Before arriving to the thing itself, I instruct myself to regard the 9-acre suite of Japanese gardens on the grounds of the Huntington not only in cynical terms, as a tourist site and a marker of social status, but also in more hopeful terms, as a site for encounter and self-actualization: manifestations, in other words, of Amida Buddha’s Western Paradise, enabling rebirth on a path toward enlightenment. Our observations, these gardens teach us, are always contingent, based on changing points of view. In the library itself, I request access to the “Aldous Huxley Oral History Papers, 1985-1990” and several rare books by Huxley’s friend and fellow mystic Gerald Heard. I also browse old issues of a journal called Aldous Huxley Annual. Consciousness airdrops into an altogether different Earth, however, some postindustrial world, an Earth of a different geological period, once the Subject exits the library and actually enters, sets foot into, the desert garden. Curvilinear profusion, flesh of the Earth thorny, prickly, and hairy. Morning doves and amber-bellied fox squirrels in the trees, lizards scurrying up the torsos of cacti. This is my Utopia, my garden at the end of time: this hot, wet, earthy, noisy, citrusy, fruit-bearing, sun-absorbing, multi-scented surround. I’m swept with the conviction in this moment that, whatever the details of this Utopia (apart from “full communism now”), our presence in it should be airy, minimal — an attentiveness to life’s formal richness that nonetheless remains light in its imprint. Let us be great lovers, tending only to our role as gardeners, nurturers, machines of loving grace, I’s who preside over the self-presentation of being. In these gardens and their surrounding bungalow heavens, this gift, this experience my love has given to me, LA prefigures its nickname “City of Angels.”
After landing and grabbing a quick lunch at an In-N-Out Burger near LAX, we drop off our bags at our Airbnb, a pretty little poolside cottage a short walk from the Huntington, and begin to tour the city. Everything near and far looks amazing here in Pasadena: the trees, the hills, the restaurants, the architecture. We spend our first evening admiring the flora while walking the grounds beside the Griffith Park Observatory, and peeking in at Skylight Books, where my eye lands upon a new book in the 33 1/3 series on Fugazi’s In on the Kill Taker and Rob Chapman’s Psychedelia and Other Colours. Most of this West Coast ground of being hasn’t yet been “languaged” for me, so it’s a bit like “seeing what Adam had seen on the morning of his creation” (as Huxley says of his experience with mescaline). On the morning of day two, we drive to Santa Monica, landing for brunch at a somewhat mediocre, overpriced crêperie. After just a few short hours here, one detects firsthand the city’s monstrous antinomies, ones Mike Davis evoked so powerfully more than a quarter of a century ago in his book City of Quartz. Walking through Tongva Park, for instance, I observe homeless men and women sleeping on benches beside lush beds of what I soon learn to identify thanks to an app on my cellphone as Lindheimer’s Beeblossom, American Century Plant, Birds-of-Paradise, Tree Aeonium. Out along the Santa Monica Pier, a middle-aged topless man with glistening skin performs a rendition of “People Are Strange” while photographing himself with a selfie stick. Upon our return to Pasadena, we allow ourselves time to swim in a pool and lay in the sun. The day concludes with a dusky stroll through Bungalow Heaven, our wandering met by twin cosmic giggles: an ostentation of peafowl and an outdoor performance by Top 40 rapper Bryce Vine.
I am fully alert and fully capable, I remind myself as I pass through security and board my flight. It isn’t long before I’ve achieved a speed of 520 MPH and an altitude of 37573 ft. Squares of land etched with the roots and branches of rivers and streams pass below me as I chew bits of a caramel-flavored Stroopwafel and read a chapter on Terence McKenna in Tao Lin’s new book Trip: Psychedelics, Alienation and Change. All that I normally encounter—what I on other days might call the “dimension of lived experience”—appears from this height abstracted into patterns that are at once simple, geometrical, and marvelously complex. I inhale deeply; clouds part to reveal circles cut into rectangles and squares of farmland. Further cuts into several of these circles reveal Land-Art Pacmans in tan and lavender and green. Up rise the Rockies, clouds casting shadows onto snow-covered peaks. Beyond that lie patches of brown desert, landscapes of a kind that, prior to this journey, I’ve never seen before. Ancient, intricate ridges and plateaus, like the surface of a rocky brain. Clouds again—and then before I know it, we descend, and holy asphalt, there they are: the gridded blocks of Los Angeles.
