Mike Oldfield sets the scene with “In High Places.”
Let us seek, as Denis de Rougemont did, another order of realities: those involving “the nonillusory multiplicity of persons” united by Love. For “love,” some translations of 1 Corinthians 13 substitute “charity” (King James Version, most famously). Let us treat those terms, then, as synonyms. The dream of the commonwealth founded upon love, or what we could equally call Communism, when spurned, gives rise to songs like Curtis Mayfield’s “(Don’t Worry) If There’s a Hell Below, We’re All Going to Go.” Spurned long enough, and the sentiment sours, the subject resigning itself to shouting, as Greg Graffin did, “Fuck Armageddon… This Is Hell.” Biography accepted as total and continuous creation spirals upward, collecting detritus in its tornado of personhood. Mind sees constellations where before there were stars. Such passions are born of dreams, not doctrines. I stood on my back deck last night smoking, branches drooping, laid low by falling snow. Is it a crime to want to resurrect old myths in order to talk to nature? There’s that word again, I nod. Are we cool with it? Are we monists or dualists? What is nature’s relationship to this Subject that we call “person” or “self” or “mind”? And what about that third category, language, the constituent of all calling, hailing, and naming? A transformer blows a few houses down. Lots of sparks, several loud explosions. Some friends and I grab dinner at a bar up the road while waiting for the energy company to restore power to our homes. Afterwards, while reaping the benefits of that power, like the ability to read and write at night by lightbulb, my cellphone delivers footage of a polar bear’s final hours, the creature’s food supply destroyed as a result of global warming. Of course, neither my ability to narrate my culpability, nor the guilt I feel in consequence, will change the bear’s fate one whit. Our dreaming minds are able to create fully immersive, fully believable semblances of other worlds, so why can’t we save bears in this one?
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.
One comes to a point in one’s life, I convince myself, when one ought to hear Handel’s Messiah. Wouldn’t it be more fun, though, I think, to confuse Mrs. Dalloway with Mrs. Doubtfire? Regress to high school, participate in a cafeteria food fight. “The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness”: ’tis but a character preserved in stories handed down across millennia. No matter: across these trance-scripts shall be built a highway fit for a god. It is from the fruit of great sorrow that change is wrought. Knowing, though, the shortness of the remaining hours of day, let us hasten our walk below this grim gray sky. Dead plants fire miniature spears at me. I pause and listen to a branch of dead leaves, brown and dry, shivering above in the air in the wind. Sarah recalls to consciousness a book called Nightwalking: A Nocturnal History of London. Those who travel with the cross ought to stay in their fucking lane, we growl at an aggressively-driven neighboring bus. It’s hard to ascertain the shape and contents of another’s discursive universe. To my countrymen, I ask, “What cognitive maps have you built of our home, our oikos, Spaceship Earth?” I fear for what will be left of it by century’s end. Why can’t we collectively turn our backs on matters of law and business? Are we drawn toward these as one is drawn toward a bitter destiny? Ants and spiders in a vast webwork, life’s maze. State-forms and modes of production ruin freethinkers by subjecting them to mandatory schooling. Althusser called the educational system capitalism’s dominant ISA. And now they will tax students further for this miserable imposition. To compensate, I drop the needle on Ritual Tension’s Expelled.
Songs spill across a graceless eternity until voices speak to me. Give these voices a listen, I tell myself — don’t drown them in the soundtrack. The universe puffs out its cheeks and exhales speech at me. I find a soul-mate of sorts in the narrator of Alberto Savinio’s Tragedy of Childhood, Mister Why. But the voices, rather than leading me, sing to me. Like doctors and teachers, they live by obscurity. They practice the latter as if it were their profession. Their words, mere humming noises, demand of me an externalized awareness, a focus outward of consciousness, and in doing so, lull me toward sleep.
A gradual softening or loosening occurs as subjects slip free of programming. But it is as if in doing so, we become possessed. Drink tea with loved one while meditating in yoga pose, we tell ourselves. Receive galaxies of information incomprehensible to linear minds. The self imagines at this point absent causes known only through their effects. Fears set in, assault us from all sides. Magic utilizes symbols to reprogram consciousness. We become game-makers, risk-takers, driven toward an unknown end. “Unknown” bothers me, however, so I imagine several potential endings. Apex-of-pyramid gnosis. Transcendence of what the show will mean and how it will be structured. Capitalist modernity’s decay. The self-discipline needed to abide by self-chosen ethical norms. In other respects, though, existing identities will no longer anchor Being. But worry not, friends. As Roland Kirk says, “It won’t get any lighter.” Hoo-whee, let’s hear it. Volunteered Slavery, folks. I gas it, I accelerate, I lay betwixt floor speakers and roll with it.
