Thursday August 17, 2017

I act like others know something I don’t know. And vice versa. I become uncaring and detached. Hiro Kone’s “Less Than Two Seconds” returns to me a sense of direction.

August is always the cruelest month. When I arrived Tuesday morning to the first of several all-day faculty and staff meetings — events where my coworkers and I are forced “captive audience”-style to listen to the euphemistically-titled “president” (rather than “boss” or “CEO”) of the institution where we work wax on about vacuities like “excellence” and “grit,” I quickly found a seat and prepared to cast elaborate hexes on those I hate. Above me stood the usual theater-sized screen (adorned, naturally, with American flags on each side of the stage); but rather than begin with slides featuring self-aggrandizing quotes from corporate leaders, as has been the tradition in years past, this year’s presentation began with a video of a five-member all-male black song and dance troupe covering Bell Biv Devoe and Boyz 2 Men hits from the 1990s against an unchanging solid white background. Message received loud and clear, I thought to myself: this is apparently all my institution can muster as far as “valuing diversity.” In all other respects, the presentation was exactly what I’ve come to expect: a near-endless rehearsal of credentials as the institution welcomed new hires; a near-endless rehearsal of financials to assure us that “all is well.” “Growth mindset,” we were told, “is in our institutional DNA.” The president waddled across the stage stating, “Life muddies you up, grit, faithful courage, value in global marketplace, blah blah blah.” To survive such events, I deliberately zone out and find joy whenever possible. Later on, some bullshitter from a company called “Generational Insights” provided a bullshit cart-pulls-horse account of labor-management relations, suggesting that “individualistic Millennials” are the ones demanding precarious workplaces, rather than precarious workplaces producing the individualistic mindsets of Millennials. I love it when corporate schmucks in ill-fitting suits complain that others in our society lack empathy. And yet, to either side of me, lemming-like coworkers of mine from business and sports medicine laughed at each of this dude’s potted one-liners. What can I say: you can’t judge a fish by looking at a pond, but cluelessness abounds these days in the groves of the corporate pseudo-academy. The Left may have embarked on a long march through the institutions following the impasses of the 1960s — but those institutions in many cases are drifting rightward again day by day.

Wednesday August 16, 2017

Warts and all, my friends. ‘Tis my motto, as I soak in the wood-paneling-meets-burnt-orange-Naugahyde interior of an Arby’s. The working class eats beside me on its lunch break. Customers can ring a bell of gratitude hung by the exit whenever the spirit moves them. But no number of bells, I think, could ever address the humiliations and degradations inherent to a service-based economy. Several hits, like my middle-school asthmatic self with his inhaler, and I sink and recede inward. Gone With the Wind can be heard, but only as a distant old-time ambience, whispered from another compartment of reality. The ancients spoke of a method of remembering called the mind palace or memory palace. To underscore, tune yourselves to SPELLLING’s “Tremble Dancer,” or better yet ZEEK SHECK’s “7777-01-07 Son” off the ROGUE PULSE / GRAVITY COLLAPSE benefit comp from Ratskin Records.

This is the world of the heads: a vast network burrowing outward from a rasterized, “Dig Dug“-shaped cosmos. “We all make believe / What is can be.” Is it capitalist to think that desire can restructure reality and give one what one needs? One of these days, I’ll unlock the capabilities contained in Frances A. Yates’s The Art of Memory. Inspiration, I take it, for the album of that name by John Zorn and Fred Frith. The imagination never fails to provide, so long as one allows it. One wakes, one becomes, one finds oneself. If one wants to visit a memory palace, one can do so by listening to Kosmiche duo Art of the Memory Palace’s collaboration with Scottish author James Robertson, “Your Soul Is Not a Bird.”

Devoting oneself to becoming conscious of this makes for a joyful passage of time. But being a brave comrade also means learning to give account and modeling for others a way to be present. It means taking control of the narrative. Is my consciousness behind or ahead those of my comrades in thinking we need as one of our priorities “encounter group”-style retraining at the interpersonal level of how we relate to one another? Tearing down a statue is as easy as gathering enough people willing to do it! Just make sure someone holds up a camera and takes a nice shot. One hand in pocket, other one flicking a cigarette. “Nothing of him that doth fade, / But doth suffer a sea-change / Into something rich and strange”: so it goes with one’s rebirth as a revolutionary subject. But what if, instead, we become men in boxes in the ruins of a new Pompeii?

