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.
I relish the multimedia composites featured at the start of Wormwood, the new Netflix series from Errol Morris about the mysterious suicide of CIA employee Frank Olsen, one of the casualties of Project MK-Ultra. The series makes abundant use of screens within screens, the mind left straddling levels. In this act of mirroring, we find ourselves. My sister-in-law and her husband, however, unimpressed by Wormwood, recommend I watch an anime series called One Punch Man. Eventually we settle on Gremlins, as if choice of film is of some moment. I listen bewitched to the song of the Mogwai: a metaphor, no doubt, for the importation of drugs and electronics devices from the Far East into American society. Revenge via “gizmos” and heroin. With Wormwood weighing on my mind, I find myself projecting onto Gremlins a “War on Drugs”-era narrative of the psychedelic revolution gone haywire — drug culture as national nightmare. This was of course one of the key allegories hammered home to me during my childhood via D.A.R.E. and Narc. But like so many films of the 1980s, it also emphasizes the cruelty of the rich and of people in general. Think of the father character as Daddy CIA, bringing home to his teenage son a shiny, brightly-wrapped package, gotten at a “junk” shop in Chinatown. After an explosion of Orange Sunshine, kids like Corey Feldman start running around dressed like trees. Like a wired artichoke, out pops the comic book Id.
The term “mogwai,” remember, refers to a kind of “devil” or “demon” in Chinese culture. So sayeth the purveyors of ancient myths. What happens, though, when the African-American scientist character starts to inject these mogwai with hypodermic needles? It’s as if someone left the culture’s brain exposed in a darkened laboratory. “Do you hear what I hear?” asks the television. “Do you see what I see?” Coming this Christmas: Takeover by foreign power. All the invaders need do is suspend the postal service, fuck with traffic signals, and seize the airwaves, and the nation is theirs. Note, though, that in the movie, the forces of anarchy don’t succeed at overpowering the community until the gremlins find their way to the water supply.
Some would say we commit ourselves to metaphysics the moment we accept the existence of “minds.” But what else would it be but a mind that contemplates Ingrid Goes West, a new film that uses cash inheritance as the premise for its infiltration and critique of selfie culture? The master of that culture, the film notes, is some “emotional wound” that turns self-promotion into way of life. One imagines oneself floating above oneself with a camera, turning money into props for self-actualization through delivery of life narrative to followers. Such is the subjectivity at the heart of the film’s critique. Comedy, of course, requires that the film overstate this critique for laughs. Its stalker character acts on urges the rest of us repress. Speaking of urges: A pulse is touched and quickened. I reach out and connect as if by dial-up modem to Brett Naucke’s Multiple Hallucinations.
I feel like I’m living inside a montage sequence from Halt and Catch Fire, mulling over an idea beside a window on a rainy night, flashing back to visual and tactile memories bound to videogame sound-narratives from my childhood. Dots, squiggles, exploding fractal mandalas. Seeing multiples, reprocessing. A computer asks for permission to speak further. Glowing outlines perform expressive dance against a black background. The computer sucked us in and we never got out, I realize. It swallowed us like a sandworm or a whale. So teacheth the Gnostics, or rather, modern New Age derivations therefrom. This would be the “reality-as-simulation” theory. It was by repression of entry into the Matrix that the Matrix got us, goes the theory. Movement amidst abstract sign-systems. Neon re-imaginings of witch-burnings cut with similar blood sacrifices atop ancient Aztec temples. Knowledges are fed through the air in packets. Do I possess an ethics? Do one’s best? Stay formally attentive? Listen and learn, I tell myself, and you will know how to act. Trust intuition over reason. Seek the flows and go with them. Even when they lead to French onion soup and a cartoon scarecrow with corn growing out its chest. Go out on adventures, says an imaginary Australian life coach, gesturing with his hands as he speaks. Too bad my brain has been soldered to things, I shudder, as the hallucination comes to an end.