Saturday December 8, 2018

Tune in to White Noise’s hippie modernist masterpiece, An Electric Storm, an album of utterly distinctive and sometimes deeply creepy recordings from 1969.

Pitchfork refers to the album’s “widescale psychedelic mayhem,” and that sounds about right. An Electric Storm originated from a unit of composers and engineers at BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop (best known for the theme music to Doctor Who). Julian Cope’s review of the record is so frightening, I never even made it to side two. Busied myself instead with Cope’s website Head Heritage, part of which he describes as “a Gnostic Odyssey through lost and forgotten freakouts.” The Roman emperor Julian, remember, was raised as a Christian, but after studying Neoplatonism apostatized and attempted to revive paganism. He wrote a polemic in Greek titled Against the Galileans, but the text was anathematized by subsequent rulers and lost to history, its arguments known only second-hand through work that sought to refute it. Perhaps Cope is some sort of rock ‘n’ roll re-embodiment of the Julian Ur-spirit dredged from the collective Id.

Wednesday May 2, 2018

Days blaze like a road in morning sunlight out in front of me. Car culture limits our ability to merge into larger communist groupings. Yet we’re forced to participate, both because we need to commute to work, and because we need experiences with which to refurnish our supply of concepts. To satisfy this latter need, Sarah and I attend “You Are Here: Light, Color, and Sound Experiences,” an exhibition currently up at the NC Museum of Art. The show features a number of works of a psychedelic bent, including Yayoi Kusama’s wonderful infinity room, “Light of Life.” Heads peer through portholes into a shadowy antechamber as galaxies of lightbulbs flash in kaleidoscopic profusion across the room’s mirror-box multiverse. Afterwards I attempt to meditate using a mindfulness app on my phone. My “Best Possible Future Self,” to use the name of the thing the app asks me to visualize, is itchy minimal. No, scratch that. Har har, some “uncle” humor. Crash landing. #kneetoface “Come on, Subject — liberate yourself!” coaxes the voice of the revolution. “Come one, come all,” it says. Space Invaders. Critters. Mind at play. During my first pass through the exercise, the antinomian in me imagines the worst. I’m hiding somewhere. It’s chaos. Will they allow me to work (flow, thrive, persist, whatever they call it) if I challenge reason? If, in other words, I question the enterprise of our knowing? How about if I show up to work in a trashcan? My “Best Possible Future Self,” I think to myself as I begin again. What a sad, peculiar exercise! Would live intentionally, in a self-designed home, with nods to Dwell and Nowness and the Whole Earth Catalog. Sarah and I would read, write, cook delicious healthy meals together, raise a brilliant happy child. All of the above, certainly. But what, pray tell, does this Self wish of the world beyond its household? After all, it must wish something, no? Just as it takes a village to raise a child, so too it takes the oikos of an entire planet, a whole integrated system of economy and ecology, to reproduce the oikos of the family. Let us, then, in dreaming our “Best Possible Future Selves,” also imagine our Utopia.

Monday October 16, 2017

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.

Broad City Dollar Signs

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.

broadcity_mikeperry_intro

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.

Sunday October 15, 2017

Let’s put the revolution back in crazy talk. Grab people by the collar, get up in each one’s face and shout, “The revolution begins now, motherfucker!” Or (to remove any suggestion of aggression): “The revolution, an event of super-humanization affecting the one and the many, begins now, with chemically-assisted transfiguration of consciousness.” Mass exodus from participation in the social sacrifice of life via labor. “Capitalism ain’t getting shit from me,” smirks the narrator as he starts his break. Marx was at his most Marxist in his hatred of work. “Fuck wage labor,” he’d say, “I’m gonna go hang out all day in the British Museum Reading Room!” The anti-capitalist martyr remains an important latency in my political identity. An impossible self I’ve at times admired, a fatal temptation to which I may yet succumb. Weed is very much for me an example of “appropriate technology.” A tool for creative self-experimentation with consciousness. Peter Mortensen investigates a similar such view in his essay “Tripping Back to Nature: Aldous Huxley, Psychedelics, and Pro-Technology Environmentalism.” Earl Hooker’s “Lucky You” scored yesterday’s venture into the psychedelic unknown.

Stoned at a local outdoor music festival. Relaxing sunlit on a grassy hill, while bands perform below. Could this event have served as a turning point? And if a turning point, away and toward what? The vibe was surprisingly negative at first, as if festival-going were the performance in an evacuated church of a belief-less ritual. I still believe in these gestures, however, says the participant, my vomit reserved only for poor execution of ceremony. Beautiful out here under the night sky. The universe arranged for me. And on the date of my parents’ anniversary, no less: my locale, assembling itself in celebration. Spider Bags speak to me, testifying, “I found inner peace by ignoring things.” Is that what I want on my tombstone? Shit started to feel exactly that existential as I stood there afraid of slipping down a hill. “That’s a long, long way to roll,” sang the band. I could see stars above as they chanted, “Who will I be next?” The self must avoid destroying itself for those it loves. Particularly affecting was a song the band performed with NC blues singer extraordinaire Reese McHenry.

The night melted into super chill vibes, though, with level-up conversation and synesthetic animation, once headliner Washed Out took the stage.

Paranoia subsides, and the crowd sways like wind-blown grass. This is how it begins, the participant thinks to himself. This is how you educate desire. This is how heads are turned.

