Have others noted the weirdly apolitical, careerist vibe that seemed to permeate the Psychedemia conference? I keep returning to that documentary I posted about yesterday. What gives? When scholars begin to study this material in the academy, do we (I include myself in this category) run the risk of “co-opting” the psychedelic underground? “Mystical experience,” “psychology of religion”: some of the research presented at Psychedemia seems worryingly pseudoscientific: as in, some of it resembles the type of academic hot air balloon that the “Sokal Hoax” tried to puncture in the 1990s. But then again, several figures featured in the documentary seem genuinely legit. (Horizons: Perspectives on Psychedelics is a similar forum, by the way, held each year in New York.) One catches snippets of language: “neuro-chemical art,” “radically singular worlds.” Australian philosopher David Chalmers, author of The Conscious Mind, enters the frame, commingling amid a cast of quivering neuroatypicals. What is the relationship between the mental and the physical? Ask Alfred North Whitehead. Mind, whatever it is, possesses a degree of freedom. It can produce out of itself mystical experiences of oneness with the universe, about which the most we can say is probably something like, “What do all metaphors have in common?” Jane Roberts, author of the Seth books in the 1970s, might be an interesting figure to consider as a producer of texts “received” through trance. Why have I never read Edwin Abbott Abbott’s book Flatland? Perhaps because I live in a monstrously truncated, self-absorbed universe. I no longer know how to behave like a proper host or guest. My horizons are monoculturally constrained. I don’t see my mother very often. I’m basically a lousy person, having plunged into my personal opposite. No, this is a re-centering. No, this is a property. I want to imagine cinematic vibrations folding me downward into a past. A minute had passed when I emerged, no longer a mere commodity. You see, it’s all about bran in your oatmeal. So many other regions of linguistic activity, meaning inscribed in practice. But I’m heartbroken. My dog betrays neither recognition nor affection. She no longer lets my eyes hold her eyes. Of course, Wu-Tang were the ones who said it best: “Life for a shorty shouldn’t be so rough / But as the world turned I learned life is hell / Livin’ in the world no different from a cell / Every day I escape from Jakes givin’ chase / Sellin’ base, smokin’ bones in the staircase.” In an interview about those lines, Inspectah Deck said, “At that point, you’re just thinking, ‘I’m about to go head-first into whatever it is I’m doing.'” Here goes.
“Stop! You’re embarrassing me!” says the exasperated mall-inhabiting eighties teenager to his mother. “Ma, get away from me!” There were just these ludicrous situations. She was like a little kid, dancing to the radio in her punch buggy blue Volkswagen Beetle. Always with the perm and the giant sunglasses. I miss those early years of childhood; I remember much of it with great fondness. I loved strolling invisibly back then through bits of the visible world. Others probably think of me as one who dwells too much in the past — stiflingly so. Keep tossing, a voice advises, until you get to one you know. There used to be a thing called leisure-time — though it was never entirely free of fears of bombs and missiles. How foolish it now seems to have believed in theological niceties like “progress.” Whereas now, things that matter are being gunned down by police, pulled out from under me. I fixate on grievances, I harbor grudges. Like, permanent 24/7 hex against those who delete my comments — that’s right, my evil eye is trained on YOU, motherfucker. Good for a minute, next bit. You’re done. And like, my dog, who pees on the hardwood floor just to spite me. There was once a time when words had meaning. I lived in their midst. The best medicine, though, is to “relax and let go.” Dance a bit, loosen limbs and neck muscles, allow oneself to be drawn upward toward reconciliation with the dog. When I see her lying in bed, I feel panic: what if she’s given up, what if I’ve lost her? I also learn about “chemical poetics” and studies of trip report literature.
Beyond the edges of the game-space runs a single, circular backdrop, a projection. I no longer have access to the polis, I think to myself, the space where the coding occurs. My only access points are ideology and everyday life. The rest of it lies beyond the game-space: visible, but inaccessible, and thus, for all intents and purposes, immutable. I dread most nights having to wake up the next day and work. I despise that capitalist society compels me to dispense by its means my daily labor-power. That shit ought to be mine to hoard or spend as I wish. Each of us should be free to act in accordance with whatever chemicals we wish to add to humanity’s neuro-cultural evolution. The hero has no parents and has to invent through testing an identity in relation to the ever-reloading, ever-renewing game-world. Others, in their mere being, pose for us the question: “Which rules shall we let be of consequence?” What keeps us from devolving into mere rage monsters? Predators who reduce others to roles as props or prey. Games reveal the limits they impose on being only through their play. And since we can only ever be within games, these limits can only ever appear for us as neither necessary nor contingent but both-and. I’m bitter. I don’t like this game! I seek everywhere for some way to rebel. How do we convince our fellow players to grant us freedom to think, while they bend, lift, haul dirt? What is “consciousness,” when those are one’s conditions? Rapt attentiveness to objects and material processes. Rules learned, tasks assigned, one does as one’s told. To reverse this, one would have to step out of character — the ultimate risk — and convince others, in a church-forming act of assembly, to do the same.
