I retrieve an object from a stack of documents: a postcard for a show called “Pacts and Invocations: Magic and Ritual in Contemporary Art.” Peering into the depths of the image, I see what lies within. ‘Twas a hard day but we got through it. Word-sounds, hyperobjects. Goin’ round eatin’ nuggets and fries. I feel devastated by a loss borne by someone close, and by all of the various “operations” running around, upon, and through me: vaccines, medicines, doctors, treatments. Sarah recommends RuPaul’s Drag Race as we talk over dinner. Frankie sits beside us drinking milk from a sippy cup. Home afterwards, I receive word of a friend’s talk on Psychoanalysis and Psychedelics. Another friend shares a line from a Gerard Manley Hopkins poem: “Selfyeast of spirit a dull dough sours.” The line is from “I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day,” one of Hopkins’s so-called “Terrible Sonnets” of the 1880s. I think of the day’s arrivals as fodder for my meeting with my therapist. Doubt and depression weigh upon me when I contemplate my lack of accomplishment. Hopkins’s poem, though, I remind myself, remained unpublished until decades after the poet’s passing. Listening now to the talk by my friend the psychoanalyst, I’m made to think about “resonance,” a concept the friend extracts from Terence McKenna and Erik Davis. The latter defines resonance as “a phenomenon of interpenetration and mutual participation, of the blurring of the boundary between subject and object, something that is much easier to hear than to see.” Hear it I do as I pause the video and make time for Time for the Tams (1965). “Finally,” Nate says, “it is a form of coincidence.” All of which puts me in mind, of course, of Jung’s concept of synchronicity. Other phrases resonate here as well: “uncanny contact.” Nate reads Valis as the story of a psychosis. “Truth serum” administered in the wake of the removal of Dick’s “wisdom” tooth provokes Dick’s realization that reality is an illusion. Dick’s Exegesis, Nate argues, “is a tome of coincidence. […]. Valis, meanwhile, is a novelization of the Exegesis.” Valis allows Dick to split himself in two. He is both Horselover Fat, the subject who experiences, and Phil, the subject who narrates. Dick is also several other characters in the novel: the cynic, the Christian optimist. Each character a facet of the author’s psyche.
Blue jays, sparrows, robins, squirrels: beings with whom I cohabit a rented plot of land, among similar plots of land, in a residential grid laid atop the hills of a small urban settlement. Behavior-control within these settlements benefits from a traitorous science, instrumental reason turned back upon consciousness, nature Elon-Muskified so that even the buzz of one’s cellphone has been market-tested, designed by corporate-governed Others to rattle nerves and redirect awareness. Time for a cleanse. Healthy living. Grapes grow over a neighbor’s fence, near-ripe as Sarah and I case the usual several-block radius around our house on a gummy, ninety degree evening. My thoughts cycle back to the horrors of our time: armed fascists, detention camps, trade wars, corporate control of most facets of life, entrapment via student debt. Big Data capitalism’s deliberate negation, in other words, of nearly all utopian possibility. With effort, though, I can steer my concentration back to my breath and the beauty of my immediate surroundings. This redirection of thought through interaction of set and setting with volition reminds me of the virtues of form.
Crazy, really, the worries we invent to forestall enjoyment. But when it happens, when we overcome our fears and rise from our depression, messages come through—alternate meaning-systems, dreams—and the resulting metamorphosis of the world-picture can occur quite suddenly, as it does to some of the protagonists in Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle, readers who become conscious of their positioning as Subjects as they read The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, the novel-within-the-novel that allows them to peer out from their own history to learn of another. It is as if one’s attention were suddenly able to lift for a moment from the totalitarian thoughtscreen, the system of Being then and there updating and evolving, as it were, in the blink of an eye. Otherwise I just sit around reading and wielding digital code all day, bemoaning the lack of plants in my office.
