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?
Lest I be accused of mere nostalgia, let me begin today’s post by explaining how I see the relationship of our moment to what some are now calling “hippie modernism.” Following the logic informing the Walker Art Center’s exhibition of that name, I take “hippie modernism” to designate a countercultural formation of unsurpassed Utopianism that flowered unevenly in a wide range of national contexts in the 1960s and early 1970s. This formation was never just a reflection of its time; rather, it actively dreamt and desired a future that, by remaining unrealized, continues to make demands on us today. Postmodernism, meanwhile, is that which emerged in hippie modernism’s aftermath. A product of post-60s Prohibition (here in the Americas, the moment of the highly militarized War on Drugs), postmodernist culture coincides with active state suppression of hippie modernism’s technologies of consciousness. Of course, drug wars have never had much success in eradicating supplies of psychedelics, and so the ongoing era of Prohibition has long been haunted by revivals of hippie modernism’s ghosts. Nevertheless, when I look to hippie modernism today, I see a cultural formation the totality or full international breadth and extent of which has only just now become mappable by individuals, thanks to the art-historical archival efforts of reissue labels and museums. As a result, the time is right, I think, not just for a Marxist account of the history of psychedelia, but for the creation of an openly, unashamedly Gnostic-themed, psychedelia-inflected Marxism, one that presents the raising of consciousness as the relay switch between previously competing or previously antagonistic codes. But enough of that. In what follows, I will not think but do. Returning home after visiting my family, I arrive briefly at the impression, before self-correction, that neighborhoods in the places I’ve lived all look the same. With that, I prepare myself for admission before the court of my town’s public pool. And the self I prepare is a mischievous little child. A scheming little imp. Well, not really. I’m just a sun child. And it feels good, I declare, to lay out in the sun while high — if not for you, then at least for me. I associate all of this, in fact, with the photo on the cover of Kantner and Slick’s otherwise unmemorable — indeed, practically unlistenable — Sunfighter (“Million” being the only song on Sunfighter that I would recommend to others).
There were many pictures of me worshipped like that as a baby. I ate strident dreams of that sort for breakfast. The Guitar Army peered at me with its harmonicas at the ready. Hence my love of sun and pool. Watch me swim now: a swamp thing, a rangy plant-like consciousness, floating at the water’s surface. Hold fast to this image, for in it lies the key. The sunlit sky, the cool body of water, and the public at play: these three shall form the pillars of my religion’s temple. My Hippie-Communist Temple of Joy. It is THIS for which we strive. Justice has been and so will continue to be our rallying cry — but a justice on behalf of pleasure. The world must be made pleasureful and fully present for all those who want it so. To the haters, I reply with the immortal words of Edward FitzGerald and Omar Khayyam: “Come, fill the Cup, and in the fire of Spring / Your Winter-garment of Repentance fling: / The Bird of Time has but a little way / To flutter — and the Bird is on the Wing. […] Some for the Glories of This World; and some / Sigh for the Prophet’s Paradise to come; / Ah, take the Cash, and let the Promise go, / Nor heed the music of a distant Drum!” And one more for good measure, to drive the point home: “Waste not your Hour, nor in the vain pursuit / Of This and That endeavor and dispute; / Better be merry with the fruitful Grape / Than sadden after none, or bitter, Fruit.”