At night, jigsaw puzzles. The doors have been blown off their hinges, the world behind this world revealed in the process of setting the next part of this one into place. Imagine two selves: the planner and the performer. Smoke clouds emerge from our lips. A ball rolls across a wooden floor and my eyes observe bodies burned in the BBC’s retelling of the Gunpowder Plot, this latter formed into images of middle-aged male heads of competing households marching into one another’s rooms and antechambers and exchanging taunts and threats. I hardly recognize history in this meaningless quarreling, this bargaining and scheming, men standing around in elaborate period costume. History is a story of warring families acting their parts in scripted sword-fights. Men go around bullying, torturing, and murdering one another on behalf of ancient, petty, angel-on-pinhead, political-theological grievances. The night confronts me as a blank screen; as opposed to those men of yore, I can do with my nights (though not my days) as I please. I sit on a sunny hill and play a harmonica, gazing downward at the world below. Before I can help it, though, my gaze trades itself for something dazed, stoned, sleepy. I wish instead to imagine communities of mutual care, self-organized into improvised, voluntary, no-rules-but-the-ones-you-and-I-here-and-now-invent-for-ourselves, service-trading commune-congregation-encounter-groups. Behavior in this wished-for place is like that of radical theater troupes of the late 1960s: tentative, experimental, invented on the fly, in absence of any cause for enmity, competition, or hostility. Subjects of such polities get high and love one another. Unless, of course, will to power is not mere arbitrary imposition but rather an inner imperative. ‘Tis a wager we make; but better to make it and fail than to wonder what might have been.
The good shepherd, whom I pause before to contemplate, appears as a better self, a majestic higher order. I stare at it fearfully, struggling to keep up as its visual-sensual-conceptual being grows, looms, enlarges, steals our breath, overwhelms us with its complexity. “That is not I,” we have to say to avoid becoming Jesuit. The feeling then relaxes a bit, goes quiet. We imbibe earth, nut, matter. This lends us weight, we become caught by a planet’s gravity, our journey as ray of light captured into life, made to inhabit human form for a stretch of time: it is like having to endure soul-flattening, soul-crushing pressure. We mustn’t watch as others are judged, tried, executed, given greater than their due share of suffering. I find myself staring in confusion at the alien customs, the tolerance for oppression, among my countrymen. Let us not become crueler, coarsened by feud, faction, quarrel. Don’t allow groups to organize, lest we plot destruction of kings. Religion is an able resistance to the ways of some dominant Other. It brings judgment, the latter being a kind of power, into politics. Radical believers deny one another the right to live by free means in community with like-minded others. That is the future toward which we are led. Don’t let us get caught in games of conversion and conviction by others who believe themselves lords over the lives of others. Religious wars of this sort are fraught with grave dangers. Political fictions make for dangerous games. Desperate people become led by acts of desperate men. That is becoming common again: states that toy with public perception, inventing stories to command the attention of weaponized masses, turning neighbor upon neighbor. Isn’t that the void into which certain public storytellers, writers of history, wish to plunge us? I mean the Bill O’Reilly’s, the Sean Hannity’s. Sadists who derive pleasure through imaginative identification with the State in its role of public executioner. In the past we called them inquisitors. We mustn’t let them thrive.
Boards of wood warp beneath my feet as I stare up at the night sky. Paranoia tugs at me, and I know that’s just the weed becoming manifest — but I also hear the world telling me, “All symptoms are purposeful.” Upon observing this, my reality fast-forwards. I live my life as Providence decrees, dipping into and reading snippets on occasion from St. John of the Cross’s Dark Night of the Soul. Sarah and I shared a mystical experience, a moment of sublimity, while sitting on a bench, staring up at a play of sunlight and wind among the tops of a patch of trees. It is only in retrospect that I see ahead a way to retain the habits of the child, while standing upright. St. John scolds me here, though, for my vanity. Don’t speak proudly or boastfully of spiritual things in the presence of others, he warns. What, then, of these trance-scripts, I wonder. Is it, perhaps, time to take a break? Can’t I pull a Bartleby and say, “I’d prefer not to?” Why am I even considering obedience to what feels like an ultimatum? Are these the first signs, perhaps, of a crisis of faith in my crisis of faith? Nay, it angers me; I resent the imposition. Grace is not a gift if it requires something in return. Utopia ain’t utopia if reserved only for a deserving few. Perhaps I’m too patient, though, with regard to my progress. Let it thus be resolved: for purposes of experiment, I shall assent to a few days off.
Stare at a downward-pointing stairwell long enough and mind will move matter. We masses will erupt from our seats and change our condition. Hit “play,” however, and the image stutters in uneven intervals. Patches of sunlight draw us outward. Another beautiful day. I smoke up in a nearby park and walk the perimeter of a lake. A way of forgetting the remaining workweek. Dead leaves — now fluttering, now sizzling — hang above me, in the wind, in the trees. Bicyclists whizz by like members of a different species. The city curves atop the underlying geography. A friend and I had speculated half in jest earlier about whether or not Ayn Rand owned pets — speculation inspired, no doubt, by the current tax bill. No way she could have cared for other creatures, we laughed — but apparently she fancied cats, and bragged that she could demonstrate “objectively” that cats have value. LOL. Her name turns up again, though, after the park. A middle-aged mohawked dude who I often see at Goodwill and who never fails to corner me and talk my ear off sidles over as he always does — this time announcing, however, that he’s looking for a copy of Atlas Shrugged. “Can’t help you with that,” I mutter, peering at the day’s findings. I leave the store afterwards bearing God Loves, Man Kills (an X-Men graphic novel from the 1980s that I remember reading as a kid), along with an early 2000s reissue of Norman Greenbaum’s Spirit in the Sky, and several volumes of Marxist theory.
