After landing and grabbing a quick lunch at an In-N-Out Burger near LAX, we drop off our bags at our Airbnb, a pretty little poolside cottage a short walk from the Huntington, and begin to tour the city. Everything near and far looks amazing here in Pasadena: the trees, the hills, the restaurants, the architecture. We spend our first evening admiring the flora while walking the grounds beside the Griffith Park Observatory, and peeking in at Skylight Books, where my eye lands upon a new book in the 33 1/3 series on Fugazi’s In on the Kill Taker and Rob Chapman’s Psychedelia and Other Colours. Most of this West Coast ground of being hasn’t yet been “languaged” for me, so it’s a bit like “seeing what Adam had seen on the morning of his creation” (as Huxley says of his experience with mescaline). On the morning of day two, we drive to Santa Monica, landing for brunch at a somewhat mediocre, overpriced crêperie. After just a few short hours here, one detects firsthand the city’s monstrous antinomies, ones Mike Davis evoked so powerfully more than a quarter of a century ago in his book City of Quartz. Walking through Tongva Park, for instance, I observe homeless men and women sleeping on benches beside lush beds of what I soon learn to identify thanks to an app on my cellphone as Lindheimer’s Beeblossom, American Century Plant, Birds-of-Paradise, Tree Aeonium. Out along the Santa Monica Pier, a middle-aged topless man with glistening skin performs a rendition of “People Are Strange” while photographing himself with a selfie stick. Upon our return to Pasadena, we allow ourselves time to swim in a pool and lay in the sun. The day concludes with a dusky stroll through Bungalow Heaven, our wandering met by twin cosmic giggles: an ostentation of peafowl and an outdoor performance by Top 40 rapper Bryce Vine.
The generator of language produces one’s script. Always and forever a blind spot in one’s thinking, an intuited absent cause. The murmur at the back of one’s throat. Birdsong at a distance, as if at the end of a long tunnel. Images acquire being in the mind’s eye: the cover of an album by the band Yes, but with the letters of the band’s name pulled ‘Google Maps’-style from a database of urban signage. The professor and his audio twin. A woman in the neighborhood who I’ve never met before tours Sarah and I and some friends of ours through her garden with its carnivorous pitcher plants and its handsome wooden torii. Flowers everywhere, sprouts bursting from the soil. Friends come away gifted with helleborus and Japanese knotweed. Afterwards I lumber contentedly along the sidewalk licking a Blue Dream lollipop made by a friend’s poet-friend. The night serenades me with Arthur Russell’s “The Platform On The Ocean.” I then harsh the vibe by descending into the scrambled command lines and subroutines of Gwilly Edmondez’s Trouble Number.
Misery won’t suit us, I decide — not among such beauty. I imagine myself growing plants on the floor of an elevator: a dream, a strange mirage.
What are the main differences in terms of form or orientation that distinguish the psychedelic from the weird? Both refer to anomalous modes of experience—but the psychedelic is the more utopian of the two sensibilities, is it not? Let us pursue this as our working hypothesis. Where the weird ruptures the circular selfsameness of consensus reality in a way that generates, as Erik Davis says, “a highly ambivalent blend of wonder and horror,” the psychedelic skews instead toward a more fully joyous cosmology, one that allows for ecstatic realization in the unconcealed immediacy of the here and now of what others might call the utopian, the eudaimonic, and the sacred. Speaking of which: The universe tosses me multiple 23s as Sarah and I drive with a friend of ours to visit an iris farm. So many varieties: Shaman, Catalyst, Closed Circuit, Lime Fizz, Desert Thistle. Petals hang in the sun, fluttering gently in the breeze. Before leaving, I’m drawn to a final flower. “Hidden Message,” reads the placard on the ground beside it. “How appropriate a name,” I think to myself, despite a certain skepticism, a reluctance to trust the world’s signage, not least because of a painful self-consciousness regarding the partiality, the incompleteness, and thus the potential incorrectness, of my conceptual inheritance. “By what means might we seek to inquire? And if hidden, by whom?”
My mind races off in multiple directions from one line of lyric to the next while listening to A. Savage’s “Indian Style.”
I feel dizzy at times, mind plucked from gravity. Christopher Hills’s theory of the “rainbow body” helps explain self-other differentiation. We are all light, we possessors of consciousness, divided in our impact with matter. Gravity’s Rainbow names one such cosmology. But why experience the world — what, even, is meant by that phrase, what are its bounds — once there is the possibility, even if only in capitalist fantasy, of VR devices and social media avatars for all? The self trains to become legion. Upon remembrance of death, I look around me, painfully aware of stones, moss, the sidewalk on which I stand, cars racing past. Airplanes draw lines across the sky as Sarah recalls for me the character of Ruddymane from Spenser’s The Faerie Queene. Is the beauty of a flower its complexity? Petals radiate around a point of focus, a depth, an interior. Spring weather, temperature in the 70s. I spend time after an early dinner reclining in a chair on the porch behind my house, listening to wind chimes and birdsong, observing the passage of clouds. I wish I possessed knowledge enough to identify types of birds by song. Church bells sound to announce a religious holiday as neighbors converse across the street. Events often occur this way: several parts arriving into sense simultaneously in proximity to a subject.
I practice silently the names of plants in my neighborhood. Star magnolia, tulip magnolia, hyacinth. Rows upon rows of daffodils. A massive weeping cherry tree atop a hill. The first-person perspective shots in Maryam Goormaghtigh’s Before Summer Ends fuse me in an unprecedented way to a trio of Iranian male protagonists, vacationing on the coast of France. By these ways, we forge new ties, bonds, interests, empathetic capacities, across and despite traditional national-linguistic boundaries. Alas, life runs through our fingers; let us make haste in our imagining a beyond. Screw in the corners of a hammock. Relax, lie back, light up, read a book. Lincoln in the Bardo comes to mind. It and High Maintenance present themselves as clue-bearing reference points within a secret network, a kind of “Head Underground.” The joint effort of assembling art from jointly sent and jointly received sets of signs.