Gnosticism is a theology with which I was already grappling before I’d heard the term — for there was a “gnostic current” in the culture of my youth. One receives gnostic teachings, for instance, in the works of Philip K. Dick, Thomas Pynchon, and Jean Baudrillard. Similar teachings appear in the “edge-of-the-construct” films of the late 1990s — movies like The Matrix and The Truman Show. These works spoke from a period of political paranoia — the Cold War and its immediate aftermath, with widespread fears of conspiracy around the turn of the millennium mixed with anxieties about technological transformations, “New Economy” dot-com bubble newly burst. Computers were suddenly “virtual places” to which many of us migrated for many hours each day. Computers housed places we showed up to for work and play. And of course, all of this seemed interlinked with prior screen cultures like TV and cinema. One spent a lot of one’s time in what Situationist Guy Debord called “The Society of the Spectacle.” It’s not a fun place to be. The Spectacle intervenes in one’s relationship to one’s body. Marxism says all of this is happening within an economy. Workers must unite and seize control of the means of production, wrest them from the clutches of the capitalists. And so I believed — as I do today. But Eric Voegelin reminds us that Marxism is itself a brand of Gnosticism. One can’t escape one’s latin roots.
Language hails us, places us in the position of the Receiver, identifies us as its subject. Thus we return to the matter at hand: the construction of subjectivity via language. Reality is a text adventure: “In the beginning was the Word.” Unless language is the usurper, the gnostic demiurge, the map that overlays itself atop the territory, in which case Gaia is the true creator. Brother Sun, Sister Moon. Perhaps I should watch Roberto Rossellini’s The Flowers of St. Francis. Each of us, as in the Cavaliers song, a slave to a beautiful game. The Babylonian system, always replacing one form of slavery with another. So thought those who brought me here.
My teachings, I decide, draw heavily on Freud, though mainly by way of the Freudo-Marxists and their rebellious late-60s successors, combined with touches of Psychedelic Utopianism and Jungian Gnosticism. Worlds are always readied for one by presumptuous church fathers. For fear of some savagery, they say — just as local ecosystems have been modified, subdivided into units of practico-inert matter, a socially-constructed objectivity, leaving one little space by which to live. By which I mean something like “self-actualize,” so long as that also entails recognition of a coherent narrative or at least arrival into a meditative garden, a temple of sound, in companionship with others. Whereas everywhere under capitalism, the land unadorned awaits the fall. Neither happy nor splendid. At which point His Master’s Voice (by which I mean the Stanislaw Lem novel) begins to speak to me. “What can be done,” asks the novel’s narrator, “when an important fact is lost in a flood of impostors, and the voice of truth becomes drowned out in an ungodly din? When that voice, though freely resounding, cannot be heard, because the technologies of information have led to a situation in which one can receive best the message of him who shouts the loudest, even when mostly false?” (22). This is our predicament in that moment in the history of capitalism known as the era of Trump, is it not?
A character on a TV show speaks to me. “They have forgotten who and what we are,” she explains. “Make them remember. Absorb without preconception or distortion. Finish the mission. Unlock the box that needs unlocking.” A cartoon squirrel attempting to crack a safe eyes me over its shoulder and says, “Tell me you have some experience with this sort of thing. Tell me you’ve done this before.” After several false starts—car horns, permutations of notes plucked casually from the strings of a banjo, the vibrations of a bouncing spring—I swell, I advance, I invent for myself the finale to Rossini’s William Tell Overture.
The ignorant are down on another level. They hoard matter, gathering it up behind walls and gates (“no trespassing!” they shout), claiming as theirs the means of subsistence so as to harm those on whom love redounds. Houses offer themselves as compromise-formations made of ticky-tacky. To deflect, I imagine myself penning an essay titled “From Hosers to Gozer: Rick Moranis and the Spazz Sublime.” Thus we bear the ills we have, man-child archetypes making cowards of us all. “Oh come let us…this word,” says Alex Trebek. “What is ‘adore,'” replies the contestant. “Correct for $1000.” Helicopters, government assassins hunting small-town stoners: ’tis the season. “Such behavior,” a woman objects, “makes no sense.” One’s angel, I conclude, is a bit like one’s handler. We acquire gnosis via allegory, but the drones are on their way.
