Settle in for some “fun with voices.” Ride lazily. Lean back. Smile a bit. Stretch arms and shoulders. Syncopate the body with easy rhythms. See no damage. See no evil at all. Trace a path similar to Schopenhauer’s in relation to Buddhism and the Upanishads. Familiarize oneself with Raymond Schwab’s Oriental Renaissance, a book about, as Edward Said remarked, “the reeducation of one continent by another.” Said’s Orientalism critiques Schwab’s work for intuiting as the motive for Europe’s late eighteenth and nineteenth century encounters with ancient Indian religious texts a desire to learn from the East, rather than, as Said would say, an urge for mastery over the East. Rather than being revived by eastern spirituality — as had been the hope of the Romantics — Europe instead turned on the latter, framing it as evidence of the East’s “backwardness” and “barbarism.” From this emerges a reading of the blue flowers that appear at the end of Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly, since blue flowers serve as symbols of equal importance in works by several German Romantics. In his fable Heinrich von Ofterdingen, for instance, Novalis drew on ancient Indian texts like the Shakuntala to posit a blue flower as “at once a symbol of mythic immanence, sleep and mystery, organic flowering and growth, and total reconciliation of all dualities” (Feldman and Richardson, The Rise of Modern Mythology, p. 350). Art thou caught in a narrative? The end of another phase? How does one who is lost become saved? One way to move forward, perhaps, is by reminding oneself (as Huxley reminds us in his final book Island), “It isn’t anything to worry about. It’s all over and done with.” Breathe and start again.
Crazy, really, the worries we invent to forestall enjoyment. But when it happens, when we overcome our fears and rise from our depression, messages come through—alternate meaning-systems, dreams—and the resulting metamorphosis of the world-picture can occur quite suddenly, as it does to some of the protagonists in Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle, readers who become conscious of their positioning as Subjects as they read The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, the novel-within-the-novel that allows them to peer out from their own history to learn of another. It is as if one’s attention were suddenly able to lift for a moment from the totalitarian thoughtscreen, the system of Being then and there updating and evolving, as it were, in the blink of an eye. Otherwise I just sit around reading and wielding digital code all day, bemoaning the lack of plants in my office.
I begin to wonder about the role played by sexuality both as influence upon and content within psychedelic literature. Allen Ginsberg was gay, of course, as was Richard Alpert (aka Ram Dass), as were Huxley’s closest friends during his years in Hollywood, Gerald Heard and Christopher Isherwood. As for Philip K. Dick, prior to entering a chain of unsuccessful heterosexual marriages, Dick roomed with two gay poets central to the San Francisco Renaissance, Robert Duncan and Jack Spicer. (By all accounts, however, Dick’s relationship to Duncan and Spicer remained strictly platonic.) What, if anything, can we intuit from this pattern? For an ecologically-attuned articulation of Psychedelic Utopianism, a kind of blueprint, in fact, for the creation of Acid Communism, see “Four Changes,” the essay that concludes Gary Snyder’s Turtle Island. Snyder lists there as some of his allies “Gnostics, hip Marxists, Teilhard de Chardin Catholics, Druids, Taoists, Biologists, Witches, Yogins, Bhikkus, Quakers, Sufis, Tibetans, Zens, Shamans, Bushmen, American Indians, Polynesians, Anarchists, [and] Alchemists.”
Sitting in a chair in my backyard, gazing up through a cover of leaves at layers of clouds as they cross the sky, I experience self-tension, part of me a voice commenting live as another part awaits assumption, uplift, acquisition of an as-yet unpossessed knowledge. How do I overcome what Lacan calls the “narcissistic passion” birthed by the mirror-stage? Where am I? What do I want to do? I’m Philip K. Dick’s “electric ant,” a robot trying to seize control of consciousness. By practicing self-analysis, I can “regulate the yield of my ears,” as Lacan would say; I can learn to listen not just to breath and heartbeat but to brainwaves. By these means, one can self-regulate thought’s beats per minute, “in order to pick up what is to be heard” (Écrits, p. 45). These signals might guide one, for instance, to a reimagining of oneself as a “collective head,” a series of singularities slowly acquiring awareness of itself as plural. This head of ours floats atop the “pastoral krautrock” of Smoke Bellow’s ISOLATION 3000 while enrolling itself in a crash course on anamnesis.
The apparatus in the chest of the Electric Ant structures light. It gives birth to some objects while causing others to disappear. Dick calls this apparatus the Ant’s “reality-supply construct.” “Tampering with it would be risky,” he writes, “if not terminal.” Imagine the process whereby an avatar acquires knowledge of its player. The latter would have to send the former clues. The gasp of recognition, sure — but where does one go from there? What does one do with this force in the universe that makes things happen? It provides one with a kind of drowsiness, a deep-dream state, this living within a fable, where things aren’t what they seem. “It’s hard to see the city from the buildings,” as F.J. McMahon sings on “The Road Back Home.” It’s like getting lost in a crowd and having to think one’s way out. Facts and figures float by as we wait for morning sunshine. Amnesia aids the merging of the soul with the brain.
Trust the inner healer. Support what is happening. A voice on a cassette weaves a matrix of synchronic and diachronic histories connecting archetypes and astrology. Holotropic states and planetary transits. Metaphysical reasons for the slowness of the psychedelic renaissance. The intensification of the birth problem can have healing effects. Humans show malignant violence with no parallel in nature. We have seen the realm of archetypal paranatal passage through a tunnel. An hourglass where we go through life: a tunnel experience. In birth, we lose the connection with the transcendental. Existence is a “virtual” reality that we’ve developed in response to this trauma. “Model agnosticism” holds that any grid we use to organize our experience of the world is a model of the world and should not be confused with the world itself. There is a fundamental gap. Chemicals can give rise to the way the world orchestrates experiences since “things” are constructs assembled out of energy by our nervous systems. Stanislav Grof suggests the program each of us is running right now is the equivalent of a broadcast, coming from somewhere else. Some people are high all the time because of the way they breathe. With the right instructions, one can accomplish anything. An ideal version of my psychedelic lit course would include Philip K. Dick’s Exegesis, Robert Anton Wilson’s Cosmic Trigger, and Doris Lessing’s The Sirian Experiments. But my sense is that capital doesn’t permit thought to occur anymore. It’s like the Middle Ages again. The knowledges that emerged from the failed global revolutions of 1968 are no longer accessible to current Internet-molded forms of capitalist subjectivity. In fact, I expect most of those post-68 discourses to go silent and disappear, at least temporarily, only to be rediscovered sometime in a distant, maybe post-revolutionary future. And much of this thought — post-structuralism, especially — was shaped rather directly by experiments with psychedelics. Both attempted to challenge the effects of Western imperialism through decolonization of consciousness. Foucault dropped acid in Death Valley; Deleuze and Guattari were deep into Carlos Castaneda territory. This is also why the section on mid-twentieth-century CIA-funded research into shock treatment is IMO the section of Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine with the most relevance today. Capitalist subjects have been receiving direct and indirect forms of shock treatment en masse since the early days of the Cold War. That’s what Mark Fisher meant when he argued that capitalist realism is all about consciousness-deflation. Hence the radicalism of psychedelics as self-administered counter-therapy or counter-treatment from below.