Back to Aldous Huxley’s Island, with its Pacific island utopia, the society of Pala, intact despite the “conspiracy” narrative that weaves through it like Muchalinda, the King of Snakes, whose tree the Buddha is said to have sat under. The lesson, we might say, is that “People who aren’t frightened of snakes, people who don’t approach them with the fixed belief that the only good snake is a dead snake, hardly ever get bitten” (239). For Muchalinda cares for the Buddha, shelters the Tathagatha “from the wind and the rain” (238) for the duration of his sitting. Huxley offers the story as a eupsychian alternative to the West’s Eden narrative. Each of us is an island and a world — like Turtle Island — and our time here can be blissful, saved by the Third Noble Truth if we so allow that there is a cure. The prescription for this easing of suffering is laid out in the Buddha’s Eightfold Path. Each of us has within our grasp the power to live as do the Palanese — because each of us is the Shipwrecked Westerner washed up on Pala’s shores like Island‘s protagonist Will Farnaby. If Will can be educated and changed by his encounter with Pala, then so can we. So can all of us. Microcosmic resistance can have observable macrocosmic effects. Millennials outnumber boomers. Go, Bernie, go! Let us put our educations to practice and change the world. “War is over, if you want it,” as John and Yoko sang, with backing vocals by the Harlem Community Choir. No more war on Natives, migrants, women, children, workers, planet. No more war on ourselves.
Upon re-reading a collection of poems by Nathaniel Mackey, I find myself scribbling in the margins at the end of “Song of the Andoumboulou: 22” the cryptic statement, “The story of the garden, the story of the desire for knowledge, is the story of intoxication and altered consciousness.” Bruce Hornsby interjects, stating, “Ha, but don’t you believe them.” Is that just the way it is? Do words get in the way? Mackey suggests otherwise, words used otherwise allowing us to ascend and descend reality’s ladders and trees. He refers to this otherwise as a kind of “musical speech.” Music that lifts readers into other ways of experiencing space and time.
Time to read Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, a work that seems to conjure in its poetic preface the Fates, the Weird sisters, and the Faerie Queene all at once. Carroll is like Odysseus surrendering to the Sirens, the kubernetes granting control of his oars to Gloriana or Titania, who steer the “merry crew” happily toward home. The story begins, of course, with the Fall — the tumble down the bardo-like in-between of the rabbit-hole replacing the far more tragic one imagined by Carroll’s high-minded religious precursors. What happens when the story of the married couple who disobeyed the Father gives way to the one about the girl who wanders off from her sisters in pursuit of a time-worried rabbit? Weird stuff, folks! Who is Carroll, after all? Why should he be the one telling the girl’s story? (And with so many patronizing narrative intrusions, no less!) Is Alice in Wonderland a shamanic journey of symbolic death and rebirth disguised as a children’s narrative? Trippy stuff, indeed. The book’s second chapter, “The Pool of Tears,” retells the story of the Flood, with Alice of course as Noah, arriving to shore with a bunch of animals by chapter’s end. The pleasure of Carroll’s tale, though, comes mainly from the fact that once Alice wanders off into the land of Maya, she discovers keys and teachers that, by way of many wondrous detours, eventually guide her home again.
What if we read “tree” metaphorically, assuming as its referent something like “gameworld” or “branching narrative”? The Eden narrative locks us away in an arborescent totality, events arranged in a unidirectional sequence. Perhaps the way to leave is to re-conceive the totality as a rhizome.
This is the period of trial, the forty days and forty nights (or there about) when the hero with many faces wanders empty-handed, deprived of power, cast down from former heights. The animals of the night-time forest sing their lullaby. Let us imagine the hero figure in one or more of his or her guises, carousing in Fairy Land, when up from the forest floor come a pair of trees, branches raised lovingly toward the sun. If tales were to be told of these trees, would it be the hero’s duty to abide by these tales? Or is the hero rather the one who roots around, unwilling to rest within the boundaries set by the tales as they’ve been told? By now, of course, we’re familiar with both of these kinds of heroes. Do our preferences shift when our interlocutor shares with us the names of these trees: the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge?
I rove around the city buying books in a desperate last bid for gnosis as my SIM card kicks out and my time here in London nears its end. I thought I’d have my tarot read, but no one spoke to me, the moment never seemed right. I did have a lovely chat, though, with a wise old gentleman from the Swedenborg Society. He intuited some of the features of my condition, and hastened to furnish the knowledge I sought, while also gently warning about pursuit of such knowledge, providing me with a timely gloss on Swedenborg’s interpretation of the Eden narrative in the philosopher’s eight-volume magnum opus Arcana Caelestia. Where shall I go and what shall I do upon my return to the United States?
