Excerpts from several of Hermann Hesse’s novels and short stories appear as paratext to a chapter on Arthur Koestler in Timothy Leary’s experimental 1968 memoir High Priest. ‘Tis the story of Koestler’s acid trip. Koestler had written a book about the East called The Lotus and the Robot. Koestler claims in disdainful orientalist fashion that the East, especially India and Japan, suffer from a sort of “spiritual malady.” Alongside the acid trip, Leary’s book also includes accounts of Koestler’s two mushroom experiences. Leary invited Koestler to participate as a test subject in the Harvard Psilocybin Project knowing full well of Koestler’s disdain for mysticism. The Hesse paratext supplements all of this, as Hesse had already portrayed Koestler in the manner of a roman-à-clef as a character named Frederick in Hesse’s short story “Within and Without.” Frederick is a stubborn, miserly rationalist, angered by the slightest hints of mysticism and superstition. So, too, with Koestler. He returns from India proud to be a European (as quoted in High Priest, p. 139). This is the same Koestler whose “confession” appeared in the 1949 anticommunist tract The God That Failed. “If these are the good old days,” wonders the author as he ponders this history, “then why am I so lonely? Why this ceaseless longing to grow through contact with others?”
Look, it’s the old man from the time before Trump. Feeling good, bad, unsure, alone. The drone descends, conducts client reconnaissance. Corporate bodies know the world only in aggregate. Little do they know, the world is whatever lines of force converging in semantic space say it is. “There I was on an overcast November day,” wrote the man, “listening to Vektroid’s latest, Seed & Synthetic Earth, when out of the ground burst an octopoid creature, its fleshy tentacles covered in blisters.” Emptiness of this sort is of little use to me, I decide, the album’s knockoff-of-knockoff hijacking of emotion via synthetic optimism seriously harshing my vibe. None of this works, I tell myself. It distracts from my pursuit of higher consciousness. My desire, after all, is to one day make contact with, receive some intimation of, life after capitalism. When I walk outdoors, I at least gain a hint, an inkling, of my oneness with Being. No vaporwave track could ever match as music the visual splendor of a tree. I think that even as I walk amid crows in the rain. Drops produce hard pops upon hitting the brim of my cap. The angel of history deprived me of Coke yesterday, employing its methods in the innards of two different soda fountains in two different eateries — and in this, I see no evil. NEU!’s “ISI” comes up in my “Discover Weekly” playlist, and just like that, as if a switch has been flipped, “there is one common flow, one common breathing, all things are in sympathy.” “Everything hangs together,” writes Koestler, “no atom is an island; microcosm reflects macrocosm, and is reflected by it.” The Fall returns with equal suddenness, though, a stubborn-headed Jonathan Richman interrupting, dividing me back into self and other by asking, “Tell me, why can’t you at least take this place, and take it straight?” Attention, rapt, with time withdraws, and we find ourselves, alas, in a windblown world, trying to steal pages from books, contorted by an irresistible impulse. I’m not in Kansas anymore — thank god! — but my country is now my enemy, as it is the enemy of all who have hope of Being. Where, I wonder, might we puncture its pretense, carnivalize its wealth? How might we zap its mind, and reverse its ill intent?
How do we go about building the Commune? Does George Ciccariello-Maher know the answer? ‘Cuz I don’t. Not off the top of my head. I wish the “venue of the mind” would turn forth instructions in an hallucinatory rush. Spill the beans, a voice insists. Don’t just pen a bunch of commentary. Enough! Focus! Come on! Resurrect mythopoesis to combat logos. Debt permits, sanctions, ensures the perpetuation of the daily torture of compelled labor. The body and mind dragged for long stretches through thoughtless routine. When I woke yesterday, though, the world seemed imbued with elusive but occasionally-glimpsed strings of coincidence, or what others have seen fit to call “grace.” I happened upon a passage in Arthur Koestler’s The Challenge of Chance where he speaks of “l’ange distributeur des pensées,” or “the angel who distributes thought” — a phrase he attributes to the nineteenth-century French writer Xavier de Maistre. This seems as good a name as any for that invisible power that time and again intervenes on my behalf, aligning me with my surroundings, delivering up small, unexpected bounties, arranging physis and psyche into a synchronistic, meaning-bearing whole. The angel, observable only through its effects, guides us with maps and instructions toward evil’s undoing. In its place, pleasure’s pursuit. Speaking of which: Sarah and I have been watching the new season of Mr. Robot, where dystopia appears as global capitalism itself, not some national subset thereof. The live drama of terminal class rule, as narrated by a uniquely gifted schizoid myth-hacker worker-subject. Reality is far greener, I tell myself. One can approach it as alien terrain, a vast mystery. One’s life can hang on the assumption, the expectation, of eventual revelation. Why can’t we as persons intervene in Being? The system allows for the flourishing of some, while condemning the rest to privation. Get rich quick the hope of all. How do we change that? How do we reprogram?
“How to them I appear, so to me,” I tell myself when told I’m adorably stoned. Another warns, finger wagging, “Don’t stop! the clock is ticking.” The sound of a head scratch appears high in the mix. I receive instructions: “Cause the mind to change channels.” Unfold into action. Even if just taped comedy and commentary. The universe in the form of my loved one extends to me a clue: a page in Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta where two characters talk around Arthur Koestler’s The Roots of Coincidence. I become transfixed, I become transfigured. None of this is mere coincidence. Do I feel angry and concerned about the continued stockpiling of arms among my enemy countrymen? Indeed, very. The center disperses ever faster into two contending camps. The nation-state as real-dimension Pong, with computer-controlled opponents. It is no mere coincidence, I repeat under my breath on my way to a talk by Masha Gessen. Daphne’s death continues to weigh on me, especially on gloomy, rainy days midweek. On such days, I sometimes let paranoid musings get the best of me. I take pleasure in the sensation of web detection. A friend of mine introduces Gessen, who speaks on “Democracy in the Age of Trump and Putin.” World leaders who each wish to become “king of reality.” I establish that she and I are both acutely aware of the things that scare us. But all she does is revisit for the audience (in a packed auditorium, by the way) points from her piece “Autocracy: Rules for Survival.” What we must do, she says, is “other” for others the reality in which we live. Point to the autocrat; reveal him as such. But reveal to whom? Gessen can speak only to a public that reads the New York Review of Books. A group nearly devoid of influence in our new reality. The reality of concentrated power, limited only by the pressure, she says, applied by civil society upon the judiciary. “It’s really hard,” she says, “to think hard in Trump’s America.” All of us are suffering from a kind of “future shock.” As she states this, my eyes are pulled to the right and peer with suspicion at a figure, an intense-looking young white man, who arrives late clutching a mysterious bundle in his hands and who sits up front beside the podium. Spider sense tingling. Have I stumbled inadvertently into an Event, I wonder? Thankfully the suspicion proves baseless. But such is the emotional / affective texture of our time.