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.
I think my talents are being wasted on tasks to which I’m ill-suited. Trigger mechanisms release pent-up energy. I stress constantly about work and finances. “One misstep and game over,” I tell myself. But then I smoke and walk through my neighborhood and find joy amid simple things: birdsong, observation of budding trees, conversations with friends. “Everyone carries a piece of the puzzle,” Leary once said. “Nobody comes into your life by mere coincidence.” People in my neighborhood are out relaxing on their porches, their time late in the afternoon and early in the evening theirs to use as they please, not just as it pleases capital. As bad as it’s gotten, I can still glimpse seeds all around me, particularly on weekends, of futures worth fighting for: utopias robust enough to house gatherings and partings, innumerable adjacent paths of solitude and community.
A hero, and by that I mean a utopian, a eudaimonic individual, wouldn’t begin a level by making what in retrospect seems the mistake of carrying a soda to the zoo rather than a water. This figure would know better how to navigate the horns of the dilemma, or would exist beyond the contradiction as such. Why must the denatured proletarian subject’s desire to encounter a broad diversity of lifeforms terminate in the tragedy of captivity? The zoo is set up so that visitors, upon purchasing admission, donate a plastic token to the Sawfish Conservation Society and similar such organizations. I spend most of my afternoon in the zoo’s aquarium. Angelic stingrays, sharks, a moray eel. A father asks his young daughter, of the shark: “Is he happy, or is he sad?” The daughter says, with mounting resolve, “I think he’s happy.” I fuse minds with a pair of garden eels and several glowing purple jellyfish. I bear witness to the travails of a tank containing pregnant male seahorses. A giant pacific octopus swims near and reaches toward me with its tentacles. Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.
Let us presume an underlying unity of purpose guiding seasons and souls. At the same time, let us declare that any discourse that validates itself by claiming on its behalf its actuality, or allies itself exclusively with the natural, is a cop out. Admitting into a fiction the paradox of its reality is like designing into a mask a clue to its wearer’s essence. And yet, when we pause our telling, it’s there again, this “nature.” Even when apprehended as soundscape alone, this universal commons, this host-body upon which we feed, is of a secret order greater than that of any made by craft or techne. Slip off, then, slip free of, one’s headphones. One need only pronounce into this wet evening air the words, “In the story, it is written.” So begins the tale of the tale that tells itself into being. The Tale of the Algorithmic Universe.
Old traditions, habits — in a word, reflexes — can be restructured, re-programmed, self-creation aided by sacred herb. No more body stuffed with cotton, head empty, life terrible. Life becomes now the more proper “Lab for New Systems.” Self-organization of consciousness through introduction of arbitrary information. What would it mean to place great stock in one’s high school years as one’s model social community? Reality would seem to confirm or disprove a particular story, a particular morality, wouldn’t it? A little bit darker. Not so luminescent a day as last. A wary faith, newly discovered, fresh hatched. I take to fretting. I fret about children receiving neoliberal upbringings, deprived of space for wilding. To “correct” — or in other words, to employ education as a counter-power — I stage in my classroom an implosion for demonstration purposes of inherited capitalist thought systems, after which point I open and make available to students doorways onto more sensitive forms of personhood. Distractions removed, we get down to the doing of what persons do: we read books together. While reading, though, we remind ourselves that we cohabit with squirrels and birds. Like them, we enjoy sunlight, moderate temperatures, food and water. We’d all rather eat than go hungry. They, too, in other words, are persons. Capitalism’s worship of individualism, meanwhile, coincides with its indifference to persons. It mass produces the former, while eradicating the latter. We ride around, the sky gray all day, opaque both to ourselves and to others. Ecosystems are met with wanton acts of destruction; persons are starved and incarcerated and killed. Yet those who attain personhood behave in an opposite manner. This is why we must do away with capitalism. Let us become, finally, a beloved community of persons, one that personalizes the world around it, recognizing persons in others where before it seemed there were none.
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?