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?
Stare at a downward-pointing stairwell long enough and mind will move matter. We masses will erupt from our seats and change our condition. Hit “play,” however, and the image stutters in uneven intervals. Patches of sunlight draw us outward. Another beautiful day. I smoke up in a nearby park and walk the perimeter of a lake. A way of forgetting the remaining workweek. Dead leaves — now fluttering, now sizzling — hang above me, in the wind, in the trees. Bicyclists whizz by like members of a different species. The city curves atop the underlying geography. A friend and I had speculated half in jest earlier about whether or not Ayn Rand owned pets — speculation inspired, no doubt, by the current tax bill. No way she could have cared for other creatures, we laughed — but apparently she fancied cats, and bragged that she could demonstrate “objectively” that cats have value. LOL. Her name turns up again, though, after the park. A middle-aged mohawked dude who I often see at Goodwill and who never fails to corner me and talk my ear off sidles over as he always does — this time announcing, however, that he’s looking for a copy of Atlas Shrugged. “Can’t help you with that,” I mutter, peering at the day’s findings. I leave the store afterwards bearing God Loves, Man Kills (an X-Men graphic novel from the 1980s that I remember reading as a kid), along with an early 2000s reissue of Norman Greenbaum’s Spirit in the Sky, and several volumes of Marxist theory.
Greenbaum’s title track earned its hit status by turning cheery Christian piety into a divine, bluesy, highway-speed, hand-clapping bit of fuzz-pop. The album’s other great charmer, “Jubilee,” succeeds with roughly the same formula. Time, it says, can be spread like butter. Any time, any time at all. Mind removes itself, quickens its pace. I imagine a round white “start” button like the ones featured on old arcade cabinets. When I press it, the dream begins, projecting outward the world as seen.
Gnostic beasts blow smoke in my face. They draw their fangs and whisper in my ear. I posit the existence both of a subliminal language and of those who speak it. I know not, however, this subliminal messenger-class’s intent. “What art thou,” I ask blindly, “friend or foe?” Friends and I must try to make the Commune into the outcome of history’s likely progression. Put utopia back on the map. Marxism needs to stop its “museum roaring with crowd of sober patrons” act. The grain of sand must become the pearl. No more molding of behavior to accord with the words of the patriarch. Dress instead to celebrate life. Become like the wild animals who, even as we converse, continue to roam the countryside. The change from good to brutish happens, though, in every child, warns Wilhelm Reich. It is here and now, in one’s inner grace, that one attains one’s godhood. No more entrapment of consciousness in identification with the as-is. Go instead for weed-supplemented walks with friends. Pass a grey-and-white cat nesting in a batch of monkey-grass. When friends and I stomp through a park amid the murky air of a purple and orange dusk, a cacophony of chirping bird-speak erupts from an evergreen, and squirrels root around in dead leaves at the base of tall, bare shadow-trees. A friend recommends I read Argentinian author Samanta Schweblin’s new novel Fever Dream. I direct my head toward knowledge acquisition, but nothing happens — the system’s fried. All I can picture are skies filled with slaughterbots. Autonomous drones. Makes no difference whether we’re ‘tiny house’-owning minimalists or OCD hoarders. They’ll declare open season on all of us. Tech will empower authoritarian capitalism to precision-strike its foes.
One day ends and another begins, but the voice that dictates does not skip a beat. If on Sunday I ended by noting, “Politics begins the moment there are disputes over land,” so today I begin by happening upon a proverb that reads, “He that hath lands hath quarrels.” Kenneth Burke mentions it in his essay “Literature as Equipment for Living.” Tree sparking at crème de la crème time of day, I embark on a journey, the nearby quarry park my destination. Sarah and I walk along a barren hill, exposed to the wind, soaking in vitamin D. Along our walk we pocket bits of plant debris. Sarah collects pine cones and tears me off a strip of Lamb’s Ear, which I rub gently between my thumb and forefinger. I also gather a trio of seed-balls dropped by a Sycamore. It feels as if there is magic involved. It feels as if we are performing a rite, preparing the world for a sun-god. Great powers are brewing in the universe within. My inner voice is a thing that echoes through vast corridors, the latter both heard and seen. We bear witness to one another, voice acting as conduit between form-matter and consciousness. I love me some sunlight. I imagine myself as a Pawnee parent, wrapping a baby in bobcat furs to bring it celestial blessings. I look up at E.T. and ask it to grant me special powers, license to make contact with higher orders of consciousness. The media cosmos beams back as a kind of reply, “Keep reading.” The world speaks to me via mogwais and E.T.’s evil twin, skull island. Loki, the god of mischief. The unseeing alien monster from Attack the Block. To protect us from these, says a voice I haven’t yet learned to trust, “Mother Nature has drawn a line.” Headspace becomes meaner as weekends give way to weeks. I can no longer tell whether I’m champion of the world or inheritor of a history of defeat. With Thanksgiving Break beginning, though, I decide the former. My sentiments are in this respect like Dylan’s: “It’s my work, I do it for pay. / And when it’s all over, / I’d just as soon be on my way.”
