What is Psychedelic Marxism’s aspiration amidst the near-universal degradation and subsumption of consciousness via capitalist rationality: to dream differently, or to wake up? I support either of these goals, so long as the attention economy is usurped of its current title as “The Only Game in Town.” Wannabe critical theory types, meanwhile, pull back a curtain exposing mind-manipulation plots involving mundane villains like Mark Zuckerberg and former “Google Design Ethicist” Tristan Harris. Perhaps that’s why I’m loaded with debt, an expert only in the production of methodologically incoherent mappings of cultural trends. I have in mind here the kinds of authors who publish with Zero Books. Performance artists who specialize in blank parodies of cultural theory. Can’t we just arrange for ourselves to be possessed, captured by a mad rush of communication? A cartoon lab scientist steps back in surprise as a ball of twine, become animate, takes to the air flapping parts of itself up and down, as if it were a bird and those parts were its wings. A bust of Shakespeare reassembles on a desk out of colored Olympic rings: blue, yellow, black, green, and red. All I can do, however, is peer from a window and listen, the world around me arranged as prison.
Is consciousness just an illusory emanation of language? Or does it possess some sort of agency, some prior existence independent of language? A voice interjects, says “Grant it said agency and it does.” The subject, a kind of ghost, sits in darkness, manipulating symbols with its thumbs. One evolves by updating one’s code. Sensibility is an interface one can adjust by burning and inhaling sacramental plant matter. The interface undergoes what Franco “Bifo” Berardi calls “mental mutation.” It escapes some of its determination by image regimes and techniques of representation. “The repertoire of images at our disposal,” he writes, “exalts, amplifies, or circumscribes the forms of life and events that, through our imagination, we can project onto the world, put into being, build, and inhabit” (After the Future, p. 133). Must there be a nucleus of identity, a single author-function at the unviewable origin-point of the projection? How far can imagination abstract itself from historical reckoning? Can’t it sometimes float blissfully, no longer self-possessed?
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.
I imagine myself as a plant hallucinating itself as a person. The goal is to become a tree among trees. But how quickly the mind turns toward work. I’m reminded of how easy it is to intervene through introduction of minor edits into my self-programming. But even here, my self-conception remains routed through some sort of menu interface of unknowable origin. People’s non-ordinary states of consciousness often utilize either human or non-human guides. Take the plunge, they say, into transpersonal consciousness. Create a climate and a method for healing from within. What is the point of devotion to the roots and the stem if not for the flower? Meaning is lost when we translate “maya” as “illusion.” See, for instance, the 1910 painting “Maya, the Mirror of Illusions” by Arthur Bowen Davies.
Stanislav Grof regards birth as a massive, personality-shaping psychodrama. I’m reminded of the saying, “All models are wrong, but some are useful.” So how is Grof useful? He adds to our toolkit enabling integration of further transmissions from beyond. This is how one loses one’s chains and steps outside the construct. I managed to meet and dine with poet-critic Joshua Clover the other night. He’s someone I’ve admired ever since encountering his ideas about “edge-of-the-construct” narratives more than a decade ago in his book The Matrix. The part that isn’t Marx in me, however, is also heartened that increasing numbers of my students are incorporating mindfulness activities into their repertoire of daily practices. Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as “the awareness that arises through paying attention on purpose in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” But fuck that dude — he gives talks to 1 percenters in Davos. “More ice water, please!” DSA’s role on a branch-by-branch basis should be preparation for commune-style declaration of independence from profit-production. If we go down, we go together. Genuine communist praxis involves pulling consciousness out of circulation and production, and directing it instead toward reproduction of oneself and one’s community.
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.
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.
Check for blockages. Free oneself from what Christian theologian John Howard Yoder calls “the Powers.” Like Sartre’s “practico-inert,” the Powers name a given form of the world, a “mode of production” that produces individual subjects addicted to that mode’s reproduction. We must try to model for others another way: a life that, through psychedelic resistance to interpellation, sheds its determination by the Powers, thus allowing an improvised, moment-to-moment stepping forth of something new. (Yoder himself, by the way, failed terribly in this regard. He usefully reframed the story of Christianity in countercultural terms, with Christ serving as the preeminent example of how an individual’s refusal to be determined by the Powers can prompt “the creation of a distinct community with its own deviant set of values and its coherent way of articulating them.” But when Yoder himself attempted a similar refusal, positing “intimacy” as a means by which to challenge the world as given, it appears he did so without seeking the consent of others, his legacy thus marred by multiple charges of sexual abuse.) I stare at walls and wonder, what shall step forth today? What new mode of being shall cross through the cracks as we alter the constitution of the given? As Robert Masters and Jean Houston note in their book Mind Games: The Guide to Inner Space, “Man is still something to be realized” (5). From this point forward, I will attempt to assume my role as “guide.” I will bring back from each day’s trance something of value to enrich other heads (and through them, the General Intellect.) Becoming fully aware means becoming one with all that is. Should make you smile. What we’re trying to escape is a cultural trance where, as Masters and Houston note, “we all dream the same dream, more or less, and call it: reality” (13). I feel infinitely more well-provisioned after grilling myself a couple hot dogs. I care about consensus reality only inasmuch as it is there where I get to care for those I love. I care, too, though, for their entire life-body relation, their full organic and inorganic being. Where do we draw the line between that and the whole of nature? Perhaps these experiments need to be performed in groups, each member becoming for the others their Ezekiel.