Thursday February 8, 2018

I fell asleep the other night listening to a “past life regression” CD plucked from a bin at Goodwill. I woke up afterwards feeling a mild sense of confusion, but otherwise remembered nothing from the experience. What if I’ve been brainwashed, I worried. Had Dick Sutphen, the founder of Valley of the Sun recordings, succeeded in hypnotizing me?

dick-sutphen-1976_orig

Although the experience wasn’t the “ultimate altered state of consciousness” that the CD had promised, it did weird me out a bit—especially when my post-hypnosis buzz morphed into a raging headache. As I allowed for time to pass, however, this, too, vanished without a trace. I find myself instead in a new scenario, one where I trudge alone through the streets of my neighborhood, shaking off stress, exhausted from a full day’s work. I amuse myself by observing houses, assessing them as expressions of class. One wonders: How much of one’s facade is really ‘chosen’ in this society? For me, housing is paid into simply as a kind of happenstance. Trapped at all points in my life a mere renter. Always and forever, under another’s roof. To compensate, I listen to “Tree Vision” by Rambutan and stare into the depths of a mirror-night, reflected on the surface of a puddle.

Thursday November 16, 2017

Sarah pulls up a new Netflix original series based on the Margaret Atwood novel, Alias Grace.

Alias Grace

The series begins with an epigraph from Emily Dickinson: “One need not be a Chamber — to be Haunted / One need not be a House / The brain has Corridors — surpassing / Material Place.” How are we, each of us, so many different things at once? Stories within stories — but common to all, a fiery red anger, which keeps us wide-eyed, awake, and watchful. In Atwood’s world, characters do little but advance plot, their hard lives shortly the ends of them. Character is a device for the transmission of historical circumstance. Eyes open, little time to pretend. Systems that employ persons as servants or slaves are things to despise. Stars blink down at me. An acorn falls from a tree. I am seeing as if montaged across my forehead a cloud of imagery. We are headed toward the bad future: hierarchical, inauthentic. “Where any view of Money exists, Art cannot be carried on, but War only. […]. Art Degraded, Imagination Denied, War Governed the Nations.” So reads Blake’s engraving of the Laocoon. I find in this work words uttered as if by a prophet. Light and shadow. Eyelid movies all my own. Voices, too, telling stories of things not visible. One of these days I should try to design a course on either Noble Savagery or the idea of the wild. The failure of the hippie counterculture over the course of the 1970s signaled the decline of these ideas as significant components of American identity. Wildness is no longer a major trope in the American national-political unconscious — and I regard this as a great tragedy, a decline we ought to mourn. Atwood’s character says, “God is everywhere. He can’t be caged as men can.” Yet the world is all predators and prey. When the weather is like that, one’s heart pounds in one’s ears, make of that what one may.

Monday October 9, 2017

My students are reading Aldous Huxley’s psychedelic classic The Doors of Perception this week. I’ve taught the book a number of times over the years, but I’m only just now getting around to reading Huxley’s follow-up essay, Heaven and Hell, published two years later in 1956.

To be honest, though (and judging only from what I’ve read so far), I’m finding this latter work to be somewhat underwhelming. Huxley begins by asserting that heightened attention to light and color are common features of visionary experience. “The visions met with under the influence of mescalin or hypnosis,” he writes, “are always intensely and, one might say, preternaturally brilliant in color” (89). As support for this claim, Huxley cites lines from visionary works of poetry like Wordsworth’s “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood,” as well as relevant passages from mystical texts like Thomas Traherne’s Centuries of Meditations and Irish theosophist Æ’s Candle of Vision. Readers of these trance-scripts will find much of interest (including several valuable leads for further research) in this section of Huxley’s work. My sense, however, is that from this point onward, Huxley grows a bit too enamored with his thesis about light and color. Curtain lifted, he trails off into a lengthy, multi-page digression dealing with the history of humanity’s fascination with gemstones, stained glass, and related kinds of shiny objects. Huxley believes that religious traditions value these objects because of their resemblance to the self-luminous “stones of fire” that are said to populate the otherworldly inner landscapes encountered by visionaries of all ages. “Hence man’s otherwise inexplicable passion for gems,” he writes, “and hence his attribution to precious stones of therapeutic and magical virtue” (103). As a brief aside, let me add that there’s an interesting passage in the midst of this excursus where Huxley speaks of hypnotists who use shiny objects to lead subjects into trance states. “How, precisely,” he asks, “does the view of a shiny object induce a trance or a state of reverie? Is it, as the Victorians maintained, a simple matter of eye strain resulting in general nervous exhaustion? Or shall we explain the phenomenon in purely psychological terms—as concentration pushed to the point of mono-ideism and leading to dissociation?” Huxley himself prefers a third possibility. “Shiny objects,” he writes, “may remind our unconscious of what it enjoys at the mind’s antipodes, and these obscure intimations of life in the Other World are so fascinating that we pay less attention to this world and so become capable of experiencing consciously something of that which, unconsciously, is always with us” (106). Speaking of which: with a burning sensation at the back of my throat, vaguely reminiscent of asthma attacks from childhood, I mark my place in the book with a folded receipt and ascend to Huxley’s “Other World.” As that phrase suggests, Heaven and Hell is rife with spatial metaphors, some of them wince-inducing in ways that demand postcolonialist reading, as for instance when, at the beginning of the book, the tastelessly Eurocentric Huxley digs himself a hole by writing, “Like the earth of a hundred years ago, our mind still has its darkest Africas, its unmapped Borneos and Amazonian basins” (83). Fortunately it looks like there’s substantial criticism of Huxley on these grounds, as in Lindsey Michael Banco’s Travel and Drugs in Twentieth-Century Literature and Sharae Deckard’s Paradise Discourse, Imperialism, and Globalization: Exploiting Eden. To hallucinate means “to wander in the mind.”

