Wednesday June 13, 2018

To prepare myself for the new CBS Jack Parsons show, Strange Angel, I dedicate my evening to avant-garde occult cinema. The evening’s programming begins with feminist experimental filmmaker Suzan Pitt’s surrealist animated short, Asparagus (1979), after which I watch two counterculture films starring Marjorie Cameron: Curtis Harrington’s The Wormwood Star and Kenneth Anger’s Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome.

To my surprise, however, a pattern forms among these films as the night proceeds, as all of them can be interpreted as frightening sex-magical critical revisions of the myth of Adam and Eve. The Anger film took as inspiration for its title the opium-influenced Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem, “Kubla Khan”—a poem that begins, “In Xanadu did Kubla Khan / a stately pleasure-dome decree.” Very very nice. Pan that. Quality never in doubt. Wax comma hex comma spells. I barely have a boat, big chump, where’s the boat, where’s the lawyer. Here’s the thing, man. I got family. I’m not lively, nor am I adventurous. I don’t just jump right in, I step in and enter gently, in stages. “Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome is a mythographic film,” argues P. Adams Sitney, “in its aspiration to visualize a plurality of gods” (Visionary Film, p. 107). To Sitney, however, the myth revived in Anger’s work is not the Eden myth, so much as “the primary Romantic myth of the fall of a unitary Man into separate, conflicting figures, a myth that dominates the prophetic writings of Blake and finds expression in the Prometheus Unbound of Shelley” (110). If there is to be an intervention, I conclude, if there is to be a resistance against present conditions, it will have to be countercultural, it will have to be by way of magic. Consciousness will have to draw a circle around itself, spin an imaginary wheel, and select from this wheel a provisional belief system for itself as if at random. As soundtrack for this ritual, happenstance recommends Mount Everest Trio’s Waves From Albert Ayler.

Tuesday June 12, 2018

“The instrument of evolution now is culture,” murmured a middle-aged Julian Huxley to a 10-year-old Oliver Sacks during Sacks’s childhood in Hampstead Heath. How does the universe order itself? A poet might say, “Through memories unlocatable in time.” Macro quantum events. Insides becoming outsides. Deterministic chaos. Self-organization. Sudden transformation. Everything can be generated from within. My evening self, for instance, orders my daytime self to look for D.S. Savage’s book The Withered Branch and for Sacks’s essay on “the Odd.” Look as well, it says, for info about Gerald Edelman and his theories about “recategorization.” Floating cell structures, floating synchronic portraits of games of Go. The world fires back, though, with news of a TV miniseries based on the life of Jack Parsons, and two recent biographies by Spencer Kansa: Wormwood Star: The Magickal Life of Marjorie Cameron, and Out There: The Transcendent Life and Art of Burt Shonberg. Beaches are parts of the labyrinth strewn with the bones of our predecessors.

Monday June 11, 2018

Heads dive down and unearth an important side note in the history of psychedelic mysticism: Oscar Baradinsky and his “Outcast” chapbook series, published in the late 1940s in connection with Baradinsky’s Alicat Book Shop in Yonkers, NY. The tenth chapbook in this series is a work printed in June 1947 by British pacifist poet and critic D.S. Savage titled Mysticism and Aldous Huxley: An Examination of Heard-Huxley Theories. As I dip in, I feel a sudden urge to read with great haste a number of works by Huxley: first and foremost, his 1936 novel Eyeless in Gaza, but also his early defense of mysticism, Ends and Means. Before long, however, Savage’s chapbook launches an attack on what it calls “the general upside-downness of Huxley’s theories.” In consequence, my attention lifts from the page and wanders ‘round the room. Out of the intricate wordplay of Springsteen’s “Blinded By the Light” comes instruction for anti-imperialists: “Dethrone the dictaphone / Hit it in its funny bone / that’s where they expect it least.” Manfred Mann covered the song on The Roaring Silence. If one listens to the rest of side A of that album, one comes upon a great heady stoner-prog instrumental called “Waiter, There’s a Yawn in My Ear.”

Some funny bone jammy-whammy hit the deck pout. Glowing boat bat-symbol. Known entities confer without commonality either of language, focus, or faith, as the Other crosses its arms, sits smugly and asks, “Which of you does the talking?” As a “personalist,” Savage finds fault with what he describes as Huxley’s “naive materialism,” and in particular, his “ubiquitous and unexamined assumption of the existence of the universe as a totality, a whole, superior to, and independent of, the perceiving individual consciousness.” To me, though, Savage’s personalism sounds eerily solipsistic. One has to keep in mind, though, that Savage’s target is also a pre-mescaline Huxley, seven years younger than the one who writes The Doors of Perception. And Savage’s personalism, it turns out, is not as solipsistic as it first appears. He of course affirms the reality of subjective, personal experience; this, after all, is what makes him a personalist. But the work of living, he argues, is the work of relating one’s own world, the world centered around individual, microcosmic personal consciousness, with a totality consisting of a potentially infinite number of other such centers, other coevolving, spirit-imbued self-organizations of matter.

