All of us become part again of that from which we came. Plant matter. Primordial soup swamp scum. Others but me get to be free, as complains Pearl‘s jeweler. How are we to conceive of the voices that speak for us: manipulable, or objectively other? I get sucked up into the aerial contortions of Joy Division’s “Atrocity Exhibition.”
I used to have such a positive outlook. What scripts have I forgotten? Are there mantras I should be reciting constantly under my breath? Eyes struggle to decide which light scheme to adjust to: inner or outer? Assimilative or immersive? The body communicates its irritation with our behavior by coughing. Follow me with emotional awareness through Eyeball Under
by Weeping Icon.
Echoing hand gestures, BMX racers, stickers on binders: the band’s forward-driven noise-punk conjures these. An underlying propulsiveness amidst muffled, anguished languor. Heads can swim themselves between left and right speakers. But voices can’t always contend with it, can they? The body grows restless from too much repetitive mindlessness. “Turn off that damn racket!” yells a head popping out the window of an upper floor apartment. Receding feedback spray feels good, though, dunnit? The texture of the time is full-blown totalitarian. I am the cherub with the flaming sword, my own worst enforcer of the Big Other’s banishment of me from Paradise. Is it superstitious of me to regard the compositional process as fundamentally inexplicable? Perhaps — but the important thing is to connect the act of writing with the self’s refusal to be made someone else’s means. The world can be wonderful so long as it quiets to outdoor sounds like engines and crickets and birds. When we psychonauts forget what we’re supposed to be doing according to others (working, behaving productively for society), the moment-to-moment becomes a consistently joyful opening onto an endless becoming. (Consistently, that is, until our phones push-notify us of Trump’s latest atrocities.) Today’s high mellows me; sense data hover above me, a fog-covered nighttime skyline. I soundtrack it with Stone Fruit by Primitive Fiction.
“Huge buzzing synth drones”: think of that as denoting an affect. Moments later, Sarah calls and scares me half to death when, mid-conversation, she narrates what she thinks is a blown tire, but which proves later to have been no more than the breaking off of some plastic molding from the wheel well. Never a dull moment.
Big discovery today: Richard M. Doyle’s Darwin’s Pharmacy: Sex, Plants, and the Evolution of the Noosphere. Doyle also blogs at mobiused and wrote an “Afterword” to Philip K. Dick’s Exegesis. Dick’s exploration of Gnostic beliefs and teachings in the Valis trilogy proved to be of great importance to me in the months following my initial encounters with psychedelics, so I’m excited to see what kind of sense Doyle makes of these themes. Lana Cook
at MIT is another scholar to watch. She recently completed a dissertation at Northeastern titled “Altered States: The American Psychedelic Aesthetic.” Along with studying more canonical texts in the psychedelic tradition, like Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception
, Cook’s project also sheds light on works by early female psychonauts. Adelle Davis, for instance, writing under the pseudonym Jane Dunlap, published a book on LSD in the early 1960s called Exploring Inner Space
. That’s about as far as I advance with my research when the dog enters my office begging for food. “No! No food! Stop with the begging!” I tell her. She lies on her stomach and stares up at me, breathing heavily, continuing to whine — at which point I promptly cave to her demand, and then hustle across the street, where my neighbors are screening Guardians of the Galaxy 2
on a sheet in their backyard. Walking beneath trees amidst shadows and streetlights. A videogame offers me work as a courier. Kids play with green, pink, and blue glow-stick bracelets and say, “Wow, trippy, man.” They make such a satisfying “pop,” those glow-sticks. And with floor speakers and a stereo amplifier, it’s quite a set-up, here inside the neural net of a catch-22 fungus from outer space. The activity feels vaguely utopian: a weird sovereign fleet, neighbor-stranger gathering, each of us remotely piloted. Are the characters we play in videogames posthumans? Is my marijuana-enhanced self an empath? The jerk who doesn’t trust anyone is a show that, for fear of bad ratings, never gets made. Young People’s Socialist League versus the planet-devouring Boomer Ego.
