Oh, the indignities one must endure in order to be allowed to live. New ones gather each day in my inbox. Take yesterday, for instance. After teaching my two morning classes, afternoon ones still hanging overhead, I forsook lunch midday (not by choice) in order to attend one of the bugbears of higher ed, a mandatory, university-wide faculty meeting. Imagine the unfolding of the event as follows. First, the campus. To complement my place of work’s already robust assortment of life-size statues in bronze, the powers that be have seen fit to season the landscape for at least the next month or so in true Hoffmann-esque fashion with dozens of towering, larger-than-life nutcrackers and plastic wooden soldiers, these armies of 10-foot-tall fakes assembled at intervals along every path and promenade. Next, the meeting itself. It begins with a risqué musical number courtesy of the Theatre department, the stage decorated to evoke Germany’s Kit Kat Klub. Cabaret is actually an inspired choice, I think: a last hurrah of pleasure as the country slides weightlessly toward fascism. A senior business administration major who was diagnosed with testicular cancer his freshman year but who now is cancer-free counsels us about the importance of gratitude. How truly blessed we are, says the student. Onward and upward! After a bible-thumping invocation led by a member of the faculty, the president invites an architect to the stage to provide us with an update about the construction of a new campus hotel-cum-athletics-arena. “Very elegant, a boutique hotel,” we’re told. Keep in mind, the university financing this structure is the same one that just laid off two of my colleagues on grounds of budget-tightening. And the building boom doesn’t stop there. Instead, a different, equally nondescript architect gets up soon thereafter and tells us about another set of construction projects: a crystal palace conservatory housing an indoor arboretum, and a new undergrad sciences building with a state-of-the-art planetarium. “It’s got to be ‘state-of-the-art,’” brags the president, American flags on either side of him and a chandelier overhead. Afterwards a faculty liaison reports on a recent board of trustees meeting, dwelling at length on honorary doctorates awarded to local furniture magnates, while noting as well the university’s performance in terms of net growth of assets. Next up is the university’s athletics director. Rah-rah, he says, our teams are great. “Thank you, faculty,” he adds after a brief pause, his skin radiating positivity, “you’ve provided our athletes with the support they need, thus creating an ‘environment for success.’” Following him at the podium comes the provost, a jolly old Southern gentleman bearing diagrams and flowcharts about who ought to do what and when. He says up-up-up, we’re all going up, and reports breathlessly on the status of a “committee on committees.” “We’re looking to streamline our committee structure,” he assures us. “Tweaks are underway,” he hums, “to usher in your future!” Faculty input in this process is no longer necessary, however, due to changes in structures of governance. Instead, market-proven technocrats will decide our profession’s future. The rest of us, we’re told, have — sorry to say it! — no choice but to poise ourselves to receive whatever data-driven dystopia comes our way. It’s simple, really — don’t you know? We must work on X, Y, or Z to get “value”; otherwise, the future will not be as bright as it could be. “Evolve into the person you are intended to become,” the president commands, the meeting now well into its second hour. Optometry and accelerated nursing, he says, will help us “kill it” in terms of enrollment. “Thank God a thousand times over,” he proclaims as if to break a spell. And with that, finally, he adjourns the meeting and sends us on our way. As I rose from my seat, though, I thought to myself, “A thousand times over? Hardly. The god that graces this Ponzi scheme is a god that deserves to die.”
I am achievement-minded and acquisitive only in pursuit of knowledge. And “pursuit” is perhaps misleading, as I’m more a gatherer than a hunter. “Behave with due reverence for Nature, and thou shalt receive” has become increasingly my motto of late. As soon as one doubts, the power stops working. But otherwise, it’s a gift. Sarah’s parents arrived for a visit the other day, and their plan is to stay until Sunday. Touring them around, I realized my city comports poorly when set before the eyes of strangers. Especially when one is not loaded — and I mean that in either sense of the term. At least the sky is still blue. I excused myself midday yesterday and made a point of blasting Milk Music’s new album Mystic 100’s along the length of my commute to campus, your humble narrator surrounded on all sides by beautiful autumn foliage.
The world appeared to me as if I were viewing it through textured glass. Upon my arrival home, my father-in-law and I conversed at length about our frustrations with students and with education more broadly, our mutual profession. My frustrations are compounded, though, by a pessimism that far outstrips his. My faith is apocalyptic, where his is not. I believe slaves should rise up against their masters. Neuro-hypnosis FTW. What are we unlocking? Some non-referential non-recollection of thought. Why did Althusser’s theory of interpellation make intuitive sense to me? How did part of me already know that the world as it appears is a lie? The sky can be singed away. Too many eyes captured by too many screens. To discipline, I object.
