Learn. Organize. Create. See where it leads. Explore the labyrinth. Or zoom out, switch over to “map” view. Learn to say “Hello!” in many languages. Review again the counterculture’s debates about cybernetics, ecology, and new media — but think, too, about recent interventions like Glitch Feminism, or maybe even the recent position paper, “Indigenous Protocol and Artificial Intelligence.” I don’t know enough yet about the latter to have developed a coherent “position” on it. I’m relying mainly on a younger version of myself’s research. Then again, maybe I should return to the new Norton Anthology of Native Nations Poetry. Which of these books is a path through the labyrinth? Are the others mere distractions? Or is acceptance of distraction itself a proper way forward?
“It’s All Gardening,” says Stewart Brand in his book Whole Earth Discipline. What about the Green New Deal? And what about Gary Snyder’s “Call of the Wild”? There must be room for all of these. Community gardens, community farms. Households communicating and exchanging in networks of mutual aid. Brand married an Ottawa Indian mathematician named Lois Jennings. He joined the Native American Church, consumed peyote with them in ceremony at Zuni Pueblo in New Mexico in the 1960s. Brand describes the ceremony in Whole Earth Discipline, acknowledging that it affords no more than a tiny glimpse of Native American culture. Along the way he quotes Gary Snyder. “There is something to be learned from the native American people about where we are,” the poet wrote. “It can’t be learned from anybody else.” What Brand advocates is “reinhabitation” of Turtle Island. Attention to and immersion in a locale. This is an idea he draws from Snyder, who writes, “we are all finally ‘inhabitory’ on this one small blue-green planet.” To which Brand replies, “might as well get good at it.” Somewhere in the Whole Earth Catalog is a conversation between Snyder, Brand, Ken Kesey, and Paul Hawken. I’m curious to know Snyder’s thoughts on Brand, as the latter remains for me a villain of sorts — not least due to his support for nuclear power. Snyder of course scolded him for that. The two are among the handful of signatories of the “Declaration of Interdependence,” a document unveiled at a press conference at Berkeley in September 1969.
Neighbors across the street waste the entire day — a day of blue skies and sunlight — leaf blowing. Imposing that sound, inflicting it on the neighborhood, the ones doing it thinking themselves “improvers.” They’re the ones fucking with the planet. That used to be a source of rage on the street where I grew up. An old man who lived down the street from my parents refused to stop leaf blowing, so an angry dude who lived next door stormed out, tore the device out of the old man’s hands and beat him to the ground with it. Police had to intervene. That was my parents’ neighborhood. Meanwhile I sit here passively in my present neighborhood, feeling the role of the one angered — but trying to breathe and relax my way through it, knowing it too will pass. Go for a walk, I tell myself. Wait it out. The angry guy across the street, Mr. Vigilante Justice of Tough Guy World: he, to me, is the embodiment of toxic masculinity and the authoritarian personality. As an environmentalist, I find myself viewing people like him as the Enemy, the Adversary. As one such man blows leaves, another wipes out a stand of bushes with a chainsaw. This is Trump’s America. Drive elsewhere and men buy records and walk dogs. Continue around a bend and there are cops blocking off streets, cars hogging streets, people out in the streets for a parade. Neon letters appear lit from within. The sound of my baby’s heartbeat. We are where we are. Perhaps it’s time to stop eating animals. How about books? Should we buy and read books? If so, which ones? Rebecca Solnit’s book seems interesting: Whose Story Is This? In general, the books in the “Current Events & Politics” section seem terrifying. But perhaps we’re not where they think we are, whether they be white men or journalists for Teen Vogue. What is one to do to overthrow fascism here amid a world thinking itself animated by the Christmas spirit? Perhaps it’s time to read Dante’s Paradiso. Everything I pick up at the local bookstore seems intensely allegorical — sometimes uncannily, frighteningly so. Yet in it all, I sense a spirit of benevolence.
