A colleague and I headed out into the woods for a brief weekend retreat, our shelter a cross between a tiny house and a cabin, loaned to us by a friend of a friend. But when I woke early yesterday morning, I learned that my dog — my companion of nearly 15 years — had fallen ill. Receiving a text from my wife about Daphne’s condition, I packed my things and rushed home, the world on the horizon reduced to a pure gray ambiguity as I stared intently at the road ahead. Eberhard Schoener’s Trance-Formation soundtracked my grief.
When the fog cleared, I witnessed a wake of turkey vultures picking at the remains of a young deer, the latter’s removal from the world of the living no doubt a consequence of some passing motorist. The destruction of alternative lifeways and nonhuman modes of being is an ineradicable component of capitalist reality. Look around: this system is cancerous. Unable to tolerate and coexist with radical difference. As I approached home, some algorithmic power operating through Spotify tried to console me by churning out 801’s cover of “Tomorrow Never Knows.”
“It is not dying,” Eno assures us, “it is not dying.” By mid-afternoon, Daphne’s condition had stabilized — but even now, as I write this, she lacks her usual appetite and seems confused and lethargic. It breaks my heart to see her this way, lying on her side, her face white, her tube-shaped dachshund body covered in lipomas and skin tags. She has a meeting with her vet scheduled for later today. My fear, though, is that he’ll say she’s in pain — in which case, we’ll have to put her down. All I can do in the meantime, I suppose, is kiss her neck, rub her belly, calm her, comfort her as best I can. I try to comfort myself by imagining episodes of We Bare Bears as conversations between the dog equivalent of Superego, Ego, and Id taking place within Daphne’s psyche. She and other wildlife dream the animal equivalent of proletarian revolution. Humor is the only way we can save ourselves from Seasonal Affective Disorder’s black pit of despair. So sayeth Broad City. It, too, spits up phrases suited to the tinfoil light of my condition. “Seratonin rising, dopamine flowing.” Ilana turns to Abbi and, making light of her proneness to depression, snarls, “So I get sick sometimes and need medicine — who cares?” The trouble is, I think of Daphne as being somehow a part of me — a link between me and my past — and I don’t want that part of me to die. Death is for me the destruction of all sense and meaning. How will I bear this loss?
Smoke from a neighbor’s fire-pit filled the air. It was a crisp autumn night. I sipped a martini at a local bar, Clover’s references to the Commune reverberating unexpectedly, creating an updated sense of reality. A friend sitting across from me explained the work he does as the head of a local food consortium. When I asked him how I might plug myself in and make myself useful, he directed me to read up on a project called Cooperation Jackson. These are the first steps, I think, toward the creation of the Riot’s successor. Another friend, improving my head in a different way, recommended I watch We Bare Bears. A third friend recalled for me “Transcen-dune-talism,” a spontaneous, off-the-cuff coinage of Clover’s referring to the weedy metaphysics distilled via the famous Frank Herbert novel. Speaking of weedy metaphysics: I spent last night getting stoned in the woods beside a campfire. Owls came and spoke to me. Crickets, mosquitoes. At times, a kind of pressure from all sides. The universe inspires an awe laced with terror. A push back into an attentiveness toward matters of survival. A becoming-responsible again with regard to one’s daily self-reproduction. I sat in a lawn chair thinking, “I haven’t really challenged myself like this since Boy Scouts.” Hiking, collecting wood, assembling a fire on which to cook one’s dinner. All mixed with an ambient apocalypticism. Reality augmented via the nightmare of precarious employment. We’ve arrived at the dawn of the idea of global imperial civil war. How are we to navigate our way in this ever more paranoid environment? Heavy self-scrutiny: perhaps the problem is that I was raised as a second-generation American suburbanite. I lack social skills, street smarts, wilderness literacy. I survive on pizza, french fries, hot dogs, burritos. How do I prepare myself for the Commune? Where does one even begin if one’s hope is to lay the groundwork for collective extraction from the formal economy? I look upward in search of answers, but (for better or worse), what I encounter instead is a night sky filled with stars.
I imagine myself as a plant hallucinating itself as a person. The goal is to become a tree among trees. But how quickly the mind turns toward work. I’m reminded of how easy it is to intervene through introduction of minor edits into my self-programming. But even here, my self-conception remains routed through some sort of menu interface of unknowable origin. People’s non-ordinary states of consciousness often utilize either human or non-human guides. Take the plunge, they say, into transpersonal consciousness. Create a climate and a method for healing from within. What is the point of devotion to the roots and the stem if not for the flower? Meaning is lost when we translate “maya” as “illusion.” See, for instance, the 1910 painting “Maya, the Mirror of Illusions” by Arthur Bowen Davies.
