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 dream: Sarah and I ride with our friends S. and M. in the back of a FedEx truck stuffed with packages. Soon students join us, as if we’re all traveling somewhere for a field trip. Several students consume mushrooms. Part of me wants to partake, but when they offer, I decline due to personal and professional obligations. Eventually we arrive at a house. Some guy from the truck begins to chat with me in the basement about a wild trip of his and a course he teaches at the Center for Integral Something-or-Other. Buffalo emerges as a shared point of reference, at which point Sarah peeks her head down the stairs. “The kids have arrived — time to come upstairs.” I wake to find Sarah lying beside me, breathing through a series of contractions.
Can the wishes we allow ourselves in our dreams teach us ways to overcome the strictures of capitalist realism? Pay attention: keep a dream journal. Practice anamnesis.
Sarah and I rode up to Camden Town last night to see Soweto Kinch perform one of my favorite albums, Pharaoh Sanders’s Karma, at the Jazz Cafe, in honor of the album’s fiftieth anniversary. It was a stunning night, the music heady enough to generate “eyeball movies” all on its own — eidetic glyphs and pulsing pyramids — without need of any chemical assistance. Yet the show’s good vibes didn’t last long. I slept poorly throughout the night, waking several times from panic-filled dreams, one involving an angry giant pushing a cabin off its foundations, causing the structure to tumble down a ravine. Within a few hours of this dream, Facebook announced its plan to launch a new global currency called Libra. In the hours of the morning before the key fit the lock, however, I wandered out by bus and by train into the suburbs of South London to view an exhibition called “Brilliant Visions: Mescaline, Art, Psychiatry” at Bethlem Museum of Mind.
A sunny late-afternoon walk along Regent’s Canal observing houseboats and seagulls reawakens a memory of the previous night’s dream: I’ve inherited a boat shaped like a VW Beetle, only the docking point for the boat lies just prior to a small waterfall, causing me to fret about my inability to locate the nautical equivalent of a parking brake. (In the dream, this object that I’m searching for and that fails to materialize is very clearly understood to be a parking brake rather than, say, an anchor.) Yet as I pause to write out this recollection, an owner of a narrowboat — a young dude with Dr. Martens, a thin mustache, sunglasses, and a radio playing Elvis and Hendrix — pulls up beside me and I lend him a hand manipulating the gate of a locks system to help him lower his boat into the lengths ahead. From this, I deduce a provisional ontological scheme or order featuring pairs of successive “stages” or “levels”: the first involving anxiety as preemptive, unconsciously manufactured fantasy-construct, the second involving an overcoming of this fantasy-construct through intuitive acts that instigate learning and growth.
I wake from a series of vivid anxiety dreams and Trump-inspired apocalyptic nightmares. The first reminds me of J.G. Ballard’s Concrete Island retold in the style of Angela Carter. A grifter drives her car off an embankment into a stand of trees. Still a bit woozy from her crash, she wanders into an enchanted garden, at the center of which stands the twenty-first-century equivalent of a witch’s cottage. When the grifter learns that the cottage is for sale, she poses as a potential buyer. In a second dream, by far the more frightening of the two, a pair of middle-aged shock jocks wait in a hotel room preparing for a visit from the president. The shock jocks look oddly similar to one another. Picture Sir Richard Branson as a pair of coke-addled stringy-haired Texans. Close-up of a swastika carved into the bun of a McDonald’s cheeseburger. The POV withdraws to reveal my dream-self watching the shock jocks on a monitor, as if they were part of a feed from a surveillance camera. A woman enters the room and with infinite care suggests that I get my plans in order for the time ahead — at which point I wake.
A dream where, after playing chase around a house with family, we end up camping in the woods. Sustainable green muscle cars park beneath cherry blossoms near an abandoned big-box, sun at my back reflected in a side mirror as it approaches the far horizon.
