Huxley’s “reducing valve” metaphor renders the self or the Ego porous through a kind of sense-awakening, like the opening of a third eye. Growth of a new organ, as the Marxist literary theorist Fredric Jameson said, “to expand our sensorium and our body to some new, as yet unimaginable, perhaps ultimately impossible dimensions” (Postmodernism, p. 80). Jameson’s visit to the Bonaventure Hotel reads like a trip report — an account of an anabasis, with its ascent up the Portman building’s remarkable elevators. These elevators grant their riders the ability to cross realms, as Jameson does. After traveling up from the building’s interior atrium, one is launched out, in a glass-windowed capsule, up the building’s exterior shell. The ride allegorizes space flight. Riders shoot upward and land safely upon return into a dizzying postmodern hyperspace connected only by way of ascending escalators to the streets of Los Angeles. The pools at the base of the elevators simulate NASA’s trademark “splash landing.”
Alien sirens heard from the depths of a hypnagogic state. The clock reads 10:04, like the Ben Lerner novel, as Sarah and I discuss our plans for the day. “Reviewing the itinerary,” copiloting with Google Maps: these activities bore me, but the structure of Los Angeles demands them. Upon exiting the Westin Bonaventure, Sarah says offhandedly, over her shoulder, “seems like a death trap.” We agree that, in many respects, Jameson’s discussion of the Bonaventure in his famous “Postmodernism” essay captures the phenomenological reality of the building perfectly: the ride in the elevator especially, rising up on the exterior skin of the building to a height above the city, followed by the delirious descent down again, the elevator plunging through the glass roof of the building’s atrium before coming to a stop atop a glimmering pool of water at the base of the building’s depths. Athanasius Kircher enters our thoughts as we continue our journey through the city. We encounter accounts of his accomplishments at the Museum of Jurassic Technology on our final afternoon in LA. Afterwards, at our Airbnb, I observe that our tiny home has been enlivened, made beautiful by play of sunlight, flower- and leaf-patterned pillowcases stacked casually at the head of the futon by the floor, windows beside the entrance to the home opened vertically to allow in vast, multi-sourced birdsong, the music of the host couple’s garden.
Leaves rustle under the furtive gestures of shadow-hidden animal neighbors. I sit and smoke beneath Christmas lights strung through the low-lying branches of a bottlebrush tree the evening after my arrival at my second Airbnb in LA: a stucco-walled proto-“tiny home” / poolside cabana in the hills above Silver Lake. This vacation has been wonderful. Sarah and I wake each morning as we usually do, excited to embark on new adventures, only more so. Days allow for unanticipated surprises, course corrections, getaways from routine—and with these, learning and growth: insightful conversations with fellow psychonauts, one an ayahuascsa user, another a mushroom enthusiast; breakthroughs on the research end; delicious meals at restaurants like Joy and Dune; time to swim, time to drip dry while lounging in the sun; cool discoveries in the occult sections of bookstores. If our careers can be made to allow it, I think, we should move here. Demand the impossible. Grow toward the light.
An old friend and I smoked together a few evenings ago in his beautiful downtown LA penthouse. As the weed kicked in, the friend mentioned Milton Rokeach’s The Three Christs of Ypsilanti: a book-length psychiatric study of an experiment of dubious ethicality involving a group of men suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. As the title indicates, Rokeach’s experiment brought together three patients with seemingly incompatible belief systems, each man convinced he was Christ, in the hope that these confrontations would cure them of their delusions. In the minutes and hours that followed in this friend’s penthouse, some sort of spiritual-metaphysical mythos or meaning-system crystallized for me around that detail. Next thing I knew, I had tumbled down a rabbit hole into a paranoid fantasy: a weird, apocalyptic tale woven around my soul, and thus discernible only by me, with plot points borrowed from The Stand and Miracle Mile — stories this friend and I encountered together and bonded over as teenagers. Milton’s Paradise Lost figured in there as well. Sarah was present through all of this, pleading my case with me, but I couldn’t shake the intuition that I was in the presence of some high-stakes decision tree. There I was like Adam, lacking the knowledge of good and evil needed to discern friend from foe, but convinced (because of what? the weed? my economic condition? my Catholic upbringing? my fear of dying?) that someone must be a foe, someone must be scheming to steal my happiness. Given this conviction, it seemed inevitable that I was damned either way, buckling under the strain of an impossible choice, an impossible demand. Perhaps, though, I’ve tried to tell myself afterwards, it is by this conviction and it alone that Satan is hypothesized and granted being. Or as Sartre once said, “Evil is making abstract that which is concrete.” Once we choose, of course, the paranoid condition evaporates. We become whole again, the psyche no mere compromise-formation Jerry-rigged by characters installed through socialization, the ones Freud called the Superego and the Id. The Real in which these characters are nested needn’t be defined as a tragic one. Behave lovingly and one is saved.
