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.”
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?
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.
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.
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.”
A house I pass while out walking in my neighborhood wears a mask with a sideways haircut. I am asking you to read me as a destitute Utopian realist, friend, inflated with chemicals and making it up as I go. It is nice to have loved ones you can join on walks. And neighbors who are radical anarchist gardeners. How easily, though, that can slip into radicalism reduced to a mere lifestyle. Sarah hips me to the hedge-jumping acid-folk Utopianism of Van Morrison’s divine transmission, “Sweet Thing.”
Will I be beaten for mistranslating my mission? Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance in Okja clutches and fills my heart with fear. I have difficulty translating. Signs go unread. Associative logic is too advanced and moves too rapidly for full trance-scription. The Spectacle has become immersive and sonic and fractal. Characters even play their own twins. Methods of cultural study have been outpaced by media. The film performs a devastating act of cognitive mapping. Psychedelic consciousness teaches us to hold all creatures close to our heart. Revolutionaries should build into their program the abolition of carnivorism. (Live as I say on this score, not as I do.) When tracing the origins of Acid Communism, one has to tell the story of the University of Warwick’s Cybernetic Culture Research Unit, delving especially into the Unit’s fondness for mind-altering substances during its heyday in the 1990s. One could note the progression of Sadie Plant from a 1992 book on the Situationists to 1999’s Writing on Drugs. Before this, of course, one’s narrative would have to discuss the interwar self-experimentation documented in Walter Benjamin’s On Hashish. Meanwhile, a search for “Acid Communism” on YouTube reveals the following: Acid Womble’s “When the class consciousness kicks in… [wombles 4 communism],” and a collection of videos by someone named Aaron.
Let’s initiate today’s ritual with a notch-lowering jaunt through X.Y.R.’s “False Angel Lullaby.”
Today’s headlines feature reviews of dramas performed by morons. Like Herrigel’s bow and arrow, my trance-scripts are “only a pretext for something that could just as well happen without them, only the way to a goal, not the goal itself, only helps for the last decisive leap.” Not Not Fun have been putting out some top-notch records: “mesmerizing maze music mapped for altered states,” as they say in one of their promos. These records lend themselves to me as “Temples of Solitary Thought.” Let’s end things today, by the way, in anticipation of the season gestured to in Jefre Cantu-Ledesma’s “Autumn,” playing both that and Magnetizer’s “See What U See.”
Neighbor wars, street wars. The culture war has been heating up over several decades, to the extent that now it functions not just as war by other means, but war by many means. Tree-chopping homeowners, bumper-sticker micro-aggressors, coal-rolling sociopaths: these are some of the monsters immediately in our midst. And yet there at the corner, a garden of great beauty. “Reality Redux (feat. The Blues)” serves as mood-supplementing accompaniment as I go for my afternoon run, along which I intermittently walk and type.
An old yellow truck is tucked in the side lot of one of the homes I pass on my way. Don’t you love it when performers of feats perform cockily? Insects in the trees unleash a pulsing, multi-directional, multi-sourced roar in the moments of dusk’s fading light. Funny, in contrast — I vibrate into an icy unease when my body’s focus shifts to the repetitive drone of my next-door neighbor’s air unit, as if the mechanical and the organic were out of harmony with one another. This is the escapist fantasy into which I implode. Coherence involves a thing’s relation to itself. The marijuana firm American Green just purchased an entire town. It’s small, certainly, atop a mere 120 acres in California; but it signals an intensification of green capitalism’s commodification of peak experiences. With bottled cannabis-infused water, mineral baths, and marijuana retail outlets, it’s a first-of-its-kind, at least here in the US — the latest advance in psychedelic tourism, where your body travels to a particular location in meatspace, but only so that your mind can relax into the exoticism of an altered inner state. What hope is there for the positive changes in consciousness of the kind proposed by Acid Communism when legalization efforts are run by capitalists?
