Clouds appear puffy and white with shades of gray the way they do in the paintings of Turner and Constable above the stack of three-level Victorians at the corner of Cowcross and St. John. To sit at a table under an awning at a café here in London is basically to resign oneself to inhalation of secondhand smoke. I see little evidence of Glastonbury and Windsor and the other acid-fueled free festivals of the 1970s remaining here in England’s cultural DNA. The same goes for Madchester and late-80s / early-90s rave culture. The neoliberal counter-reformation has wiped clear near about every last trace of these consciousness-expanding influences, allowing Her Majesty’s loyal subjects to throw themselves whole-hog again into their old habit of killing one another with cigarettes and drink.
Sunlight reflected off passing cars on the street below travels in a ghostly manner across the ceiling of the flat, short fleeting flashes matched with sounds of engines as I lie on a couch beside the window. Sarah and J. type at their laptops. Air releases as one of them twists the cap from a carbonated beverage. I try to open myself to these sounds. I try to welcome them as aspects of experience. Before long, conditions change: J. rinses a dish in the sink, Sarah leafs through a catalogue, the sun passes behind some clouds, and suddenly I’m up on my feet, I’m stretching, trying to release tension from my neck and shoulders. What is the source of this tension? Blocked kundalini energy — energy I’ve awakened, trapped along its journey up my spine? Perhaps it’s just pain related to the shitty mattresses on which I’ve been sleeping these past few weeks. Rather than dwell on the discomfort, I hop over to the Tate Britain, where I wander around listening to Third Ear Band’s Alchemy while viewing works by Ithell Colquhoun and William Blake. Beautiful carved objects greet me by day’s end — ornate wooden chessboards, masks, figures, and statues at a West African restaurant near the British Museum. Dining alone in close proximity to neighboring tables creates a slight sense of awkwardness, as I know not where to direct my gaze, other than at the art on the walls.
The solstice approaches. Time to wake and greet the dawn. After morning meditation on the floor of the flat, I venture out to grab a sandwich and pastry at a nearby cafe. Workers in hardhats mend the facade of a building from a scaffold across the way. Property values dictate endless construction under the present regime. Commuters hurry past smoking, vaping, interacting with their phones. My flatmates meet me at the Farringdon Station, bleary-eyed students in tow, the lot of us then boarding a train for a brief outing to Essex. We arrive to Mistley, a small port town, air thick with the smell of malt. A local woman named Josie leads us on a tour, sharing with us her research on the seventeenth century witch-hunter Matthew Hopkins. We cross the village green and journey along a public footpath, Josie filling our ears with juicy lore related to Old Knobbley and a ghostly hound named Black Shuck. After the tour, I retire to a pub and down a few pints of Guinness, mood darkened by lack of magic.
Sarah and I rode up to Camden Town last night to see Soweto Kinch perform one of my favorite albums, Pharaoh Sanders’s Karma, at the Jazz Cafe, in honor of the album’s fiftieth anniversary. It was a stunning night, the music heady enough to generate “eyeball movies” all on its own — eidetic glyphs and pulsing pyramids — without need of any chemical assistance. Yet the show’s good vibes didn’t last long. I slept poorly throughout the night, waking several times from panic-filled dreams, one involving an angry giant pushing a cabin off its foundations, causing the structure to tumble down a ravine. Within a few hours of this dream, Facebook announced its plan to launch a new global currency called Libra. In the hours of the morning before the key fit the lock, however, I wandered out by bus and by train into the suburbs of South London to view an exhibition called “Brilliant Visions: Mescaline, Art, Psychiatry” at Bethlem Museum of Mind.
Strolling through Hampstead Heath wondering about the differences between heaths and moors (my knowledge of the latter drawn largely from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s descriptions of them in the third of his Sherlock Holmes novels, The Hound of the Baskervilles), I observe dogs and magpies exploring hills of grass and gorse. A raven issues two sharp calls from a branch above the path. From there it’s just a short walk to Highgate Cemetery and the Tomb of Karl Marx, where I place a small stone worn smooth by time atop the headstone as a kind of offering. The Social Darwinist philosopher Herbert Spencer, who coined the phrase “survival of the fittest,” lies buried just a few feet away from Marx, the two thinkers locked in permanent struggle on the far side of the River Lethe. But no one treks hundreds of miles to leave flowers and light votive candles in honor of shitbags like Spencer. Anticommunists may have dubbed Marx “the God that Failed” during the early days of the Cold War, but like the spectre invoked in the opening lines of The Communist Manifesto, Marx remains an active presence here in the 21st century — a patron saint of the planet’s dispossessed and prophet of the world to come.
Street art adorns every available surface along London’s Brick Lane — tags, murals, stickers, posters, the works. Uniformed schoolchildren file past, their tour guide pointing out to them where the master weavers used to live. Rounding the corner onto Sclater Street, I stroll over to a bar and grab a seat under an awning on the sidewalk. A courier rides by on a bicycle as I sip my lager. What am I to do with these interests of mine? Marxist philosophers, Decadent poets, psychonauts, occultists, members of the New Weird Britain: do any of these figures matter anymore, or has the hour of the counterculture’s final passing come round at last? The success of Strange Attractor Press suggests that there’s still a readership for this material. Let us persist, then, in our faith that these forces can reactivate and work their magic in the years ahead.
A sunny late-afternoon walk along Regent’s Canal observing houseboats and seagulls reawakens a memory of the previous night’s dream: I’ve inherited a boat shaped like a VW Beetle, only the docking point for the boat lies just prior to a small waterfall, causing me to fret about my inability to locate the nautical equivalent of a parking brake. (In the dream, this object that I’m searching for and that fails to materialize is very clearly understood to be a parking brake rather than, say, an anchor.) Yet as I pause to write out this recollection, an owner of a narrowboat — a young dude with Dr. Martens, a thin mustache, sunglasses, and a radio playing Elvis and Hendrix — pulls up beside me and I lend him a hand manipulating the gate of a locks system to help him lower his boat into the lengths ahead. From this, I deduce a provisional ontological scheme or order featuring pairs of successive “stages” or “levels”: the first involving anxiety as preemptive, unconsciously manufactured fantasy-construct, the second involving an overcoming of this fantasy-construct through intuitive acts that instigate learning and growth.