I have trouble imagining, both at present and in hindsight, the views of me held by others. Friends, students, coworkers. My students seem quite impressed, though, when I confess to them my involvement in Occupy. I’m like a metal dreadnought. Either that, or I’m a figure aboard one, ready to mutiny ship and go pirate. I think they respect that. Teachers must also be persons of action. Persons who rediscover a center for themselves in their bodies by listening to Charles Lloyd’s Nirvana.
Of course, work can also be an enjoyable lot, as when I sweep pale autumn leaves from a back deck on a windy weekend afternoon. Nature writers are great ponderers of the seasons. Their journeys inward keep kin with Thoreau. My utopia is like their utopia, except mine includes machines in its gardens. The computer-mind amidst earth and sky, enjoying colors, lights, and sounds. I prefer a nature that remains simple in its speech. After all, who needs countrymen when so many are mere appendages of the State? AI-controlled NPCs. “A man is rich,” wrote Thoreau, “in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.” The books I assign students ought to be imagined as gifts. “Congratulations, students. Today I give unto you Walden. Thou shalt remember it as a momentous occasion. This book will become part of the vocabulary by which you think.” Is it proper to draw a distinction between animal-persons and spirit-persons? The dachshund on its leash and its master? I think not. I think there are insides to the reality of both. Yet I sometimes think the same of all things. Leaves blow up and down the street as if Nature were setting them into position for a new drama. I listen for voices, eyelids weighed down. The scene before me so peaceful, you would think it a picture. A tree of paradise, hung on the line of a high-tech hippie commune. When I try to pin my bow to a location in reality on which to unfold this dream, however, my lack of real estate sinks my ship. Landscapes have to be believed in order to be seen. Politics begins the moment there are disputes over land.
I’m a firm believer in individuals and groups under capitalism escaping whatever feels to them like fate. Wasn’t it Werner von Braun who, in the epigraph that launches Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, states, “Nature does not know extinction; all it knows is transformation. Everything science has taught me, and continues to teach me, strengthens my belief in the continuity of our spiritual existence after death”? A beautiful early evening drive filled with falling leaves leads to a food truck dinner (a shot of sriracha in a bowl of Shoyu Ramen: so good!) — on what for me is a night of perfect autumn weather. From there, Sarah and I head to Berlin-based eco-philosopher Andreas Weber’s talk “Matter & Desire: An Erotic Ecology.” Matter is not only matter, but also desire, he begins. Bodies, both human and nonhuman, contain both an outside and an inside — a sense of interiority. Writers must honor the earth, while also honoring their existential situation as authors. Conjure for readers swarms of swifts arcing and darting through their element. Subjectivity, it seems, equals for Weber being a center of life amidst others who are themselves their own centers. Oikos, he explains, is inextricable from Eros. Yet we face a huge problem today, don’t we? A crisis in sense-making, a problem with aliveness. Elizabeth Kolbert calls it “the sixth extinction.” As a thought experiment, try attending for a few moments to your breathing. Exhalation of carbon, Weber observes, is a giving of part of one’s body to others. Or consider the incorporation that occurs via eating. Before my mind’s eye, Weber becomes slightly mozzarella and slightly tomato, just as I become slightly ramen. What we need, however, are acts of breathing and acts of eating that are also reciprocal imaginings of self and other. Not just a using of the one by the other. “To use,” Weber notes, is the opposite of “to imagine.” Perhaps we Psychedelic Marxists ought to incorporate some of these ideas into our thinking. What is smoking, after all, if not a reciprocal imagining? Inhalation, that basic transformative act, leaves neither side unchanged.
Smoke from a neighbor’s fire-pit filled the air. It was a crisp autumn night. I sipped a martini at a local bar, Clover’s references to the Commune reverberating unexpectedly, creating an updated sense of reality. A friend sitting across from me explained the work he does as the head of a local food consortium. When I asked him how I might plug myself in and make myself useful, he directed me to read up on a project called Cooperation Jackson. These are the first steps, I think, toward the creation of the Riot’s successor. Another friend, improving my head in a different way, recommended I watch We Bare Bears. A third friend recalled for me “Transcen-dune-talism,” a spontaneous, off-the-cuff coinage of Clover’s referring to the weedy metaphysics distilled via the famous Frank Herbert novel. Speaking of weedy metaphysics: I spent last night getting stoned out in the woods beside a campfire. Owls came out and spoke to me. Crickets, mosquitoes. At times, a kind of pressure from all sides. The universe inspires an awe laced with terror. A push back into an attentiveness toward matters of survival. A becoming-responsible again with regard to one’s daily self-reproduction. I sat in a lawn chair thinking, “I haven’t really challenged myself like this since Boy Scouts.” Hiking, collecting wood, assembling a fire on which to cook one’s dinner. All mixed with an ambient apocalypticism. Reality augmented via the nightmare of precarious employment. We’ve arrived at the dawn of the idea of global imperial civil war. How are we to navigate our way in this ever more paranoid environment? Heavy self-scrutiny: perhaps the problem is that I was raised as a second-generation American suburbanite. I lack social skills, street smarts, wilderness literacy. I survive on pizza, french fries, hot dogs, burritos. How do I prepare myself for the Commune? Where does one even begin if one’s hope is to lay the groundwork for collective extraction from the formal economy? I look upward in search of answers, but (for better or worse), what I encounter instead is a night sky filled with stars.