Autumn colors, seasonal regalia. The day’s peaks include cat sightings, walks, the cries of squirrels. Upon stepping outdoors in the a.m., I spy in my front lawn a cluster of wild mushrooms, causing me later in the day to see the new documentary Fantastic Fungi at the local cinema. As if the thought had been “planted.” Karma earned from the university of life.
I shift rooms, staring at books, feeling indecisive. Trick or treaters come to the door. I take this as a sign. Time to stand outdoors drinking whiskey cider from a solo cup, chatting with neighbors. Afterwards I return home and cue up It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. Trippy, scary stuff. Poor Linus, persecuted by others for his scribblings regarding “religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin.” The others disguise themselves with masks and sheets, whereas Linus prefers sincerity.
Snoop Dogg plays a DJ character in the new Netflix flick Dolemite Is My Name. A man named Rico enters the record store, (“yo, for real”), introduces himself as “A Repository of African-American Folklore.” He tells tall tales, plays the Signifying Monkey. From there the cameras lead us to the Dunbar Hotel. Junkies and wine. “Rhyming,” “down-and-dirty,” “rat-soup-eating.” Rudy Ray Moore invented a character both old and new. The Godfather of Rap. Put some swing on it. Formulated a critique and used it. Declared showtime, made an album. Called it “I ain’t lying: a comedy record.” A live recording. Storytelling veers from “write what one knows” to “welcome others to the Dolemite world of nightlife, streets, and clubs.” Behold: blaxploitation squared. The Dunbar Hotel remade as a movie set. Some of us absorb reality, a character says, while the rest of us act it and reflect it: a cine-magical Metafiction. Stereotypes, myths. Social fictions with consequences. Plus kung-fu armies, and funny as hell.
Some dude gets on a mic and introduces my city to Schrödinger’s Cat and theories of parallel worlds as we gather for an outdoor screening of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Downtown appears thoroughly transformed by gentrification, landscaping, redevelopment. But there’s still the excitement, the unrealized potential of the assembly of a local, democratic multitude, one that embraces and tolerates its self-constitution through dance, performance, and play. Man-in-the-Moon arrives as Gwen Stacy reviews her origin story. I imagine myself a moonlit Silver Surfer listening to “Lonely Surf Guitar” by the Surfaris.
“By cutting a pentagram into the air or dancing a wild spiral dance,” writes Erik Davis in his account of Pagan ritual, “the self submits to the designs of human and cosmic powers on a more visceral plane than philosophical conceptions or sermons allow” (TechGnosis, p. 192). Davis stresses, though, that this Pagan use of ritual instrumentalizes the latter’s transformative potential, raising worrying questions when what this “technology of the sacred” operates upon and instrumentalizes is imagination and the unconscious. What ritual possesses, however, and what reason lacks, is fidelity to wonder, reverence, and awe. Pagans, for instance, “seek sacred communion” with Nature. Theirs is a “visionary materialism” (194). I can also relate, though, to the “will to utilize” informing the magical practices of figures like Genesis P-Orridge and his group Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth. Their aim is to use magic to disrupt the spell of the global totalitarian society of the spectacle.
I steal away from work midafternoon and watch Space is the Place — the original 64-minute version. I think of it as an act of study — perhaps even what Fred Moten and Stefano Harney call “fugitive planning.” Ra imagines a colony in outer space free of the white people of planet Earth. “Equation-wise, think of time as officially ended,” he explains early in the film. Once time is ended, he says, we “teleport the planet here through music.” Sun Ra’s jazz is the sign-system equivalent of a riot — and when the Overseer comes ’round to make him pay, Ra holds up a card, casts a spell, relocates the confrontation elsewhere, into the Space Age, technic surrounded by void. Through his music, Ra creates “a multiplicity of other destinies.”
As William Bowers once said, “I went and saw me some Spider-Man” — only this time, in the current redux, the current version of the myth, the film is called Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. I’d heard good things, but I couldn’t recall if I’d seen the trailer. Suffice to say, though, that a hum of excitement could be heard as I approached the theater. Signs appeared on the side of the road announcing “FEEL THE LOVE” and “TURN THAT FROWN UPSIDE DOWN.” Which isn’t to say that in my heightened state, I’d lost touch with the ground of being. There were moments of wild paranoia, for instance, during the lead-up: creepy, nationalistic, body-police fitness commercials, followed by slight release into the sanitized exoticism of an ad for “Trident Tropical Vibes,” some light, safe corporate capture-attempt; goofy GEICO; plush digital high-energy stuffed-bear comedians joking on the carpet stage of a playroom. Caged Dumbo released into the world of an elderly filmmaker’s “acclaimed imagination” — no magic, but “IN REAL 3D AND IMAX.” And for those not yet satisfied with the menu, try another product from the Disney Kingdom: the myth of the Lion King in a new reanimated register. Thankfully the Columbia Pictures logo intervenes to save us, graffiti’d into a gun-toting cowgirl, along with a variety of other versions from other dimensions.
The film begins and quickly sets its terms: cops and prep schools versus the “droppin’ science” teacher-uncle, the surrogate dad who distills wisdom extracted from the streets and tunnels of the metropolis. All against the backdrop of the cop-father to whom young black men are expected to publicly humiliate themselves and say “I love you.” The radioactive spider-god Anansi erupts into this, effecting a permanent radical reorientation toward reality. In the Spider-Verse, the psychedelic narrative begins not with a drug but with the bite of a spider. “Why is this happening?” wonders this new speciation of the myth. Next we find ourselves in a miniature allegory about Brooklyn’s rejection of Amazon, the corporate behemoth figured here as Green Goblin. The Spider-Verse is rich with allegorical potential, able to accommodate in its mapping practice beasts and alchemy amid DARPA and NSA. By these means, audiences arrive into a multi-color, multi-dimensional anti-Trump national allegory. The question the nation is trying to answer, apparently, is “How do we destroy the collider?” Stan Lee appears as the good wizard, the benevolent Gandolf of the comics universe, promising each of us that the mask always fits eventually. With references to a fictional corporation called Alchemax, the film conjures up for those who have ears to hear figures like Malcolm X and others of the Black Radical tradition, through whose hands the key to revolution once passed. Who else, though, can show us the ropes of a new horizon, eagles flying? How do we retrace Peter and Miles’s steps across dimensions to defeat Kingpin, the film’s version of Trump?
I start it right with World Psychedelic Classics 3: Love’s a Real Thing, a compilation from 2007 that has me up on my feet ready to march to the sound of Moussa Doumbia’s “Keleya.” Next thing I know, I’m watching an African movie from Senegalese writer and filmmaker Ousmane Sembène called Ceddo (1977). Like Huxley’s mynah birds, my students help to bring me to attention. I flower, I bloom. I pick up and thumb through a copy of Edward Espe Brown’s The Tassajara Bread Book. Among the rich assortment of cookbooks tossed into being by the counterculture, Brown’s is one of my favorites. Definitely a book written to and from “heads” — those of us who speak to each other throughout the ages. Sarah and I plan to create a print to hang in our kitchen based on the book’s opening poem, “A Composite of Kitchen Necessities.”