If Hippies Were Saints Could Beggars Then Ride?

“Thank gods for Cafe Domenico!” a note with drawing tacked on the Cafe bulletin board.

“A new dispensation will involve loosening the knots of the mind in order to create a world in which everyone is granted a due portion.”
– Jacqueline Rose, ‘You Made Me Do It:’ On Violence & Its Origins London Monthly Review 11/30/23   

Surely there can be no better evidence that souls are incarcerated in the deepest dungeon of the liberal breast than the picture of three presidents of America’s most prestigious colleges, among the most educated people in the land,  being stymied at a congressional hearing by attack dog Rep. Elise Stepanik’s question “Does calling for the genocide of Jews violate [the college’s] rules on bullying and harassment?” (NY Times 12/9/23)  Of course it does! Why could they not answer the question with dignity intact? Why could they not turn the tables and score a point for goodness of heart even though the situation is complicated?   Is the problem AIPAC, or the loss of moral clarity among the liberal class generally, such that one can only be on one side or the other, and cannot “lament more than one people at a time”(J. Rose)?  

Writer Jacqueline Rose (see epigraph), deploring the violence in Palestine, calls for addressing the “psychic dimension of politics.”  In other words, she’s calling for the Unconscious to be recognized at the Israel-Palestine negotiating table.  Interesting! That would turn the negotiating table into a therapy session – not an entirely new idea.  Haudenasaunee people native to the Mohawk Valley region, knew that “knots of the mind” could block the goal of maintaining inter-tribal peace. They opened councils of the 5 nations with a ritual that recognized each individual carries psychic/trauma wounds that must be grieved.  But making changes in peace negotiation procedures is way beyond my reach.  I prefer to stay focused on the unhealthy condition of liberal souls generally, beginning, always, with the one within my reach.


At our “Holiday Jazz Gala” Dec. 1, the audience at The Other Side was entertained by a young voice major from SU.  She did an exceptional job with the jazz, and she stopped the show with an aria from a Russian opera she surprised us with in the first set. She’s been singing, her father tells me, since she was 5.  We might think, automatically, “Fortunate are those who know they are artists from birth,” for that circumstance gives the child a chance to develop her talent over her lifetime.  But now, in humanity’s 11th hour,  we must see that devaluing and suppressing the creative voice is the norm in liberal society and that this suppression is at the root of the loss of moral compass. Self-expression is intrinsically an act of standing up for humanity in its particular embodiment – oneself – against the dehumanizing context that keeps souls voiceless and powerless!  

Creative work magnifies the soul.  Whether or not one blooms early, “makes it” in the bigtime, gets the novel published, whether one is “any good,” there is eloquence in the very act of obedience/disobedience that self-expression is – obedience to the loving/forgiving perspective of the inclusive soul, disobedience to the corporate, war-profiteering oligarchy that makes war on women and children, and also kills souls.  

I see this call to creativity as a universal summons to a new sainthood! Even with all the baggage the word “saint” carries, it names the concept of living for an ideal that can lift one honestly out of the morass of fear and ignorance currently ruling the day; it deserves reclamation.  As the anarchist-published  Autonomedia Calendar of Jubilee Saints already suggests, there’s no longer one (self-denying) model for being “saint material.”  Only that one must live under – be informed by –  an ideal and not leave that task to the admirable ones – the Gene Debs’s, Dorothy Day’s, M.L. King, Jr.’s, etc. –  as if heroism isn’t in everyone.  

Broadly, the ideal is simply love.  As many of us were taught: Love your enemy.  Love thy neighbor as thyself.  That commandment, still supreme, can be understood differently in the post-religious middle-class liberal mind.  No more top-down, but bottom-up.  Love only is realized through me or you, through my particular whole embodied self,  so love’s first demand must be “love thyself” and then, in the ways one can, living in place and in community (i.e., not settling for faux communities of “likeness”), “love thy neighbor!” No longer may “loving the neighbor” substitute for loving oneself,  the whole, creative self.  Sainthood will not look the same on any two people, it will never look like “saintliness;” it certainly will not be about being nice.  It will be first about fulfilling the genius seed planted in oneself.

