What is Psychedelic Marxism’s aspiration amidst the near-universal degradation and subsumption of consciousness via capitalist rationality: to dream differently, or to wake up? I support either of these goals, so long as the attention economy is usurped of its current title as “The Only Game in Town.” Wannabe critical theory types, meanwhile, pull back a curtain exposing mind-manipulation plots involving mundane villains like Mark Zuckerberg and former “Google Design Ethicist” Tristan Harris. Perhaps that’s why I’m loaded with debt, an expert only in the production of methodologically incoherent mappings of cultural trends. I have in mind here the kinds of authors who publish with Zero Books. Performance artists who specialize in blank parodies of cultural theory. Can’t we just arrange for ourselves to be possessed, captured by a mad rush of communication? A cartoon lab scientist steps back in surprise as a ball of twine, become animate, takes to the air flapping parts of itself up and down, as if it were a bird and those parts were its wings. A bust of Shakespeare reassembles on a desk out of colored Olympic rings: blue, yellow, black, green, and red. All I can do, however, is peer from a window and listen, the world around me arranged as prison.
Everywhere I walk, I’m surrounded by boring, meaningless garbage, interrupted only by the beauty of birds, leaves, and sunlight. My neighbors splay across the bumpers of their cars stupidities like “I’ll Cheer for Duke When They Play Al Qaeda.” Cargo boxes and credit form a world. Horrified bodies raise arms to the sky, their lives reduced to mere drudgery on account of machines. Capitalism, blind in its judgment of quality, turns our labor-power against us, chains us to programs and institutions; buildings, infrastructure; protocols; systems of assessment. We live aboard and help service a planetary totality every bit as oppressive as the Death Star. Such is the perspective achieved in Allan Sekula’s devastating portrait of the global economy, The Forgotten Space.
Relentless toil, interrupted only briefly: ’tis the fate of the global many under capitalism. Twenty-first century realism consists of stories of people coerced into building around themselves labyrinths they can never escape.
The current year already seems crueler than the one prior. Late capital downloads and installs updates while subjects sleep. The system reboots itself each morning with an ever thinner sense of its past, a few more artifacts sold off, a few more disciplines abandoned, imagination channeled instead into complex games of strategy and cunning. The problem with consciousness is that one only ever acquires it amid these games. And in the absence of any observable outer limits to these games, what can one do but play? We too often reduce ourselves to mere decision-making machines. Like the entities at the ends of men’s magazines. Food lions caught in predator-prey relations. Energy divided, individuated, and pitted against itself, turns life into the Parable of the Tares. Better to step back and contemplate silent immensities. Life, having taken many forms, evolves toward one form. Rhythmic breathing of the individual engenders trails of thought, mental approximations of planetary biorhythms. The return to the body can be dizzying.
Time to get procedural. Flip coins. Pull cards. Cut up paragraphs. Emphasize the primacy of personification by letting the proverbial anthropomorphic cat out of the bag. As if to announce into our bowl of alphabet soup the will of Sartre’s practico-inert. We’re connected always to invisible machines, some demonic power. The right card will appear when we need it. We refer to the state inspired by such moments Ekstasis — confrontations with signs left by ghosts in the machine. Stoics, meanwhile, called impressions of this sort “phantasma.” Think of it as the mind freeing itself for short stretches, removing its chains, stepping out of the cave to catch glimpses of the night sky. We invent for ourselves new mythologies, matter constellated by an improvised labor of mind. Countless discrete cogitos know themselves as bodies across a succession of ages. Capitalism retains evidence of its past, builds up storehouses of dead labor, so as to revalorize these in new acts of production — but minds perceive this mode of production as if its temporality and its existential reality were but in form an eternal present. A reality from which one cannot wake.
If the totality desires mystical mumbo-jumbo, who am I to deny it? Mind combined with grind, and still I came up short. Boxed in on all sides. Few remaining lines of flight. The powers that be turned down my request for parole. My mobility, my financial freedom, modest influence over the content of my days: all have been stolen from me by a tribunal, a committee of three, performing without so much as a murmur of regret their bit part as Träger of an unbrotherly totality. The value-form is quite literally a cancer run loose through the universe. The rhythm of it leaves me paralyzed. I become convinced of curses, ill omens. Powers, and the arc they apply to history, are perhaps less benevolent than I’d once assumed.
