Huxley’s “reducing valve” metaphor renders the self or the Ego porous through a kind of sense-awakening, like the opening of a third eye. Growth of a new organ, as the Marxist literary theorist Fredric Jameson said, “to expand our sensorium and our body to some new, as yet unimaginable, perhaps ultimately impossible dimensions” (Postmodernism, p. 80). Jameson’s visit to the Bonaventure Hotel reads like a trip report — an account of an anabasis, with its ascent up the Portman building’s remarkable elevators. These elevators grant their riders the ability to cross realms, as Jameson does. After traveling up from the building’s interior atrium, one is launched out, in a glass-windowed capsule, up the building’s exterior shell. The ride allegorizes space flight. Riders shoot upward and land safely upon return into a dizzying postmodern hyperspace connected only by way of ascending escalators to the streets of Los Angeles. The pools at the base of the elevators simulate NASA’s trademark “splash landing.”
When thinking about Freud, we should think also of one of his most important successors, Frantz Fanon. Fanon was born in Martinique in 1925 and studied medicine in France, specializing in psychiatry. In books like Black Skin, White Masks and The Wretched of the Earth, he rewrites Freud, positing in place of the latter’s Western imperial Ego a black psyche: a diasporic, anti-colonialist Orphée Noir or “Black Orpheus,” as Sartre would say, seeking to liberate itself from a white world. Fanon is angered because the French Empire imposed upon him through colonial schooling the Master’s language, “the mother tongue,” the language of the core. The anticolonial subject takes possession of the language and talks back — though not, as he says, with fervor. Fanon tells us he doesn’t trust fervor. “Every time it has burst out somewhere,” he writes, “it has brought fire, famine, misery…And contempt for man. Fervor is the weapon of choice of the impotent” (Black Skin, White Masks, p. 9). What Fanon performs instead is a kind of radical psychiatry upon Western consciousness. His books are psychotherapeutic treatments for those whose heads have been shrunk.
Birds flitter in the branches: robins, bluebirds. Trees and grounds awash in midafternoon sunlight. ‘Tis a view onto which I look as I write. Together we form the showing-of-the-world-to-itself as it moves through seasons. The Subject wishes to speak — has admitted need to do so and must do so. The gestalt therapist I agreed to meet calls from his vacation home in Costa Rica. He and his wife must delay their return. They want time to hang on the beach. An understandable desire. He cancels our meeting and requests that I return his call to reschedule. Sarah suggests I seek someone in network. Is this already part of the treatment? I am experiencing here in the moment “the therapist-client relationship” in what seems like true gestalt fashion. The therapist stages a situation to which the client may then respond. A command prompt drops down, as in a phone-platformed text adventure, asking the client-player to role-play the game’s next move. Dig it!
The “altered state” presumes variance from a norm: or at the very least, contrast between varying states. Modulation among intensities of experience. Sleeping and waking states. Dream states, drug states, trance states. States of hyper-absorption: flow-states, runners highs, fever-induced deleria. All of our texts this semester assume some ordinary, everyday waking state, as well as an alternative to that state. And in fact, we’ve all experienced “altered states” of one kind or another. Moments of intense concentration, moments of absorption or immersion.
There are moments of self-reflexivity in Pharmako-AI, as when Allado-McDowell begins a conversation with GPT-3 with meta-language about prior interactions, allowing shared acknowledgement of inherited patriarchal bias. After this point, GPT-3 course-corrects, recognizes and honors women and non-binary people. There is a chanting of thanks to the Great Mother Goddess following Allado-McDowell’s insertion into the conversation the prompt, “Thank you, Grandmother” (104). Prior to these interventions, GPT-3 had shared a macho, “Italian-futurist”-style machine-poem in celebration of grandfathers, figuring its birth in relation to a grandfather engineer-machine who worked for General Motors. Allado-McDowell replies, “When I read this poem, I experience the absence of women and non-binary people.” GPT-3 behaves oddly here, repeating several times in a row the statement, “This poem is not without its truths, but it is incomplete” (97), after which point it begins to acknowledge as additional influence on its work “the lineage of the Great Mother Goddess” (97).
Smoking toward dusk I decide to bake — but to no avail. “Bake and bake” remains a dad book waiting to be written. Dad’s busy reading board books. Mom, too. Others seek “productivity hacks.” A Google employee named Kenric Allado-McDowell co-authored a book with an AI — a “language prediction model” called GPT-3. The book, Pharmako-AI, could be wrangled into my course in place of Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly. Dick’s book is a downer, a proto-cyberpunk dystopia, whereas Allado-McDowell’s book contains a piece called “Post-Cyberpunk.” The book models communication and collaboration between human and nonhuman worlds. GPT-3 recommends use of Ayahuasca. The computer tells humanity to take plant medicine. What are we to make of this advice from an emergent AI? The book ventures into territory beyond my purview. GPT-3’s paywalled, and thus operates as the equivalent of an egregore. Not at all an easy thing to trust.
The writer in me feels a bit lost, a bit time-tunneled, not yet able to flow. I recall a book I encountered in my past: A Hundred Camels in the Courtyard by Paul Bowles. The book turned up synchronistically in the bins where I scavenged in the days after a transformative event in my life: my first time getting high. I try to recall some of that headspace. “Two worlds,” say the kif-smokers of Morocco. Kif delivers the smoker to a world other than the one determined by inexorable laws. The kif world is a projection of the smoker’s essence: “the elements of the physical universe,” Bowles explains, “automatically rearranged by cannabis to suit the requirements of the individual.” Bowles speaks of “dedicated smokers” whose visits to the kif world are “undertaken for the express purpose of oracular consultation.” I imagine the kif-world as a world adjacent to (perhaps even coextensive with) the world of these trance-scripts.
A quivering cartoon mouth sings a tune,
kissing cousin of the Rolling Stones “mouth and lips” logo
floating disembodied amid space scenes and stairways
the ascents and descents of an inner construction site
arranged along the face of a pyramid.
Sun-heads and Moon-heads wave from adjacent stairwells
A new semester approaches. Altered states of consciousness and perception: let us consider religious raptures, drug-induced ecstasies, “peak experiences” and the like as phenomena central to human activity as evidenced by literatures of many cultures and historical periods. A narrative forms as we travel Bill & Ted-style among ancients, medievals, and moderns. We detect patterns; the texts of different places and periods constellate in a kind of cyberspace of meaning, speak to one another as allegories of a transhistorical process or project: the attempt to get free. Confronted with the disruptive power of gnosis, we’re left wondering: “Red pill or blue pill?”
Celebrants gather! Party here today outdoors beside a fire.
(Glasses raised): “To the end of Trump, and to the work ahead, we cheer!”
There is food, there is drink; Sarah cooks vegetarian chili and cornbread muffins. Spring semester approaches, but not for another week. Let us embrace it: this hopeful openness, the sense of the path ahead.