Language is the domain wherein we learn our way in the cosmos. Without ignoring that preference for listening that sometimes makes me reticent to speak, I nevertheless feel moved to affirm here that by discoursing with others, we evolve our reality. It is in this spirit that, kicked up into dialogue by the music video for Childish Gambino’s “This Is America,” I land upon one of performer Donald Glover’s other recent accomplishments, the TV show Atlanta. Graced by an ability to improvise without worry using the Entirety of Being, one becomes if not quite a god, then at least a medicine. Or, in a further act of diminution, an interesting thought experiment, as the experience is akin to discovering “Thou Art That.” Especially if by “That” we mean a dialectically-evolving ensemble of objects. Because of the persistence of injustice, however, the revolutionary in me deems the new worlds I wake to each morning insufficiently distinct from the worlds of yore. Marxism remains for me the discourse I call home, in the sense that it rarely any longer challenges me to revise myself, it rarely any longer situates me as subject within an actionable project of individual and collective self-betterment. Yet along its trail of thought I still thread the sentences of my days.
What is the ontological status of what others call falsehoods? Are they simply inaccurate statements housed in material form? A friend invited Sarah and I to his house the other night to celebrate his fortieth. While there, some comrades and I stood beside a carpeted cat tree drinking beer debating amongst ourselves our beliefs as Marxists. I suppose that what prompted this debate was my desire to defend terms like “wellness” and “mindfulness.” It is by now a common procedure on the Left to show how these ideas have been put to use by neoliberalism. (Barbara Ehrenreich performs this argument, for instance, in her new book Natural Causes.) But to me, some of the practices associated with these ideas, practices like yoga and meditation, provide benefits to practitioners such that they transcend the uses to which they’ve been put. Up with survival strategies. Up with coping mechanisms. Up with the perennial demand, the one demand that class societies can never fully satisfy: collective joy, collective reconciliation with Being.
Something new begins now, bursting forth in kaleidoscopic profusion. Neoliberal governance reaches new heights of absurdity through the invention of “lunch debt.” But the teacher strike in West Virginia points a way forward, a first win, to be followed as early as next month, perhaps, with a strike by teachers in Oklahoma. The path for wildcats intersects there with a key choke point for social reproduction: tests that qualify states for federal funding. By placing federal funding into jeopardy, the strike jumps levels and has the potential to capture full national attention. Together, teachers, parents, and students can dictate the terms of a new deal. For the Trump administration, the goal will be to crush teachers the way Reagan crushed PATCO, while maintaining a semblance of economic populism among the base. Notice the administration’s reluctance to engage the West Virginia action’s illegality. They’re wary of trying to uphold an unpopular and unenforceable law. But of course, they’ll have to intervene eventually. His fans already love watching him say, “You’re fired.” Yet this runs the risk of intensifying antagonisms and contradictions. With solidarity walkouts, one could begin to imagine coordinated strikes, extension of wildcat tactics into public higher ed, systemwide stoppages, the reactivation of class power among the dispossessed.
Marxism has always been a peculiar guide to consciousness. And by “peculiar,” I mean more than just “dialectical.” Cognitive dissonance experts won’t believe their ears, but consciousness resides ontologically at a level greater than mere smoke and mirrors. Part of me wonders, however, if by “greater than,” I mean “prior to.” This manner of thinking about thinking, like a body trying in the midst of practice to pick up and weigh its parts: is there a quality to it that distinguishes it from mere performative noodling? I feel challenged when faced with duplicating my experience of mind via words. Yet language is all that remains when the Cartesian self severs ties to productive agency with regard to that which lies beyond its senses. I prefer active listening. Selective co-production of meaning. When I walk, for instance, I modulate the directionality of my awareness as if I were operating an ambient musical interface not unlike a soundboard. Sound-objects rise and fall, as it were, in the mix. The best moments, though, I tell myself, are when awareness dips and the mix directs itself.
Reviewing past trance-scripts, I find in them a portrait of a divided self. I find myself caught in these moments struggling to maintain a shaky détente between two personas representing two competing political orientations: the peaceful, happy-go-lucky hippie and the thwarted, indignant Marxist. This self-discovery of sorts puts me in mind of two books from the early 1970s that washed up yesterday at Goodwill: Gil Green’s The New Radicalism: Anarchist or Marxist? and Adam Curle’s Mystics and Militants: A Study of Awareness, Identity, and Social Action.