A colleague of mine who has become a friend over the years, both of us members of a shared reading group, donated some of his books to a local thrift store, whereupon I scooped them up as if the cosmos had willed them toward me. All of this happened several years ago; yet as I sat today, mind churning with topics recommended or observed, my thoughts wandered from a counterfactual, alternate-history version of Jacques Demy’s Model Shop, starring not Gary Lockwood but Demy’s original choice for the lead, a then-unknown Harrison Ford. There I was imagining imaginary stills from the imaginary LA of this imaginary film, when with a wash of emotion I happened upon one of these books I’d scored from my friend: a Beacon Press trade paperback of Herbert Marcuse’s Eros and Civilization. It’s a book I should read, given what I teach. “Beyond the Reality Principle” is where it’s at, as is “Political Preface 1966,” written a decade after the book’s initial appearance. For Marcuse, a successful revolution would be one that makes the human body “an instrument of pleasure rather than labor” (xv), transforming work into play. Attempting to do my part, I pull an LP from the shelves in my basement and bask in the choir, percussion, and wolfsong of tracks like Paul Winter’s “Kyrie.”
William Irwin Thompson interjects, speaking on behalf of coming together as a mass of music rather than matter. Ecology appears here as it should, a science not of scarcity but of sacred geometry. Gary Snyder delivers his “Prayer for the Great Family,” a poem from his book Turtle Island. Let animals and plants once again be our teachers and guides.
The “heroes” that we encounter in literatures about altered states are individuals and groups, authors and movements, creators of counterculture, figures who rebel against systems stacked against them — because some of us can’t breathe. Some of us feel trapped economically. Others of us feel trapped educationally, betrayed by those trained in STEM. And yet we must practice love anyway, despite, because. Time to revisit the debates internal to counterculture, among the Whole Earthers and others, about technology and ecology. Bring ecofeminists and cyberfeminists and Afrofuturists into account when re-examining these debates. But do so while staring at crows atop a pine tree. Allow time to admire patterns of sunlight and shadow amid fallen leaves. Then up and about: gather the books, assemble the argument. Defend pluralist methodologies and anarchist epistemologies. Critique capitalist science and its institutionalization of consciousness. But do so as an Eco-Marxist, acknowledging climate crisis as a real condition of existence — the Pascal’s Wager of our time.
Looking back at Worldchanging, an online environmentalist magazine that published a “User’s Guide for the 21st Century” back in 2008, I notice the website’s failure to include in its sevenfold structure a section on psychology and consciousness. That didn’t seem odd when I read the book ten years ago. Today it seems an omission of consequence. Change requires change of consciousness. Reinvestigation of language and the forms by which we think. Bruce Sterling imagined something of this sort in the book’s introduction, where consciousness is spoken to as both observer and participant. We as readers find ourselves part of a continuous process, “a kind of rolling, seed-spewing electronic tumbleweed.” To be part of this process is to be one who performs the future in a newly reconstituted Globe Theater, a true multi-species theater-in-the-round. The pieces by which we perform our play are scattered all about us, awaiting a new gestalt. Yet where are we now? To what platforms have the Worldchangers decamped? Some other time zone, no? Some other historical juncture. Put down the book and the tune changes. The world fills with multi-species partners and allies: bluebirds, squirrels, Monarch butterflies. We converge, exchange greetings, celebrate over drinks, departing afterwards to tend to our nests, our homes, our private story-trees, even as we remain all of one nature. Books carry us off into separate constructs only to return us to this shared one, this commons we call History.
Sarah and I tour Faculty Drive, a street that sounds like a Monopoly property. Faculty Dreams Boulevard, lined with mid-century modernist ranches and fields of daffodils. I recall and make use of a recently acquired distinction between war ecologies and plantation ecologies. What are some of the consequences today of the American South’s history of slave plantation monocultures? I appreciate the hollow rumble of an empty plastic water bottle as wind rolls it across an Einstein intersection. Eave’s “The Night of The Burning River” shocks me into a state of wakefulness.
I indulge my tastes with caramels and chocolates. Narratives open rifts onto radically heterogeneous worlds. Of different kinds, degrees, or dimensions. Reconciling these worlds with the combination of first-person and third-person perspectives needed to access them is the great challenge facing the student of consciousness. Modification of sense organs causes modification of experience, yet the self is something else, persisting eternally in a dimension of dream. This dimension is as foreign to experience as are the worlds of players from the worlds of their games.