One day ends and another begins, but the voice that dictates does not skip a beat. If on Sunday I ended by noting, “Politics begins the moment there are disputes over land,” so today I begin by happening upon a proverb that reads, “He that hath lands hath quarrels.” Kenneth Burke mentions it in his essay “Literature as Equipment for Living.” Tree sparking at crème de la crème time of day, I embark on a journey, the nearby quarry park my destination. Sarah and I walk along a barren hill, exposed to the wind, soaking in vitamin D. Along our walk we pocket bits of plant debris. Sarah collects pine cones and tears me off a strip of Lamb’s Ear, which I rub gently between my thumb and forefinger. I also gather a trio of seed-balls dropped by a Sycamore. It feels as if there is magic involved. It feels as if we are performing a rite, preparing the world for a sun-god. Great powers are brewing in the universe within. My inner voice is a thing that echoes through vast corridors, the latter both heard and seen. We bear witness to one another, voice acting as conduit between form-matter and consciousness. I love me some sunlight. I imagine myself as a Pawnee parent, wrapping a baby in bobcat furs to bring it celestial blessings. I look up at E.T. and ask it to grant me special powers, license to make contact with higher orders of consciousness. The media cosmos beams back as a kind of reply, “Keep reading.” The world speaks to me via mogwais and E.T.’s evil twin, skull island. Loki, the god of mischief. The unseeing alien monster from Attack the Block. To protect us from these, says a voice I haven’t yet learned to trust, “Mother Nature has drawn a line.” Headspace becomes meaner as weekends give way to weeks. I can no longer tell whether I’m champion of the world or inheritor of a history of defeat. With Thanksgiving Break beginning, though, I decide the former. My sentiments are in this respect like Dylan’s: “It’s my work, I do it for pay. / And when it’s all over, / I’d just as soon be on my way.”
I have trouble imagining, both at present and in hindsight, the views of me held by others. Friends, students, coworkers. My students seem quite impressed, though, when I confess to them my involvement in Occupy. I’m like a metal dreadnought. Either that, or I’m a figure aboard one, ready to mutiny ship and go pirate. I think they respect that. Teachers must also be persons of action. Persons who rediscover a center for themselves in their bodies by listening to Charles Lloyd’s Nirvana.
Of course, work can also be an enjoyable lot, as when I sweep pale autumn leaves from a back deck on a windy weekend afternoon. Nature writers are great ponderers of the seasons. Their journeys inward keep kin with Thoreau. My utopia is like their utopia, except mine includes machines in its gardens. The computer-mind amidst earth and sky, enjoying colors, lights, and sounds. I prefer a nature that remains simple in its speech. After all, who needs countrymen when so many are mere appendages of the State? AI-controlled NPCs. “A man is rich,” wrote Thoreau, “in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.” The books I assign students ought to be imagined as gifts. “Congratulations, students. Today I give unto you Walden. Thou shalt remember it as a momentous occasion. This book will become part of the vocabulary by which you think.” Is it proper to draw a distinction between animal-persons and spirit-persons? The dachshund on its leash and its master? I think not. I think there are insides to the reality of both. Yet I sometimes think the same of all things. Leaves blow up and down the street as if Nature were setting them into position for a new drama. I listen for voices, eyelids weighed down. The scene before me so peaceful, you would think it a picture. A tree of paradise, hung on the line of a high-tech hippie commune. When I try to pin my bow to a location in reality on which to unfold this dream, however, my lack of real estate sinks my ship. Landscapes have to be believed in order to be seen. Politics begins the moment there are disputes over land.
