I hope to sit at a wheel and spin, “throw,” practice the art of pottery. One can take classes in town. It’s as simple as enrolling in a beginner’s workshop, as has a friend. Otherwise I read M.C. Richards’s thoughts on pottery as a craft, her descriptions of her work as a potter in her book Centering, and I think Ghost (1990), a romance starring Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore. Swayze’s ghost and his former lover achieve erotic paranormal union round a wheel, hands wet with clay. ‘Tis the most memorable scene in “one of the most memorable romantic films ever,” “winner of two Academy Awards,” etc. I was maybe 12 years old when I first encountered the scene — and already at 12, I was a sucker for ghostly romances. (Hence another of the films I liked in those years: The Heavenly Kid.) Those are what came first to my adolescent consciousness. Audio-visual tone poems visited upon me in my youth. From them I came to know desire as a longing across distance. “A passion of the lonely soul,” as a character says in Arthur Machen’s story “The White People.” A thing one suffers as a ghost. Years later I would hear the cost of this in “Catholic Block,” and in the mmms and bells of Russell Atkins’s “Night and a Distant Church.” Can I trust myself to let go and have fun? “When a body is filled with stresses, the nervous system is so busy handling them that its potential for attaining higher states of consciousness is very limited,” writes Itzhak Bentov in Stalking the Wild Pendulum: On the Mechanics of Consciousness. Through meditation, however, we can self-stimulate pleasure centers and calm our way toward joy.
Upon a Queer Imbolc Night
My therapist wants me to have fun. Astrologers and tarot readers suggest “big-big-love” once Mercury stations direct — as in that Pixies song, “Gigantic.” All I know is, I am ready for my body to be used in new ways in pursuit of joy. Pleasure, art, ecstasy. Dance, delicious meals, Dionysian revelry: all of these await. Meanwhile a fire rages at a fertilizer plant, disrupting campus affairs, forcing evacuations and cancellations of classes. Calendars will need adjustment in wake of this wild Imbolc. Neuroplastic rewirings and rewildings. I cook up a pot of soup: cauliflower & turmeric, finished with sprinklings of bacon. I’ve felt like Cabiria from Fellini’s Nights of Cabiria (1957) of late, walking teary-eyed amid a partying mass of singers and dancers, mascara running down her cheek. A friend wraps legs around me and lifts me up, heals me of my sorrow. Hugs me, says c’mere, cuddles me as we watch Carla Del Poggio, star of another of Fellini’s films, Variety Lights (1950). Rubs my neck. Feeds me cherries. Treats me right. Here on this queer Imbolc night, let us read Joy Harjo’s “Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings” and go for walks. Hard not to hear in the Harjo poem a reply to Margaret Cavendish. From this day hence, let us forgive each other. Let us love each other. Let us wake at dawn and want more.
Home equipped with corkscrew, shelves stocked with groceries, laundry in the machine in the basement, I lay back with Margaret Cavendish’s The Blazing World and await snow, the latter expected to fall this evening and to continue through most of tomorrow. A friend and I will make of it a movie night. A girl with glittery eyes tells me to watch Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood (2019), so I do. Tarantino includes within his film a remake of a scene from Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye (1973). Brad Pitt’s stunt double chauffeur character Cliff Booth arrives home and gives his dog a bone after caring all day for Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, neurotic washed-up TV Western actor Rick Dalton. And already, we’ve seen the Manson girls — they’re in the neighborhood. For Dalton lives on Cielo Drive. Director Roman Polanski and actress Sharon Tate live next door. “The year, then,” thinks the Narrator, “must be 1969.” Booth, meanwhile, lives crosstown in a trailer, preparing dinner for himself and his dog, like the manliest of men. Panning among houses in the hills, we see varying levels of wealth, right up to the Playboy Mansion. The Tate-Polanski car’s arrival there recalls the opening pages of The Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz. Trailing after this day in the life of an actor and his stunt double, actors who appear later in the film playing “real historical figures” are likely to seem like stunt doubles of a sort themselves, as with the guy playing Steve McQueen. It’s all a bit morbid, thinks the Narrator — until suddenly, the film redeems itself with its shocking revisionism: its imagining of events other than as they occurred in real life.
After Todd Haynes’s The Velvet Underground
Yea, and I rise—
each breath an act of love.
