Look, it’s the old man from the time before Trump. Feeling good, bad, unsure, alone. The drone descends, conducts client reconnaissance. Corporate bodies know the world only in aggregate. Little do they know, the world is whatever lines of force converging in semantic space say it is. “There I was on an overcast November day,” wrote the man, “listening to Vektroid’s latest, Seed & Synthetic Earth, when out of the ground burst an octopoid creature, its fleshy tentacles covered in blisters.” Emptiness of this sort is of little use to me, I decide, the album’s knockoff-of-knockoff hijacking of emotion via synthetic optimism seriously harshing my vibe. None of this works, I tell myself. It distracts from my pursuit of higher consciousness. My desire, after all, is to one day make contact with, receive some intimation of, life after capitalism. When I walk outdoors, I at least gain a hint, an inkling, of my oneness with Being. No vaporwave track could ever match as music the visual splendor of a tree. I think that even as I walk amid crows in the rain. Drops produce hard pops upon hitting the brim of my cap. The angel of history deprived me of Coke yesterday, employing its methods in the innards of two different soda fountains in two different eateries — and in this, I see no evil. NEU!’s “ISI” comes up in my “Discover Weekly” playlist, and just like that, as if a switch has been flipped, “there is one common flow, one common breathing, all things are in sympathy.” “Everything hangs together,” writes Koestler, “no atom is an island; microcosm reflects macrocosm, and is reflected by it.” The Fall returns with equal suddenness, though, a stubborn-headed Jonathan Richman interrupting, dividing me back into self and other by asking, “Tell me, why can’t you at least take this place, and take it straight?” Attention, rapt, with time withdraws, and we find ourselves, alas, in a windblown world, trying to steal pages from books, contorted by an irresistible impulse. I’m not in Kansas anymore — thank god! — but my country is now my enemy, as it is the enemy of all who have hope of Being. Where, I wonder, might we puncture its pretense, carnivalize its wealth? How might we zap its mind, and reverse its ill intent?
Yesterday began with the rescue of Lou Reed’s Street Hassle and Steven Halpern’s Spectrum Suite, both of which turned up on vinyl mid-morning amid Mantovanian dreck in the bins at Goodwill. Afterwards, I drove to campus, my Horatian Ode derailed by mere rhetoric, the literary at odds with the fast-paced commercial. History as the text’s intertext, Trump’s America oozing into every moment of one’s embodiment in the present. Poet and fiction-writer friends read from their work. Pink light, concentrated into single beam. As day approached evening, the sky erupted into radioactive pink against an ever-deepening blue. Not too much more, too much more. Murky, kudzu-clothed shadow-trees hung over me, filling me with welcome reverence. In the moments before dark I forever and ever locked eyes in what I interpreted as a show of mutual respect with a cat in my neighborhood. The magic around me prepares to repeat itself for another season. I find meaning in this, the world’s parts become rhyme, no matter the slant. The day shapes what I write, and what I write shapes the day. What of the film version of Jack Kerouac’s Big Sur?
A loving assemblage of voices and impressions. What can be heard, though, when we go inward? No gurgling creek. Beatniks launch out on a weed-and-alcohol-fueled weekend romp. Kerouac’s alcoholism was the snake he invented to keep him from his own creation. To stave off death, he frames experience as the passage of a soul through its seasons. The postwar subject suffers its alienation from others via words. Whereas today’s suffers soul-death as perpetual contingent labor. Reality steals away from us our powers, our capacities, our faculties. One’s wit is applied to standardized drool, in a stalemate of crossed purposes: meum and tuum. Barely sensate, the one risks becoming by the other crushed underfoot. One must defend oneself, rise up, demand more.
Society wants to know why it ought to keep me alive. Where lies my offering of beauty, joy, or wisdom? What do I bequeath to that which made me? “Gimme a break,” I reply, “I’m working on it.” Give the rest of your soul, murmurs a frequency, you are of the Jedi. So begins my dialogue with a new batch of cassettes from Seagrave, each tape featuring artwork by Greek artist George Tourlas.
