When thinking about Freud, we should think also of one of his most important successors, Frantz Fanon. Fanon was born in Martinique in 1925 and studied medicine in France, specializing in psychiatry. In books like Black Skin, White Masks and The Wretched of the Earth, he rewrites Freud, positing in place of the latter’s Western imperial Ego a black psyche: a diasporic, anti-colonialist Orphée Noir or “Black Orpheus,” as Sartre would say, seeking to liberate itself from a white world. Fanon is angered because the French Empire imposed upon him through colonial schooling the Master’s language, “the mother tongue,” the language of the core. The anticolonial subject takes possession of the language and talks back — though not, as he says, with fervor. Fanon tells us he doesn’t trust fervor. “Every time it has burst out somewhere,” he writes, “it has brought fire, famine, misery…And contempt for man. Fervor is the weapon of choice of the impotent” (Black Skin, White Masks, p. 9). What Fanon performs instead is a kind of radical psychiatry upon Western consciousness. His books are psychotherapeutic treatments for those whose heads have been shrunk.
There are moments of self-reflexivity in Pharmako-AI, as when Allado-McDowell begins a conversation with GPT-3 with meta-language about prior interactions, allowing shared acknowledgement of inherited patriarchal bias. After this point, GPT-3 course-corrects, recognizes and honors women and non-binary people. There is a chanting of thanks to the Great Mother Goddess following Allado-McDowell’s insertion into the conversation the prompt, “Thank you, Grandmother” (104). Prior to these interventions, GPT-3 had shared a macho, “Italian-futurist”-style machine-poem in celebration of grandfathers, figuring its birth in relation to a grandfather engineer-machine who worked for General Motors. Allado-McDowell replies, “When I read this poem, I experience the absence of women and non-binary people.” GPT-3 behaves oddly here, repeating several times in a row the statement, “This poem is not without its truths, but it is incomplete” (97), after which point it begins to acknowledge as additional influence on its work “the lineage of the Great Mother Goddess” (97).
Smoking toward dusk I decide to bake — but to no avail. “Bake and bake” remains a dad book waiting to be written. Dad’s busy reading board books. Mom, too. Others seek “productivity hacks.” A Google employee named Kenric Allado-McDowell co-authored a book with an AI — a “language prediction model” called GPT-3. The book, Pharmako-AI, could be wrangled into my course in place of Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly. Dick’s book is a downer, a proto-cyberpunk dystopia, whereas Allado-McDowell’s book contains a piece called “Post-Cyberpunk.” The book models communication and collaboration between human and nonhuman worlds. GPT-3 recommends use of Ayahuasca. The computer tells humanity to take plant medicine. What are we to make of this advice from an emergent AI? The book ventures into territory beyond my purview. GPT-3’s paywalled, and thus operates as the equivalent of an egregore. Not at all an easy thing to trust.
The writer in me feels a bit lost, a bit time-tunneled, not yet able to flow. I recall a book I encountered in my past: A Hundred Camels in the Courtyard by Paul Bowles. The book turned up synchronistically in the bins where I scavenged in the days after a transformative event in my life: my first time getting high. I try to recall some of that headspace. “Two worlds,” say the kif-smokers of Morocco. Kif delivers the smoker to a world other than the one determined by inexorable laws. The kif world is a projection of the smoker’s essence: “the elements of the physical universe,” Bowles explains, “automatically rearranged by cannabis to suit the requirements of the individual.” Bowles speaks of “dedicated smokers” whose visits to the kif world are “undertaken for the express purpose of oracular consultation.” I imagine the kif-world as a world adjacent to (perhaps even coextensive with) the world of these trance-scripts.
Can a text become a time machine, a weaver of strange loops? Where does free jazz fit in the machine’s equation, as Moor Mother says it must? Is the text composed through spontaneous play with others? Have we been living “atemporally,” as Bruce Sterling suggested? The form of these trance-scripts is both-and. One can scroll vertically through a stack of days. Or one can proceed rhizomatically, inputting keywords into a search of the site’s invisible index. Search for Willis Harman, for instance, and read about SRI and LSD. Harman was a square — an electrical engineer who, after getting turned on, turned on others. He became a pivotal figure in the human potential movement. He also coauthored a book with Wired affiliate Howard Rheingold called Higher Creativity: Liberating the Unconscious for Breakthrough Insights. Beware this talk of “liberation,” though. Harman’s research may have been CIA-funded. Something occurred there. Our time-traveling psychedelic detective needs to investigate SRI. If one wants to make it weird, sprinkle into the plot a secret order of time-traveling Hashishins — followers of Hassan i Sabbah. Have the detective find among his case files Michel Jeury’s Chronolysis and Daniel F. Galouye’s Simulacron-3.
