I sit with squirrels on a November afternoon absorbing golden rays of sunlight. ‘Tis given freely. Our mutual inheritance. The squirrels jump and scurry among branches of trees. Where shall we place our attention, if not on speaking squirrels? The one above me, in its lovely ahhs, its lusty cries, its squaws, its pleas, sounds like a tearful Donald Duck. Through our stillness, we allow others space and time to be. A lawnmower supplies a buzz to compete with a leafblower’s roar. The neighborhood performs itself as would an orchestra for an audience of one. This is what I want as a communist: control enough of means of production so as to live free, our days, mine and yours, always occasions for pleasure and growth. Michael Davidson’s The Karma Machine reads like a prearranged signal, alerting those who read it of the planet’s wish to mutate-convert into a crystalline “ecstosphere” (162). How do we get there in the midst of what Erik Davis calls “reality meltdown”? Mass media’s programming of listeners and viewers to spur mass consumption gives way to the absence of shared points of reference. Today’s competing news agencies tell competing stories, thus creating competing consensus realities: a plurality of maps, all jostling for control of territory in the Desert of the Real. Against this, argues Davis, rise forces of re-enchantment. Movies of future disasters, journeys through the cosmos. Let us attend to the truth of experience, he cries, and carry stories lightly! “Doubt is a medicine! Skepticism is a medicine!” Always inquiring, always probing amid a totality filled with human and non-human persons. By way of the imagination, he suggests, we can interface with the non-human, the alien Other. “Let myriad things come forth and illuminate the self.”
Here we are, coasting along on this lovely planet, sharing in its seasons and cycles. I sit in a room lined with pine as day turns to night, and work relents and so begins that week of utopia known among academics as “Thanksgiving Break.” Erik Davis says the “breakdown of consensus reality,” which he believes is occurring in our current moment, “pulls out of us” a desire to engage the world as “an enchanted, magical place…where practices of awareness are practical survival necessities.” He traces the origins of the phrase “consensus reality” to Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann’s book The Social Construction of Reality. Davis’s talk brilliantly captures the as-yet-unnamed structure of feeling governing the current moment in the phrase “reality meltdown.” People dropping out and declaring psychedelic independence. This way of looking has made me judgmental, as if speciation occurred and one can only look back and laugh.
I vow to live lovingly, assisting desire as it journeys where it may. Let there be joy in life’s increase, its permanent revealing and unfolding through erotics of exchange amid death. “The Geneva Society”: a perfect name, actually, for the secret society involved in the introduction of LSD into the evolution of the General Intellect, but for the fact that Sandoz Laboratories, where the drug was first discovered, was located in Basel, not Geneva. Next thing I know, I’m watching Aliens from Spaceship Earth, a documentary from the early years of the consciousness revolution.
Does chemical modification of consciousness lead inevitably to X-Men fantasies: “new mutants” versus “squares”? Nietzsche was one of many philosophers to fantasize this kind of “next step” in evolution. Henri Bergson, for instance, shared similar hopes, having come to view the universe by the end of his life in mystical-evolutionary terms as “a machine for the making of gods.”
