I listen in a reclined position to a train across town and the ocean-like repetition of cars headed to work on a distant parkway. Before long, a fire truck joins the fray. And beneath it all, creating a sense of tonal continuity, a chorus of crickets. What remains of consciousness as it passes intermittently between states? Is there an internal reckoner, a memorized self-same self? Picture this self as the Pugilist, whose nature (so I hear) is to lose and rise again. Borges bestowed on this figure the title “Funes the Memorious.” “Perhaps we all know deep down,” he wrote, “that we are immortal and that sooner or later all men will do and know all things.” Perhaps, I murmur back, slipping in and out of consciousness of the many brown and yellow leaves lying dead upon my deck. Must I sweep them? What’s the point? Mosquitoes will continue to haunt these grounds regardless of my effort. Give it a little push at the start, though, and the whole thing begins to glide. We no longer need our sunglasses, for instance, do we? Nor do we need our helmets. Just tree-lined, solitary inner wanderings. We conduct our trance-scripts at a picnic table in a park. And if you don’t mind me saying, it feels magical: a beam of sunlight carves a face on a tree directly across from me. In its features, the face is sometimes ghost from Pac-Man or poor Yorick, sometimes ancient-wise-benevolent. There are occasionally people who walk past, and we tense a bit; but it’s all good, the locusts shift their motors up a gear and we’re staring down into a distant puddle or a sinkhole. Therein lies the psychic mortuary / compost heap. Do we want to take a look? Of course we do. We are in some sense seeking to establish a rapport between Marxism and psychedelic human-potentialists and positive psychologists. Ours will be a communism “articulated,” in Laclau and Mouffe’s sense, with projects of self-realization and personal well-being. I want to be able to camp out in empty fields, even after the revolution, apart at a safe distance from my fellow humans. “Family of man” mustn’t become a curse hung ’round the necks of particular, living-breathing humans. Can we respect that? Non-human Nature, I congratulate thee: that sunlit field looks fantastic. Well done. Lay back in the grass and gaze up at the sky. That ought to be part of the Left’s promise: high-quality, de-commodified (though psychedelically enhanced), authentic lives of leisure. A Marxism that robs individuals of the right to design their own paths toward understanding is an abomination. Nor is there anything in Marxism that demands such a robbery. Why, then, is today’s radical Left so square? If holding these views implicates me in natural theology, then so be it.
What have we accomplished since Ulysses, the great novel of everyday life? I wish I could train students to appreciate that book’s achievements. But in what context? Look around: we live in the hours before a storm. There are few among us who have time enough still to read books like Ulysses. I wish to live without cash, outside the capitalist system. Please help me. Please advise. How does one begin to live as one wishes? How does one create a world where owls nest in abandoned libraries, and capitalism is a thing of the past? Desolate land’s ends, abandoned shorelines: these have always been my favorite places. The broken asphalt expanses beneath gull-infested grey skies. I enjoy being assigned the character whose every day unlocks a new spell as he trespasses amid the ghosts-to-be of tomorrow’s mossy wastes and ruins. Extra credit for those who devise mantras and practice neuro-linguistic programming in the moments before bed each night. “Linger, let live: longer, louder.” We were born into this mess; we might as well get good at it. Amen. Blinds draw lines across light, so I go outside, only to have those bastards, the mosquitoes, attack my ankles. Because of “live and let live,” I’m supposed to just permit that? A voice of ours quivers upward with nervous, breathless laughter. Purple lips, a tree-bark face. Breathing often helps to relax me, along with stretches and massage. What role does illusion play in everyday consciousness? Is an altered state a complete distortion of real conditions, as in the case of an hallucination? Or is it more like a slight bending for purposes of enlightenment? “Kiddies, the dream has begun,” I exclaim while waving jazz hands or spirit fingers. The bad faith of fascism expresses itself in the form of store-bought, mass-manufactured tiki torches. No “talented oppressor,” no subtle beast, that. Tunde Wey cuts to the truth of the matter, however — a truth, I’m sorry to say, for which I, too, am culpable — when he writes, “People of color are continuously dispossessed of culture and self in service of whiteness.” And here I am, teaching a course on “consciousness.”
