In a first attempt to name what I find exciting and distinctive in the work of Will Alexander, I land on describing the latter’s “A Cannibal Explains Himself to Himself” as a venture into pan-Africanist poetic cosmology. How do I arrange into the structure of my course on “Hippie Modernism,” I wonder, a sampling of that constellation of black radical art and politics leading from Sun Ra and Alice Coltrane to Will Alexander? Surely this has something to do with the Nguzo Saba and Ron Karenga’s substitution of “Trippin” in place of “jazz.” (“Trippin,” he writes, “is our word for what white boys and others call jazz. In line with our obsession with self-determination which demands new definitions and nomenclature, we reject the word jazz, for jazz is taken from the white word, jazzy, i.e., sexy, because that is what he thought our music was. We call it Trippin because that is what we do when we play it or listen to it.”) Trinidad’s steelbands, exploding forth from speakers one hundred panmen strong, awaken in me a desire to read Michael Denning’s Noise Uprising: The Audiopolitics of a World Musical Revolution. Listening to calypso recordings contributes to what Denning would call a project of “cultural decolonization” — a transmission from beyond the English-speaking auto-encyclopedic veil. The National Geographic text that supplements the recording teaches that Africans recorded their history in the arts, including song, dance, and culture, not in writing. Social conditions and injustices find expression in calypso music’s informative and militant song form. From calypso, I leap to the East Village of John Coltrane’s “Africa,” and then call it a day.
Unqualified delight. Process-oriented pleasure. Figures like Willis Harman, Gerald Heard, Al Hubbard, Myron Stolaroff. Places like Trabuco College. Events like the Sequoia Seminars. My thoughts as I sit in a park mid-afternoon condense around these and other found bits of language. Abraham Maslow, I learn, was close friends with fellow Brandeis professor Frank E. Manuel, coauthor with wife Fritzie P. Manuel of the important study, Utopian Thought in the Western World. I quickly realize, however, that beneath these thoughts lies their absent cause: an ever-darkening political reality. Simon Sadler investigates an earlier conjuncture’s encounter with this Scylla and Charybdis in his essay “Mandalas or Raised Fists?: Hippie Holism, Panther Totality, and Another Modernism.” As my metaphor’s competition with Sadler’s title suggests, he prefers revolutionary agonism, a universe that demands sacrifice, a universe spoken into being by the antagonism of an either-or, whereas I prefer the universe that allows the safe passage of an oceanic both-and. I can aim my ire at the clearly-felt capitalist core, the Death Star at the center of our current Primum Mobile, even as I simultaneously slough off this ire and unburden myself of ego-oriented wants and desires, refusing to identify, in other words, with the positioning asked of me, and entering instead into a kind of “flow-state,” the ecstatic waking dream, as consciousness reunites with being.
A course begins to take shape before my eyes. Are there works of literature, I wonder, that can be usefully classified as examples of “hippie modernism”? Works by the Beats, certainly, and the Black Mountain poets. Thomas Pynchon. Richard Brautigan. Philip K. Dick. Utopian science-fiction writers of the 60s and 70s: Marge Piercy, Samuel R. Delany, Ernest Callenbach, Ursula K. Le Guin. If only there was a way to teach this material in conjunction with other media. My interests are always broader than the merely literary. Consciousness set loose explores countless ontological realms, digital abstractions accessed through screens and hashtags. I’ve somehow only just now discovered the manifold psychedelic riches of Adult Swim’s anthology series Off the Air. What’s the value of hippie modernist literature when one can feast one’s eyes on Hiraoka Masanobu’s “Land”?
A singsong routine occurs, a beckoning. Guided by voices, I advance, dreaming up games to be played, video-streaming services stocked with programs. Netflix takes the chill out of my basement with its new series Wild Wild Country, about the Rajneesh movement and its leader, the Indian mystic Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, later known as Osho. With crowns come guillotines, says a woman onscreen. Seek instead gentle, meditative gardens, oases amid seas of people. Unless those people are white christian practitioners of settler colonialism, who “settle” with bombs and guns and then defend their stolen land with same, heaven forbid others achieve ecstatic union with other deities. The conservative christians are the life-haters, the pleasure-deniers of history. The ultimate invasive species — over the planet they lay their rule.