What does it mean in allegorical terms to be either “on the bus” or “off the bus” among Ken Kesey’s group the Merry Pranksters during their cross-country acid trip, the one Tom Wolfe reconstructs for readers in his “New Journalism” classic The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test? It’s the difference between riding with experience, perhaps, and resisting it. Kesey wanted people to ride with it. “No one was to rise up negative about anything,” writes Wolfe, “one was to go positive with everything — go with the flow — everyone’s cool was to be tested, and to shout No, no matter what happened, was to fail” (Wolfe 84). No more uptight, defensive reactivity. Each of us, instead, like the bus a recording device traveling the open road of what Wolfe calls “the true America” (Wolfe 85). Judgment under these conditions appears an arbitrary imposition, as when I set aside Wolfe and peek into Michael Davidson’s “Tale of Cybernetic Buddhism,” The Karma Machine (1975), a novel I discovered while perusing the shelves of used bookstores during a recent trip to San Francisco. This is a book in which the whole world sleeps, a group of revolutionaries called the Geneva Society having bombarded their fellow humans with “Delta-waves,” so as to prepare a critical operation, a utopian intervention to cure the species of “the disease which afflicts it: mortal fear” (Davidson 104). The revolutionaries pitch this as a “democratic exercise,” as they gather “representatives of the common people” to determine the cure. Heads of state are kidnapped and made to carry out the directives of this “people’s assembly.” One of the revolutionaries, a scientist named Strastnik, tells those gathered, “You are absolutely secure, but you are also completely confined. In brief, you are back in the womb, the womb of history! And you are a new conception! May you prove an immaculate one” (Davidson 105). Before reading further, I set down the book, sit Indian-style and meditate. Vibrant experiences of reciprocity are what I seek in order to feel in a new, delightfully intense way. Experiences of ecstatic contact between self and world. Let love lift us through enlargements of perspective, revealing in this way “the pattern that connects.” Eros, a longing both individuated and attached, free and determined simultaneously. Touching the world and being touched by it in return.
Take the load off the self and place it on The Band (or, due to licensing issues, a band called Smith). The Easy Rider soundtrack remains for me a peak moment in 60s psychedelia. Despite decades having passed since its release, it still managed to turn me on to revolution and liberation when I first encountered it while rifling through my parents’ LP collection as a teenager in the 1990s. I picture every time while hearing it beautiful, peaceful people relaxing in nature. Let’s lie barefoot in the grass passing a joint. Fuck the system. Simply turn from it and walk away. Such has been my conception of Utopia ever since. Angel-headed hipsters singing, banging tambourines, harmonizing under umbrellas in a rainstorm, committing themselves eternally to growth and becoming. Tom Wolfe calls this ideal “Edge City” in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test: a place where “it was scary, but people were whole people” (50). Theaters there play movies like Hellzapoppin featuring American midcentury comedy duo Ole Olsen & Chic Johnson. (Wolfe died, by the way, this past May. In a final interview with Rolling Stone in 2017, he insisted he never tried LSD.)
How did Ken Kesey and his psychedelic community the Merry Pranksters re-imagine reality through their use of the phrase “the current fantasy”? How does one determine one’s fantasy? Surely it’s by performing these fantasies collectively — in groups, with others. In today’s performance, let us imagine ourselves as psychedelic detectives, researching Michael Bowen and Gary Goldhill, figures Tom Wolfe references as members of the League for Spiritual Discovery in his book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Goldhill was an English head who worked for the BBC, Wolfe says, until he took some magic mushrooms in San Miguel de Allende, and in so doing discovered “the Management and gave up all, all the TV BBC game and dedicated himself to The Life” (Wolfe 361). Time to dive back into this thing, no? Symbols trigger recollection of forgotten knowledge. They cure us of our amnesia. We realize reality is a hologram — Philip K. Dick’s “Black Iron Prison.” A military coup d’état occurred on 11/22/63. Our duty now is to unravel belief in the frame.
I perform a mind game wherein I imagine a psychoanalytic interpretation of Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, a novel not just seen through the eyes of its half-Native American narrator, Chief Bromden, but somehow also set in the character’s head, his paranoid delusions causing him to hallucinate — by which I mean “literalize,” or “externalize” — the internal struggle between his Superego and his Id as a struggle between the characters of Big Nurse and Randle Patrick McMurphy. Then again, instead of psychoanalysis, we could sub in Marxism as our master discourse and read the novel as a Cold War allegory and/or a satire of the postwar order. Like all good political allegories, the work can be read on several levels or scales of being: the personal, the spiritual, the national-historical, and the world-historical all somehow homologous. The Nurse’s effort to cast aspersions on McMurphy’s motives resembles the progressivist critique of industrial robber-baron capitalism, just as the incident in the shower room represents the Zoot Suit Riots. If interpretation of this sort places me in the camp of the novel’s wheelchair-bound WWI veteran Colonel Matterson, so be it.