It’s a daunting task: trying to talk to one’s colleagues about consciousness. Is it a quality? Is it a substance? Do we wield it — or is it the nature and seat of our being? And what is its relationship to this sphere of action known as language? Consciousness trance-scribing itself for others. I want to say thought, consciousness, language, narrative: all are simultaneous, intermixed. I walk around, stare at three orange and white daffodils beside a small creek. Water runs across rock as a runner runs past as cars drive past, the world a series of concentric rings through which consciousness vibrates, even as with a body, with fingers typing on technology, words are produced. It all happens temporally and simultaneously. Consciousness is what allows us to perform these tasks. We move among sights, sounds, movements, actions, words, interactions with other beings. But then I also wish to say that consciousness is an awareness, a state into which one awakens gradually and intermittently amid cycles of sleep. We can put ourselves into better states through achievement of consciousness. Lukács uses the term in this sense in his book History and Class Consciousness. And for many Marxists, this achievement is to be sought against a backdrop of “false” consciousness. In a racist society it can transform into what W.E.B. Du Bois called “double consciousness.” And of course it’s what second-wave feminists addressed when they organized themselves in the early 1970s into consciousness-raising groups. How does one say this for friends and colleagues? I practice the yoga of baby-holding while simultaneously listening to birds and crows, contemplating a solution. A way of saying, so as to facilitate shared awareness. What is this thing, this abstraction, this manifestation of mind that persists amid disruptions?
Revive the phenomenological category of the “lifeworld.” Review its history and weave it into the act of sitting, being-with-nature, the appearance of a pair of cardinals, lovers chirping, flitting from branch to branch amid a grove of trees. How can we best experience the sense of life as it unfolds into consciousness? Sarah steps around the corner, visits me to talk about pens beside a burst of pink flowers. Think of this, and of the cardinals, too, as signs of grace — sunlight through trees, enlightening signals of love and goodwill. The goal, as always, is to formulate a vision of wellbeing more compelling than the neoliberal “eudaimonic” subject. Perhaps I should read the work of Mexican philosopher Jorge Portilla, one of the so-called hiperiones, a group that also included Emilio Uranga. Time to school myself in Latin American philosophy, so as to better understand the interventions of El grupo Hiperión. With the arrival into the lifeworld of the Other (an arrival that has always-already occurred except in myth), the lifeworld divides into “homeworld” and “alienworld.” And this process of division continues indefinitely, with the proliferation of the Other into multiple Others leading to the reconstitution of the arrivant’s lifeworld into an interface with an ever-changing multiverse. Countless leaves, branches, insects, birds — being transforming day by day. The past, persisting for potential reactivation by consciousness, allows the latter to travel among worlds, entering and exiting identities as in a dream.
The world operates unpredictably but for the most part pleasurably when I smoke weed; some wonderful but as-yet-unnameable “sense” or awareness enters the equation, a buzz or vibration, a field of energy operating outside space-time, in some other dimension. I enter a state of rapt, bemused fascination as I wander this new “inner space,” floating free in a sea of untranslatable semiotic matter. Lewis Carroll captured or came nearest to approximating the sensation with his description of Alice’s tumble down the rabbit-hole. In so doing, his text provides an anchor, a constant amid the experience of changing worlds. It’s how we lead ourselves from one world to another. With the comfort as well that time’s passage feels slow and dreamy, until suddenly we land and follow the rabbits of our curiosity. Is fantasy a realm of the head, a mere idealism? Or is it instead (for who is to know otherwise?) a portal to a world as actual as any other? Subjects and objects are units of language. Carroll (AKA Charles Dodgson) doesn’t appear to have experimented with drugs recreationally; he arrived to altered states by way of linguistics and mathematics. But Disney embraced the psychedelic interpretation of Carroll’s work as part of its marketing strategy for a re-release of Alice in Wonderland in 1974, encouraging viewers of the film’s trailer to “Go Ask Alice.” The cause of Alice’s descent is her falling asleep — daydreaming instead of completing her lesson. Doors, rabbits, magic potions: these are all manifestations of her unconscious desires projected into dream. Drugs and dreams inspire similar lines of thought: they strip the ontological ground out from under us, suspending the normal rules of reality. Instantaneously — just like that — we become convinced emanationists. “Our normal waking consciousness,” as William James wrote following his experiments with nitrous oxide, “rational consciousness as we call it, is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the flimsiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different. We may go through life without suspecting their existence; but apply the requisite stimulus, and at a touch they are there in all their completeness, definite types of mentality which probably somewhere have their field of application and adaptation. No account of the universe in its totality can be final which leaves these other forms of consciousness quite disregarded” (The Varieties of Religious Experience). Addendum: The psychedelic interpretation of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was propagated in a number of texts of the counterculture: Grace Slick’s lyrics to Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit,” Go Ask Alice (1971), Thomas Fensch’s Alice in Acidland (1970), an anti-drug film of that name from 1969, and another called Curious Alice (1971). Mike Jay’s book Emperors of Dreams (2011) took up the question of Carroll’s relationship to drug experiences, suggesting that Carroll borrowed the psychedelic motif from Mordecai Cooke’s The Seven Sisters of Sleep (1860), a book describing use of fly agaric mushrooms among Siberian Shamans.
Compose mildly, humbly, yells a voice from ahead on the line. We of the chain gang. Every breath a guess, a near fumble. Conversations, dialogues, words assembled from channel-surfing, dial-turning snippets of televisions and talking radios. It’s as if the larynx, a highly sensitive vibrational surface, were suddenly set aquiver, collaboratively operated by self and other, floating among oceans of sound. Songs for breakfast, songs for lunch. Rapid montage sequences flit past. Like horseshoe crabs, we possess receptors useful for sensing changes in moonlight. I imagine a fictional universe, perhaps I’m programmed to do so, I’m not going to delve into agency, will, all that David Copperfield kind of crap. Rice Krispies crackle loudly as the childhood self leans his ear to a bowl of cereal. The inner voice speeds up, acquires greater proficiency. “My environment,” I tell myself, “has been carefully designed to draw me to this state of mind.”