Have others noted the weirdly apolitical, careerist vibe that seemed to permeate the Psychedemia conference? I keep returning to that documentary I posted about yesterday. What gives? When scholars begin to study this material in the academy, do we (I include myself in this category) run the risk of “co-opting” the psychedelic underground? “Mystical experience,” “psychology of religion”: some of the research presented at Psychedemia seems worryingly pseudoscientific: as in, some of it resembles the type of academic hot air balloon that the “Sokal Hoax” tried to puncture in the 1990s. But then again, several figures featured in the documentary seem genuinely legit. (Horizons: Perspectives on Psychedelics is a similar forum, by the way, held each year in New York.) One catches snippets of language: “neuro-chemical art,” “radically singular worlds.” Australian philosopher David Chalmers, author of The Conscious Mind, enters the frame, commingling amid a cast of quivering neuroatypicals. What is the relationship between the mental and the physical? Ask Alfred North Whitehead. Mind, whatever it is, possesses a degree of freedom. It can produce out of itself mystical experiences of oneness with the universe, about which the most we can say is probably something like, “What do all metaphors have in common?” Jane Roberts, author of the Seth books in the 1970s, might be an interesting figure to consider as a producer of texts “received” through trance. Why have I never read Edwin Abbott Abbott’s book Flatland? Perhaps because I live in a monstrously truncated, self-absorbed universe. I no longer know how to behave like a proper host or guest. My horizons are monoculturally constrained. I don’t see my mother very often. I’m basically a lousy person, having plunged into my personal opposite. No, this is a re-centering. No, this is a property. I want to imagine cinematic vibrations folding me downward into a past. A minute had passed when I emerged, no longer a mere commodity. You see, it’s all about bran in your oatmeal. So many other regions of linguistic activity, meaning inscribed in practice. But I’m heartbroken. My dog betrays neither recognition nor affection. She no longer lets my eyes hold her eyes. Of course, Wu-Tang were the ones who said it best: “Life for a shorty shouldn’t be so rough / But as the world turned I learned life is hell / Livin’ in the world no different from a cell / Every day I escape from Jakes givin’ chase / Sellin’ base, smokin’ bones in the staircase.” In an interview about those lines, Inspectah Deck said, “At that point, you’re just thinking, ‘I’m about to go head-first into whatever it is I’m doing.'” Here goes.
“Stop! You’re embarrassing me!” says the exasperated mall-inhabiting eighties teenager to his mother. “Ma, get away from me!” There were just these ludicrous situations. She was like a little kid, dancing to the radio in her punch buggy blue Volkswagen Beetle. Always with the perm and the giant sunglasses. I miss those early years of childhood; I remember much of it with great fondness. I loved strolling invisibly back then through bits of the visible world. Others probably think of me as one who dwells too much in the past — stiflingly so. Keep tossing, a voice advises, until you get to one you know. There used to be a thing called leisure-time — though it was never entirely free of fears of bombs and missiles. How foolish it now seems to have believed in theological niceties like “progress.” Whereas now, things that matter are being gunned down by police, pulled out from under me. I fixate on grievances, I harbor grudges. Like, permanent 24/7 hex against those who delete my comments — that’s right, my evil eye is trained on YOU, motherfucker. Good for a minute, next bit. You’re done. And like, my dog, who pees on the hardwood floor just to spite me. There was once a time when words had meaning. I lived in their midst. The best medicine, though, is to “relax and let go.” Dance a bit, loosen limbs and neck muscles, allow oneself to be drawn upward toward reconciliation with the dog. When I see her lying in bed, I feel panic: what if she’s given up, what if I’ve lost her? I also learn about “chemical poetics” and studies of trip report literature.
Go to archives, I tell myself. Explore correspondence between early psychedelic pioneers. Watch as faces get photoshopped in, reporting hypnotically from other dimensions instructions for the evolution of consciousness. “Come here: I found it, see?” proclaims an onscreen scholar. Look up Beat poet George Andrews and his letters to Leary in the 1960s. Leary, too, is an important figure to study. There’s a rich, vast psychedelic literary network to add to our histories of late modernism and postmodernism. A whole field has begun to coalesce around the study of this network. By which I mean, check out Psychedemia
, a documentary about a “Psychedelics” conference held at University of Pennsylvania in September 2012. Neşe Devenot appears to be one of the field’s leading scholars. Should I start calling myself a psychedemic?
Beyond the edges of the game-space runs a single, circular backdrop, a projection. I no longer have access to the polis, I think to myself, the space where the coding occurs. My only access points are ideology and everyday life. The rest of it lies beyond the game-space: visible, but inaccessible, and thus, for all intents and purposes, immutable. I dread most nights having to wake up the next day and work. I despise that capitalist society compels me to dispense by its means my daily labor-power. That shit ought to be mine to hoard or spend as I wish. Each of us should be free to act in accordance with whatever chemicals we wish to add to humanity’s neuro-cultural evolution. The hero has no parents and has to invent through testing an identity in relation to the ever-reloading, ever-renewing game-world. Others, in their mere being, pose for us the question: “Which rules shall we let be of consequence?” What keeps us from devolving into mere rage monsters? Predators who reduce others to roles as props or prey. Games reveal the limits they impose on being only through their play. And since we can only ever be within games, these limits can only ever appear for us as neither necessary nor contingent but both-and. I’m bitter. I don’t like this game! I seek everywhere for some way to rebel. How do we convince our fellow players to grant us freedom to think, while they bend, lift, haul dirt? What is “consciousness,” when those are one’s conditions? Rapt attentiveness to objects and material processes. Rules learned, tasks assigned, one does as one’s told. To reverse this, one would have to step out of character — the ultimate risk — and convince others, in a church-forming act of assembly, to do the same.
