I listen excitedly, hands tapping thighs, to HausLive 1: Sunwatchers at Cafe Mustache 4/13/2019 after an afternoon at the pool, swimming, reading Kiese Laymon’s Heavy.
Laymon’s prose remedies with its tender heavy murmur. He writes as a son addressing a letter to his mother. It’s a book that hits hard. Subtitled “An American Memoir,” the book allows personal and familial history to tell as well the story of the harm done by the country to black bodies: the weight of antiblackness those bodies are made to bear. His mother’s withering appraisal of Dukes of Hazzard when he was a kid forces me to reflect with disappointment upon my own upbringing. My parents thought it appropriate to dress me in a pair of Dukes of Hazzard pajamas at one point when I was a toddler. It is my duty to confront that past and live differently.
How might the insights of West Coast humanistic psychologists of the 60s and 70s inform our work today as educators? How do we grow together? How do we help each other self-actualize? By that term, the humanists of the 60s and 70s meant a variety of things: realizing hopes and aspirations, exercising full potential, living joyfully, gratefully, lovingly, practicing therapy, repairing the traumas we carry with us as personal and collective bodies, finding happiness, living well. Those who report having achieved peak-experiences, those who seem to have begun to self-actualize, don’t shrivel up into themselves, claimed theorists like Maslow. Rather, they become better adjusted, less begrudging comrades. They join together with companions, forming co-evolving communities committed to giving and receiving care. Look at the support networks that form among mothers. Friends and acquaintances near and far have come to our aid of late, passing along boxloads of hand-me-downs: maternity wear, baby gear, short-sleeve onesies, long-sleeve onesies, pajamas, burp cloths, the works. We feel like characters from the Equals song, “Michael and the Slipper Tree,” or Olu Dara’s “Okra.”
Let us hold this experience near to us as we return to our classrooms. Carl Rogers suggested one model for applying the principles of humanistic psychology to education in his 1969 essay “Freedom to Learn.” And some of these principles informed experiments with encounter groups and sensitivity training sessions at places like Kresge College at the University of California, Santa Cruz. I sit on the top step of my front stoop after dark, diffusing momentarily into imaginative union with the sounds of the night, a lush chorus of locusts and crickets. Afterwards I feel recharged, replenished, senses open, receptive. I thumb through Ali Smith’s introduction to Leonora Carrington’s The Hearing Trumpet astounded. Hardt and Negri’s Assembly takes shape soon thereafter, pages propped open, their words released into consciousness with another sturdy thumbs up.
Do words play some role in helping us assemble? Can we with them raise consciousness, as does the hornplay of Ornette Coleman’s “Beauty Is a Rare Thing”? Sit back, I tell myself. Close eyes, listen to the mad scramble of “Kaleidoscope,” and then scramble downstairs, assemble and play drums. Repair what needs repairing, tune what needs tuning.
After performing these tasks, I return to my office and read a weird tale from Gerald Heard’s AE: The Open Persuader, the final part of the book, when AE leads L to a “Fulfiller Dome” in Antarctica, home to reindeer and a Baleen whale. Through AE, Heard gives voice to a radical cultural pessimism, wearied to the point of despair. Another voice intervenes, however, with news of a “psychic ‘thaw out'” made possible by “Polar radiation” (258-259). Under the glare of the latter, “ideological-conditioned fanatic ideologies, defrosted, fall off” (259). The voice warns, though, of a further false step along the ladder of enlightenment, the retreat inward to escape suffering, claiming that “the greatest brains in the world” have fallen prey to this error. As example, the voice points to what it calls “those stupendous body-mind hypertrophies, the Baleens,” the voice regarding these large-brained creatures as “living specimens of the utmost terminal state of false samadhi” (261). By this point I’m out of my element, exhausted by the book’s elaborate eccentricity, as well as the occasional cruelty of its worldview. One way to approach the book would be to read it in light of José Esteban Muñoz’s ideas about “queer futurity.” Ideas from Lee Edelman’s book No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive also seem relevant and applicable.
I listen to recordings from several weeks ago of friends and I jamming with guitars, laptops, effects pedals, and modular synths. Amazing how it all comes together into a synchronous spontaneous composition. Noise band as groupuscule, noise band as psychedelic assemblage. Isn’t that what John Sinclair had in mind? “A rock & roll band,” he wrote, “is a working model of the post-revolutionary production unit. The members of a rock & roll family or tribe are totally interdependent and totally committed to the same end — they produce their music collectively, sharing both the responsibility and the benefits of their work equally. […]. It’s time to turn on tune in and take over! Up against the ceiling, motherfucker!” Will Alexander helps in this regard, reminding me of exercises for “turning on,” like the ones specified in Edward de Bono’s book Lateral Thinking. Most importantly, he reminds me, “Leaps can be made.” Alexander calls the technique “flexible ambulation through one’s mental catacombs” (Singing in Magnetic Hoofbeat, p. 13). Through him I learn about the Cuban painter Wilfredo Lam, influenced by his godmother, Matonica Wilson, a Santeria priestess, healer, and sorceress who performed rites dedicated to African orishas. One drifts a bit, breathing, open to new experience. Voices respond by firmly chanting, “Aye!” as they do in the Supergrass song, “Coffee in the Pot.”
