Wherefore this talk of alienation, with its paranoid, “friend-enemy”-divided, ego-centered picture of the cosmos? Why no delight in others? May we re-cast ourselves as optimists? May we create, despite the limits of our condition, applying ourselves with purpose so as to rework these conditions? A voice intervenes to help us pick the lock. “Conditioning scenes,” it tells us. Conditioning scenes furnish the materials and sometimes the rules, says Sidney Hook, “but never the plots of the dramas of human history” (The Hero in History, p. xiii). What if, in the script of our awareness, we replace “I” with “we,” and “alienated” with “outstanding”? Can we still find in ourselves a “center” to which can be assigned narrative categories like responsibility, decision, and action? What would occupy this center? A Head? A Brains Trust? A Party? A Corporation? A Church? A Logic? Big Brother? Dear Leader? To whom do we grant agency: founding fathers or We the People?
A voice above my shoulder relocates and begins tapping out messages on my larynx. Pause, it says, give attention to the author of all things: death stars, restaurants, worlds within worlds. One observes oneself by becoming another. Keys tapping in sync on both ends of a piano accompany a shapeshifting woodwind. Christopher Hills announces, “The purpose of life is to evolve consciousness until it becomes one with the light which created it.” These trance-scripts operate from the premise that, held at gunpoint by police in the streets of Chicago, American heads have found themselves corralled ever since in a single, unchanging present. History’s locomotive slowed to a halt between 1968 and 1973, says the theory; and we’ve been perched here, in what Fugazi dubbed the “waiting room,” playing culture wars ever since.
Time to get procedural. Flip coins. Pull cards. Cut up paragraphs. Emphasize the primacy of personification by letting the proverbial anthropomorphic cat out of the bag. As if to announce into our bowl of alphabet soup the will of Sartre’s practico-inert. We’re connected always to invisible machines, some demonic power. The right card will appear when we need it. We refer to the state inspired by such moments Ekstasis — confrontations with signs left by ghosts in the machine. Stoics, meanwhile, called impressions of this sort “phantasma.” Think of it as the mind freeing itself for short stretches, removing its chains, stepping out of the cave to catch glimpses of the night sky. We invent for ourselves new mythologies, matter constellated by an improvised labor of mind. Countless discrete cogitos know themselves as bodies across a succession of ages. Capitalism retains evidence of its past, builds up storehouses of dead labor, so as to revalorize these in new acts of production — but minds perceive this mode of production as if its temporality and its existential reality were but in form an eternal present. A reality from which one cannot wake.
At night, jigsaw puzzles. The doors have been blown off their hinges, the world behind this world revealed in the process of setting the next part of this one into place. Imagine two selves: the planner and the performer. Smoke clouds emerge from our lips. A ball rolls across a wooden floor and my eyes observe bodies burned in the BBC’s retelling of the Gunpowder Plot, this latter formed into images of middle-aged male heads of competing households marching into one another’s rooms and antechambers and exchanging taunts and threats. I hardly recognize history in this meaningless quarreling, this bargaining and scheming, men standing around in elaborate period costume. History is a story of warring families acting their parts in scripted sword-fights. Men go around bullying, torturing, and murdering one another on behalf of ancient, petty, angel-on-pinhead, political-theological grievances. The night confronts me as a blank screen; as opposed to those men of yore, I can do with my nights (though not my days) as I please. I sit on a sunny hill and play a harmonica, gazing downward at the world below. Before I can help it, though, my gaze trades itself for something dazed, stoned, sleepy. I wish instead to imagine communities of mutual care, self-organized into improvised, voluntary, no-rules-but-the-ones-you-and-I-here-and-now-invent-for-ourselves, service-trading commune-congregation-encounter-groups. Behavior in this wished-for place is like that of radical theater troupes of the late 1960s: tentative, experimental, invented on the fly, in absence of any cause for enmity, competition, or hostility. Subjects of such polities get high and love one another. Unless, of course, will to power is not mere arbitrary imposition but rather an inner imperative. ‘Tis a wager we make; but better to make it and fail than to wonder what might have been.