Consciousness grazes in one of reality’s slighter pastures. It regrets the creation of the hunting instinct, and by extension the will to earn, but it scarfs down a dinner fit for an aristocrat. Not really. Sad, listless, having lost any sense of personal promise or potential, I drag myself through space, nibbling occasionally at items from fast food franchise value menus. Sarah tries to cheer me by suggesting we collaborate on something creative: “a screenplay,” she says, “or perhaps a work of fiction.” For those of us susceptible to wintertime blues, the only way out is through.
Others vacation when and where they want. This, too, is a form of inequality. Worse still, my city is livable, but unmemorable and unattractive. Is my miserabilism the effect of my impoverished personhood or its cause? I am being asked to fail and fail again. And it’s okay: I’ll keep going. I know I somehow will. Please do not be frightened. It’s just that I’ve become deeply unhappy with myself. My writing is a testament to the failure of my ability today to enjoy. The thing is, it really felt like I was pulling out of the spiral there for a moment. What happened? I try not to tell myself that I suffer from depression, as I’m wary of the theoretical presumptions embedded in that label. (My thinking has been partly shaped on this score by Susan Sontag’s Under the Sign of Saturn. But see as well Eric G. Wilson’s Against Happiness.) But, look, let’s be honest: my moods are seasonal and affected by work. I go through patches of good and bad over varying durations. One consequence is that I drive people away just by being myself. My work, if it is truly to be mine, will have to attest to this. And so, without further ado, let’s return to the work itself. The construction of a Marxist theory of psychedelia will have to build upon the insights of critical geographers like David Harvey and Edward W. Soja (and before them, Henri Lefebvre). Psychedelics intervene in and directly modify socially produced space, by changing what we might call cognitive space or mental space. “The presentation of concrete spatiality,” as Soja notes, “is always wrapped in the complex and diverse re-presentations of human perception and cognition, without any necessity of direct and determined correspondence between the two. These representations, as semiotic imagery and cognitive mappings, as ideas and ideologies, play a powerful role in shaping the spatiality of social life” (Postmodern Geographies, p. 121). As we continue to think about the relationships between psychedelics and space, we’ll also have to consult Alastair Gordon’s book Spaced Out: Radical Environments of the Psychedelic Sixties. Following Fisher, I see capitalist realism not just as an ideology and an aesthetic that situates subjects within a narrowed or foreshortened horizon of political possibility, where there can be no future utopian alternative to the present; it’s also a shaping and debasing of the way subjects experience space and time. Psychedelics thus possess a certain radical potential under such circumstances, as they provoke immediate (albeit temporary) modification of inner experience beyond the forms imposed by capitalism. When under the influence, one is no longer the Self as defined and designed by the current order. One can drift and linger, now that one has restored to oneself that which capitalism had drowned in what Marx called “the icy water of egotistical calculation.” Anxieties, begone! Pot allows us to see again reality constituted through veils and unveilings, everything both inwardly-lit and haloed. All of which is to re-invoke through transcendence upward from the profane a sense for the sacred, although I’m not sure I wish to do that, as emotional, perceptual, and symbolic spaces are all still immanent to the dialectic of nature. Picture, through perceptual refocusing, the circle-shape and the yin and yang struggle contained therein. No need to delve into those questions just yet. Think, after all, of how much of our lives is invested in staring at illusions of depth onscreen! Games of perception are the very magic by which the system operates. Business is, along with whatever else, a religion imposed on conquered subjects.
Reality is plastic insofar as minds can take us elsewhere. Utopia is a place one visits through remembered scraps of song. We can bend down and stroke blades of grass. We can grow lonely in the many rooms of our days. Solitude walks us through a diverse range of affective registers. One becomes absorbed in a full stopping of one’s certainty that one will ever again witness the passing of time. Certain changes are hard to contemplate, like the loss of a pet. A part of one’s consciousness, disappearing from active presence in one’s narrative. Must I be audience to this? One becomes panicked by bouts of painful sadness. Music sometimes suffices to dull this, as with Destroyer’s “Sky’s Grey.”