Laws are changing in both the state of my birth and my current state of residence. The states that house most of my lived experience. Decriminalization of marijuana where I reside, and legalization up north for the people of New York. Think of it as “tools returned to the people,” “medicine for the people,” people able now to receive plant wisdom without fear of persecution. In some locations, these projects have been “articulated,” in Laclau and Mouffe’s sense, with police abolitionism and reparations for communities of color.
Smoking toward dusk I decide to bake — but to no avail. “Bake and bake” remains a dad book waiting to be written. Dad’s busy reading board books. Mom, too. Others seek “productivity hacks.” A Google employee named Kenric Allado-McDowell co-authored a book with an AI — a “language prediction model” called GPT-3. The book, Pharmako-AI, could be wrangled into my course in place of Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly. Dick’s book is a downer, a proto-cyberpunk dystopia, whereas Allado-McDowell’s book contains a piece called “Post-Cyberpunk.” The book models communication and collaboration between human and nonhuman worlds. GPT-3 recommends use of Ayahuasca. The computer tells humanity to take plant medicine. What are we to make of this advice from an emergent AI? The book ventures into territory beyond my purview. GPT-3’s paywalled, and thus operates as the equivalent of an egregore. Not at all an easy thing to trust.
The writer in me feels a bit lost, a bit time-tunneled, not yet able to flow. I recall a book I encountered in my past: A Hundred Camels in the Courtyard by Paul Bowles. The book turned up synchronistically in the bins where I scavenged in the days after a transformative event in my life: my first time getting high. I try to recall some of that headspace. “Two worlds,” say the kif-smokers of Morocco. Kif delivers the smoker to a world other than the one determined by inexorable laws. The kif world is a projection of the smoker’s essence: “the elements of the physical universe,” Bowles explains, “automatically rearranged by cannabis to suit the requirements of the individual.” Bowles speaks of “dedicated smokers” whose visits to the kif world are “undertaken for the express purpose of oracular consultation.” I imagine the kif-world as a world adjacent to (perhaps even coextensive with) the world of these trance-scripts.
I used to think that others I met were wise witches and wizards welcoming me and guiding me, everyone and everything a potential teacher. I was a gnostic initiate on the threshold of a newly re-enchanted cosmos. At some point prior, an event had occurred that changed me, my sense of time and space altered. Pot restored some prior magical conception of reality that I’d been made to hide or repress — even as it also opened me to new modes of experience. I had become fearful in certain ways during my schooling. I’d developed emotional and psychological armor, shutting myself off from awe, desire, love, pain, hope — so as to just endure amid fear of bullying. It happened early in my childhood. A neighbor down the street used to push me. I was bullied and betrayed. This kid was my “best friend” at the time. Yet he pushed me around. He hurt me. That pattern of bullying and abuse continued, repeating itself in middle school and high school and beyond. These events turned me inward. I became like a turtle withdrawn into its shell. Pot got me out of that pattern. It helped me peek my head out of the Cave, like the dude who escapes in Plato’s allegory. I started to think of myself in terms of that character: the freed prisoner, the one whose head pierces the veil. At the end of the high (which can also be an ascent, a flight north), the hero returns again to the cave to free the others. The myth is restaged countless times; it can be transhistorical, like Christ’s harrowing of Hell, or historically specific, like Harriet Tubman’s many journeys to the South. The myth can be told as part of one’s past or one’s future. Millions of people relate to this tale in one or another of its many retellings. What about today? Is this still the narrative with which I fashion myself? I’ve become more discerning than that, have I not? In my encounters with witches and wizards, I study statements and practices. I listen for clues. If it seems like a person or group is trying to trick me or manipulate me, I bounce.
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.
The line traced by Agitation Free’s “In the Silence of the Morning Sunrise” runs along an axis that transcends the usual three-dimensional plane on which I’m trapped — or so I like to imagine, though I freely admit my ignorance regarding matters of topology. Point being, I can’t help feeling like I ought to be elsewhere.
With capacities renewed, however, the feeling gives way to joy, increased attentiveness, a sense of excitement. There I was griping, whereas now I can see. Beauty everywhere: a pot of garden lobelia, beside which I meditated this morning, and from which a tiny bee finds sustenance. Plants do that to us: they heal us, they modulate consciousness. From them comes that phrase in the Bible mistranslated into the English of the KJV as “our daily bread.” So sayeth Reverend Danny Nemu in a conversation with podcaster Lex Pelger in an episode of The Psychedelic Salon. Out of me pulses and flickers eidetic imagery — maybe even the tactile, fully immersive vibrational sphere of a cannabis-induced liminal dream. Family also provides sustenance, equally necessary. Time to get out there and love. That’s where I stumble, though. My every move feels judged and found wanting. Can I change those vibes, feed back something pure rather than base? My nieces step outdoors and cheer me up a bit. One talks about missing her kindergarten classroom, with its rugs, couches, and tables. The other one tells me that she does not like men, and that her favorite thing is bubblegum. Afterwards I tip-toe sentence by sentence through the section of Richard Brautigan’s Trout Fishing in America titled “The Message,” the words on the page threatening to cohere into some fearsome allegory. What I find instead, though, is further evidence of a loving cosmos waiting patiently for me as I struggle toward an approximation of its wisdom.
