The good shepherd, whom I pause before to contemplate, appears as a better self, a majestic higher order. I stare at it fearfully, struggling to keep up as its visual-sensual-conceptual being grows, looms, enlarges, steals our breath, overwhelms us with its complexity. “That is not I,” we have to say to avoid becoming Jesuit. The feeling then relaxes a bit, goes quiet. We imbibe earth, nut, matter. This lends us weight, we become caught by a planet’s gravity, our journey as ray of light captured into life, made to inhabit human form for a stretch of time: it is like having to endure soul-flattening, soul-crushing pressure. We mustn’t watch as others are judged, tried, executed, given greater than their due share of suffering. I find myself staring in confusion at the alien customs, the tolerance for oppression, among my countrymen. Let us not become crueler, coarsened by feud, faction, quarrel. Don’t allow groups to organize, lest we plot destruction of kings. Religion is an able resistance to the ways of some dominant Other. It brings judgment, the latter being a kind of power, into politics. Radical believers deny one another the right to live by free means in community with like-minded others. That is the future toward which we are led. Don’t let us get caught in games of conversion and conviction by others who believe themselves lords over the lives of others. Religious wars of this sort are fraught with grave dangers. Political fictions make for dangerous games. Desperate people become led by acts of desperate men. That is becoming common again: states that toy with public perception, inventing stories to command the attention of weaponized masses, turning neighbor upon neighbor. Isn’t that the void into which certain public storytellers, writers of history, wish to plunge us? I mean the Bill O’Reilly’s, the Sean Hannity’s. Sadists who derive pleasure through imaginative identification with the State in its role of public executioner. In the past we called them inquisitors. We mustn’t let them thrive.
Ever more horrific cycles of violence infect others, possess them. Lines of fiction become lines of code. Systems that predict behavior shape perception. Individuals disappear into bubbles. Without certainty, without conviction, one’s world stops making sense. Media relations rule the world, managing and controlling through creation of constantly-renewing states of destabilized perception. Turn a corner, though, and one can find oneself in a parable. A comet-like ball of energy streaks past. Because I’m indoors, I can’t see it. But I can hear it, I can feel it as it perturbs my atmosphere. Get a fix on this thing, I tell myself, as if it were a matter of some urgency. “See this reality that is hidden from thee,” I whisper. Ontologically, the hidden is like a below-surface-of-consciousness ambience. One can instrumentalize it through use of mood-switchers — and with these, create a joyous cosmology. Drug use is in this sense utopian through and through. Cybernetic co-evolution of nature and subjectivity. Weed is a means by which non-human nature intervenes in and recalibrates human nature, affecting individual heads even at the head’s most intimate, innermost level: consciousness, selfhood, being. Like bees, we can reside among flowers. Isn’t it all no more than gameplay anyway? Can we hold that view while retaining respect for the sanctity of others? On a case by case basis? Certainly. But universally? Without exceptions? What about when confronted by bullies and sadists? Emotions often override our sense of play — yet I welcome these interruptions. Sometimes we need to collapse inwardly on ourselves like tents. I did so yesterday. Grief snuck up on me unexpectedly as I thought about my dog Daphne, reliving our final exchanges of affection, seeing again her head lifting to acknowledge me as we laid together and said our goodbyes. There was a language we shared, and never again shall we speak it. No more face time. After a spell, though, a buzzer went off. Ice sheets are melting, I thought. Consciousness jumps scales. Zip up the memory and move on.
Possessed with identity, the Self — once like a hand, now like a street fighter — learns to dodge the effects of painful emotion on awareness and performance. To itself it murmurs, “You are special. The world is not twin to itself yet.” So begins a mantra I recite to myself in my sleep. If we observe our emotions, we can change them. Or at the very least, we can endure them with a mix of detachment and curiosity. Old trees serve as stations for rest and reflection along a way of sorrow. How sad it would be to live life without walks through allegorical gardens. Samanta Schweblin’s Fever Dream is one such garden. I burned right through it, couldn’t put it down. Psychedelic in the sense of two voices dialoguing in inner space. Electromagnetic signals. Fake worlds in their simplicity are reassuring. By clumsy political theater, life is overwhelmed by overpowering bureaucracy. While we doze, the money creeps in. History devolves into constructive ambiguity amidst demonic fury. A world where lies are perpetrated by actors who believe only in themselves. Occultists who exploit popular belief in the importance of ritual. People cooperate with the system, and the rest of us are screwed. The fear among the cooperators is that otherwise, shit would go psycho. Better, they think, to just retreat into an alternate reality. What are we to make, for instance, of that ancient document from the early days of Wired magazine, John Perry Barlow’s “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace”? What, too, should we make of Adam Curtis’s use of it in the film HyperNormalisation? A script is being read to us, no? An attempt to capture imagination. Iron filings reform in response to magnetic fields. Perception management. Reality is made a thing one handles with codes, algorithms, numbers — for it is by money that they program minds.
