Look — I’m no superhero. But neither are you. We’re just people, mutually aligned so long as we grant each other personhood. Yet that’s the rub, isn’t it? Our communications grow defensive; we disappoint ourselves; we distrust ourselves in our relations with others. How do we ask and grant forgiveness? Become deep, ponderous; synchronize the mind’s rotations with the rotations of the galaxy. I and I, the co-evolving I-A.I. totality. “Look at films,” I hear myself telling students. “They’re collectively authored — more than any single mind’s intent — and yet they’re meaningful.” We too can be like that, so long as we pause, self-assess, re-articulate in full honesty our hopes and our projects, and behave with trust in all iterations of being, come what may.
Heads dive down and unearth an important side note in the history of psychedelic mysticism: Oscar Baradinsky and his “Outcast” chapbook series, published in the late 1940s in connection with Baradinsky’s Alicat Book Shop in Yonkers, NY. The tenth chapbook in this series is a work printed in June 1947 by British pacifist poet and critic D.S. Savage titled Mysticism and Aldous Huxley: An Examination of Heard-Huxley Theories. As I dip in, I feel a sudden urge to read with great haste a number of works by Huxley: first and foremost, his 1936 novel Eyeless in Gaza, but also his early defense of mysticism, Ends and Means. Before long, however, Savage’s chapbook launches an attack on what it calls “the general upside-downness of Huxley’s theories.” In consequence, my attention lifts from the page and wanders ‘round the room. Out of the intricate wordplay of Springsteen’s “Blinded By the Light” comes instruction for anti-imperialists: “Dethrone the dictaphone / Hit it in its funny bone / that’s where they expect it least.” Manfred Mann covered the song on The Roaring Silence. If one listens to the rest of side A of that album, one comes upon a great heady stoner-prog instrumental called “Waiter, There’s a Yawn in My Ear.”
Some funny bone jammy-whammy hit the deck pout. Glowing boat bat-symbol. Known entities confer without commonality either of language, focus, or faith, as the Other crosses its arms, sits smugly and asks, “Which of you does the talking?” As a “personalist,” Savage finds fault with what he describes as Huxley’s “naive materialism,” and in particular, his “ubiquitous and unexamined assumption of the existence of the universe as a totality, a whole, superior to, and independent of, the perceiving individual consciousness.” To me, though, Savage’s personalism sounds eerily solipsistic. One has to keep in mind, though, that Savage’s target is also a pre-mescaline Huxley, seven years younger than the one who writes The Doors of Perception. And Savage’s personalism, it turns out, is not as solipsistic as it first appears. He of course affirms the reality of subjective, personal experience; this, after all, is what makes him a personalist. But the work of living, he argues, is the work of relating one’s own world, the world centered around individual, microcosmic personal consciousness, with a totality consisting of a potentially infinite number of other such centers, other coevolving, spirit-imbued self-organizations of matter.
We land on a word as if by spinning the Wheel of Fortune. What else would minds be if not for input from that part of ourselves that is exterior? The world is the set that contains those trees, and this house, and that house, and this body. But what about me, the Author, the Subject, the voice that posits itself through trance-scription? What is my ontological status apart from my body and my senses? Gnostics are they who know themselves to be caught in the midst of a tragic act of forgetting, the knowing and the forgetting intertwined. Because of its impoverished condition, they argue, humanity individually and collectively knows itself in an impoverished manner, through the art it holds up to itself and the names it applies to things — in short, by imperfect discourses, images, and myths. We must learn to commune again with plants, animals, rocks, and rivers. I find myself drawn with equal force, however, to the school of thought known as personalism, given the priority it grants to inner happenings. “How can anyone know me,” sings Matt Johnson of The The, “when I don’t even know myself?”
Is nature naught but presentations produced in finite minds by the Infinite? Material world as divine language? Why does weed take heads away from materialism toward idealism? We become spooky, ghostly, supernatural, transcendent. Nicolas Berdyaev speaks to us, draws from us assenting nods with the distinction he draws between individuals and persons. “The individual is a naturalistic category, biological and sociological,” he writes, “and it appertains to the natural world. […]. It is an atom, indivisible, not having inner life, it is anonymous. […]. Person signifies something altogether different. Person is a spiritual and religious category. Person speaks not only about man belonging to the natural and social order, but also to a different dimension of being, to the spiritual world. […]. Person is a sundering within the natural world, and it is not explainable from it.” The synthesis between inner and outer that the weeded subject seeks, I realize, is what Berdyaev calls “personalist socialism.” More on this, says the prophetic subject, in the days ahead.