Stanislav Grof regards birth as a massive, personality-shaping psychodrama. I’m reminded of the saying, “All models are wrong, but some are useful.” So how is Grof useful? He adds to our toolkit enabling integration of further transmissions from beyond. This is how one loses one’s chains and steps outside the construct. I managed to meet and dine with poet-critic Joshua Clover the other night. He’s someone I’ve admired ever since encountering his ideas about “edge-of-the-construct” narratives more than a decade ago in his book The Matrix. The part that isn’t Marx in me, however, is also heartened that increasing numbers of my students are incorporating mindfulness activities into their repertoire of daily practices. Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as “the awareness that arises through paying attention on purpose in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” But fuck that dude — he gives talks to 1 percenters in Davos. “More ice water, please!” DSA’s role on a branch-by-branch basis should be preparation for commune-style declaration of independence from profit-production. If we go down, we go together. Genuine communist praxis involves pulling consciousness out of circulation and production, and directing it instead toward reproduction of oneself and one’s community.
Trust the inner healer. Support what is happening. A voice on a cassette weaves a matrix of synchronic and diachronic histories connecting archetypes and astrology. Holotropic states and planetary transits. Metaphysical reasons for the slowness of the psychedelic renaissance. The intensification of the birth problem can have healing effects. Humans show malignant violence with no parallel in nature. We have seen the realm of archetypal paranatal passage through a tunnel. An hourglass where we go through life: a tunnel experience. In birth, we lose the connection with the transcendental. Existence is a “virtual” reality that we’ve developed in response to this trauma. “Model agnosticism” holds that any grid we use to organize our experience of the world is a model of the world and should not be confused with the world itself. There is a fundamental gap. Chemicals can give rise to the way the world orchestrates experiences since “things” are constructs assembled out of energy by our nervous systems. Stanislav Grof suggests the program each of us is running right now is the equivalent of a broadcast, coming from somewhere else. Some people are high all the time because of the way they breathe. With the right instructions, one can accomplish anything. An ideal version of my psychedelic lit course would include Philip K. Dick’s Exegesis, Robert Anton Wilson’s Cosmic Trigger, and Doris Lessing’s The Sirian Experiments. But my sense is that capital doesn’t permit thought to occur anymore. It’s like the Middle Ages again. The knowledges that emerged from the failed global revolutions of 1968 are no longer accessible to current Internet-molded forms of capitalist subjectivity. In fact, I expect most of those post-68 discourses to go silent and disappear, at least temporarily, only to be rediscovered sometime in a distant, maybe post-revolutionary future. And much of this thought — post-structuralism, especially — was shaped rather directly by experiments with psychedelics. Both attempted to challenge the effects of Western imperialism through decolonization of consciousness. Foucault dropped acid in Death Valley; Deleuze and Guattari were deep into Carlos Castaneda territory. This is also why the section on mid-twentieth-century CIA-funded research into shock treatment is IMO the section of Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine with the most relevance today. Capitalist subjects have been receiving direct and indirect forms of shock treatment en masse since the early days of the Cold War. That’s what Mark Fisher meant when he argued that capitalist realism is all about consciousness-deflation. Hence the radicalism of psychedelics as self-administered counter-therapy or counter-treatment from below.
It is for declaring their difference, their exceptionalism, that selves are punished. That is the Law, my friend, from here unto forever. I’m all about sensing, having an awareness of my body, but only in a fleeting way, feeling — but I rarely know my wants and needs enough to go after them. Perhaps I should teach myself Socionics. Anything to avoid living at a lower level of consciousness. Rabbit holes, rabbit holes. Optical illusions. (Just kidding, by the way, about Socionics. Though I like for use in a piece of fiction the idea of a psychedelic autodidact survivalist character obsessed with Socionics, seeking relationship advice from its teachings, classifying personalities of customers in terms of its typology at the convenience store where she works.) Here I am, traveling around stoned while reading Lindsey Michael Banco’s Travel and Drugs in Twentieth-Century Literature. The world’s about to get a whole lot warmer. Beams of light shining through windows strike the narrator, prompting momentary blindness. Freezer joint, meat monstrosity. The jerk trail beckons. An article on Bandcamp points me to some really cool head music out of Mexico City: netlabel releases like Outworld Music by RITUALZ, HYPNOSYS by Upgrayedd Smurphy, and Desterritorialización by AASSP.
After listening to a recent episode about it on Erik Davis’s podcast Expanding Mind, I’m hoping to grab a copy of Rachel Nagelberg‘s debut novel, The Fifth Wall. While reading an excerpt from Nagelberg’s book in 3:AM Magazine, I stumble upon a scholar named Lindsay Jordan, who it just so happens (in classic synchronistic fashion) delivered a talk at the Breaking Convention conference last month titled “‘Unprofessional’… ‘Irrelevant’… “Fascinating’: A Story of Academia and Psychedelic Pride.” It’s as if the totality wants me to happen upon this stuff. As for instance the other night, when I settled into the futon in my “meditation room” (that’s right — I have a “meditation room”) and began listening to an 8-cassette recording of a lecture delivered at Naropa in the early 2000s featuring LSD researcher Dr. Stanislav Grof. Show of hands: how many of you have experienced “non-ordinary” states of consciousness? The room laughs when it sees hands up among nearly everyone. The tapes had washed up in the bins at Goodwill earlier that day, like gifts willed to me by the universe. I suppose I’m being guided toward Grof’s book Psychology of the Future. “We shall find there the answers we seek,” says a self-created mentor or guide. For native people, Grof claims, these states of consciousness are just accepted parts of the spectrum of human experience. One person’s mystical psychosis is another person’s holotropic episode.
