I imagine myself away in a psychic hideaway, garlanded with wreath beside Bay of Biscayne, spying unseen, like the reason-mad royal society scientists of Bacon’s New Atlantis, antennae out, receiving signals, telescopes trained on the world. I gather around me work that suits me. Using wireframe models draped in polygons, I build new objects. Mechanical Turks. And I do this not by exploiting teams of artists made to sell themselves piecemeal in an unwinnable race to the bottom. I do it, rather, by way of consciousness modification. Reverse behavioral economics. Hypnoses, trances, collective lucid dreams. What constitutes crime in the absence of democracy? Criminality is a response to the wrongs of a society. Mindhunter makes me nostalgic for when universities were universities. Spaces of critical dialogue, where students and professors began from an agreement that established narratives were lies.
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.
Is consciousness just an illusory emanation of language? Or does it possess some sort of agency, some prior existence independent of language? A voice interjects, says “Grant it said agency and it does.” The subject, a kind of ghost, sits in darkness, manipulating symbols with its thumbs. One evolves by updating one’s code. Sensibility is an interface one can adjust by burning and inhaling sacramental plant matter. The interface undergoes what Franco “Bifo” Berardi calls “mental mutation.” It escapes some of its determination by image regimes and techniques of representation. “The repertoire of images at our disposal,” he writes, “exalts, amplifies, or circumscribes the forms of life and events that, through our imagination, we can project onto the world, put into being, build, and inhabit” (After the Future, p. 133). Must there be a nucleus of identity, a single author-function at the unviewable origin-point of the projection? How far can imagination abstract itself from historical reckoning? Can’t it sometimes float blissfully, no longer self-possessed?
Like Mayakovsky, I “see the one no one sees / crossing the mountains of time.” Consider this imaginary friend of mine — hovering, approaching, possessing me as I meditate. Marx’s spectre, pricking on the plain. It matters not where we land, I tell myself, as my boot bottom settles on an oil slick at the base of a gas pump. The important thing is to reopen the case of language and its relation to consciousness. The important thing is to track thought with thought.
My mind feels caught between rival epistemes or paradigms. Minds, by a certain age, possess sedimented layers of knowledge — and everywhere, paths not taken, blind alleys among the forking paths of unfinished text adventures. Errant wanderings of restless hearts. But isn’t the indistinct picture, the blurred concept, often exactly what we need? Consciousness needs avenues down which to scheme and hatch itself. The same is true of communism. Inventing communism means inventing a game and convincing others to play it. “Today,” Sarah says, “is all about feeling like we’re trespassing.” How many years are we talking? The mind exaggerates the details. Cut to the straight-toothed grin of a southern white park official as he scolds us for disobeying park rules and walking on lands not ours.
Marxism has always been a peculiar guide to consciousness. And by “peculiar,” I mean more than just “dialectical.” Cognitive dissonance experts won’t believe their ears, but consciousness resides ontologically at a level greater than mere smoke and mirrors. Part of me wonders, however, if by “greater than,” I mean “prior to.” This manner of thinking about thinking, like a body trying in the midst of practice to pick up and weigh its parts: is there a quality to it that distinguishes it from mere performative noodling? I feel challenged when faced with duplicating my experience of mind via words. Yet language is all that remains when the Cartesian self severs ties to productive agency with regard to that which lies beyond its senses. I prefer active listening. Selective co-production of meaning. When I walk, for instance, I modulate the directionality of my awareness as if I were operating an ambient musical interface not unlike a soundboard. Sound-objects rise and fall, as it were, in the mix. The best moments, though, I tell myself, are when awareness dips and the mix directs itself.
“Just so long as the universe doesn’t fill me with a bad infinity of sense data,” says he who persists in conceiving action as a thing one chooses. Lights, textures, synthesized rhythms. Modular sets of classifiers readjusting against an inky black background. “By luck one may do as one will,” asserts a high-pitched, as yet unnamed being. I convince myself to grow into a bigger, stronger, better version of myself. Head above headrest, carried forth by wind. Richard Horowitz soundtracks a stretch of my quest with his track “Eros Never Stops Dreaming.”
Frequencies flutter through a field. I’m also taken with the work of Horowitz’s fellow composer and sometime collaborator, Jon Hassell. Let us seek lives fit for Fourth World Vol. 1: Possible Musics, Hassell’s collaboration with Brian Eno.
An unobserved observer observes duplicate faces seeing eye to eye across a mirror. Cat-people march with banners. Selves enter and exit cells by way of windows. Vast stretches of universe await entry into consciousness. A head pokes through an opening, and wakes to another world.