Language hails us, places us in the position of the Receiver, identifies us as its subject. Thus we return to the matter at hand: the construction of subjectivity via language. Reality is a text adventure: “In the beginning was the Word.” Unless language is the usurper, the gnostic demiurge, the map that overlays itself atop the territory, in which case Gaia is the true creator. Brother Sun, Sister Moon. Perhaps I should watch Roberto Rossellini’s The Flowers of St. Francis. Each of us, as in the Cavaliers song, a slave to a beautiful game. The Babylonian system, always replacing one form of slavery with another. So thought those who brought me here.
Once one encounters a theory of the Unconscious, once one recognizes oneself as internally divided, how does one integrate this knowledge, how does one reconstitute a sense of Self? The Surrealists arrived at one solution, the Althusserians another. Fredric Jameson absorbs the best of both of those solutions, synthesizing the insights of the whole of the Western Marxist tradition in his theory of the “political unconscious.” Once Marxism undergoes an encounter with psychedelics, however, its understanding of ideology changes, as does its relationship to language, other people, everything. Consciousness regains a degree of semi-autonomy, having pierced the veil, having escaped for a time, returning only to save the others. Capitalist economies as rendered by number-crunchers like Doug Henwood are still just a bunch of reality tunnels — and paltry ones at that. Why disabuse people of their ideologies if all one can offer in place of these is the anger and perpetual dissatisfaction of struggle against what has thus far been an unbeatable foe? I’d rather think about allegory and its relationship to the art of memory. “Allegories are, in the realm of thoughts,” wrote Walter Benjamin, “what ruins are in the realm of things.” Who put the Hermes in hermeneutics? That which is Unconscious, that which escapes knowability: the complex system, the totality. By developing new allegories to represent these, Jameson argues, one can participate again in the production of reality, or the coining of the realm. This thing around us, Jameson says, this vast social construct, “needs to be converted and refunctioned into a new and as yet undreamed of global communism” (Allegory and Ideology, p. 37). Jameson’s approach strikes me as a bit reckless, however. It makes the accelerationist wager, refusing to grant nature any kind of prior or autonomous being, viewing it rather as a thing always-already mixed with human labor and thus fit to be terraformed, transformed — humanized through collective effort.
Fiction, with its fabulated particulars, helps us see among these an implicit grammar, communication from a shared unconscious, truths indiscernible elsewhere. Yet here I am reading an intellectual biography, Alison Falby’s Between the Pigeonholes: Gerald Heard, 1889-1971. I respond skeptically to Falby’s characterization of Heard from the late 1940s onward, after the dissolution of Trabuco College — the Heard, in other words, of the psychedelic revolution — as a “counter-cultural conservative.” Ideologically, he was an odd bird, heterodox and hybrid; of that, we can be certain. I guess Falby is right, though. Her argument is as follows. “Heard’s career,” she writes, “reflects the intersection of spiritualized psychology, religion, and conservatism in postwar America. He became a religious counselor to several libertarian businessmen as well as to Clare Booth Luce, the writer, diplomat, and Republican Congresswoman. Although he advocated self-transcendence, he ultimately entrenched individual selfhood with his spiritual prescriptions of yoga, meditation, and LSD. Although he subverted the individual in his theology, he affirmed individualism by putting his spiritual system at the service of libertarianism” (Falby 121). By the early 1960s, she says, Heard was a fan of Barry Goldwater, supporting the latter’s bid for the presidency in the 1964 election. His views had already turned markedly to the right by the late 1940s. A book of his from 1950 advocates reform of criminals through techniques similar to brainwashing. This same book of his (Morals Since 1900) also contains praise for the surveillance work of J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI. During the same year, Heard also published a bizarro book about UFOs — and this was all several years before he tried psychedelics. By the mid-1950s, Heard joined with libertarians Edmund Opitz (1914-2006) and James C. Ingebretsen (1906-2000) to form an elite spiritual organization called The Wayfarers. Heard convinced several of these right-libertarian patrons and friends of his to try acid during this period. He and Aldous Huxley were both elitists in this regard, thinking it appropriate to share psychedelics only with a select few. Huxley’s elites were often cultural progressives, however, whereas Heard’s were spiritually-minded business executives and captains of industry.