Tuesday August 15, 2017

I wish it were as easy as intoning, “All is okay. One is one’s best self. There is no dark cloud hanging over one’s head.” But my emotions resonate more with Drugdealer’s “Sea of Nothing.” 

Those are companies I should investigate, I tell myself as I spy a pair of corporate logos in a “bad things happen there” industrial park beside a highway. This is what I call my conspiracy thriller “social detective” persona. Seeing a Subway worker in a green t-shirt, a green apron, and yellow shorts, I’m put in mind of a Keebler elf. When Sarah and I drive through the lushly vegetated rural towns of the southern coastal states, we notice churches with names like “Overflow,” and white pickup trucks in our rear-view mirror whose occupants remind us of the white nationalist militia fucks who marched in Virginia. Dérives through these regions lull one into a sleepy boredom.

You can approximate this state by listening to Harmonia & Eno ’76’s “Welcome” while picturing the following appearing like ruins among a sea of green: modular home manufacturers, tool and machine works, a field of zinnias at the center of an exit curve. But my head is always snapping out of this hypnosis due to the region’s abiding hints of danger. Standing in the grass of a park Sunday night, I listened to comrades share their concerns at a local vigil organized in unity with antifascist forces in Charlottesville. But the Democratic Party organizers of the event formed us into no more than an inert mass, clapping when expected to clap, faced back to itself with speakers urging it halfheartedly to launch a love-fest. Years of declining people power have left the local Left lacking even a reliable public address system. But it was energizing, ultimately, to hear comrades who had been there in the streets of Charlottesville share their perspective on what had happened, and to hear as well the newly established local DSA chapter representative, a dear friend of mine, properly naming capitalism as the system we must fight. Despite the odds, the collective lighting of candles successfully cast its spell.

Monday August 14, 2017

Synth chimes lay atop the opening to the documentary 8-Bit Generation to great effect, reminding audiences of the psychedelic aura that well-nigh shimmered around Commodore 64s and early experimental electronic music, the original consumers of which came to each with an appropriate sense of reverence, viewing said devices as tools of consciousness. Heads of the time used to play with pocket calculators. By the way, though, terrible documentary in all other respects; don’t waste your time. A reminder that tech-geeks are to heads as cops are to freaks, even though all such groups arrive at their minds through dialectical struggle against insufficient facts. Those who worship the religion of business break with heads in that they use force to replicate obedience to their fancy in others, whereas heads are content to chill. One seeks to profit from nature, while the other co-evolves with it and reveres it. Logics, controllers, processors. Think of the multiple subjects active in a spontaneous prose autobiography: writer plus actor plus thinker plus knower. Because of this multitude, there results a significant delay as I interpret Michael Winterbottom’s The Trip, understanding the latter to be a psychogeographical narrative structured around a two-person dérive. Talk remains the preferred method in our society for the extemporization of consciousness. To write it down is another thing entirely. The actor plays himself, but in a scripted narrative written while seated. Winterbottom’s film, meanwhile, only occasionally arrives at scenes that are improvised. What kind of memory is needed to realize “I’m living the dream, it’s all a dream”? I need to study performance and acting, especially method acting, where one learns to inhabit one’s role. Do people with greater memories inhabit richer universes?

A switch is flipped, and suddenly one is singing “The Winner Takes It All,” the words belted forth with a slightly choked-down lump of indignation in one’s throat, one’s hand reaching up to clasp it. We all improvise ourselves through learned routines. Butterscotch has become my jam, says the impressionist who performs only for the one he loves. Romantics are performative selves, with enormous self-confidence and an abundance of energy. They grab the tree of knowledge from the base and shake out all the apples. They do this especially when young and rich. Don’t fool yourself into ignoring, says another, the existence of other currencies: personality, quick wit, prestige. Everyone and everything is available to be observed, but there is disrespect, a voice tells us, in the act of observing. Massive cloud formations drift lazily past a blue that lies beyond. I did manage to squeeze in a brief pool trip the other day. A cardboard box in my garage contains the words “A SMOOTH AND FRUITY WINE” printed diagonally in repeating lines across its side. Can’t you tell I’ve been reading Frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems? White supremacists launched a terror attack with a grey Dodge Charger, while in another state I swam. Social networks accessed through my cellphone, however, brought news of the events close to me. Some asshole with a radio blasted crappy Top 40 dance-pop on the poolside pavement next to me. But where is the benefit in me bearing mass-mediated witness to the alt-right and its murderous acts of violence? Surely my consciousness is altered into immediate sympathetic identification with the victims through that encounter — but toward what end? Shall we permit their ghosts to haunt us? I’m reminded of Foucault’s remark in his preface to Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus: “Do not think,” he writes, “that one has to be sad in order to be militant, even though the thing one is fighting is abominable” (xiii). What dark telos inspires the ways we allow ourselves to be used by our technologies? Moments later, I saw myself in a bird circling overhead while I floated on my back in the pool. I sometimes worry that I haven’t evolved sufficient compassion for others, as when I walk to the concession stand and order a pair of hot dogs. Is it wrong of me in such moments to attend to appetites? Recognize these as defense mechanisms, I instruct myself, installed during childhood gender programming. And the programmers are the ones who possess vastly superior arms. The political parties are just good cop and bad cop; neither is on our side. Any call for “order” under these terms is tyrannous and indefensible, for the bullies own the earth.

