Secret history: like the one Greil Marcus tracks in Lipstick Traces. That’s what a friend sees me working toward in these trance-scripts. The “Gnostic” in me is drawn to the detective role entailed by such a tale: the “postmodern sleuth” who explores the maze of the contemporary, ever-skeptical of the machinations of the simulation, the Spectacle, the construct. The Gnostic responds to History with cosmic paranoia. History is a Text upon which one exercises an hermeneutic of suspicion. Or in the best versions of Gnosticism, as in the work of philosopher Ernst Bloch, an hermeneutic of hope, with dream or Imagination the absent Messiah deconcealing itself across time. The conservative philosopher Eric Voegelin warns that hope of this sort prompts a reckless utopianism, a desire to “immanentize the eschaton.” For a Christian like Voegelin, the eschaton is a day of judgment, whereas for the Gnostic, it’s the resurrection into joy and the dawn of a New Age. The Catholic trembles while the Gnostic revolts. I think of Allen Ginsberg on the back cover of his book Kaddish, asserting the “triumphancy of Self over the mind-illusion mechano-universe of un-feeling Time.” By “Self,” Ginsberg means the defenseless, open, original self we all share in common, not the mere individual of liberal ideology, the monad disaggregated from the whole. Time is revealed as mind-illusion as we conduct our secret history. Events share affinities and those affinities arrange themselves into stories. The best Gnostics are the ones who become bricoleurs.
Sarah and Frankie listen to “Something Good,” one of many songs by Lindsay Munroe that Frankie’s been having us play of late. I dream of a ukulele as sun shines through an upstairs window. Record Night’s a thing again — though rebranded now as “Music Night,” and designed with a bit of forethought so as to approximate the style and spirit of a Rastafarian reasoning session. Thumbing through stacks of vinyl, I settle upon several I hope to share with friends. Rita Marley’s “One Draw” will make an appearance, as will “Şu Derenin Sulari,” a track from an LP that turned up in the bins by Turkish psych outfit Hüsnü Özkartal Orkestrasi.
“If the best way to learn is by doing,” argue the members of the Chicago Surrealist Group in a piece on the 1992 L.A. Rebellion written for the Winter 1993 issue of Race Traitor, “There is every reason to believe that in some seventy-two hours of popular, creative destruction, L.A.’s insurgent population learned more than they did in all the years they spent confined in classrooms” (8). The Group touts humor’s role in the Rebellion as both teaching implement and weapon. “Few things are more consciousness-expanding,” they write, “than a good joke at the expense of cops, bosses, and bureaucrats” (9). Cops can police love all they want, pretending their repressed lives matter ‘til blue in the face. Let us laugh as we dream ourselves out there again, dancing in the streets—and let this laughter of ours eat right through them (like acid etching new ways of being), desire educated by joy in doing until, hearts opened to the possibility of next time made this time, precincts go up in flames.
Through a door in the wall opened by Robin D.G. Kelley’s Freedom Dreams, I arrive to the Chicago Surrealist Group. (Kelley had recommended Paul Garon’s book Blues & the Poetic Spirit. “Look, too,” he’d said, “for an edited collection called Refusal of the Shadow: Surrealism and the Caribbean. And don’t forget special issues of Living Blues and Race Traitor.”) Instructions received, I descend the stairs and work the stacks, knowing that my attention is the one thing that might save me. Sources arrange themselves on the shelves of the memory palace shouting “Read me, read me!” So I do.
We gather with colleagues on several occasions to celebrate completion of classes, abandonment not yet a fait accompli. There is a shared exhaustion that many of us bring to these events. This has, after all, been a long and difficult schoolyear. We’re fatigued by Zoom – but we all show up, knowing summer’s arrival is but a week away. Summer is time away from Zoom. Time ours again to cast amid the sea of the possible. Time for reading groups, and vinyl nights, and visits to Hades for drinks with friends.
On our final day of class, in concluding discussion of Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly (a novel, as the title suggests, involving scanning and surveillance), I introduce Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon and Michel Foucault’s theory of “panopticism,” applying the latter to the architecture of the digital classroom, the Zoom environment in which we’ve worked this past year due to pandemic. After ascent from Plato’s Cave in search of higher states of consciousness (Plato’s text being the one with which the course began), we lay bare the medium of our being-together as a class. I speak as one there in a cell with others. Here we are, I say: “Gallery View.” I call awareness to the Zen saying, “Before enlightenment, carry water, chop wood. After enlightenment, carry water, chop wood.” Through Dick’s title, I then trace us back to 1 Corinthians 13, where Paul stresses the importance of “charity” or love. Without it, he writes, one is but “sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.” In its final moment, then, the course ends thus: with a synthesis of Zen and a kind of gnostic-psychedelic reimagining of agape. One must accept the prison, or at least return to it willingly, despite knowing that one will likely be misunderstood and crucified — but only so as to impart through the medium of one’s being the words “Love one another”: a message of congeniality and goodwill.
Caught up on witches, let us sit with creatures and plot reading lists, end of schoolyear approaching. When time allows, we’ll plant our garden. Up onto the turntable I place an album from the 1960s folk revival, rescued from a bin at Goodwill: Mark Spoelstra’s Five & Twenty Questions.
Liner notes by counterculture folksinger and novelist Richard Fariña. The latter died tragically on April 30, 1966 in a freak motorcycle accident, two days after the publication of his novel Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me. Fariña is the writer to whom Thomas Pynchon dedicates Gravity’s Rainbow. Pynchon had been best man at Fariña’s wedding to Joan Baez’s sister Mimi in spring of 1962. Along with the title track, other highlights on the Spoelstra album include “On the Road Again” and “My Love is Like a Dewdrop.”
Mow the lawn
goes the tune
of much of the afternoon.
And when not mowing,
I watch a show of discovery:
outing and moving out
via cauda pavonis—
prima materia transmuted,
grass a kind of catalyst.