Let us try to see as others see. Try, try! Unforeseen outlooks, hidden powers, power on. Let us become creative in our capacity to heal. Bruce Mau’s advice also seems applicable here: “Take field trips. The bandwidth of the world is greater than that of your TV set, or the Internet, or even a totally immersive, interactive, dynamically rendered, object-oriented, real-time, computer graphic-simulated environment.”
I perambulate the lush pages of Gerald Heard’s AE: The Open Persuader (1969), a work of gay transhumanist utopian science fiction — surely one of the most peculiar books I’ve yet encountered, published under a pseudonym (“Auctor Ignotus”), read I’m sure by at most only a few hundred people planetwide. In certain ways, the narrative is fairly straightforward. As is common to the genre, a traveler arrives to a previously occulted utopia and, after being sketched in biographically in a bewildering first chapter titled “The Interviewer Interviewed,” receives a tour from a mysterious host. Heard’s prose is so maximally cultured and so mannered, however, that one has a difficult time determining who’s who. The guest character, in his relative innocence a stand-in for the reader, responds to the name “Ulick Stackpole” (or, later in the novel, the name’s abbreviated form, “L”), his initials reflecting his county of origin, while the more experienced “host” character, dialoguing at length on the workings of the utopian creation, answers to several titles: Preter Praetor, the Lord Persuader; Arbiter Elegantiarum; AE. Because utopias are inherently political, consensus reality encircled, relativized, compared and contrasted with another, I find myself wondering at Heard’s aims. What is the nature of this utopia? In trying to imagine the evolution of humanity toward what he calls “total uprightness” (in which one should also hear “erection”), Heard seems to have crafted a secret gay separatist demimonde, home to a race of immortal or at least semi-immortal elites. As AE’s various titles indicate, there’s no great fondness for democracy or self-rule in this utopia. One should thus be wary as one reads, noting questions and concerns. Why is the utopia set in Uruguay, for instance? Why has the book’s author invented elaborate fictions about money manipulation featuring European refugees fleeing to South America during WWII?
Maslow’s prose is dry and scientific. I keep having to take breaks while reading his book Toward a Psychology of Being. Parts of it seem wrong-headed, presumptuous; I’d rather be reading the poet Robert Duncan. Works of Duncan’s like “Often I Am Permitted to Return to a Meadow” evoke Neoplatonic realms, scenes made up by powers of consciousness. A force of gravity pulls us near. Duncan calls this force the “Queen Under the Hill.” Her binding us to her in loving embrace allows us to be both one and other. Being self-divides into temporary autonomous zones so as to become that way, consciousness rising up into matter, probing itself with language before returning from which it came. Each being bears witness, Duncan says, before itself standing in judgment. But why judgment, I wonder. Let us resolve to live well, thanking the world for providing us a loving home by providing one in return. Let these trance-scripts be ways of advancing that cause. Let them be merciful rather than cruel. Let us not condemn in our attempt to improve.
Re-reading humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow, I find much to like: his re-imagining of well-being in terms of individual and collective “self-actualization,” fulfillment occurring in and through a eupsychian network of co-evolving communities, including communes and growth centers like Esalen. But there are also some terrifying, instrumentalist defenses of “Science,” as when, in the preface to the first edition of Toward a Psychology of Being, he writes, “Science is the only way we have of shoving truth down the reluctant throat. Only science can overcome characterological differences in seeing and believing. Only science can progress” (viii). There’s a lot of genuflecting before terms like “empirical” and “raw facts.” Yet there remains a saving desire for integrated knowledge, knowledge that admits humanity’s creaturely actuality, as well as its god-like potential. Maslow characterizes this latter, “vertical” facet of human personality as a future dynamically active in the present, an absent cause prompting our becoming in a serendipitous manner, as if unplanned. We and the reality around us change subtly day by day.
Out comes Oneida’s Anthem of the Moon, released again into consciousness by the appearance of the band’s logo on an old t-shirt I pull from my dresser and refold while trying to de-clutter my house using the “KonMari Method.” The moon appears again later in the day in the lyrics to a Silver Apples song called “I Have Known Love.” The song is sad and tragic, as if sung by a psychedelic fallen angel, an Icarus or a Prometheus, chastened, having burned his fingers on the sun.