I need to design some new courses. What are some topics worth teaching that won’t make me want to blow my brains out? “Literature and the Practice of Everyday Life,” with generous helpings of Thoreau and the Situationists; maybe a sprinkling of documents from the New Games movement of the 1970s? For New Gamers like Andrew Fluegelman, Pat Farrington, and others, writes historian Fred Turner, “to play New Games meant to imagine and perhaps to create a new social order. […]. The arrangement of players and observers on the field, the construction of rules (or the lack of them), the deployment of technologies and techniques in and around the space defined for play — for the New Gamers, to rearrange these elements was to rearrange the structure of society itself.” The course could be titled “Games People Play: Literatures and Practices of Everyday Life.” Of course, if I actually tried to teach this, students would probably stage a mutiny. And so it will remain but a dream. Best to just keep teaching courses on Utopianism, music, and drugs. This is the world as it appears imaginatively to a still firmly embodied consciousness, not just to some Google Street View camera parked across from one’s address. But then, the “outlaw” quality is part of this lifestyle’s appeal. The writer is bumping up against real internal and external censors and is plotting and practicing transgression. The idea is that one could open doors in consciousness so that others could follow, accreting pleasure-seekers like iron flakes to a magnet. Each day’s entry is becoming more and more like pulling back a string and releasing it, firing off the daily arrow. Should the project of collective self-realization feel like Zen in the Art of Archery? If I were to pursue a thought experiment whereby I answered in the affirmative, then it would follow that the trance-script is realized only when, “completely empty and rid of the self,” I become one with the perfecting of my technical skill along a trajectory that appears asymptotic. D.T. Suzuki’s comment in his introduction to Herrigel’s book would serve for me as a proper model for Marxism’s future as a practice of everyday life. “While it never goes out of our daily life,” he wrote, “yet with all its practicalness and concreteness Zen has something in it which makes it stand aloof from the scene of worldly sordidness and restlessness.” Marxism should be an “everyday mind” fired into every direction and every field of activity. To become childlike Utopians again, we must train in the “art of self-forgetfulness.” Imagine it as a slow but deliberate collapse of the self out of capitalist reality, one’s robes falling to the floor as Ben Kenobi’s did in Star Wars. Our thinking, freed via mind-expansion from the prison of capitalist realism, unfolds “like the showers coming down from the sky” and “like the waves rolling on the ocean,” even indeed “like the stars illuminating the nightly heavens.” The picture we will paint with our lives — once redeemed through the psychedelic sacrament — is called “History.” Let me try to rephrase all of that: I am trying to give account of why my attempt to live in fidelity to my Utopianism has led me to a writing practice infused with weed and Zen. I am at all times trying to figure out what it means to live well, as a Marxist, in a society that denies that possibility. To me, an urgent task of our time is to remind alienated productivists of the passion and joy of unproductive play. E.P. Thompson saw in Utopian writing of the past a way to teach others “to desire better, to desire more, and above all to desire in a different way” (William Morris, p. 791). But to know how to educate in this way, I would add, today’s Utopians must find a way, against all odds, to practice what they preach.
I never met Mark Fisher, nor was I much of a fan of his work during his lifetime. Sure, I had seen some k-punk posts over the years, and I read Mark’s book Capitalist Realism at some point a few summers before his death. Given the work I had done exploring the intersections of Marxism and cultural studies, as well as the dissertation I had written on the fate of utopian thought from the Cold War to the present, much of Mark’s theory of capitalist realism struck me as welcome, but nevertheless a retreading of ground I’d already encountered elsewhere.
However, I also remember feeling challenged in a more productive way both by Mark’s piece on Lyotard’s Libidinal Economy in The Accelerationist Reader, and by his controversial 2013 polemic, “Exiting the Vampire Castle.”
When the news arrived, then, of his suicide this past spring, I noted with some surprise the many comrades of mine who testified to the profound influence of Mark’s work upon their thinking. Given this reaction, I promised myself that I would set aside time this summer to look at his two most recent books, Ghosts of My Life and The Weird and the Eerie.
And for the most part, that’s where matters stood, until a few days ago, when I learned that Mark’s next project, left unfinished at the time of his death, was to be titled Acid Communism: On Post-Capitalist Desire. “In particular,” writes his friend Jeremy Gilbert, Mark was “exploring the connections between the idea of ‘raising consciousness’ in the political sense — be it class consciousness or the other forms of collective political consciousness promoted by women’s liberation, gay liberation, and black power — and the consciousness-expansion promoted by the psychedelic and anti-psychiatry movements in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s.”
