The Soviet psychologist Lev Vygotsky argued that inner speech, much of it motivational, develops as a silent imitation of external or “social” speech. Although accompanied by and thus correlated with tiny muscular movements of the larynx, and brain activity observable via functional neuroimaging in what cognitive scientists call “the left inferior frontal gyrus,” or “Broca’s area,” inner speech as phenomenological datum remains qualitatively distinct from, not at all reducible to, its correlates. Much the same is true of the self, which we come to know, as Patricia Waugh notes, “not as an endocrine system but an experience straddled across body, mind, environment, language, and time.” After spending more than half a century denouncing inner speech as an invalid object of study, psychology as a discipline is beginning to swing back around again, utilizing “Descriptive Experience Sampling,” for instance, as a method for exploring aspects of inner experience.
We live in the time of the last, tiniest bit of light. So it seems, this moment in history. Exhaustion conspires with hunger. Together, they guide me through an exchange with a robot, navigate me into position for receipt of a hovel-shaped sign on the table of a booth in a McDonalds: “Archways to opportunity.” Is an archway to opportunity an example of a Door in the Wall? Not if opportunity just means arranging “skills” and “artifacts” in an online portfolio and marching at capital’s behest. Again, that always and forever tragic phrase, “so it seems,” dehumanization being the apparent inclination of the universe — unless we scheme, dream green, swap beans, gather heads together. Carve doors out of space-time. Launch what Aldous Huxley called “chemical vacations from intolerable selfhood and repulsive surroundings” (The Doors of Perception, p. 64). Let these vacations arrange constellations, trails of clues, destination unknown.
I imagine Sarah as Wonder Woman, jetting invisibly through the sky above Metropolis. We tour old neighborhoods with our nieces, sunlight flickering through the branches of an ancient tulip magnolia. Afterwards, I sit beside a staticky baby monitor, hypnotized by its bursts of low-volume noise, sensing in the experience some foretaste of life ahead. A portal opens, out of which emerge the drones, hisses, and pulses of The Von Einem Tapes. On the other end lies Robert Stillman’s Portals.
Dive into one of these, and George Orr and Dr. Haber, the characters in The Lathe of Heaven, appear as components of a single mind. The “improver,” animated by an ever-increasing will to power, enslaves the dreamer, turns the latter into an indentured Jinn.
A bloodshot eyeball searches a room, hunts for a syntax adequate to a life lived allegorically. Kaleidoscope eyes. Orange and green fractals give entry to imaginary worlds, formless infinities. I stare down at myself teaching my various classes, picking up fallen popcorn, turning on an out-of-reach light-switch. Not only have we never been modern, we’ve never stopped living in caves, wondering about phenomenology, hoping to find in books hidden tools for conviviality.
A hero, and by that I mean a utopian, a eudaimonic individual, wouldn’t begin a level by making what in retrospect seems the mistake of carrying a soda to the zoo rather than a water. This figure would know better how to navigate the horns of the dilemma, or would exist beyond the contradiction as such. Why must the denatured proletarian subject’s desire to encounter a broad diversity of lifeforms terminate in the tragedy of captivity? The zoo is set up so that visitors, upon purchasing admission, donate a plastic token to the Sawfish Conservation Society and similar such organizations. I spend most of my afternoon in the zoo’s aquarium. Angelic stingrays, sharks, a moray eel. A father asks his young daughter, of the shark: “Is he happy, or is he sad?” The daughter says, with mounting resolve, “I think he’s happy.” I fuse minds with a pair of garden eels and several glowing purple jellyfish. I bear witness to the travails of a tank containing pregnant male seahorses. A giant pacific octopus swims near and reaches toward me with its tentacles. Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.
I’m galloping along, clearing error code 4s, reminiscing about the past, contemplating workload, when out of nowhere bursts the opening notes to Lloyd Clifton Miller’s “Gol-e Gandom,” followed by a sequence of environmental sound: dog, blender, bird, down the block a team working at a downed tree with a chainsaw. “Jump to, take action!” And I’m up and about, anticipating future events. A muting occurs. Unscripted passage of time. In a moment of calm, I lose myself in flight between subjectively distinct galaxies. I advance in brief increments through Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven, savoring each moment. The psychological establishment, like any establishment, corrupted by the Judeo-Christian Capitalist West’s False-Enlightenment Prometheanism, collapses into the state evoked by Sun Ra & His Arkestra’s “Lanquidity.”
Relax, drift free of the value-form, I tell myself. The reverb on my voice leads me into a trance. My face struggles to match my mood.
Life is an insubstantial thing, an élan vital, wearing all substances as its veil. Minutes pass. The gameworld, operating in “neighborhood” mode, supplies the subject with new inputs, and with those inputs, new decision-trees. I walk a path and savor ambient soundscapes filled with interacting wind chimes. Small birds root among dead leaves, then perch atop a chain link fence. When I close my eyes, the sounds intensify. As one ages in the game, one advances in level. The alien is all-present: a coherent totality, the “all but me.” I relax some of my defenses and, through receipt of found or “gifted” sense-data, attempt to learn its language. I imagine beneath me hundreds of little concreted over creeks and streams. The unconscious: earthen, mythic center of being. It dreams us, and then we run away, reinvent ourselves, project ourselves into mind-made constructs. Dual time-tracks, time-sense surrendered to serial eternal presents peppered with patterns discoverable among arrangements of images and sounds.