Broadenings are sometimes later discovered to have been narrowings. Linguistic parts dropped off in transit. On certain nights, I hear it better than on others. Liquid goes down a wrong pipe, so I drink some water to clear my throat. At length, I feel awakened. The automatic self accepts its demotion to a mere infernal device running its engine out back in the garage. Words will not go wanting after that one, though it’s so hard to shake the sense that there are right and wrong ways to write. I pause and scrutinize too often. I lock myself in a spartan linguistic universe. I wish I could see — and not just see but enter — the landscapes depicted in the Kay Sage painting, “I Saw Three Cities.”
Daily life is too often that from which I want to wake. Become the Godhead; cross beyond the Proscenium Arch. I’m kind of liking this website Melt: “an archive of esoteric and contemporary culture.” But then I realize it contains dead links; the content I request is unavailable. In his final, four-part video “Parallel I-IV,” Harun Farocki narrates the invention of the first houses and trees within virtual reality.
Imagine a sped-up maximalist vaporwave version of DJ Spooky’s Songs of a Dead Dreamer. Midway through, a voice intrudes, echoing forth through the void, the planetless space, to ask, “Does the world exist if I’m not watching it?” It appears out of emptiness, and to emptiness it returns. Is the world generated by the gaze that falls upon it? These are all names for the virtual creations of an alien-human Other. Who are we in relation to this Other-projection? A storybook made of videogame parts. Is that how the pre-Hellenics viewed the world? Games haven’t just become more realistic — they’ve also become more abstract, overlaid with graphs and maps and floating perspectives. Farocki’s Parallel videos reveal piece by piece an entire metaphysics of virtual worlds. “Google that shit, homes,” I tell myself, whispering inwardly for the self below.
I admire the lyrical persona who sings raw and afloat amidst lonely journeys westward. That was a story some imagined community used to tell itself. The nation imagines itself through its heroes. When these heroes hail us, we become sutured, stitched up in selves until, with desire for change, the cycle begins anew. What would it take to make the imagination over again into a genuine threat to capitalist reproduction? Isn’t that what we’re getting at: selves who, like Melville’s Bartleby, would prefer not to? I’m so far gone, thinking up here. Reality refracting into inward-regressing, multi-dimensional nested sinkholes. It gets messy. A small giggling reverbed spazz-voice floating in the void of a recording studio soundboard. New aesthetics rupture into the realm of the known all the time: just look at Netflix Original Neo Yokio. Bored prep school anime existentialist tells his robot bodyguard / handler, “I’m simply too blue for lunch.” The future is an interminable pool of wackness, he says, thus provoking the wrath of bank fees and debt collectors. Poor Bartleby. No more than a ghostly riddle, an exception-state — a martyr whose death would surely have gone unmourned, were it not for the intervention of Melville’s narrator. Invisible forces tug at the edges of a branded, logo-covered object-world. May a great wind sweep down and lay waste to the Empire and its effects. Following up on a recent recommendation from a friend, I spent my commute yesterday to and from work listening to a special episode of The Discourse Collective podcast titled “Psychedelic Politics.”
As much as it pleases me to witness LSD’s rising fortunes again among certain folks on the Left, hippie-phobic, 60s-bashing podcasts like this one illustrate the persistence in our time of some profound misunderstandings about the past. On the whole, a disheartening experience. But also a reminder: it’s time to correct some of these misunderstandings. If I don’t write “Notes Toward a Theory of Psychedelic Utopianism,” who will?