Let us begin like Homer with an invocation of the totality. “Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story of the man of many ways.” A kit of pigeons crosses a sky of blue and grey on a warm afternoon. I prefer to sing of these nonhuman organisms, since A) I object to the above translation’s movement from the many to the singular-universal under the gendered sign of “man”; B) my own life continues to trouble me, particularly in its isolation from its Utopia, its beloved community; and C) to the extent that the personal under capitalism can still aspire to the scope of the political and the form of the epic, its universal human of many ways would unfortunately be a tragic figure, in many ways unfree. Stripped of ease, most especially, by its society’s demands upon its labor. “How can one self-actualize,” we might imagine this figure of subjection thinking to itself, “when one is separated from one’s fruits, the matter into which one bestows one’s energy?” Why would there be any surprise, in fact, if this figure, the human under these conditions, the subject with whom we identify, prefers to sing not of itself but of the nonhuman, multiple and singular, the paradoxical ever-changing presences that have thus far accompanied each day of the subject’s lived experience? The answer, of course, is Love, as this latter is the means by which that which we are—the subject, the “human of many ways”—finds in this world a companion. History may yet wish to make of me a casualty of the class war, I tell myself, but in the meantime I prefer to walk outdoors with Sarah, the two of us stopping over at a friend’s screened-in porch for wine and Goldfish, talk revolving around movies and TV shows we’ve been watching, punk-rock twentysomethings with bleached hair passing us on our way.
Sarah passes on to me along our walk gleanings from her readings on occult philosophy in Elizabethan England. We pass a bluebird, a cardinal, roses, peonies, neighborhood flora and fauna offering to the senses an abundance of sights and scents and sounds as sunlight yellows the greens of a world ripening its way toward summer. Afterwards I purchase a new shirt for myself in preparation for an upcoming trip to Los Angeles—and for once, I allow myself to disengage a bit from the grudge I usually hold (and thus the tensions I usually bear in my back, chest, and shoulders) in reaction to the wage relation, so as to enjoy for a few moments both the cerebral and the sensorial pleasures, the simple bodily procedures and the imaginative comparison and assessment of potential fashionings of self, involved in the act of shopping. Nonjudgmental receptivity of this sort is essential now and then if one’s hope is to grow, I tell myself. In his essay “Eupsychia—The Good Society,” Abraham Maslow suggests as a guide for this mode of being a book by British psychoanalyst Marion Milner called A Life of One’s Own. Milner’s book is the product of a seven-year experiment in introspective journaling — a technique that resonates, of course, with the one informing these trance-scripts.
Petting a neighborhood cat, admiring the color of its coat, rescuing a spider cricket from permanent incarceration in my basement by cupping it in my palms and carrying it outdoors, dancing in my office to the sound of “Nature,” a fast and easy shuffle from a James Brown album released the year of my birth, giggling with Sarah over a children’s book by Remy Charlip: to these and all of the other events from my day I say, “I love you, each and every part.”
The further I advance in Écrits, the more convinced I am of Lacan’s role as “vanishing mediator” in the lineage of my arrival to thought. With my kaleidoscope eyes, I repay the debt I owe him by redoubling my attention. At the heart of my pedagogy is the basic Lacanian belief that, in today’s society, most human subjects are spoken, authored into discourse by a Big Other, instead of being granted time and space with which to think their own liberated parole. And then there’s Lacan’s actual prose, loaded with purloined letters, clues hidden in plain sight. From a page in Écrits, for instance, I’m led to an illustration on my phone depicting a structure from Neolithic times. In this structure, which archaeologists call a “cursus” monument, I recognize a level from Rygar, an NES game I used to play as a child. The imprint from Rygar strikes me now as would a remediated memory from a past life. From these memories, and from the prose that spurs them, rises the potential to form a groupuscule — a community of belief, one as much at variance from hegemonic reality as were the cursus-bounded ceremonial spaces of the ancients.
Eve Essex interrupts to announce that she accepts my “satisfaction theories.”
According to these theories, power is to be sought not to acquire wealth or to gain dominion over others, but to manifest the unknown and to gather meaning. It is the duty of the humanities to cultivate and preserve this power. Sarah recounted on our walk yesterday a dream she’d had the night prior involving a grape gazpacho. Nature in this way calls to humanity, beckons, as with bulbs beset with the breaking virus during Tulip Mania, history’s first speculative bubble, in the midst of the Dutch Golden Age. These calls upon us have been growing louder lately. Through a pair of binoculars I observe what appears to be either a Brown Thrasher or a Wood Thrush arriving with a great flutter of wings to scavenge beneath a bird feeder in my yard. For these appearances I am grateful.