Load up thy pipe and ascend with visual assist from Visible Cloaks & Brenna Murphy’s “Permutate Lex.”
Prisms, dimensions, patterns, layers. An analyst steps in and commands me to describe my internet use to others. Abstract matrices house people, as another self observes. Murphy describes it in her interview with The Fader as “an abstract narrative of digital morphing and dematerialization.” These are, she says, “themes that we are generally interested in and also employ in our methods of production.” Tribes and clans snatch us up and tether us to rule-governed algorithmic procedures. I teach because the operating system commands me to. I am a peon who has lost his freedom to self-evolve. My wilderness survival skills ain’t worth shit. “Reset me,” I whisper silently to the dice roll of the weed-pipe. Permit me a new way to approach the problem of living. When I come to consciousness again, I discover implanted there blurred memories of internet news articles, none of which piece together anymore into any kind of coherent, knowable totality. Just a bunch of text-generated consensual hallucinations. Others gather around campfires known only from a distance. People’s howls are about to go up in smoke. Assemble for oneself whatever knowledge-base one can scavenge. In my case, I assembled an indecisive radical skepticism. Not good for much. Regarded by my countrymen as offensively self-indulgent, I’ve been released back into the wild, too ill-minded to fend for myself. I live wholly amidst sequences of analogies, like the ones arranged in “Digitising Beauty (Cloud of Petals).”
Higher beings encourage me via dance to follow them. Skeletons in flowerpots. Wouldn’t it be sweet if, every time I hit it and went for a walk, I found bundles of dollar bills amidst piles of dead leaves? Weed as bottomless ATM. I picture myself, wavy lines, like stench rising off a hilltop. Prince Rama’s “So Destroyed (channeling Rage Peace)” plays from a radio in a campus bar.
Thoughts run through my mind. TV news programs spew toxic waste. My response is radical skepticism coupled with radical contempt for those in power.
There’s no overhead; next thing you know, I’m staring at my life from above. Imagine translating texts by higher-dimensional beings into languages understood by lower-dimensional beings. The characteristics of what Fredric Jameson calls postmodern “hyperspace” (its dislocations, its denial of history, its blurring of distinctions between simulated and real) require that subjects consume drugs in order for such spaces to even seem comprehensible, let alone open to critique and transformation. Time-space compression makes a mockery of our inherited categories of perception. In response, we have a tradition dating back to the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, with writers like Blake already urging fellow moderns to de-reify experience. Remove the categories, they shout, cleanse the doors! As Foucault notes, “The stability of a thing is only its movement indefinitely slowed down” (“Of Other Spaces,” p. 23). If the self, the observing subject, is no more than a temporary amalgam bounded by interpellation via language, then what remains when we open this subject to outside influence? When Aldous Huxley borrows Blake’s “doors of perception” metaphor and, under the influence of Henri Bergson, likens these doors to a “reducing valve,” a faucet one can adjust so as to regulate the mind’s exposure to raw being, one begins to detect the co-presence of a spatial metaphor informing Huxley’s intervention. This spatial metaphor — involving, in its simplest form, a distinction between inner and outer — enables Huxley’s individualized ethic of chemically-aided perception to perform double duty as a secret analogue of sorts for nation-states. Just as individuals should use drugs like mescaline to throw open their “doors of perception,” thus exposing themselves to authentic experience, so too must the imperial metropole open its borders to enable exposure to the “Perennial Philosophy,” i.e., the cultures and teachings of the periphery. Afternoons have been kind of lovely these last few days. Air crisp, shadows long. Perfect for small outings in the hours before sunset. The grim national reality intervenes now and then, especially in conversations with others. “Preppie ex-frat-boy douchebags are corporatizing and Swiss-cheesing higher ed,” we rail, on our way to a farm to pick pumpkins and pet goats. What scares me, though, is my sense of helplessness. Honestly, I’m at a loss as to how to fight off this latest assault on the humanities. I used to follow Michael Bérubé‘s work in the early 2000s, his interventions into the culture wars, his defenses of the humanities, his navigation of the so-called “canon debates” — but I lost much of my respect for him during the tail end of the Bush years, and I grew too demoralized to keep paying attention once I completed my PhD and landed in non-tenure-track debtors prison hell. Why spend what little leisure time remains in one’s possession reading about one’s dismal circumstances, if reading about those circumstances won’t change them?