The day is a difficult yoga session writ large. I hold poses through tasks required of me: grocery shopping, lawn mowing, parenting. When time allows, I sit eyes closed and meditate. There is an alchemy in this working-through, this processing of desire. The day is the site where one practices care for an absent other. Come afternoon and suddenly it’s a pool day, world redeemed by popsicles and coconut bars. I rise up onto the surface of the pool and float there, big happy smile on my face as I imagine the act shared with another. My friend at The Alchemist’s Studio reminds me of a saying attributed to Vincent Van Gogh: “Yellow is capable of charming God.” The charm of that rhymes later in the day with “Charm (Over ‘Burundi Cloud’),” the 21:24 B-side to Jon Hassell and Brian Eno’s Fourth World Vol. 1: Possible Musics.
Hassell passed away yesterday at the age of 84. After listening and giving thanks, I receive J.R.R. Tolkien’s St. Andrews lecture, “On Fairy-Stories.” For this is what we wish to write, is it not? A story about Faerie, “the realm or state in which fairies have their being.” As Tolkien emphasizes early on, “Faerie contains many things besides elves and fays, and besides dwarfs, witches, trolls, giants, or dragons: it holds the seas, the sun, the moon, the sky; and the earth, and all things that are in it: tree and bird, water and stone, wine and bread, and ourselves, mortal men, when we are enchanted.” Tolkien also calls Faerie “the Perilous Realm” — the source of peril, I presume, having something to do with the realm’s magic. Faerie’s virtue lies in its capacity to satisfy various desires: “to survey the depths of space and time,” for instance, and “to hold communion with other living things.”
I’m about half a year behind in posting these trance-scripts. Arriving to summer solstice, I post trance-scripts about winter. I type up New Year’s Day as I sit in summer sun. And as I do so, the idea dawns upon me: I can edit. I can revise. Trance-scripts could become a time-travel narrative. Through the eerie psychedelic echo and delay of the trance-script, I can affect-effect the past. I’ve done this already in minor ways, adjusting a word or two here and there. Time travel is such a modernist conceit, though, is it not? It’s modernist when conceived as a power wielded by a scientist or some sort of Western rationalist subject, as in H.G. Wells’s genre-defining 1895 novel The Time Machine. But in fact, much of the genre troubles the agency of the traveler. Think of Marty McFly, forced to drive Doc Brown’s Delorean while fleeing a van of rocket-launcher-armed Libyan assassins in Back to the Future. Or think of Dana, the black female narrator-protagonist in Octavia E. Butler’s novel Kindred. For Dana, travel is a forced migration to the time and place of an ancestor’s enslavement. One moment, she’s in 1970s Los Angeles; the next moment, she’s trapped on a plantation in pre-Civil War Maryland. Be that as it may, there is still the matter of these trance-scripts. It all seems rather complicated, this idea of tinkering with texts post facto. Yet here I am doing it: editing as I write. What, then, of this mad-professorly talk of “time-travel”? What would change, under what circumstances, and why? Let us be brave in our fantasies, brave in our imaginings.
What are we talking about when we talk about “political theology”? It’s a rejection of the secularization thesis. Religion never goes away; theological notions haunt the structures and discourses of capitalist modernity. I think of the lyrics to Buffy Sainte-Marie’s song “God Is Alive, Magic Is Afoot.” The song’s title is a line from a poem in Leonard Cohen’s 1966 novel Beautiful Losers. “I propped two pages of his book up on a music stand,” she recalled when asked about the song in an interview, “and I just sang it out, ad-libbing the melody and guitar music together as I went along.” Who is it that tells us “mind itself is magic coursing through the flesh / And flesh itself is magic dancing on a clock / And time itself, the magic length of God”? Is it Sainte-Marie, or is it Catherine Tekakwitha, the 17th century Mohawk saint worshipped by the narrator of Cohen’s novel?
Let this book of ours be a joyous one. Let the writing of it happen in the manner of a dance song or dream. Find in it an occasion to read Gurney Norman’s Divine Right’s Trip, a “novel of the counterculture” serialized in (and thus functioning as a paratext to) The Last Whole Earth Catalog. Leary, Di Prima, Huxley, Olson, Ginsberg, Kesey, Baraka, Sanders: all have their places, all have their roles in this tale we are about to tell. Words written on behalf of Utopia. ‘Twas a time when the not-yet was still possible, and that time is now.
Indigenous ways of knowing; Black Radical thought; Surrealism; Afrofuturism; Zen Buddhism. All have been guides: blueprints for counter-education for those who wish to be healed of imperial imposition. All provide maps of states other than the dominant capitalist-realist one. Hermann Hesse describes one such line of flight in his short novel The Journey to the East, a book first published in German in 1932, unavailable in English until 1956. Timothy Leary’s League for Spiritual Discovery takes after the League in Hesse’s novel. It, too, is but a part of a “procession of believers and disciples” moving “always and incessantly…towards the East, towards the Home of Light” (Hesse 12-13). Two of Leary’s psychedelic utopias, in other words, take their names from books by Hesse: both the League for Spiritual Discovery and its immediate precursor, the Castalia Foundation.
Excerpts from several of Hermann Hesse’s novels and short stories appear as paratext to a chapter on Arthur Koestler in Timothy Leary’s experimental 1968 memoir High Priest. ‘Tis the story of Koestler’s acid trip. Koestler had written a book about the East called The Lotus and the Robot. Koestler claims in disdainful orientalist fashion that the East, especially India and Japan, suffer from a sort of “spiritual malady.” Alongside the acid trip, Leary’s book also includes accounts of Koestler’s two mushroom experiences. Leary invited Koestler to participate as a test subject in the Harvard Psilocybin Project knowing full well of Koestler’s disdain for mysticism. The Hesse paratext supplements all of this, as Hesse had already portrayed Koestler in the manner of a roman-à-clef as a character named Frederick in Hesse’s short story “Within and Without.” Frederick is a stubborn, miserly rationalist, angered by the slightest hints of mysticism and superstition. So, too, with Koestler. He returns from India proud to be a European (as quoted in High Priest, p. 139). This is the same Koestler whose “confession” appeared in the 1949 anticommunist tract The God That Failed. “If these are the good old days,” wonders the author as he ponders this history, “then why am I so lonely? Why this ceaseless longing to grow through contact with others?”
