A course begins to take shape before my eyes. Are there works of literature, I wonder, that can be usefully classified as examples of “hippie modernism”? Works by the Beats, certainly, and the Black Mountain poets. Thomas Pynchon. Richard Brautigan. Philip K. Dick. Utopian science-fiction writers of the 60s and 70s: Marge Piercy, Samuel R. Delany, Ernest Callenbach, Ursula K. Le Guin. If only there was a way to teach this material in conjunction with other media. My interests are always broader than the merely literary. Consciousness set loose explores countless ontological realms, digital abstractions accessed through screens and hashtags. I’ve somehow only just now discovered the manifold psychedelic riches of Adult Swim’s anthology series Off the Air. What’s the value of hippie modernist literature when one can feast one’s eyes on Hiraoka Masanobu’s “Land”?
Punch buggy (grey? beige? needs a new paint-job?) turns a corner as I sit in my car paused at a light. The sight of it fills me with an inexplicable sense of cosmic benevolence. Spotify plays me “The Lemon of Pink” by The Books as the shadow of a hawk, wings outstretched, floats across the surface of the parkway in front of me.
When I return home, I recline in my yard and listen to Stevie Wonder’s Journey Through The Secret Life of Plants surrounded by a perfect atmosphere of birds, trees, air, and sunlight. Stephen Holden savaged the album in “The Last Flower Child,” his review for the Village Voice. Despite its many dips into schmaltz, however, Journey more than compensates, whether with the intricate mythology of “Same Old Song” or with the sleek proto-Brainfeeder future funk of tracks like “Race Babbling.”
Shifting to the couch in the living room, I snack on potato chips and check Twitter. Marc Masters points me to International Harvester; Byron Coley points me to several new releases on Feeding Tube Records: Weeping Bong Band and Delphine Dora & Sophie Cooper’s Divine Ekstasys.
A friend texts me about a book I need to read: Federico Campagna’s Technic and Magic. The universe inflates, appears as a vast hippie modernist inflatable, like the ones assembled and promoted by groups like Ant Farm. The feeding tube grows in two opposite directions at once: attracted or pulled, take your pick, both by gravity and levity. One part of me snacks on Caramel Delights, while another part receives the gift of Joe Henderson’s “Earth,” my pick for the greatest soul-jazz track of all time.
“Earth” announces itself again, a refrain throughout the day, the second time in the form of an 11-minute video from Adult Swim. Melting, morphing screens, mirrored surfaces, cut-screens between dimensions. All this and more is ours to explore when we blow the realm of necessity to pieces (as in the Alice Cooper song) and flee to the realm of freedom.
Those who interrogate Being come upon days of self-questioning. “What potentials, what hidden latencies, what secret understandings,” we wonder, “lie unactivated by our current life-practices?” Our inertness, our passivity might under these circumstances begin to alarm us. We might become angry with ourselves for certain of our behaviors. We attach labels to these behaviors, we regard them as symptoms of newly-developed neurotic or obsessive-compulsive tendencies. By then, it’s too late. Interpellated. Game over. Once we accept the terms of the Other’s discourse, we’ve agreed to our own subjection, we’ve signed away our future labor-hours, our lives become the dumbest and most ordinary of tragedies: Wilhelm Reich’s The Murder of Christ. If instead we wore the crown of eternity and possessed free rein in creation of a self-determined rather than custom-built environment, in what ways and with what materials would we fashion our days? Purple majesties, where we sing to ourselves? Of course not! It would be more like yesterday. Let 4/20 serve as our guide. Play hooky, call in sick. Announce oneself a refusenik. In this one small step, glimpse the giant leap. Having expropriated the expropriators, we stand equipped with our labor-hours free of the usual impositions. Let us use them now as we see fit.
Have I become an advocate not of one particular fantasy but of fantasy in general? Out of the libraries and into Cloud Cuckoo Land? For music played in non-countercultural public spaces (stores, restaurants and the like), my preferences skew toward the rock-classical: Fleetwood Mac, Creedence Clearwater Revival. Radio fodder from the time of my birth. Along my walks each day, I notice certain changes. The daffodils of several weeks ago, for instance, are gone without a trace, but for the remains of a choice few. Sarah speaks to me of hormones surging, cells dividing. So unfolds the dialectic of difference and repetition, tears and ruptures allowing for the assimilation of novelty into the always-already of an eternal present.
I pause midway down a page in Aristotle’s Poetics and stare charmed at the phrase, “to give rise.” Does the Greek in the original text, I wonder, suggest this same “reproductive” conception of causality: form emerging upward into being out of some prior relation, composed of offerings bestowed by others? I hear words, but they grow faint as I listen. Suddenly, up it rises: the pure potentiality, the novum. Let us breathe loudly, gladly, in celebration, supreme beings one and all!
Larry Wish mines 90s videogame soundtracks and stretched-taffy jewelry box melodies on his new tape, How More Can You Need?
Where once I imagined the emergent complexity of the New Sentence, now I hear only an artfully arranged confetti. Siring forth, wavering, slurring. Give me the equivalent of “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring,” demands the philistine, or I want my money back. Pain short-circuits the philistine’s ability to reason. He suffers back pain, he self-medicates, that stuff packs a punch, he imagines himself not just as a body but as an indwelling spirit, lives happily ever after. The rest of us know, though, “for a certainty,” as Lem says toward the end of His Master’s Voice, “that when the first emissaries of Earth went walking among the planets, Earth’s other sons would be dreaming not about such expeditions but about a piece of bread” (178). Let me clarify, then: I object to the Larry Wish tape neither because I think oppressed creatures like myself undeserving of fantasy, nor because I prefer more sighs and halos, but because, like Marx, I’d rather “throw off the chain and pluck the living flower.”
Although much of it remains of an order and kind I can’t define, the information I receive while under the influence of psychedelics hints at hidden cognitive capacities. Thought acquires an important ally. Fed with new perception, even if just of the entoptic kind, the brain responds accordingly, adjusting itself through a process of neurogenesis in the hippocampus. One learns, for instance, that psychedelic shaman Terence McKenna studied under Austrian philosopher of science Paul Feyerabend. Is there a “correct” way to generalize? Mind is the only true Subject, emanating upward and outward through the biosphere, inventing new forms for itself. Sidewalk cracks rhyme with frets on the neck of a guitar, in a place where the biosphere exists only as distant memory, herbal remedy, “supplement.” How fares the cause of “epistemological anarchism” in the age of the Anthropocene? How fares the cause of personalism in the age of AI?