Moods relate to keys and scales. Light shows, rockets, vendors, spotlights, Tolkeinesque font, heavy on the kerning. Shirtless cartoon Dick Tracy with shaving cream around his mouth, glaring at himself in a mirror. Are you sure? A library book? Yes, sir. Dictation. A series of orders. People do what they do. In most cases, they follow orders. Get them to open their eyes, awaken out of themselves. Great metamorphoses ahead if China’s working class rises and takes over. Disembodied Italian-American heads gesticulate with imaginary arms. The world appears coherent only inasmuch as we hear it. Such, at least, was the experience of my bespectacled middle school self, with nearsightedness or myopia “afflicted,” so to me it seemed, as early as the age of eight. Much in the composition of my psyche dates to that moment of near-total alienation from the world of my peers.
Everywhere I walk, I’m surrounded by boring, meaningless garbage, interrupted only by the beauty of birds, leaves, and sunlight. My neighbors splay across the bumpers of their cars stupidities like “I’ll Cheer for Duke When They Play Al Qaeda.” Cargo boxes and credit form a world. Horrified bodies raise arms to the sky, their lives reduced to mere drudgery on account of machines. Capitalism, blind in its judgment of quality, turns our labor-power against us, chains us to programs and institutions; buildings, infrastructure; protocols; systems of assessment. We live aboard and help service a planetary totality every bit as oppressive as the Death Star. Such is the perspective achieved in Allan Sekula’s devastating portrait of the global economy, The Forgotten Space.
Relentless toil, interrupted only briefly: ’tis the fate of the global many under capitalism. Twenty-first century realism consists of stories of people coerced into building around themselves labyrinths they can never escape.
One isn’t given much latitude in this society. Let us therefore try to calm the others. Let us relax them, we think — the others among whom we mix. Help them dig their cars out from under mounds of snow. How quickly capitalism compels those of us in the professions to conform to the preferences of our peers: those who, on a whim, determine the value of our labor-power. Absolute occlusion of selfhood demands retaliation. In the meantime, however, let us walk tall and proud among those who have cast us down. The world needn’t be a mere play of shadows upon a wall. Let us gradually become accustomed to a world of light. Do this by making time for pleasure amidst the workday’s dull routines. Behave as if one were a self-propelled wheel. Become the point at the center of Metatron’s Cube.
One becomes more than one person — of two minds — on a snow day. A new future, and with it a more hopeful mode of subjectivity, opens in front of me, fills me with a sense of possibility. A change occurs in my cerebral cortex. The “self”-structure comes to know itself as a mere interface between inner and outer worlds. Oppose to it the state rendered by the Sanskrit term “samadhi.” An enormous forgetting must have occurred of which we know not when or why. The fall into subjecthood through acquisition of language. Consciousness is far greater than that part of it identified with the play of dualities. Through meditation, we can open bridges between characters and actors, avatars and players. The world of time loses some of its bite when one has glimpsed the eternal, the unchanging, the timeless.
Consciousness grazes in one of reality’s slighter pastures. It regrets the creation of the hunting instinct, and by extension the will to earn, but it scarfs down a dinner fit for an aristocrat. Not really. Sad, listless, having lost any sense of personal promise or potential, I drag myself through space, nibbling occasionally at items from fast food franchise value menus. Sarah tries to cheer me by suggesting we collaborate on something creative: “a screenplay,” she says, “or perhaps a work of fiction.” For those of us susceptible to wintertime blues, the only way out is through.
The current year already seems crueler than the one prior. Late capital downloads and installs updates while subjects sleep. The system reboots itself each morning with an ever thinner sense of its past, a few more artifacts sold off, a few more disciplines abandoned, imagination channeled instead into complex games of strategy and cunning. The problem with consciousness is that one only ever acquires it amid these games. And in the absence of any observable outer limits to these games, what can one do but play? We too often reduce ourselves to mere decision-making machines. Like the entities at the ends of men’s magazines. Food lions caught in predator-prey relations. Energy divided, individuated, and pitted against itself, turns life into the Parable of the Tares. Better to step back and contemplate silent immensities. Life, having taken many forms, evolves toward one form. Rhythmic breathing of the individual engenders trails of thought, mental approximations of planetary biorhythms. The return to the body can be dizzying.
Time to get procedural. Flip coins. Pull cards. Cut up paragraphs. Emphasize the primacy of personification by letting the proverbial anthropomorphic cat out of the bag. As if to announce into our bowl of alphabet soup the will of Sartre’s practico-inert. We’re connected always to invisible machines, some demonic power. The right card will appear when we need it. We refer to the state inspired by such moments Ekstasis — confrontations with signs left by ghosts in the machine. Stoics, meanwhile, called impressions of this sort “phantasma.” Think of it as the mind freeing itself for short stretches, removing its chains, stepping out of the cave to catch glimpses of the night sky. We invent for ourselves new mythologies, matter constellated by an improvised labor of mind. Countless discrete cogitos know themselves as bodies across a succession of ages. Capitalism retains evidence of its past, builds up storehouses of dead labor, so as to revalorize these in new acts of production — but minds perceive this mode of production as if its temporality and its existential reality were but in form an eternal present. A reality from which one cannot wake.