Some will say this can’t be right – that’s selfishness!  But it is right.  Loving thyself is egotism only if one refuses the hidden parts one has dissociated from – the traumatic wounds to the soul that get denied, repressed, covered with neuroses, etc., – in order to function and be acceptable in mass, consumer, corporatocratized  society.  Loving thyself “post-trauma” (PT) is love on behalf of the traumatized whole soul. It’s loving the pluralistic you you don’t – or didn’t – know until they were brought to lightAllowing this you their existence, their distinctness – is an original creative act, godlike; it opens one to the creative power itself.  

In liberal society we learn to associate obedience with hierarchy and patriarchal oppression. We learn obedience is the problem.  In loving thyself as “pre-condition” to loving others, obedience centers in a different hierarchy –  in what used to be called the “human breast.” This obedience is offered gladly to the heart, rather than coerced by the distant, omnipotent favorites-playing God- in-Heaven; it is revolutionary.  That is, liberal tyranny benefits from the masses of people – including in the white liberal class – accepting the false belief of their worthlessness (self-hate).  It’s not accidental the soul’s expression is suppressed. Of what use is it to the war profiteers and Wall St. billionaires if I come to know the truth of my magnificence and don’t give a hang about how I measure up to alienating standards established by society’s experts?   The revolutionary task is to allow the soul its life and its lead. 

Granting amnesty for the soul – giving it expression – is how one may know, living in horrible times and the times have always been horrible for most people –   how one may morally, humanly live.  That is, I can be moral when the horror is conscious – when I know intimately the evil in myself that would kill my soul; otherwise my will is helpless to do anything except that which distracts from or numbs the pain.  This, the reactionary option, leaves inward and outer (social) tyrannies in place.

This inward avenue to “the ideal” is unlikely to be taken by people following traditional religion, who are content to take their soul knowledge “secondhand”  from scripture and priests. But religiously conservative people are not the biggest threat to the soul’s release.  As Malcolm X said of southern bigots, at least you know where they stand!  Beware liberals who quote Walt Whitman but are still stuck in the prevailing rationalist supremacist consciousness that can’t uproot self-hate.  Beware as well  those spiritual disciples who believe they can be something better than a Christian.  Superciliousness does not work in this revolution.  Only if one is willing to say, no,  I who am this late product of western evolution, of dead white men, of empire, colonialism, barbarity, fucked up as it is, that has fucked me up and everybody I know, that is, I am at the same time, a fragment of glory and I must live according to it. 


For many years, the work of keeping our hippie vision – our coffeeshop and the small independent arts/performance space, The Other Side – going has been my this-world activism.  I’ve left other kinds of activism for the most part to others; otherwise the Cafe, and the relationships that sustain it and those it sustains, would be imperiled.  In early December, a film screening and discussion organized by a group of young local pro-Palestinian activists at our space, called to me; I thought I’d go. 

During the day leading up to the meeting, in this post-Oct. 7 moment, I’d felt twinges of mad-shooter fear. In our little space, with big storefront windows looking right out on Utica’s main 4-lane artery, Genesee St., everyone inside would be sitting ducks! I thought seriously of not going.

This is how fear works when there is no ideal that can replace the fear.

That day I refrained from making jokes with my daughter-in-law when she came to pick up Cora, such as “if I don’t come out alive tonight you guys will have to figure out who gets what.” I thought to myself that, no, there have to be free public spaces where people can talk even about the forbidden.  That idea – that ideal –  took me outside the fear, and into meaning.  I wanted these people to use our space and so make freedom of speech real.  When I allow fear to rule, there’s no freedom of speech.  The free, independent space only is free when it is actually used by people for dissent as it was that night.  I was glad I went. 


Our friend Lech Kowalski, a non-fiction auteur film maker,  is one of a handful of people I know who live entirely for their creativity.  He wanders the earth an ascetic itinerant, following his Muse, relying on the generosity of strangers, taking an occasional teaching gig,  pitching ideas to arts funders in France, pursuing subjects that interest him, making contacts that sometimes turn out perversely. Sometimes I think he is naïve – a weird notion, considering how much less experience of the world I have than he.  But following his ideal, he is indisputably fearless, mingling with unstable ex-cons, Mexican cartel mob people, entering war zones, defying no trespassing signs defended with guns, etc., whatever’s needed to make the film he wants to make.

