Literature can be used to educate the whole person. Readings prompt studies of the psyche—studies of authors and characters as well as studies of ourselves. But these studies of selfhood and personhood can lead us—so long as we’re attentive enough, so long as we read carefully enough—from microcosm to macrocosm, from worldview to world. Consciousness of the cosmos and our place in it. They help us build cognitive maps, as Fredric Jameson would say. Intimations of who we are, what we are, when we are, where we are, how we are. Injustices are registered, confronted, acknowledged; we contemplate demands rightly made upon us by the aggrieved across history. Those amid us who are crying, let us comfort them. The maps may have differences, they may emerge for each participant individually, revelation and awakening scaled to each person; yet this awareness is of our commonality, revealed through our interactions as fellow Beings in dialogue over shared texts. As the Western Buddhist Beats who inhabit Jack Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums would say, we recognize operating throughout history a “Brahman”—a common consciousness or common ground of Being manifesting among the particulars of identity and historical circumstance. Taken in aggregate, these manifestations tell a story, however paratactically—a narrative history of which each of us is a part. This recognition of our relationship to history can’t be put into words, exactly, other than by declaring as Charles Olson does in his poem “The Kingfishers,” “This very thing you are” (171).
Baby strokes my Adam’s apple as I burp her over my shoulder. I wrap her in my arms and prepare to step outdoors. These are our doings, our joys. We go for a walk. We see the world. Exploration of outer space. How does one respond to one’s country having landed on the moon? What modifications occur to our myths and our cognitive maps? Anne Kent Rush ventured a guess with her 1976 book Moon, Moon, wherein she quotes the old Chinese maxim, “Love everything in the universe, because the Sun and Moon and Earth are but one body.” Let us strive for a state of pure and fearless openness to all things.
Fall foliage fills the day with color. Rich reds and yellows appear all around me as I drive around town collecting tools and parts, a would-be repairman. Maria Montessori’s been on my mind lately. I’ve been reading a handbook she wrote for American parents and teachers, originally published in 1914. Her approach to teaching, the famous Montessori Method, involved introduction of didactic material into children’s playhouses. Good to a point, I suppose — but I’d rather be playing multi-dimensional chess. Fredric Jameson likens our present reality to the latter in his new book Allegory and Ideology. The game is one where “a number of distinct chessboards coexist simultaneously with distinct configurations of forces on each, so that a move on any one of these boards has distinct but unforeseeable consequences for the configurations and the relative power-relations on the others” (191). Similar games appear in Sun Ra’s Space is the Place and Brian C. Short’s novel New People of the Flat Earth. “We live in just such a world,” Jameson writes, “just such a totality” (191).
NYC producer Cofaxx’s “Isles” sets the scene.
I read around a bit as clouds roll in. A book passed briefly through my lifeworld today: The Complete Van Book, filled with images and descriptions of shag-carpeted nomadic 70s utopias on wheels. Vans with names like The Sun and the Moon, with instructions in back for how to custom-build your own. Time to sit at a red table eating Chinese takeout. Time to revive myths and legends. “What we are seeing as we look straight ahead to the back wall,” writes Frances A. Yates as if she were Socrates speaking to those who live in the Cave, “is the tiring house wall at the Globe, not the whole of it but only the two lower levels; the ground level with the three entrances; the second level with the terrace and the chamber. We do not see the third level because we are under the heavens which are projecting invisibly above us from below the third tier of the tiring house wall” (The Art of Memory, p. 347). How’s that for a cognitive map!
Birds and squirrels play outdoors, the world outside the window an infinite cosmology, plural worlds within worlds. Sarah sings to me from the next room about the ideas of Margaret Cavendish. World-building. Radical occult ontology. Can these be the way individuals imagine themselves in relation to a cosmos of many beings and worlds? By such means, we could design our own cognitive maps, could we not? Think of these latter as structures similar in scale to Giulio Camillo’s Memory Theatre or Shakespeare’s Globe. Only they’re not grasped as structures. We learn our cognitive maps, we study them as they unfold all around us: the great Happenings of the Multitude. The “cognitive map” is a Utopian object proposed by Marxist literary theorist Fredric Jameson — a “spur,” we might say, an aesthetic riddle, a challenge issued to artists of the future. The purpose of this object that doesn’t yet exist, Jameson says, is to represent the unrepresentable, so that individual subjects can once again find their way in a global totality that at present “transcends all individual thinking or experience” (“Cognitive Mapping,” p. 353). When I return to André Breton’s “Manifesto of Surrealism,” I encounter aesthetic interventions of a different sort, ones that place their trust in “the inexhaustible nature of the murmur.” Allow language to air what needs airing, urge the Surrealists. Allow the unconscious to speak, no more cross-outs, just flow. To produce a “Surrealist composition,” one enters a receptive state of mind, allowing sentences to come either spontaneously or through games involving arbitrary constraints. Get weird, bring back the arbitrary, “so compelling is the truth that with every second there is a sentence unknown to our consciousness which is only crying out to be heard” (Breton 30). Breton’s movement was a response to world war. Reason had led humanity toward destruction and tragedy; perhaps we should live in accord, then, with our imaginations and our dreams. It’s a shocking, scandalous proposal, as Breton the former Dadaist intended. This is, after all, an anti-art. Yet its results are sometimes marvelous and strange. “The words, the images,” as Breton wrote, “are only so many springboards for the mind of the listener” (35) — and each of us, of course, when creating and dialoguing through Surrealist art, gets to play the listener, “reason’s role being,” in this art, “limited to taking note of, and appreciating, the luminous phenomenon” (37).