Broadenings are sometimes later discovered to have been narrowings. Linguistic parts dropped off in transit. On certain nights, I hear it better than on others. Liquid goes down a wrong pipe, so I drink some water to clear my throat. At length, I feel awakened. The automatic self accepts its demotion to a mere infernal device running its engine out back in the garage. Words will not go wanting after that one, though it’s so hard to shake the sense that there are right and wrong ways to write. I pause and scrutinize too often. I lock myself in a spartan linguistic universe. I wish I could see — and not just see but enter — the landscapes depicted in the Kay Sage painting, “I Saw Three Cities.”
Daily life is too often that from which I want to wake. Become the Godhead; cross beyond the Proscenium Arch. I’m kind of liking this website Melt: “an archive of esoteric and contemporary culture.” But then I realize it contains dead links; the content I request is unavailable. In his final, four-part video “Parallel I-IV,” Harun Farocki narrates the invention of the first houses and trees within virtual reality.
The virtual, I think to myself, has always existed alongside the actual as a component of Being. Social constructs always borrow from both — and yet, the entire mode of representation also evolves in leaps across changing material platforms. “Water in motion made from dashes and dots.” In general, though, when it comes to digital imaging, I suppose I prefer symbolic forms rather than filmic realism. Those of us hunting for the apex predator of contemporary psychedelia need look no further than Nmesh’s Pharma
, a 42-track double-cassette monolith released earlier this year on Orange Milk Records.
Imagine a sped-up maximalist vaporwave version of DJ Spooky’s Songs of a Dead Dreamer. Midway through, a voice intrudes, echoing forth through the void, the planetless space, to ask, “Does the world exist if I’m not watching it?” It appears out of emptiness, and to emptiness it returns. Is the world generated by the gaze that falls upon it? These are all names for the virtual creations of an alien-human Other. Who are we in relation to this Other-projection? A storybook made of videogame parts. Is that how the pre-Hellenics viewed the world? Games haven’t just become more realistic — they’ve also become more abstract, overlaid with graphs and maps and floating perspectives. Farocki’s Parallel videos reveal piece by piece an entire metaphysics of virtual worlds. “Google that shit, homes,” I tell myself, whispering inwardly for the self below.
I admire the lyrical persona who sings raw and afloat amidst lonely journeys westward. That was a story some imagined community used to tell itself. The nation imagines itself through its heroes. When these heroes hail us, we become sutured, stitched up in selves until, with desire for change, the cycle begins anew. What would it take to make the imagination over again into a genuine threat to capitalist reproduction? Isn’t that what we’re getting at: selves who, like Melville’s Bartleby, would prefer not to? I’m so far gone, thinking up here. Reality refracting into inward-regressing, multi-dimensional nested sinkholes. It gets messy. A small giggling reverbed spazz-voice floating in the void of a recording studio soundboard. New aesthetics rupture into the realm of the known all the time: just look at Netflix Original Neo Yokio. Bored prep school anime existentialist tells his robot bodyguard / handler, “I’m simply too blue for lunch.” The future is an interminable pool of wackness, he says, thus provoking the wrath of bank fees and debt collectors. Poor Bartleby. No more than a ghostly riddle, an exception-state — a martyr whose death would surely have gone unmourned, were it not for the intervention of Melville’s narrator. Invisible forces tug at the edges of a branded, logo-covered object-world. May a great wind sweep down and lay waste to the Empire and its effects. Following up on a recent recommendation from a friend, I spent my commute yesterday to and from work listening to a special episode of The Discourse Collective podcast titled “Psychedelic Politics.”
As much as it pleases me to witness LSD’s rising fortunes again among certain folks on the Left, hippie-phobic, 60s-bashing podcasts like this one illustrate the persistence in our time of some profound misunderstandings about the past. On the whole, a disheartening experience. But also a reminder: it’s time to correct some of these misunderstandings. If I don’t write “Notes Toward a Theory of Psychedelic Utopianism,” who will?