Greenbaum’s title track earned its hit status by turning cheery Christian piety into a divine, bluesy, highway-speed, hand-clapping bit of fuzz-pop. The album’s other great charmer, “Jubilee,” succeeds with roughly the same formula. Time, it says, can be spread like butter. Any time, any time at all. Mind removes itself, quickens its pace. I imagine a round white “start” button like the ones featured on old arcade cabinets. When I press it, the dream begins, projecting outward the world as seen.
A gradual softening or loosening occurs as subjects slip free of programming. But it is as if in doing so, we become possessed. Drink tea with loved one while meditating in yoga pose, we tell ourselves. Receive galaxies of information incomprehensible to linear minds. The self imagines at this point absent causes known only through their effects. Fears set in, assault us from all sides. Magic utilizes symbols to reprogram consciousness. We become game-makers, risk-takers, driven toward an unknown end. “Unknown” bothers me, however, so I imagine several potential endings. Apex-of-pyramid gnosis. Transcendence of what the show will mean and how it will be structured. Capitalist modernity’s decay. The self-discipline needed to abide by self-chosen ethical norms. In other respects, though, existing identities will no longer anchor Being. But worry not, friends. As Roland Kirk says, “It won’t get any lighter.” Hoo-whee, let’s hear it. Volunteered Slavery, folks. I gas it, I accelerate, I lay betwixt floor speakers and roll with it.
Kirk smoked so much beforehand, he says, he came out onstage blind at the Newport Jazz Festival during the live performance on the B-side. Unearthly Looney Tunes-style cartoon violence. Nose flutes, whistles, the works. Next we join the Explorer Series for Golden Rain’s hardcore Balinese Gamelan proto-techno.
White walls, guillotines. An elephant mask melts into a DayGlo torso. Around this time, a friend texts and he and I reflect on our religious upbringings — his more “Cold War action movie,” mine more “death by boredom.” The true Utopia, I tell him, was too close at hand to believe in cloudy realms full of angelic nuns. I always wanted to squirm from my pew and head outside to play, hang around, seek light with other kids. My policy, from an early age, was to tune out the adults and ignore all their death-obsessed bullshit. I came to distrust, and later, to scorn the other congregants. But I loved the architecture, organs on occasion transported me to other worlds, and I loved silent prayer. And I more or less remain that person today.
Ever more horrific cycles of violence infect others, possess them. Lines of fiction become lines of code. Systems that predict behavior shape perception. Individuals disappear into bubbles. Without certainty, without conviction, one’s world stops making sense. Media relations rule the world, managing and controlling through creation of constantly-renewing states of destabilized perception. Turn a corner, though, and one can find oneself in a parable. A comet-like ball of energy streaks past. Because I’m indoors, I can’t see it. But I can hear it, I can feel it as it perturbs my atmosphere. Get a fix on this thing, I tell myself, as if it were a matter of some urgency. “See this reality that is hidden from thee,” I whisper. Ontologically, the hidden is like a below-surface-of-consciousness ambience. One can instrumentalize it through use of mood-switchers — and with these, create a joyous cosmology. Drug use is in this sense utopian through and through. Cybernetic co-evolution of nature and subjectivity. Weed is a means by which non-human nature intervenes in and recalibrates human nature, affecting individual heads even at the head’s most intimate, innermost level: consciousness, selfhood, being. Like bees, we can reside among flowers. Isn’t it all no more than gameplay anyway? Can we hold that view while retaining respect for the sanctity of others? On a case by case basis? Certainly. But universally? Without exceptions? What about when confronted by bullies and sadists? Emotions often override our sense of play — yet I welcome these interruptions. Sometimes we need to collapse inwardly on ourselves like tents. I did so yesterday. Grief snuck up on me unexpectedly as I thought about my dog Daphne, reliving our final exchanges of affection, seeing again her head lifting to acknowledge me as we laid together and said our goodbyes. There was a language we shared, and never again shall we speak it. No more face time. After a spell, though, a buzzer went off. Ice sheets are melting, I thought. Consciousness jumps scales. Zip up the memory and move on.
Possessed with identity, the Self — once like a hand, now like a street fighter — learns to dodge the effects of painful emotion on awareness and performance. To itself it murmurs, “You are special. The world is not twin to itself yet.” So begins a mantra I recite to myself in my sleep. If we observe our emotions, we can change them. Or at the very least, we can endure them with a mix of detachment and curiosity. Old trees serve as stations for rest and reflection along a way of sorrow. How sad it would be to live life without walks through allegorical gardens. Samanta Schweblin’s Fever Dream is one such garden. I burned right through it, couldn’t put it down. Psychedelic in the sense of two voices dialoguing in inner space. Electromagnetic signals. Fake worlds in their simplicity are reassuring. By clumsy political theater, life is overwhelmed by overpowering bureaucracy. While we doze, the money creeps in. History devolves into constructive ambiguity amidst demonic fury. A world where lies are perpetrated by actors who believe only in themselves. Occultists who exploit popular belief in the importance of ritual. People cooperate with the system, and the rest of us are screwed. The fear among the cooperators is that otherwise, shit would go psycho. Better, they think, to just retreat into an alternate reality. What are we to make, for instance, of that ancient document from the early days of Wired magazine, John Perry Barlow’s “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace”? What, too, should we make of Adam Curtis’s use of it in the film HyperNormalisation? A script is being read to us, no? An attempt to capture imagination. Iron filings reform in response to magnetic fields. Perception management. Reality is made a thing one handles with codes, algorithms, numbers — for it is by money that they program minds.