When the trance-script writes itself, it writes the following:
“If the texts that students and I have been studying this semester are best referred to as ‘portal fantasies,’” thinks the part of me that persists here in the future, “then that, too, is the term to use in discussing the new AppleTV+ television series Severance. Characters in the show pass quite literally through one or more doors between worlds, living two separate lives.”
The show’s title refers to an imagined corporate procedure of the near-future that severs personhood. Those who volunteer to undergo this procedure emerge from it transformed into split subjects, each with its own distinct stream of memory.
As unlikely as this dystopian premise may seem, we can’t fully distance ourselves from it as viewers, given our severed personhood here “IRL,” as the kids are fond of saying. “Others may not be quite as manifold as me,” admits the Narrator. “But each of us is Janus-faced. Each of us houses both a waking and a dreaming self, with each incapable of full memory of the other.”
And as the show advances, of course, we learn through a kind of detective work that the severance procedure isn’t in fact what it seems. The work-self (or “innie”) battles the home-self (or “outie”) — as do Superego and Id here at home.
Noting my views regarding consciousness, a friend recommends I read the computer engineer Bernardo Kastrup. Kastrup and I both reject the idea that physical reality exists independently of the minds that observe it. Ours, we agree, is a “participatory” universe, involving interplay between mind and matter.
Mind is the one thing, I would say, that is not of this world. Nor is it a static substance. It identifies, it disidentifies; it remembers, it forgets. It undergoes changes of state.
And by “mind,” I mean something more than just the ego. Local, individual, waking consciousness is but one part of what Kastrup calls “mind-at-large.” (The same phrase, by the way, used by Aldous Huxley in his book The Doors of Perception.)
Kastrup rejects panpsychism, however, whereas I find the latter attractive, at least in some of its formulations. And Weird Studies podcaster JF Martel has issued a critique of what he calls Kastrup’s “monistic idealism.”
What I like most about Kastrup, though, is his explanation of how “mind-at-large” becomes reduced or fragmented into semi-autonomous parts. “Kastrup’s answer,” writes Martel, “is that we are all ‘alters’—fragmented, amnesic parts—of mind-at-large.”
A lifeguard blows her whistle and shouts “Pool break!” Better that than a trumpet. Families return to their seats. Some pack their things and leave for lunch, never to be seen again. A boy-child trails behind one such family mewling a bit, shouting “I want pizza!” Others arrive thereafter and take their place. My dissertation reckoned with these and other visions of the future, from the utopian to the apocalyptic. “How do such visions fare,” asks the one to the other across time, “in light of the consciousness revolution, the Revolution of the Eternal Now? How many or how few present what Esalen psychologist William C. Schutz calls ‘thoughts and methods for attaining more joy’ (Schutz, Joy, p. 10)? Must the Eternal Now be an eternal capitalist present, as per neoliberal ideology — as in books like The End of Ideology and The End of History? Or can we use the present to figure forth the Commune, beloved ones all living together in common, as per the slogan ‘Full Communism Now’?”
My eyes travel across spines of books, searching, seeking ways to proceed. Parenting, though, leaves little time to read. As Mark Fisher notes in Postcapitalist Desire, “In order to raise consciousness, you need time” (265). Time is the terrain of struggle. Time is what capitalists steal from those who labor. Stolen time equals stolen consciousness.
“The kid who’s into Althusser”: that was one of my identities as an undergrad. I read Althusser in my first English course, first semester of my freshman year. Newly hatched from the egg of the family. So coming to “consciousness” has been quite a journey. I spent most of my adult life questioning it or denying it, focusing instead on categories like “false consciousness” or “class consciousness.” Althusser’s essay “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses” knocked me over the head when I read it. The repetitions of Althusser’s prose enchanted me. Yet his story is a tragic one, and so one must become other than Althusser, through rejection of his scientism and determinism. One must find instead a practice of love and joy.
Revolution occurs psychedelically as minds manifest new forms. History is an evental process shaped by matter, energy, and desire. “Class consciousness,” “subordinate group consciousness”: these are names for agonisms remade into unions through wish and practice.
The “altered state” presumes variance from a norm: or at the very least, contrast between varying states. Modulation among intensities of experience. Sleeping and waking states. Dream states, drug states, trance states. States of hyper-absorption: flow-states, runners highs, fever-induced deleria. All of our texts this semester assume some ordinary, everyday waking state, as well as an alternative to that state. And in fact, we’ve all experienced “altered states” of one kind or another. Moments of intense concentration, moments of absorption or immersion.
A new semester approaches. Altered states of consciousness and perception: let us consider religious raptures, drug-induced ecstasies, “peak experiences” and the like as phenomena central to human activity as evidenced by literatures of many cultures and historical periods. A narrative forms as we travel Bill & Ted-style among ancients, medievals, and moderns. We detect patterns; the texts of different places and periods constellate in a kind of cyberspace of meaning, speak to one another as allegories of a transhistorical process or project: the attempt to get free. Confronted with the disruptive power of gnosis, we’re left wondering: “Red pill or blue pill?”
As parents, we become, undergo metamorphosis, transform into the worlds of our children. Through our actions, we model better natures, better worlds. Hopes manifest, consciousness redoubles upon species-being — and upon waking, sees before its very eyes a better state. We change by projecting upon the mind’s eye dreams other than those programmed into us by History.