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.
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.