There’s no overhead; next thing you know, I’m staring at my life from above. Imagine translating texts by higher-dimensional beings into languages understood by lower-dimensional beings. The characteristics of what Fredric Jameson calls postmodern “hyperspace” (its dislocations, its denial of history, its blurring of distinctions between simulated and real) require that subjects consume drugs in order for such spaces to even seem comprehensible, let alone open to critique and transformation. Time-space compression makes a mockery of our inherited categories of perception. In response, we have a tradition dating back to the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, with writers like Blake already urging fellow moderns to de-reify experience. Remove the categories, they shout, cleanse the doors! As Foucault notes, “The stability of a thing is only its movement indefinitely slowed down” (“Of Other Spaces,” p. 23). If the self, the observing subject, is no more than a temporary amalgam bounded by interpellation via language, then what remains when we open this subject to outside influence? When Aldous Huxley borrows Blake’s “doors of perception” metaphor and, under the influence of Henri Bergson, likens these doors to a “reducing valve,” a faucet one can adjust so as to regulate the mind’s exposure to raw being, one begins to detect the co-presence of a spatial metaphor informing Huxley’s intervention. This spatial metaphor — involving, in its simplest form, a distinction between inner and outer — enables Huxley’s individualized ethic of chemically-aided perception to perform double duty as a secret analogue of sorts for nation-states. Just as individuals should use drugs like mescaline to throw open their “doors of perception,” thus exposing themselves to authentic experience, so too must the imperial metropole open its borders to enable exposure to the “Perennial Philosophy,” i.e., the cultures and teachings of the periphery. Afternoons have been kind of lovely these last few days. Air crisp, shadows long. Perfect for small outings in the hours before sunset. The grim national reality intervenes now and then, especially in conversations with others. “Preppie ex-frat-boy douchebags are corporatizing and Swiss-cheesing higher ed,” we rail, on our way to a farm to pick pumpkins and pet goats. What scares me, though, is my sense of helplessness. Honestly, I’m at a loss as to how to fight off this latest assault on the humanities. I used to follow Michael Bérubé‘s work in the early 2000s, his interventions into the culture wars, his defenses of the humanities, his navigation of the so-called “canon debates” — but I lost much of my respect for him during the tail end of the Bush years, and I grew too demoralized to keep paying attention once I completed my PhD and landed in non-tenure-track debtors prison hell. Why spend what little leisure time remains in one’s possession reading about one’s dismal circumstances, if reading about those circumstances won’t change them?
The star of a popular TV show paints dollar signs on her fingernails to demonstrate her love for former US president Barack Obama. She and her fellow Democrats don’t seem to have learned much since last year’s election. Insulated by their money and their privilege, they remain clueless as to why they’ve lost control of all branches of government.
My mind, however, is elsewhere. I continue to dwell upon psychedelic imagery from one of the performances I caught this weekend. Washed Out teamed up with Brainfeeder-affiliated visual artist Timeboy to create music videos for each track on the band’s latest album, Mister Mellow. The videos utilize several forms of animation: everything from stop-motion and claymation to hand-drawn cartoons. The band projects and modifies all of this dynamic imagery in real-time during live performances using Kinect 2.0 devices: motion-sensing “depth” cameras, basically, designed by Microsoft for use with Xbox One. Sarah joined me for a beautiful late-afternoon stroll through a garden yesterday, where we were graced by magnificent monarch butterflies, a pink wildflower anemone named “Queen Charlotte,” a fence post covered in flowering snail vine. We imagined ourselves entering and exiting zones filled at once with the romantic drama of the strolling couple, and at a different scale, observable only when the couple peers down on occasion, a world teeming with ecosystem narratives: complex interactions between predators and their potential prey. Perceived at this level, suffering and decay seem almost painterly in their abstraction. I realize that I spend too much of my life torn between warring impulses. Should I spend my life immersed in texts or in nature? I commit myself fully to neither speech nor phenomena. Broad City more than makes up for past crimes, by the way, with its latest episode, an animated shroom-and-cannabis-fueled extravaganza by artist Mike Perry.
The alarms, the intensities, objects melting and reforming: together, it amounts to a grand de-reification of reality. So much more pleasurable than the gritty nicotine-crack-alcohol police-and-criminal-class hustle-drama dished out by David Simon’s The Deuce.
