I know what you’re thinking, says the Narrator: Can I trust an author who calls one of his characters “The Gay Wizard”? I use that name not to offend, but because that was how he was known about town.
People knew the Gay Wizard. He was a local personality, a figure in the community. I remember Sarah and I speaking to our neighbor Sue one afternoon. Sue lived up the street from us, in a cream-colored home. Ferns hung in baskets from her porch. By the time we met her, Sue was already decades into her time on Shady. She spoke fondly of the wizard: his parties, his Studebaker, his boat.
Atop skeletal details of that sort, gathered haphazardly in the course of my tenancy, I crafted a character: someone I fancied meeting one day via time machine. Like an egregore of sorts, he entered first into my imaginings via the spirit of books of an earlier era. The books started turning up in the bins at Goodwill, as if he’d sent them: rare, obscure screeds like Arthur Evans’s Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture and Mitch Walker’s Visionary Love: A Spirit Book of Gay Mythology and Trans-mutational Faerie. From them and others like them I culled a portrait of a loving psychedelic animist: a gardener like Derek Jarman. That’s how I see him now, in fact: poised there in the sunlit grove at the center of the home’s back yard, spade in hand amid the growth of his garden.
In picturing him thus, I resist the story’s pull toward horror. If this were a work of horror, notes the Narrator, he’d have been a shadier dude. Play the horror factor one way, and he’d have been a Crowleyan sex magician. A Thelemite; a Satanist: a practitioner of black magic. Play it another way, as might, say, Jordan Peele or P. Djèlí Clark, and he’d have been a wizard of an even deadlier sort: the kind who go around in white, terrorizing people of color.
If he’s ours to imagine, says the Narrator, let us imagine him otherwise. In our choosing of genre, let us act with hope.
So thinketh one of our time travelers. The one who relives the past. Let there also be a traveler who seeks and conceives here in the dailiness of his lived experience a utopian future. As Joshua Chambers-Letson, Tavia Nyong’o, and Ann Pellegrini note in their foreword to the 10th Anniversary Edition of José Esteban Muñoz’s Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity, “Hope is work; we are disappointed; what’s more, we repeatedly disappoint each other. But the crossing out of ‘this hoping’ is neither the cancellation of grounds for hope, nor a discharge of the responsibility to work to change present reality. It is rather a call to describe the obstacle without being undone by that very effort” (x). The obstacle is a challenge we must both survive and surpass, Muñoz argues, “to achieve hope in the face of an often heart breaking reality.”
Secret history: like the one Greil Marcus tracks in Lipstick Traces. That’s what a friend sees me working toward in these trance-scripts. The “Gnostic” in me is drawn to the detective role entailed by such a tale: the “postmodern sleuth” who explores the maze of the contemporary, ever-skeptical of the machinations of the simulation, the Spectacle, the construct. The Gnostic responds to History with cosmic paranoia. History is a Text upon which one exercises an hermeneutic of suspicion. Or in the best versions of Gnosticism, as in the work of philosopher Ernst Bloch, an hermeneutic of hope, with dream or Imagination the absent Messiah deconcealing itself across time. The conservative philosopher Eric Voegelin warns that hope of this sort prompts a reckless utopianism, a desire to “immanentize the eschaton.” For a Christian like Voegelin, the eschaton is a day of judgment, whereas for the Gnostic, it’s the resurrection into joy and the dawn of a New Age. The Catholic trembles while the Gnostic revolts. I think of Allen Ginsberg on the back cover of his book Kaddish, asserting the “triumphancy of Self over the mind-illusion mechano-universe of un-feeling Time.” By “Self,” Ginsberg means the defenseless, open, original self we all share in common, not the mere individual of liberal ideology, the monad disaggregated from the whole. Time is revealed as mind-illusion as we conduct our secret history. Events share affinities and those affinities arrange themselves into stories. The best Gnostics are the ones who become bricoleurs.
There were deer in the yard when I arrived home from “the Teet.” And a stinkbug that needed rescue, and a toilet that whines and may need a new valve. Tomorrow, weather permitting, I’ll mow the lawn and grade. In the days ahead, we hope to build our garden. As Roy Morrison said of the Mondragon cooperatives: “We Build the Road as We Travel.” Let these trance-scripts be spaces of hope. Signposts to an alternative modernity, like the one reported from firsthand by Richard Fairfield, reports gathered in his book The Modern Utopian: Alternative Communities of the ’60s and ’70s. If I could time-travel, the countercultural communes would be a destination to which I would journey. Let us be drawn toward collective living, enriched by conversation with others. We can begin by taking Fisher’s course on Postcapitalist Desire. Read the assigned readings, including work by Ellen Willis. Fisher gets his assessment of the reasons for the failure of the communes from Willis. Fellow ’60s rock critic Richard Goldstein included Willis among Emma Goldman and Abbie Hoffman as members of a lost tradition of “radicals of desire.” Somewhere in my basement is a collection of Willis’s writing on rock music, Out of the Vinyl Deeps. Also the book with the material Fisher assigned: Beginning to See the Light.