Imagine my mixture of emotions upon reading this: mixed, first and foremost, because of the undiminished sadness of Mark’s passing, but also because my own work has arrived independently at a similar place. As I wrote a few days ago, I’m interested in creating “an openly, unashamedly Gnostic-themed, psychedelia-inflected Marxism, one that presents the raising of consciousness as the relay switch between previously competing or previously antagonistic codes.”
In the months since Mark’s passing, a number of his friends and colleagues have launched Egress, a collaborative archival site collecting Mark’s scattered early attempts to theorize Acid Communism. Over the next few weeks, I plan to work my way through this material, looking for further confluences of ideas (as well as, I assume, some divergences), and posting notes when time permits. My hope is that, as these trance-scripts unfold, they might serve among other things as expressions of an attempt to prefigure through daily self-experiment an as-yet undefined philosophy and practice of Acid Communism.
As writers, we can populate our voices by sampling the whole of media memory. The sounds come to us as the equivalent of radio signals from within. A voice says, “I gave you Logos a long time ago.” The unlocking of secret heights of language-use prompts shifting of the puzzle parts of reality. Not just a mountain blast or a rhetoric, but a reset of the object-world and of all living subjects’ knowledge and memory of it. Matter complies masochistically to Mind’s urgings. The differences are negligible but real. Like an escaped prisoner, my mind wanders free of discipline, and by that I mean not inner, transcendent discipline, but discipline as imposed by man upon man. By fleeing capture in the language games of others, we pick up the frequencies of an authentic, single-and-continuous, cosmos-creating act of speech. When I allow that speech to hypnotize me, I become capable of writing it down, and what it says becomes what I realize I want to say. The self that speaks itself thus also speaks another. This other self remembers falling asleep the other night while writing, and awakening the next day in the shade of his day, his back deck dappled piebald with spots of sunlight. He burns the social surplus of his days reposed in languorous, language-stupefied gratitude, having learned to worship through pleasure his one true master, the present. It’s like his Boolean microprocessor obeys a different logic, more generous in its handling of circumstance. Mariah’s work continues to astonish in these instances. (The incantatory “Shonen” and “Shinzo No Tobira” are current favorites of his.)
I listened as a wonderful time-lag unfurled between the sound of my voice and the act of my speaking. As I sat up from my reveries beside a fire-pit the other night during magic hour, the air rich with a choir of cicadas, something in the experience awakened in me a memory of the drunken interplay of voice and sampled sound in the virtual acoustic space of Blonde Redhead’s “In an Expression of the Inexpressible,” a track I hadn’t blasted in at least a decade.
“You have but one solution,” says the statue, as one’s hand whispers in one’s ear. “You must enter the looking glass — and once there, you must walk.” When the shadow of what looks like a telephone gets a pin in its ear, I wince and shudder. Through the process of identification, I become other. Through a keyhole, an angel captures me with a spinning Hypno Disk. The poet’s eye is pulled as if by gravity, whereas off to the side springs the Cartesian Ego. Cocteau advises, “Mirrors would do well to reflect more before sending back images.” Like in videogames, creation often requires repeating levels. Have I broken too many statues? I work by associative logic and montage. A small voice beside the pounding of my heart says, “I can’t think, I can’t think!” against the unsynced clapping of a crowd. René Gilson’s assessment captures the essentials: “That which reveals itself is a vision of the invisible.” One must “dream the film subjectively,” by identifying it with one’s own experiences. One may think of it as the equivalent of sensing invisible tapestries with one’s dead antennae. But sometimes one’s own experience is just one’s own experience, as when my head goes nuts to Mariah’s “Hana Ga Saitara.”
With my lips wet, I go to meet my maker. I often need to become reacquainted with my body. The chair would have to expel the sitter on some occasions to get me to go outside: I guess just because I fear the policing impulse that operates in the bodies and minds of my fellow citizens. Some of those fuckers are looking to unload bullets into those they regard as nuisances or plagues. I’m surrounded by rightwing minds that make no sense to me. Part of me is so angry, particularly when encountering my opponents on the streets, that I almost want to provoke their ire, give to them the blood that burns in me. Of course, the ideology of nonviolence steps up and roundly quells these dissident stirrings — though in the head, the effects of testosterone linger. Granted, these are ugly thoughts. And granted, I don’t want to think them — so I won’t. How are you today, readers? Minus the part of me that is dead to all social feeling, unable to fully trust the good in others, I genuinely wish to hear from you. Emotions are, I think, sometimes that simple. File again, I suppose, under Left melancholia. But when I actually interact in the world, the details of the Spectacle fill me with a non-dualistic sense of wonder. I look up and see electrical cords hung in the windows of a Chinese takeout, the dangling of a metal-beaded chain from an ancient ceiling fan, an old man in blue pastel slacks moving hesitantly with a walker toward his souped-up golf cart, on which I may or may not once have wanted to spit, as it was attired in bumper stickers supporting various heinous rightwing causes. Can one’s anger debase one’s vision? Ah, fuck it: let’s get high and watch Suspiria!