Why is time for contemplation a thing we must earn with the sacrifice, the burnt offering unto Moloch, of untold labor-hours across an ever dwindling lifetime? The self wishes to throw a fit. Gather your things, friends. It’s time we allow ourselves to take a hike. All went according to plan as I listened and allowed others to listen to Wayne Koestenbaum stir up embers of trans-cognitive inner speech. Such poise. Chatty allusions. Torrents of unexplained wallpaper of consciousness. Wayne, his polyester shirt an explosion of psychedelic flowers, delivers with great confidence his performance of self. He moves incrementally through words. Easy to love, difficult to theorize. Exegesis, or the Judaic practice of commentary, is a practice of love that can destroy the way logic rivets. Toward the idea we express wonder, he reads, even as we move to dismiss it. Ethnographic self-investigation of desire. Dinner followed in what looked like a room from the Overlook Hotel. My dream-song for the evening, the song I would have played at the dinner had I scored it (and in a sense I do play it, just in retrospect) is “Up on the Sun” by Meat Puppets. Dreams they keep us free. At some point, though, we’ll need to pay our respects to Tonto’s Expanding Head Band. Inner-space movie soundtracks from a consciousness still in its youth. Wayne sometimes warmed himself by donning over his polyester shirt an ancient red zippered hoodie. A female friend spoke of a practice of her family’s when she was young called “contact improv.” The table replied as if by ideomotor response, diners all sharing happy tales from childhood. There was a time, I told them, imprinted now in my earliest memories, when my parents and I would dance together with great abandon to my first two favorite records, the soundtracks to Annie and The Rose. The dinner ended with large slices of chocolate cake, after which point we who were in attendance took leave of one another, exchanging fond goodbyes.
How do we go about building the Commune? Does George Ciccariello-Maher know the answer? ‘Cuz I don’t. Not off the top of my head. I wish the “venue of the mind” would turn forth instructions in an hallucinatory rush. Spill the beans, a voice insists. Don’t just pen a bunch of commentary. Enough! Focus! Come on! Resurrect mythopoesis to combat logos. Debt permits, sanctions, ensures the perpetuation of the daily torture of compelled labor. The body and mind dragged for long stretches through thoughtless routine. When I woke yesterday, though, the world seemed imbued with elusive but occasionally-glimpsed strings of coincidence, or what others have seen fit to call “grace.” I happened upon a passage in Arthur Koestler’s The Challenge of Chance where he speaks of “l’ange distributeur des pensées,” or “the angel who distributes thought” — a phrase he attributes to the nineteenth-century French writer Xavier de Maistre. This seems as good a name as any for that invisible power that time and again intervenes on my behalf, aligning me with my surroundings, delivering up small, unexpected bounties, arranging physis and psyche into a synchronistic, meaning-bearing whole. The angel, observable only through its effects, guides us with maps and instructions toward evil’s undoing. In its place, pleasure’s pursuit. Speaking of which: Sarah and I have been watching the new season of Mr. Robot, where dystopia appears as global capitalism itself, not some national subset thereof. The live drama of terminal class rule, as narrated by a uniquely gifted schizoid myth-hacker worker-subject. Reality is far greener, I tell myself. One can approach it as alien terrain, a vast mystery. One’s life can hang on the assumption, the expectation, of eventual revelation. Why can’t we as persons intervene in Being? The system allows for the flourishing of some, while condemning the rest to privation. Get rich quick the hope of all. How do we change that? How do we reprogram?
Am I thinking about whether or not my life allows for good news? Am I picturing wolves gnawing on my puppet body? I imagine ascending, a voice declaring my passage into a new level. Blind narrative alleyways lead me to the works of playwright David Mercer and to Nadah El Shazly’s forthcoming album Ahwar.
