Utopias are dreamt by those without a home. I must dig deeper. The bad ones have taken us from home. Find that anger. Thus begins the story of the dead-end kid. NO THRU TRAFFIC. Most of reality exists elsewhere, available only via special attention. Beings caught halfway between realms. Would you believe it if I said we’ve been robbed of our personhood? Robbed blind. We see nothing but darkness as we climb from bed each day. But indulge me as I imagine it differently: A beautiful sunrise soundtracked by Locrian on my commute to work.
And when I return home, I slurp food truck ramen in the cool autumn air at a picnic table at a local brewery, the sky a welcome canvas above my head. A time to laugh, a time to weep. Hat tip to King Solomon, Pete Seeger, and Roger McGuinn, I mutter in the awed, half-befuddled voice of hero Ted “Theodore” Logan. He of the band Wyld Stallyns. But my thoughts always drift back to Daphne, to whom I dedicate Alan Vega’s “Lonely.”
Death, man — what a fucking bummer. I close my eyes and picture a contraption on a wall — a hand soap dispenser. I rub my hands together in imitation of a cleansing. We’re coming now upon the verge of the superhuman. The West persists as a place I seek in my skull. Skunk smoke revives my starry eyes. “Where else except in the direction of the setting sun,” asks Fiedler, “can one look for the Great Good Place beyond death, the region where what survives of the human spirit bides forever or awaits resurrection?” (The Return of the Vanishing American, p. 30). The yesterday where we cut down the apple tree. “The world was so big,” sang Miracle Legion,” and I was so small.”
Emo of that sort really appealed to me when I was a young man. Multiples appear and degrade, and then it’s as if multiple TV screens turn off at once. I need to learn to speak BASIC.
Embroidered pulse signals. 24/7 thermals and flannels. A friend who I run into from time to time at Goodwill, and whose wife is one of Sarah’s colleagues, gave me two blocks of imported Scottish cheese out in the parking lot the other day. (And no, that’s not street slang for a new kind of drug. I’m talking about cheese here, people!) There are sometimes whole days when events like the above make up the full extent of my non-work-related interactions with others. Sarah’s bummed about having received so few trick-or-treaters yesterday. I sat in the side yard absorbing brown, orange, and yellow leaves atop the patchy remains of a lawn. Birds, bells, crickets, neighbors. The bark of a neighbor’s dog. Squirrels courted one another in the branches above my head, the female shaking her tail and leading the male on a chase. My brother’s girlfriend texted Sarah and I from Brooklyn; a truck had fatally attacked bikers in New York, she said, but she and my brother were safe. Subway riders sat uneasily beside one another in costume. I imagine it was hard, trying to play-act a nightmare while in the midst of one. I enjoyed sitting on the front stoop, though, listening to the zombie shuffle of children’s footsteps as night fell. And we did end up meeting a few more of our neighbors. “This is what — essentially a diary?” I ask myself. To which I reply, “Quit bullying me. Back off.” Am I allowing others to watch me as I lower myself into a de-conditioned vortex? I have incurred a debt which I can never repay. But why dwell on the absolute horizon, the structure that bounds in on all sides one’s field of action? Why not focus instead on papers one will never get around to writing? “America” has always been a settler-colonialist fort, white settlers descending like a plague, a wedge driven between the land and its native people. How might we avenge this — the crime of our very existence? One has to countenance this in the “new frontier” mythos that pervades the hippie counterculture’s embrace of psychedelics in the 1960s and 1970s. Then again, Leslie Fiedler responded to the psychedelic revolution in a rather different political register, regarding it instead as “the red man’s revenge” and as a “reunion of white and ‘other.'” His argument is one with which I’ll need to engage as I develop my theory.
By traveling through mental circuitry, we open new avenues of action. We come back, and we’re not the same. We possess abstract shape patterns, like afterimages of fireworks. We feel out of it sometimes, asleep to our own reality. I don’t have to think; I just know things now, some of it audio-visual, like materials filed in boxes beneath the floorboards — the Id, the unconscious. But with this new knowledge comes the paranoid sensation that I’m still missing some crucial bit of knowledge possessed by others. Sure, one grants, as Jameson puts it, “the historicity of perception (and of the apparatuses in which it is registered, and registers, all at once)” (Signatures of the Visible, p. 3). But what then becomes of the Imagination? What is imagination’s relation to those historically generated forms known as the sonic, the visual, and the linguistic? Literary scholar R.A. Durr took the terms “psychedelic” and “imaginative” to refer to a “fundamentally identical power of apprehension, or mode of being” (Poetic Vision and the Psychedelic Experience, pp. viii-ix). This imaginative power sends and receives codes. Like in a dream, a long dream. Prove it one can’t. One has to just trust it. The truth is a scenario that becomes by whatever means necessary. Sometimes, however, in order to work I need to perambulate. Get up and move, shake a leg. Jameson thinks absorption in the image results in the negation of thought. Let’s drink to that. Or let’s drink, at least, to the negation of those habitual forms of reason and judgment that dominate life in our time. Let’s drink as well to taking down “The Man.” This was the Yippies’ term for the present system of government. Capitalism has hollowed out reality. It’s been growing and spreading beneath us like a cancer. The characters will make the leap and defeat it, I imagine. But the author? One mustn’t say.
