Wednesday October 11, 2017

Try to imagine yourself from the perspective of a spider cricket. Like a building, but with a face in place of a penthouse. I need to develop another chance-based, abstraction-generating practice, a compliment to and content conduit for each day’s trance-script. Imagine if I could bring into my classroom a language for speaking about “Kou Kou” and other forms of abstract animation!

Meaningful conversation with others hardly seems feasible anymore. Most of my students are mere abstractions. Drifts of data in a windstorm. I’d rather be home listening to Bread Bored, the debut album from Portland’s Sea Moss.

I don’t mind mortifying the body with smoke inhalation, so long as it opens doors onto other ways of being. “Most contemplatives,” Huxley writes, “worked systematically to modify their body chemistry, with a view to creating the internal conditions favorable to spiritual insight” (155). I’ve never used Uber, but perhaps I should start doing so — that way I can travel out on solitary adventures while baked. I love to walk, don’t get me wrong; but I’ve about exhausted the radius of walkable space around my home. What is psychedelia’s relationship to blindness? Huxley, for instance, is thought to have been nearly blind for most of his adulthood. “I can hardly see at all,” he told Brazilian journalist João Ubaldo Riberio, “And I don’t give a damn, really.” Recalling details of my life, I’d say I’m a bit like that, too. Capitalist society requires me to “correct” my vision and to do so gladly. If one persists in viewing psychedelically-derived insights as distortions, then so be it; but they’re systematic, trans-historical distortions, leading multiple minds toward the same conclusions: the world as seen when informed by the teachings of plants. And sometimes we zombie-subjects want to be led. Encountering a reference to Francis Thompson’s short film NY, NY (1957) in Huxley’s Heaven and Hell, for instance, I go ahead and watch it.

Afterwards I listen to Gregg Kowalsky’s “Maliblue Dream Sequence.” This latter work, however, is itself part of a larger sequence, one that lifts me up and carries me to Tom Shroder’s book Acid Test: LSD, Ecstasy, and the Power to Heal. The Thompson film, by the way, is quite magical, and deeply psychedelic, though I recommend updating it with an alternate soundtrack. Its portrait of the mid-twentieth-century Big Apple is of course entirely too celebratory and consumerist — the gaze remaining leisurely and bemused as it collects phantasmatic snapshots of metropolitan texture and sensation. As a renewal of perception, however, it’s a success.

Tuesday October 10, 2017

Despite what I wrote yesterday, let it be said that, in his book Heaven and Hell, Aldous Huxley sometimes manages to get things remarkably right. Describing a “jungle” painting by Henri Rousseau, for instance, Huxley exclaims, “I look at those leaves with their architecture of veins, their stripes and mottlings, I peer into the depths of interlacing greenery, and something in me is reminded of those living patterns, so characteristic of the visionary world, of those endless births and proliferations of geometrical forms that turn into objects, of things that are forever being transmuted into other things” (128).

henri-rousseau

Call it the Koyaanisqatsi effect. And while contemplating (or what our friends of the past used to call “grokking”), get picked up and blown away to the psychedelic brilliance of J Dilla’s Donuts. I also admire Huxley’s discussion of art that adopts a “non-human” point of view, humanity a mere blip amidst some vast uncharted wild. The de-individuation that occurs when we occupy that point of view is for Huxley a kind of peak experience. Thought abstracts itself into that which the ancients rendered in arabesques and frescoes of gardens. Better by far, though, I think, to remain a self or a person surrounded by “the country of lit-upness” (le Pays d’Éclairement), a kind of forest-world rich with meaning, inhabitants half-paranoid, half-mad, enchanted with abstract shapes and patterns. With faith, we can ensure that this country of the mind surrounds us in a way that is blissful and not appalling. More and more, I find myself wanting to put the kibosh on technology. Especially cars and social media. But of course, by that I probably only mean technology shaped and deployed by capitalism. Do away with banks, nation-states, militaries, businesses. I don’t know the particulars of what the alternative would entail, but I know what gives me grief. Maybe I should investigate decentralized crypto-currencies, nevermind their association with right-libertarian assholes. And perhaps I should start showing my “Utopias” students episodes of Outliers. In the meantime, I prefer to watch “Elise” by Blondes.

Monday October 9, 2017

My students are reading Aldous Huxley’s psychedelic classic The Doors of Perception this week. I’ve taught the book a number of times over the years, but I’m only just now getting around to reading Huxley’s follow-up essay, Heaven and Hell, published two years later in 1956.

