Study takes me on psychogeographical walks each day in the company of my partner, my coworker, my beloved comrade. Working together, playing together, we improvise our speculative collective practice. Others organize themselves into tribes, teams, and crews, where the many act as appendages of a director-subject’s creative process. A friend over dinner describes his willingness to invent himself anew each morning: “no mistakes yet,” he says of each day’s promise. Dreamers float atop a calm, reflective surface. Companions along a journey embody resistance to tyranny as they pass through gossamer veils. Succumbing to hunger, however, the couple lands in a local fast-food restaurant. The walls of the place bombard them with Christofascist propaganda: a father lecturing his daughters about Jesus, bible-themed Jeopardy!, “The Message” beamed at captives via satellite. To cleanse myself, I retire to a pinewood room, bathe myself in soft pink light, and listen to Concrete Beach by Toasted Focus, one of four new cassettes received by mail yesterday from Baked Tapes.
Next thing I know, I’m watching a goofy 80s horror film called Brain Damage. A growling creature curls a cesta-shaped tentacle around my head. Vaporwave cinema avant la lettre, the film, released at the height of the AIDS epidemic, invents from an alien parasite narrative a gritty post-punk psychedelic grotesque. The film’s “Elmer” parasite, as destructive as a dirty needle, turns its protagonist into a sociopath every bit as repulsive as American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman. Neither here nor there, the film plays in the space between.
I practice silently the names of plants in my neighborhood. Star magnolia, tulip magnolia, hyacinth. Rows upon rows of daffodils. A massive weeping cherry tree atop a hill. The first-person perspective shots in Maryam Goormaghtigh’s Before Summer Ends fuse me in an unprecedented way to a trio of Iranian male protagonists, vacationing on the coast of France. By these ways, we forge new ties, bonds, interests, empathetic capacities, across and despite traditional national-linguistic boundaries. Alas, life runs through our fingers; let us make haste in our imagining a beyond. Screw in the corners of a hammock. Relax, lie back, light up, read a book. Lincoln in the Bardo comes to mind. It and High Maintenance present themselves as clue-bearing reference points within a secret network, a kind of “Head Underground.” The joint effort of assembling art from jointly sent and jointly received sets of signs.
I listen to Klaatu’s “Calling Occupants” in the lead-up to 3:47pm EST while standing atop a nearby mountain, head roughly level with a series of hawks circling above a figure-ground landscape laid out in miniature, the phallic ego a tiny dot in the far distance. I expect something tragic to happen, but it doesn’t and the day is splendid. I top it by watching Come Worry With Us!, Helene Klodawsky’s documentary on Montreal post-rockers Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra. We all ought to learn how to stand amid a moving universe. But the film is otherwise a terrifying portrait of parenting aboard a Greyhound bus. What would it mean to raise children while awaiting a flood? Wouldn’t a person’s paranoia double? How small the world seems when imagined as a pattern prepared for kids by their parents. Most of the artists I admire live amid simulated, twenty-first-century Dickensian squalor, hustling constantly for money by which to live. Are there still ways to live counterculturally when neoliberal reality evolves into Jurassic Park? Must the song remain the same while getting worse? Let us get back to the splendid anarchy of public assembly each and every instant. Joy on one side, fear on the other. I am committed to a politics of joy. The liminal land visited in waking dreams.
Fiction could grant me in my role as author a means for the representation of a divided mind. The semester comes at me with advance laser fire, though, the moment in the break when I’m finally beginning again to think. I need to gear up to write a piece in the months ahead on psychedelic utopianism. What I like most about the two books I’ve most recently been reading, Robert Anton Wilson’s Cosmic Trigger and Aldous Huxley’s Island, is that they both document a movement from skepticism to joyous acceptance, or from cynicism to hope. Up next, a trivial but somehow endearing indie flick, Mr. Roosevelt.
“Let’s mourn a pet together!” sing the hipsters of gentrified Austin. A pleasant recreation in 2017 terms of the maya of Richard Linklater’s Slacker, strung along a storyline noncommittally indebted to reenactment of the life of Lena Dunham’s Girls character, Hannah Horvath. I despair of having to get back into character for another semester. That’s always the part of life that films of this ilk ignore. Symbol manipulators these days live in caves. They live without fresh forms of fun.
The film Violet’s use of its screen fully absorbs me for a time with its studied arrangement of long takes and sparse soundtrack — often just stray bits of ambient background noise. The cold night air steadies me as I await the start of another difficult semester. Consciousness drifts off at a slow, serpentine crawl through a Belgian cul-de-sac. I relent and treat myself to Klaatu’s 3:47 EST, from which I pivot to a Gerard Manley Hopkins poem, “I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day.” Pulses of energy rise from my head, transmitting information heavenward.
Houses, cars, restaurants: all are inhospitable and lined with icicles. Clad with love, though, one can despite it all still have it made. But lo and behold: what kind of fascism is it that parades the Rolling Stones in front of inert, stadium-sized masses in Hal Ashby’s 1983 rock-doc Let’s Spend the Night Together? The film is a cruel parody of rock’s once joyous, raucous, incendiary stirrings. No consciousness-expansion takes places there whatsoever. Arena-rock of that sort served in the fashion of an experimental prototype, a formalization of what has now become our permanent social relation. I admit moments of beauty, however, when the band slows down for “Beast of Burden.” If we try real hard, sings Mick a few songs later, we get what we need. Keith Richards, for his part, manages by way of drink and drugs a kind of sleepy-eyed authenticity in the film’s punked-up version of “Little T&A” — that, too, I admire. The film is ultimately about industrial workers doing what it takes to make it though their shifts as America becomes a bomb-dropping monstrosity. We witness this, for instance, in the haunting use of Hendrix’s “Star-Spangled Banner” at the start of the film’s closing credits. Cinema enables and makes use of a variety of narrative models, meanwhile, in an unrelated 2013 Belgian film called Violet, producing fluctuations across several realities at once. Sonics and visuals reveal a multi-layered ontology: interiors and their external substitutes. Sound sculpted variously around a muted center, as in the song of that name by the band Deafheaven. Consciousness inhabiting different sound-worlds and temporalities. Every reflection also a distortion. As Robert Anton Wilson reminds us, one should always juggle several. Never commit to just one.
I imagine myself as unconscious author of or at least central cause for all characters in my life narrative. This is the scene where we don’t know where we are. This is what it feels like to get yanked out of a tree. Reach out and touch a universe of signs predicting system shutdown, life finding its way amidst racing velociraptors. I switch on the light and laugh my way through a double-take of Laura Dern’s bizarre style of acting in the classic 90s fear-drug stimulator flick, Jurassic Park.
I imagine viewers of the film participating in a testosterone cult initiation ritual. Kids are taught here to believe in computer technology as part of the way they can rescue themselves from their parents. A few people get eaten — always — but always, the kids survive. I was from an early age not just a kid, however, but a kid who wandered off from his parents. What can I say? I have always despised Superego personas like Judge Judy. The Christmas season reiterates itself as a time of moralism and worry about parental accountability. Keep eyes unfocused, says the experience, and trust in closeness to family, and the healing power of psychedelics. Sitcoms like Seinfeld, I realize, are portraits of a cultural psyche: the apartment as interior of the skull, like the control room from Inside Out. Personas interacting within a single brain. The anxious one, the lackadaisical one, the clumsy one, the peculiar one — the whole of it unrehearsed and at least spontaneous-seeming. I am ready to dream the future, says the one who sits before the screen. I am ready to prospectively live out in my nervous system my imagination’s greatest, most optimistic hopes for the species as a whole.