Sunday August 13, 2017

Others vacation when and where they want. This, too, is a form of inequality. Worse still, my city is livable, but unmemorable and unattractive. Is my miserabilism the effect of my impoverished personhood or its cause? I am being asked to fail and fail again. And it’s okay: I’ll keep going. I know I somehow will. Please do not be frightened. It’s just that I’ve become deeply unhappy with myself. My writing is a testament to the failure of my ability today to enjoy. The thing is, it really felt like I was pulling out of the spiral there for a moment. What happened? I try not to tell myself that I suffer from depression, as I’m wary of the theoretical presumptions embedded in that label. (My thinking has been partly shaped on this score by Susan Sontag’s Under the Sign of Saturn. But see as well Eric G. Wilson’s Against Happiness.) But, look, let’s be honest: my moods are seasonal and affected by work. I go through patches of good and bad over varying durations. One consequence is that I drive people away just by being myself. My work, if it is truly to be mine, will have to attest to this. And so, without further ado, let’s return to the work itself. The construction of a Marxist theory of psychedelia will have to build upon the insights of critical geographers like David Harvey and Edward W. Soja (and before them, Henri Lefebvre). Psychedelics intervene in and directly modify socially produced space, by changing what we might call cognitive space or mental space. “The presentation of concrete spatiality,” as Soja notes, “is always wrapped in the complex and diverse re-presentations of human perception and cognition, without any necessity of direct and determined correspondence between the two. These representations, as semiotic imagery and cognitive mappings, as ideas and ideologies, play a powerful role in shaping the spatiality of social life” (Postmodern Geographies, p. 121). As we continue to think about the relationships between psychedelics and space, we’ll also have to consult Alastair Gordon’s book Spaced Out: Radical Environments of the Psychedelic Sixties. Following Fisher, I see capitalist realism not just as an ideology and an aesthetic that situates subjects within a narrowed or foreshortened horizon of political possibility, where there can be no future utopian alternative to the present; it’s also a shaping and debasing of the way subjects experience space and time. Psychedelics thus possess a certain radical potential under such circumstances, as they provoke immediate (albeit temporary) modification of inner experience beyond the forms imposed by capitalism. When under the influence, one is no longer the Self as defined and designed by the current order. One can drift and linger, now that one has restored to oneself that which capitalism had drowned in what Marx called “the icy water of egotistical calculation.” Anxieties, begone! Pot allows us to see again reality constituted through veils and unveilings, everything both inwardly-lit and haloed. All of which is to re-invoke through transcendence upward from the profane a sense for the sacred, although I’m not sure I wish to do that, as emotional, perceptual, and symbolic spaces are all still immanent to the dialectic of nature. Picture, through perceptual refocusing, the circle-shape and the yin and yang struggle contained therein. No need to delve into those questions just yet. Think, after all, of how much of our lives is invested in staring at illusions of depth onscreen! Games of perception are the very magic by which the system operates. Business is, along with whatever else, a religion imposed on conquered subjects.

