Stare at a downward-pointing stairwell long enough and mind will move matter. We masses will erupt from our seats and change our condition. Hit “play,” however, and the image stutters in uneven intervals. Patches of sunlight draw us outward. Another beautiful day. I smoke up in a nearby park and walk the perimeter of a lake. A way of forgetting the remaining workweek. Dead leaves — now fluttering, now sizzling — hang above me, in the wind, in the trees. Bicyclists whizz by like members of a different species. The city curves atop the underlying geography. A friend and I had speculated half in jest earlier about whether or not Ayn Rand owned pets — speculation inspired, no doubt, by the current tax bill. No way she could have cared for other creatures, we laughed — but apparently she fancied cats, and bragged that she could demonstrate “objectively” that cats have value. LOL. Her name turns up again, though, after the park. A middle-aged mohawked dude who I often see at Goodwill and who never fails to corner me and talk my ear off sidles over as he always does — this time announcing, however, that he’s looking for a copy of Atlas Shrugged. “Can’t help you with that,” I mutter, peering at the day’s findings. I leave the store afterwards bearing God Loves, Man Kills (an X-Men graphic novel from the 1980s that I remember reading as a kid), along with an early 2000s reissue of Norman Greenbaum’s Spirit in the Sky, and several volumes of Marxist theory.
Greenbaum’s title track earned its hit status by turning cheery Christian piety into a divine, bluesy, highway-speed, hand-clapping bit of fuzz-pop. The album’s other great charmer, “Jubilee,” succeeds with roughly the same formula. Time, it says, can be spread like butter. Any time, any time at all. Mind removes itself, quickens its pace. I imagine a round white “start” button like the ones featured on old arcade cabinets. When I press it, the dream begins, projecting outward the world as seen.
A gradual softening or loosening occurs as subjects slip free of programming. But it is as if in doing so, we become possessed. Drink tea with loved one while meditating in yoga pose, we tell ourselves. Receive galaxies of information incomprehensible to linear minds. The self imagines at this point absent causes known only through their effects. Fears set in, assault us from all sides. Magic utilizes symbols to reprogram consciousness. We become game-makers, risk-takers, driven toward an unknown end. “Unknown” bothers me, however, so I imagine several potential endings. Apex-of-pyramid gnosis. Transcendence of what the show will mean and how it will be structured. Capitalist modernity’s decay. The self-discipline needed to abide by self-chosen ethical norms. In other respects, though, existing identities will no longer anchor Being. But worry not, friends. As Roland Kirk says, “It won’t get any lighter.” Hoo-whee, let’s hear it. Volunteered Slavery, folks. I gas it, I accelerate, I lay betwixt floor speakers and roll with it.
Kirk smoked so much beforehand, he says, he came out onstage blind at the Newport Jazz Festival during the live performance on the B-side. Unearthly Looney Tunes-style cartoon violence. Nose flutes, whistles, the works. Next we join the Explorer Series for Golden Rain’s hardcore Balinese Gamelan proto-techno.
White walls, guillotines. An elephant mask melts into a DayGlo torso. Around this time, a friend texts and he and I reflect on our religious upbringings — his more “Cold War action movie,” mine more “death by boredom.” The true Utopia, I tell him, was too close at hand to believe in cloudy realms full of angelic nuns. I always wanted to squirm from my pew and head outside to play, hang around, seek light with other kids. My policy, from an early age, was to tune out the adults and ignore all their death-obsessed bullshit. I came to distrust, and later, to scorn the other congregants. But I loved the architecture, organs on occasion transported me to other worlds, and I loved silent prayer. And I more or less remain that person today.
