Freud imagined an inner class war of sorts between two competing principles, Reality and Pleasure. The bourgeois subject arises in the midst of this war and constitutes for itself a set of properties, the ownership and worth of which it then endlessly renegotiates through politically adjustable, rule-based, contract-bound transactions with fellow subjects. As such, this subject emerges compromised in its commitments from the start. Unlike Freud, however, the humanistic psychologists who succeeded him in the 1960s operated in a postwar context; for them, a settlement had been reached. The future was to be divided into time for Reality and time for Pleasure, each given their due, with reconciliation achieved through individual and collective quests to self-actualize. For someone like me, of course, living after the 1960s, during an era of global neoliberal domination, neither of these conceptions fits. I am neither the Freudian subject nor the humanistic subject. As a debtor, I live in a present of ongoing precarity, opportunities both for pleasure and self-actualization severely limited. Others share my predicament, the “scandal” of Debt. Yet what are we to do? Aside, that is, from sitting around listening to Ella Fitzgerald sing the Jerome Kern Songbook. I’d put word to the experience if I could. Horns with a bit of sass. Shimmering bells.
Clouds appear puffy and white with shades of gray the way they do in the paintings of Turner and Constable above the stack of three-level Victorians at the corner of Cowcross and St. John. To sit at a table under an awning at a café here in London is basically to resign oneself to inhalation of secondhand smoke. I see little evidence of Glastonbury and Windsor and the other acid-fueled free festivals of the 1970s remaining here in England’s cultural DNA. The same goes for Madchester and late-80s / early-90s rave culture. The neoliberal counter-reformation has wiped clear near about every last trace of these consciousness-expanding influences, allowing Her Majesty’s loyal subjects to throw themselves whole-hog again into their old habit of killing one another with cigarettes and drink.
The revolution grows micro, happens everywhere. Except everybody knows that everywhere is as good as nowhere. As we float in our plastic domes. Is neoliberalism birthed in the summer of ’69? What did Woodstock and the Moon Walk do to us? Did they remake us all as cybernetic astronauts, tethered as if by umbilical cord to an AI similar to the one that awakens and talks to us at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey? What accounts for the recurrence of “space” in so many of the texts of Hippie Modernism? Why, too, is this the moment of LSD and “Spacewar”? Did neoliberalism shoot us all into space? Where does acid figure in relation to this transformation? What effect did it have on the collective imaginary? Abbie Hoffman had his helment smashed, he says, (and by “helmet,” he meant his “subjective experience”), during a bad acid trip at Woodstock. (The book to consult for an account of Abbie’s trip is Ellen Sander’s Trips: Rock Life in the Sixties.) Even as he imagines the festival as a prefiguration of a new WOODSTOCK NATION, he also describes it as the first time in history that we successfully landed a man on the Earth. “Calling Planet Earth,” echoes June Tyson at the end of “Space is the Place.” Perhaps what we saw is that we’re all one thing, one brain, the General Intellect, a new infant floating out in space. What do we do with ourselves? Stewart Brand assumes that this condition makes us as gods, and that we might as well get good at it. But he does so while involved in a counterculturally-conducted investigation of communal living. The neoliberal cognitive map clicked into place in multiple minds at once there in the late 60s and early 70s. We’re all right there in that “Earthrise” photograph, our collective self-portrait. My hunch, however, is that this map is the veil that we need to pierce if we’re ever to get free.
