Like a squirrel pausing on a high branch to admire a nut retrieved from below, I return home from office hours savoring a day well-spent in joyful, growth-oriented dialogue with students. Work in such moments seems capable of being harmonized with utopianism and individual and collective jubilation. My approach to reality coincides with my approach to students: infinite wonder, infinite passion, infinite forgiveness, infinite care. I can do this. I can bring spirited delight to conversations about consciousness, history, reality, and being, and still have time afterwards to recline and reflect. Students and I through study seed each other’s minds with new language sequences, new hopes, new possibilities. “What about plants?” a student and I wonder. Do they, too, possess consciousness? How do I eat with minimal undue suffering, minimal deconstruction of the order of the Oikos? A version of me tells another version of me across a distance of years to compare the “sacred river” referenced in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s opium-induced poem “Kubla Khan” with the “stream” metaphor employed in the poem’s preface. Consciousness appears in the work as both non-reflecting pool and mirror. Or more precisely, as Coleridge writes, “The pool becomes a mirror” (emphasis mine). But which the surface, which the depth? I grow frightened of the implications. Suddenly I worry that the poem carries within it a warning about drug use as a sinful act of hubris, God’s creation (the mind, the soul, consciousness) purposed, put to use, instrumentalized, enslaved, the eternal Adam damning himself out of Eden by trying to “finish for himself what had been originally, as it were, given to him” — living for an augmentation, a “more,” a heavenly end of time that is always and forever “yet to come.” The infinite deferment or postponement appears mysterious in its implications in the final lines of the poem’s preface — made all the more complicated by annotations about modifications of the text made by Coleridge at different stages in his career — and thus different stages in the evolution of the author’s political sympathies and related worldview. The poem, wistful and tragic in its unreconstitutable, permanently fragmentary form, gestures toward its parent texts, Paradise Lost and the Book of Genesis. I hope students write papers comparing garden imagery in “Kubla Khan” and Pearl. “Kubla Khan” appears equally in this light as ultimate psychedelic metatext and prophetic anamnesis of the destiny of humankind. Gardens and enclosures, experience-bounding laws and hedonistic transgression. Plenty and the desire for more. Drug use is disruption of the stream of consciousness, the sacred river Alph — language, alphabetic reality. The Symbolic. Coleridge likens the altered state of consciousness to “images on the surface of a stream into which a stone has been cast,” whereas in Pearl, the dreaming narrator imagines himself as the cast stone, trying to cross the uncrossable stream dividing Earth from Heaven, only to find himself awakened from his dream and returned to the site of his misfortune.
Westworld’s second season serves as a staging ground for consideration of the VR / neural net escape plan. The show pursues one flight of fancy, my thoughts another. “If we want to be heroes,” the show says, “we mustn’t sacrifice ourselves for the merchandise.” Hear in that word “merchandise” a term of contempt for the lackluster NPCs (golf management bros, exercise scientists, arbitragers-in-waiting) outputted yearly by the neoliberal academy. “Sacrificial toil” versus “whatever happens happens”: these are the sides in the conflict I stage each semester in my classes. “Why the grotesqueries of capitalism,” I thunder, “why this miserable global monoculture, US military bases and McDonald’s franchises loosed like a plague across the whole of creation?” At the very least, I offer them tools with which they may think if they so choose along their journey.
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.
Can words get ahead of themselves? “Yes, they can, if one is ‘charged,'” mutters a fiction who another fiction says has no authority here. What about this universalizing thought about the universalization of consciousness? Can one migrate through portals? Is that what we’re reduced to? Is that what we lived through — a mere reality show? You show up in a place, you perform your part. They’ve turned us into mere functional selves — so it’s in our interests to resist. On a short run yesterday, I encountered white arrows painted onto street tops, symbols of unknown purpose left by aliens. Squirrels met me along my way. All, pausing to study me, found me nonthreatening enough to resume foraging for nuts amid piles of leaves. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith provided welcome accompaniment with tracks from her new album The Kid.
Daphne’s orange body appears as an icon, trailing my every move. In “dogged” pursuit — get it? How will I maneuver myself through the remainder of my days? I feel tapped out, emptied of ideas. Capitalism nullifies. It numbs my senses and desires. I have to seek out alternative sources of intensity, like Amon Düül II’s Phallus Dei, or Aase Berg’s Hackers. I become obsessed for a time with Astra Taylor’s ideas about unschooling. I ponder ways to promote student-directed learning in my classes, despite the grade-oriented confines of today’s corporate academy. The problem, of course, is that by the time students reach me, they’ve already spoiled. It would be like offering fresh fruit to a bunch of rotting vegetables: what would be the point?