When thinking about Freud, we should think also of one of his most important successors, Frantz Fanon. Fanon was born in Martinique in 1925 and studied medicine in France, specializing in psychiatry. In books like Black Skin, White Masks and The Wretched of the Earth, he rewrites Freud, positing in place of the latter’s Western imperial Ego a black psyche: a diasporic, anti-colonialist Orphée Noir or “Black Orpheus,” as Sartre would say, seeking to liberate itself from a white world. Fanon is angered because the French Empire imposed upon him through colonial schooling the Master’s language, “the mother tongue,” the language of the core. The anticolonial subject takes possession of the language and talks back — though not, as he says, with fervor. Fanon tells us he doesn’t trust fervor. “Every time it has burst out somewhere,” he writes, “it has brought fire, famine, misery…And contempt for man. Fervor is the weapon of choice of the impotent” (Black Skin, White Masks, p. 9). What Fanon performs instead is a kind of radical psychiatry upon Western consciousness. His books are psychotherapeutic treatments for those whose heads have been shrunk.
It’s a daunting task: trying to talk to one’s colleagues about consciousness. Is it a quality? Is it a substance? Do we wield it — or is it the nature and seat of our being? And what is its relationship to this sphere of action known as language? Consciousness trance-scribing itself for others. I want to say thought, consciousness, language, narrative: all are simultaneous, intermixed. I walk around, stare at three orange and white daffodils beside a small creek. Water runs across rock as a runner runs past as cars drive past, the world a series of concentric rings through which consciousness vibrates, even as with a body, with fingers typing on technology, words are produced. It all happens temporally and simultaneously. Consciousness is what allows us to perform these tasks. We move among sights, sounds, movements, actions, words, interactions with other beings. But then I also wish to say that consciousness is an awareness, a state into which one awakens gradually and intermittently amid cycles of sleep. We can put ourselves into better states through achievement of consciousness. Lukács uses the term in this sense in his book History and Class Consciousness. And for many Marxists, this achievement is to be sought against a backdrop of “false” consciousness. In a racist society it can transform into what W.E.B. Du Bois called “double consciousness.” And of course it’s what second-wave feminists addressed when they organized themselves in the early 1970s into consciousness-raising groups. How does one say this for friends and colleagues? I practice the yoga of baby-holding while simultaneously listening to birds and crows, contemplating a solution. A way of saying, so as to facilitate shared awareness. What is this thing, this abstraction, this manifestation of mind that persists amid disruptions?
What do we mean by rebellion? Government by election is illegitimate, the numbers and the games played with them suspect. Time for ontological rebellion, refusal of consent to another’s determination of reality. Time to write and perform alternate scripts. Take value-determination away from the money-form. Reject the count en masse. By that I mean the Census. That which can’t count can’t rule. Collectively, in groups, drop out of the count. Drop out of buying and drop into giving. Create an alternative narrative reality. Turn every house into a freehouse, a treehouse, an Undercommons, a tribal encampment. Those who have land, give land. Start communes. Queer language. Historicize it, romanticize it, poeticize it, improvise with it, cast spells with it. Disobey those who police it. Craft new states of being. Provide for the needs of others. Teach. Parent. Use love and generosity to coordinate local gift-exchange. And support those who take to the pipelines and the streets. Water defenders, metro fare protestors. Rise up, act out. Decolonize this place.
I wish to become a better giver of gifts. Remembering to do so and doing so. Where does one find them? Doesn’t one have to acquire in order to give? Or can one give things received in language? Special words, like those spoken in Julius Lester’s folk tale, “People Who Could Fly.”
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.
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?