Saturday August 12, 2017

Charles Koch calls ideas “technologies.” His goal is to employ them to “enchain Leviathan,” so that capitalist princes like him, titles won through rigged competition and inheritance, may stand in its stead. Imagine scumbags in power smugly performing lead roles as heads of playground drama. The bullshit of national pageantry. Headlines are looking grim, comrades. The hundredth anniversary nears. News agencies keep pumping blatant propaganda. Global corporate fascism is upon us. Erik “Prince,” Donald “Trump”: who’s writing this tragic race-to-the-apocalypse farce-drama? Nut-bag headlines like “Threat of War May Sound Scarier Than It Really Is.” States and corporations are entities that we haven’t built ourselves. Our wealth and happiness stolen from us and stacked like bricks of gold. No longer is there a way to raise a sufficient counter-power to combat the words and acts of bullies. The affliction known as nihilism replicates by causing those who claim to have successfully defended themselves against it to lash out at and attack its victims. In reaction to this insensitivity, this betrayal of any commitment to compassion, the afflicted lose whatever remained of their admiration for former allies, while these latter observe in horror as their own actions become those of hivemind despots: the rote subjecthood of beings commanded by fear of what lies within. But the affliction remains treatable. By closing our eyes and stilling our minds and bodies, we become pure consciousness, in itself and for itself, rather than instrumentalized will or ego. To transpose this experience into language is to do it a disservice. Plans to visit the pool crushed again by overcast skies. Meditation shelters me from the void and grants me space to breathe, but the object-world remains depthless and unresponsive. Welcome to what Linda Stone calls “continuous partial attention.” I scan the surfaces of semiocapitalism looking for something — anything — that might hold my gaze and deliver some sense of connection. Pot thankfully interrupts this debased mode of being, however briefly, even when we remain online. It permits vision to pixelate experimentally, turning reality into a sea of floaters. Mind becomes through its engagement with matter. This is what happens when we go outside with it. We must build up our mental maps of neighborhoods, scaling from the local all the way outward to the global. But doesn’t that require media? Houses in the neighborhood belong to people of different classes. Sometimes on the same block. And a varied ecology. Each gardener designs a miniature individual nature. Some of these gardens contain herbs and medicines grown locally, to the best of the climate’s ability. Each one t’each one. The utopia of the diverse city-state, subordinated in a more abstract level to state and nation, and containing further subordinate diverse units within called homesteads. This is what the US imagines as the proper distribution of power through land, that prior-most means of production. And suddenly, one is thinking again.

Friday August 11, 2017

Reality is plastic insofar as minds can take us elsewhere. Utopia is a place one visits through remembered scraps of song. We can bend down and stroke blades of grass. We can grow lonely in the many rooms of our days. Solitude walks us through a diverse range of affective registers. One becomes absorbed in a full stopping of one’s certainty that one will ever again witness the passing of time. Certain changes are hard to contemplate, like the loss of a pet. A part of one’s consciousness, disappearing from active presence in one’s narrative. Must I be audience to this? One becomes panicked by bouts of painful sadness. Music sometimes suffices to dull this, as with Destroyer’s “Sky’s Grey.”

Heads up, North Korea. The masses, the invisible ones, are huddled half-exhilarated in anticipation of the story’s turn toward the tragic. “Sky’s Grey” is what it feels like to be a Marxist at the true end of history. Prog out and get super stoned to Heldon’s “Mechamment Rock.” (For more advanced heads, check out “Cocaine Blues.”)

Others don’t seem to have memories that fail them as do mine. What have been the effects of mass use of mind-altering substances throughout history? One should assume in advance that HBO’s The Defiant Ones will disappoint us because of its ideologically deficient “political statement.” Bits broken from a bar of dark chocolate will remind us of the triangles of the Triforce in Zelda. 85% cocoa, with stout and sea-salt caramel. The World Bank will fund our venture to reestablish Pax Americana, suggest my sources, and the Supercop will become indentured, too. Our minds will become like that of the Three-Eyed Raven. Imagine people telling themselves stories that actually made them feel better. We mustn’t melt castles and burn cities. Better to burn gold en route. If Game of Thrones is an allegory, and a prophetic one to boot, then which country’s dragons are supposed to take out which country’s money supply? Presence is as difficult as hope. But a curing occurs; we relate differently to time when high. But a mourning occurs as well, as knowledges known in the past recede from consciousness, and are known now only as names of computer files stored in folders somewhere in one’s laptop. How distant it all seems: I channeled my consciousness where? And for what? Is this what others call “cognitive impairment”? It’s been so long since I’ve read any David Harvey. Is that an observation or a confession? Parts of my life appear purely arbitrary. My dog and I can perform simple routines, but not much more than that. My world has in essence collapsed.