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.
Despite what I wrote yesterday, let it be said that, in his book Heaven and Hell, Aldous Huxley sometimes manages to get things remarkably right. Describing a “jungle” painting by Henri Rousseau, for instance, Huxley exclaims, “I look at those leaves with their architecture of veins, their stripes and mottlings, I peer into the depths of interlacing greenery, and something in me is reminded of those living patterns, so characteristic of the visionary world, of those endless births and proliferations of geometrical forms that turn into objects, of things that are forever being transmuted into other things” (128).
Call it the Koyaanisqatsi effect. And while contemplating (or what our friends of the past used to call “grokking”), get picked up and blown away to the psychedelic brilliance of J Dilla’s Donuts. I also admire Huxley’s discussion of art that adopts a “non-human” point of view, humanity a mere blip amidst some vast uncharted wild. The de-individuation that occurs when we occupy that point of view is for Huxley a kind of peak experience. Thought abstracts itself into that which the ancients rendered in arabesques and frescoes of gardens. Better by far, though, I think, to remain a self or a person surrounded by “the country of lit-upness” (le Pays d’Éclairement), a kind of forest-world rich with meaning, inhabitants half-paranoid, half-mad, enchanted with abstract shapes and patterns. With faith, we can ensure that this country of the mind surrounds us in a way that is blissful and not appalling. More and more, I find myself wanting to put the kibosh on technology. Especially cars and social media. But of course, by that I probably only mean technology shaped and deployed by capitalism. Do away with banks, nation-states, militaries, businesses. I don’t know the particulars of what the alternative would entail, but I know what gives me grief. Maybe I should investigate decentralized crypto-currencies, nevermind their association with right-libertarian assholes. And perhaps I should start showing my “Utopias” students episodes of Outliers. In the meantime, I prefer to watch “Elise” by Blondes.
My students are reading Aldous Huxley’s psychedelic classic The Doors of Perception this week. I’ve taught the book a number of times over the years, but I’m only just now getting around to reading Huxley’s follow-up essay, Heaven and Hell, published two years later in 1956.
To be honest, though (and judging only from what I’ve read so far), I’m finding this latter work to be somewhat underwhelming. Huxley begins by asserting that heightened attention to light and color are common features of visionary experience. “The visions met with under the influence of mescalin or hypnosis,” he writes, “are always intensely and, one might say, preternaturally brilliant in color” (89). As support for this claim, Huxley cites lines from visionary works of poetry like Wordsworth’s “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood,” as well as relevant passages from mystical texts like Thomas Traherne’s Centuries of Meditations and Irish theosophist Æ’s Candle of Vision. Readers of these trance-scripts will find much of interest (including several valuable leads for further research) in this section of Huxley’s work. My sense, however, is that from this point onward, Huxley grows a bit too enamored with his thesis about light and color. Curtain lifted, he trails off into a lengthy, multi-page digression dealing with the history of humanity’s fascination with gemstones, stained glass, and related kinds of shiny objects. Huxley believes that religious traditions value these objects because of their resemblance to the self-luminous “stones of fire” that are said to populate the otherworldly inner landscapes encountered by visionaries of all ages. “Hence man’s otherwise inexplicable passion for gems,” he writes, “and hence his attribution to precious stones of therapeutic and magical virtue” (103). As a brief aside, let me add that there’s an interesting passage in the midst of this excursus where Huxley speaks of hypnotists who use shiny objects to lead subjects into trance states. “How, precisely,” he asks, “does the view of a shiny object induce a trance or a state of reverie? Is it, as the Victorians maintained, a simple matter of eye strain resulting in general nervous exhaustion? Or shall we explain the phenomenon in purely psychological terms—as concentration pushed to the point of mono-ideism and leading to dissociation?” Huxley himself prefers a third possibility. “Shiny objects,” he writes, “may remind our unconscious of what it enjoys at the mind’s antipodes, and these obscure intimations of life in the Other World are so fascinating that we pay less attention to this world and so become capable of experiencing consciously something of that which, unconsciously, is always with us” (106). Speaking of which: with a burning sensation at the back of my throat, vaguely reminiscent of asthma attacks from childhood, I mark my place in the book with a folded receipt and ascend to Huxley’s “Other World.” As that phrase suggests, Heaven and Hell is rife with spatial metaphors, some of them wince-inducing in ways that demand postcolonialist reading, as for instance when, at the beginning of the book, the tastelessly Eurocentric Huxley digs himself a hole by writing, “Like the earth of a hundred years ago, our mind still has its darkest Africas, its unmapped Borneos and Amazonian basins” (83). Fortunately it looks like there’s substantial criticism of Huxley on these grounds, as in Lindsey Michael Banco’s Travel and Drugs in Twentieth-Century Literature and Sharae Deckard’s Paradise Discourse, Imperialism, and Globalization: Exploiting Eden. To hallucinate means “to wander in the mind.”
I caught a matinee screening of Blade Runner 2049 with some friends yesterday. Think of it as shelter from the rain. Water collected on my sweatshirt and in my beard as I crossed the parking lot. “The world needs your dreamy energy,” announced a commercial for Dropbox. Sitting through the trailers beforehand, I thought to myself, “Ready Player One‘s brand of retro panders to the lowest common denominator.” Everywhere I looked, I kept seeing eclipsed light shining through cracks in reality. And then the film itself: monstrous urban futures. Midway through, Jared Leto’s mad scientist character turns to his assistant and proclaims, “We can storm Eden and reclaim it!” If those words had been spoken by the replicants themselves, assembled now as an army, I’d say, “Right on, right on. Power to the people.” Because as another character notes later in the film, “Dying for the right cause is the most human thing you can do.” Rhythm makes me ask, “Is time progressing or am I stuck in a rut?” I remind myself of a friend’s advice: belief is mine to dole out as I please. Smuggle into the anthill ants whose disposition toward the hill is basically, “House is on fire and I don’t give a fuck.” As a philosophy minor, I was taught to disregard emotional reads of situations or knowledges derived via gut check. Has that teaching unfolded into a liability in the years that have passed since college? What would it mean to be able to rouse oneself from a lifetime of slumber? White-knuckle it for a bit. Peter out after a prolonged decline. Or, the alternative: push through the curtain in search of some half-glimpsed secret order.