What is my relationship to US settler-colonialism? For historian Nick Estes and the members of the Red Nation, the US is not a “nation of immigrants” but a “nation of settlers.” My ancestors are said to have arrived to North America from Ireland and Italy in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries — after the Civil War. They settled in apartments in urban ethnic enclaves in New York and New Haven, another group in Memphis, TN. After service in the two World Wars, they purchased homes in the new postwar suburbs of Long Island — though “purchased” is perhaps a misnomer, as the banks retained portions of these mortgaged properties, debt in that way a permanent tool of extraction. Both grandfathers launched and ran small businesses. Before I was born, however, both were dealt charges of tax evasion. One settled quickly by paying a fine; the other refused, and may or may not have had minor mafia connections, my parents always denying involvement of that sort (though maybe also hinting at it in secret?). All I know is, expenses ate away at his always-no-more-than-modest wealth, leaving my parents and I no inheritance other than debt. Since leaving my parents’ home, I’ve lived in rental homes on land that was several centuries ago stolen from Native people. My parents sent me off to a settler-colonialist boarding school, a “university,” so that by boarding school’s end I was left with the bill, a bill that in its form as debt has sentenced me to life as the equivalent of Staff at another of the system’s boarding schools. Can a person of my circumstance join the Red Nation? What would that mean? What would that entail? The struggle, after all, is worldwide, is it not? All of us occupy a place in it. Time to decolonize the world, from within and without Occupied Territories. (There’s your microcosm and your macrocosm. There’s your cognitive map. There it is: the totality and one’s place in it. It was there, in a sense, in Brave New World and its reservation system, albeit distorted by the particulars of Huxley’s standpoint and powers of vision.)
Back to the bookstore. The love of books. Extended, now, to children’s books, like Mindful Kids and Henry David Thoreau in the Woods. Story time at 10:30am on Saturdays. Of course, most of that is the future. As of now, most of F.’s desires center around feeding. When she’s rooting for her mother’s breast, the most I can offer is my thumb or my pinkie. I wish the world we’re introducing her to wasn’t one on fire. Natural and built environments demolished and transformed according to the whims of capital. Nick Estes usefully reframes current events as a continuation, as if by law of correspondence, of white settler-colonialist America’s war on the Buffalo Nation. His book Our History Is The Future has me looking differently not just at contemporary US acts of aggression against Iran but also at hippie modernist classics retrieved from Goodwill like Jerry Rubin’s We Are Everywhere. Is it a coincidence, too, that after walking past a building demolition downtown, a friend’s text about “leveling up” leads me away from Estes toward a motivational blog exhorting readers to “Inhale the Future, Exhale the Past”? (“Level Up” is also the name of a conference on videogames that I attended at the start of my career as an academic.) The phrase inspires fears, though, about the creeping libertarianism interwoven in the DNA of transhumanism and human potential. Is self-actualization the same as “leveling up”?
New objects arrive into the lifeworld, gifts from friends and family, well-wishing from near and afar. Some are even hand-crafted — a granny squares knit blanket, an alphabet book, a stuffed creature — made with care specifically for our daughter. These objects return me to the place in my memory palace featuring Sadie Plant’s book Zeros + Ones, a book from the future somehow released in the past, ahead of its time. It’s a steampunk biography about Lord Byron and his wife Annabella’s only child, the nineteenth century mathematician Ada Lovelace. The book focuses especially on the cause for Lovelace’s fame, her encounters with the engineer Charles Babbage’s early computer, the Difference Engine. Lovelace was the first person to recognize the full potential of computing machines, designing and publishing the first algorithm intended to be used by such a machine, thus in a sense making her the first computer programmer. Her biography follows Babbage in calling her the “Enchantress of Numbers.” I read Plant’s book decades ago. What would I find in it if I read it again today? Would I find it frustrating? Perhaps even a bit frightening? Or would I find something worth retrieving — a major or minor arcana? Perhaps the Queen of Wands? Where did Babbage and Lovelace stand, and to what extent did their work contribute, with regard to empire? Byron certainly wasn’t the most admirable character. I prefer different stories, different rabbit holes, bunnies chewing on carrots.