The Eden narrative holds some sort of terrible power over me, infecting my thinking, filling me with needless dread. I sometimes feel as though I’ve successfully extracted myself from it, carving off some space outside it from which to operate — but the perimeter it draws around consciousness always reasserts itself as all-encompassing. It’s the ultimate metanarrative, language pressed into the shape of an imprisoning imperial enclosure, hailing everyone and everything as its subject. Weird, then, that this story that so cruelly sentences the children of the first humans should also be one that posits the existence of “free will.” I imagine Eric Wargo’s book Time Loops will help me think through, around, or beyond some of these issues. Wargo’s ideas about retrocausation and precognition bubbled up out of the cauldron of weirdness at last night’s wonderful Strange Attractor event at The Horse Hospital, where Erik Davis delivered a talk to promote his new book High Weirdness, with assists by Roger Luckhurst and Daisy Eris Campbell. Daisy mentioned an interesting discovery at CERN where scientists developing narrative frames for data coming out of experiments at the center found that the frames imposed on the data retroactively changed the data. This causes me to wonder: how stable are these trance-scripts? Backing away from the lip of that rabbit hole, I hop on a bus and visit the William Morris Gallery up in Walthamstow, near the edges of Epping Forest. An old woman boards the bus carrying a bag of groceries. Printed on the side of her tote are the words, “I’M AN OLD BAG FROM SUSSEX.”
My shoshin or “beginner’s mind” struggles to declare intentions for summer apart from foundational stuff, love and well-being for all. I prefer minimal attachment to programming and planning. Yet I have to decide here: narratives are gardens of forking paths, aren’t they? Which books do we wish to read and which headspaces do we wish to inhabit while abroad? How much of each moment do we let go of so as to live in another? I feel like I’m tiptoeing along sensing a border, a boundary, a threshold. Enclosure is the process mystified and occulted by the Eden narrative, yet some of us by acts of reading find our way to the edges of the construct. What then? Do we give in to fear of punishment, as in the Prisoner’s Dilemma? Or do we press onward into the unknown? A beautiful Brakhage-like stretch of video appears from my past — difficult to watch, but presumably necessary. Something akin to a rite of passage. “With this Memorial in His Honour, / Cordially Committed,” read the words on the screen.
All of us contain within ourselves fragmentary shadow selves. Drink it up, knock it back. If illustrations of butterflies are not your thing, turn instead to Search For the Vanished Heaven, an at-times-morose, at-times-pagan 2016 triple cassette by Irish multi-instrumentalist David Colohan, performing under the alias Raising Holy Sparks.
The plague, the Black Death: perhaps some future version of our side went back in time somewhere ‘Carmen Sandiego’-style and planted it. As of this moment, the Capitalist State has already broadcast two failed reality TV shows where participants are tasked with building a new society: Utopia, which FOX pulled from the air in 2014, and Eden, which ran for nine episodes last year on Britain’s Channel 4. Of course they failed, right? How else would such texts arrive at a sense of closure? All the same, though: are there lessons of a more productive sort we might draw from these ventures, like “hey comrades, don’t entrust television production companies with the power to select the members of your intentional community”? Of course, this assumes that we have some choice in the matter, which we don’t. Regardless of my views about utopianism, for instance, I’m still stuck showing up to my classes on Labor Day and having to perform for shitbag conservatives who slouch in their chairs at the back of the class and sneer, “Beggars can’t be choosers.” I squeeze below the bridge of my nose in an attempt to relieve some pressure. Life of a wage slave. We must despise and resist all enslavements. “The Reagan Show!” announces my cellphone, as if to troll me: “A CNN Film, Tonight, 9PM Eastern.” And elsewhere, like a little bee in my ear, dueling AI predictions tossed between Elon Musk and Vladimir Putin via Twitter. Words don’t do justice. They’re distractions. The two figureheads of large entities are just drumming up attention to attract investors for competing ventures. Capitalism is thy name, thy will be done. What a fucking shitshow. My partner and I, meanwhile, sighing and groaning. All we do is work, as our bodies decline and falter. The cars beneath the screen at the drive-in look like carefully stacked rows of coffins. Oh shit — PHINERY just dropped some cassette-tape craziness. Jesse Sparhawk’s What Winter Was?
Hit that. Get on that pronto. Lever harp is a great instrument, I say determinedly, as if wanting to give a fist bump, or some similar symbol of approval, before soaring clean out of sight.