Blacula (1972). Rocky Horror (1975). El Planeta (2021).
To our list, add Lou, too — his story eerily lesson-like, and relates —
though different, certainly, in its affect.
Gay nightclub noise bands formed
to silence Lou’s committee in head.
Enter John Cale, ex-Welshman
Radio tuned to foreign broadcast.
Artists escape to
New York at midcentury’s end.
Andy’s Film School
15-20 movie houses:
Very high spiritual states.
Long sustained tones.
Study of drone.
And along comes
Lou’s Syracuse buddy
Jack Smith, Tony Conrad.
The drone of Western capitalism:
By Dream Syndicate Dazzled
By Dream We Dream
PS I LOVE YOU
To catch an evening screening of you, I hike downtown.
ahead of me.
sit side by side
whispering in the dark.
“‘Tis my new favorite movie!” I tell myself:
made with masks all the more thrilling.
Plants kick in and
Chasing happiness by my side.
Orpheus in Hades’ Lounge
There’s a parking, a journeying outward. Up and out we launch past West End Mill Works, off on tonight’s adventure, beginning with an evening stroll. Graffiti marks the spot. Stream to one side of us, water rushing over rocks. Spotify shifts from Steely Dan’s “King of the World” to Jan Hammer Group’s “Don’t You Know,” voices and cars in the distance. Looking both ways, we cross the street and rush down onto a shaded path through a nearby park, crickets singing in parallax with Neil Young’s “Computer Age.” We turn off the song and continue for a moment in silence. Upon arrival to a crossroads, we ask of each other (like Ginsberg to Whitman in Ginsberg’s “A Supermarket in California”), “Which way now?” Looking up, we rise and step proudly toward pink clouds. Conversation turns toward Old & Used Books as we pass a graffiti-clad muffler shop. Bulldog with paintbrush arrives as comic relief — reality for a moment a goofy animal fable whodunit. We grab beers as day turns to night. Ginsberg’s “lights out” reverberates, hangs in the air after us having heard earlier in the day Let’s Active’s “Orpheus in Hades’ Lounge,” featuring hometown hero Mitch Easter.
Can Orpheus be told anew? We recall to each other the character’s many forms. Jean Cocteau’s Orpheus (1950), Marcel Camus’s Black Orpheus (1959). Also Jean-Paul Sartre’s essay of that name. And let us not forget Samuel R. Delany’s Lo Lobey, the Orphic protagonist at the heart of Delany’s 1967 novel The Einstein Intersection. Hoots is a Hades’ Lounge, is it not, with its red light hanging above its corner booth? So we think as we drink, glorying finally in each other’s presence. “What would happen if our Time Traveler were to stage the scene again?” wonders the Narrator, listening alone now, seated at the same booth many months hence. With “King of the World” still fresh in our ears, members of Steely Dan singing, “No marigolds in the promised land; there’s a hole in the ground where they used to grow,” we restate the refrain of Jan Hammer Group’s “Don’t You Know.” Amid Orpheus wailing away on his flute come the words, “You’re to know that I love you. You’re to know that I care.”
Is Accelerationism an Iteration of Futurism?
After watching Hyperstition, a friend writes, “Is Accelerationism an iteration of Futurism?”
“Good question,” I reply. “You’re right: the two are certainly conceptually aligned. I suppose I’d imagine it in reverse, though: Futurism as an early iteration of Accelerationism. The former served as an experimental first attempt at living ‘hyperstitiously,’ oriented toward a desired future.”
“If we accept Hyperstition’s distinction between Right-Accelerationism and Left-Accelerationism,” I add, “then Italian Futurism would be an early iteration of Right-Accelerationism, and Russian Futurism an early iteration of Left-Accelerationism.”
“But,” I conclude, “I haven’t read enough to know the degree of reflexivity among participants. I hope to read a bit more along these lines this summer.”
The friend also inquires about what he refers to as the film’s “ethnic homogeneity.” By that I imagine he means that the thinkers featured in Hyperstition tend to be British, European, and American, with few exceptions. “It could just be,” I reply, “that filmmaker Christopher Roth is based in Berlin and lacked the budget to survey the movement’s manifestations elsewhere.”
The friend also wonders if use of concepts like “recursion” among Accelerationist philosophers signals some need among humanities intellectuals to cannibalize concepts from the sciences in order to remain relevant.