My readings lead as all roads lead: to Castalia, the “elite institution devoted wholly to the mind and the imagination.” Castalia, Castalia, where “scholar-players” play the Glass Bead Game. Castalia, Castalia, the invention at the heart of Hermann Hesse’s final novel Magister Ludi. Hesse published the book in German under the title Das Glasperlenspiel. It appeared in Switzerland in 1943. The aim of the Glass Bead Game, as Hesse imagines it, is “the unio mystica of all separate members of the Universitas Litterarum.” Castalia, Castalia, Parnassian spring sacred to the Muses. Castalia, Castalia, remade as foundation by Leary and Alpert prior to their renaming it the League for Spiritual Discovery in 1966. Before Castalia they called themselves the International Federation for Internal Freedom. Castalia was the name they adopted in 1963 as they arrived to the Hitchcock Estate in Millbrook, NY. Some group of tricksters relaunched the Foundation in 2020 with repulsive rightwing content antithetical to the earlier foundation’s spirit and intent.
Yunkaporta describes his book Sand Talk as “an examination of global systems from an Indigenous perspective.” This is what we need, is it not? The Marxist literary theorist Fredric Jameson proposed that we call this thing we need a “cognitive map,” but Yunkaporta calls it “a template for living.” Reading the latter’s book, I’m reminded immediately of “songlines,” or “maps of story carrying knowledge along the lines of energy that manifest as Law in the mind and land as one, webbed throughout the traditional lands of the First Peoples.” Yunkaporta’s is a cosmology that allows for Elders and Ancestors, as well as “sentient totemic entities” and non-human kin. That cosmology clarifies, its form shimmers into being, when he writes, “Beings of higher intelligence are already here, always have been. They just haven’t used their intelligence to destroy anything yet. Maybe they will, if they tire of the incompetence of domesticated humans.” Most of us, he argues, have been displaced. History is a narrative of global diaspora, as most of us are “refugees” severed from the land-based cultures of origin of our Ancestors. Progress or healing occurs by revisiting “the brilliant thought paths of our Paleolithic Ancestors.” The ancients possessed cognitive functions that remain part of our evolutionary inheritance, but most of us remember no more than a fraction of these functions, our capacities stifled by our separation from the knowledge systems of Indigenous, land-based people. Through reading Yunkaporta’s book, one encounters “yarns.” Oral culture provides a lens through which to view the print-based knowledge systems of the Empire. Yunkaporta recognizes the challenges involved in such a project. “English,” he writes, “inevitably places settler worldviews at the centre of every concept, obscuring true understanding” (36). To communicate with the global system, Yunkaporta must write with “the inadequate English terms of his audience” (38) — but he makes the language work through “the meandering paths between the words, not the isolated words themselves” (37). “Dreaming” is an example of such a word: necessary, Yunkaporta notes, “unless you want to say, ‘supra-rational interdimensional ontology endogenous to custodial ritual complexes’ every five minutes” (38). Yunkaporta introduces “the dual first person…a common pronoun in Indigenous languages” (39) — and just like that, the Cave is behind us and we’re beginning to see the light. He translates it as “us-two.” Us-two’s fingers type those letters while with our mouths we say ngal.
Kim Stanley Robinson has written far too many books of a similar nature to be of much interest to me here in 2021, I think to myself as I survey the many books of his that I’ve purchased and read these last twenty years. I read Red Mars in a graduate seminar in the first years of the new millennium. His Mars trilogy was the focus of the final chapter of my dissertation. Is there a way to salvage that older project? Could I write a preface introducing it as a document retrieved from a time capsule? The author-self writing in 2021 is “a person of the future” compared to the version of me who wrote the dissertation. I live amid the time about which he wrote, in a world other than the ones he and others imagined. And Robinson, meanwhile, has only grown in the time since more boosterish and grotesque in his optimism about science and technology. His commitment to “science fiction” leaves his imagination bereft of magic.
A flute is blown, a tone sustained, strung like a bridge of sound across an otherwise silent expanse. By flute I mean the shakuhachi, the most important of traditional Japanese wind instruments. “Certain special effects such as flutter-tonguing and distinctly audible breathing, which in Western music are associated with 20th-century avant-garde flute repertory,” writes David Loeb in the Kōhachirō Miyata album’s liner notes, “were a standard part of traditional shakuhachi technique by the 18th century.” The sounds are ones I reimagine come evening as I listen to birdsong. As May concludes, it’s time to plant. ‘Tis summer–nearly so. If not for rain, I’d have been at the pool reading Reclaiming Art, a book by Weird Studies podcaster J.F. Martel. Or perhaps I’d have finished Jun’ichirō Tanizaki’s In Praise of Shadows. I find the latter troubling in its traditionalism. Japanese communists of the 1930s regarded Tanizaki as a reactionary in the years prior to the Second World War. His writings failed to adopt a recognizable ideological “stance.” He was a foot fetishist; a masochist; his writings explore the erotic and the grotesque. To the ideologues of his day, this made him “decadent,” his worldview colored by nostalgia for premodernity and by an embrace of fantasy and the unconscious. The elements I admire in Tanizaki, however, are his visceral aversion to capitalist modernity, his respect for embodied being, and his desire to live well.