I return from my journey, sun and moon ever-present sources of light overhead, ship stocked with hippie-modernist treasure. “Pleasure from the Buddha Group,” as reads the insert to Jefferson Airplane’s third album, After Bathing at Baxter’s, released in late November 1967 during what Samuel “Chip” Delany called “the Winter of Love.”
Ron Cobb’s cover art captures well the band’s demeanor of even-keeled pleasure-sailing, a ship of color and festivity sprinkling confetti from on high, refusing to allow the black-and-white American trash-heap to harsh its vibe. Cobb is a fascinating figure, by the way, his illustrations and political cartoons deserving of a major retrospective and revival. This first day after feels relaxed and subdued, a day to bake and reflect and give thanks. Stretch, work out the kinks. Midori Tadaka’s Through the Looking Glass calms me midafternoon, as do a pair of squirrels spied while meditating. I sit with houseplants and cacti, patterned pillows, cassettes, back issues of Evergreen Review — and all is well.
Consciousness outgrows its paradigm, becomes bigger, encompasses more than all prior paradigms and Zeitgeists. Doors are opened, dispelling the integrity of these spirits of containment. We walk beyond our usual bounds. Worlds are thus studios for practice, helping us envision our agency, each studio opening into one larger. The books I read are part of my studio practice, and each day I learn from them something new. Reading today, for instance, I learn that “Michael Davidson” was a pseudonym used by Warren Michael Zeit (1923-2014), author of two science fiction novels, The Karma Machine (1975) and Daughter of Is (1979). Zeit worked as a professor of history at Marymount College. Not to be confused with the other Michael Davidson, the poet and chronicler of the San Francisco Renaissance. Beautiful writing is a perennial gift, a magical capacity to partition the self so as to function as a receiver of words, word-symbols, symbol systems. Using this gift, we can describe immediacies and then place them using recursive statements in ever-widening circles of past and future. Others think we’re just spinning our wheels. They wonder the merits of these revolutions. But there can be no re-imagining of reality until we re-open ourselves to words.
Three men enter a bar and hunch together around a table at the start of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker. Upon finishing their drinks, the three men — writer, scientist, and ex-convict — climb into a convertible and drive around through shadows and puddles, dodging cops, following cargo trains through gated crosswalks. Heads remain constant in the foreground against a changing background as the men journey into the Zone, a realm that “wants to be respected.” Humans who disrespect the Zone and trespass against it are punished. Perhaps this relates to a dream I had last night. Having traveled to the past, I tried to prove this fact to my companions, pointing to not-yet-existing years of copyright printed on objects: a notebook I happened to be carrying on my person, the tag on the tongue of my sneaker. These demonstrations were met with confusion and disbelief. Weirded out by my claims, my companions took a vote and agreed to abandon me. As they boarded a taxi, I suddenly remembered that I’d left my bags of luggage in their hotel room. One of them agreed to accompany me up a slow elevator — a vertical, Halloween-themed passage through a shadowy interior universe. I disembarked on the seventh floor, only to have someone rush up and pluck the key from my fingers — at which point the dream ended. Perhaps my actions were a form of disrespect. The reductive universe posited by Western rationality is the nihilistic universe, the lobotomized universe — the universe without meaning. Let us ascend from that place. By integration with plant-spirits and plant-consciousness, we chemically engineer ourselves into new kinds of mythic beings. Michael Davidson’s novel The Karma Machine offers one such myth. A community of immortal heads assembles a device called the Sophia, a generator of wisdom and truth, from which they then request a meta-narrative: the grand narrative to end all grand narratives. What they receive instead is a restatement of the Parable of the Tares.