Reading One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest again with students, I find us wanting as readers to separate the book’s countercultural critique of the Combine from its racism and its misogyny. On race, as on gender, Kesey maps power-relationality ass-backwards. The novel erupts into an episode of cruel racial violence when black orderlies threaten to hose down the book’s white male patients. When one of the orderlies sprays a germophobic character named George, the book’s redheaded TV-cowboy brawler protagonist Randle Patrick McMurphy lashes out with racial epithets and starts swinging. In reality, of course, it was black children, not white men, who were sprayed with fire hoses on the streets of Birmingham, AL by racist white police officers on May 3, 1963, just one year after the novel’s publication. By teaching the book, the country’s racism lies there exposed: Oregon’s history as a white-only state, with laws forbidding black people from living in its borders upon its entry into the union in the midnineteenth century; the persistence of antiblack sentiment more than a hundred years later even among 1960s counterculturalists like Kesey. These are sobering facts, are they not? Even among those who had found the enlightenment of LSD, these ideas persisted. Granted, in Kesey’s case, enlightenment came courtesy of MK-Ultra. Not the most auspicious set and setting. Yet this, too, is part of the tale’s appeal. Kesey was there, present as a participant in events of world-historical importance, the effects of which are still being felt today.
One of these days I’ll have to tell the story of the architect who designed a memory palace. A stately pleasure-dome there decreed. I’ve done something of that sort myself, with my books. Ideas stored in locations across a navigable space. Internal / external and micro / macro realms flip, begin to seem like indistinguishable sides of a Klein bottle or a Möbius strip. One thinks again of the famous Great Library of Alexandria and, following its destruction, episodes in the externalization of memory, the latter launching eventually from the Gutenberg Galaxy out into cyberspace. According to McLuhan, it was by way of this extension of its memory outward into media that humanity desacralized the world and assumed a profane existence. Enter our friend the architect.
What would a revolution on the scale of the Copernican look like today? Sigmund Freud, whose works students and I discussed today in class, liked to pat himself on the back for his accomplishments, comparing himself to fellow paradigm-shifters Copernicus and Darwin. He believed the three of them had dealt “bitter blows” to humanity’s “craving for grandiosity.” Copernicus taught humans to de-center themselves, the earth a mere speck in a world-system of vast magnitude. Darwin robbed them of their self-regard — their sense of themselves as special, divine creations. Both figures dealt blows, in other words, to what Freud called humanity’s “Ego.” Why is the marriage of heaven and hell that Blake envisioned recast by Freud as cause for pessimism regarding humanity’s capacity for happiness? What happens when Blake’s “angels” and “devils” become Freud’s Superego and Id?
1953, the year Gerald Heard first tried mescaline, was also the year he began writing for ONE, the first openly gay periodical in America. In the years that followed, he held seminars for the Mattachine Society, one of the country’s first gay rights groups. He also helped shape the curriculum for the first gay studies institute in the United States, the ONE Institute for Homophile Studies in Los Angeles (Falby 139). For Heard, gay rights and psychedelics both signaled the arrival of a new stage in the history of consciousness. Humanity was undergoing spiritual evolution, a transformation similar to the one imagined by astrologers and New Agers who saw around them “the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.” Meanwhile, I’m humming Madonna’s “Holiday” while walking beneath a Harvest Moon. It’s a magical night, moonlight back-lighting a cover of cloud. Lovely energy, air pulsing with life. A good night, perhaps, to listen to Craig Leon’s Anthology of Interplanetary Folk Music Vol. 1, or to lie in a chair and read Anne Kent Rush’s Moon, Moon.
“The first revelations came,” Rush writes, “by allowing myself to make place for the moon in my daily living. These moments have remained the strongest and most palpable knowing. I started with the recognition that because the moon was shining on me at night and pulling on me during the day, it probably had been ‘speaking’ to me for a long time, and i had not been listening. I had to learn its language. I decided to begin my research at night by standing and looking out an open window” (21).