“How to them I appear, so to me,” I tell myself when told I’m adorably stoned. Another warns, finger wagging, “Don’t stop! the clock is ticking.” The sound of a head scratch appears high in the mix. I receive instructions: “Cause the mind to change channels.” Unfold into action. Even if just taped comedy and commentary. The universe in the form of my loved one extends to me a clue: a page in Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta where two characters talk around Arthur Koestler’s The Roots of Coincidence. I become transfixed, I become transfigured. None of this is mere coincidence. Do I feel angry and concerned about the continued stockpiling of arms among my enemy countrymen? Indeed, very. The center disperses ever faster into two contending camps. The nation-state as real-dimension Pong, with computer-controlled opponents. It is no mere coincidence, I repeat under my breath on my way to a talk by Masha Gessen. Daphne’s death continues to weigh on me, especially on gloomy, rainy days midweek. On such days, I sometimes let paranoid musings get the best of me. I take pleasure in the sensation of web detection. A friend of mine introduces Gessen, who speaks on “Democracy in the Age of Trump and Putin.” World leaders who each wish to become “king of reality.” I establish that she and I are both acutely aware of the things that scare us. But all she does is revisit for the audience (in a packed auditorium, by the way) points from her piece “Autocracy: Rules for Survival.” What we must do, she says, is “other” for others the reality in which we live. Point to the autocrat; reveal him as such. But reveal to whom? Gessen can speak only to a public that reads the New York Review of Books. A group nearly devoid of influence in our new reality. The reality of concentrated power, limited only by the pressure, she says, applied by civil society upon the judiciary. “It’s really hard,” she says, “to think hard in Trump’s America.” All of us are suffering from a kind of “future shock.” As she states this, my eyes are pulled to the right and peer with suspicion at a figure, an intense-looking young white man, who arrives late clutching a mysterious bundle in his hands and who sits up front beside the podium. Spider sense tingling. Have I stumbled inadvertently into an Event, I wonder? Thankfully the suspicion proves baseless. But such is the emotional / affective texture of our time.
The star of a popular TV show paints dollar signs on her fingernails to demonstrate her love for former US president Barack Obama. She and her fellow Democrats don’t seem to have learned much since last year’s election. Insulated by their money and their privilege, they remain clueless as to why they’ve lost control of all branches of government.
My mind, however, is elsewhere. I continue to dwell upon psychedelic imagery from one of the performances I caught this weekend. Washed Out teamed up with Brainfeeder-affiliated visual artist Timeboy to create music videos for each track on the band’s latest album, Mister Mellow. The videos utilize several forms of animation: everything from stop-motion and claymation to hand-drawn cartoons. The band projects and modifies all of this dynamic imagery in real-time during live performances using Kinect 2.0 devices: motion-sensing “depth” cameras, basically, designed by Microsoft for use with Xbox One. Sarah joined me for a beautiful late-afternoon stroll through a garden yesterday, where we were graced by magnificent monarch butterflies, a pink wildflower anemone named “Queen Charlotte,” a fence post covered in flowering snail vine. We imagined ourselves entering and exiting zones filled at once with the romantic drama of the strolling couple, and at a different scale, observable only when the couple peers down on occasion, a world teeming with ecosystem narratives: complex interactions between predators and their potential prey. Perceived at this level, suffering and decay seem almost painterly in their abstraction. I realize that I spend too much of my life torn between warring impulses. Should I spend my life immersed in texts or in nature? I commit myself fully to neither speech nor phenomena. Broad City more than makes up for past crimes, by the way, with its latest episode, an animated shroom-and-cannabis-fueled extravaganza by artist Mike Perry.
The alarms, the intensities, objects melting and reforming: together, it amounts to a grand de-reification of reality. So much more pleasurable than the gritty nicotine-crack-alcohol police-and-criminal-class hustle-drama dished out by David Simon’s The Deuce.