Sunday June 10, 2018

Señor Ernesto de la Cruz, the patriarchal musician-god worshiped by the protagonist in the Disney-Pixar film Coco (2017) says, “Never underestimate the power of music.” The film’s secretive, cunning protagonist Miguel abandons his matriarchal, tradition-obsessed shoemaker family in order to pursue his dream of becoming a musician, only to then embark on a trippy, out-of-body journey through a magical-realist alternate-modernity Mexico among the souls of his dead ancestors in the company of spirit-creatures and a dog named Dante. To resolve the contradiction between its content and its form as animated digital spectacle, the film must imagine a distinction between moral and immoral action: valid artistic aspiration and talent cultivation on the one hand, and murderous, deceitful capitalist fame-chasing on the other. Spirit-animals and ancestors will come to our rescue, the film suggests, and justice will triumph, the false patriarch-god crushed beneath the weight of a bell — this latter symbol resonating, of course, in ways both sacred and profane. Liberty Bell, Mission Bell, Taco Bell: all are potential referents, threads of sense woven into the film’s system of meaning.

Saturday June 9, 2018

Tao Lin floats an interesting alternative history in his new book Trip—one that begins with worship of goddesses among our hunter-gatherer ancestors approximately 7,000 years ago. He relies for this account on controversial works like Riane Eisler’s The Chalice and the Blade, where historical societies are of two primary kinds: those organized according to principles of either domination or partnership. Upon my return from Los Angeles, I plan to make regular use of my new employer’s library. Along with Eisler’s book, I plan to grab Gary Lachman’s new book Dark Star Rising, a collection from Pluto Press called Voices of 1968: Documents from the Global North, and Marshall Sahlins’s Stone-Age Economics. I’m interested in the Pluto Press collection for its section on ‘60s Dutch “provo” Ole Grünbaum. Teenage boys sitting across from me at the airport brag about “roasting” some “random person” who has logged more than 5,000 hours in a single online video game. Together they resemble the cast of Stranger Things. The chaperoning mom rouses to deliver a “parenting” speech, the gist of which is to remind the boys to make smart choices; otherwise, she warns, she will “bring out the whip and bring down the hammer.” The boys chuckle at this, aware already of sexual innuendo, but still discomforted enough by it as to feel the need to mock it. “Wait, ‘the whip’? What’s ‘the whip’?” “Don’t cross me,” the mom fires back, “or I’ll be your worst nightmare.” “Ask this guy,” she ends, pointing to her son. On the plane afterwards, thousands of feet above the earth, my thoughts collect around the history of Enochian Magic. “Check out Sex and Rockets,” I remind myself, by which I mean a recently updated book on occult rocket scientist Jack Parsons. Make sure as well to read Kathleen Harrison’s essay in Sisters of the Extreme. Following Harrison’s ex-husband Terence McKenna, Lin posits fractal geometry as an important feature, an important characteristic, complement, or component, of psychedelic experience. Several hours later, I sigh deeply and the plane begins its descent. Back to the rainy, grey, fallen reality of the East Coast.

Friday June 8, 2018

Alien sirens heard from the depths of a hypnagogic state. The clock reads 10:04, like the Ben Lerner novel, as Sarah and I discuss our plans for the day. “Reviewing the itinerary,” copiloting with Google Maps: these activities bore me, but the structure of Los Angeles demands them. Upon exiting the Westin Bonaventure, Sarah says offhandedly, over her shoulder, “seems like a death trap.” We agree that, in many respects, Jameson’s discussion of the Bonaventure in his famous “Postmodernism” essay captures the phenomenological reality of the building perfectly: the ride in the elevator especially, rising up on the exterior skin of the building to a height above the city, followed by the delirious descent down again, the elevator plunging through the glass roof of the building’s atrium before coming to a stop atop a glimmering pool of water at the base of the building’s depths. Athanasius Kircher enters our thoughts as we continue our journey through the city. We encounter accounts of his accomplishments at the Museum of Jurassic Technology on our final afternoon in LA. Afterwards, at our Airbnb, I observe that our tiny home has been enlivened, made beautiful by play of sunlight, flower- and leaf-patterned pillowcases stacked casually at the head of the futon by the floor, windows beside the entrance to the home opened vertically to allow in vast, multi-sourced birdsong, the music of the host couple’s garden.

