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.
If the totality desires mystical mumbo-jumbo, who am I to deny it? Mind combined with grind, and still I came up short. Boxed in on all sides. Few remaining lines of flight. The powers that be turned down my request for parole. My mobility, my financial freedom, modest influence over the content of my days: all have been stolen from me by a tribunal, a committee of three, performing without so much as a murmur of regret their bit part as Träger of an unbrotherly totality. The value-form is quite literally a cancer run loose through the universe. The rhythm of it leaves me paralyzed. I become convinced of curses, ill omens. Powers, and the arc they apply to history, are perhaps less benevolent than I’d once assumed.
Few of my peers seem interested anymore in trying to think in ways that test linguistic limits. Bounce among airy peaks. Speak into silence. Ontology is beginning to seem algorithmically governed, bit-mapped — memories stored on Memorex. “Keep smiling, keep shining,” sings “That’s What Friends Are For.” If only there were some to keep us safe in the jungle. The repulsive alien sheen of creatures from the United States Top 50, like Florida Georgia Line. The oozing, creeping essence of the body politic. I imagine myself and my students trapped in what characters from the film Get Out call the “sunken place.” Consciousness otherwise would know itself as multitude. Pop songs are advanced subliminal technologies. And so much of it, as if by homology, about drugs and altered states of consciousness. The preferred mode of the Culture Industry, if not yet the culture as a whole. I feel like I’m an NPC at the start of someone else’s videogame, receiving instructions for how to sing. “Keep looking,” they say, “and you will find it.” Where I start and end is up to me. I can release some things, and others will take their place. But which point of view is the right one?
Throw troubles aside. Become present, before low-hanging branches announce themselves to your head. Am I squandering myself in these acts of reflection? If so, is there anything wrong with that? The Einstein Intersection‘s post-nuclear, neo-primitivist future is the one in which I would most wish to live. Are there consequences, though, when we treat life like a plunge? “‘Mind on the case.’ Got it,” I repeat back to myself, as if reading from a script. No need to imagine oneself crossing a threshold or anything. History is a matter of narratives into which we figure. Look upon my fine line, my axiom, procedurally generated across a Scrabble board. Lesson ruined, evening botched. To rules I am permanently opposed. No use trying: it reopens old wounds. All one does is lose. It is as if I’ve been handed a sentence: “Parole denied, return to cell.” How do I heal this sore spot in my soul? How, under such conditions, can one teach? As if in answer, some higher-order self intervenes and says, “Go back. Repair. Seek forgiveness and make amends.”
The bullies are in charge. That is the principle fact of my world. The semester began on a somber note yesterday in an upper-floor classroom looking out on a gray sky. Through an epigraph by Günther Anders, I led students into a conversation about the war on the utopian imagination. We discussed cynicism as a defensive shell that subjects of capitalist realism raise around themselves, an emotional armor borne of disappointment. Staring at an image of myself on my computer screen in the moments before the start of a WebX interview, I uttered words of encouragement, imagining my attempt to improve my life as a tribute of sorts to Daphne. She would have wanted me to do this, I told myself. Remembering an image of the dog’s pained final hours, though, made me wince. Let us ascend by discarding our bearings. Tell stories of dolphins leaping from crystal seas. Monkeys arrive, as if their being were a plot device introduced to startle the narrative. One tries to re-imagine primate consciousness. Body as rage machine, apprehending the world through a fish-eyed lens. Mind not yet bound by words. Whereas now, we cower, listening as choppers cut lines through space.
I listen to Klaatu’s “Calling Occupants” in the lead-up to 3:47pm EST while standing atop a nearby mountain, head roughly level with a series of hawks circling above a figure-ground landscape laid out in miniature, the phallic ego a tiny dot in the far distance. I expect something tragic to happen, but it doesn’t and the day is splendid. I top it by watching Come Worry With Us!, Helene Klodawsky’s documentary on Montreal post-rockers Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra. We all ought to learn how to stand amid a moving universe. But the film is otherwise a terrifying portrait of parenting aboard a Greyhound bus. What would it mean to raise children while awaiting a flood? Wouldn’t a person’s paranoia double? How small the world seems when imagined as a pattern prepared for kids by their parents. Most of the artists I admire live amid simulated, twenty-first-century Dickensian squalor, hustling constantly for money by which to live. Are there still ways to live counterculturally when neoliberal reality evolves into Jurassic Park? Must the song remain the same while getting worse? Let us get back to the splendid anarchy of public assembly each and every instant. Joy on one side, fear on the other. I am committed to a politics of joy. The liminal land visited in waking dreams.
Think about processes of identification. A temporary forgetting occurs when we confuse awareness with either a body or an object or some sign derived therefrom. As from a dream we awake remade. Shopping carts clang into line with their brethren. A winning performance. Conjuring up another semester’s characters is great work. My students come out of my classes on the whole better people. This I do believe, despite my occasional disappointments. Those at my present institution, for instance, are never quite as cool or as smart as I want them to be. I want the universe to work. I want to believe in myself — so I do. In the moments, in the seconds. In the on-off binary interval between mind and creation, our two alternate personas. All of it a playful game or dance. Real travel requires a maximum of unscheduled wandering. That is what today makes possible. The individual with the colossal external nervous system. Become awake. Become alive. It’s time to level up.