Check for blockages. Free oneself from what Christian theologian John Howard Yoder calls “the Powers.” Like Sartre’s “practico-inert,” the Powers name a given form of the world, a “mode of production” that produces individual subjects addicted to that mode’s reproduction. We must try to model for others another way: a life that, through psychedelic resistance to interpellation, sheds its determination by the Powers, thus allowing an improvised, moment-to-moment stepping forth of something new. (Yoder himself, by the way, failed terribly in this regard. He usefully reframed the story of Christianity in countercultural terms, with Christ serving as the preeminent example of how an individual’s refusal to be determined by the Powers can prompt “the creation of a distinct community with its own deviant set of values and its coherent way of articulating them.” But when Yoder himself attempted a similar refusal, positing “intimacy” as a means by which to challenge the world as given, it appears he did so without seeking the consent of others, his legacy thus marred by multiple charges of sexual abuse.) I stare at walls and wonder, what shall step forth today? What new mode of being shall cross through the cracks as we alter the constitution of the given? As Robert Masters and Jean Houston note in their book Mind Games: The Guide to Inner Space, “Man is still something to be realized” (5). From this point forward, I will attempt to assume my role as “guide.” I will bring back from each day’s trance something of value to enrich other heads (and through them, the General Intellect.) Becoming fully aware means becoming one with all that is. Should make you smile. What we’re trying to escape is a cultural trance where, as Masters and Houston note, “we all dream the same dream, more or less, and call it: reality” (13). I feel infinitely more well-provisioned after grilling myself a couple hot dogs. I care about consensus reality only inasmuch as it is there where I get to care for those I love. I care, too, though, for their entire life-body relation, their full organic and inorganic being. Where do we draw the line between that and the whole of nature? Perhaps these experiments need to be performed in groups, each member becoming for the others their Ezekiel.
I’m feeling super down at the moment. My hope, however, is that by writing, I can pull myself up. Evacuate the current narrative. Bleed out into another. Lemme just get myself adjusted, as with the ludicrous prog of Gong’s “Master Builder.”
I came to adulthood possessed by a disposition toward being. A preliminary faith, a preliminary ontology. An intellectual argument entangled with an underlying affect. Prepare to meet my Marxist “ontopolitical assemblage,” to use a phrase favored by certain jokers out in Theoryland. The thing is, that disposition has changed in the last few years, a conversion process triggered through encounters with psychedelics. Hence my desire to rally ’round phrases like “Acid Communism” and “Psychedelic Marxism.” Along the way, though, I should probably read more Deleuze and Guattari, as well as William E. Connolly. In the meantime, I sit beside a road in town listening to locust symphonies and the wave-like comings and goings of my countrymen. Setting morphs into a monster-themed arcade bar. Friends unburden themselves of unhappy workplace narratives. Poorly executed send-off parties for retiring comrades. Anchor points for the evening include Youth Code’s “Keep Falling” and the late-70s American sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter, the latter cropping up repeatedly throughout the evening.
Authority? Do you mean the pinnacle of order, as in “the market”? Or do you mean “realms within”? Lunch yesterday at a fast-food chain placed me in proximity to cops and military personnel. I imagine this as the universe’s way of suggesting that I go vegan. It also recommends, through the intermediary of a friend, that I read Charles Lamb’s Essays of Elia — whilst listening to Swedish progg group Träd, Gräs & Stenar.
I pull air into my lungs with long, extended breaths as I come to. Stabs of low-range electric organ. Lawn mowing forms a new container-act into which I spill my beans. And that’s not the only way in which my life now resembles a reboot to a ’90s VR horror thriller. I’m thinking here of The Lawnmower Man, with my face buried in a pint of fried rice. The old man, after eating like a chimpanzee, belches and groans contentedly. His dog, an elderly dachshund with Cushing’s, adjusts her failing legs and licks the scraps at his feet. Allow me to remain deliberately blasé, though, dear readers, especially when rendering something vacuous and unmemorable like liberal humanist subjectivity. Don’t you want something better? As in, wouldn’t you prefer to be a psychedelic superhuman? When the dog pees on the floor, I stomp around the living room and speak down to her in an angry British accent. Teaching sometimes grants me a platform from which to denounce corporate news media as capitalist propaganda. On those days, rare as they may be, I get to spring on students tried-and-true head-busters like Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci’s theory of cultural hegemony. But even on these best of days, teaching can still end up feeling like a mere teeth-gritting exercise. Laurie Penny and Plan C both think anxiety is the relational mode of our age, and I suppose they’re right; but rage and depression are close runners-up. All the more reason to smoke weed and zone out. It’s like replacing the competitive self-promoting self with a neon air dancer. Or as the Situationists used to say, “Sous les pavés, la plage!” Claire Cirocco soundtracks the day’s affect with “Clear Base Living,” a new track by her project Comme À La Radio.
It angers me to no end to have to show up, semester after mind-rotting semester, to teach classes of students who will never be as financially fucked as me. Friends and I formed and met regularly as members of an Adorno reading group in grad school. Yet what do I have to show for it? How has my character or circumstance been in any way bettered? There we go: head to head, with cracks of thunder ’round our sides. My winning move: pass through history unscathed. Map the ground covered, and then get back in there and hustle, keep going, advance ever further into the game’s interior.