Oh, the indignities one must endure in order to be allowed to live. New ones gather each day in my inbox. Take yesterday, for instance. After teaching my two morning classes, afternoon ones still hanging overhead, I forsook lunch midday (not by choice) in order to attend one of the bugbears of higher ed, a mandatory, university-wide faculty meeting. Imagine the unfolding of the event as follows. First, the campus. To complement my place of work’s already robust assortment of life-size statues in bronze, the powers that be have seen fit to season the landscape for at least the next month or so in true Hoffmann-esque fashion with dozens of towering, larger-than-life nutcrackers and plastic wooden soldiers, these armies of 10-foot-tall fakes assembled at intervals along every path and promenade. Next, the meeting itself. It begins with a risqué musical number courtesy of the Theatre department, the stage decorated to evoke Germany’s Kit Kat Klub. Cabaret is actually an inspired choice, I think: a last hurrah of pleasure as the country slides weightlessly toward fascism. A senior business administration major who was diagnosed with testicular cancer his freshman year but who now is cancer-free counsels us about the importance of gratitude. How truly blessed we are, says the student. Onward and upward! After a bible-thumping invocation led by a member of the faculty, the president invites an architect to the stage to provide us with an update about the construction of a new campus hotel-cum-athletics-arena. “Very elegant, a boutique hotel,” we’re told. Keep in mind, the university financing this structure is the same one that just laid off two of my colleagues on grounds of budget-tightening. And the building boom doesn’t stop there. Instead, a different, equally nondescript architect gets up soon thereafter and tells us about another set of construction projects: a crystal palace conservatory housing an indoor arboretum, and a new undergrad sciences building with a state-of-the-art planetarium. “It’s got to be ‘state-of-the-art,’” brags the president, American flags on either side of him and a chandelier overhead. Afterwards a faculty liaison reports on a recent board of trustees meeting, dwelling at length on honorary doctorates awarded to local furniture magnates, while noting as well the university’s performance in terms of net growth of assets. Next up is the university’s athletics director. Rah-rah, he says, our teams are great. “Thank you, faculty,” he adds after a brief pause, his skin radiating positivity, “you’ve provided our athletes with the support they need, thus creating an ‘environment for success.’” Following him at the podium comes the provost, a jolly old Southern gentleman bearing diagrams and flowcharts about who ought to do what and when. He says up-up-up, we’re all going up, and reports breathlessly on the status of a “committee on committees.” “We’re looking to streamline our committee structure,” he assures us. “Tweaks are underway,” he hums, “to usher in your future!” Faculty input in this process is no longer necessary, however, due to changes in structures of governance. Instead, market-proven technocrats will decide our profession’s future. The rest of us, we’re told, have — sorry to say it! — no choice but to poise ourselves to receive whatever data-driven dystopia comes our way. It’s simple, really — don’t you know? We must work on X, Y, or Z to get “value”; otherwise, the future will not be as bright as it could be. “Evolve into the person you are intended to become,” the president commands, the meeting now well into its second hour. Optometry and accelerated nursing, he says, will help us “kill it” in terms of enrollment. “Thank God a thousand times over,” he proclaims as if to break a spell. And with that, finally, he adjourns the meeting and sends us on our way. As I rose from my seat, though, I thought to myself, “A thousand times over? Hardly. The god that graces this Ponzi scheme is a god that deserves to die.”
I am achievement-minded and acquisitive only in pursuit of knowledge. And “pursuit” is perhaps misleading, as I’m more a gatherer than a hunter. “Behave with due reverence for Nature, and thou shalt receive” has become increasingly my motto of late. As soon as one doubts, the power stops working. But otherwise, it’s a gift. Sarah’s parents arrived for a visit the other day, and their plan is to stay until Sunday. Touring them around, I realized my city comports poorly when set before the eyes of strangers. Especially when one is not loaded — and I mean that in either sense of the term. At least the sky is still blue. I excused myself midday yesterday and made a point of blasting Milk Music’s new album Mystic 100’s along the length of my commute to campus, your humble narrator surrounded on all sides by beautiful autumn foliage.
The world appeared to me as if I were viewing it through textured glass. Upon my arrival home, my father-in-law and I conversed at length about our frustrations with students and with education more broadly, our mutual profession. My frustrations are compounded, though, by a pessimism that far outstrips his. My faith is apocalyptic, where his is not. I believe slaves should rise up against their masters. Neuro-hypnosis FTW. What are we unlocking? Some non-referential non-recollection of thought. Why did Althusser’s theory of interpellation make intuitive sense to me? How did part of me already know that the world as it appears is a lie? The sky can be singed away. Too many eyes captured by too many screens. To discipline, I object.
Sarah pulls up a new Netflix original series based on the Margaret Atwood novel, Alias Grace.