We land on a word as if by spinning the Wheel of Fortune. What else would minds be if not for input from that part of ourselves that is exterior? The world is the set that contains those trees, and this house, and that house, and this body. But what about me, the Author, the Subject, the voice that posits itself through trance-scription? What is my ontological status apart from my body and my senses? Gnostics are they who know themselves to be caught in the midst of a tragic act of forgetting, the knowing and the forgetting intertwined. Because of its impoverished condition, they argue, humanity individually and collectively knows itself in an impoverished manner, through the art it holds up to itself and the names it applies to things — in short, by imperfect discourses, images, and myths. We must learn to commune again with plants, animals, rocks, and rivers. I find myself drawn with equal force, however, to the school of thought known as personalism, given the priority it grants to inner happenings. “How can anyone know me,” sings Matt Johnson of The The, “when I don’t even know myself?”
Is nature naught but presentations produced in finite minds by the Infinite? Material world as divine language? Why does weed take heads away from materialism toward idealism? We become spooky, ghostly, supernatural, transcendent. Nicolas Berdyaev speaks to us, draws from us assenting nods with the distinction he draws between individuals and persons. “The individual is a naturalistic category, biological and sociological,” he writes, “and it appertains to the natural world. […]. It is an atom, indivisible, not having inner life, it is anonymous. […]. Person signifies something altogether different. Person is a spiritual and religious category. Person speaks not only about man belonging to the natural and social order, but also to a different dimension of being, to the spiritual world. […]. Person is a sundering within the natural world, and it is not explainable from it.” The synthesis between inner and outer that the weeded subject seeks, I realize, is what Berdyaev calls “personalist socialism.” More on this, says the prophetic subject, in the days ahead.
Some would say we commit ourselves to metaphysics the moment we accept the existence of “minds.” But what else would it be but a mind that contemplates Ingrid Goes West, a new film that uses cash inheritance as the premise for its infiltration and critique of selfie culture? The master of that culture, the film notes, is some “emotional wound” that turns self-promotion into way of life. One imagines oneself floating above oneself with a camera, turning money into props for self-actualization through delivery of life narrative to followers. Such is the subjectivity at the heart of the film’s critique. Comedy, of course, requires that the film overstate this critique for laughs. Its stalker character acts on urges the rest of us repress. Speaking of urges: A pulse is touched and quickened. I reach out and connect as if by dial-up modem to Brett Naucke’s Multiple Hallucinations.
I feel like I’m living inside a montage sequence from Halt and Catch Fire, mulling over an idea beside a window on a rainy night, flashing back to visual and tactile memories bound to videogame sound-narratives from my childhood. Dots, squiggles, exploding fractal mandalas. Seeing multiples, reprocessing. A computer asks for permission to speak further. Glowing outlines perform expressive dance against a black background. The computer sucked us in and we never got out, I realize. It swallowed us like a sandworm or a whale. So teacheth the Gnostics, or rather, modern New Age derivations therefrom. This would be the “reality-as-simulation” theory. It was by repression of entry into the Matrix that the Matrix got us, goes the theory. Movement amidst abstract sign-systems. Neon re-imaginings of witch-burnings cut with similar blood sacrifices atop ancient Aztec temples. Knowledges are fed through the air in packets. Do I possess an ethics? Do one’s best? Stay formally attentive? Listen and learn, I tell myself, and you will know how to act. Trust intuition over reason. Seek the flows and go with them. Even when they lead to French onion soup and a cartoon scarecrow with corn growing out its chest. Go out on adventures, says an imaginary Australian life coach, gesturing with his hands as he speaks. Too bad my brain has been soldered to things, I shudder, as the hallucination comes to an end.