I share my couch with my friend’s dog, a cute half-lamb, half-poodle puffball named Stevie. Out in the yard across the street fly a pair of bluejays. Perhaps I should listen again to the birds. Everything else just looks like hype seeking freedom to spend. I wonder which version of London will appear in my coming journey. Will it be one I’ve read about, one I remember? Or will it be a visionary London, an occult London? Will the corporate pentagon of power sour the hour, or will we ascend, rise up, learn about heikhalot literature and Merkabah? For now, let’s assume the “latter” is above our pay grade and seek a third option. As Teilhard de Chardin reminds us, “The outcome of the world, the gates of the future, the entry into the super-human — these are not thrown open to a few of the privileged nor to one chosen people to the exclusion of all others. They will open only to an advance of all together, in a direction in which all together can join and find completion in a spiritual regeneration of the earth” (The Phenomenology of Man, p. 244). Soon I’m coasting along, Erik Davis serving again as guide, recounting for me the account of Indra’s Net from the Flower Garland Sutra — a “cognitive map” if ever there was one! Reading it makes me think for a moment of the here and now, the ground of Being. We are all sustaining and defining one another — so we might as well get good at it. Sunlight, birdsong, subreddits full of horse girls and rats that wash themselves with soap — find room for it, get it in there. Everything in a blog post. Everything on a sheet of paper. Evoke the world as a bird that flies over and tweets. Followed by another, followed by another. Davis explains it well. “Indra’s net is an image of totality,” he writes, “but unlike Teilhard’s vision of the Omega point [the moment when matter evolves into convergence with mind], this holism does not depend upon some apocalyptic moment of future synthesis. In the Hua-yen view, reality is already a totally interdependent matrix, and this unity does not and cannot cancel out difference, the blooming multiplicities that compose each individual event” (TechGnosis, p. 339). With this image of totality set as our map, we become more mindful of our angelic companions. “Buzz, buzz” go the bumblebees. “Buzz, buzz” go birds, cars, pedestrians as we attend to our craft: Self as it attempts to voice, sound, and sense the multitude.
Life is an insubstantial thing, an élan vital, wearing all substances as its veil. Minutes pass. The gameworld, operating in “neighborhood” mode, supplies the subject with new inputs, and with those inputs, new decision-trees. I walk a path and savor ambient soundscapes filled with interacting wind chimes. Small birds root among dead leaves, then perch atop a chain link fence. When I close my eyes, the sounds intensify. As one ages in the game, one advances in level. The alien is all-present: a coherent totality, the “all but me.” I relax some of my defenses and, through receipt of found or “gifted” sense-data, attempt to learn its language. I imagine beneath me hundreds of little concreted over creeks and streams. The unconscious: earthen, mythic center of being. It dreams us, and then we run away, reinvent ourselves, project ourselves into mind-made constructs. Dual time-tracks, time-sense surrendered to serial eternal presents peppered with patterns discoverable among arrangements of images and sounds.
I stomp through the streets after work muttering to myself, “I hate this fucking society.” I return home and sit in a room. Neurodiversity battles species-being. After a scuffle in the dark, the allegorical pair reenters the light in a new guise: snake-allied Gnostics who wish to inherit the garden versus ICE-wielding careerists. Such are the terms of the political mapping performed by Season 3 of The Path, a show that assembles itself around the creative reimagining of today’s anticapitalist left as a New Age separatist cult and thus, a largely religious rather than a largely secular political formation. Episode 2 ends with the “Eddie” persona punching a Nazi. Time appears to the allegorical mind as a vast tableau spread across a full field of vision. This channel and all of the others show us our mirror image catching sight of itself in another mirror. When we stare at books, I’m told, the sages of old live again in us.
I wonder sometimes about the ongoingness of declared feeling that results from the ritual nature of these trance-scripts. According to Thee Psychick Bible, though, ritual is “the concrete expression of experience…the foundation of awareness.” Ritual is the only way to approach the ideal of a complete and coherent cognitive map of experience. But do we need such a map? For what purpose? I consider abandoning communication altogether after skimming Henry Flynt’s execrable essay “The Psychedelic State.” Are proponents of “Ordinary Language” or “Natural Language” philosophy always as arrogant and as petulant as Flynt? Author, you are no proper author. Time relays itself into an ontological structure shaped like a cantilevered staircase. Weed-huffing is a healthy, low energy way of moving between floors. One is lifted. Consciousness spins itself off into spontaneously assembled wisps of trance-script, a consequence of subject-object entanglement.
The phrase “Libra sapphire glow stick” comes to mind as I walk beside a park remembering pleasures, abstractions, noise shows attended by the hundreds. Selves today would never permit themselves such latitude. High Maintenance uses its pot-dealer protagonist to motivate its posing of the problem of cognitive mapping in terms at once political, economic, aesthetic, and existential. Viewers get to ride in a sidecar as Ben Sinclair bikes across the metropole. Cognitive mappers should add to their reading lists Bertolt Brecht’s The Life of Galileo. Where might weed fit in a practice of orientation able to connect the abstractions of capital to the sense-data of everyday perception? It allows us to conduct our research furtively, I tell myself, hidden in imagination along a mosquito coast composited from bits of psychoacoustic space.