Sitting outside, facing the sun, listening to birds and squirrels, one is able to enter a zone, having drawn around oneself a magic circle, a sphere of being. Let us repopulate our communities with heads — multitudes of human and non-human persons, high on mushrooms, graced by receipt of the psychedelic sacrament. Walk, and one will encounter cool folks out and about. To fight a society of sadness and despair, we need to meet people, live in common with others. The struggle involves opening our hearts to the weird, the strange, the fantastic. These were qualities sold to us as children by companies like Marvel. Can we allow ourselves to find them again out there, in encounters with reality? Of course, some of these neighborhoods in late-capitalist reality discourage social interaction of any kind among strangers. Signs are posted around properties: Dogwatch, American flags, electric fences, “Private Parking,” “EXIT ONLY,” “This Property Is Protected By Video Surveillance Cameras.” That’s how fascism works. Within such environments, we must carry our spiritual notions lightly. Before long, however, I land at a local brewery — liberated territory — where I happen upon my friend, the Marxist Baptist preacher. We get into it: a wonderful, free-form conversation of several hours on topics as diverse as time, Christianity, capitalism, A.I., appropriate technology, paganism, psychedelics, and eschatology. He recommends I read Jacob Taubes.
I sit with squirrels on a November afternoon absorbing golden rays of sunlight. ‘Tis given freely. Our mutual inheritance. The squirrels jump and scurry among branches of trees. Where shall we place our attention, if not on speaking squirrels? The one above me, in its lovely ahhs, its lusty cries, its squaws, its pleas, sounds like a tearful Donald Duck. Through our stillness, we allow others space and time to be. A lawnmower supplies a buzz to compete with a leafblower’s roar. The neighborhood performs itself as would an orchestra for an audience of one. This is what I want as a communist: control enough of means of production so as to live free, our days, mine and yours, always occasions for pleasure and growth. Michael Davidson’s The Karma Machine reads like a prearranged signal, alerting those who read it of the planet’s wish to mutate-convert into a crystalline “ecstosphere” (162). How do we get there in the midst of what Erik Davis calls “reality meltdown”? Mass media’s programming of listeners and viewers to spur mass consumption gives way to the absence of shared points of reference. Today’s competing news agencies tell competing stories, thus creating competing consensus realities: a plurality of maps, all jostling for control of territory in the Desert of the Real. Against this, argues Davis, rise forces of re-enchantment. Movies of future disasters, journeys through the cosmos. Let us attend to the truth of experience, he cries, and carry stories lightly! “Doubt is a medicine! Skepticism is a medicine!” Always inquiring, always probing amid a totality filled with human and non-human persons. By way of the imagination, he suggests, we can interface with the non-human, the alien Other. “Let myriad things come forth and illuminate the self.”
Here we are, coasting along on this lovely planet, sharing in its seasons and cycles. I sit in a room lined with pine as day turns to night, and work relents and so begins that week of utopia known among academics as “Thanksgiving Break.” Erik Davis says the “breakdown of consensus reality,” which he believes is occurring in our current moment, “pulls out of us” a desire to engage the world as “an enchanted, magical place…where practices of awareness are practical survival necessities.” He traces the origins of the phrase “consensus reality” to Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann’s book The Social Construction of Reality. Davis’s talk brilliantly captures the as-yet-unnamed structure of feeling governing the current moment in the phrase “reality meltdown.” People dropping out and declaring psychedelic independence. This way of looking has made me judgmental, as if speciation occurred and one can only look back and laugh.
I vow to live lovingly, assisting desire as it journeys where it may. Let there be joy in life’s increase, its permanent revealing and unfolding through erotics of exchange amid death. “The Geneva Society”: a perfect name, actually, for the secret society involved in the introduction of LSD into the evolution of the General Intellect, but for the fact that Sandoz Laboratories, where the drug was first discovered, was located in Basel, not Geneva. Next thing I know, I’m watching Aliens from Spaceship Earth, a documentary from the early years of the consciousness revolution.
Does chemical modification of consciousness lead inevitably to X-Men fantasies: “new mutants” versus “squares”? Nietzsche was one of many philosophers to fantasize this kind of “next step” in evolution. Henri Bergson, for instance, shared similar hopes, having come to view the universe by the end of his life in mystical-evolutionary terms as “a machine for the making of gods.”