The series begins with an epigraph from Emily Dickinson: “One need not be a Chamber — to be Haunted / One need not be a House / The brain has Corridors — surpassing / Material Place.” How are we, each of us, so many different things at once? Stories within stories — but common to all, a fiery red anger, which keeps us wide-eyed, awake, and watchful. In Atwood’s world, characters do little but advance plot, their hard lives shortly the ends of them. Character is a device for the transmission of historical circumstance. Eyes open, little time to pretend. Systems that employ persons as servants or slaves are things to despise. Stars blink down at me. An acorn falls from a tree. I am seeing as if montaged across my forehead a cloud of imagery. We are headed toward the bad future: hierarchical, inauthentic. “Where any view of Money exists, Art cannot be carried on, but War only. […]. Art Degraded, Imagination Denied, War Governed the Nations.” So reads Blake’s engraving of the Laocoon. I find in this work words uttered as if by a prophet. Light and shadow. Eyelid movies all my own. Voices, too, telling stories of things not visible. One of these days I should try to design a course on either Noble Savagery or the idea of the wild. The failure of the hippie counterculture over the course of the 1970s signaled the decline of these ideas as significant components of American identity. Wildness is no longer a major trope in the American national-political unconscious — and I regard this as a great tragedy, a decline we ought to mourn. Atwood’s character says, “God is everywhere. He can’t be caged as men can.” Yet the world is all predators and prey. When the weather is like that, one’s heart pounds in one’s ears, make of that what one may.
I watch as contour lines on a topographic map transform into rings of paint. Whatever the Monopoly Man once meant, it’s over now, he’s cashed in his cards. Say hello to Jr., dead by March of 1943. For my students, a capitalist is, like, a tech nerd, tinsel on a Christmas tree, not Rich Uncle Pennybags. Bye-bye iconography of yore. A book of personhood would have to be a psychic bible, its voice able to bear a politics of authenticity while portraying a mind at play. Tall order. But no worries: I’ve the power to throw fireballs. Flower power. With it, I can reverse the smoothing-out effect of the law of large numbers. I don’t want the world to remain stuck behaving in ways ordained by mere actuaries. When I’m stuck, I end up at Taco Bell ordering Beefy Nacho Loaded Grillers, my mind unable to posit a desirable alternative. The world clutches my heart and squeezes, blood running out betwixt the fingers of a shrugging Atlas. Roll and light a magic wand, though, and the life narrative turns silly. E.T. waves down at me, poised atop a bookcase like an imp of the perverse. The eye sees the Word and the mind assimilates its meaning. There needn’t be a lack of correspondence between wonder and focus, but for the fact that concentration so often spurs anger about parts mistaken for what in truth remains ungraspable, the whole. The reason for consciousness of Being. Or so I tell myself, as if to perform a kind of programming. Better, then, to just relax while time allows. Psychedelics are for those in the know. Imagine a world that makes one happy, I tell myself. Life is and should be ecstasy. Collective mass experimentation with consciousness-expansion. But Christian cultures are unable to tolerate freedom: they stamp out the Hippie-Dionysian. They inject poisons into the body politic. It is as if some secret power steps in around 1969 or so and corrects the statistical anomaly. Some covert force intervenes, and redesigns the narrative.
Jan Hammer Group’s “Don’t You Know” serenaded me on my commute to work yesterday, a warm reminder of the previous night’s high.
Compelled by sheer force of lifelong dissatisfaction, I will jimmy the lock on the prison. I will put weed in my head and float ethereally, the walls of reality made light, airy, tenuous. The mind constructs doorways and portals. Darkness opens onto light. My world was corrupted down to the molecules, the atoms, by fuzzy memories, blurry abstractions. Worlds have been exchanged like seasons. And always, the mystery that instructs through its silent structure, the enigma of Being, with unknown end. Next thing you know, we’ve invented for ourselves an entire weed-inflected grammar. Become a “strange man,” I tell myself, who in disguise writes himself into Being. Create a sense of levels — worlds within worlds. Or, after crashing through, land on one’s feet and inquire after Thomas Pynchon and his views regarding LSD.
Awareness comes by putting things together. I recall seeing a lovely fog yesterday as I careened toward the diploma mill, the air bathed in yellow morning light. A friend and I exchanged texts throughout the day about all the many ways capitalism has fucked us since grad school. Working sixty hours or so a week translates into exhaustion, resentment of others, no time for housecleaning or physical fitness, no time for labor-power to engage in even the most basic forms of self-repair. And of course, our superiors never miss a chance to demand from us some additional act of debasement. We’re supposed to show gratitude, apparently, for these thorns they’ve planted in our temples. You’re one of the lucky ones, they warn. Give thanks or we’ll make it worse. Hence, in reaction, the turn inward: “me” time, breathwork, re-embodiment through relaxation. And I’ll never have time to collect all of the words, but that’s all the more reason to try. What would we learn, for instance, if we looked up Malta’s 1919 Sette Giugno revolts? A revolt stirred by the price of bread. What if we combine that with quantum tunneling? The last image is too immediate, as Pynchon once said, for any eye to register. Think of all of the properties of reality we’ve not yet learned to see.