Denis Browne, Sid and Nancy associate and Alexander Trocchi’s literary assistant in later life, answered some questions on this era for Andrew Stevens.
Who is Alexander Trocchi?
From a BBC profile
The biography of Alexander Trocchi suggests a life of many parts: writer, artist, husband, father, activist, heroin-addict, revolutionary. Trocchi was born in Glasgow in 1925 to an Italian father and a Scottish mother. He attended Glasgow University from 1942- 43 before joining the Royal Navy from 1943-46. Perhaps unsurprisingly, military life didn’t suit him and he returned to University to study philosophy. In the late 1940s he moved to Paris where he edited the avante-garde literary journal Merlin, which published, amongst others, the work of Samuel Beckett and Jean-Paul Sartre. It was in Paris that Trocchi began his own writing career under the auspices of Maurice Girodias’s infamous Olympia Press. His early fiction is concerned with the erotic, some might say pornographic, and much of this early work was banned in Britain, France and America.
In the late 1950s Trocchi left Paris for the U.S, finally settling in New York. It was at this time that Trocchi began his experimentations in drug culture as part of the ‘turn-on, tune-in, drop-out’ generation and was briefly imprisoned in New York for his associations with illegal drug taking. It was at this time too that Trocchi wrote Cain’s Book telling of his sexual misadventures and heroin highs during his time living on the Hudson River. French existentialism (a philosophy which asserts that Man is a free agent, unbound by God, and that he must accept responsibility for his actions in a seemingly meaningless universe) and the New York and San Francisco ‘beat scene’ (which stressed the values of non-conformity, freedom and experimentation), made a profound impact on Trocchi’s writing. His novels deal with human isolation in a society marked by moral ambivalence and alienation.
During the sixties Trocchi published an essay for the New Saltire entitled ‘The Invisible Insurrection of a Million Minds’; its plea for the ‘linking of minds’ was to become the manifesto for Trocchi’s ‘Sigma project’, which gained support from writers, artists and intellectuals as various as Picasso, R. D. Laing, Salvador Dali and Timothy Leary. Project Sigma was inspired by Leary’s ‘consciousness revolution’, a cultural call to arms which advocated the rejection of old and stale ways of seeing. Drug taking, and in Trocchi’s case, heroin addiction, was part of the pursuit of alternative realities. Revolutionary rhetoric was intended to breach the boundaries of social order and moral authority.
In 1962 Trocchi came to Scotland for the Edinburgh Writer’s Festival where he was famously attacked by Hugh MacDiarmid, the founding father of the ‘Scottish Literary Renaissance’ of the inter-war years, who dismissed Trocchi and his work as ‘cosmopolitan scum’ (though their private correspondence suggests a mutual respect and recognition of the values of the revolutionary and rebel across a changing cultural terrain). Simultaneously castigated and idealised, Trocchi remains an ambivalent character, one whose life demonstrates a truly visionary aspiration for mind and art and enacts the dystopia of an over-reaching idealism.