Lech will be surprised, when he reads this,  to know he qualifies for my new, revised concept of “saint.”  He’s a good exemplar, better than me;  I’m assimilated too well in liberal bourgeois reality, even at the same time as I critique it.  His life began in the reality of post WWII displacement in Europe, his Polish parents set adrift by the effects of Stalinization. For around 50 years he’s been making films, beginning with porn, and then,  in NYC in the late 70’s,  he made a name for himself filming the drug-saturated punk music scene.  To this day, he does not shy away from filming very raw stuff.  He – his camera – does not judge.  He gives the benefit of the doubt to what some might see as immoral, or even sociopathic behavior, as long as there is “mutual consent,”  as when back in the early 2000’s he filmed his then subject, an unnamed white guy, being “dominated” in a hotel room in Utica by my dominatrix sister-in-law.  

Lech has also filmed French workers protesting the closing of the factory that is their living, the Ukrainian-Polish relationship as it is playing out in the current war, the effect of  9/11 in war in Kabul, Afghanistan, the Pennsylvanians directly affected by hydro-fracking, and the very poor underclass in Utica telling their stories in their own words, as just themselves.  I often flinch at the kinds of wretchedness he shows,  the degrading drug use, the degrading sex, the ugly poverty.  Should we feel empathy or disgust? In his Bressonian way, he won’t tell us, and thus his art remains vulnerable the way love is vulnerable.

It was through our Cafe we met Lech, back in in its earliest days, 2004 or 5.  In Utica for the film he was then making of his mother’s story, he discovered the coffeeshop, which became his “office.” Other than the Cafe, Lech’s feelings for Utica are ambivalent; he’d moved here as a 9-year-old immigrant, always felt like an outsider, left for NYC right after graduation, later settled in Europe. He returned to Utica as an adult only because his mother lived here still.  Since her death 7 years ago we were unsure if we’d ever see him again in person. 

The Cafe’s vibe is made up of many particulars, including those that – “backstage” –  ensure its existence as a business.  I think all of us – co-owners, as well as our young twenty-something employees, idealists all – have difficulty accepting that such a cool place doesn’t function without hierarchy.  It ‘s organized, not in order to make profits for the few at the top, but to have a consistently excellent product that people want to buy.  Assimilated in liberal reality, we all fall short against this demand for organization, for leadership, for surrendering one’s personal good to the good of the whole (obedience),  taking on tedious tasks gladly in order to know one is doing the job right which in turn serves this cool hip place one is happy to be associated with.  In part, I’m saying what’s difficult – for all of us, not just the young – is lack of a guiding concept for one’s identity being servant to the heart’s ideal, such that one gladly (not necessarily ungrumblingly!) assents to necessary hierarchy.  I love “hippie,” but “saint” gets closer.   

Like Lech’s art, our coffeeshop exists counter-culturally and vulnerably.  It has to struggle with the demands in the given economically determined environment.  Its survival requires that there be people who get its vibe of which there are many – “Thank gods!” – but not enough to smooth our way.  What/who are we without that ideal to serve, and, moreover, without its real existence embodied in our particular, local world, humanizing it?  I believe this 11th hour calls  for growing back into our humanity, into moral accountability,  for which much tedious thankless sober work is demanded.  But the ultimate demand of the hero is for joy. The defining picture of the ‘saint” isn’t drudgery.  The revolution, as Emma Goldman’s famous words suggest, is the path of bliss, in which song, dance, poetry and paint aren’t optional. Its those NOLa saints marching in blowing their trumpets, dancing and singing, disobedient to the rule against joy.

Kim C. Domenico, reside in Utica, New York, co-owner of Cafe Domenico (a coffee shop and community space),  and administrator of the small nonprofit independent art space, The Other Side.  Seminary trained and ordained,  but independently religious. She can be reached at: kodomenico@verizon.net.