You can rename it, but Kesey can't be a 'square'.
Jerry Diethelm and the Friends of Kesey Square group now seeking to rename downtown Eugene's Broadway Plaza are what Ken Kesey never wanted to be: square.
Diethelm is professor emeritus of landscape architecture and community service at the University of Oregon. He is a cultured man of ancient things like soil and plants and the good that can be found in planned cities and organized communities. He is also approximately five years younger than Kesey.
Kesey embraced the culture of ancient things like soil and plants as a farmer, but rejected the rest of Diethelm's paradigm as the stuff of Squaresville that should be changed by a cultural revolution.
In Diethelm's professional dictionary, a "square" has been "open space in a town or park" since the 1680s.
In Kesey's street dictionary, words are formed in cafes, bars and clubs, on fishing boats and in locker rooms - words of slang, lingo, jargon and vernacular, especially those fueled by strong feelings and out-of-control emotions - real words that reached for a poet's meaning.
The Beat Generation's definition of "square" is in Webster's 1986 dictionary as the 16th noun definition: "a person who is an outsider or adversary because of the conventionality, conservatism, or respectability of his taste, behavior, or way of life: one who is not in the know: fogy, also: dupe, sucker - compare bourgeois, philistine."
That definition was born in slang used by 1925-era jazz musicians referencing things "uncool" with "You do not try to convert the square world." It then became the sense of "old-fashioned" in 1944-era jazz slang that mocked the shape of a conductor's hand gestures in a regular four-beat rhythm. Finally, it morphed into the term "Squaresville" used by the Beat Generation beginning in 1956.
Kesey celebrated his 21st birthday in Eugene in 1956 at the beginning of his senior year at the UO. In the ensuing two years, Kesey, the successful intercollegiate wrestler, became Kesey, the serious fiction writer. For five years beginning in the fall of 1958, Kesey was enrolled in the non-degree program at Stanford University's Creative Writing Center, less than 35 miles away from the West Coast epicenter of the Beat Generation happenings in San Francisco.
The rest is history: Kesey's life as a countercultural figure who was a link between the Beat Generation of the 1950s and the hippies of the 1960s - the operative word being "countercultural," as in anti-establishment: the very antithesis of all things "square."
The five-year age difference between Diethelm and Kesey is perhaps just enough for Diethelm to have missed out on Kesey's formative encounter with the Beat Generation. "Squaresville" perhaps means nothing to Diethelm, but to Kesey its connotations were extremely negative.
Webster's 16th definition of "square" is not far from its second definition of "bigot": "one obstinately and irrationally, often intolerantly, devoted to his own church, party, belief, or opinion." Kesey would consider that way too close for comfort.
Poets and wordsmiths find power in naked words and their implications - the unstated but very present emotions caused by missing words and punctuation. So Kesey Square easily becomes "Kesey (is) Square" or "Kesey. Square." You might as well make that "Kesey bigot" for good measure.
You cannot overstate the immense power reckless words have to unintentionally damage someone's reputation. Ken Kesey deserves better.
So I propose this: Broadway Plaza should be renamed Kesey Square Garden.
Yes, the joke is intended. Yes, the joke is appropriate. And, yes, the joke will make downtown Eugene a special place on Planet Earth - a place Kesey will happily smile upon from his current perch.
Place the following two Kesey quotes prominently in Kesey Square Garden:
"The answer is never the answer. What's really interesting is the mystery. If you seek the mystery instead of the answer, you'll always be seeking. I've never seen anybody really find the answer. They think they have, so they stop thinking. But the job is to seek mystery, evoke mystery, plant a garden in which strange plants grow and mysteries bloom. The need for mystery is greater than the need for an answer."
And: "We can count how many seeds are in the apple, but not how many apples are in the seed."
Kesey Square Garden's first rule should be: Have fun! Let "the garden in which strange plants grow and mysteries bloom" flourish in its surprising abundance!
Steven Sylwester has lived 50 of his 62 years in Eugene. He seeks what he calls The Middle Ground in his writings.