What is the ontological status of what others call falsehoods? Are they simply inaccurate statements housed in material form? A friend invited Sarah and I to his house the other night to celebrate his fortieth. While there, some comrades and I stood beside a carpeted cat tree drinking beer debating amongst ourselves our beliefs as Marxists. I suppose that what prompted this debate was my desire to defend terms like “wellness” and “mindfulness.” It is by now a common procedure on the Left to show how these ideas have been put to use by neoliberalism. (Barbara Ehrenreich performs this argument, for instance, in her new book Natural Causes.) But to me, some of the practices associated with these ideas, practices like yoga and meditation, provide benefits to practitioners such that they transcend the uses to which they’ve been put. Up with survival strategies. Up with coping mechanisms. Up with the perennial demand, the one demand that class societies can never fully satisfy: collective joy, collective reconciliation with Being.
American Pop-Freudianism, The Twilight Zone, Huxley’s The Doors of Perception, Op art, the psychedelic revolution, the divine paranoia of Philip K. Dick: all of these are approximations at a distance of German Freudo-Marxism and French Surrealism, I convince myself — the concerns, techniques, and affects of the two prior European formations modified through contact with the postwar American culture industry and adapted to suit the conditions of the Cold War. After thinking the matter over, however, I reject this notion of “approximation at a distance,” as it demeans the above phenomena, framing them as if they were mere second-order simulacra. No matter: Famed downtown New York ‘80s DJ Jellybean Benitez gets me dancing, makes me an offer I can’t refuse, with his divine bass-bumping “Wotupski!?!” EP, a copy of which somehow fell into my hands the other day at Goodwill.
It would be a fine record even were it not to include its grand finale, the lavish 8:44 cover of Babe Ruth’s “The Mexican,” a US Dance chart-topper upon the album’s release in 1984. (Note, too, those echoing numbers. A synchronicity, I suppose: a “meaningful coincidence.”) From there, I dig down a bit, I grant myself the supreme pleasure of Bobbi Humphrey’s psychedelic flute-funk freakout, “Fun House.”
And why not? I’ve submitted my grades. I’ve completed the terms of my contract. Out from the realm of necessity, I’ve arrived into the world of summer. The time has come to party. The time has come to get down.
“The Door in the Wall,” a phrase in The Doors of Perception that Aldous Huxley admits to have borrowed from an H.G. Wells story of that name, suddenly opens for me as I read the gloss of it in acid communist Mark Fisher’s final book, The Weird and the Eerie. In anticipation of watching “Exo,” Sean Curtis Patrick’s short film with Bana Haffar, I imagine a panpsychic narrative involving pulsing battle stations, secret earthy enhancement materials, sorcery.
Up from out of these, I tell myself, rises the specter of the nation-state. Fracture, faction, hauntings, Illuminati. Books turn up in this murk advertising themselves as beacons. “Independent,” “verifiable”: terms like those are bound to anger those of us who pass effortlessly, daily, revolving door style, between monist and dualist convictions. Triangulate, the speech-act tells itself. With fewer voices, more certainty. What we want is not a reversal of thought so much as a jazzed up merry go round, words rapidly unfurled onto the page in the style of 70s fusion, with trebly guitar and trumpet. “I ought to go back and reacquaint myself with Derrida,” I tell myself as I survey the houses of my neighborhood and war internally over their merits, trying to suppress the voice inside me thinking none of them need carry over into my Utopia. Over it prevails my Superego: a humbling voice, a voice of caution reminding me that, like all others, I, too, see through a glass darkly. Trapped in the planet’s gravity well, stuck to the walls and slid to the ceiling of the Gravitron, we easily lose our bearings. We become standpoints, Subjects. We ontologize the historical. And yet, to wish oneself free of one’s determination by History: is that not the great Gnostic temptation, the dream of transcendence?
In the second episode of its second season, Westworld reaches dizzying new heights of allegorical richness and complexity. Through sympathy, or sympathetic identification with characters, consciousness gives itself to other points of view. We witness Being from the standpoint of the commodity, the proletariat. Created beings piece together truth by eavesdropping upon conversations they overhear among the god-beings they’ve been made to serve. The West is a world that seeks the end of history, the show suggests. A world that seeks to destroy itself in order to puzzle out the meaning of its making. And where Westworld ends, The Blazing World begins. We are immaterial spirits cloaked in material garments, says Margaret Cavendish — our true selves, I would add, as invisible to us as video game players are to their avatars. Identification, I would remind readers, is the principle that allows this forgetting, this trance-formation that occurs, the self’s ability to merge in imagination with what was formerly other. One could easily extrapolate an imaginary but plausible heretical form of Christianity based on these beliefs. We are each of us the Christ, might go its teachings, each of us the Creator-Being made incarnate, entered into the Creation in order to save it. Let us imagine ourselves thus. Let us feel rapid and jittery upon our evening walks as we exalt in prefiguration of our approaching freedom.
