I am he, apparently, who prepares the table and watches in the watchtower. As I carry around my copy of Vagabonding in America, a synchrony of separately-arrived-at roads all lead to Isaiah 21. Chariots, horsemen, a student asking to lead a discussion about the Dylan song “All Along the Watchtower”: does this mean Babylon is fallen, is fallen?
The light tapping of a pick across the muted strings of the guitar on Dylan’s “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” reminds us as listeners that a clock is ticking. Dylan’s lyrics are in part about remaining cool despite the pain of mortality, the pain of accepting one’s wounds in order to live. What about those initial verses, though: they reference the possibility of nuclear apocalypse, don’t they? Doesn’t the Cold War form the song’s political horizon, “eclipsing both sun and moon”? I worry, though, that the song is also somehow an indictment of me, the teacher who teaches that “knowledge waits” — one who “must obey authority,” one who does not respect it “in any degree,” one who despises his job and his destiny and “speak[s] jealously of them that are free.” The same figure Nietzsche condemned, in other words, for being moved by a politics of ressentiment. But is Dylan singing as the voice of a student who can’t please me, or am I the one who can’t please them? “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream” comes up a few tracks earlier on Bringing It All Back Home, and it’s a riotous, rowdy picaresque — the story of a poor sailor who dodges his way through the nightmarish slapstick of my country ’tis of thee.
I find calming and centering Suzanne Ciani and Kaitlin Aurelia Smith’s use of Buchla synthesizers on one of my favorite LPs of recent years, their FRKWYS record, Sunergy (2016).
(Best heard, BTW, in a darkened room while watching a muted version of this Joshua Light Show video. I find the experience of pairing the two thrillingly synesthetic.) Drone, darkness, repetition, primordial shapes, sketches, free improvisations, print-based consciousness supplanted by multi-sensory “happenings” — together, these form a potent combination. Birds fly near and perch beside me. Above I hear the roar of a plane. What I long for, though, is an alteration of the fundamentals of experience, like my sense of time and space. Out of the meltdown of consensus reality comes a voice like Whitman’s shouting, “Cheer up, slaves, and horrify foreign despots.” But perhaps reality also wants us to hear Seneca the Younger, to whom my initial response is wonder at the dude’s disdain for a figure akin to Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man.” (In his critique of the followers of Epicurus, Seneca writes that the situation is like that of “a sturdy man dressed in women’s clothes: your decency remains unimpaired, your virility unharmed, your person is free from any degrading submission, but in your hand is a tambourine.”) Let’s see: according to Dylanologists, the bearer of the tambourine is the Singer’s Muse. And the Singer’s Muse is one’s inner voice, is it not? The one that counsels “If you’re currently uncertain whether you’re located outside or inside the Gates of Eden, then stay home and ‘let virtue lead the way.'” When faced with this voice, the question is always, “Who are we? Are we already in accord? Are we already centered? If not, then who does the letting, who the leading? Who gets to be the shadow after whom the Other is always chasing?” Lucky for us, a card is a card, a hand a hand. It is in our moderation that we horrify despots.
One day ends and another begins, but the voice that dictates does not skip a beat. If on Sunday I ended by noting, “Politics begins the moment there are disputes over land,” so today I begin by happening upon a proverb that reads, “He that hath lands hath quarrels.” Kenneth Burke mentions it in his essay “Literature as Equipment for Living.” Tree sparking at crème de la crème time of day, I embark on a journey, the nearby quarry park my destination. Sarah and I walk along a barren hill, exposed to the wind, soaking in vitamin D. Along our walk we pocket bits of plant debris. Sarah collects pine cones and tears me off a strip of Lamb’s Ear, which I rub gently between my thumb and forefinger. I also gather a trio of seed-balls dropped by a Sycamore. It feels as if there is magic involved. It feels as if we are performing a rite, preparing the world for a sun-god. Great powers are brewing in the universe within. My inner voice is a thing that echoes through vast corridors, the latter both heard and seen. We bear witness to one another, voice acting as conduit between form-matter and consciousness. I love me some sunlight. I imagine myself as a Pawnee parent, wrapping a baby in bobcat furs to bring it celestial blessings. I look up at E.T. and ask it to grant me special powers, license to make contact with higher orders of consciousness. The media cosmos beams back as a kind of reply, “Keep reading.” The world speaks to me via mogwais and E.T.’s evil twin, skull island. Loki, the god of mischief. The unseeing alien monster from Attack the Block. To protect us from these, says a voice I haven’t yet learned to trust, “Mother Nature has drawn a line.” Headspace becomes meaner as weekends give way to weeks. I can no longer tell whether I’m champion of the world or inheritor of a history of defeat. With Thanksgiving Break beginning, though, I decide the former. My sentiments are in this respect like Dylan’s: “It’s my work, I do it for pay. / And when it’s all over, / I’d just as soon be on my way.”