Language is the domain wherein we learn our way in the cosmos. Without ignoring that preference for listening that sometimes makes me reticent to speak, I nevertheless feel moved to affirm here that by discoursing with others, we evolve our reality. It is in this spirit that, kicked up into dialogue by the music video for Childish Gambino’s “This Is America,” I land upon one of performer Donald Glover’s other recent accomplishments, the TV show Atlanta. Graced by an ability to improvise without worry using the Entirety of Being, one becomes if not quite a god, then at least a medicine. Or, in a further act of diminution, an interesting thought experiment, as the experience is akin to discovering “Thou Art That.” Especially if by “That” we mean a dialectically-evolving ensemble of objects. Because of the persistence of injustice, however, the revolutionary in me deems the new worlds I wake to each morning insufficiently distinct from the worlds of yore. Marxism remains for me the discourse I call home, in the sense that it rarely any longer challenges me to revise myself, it rarely any longer situates me as subject within an actionable project of individual and collective self-betterment. Yet along its trail of thought I still thread the sentences of my days.
After admiring joyous birdsong at sunset, the rumble of a motor heard far in the distance, I turn and face the entrance to a cave. Is it wrong to feel forever dubious of that which remains, that which fails to go away, despite my having lost belief in it? (Wasn’t that Philip K. Dick’s definition of “reality”?) Assuming no reply, I step inside, cave walls alive with claymation lichen. This cave of which I speak is a kind of mirror-world, like the interior of a screen. No matter how carefully I inspect its contents, I always depart it afterwards feeling conceptually and linguistically inept. Dominated by people with backgrounds in STEM and finance. At times, this cave resembles language — the cultural surround. Yet I at all times also feel language’s absence. I lack the words, for instance, to operate consistently within a science fictional universe. Psychedelics free us temporarily from the first of these sensations: the sense of language as a prison house, a confine, an enclosure. (Or not, if we believe Lacan.) But then what? Once out of the linguistic construct, how do we communicate with those still in it? What is the content of this gnosis that we wish to deliver back into language?
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.
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.
Ball of shredded paper with spider legs marches down a street. Rendered with military-entertainment-complex CGI, the same entity reappears as an AI-operated policing unit. Consciousness, ever wary of being locked into someone else’s home (and thus someone else’s rules), launches upward into a cartoon sky. Let it pause here at an airy height, perusing materials and media. The “I” recognizes its oddity, the peculiarity of its rebellion, the hand it was dealt by history. On back of each eyelid, it says, imagine flashing multiples, stacked cubes containing sometimes smokestacks, sometimes candles. Hot air balloons vie for exits in the sky. Consciousness is made, the same way Soylent Green is people. Or else it’s this holy ghost, this transcendent other, this apparition, self-knowing and self-manifesting in language but not of it.
Writing requires as its precondition grounds on which to relax and listen. Words appear — enter perception — in some domain ontologically different from, but nevertheless coextensive with, embodiment amidst being. This domain is what I’ve elsewhere called “consciousness.” Raymond Williams, by the way, neglected to include that term in his book Keywords. Do I need to review debates within Marxism regarding materialism and idealism? How else would one assemble a theory of consciousness? We who wish to advocate on behalf of acid communism need such a theory, for consciousness serves as the heavily trafficked bridge connecting the otherwise radically distinct discourses of Marxism and humanistic psychology. (Along with the latter, I should add, we also need to consider its successor, the field of “positive psychology.” About this more recent field, I remain conflicted, particularly given the current, ongoing appropriation of its concepts — “eudaimonia,” “human flourishing,” etc — by paid ideologues working on behalf of capital.) “So I sing these words,” sings Kevin Ayers. “Let them fly around like birds.”