Monday January 8, 2018

There is a long silence as the author engages in self-therapy while reading Aldous Huxley’s underappreciated but highly worthwhile final novel, Island. Receptive heads agree. Let us climb up, they chant excitedly. Let us redeem ourselves. We can do what we want. We can drift apart from history into an eternal present. It’s as simple as listening meditatively to “Parallel Drift” by Insect Factory.

Stoke up rows of fiery pinwheels by breathing deeply. Acquire temporary being as a pulsing cloud of energy, before retracting, the self a spectator separate again from experience, a will-less will borne outward, reimagined as sentient co-creator of its own body-projection. “Mind” (if we wish to call it that) need not be confused with its synchronized audiovisual avatar-body. In fact, this confusion can cause great delay. Dislocate the symbol-maker from the sign-system or one will lucid-dream oneself into a system of representation without exit. Unless the self is the root and ground of the universe — which of course it may well be. What voice-box, what menu, what catalog allows interaction with “feelings” or “experiences”? How are these things made? I have been climbing up the signpost instead of following the road.

Saturday December 30, 2017

I hope to reset my emotional matrix in the days ahead away from anger and depression. It helps to sit and talk with Sarah, the two of us true, loving life companions, helping each other pass the time as one and then the other of us endures another run-in with the flu. We rewire our brains by submitting to the oscillating tone progressions of Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” and Alfred Bruneau’s “Requiem: Dies Irae & Tuba Mirum.” We laugh at the thought of the residents of utopia waking and greeting one another in the streets each morning through choral performance of Handel’s “Hallelujah.” They prep themselves, though, with Margo Guryan’s “Someone I Know.” One ought to keep one’s eye out, I tell myself, for The Eye in the Triangle, a book about Aleister Crowley by Crowley’s secretary Israel Regardie. Christmas trees topped with stars resemble the emblem of Crowley’s Ordo Templi Orientis. Robert Anton Wilson, talking ’til blue in the face, introduces me to a synchronistic phenomenon known as the “23” enigma. In pursuit of “deliberately induced brain change,” I turn to Sarah, lying beside me reading in bed, and ask her, “What page are you up to?” gesturing with my hand toward her copy of Aldous Huxley’s Island. “223,” she replies. When I explain to her the story of the enigma, she adds, “It’s also my birthday: April 23rd!” There is magic in the woods, if you know where to find it. So sayeth the Robert Redford character in Pete’s Dragon. Smoke rises from a votive dedicated to Lady Columbia, appearing before me in the form of a giant wall of light.

Tuesday October 17, 2017

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?

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.

Tuesday October 10, 2017

Despite what I wrote yesterday, let it be said that, in his book Heaven and Hell, Aldous Huxley sometimes manages to get things remarkably right. Describing a “jungle” painting by Henri Rousseau, for instance, Huxley exclaims, “I look at those leaves with their architecture of veins, their stripes and mottlings, I peer into the depths of interlacing greenery, and something in me is reminded of those living patterns, so characteristic of the visionary world, of those endless births and proliferations of geometrical forms that turn into objects, of things that are forever being transmuted into other things” (128).


Call it the Koyaanisqatsi effect. And while contemplating (or what our friends of the past used to call “grokking”), get picked up and blown away to the psychedelic brilliance of J Dilla’s Donuts. I also admire Huxley’s discussion of art that adopts a “non-human” point of view, humanity a mere blip amidst some vast uncharted wild. The de-individuation that occurs when we occupy that point of view is for Huxley a kind of peak experience. Thought abstracts itself into that which the ancients rendered in arabesques and frescoes of gardens. Better by far, though, I think, to remain a self or a person surrounded by “the country of lit-upness” (le Pays d’Éclairement), a kind of forest-world rich with meaning, inhabitants half-paranoid, half-mad, enchanted with abstract shapes and patterns. With faith, we can ensure that this country of the mind surrounds us in a way that is blissful and not appalling. More and more, I find myself wanting to put the kibosh on technology. Especially cars and social media. But of course, by that I probably only mean technology shaped and deployed by capitalism. Do away with banks, nation-states, militaries, businesses. I don’t know the particulars of what the alternative would entail, but I know what gives me grief. Maybe I should investigate decentralized crypto-currencies, nevermind their association with right-libertarian assholes. And perhaps I should start showing my “Utopias” students episodes of Outliers. In the meantime, I prefer to watch “Elise” by Blondes.

Monday October 9, 2017

My students are reading Aldous Huxley’s psychedelic classic The Doors of Perception this week. I’ve taught the book a number of times over the years, but I’m only just now getting around to reading Huxley’s follow-up essay, Heaven and Hell, published two years later in 1956.

To be honest, though (and judging only from what I’ve read so far), I’m finding this latter work to be somewhat underwhelming. Huxley begins by asserting that heightened attention to light and color are common features of visionary experience. “The visions met with under the influence of mescalin or hypnosis,” he writes, “are always intensely and, one might say, preternaturally brilliant in color” (89). As support for this claim, Huxley cites lines from visionary works of poetry like Wordsworth’s “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood,” as well as relevant passages from mystical texts like Thomas Traherne’s Centuries of Meditations and Irish theosophist Æ’s Candle of Vision. Readers of these trance-scripts will find much of interest (including several valuable leads for further research) in this section of Huxley’s work. My sense, however, is that from this point onward, Huxley grows a bit too enamored with his thesis about light and color. Curtain lifted, he trails off into a lengthy, multi-page digression dealing with the history of humanity’s fascination with gemstones, stained glass, and related kinds of shiny objects. Huxley believes that religious traditions value these objects because of their resemblance to the self-luminous “stones of fire” that are said to populate the otherworldly inner landscapes encountered by visionaries of all ages. “Hence man’s otherwise inexplicable passion for gems,” he writes, “and hence his attribution to precious stones of therapeutic and magical virtue” (103). As a brief aside, let me add that there’s an interesting passage in the midst of this excursus where Huxley speaks of hypnotists who use shiny objects to lead subjects into trance states. “How, precisely,” he asks, “does the view of a shiny object induce a trance or a state of reverie? Is it, as the Victorians maintained, a simple matter of eye strain resulting in general nervous exhaustion? Or shall we explain the phenomenon in purely psychological terms—as concentration pushed to the point of mono-ideism and leading to dissociation?” Huxley himself prefers a third possibility. “Shiny objects,” he writes, “may remind our unconscious of what it enjoys at the mind’s antipodes, and these obscure intimations of life in the Other World are so fascinating that we pay less attention to this world and so become capable of experiencing consciously something of that which, unconsciously, is always with us” (106). Speaking of which: with a burning sensation at the back of my throat, vaguely reminiscent of asthma attacks from childhood, I mark my place in the book with a folded receipt and ascend to Huxley’s “Other World.” As that phrase suggests, Heaven and Hell is rife with spatial metaphors, some of them wince-inducing in ways that demand postcolonialist reading, as for instance when, at the beginning of the book, the tastelessly Eurocentric Huxley digs himself a hole by writing, “Like the earth of a hundred years ago, our mind still has its darkest Africas, its unmapped Borneos and Amazonian basins” (83). Fortunately it looks like there’s substantial criticism of Huxley on these grounds, as in Lindsey Michael Banco’s Travel and Drugs in Twentieth-Century Literature and Sharae Deckard’s Paradise Discourse, Imperialism, and Globalization: Exploiting Eden. To hallucinate means “to wander in the mind.”