“The mind attracts to one whatever the mind dwells upon,” reads a page I flip to in a college-ruled notebook pulled from the bins at Goodwill. The moon, waxing gibbous, pulled Sarah and I toward a Halloween party the other night. Appropriately heady, for sure, and with major magic. An altar-top arrayed with small bones. Conversations washed over me, though, to little effect. Appalachian Southern witches. Symbols of an arcane sort. It was the party of my coming out as a wizard. At one point, Sarah turned to me and read me my horoscope from her Witches’ Almanac. Apparently I’m on the verge of making a big decision which will “raise a lot of dust.” The horoscope also promised “nice aesthetics” this month. But as much as I enjoyed the care and attention to detail that went into the night’s revelries, Daphne’s death weighed solidly on my mind. It was hard to muster enough will to speak with others. Speaking of speaking: My students love to speak highly of their parents’ “hard work” launching pizza chains and amassing fortunes on Wall Street. Whenever I hear this shit, I think to myself: One could say the same about vampires. They, too, work hard sucking blood from their victims. But that doesn’t make them admirable. A hardworking vampire is still a vampire — and as such, deserves to get a stake shoved through its heart. And that’s how I feel about rich people. But I’m also no Van Helsing, so to ease my temper, I binge-watch the new season of Stranger Things. Eleven wanders alone in an Upside Down labyrinth. Thresholds between dimensions look like body tissue: uterine walls, placentas. The show relishes and savors the textures, tropes, and technologies of the 1980s. But it’s also fully absorbing in its sympathies and its use of outdated media to elicit a sense of the strange or the uncanny. New Age “psychic” or “telepathic” spaces — astral planes, other dimensions — these were very much a part of that era’s narrative universe. It’s a relief to watch a show that can once again broaden my sense of the potentials of genre. The latter, because sticky with the residue of an era’s affective investments, can reawaken phantom media antennae, exposing subjects to ghost sensations and histories half-submerged.
What kind of allegorical reality may we ascribe to the myth of the Demogorgon and the Upside Down? A flimsy one, no doubt. A world based on a memory of a mass-media simulation. The same bodies of the past eerily reprising the moment of their youth, despite the change of age. Historical time portrayed as a collective post-traumatic episode to reawaken a numbed sensorium. Capitalism steals away from us our toys. The cathected objects of some originary moment of fully immersive imaginative play. Those objects held the imaginative universe. Why can’t we restructure economic reality around play? Students transform into patients, their automatic writing assignments revealing to me as I read them clues about their psyches. When I contemplate the many towering structures arrayed against me, however, anger flashes through my skin and I find again my hatred for my “fellows,” my “countrymen.” What can I say? It’s a mixed bag. Most of the “work” in our society is mere busy-work, as arbitrary as the mining operations that anchor the value of Bitcoin. “Everyone’s running around, trying to get up off the ground,” sings Transcendental Meditator Rick Stanley, “for that same thing.” “TM is a technique for direct experience,” states the text on the back of his album Song of Life, “And the result of that experience is a showering of pure delight.”
Where is this taking me? Can I trust fully in my journey? These are questions I ask myself while in the presence of Stanley’s LP and similar such objects rescued from historical neglect. Archaic remains of the “New Religious Consciousness” of the 1970s: so promising at decade’s start, yet somehow stalled by Prohibition by decade’s end. “Go deep into silence, take your mind into silence and transcend.” Out we come with energy and intelligence. Big takeover, here we come. We mustn’t turn self-exploration, though, into a mere chartered trip.