Tuesday June 5, 2018

Leaves rustle under the furtive gestures of shadow-hidden animal neighbors. I sit and smoke beneath Christmas lights strung through the low-lying branches of a bottlebrush tree the evening after my arrival at my second Airbnb in LA: a stucco-walled proto-“tiny home” / poolside cabana in the hills above Silver Lake. This vacation has been wonderful. Sarah and I wake each morning as we usually do, excited to embark on new adventures, only more so. Days allow for unanticipated surprises, course corrections, getaways from routine—and with these, learning and growth: insightful conversations with fellow psychonauts, one an ayahuascsa user, another a mushroom enthusiast; breakthroughs on the research end; delicious meals at restaurants like Joy and Dune; time to swim, time to drip dry while lounging in the sun; cool discoveries in the occult sections of bookstores. If our careers can be made to allow it, I think, we should move here. Demand the impossible. Grow toward the light.

Saturday June 2, 2018

Pods unzip and out burst bundles of sealed lavender flower heads. Introducing Robert Hass’s Field Guide, I would tell students, “It matters where you read this,” the slim volume of poems held up for demonstration purposes, waved lightly between thumb and forefinger in front of me. “Read properly, these poems cast spells. What do I mean by that, you ask? I mean, used deliberately, in the sun, after walks through Australian and jungle gardens, after swimming and breathing exercises, beneath a bleached California sky, these poems are tools for the alteration of consciousness.”

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Friday June 1, 2018

An old friend and I smoked together a few evenings ago in his beautiful downtown LA penthouse. As the weed kicked in, the friend mentioned Milton Rokeach’s The Three Christs of Ypsilanti: a book-length psychiatric study of an experiment of dubious ethicality involving a group of men suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. As the title indicates, Rokeach’s experiment brought together three patients with seemingly incompatible belief systems, each man convinced he was Christ, in the hope that these confrontations would cure them of their delusions. In the minutes and hours that followed in this friend’s penthouse, some sort of spiritual-metaphysical mythos or meaning-system crystallized for me around that detail. Next thing I knew, I had tumbled down a rabbit hole into a paranoid fantasy: a weird, apocalyptic tale woven around my soul, and thus discernible only by me, with plot points borrowed from The Stand and Miracle Mile — stories this friend and I encountered together and bonded over as teenagers. Milton’s Paradise Lost figured in there as well. Sarah was present through all of this, pleading my case with me, but I couldn’t shake the intuition that I was in the presence of some high-stakes decision tree. There I was like Adam, lacking the knowledge of good and evil needed to discern friend from foe, but convinced (because of what? the weed? my economic condition? my Catholic upbringing? my fear of dying?) that someone must be a foe, someone must be scheming to steal my happiness. Given this conviction, it seemed inevitable that I was damned either way, buckling under the strain of an impossible choice, an impossible demand. Perhaps, though, I’ve tried to tell myself afterwards, it is by this conviction and it alone that Satan is hypothesized and granted being. Or as Sartre once said, “Evil is making abstract that which is concrete.” Once we choose, of course, the paranoid condition evaporates. We become whole again, the psyche no mere compromise-formation Jerry-rigged by characters installed through socialization, the ones Freud called the Superego and the Id. The Real in which these characters are nested needn’t be defined as a tragic one. Behave lovingly and one is saved.

Wednesday May 30, 2018

Before arriving to the thing itself, I instruct myself to regard the 9-acre suite of Japanese gardens on the grounds of the Huntington not only in cynical terms, as a tourist site and a marker of social status, but also in more hopeful terms, as a site for encounter and self-actualization: manifestations, in other words, of Amida Buddha’s Western Paradise, enabling rebirth on a path toward enlightenment. Our observations, these gardens teach us, are always contingent, based on changing points of view. In the library itself, I request access to the “Aldous Huxley Oral History Papers, 1985-1990” and several rare books by Huxley’s friend and fellow mystic Gerald Heard. I also browse old issues of a journal called Aldous Huxley Annual. Consciousness airdrops into an altogether different Earth, however, some postindustrial world, an Earth of a different geological period, once the Subject exits the library and actually enters, sets foot into, the desert garden. Curvilinear profusion, flesh of the Earth thorny, prickly, and hairy. Morning doves and amber-bellied fox squirrels in the trees, lizards scurrying up the torsos of cacti. This is my Utopia, my garden at the end of time: this hot, wet, earthy, noisy, citrusy, fruit-bearing, sun-absorbing, multi-scented surround. I’m swept with the conviction in this moment that, whatever the details of this Utopia (apart from “full communism now”), our presence in it should be airy, minimal — an attentiveness to life’s formal richness that nonetheless remains light in its imprint. Let us be great lovers, tending only to our role as gardeners, nurturers, machines of loving grace, I’s who preside over the self-presentation of being. In these gardens and their surrounding bungalow heavens, this gift, this experience my love has given to me, LA prefigures its nickname “City of Angels.”