Sarah pulls up a new Netflix original series based on the Margaret Atwood novel, Alias Grace.
The series begins with an epigraph from Emily Dickinson: “One need not be a Chamber — to be Haunted / One need not be a House / The brain has Corridors — surpassing / Material Place.” How are we, each of us, so many different things at once? Stories within stories — but common to all, a fiery red anger, which keeps us wide-eyed, awake, and watchful. In Atwood’s world, characters do little but advance plot, their hard lives shortly the ends of them. Character is a device for the transmission of historical circumstance. Eyes open, little time to pretend. Systems that employ persons as servants or slaves are things to despise. Stars blink down at me. An acorn falls from a tree. I am seeing as if montaged across my forehead a cloud of imagery. We are headed toward the bad future: hierarchical, inauthentic. “Where any view of Money exists, Art cannot be carried on, but War only. […]. Art Degraded, Imagination Denied, War Governed the Nations.” So reads Blake’s engraving of the Laocoon. I find in this work words uttered as if by a prophet. Light and shadow. Eyelid movies all my own. Voices, too, telling stories of things not visible. One of these days I should try to design a course on either Noble Savagery or the idea of the wild. The failure of the hippie counterculture over the course of the 1970s signaled the decline of these ideas as significant components of American identity. Wildness is no longer a major trope in the American national-political unconscious — and I regard this as a great tragedy, a decline we ought to mourn. Atwood’s character says, “God is everywhere. He can’t be caged as men can.” Yet the world is all predators and prey. When the weather is like that, one’s heart pounds in one’s ears, make of that what one may.
I watch as contour lines on a topographic map transform into rings of paint. Whatever the Monopoly Man once meant, it’s over now, he’s cashed in his cards. Say hello to Jr., dead by March of 1943. For my students, a capitalist is, like, a tech nerd, tinsel on a Christmas tree, not Rich Uncle Pennybags. Bye-bye iconography of yore. A book of personhood would have to be a psychic bible, its voice able to bear a politics of authenticity while portraying a mind at play. Tall order. But no worries: I’ve the power to throw fireballs. Flower power. With it, I can reverse the smoothing-out effect of the law of large numbers. I don’t want the world to remain stuck behaving in ways ordained by mere actuaries. When I’m stuck, I end up at Taco Bell ordering Beefy Nacho Loaded Grillers, my mind unable to posit a desirable alternative. The world clutches my heart and squeezes, blood running out betwixt the fingers of a shrugging Atlas. Roll and light a magic wand, though, and the life narrative turns silly. E.T. waves down at me, poised atop a bookcase like an imp of the perverse. The eye sees the Word and the mind assimilates its meaning. There needn’t be a lack of correspondence between wonder and focus, but for the fact that concentration so often spurs anger about parts mistaken for what in truth remains ungraspable, the whole. The reason for consciousness of Being. Or so I tell myself, as if to perform a kind of programming. Better, then, to just relax while time allows. Psychedelics are for those in the know. Imagine a world that makes one happy, I tell myself. Life is and should be ecstasy. Collective mass experimentation with consciousness-expansion. But Christian cultures are unable to tolerate freedom: they stamp out the Hippie-Dionysian. They inject poisons into the body politic. It is as if some secret power steps in around 1969 or so and corrects the statistical anomaly. Some covert force intervenes, and redesigns the narrative.
Jan Hammer Group’s “Don’t You Know” serenaded me on my commute to work yesterday, a warm reminder of the previous night’s high.
Compelled by sheer force of lifelong dissatisfaction, I will jimmy the lock on the prison. I will put weed in my head and float ethereally, the walls of reality made light, airy, tenuous. The mind constructs doorways and portals. Darkness opens onto light. My world was corrupted down to the molecules, the atoms, by fuzzy memories, blurry abstractions. Worlds have been exchanged like seasons. And always, the mystery that instructs through its silent structure, the enigma of Being, with unknown end. Next thing you know, we’ve invented for ourselves an entire weed-inflected grammar. Become a “strange man,” I tell myself, who in disguise writes himself into Being. Create a sense of levels — worlds within worlds. Or, after crashing through, land on one’s feet and inquire after Thomas Pynchon and his views regarding LSD.
