In fleshing out the prehistory of what Mark Fisher was calling “Acid Communism,” one’s research will eventually lead to the western Canadian province of Saskatchewan. It was at the Saskatchewan Mental Hospital in Weyburn that psychiatrists Humphry Osmond and Abram Hoffer established what Michael Pollan refers to as “the world’s most important hub” for the first wave of research into psychedelics (How to Change the World, p. 147). Osmond was lured there from England by the province’s leftist government, which beginning in the mid-1940s, as Pollan notes, “instituted several radical reforms in public policy, including [Canada’s] first system of publicly funded health care” (147).
“The Door in the Wall,” a phrase in The Doors of Perception that Aldous Huxley admits to have borrowed from an H.G. Wells story of that name, suddenly opens for me as I read the gloss of it in acid communist Mark Fisher’s final book, The Weird and the Eerie. In anticipation of watching “Exo,” Sean Curtis Patrick’s short film with Bana Haffar, I imagine a panpsychic narrative involving pulsing battle stations, secret earthy enhancement materials, sorcery.
Up from out of these, I tell myself, rises the specter of the nation-state. Fracture, faction, hauntings, Illuminati. Books turn up in this murk advertising themselves as beacons. “Independent,” “verifiable”: terms like those are bound to anger those of us who pass effortlessly, daily, revolving door style, between monist and dualist convictions. Triangulate, the speech-act tells itself. With fewer voices, more certainty. What we want is not a reversal of thought so much as a jazzed up merry go round, words rapidly unfurled onto the page in the style of 70s fusion, with trebly guitar and trumpet. “I ought to go back and reacquaint myself with Derrida,” I tell myself as I survey the houses of my neighborhood and war internally over their merits, trying to suppress the voice inside me thinking none of them need carry over into my Utopia. Over it prevails my Superego: a humbling voice, a voice of caution reminding me that, like all others, I, too, see through a glass darkly. Trapped in the planet’s gravity well, stuck to the walls and slid to the ceiling of the Gravitron, we easily lose our bearings. We become standpoints, Subjects. We ontologize the historical. And yet, to wish oneself free of one’s determination by History: is that not the great Gnostic temptation, the dream of transcendence?
Will I be beaten for mistranslating my mission? Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance in Okja clutches and fills my heart with fear. I have difficulty translating. Signs go unread. Associative logic is too advanced and moves too rapidly for full trance-scription. The Spectacle has become immersive and sonic and fractal. Characters even play their own twins. Methods of cultural study have been outpaced by media. The film performs a devastating act of cognitive mapping. Psychedelic consciousness teaches us to hold all creatures close to our heart. Revolutionaries should build into their program the abolition of carnivorism. (Live as I say on this score, not as I do.) When tracing the origins of Acid Communism, one has to tell the story of the University of Warwick’s Cybernetic Culture Research Unit, delving especially into the Unit’s fondness for mind-altering substances during its heyday in the 1990s. One could note the progression of Sadie Plant from a 1992 book on the Situationists to 1999’s Writing on Drugs. Before this, of course, one’s narrative would have to discuss the interwar self-experimentation documented in Walter Benjamin’s On Hashish. Meanwhile, a search for “Acid Communism” on YouTube reveals the following: Acid Womble’s “When the class consciousness kicks in… [wombles 4 communism],” and a collection of videos by someone named Aaron.
I never met Mark Fisher, nor was I much of a fan of his work during his lifetime. Sure, I had seen some k-punk posts over the years, and I read Mark’s book Capitalist Realism at some point a few summers before his death. Given the work I had done exploring the intersections of Marxism and cultural studies, as well as the dissertation I had written on the fate of utopian thought from the Cold War to the present, much of Mark’s theory of capitalist realism struck me as welcome, but nevertheless a retreading of ground I’d already encountered elsewhere.
However, I also remember feeling challenged in a more productive way both by Mark’s piece on Lyotard’s Libidinal Economy in The Accelerationist Reader, and by his controversial 2013 polemic, “Exiting the Vampire Castle.”
When the news arrived, then, of his suicide this past spring, I noted with some surprise the many comrades of mine who testified to the profound influence of Mark’s work upon their thinking. Given this reaction, I promised myself that I would set aside time this summer to look at his two most recent books, Ghosts of My Life and The Weird and the Eerie.
And for the most part, that’s where matters stood, until a few days ago, when I learned that Mark’s next project, left unfinished at the time of his death, was to be titled Acid Communism: On Post-Capitalist Desire. “In particular,” writes his friend Jeremy Gilbert, Mark was “exploring the connections between the idea of ‘raising consciousness’ in the political sense — be it class consciousness or the other forms of collective political consciousness promoted by women’s liberation, gay liberation, and black power — and the consciousness-expansion promoted by the psychedelic and anti-psychiatry movements in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s.”
Imagine my mixture of emotions upon reading this: mixed, first and foremost, because of the undiminished sadness of Mark’s passing, but also because my own work has arrived independently at a similar place. As I wrote a few days ago, I’m interested in creating “an openly, unashamedly Gnostic-themed, psychedelia-inflected Marxism, one that presents the raising of consciousness as the relay switch between previously competing or previously antagonistic codes.”
In the months since Mark’s passing, a number of his friends and colleagues have launched Egress, a collaborative archival site collecting Mark’s scattered early attempts to theorize Acid Communism. Over the next few weeks, I plan to work my way through this material, looking for further confluences of ideas (as well as, I assume, some divergences), and posting notes when time permits. My hope is that, as these trance-scripts unfold, they might serve among other things as expressions of an attempt to prefigure through daily self-experiment an as-yet undefined philosophy and practice of Acid Communism.