Let’s put the revolution back in crazy talk. Grab people by the collar, get up in each one’s face and shout, “The revolution begins now, motherfucker!” Or (to remove any suggestion of aggression): “The revolution, an event of super-humanization affecting the one and the many, begins now, with chemically-assisted transfiguration of consciousness.” Mass exodus from participation in the social sacrifice of life via labor. “Capitalism ain’t getting shit from me,” smirks the narrator as he starts his break. Marx was at his most Marxist in his hatred of work. “Fuck wage labor,” he’d say, “I’m gonna go hang out all day in the British Museum Reading Room!” The anti-capitalist martyr remains an important latency in my political identity. An impossible self I’ve at times admired, a fatal temptation to which I may yet succumb. Weed is very much for me an example of “appropriate technology.” A tool for creative self-experimentation with consciousness. Peter Mortensen investigates a similar such view in his essay “Tripping Back to Nature: Aldous Huxley, Psychedelics, and Pro-Technology Environmentalism.” Earl Hooker’s “Lucky You” scored yesterday’s venture into the psychedelic unknown.
Stoned at a local outdoor music festival. Relaxing sunlit on a grassy hill, while bands perform below. Could this event have served as a turning point? And if a turning point, away and toward what? The vibe was surprisingly negative at first, as if festival-going were the performance in an evacuated church of a belief-less ritual. I still believe in these gestures, however, says the participant, my vomit reserved only for poor execution of ceremony. Beautiful out here under the night sky. The universe arranged for me. And on the date of my parents’ anniversary, no less: my locale, assembling itself in celebration. Spider Bags speak to me, testifying, “I found inner peace by ignoring things.” Is that what I want on my tombstone? Shit started to feel exactly that existential as I stood there afraid of slipping down a hill. “That’s a long, long way to roll,” sang the band. I could see stars above as they chanted, “Who will I be next?” The self must avoid destroying itself for those it loves. Particularly affecting was a song the band performed with NC blues singer extraordinaire Reese McHenry.
The night melted into super chill vibes, though, with level-up conversation and synesthetic animation, once headliner Washed Out took the stage.
Paranoia subsides, and the crowd sways like wind-blown grass. This is how it begins, the participant thinks to himself. This is how you educate desire. This is how heads are turned.
I wish I lived near enough to New York to attend painter Judith Bernstein’s anti-Trump exhibition “Cabinet of Horrors” at the Drawing Center. Perhaps when I visit family there over the holidays. Dancing and breathing exercises revive me. A sliding door opens onto a new reality. The fantasy-form’s innermost essence. The choosing between parts, however, is how the reality principle re-asserts itself. Realities possess forces akin to gravity. And yet they change imperceptibly all the time. I remember being young and eating lunch at a rainforest-themed restaurant in a mall. And I can access alongside it more recent memories as if I were flipping through the pages of a book or a copy of TV Guide. My investigations bring to my attention a London-based conference called Breaking Convention (not to be confused with Breakin’ Convention), comparable in certain respects to Psychedelic Science, the MAPS conference held each year in California. I learn about both of these conferences (along with related tidbits about the “hearing voices” network and a course on psychedelics offered a few years ago at NYU) while listening to Erik Davis’s recent interview with UK researcher Tehseen Noorani.
I tumble out of the workday to the sound of Bastian Void’s Three Sides of Consideration.