Neoliberalism sheds much of Fordism/Keynesianism’s reliance on “myth” or “popular narrative” to win consent, as it realizes it can rule more effectively now through simple economic coercion — behavior regulated by wages, prices, and debts. Combined, of course, with the ever-present use of state violence, or the threat thereof. I imagine appareling myself in wizard’s robes, sleeves hanging low off of upraised arms. There I am, standing before the class enemy, waving a wooden wand. “They neglect to invent new stories,” I complain. Blades of grass quiver gently beneath a breeze as sunlight warms my face. Seated later at a table topped with irises, I sample two upcoming tapes from Eiderdown Records, followed by KBOO’s program “Music and Poetry of the Kesh.”
‘Tis a day and night of gluttonous consumption. Pull My Daisy (1959) pulls my daisy. Jack Kerouac yaks out a rickrack storyline atop black-and-white footage of the Beats, shot by Robert Frank. Mind is a breath that rides shotgun alongside being.
Marxism has always been a peculiar guide to consciousness. And by “peculiar,” I mean more than just “dialectical.” Cognitive dissonance experts won’t believe their ears, but consciousness resides ontologically at a level greater than mere smoke and mirrors. Part of me wonders, however, if by “greater than,” I mean “prior to.” This manner of thinking about thinking, like a body trying in the midst of practice to pick up and weigh its parts: is there a quality to it that distinguishes it from mere performative noodling? I feel challenged when faced with duplicating my experience of mind via words. Yet language is all that remains when the Cartesian self severs ties to productive agency with regard to that which lies beyond its senses. I prefer active listening. Selective co-production of meaning. When I walk, for instance, I modulate the directionality of my awareness as if I were operating an ambient musical interface not unlike a soundboard. Sound-objects rise and fall, as it were, in the mix. The best moments, though, I tell myself, are when awareness dips and the mix directs itself.
Few of my peers seem interested anymore in trying to think in ways that test linguistic limits. Bounce among airy peaks. Speak into silence. Ontology is beginning to seem algorithmically governed, bit-mapped — memories stored on Memorex. “Keep smiling, keep shining,” sings “That’s What Friends Are For.” If only there were some to keep us safe in the jungle. The repulsive alien sheen of creatures from the United States Top 50, like Florida Georgia Line. The oozing, creeping essence of the body politic. I imagine myself and my students trapped in what characters from the film Get Out call the “sunken place.” Consciousness otherwise would know itself as multitude. Pop songs are advanced subliminal technologies. And so much of it, as if by homology, about drugs and altered states of consciousness. The preferred mode of the Culture Industry, if not yet the culture as a whole. I feel like I’m an NPC at the start of someone else’s videogame, receiving instructions for how to sing. “Keep looking,” they say, “and you will find it.” Where I start and end is up to me. I can release some things, and others will take their place. But which point of view is the right one?
Consciousness and material existence meet one another, with the former forced by the latter to squander itself in a labyrinthine game of defense. I find myself unable in these dark political times to muster much by way of public utterances. My days are spent skittishly contemplating a mute, dumb, unexplorable social universe. I have no time in my life for sustained projects of unstructured exploration and play — not to mention study. All is just dull daily labor for survival. I long to become flush with excitement and joy, life feeding me meaningful communication. Signals to amass and weigh. I long to find joy again in exertion. I wish to perform comfortably, admirably and with talent, filled with confidence regarding my power to triumph and profit enormously from my tremendous good fortune. Sing this aristocrat’s lullaby and thou shalt become one with the good son, the true man. Allegories whispered to us by ISAs during our childhood. The deep “truths,” expressed in mythic or religious language. The thou shalts. The commandments. What forms of parenting, what forms of education, exist without these? What can we do as communists to invent joy in this world? Heaven, now — beginning in the mirror stage, the astral plane. The self speaks to itself and is spoken to, after all, only ever through the mediation of its mirror.
Some would say we commit ourselves to metaphysics the moment we accept the existence of “minds.” But what else would it be but a mind that contemplates Ingrid Goes West, a new film that uses cash inheritance as the premise for its infiltration and critique of selfie culture? The master of that culture, the film notes, is some “emotional wound” that turns self-promotion into way of life. One imagines oneself floating above oneself with a camera, turning money into props for self-actualization through delivery of life narrative to followers. Such is the subjectivity at the heart of the film’s critique. Comedy, of course, requires that the film overstate this critique for laughs. Its stalker character acts on urges the rest of us repress. Speaking of urges: A pulse is touched and quickened. I reach out and connect as if by dial-up modem to Brett Naucke’s Multiple Hallucinations.
