Birds and squirrels play outdoors, the world outside the window an infinite cosmology, plural worlds within worlds. Sarah sings to me from the next room about the ideas of Margaret Cavendish. World-building. Radical occult ontology. Can these be the way individuals imagine themselves in relation to a cosmos of many beings and worlds? By such means, we could design our own cognitive maps, could we not? Think of these latter as structures similar in scale to Giulio Camillo’s Memory Theatre or Shakespeare’s Globe. Only they’re not grasped as structures. We learn our cognitive maps, we study them as they unfold all around us: the great Happenings of the Multitude. The “cognitive map” is a Utopian object proposed by Marxist literary theorist Fredric Jameson — a “spur,” we might say, an aesthetic riddle, a challenge issued to artists of the future. The purpose of this object that doesn’t yet exist, Jameson says, is to represent the unrepresentable, so that individual subjects can once again find their way in a global totality that at present “transcends all individual thinking or experience” (“Cognitive Mapping,” p. 353). When I return to André Breton’s “Manifesto of Surrealism,” I encounter aesthetic interventions of a different sort, ones that place their trust in “the inexhaustible nature of the murmur.” Allow language to air what needs airing, urge the Surrealists. Allow the unconscious to speak, no more cross-outs, just flow. To produce a “Surrealist composition,” one enters a receptive state of mind, allowing sentences to come either spontaneously or through games involving arbitrary constraints. Get weird, bring back the arbitrary, “so compelling is the truth that with every second there is a sentence unknown to our consciousness which is only crying out to be heard” (Breton 30). Breton’s movement was a response to world war. Reason had led humanity toward destruction and tragedy; perhaps we should live in accord, then, with our imaginations and our dreams. It’s a shocking, scandalous proposal, as Breton the former Dadaist intended. This is, after all, an anti-art. Yet its results are sometimes marvelous and strange. “The words, the images,” as Breton wrote, “are only so many springboards for the mind of the listener” (35) — and each of us, of course, when creating and dialoguing through Surrealist art, gets to play the listener, “reason’s role being,” in this art, “limited to taking note of, and appreciating, the luminous phenomenon” (37).
In the second episode of its second season, Westworld reaches dizzying new heights of allegorical richness and complexity. Through sympathy, or sympathetic identification with characters, consciousness gives itself to other points of view. We witness Being from the standpoint of the commodity, the proletariat. Created beings piece together truth by eavesdropping upon conversations they overhear among the god-beings they’ve been made to serve. The West is a world that seeks the end of history, the show suggests. A world that seeks to destroy itself in order to puzzle out the meaning of its making. And where Westworld ends, The Blazing World begins. We are immaterial spirits cloaked in material garments, says Margaret Cavendish — our true selves, I would add, as invisible to us as video game players are to their avatars. Identification, I would remind readers, is the principle that allows this forgetting, this trance-formation that occurs, the self’s ability to merge in imagination with what was formerly other. One could easily extrapolate an imaginary but plausible heretical form of Christianity based on these beliefs. We are each of us the Christ, might go its teachings, each of us the Creator-Being made incarnate, entered into the Creation in order to save it. Let us imagine ourselves thus. Let us feel rapid and jittery upon our evening walks as we exalt in prefiguration of our approaching freedom.
“Textual self-witnessing.” That phrase leaps out at me as I read about seventeenth-century author Margaret Cavendish. Is that part of what I’m after with this daily practice of mine, these trance-scripts? Speaking of self-witnessing: A student’s dream journal guides me to the “overview effect,” the sense of euphoria and self-transcendence reported by astronauts the first time they view the Earth from space. I don’t mean to diminish this blog’s readability or usefulness to others by calling it an act of self-witnessing. But I’m also not here to expound a position for an automatic crowd, a readymade audience that I can assume in advance shares the same habits of mind or standards of rationality as me. There are few positions I despise more, in fact, than those liberalisms (both classical and neo) that invent for their language-games cloaks of “rationality,” only to then demand (at gunpoint, at threat of starvation) that others play these games, while simultaneously denying the violence of this demand, not to mention the structural violence, the so-called “ongoing primitive accumulation,” on which all such liberalisms depend. There will be no communication, no “free, rational exchange of ideas,” with those who, with property, wage war on others. Fugitive minds will simply go elsewhere with their attentions, seeking temporary shelter, for instance, in soundscapes like YAK’s Bardo.
Reason and fancy are the names Cavendish ascribes to her twin cosmological hemispheres. As in the brain, she implies, so too on Earth, our stage. Since “Fortune and the Fates” have made a weapon of reason, transforming it through enclosure into the false dominion of the technocratic few, let us follow Cavendish and make worlds of our own.