Tuesday August 22, 2017

Mushrooms tolerate me — exert a strange power over me, even — as I bend the knee to pet them. A couple around the corner have a painting hung upside-down in their living room of an Edenic or maybe immediately post-Edenic Adam and Eve, the two figures clutching one another, bodies pale and unclothed. And the co-signer, the Ectoplasmic Lending Center: what about its contribution? These are the kinds of conversations I have with myself, given the magical thinking of my upbringing. “On the charted route,” my friend says, “you usually miss all the cool funguses.” It happened thus: I walked right into them. They announced themselves. My escort surrendered and was marched off, hands and feet in chains. The game-world at this point underwent a reprogramming. Imagine consciousness withdrawing from immersion in events on a screen. Dis-identification, while yet a perspective persists, there to do the leaping between realms. Freddie de Boer calls it “the perspective that does not understand itself to be a perspective.” To what extent is my writing “place-based”? Is “place-based” the same as “starting from and concerned with the everyday”? Or is the best writing that which transports, that which is most at variance with place, if by this latter we mean the “as-is”? No lion need resurrect itself. Call it what it was: expenses paid round-trip. I am becoming a gummy multi-vitamin kind of guy. A piece of bread floats through the frame: I ingest it. One can orbit blissfully through space if one tries. But I barely have time to reconnect my models each morning come breakfast. A podcast I listen to introduces me to Dr. Angelica Ortiz de Gortari, a psychologist who researches what she calls “game transfer phenomena.” These phenomena — digital ear worms, closed-eye visuals — involve many of the same processes that we associate with altered states of consciousness: trance, immersion, absorption, hypnagogia, dissociation, dreamwork. De-realization of reality. How might this complicate our understanding of the relationship between games and reality, and between perception, cognition, and behavior? What happens when language use evolves dialectically with experience, but in ways that evade the user’s desire to communicate — leaving only a kind of meandering amidst fragments? The dream has always been to become authors of our own sensations — lucid to a point of real agency. How else would I ever muster any narrative consciousness, or the ability to perform authorship with a swagger? Sometimes you simply have to trust yourself to wing it. You throw the dice, in agreement that if you lose, you’ll try again. The mind invents an imaginary soundtrack, some echoey, reverby, anxiety-stoking industrial act that never was — so why can’t it invent other such short fictions? I mustn’t let frustration with writing become my content. Remember the haze that overtook vision during the afternoon of the eclipse.

Sunday August 6, 2017

As writers, we can populate our voices by sampling the whole of media memory. The sounds come to us as the equivalent of radio signals from within. A voice says, “I gave you Logos a long time ago.” The unlocking of secret heights of language-use prompts shifting of the puzzle parts of reality. Not just a mountain blast or a rhetoric, but a reset of the object-world and of all living subjects’ knowledge and memory of it. Matter complies masochistically to Mind’s urgings. The differences are negligible but real. Like an escaped prisoner, my mind wanders free of discipline, and by that I mean not inner, transcendent discipline, but discipline as imposed by man upon man. By fleeing capture in the language games of others, we pick up the frequencies of an authentic, single-and-continuous, cosmos-creating act of speech. When I allow that speech to hypnotize me, I become capable of writing it down, and what it says becomes what I realize I want to say. The self that speaks itself thus also speaks another. This other self remembers falling asleep the other night while writing, and awakening the next day in the shade of his day, his back deck dappled piebald with spots of sunlight. He burns the social surplus of his days reposed in languorous, language-stupefied gratitude, having learned to worship through pleasure his one true master, the present. It’s like his Boolean microprocessor obeys a different logic, more generous in its handling of circumstance. Mariah’s work continues to astonish in these instances. (The incantatory “Shonen” and “Shinzo No Tobira” are current favorites of his.)