Attention steals a look, Mod-Podges two points previously bound together only by string. Take a crack at myth-hacking, I tell myself. I tried to consult my body yesterday, and while doing so, I detected with some alarm multiple signs of exhaustion, and a sharp pain in my side. “What now?” I wondered. “Diverticulitis?” I coasted along, ate and held down dinner, waved goodbye to another workday. “I was not long in the factory,” testifies Richard Pilling, “until I saw the evil workings of the accursed system — it is a system, which, above all systems, will bring this country to ruin if it is not altered.” The final line of Pilling’s Defence is quite moving: “the masters conspired to kill me,” he proclaimed, “and I combined to keep myself alive.” Lacking that option, however, I slide inexorably toward what Engels described as “utter physical exhaustion.” Nothing will ever again curb the employer-class’s frenzy for exploitation. Objects like red wheelbarrows launch grand openings to great fanfare. It is my reality, yet others are working on me, for better or worse. One must listen for selves who exist in parallel universes. Julie Andrews whistles away the dark, clearing the way for Charles Gross’s Blue Sunshine. The wish remains, however, that a whole new world be born.
“How to them I appear, so to me,” I tell myself when told I’m adorably stoned. Another warns, finger wagging, “Don’t stop! the clock is ticking.” The sound of a head scratch appears high in the mix. I receive instructions: “Cause the mind to change channels.” Unfold into action. Even if just taped comedy and commentary. The universe in the form of my loved one extends to me a clue: a page in Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta where two characters talk around Arthur Koestler’s The Roots of Coincidence. I become transfixed, I become transfigured. None of this is mere coincidence. Do I feel angry and concerned about the continued stockpiling of arms among my enemy countrymen? Indeed, very. The center disperses ever faster into two contending camps. The nation-state as real-dimension Pong, with computer-controlled opponents. It is no mere coincidence, I repeat under my breath on my way to a talk by Masha Gessen. Daphne’s death continues to weigh on me, especially on gloomy, rainy days midweek. On such days, I sometimes let paranoid musings get the best of me. I take pleasure in the sensation of web detection. A friend of mine introduces Gessen, who speaks on “Democracy in the Age of Trump and Putin.” World leaders who each wish to become “king of reality.” I establish that she and I are both acutely aware of the things that scare us. But all she does is revisit for the audience (in a packed auditorium, by the way) points from her piece “Autocracy: Rules for Survival.” What we must do, she says, is “other” for others the reality in which we live. Point to the autocrat; reveal him as such. But reveal to whom? Gessen can speak only to a public that reads the New York Review of Books. A group nearly devoid of influence in our new reality. The reality of concentrated power, limited only by the pressure, she says, applied by civil society upon the judiciary. “It’s really hard,” she says, “to think hard in Trump’s America.” All of us are suffering from a kind of “future shock.” As she states this, my eyes are pulled to the right and peer with suspicion at a figure, an intense-looking young white man, who arrives late clutching a mysterious bundle in his hands and who sits up front beside the podium. Spider sense tingling. Have I stumbled inadvertently into an Event, I wonder? Thankfully the suspicion proves baseless. But such is the emotional / affective texture of our time.
Return to me the vision of the post-scarcity Noble Savage. I prefer it to the belief that only a properly constituted society and reformed system of education could make humans good. Able to live in egalitarian plenty. Instead, history is about to culminate in a monstrous epoch of universal conflict and mutual destruction. Collective nouns go silent one by one. The one, because self-conscious, thinks it needs to put itself above others. Hence our current mess. Voices get in our heads. Ghosts. It’s like tinnitus. I no longer want anything to do with the certification industry. That’s all education is anymore. Certification of would-be modern-day plantation owners and Indian-killers. Schools leverage testing, punishment, and the trauma of near-constant boredom in order to transform imaginative beings into cop-worshiping, mortgage-paying members of middle-management. Proponents, armed with nukes, wish to extend this twenty-first century plantation-via-franchise system to all corners of the globe, using “protection of national interests” as justification for perpetual military deployments abroad. Those who perform their duties, those who consent to assessment, are no less complicit than those who lead. I no longer even have the hope of fellow wage slaves waking up and becoming allies of mine, comrades. We’re all too chickenshit. My resentment of myself and others manifests as a total all-encompassing white-hot rage. When others show up to work, I have to work, and vice versa — thus making us mutual enemies. What’s the point? I work all day just to come home and stand in line at fast-food burrito joints. Slop for defeated workers.