I read Diane Di Prima’s Revolutionary Letters for the first time this summer. It is a wonder that I’ve only just recently arrived to her work. “The mail has been slow,” as Ishmael Reed would say (the latter being a running gag in his book Mumbo Jumbo). The mail and the male. Revolutionary Letters has become part of my education. Students and I read it together earlier this month. I’ve been reading and responding to several students who wrote about the book for the midterm paper in my course “Literatures of Rebellion.” Friends and I have been mourning her passing since learning the other day of her death. We’ve been sharing works of hers that move us. Along comes “Rant” where she proclaims, “The only war that matters is the war against the imagination. All other wars are subsumed in it.”
Di Prima refers to life as a game of “multidimensional chess played with divination and strategy.” She says that what we find out is what we select “out of an infinite sea of possibility.” Let us respond imaginatively in word and act. Perform a close reading. She begins by noting that with every line of writing we project a cosmology and cosmogony. We’re the ones keeping ourselves out of paradise. Joy is ours if we imagine it. Why are so many of the texts that we’re reading this semester about travel north? That’s the trajectory of Frederick Douglass’s autobiography and Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower. But Silko also traveled north to write Ceremony.
My wish is to write something that blurs the lines between fantasy and reality, a story that re-enchants everyday life, sending readers out on weird walks through landscapes rich with clues. Let there be a well in one of these landscapes — or even just a spigot. Let there be precious stones and warp zones and portals to other worlds.
I imagine myself away in a psychic hideaway, garlanded with wreath beside Bay of Biscayne, spying unseen, like the reason-mad royal society scientists of Bacon’s New Atlantis, antennae out, receiving signals, telescopes trained on the world. I gather around me work that suits me. Using wireframe models draped in polygons, I build new objects. Mechanical Turks. And I do this not by exploiting teams of artists made to sell themselves piecemeal in an unwinnable race to the bottom. I do it, rather, by way of consciousness modification. Reverse behavioral economics. Hypnoses, trances, collective lucid dreams. What constitutes crime in the absence of democracy? Criminality is a response to the wrongs of a society. Mindhunter makes me nostalgic for when universities were universities. Spaces of critical dialogue, where students and professors began from an agreement that established narratives were lies.
Is consciousness just an illusory emanation of language? Or does it possess some sort of agency, some prior existence independent of language? A voice interjects, says “Grant it said agency and it does.” The subject, a kind of ghost, sits in darkness, manipulating symbols with its thumbs. One evolves by updating one’s code. Sensibility is an interface one can adjust by burning and inhaling sacramental plant matter. The interface undergoes what Franco “Bifo” Berardi calls “mental mutation.” It escapes some of its determination by image regimes and techniques of representation. “The repertoire of images at our disposal,” he writes, “exalts, amplifies, or circumscribes the forms of life and events that, through our imagination, we can project onto the world, put into being, build, and inhabit” (After the Future, p. 133). Must there be a nucleus of identity, a single author-function at the unviewable origin-point of the projection? How far can imagination abstract itself from historical reckoning? Can’t it sometimes float blissfully, no longer self-possessed?
Like Mayakovsky, I “see the one no one sees / crossing the mountains of time.” Consider this imaginary friend of mine — hovering, approaching, possessing me as I meditate. Marx’s spectre, pricking on the plain. It matters not where we land, I tell myself, as my boot bottom settles on an oil slick at the base of a gas pump. The important thing is to reopen the case of language and its relation to consciousness. The important thing is to track thought with thought.
By traveling through mental circuitry, we open new avenues of action. We come back, and we’re not the same. We possess abstract shape patterns, like afterimages of fireworks. We feel out of it sometimes, asleep to our own reality. I don’t have to think; I just know things now, some of it audio-visual, like materials filed in boxes beneath the floorboards — the Id, the unconscious. But with this new knowledge comes the paranoid sensation that I’m still missing some crucial bit of knowledge possessed by others. Sure, one grants, as Jameson puts it, “the historicity of perception (and of the apparatuses in which it is registered, and registers, all at once)” (Signatures of the Visible, p. 3). But what then becomes of the Imagination? What is imagination’s relation to those historically generated forms known as the sonic, the visual, and the linguistic? Literary scholar R.A. Durr took the terms “psychedelic” and “imaginative” to refer to a “fundamentally identical power of apprehension, or mode of being” (Poetic Vision and the Psychedelic Experience, pp. viii-ix). This imaginative power sends and receives codes. Like in a dream, a long dream. Prove it one can’t. One has to just trust it. The truth is a scenario that becomes by whatever means necessary. Sometimes, however, in order to work I need to perambulate. Get up and move, shake a leg. Jameson thinks absorption in the image results in the negation of thought. Let’s drink to that. Or let’s drink, at least, to the negation of those habitual forms of reason and judgment that dominate life in our time. Let’s drink as well to taking down “The Man.” This was the Yippies’ term for the present system of government. Capitalism has hollowed out reality. It’s been growing and spreading beneath us like a cancer. The characters will make the leap and defeat it, I imagine. But the author? One mustn’t say.