He observes rows of captured sunlight along the boards of a wooden fence, and feels at ease, the rest of the world of irrelevance somewhere behind him. On his run, he dodges a crushed Arizona Iced Tea can. A pointless thing, he shrugs, a trifle of a collapsed civilization. Flowers hung beside sidewalks become for him beings to sniff and touch lightly along his daily, leisurely, mind-adjusting dérives, the latter being a revolutionary strategy he acquired years ago during his apprenticeship among the Situationists. If he knows a word, it holds purpose, and he will use it. There is no active revolutionary strategy for the creation of communism, he thinks, until more residents in the US decide they want this. If this sometimes becomes Trance-Scripts’ Marxist Guide to Wellness, so be it. Still, the kind of joy he extracts from each day is not the kind of joy he’d had in mind. Today is the day on which he and friends had planned to head to the shore for a brief vacation — a trip the group had to postpone due to weather. “The influence of weather on dérives,” wrote Debord, “although real, is a determining factor only in the case of prolonged rains, which make them virtually impossible.” Perhaps he and his friends will find time in their lives to reschedule.

Monday July 31, 2017

“Oh, the most naughty–” and, in general, “tut-tut.” Doesn’t one want to be bad in some true, deep way sometimes? Like, without relativism’s usual buffer — as in, “without irony.” Women hold up half the sky, while I wander around in the equivalent of William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land. I like to think of myself as an eight-ball, or some other device of divination. Smoke me up and see what I say. Though I can also hear in the distance the roar of the cyberbullies from some other leg of the labyrinth. One must connect the surface of life with its greatest depth. Mind is to body, as vertical is to horizontal, as inner is to outer. Together they form a continuum. My sense of spirituality and its relation to nature is not unlike the sense articulated in Woolgathering, where Patti Smith writes, “I never had a sense that the ability to win came from me. I always felt it was in the object. Some piece of magic in everything, as if all things, all of nature bore the imprint of a jinn.” But what for her was “always felt” is for me a sensation that awakened or reawakened only recently. Smith calls this state “the mind of a child.” Look, the mushroom cloud! There (pointing it out for others): on yesterday’s horizon! The editing occurs this way, in the act of composition, or not at all. Drop your needle, I say, on Drew McDowall’s remix of Drab Majesty’s “Forget Tomorrow” (is that statue moving?), and then follow with Tangerine Dream’s “Ultima Thule, Pt. 2.”

The world, enlivened as by a breeze, sings to me. The poet A.R. Ammons applied (and thus, models a way for me to apply) this sense to the practice of writing, which for him involved “not so much looking for the shape / as being available / to any shape that may be / summoning itself / through me / from the self not mine but ours.” I watch in first-person as my feet descend a realtime-3D videogame staircase, with no way to determine whether the feet are of my body or as seen on a screen. I enter a hypnoid state while making myself available to the slow fade of one layer of text atop another during the title sequence that opens 1956’s The Bad Seed. In English, that means “by the light of the moon.” Despite its “crime-mustn’t-pay” ending, this movie deserves wider recognition today as a psycho-allegorical masterpiece. For those who haven’t seen it, let me add here that the acting is at all times mirror-worlded and deliberately Twilight Zone Freudian.

Ideas of mine, a character tells me, are at all times associated with words and things. Any ideas that come to mind are thus associated ideas. The analyst / hypnotist who styles herself a grande dame enters from an upper level, slaps me gently on the wrist, and demands that I go on, no matter how silly. All of us, she reminds us, believe ourselves changelings and foundlings. And then in the night we shout, “I’m lost in the forest!” Fairy tales, I intuit through power of suggestion, allow our thoughts to wander off script of ego. In the darkness, we become aware of a pavilion that isn’t there — isn’t visibly present — in daylight. “A pavilion,” the film adds, “made of darkness, as if by magic.” In this final mode of appearance, the characters onscreen stand revealed at last as projections of the thinking self, frozen there in the midst of the drama (where home is synonymous with psyche) in contemplation of the other actors. Harps, swinging lockets, ringing bells: these are the sounds and visions that ease one’s reentry, until one’s home goes dark.