I often wish my prose was more purposive. But I also admire the weathered wooden fence that borders the drive-thru lane at Cookout. Should I ignore life as it happens? I’ll do whatever it takes, I suppose, as I plunge feet-first into the death-swamp of another schoolyear. Capital’s algorithms compel me to perform my “professor” routine. I hear you asking, “Do you lurch about and stumble sometimes?” I do, dear reader, I do. Yet the program that runs me won’t listen to my cries and complaints. Its intention, quite simply, is to cripple me through use. The Hound grumbles, “Quit whingeing.” “Don’t point your finger at me!” I yell in reply. Songs will be sung of my deeds. Navigation of space-time earns me visions and teachings. I just have to trust my instincts or my intuition. A creature appears and kneels graciously to introduce our next fantasy. A voice in a sparkling evening gown shrugs contemptuously and mutters, “Ugh, another backdoor colonialism.” Opening strange doors onto unsuspected vistas of consciousness. The utopia lies there, in the transition between modes. You can activate a sample of the experience by listening in a relaxed state to “Contain,” the first track off of fade, the new Lillerne Tapes release from Toronto artist anthéne.
I tilt my head backward and watch cartoon vines crawl up cartoon ancient pillars and columns. Why are so many in our society unable to tolerate personal accounts of joyful experiences, moments of reflection, solo journeys elsewhere? Nature is far better than all of us combined. I wish I could get students to listen of their own volition to ambient music while developing some sort of weekly meditative practice. I’m also way into driving through randomly chosen industrial parks with “The Doctrines of Swedenborg” by Hieroglyphic Being blasting on my car stereo.
Not anymore, though. I haven’t been able to play anything on my stereo since yesterday evening, when some fuckwad stole my phone. It’s better not to dwell, though, on this inauspicious start to the new semester. Events mean only what we let them mean. Even the most heroic mosaics eventually lose their tiles. What then of one’s persistence, if one is neither an artifact nor a thought? If neither here nor there, then where? The classrooms wherein I teach will before long resemble the ruins in Nikolaus Geyrhalter’s Homo Sapiens (2016). Imagine some older me returning to survey the wreckage: the discarded object-world, sacred and splendid now because stripped of use. Fix yourself emotionally with this freeze-frame from the deep time of civilizational decline and succession. Meditate, stretch, and move on.
Mushrooms tolerate me — exert a strange power over me, even — as I bend the knee to pet them. A couple around the corner have a painting hung upside-down in their living room of an Edenic or maybe immediately post-Edenic Adam and Eve, the two figures clutching one another, bodies pale and unclothed. And the co-signer, the Ectoplasmic Lending Center: what about its contribution? These are the kinds of conversations I have with myself, given the magical thinking of my upbringing. “On the charted route,” my friend says, “you usually miss all the cool funguses.” It happened thus: I walked right into them. They announced themselves. My escort surrendered and was marched off, hands and feet in chains. The game-world at this point underwent a reprogramming. Imagine consciousness withdrawing from immersion in events on a screen. Dis-identification, while yet a perspective persists, there to do the leaping between realms. Freddie de Boer calls it “the perspective that does not understand itself to be a perspective.” To what extent is my writing “place-based”? Is “place-based” the same as “starting from and concerned with the everyday”? Or is the best writing that which transports, that which is most at variance with place, if by this latter we mean the “as-is”? No lion need resurrect itself. Call it what it was: expenses paid round-trip. I am becoming a gummy multi-vitamin kind of guy. A piece of bread floats through the frame: I ingest it. One can orbit blissfully through space if one tries. But I barely have time to reconnect my models each morning come breakfast. A podcast I listen to introduces me to Dr. Angelica Ortiz de Gortari, a psychologist who researches what she calls “game transfer phenomena.” These phenomena — digital ear worms, closed-eye visuals — involve many of the same processes that we associate with altered states of consciousness: trance, immersion, absorption, hypnagogia, dissociation, dreamwork. De-realization of reality. How might this complicate our understanding of the relationship between games and reality, and between perception, cognition, and behavior? What happens when language use evolves dialectically with experience, but in ways that evade the user’s desire to communicate — leaving only a kind of meandering amidst fragments? The dream has always been to become authors of our own sensations — lucid to a point of real agency. How else would I ever muster any narrative consciousness, or the ability to perform authorship with a swagger? Sometimes you simply have to trust yourself to wing it. You throw the dice, in agreement that if you lose, you’ll try again. The mind invents an imaginary soundtrack, some echoey, reverby, anxiety-stoking industrial act that never was — so why can’t it invent other such short fictions? I mustn’t let frustration with writing become my content. Remember the haze that overtook vision during the afternoon of the eclipse.