Before arriving to the thing itself, I instruct myself to regard the 9-acre suite of Japanese gardens on the grounds of the Huntington not only in cynical terms, as a tourist site and a marker of social status, but also in more hopeful terms, as a site for encounter and self-actualization: manifestations, in other words, of Amida Buddha’s Western Paradise, enabling rebirth on a path toward enlightenment. Our observations, these gardens teach us, are always contingent, based on changing points of view. In the library itself, I request access to the “Aldous Huxley Oral History Papers, 1985-1990” and several rare books by Huxley’s friend and fellow mystic Gerald Heard. I also browse old issues of a journal called Aldous Huxley Annual. Consciousness airdrops into an altogether different Earth, however, some postindustrial world, an Earth of a different geological period, once the Subject exits the library and actually enters, sets foot into, the desert garden. Curvilinear profusion, flesh of the Earth thorny, prickly, and hairy. Morning doves and amber-bellied fox squirrels in the trees, lizards scurrying up the torsos of cacti. This is my Utopia, my garden at the end of time: this hot, wet, earthy, noisy, citrusy, fruit-bearing, sun-absorbing, multi-scented surround. I’m swept with the conviction in this moment that, whatever the details of this Utopia (apart from “full communism now”), our presence in it should be airy, minimal — an attentiveness to life’s formal richness that nonetheless remains light in its imprint. Let us be great lovers, tending only to our role as gardeners, nurturers, machines of loving grace, I’s who preside over the self-presentation of being. In these gardens and their surrounding bungalow heavens, this gift, this experience my love has given to me, LA prefigures its nickname “City of Angels.”
After landing and grabbing a quick lunch at an In-N-Out Burger near LAX, we drop off our bags at our Airbnb, a pretty little poolside cottage a short walk from the Huntington, and begin to tour the city. Everything near and far looks amazing here in Pasadena: the trees, the hills, the restaurants, the architecture. We spend our first evening admiring the flora while walking the grounds beside the Griffith Park Observatory, and peeking in at Skylight Books, where my eye lands upon a new book in the 33 1/3 series on Fugazi’s In on the Kill Taker and Rob Chapman’s Psychedelia and Other Colours. Most of this West Coast ground of being hasn’t yet been “languaged” for me, so it’s a bit like “seeing what Adam had seen on the morning of his creation” (as Huxley says of his experience with mescaline). On the morning of day two, we drive to Santa Monica, landing for brunch at a somewhat mediocre, overpriced crêperie. After just a few short hours here, one detects firsthand the city’s monstrous antinomies, ones Mike Davis evoked so powerfully more than a quarter of a century ago in his book City of Quartz. Walking through Tongva Park, for instance, I observe homeless men and women sleeping on benches beside lush beds of what I soon learn to identify thanks to an app on my cellphone as Lindheimer’s Beeblossom, American Century Plant, Birds-of-Paradise, Tree Aeonium. Out along the Santa Monica Pier, a middle-aged topless man with glistening skin performs a rendition of “People Are Strange” while photographing himself with a selfie stick. Upon our return to Pasadena, we allow ourselves time to swim in a pool and lay in the sun. The day concludes with a dusky stroll through Bungalow Heaven, our wandering met by twin cosmic giggles: an ostentation of peafowl and an outdoor performance by Top 40 rapper Bryce Vine.
I am fully alert and fully capable, I remind myself as I pass through security and board my flight. It isn’t long before I’ve achieved a speed of 520 MPH and an altitude of 37573 ft. Squares of land etched with the roots and branches of rivers and streams pass below me as I chew bits of a caramel-flavored Stroopwafel and read a chapter on Terence McKenna in Tao Lin’s new book Trip: Psychedelics, Alienation and Change. All that I normally encounter—what I on other days might call the “dimension of lived experience”—appears from this height abstracted into patterns that are at once simple, geometrical, and marvelously complex. I inhale deeply; clouds part to reveal circles cut into rectangles and squares of farmland. Further cuts into several of these circles reveal Land-Art Pacmans in tan and lavender and green. Up rise the Rockies, clouds casting shadows onto snow-covered peaks. Beyond that lie patches of brown desert, landscapes of a kind that, prior to this journey, I’ve never seen before. Ancient, intricate ridges and plateaus, like the surface of a rocky brain. Clouds again—and then before I know it, we descend, and holy asphalt, there they are: the gridded blocks of Los Angeles.
A midmorning conversation with a friend helps to enliven me. Magic seems to be in the air these days. When I mention to this friend of mine my upcoming trip to Los Angeles, he in no uncertain terms recommends I visit the Center for Land Use Interpretation (CLUI) and the Museum of Jurassic Technology. Along with research at major West Coast libraries and visits with old friends, several of whom we haven’t seen in more than a decade, Sarah and I hope to tour a number of locations of significance to us throughout the LA basin. This reminds me: I should track down a copy of David King Dunaway’s book, Huxley in Hollywood. Huxley has been on my mind of late. In preparation for my encounter with his papers, currently stored in special collections at UCLA, I’ve been reading his masterpiece on mysticism, The Perennial Philosophy—a book written, in fact, during WWII, when Huxley and his wife Maria were living at Pearblossom Ranch, a five-acre plot in the desert, overlooking the cemetery of LA’s short-lived socialist utopia, the Llano del Rio colony. This, too, is one of the locations I hope to visit in the next two weeks. Onward and upward!