What does it mean to become mindful of a practice? Take my use of language in combination with my use of cannabis. What enters my awareness, what happens to my consciousness (and is there even still an “I” to whom these properties belong), once I’ve allied myself with a plant? Does becoming mindful mean observing language use, moving recursively through the parts of sentences, sounding them out, testing their properties, aligning them into sequences that please an inner judge? Does it mean editing in accordance with a previously taken-for-granted Reason, or Substance, or Preestablished Essence? Is this latter equivalent to what the ancients used to call Logos? And where does the “I” sit in all of this? Does choice of words have an impact on Being? Is the metabolism that emerges from this impact a healthy one? Let us relinquish the question-form and see. A kind of “angel” arrives here speaking to me from the pages of a book. It claims to be a messenger—though what it wishes to share with me, it says, is not information so much as a “language of transformation” — words “capable of renewing those to whom they are addressed” (Latour, as quoted in High Weirdness, p. 156). Earlier in the day, a friend posted a favorite passage of his from Frank Herbert’s Dune — a “Litany Against Fear” that seems apropos given the tightrope I walk. “I must not fear,” says the novel’s hero Paul Atreides. “Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” This passage seems to favor action — but some fears are warranted, I tell myself. Afterwards I catch myself humming “Knock Three Times,” a hit song released in 1970 by Tony Orlando and Dawn. The unprompted strangeness of this song, the way it rose to mind without any clear catalyst, causes me to reflect for a moment on its lyrics. Noting a correspondence, I decide against a second hit.
Sarah shows me how to put the lime in the coconut. Life is what we make of it, she reminds me, and from then on, the good times roll. I sit up, I pay attention, I build and traverse new pathways. Observe the way light falls across furniture. A new person is soon to enter the story. Let us fill our homes with loving-kindness — and don’t worry so much, I tell myself, for as Maggie Nelson observes at the start of The Argonauts, “nothing you say can fuck up the space for God.” I don’t think everything can be thought, and most of what I consider important can’t be put into words. The latter have effect, to be sure, but they’re spoken by Being, not by some small willing part of it. I’m not even sure of the authority of Nelson’s pronouncement. But I prefer to read generously, trusting what she calls “the inexpressible…contained — inexpressibly! — in the expressed.”
I select my materials by responding to local happenings, spontaneous sense-impressions. I perform acts of listening, openly and receptively, with few preconceptions and little to no prejudgment. Signs when received are taken lightly, but still granted due reverence, as befits things of wonder and mystery. Let us reply our way into an economy of giving. “In mythology, medieval literature, and occultism,” say texts of yore, “the language of the birds is postulated as a mystical, perfect divine language, green language, Adamic language, Enochian, angelic language.” Listen and learn. Track down 12th century Persian poet Attar of Nishapur’s The Conference of the Birds.
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.