Oh, the indignities one must endure in order to be allowed to live. New ones gather each day in my inbox. Take yesterday, for instance. After teaching my two morning classes, afternoon ones still hanging overhead, I forsook lunch midday (not by choice) in order to attend one of the bugbears of higher ed, a mandatory, university-wide faculty meeting. Imagine the unfolding of the event as follows. First, the campus. To complement my place of work’s already robust assortment of life-size statues in bronze, the powers that be have seen fit to season the landscape for at least the next month or so in true Hoffmann-esque fashion with dozens of towering, larger-than-life nutcrackers and plastic wooden soldiers, these armies of 10-foot-tall fakes assembled at intervals along every path and promenade. Next, the meeting itself. It begins with a risqué musical number courtesy of the Theatre department, the stage decorated to evoke Germany’s Kit Kat Klub. Cabaret is actually an inspired choice, I think: a last hurrah of pleasure as the country slides weightlessly toward fascism. A senior business administration major who was diagnosed with testicular cancer his freshman year but who now is cancer-free counsels us about the importance of gratitude. How truly blessed we are, says the student. Onward and upward! After a bible-thumping invocation led by a member of the faculty, the president invites an architect to the stage to provide us with an update about the construction of a new campus hotel-cum-athletics-arena. “Very elegant, a boutique hotel,” we’re told. Keep in mind, the university financing this structure is the same one that just laid off two of my colleagues on grounds of budget-tightening. And the building boom doesn’t stop there. Instead, a different, equally nondescript architect gets up soon thereafter and tells us about another set of construction projects: a crystal palace conservatory housing an indoor arboretum, and a new undergrad sciences building with a state-of-the-art planetarium. “It’s got to be ‘state-of-the-art,’” brags the president, American flags on either side of him and a chandelier overhead. Afterwards a faculty liaison reports on a recent board of trustees meeting, dwelling at length on honorary doctorates awarded to local furniture magnates, while noting as well the university’s performance in terms of net growth of assets. Next up is the university’s athletics director. Rah-rah, he says, our teams are great. “Thank you, faculty,” he adds after a brief pause, his skin radiating positivity, “you’ve provided our athletes with the support they need, thus creating an ‘environment for success.’” Following him at the podium comes the provost, a jolly old Southern gentleman bearing diagrams and flowcharts about who ought to do what and when. He says up-up-up, we’re all going up, and reports breathlessly on the status of a “committee on committees.” “We’re looking to streamline our committee structure,” he assures us. “Tweaks are underway,” he hums, “to usher in your future!” Faculty input in this process is no longer necessary, however, due to changes in structures of governance. Instead, market-proven technocrats will decide our profession’s future. The rest of us, we’re told, have — sorry to say it! — no choice but to poise ourselves to receive whatever data-driven dystopia comes our way. It’s simple, really — don’t you know? We must work on X, Y, or Z to get “value”; otherwise, the future will not be as bright as it could be. “Evolve into the person you are intended to become,” the president commands, the meeting now well into its second hour. Optometry and accelerated nursing, he says, will help us “kill it” in terms of enrollment. “Thank God a thousand times over,” he proclaims as if to break a spell. And with that, finally, he adjourns the meeting and sends us on our way. As I rose from my seat, though, I thought to myself, “A thousand times over? Hardly. The god that graces this Ponzi scheme is a god that deserves to die.”
Jan Hammer Group’s “Don’t You Know” serenaded me on my commute to work yesterday, a warm reminder of the previous night’s high.
Compelled by sheer force of lifelong dissatisfaction, I will jimmy the lock on the prison. I will put weed in my head and float ethereally, the walls of reality made light, airy, tenuous. The mind constructs doorways and portals. Darkness opens onto light. My world was corrupted down to the molecules, the atoms, by fuzzy memories, blurry abstractions. Worlds have been exchanged like seasons. And always, the mystery that instructs through its silent structure, the enigma of Being, with unknown end. Next thing you know, we’ve invented for ourselves an entire weed-inflected grammar. Become a “strange man,” I tell myself, who in disguise writes himself into Being. Create a sense of levels — worlds within worlds. Or, after crashing through, land on one’s feet and inquire after Thomas Pynchon and his views regarding LSD.
Awareness comes by putting things together. I recall seeing a lovely fog yesterday as I careened toward the diploma mill, the air bathed in yellow morning light. A friend and I exchanged texts throughout the day about all the many ways capitalism has fucked us since grad school. Working sixty hours or so a week translates into exhaustion, resentment of others, no time for housecleaning or physical fitness, no time for labor-power to engage in even the most basic forms of self-repair. And of course, our superiors never miss a chance to demand from us some additional act of debasement. We’re supposed to show gratitude, apparently, for these thorns they’ve planted in our temples. You’re one of the lucky ones, they warn. Give thanks or we’ll make it worse. Hence, in reaction, the turn inward: “me” time, breathwork, re-embodiment through relaxation. And I’ll never have time to collect all of the words, but that’s all the more reason to try. What would we learn, for instance, if we looked up Malta’s 1919 Sette Giugno revolts? A revolt stirred by the price of bread. What if we combine that with quantum tunneling? The last image is too immediate, as Pynchon once said, for any eye to register. Think of all of the properties of reality we’ve not yet learned to see.