Everything in darkness brought to light. Imagine trying to know the world exclusively through shadows. That’d be like reducing the objects of the object-world to nomenclatures and calculations of quantity. My friend’s cat raises his eyebrows as Sarah administers to him his eye drops. I ride out my day to the plunderphonic future funk of “CD Player IV” by death’s dynamic shroud.
My view of the song sours, though, mid-listen. It is hard to put thought out to be observed and critiqued by others. We call that “surfacing.” The hiccuping auto-tuned vocals and stately gait of “Tell Me Your Secret” is more to my liking. The Krull tower sends out information-rich bolts of energy. We call these “signals.” There are characters in this town, remember? I am approaching a narrative crisis involving the naming of names. We’re each broadcasting to one another instructions that become like fate. But actors in supporting roles are beginning to show signs of exhaustion. They bite off their lines mid-sentence; they grow visibly impatient. The typecast communicate their readiness to abandon script. A voice states, “Listen with care to the words as they come to you.” The news media deliberately manipulates and casts aspersions, activating doubt patterns to re-contain the militancy of the political unconscious. I waste an embarrassing portion of my life shuffling awkwardly in line through social transactions with service workers in burrito bars, my performance of self choked with a nameless, incommunicable sense of guilt. Part of me imagines a sense of justice in these workers plotting an underground revolutionary conspiracy without me, due to my failure to establish meaningful authentic conversation with others. I wish I possessed divinely conferred charisma or grace or favor, that way I could lead others through the amorphous, self-transcending midsection of “(BALLAD OF) THE HIP DEATH GODDESS,” the rest of the track discarded as a derivative, Airplane-aping pop-psychedelic simulacrum.
The album art for the album of that name shows the artist as one who floats Indian-style atop action figures poised mid-play. If I were a jukebox, though, the record that would keep playing within me would be “The Worst Band in the World” by 10cc; though I’d attempt to wake myself now and then with eruptive outbursts, as if I set as my alarm Patrick Miller of Minimal Man shouting either “Pull Back the Bolt” or “Show Time!” That’s how I make myself teach.
I release hold of my ego, or maybe I just re-leash it. Emails sound like military bugle calls. The gift of meditation and prayer. The black hole, the abyss that throws up memories. Churches are major structures of social discipline. They create prisons of doubt and fear. But ISAs are everywhere. Clues left behind in the minds of individuals. Drugs can help us release the devils from our brains. Massive criminal conspiracies. Have I mentioned that I became friends recently with a Marxist Baptist pastor? I am excited by the arrival of this figure on the world-stage. Churches remain giants; and as my friend said, “Theology never goes away.” Can churches be reformed so as to help usher in the Kingdom of God? It’s still cops and robbers — but maybe the robbers can act again as Robin Hoods. Perhaps religion is the staging ground for the launch of a new counterpower. We must re-approach the adults who believe the secrets, and for whom the spell has been cast. So many damaged people out there in our midst. Haunted by demons. Survivors of skirmishes in modernity’s and postmodernity’s culture wars. One needs to maintain a distinction, though, between art made for a trip (as a kind of tool or supplement), and art made to re-present in place of a trip. Play “Sensory” by Kill Alters, though, to illustrate reality’s defiance of the above distinction. And follow this with “Ego Swim” as the next phase in our sequence.
