On another plane of consciousness, I am chased, as in a game of Manhunt, up and down stairwells in a large, multi-level apartment. I feel betrayed by certain friends and colleagues; it’s as if they’ve offered me in sacrifice to the murderous force that pursues me: a man with a ‘ball-and-chain’-style flail. But when I wake, all is well. Ram Dass guides me through recipes involving “eating” and “sleeping” from his “Cook Book for a Sacred Life,” the final section of Be Here Now. Sarah and I release temporarily from our sentences to walk the aisles of a gem and mineral show at the local fairgrounds mid-day: a wonderful experience for the both of us. And after dinner, I submit to the weight of a Kafkaesque piece of microfiction by black prisoner Joe Martinez, a devastating 125-word dystopia called “Rehabilitation and Treatment.”
Rehabilitation and Treatment
By Joe Martinez
The convict strolled into the prison administration building to get assistance and counseling for his personal problems. Just inside the main door were several other doors, proclaiming: Parole, Counselor, Chaplain, Doctor, Teacher, Correction, and Therapist.
The convict chose the door marked Correction, inside of which were two other doors: Custody and Treatment. He chose Treatment, and was confronted with two more doors, Juvenile and Adult. He chose the proper door and again was faced with two doors: Previous Offender and First Offender. Once more he walked through the proper door, and, again, two doors: Democrat and Republican. He was a Democrat; and so he hurried through the appropriate door and ran smack into two more doors; Black and White. He was black; and so he walked through that door — and fell nine stories to the street.
Re-reading Plato’s “cave allegory” from The Republic in preparation for tomorrow’s class, I’m struck again by the distinction drawn by Socrates between “that which is coming into being” and “that which is” (Bloom translation, p. 197). Because of what I’ve been reading lately, however, (especially various mystical texts, including Ram Dass’s Be Here Now), I’m tempted to interpret “that which is” as another name for what Terence McKenna called “the transcendental object at the end of time.” As I imagine it, this object or divine being would possess the power to operate upon the dimension or construct we call “time,” pulling toward it those who allow themselves to be pulled. The spiritual journey, then — the climbing of the Holy Mountain, the ascent toward the true and the just and the good — all of this would involve the rediscovery of what we once knew and will come to know again. Plato, of course, refers to this process as “anamnesis.”
Feeling a bit like a child that got lost in the woods. That, for me, is the archetypal event, the shape and substance of my life. Our earliest stories, I tell myself, are the ones that spin our worlds. Today, on my birthday, I feel again like the lost boy. Isolated, distant, unloved, particularly in relation to my parents and my siblings. Perhaps the love I fail to receive, though, is the love I fail to give. A quote from French writer René Daumal hits me like a ton of bricks. “I have brought you this far,” he writes in his book Mount Analogue, “and I have been your leader. Right here I’ll take off the cap of authority, which was a crown of thorns for the person I remember myself to be. Far within me, where the memory of what I am is still unclouded, a little child is waking up and making an old man’s mask weep. A little child looking for mother and father, looking with you for protection and help — protection from his pleasures and his dreams, and help in order to become what he is without imitating anyone.” Perhaps I should read Edwin Bernbaum’s book, Sacred Mountains of the World. Or perhaps I should make a pilgrimage to the Sangre de Cristo mountains (Spanish for “Blood of Christ”), a subrange of the Rockies located in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.
In a first attempt to name what I find exciting and distinctive in the work of Will Alexander, I land on describing the latter’s “A Cannibal Explains Himself to Himself” as a venture into pan-Africanist poetic cosmology. How do I arrange into the structure of my course on “Hippie Modernism,” I wonder, a sampling of that constellation of black radical art and politics leading from Sun Ra and Alice Coltrane to Will Alexander? Surely this has something to do with the Nguzo Saba and Ron Karenga’s substitution of “Trippin” in place of “jazz.” (“Trippin,” he writes, “is our word for what white boys and others call jazz. In line with our obsession with self-determination which demands new definitions and nomenclature, we reject the word jazz, for jazz is taken from the white word, jazzy, i.e., sexy, because that is what he thought our music was. We call it Trippin because that is what we do when we play it or listen to it.”) Trinidad’s steelbands, exploding forth from speakers one hundred panmen strong, awaken in me a desire to read Michael Denning’s Noise Uprising: The Audiopolitics of a World Musical Revolution. Listening to calypso recordings contributes to what Denning would call a project of “cultural decolonization” — a transmission from beyond the English-speaking auto-encyclopedic veil. The National Geographic text that supplements the recording teaches that Africans recorded their history in the arts, including song, dance, and culture, not in writing. Social conditions and injustices find expression in calypso music’s informative and militant song form. From calypso, I leap to the East Village of John Coltrane’s “Africa,” and then call it a day.
Do I sometimes feel like a spy or an alien in a foreign land, and do I sometimes behave so? Indeed, I do. Joy is contraband for members of my class. Debtors are expected to work constantly to prove their right to live. And yet, once we deprogram ourselves, joy is easy to come by, easily ours. As easy as raising our arms to accept the light of the sun — a gesture I learn from the branches of bushes beside my office window on an uncharacteristically breezy 77° August afternoon. Self-actualizers, as Maslow says, “sometimes find emotions bubbling up from within them that are so pleasant or even ecstatic that it seems almost sacrilegious to suppress them” (Motivation and Personality, p. 158). With appropriate tools, one can expand into a sense of self empathetically absorbed into the nonhuman environment. Trying to place the brand of “techno-thriller” to which Ingo Swann’s Star Fire belongs, my mind lights upon the early works of Michael Crichton. Seeking info about the latter, I discover Dealing: or the Berkeley-to-Boston Forty-Brick Lost-Bag Blues, a 1970 novel Crichton co-wrote with his younger brother Douglas under the pen name “Michael Douglas.” The book was adapted into a movie in 1972 featuring Barbara Hershey and John Lithgow in his screen debut as a campus drug dealer. Imagine Easy Rider set among the Boston and Berkeley freak left.
Desperately sad high schooler: Babe in the City. My Google-able Big Data doppelgänger goes to bed at 10. Meanwhile, a local company called Freedom Drones sponsors good boys and girls, as Wells Fargo lawyers up with the woman-in-the-row-behind-me’s father. BlacKkKlansman may be soft on cops, but at least it packed the theater with people in my city willing to express vocally their opposition to the current president. If only we could all paint our faces with punk mascara and evolve into beings immersed in the work of Paul Laffoley. If only we didn’t have to stare at our uneaten curly fries. If only we were writing it, rather than wanting to write it. If only we were floating atop a cool body of water rather than sitting in a Naugahyde booth. Will my refusal to learn to cook weigh against me in my quest for self-actualization? And how might the latter, I wonder, relate to eternal life?
Awaken, I tell myself, operate manually one’s attention, one’s focus. A vacillation persists, however, as I contemplate technology and science in their relation to nature and consciousness, the dialectic of domination and emancipation never quite arriving at a proper synthesis. ’80s and ’90s cultural studies dismissals of the Frankfurt School’s critique of the culture industry and the administered society seem ever more inadequate and naive as police-power and purchasing-power conspire to bake the planet. I’m troubled, in other words, by any Afrofuturism or cyborg feminism that allies itself with technocratic Global Business Network fantasies of artificial intelligences and space colonies.