Unqualified delight. Process-oriented pleasure. Figures like Willis Harman, Gerald Heard, Al Hubbard, Myron Stolaroff. Places like Trabuco College. Events like the Sequoia Seminars. My thoughts as I sit in a park mid-afternoon condense around these and other found bits of language. Abraham Maslow, I learn, was close friends with fellow Brandeis professor Frank E. Manuel, coauthor with wife Fritzie P. Manuel of the important study, Utopian Thought in the Western World. I quickly realize, however, that beneath these thoughts lies their absent cause: an ever-darkening political reality. Simon Sadler investigates an earlier conjuncture’s encounter with this Scylla and Charybdis in his essay “Mandalas or Raised Fists?: Hippie Holism, Panther Totality, and Another Modernism.” As my metaphor’s competition with Sandler’s title suggests, he prefers revolutionary agonism, a universe that demands sacrifice, a universe spoken into being by the antagonism of an either-or, whereas I prefer the universe that allows the safe passage of an oceanic both-and. I can aim my ire at the clearly-felt capitalist core, the Death Star at the center of our current Primum Mobile, even as I simultaneously slough off this ire and unburden myself of ego-oriented wants and desires, refusing to identify, in other words, with the positioning asked of me, and entering instead into a kind of “flow-state,” the ecstatic waking dream, as consciousness reunites with being.
Children, playgrounds, beautiful spaces of plenty. There are poles we exist between: abstraction and embodiment. I am at my best as a person, as a companion, when I relax and get loose. These are words I’ve been whispering to myself of late. Sam Binkley shows in his book Getting Loose that this narrative of self-loosening was one of the main working assumptions of the 1970s counterculture. That culture’s “hip jargon,” he argues, “relates a moral universe organized around the opposing values of self-constraint and self-release” (2). Do those of us on the Left who pit ourselves against neoliberalism think ourselves free of the above, in denial of the selves posited by the sentence-form, the master’s grammar? Of course not. We need these to live in community with our friends, our families, our loved ones. Those upon whom we depend at all moments of existence. The single organic and inorganic body with its ever-proliferating, ever-multiplying nested sets of minds. Yet the body that produces garden beds of nigella also produces the Israeli atrocities in Gaza during Monday’s massacre. At which point the high fades and one is left to dwell with one’s anger.
How would one operate a dialectic of identity and nonidentity when that which wields the form of this sentence knows no designation? Alteration of consciousness produces a “before” and an “after” self, the presence staring at the absence as if across a mirror, across the divide of a tablet or a screen. The Unconscious is that which operates the Dream-Work: everything in one’s experience, the entire world, minus that which occupies the place of “I” at this moment in the discourse, the speech act, the trance-script. We become like the siblings in Poltergeist, you and I, even as we also think of ourselves as ones who exist apart from Poltergeist, watching from our chairs in the caves of our minds, each actor, the beings on either end of this sentence, communicating across the glass dividing the one and the other into compartments. “It’s a strange image, and strange prisoners you’re telling of,” says Glaucon. Socrates rushes to add, “They’re like us.” What, then, of those of us there, who find ourselves amid the terms of the allegory? Does one of us just tap the other, saying to that which appears as a splintered, refracted, Legionized symbolic totality, “Rise up, dear reader; time to wake”? My hunch is that if, before we sleep each night, we feed our minds better symbols, we’ll wake to better worlds.
In the second episode of its second season, Westworld reaches dizzying new heights of allegorical richness and complexity. Through sympathy, or sympathetic identification with characters, consciousness gives itself to other points of view. We witness Being from the standpoint of the commodity, the proletariat. Created beings piece together truth by eavesdropping upon conversations they overhear among the god-beings they’ve been made to serve. The West is a world that seeks the end of history, the show suggests. A world that seeks to destroy itself in order to puzzle out the meaning of its making. And where Westworld ends, The Blazing World begins. We are immaterial spirits cloaked in material garments, says Margaret Cavendish — our true selves, I would add, as invisible to us as video game players are to their avatars. Identification, I would remind readers, is the principle that allows this forgetting, this trance-formation that occurs, the self’s ability to merge in imagination with what was formerly other. One could easily extrapolate an imaginary but plausible heretical form of Christianity based on these beliefs. We are each of us the Christ, might go its teachings, each of us the Creator-Being made incarnate, entered into the Creation in order to save it. Let us imagine ourselves thus. Let us feel rapid and jittery upon our evening walks as we exalt in prefiguration of our approaching freedom.
The mind, like a hand, clenches and holds. The unconscious remembers everything: lessons in unmastered foreign languages, the self as inner ear. In a religious idiom, one would speak of minds knowing themselves in the Christ narrative, toggling between one and many. Were early descriptions of psychedelic experience overdetermined by encounters with Op Art, the contemporaneity of the two no mere coincidence? The answer lies buried in Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Inferno, a film that sought to depict visual and spatial disorientation using “Op Art”-inspired special effects. Voices and sounds prompt projections, the more abstract, the more manipulated the perception, the better. Lead and descant chase each other’s echoes. Op Art at the very least shared with the psychonaut population an interest in heightened or intensified modes of perception. Sensations of otherworldly motion, vibration, topological warping. Reality displays itself in some new way, allowing apprehension of something beautiful and bewilderingly complex. Magic circles convert the mind’s eye into a portal connecting distinct ontological realms, from which we catch brief impressions — until, like vapors, these realms disperse.
Imagine reality evolving into the unthinkable of existing sets and disciplines. Call the results of this dream-work The Ones Who Follow: A Modern Mythology. The Jonestown Massacre lies on the outskirts of all ventures of this sort, utopian communities of joy derailed everywhere, cursed, denounced, undone. How might we again induce a change in people? How might we together achieve self-actualization, group-realization? As opposed to just repeating over and over again history’s pattern of conquest, domination through separation of people from their lands. The “altered state” is what we’re after. That phrase, in its various senses, is what we mean by our Utopia. Lovers as hemispheres, fused at the mouth, as in John Donne’s “The Good Morrow.” We’re trying to raise consciousness, awaken the sleepwalkers from their deadly slumber — beginning with ourselves if necessary.
A parallelogram of forces swerves around a refrigerator drawer. I kneel and pat a patch of moss. Fields glow with thousands of yellow daffodils. ‘Tis the season ’round these parts. Is the universe trying to cultivate or diminish consciousness? Out of the blooming buzzing late capitalist totality comes Darren Angle’s reply: “The long hall of consciousness / makes room for shit like hot dogs.” Let us not abstract ourselves of particulars. Reinteriorize the different moments of exterior causation. Reintegrate chance with historical necessity so as to allow for synthetic progression. Otherwise, we’re just looking through bloodshot eyes.