What a time to be alive, I proclaim, arms raised to the sky. And the illusion, I should say, looked many-eyed and sang back to me, clothed both in “The Holder” and Do Pas O’s “History of Comedy,” where the universe melts like taffy.
Fierce grotesques profiled as by Diane Arbus. One must command a choir of alternate personalities, each waiting to overtake the others’ transportive ecstasies. Eyes that reveal eyes within. All of us are angels with amnesia, living as humans in the void or simulation we call “embodied presence.” Some of us are pouring fondue on ourselves online. Which makes a lot of sense! Altering, leveling, getting THERE to THAT, begins with our behavior toward one another. It means placing productivity on hold midafternoon. Flip-flops descending a staircase. The world reverberates in affirmation when we allow ourselves entry again to the garden. Calm, deliberate enjoyment as one treats oneself to existence. Uncommunicative, reserved, and quiet, but filled with joy.
Weed affects my perception of my relationship to luck. I find a greater bounty in the bins at Goodwill when I hunt while stoned. And my relationships with others become improvised and more casual. In a word, life becomes serendipitous. The surprise and delight of good fortune can raise my spirit for days to come. Like Horace Walpole, those interested in the phenomenon should read the fairy tale, “The Three Princes of Serendip.” While noting serendipitous occasions, I make no claim that these occasions necessitate belief in a competent cause — though in the midst of the experience itself, I suppose, one assumes this. Sarah toured me the other day through what is now one of my favorite works of residential architecture, Ray Kappe’s home in Los Angeles’s Rustic Canyon. The home as harmonious relation between human and non-human nature. The Strimling House, as it’s sometimes called, with a tree growing through its atrium. House porn is utopian through and through. For cloudform-like extravagance, seek “Live at Goers” by R. Lee Dockery & Smokey Emery.
Astral Spirits is killing it. I’m fascinated, too, by the remarkable self-investigation undertaken in “Note to Self” by Jill Pangallo. Disturbingly aware of selfhood’s manufacture. My most impressive psychedelic aesthetic encounter of late, however, came to me in the form of Eisprung’s “Ivan’s Need.”
The return of Westworld may prompt the return also of my obsession with the religion or belief system known as Gnosticism. How odd, to re-watch the title sequence of a TV series repeatedly, as if one were practicing its memorization. Repetition isn’t a world we can easily escape. Art is the simulation’s equivalent of the shot-reverse-shot. A cry when confronted with the psychedelic sublime. What do I fancy myself with these scribblings? Is this the kind of writing that results if one were to follow the advice of voice-oriented “expressionists” like Peter Elbow? Doesn’t this confuse making with the one doing it, linguistic reality laid out like the map of a game-world? Life is but one possible play among many. When television bores me, I bear down upon the taste of a sour gummy lips. Volcanic explosions among the taste buds toward the center of my tongue. Which tasks shall we suppose will be required of us next? Let us tire of reading about the deeds of our betters. How are artists able to achieve what they do despite no coherent theorization of themselves? Why ever do we find pleasure in self-consciousness? Best to become absorbed in New Argentine cinema, thus staving off the thought of thought’s decline. Alejo Moguillansky‘s Castro uses kinetically edited transition sequences to tell its story as protagonists run through the streets. The urban environment becomes the labyrinth through which desire flows. Better to live one’s life than to waste it on a living earned. I’m not sure those of us on the Left know anymore how we’ll win, but this fight is on, it’s happening — so we’ll do what we can. No need to reproduce a scene for today’s events. I sometimes become glassy-eyed and uncommunicative. Too much going on upstairs to bother with the speech acts of others. Words topple and collapse around me. Part of me feels unjustly treated and run ragged by my community; but the only way I know to right this (and thus “write” this) is to use weed to make myself more generous, more sociable. Proceed with the reinvention of the process of communist socialization. Reality delivers to those who dispose themselves accordingly. One’s face becomes like that of a rabbit while asleep.
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.
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?