Ever more horrific cycles of violence infect others, possess them. Lines of fiction become lines of code. Systems that predict behavior shape perception. Individuals disappear into bubbles. Without certainty, without conviction, one’s world stops making sense. Media relations rule the world, managing and controlling through creation of constantly-renewing states of destabilized perception. Turn a corner, though, and one can find oneself in a parable. A comet-like ball of energy streaks past. Because I’m indoors, I can’t see it. But I can hear it, I can feel it as it perturbs my atmosphere. Get a fix on this thing, I tell myself, as if it were a matter of some urgency. “See this reality that is hidden from thee,” I whisper. Ontologically, the hidden is like a below-surface-of-consciousness ambience. One can instrumentalize it through use of mood-switchers — and with these, create a joyous cosmology. Drug use is in this sense utopian through and through. Cybernetic co-evolution of nature and subjectivity. Weed is a means by which non-human nature intervenes in and recalibrates human nature, affecting individual heads even at the head’s most intimate, innermost level: consciousness, selfhood, being. Like bees, we can reside among flowers. Isn’t it all no more than gameplay anyway? Can we hold that view while retaining respect for the sanctity of others? On a case by case basis? Certainly. But universally? Without exceptions? What about when confronted by bullies and sadists? Emotions often override our sense of play — yet I welcome these interruptions. Sometimes we need to collapse inwardly on ourselves like tents. I did so yesterday. Grief snuck up on me unexpectedly as I thought about my dog Daphne, reliving our final exchanges of affection, seeing again her head lifting to acknowledge me as we laid together and said our goodbyes. There was a language we shared, and never again shall we speak it. No more face time. After a spell, though, a buzzer went off. Ice sheets are melting, I thought. Consciousness jumps scales. Zip up the memory and move on.
Gnostic beasts blow smoke in my face. They draw their fangs and whisper in my ear. I posit the existence both of a subliminal language and of those who speak it. I know not, however, this subliminal messenger-class’s intent. “What art thou,” I ask blindly, “friend or foe?” Friends and I must try to make the Commune into the outcome of history’s likely progression. Put utopia back on the map. Marxism needs to stop its “museum roaring with crowd of sober patrons” act. The grain of sand must become the pearl. No more molding of behavior to accord with the words of the patriarch. Dress instead to celebrate life. Become like the wild animals who, even as we converse, continue to roam the countryside. The change from good to brutish happens, though, in every child, warns Wilhelm Reich. It is here and now, in one’s inner grace, that one attains one’s godhood. No more entrapment of consciousness in identification with the as-is. Go instead for weed-supplemented walks with friends. Pass a grey-and-white cat nesting in a batch of monkey-grass. When friends and I stomp through a park amid the murky air of a purple and orange dusk, a cacophony of chirping bird-speak erupts from an evergreen, and squirrels root around in dead leaves at the base of tall, bare shadow-trees. A friend recommends I read Argentinian author Samanta Schweblin’s new novel Fever Dream. I direct my head toward knowledge acquisition, but nothing happens — the system’s fried. All I can picture are skies filled with slaughterbots. Autonomous drones. Makes no difference whether we’re ‘tiny house’-owning minimalists or OCD hoarders. They’ll declare open season on all of us. Tech will empower authoritarian capitalism to precision-strike its foes.
How I wish I could live more in keeping with a reverence for nature as something more than just a giant money-laundering scheme. Getting high helps. However, the reverence it provokes, while focused on one thing at a time, is otherwise indiscriminate. The nature/culture binary means little in this state; but things are more complicated when it comes to economy and ecology. When I smoke, I defeat my usual fearful posture toward life. We must languor in the telling, I tell myself. Allow others to congregate ’round it. Another voice interrupts here, stating, “Man cannot tame what God wishes to remain wild.” I do worry, by the way, that reverence for nature might be the one necessary element of a properly utopian political theology that Gnosticism fatally lacks. “We are poems in the making,” proclaims M.C. Richards: “Logos at work.” “A craftsman,” she adds (“craftsman” being her name for the utopian subject), “has the opportunity of acting out daily the wisdom of his organism, in its intuitive and other aspects. […]. He knows what can happen of itself once certain rhythms are set in motion. He knows that hand and head, heart and will, serve in a process and a wisdom greater than his own” (61-62). Despite the above passage’s unfortunate tendency to default to masculine pronouns, I feel like every subsequent sentence in Richards’ book Centering contains the precise knowledge of how one ought to live one’s life. She even captures my understanding of what I’m doing, or what I ought to be doing, with these trance-scripts: “The artist participates in a subtle dialogue with nature. Who is saying what to whom? If we allow our views of craft decorum to loosen, we may see more simply what is there. We do not need to fight for our right to be off center. We find that once we are on center, we may be off center as wholeheartedly as we like, for at that level there is no difference. At that level, we are free to create whatever form occurs” (62). Classic modalities crack away like cheap facades that others years ago plastered over or by other means affixed to the forms and surfaces of Practico-Inert-ville, aka the capitalist built environment, i.e. our prison. Try digging your way out of that one. Radical psychedelic healing techniques must be used to de-reify these structures, not just pickaxes and shovels and dynamite.