I stand on my back deck staring at fallen leaves, listening, building a sense of place, attending to sights and sounds generated by neighboring beings: birds, squirrels, planes, trees, automobiles. A small bird lands beside me and sings to me, dancing in rapid increments. It pecks, it eats, it leaps, flitting to and fro. Capitalism encloses us in its habitus, its time-discipline, its states and estates. Yet there in its borders and interstices, in its gutters and margins, fugitive life proceeds apace. Imaginary bagpipes drone betwixt dueling leafblowers. A sound blown in honor of comrades who died 40 years ago today in the Greensboro Massacre. Mysterious books call out to me, rise off shelves and land in my hands, ready to be read. By these means, I happen upon The Knee of Listening by Franklin Jones, aka Da Free John, sensing immediately in his use of language evidence of a fellow head. Jones began graduate study in English at Stanford University in 1961. He must have been part of Ken Kesey’s cohort. At the very least he volunteered as a subject in the same drug experiments as Kesey, MK-Ultra experiments run out of the Veterans Administration hospital in the early 1960s.
Birdsong midafternoon rich, dense, populated by conversation among many beings. We arrive as sounds, resonances, sense-data in worlds populated by all the others, the traveling companions, fellow players in what Nathaniel Mackey calls the Mystic Horn Society. We sit close to one another, each with a head buried in a book, reading, breathing, being. We shake, we stretch, in our own way, on our own time: birds, squirrels, humans. Mackey’s project is to operate language as an “eroding witness” while still living in a universe of sound, language used to allow sound once again to be heard. On an evening prior to discussing his poems for the first time with students, I catch a performance by Chick Corea in a chapel. Mackey himself is set to perform with the Our True Day Begun Soon Come Qu’ahttet early next week. Somewhere in the midst of these doings, I find my way to Larry Coryell’s Spaces (1970), on which Chick Corea played electric piano. In all honesty, not a great record. A hummingbird speeds past the window as I listen. Afterwards I turn to Return to Forever’s “Crystal Silence.” What I really like, though, are tracks that lead elsewhere like “Spain.”
My dad listened to a lot of “smooth jazz” on his car stereo when I was a kid. At the time, my feelings about the genre were mixed at best. Often I would beg him to change the station. Sometimes I changed it myself, with or without his permission.
A Monarch explores blooms of ivy beside me, some of the latter grown up the side of a tree, with bees, too, attending to its nectars. Sarah and I received word today that we’ll have to move within months of the arrival of our child. It will be an in-town move, however — and while moves for us are difficult, not least because of my masses of books and records, our hope is that out of this will come purchase of a home, whereas before we’ve always rented. The hope, too, is that the home will be a place where we can grow a garden and assemble an herbarium. Birds come over and sing to me. The butterfly folds its wings, and in shadow, as if camouflaged, disappears in the ivy, before flapping open, the ivy leaf transfigured, hosting in its place beings of vast beauty, elegance, and intelligence. Our minds begin to play with a name, one we share with others. It’s the name of my mother’s maternal grandmother; in its history, it’s associated with patronage of animals and nature; musically, it evokes a flowering cosmos.
There, sing the birds. There, there. Let us materialize and mobilize, let us get up on our feet and go for a walk. Things click: memory palaces are what we’ve built for ourselves, only we’ve externalized them, turned them into digital media devices, software and hardware, computer beings co-evolving alongside an “us” that includes gourds, birds, gardens, neighborhoods, communities — an “us,” in other words, that is both Psyche and Cosmos. Speaking of which: perhaps I should read Richard Tarnas’s Cosmos and Psyche: Intimations of a New World View, with its proposed “participatory epistemology,” in which Nature is a self-unfolding reality, a “living, sensuous and ensouled matrix in which we fully participate and belong.” Up to now, astrology has never made much sense to me. But I have found that outer events meaningfully coincide, both with one another and, more importantly, with inner states of consciousness. Bringing the planets into it and assigning them characteristics, however, just seems a bit messy. Though the “fortune,” I suppose, is the genre that allows us to interact with astrology, playing with it as one would a language game or a narrative system. I’m not yet ready to ascribe to it any more meaning than that.
Looking back at Worldchanging, an online environmentalist magazine that published a “User’s Guide for the 21st Century” back in 2008, I notice the website’s failure to include in its sevenfold structure a section on psychology and consciousness. That didn’t seem odd when I read the book ten years ago. Today it seems an omission of consequence. Change requires change of consciousness. Reinvestigation of language and the forms by which we think. Bruce Sterling imagined something of this sort in the book’s introduction, where consciousness is spoken to as both observer and participant. We as readers find ourselves part of a continuous process, “a kind of rolling, seed-spewing electronic tumbleweed.” To be part of this process is to be one who performs the future in a newly reconstituted Globe Theater, a true multi-species theater-in-the-round. The pieces by which we perform our play are scattered all about us, awaiting a new gestalt. Yet where are we now? To what platforms have the Worldchangers decamped? Some other time zone, no? Some other historical juncture. Put down the book and the tune changes. The world fills with multi-species partners and allies: bluebirds, squirrels, Monarch butterflies. We converge, exchange greetings, celebrate over drinks, departing afterwards to tend to our nests, our homes, our private story-trees, even as we remain all of one nature. Books carry us off into separate constructs only to return us to this shared one, this commons we call History.
