“The instrument of evolution now is culture,” murmured a middle-aged Julian Huxley to a 10-year-old Oliver Sacks during Sacks’s childhood in Hampstead Heath. How does the universe order itself? A poet might say, “Through memories unlocatable in time.” Macro quantum events. Insides becoming outsides. Deterministic chaos. Self-organization. Sudden transformation. Everything can be generated from within. My evening self, for instance, orders my daytime self to look for D.S. Savage’s book The Withered Branch and for Sacks’s essay on “the Odd.” Look as well, it says, for info about Gerald Edelman and his theories about “recategorization.” Floating cell structures, floating synchronic portraits of games of Go. The world fires back, though, with news of a TV miniseries based on the life of Jack Parsons, and two recent biographies by Spencer Kansa: Wormwood Star: The Magickal Life of Marjorie Cameron, and Out There: The Transcendent Life and Art of Burt Shonberg. Beaches are parts of the labyrinth strewn with the bones of our predecessors.
Heads dive down and unearth an important side note in the history of psychedelic mysticism: Oscar Baradinsky and his “Outcast” chapbook series, published in the late 1940s in connection with Baradinsky’s Alicat Book Shop in Yonkers, NY. The tenth chapbook in this series is a work printed in June 1947 by British pacifist poet and critic D.S. Savage titled Mysticism and Aldous Huxley: An Examination of Heard-Huxley Theories. As I dip in, I feel a sudden urge to read with great haste a number of works by Huxley: first and foremost, his 1936 novel Eyeless in Gaza, but also his early defense of mysticism, Ends and Means. Before long, however, Savage’s chapbook launches an attack on what it calls “the general upside-downness of Huxley’s theories.” In consequence, my attention lifts from the page and wanders ‘round the room. Out of the intricate wordplay of Springsteen’s “Blinded By the Light” comes instruction for anti-imperialists: “Dethrone the dictaphone / Hit it in its funny bone / that’s where they expect it least.” Manfred Mann covered the song on The Roaring Silence. If one listens to the rest of side A of that album, one comes upon a great heady stoner-prog instrumental called “Waiter, There’s a Yawn in My Ear.”
Some funny bone jammy-whammy hit the deck pout. Glowing boat bat-symbol. Known entities confer without commonality either of language, focus, or faith, as the Other crosses its arms, sits smugly and asks, “Which of you does the talking?” As a “personalist,” Savage finds fault with what he describes as Huxley’s “naive materialism,” and in particular, his “ubiquitous and unexamined assumption of the existence of the universe as a totality, a whole, superior to, and independent of, the perceiving individual consciousness.” To me, though, Savage’s personalism sounds eerily solipsistic. One has to keep in mind, though, that Savage’s target is also a pre-mescaline Huxley, seven years younger than the one who writes The Doors of Perception. And Savage’s personalism, it turns out, is not as solipsistic as it first appears. He of course affirms the reality of subjective, personal experience; this, after all, is what makes him a personalist. But the work of living, he argues, is the work of relating one’s own world, the world centered around individual, microcosmic personal consciousness, with a totality consisting of a potentially infinite number of other such centers, other coevolving, spirit-imbued self-organizations of matter.
Señor Ernesto de la Cruz, the patriarchal musician-god worshiped by the protagonist in the Disney-Pixar film Coco (2017) says, “Never underestimate the power of music.” The film’s secretive, cunning protagonist Miguel abandons his matriarchal, tradition-obsessed shoemaker family in order to pursue his dream of becoming a musician, only to then embark on a trippy, out-of-body journey through a magical-realist alternate-modernity Mexico among the souls of his dead ancestors in the company of spirit-creatures and a dog named Dante. To resolve the contradiction between its content and its form as animated digital spectacle, the film must imagine a distinction between moral and immoral action: valid artistic aspiration and talent cultivation on the one hand, and murderous, deceitful capitalist fame-chasing on the other. Spirit-animals and ancestors will come to our rescue, the film suggests, and justice will triumph, the false patriarch-god crushed beneath the weight of a bell — this latter symbol resonating, of course, in ways both sacred and profane. Liberty Bell, Mission Bell, Taco Bell: all are potential referents, threads of sense woven into the film’s system of meaning.
