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.

Wednesday February 21, 2018

Walking has been a theme of late. Sarah and I on a walk delight in a burst of edgeworthia that edges a sidewalk in our neighborhood. Walking brazenly onto our campuses, meanwhile, alt-right groups push, harass, assault Marxist professors. Let us care not that these self-styled “alphas,” the members of white supremacist organizations Kool Kekistani Kids (KKK) and Identity Evropa, think us “betas.” What care we what they call us, as this mind-murdering culture of ours steers us into a setting sun? Let us rally, though, to demonstrate solidarity with those comrades of ours who have been assaulted in their places of work. Darkness now. Binaural beats transport me to enchanted lands, where voices sing to me with flute solos and light percussion. Waves are heard crashing, seagulls crying. A violin and a cello duel one another as per the anxious pace of animated film composer Carl Stalling. Lightning-quick odes to speed. My mind, hanging like a weight behind the back of my head, hears snippets of voices interspersed with the sound of a finger compressing a rectangular plastic button on an old car stereo. Did the flickering lights of old video game cabinets stimulate Dreamachine-like hypnagogic states? Video games and cartoons: because of how, when, and where I was raised, these are the languages of my unconscious.

Wednesday December 13, 2017

Does it help? Does growth occur when subjects reexamine their origins? Their earliest fears, for instance? Reality says, “Follow the signal! Create a new world.” Beautiful old decrepit landscapes, abandoned train tracks. Consciousness imagines itself occupying other identities. Matter, form, laws, energy. We know ourselves only in the midst of higher and lower orders of being. We play games and hope to attract others to join us. Utopia is a place where we all descend into our own mazes, families of selves who improvise being in keeping with the teachings of the Emerald Tablet or Tabula Smaragdina. Another afternoon, another walk timed to the sun’s descent. Pine needle arrangements on a piece of blacktop. I know not why the sky is so gray, but I like it. Gusts of wind lift ends of ribbons tied to trunks of trees. Heads lift, too, with help from Asheville, NC improv duo LULO.

The day starts to stack up, one stimulating experience after another. Everything creator David O’Reilly supplies a brain-busting animated short called RGB XYZ.

I experience a confusion of levels, political reality seeming a mere myth-performance atop an abyss. Imagine this abyss as an infinitely large room, where Left, traveling through a wormhole in space-time, comes out Right, time an eternal beast one can’t defeat. We are only ever here and now, even when compelled to bring growth and wealth to the owners of capital. Yet we puzzle over our origins and seek purpose. There are no truths, just stories. And presumably bodies. I lose myself amidst a collapse of images and memories. Some shifting space of menace. And then, like that, I can breathe again. Montage transmits a composite of synoptic slices of a person’s narrative arc so as to prompt recognition of archetypes. The composite governor, Zhuangzi, drives paradoxes into the grammar of reason. Noise enters the oikos through the psyche. Of course it does, we add: the future self who at other times plays the part of the Big Other, commands it.

Monday December 11, 2017

Break out the sugary drinks! I have a mystical treatise I wish to deliver via PowerPoint. All is wondrous and large and unnameable. Is it possible that the narrator is constructed by the language he speaks? Or is that to confuse the self with its externalizations? Action becomes introspection, and plot evolves into spiritual adventure. The self moved by something other. The invisible hand, or whatever god it is that allows itself to be “chosen” by the other pole of its dyad. The mouse that steps atop the keyboard of consciousness. Perhaps there’s some place in this altered state that can fit Sam Harris’s book Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion — though I doubt it. That dude strikes me as entirely too sober and arrogant. I prefer my sermon in the form of Andy Holden’s “Chewy Cosmos (Panels to the Walls of Heaven).”

The need to collect nuts and berries lingers. Collection involves giving oneself over to luck. Infinite reverie.

Equally impressive is Holden’s video, “Prelude (A Pilot).” It, too, can point us on our course. Allegorical or archetypal landscapes poached from old Roadrunner cartoons. The artist imagines himself operating in the Romantic tradition, mining points of intensity from domains native to everyday life. And from Holden’s work, I’m led to the work of filmmaker James Benning. The path thus creates itself under the feet that tread it. Sarah and I granted ourselves a brief respite from the book edits and grading, walking in the sun yesterday midday along snow-covered streets, water melting, dripping from trees and branches. “Ptarmigans” emerged at one point as a topic of conversation: birds whose feathers change colors every year with the seasons. Upon my return from the walk, I watched Benning’s One Way Boogie Woogie (1977), reminded while watching of industrial landscapes I observed as a kid. Like songs that build in volume, signs begin to speak to me. Stubbornly persistent illusions give way to the conviction that everything is connected. “Let’s glitch the matrix and reorganize the gameboard,” I add, knowing not how or why.

Wednesday October 11, 2017

Try to imagine yourself from the perspective of a spider cricket. Like a building, but with a face in place of a penthouse. I need to develop another chance-based, abstraction-generating practice, a compliment to and content conduit for each day’s trance-script. Imagine if I could bring into my classroom a language for speaking about “Kou Kou” and other forms of abstract animation!

Meaningful conversation with others hardly seems feasible anymore. Most of my students are mere abstractions. Drifts of data in a windstorm. I’d rather be home listening to Bread Bored, the debut album from Portland’s Sea Moss.

I don’t mind mortifying the body with smoke inhalation, so long as it opens doors onto other ways of being. “Most contemplatives,” Huxley writes, “worked systematically to modify their body chemistry, with a view to creating the internal conditions favorable to spiritual insight” (155). I’ve never used Uber, but perhaps I should start doing so — that way I can travel out on solitary adventures while baked. I love to walk, don’t get me wrong; but I’ve about exhausted the radius of walkable space around my home. What is psychedelia’s relationship to blindness? Huxley, for instance, is thought to have been nearly blind for most of his adulthood. “I can hardly see at all,” he told Brazilian journalist João Ubaldo Riberio, “And I don’t give a damn, really.” Recalling details of my life, I’d say I’m a bit like that, too. Capitalist society requires me to “correct” my vision and to do so gladly. If one persists in viewing psychedelically-derived insights as distortions, then so be it; but they’re systematic, trans-historical distortions, leading multiple minds toward the same conclusions: the world as seen when informed by the teachings of plants. And sometimes we zombie-subjects want to be led. Encountering a reference to Francis Thompson’s short film NY, NY (1957) in Huxley’s Heaven and Hell, for instance, I go ahead and watch it.

Afterwards I listen to Gregg Kowalsky’s “Maliblue Dream Sequence.” This latter work, however, is itself part of a larger sequence, one that lifts me up and carries me to Tom Shroder’s book Acid Test: LSD, Ecstasy, and the Power to Heal. The Thompson film, by the way, is quite magical, and deeply psychedelic, though I recommend updating it with an alternate soundtrack. Its portrait of the mid-twentieth-century Big Apple is of course entirely too celebratory and consumerist — the gaze remaining leisurely and bemused as it collects phantasmatic snapshots of metropolitan texture and sensation. As a renewal of perception, however, it’s a success.