“We’re embarking on an adventure,” I sing in the style of Thin Lizzy’s Phil Lynott on “The Boys Are Back in Town.” My ears seek out Daphne’s sounds. Her piglet snorts. Her heavy sighs. Her presence every day, every hour. Maybe she’s a cat now, like the one that walked up and allowed me to pet it in the sun on Thursday’s autumn afternoon walk. Or maybe she’s a falcon, perched above me in a tree. My friend, recounting her recent Vancouver experience, says, “Come on, Canada — grow a pair!” I need to get myself up there to visit Urban Shaman, a shop specializing in sacred entheogens. I take note of several other of my friend’s allusions and recommendations. Canada’s “Prince of Pot” Marc Emery (though I have no interest in his libertarianism). A band called Ancient, featuring band members Zod, Ursa, and Non (though not at all something I would ever listen to). Angie Thomas’s YA novel, The Hate U Give. Édouard Levé‘s Autoportrait, from Dalkey Archive. Christian Peet’s The Nines. Sarah and I pay our respects to Daphne by Airdropping photos of her to each other’s cellphones. “Look at her!” one of us gasps. “Such a beauty,” we murmur. How wonderful it is to live with others, growing old together, evolving into witches and wizards, entering secret orders and covens, watching Pere Portabella’s Informe General (1977), with its psychedelic soundtrack by Carles Santos. I seek exhilaration through return to the land, return to a space-time free from the dictates of capitalism. When one dreams, consciousness slips free of old kings and returns to all things. We’ll do what we must, shouts the teenage Oedipus, to seize back what is ours and what rightfully belongs to all. The right to grow whatever one’s head desires. I say that, but then I sit around stewing in a mix of anger, grief, and exhaustion. It grinds my gears when neurotypicals act so sure of their arbitrary mental constructs as to demean mine. A thought has still been thought, an experience experienced, regardless of he who is the sire of the world, He who is Om. It’s been so long since I’ve eaten Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews. Re-roll and try again.
I feel strangely related to the “Uncle Matt” character on Fraggle Rock, as if he and I were kin. “I’m traveling on my greatest adventure,” writes the bearded ethnographer toward the beginning of the show’s first episode. “So much to explore.” Part of me wishes to adopt as my handle from today onward the name “Traveling Matt.” After all, the first creature this character discovers along his journey into “outer space” is a four-legged beast named Sprocket. A light bulb goes on in my head: Fraggles are post-scarcity acid-heads! Characters like Gobo are like me. They seek advice not from the I Ching, but from a conglomerate entity known as the “Talking Trash-Heap.” Isn’t this similar to my use of the bins at the local Goodwill? (Trash-Heap, by the way, would be the Halloween costume to end all Halloween costumes.) Consider, though, the many psychedelic dimensions of Fraggle Rock: the Fraggles themselves are all stoners and acid-heads, their hair tie-dyed and frazzled. The Beast is asleep, whispers Gobo as he tiptoes past the upstairs inventor’s canine companion. Dogs, by some synchronistic logic, keep cropping up everywhere I turn. The show, I either realize or decide, is the script of my auto-psychobiography. I watched many of its episodes multiple times as a kid. Each episode begins with the mobile prosthetic consciousness known as the “camera-eye” gliding invisibly through the glass threshold separating exterior reality from its interior. Like Plato’s Cave Allegory, in other words, the show’s narrative unfolds across multiple levels. In Episode 2, a bongo-playing Fraggle sings about migration of consciousness via the magic of the jump-cut along that looped, ‘Möbius-Strip’ continuum that lesser minds divide into discrete domains denoted by the terms “here” and “there.” I know, too, from Brian Jay Jones’s biography that Henson “enjoyed a little grass” from time to time. Henson is also reported to have taken acid once, in the company of his friends Don Sahlin and Jerry Nelson — though he claimed in retrospect that the drug never took effect. Jones notes that the musicians featured in Henson’s short film Youth 68 praised acid’s positive effects when Henson interviewed them. After seeing Marty Balin of Jefferson Airplane (the long-haired dude with the toy pistol) suggest, mid-film, that the baby boomers will have to “do an Oedipus on their fathers,” I believe it.
The book also recounts how Henson planned to create a psychedelic nightclub called Cyclia in the late sixties. The idea for it came to him, says Henson’s wife Jane, “during the first wave of psychedelia. Jim went to see Jefferson Airplane and he was very intrigued with it — the light shows and the psychedelic graphics.” The nightclub, which Henson imagined housing in a geodesic dome or an inflatable structure at the foot of the Queensboro Bridge, was to have walls, floor, and ceiling “broken into faceted, crystal-like shapes onto which films would be projected” (Jones). Alas, none of these plans ever came to fruition — but I like to think that there’s a parallel universe — an “outer space,” so to speak — where they did.