Sarah jokes that this will be her in Cyprus. I’m convinced that Suspiria is the greatest “bad trip” movie in the history of cinema. Adapted from an 1845 essay by English opium eater Thomas De Quincey, Argento’s film is, for those who prepare themselves accordingly, a luscious visual and sonic treat. Characters pass through light and shadow speaking hypnotically against psychedelic wallpapered walls. The camera for instance at one point tracks dreamily into the shadow-architecture of a blind man. From our body, with dogs at our throat, we are torn. “Magic is all over,” says the doctor. “It’s a proven fact, everywhere.” Bats flapping around our necks. Over us, a spell has been cast. Through vidscreens we tumble. And on our lips when we awaken: “The current conjuncture awaits its proper theorization. Consciousness unfurls itself halfway between earth and sky.” I, Jacaranda, listening to learn all the hours and seconds, witness garbage bins strewn strange beside the bouncing fellow subject. I tell myself the silent others when I run undertake a process of self-subsumption. Go away into yourself, I tell myself, even in this fight, or as I believe you call it, this “section.” We spoke about it: we had just spotted a basset hound on our run. I needed to pay attention, so I walked. I nosed up on a lily. I stared at faded but still colorful beach towels hung over the picnic-red rail of a neighbor’s raised deck. For a moment it felt as if the built environment had been crafted solely to gratify my senses. One is taught to think it profoundly bourgeois to want the world as one’s stage set for self-discovery; yet all the same, I take great pleasure walking sweat-covered through my neighborhood on an overcast afternoon, in the hour before the arrival back home from work of the nine-to-fivers. Somewhere in this pigpen, the sounds of Luurel Varas reaffirm my focus.
I move from wondering if I suffer from dissociative identity disorder to imagining myself and my friends living in a commune. That, for me, represents a typical day. Thanks, capitalism. I also sometimes imagine myself touring a guest silently through my home, reaching down now and then to adjust a throw pillow on an armchair, and in a mime-like manner, offering him or her a drink. Through a swirling haze of dope smoke we arrive at events that feel like interruptions of the trance-script. The words of trance-scripts sometimes go unheard. I am too busy stumbling experimentally toward what I hope will be a happier practice of everyday life. The programmed self isn’t only made aware that the sounds it is hearing are recorded, it is also made conscious of the playback systems it uses to access the recordings. I’m like a prisoner trying to lift a piece of furniture to cast it from the wall of my cell. My thoughts turn to Manchester artist James Leyland Kirby, whose work under his “Caretaker” alias explores early-onset dementia.
Last Sunday’s Game of Thrones began with white dudes having to hand over their firearms upon arriving on the shores of a multicultural superpower. My pet dachshund laid her head across my leg as I watched. The image degraded at one point, so what I was viewing (Daenerys in close-up) looked like a videogame cutscene. As the show proceeded, I admitted begrudgingly that we live in a game-world ruled by prestige. Players compete through the art of negotiation (what liberals call “the rule of law,” or what Trump’s ghostwriters call “the art of the deal”). Mere word games, I think to myself, while the fascists come for us all. We believe in the existence of many games, don’t we, until we’re bound by One. Then again, how do we prevent communities from reverting to territories when citizens aren’t following the same story lines? Between the equal rights of two internally consistent and thus equally valid interpretations of reality, Marx noted (I’m paraphrasing), force decides. But we needn’t submit ourselves to this tedious competition of wills. Every possible sequence of events is happening all at once, as Game of Thrones teaches. Live that way, a character commands us. Imagine yourself to possess a third eye. When others see me, they probably think to themselves, “he doesn’t recognize yet that he has given up.” But Mark Fisher would have understood that, by contrast, I’ve kept true, I’ve remained constant in my refusal to adjust to reality. What remains to be worked out, however, is the connection between psychedelic culture’s reconstruction of its audience’s nervous systems, and Fredric Jameson’s imperative for subjects of postmodernity to “grow new organs” and expand their sensorium to match the multi-dimensional realities of global capitalism. Next time, Gadget, next time.
Lest I be accused of mere nostalgia, let me begin today’s post by explaining how I see the relationship of our moment to what some are now calling “hippie modernism.”