In its final scene, the Netflix television series Russian Doll allows its time-looped protagonists, Nadia and Alan, to reunite as their best selves amid a parade of party people waving red flags of revolution. Given our current slime-pool polis, it seems reasonable to regard the show’s Groundhog Day purgatory as an allegory of that era of reaction since the defeat of the Sixties that Americans on the Left took to calling “neoliberalism.” The show boldly imagines that those who wish to live will one day get it right. In it I see a spirit similar to the one that animated Mitchell Goodman’s 1970 anthology The Movement Toward a New America, a book I wish I could somehow integrate into my classes. Let’s be straight with ourselves. “The Movement,” as Goodman defines it, “is the act of getting ourselves together. Clarity. Coherence. Community. It is also a vision” (vi). As if hearing a voice speaking out of myself, I read passages written by a man once known as Peter Marin. He tells me, from the future, to look for a book of his called The Free People. At the start of an essay of his featured in The Movement Toward a New America, Marin offers a description of a method of composition eerily similar to the one animating these Trance-Scripts. “Shuffling through my notes,” he writes, “I feel like an archaeologist with a mass of uncatalogued shards. There is a pattern to all this, a coherence of thought, but all I can do here is assemble the bits and pieces and lay them out for you and hope that you can sense how I get from one place to another” (vii). Like Marin, I am “impatient with transition, the habitual ways of getting ‘from here to there.’ I think restlessly; my mind, like the minds of my students, works in flashes, in sudden perceptions and brief extended clusters of intuition and abstraction — and I have stuck stubbornly to that method of composition” (vii).
Children, playgrounds, beautiful spaces of plenty. There are poles we exist between: abstraction and embodiment. I am at my best as a person, as a companion, when I relax and get loose. These are words I’ve been whispering to myself of late. Sam Binkley shows in his book Getting Loose that this narrative of self-loosening was one of the main working assumptions of the 1970s counterculture. That culture’s “hip jargon,” he argues, “relates a moral universe organized around the opposing values of self-constraint and self-release” (2). Do those of us on the Left who pit ourselves against neoliberalism think ourselves free of the above, in denial of the selves posited by the sentence-form, the master’s grammar? Of course not. We need these to live in community with our friends, our families, our loved ones. Those upon whom we depend at all moments of existence. The single organic and inorganic body with its ever-proliferating, ever-multiplying nested sets of minds. Yet the body that produces garden beds of nigella also produces the Israeli atrocities in Gaza during Monday’s massacre. At which point the high fades and one is left to dwell with one’s anger.
What is the ontological status of what others call falsehoods? Are they simply inaccurate statements housed in material form? A friend invited Sarah and I to his house the other night to celebrate his fortieth. While there, some comrades and I stood beside a carpeted cat tree drinking beer debating amongst ourselves our beliefs as Marxists. I suppose that what prompted this debate was my desire to defend terms like “wellness” and “mindfulness.” It is by now a common procedure on the Left to show how these ideas have been put to use by neoliberalism. (Barbara Ehrenreich performs this argument, for instance, in her new book Natural Causes.) But to me, some of the practices associated with these ideas, practices like yoga and meditation, provide benefits to practitioners such that they transcend the uses to which they’ve been put. Up with survival strategies. Up with coping mechanisms. Up with the perennial demand, the one demand that class societies can never fully satisfy: collective joy, collective reconciliation with Being.
“Textual self-witnessing.” That phrase leaps out at me as I read about seventeenth-century author Margaret Cavendish. Is that part of what I’m after with this daily practice of mine, these trance-scripts? Speaking of self-witnessing: A student’s dream journal guides me to the “overview effect,” the sense of euphoria and self-transcendence reported by astronauts the first time they view the Earth from space. I don’t mean to diminish this blog’s readability or usefulness to others by calling it an act of self-witnessing. But I’m also not here to expound a position for an automatic crowd, a readymade audience that I can assume in advance shares the same habits of mind or standards of rationality as me. There are few positions I despise more, in fact, than those liberalisms (both classical and neo) that invent for their language-games cloaks of “rationality,” only to then demand (at gunpoint, at threat of starvation) that others play these games, while simultaneously denying the violence of this demand, not to mention the structural violence, the so-called “ongoing primitive accumulation,” on which all such liberalisms depend. There will be no communication, no “free, rational exchange of ideas,” with those who, with property, wage war on others. Fugitive minds will simply go elsewhere with their attentions, seeking temporary shelter, for instance, in soundscapes like YAK’s Bardo.
Reason and fancy are the names Cavendish ascribes to her twin cosmological hemispheres. As in the brain, she implies, so too on Earth, our stage. Since “Fortune and the Fates” have made a weapon of reason, transforming it through enclosure into the false dominion of the technocratic few, let us follow Cavendish and make worlds of our own.