Blue jays, sparrows, robins, squirrels: beings with whom I cohabit a rented plot of land, among similar plots of land, in a residential grid laid atop the hills of a small urban settlement. Behavior-control within these settlements benefits from a traitorous science, instrumental reason turned back upon consciousness, nature Elon-Muskified so that even the buzz of one’s cellphone has been market-tested, designed by corporate-governed Others to rattle nerves and redirect awareness. Time for a cleanse. Healthy living. Grapes grow over a neighbor’s fence, near-ripe as Sarah and I case the usual several-block radius around our house on a gummy, ninety degree evening. My thoughts cycle back to the horrors of our time: armed fascists, detention camps, trade wars, corporate control of most facets of life, entrapment via student debt. Big Data capitalism’s deliberate negation, in other words, of nearly all utopian possibility. With effort, though, I can steer my concentration back to my breath and the beauty of my immediate surroundings. This redirection of thought through interaction of set and setting with volition reminds me of the virtues of form.
This miserable totality is driving me stir-crazy. I conjure on my telescreen an episode of The Mike Wallace Show from May 18, 1958 featuring Aldous Huxley, described by Wallace during the episode’s intro as “a man haunted by a vision of hell on earth.”
What I find, with some surprise, in this broadcast is a description of twenty-first century reality, especially if by that I mean reality here in the United States under the current Trump regime. Yet this world of ours also isn’t quite the one Huxley imagined, due to his misunderstanding of the logic of capitalism. Unlike Brave New World, for instance, it isn’t so much a world of “people happy where they oughtn’t to be.” Fear and anger, rather, are the dominant emotions in this world, whipped into being through omnipresent policing and gun violence. Given the structure of the built environment, one rarely experiences other people, one rarely experiences any kind of “group dynamic,” except via mediation, thanks to the ubiquity within the society of money, cars, and cellphones. Members of the dominator class drive around under these undemocratic, unfree circumstances communicating their dominance with their GOP bumper stickers and their MAGA hats and their open-carry firearms, while the rest of us hunch over steering wheels or stand alongside busy highways waiting for city buses, growing harried and bitter as we rush back and forth between rented or mortgaged living spaces and corporate-governed sites of production and consumption. In fact, I begin to wonder as the interview proceeds if it isn’t ultimately some deep-seated fear of rhetoric, of “verbal boobytraps,” as he says, that drives Huxley’s evolution, his turn in the final years of his life toward mysticism and psychedelics. Hope depended for him upon the possibility of direct, unmediated access to and experience of truth. Rhetoric maintains its victory, as it has in all hitherto existing societies, turning all of history into a forced march toward “thoughtless pleasure and ordered efficiency,” only to the extent that it succeeds in distracting us from the truth of the injustice of servitude, the truth that murmurs up from within. For what is “applied science,” what is “instrumental reason,” after all, if not rhetoric?
Those who interrogate Being come upon days of self-questioning. “What potentials, what hidden latencies, what secret understandings,” we wonder, “lie unactivated by our current life-practices?” Our inertness, our passivity might under these circumstances begin to alarm us. We might become angry with ourselves for certain of our behaviors. We attach labels to these behaviors, we regard them as symptoms of newly-developed neurotic or obsessive-compulsive tendencies. By then, it’s too late. Interpellated. Game over. Once we accept the terms of the Other’s discourse, we’ve agreed to our own subjection, we’ve signed away our future labor-hours, our lives become the dumbest and most ordinary of tragedies: Wilhelm Reich’s The Murder of Christ. If instead we wore the crown of eternity and possessed free rein in creation of a self-determined rather than custom-built environment, in what ways and with what materials would we fashion our days? Purple majesties, where we sing to ourselves? Of course not! It would be more like yesterday. Let 4/20 serve as our guide. Play hooky, call in sick. Announce oneself a refusenik. In this one small step, glimpse the giant leap. Having expropriated the expropriators, we stand equipped with our labor-hours free of the usual impositions. Let us use them now as we see fit.
Dreams are among the most important of a person’s practices. Telephasic moons play tricks with neurochemistry, intervening in dominant narratives through production of new fantasies. Yet the information we receive when we dream somehow in its happening immediately degrades, undergoes loss. Think of it as a kind of Worm Ouroboros. Upon contact with consciousness, the message partially self-destructs. We’re left hovering indecisively at the interstices between worlds. Evacuated of truth-claims, unable to strive, gather, uncertain of vocation, I allow Jed Speare’s “At The Falls” to disconnect me and disperse me.
As the track proceeds, I somehow suture myself back together again as a cursor on a screen. Capitalism deprives even its intellectuals of the labor-time needed to analyze situations correctly, as these trance-scripts do hereby testify. We work most of our daytime hours just to reproduce ourselves, leaving the business of consciousness-evolution to ghoulish popular-science types, neoliberal trend-humpers, preening careerists. News cycles update at rates we can’t afford.
Using an app designed to replicate the stroboscopic “flicker” effect of Brion Gysin and Ian Sommerville’s Dream Machine, I begin my journey. I pass a semi-translucent energy field shaped like a dog. Trails lead to experimental grammars and readings in phenomenology. Friends and I over drinks speculate about socialist strategy in light of the strike in West Virginia. During brief lulls in the conversation, or while friends and I renew our drinks, I wonder about non-player characters and the representational challenges posed by collective subjects. Tools, remember, enable a prosthesis or “doubling” of the self. While Cluster & Eno’s “One” keeps me awake and hopeful, Jack DeJohnette’s “Aho” is what finally takes me beyond my skin.
Aggressive, utilitarian: the commodities that populate today’s indoor capitalist shopping malls no longer possess an erotics. Fonts and signage aim for instant legibility, leave nothing to the imagination, all artifacts and all actors of this world turned exclusively toward securing of utilities. Yet hypnotic props remain essential to the mall’s magic. Mirrored surfaces, confusions of scale, multiple conflicting pop songs played simultaneously: these and other methods induce a trancelike readiness to consume. Thankfully, “I AM THAT I AM” can escape these self-made confines. We can teach ourselves to race at lightning-quick speed up the inner canal of the optic nerve, thus allowing consciousness to awaken in the space behind the eyes a new era of sensitivity and interior vision, somewhere between heaven and earth.
After 15 years of teaching, all I can say with confidence is that education dooms itself to the circular reproduction of an empty formalism the moment it becomes compulsory. To extract myself from complicity with these and other compulsions, I walk alone on a sunny day, and whenever else the spirit moves me, listening to “Catfish Blues” by Alexander.
Crows and squirrels appear into consciousness and greet me on my way. As I crest a hill, I imagine myself happening upon a serene alpine lake. Plants offer me high fives, along with other, as-yet-unnameable signs of congratulation. Aye, crow, I hear ye. Greet me here in my true guise, the god of layaway and roustabout. Itinerant wanderer, upswept in a quest narrative that, through its inward-pointedness and self-invention, defies the tropes of conquest-oriented heroic fantasy. I look down at a pile of papers I’m supposed to grade and wonder, “Why am I here, again?” “Before being a worker,” I exclaim, “I am a person, perplexed by an alien imposition, the compulsion to work. Why should I complete tasks imposed by others, given this society’s open, gun-brandishing contempt for the only freedom that matters, the freedom from want?” To my students who complain only of Isis, of terrorism but not the terrorism of capitalism, I want to reply, “Relax. You are a non-subject, a non-event. A non-player character. History operates despite you.” Other students, thankfully, mine included, are organizing as we speak. OUT OF THE SCHOOLS AND INTO THE STREETS.
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.