Tao Lin floats an interesting alternative history in his new book Trip—one that begins with worship of goddesses among our hunter-gatherer ancestors approximately 7,000 years ago. He relies for this account on controversial works like Riane Eisler’s The Chalice and the Blade, where historical societies are of two primary kinds: those organized according to principles of either domination or partnership. Upon my return from Los Angeles, I plan to make regular use of my new employer’s library. Along with Eisler’s book, I plan to grab Gary Lachman’s new book Dark Star Rising, a collection from Pluto Press called Voices of 1968: Documents from the Global North, and Marshall Sahlins’s Stone-Age Economics. I’m interested in the Pluto Press collection for its section on ‘60s Dutch “provo” Ole Grünbaum. Teenage boys sitting across from me at the airport brag about “roasting” some “random person” who has logged more than 5,000 hours in a single online video game. Together they resemble the cast of Stranger Things. The chaperoning mom rouses to deliver a “parenting” speech, the gist of which is to remind the boys to make smart choices; otherwise, she warns, she will “bring out the whip and bring down the hammer.” The boys chuckle at this, aware already of sexual innuendo, but still discomforted enough by it as to feel the need to mock it. “Wait, ‘the whip’? What’s ‘the whip’?” “Don’t cross me,” the mom fires back, “or I’ll be your worst nightmare.” “Ask this guy,” she ends, pointing to her son. On the plane afterwards, thousands of feet above the earth, my thoughts collect around the history of Enochian Magic. “Check out Sex and Rockets,” I remind myself, by which I mean a recently updated book on occult rocket scientist Jack Parsons. Make sure as well to read Kathleen Harrison’s essay in Sisters of the Extreme. Following Harrison’s ex-husband Terence McKenna, Lin posits fractal geometry as an important feature, an important characteristic, complement, or component, of psychedelic experience. Several hours later, I sigh deeply and the plane begins its descent. Back to the rainy, grey, fallen reality of the East Coast.
Alien sirens heard from the depths of a hypnagogic state. The clock reads 10:04, like the Ben Lerner novel, as Sarah and I discuss our plans for the day. “Reviewing the itinerary,” copiloting with Google Maps: these activities bore me, but the structure of Los Angeles demands them. Upon exiting the Westin Bonaventure, Sarah says offhandedly, over her shoulder, “seems like a death trap.” We agree that, in many respects, Jameson’s discussion of the Bonaventure in his famous “Postmodernism” essay captures the phenomenological reality of the building perfectly: the ride in the elevator especially, rising up on the exterior skin of the building to a height above the city, followed by the delirious descent down again, the elevator plunging through the glass roof of the building’s atrium before coming to a stop atop a glimmering pool of water at the base of the building’s depths. Athanasius Kircher enters our thoughts as we continue our journey through the city. We encounter accounts of his accomplishments at the Museum of Jurassic Technology on our final afternoon in LA. Afterwards, at our Airbnb, I observe that our tiny home has been enlivened, made beautiful by play of sunlight, flower- and leaf-patterned pillowcases stacked casually at the head of the futon by the floor, windows beside the entrance to the home opened vertically to allow in vast, multi-sourced birdsong, the music of the host couple’s garden.
Leaves rustle under the furtive gestures of shadow-hidden animal neighbors. I sit and smoke beneath Christmas lights strung through the low-lying branches of a bottlebrush tree the evening after my arrival at my second Airbnb in LA: a stucco-walled proto-“tiny home” / poolside cabana in the hills above Silver Lake. This vacation has been wonderful. Sarah and I wake each morning as we usually do, excited to embark on new adventures, only more so. Days allow for unanticipated surprises, course corrections, getaways from routine—and with these, learning and growth: insightful conversations with fellow psychonauts, one an ayahuascsa user, another a mushroom enthusiast; breakthroughs on the research end; delicious meals at restaurants like Joy and Dune; time to swim, time to drip dry while lounging in the sun; cool discoveries in the occult sections of bookstores. If our careers can be made to allow it, I think, we should move here. Demand the impossible. Grow toward the light.
Pods unzip and out burst bundles of sealed lavender flower heads. Introducing Robert Hass’s Field Guide, I would tell students, “It matters where you read this,” the slim volume of poems held up for demonstration purposes, waved lightly between thumb and forefinger in front of me. “Read properly, these poems cast spells. What do I mean by that, you ask? I mean, used deliberately, in the sun, after walks through Australian and jungle gardens, after swimming and breathing exercises, beneath a bleached California sky, these poems are tools for the alteration of consciousness.”