Ever more horrific cycles of violence infect others, possess them. Lines of fiction become lines of code. Systems that predict behavior shape perception. Individuals disappear into bubbles. Without certainty, without conviction, one’s world stops making sense. Media relations rule the world, managing and controlling through creation of constantly-renewing states of destabilized perception. Turn a corner, though, and one can find oneself in a parable. A comet-like ball of energy streaks past. Because I’m indoors, I can’t see it. But I can hear it, I can feel it as it perturbs my atmosphere. Get a fix on this thing, I tell myself, as if it were a matter of some urgency. “See this reality that is hidden from thee,” I whisper. Ontologically, the hidden is like a below-surface-of-consciousness ambience. One can instrumentalize it through use of mood-switchers — and with these, create a joyous cosmology. Drug use is in this sense utopian through and through. Cybernetic co-evolution of nature and subjectivity. Weed is a means by which non-human nature intervenes in and recalibrates human nature, affecting individual heads even at the head’s most intimate, innermost level: consciousness, selfhood, being. Like bees, we can reside among flowers. Isn’t it all no more than gameplay anyway? Can we hold that view while retaining respect for the sanctity of others? On a case by case basis? Certainly. But universally? Without exceptions? What about when confronted by bullies and sadists? Emotions often override our sense of play — yet I welcome these interruptions. Sometimes we need to collapse inwardly on ourselves like tents. I did so yesterday. Grief snuck up on me unexpectedly as I thought about my dog Daphne, reliving our final exchanges of affection, seeing again her head lifting to acknowledge me as we laid together and said our goodbyes. There was a language we shared, and never again shall we speak it. No more face time. After a spell, though, a buzzer went off. Ice sheets are melting, I thought. Consciousness jumps scales. Zip up the memory and move on.
Possessed with identity, the Self — once like a hand, now like a street fighter — learns to dodge the effects of painful emotion on awareness and performance. To itself it murmurs, “You are special. The world is not twin to itself yet.” So begins a mantra I recite to myself in my sleep. If we observe our emotions, we can change them. Or at the very least, we can endure them with a mix of detachment and curiosity. Old trees serve as stations for rest and reflection along a way of sorrow. How sad it would be to live life without walks through allegorical gardens. Samanta Schweblin’s Fever Dream is one such garden. I burned right through it, couldn’t put it down. Psychedelic in the sense of two voices dialoguing in inner space. Electromagnetic signals. Fake worlds in their simplicity are reassuring. By clumsy political theater, life is overwhelmed by overpowering bureaucracy. While we doze, the money creeps in. History devolves into constructive ambiguity amidst demonic fury. A world where lies are perpetrated by actors who believe only in themselves. Occultists who exploit popular belief in the importance of ritual. People cooperate with the system, and the rest of us are screwed. The fear among the cooperators is that otherwise, shit would go psycho. Better, they think, to just retreat into an alternate reality. What are we to make, for instance, of that ancient document from the early days of Wired magazine, John Perry Barlow’s “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace”? What, too, should we make of Adam Curtis’s use of it in the film HyperNormalisation? A script is being read to us, no? An attempt to capture imagination. Iron filings reform in response to magnetic fields. Perception management. Reality is made a thing one handles with codes, algorithms, numbers — for it is by money that they program minds.
The author, taken with the desire to quit his current job, relents in his pursuit of this objective due only to lack of means. It is of no matter, though. This lot of his, arranged for him by capitalism, fades into the background the moment he smokes some hash. Psychic antennae reach tentatively, for purposes of experiment, toward Jon Porras’s Tokonoma.
“I wish unto myself many stochastic returns,” comes a voice. By what occult means, it asks, might consciousness improve its aims and guesses? Must we always set grammars to ourselves and then keep to them? Must we proceed through life with caution, or can we tread through life with care? Must our voices remain trapped in jars? File under impassioned plea and book back to headquarters. This is your captain speaking, over. Roger that. Our flight lands, we disembark from the plane, end of story. Got it. On days like these, I find myself needing to go for walks. It helps to feel overwhelmed now and then by the world’s beauty, its shocking mix of colors. Others dictate thoughts to me by strobe light. Better, I think, to absorb Wanci, an album by Bandung duo Tarawangsawelas.
My inner camera-eye breaks filmmaking’s 180-degree rule while performing a zoom. Leviathan waves at me with palms made of seashell. I witness internally an image of gears rotating. I manipulate fractal patterns across an inner screen by closing my eyes and moving my hands symmetrically, each fingertip a point of light. Words appear made of cut-out letters filled with rapidly changing video imagery. “This is how we want it,” moans a maudlin violin. Thought races ever-changing through all inherited forms, modes, and media. I picture myself as a virtual subject, a spectator floating in an inflatable theater filled with amniotic fluid, rotating around an invisible axis, all-knowing in an endless present. Why do certain traditions venerate time before birth, inventing in this nowhere a utopian somewhere, hallucinating in its name radically different forms of consciousness and awareness? It’s all, I suppose, part of the story the subject tells itself of its origins.
