I plug in Walter Wegmuller’s Tarot and float down a canal.
Sarah and her colleague J. are preparing to teach a course about witches this summer. The course includes a screening of Suspiria, and who did J. run into at the Leonora Carrington exhibition this afternoon? None other than one of the stars of the recent Suspiria remake, Tilda Swinton. Let us muse upon this most witchy of synchronicities as geese fly overhead.
Since we’re creating the universe (you and I!) we might as well have some fun, as do the members of the Incredible String Band in their film Be Glad for the Song Has No Ending (1970). (An essential psychedelic artifact, communicating secret knowledges from heads to fellow heads across time. The sections on band member Robin Williamson feel particularly otherwordly.)
Dancing down the sidewalk singing from lampposts, Oyster card in hand, we make our way, beach beckoning from beneath the pavement. In just a few short days I take leave of the States for a month abroad. The story at this point is one of spontaneous grandular progress, self-actualization into a grand unknown. Who will we be on return from this journey? I search old notebooks for clues. A head speaks to me across time, knowing perhaps that a future me would eventually get the message.
Enunciate, craft, massage into shape. Learn by doing. Note down partial approximations of eidetic imagery. Thirty-one syllable word-clusters, as in the Japanese tanka. Bars of neon form an elongated “C,” the unfinished outline of a cursus. Diet remains for me a site of struggle, a point of contention. Cooking and eating from home have not yet become welcome parts of my practice of everyday life—nor has any decisive shift toward vegetarianism. Old, long-established eating habits are hard to break on a budget. Objects and textures pass rapidly through a set of multidimensional windows or portals, as would an array of illustrations on a picture wheel. Operating an imaginary View Master is a bit like exercising a phantom limb. But see with it we may. A food truck specializing in seedlings and nut bars pulls up in a park, an abstract crayon parrot drawn across its side. Golf courses designed like cakes dissolve and vanish. Front end to back end: “Folks, it’s not a screensaver I seek—it’s a quest, a vision, an account of an inward journey, magic everywhere.” Weird sonic matter wells up, giddy microtonal burblings and hijinks. Is a trope like a lasso? Is language like a rope, fashioned in a circle to ensnare? Or is it a sounding forth in song in response to the cosmos? Let us become like trees shining gently all around. Somewhere in my mind is the Incredible String Band’s “Painting Box.” Somewhere I sing it aloud to a child.
I deem it wise to sit outdoors when possible. Pull out a lawn chair, listen to London-based Afrobeat 8-piece KOKOROKO, preferably later in the day, after lazing about dipping in and out of several texts midafternoon, testing the waters of each as if they were pools or oceans.
Perhaps I should jump right in. Practice Svadhyaya. But I prefer to pause now and then, take leave, retire into the alternative fictive domain of a backyard garden where shadows interact with light across bursts of Gaian majesty. Don’t ask me how it happens; I don’t know. The story of the Secret Garden, the story of the expulsion from an ancient leafy bower: these are mythic accounts, folk memories of dispossession, primitive accumulation, forced separation from the land.
I begin today’s phenomenological experiment by learning seven magic words and settling into the echo chamber of harpist Sarah Pagé’s Dose Curves.
Next I read Sofia Samatar’s “An Account of the Land of Witches,” in anticipation of my trip to London. “The Mountaineer is for going on,” Samatar writes, “the Harpist for exploring the rooms” (164). I search for my relationships to the figures in Samatar’s tale, self-identifying in turn as both the Navigator and the Scribe. The story is an enchanting one, leaving unclosed the doors it opens.
Timothy Leary, ever the magician, pinches together his thumbs and forefingers to form a symbol of infinity, an eye out of which stream prismatic beams of light. Sarah and I sit on a blanket in a park reading beside a tree. Afterwards, on Erik Davis’s recommendation, I turn on and watch “Tones, Drones, and Arpeggios,” a BBC documentary on the birth of minimalism featuring LaMonte Young and Terry Riley in counterculture California.
[And here’s Episode 2.]
I learn about time-lag accumulation, weird spells, past dragged into the future. Interesting things start happening. A universe of cycles rather than arrows. The revolution of Terry Riley’s “In C.” Communism in action. Couple that with Steve Reich’s “Music as a Gradual Process,” and doors begin to open. (By the way, Erik Davis is the real deal. He’s been walking the freak beat for decades, his senses and inclinations honed by years of practice. I remain awed by his sharp analysis and critical takedown of the 1960s/1970s counterculture’s fetish for “consciousness tools” and “technologies of transformation”  in his book TechGnosis.)
I hear myself hissing in syncopation with taps of a ride cymbal on Jeremy Steig’s “Sure Shot”-inspiring psych-flute classic “Howlin’ for Judy.”
The 2008 compilation of that name gives the mind-body a good workout. But since debt remains like a concrete block atop my speculative horizon, I read while listening to “Nardis” Annie McClanahan’s mapping of my subjection in her book Dead Pledges where she writes, “Put simply, for many students today, the cost of an education is greater than the lifetime income gains it enables, making human capital a rather dire form of speculation indeed” (193). I picture myself as a character, a kind of Frankenstein’s monster — the proletarian subject awakening to consciousness of itself as undervalorized, hyper-exploited wage-slave. In other words, awoken to its place in hell, where student loan debt and its consequences lasts forever. But because awoken, this subject can use music, meditation, reading and writing to steal back moments each day for beauty and freedom to love. Whether knowingly or unknowingly, my people sold me off into debt-slavery — but because it’s the 21st century, they can contact me from time to time via cellphone. Electromagnetic salt for speculative wound. Is it “cruel optimism” that makes me write? Is it wrong to go on fantasizing given these circumstances? I have yet to find anyone able to suggest to me another viable way to be. Of course, to default is also a form of political action. A secret power by which to reckon with the totality. In moments like this, “theory” opens up to me as a special communication creating grounds on which to gather in solidarity, as Chris Nealon says, with “those for whom the regime of capital only spells suffering” (as quoted in McClanahan 196).