Wednesday October 11, 2017

Try to imagine yourself from the perspective of a spider cricket. Like a building, but with a face in place of a penthouse. I need to develop another chance-based, abstraction-generating practice, a compliment to and content conduit for each day’s trance-script. Imagine if I could bring into my classroom a language for speaking about “Kou Kou” and other forms of abstract animation!

Meaningful conversation with others hardly seems feasible anymore. Most of my students are mere abstractions. Drifts of data in a windstorm. I’d rather be home listening to Bread Bored, the debut album from Portland’s Sea Moss.

I don’t mind mortifying the body with smoke inhalation, so long as it opens doors onto other ways of being. “Most contemplatives,” Huxley writes, “worked systematically to modify their body chemistry, with a view to creating the internal conditions favorable to spiritual insight” (155). I’ve never used Uber, but perhaps I should start doing so — that way I can travel out on solitary adventures while baked. I love to walk, don’t get me wrong; but I’ve about exhausted the radius of walkable space around my home. What is psychedelia’s relationship to blindness? Huxley, for instance, is thought to have been nearly blind for most of his adulthood. “I can hardly see at all,” he told Brazilian journalist João Ubaldo Riberio, “And I don’t give a damn, really.” Recalling details of my life, I’d say I’m a bit like that, too. Capitalist society requires me to “correct” my vision and to do so gladly. If one persists in viewing psychedelically-derived insights as distortions, then so be it; but they’re systematic, trans-historical distortions, leading multiple minds toward the same conclusions: the world as seen when informed by the teachings of plants. And sometimes we zombie-subjects want to be led. Encountering a reference to Francis Thompson’s short film NY, NY (1957) in Huxley’s Heaven and Hell, for instance, I go ahead and watch it. Afterwards I listen to Gregg Kowalsky’s “Maliblue Dream Sequence.” This latter work, however, is itself part of a larger sequence, one that lifts me up and carries me to Tom Shroder’s book Acid Test: LSD, Ecstasy, and the Power to Heal. The Thompson film, by the way, is quite magical, and deeply psychedelic, though I recommend updating it with an alternate soundtrack. Its portrait of the mid-twentieth-century Big Apple is of course entirely too celebratory and consumerist — the gaze remaining leisurely and bemused as it collects phantasmatic snapshots of metropolitan texture and sensation. As a renewal of perception, however, it’s a success.

Wednesday August 2, 2017

Lest I be accused of mere nostalgia, let me begin today’s post by explaining how I see the relationship of our moment to what some are now calling “hippie modernism.” Following the logic informing the Walker Art Center’s exhibition of that name, I take “hippie modernism” to designate a countercultural formation of unsurpassed Utopianism that flowered unevenly in a wide range of national contexts in the 1960s and early 1970s. This formation was never just a reflection of its time; rather, it actively dreamt and desired a future that, by remaining unrealized, continues to make demands on us today. Postmodernism, meanwhile, is that which emerged in hippie modernism’s aftermath. A product of post-60s Prohibition (here in the Americas, the moment of the highly militarized War on Drugs), postmodernist culture coincides with active state suppression of hippie modernism’s technologies of consciousness. Of course, drug wars have never had much success in eradicating supplies of psychedelics, and so the ongoing era of Prohibition has long been haunted by revivals of hippie modernism’s ghosts. Nevertheless, when I look to hippie modernism today, I see a cultural formation the totality or full international breadth and extent of which has only just now become mappable by individuals, thanks to the art-historical archival efforts of reissue labels and museums. As a result, the time is right, I think, not just for a Marxist account of the history of psychedelia, but for the creation of an openly, unashamedly Gnostic-themed, psychedelia-inflected Marxism, one that presents the raising of consciousness as the relay switch between previously competing or previously antagonistic codes. But enough of that. In what follows, I will not think but do. Returning home after visiting my family, I arrive briefly at the impression, before self-correction, that neighborhoods in the places I’ve lived all look the same. With that, I prepare myself for admission before the court of my town’s public pool. And the self I prepare is a mischievous little child. A scheming little imp. Well, not really. I’m just a sun child. And it feels good, I declare, to lay out in the sun while high — if not for you, then at least for me. I associate all of this, in fact, with the photo on the cover of Kantner and Slick’s otherwise unmemorable — indeed, practically unlistenable — Sunfighter (“Million” being the only song on Sunfighter that I would recommend to others).

There were many pictures of me worshipped like that as a baby. I ate strident dreams of that sort for breakfast. The Guitar Army peered at me with its harmonicas at the ready. Hence my love of sun and pool. Watch me swim now: a swamp thing, a rangy plant-like consciousness, floating at the water’s surface. Hold fast to this image, for in it lies the key. The sunlit sky, the cool body of water, and the public at play: these three shall form the pillars of my religion’s temple. My Hippie-Communist Temple of Joy. It is THIS for which we strive. Justice has been and so will continue to be our rallying cry — but a justice on behalf of pleasure. The world must be made pleasureful and fully present for all those who want it so. To the haters, I reply with the immortal words of Edward FitzGerald and Omar Khayyam: “Come, fill the Cup, and in the fire of Spring / Your Winter-garment of Repentance fling: / The Bird of Time has but a little way / To flutter — and the Bird is on the Wing. […] Some for the Glories of This World; and some / Sigh for the Prophet’s Paradise to come; / Ah, take the Cash, and let the Promise go, / Nor heed the music of a distant Drum!” And one more for good measure, to drive the point home: “Waste not your Hour, nor in the vain pursuit / Of This and That endeavor and dispute; / Better be merry with the fruitful Grape / Than sadden after none, or bitter, Fruit.”