The world operates unpredictably but for the most part pleasurably when I smoke weed; some wonderful but as-yet-unnameable “sense” or awareness enters the equation, a buzz or vibration, a field of energy operating outside space-time, in some other dimension. I enter a state of rapt, bemused fascination as I wander this new “inner space,” floating free in a sea of untranslatable semiotic matter. Lewis Carroll captured or came nearest to approximating the sensation with his description of Alice’s tumble down the rabbit-hole. In so doing, his text provides an anchor, a constant amid the experience of changing worlds. It’s how we lead ourselves from one world to another. With the comfort as well that time’s passage feels slow and dreamy, until suddenly we land and follow the rabbits of our curiosity. Is fantasy a realm of the head, a mere idealism? Or is it instead (for who is to know otherwise?) a portal to a world as actual as any other? Subjects and objects are units of language. Carroll (AKA Charles Dodgson) doesn’t appear to have experimented with drugs recreationally; he arrived to altered states by way of linguistics and mathematics. But Disney embraced the psychedelic interpretation of Carroll’s work as part of its marketing strategy for a re-release of Alice in Wonderland in 1974, encouraging viewers of the film’s trailer to “Go Ask Alice.” The cause of Alice’s descent is her falling asleep — daydreaming instead of completing her lesson. Doors, rabbits, magic potions: these are all manifestations of her unconscious desires projected into dream. Drugs and dreams inspire similar lines of thought: they strip the ontological ground out from under us, suspending the normal rules of reality. Instantaneously — just like that — we become convinced emanationists. “Our normal waking consciousness,” as William James wrote following his experiments with nitrous oxide, “rational consciousness as we call it, is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the flimsiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different. We may go through life without suspecting their existence; but apply the requisite stimulus, and at a touch they are there in all their completeness, definite types of mentality which probably somewhere have their field of application and adaptation. No account of the universe in its totality can be final which leaves these other forms of consciousness quite disregarded” (The Varieties of Religious Experience). Addendum: The psychedelic interpretation of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was propagated in a number of texts of the counterculture: Grace Slick’s lyrics to Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit,” Go Ask Alice (1971), Thomas Fensch’s Alice in Acidland (1970), an anti-drug film of that name from 1969, and another called Curious Alice (1971). Mike Jay’s book Emperors of Dreams (2011) took up the question of Carroll’s relationship to drug experiences, suggesting that Carroll borrowed the psychedelic motif from Mordecai Cooke’s The Seven Sisters of Sleep (1860), a book describing use of fly agaric mushrooms among Siberian Shamans.
Is consciousness just an illusory emanation of language? Or does it possess some sort of agency, some prior existence independent of language? A voice interjects, says “Grant it said agency and it does.” The subject, a kind of ghost, sits in darkness, manipulating symbols with its thumbs. One evolves by updating one’s code. Sensibility is an interface one can adjust by burning and inhaling sacramental plant matter. The interface undergoes what Franco “Bifo” Berardi calls “mental mutation.” It escapes some of its determination by image regimes and techniques of representation. “The repertoire of images at our disposal,” he writes, “exalts, amplifies, or circumscribes the forms of life and events that, through our imagination, we can project onto the world, put into being, build, and inhabit” (After the Future, p. 133). Must there be a nucleus of identity, a single author-function at the unviewable origin-point of the projection? How far can imagination abstract itself from historical reckoning? Can’t it sometimes float blissfully, no longer self-possessed?
The phrase “Libra sapphire glow stick” comes to mind as I walk beside a park remembering pleasures, abstractions, noise shows attended by the hundreds. Selves today would never permit themselves such latitude. High Maintenance uses its pot-dealer protagonist to motivate its posing of the problem of cognitive mapping in terms at once political, economic, aesthetic, and existential. Viewers get to ride in a sidecar as Ben Sinclair bikes across the metropole. Cognitive mappers should add to their reading lists Bertolt Brecht’s The Life of Galileo. Where might weed fit in a practice of orientation able to connect the abstractions of capital to the sense-data of everyday perception? It allows us to conduct our research furtively, I tell myself, hidden in imagination along a mosquito coast composited from bits of psychoacoustic space.
I sense my heart beating as I listen to Overscan’s “The Narrows.”
My mind’s eye cycles through a sequence of images. Time stolen for sensation rather than narrative progression. An octopus swims in a giant underground tank. Beams of sunlight pierce the rafters of an abandoned factory. By conjuration, I acquaint myself with Andrew Weil’s The Natural Mind. The subjective universe continues its slow, bit-by-bit expansion. Marijuana lets me use time to step back from the Agora, the marketplace — the business of everyday life under capitalism. I scatter into platters, platelets, matter: shrinking man, dissolving into panpsychic, object-oriented bliss. I can move up and out, release myself of gravity, transform into a thought bubble floating in a world of sound, as in 15 Corners of the World, a documentary about Polish electronic music composer Eugeniusz Rudnik. Teaching, on certain days, with the right students and under the proper conditions, needn’t be a burden. We’re like electric ants in that regard. We can change three-dimensional reality by reprogramming ourselves internally. It’s a matter of explaining three dimensions in two-dimensional terms.