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.
How would one operate a dialectic of identity and nonidentity when that which wields the form of this sentence knows no designation? Alteration of consciousness produces a “before” and an “after” self, the presence staring at the absence as if across a mirror, across the divide of a tablet or a screen. The Unconscious is that which operates the Dream-Work: everything in one’s experience, the entire world, minus that which occupies the place of “I” at this moment in the discourse, the speech act, the trance-script. We become like the siblings in Poltergeist, you and I, even as we also think of ourselves as ones who exist apart from Poltergeist, watching from our chairs in the caves of our minds, each actor, the beings on either end of this sentence, communicating across the glass dividing the one and the other into compartments. “It’s a strange image, and strange prisoners you’re telling of,” says Glaucon. Socrates rushes to add, “They’re like us.” What, then, of those of us there, who find ourselves amid the terms of the allegory? Does one of us just tap the other, saying to that which appears as a splintered, refracted, Legionized symbolic totality, “Rise up, dear reader; time to wake”? My hunch is that if, before we sleep each night, we feed our minds better symbols, we’ll wake to better worlds.
Dreams are among the most important of a person’s practices. Telephasic moons play tricks with neurochemistry, intervening in dominant narratives through production of new fantasies. Yet the information we receive when we dream somehow in its happening immediately degrades, undergoes loss. Think of it as a kind of Worm Ouroboros. Upon contact with consciousness, the message partially self-destructs. We’re left hovering indecisively at the interstices between worlds. Evacuated of truth-claims, unable to strive, gather, uncertain of vocation, I allow Jed Speare’s “At The Falls” to disconnect me and disperse me.
As the track proceeds, I somehow suture myself back together again as a cursor on a screen. Capitalism deprives even its intellectuals of the labor-time needed to analyze situations correctly, as these trance-scripts do hereby testify. We work most of our daytime hours just to reproduce ourselves, leaving the business of consciousness-evolution to ghoulish popular-science types, neoliberal trend-humpers, preening careerists. News cycles update at rates we can’t afford.
The occupant returns from work, sets down bags, books, papers, markers, pens, receipts, loose change, settles back into experience of itself as a person, puts on its head, sighs, stretches its limbs, sings to itself, stimulates its accessory nerve, or what it imagines to be its accessory nerve, some nameless patch of being, some spatiotemporal pattern that when massaged releases tension from the trapezius. Conditions met, the person arrives into the dream state. A towhee sings to us — you and I — while perched on a branch of wisteria. We lower our eyes toward the street, whereupon we spy a plump little robin. Satisfied by our attention, the robin flutters its wings and bathes in a puddle of rain. “We’re never going to bed again!” shout the children as they assume collective control of their homes. What “school” might have to do with this, I can’t say.