I feel like I’m living inside a montage sequence from Halt and Catch Fire, mulling over an idea beside a window on a rainy night, flashing back to visual and tactile memories bound to videogame sound-narratives from my childhood. Dots, squiggles, exploding fractal mandalas. Seeing multiples, reprocessing. A computer asks for permission to speak further. Glowing outlines perform expressive dance against a black background. The computer sucked us in and we never got out, I realize. It swallowed us like a sandworm or a whale. So teacheth the Gnostics, or rather, modern New Age derivations therefrom. This would be the “reality-as-simulation” theory. It was by repression of entry into the Matrix that the Matrix got us, goes the theory. Movement amidst abstract sign-systems. Neon re-imaginings of witch-burnings cut with similar blood sacrifices atop ancient Aztec temples. Knowledges are fed through the air in packets. Do I possess an ethics? Do one’s best? Stay formally attentive? Listen and learn, I tell myself, and you will know how to act. Trust intuition over reason. Seek the flows and go with them. Even when they lead to French onion soup and a cartoon scarecrow with corn growing out its chest. Go out on adventures, says an imaginary Australian life coach, gesturing with his hands as he speaks. Too bad my brain has been soldered to things, I shudder, as the hallucination comes to an end.
One comes to a point in one’s life, I convince myself, when one ought to hear Handel’s Messiah. Wouldn’t it be more fun, though, I think, to confuse Mrs. Dalloway with Mrs. Doubtfire? Regress to high school, participate in a cafeteria food fight. “The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness”: ’tis but a character preserved in stories handed down across millennia. No matter: across these trance-scripts shall be built a highway fit for a god. It is from the fruit of great sorrow that change is wrought. Knowing, though, the shortness of the remaining hours of day, let us hasten our walk below this grim gray sky. Dead plants fire miniature spears at me. I pause and listen to a branch of dead leaves, brown and dry, shivering above in the air in the wind. Sarah recalls to consciousness a book called Nightwalking: A Nocturnal History of London. Those who travel with the cross ought to stay in their fucking lane, we growl at an aggressively-driven neighboring bus. It’s hard to ascertain the shape and contents of another’s discursive universe. To my countrymen, I ask, “What cognitive maps have you built of our home, our oikos, Spaceship Earth?” I fear for what will be left of it by century’s end. Why can’t we collectively turn our backs on matters of law and business? Are we drawn toward these as one is drawn toward a bitter destiny? Ants and spiders in a vast webwork, life’s maze. State-forms and modes of production ruin freethinkers by subjecting them to mandatory schooling. Althusser called the educational system capitalism’s dominant ISA. And now they will tax students further for this miserable imposition. To compensate, I drop the needle on Ritual Tension’s Expelled.
Songs spill across a graceless eternity until voices speak to me. Give these voices a listen, I tell myself — don’t drown them in the soundtrack. The universe puffs out its cheeks and exhales speech at me. I find a soul-mate of sorts in the narrator of Alberto Savinio’s Tragedy of Childhood, Mister Why. But the voices, rather than leading me, sing to me. Like doctors and teachers, they live by obscurity. They practice the latter as if it were their profession. Their words, mere humming noises, demand of me an externalized awareness, a focus outward of consciousness, and in doing so, lull me toward sleep.
I am achievement-minded and acquisitive only in pursuit of knowledge. And “pursuit” is perhaps misleading, as I’m more a gatherer than a hunter. “Behave with due reverence for Nature, and thou shalt receive” has become increasingly my motto of late. As soon as one doubts, the power stops working. But otherwise, it’s a gift. Sarah’s parents arrived for a visit the other day, and their plan is to stay until Sunday. Touring them around, I realized my city comports poorly when set before the eyes of strangers. Especially when one is not loaded — and I mean that in either sense of the term. At least the sky is still blue. I excused myself midday yesterday and made a point of blasting Milk Music’s new album Mystic 100’s along the length of my commute to campus, your humble narrator surrounded on all sides by beautiful autumn foliage.
The world appeared to me as if I were viewing it through textured glass. Upon my arrival home, my father-in-law and I conversed at length about our frustrations with students and with education more broadly, our mutual profession. My frustrations are compounded, though, by a pessimism that far outstrips his. My faith is apocalyptic, where his is not. I believe slaves should rise up against their masters. Neuro-hypnosis FTW. What are we unlocking? Some non-referential non-recollection of thought. Why did Althusser’s theory of interpellation make intuitive sense to me? How did part of me already know that the world as it appears is a lie? The sky can be singed away. Too many eyes captured by too many screens. To discipline, I object.