I return home from work exhausted, the energy left from teaching and climate striking enough only to kick back and stare at squirrels. Though by doing so, I’m replenished. I relax, I lay back, contemplating tree-crowns teeming with life. Smoking helps me bring consciousness into accord with Nature, its correspondent other. As Shayla Love notes, psychedelics “recreate the core feeling of relatedness…the sense that nature is a part of us, our bodies, our lives, and that we are a part of it.” Ego dissolves, boundaries between self and other break down. When we emerge on the other side of that threshold, we possess new powers, new ways of seeing, a new sympathetic cosmology.
Honey bees forage around a fence overgrown with ivy, the latter’s blooms providing the bees with sustenance this time of year, the early weeks of autumn. I sit beside them, imagining myself a visitor to their utopia, newly arrived via miniature Montgolfier balloon. A package arrives by mail containing Brian Blomerth’s beautiful new graphic novel Bicycle Day. The bees doing their thing, I enter the book’s retelling of the story of “mystic chemist” Albert Hoffman’s April 19, 1943 discovery of LSD. Intense stuff, particularly upon entering the trip proper, the famous bicycle ride home from Sandoz. In some sense, these scenes reinvent the classic superhero tale: the sudden, terrifying discovery of superpower. Hoffman didn’t know what was happening: the event was without precedent, a burst of pure novelty. He feared he’d lost his mind until his blissful day after, a time of rainbow-colored well-being and renewal. “Everything Glistening in the Soft Fresh Light,” he wrote afterwards of the experience. “The World was as if…Newly Created.”
The moment I lift the blinds from my office windows, my body longs to go outside. I imagine myself in a speculative, future sense, standing in the sun, wind on my cheeks, enjoying myself despite the heat. Choices absorb energy. I find myself wishing to write, walk, and swim, all in equal measure: but then find myself wondering, in what order? Don’t get trapped between window and screen vis-à-vis doors of perception, says a bee in that condition. Let it be, let it be. Allow writing to occur, I tell myself, as it will as one walks. And so it happens. I explore communities that have begun to assemble in cities of late: psychedelic societies. I sit at a picnic table in a park. A millipede peeks out from between the boards of the table, causing an initial jolt from which I quickly recover. I eventually greet the creature and learn to abide. A small bee flies over. Is it related to the one I saw earlier, I wonder as it explores the edge of my notebook. A butterfly approaches soon thereafter. I confess: scientific names for flora and fauna have never been my forte. I’ve never been a He-Man; I’ve never wished after “mastery” of that sort. Does that limit my appreciation of biodiversity? Sarah brings word of sudden drops in global financial markets — signs, perhaps, of a crisis.
Strolling through Hampstead Heath wondering about the differences between heaths and moors (my knowledge of the latter drawn largely from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s descriptions of them in the third of his Sherlock Holmes novels, The Hound of the Baskervilles), I observe dogs and magpies exploring hills of grass and gorse. A raven issues two sharp calls from a branch above the path. From there it’s just a short walk to Highgate Cemetery and the Tomb of Karl Marx, where I place a small stone worn smooth by time atop the headstone as a kind of offering. The Social Darwinist philosopher Herbert Spencer, who coined the phrase “survival of the fittest,” lies buried just a few feet away from Marx, the two thinkers locked in permanent struggle on the far side of the River Lethe. But no one treks hundreds of miles to leave flowers and light votive candles in honor of shitbags like Spencer. Anticommunists may have dubbed Marx “the God that Failed” during the early days of the Cold War, but like the spectre invoked in the opening lines of The Communist Manifesto, Marx remains an active presence here in the 21st century — a patron saint of the planet’s dispossessed and prophet of the world to come.
Revive the phenomenological category of the “lifeworld.” Review its history and weave it into the act of sitting, being-with-nature, the appearance of a pair of cardinals, lovers chirping, flitting from branch to branch amid a grove of trees. How can we best experience the sense of life as it unfolds into consciousness? Sarah steps around the corner, visits me to talk about pens beside a burst of pink flowers. Think of this, and of the cardinals, too, as signs of grace — sunlight through trees, enlightening signals of love and goodwill. The goal, as always, is to formulate a vision of wellbeing more compelling than the neoliberal “eudaimonic” subject. Perhaps I should read the work of Mexican philosopher Jorge Portilla, one of the so-called hiperiones, a group that also included Emilio Uranga. Time to school myself in Latin American philosophy, so as to better understand the interventions of El grupo Hiperión. With the arrival into the lifeworld of the Other (an arrival that has always-already occurred except in myth), the lifeworld divides into “homeworld” and “alienworld.” And this process of division continues indefinitely, with the proliferation of the Other into multiple Others leading to the reconstitution of the arrivant’s lifeworld into an interface with an ever-changing multiverse. Countless leaves, branches, insects, birds — being transforming day by day. The past, persisting for potential reactivation by consciousness, allows the latter to travel among worlds, entering and exiting identities as in a dream.