I need to design some new courses. What are some topics worth teaching that won’t make me want to blow my brains out? “Literature and the Practice of Everyday Life,” with generous helpings of Thoreau and the Situationists; maybe a sprinkling of documents from the New Games movement of the 1970s? For New Gamers like Andrew Fluegelman, Pat Farrington, and others, writes historian Fred Turner, “to play New Games meant to imagine and perhaps to create a new social order. […]. The arrangement of players and observers on the field, the construction of rules (or the lack of them), the deployment of technologies and techniques in and around the space defined for play — for the New Gamers, to rearrange these elements was to rearrange the structure of society itself.” The course could be titled “Games People Play: Literatures and Practices of Everyday Life.” Of course, if I actually tried to teach this, students would probably stage a mutiny. And so it will remain but a dream. Best to just keep teaching courses on Utopianism, music, and drugs. This is the world as it appears imaginatively to a still firmly embodied consciousness, not just to some Google Street View camera parked across from one’s address. But then, the “outlaw” quality is part of this lifestyle’s appeal. The writer is bumping up against real internal and external censors and is plotting and practicing transgression. The idea is that one could open doors in consciousness so that others could follow, accreting pleasure-seekers like iron flakes to a magnet. Each day’s entry is becoming more and more like pulling back a string and releasing it, firing off the daily arrow. Should the project of collective self-realization feel like Zen in the Art of Archery? If I were to pursue a thought experiment whereby I answered in the affirmative, then it would follow that the trance-script is realized only when, “completely empty and rid of the self,” I become one with the perfecting of my technical skill along a trajectory that appears asymptotic. D.T. Suzuki’s comment in his introduction to Herrigel’s book would serve for me as a proper model for Marxism’s future as a practice of everyday life. “While it never goes out of our daily life,” he wrote, “yet with all its practicalness and concreteness Zen has something in it which makes it stand aloof from the scene of worldly sordidness and restlessness.” Marxism should be an “everyday mind” fired into every direction and every field of activity. To become childlike Utopians again, we must train in the “art of self-forgetfulness.” Imagine it as a slow but deliberate collapse of the self out of capitalist reality, one’s robes falling to the floor as Ben Kenobi’s did in Star Wars. Our thinking, freed via mind-expansion from the prison of capitalist realism, unfolds “like the showers coming down from the sky” and “like the waves rolling on the ocean,” even indeed “like the stars illuminating the nightly heavens.” The picture we will paint with our lives — once redeemed through the psychedelic sacrament — is called “History.” Let me try to rephrase all of that: I am trying to give account of why my attempt to live in fidelity to my Utopianism has led me to a writing practice infused with weed and Zen. I am at all times trying to figure out what it means to live well, as a Marxist, in a society that denies that possibility. To me, an urgent task of our time is to remind alienated productivists of the passion and joy of unproductive play. E.P. Thompson saw in Utopian writing of the past a way to teach others “to desire better, to desire more, and above all to desire in a different way” (William Morris, p. 791). But to know how to educate in this way, I would add, today’s Utopians must find a way, against all odds, to practice what they preach.
I never met Mark Fisher, nor was I much of a fan of his work during his lifetime. Sure, I had seen some k-punk posts over the years, and I read Mark’s book Capitalist Realism at some point a few summers before his death. Given the work I had done exploring the intersections of Marxism and cultural studies, as well as the dissertation I had written on the fate of utopian thought from the Cold War to the present, much of Mark’s theory of capitalist realism struck me as welcome, but nevertheless a retreading of ground I’d already encountered elsewhere.
However, I also remember feeling challenged in a more productive way both by Mark’s piece on Lyotard’s Libidinal Economy in The Accelerationist Reader, and by his controversial 2013 polemic, “Exiting the Vampire Castle.”
When the news arrived, then, of his suicide this past spring, I noted with some surprise the many comrades of mine who testified to the profound influence of Mark’s work upon their thinking. Given this reaction, I promised myself that I would set aside time this summer to look at his two most recent books, Ghosts of My Life and The Weird and the Eerie.
And for the most part, that’s where matters stood, until a few days ago, when I learned that Mark’s next project, left unfinished at the time of his death, was to be titled Acid Communism: On Post-Capitalist Desire. “In particular,” writes his friend Jeremy Gilbert, Mark was “exploring the connections between the idea of ‘raising consciousness’ in the political sense — be it class consciousness or the other forms of collective political consciousness promoted by women’s liberation, gay liberation, and black power — and the consciousness-expansion promoted by the psychedelic and anti-psychiatry movements in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s.”
Imagine my mixture of emotions upon reading this: mixed, first and foremost, because of the undiminished sadness of Mark’s passing, but also because my own work has arrived independently at a similar place. As I wrote a few days ago, I’m interested in creating “an openly, unashamedly Gnostic-themed, psychedelia-inflected Marxism, one that presents the raising of consciousness as the relay switch between previously competing or previously antagonistic codes.”
In the months since Mark’s passing, a number of his friends and colleagues have launched Egress, a collaborative archival site collecting Mark’s scattered early attempts to theorize Acid Communism. Over the next few weeks, I plan to work my way through this material, looking for further confluences of ideas (as well as, I assume, some divergences), and posting notes when time permits. My hope is that, as these trance-scripts unfold, they might serve among other things as expressions of an attempt to prefigure through daily self-experiment an as-yet undefined philosophy and practice of Acid Communism.