Brand's credit, he publishes viewpoints radically dissimilar from his own, which is that these cities can't come soon enough. Mumford states that, "I regard space colonies as another pathological manifestation of the culture that has spent all its resources expanding the nuclear means of exterminating the human race. Such proposals are only technological disguises for infantile fantasies."
George Wald, Higgins Professor of Biology, was also asked to comment for the article; he told The Quarterly he "viewed the colonies with horror." Wald called Harvard's Le Corbusier-designed Carpenter Center "a goldfish bowl--just the thing for an artist." He described Paolo Solari, the Arizona architect, as "that gifted man, making bony structures in the American desert." Wald's point is that this kind of dehumanizing architecture is getting us ready for space colonies, like it or not.
THE MAGAZINE does include some interesting sidelights, such as a continuing contest to discover the earth's erogenous zones. There is also a poetry page in each issue, the latest by Gary Snyder, 1975 Pulitzer prize winner. But this leads to publishing Huey Newton:
Nowhere is here
here is nowhere
Now is here
here is now
Now here is Nowhere
The Quarterly does raise important questions concerning alternative sources of energy and building materials, and more efficient use of solar and wind power. But it is aimed not at providing information on an alternative way of doing things, but at creating an alternative world. It represents a new 40-acres-and-a-mule mentality that avoids the problems in cities, education, and American life in general by taking smug refuge in dropping out.
The CoEvolutionary Quarterly stacks aphorisms and maxims and self-help articles on top of each other like bathroom wall grafitti, and should be treated as such. One of the most popular lines of grafitti in the late '60s was "America--Fix It or Forget It." and the people who run The Quarterly seem bent on forgetting. The CoEvolutionary Quarterly should be read as one reads a clever piece of grafitti on a bathroom wall, washes his hands and slicks his hair back, then shoves his way out into the bright fluorescent lights of the real world.