Despite their differences (more pronounced, I think, in the excitement of the sixties and seventies), I persist in thinking the necessity of both of these personas (and other, more minor ones besides). They grow from the same soil. Their utopias reply to the same intolerable contradiction at the foundation of my existence: land to be lived upon is beautiful and bountiful, yet I lack it. All habits, all ways of living, take this immiserating lack as their premise. But enough with the tragedy, I tell myself. Dwell instead on that which gives joy, no apologies. Let it just be said: so long as the above, the public will remain equal parts rational and deluded, owing always to its positioning with respect to property. Whenever a society compels people of diverse potential to act as apathetic and accepting subjects, a violence is done to consciousness. Such a relationship, as Curle observes, “cannot be termed peaceful.” It leaves all parties disgraced, able to persist under the illusion of separation from open warfare only because lack of parity between combatants is too great. Given these conditions, I find it hard to think and write other than in kinship with twilight, even amid blaze of day. I recommend, though, as a way of conditioning this condition, freeing one’s head through a listen of Roland Kirk’s Volunteered Slavery, by which I mean “I Say a Little Prayer.” Such sonic outpourings have the power to transform social relations, if at least in the instant.
Gnostic beasts blow smoke in my face. They draw their fangs and whisper in my ear. I posit the existence both of a subliminal language and of those who speak it. I know not, however, this subliminal messenger-class’s intent. “What art thou,” I ask blindly, “friend or foe?” Friends and I must try to make the Commune into the outcome of history’s likely progression. Put utopia back on the map. Marxism needs to stop its “museum roaring with crowd of sober patrons” act. The grain of sand must become the pearl. No more molding of behavior to accord with the words of the patriarch. Dress instead to celebrate life. Become like the wild animals who, even as we converse, continue to roam the countryside. The change from good to brutish happens, though, in every child, warns Wilhelm Reich. It is here and now, in one’s inner grace, that one attains one’s godhood. No more entrapment of consciousness in identification with the as-is. Go instead for weed-supplemented walks with friends. Pass a grey-and-white cat nesting in a batch of monkey-grass. When friends and I stomp through a park amid the murky air of a purple and orange dusk, a cacophony of chirping bird-speak erupts from an evergreen, and squirrels root around in dead leaves at the base of tall, bare shadow-trees. A friend recommends I read Argentinian author Samanta Schweblin’s new novel Fever Dream. I direct my head toward knowledge acquisition, but nothing happens — the system’s fried. All I can picture are skies filled with slaughterbots. Autonomous drones. Makes no difference whether we’re ‘tiny house’-owning minimalists or OCD hoarders. They’ll declare open season on all of us. Tech will empower authoritarian capitalism to precision-strike its foes.
Let’s put the revolution back in crazy talk. Grab people by the collar, get up in each one’s face and shout, “The revolution begins now, motherfucker!” Or (to remove any suggestion of aggression): “The revolution, an event of super-humanization affecting the one and the many, begins now, with chemically-assisted transfiguration of consciousness.” Mass exodus from participation in the social sacrifice of life via labor. “Capitalism ain’t getting shit from me,” smirks the narrator as he starts his break. Marx was at his most Marxist in his hatred of work. “Fuck wage labor,” he’d say, “I’m gonna go hang out all day in the British Museum Reading Room!” The anti-capitalist martyr remains an important latency in my political identity. An impossible self I’ve at times admired, a fatal temptation to which I may yet succumb. Weed is very much for me an example of “appropriate technology.” A tool for creative self-experimentation with consciousness. Peter Mortensen investigates a similar such view in his essay “Tripping Back to Nature: Aldous Huxley, Psychedelics, and Pro-Technology Environmentalism.” Earl Hooker’s “Lucky You” scored yesterday’s venture into the psychedelic unknown.
Stoned at a local outdoor music festival. Relaxing sunlit on a grassy hill, while bands perform below. Could this event have served as a turning point? And if a turning point, away and toward what? The vibe was surprisingly negative at first, as if festival-going were the performance in an evacuated church of a belief-less ritual. I still believe in these gestures, however, says the participant, my vomit reserved only for poor execution of ceremony. Beautiful out here under the night sky. The universe arranged for me. And on the date of my parents’ anniversary, no less: my locale, assembling itself in celebration. Spider Bags speak to me, testifying, “I found inner peace by ignoring things.” Is that what I want on my tombstone? Shit started to feel exactly that existential as I stood there afraid of slipping down a hill. “That’s a long, long way to roll,” sang the band. I could see stars above as they chanted, “Who will I be next?” The self must avoid destroying itself for those it loves. Particularly affecting was a song the band performed with NC blues singer extraordinaire Reese McHenry.
The night melted into super chill vibes, though, with level-up conversation and synesthetic animation, once headliner Washed Out took the stage.
Paranoia subsides, and the crowd sways like wind-blown grass. This is how it begins, the participant thinks to himself. This is how you educate desire. This is how heads are turned.