My levels of awareness and self-awareness fluctuate, just as consciousness reforms depending on pronouns and word order. As a dog barks, my mother calls my name, shouts “Come home, dinner’s ready!” I’m down at the end of the block, venturing into the unknown, trying to suppress fear. What am I afraid of? Those are the kinds of archetypal scenarios that I encounter on occasion when stoned. Some endlessly replayable memoryless emotion. I imagined my neighbor, the rarely-seen Mr. Belcher, as one who would point a shotgun at me if I trespassed on his property. The world thus ended, forming a false totality, for beyond it lay lands unknown, lands weird enough to warrant as their soundtrack David Bowie’s “Subterraneans.”
A psychic separation occurred there, a forced compartmentalization of consciousness. When we shift to a lower level, we forget who we were before. What remains is hidden, stunted, disconnected. To confuse the issue, remarks Curle, “the visions of mystics frequently resemble the visions of psychotics” (21). I stare ponderously, try to reestablish the sense of things. I find pleasure in this mental exercise. Pig stands alongside the road staring me down with his speed-gun directed at my face. We are made to accept such behavior with nary a complaint in this backward country, as we must the billboards strewn along the highways advertising firearms as Christmas gifts. I took comfort, dislocating myself from the above, by listening to Neil Young’s “On the Beach” while driving to visit friends yesterday. But the universe fired back with “Frightened” by The Fall. Such is our present reality.
Reviewing past trance-scripts, I find in them a portrait of a divided self. I find myself caught in these moments struggling to maintain a shaky détente between two personas representing two competing political orientations: the peaceful, happy-go-lucky hippie and the thwarted, indignant Marxist. This self-discovery of sorts puts me in mind of two books from the early 1970s that washed up yesterday at Goodwill: Gil Green’s The New Radicalism: Anarchist or Marxist? and Adam Curle’s Mystics and Militants: A Study of Awareness, Identity, and Social Action.
Despite their differences (more pronounced, I think, in the excitement of the sixties and seventies), I persist in thinking the necessity of both of these personas (and other, more minor ones besides). They grow from the same soil. Their utopias reply to the same intolerable contradiction at the foundation of my existence: land to be lived upon is beautiful and bountiful, yet I lack it. All habits, all ways of living, take this immiserating lack as their premise. But enough with the tragedy, I tell myself. Dwell instead on that which gives joy, no apologies. Let it just be said: so long as the above, the public will remain equal parts rational and deluded, owing always to its positioning with respect to property. Whenever a society compels people of diverse potential to act as apathetic and accepting subjects, a violence is done to consciousness. Such a relationship, as Curle observes, “cannot be termed peaceful.” It leaves all parties disgraced, able to persist under the illusion of separation from open warfare only because lack of parity between combatants is too great. Given these conditions, I find it hard to think and write other than in kinship with twilight, even amid blaze of day. I recommend, though, as a way of conditioning this condition, freeing one’s head through a listen of Roland Kirk’s Volunteered Slavery, by which I mean “I Say a Little Prayer.” Such sonic outpourings have the power to transform social relations, if at least in the instant.
Gnostic beasts blow smoke in my face. They draw their fangs and whisper in my ear. I posit the existence both of a subliminal language and of those who speak it. I know not, however, this subliminal messenger-class’s intent. “What art thou,” I ask blindly, “friend or foe?” Friends and I must try to make the Commune into the outcome of history’s likely progression. Put utopia back on the map. Marxism needs to stop its “museum roaring with crowd of sober patrons” act. The grain of sand must become the pearl. No more molding of behavior to accord with the words of the patriarch. Dress instead to celebrate life. Become like the wild animals who, even as we converse, continue to roam the countryside. The change from good to brutish happens, though, in every child, warns Wilhelm Reich. It is here and now, in one’s inner grace, that one attains one’s godhood. No more entrapment of consciousness in identification with the as-is. Go instead for weed-supplemented walks with friends. Pass a grey-and-white cat nesting in a batch of monkey-grass. When friends and I stomp through a park amid the murky air of a purple and orange dusk, a cacophony of chirping bird-speak erupts from an evergreen, and squirrels root around in dead leaves at the base of tall, bare shadow-trees. A friend recommends I read Argentinian author Samanta Schweblin’s new novel Fever Dream. I direct my head toward knowledge acquisition, but nothing happens — the system’s fried. All I can picture are skies filled with slaughterbots. Autonomous drones. Makes no difference whether we’re ‘tiny house’-owning minimalists or OCD hoarders. They’ll declare open season on all of us. Tech will empower authoritarian capitalism to precision-strike its foes.