Music rotates through space like a holographic projection. I race on account of low memory capacity. Catch the mind’s formulations before time dissolves their presence. Mind at play is both fast and flighty, while words assume form and assemble ’round one another only haltingly, as if the creator-self has to pause every few steps to consult unsayable rules and unreadable guidebooks. What is “language” again? Refresh my memory. Remind me how it works. Bastian Void, by the way, is Massachusetts-based Moss Archive label founder Joe Bastardo. We are of the tribe raised as much by TV as by parents. The Nintendo generation. My allies among this generation are those who have begun to flirt again with consciousness expansion, therapeutic madness, and the creation of alternative realities. We operate experimentally and pragmatically, but could benefit from engagement with precursor theorists like Theodore Roszak. An Acid Marxist avant la lettre. I close my eyes and a clear gelatin tablet splits open in my hands, spilling forth its insides: tiny multicolored micro-plastic spheroids. The 1960s and 1970s countercultures were somehow neglected, an absent thing remembered wistfully, but as an unambiguously unrepeatable past, during the years of my schooling. Roszak, however, speaks directly to my concerns of late with a rousing defense of visionary experience in a chapter from The Making of a Counterculture called “Eyes of Flesh, Eyes of Fire.” (These trance-scripts, by the way, are written for “Eyes Turned Backwards, Belonging to Heads of the Future.” Picture them sitting there with their Whole Earth Catalogs, in their nomad-architectured, “full communism now” communes, all watched over by machines of loving grace. Why can’t others view this as beautiful with me — that way we could go out and do it?) How hard it would be, though, what obstacles we would need to overcome, in order to assemble a national, international, global economy of networked communes, encampments, all servicing each other’s productive needs in a non-profit, price-set, steady-state system of systems. Could we network them, perhaps, and thus establish dual power, under the guise of a religion?
Cats are higher-dimensional beings who come and go as they please. The ones featured in the movie Kedi are like people, only nobler. Humans in Istanbul have developed a collective co-evolutionary dialogue with an alien species. Whereas my own country prefers to destroy all that is wild and free. We fail still to realize that interacting with people is not enough. We have our parks, our birds, our wildlife, certainly, but from them we extract cruel ideologies of territoriality, manifest destiny, kill or be killed. From Huxley, I’m led down a rabbit hole, the rabbit at the bottom (in a sense, my destination) being none other than Thomas Carlyle and his parody of German Idealism, the 1836 novel Sartor Resartus. While monstrous in many ways (as the author, for instance, of the dismal essay “Occasional Discourse on the Negro Question”), Carlyle nevertheless remains an author whose work intrigues me. Book tucked into my knapsack, I fix my gaze on the trail ahead. Somewhere in the distance stands Mdou Moctar, a singer-songwriter from Niger who plays Tuareg rock.
Tinariwen came to mind as I watched Moctar perform last night at a nearby bar in town. Dead arcade cabinets lined the walls, where in other times might have stood taxidermied bears and ancient suits of armor. I regard hunters and warriors, with their camouflage and their automatic weapons, as the most repulsive members of my species. All would be well but for them. That show last night, though: that was quite an experience! Hypnotic, like waves of heat at the point where a desert highway meets the horizon. We must charm the snake that has taken residence in the heart of the Western subject. Filling out the bill were Brooklyn’s premiere California Raisin snake charmers, Drunken Foreigner Band.
What can I say? A few days out from fall break, and already the world is conspiring to lift my spirits and/or get me high! I’ll take it.
Try to imagine yourself from the perspective of a spider cricket. Like a building, but with a face in place of a penthouse. I need to develop another chance-based, abstraction-generating practice, a compliment to and content conduit for each day’s trance-script. Imagine if I could bring into my classroom a language for speaking about “Kou Kou” and other forms of abstract animation!
I don’t mind mortifying the body with smoke inhalation, so long as it opens doors onto other ways of being. “Most contemplatives,” Huxley writes, “worked systematically to modify their body chemistry, with a view to creating the internal conditions favorable to spiritual insight” (155). I’ve never used Uber, but perhaps I should start doing so — that way I can travel out on solitary adventures while baked. I love to walk, don’t get me wrong; but I’ve about exhausted the radius of walkable space around my home. What is psychedelia’s relationship to blindness? Huxley, for instance, is thought to have been nearly blind for most of his adulthood. “I can hardly see at all,” he told Brazilian journalist João Ubaldo Riberio, “And I don’t give a damn, really.” Recalling details of my life, I’d say I’m a bit like that, too. Capitalist society requires me to “correct” my vision and to do so gladly. If one persists in viewing psychedelically-derived insights as distortions, then so be it; but they’re systematic, trans-historical distortions, leading multiple minds toward the same conclusions: the world as seen when informed by the teachings of plants. And sometimes we zombie-subjects want to be led. Encountering a reference to Francis Thompson’s short film NY, NY (1957) in Huxley’s Heaven and Hell, for instance, I go ahead and watch it.