“To me,” I tell him, “the situation is the opposite. Recursion isn’t just a concept with some currency today among computer scientists; it was already used a century ago by philosophers in the Humanities. If anything, the Comp Sci folks are the ones cannibalizing the American pragmatist philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce.”
“At best,” I add, “it’s a cybernetic feedback loop: concepts evolving through exchange both ways.”
A Course on Accelerationism
“I should teach a course on Accelerationism in the years ahead,” thinks the Narrator, mind already in the elsewhere of a desired future.
“Imagine the writers and texts I could assign,” he writes, handing the assignment over to his Unconscious. “Marx. Deleuze and Guattari. Mark Fisher on Acid Communism. Roger Zelazny’s Lord of Light. Sadie Plant. J.G. Ballard. Paul B. Preciado’s Testo Junkie.”
“Manifestos have been central to the movement,” thinks the Narrator, “so we’ll read three: Donna Haraway’s ‘The Cyborg Manifesto,’ the Laboria Cuboniks collective’s The Xenofeminist Manifesto, and Nick Srnicek & Alex Williams’s ‘The Accelerationist Manifesto.’ We’ll also watch and discuss several films, including John Akomfrah’s The Last Angel of History (1996) and Christopher Roth’s Hyperstition (2016).”
“Ideally,” he adds, “as those two films suggest, it would be a course that places Accelerationism in dialogue with Afrofuturism.”
Lunch at the Village Tavern
Colleagues and I sit atop stools at the bar at Village Tavern, the three of us eating lunch and warming to each other’s company toward the end of summer. Talk turns to the icebreaker-like theme of “horror movies we watched at far too young an age”: Poltergeist for me, for instance, at the age of five; The Shining, at a slightly older age, for D., who teaches a course on ghosts; and Scanners for I., a documentarian and professor of journalism.
Inspired, perhaps, by the example of Poltergeist, I sketch for them afterwards the story of “The House on Shady Blvd,” feeling as I do so like the Traveler from H.G. Wells’s novel The Time Machine. His was a similar tale, told with great verve over the course of two dinner parties.
“You must follow me carefully. I shall have to controvert one or two ideas that are almost universally accepted,” begins the Traveler.
“Is not that rather a large thing to expect us to begin upon?” asks a skeptic with red hair.
My eyes twinkling, my face well-tanned from my time in the sun, I expound this admittedly odd and recondite matter of mine in as plausible a manner as I can muster. Contingency pauses me, however, midway in my telling. Sensing through the cloth of my pocket the buzz of my phone against my hip, I beg pardon of my companions, step outdoors for a moment, and take a call from the office of my oral surgeon. ‘Tis the “pre-interview,” says the woman on the other end, for my upcoming wisdom-tooth extraction. Call complete, I return to my companions, whereupon I compare the event jokingly to the one that prompted Philip K. Dick’s weird VALIS experience in the 1970s.
Mood thus lightened, the conversation leaps to life, undergoes a shift in quality, becomes a full, robust, multi-directional exchange.
Back to the Future / By Way of Recursion
“Next on the block is ‘recursion,’” says the Narrator, “a concept discussed at length by philosophers Armen Avanessian, Pete Wolfendale, and Suhail Malik in Christopher Roth’s 2016 film Hyperstition.
“Recursion explains how the New enters existence,” says Avanessian. “Where reflexivity is a sequence of stacked meta-reflections, as in a pair of mirrors, recursion involves an integration of parts into a whole, changing in the process both the part and the whole.”
Roth employs cinema both recursively and dialectically. Parts of Hyperstition are thus able to speak to one another via montage in the style of Eisenstein, Vertov, and Godard.
So it is that Suhail Malik appears in the wake of Avanessian, arguing from the year 2026 that recursion is how those of us who code encounter time. “Recursion,” he states, “is what the operation of coding does when, meeting up against the inexorability of time, it tries to compensate for that inexorability and produce memory.”
HYPERSTITION from Christopher Roth on Vimeo.
John C. Lilly and the Rats of NIMH
Every time I think of John C. Lilly, who early in his career worked for the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), I’m reminded of Robert C. O’Brien’s 1971 children’s book Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. The latter was the source for The Secret of NIMH, a 1982 animated film that captured my imagination as a child.