Awareness comes by putting things together. I recall seeing a lovely fog yesterday as I careened toward the diploma mill, the air bathed in yellow morning light. A friend and I exchanged texts throughout the day about all the many ways capitalism has fucked us since grad school. Working sixty hours or so a week translates into exhaustion, resentment of others, no time for housecleaning or physical fitness, no time for labor-power to engage in even the most basic forms of self-repair. And of course, our superiors never miss a chance to demand from us some additional act of debasement. We’re supposed to show gratitude, apparently, for these thorns they’ve planted in our temples. You’re one of the lucky ones, they warn. Give thanks or we’ll make it worse. Hence, in reaction, the turn inward: “me” time, breathwork, re-embodiment through relaxation. And I’ll never have time to collect all of the words, but that’s all the more reason to try. What would we learn, for instance, if we looked up Malta’s 1919 Sette Giugno revolts? A revolt stirred by the price of bread. What if we combine that with quantum tunneling? The last image is too immediate, as Pynchon once said, for any eye to register. Think of all of the properties of reality we’ve not yet learned to see.
Look, it’s the old man from the time before Trump. Feeling good, bad, unsure, alone. The drone descends, conducts client reconnaissance. Corporate bodies know the world only in aggregate. Little do they know, the world is whatever lines of force converging in semantic space say it is. “There I was on an overcast November day,” wrote the man, “listening to Vektroid’s latest, Seed & Synthetic Earth, when out of the ground burst an octopoid creature, its fleshy tentacles covered in blisters.” Emptiness of this sort is of little use to me, I decide, the album’s knockoff-of-knockoff hijacking of emotion via synthetic optimism seriously harshing my vibe. None of this works, I tell myself. It distracts from my pursuit of higher consciousness. My desire, after all, is to one day make contact with, receive some intimation of, life after capitalism. When I walk outdoors, I at least gain a hint, an inkling, of my oneness with Being. No vaporwave track could ever match as music the visual splendor of a tree. I think that even as I walk amid crows in the rain. Drops produce hard pops upon hitting the brim of my cap. The angel of history deprived me of Coke yesterday, employing its methods in the innards of two different soda fountains in two different eateries — and in this, I see no evil. NEU!’s “ISI” comes up in my “Discover Weekly” playlist, and just like that, as if a switch has been flipped, “there is one common flow, one common breathing, all things are in sympathy.” “Everything hangs together,” writes Koestler, “no atom is an island; microcosm reflects macrocosm, and is reflected by it.” The Fall returns with equal suddenness, though, a stubborn-headed Jonathan Richman interrupting, dividing me back into self and other by asking, “Tell me, why can’t you at least take this place, and take it straight?” Attention, rapt, with time withdraws, and we find ourselves, alas, in a windblown world, trying to steal pages from books, contorted by an irresistible impulse. I’m not in Kansas anymore — thank god! — but my country is now my enemy, as it is the enemy of all who have hope of Being. Where, I wonder, might we puncture its pretense, carnivalize its wealth? How might we zap its mind, and reverse its ill intent?
Yesterday began with the rescue of Lou Reed’s Street Hassle and Steven Halpern’s Spectrum Suite, both of which turned up on vinyl mid-morning amid Mantovanian dreck in the bins at Goodwill. Afterwards, I drove to campus, my Horatian Ode derailed by mere rhetoric, the literary at odds with the fast-paced commercial. History as the text’s intertext, Trump’s America oozing into every moment of one’s embodiment in the present. Poet and fiction-writer friends read from their work. Pink light, concentrated into single beam. As day approached evening, the sky erupted into radioactive pink against an ever-deepening blue. Not too much more, too much more. Murky, kudzu-clothed shadow-trees hung over me, filling me with welcome reverence. In the moments before dark I forever and ever locked eyes in what I interpreted as a show of mutual respect with a cat in my neighborhood. The magic around me prepares to repeat itself for another season. I find meaning in this, the world’s parts become rhyme, no matter the slant. The day shapes what I write, and what I write shapes the day. What of the film version of Jack Kerouac’s Big Sur?
A loving assemblage of voices and impressions. What can be heard, though, when we go inward? No gurgling creek. Beatniks launch out on a weed-and-alcohol-fueled weekend romp. Kerouac’s alcoholism was the snake he invented to keep him from his own creation. To stave off death, he frames experience as the passage of a soul through its seasons. The postwar subject suffers its alienation from others via words. Whereas today’s suffers soul-death as perpetual contingent labor. Reality steals away from us our powers, our capacities, our faculties. One’s wit is applied to standardized drool, in a stalemate of crossed purposes: meum and tuum. Barely sensate, the one risks becoming by the other crushed underfoot. One must defend oneself, rise up, demand more.