Detritus of old media. Layers of illegible ancient signage. A fairy tale about the wind. Up from it rises a mirror image of old age. I resolve to feed my head so as to forestall the end of time. The latter also an ingredient in a canticle. An overlay of voices, as with Paul Simon’s and Art Garfunkel’s, gives word of revolution. This is a game, says one. Bonus rounds are added whenever shit gets tight. Keys appear thanks to invisible algorithms. The game-board eased ever so slightly of its obstacles. The realm of the known is known to expand outward, adding continents. There is a magic performed on homes involving flowers. Imagine for once the immensity of that kind of universe, where others know such words and such things. We are of a priestly class, we keepers of words. We run free of the barriers to speech put upon others. As Psalm 139 reminds us, “the darkness and the light are both alike to thee.” In other words, stop worrying about the future. Whatever will be, will be. And besides: “marvelous” are the lord’s works, “and that my soul knoweth right well.” So reside again in the brightness of day, even when winds seem heavy. Do so even toward day’s end, sun sinking into treeline. Thought detaches from self-conscious behavior. The self becomes joyfully dissociative, recognizes itself as an expanding universe on the verge of a phase shift. The back catalog from Astral Spirits weaves through the experience like a narrative thread, especially a pair of tapes by The Gate and Bouchons d’Oreilles / Warsaw Improvisers Orchestra.
Why must our thoughts remain in line with the thought-systems of others? How dare the capitalist state intervene in development of consciousness through compelled education? This is the great riddle posed by Rousseau, the great inexplicable evil: “Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains.” There is, as Wilhelm Reich notes in The Murder of Christ, “something in operation that continuously and successfully diverts attention from the carefully camouflaged access to where attention should be focused.” Confess, writes Reich to his readers. Come now, admit it, he adds. You and I? We’re in prison. Admit this, and the Trap begins to become comprehensible.
One day ends and another begins, but the voice that dictates does not skip a beat. If on Sunday I ended by noting, “Politics begins the moment there are disputes over land,” so today I begin by happening upon a proverb that reads, “He that hath lands hath quarrels.” Kenneth Burke mentions it in his essay “Literature as Equipment for Living.” Tree sparking at crème de la crème time of day, I embark on a journey, the nearby quarry park my destination. Sarah and I walk along a barren hill, exposed to the wind, soaking in vitamin D. Along our walk we pocket bits of plant debris. Sarah collects pine cones and tears me off a strip of Lamb’s Ear, which I rub gently between my thumb and forefinger. I also gather a trio of seed-balls dropped by a Sycamore. It feels as if there is magic involved. It feels as if we are performing a rite, preparing the world for a sun-god. Great powers are brewing in the universe within. My inner voice is a thing that echoes through vast corridors, the latter both heard and seen. We bear witness to one another, voice acting as conduit between form-matter and consciousness. I love me some sunlight. I imagine myself as a Pawnee parent, wrapping a baby in bobcat furs to bring it celestial blessings. I look up at E.T. and ask it to grant me special powers, license to make contact with higher orders of consciousness. The media cosmos beams back as a kind of reply, “Keep reading.” The world speaks to me via mogwais and E.T.’s evil twin, skull island. Loki, the god of mischief. The unseeing alien monster from Attack the Block. To protect us from these, says a voice I haven’t yet learned to trust, “Mother Nature has drawn a line.” Headspace becomes meaner as weekends give way to weeks. I can no longer tell whether I’m champion of the world or inheritor of a history of defeat. With Thanksgiving Break beginning, though, I decide the former. My sentiments are in this respect like Dylan’s: “It’s my work, I do it for pay. / And when it’s all over, / I’d just as soon be on my way.”