To be honest, though (and judging only from what I’ve read so far), I’m finding this latter work to be somewhat underwhelming. Huxley begins by asserting that heightened attention to light and color are common features of visionary experience. “The visions met with under the influence of mescalin or hypnosis,” he writes, “are always intensely and, one might say, preternaturally brilliant in color” (89). As support for this claim, Huxley cites lines from visionary works of poetry like Wordsworth’s “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood,” as well as relevant passages from mystical texts like Thomas Traherne’s Centuries of Meditations and Irish theosophist Æ’s Candle of Vision. Readers of these trance-scripts will find much of interest (including several valuable leads for further research) in this section of Huxley’s work. My sense, however, is that from this point onward, Huxley grows a bit too enamored with his thesis about light and color. Curtain lifted, he trails off into a lengthy, multi-page digression dealing with the history of humanity’s fascination with gemstones, stained glass, and related kinds of shiny objects. Huxley believes that religious traditions value these objects because of their resemblance to the self-luminous “stones of fire” that are said to populate the otherworldly inner landscapes encountered by visionaries of all ages. “Hence man’s otherwise inexplicable passion for gems,” he writes, “and hence his attribution to precious stones of therapeutic and magical virtue” (103). As a brief aside, let me add that there’s an interesting passage in the midst of this excursus where Huxley speaks of hypnotists who use shiny objects to lead subjects into trance states. “How, precisely,” he asks, “does the view of a shiny object induce a trance or a state of reverie? Is it, as the Victorians maintained, a simple matter of eye strain resulting in general nervous exhaustion? Or shall we explain the phenomenon in purely psychological terms—as concentration pushed to the point of mono-ideism and leading to dissociation?” Huxley himself prefers a third possibility. “Shiny objects,” he writes, “may remind our unconscious of what it enjoys at the mind’s antipodes, and these obscure intimations of life in the Other World are so fascinating that we pay less attention to this world and so become capable of experiencing consciously something of that which, unconsciously, is always with us” (106). Speaking of which: with a burning sensation at the back of my throat, vaguely reminiscent of asthma attacks from childhood, I mark my place in the book with a folded receipt and ascend to Huxley’s “Other World.” As that phrase suggests, Heaven and Hell is rife with spatial metaphors, some of them wince-inducing in ways that demand postcolonialist reading, as for instance when, at the beginning of the book, the tastelessly Eurocentric Huxley digs himself a hole by writing, “Like the earth of a hundred years ago, our mind still has its darkest Africas, its unmapped Borneos and Amazonian basins” (83). Fortunately it looks like there’s substantial criticism of Huxley on these grounds, as in Lindsey Michael Banco’s Travel and Drugs in Twentieth-Century Literature and Sharae Deckard’s Paradise Discourse, Imperialism, and Globalization: Exploiting Eden. To hallucinate means “to wander in the mind.”

Sunday October 8, 2017

I caught a matinee screening of Blade Runner 2049 with some friends yesterday. Think of it as shelter from the rain. Water collected on my sweatshirt and in my beard as I crossed the parking lot. “The world needs your dreamy energy,” announced a commercial for Dropbox. Sitting through the trailers beforehand, I thought to myself, “Ready Player One‘s brand of retro panders to the lowest common denominator.” Everywhere I looked, I kept seeing eclipsed light shining through cracks in reality. And then the film itself: monstrous urban futures. Midway through, Jared Leto’s mad scientist character turns to his assistant and proclaims, “We can storm Eden and reclaim it!” If those words had been spoken by the replicants themselves, assembled now as an army, I’d say, “Right on, right on. Power to the people.” Because as another character notes later in the film, “Dying for the right cause is the most human thing you can do.” Rhythm makes me ask, “Is time progressing or am I stuck in a rut?” I remind myself of a friend’s advice: belief is mine to dole out as I please. Smuggle into the anthill ants whose disposition toward the hill is basically, “House is on fire and I don’t give a fuck.” As a philosophy minor, I was taught to disregard emotional reads of situations or knowledges derived via gut check. Has that teaching unfolded into a liability in the years that have passed since college? What would it mean to be able to rouse oneself from a lifetime of slumber? White-knuckle it for a bit. Peter out after a prolonged decline. Or, the alternative: push through the curtain in search of some half-glimpsed secret order.

Saturday October 7, 2017

Teaching has adversely affected my ability to read, as the latter becomes pointless once one loses one’s faith in one’s species. All I do is sit around watching shit on YouTube, like Action Bronson shoveling food into his face in episodes of Fuck, That’s Delicious. Celebrity’s influence on our culture troubles me. What is life-writing’s purpose amidst the sheer ubiquity today of modes for self-expression? As if needing a reminder, I submit to Benzokai’s “Sentient Sapient,” thus allowing the ontological uncertainty of being to successfully reassert itself.

