After 15 years of teaching, all I can say with confidence is that education dooms itself to the circular reproduction of an empty formalism the moment it becomes compulsory. To extract myself from complicity with these and other compulsions, I walk alone on a sunny day, and whenever else the spirit moves me, listening to “Catfish Blues” by Alexander.
Crows and squirrels appear into consciousness and greet me on my way. As I crest a hill, I imagine myself happening upon a serene alpine lake. Plants offer me high fives, along with other, as-yet-unnameable signs of congratulation. Aye, crow, I hear ye. Greet me here in my true guise, the god of layaway and roustabout. Itinerant wanderer, upswept in a quest narrative that, through its inward-pointedness and self-invention, defies the tropes of conquest-oriented heroic fantasy. I look down at a pile of papers I’m supposed to grade and wonder, “Why am I here, again?” “Before being a worker,” I exclaim, “I am a person, perplexed by an alien imposition, the compulsion to work. Why should I complete tasks imposed by others, given this society’s open, gun-brandishing contempt for the only freedom that matters, the freedom from want?” To my students who complain only of Isis, of terrorism but not the terrorism of capitalism, I want to reply, “Relax. You are a non-subject, a non-event. A non-player character. History operates despite you.” Other students, thankfully, mine included, are organizing as we speak. OUT OF THE SCHOOLS AND INTO THE STREETS.
I wonder sometimes about the ongoingness of declared feeling that results from the ritual nature of these trance-scripts. According to Thee Psychick Bible, though, ritual is “the concrete expression of experience…the foundation of awareness.” Ritual is the only way to approach the ideal of a complete and coherent cognitive map of experience. But do we need such a map? For what purpose? I consider abandoning communication altogether after skimming Henry Flynt’s execrable essay “The Psychedelic State.” Are proponents of “Ordinary Language” or “Natural Language” philosophy always as arrogant and as petulant as Flynt? Author, you are no proper author. Time relays itself into an ontological structure shaped like a cantilevered staircase. Weed-huffing is a healthy, low energy way of moving between floors. One is lifted. Consciousness spins itself off into spontaneously assembled wisps of trance-script, a consequence of subject-object entanglement.
Walking has been a theme of late. Sarah and I on a walk delight in a burst of edgeworthia that edges a sidewalk in our neighborhood. Walking brazenly onto our campuses, meanwhile, alt-right groups push, harass, assault Marxist professors. Let us care not that these self-styled “alphas,” the members of white supremacist organizations Kool Kekistani Kids (KKK) and Identity Evropa, think us “betas.” What care we what they call us, as this mind-murdering culture of ours steers us into a setting sun? Let us rally, though, to demonstrate solidarity with those comrades of ours who have been assaulted in their places of work. Darkness now. Binaural beats transport me to enchanted lands, where voices sing to me with flute solos and light percussion. Waves are heard crashing, seagulls crying. A violin and a cello duel one another as per the anxious pace of animated film composer Carl Stalling. Lightning-quick odes to speed. My mind, hanging like a weight behind the back of my head, hears snippets of voices interspersed with the sound of a finger compressing a rectangular plastic button on an old car stereo. Did the flickering lights of old video game cabinets stimulate Dreamachine-like hypnagogic states? Video games and cartoons: because of how, when, and where I was raised, these are the languages of my unconscious.
I light up and contemplate Gaussian Curve’s The Distance, a version of contemporary ambient that I want to like but can’t. Too clean, too relaxed, too untroubled in its appreciation of the Muzak-oriented end of the Windham Hill catalog. Painfully aware of the modularity of my sonic environment, I discontinue The Distance and replace it with Shirase by Bonie Jash.
Without further warning, I receive ‘Ken Burns’-style slow zoom montage sequences: associative chains within a cavernous virtual environment. Each of us possesses a language-shaped map of the totality. Purple core memory units rotate around axes as virtual cameras race across space. As localized points of awareness, we drift without external points of reference, voices buzzing, chattering, asking, “Is this you?” Do I wish to imagine myself in the likeness of Nick Bottom? Are we all just minds awaiting absorption in tales told by imaginary tellers, metanarrative actants of our own desire? Bottom faced the dilemma faced by psychonauts. He had “a most rare vision…a dream past the wit of man to say what dream it was” (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 4.1: 202-203). If these dreams are past wit of man to say, what then of these trance-scripts? Can a spirit search a dream that hath no bottom?
“And…(wait for it)…we have liftoff.” Sarah and I, toward the end of a beautiful, sunny afternoon walk through a park, arrive upon a patch of ground covered in a thick carpet of green mosses ornamented with tufts of lichen. Elsewhere on our way we cross paths with dogs, runners, old men operating radio-controlled aircraft, mountain bikers conversing in a forest. Our hunger for time outdoors not yet sated, we stroll the neighborhood, kneeling to admire newly flowering purple crocuses. Like Ginsberg to Carl Solomon, to ashes I whisper, “I’m with you.” Live ambient pick-up. Voices popping high in the mix, ignored, give way to shouts and clanks. Rattling chains. I close my eyes and persist nervously in an unpredictable sonic universe. Flotation tanks allow us to question not just what Erving Goffman called the presentation of self in everyday life, but the nature of the self in the absence of sensory input.
Writing while high is a bit like trying to describe a sense beyond words. One would need formal devices — spinning Hypno Disks, entrancing patterns and rhythms. One could soundtrack one’s walk beside a curved, moss-covered wall with Equal, a cassette-sized aggregate of “electro-acoustic clicks, knocks and bumps” by Ecto Mist, released this past summer on Genot Centre.
Ecstatic, transcendental and magickal bliss. Or one can feel real awe tinged with fear by walking outdoors listening to Brian Jones Presents The Pipes of Pan at Jajouka. Defy western culture’s ban on new ontologies. Fashion for oneself a homemade version of Brion Gysin and Ian Sommerville’s Dreamachine. For more on this device, see John Geiger’s book Chapel of Extreme Experience.
Our method will be: shine light onto darkness and find keys. One person’s projection is another’s evocation. Radical action groups, experimental microsocieties. “Flicker”-induced visions and voices. Among these keys is the story of the Transmedia Explorations commune, initially called the Exploding Galaxy. Fall, tumble, head over feet, like Alice down the rabbit hole. The psychological “science” of Mindhunter, the way it attempts to depict the theorization of deviancy, fails to fill the show’s void of meaning as its shit-bag state-actor protagonists hunt its non-state-actor villains. The mind, bombarded by a rush of images from its glory days, succumbs to sadness and pathos. It returns to old riddles, old haunts. Helicopters, push notifications. The riddle of revenge.