“Like the flapping of a black wing”

I record a voice memo, pleased as I am with the wordless sounds of cicadas and a niece playing with water in a toy sink in my in-laws’ backyard. Mood alters, though; weight returns the moment I consult Facebook. The latter brings upon its users an atmosphere of bad feeling. “Glunk” goes the sense-board. My father-in-law cooks up delicious pastrami sandwiches (red onions, pickles, provolone stacked on kummelweck rolls, the latter a regional specialty here in Western New York). Mood enhanced, I utter thanks to the chef. Eyes closed, I open them again onto Wells’s The Time Machine. The Time Traveler sees the Dreamachine flicker of day’s interchange with night “like the flapping of a black wing” (18). Days flicker past in much the same way here, as one scrolls through these Trance-Scripts. Take comfort, though, reader: for as the Traveler explains to those caught up in his journey, this unpleasantness of moving “solstice to solstice” merges at last into “a kind of hysterical exhilaration” (Wells 19).

The Bird Song

I receive the gift of a solitary afternoon at Durant-Eastman Beach in Rochester, NY on the south shore of Lake Ontario. The stretch of beach across from where I park is closed, so I walk to the right toward an anchored sailboat. Along the way, I discover a seagull lying dead in the sand. I hesitate for a moment upon sight of it, and in this act of hesitation offer it my condolences. Giving it wide berth, I continue on my way. A dune buggy crawls past and retrieves the bird soon thereafter. Setting myself down into a beach chair, I stare out toward the horizon and long and pine for an unknown unknown. Desire’s many-tendrilled, dendritic — stopped only by awkwardness on account of fear. Speaking of fear: pitbulls on leashes get in scuffles mere feet from my feet. Female owners yank at the leashes until, calmed of whatever caused them to behave as they did, the dogs are allowed to lay together again in peace. Waves crashing I give listen to Muhal Richard Abrams’s Levels and Degrees of Light (1968).

There it is, as if in answer to my ministrations: “The Bird Song.” Lauren Berlant & Kathleen Stewart recommend it in their book The Hundreds. The authors collaborate through “hundred-word units or units of hundred multiples” (ix). The form of their book emerged through obedience to this capacious, generative constraint. Words set toward description of affect-events through scanning of object-worlds for vibrant tableaux. I feel adjacency to this form. “Everyone has their own version,” they write, “of the glimpse of a long-forgotten realm of possibility suddenly intruding into the real like a splice of light captured in a photograph” (9).

The Time Tunnel

I listen to Julius Hemphill’s “Dogon A.D.” as tree-friends dance in the evening air. Push and pull of many forces: sadness, loneliness, anger, disappointment. All amid boredom: relentless repetition, until a friend recommends Prince Far I’s “Free From Sin.”

Digital flânerie leads on two separate occasions to The Time Tunnel, an Irwin Allen production that aired on ABC from September 1966 through April 1967. G-men work in some top secret underground facility in the desert, a sequel of sorts to the Manhattan Project. More than 12,000 personnel in their own self-contained city. A brash scientist accelerates the program, sends himself into the time tunnel. His friend goes in after him. Two men tumble helplessly through time as colleagues and friends work to rescue them and bring them home. Allen went on to fame as the “Master of Disaster” in the 1970s with The Poseidon Adventure (1972) and The Towering Inferno (1974)—films I discussed at length in my dissertation.

Thursday July 1, 2021

All of us are feeling it, the sudden shift in mood and content from one day to the next. Here we are trying to react to this new present. I for one haven’t any words yet for this funk that leaves me driving around weeping to Martha Wainwright midday. I’m supposed to suffer through this, is what I gather from the day’s intel. I’m reliving an incident from my past. Time travel prompts a return of the repressed. I’m here to revisit an old knot of sorrow: a scene of fantasy that ended poorly when pursued in the past. The hope is that in my behaving differently this time, we can heal.