A curving rainbow path extends from a tiger’s eye viewed in profile against a starry background. In the time it would take for these stars to blink, the eye’s lower half morphs into the Millennium Falcon, out of which emerge tentacles composed of rows of cutouts of mechanically reproduced bees. This more fundamental language—visual signifiers assembled from scraps of pop detritus—is the one we think with. A conspiracy of forces, however, has stolen from us the various alternative modernities of our dreams. Our tastes as a culture have led us instead to remake reality into sequences of Apprentice episodes, Disney films, and bleak first person shooter franchises. How do we return to futures of nomadic tribes of ‘peace pipe’-packing hippies, hitchhiking and trucking along networks of cybernetic socialist settlements and encampments?
Reviewing past trance-scripts, I find in them a portrait of a divided self. I find myself caught in these moments struggling to maintain a shaky détente between two personas representing two competing political orientations: the peaceful, happy-go-lucky hippie and the thwarted, indignant Marxist. This self-discovery of sorts puts me in mind of two books from the early 1970s that washed up yesterday at Goodwill: Gil Green’s The New Radicalism: Anarchist or Marxist? and Adam Curle’s Mystics and Militants: A Study of Awareness, Identity, and Social Action.
Despite their differences (more pronounced, I think, in the excitement of the sixties and seventies), I persist in thinking the necessity of both of these personas (and other, more minor ones besides). They grow from the same soil. Their utopias reply to the same intolerable contradiction at the foundation of my existence: land to be lived upon is beautiful and bountiful, yet I lack it. All habits, all ways of living, take this immiserating lack as their premise. But enough with the tragedy, I tell myself. Dwell instead on that which gives joy, no apologies. Let it just be said: so long as the above, the public will remain equal parts rational and deluded, owing always to its positioning with respect to property. Whenever a society compels people of diverse potential to act as apathetic and accepting subjects, a violence is done to consciousness. Such a relationship, as Curle observes, “cannot be termed peaceful.” It leaves all parties disgraced, able to persist under the illusion of separation from open warfare only because lack of parity between combatants is too great. Given these conditions, I find it hard to think and write other than in kinship with twilight, even amid blaze of day. I recommend, though, as a way of conditioning this condition, freeing one’s head through a listen of Roland Kirk’s Volunteered Slavery, by which I mean “I Say a Little Prayer.” Such sonic outpourings have the power to transform social relations, if at least in the instant.
I tumble out of the workday to the sound of Bastian Void’s Three Sides of Consideration.
Music rotates through space like a holographic projection. I race on account of low memory capacity. Catch the mind’s formulations before time dissolves their presence. Mind at play is both fast and flighty, while words assume form and assemble ’round one another only haltingly, as if the creator-self has to pause every few steps to consult unsayable rules and unreadable guidebooks. What is “language” again? Refresh my memory. Remind me how it works. Bastian Void, by the way, is Massachusetts-based Moss Archive label founder Joe Bastardo. We are of the tribe raised as much by TV as by parents. The Nintendo generation. My allies among this generation are those who have begun to flirt again with consciousness expansion, therapeutic madness, and the creation of alternative realities. We operate experimentally and pragmatically, but could benefit from engagement with precursor theorists like Theodore Roszak. An Acid Marxist avant la lettre. I close my eyes and a clear gelatin tablet splits open in my hands, spilling forth its insides: tiny multicolored micro-plastic spheroids. The 1960s and 1970s countercultures were somehow neglected, an absent thing remembered wistfully, but as an unambiguously unrepeatable past, during the years of my schooling. Roszak, however, speaks directly to my concerns of late with a rousing defense of visionary experience in a chapter from The Making of a Counterculture called “Eyes of Flesh, Eyes of Fire.” (These trance-scripts, by the way, are written for “Eyes Turned Backwards, Belonging to Heads of the Future.” Picture them sitting there with their Whole Earth Catalogs, in their nomad-architectured, “full communism now” communes, all watched over by machines of loving grace. Why can’t others view this as beautiful with me — that way we could go out and do it?) How hard it would be, though, what obstacles we would need to overcome, in order to assemble a national, international, global economy of networked communes, encampments, all servicing each other’s productive needs in a non-profit, price-set, steady-state system of systems. Could we network them, perhaps, and thus establish dual power, under the guise of a religion?