Kirk smoked so much beforehand, he says, he came out onstage blind at the Newport Jazz Festival during the live performance on the B-side. Unearthly Looney Tunes-style cartoon violence. Nose flutes, whistles, the works. Next we join the Explorer Series for Golden Rain’s hardcore Balinese Gamelan proto-techno.
White walls, guillotines. An elephant mask melts into a DayGlo torso. Around this time, a friend texts and he and I reflect on our religious upbringings — his more “Cold War action movie,” mine more “death by boredom.” The true Utopia, I tell him, was too close at hand to believe in cloudy realms full of angelic nuns. I always wanted to squirm from my pew and head outside to play, hang around, seek light with other kids. My policy, from an early age, was to tune out the adults and ignore all their death-obsessed bullshit. I came to distrust, and later, to scorn the other congregants. But I loved the architecture, organs on occasion transported me to other worlds, and I loved silent prayer. And I more or less remain that person today.
The author, taken with the desire to quit his current job, relents in his pursuit of this objective due only to lack of means. It is of no matter, though. This lot of his, arranged for him by capitalism, fades into the background the moment he smokes some hash. Psychic antennae reach tentatively, for purposes of experiment, toward Jon Porras’s Tokonoma.
“I wish unto myself many stochastic returns,” comes a voice. By what occult means, it asks, might consciousness improve its aims and guesses? Must we always set grammars to ourselves and then keep to them? Must we proceed through life with caution, or can we tread through life with care? Must our voices remain trapped in jars? File under impassioned plea and book back to headquarters. This is your captain speaking, over. Roger that. Our flight lands, we disembark from the plane, end of story. Got it. On days like these, I find myself needing to go for walks. It helps to feel overwhelmed now and then by the world’s beauty, its shocking mix of colors. Others dictate thoughts to me by strobe light. Better, I think, to absorb Wanci, an album by Bandung duo Tarawangsawelas.
My inner camera-eye breaks filmmaking’s 180-degree rule while performing a zoom. Leviathan waves at me with palms made of seashell. I witness internally an image of gears rotating. I manipulate fractal patterns across an inner screen by closing my eyes and moving my hands symmetrically, each fingertip a point of light. Words appear made of cut-out letters filled with rapidly changing video imagery. “This is how we want it,” moans a maudlin violin. Thought races ever-changing through all inherited forms, modes, and media. I picture myself as a virtual subject, a spectator floating in an inflatable theater filled with amniotic fluid, rotating around an invisible axis, all-knowing in an endless present. Why do certain traditions venerate time before birth, inventing in this nowhere a utopian somewhere, hallucinating in its name radically different forms of consciousness and awareness? It’s all, I suppose, part of the story the subject tells itself of its origins.
My levels of awareness and self-awareness fluctuate, just as consciousness reforms depending on pronouns and word order. As a dog barks, my mother calls my name, shouts “Come home, dinner’s ready!” I’m down at the end of the block, venturing into the unknown, trying to suppress fear. What am I afraid of? Those are the kinds of archetypal scenarios that I encounter on occasion when stoned. Some endlessly replayable memoryless emotion. I imagined my neighbor, the rarely-seen Mr. Belcher, as one who would point a shotgun at me if I trespassed on his property. The world thus ended, forming a false totality, for beyond it lay lands unknown, lands weird enough to warrant as their soundtrack David Bowie’s “Subterraneans.”
A psychic separation occurred there, a forced compartmentalization of consciousness. When we shift to a lower level, we forget who we were before. What remains is hidden, stunted, disconnected. To confuse the issue, remarks Curle, “the visions of mystics frequently resemble the visions of psychotics” (21). I stare ponderously, try to reestablish the sense of things. I find pleasure in this mental exercise. Pig stands alongside the road staring me down with his speed-gun directed at my face. We are made to accept such behavior with nary a complaint in this backward country, as we must the billboards strewn along the highways advertising firearms as Christmas gifts. I took comfort, dislocating myself from the above, by listening to Neil Young’s “On the Beach” while driving to visit friends yesterday. But the universe fired back with “Frightened” by The Fall. Such is our present reality.
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.