When I wake at 2:40am, fresh in my mind are a set of dreams. I visit some sort of gathering or festival on a farm or a fairgrounds in the company of two childhood friends (who from this point onward I’ll refer to as R. and J.). J. asks us to accompany him to a chain restaurant. R. is skeptical, J. apologetic (“you don’t have to come along,” he says, “I’m just hungry”). I try to mediate on J.’s behalf, explaining to R. the restaurant’s location in relation to places we all visited during childhood like the United Skates roller rink. Elsewhere, perhaps in another dream altogether, my mom lays giant white sheets out in the bedroom of my childhood home, only the second floor of the house is airy and open, with huge, tall windows — some entirely different structure from my home in waking reality, but one that to my dream-self seems entirely familiar. Somehow that segues to a shoot for a music video: maybe something my dream-self watches online, starring a contemporary band covering a song from the 60s, pretending to tear down an old door to hang a large antique mirror with an angel head sculpted into the top of the frame. Someone who looks like a minor acquaintance of mine but who my dream-self understands to be Timothy Leary’s son Zach appears in an interview for the video, as does a local artist from the town in which I currently reside. One of them explains to the interviewer, “I guess I’m waiting for some new judgment, hoping that that era didn’t just die out, you know?” When I wake to pee, I immediately associate the doorway with the Siege Perilous, a portal between worlds featured in a series of X-Men comics that I read as a kid. When I wake again at 4:30am, another dream lingers. Walking through a large circular home with friends and family, waiting for some band from the 60s to perform, I carry a wooden folding chair that transforms over the course of the dream into a beanbag. As I tell my aunt and uncle about other large circular homes that my dream-self claims to have visited in California, a large dog comes bounding over and tries to wrestle the beanbag from my hands, jumping up and licking my left ear, causing me to flinch with fear, at which point I wake with a start. A final dream remembered upon waking at 6:20am: Sarah and her parents purchase a nice, large house for us with large, overgrown grounds, and while Sarah tours me through for the first time (the house already having been purchased without my knowledge), Mick Jagger shows up and we sit around on the couches in the living room and burn a bunch of wooden knick-knacks in the fireplace. Afterwards, perhaps unrelated to the rest of the dream, Sarah races a bunch of kids around a hotel pool and playground, with an alcohol-infused friend providing advice and encouragement to help her across the finish line. Songs running through my head upon waking include “You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet Baby” and “Let’s Spend the Night Together.”
Three men enter a bar and hunch together around a table at the start of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker. Upon finishing their drinks, the three men — writer, scientist, and ex-convict — climb into a convertible and drive around through shadows and puddles, dodging cops, following cargo trains through gated crosswalks. Heads remain constant in the foreground against a changing background as the men journey into the Zone, a realm that “wants to be respected.” Humans who disrespect the Zone and trespass against it are punished. Perhaps this relates to a dream I had last night. Having traveled to the past, I tried to prove this fact to my companions, pointing to not-yet-existing years of copyright printed on objects: a notebook I happened to be carrying on my person, the tag on the tongue of my sneaker. These demonstrations were met with confusion and disbelief. Weirded out by my claims, my companions took a vote and agreed to abandon me. As they boarded a taxi, I suddenly remembered that I’d left my bags of luggage in their hotel room. One of them agreed to accompany me up a slow elevator — a vertical, Halloween-themed passage through a shadowy interior universe. I disembarked on the seventh floor, only to have someone rush up and pluck the key from my fingers — at which point the dream ended. Perhaps my actions were a form of disrespect. The reductive universe posited by Western rationality is the nihilistic universe, the lobotomized universe — the universe without meaning. Let us ascend from that place. By integration with plant-spirits and plant-consciousness, we chemically engineer ourselves into new kinds of mythic beings. Michael Davidson’s novel The Karma Machine offers one such myth. A community of immortal heads assembles a device called the Sophia, a generator of wisdom and truth, from which they then request a meta-narrative: the grand narrative to end all grand narratives. What they receive instead is a restatement of the Parable of the Tares.
On another plane of consciousness, I am chased, as in a game of Manhunt, up and down stairwells in a large, multi-level apartment. I feel betrayed by certain friends and colleagues; it’s as if they’ve offered me in sacrifice to the murderous force that pursues me: a man with a ‘ball-and-chain’-style flail. But when I wake, all is well. Ram Dass guides me through recipes involving “eating” and “sleeping” from his “Cook Book for a Sacred Life,” the final section of Be Here Now. Sarah and I release temporarily from our sentences to walk the aisles of a gem and mineral show at the local fairgrounds mid-day: a wonderful experience for the both of us. And after dinner, I submit to the weight of a Kafkaesque piece of microfiction by black prisoner Joe Martinez, a devastating 125-word dystopia called “Rehabilitation and Treatment.”
Rehabilitation and Treatment
By Joe Martinez
The convict strolled into the prison administration building to get assistance and counseling for his personal problems. Just inside the main door were several other doors, proclaiming: Parole, Counselor, Chaplain, Doctor, Teacher, Correction, and Therapist.
The convict chose the door marked Correction, inside of which were two other doors: Custody and Treatment. He chose Treatment, and was confronted with two more doors, Juvenile and Adult. He chose the proper door and again was faced with two doors: Previous Offender and First Offender. Once more he walked through the proper door, and, again, two doors: Democrat and Republican. He was a Democrat; and so he hurried through the appropriate door and ran smack into two more doors; Black and White. He was black; and so he walked through that door — and fell nine stories to the street.