Without yet knowing in advance the form of this narrative, or even whether it is to be a story or a novel, this thing, this experiment in living theater that we’ve method-acted our way into — let us nonetheless speculate as to what it might mean and how it might happen. At minimum, it means a shift in genre. This Work we’re trance-scribing would become a fiction, a fantasy: something other than the author’s lived reality. This despite being tied indexically to that reality through its temporal adjacency. The world contributes, the world participates in the coming-into-being, the trance-scription, of the text’s episodes. It is to the rhythm of the day that the text is sung. What happens is: I realize I’m already in the alternate timeline. The shift occurred with the paralogy of “Wednesday January 6, 2020.” Publish as is and we can continue to remain in this timeline, thinks our traveler. Edit the date and we enter a timeline that occurred otherwise. Or so I imagine as I sit with the idea, the realization unfolding slowly as I water the plants in our garden. “Otherwise how?” I wonder. “What would happen?” We couldn’t know in advance, could we? We would have to become part of the experiment, like seed in soil, attending to the unfolding of each day amid conditions of precarity and love. Yet this we’ve already done by gifting ourselves the paralogy. Swapping the zero with the one would be like looking a gift horse in the mouth.
So begins the tale. Sarah green-lights the production and confirms my thinking about how to proceed. I go live with the paralogy intact mid-afternoon, and encounter several immediate forms of resistance. A troll, for instance, posts a comment proposing that the work has “hit a new level of faggotry,” while someone I care to know better sings out into the void of social media Martha Wainwright’s “Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole.” On a more hopeful note, though, the room (acting collectively here as Greek chorus) replies by sounding the passing of Donald Rumsfeld. Have I succumbed to cruel optimism? Should I have proceeded to the “unknown unknown” of the one? Perhaps the Work moves toward personal and collective flourishing as the one and the many learn to live in fidelity with both love and desire.
Friends, let us hold space and remember Cruel Optimism author Lauren Berlant upon word of their passing. “A relation of cruel optimism exists,” Berlant wrote, “when something you desire is actually an obstacle to your flourishing” (1). We are all in such relationships, are we not? “Speaking of grieving,” they wrote, it was in grieving French philosopher Jean-François Lyotard that Berlant “first saw optimism as the thing that keeps the event open, for better or ill” (viii). How does one come to recognize that one’s optimisms have become “cruel”? What is it that moves us out of ourselves? “A satisfying something,” they whisper. “An intelligence beyond rational calculation” (2). And we are here, we are caught in this “scene of fantasy,” we are in the throes of it. ‘Tis our present, our contemporary moment. And this moment is what Berlant calls an “impasse”: “a time of dithering from which someone or some situation cannot move forward” (4). That is the genre of these trance-scripts, is it not? “The impasse is a stretch of time in which one moves around with a sense that the world is at once intensely present and enigmatic, such that the activity of living demands both a wandering absorptive awareness and a hypervigilance that collects material that might help to clarify things” (4).
The day is a difficult yoga session writ large. I hold poses through tasks required of me: grocery shopping, lawn mowing, parenting. When time allows, I sit eyes closed and meditate. There is an alchemy in this working-through, this processing of desire. The day is the site where one practices care for an absent other. Come afternoon and suddenly it’s a pool day, world redeemed by popsicles and coconut bars. I rise up onto the surface of the pool and float there, big happy smile on my face as I imagine the act shared with another. My friend at The Alchemist’s Studio reminds me of a saying attributed to Vincent Van Gogh: “Yellow is capable of charming God.” The charm of that rhymes later in the day with “Charm (Over ‘Burundi Cloud’),” the 21:24 B-side to Jon Hassell and Brian Eno’s Fourth World Vol. 1: Possible Musics.
Hassell passed away yesterday at the age of 84. After listening and giving thanks, I receive J.R.R. Tolkien’s St. Andrews lecture, “On Fairy-Stories.” For this is what we wish to write, is it not? A story about Faerie, “the realm or state in which fairies have their being.” As Tolkien emphasizes early on, “Faerie contains many things besides elves and fays, and besides dwarfs, witches, trolls, giants, or dragons: it holds the seas, the sun, the moon, the sky; and the earth, and all things that are in it: tree and bird, water and stone, wine and bread, and ourselves, mortal men, when we are enchanted.” Tolkien also calls Faerie “the Perilous Realm” — the source of peril, I presume, having something to do with the realm’s magic. Faerie’s virtue lies in its capacity to satisfy various desires: “to survey the depths of space and time,” for instance, and “to hold communion with other living things.”
Frankie’s down for a nice nap after a morning at the pool. Sarah saw to matters related to the air unit — so I remove my feet from my socks and think. The narrative we write is important, yes? For narrative is the stuff of which cosmologies are made. World-pictures. Cognitive maps. The shape of the world is determined at the quantum level, much like Schrödinger’s Cat, by the struggle to determine the shape of the world-picture. Unless, of course, struggle and determination are not part of that picture. By “shape of the world” I mean the mutable present’s arrangement toward the imaginal realms we call “past” and “future.” Origin and telos. The present’s mode of appearance alters according to the previous night’s dreams, and the previous night’s dreams are shaped by memory and desire. Those who wish to steer the world toward Utopia take these latter as the prima materia of the great work. Kim Stanley Robinson, meanwhile, steers us back to work of a more literal sort. The climate crisis demands reorganization of labor. Certain chapters of Robinson’s 2020 novel The Ministry for the Future are written in the style of “notes,” “minutes” kept by an international working group: the Ministry, the book’s actant or protagonist. Work thus finds its way back even in our hours of leisure, as this is what we read when we read by the pool. The book itself is work; its utopia begins with a disaster, a heat wave that kills several million people in India. From this disaster come a pair of nova: the Ministry itself, of course, but also a direct-action group called the Children of Kali. This latter group intrigues me, given its alignment with the famous Hindu goddess of time, creation, destruction, and power. After the disaster, it is she who speaks to us: “I am a god and I am not a god. Either way, you are my creatures. I keep you alive” (13). Kali is the persona Robinson dons to give voice to Nature. Kali, with her long terrible tongue. Kali, with her necklace of severed heads. Several of the book’s experts prognosticate “civilization kaput” before century’s end (55). It’s all rather bleak: countless species facing extinction in the years ahead. Against the backdrop of that abyss, the book conjures its hyperstitial alternative future of geoengineering and rewilding.