Thursday June 10, 2021

Having completed several books that I’d been reading of late, I hear Frankie’s friend Rachel asking, “What do we do?” Rachel is a YouTuber who makes educational content for toddlers. Upbeat sing-a-longs; skits; introductions to letters, shapes, and colors. Her question resonates. Ever since waking to this morning’s solar eclipse, sun and moon conjuncted in Gemini, I’ve felt the approach of a new pattern. As if to confirm the morning’s feelings of apprehension and foreboding, the air unit kicks out — a problem we determine come evening. But no bother. Lightning bugs greet me as I sit for the first time in our new glider bench on the front porch. Breathing deeply, I contemplate the cosmos. Others are doing what I’d hoped to do: researching green gnosis, practicing re-paganization, hosting conferences on acid communism. Time for something new.

Tuesday May 18, 2021

The gardener in me wants to cook — so why don’t I? And why am I erupting with anger here at the end of another round of grading? I should be pleased and gracious. Instead I behave poorly, in ways that I regret. Sarah and I haven’t had time to communicate much of late. Her parents have come to visit. They’re helping with Frankie as we complete projects around the house. Some of my anger is admittedly distant in origin: anger, for instance, over the Israeli settler-state’s murderous deployment of military and mob violence against the people of Gaza. And of course, anger over the usual ideological bullshit: conservative narratives spewing forth from talking heads, speech-bubbles of blah spreading via News app and word of mouth. Anger about traffic and construction; anger about time-poverty. Hunger for “reality” — as opposed to this dreaded “normal” to which some wish to return. But much of what I’m feeling here — my “negative affect,” as the APA would say — is of a more proximate sort: oikos-derived, interpersonal in nature, inspired by the terms by which I live. Therein lies the dilemma: for what am I to do?

Wednesday April 28, 2021

The Unconscious talks across the divide. Through dreamwork it produces aspects of itself, events and encounters of each day “affected,” given to rise amid the lifeworld of the Ego, the Cogito, the “Subject.” Facets of the Akashic records surprise as they arise like flowers from the soil of routine. The process I’m describing is a bit like “hyperstition,” CCRU’s term for the way fictions make themselves real. (One could also liken it, though, to those acts of “time-walking” or “time-spinning” practiced by the creatures in the Deborah Harkness-inspired TV series A Discovery of Witches. Bodies of past selves inhabited by future minds.)

Sunday April 18, 2021

Utopias and dystopias promote and project contrary “affects” or (to use Raymond Williams’s term) “structures of feeling.” Reading Philip K. Dick’s drug dystopia A Scanner Darkly, one feels deflated. One would rather get stoned. Stand around in the yard, share a joint and chat about bats, skunks, porcupines, dogs, and gardens with one’s elders. “Bats are interesting,” says a friend’s mother.

Tuesday April 6, 2021

I read an article about “zozobra,” a concept devised by Mexican philosophers of the early 20th century. Zozobra names a type of anxiety. For the philosopher Emilio Uranga, “Zozobra refers to a mode of being that incessantly oscillates between two possibilities, between two affects, without knowing which one of those to depend on.” “Zozobra,” write the article’s coauthors, “is a soul-sickness,” a “gnawing sense of distress” due to “cracks in the frameworks of meaning that we rely on to make sense of our world.” Figures like Jorge Portilla proposed what the authors call a “nationalist” solution to this crisis, with leadership intervening to construct “a coherent horizon of understanding at the national level…a shared sense of what is real and what matters.” Is the US, as these authors suggest, afflicted with zozobra? Is zozobra another name for what Richard Hofstadter called “the paranoid style in American politics”? Haven’t frameworks of meaning always been sites of struggle between dominant and subordinate groups — classes, sects, tribes, etc. — as per Gramsci? To understand zozobra as a distinct affect, I hear myself thinking, one needs to situate it amid what was happening in 1950s Mexico, this being the moment and place of the term’s theorization. With spring underway, though, the concept slips away from me and evaporates — for my mood is less one of anxiety than one of excitement.