Who stormed the reality studio? What did Burroughs have in mind when he wrote that? How and why would one want to “retake the universe,” and from whom? The phrases appear in Burroughs’s 1964 novel Nova Express, a book stored in a box. We could go chasing / for this Thing, / or we can take note of our surroundings. Listen. Receive. Toyscapes, object-scapes, portals, desire-machines, time-machines. Witness them in the space of the now. To be a Marxist in late capitalism is to be a detective. And detective work’s a drag — unless you’re a beat detective: gonzo, amateur, freelance, “for the People.” The Academy needn’t be that Academy — the one starring Steve Guttenberg. In Burroughs, it’s a battle between Mob and Police for control of the Unconscious. Hassan i Sabbah’s in there, too.
Octavia Butler’s Kindred is a time travel novel worth noting in light of work by contemporary Afrofuturists. The book’s protagonist, a 26-year-old African-American temp agent named Dana, finds herself suddenly and inexplicably transported from her home in present-day California (or the present day of 1979, the year the book was published) to a plantation in the Antebellum South. History kidnaps her, we might say. She doesn’t travel willingly. And when it occurs for her, travel is always to a painful and traumatic past. The book stages for readers an encounter with ancestors, leaving unventured the world of tomorrow. Kindred differs from conventional time travel narratives in other ways as well. Usually, time travel narratives feature white male protagonists who can travel to almost any period in history without sacrificing their privileged social status and position of dominance. These conventional white male protagonists can “pass” as ordinary figures from the period, while often using their knowledge of the future in order to gain power over others. For these characters, time travel is basically an exotic form of tourism, like a safari (as is explicitly the case in Ray Bradbury’s classic 1952 short story “A Sound of Thunder”). Meanwhile Dana’s appearance as a liberated black woman (in terms of clothing, skin color, manner of speech, etc) immediately places her in danger of rape and enslavement as soon as she arrives to the past.
A friend with whom I recently reconnected shared with me his fears about what he calls “The Authoritarian Left.” Why has his thought territorialized around this concept? Where is this friend’s analysis, I wonder, of the actually-existing fascisms, the authoritarianisms of the right? Deleuze and Guattari are somehow authors this friend and I share in common. Let us attempt, then, to construct from their Anti-Oedipus a “tool for conviviality” (xxii). Let it be “a manual or guide” — or as Foucault said of Anti-Oedipus in the book’s preface, “an Introduction to the Non-Fascist Life” (xiii). Just to be clear: I am proposing here a practice of mutual self-care. By these means, we heal.
Peering at books I received as gifts on Christmas morning, I happen upon A Treatise on Stars, a new collection by poet Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge. Sarah brings word of a friend’s new novel dedicated to our daughter Frances. This same friend authored a book I’ve taught — one I plan to teach again this spring. Time to think about stars and cosmologies. Stars appear in the Berssenbrugge book, as they do in the new Star Wars series The Mandalorian, a show we watch with family. My nephews received a talking Baby Yoda doll for Christmas. Together let us explore together systems of stars. Establish communication among spinning galaxies across the distances of space and time. Listen to each star as it sings.
As I wander again through the woods, the ground now covered in an inch or more of snow, I reflect upon the brief history of gardens recounted by Federico Campagna in his book Technic and Magic. The root of “paradise” arrives into Greek and Roman thought by way of ancient Persian gardens. “A Persian garden,” writes Campagna, “was a Paradeisos, to follow Xenophon’s first Greek transliteration of the original Persian term Pairidaeza” (175). For ancients, gardens functioned as living pictures of the cosmos. “This same structure surfaced again in Italy at the time of the Renaissance,” he adds, “when gardens were designed as miniature cosmoi (plural of cosmos, the universe)” (176). Let this history be a guide for our garden-making in the year ahead.