Robin D.G. Kelley carries forward a remarkable defense of fantasy in his book Freedom Dreams — one I might consider as I design a course on fantastic literature for the year ahead. Kelley quotes from Paul Garon’s book Blues and the Poetic Spirit. “Fantasy alone,” writes Garon, “enables us to envision the real possibilities of human existence, no longer tied securely to the historical effluvia passed off as everyday life; fantasy remains our most pre-emptive critical faculty, for it alone tells us what can be” (as quoted in Kelley 163-164). Garon sees the blues as revolutionary in nature due to “its fidelity to fantasy and desire” (164). Fantasy is one’s remembering of the past on behalf of the future through a kind of dreamwork, in accordance with a desire that draws reality toward the “as if” and the “can be.” Others have called this desire Eros and the Spirit of Hope. In his retelling of the story of surrealism in light of anticolonialism, Kelley reveals a side of Jules Monnerot that was unknown to me. I’d known him before as a member of Acéphale, a secret society formed by Georges Bataille in the 1930s. After WWII Monnerot drifted to the right and denounced Marxism as a political theology akin to Gnosticism. What I learn from Kelley, however, is Monnerot’s prior involvement with surrealism. Martinican by birth, Monnerot arrived to France in the early 1930s. By 1933, he’d published a critique of the “civilized mentality” in the Surrealist periodical Le Surréalisme au service de la révolution. Monnerot was one of several black intellectuals attracted to surrealism. Kelley argues that these intellectuals “found in surrealism confirmation of what they already know — for them it is more an act of recognition than a revolutionary discovery. […]. Aime Césaire insisted that surrealism brought him back to African culture. Ted Joans wrote Breton that he ‘chose’ surrealism because he recognized its fundamental ideas and camaraderie in jazz. Wilfredo Lam said he was drawn to surrealism because he already knew the power of the unconscious, having grown up in the Africanized spirit world of Santeria” (184-185). For the abovementioned figures, and for others like Watts poet-activist Jayne Cortez, “Surrealism was less a revelation than a recognition of what already existed in the black tradition” (187).
Historical romance means the book should be sexy, and it is. Sex is built toward, alluded to. Sex is a potential (however much it may seem “fated,” so to speak, by genre). It’s the desire the protagonists sense in each other’s presence, a longed-for intimacy made possible slowly through a series of encounters wherein first are established after negotiation, following correction of initial misunderstandings, the revelation of each character’s love for the other. Characters reveal themselves through charming gaffes and faux-pas. And what fun characters they are! Each has been wrong, and each has been wronged; each learns through experiment to forgive the other. So goes the first 150 pages. Sex is savored and prolonged through its postponement. The encounter with the other brings with it pain and hurt, but also a reawakening of the senses, allowing each to “think, see, feel, new things” (The Duke Undone, p. 159).
“If the best way to learn is by doing,” argue the members of the Chicago Surrealist Group in a piece on the 1992 L.A. Rebellion written for the Winter 1993 issue of Race Traitor, “There is every reason to believe that in some seventy-two hours of popular, creative destruction, L.A.’s insurgent population learned more than they did in all the years they spent confined in classrooms” (8). The Group touts humor’s role in the Rebellion as both teaching implement and weapon. “Few things are more consciousness-expanding,” they write, “than a good joke at the expense of cops, bosses, and bureaucrats” (9). Cops can police love all they want, pretending their repressed lives matter ‘til blue in the face. Let us laugh as we dream ourselves out there again, dancing in the streets—and let this laughter of ours eat right through them (like acid etching new ways of being), desire educated by joy in doing until, hearts opened to the possibility of next time made this time, precincts go up in flames.
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.
I sometimes sort among aporia: irresolvable questions, internal debates, cosmological Rubik’s Cubes, beanstalks into clouds of abstraction. I feel pulled along sometimes, burdened by daily conditions and daily demands on my labor. Sometimes I think of it as “capitalism” — these conditions, my condition. How do we cheer ourselves? How do we transform the cognitive map into something enjoyable, something we can dance to, some sweaty tie-died daydream? By what games might we reinvent labor as play?
I panic, respond with a sense of claustrophobia to circumstance. How does one catalyze, how does one activate, live intentionally via will and wish? My Theravada Buddhist mentors suggest I think in terms of “dark night” and “spiritual abyss.” Is it foolishly egocentric of me to long instead for bliss and joy? Must we always obey the dictates of work and suffering? I wish to be outdoors sometimes, listening to the language of birds, dogs barking occasionally in the distance. Yet I also long for the company of Sarah. Train horns, police sirens, cellphone-chatting neighbors: no matter. Let us learn to live happily and helpfully toward others. Trust it, I tell myself. Trust the process. Trust whatever is happening — this haunting, this spell of fear. Let moments fall around us like rain.