My seeking returns me to the Stanford Research Institute, and to Willis W. Harman in particular. I first heard of Harman about eight years ago, while I was researching writers connected with SRI whose paths intersected with the Whole Earth Catalog and its various 1970s offshoots. Harman, it turns out, was a close associate of CIA operative Al Hubbard. Some have called Hubbard “the Johnny Appleseed of LSD.” Because of his connection to Hubbard, Harman proved instrumental in launching and directing SRI’s “Alternative Futures Project,” the main goal of which was to “turn on” business and thought leaders by introducing them to LSD. Harman also led “The Expanding Vision,” the first seminar at Esalen Institute. Later on, he founded an equally strange, equally “New Age”-oriented organization called the Institute of Noetic Science. Martin A. Lee & Bruce Shlain mention him several times in Acid Dreams, their social history of LSD and the counterculture. For more on figures like Harman and their links to LSD and the Human Potential movement, check out James Dennis LoRusso’s Spirituality, Corporate Culture, and American Business: The Neoliberal Ethic and the Spirit of Global Capital. Take a look as well at Marion Goodman’s book, The American Soul Rush: Esalen and the Rise of Spiritual Privilege.
Days blaze like a road in morning sunlight out in front of me. Car culture limits our ability to merge into larger communist groupings. Yet we’re forced to participate, both because we need to commute to work, and because we need experiences with which to refurnish our supply of concepts. To satisfy this latter need, Sarah and I attend “You Are Here: Light, Color, and Sound Experiences,” an exhibition currently up at the NC Museum of Art. The show features a number of works of a psychedelic bent, including Yayoi Kusama’s wonderful infinity room, “Light of Life.” Heads peer through portholes into a shadowy antechamber as galaxies of lightbulbs flash in kaleidoscopic profusion across the room’s mirror-box multiverse. Afterwards I attempt to meditate using a mindfulness app on my phone. My “Best Possible Future Self,” to use the name of the thing the app asks me to visualize, is itchy minimal. No, scratch that. Har har, some “uncle” humor. Crash landing. #kneetoface “Come on, Subject — liberate yourself!” coaxes the voice of the revolution. “Come one, come all,” it says. Space Invaders. Critters. Mind at play. During my first pass through the exercise, the antinomian in me imagines the worst. I’m hiding somewhere. It’s chaos. Will they allow me to work (flow, thrive, persist, whatever they call it) if I challenge reason? If, in other words, I question the enterprise of our knowing? How about if I show up to work in a trashcan? My “Best Possible Future Self,” I think to myself as I begin again. What a sad, peculiar exercise! Would live intentionally, in a self-designed home, with nods to Dwell and Nowness and the Whole Earth Catalog. Sarah and I would read, write, cook delicious healthy meals together, raise a brilliant happy child. All of the above, certainly. But what, pray tell, does this Self wish of the world beyond its household? After all, it must wish something, no? Just as it takes a village to raise a child, so too it takes the oikos of an entire planet, a whole integrated system of economy and ecology, to reproduce the oikos of the family. Let us, then, in dreaming our “Best Possible Future Selves,” also imagine our Utopia.
Up next: live textual re-enactment for the blogosphere of the “Dr. Edward Jessup” role from Ken Russell’s psychedelic thriller Altered States. A tongue-in-cheek model of sorts for one of my personae here at Trance-Scripts — minus, of course, the primatological regression, the obligatory serpent in the garden, the film’s return to propriety after its initial prodigality, its surrender to disciplinary mechanisms, its obedience to traditional morality in its final half. Neoliberalism does everything in its power to provoke this turn historically, and to emphasize it in the accounts it allows the culture to tell of what we thenceforth come to think of as the “failed revolutions” of the late 1960s. “Disarm the utopian potentials of psychedelic communism,” read the instructions for this ideology. “Stage elaborate spectacles of punishment and retribution. Contain the figure of the acid freak within narratives that end unhappily.” The wonderful documentary The Cockettes, for instance, bows to the weight of this narrative arc — as does Wild Wild Country.