Dining on wine and cheese last night at a friend’s place helped me let go of some anger left over from a run-in I had earlier in the day with an open-carry asshole. Less than a week since the mass shooting in Las Vegas, and this dumb NRA motherfucker proudly wears a handgun on his hip while picking through the bins at Goodwill. This man’s existence fills me with a rage that lacks any kind of meaningful outlet. Get high and weedy with the guitar sounds on Suburban Lawns’ “Flavor Crystals.”

These trance-scripts form a construct based on the totality of everything I know. Doesn’t mean I have it right. Drink poison from a cup of gold. Doesn’t mean it’s right. Don’t yell at me: I don’t have a corner on wisdom. How about nothing? How about silence? A silence interrupted only by the echoes of my mind, as Harry Nilsson would say, especially as when decoded by the dear departed Harry Dean Stanton. Errare Humanum Est. “Drink deep,” adds Pope, “or taste not the Pierian spring.” If I play my cards right, Suburban Lawns can become Joni Mitchell’s 1975 album, The Hissing of Summer Lawns.

Just so long as I don’t get lost amidst the shuck and jive of hippie sensualism. Like wow, Nature, man! I worry that I’ve lost the ability to dream up interstices between the present and the future. Perhaps I should take a break.

Friday October 6, 2017

I sometimes pray silently to the equivalent of a program, a ghost in the machine, in hopes that it will take pity on me by unlocking invisible doors onto other quadrants of the game-board. And it does, language leading me to Ian Bogost’s “The Metaphysics Videogame.” Finally — a theorist of videogame ontology. Weed is a kind of rhetoric that delivers its arguments not with words or images or programs but through chemical reprogramming of neurons. It alters perception so as to dodge any system the General Intellect might try to impose onto Being. I wish to operate free of rules devised by others. This is why I’m writing and blogging. Games too often feel to me like a distraction from whatever aspect of Nature is described in terms like grounded, earthy, and wild. My fellow Marxists don’t take the Romanticist theory of Nature as seriously as they ought to. Even if just for the sake of personality and mental health. I like sunlight. I like sitting outdoors. Dr. Andrew Weil takes me on a “sonic journey to where healing happens.” Profound states of relaxation lead listeners down into a realm Weil calls “the Deep.” Of course, it’s all just schmaltzy classical music. A total betrayal of psychedelia’s revolutionary beginnings, the latter co-opted and, in true bait-and-switch fashion, replaced with something tacky and false. I want videogame theorists who, rather than trying to sell me on games, are instead able to help me better understand how videogames have influenced the way I think. The warring halves in me cause my ego formation to vacillate back and forth between an outdoor nature associated with public pools and summer camps, and an indoor nature associated with comic books, paperbacks, and videogames (but also movie theaters, roller rinks, and malls). Against both of these natures stood the culturally imposed tedium known as “school.” That boredom I experienced in classrooms as a kid makes me deeply cynical about my profession. If corporations weren’t the ones funding it and shaping the content, I would happily watch Viceland’s “The New Classroom” and say, “Yes, we should all integrate VR technology into our classrooms.” But really I’m more of a back-to-the-lander. I like to sit in the woods and read books.

Thursday October 5, 2017

Where realism often prompts sympathy, fantasy often prompts empathy: full, emotionally immersive engagement. Is it still possible, though, to construct aesthetic foundations for empathy across current divides in American society? And would we even want to? After teaching China Miéville’s “Floating Utopias,” a devastating Marxist critique of the proposed right-libertarian “Freedom Ship” venture, I overhear a wealthy female student of mine turn to her roommate and fellow classmate and say, without a hint of irony, “Doesn’t that just make you wanna go on a cruise?” At which point I drag myself home and pretend I’m Rodney Dangerfield.

Rodney

How long before a thing loses its novelty, its precognitive wonder? I take shelter by reactivating the experimental leftist music-affect-subjectivity of my early twenties: jerky, spastic, militant, navigation of social space soundtracked via Fugazi’s album The Argument.

That “me” was in some ways an entirely different being, occupying a radically different memory-stream. “Debt was for him still a thing he thought he could beat.” I can’t thread into a coherent narrative the life-path leading from him to me. Events happened to him within an expanding linguistic framework. The universe offered me a different array of parts. I was never seen, and never had a place to belong. I was an “other” suffering from shyness, or what we now call “social anxiety.” The ideas get bigger when the space around me does. Somewhere among my collection is the book that will help me unlock the next-level conceptualization of the game-world. Perhaps that book is Tijuana activist intellectual Sayak Valencia’s Gore Capitalism, due out from Semiotext(e) next spring. A hand reaches down, scoops me up. The self is non-negotiable. It may be a troublesome nothing, but at least it’s my troublesome nothing. And it’s not like there’s some grand alternative waiting behind Door #2.