Whatever happened to Acid Communism? Let us pursue its imagining. While there is much to honor in the concept, there are reasons as well to be wary. Horns and song for those who died and those who live. With the Surrealists, let us “win the energies of intoxication for the revolution,” i.e., the energies of plant medicine and psychopharmacology. Can such powers be used to heal? One might have cause to doubt, given the fate of Acid Communist protomartyrs Walter Benjamin and Mark Fisher. Let us break with the platform’s thanatopic past. Let us find cause for hope and be in their stead life-loving parents and gardeners. Rescue Eros from the Googleplex. Caroline Busta arrives announcing, “Actual power keeps a low profile; actual power doesn’t need a social media presence, it owns social media.” She proposes “radical hyperstition,” by which she means “constructing alternative futures that abandon our current infrastructure entirely.” This is what Gene Youngblood proposes with his concept of “The Build,” is it not? He gives it a name, “Secession From the Broadcast,” and a slogan: “Leave the culture without leaving the country.” Gene knows what to do. Cultivate radical will, he says, by “producing content for countercultural media lifeworlds as technologies of the self…habitats that enable strategic counter-socialization.” Perhaps this is not quite what Busta means by “radical hyperstition.” Youngblood’s all about media, whereas I’m thinking Busta’s thinking seeds and dirt. Food, energy, language. “Choose your character / choose your future.” Identity play among options like anarcho-primitivism, post-civilizationism, or “Fully Automated Luxury Gay Space Communism.” Busta and Youngblood meet, though, in what Busta calls “the dark forest”: regions of the web “where users can interact without revealing their IRL identity.” Life is a cryptogram which, once deciphered, delivers news from nowhere.
Trance-script fed back to the cyber-subject becomes like Tom Phillips’s A Humument: heavily redacted. Synchronicities appear each day pointing ambiguously toward both hope and fear — reality a kind of “waking-dream” therapy. Selection of hopeful passages rather than fearful ones: that’s the task each round, each turn-based move, made easier when we remember that the latter are sweet nuthins. Lou sings it and the subject listens.
writes Phillips across his book’s frontispiece. Parquet Courts sings of being “in the chaos dimension / Trapped in a brutal invention.” We don’t want that, do we? So imagine it differently.
Celebrants gather! Party here today outdoors beside a fire.
(Glasses raised): “To the end of Trump, and to the work ahead, we cheer!”
There is food, there is drink; Sarah cooks vegetarian chili and cornbread muffins. Spring semester approaches, but not for another week. Let us embrace it: this hopeful openness, the sense of the path ahead.
What have Buddhists said about hope? Unions, federations, nests, homes: it’s a question of organization, is it not? Listen to the birds. Get it together economically and ecologically. But also write, observe, listen. Allow time for everyday chatter. The day brightens; observable reality sharpens, acquires heightened clarity.
Time to head back to work, where remote / distance pedagogy is the new condition, the newly imposed norm, “until further notice.” A friend’s QuickTime lecture, “hot off the press,” as they used to say, sets me thinking about Queer responses to the AIDS crisis, that part of history surfacing again into consciousness. Another friend’s course description evokes Hurricane Katrina and the flooding of New Orleans. Mine, meanwhile, traces a “path of resistance” in American history as manifested in literatures of rebellion across the centuries. Even as we remember trauma, let us remain champions of hope. Think of it in terms of genre. Some raise consciousness; others deflate it. Inboxes can be filled with event cancellations or broadcasts from radio outlaws. Joe Strummer broadcasting from Radio Clash, Felix Guattari broadcasting from Radio Alice in the red Bologna of 1976. Sit outside in early evening, an hour or two before sunset, though, and it’s the same old birdsong, beautiful as ever, cars well in the distance. Do we scale up from this afterwards into tribes? An owl hoots; dogs bark; crows caw; two squirrels work cooperatively in a tree, plucking tufts of evergreen for a nest. Doom is not my thing.
What is happening in this moment? Birds are singing, springtime is upon us. Families connect, celebrate, commiserate in a state of preparedness through phone, FaceTime, text messages, mail and email. We go for walks, we spend time outdoors, work made remote amid break. It’s a strange situation, certainly. We’re entering a period of change, transformation, adjustment. A perfect time, in other words, to practice hope and exercise care. Somehow in this moment of polarity, solidarity means keep your distance. The question is: for how long? Until when? How does crisis become revolution?