Compose mildly, humbly, yells a voice from ahead on the line. We of the chain gang. Every breath a guess, a near fumble. Conversations, dialogues, words assembled from channel-surfing, dial-turning snippets of televisions and talking radios. It’s as if the larynx, a highly sensitive vibrational surface, were suddenly set aquiver, collaboratively operated by self and other, floating among oceans of sound. Songs for breakfast, songs for lunch. Rapid montage sequences flit past. Like horseshoe crabs, we possess receptors useful for sensing changes in moonlight. I imagine a fictional universe, perhaps I’m programmed to do so, I’m not going to delve into agency, will, all that David Copperfield kind of crap. Rice Krispies crackle loudly as the childhood self leans his ear to a bowl of cereal. The inner voice speeds up, acquires greater proficiency. “My environment,” I tell myself, “has been carefully designed to draw me to this state of mind.”
“Say something warm, say something bright,” sing the words in my head. I concentrate upon lyrics to songs from an algorithmically-generated playlist, seeking sense amid chance. That sense arrives when thought begins to throb to the beat of “Beat” by Bowery Electric.
A reveal occurs: I see sacred geometries. Mind invents ideograms — first languages, perhaps — by abstracting experiences into memory-derived essences. Picture Terry Gilliam’s animations from Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Escape from grim reality. Final thought of the day: Black Panther is thrilling in many ways, but the film’s imaginary resolution to real contradictions is one and the same with its backstory and founding premise: namely, the Vibranium-powered alternative modernity represented by Wakanda.
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.