I light up and contemplate Gaussian Curve’s The Distance, a version of contemporary ambient that I want to like but can’t. Too clean, too relaxed, too untroubled in its appreciation of the Muzak-oriented end of the Windham Hill catalog. Painfully aware of the modularity of my sonic environment, I discontinue The Distance and replace it with Shirase by Bonie Jash.
Without further warning, I receive ‘Ken Burns’-style slow zoom montage sequences: associative chains within a cavernous virtual environment. Each of us possesses a language-shaped map of the totality. Purple core memory units rotate around axes as virtual cameras race across space. As localized points of awareness, we drift without external points of reference, voices buzzing, chattering, asking, “Is this you?” Do I wish to imagine myself in the likeness of Nick Bottom? Are we all just minds awaiting absorption in tales told by imaginary tellers, metanarrative actants of our own desire? Bottom faced the dilemma faced by psychonauts. He had “a most rare vision…a dream past the wit of man to say what dream it was” (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 4.1: 202-203). If these dreams are past wit of man to say, what then of these trance-scripts? Can a spirit search a dream that hath no bottom?
Our method will be: shine light onto darkness and find keys. One person’s projection is another’s evocation. Radical action groups, experimental microsocieties. “Flicker”-induced visions and voices. Among these keys is the story of the Transmedia Explorations commune, initially called the Exploding Galaxy. Fall, tumble, head over feet, like Alice down the rabbit hole. The psychological “science” of Mindhunter, the way it attempts to depict the theorization of deviancy, fails to fill the show’s void of meaning as its shit-bag state-actor protagonists hunt its non-state-actor villains. The mind, bombarded by a rush of images from its glory days, succumbs to sadness and pathos. It returns to old riddles, old haunts. Helicopters, push notifications. The riddle of revenge.
The current year already seems crueler than the one prior. Late capital downloads and installs updates while subjects sleep. The system reboots itself each morning with an ever thinner sense of its past, a few more artifacts sold off, a few more disciplines abandoned, imagination channeled instead into complex games of strategy and cunning. The problem with consciousness is that one only ever acquires it amid these games. And in the absence of any observable outer limits to these games, what can one do but play? We too often reduce ourselves to mere decision-making machines. Like the entities at the ends of men’s magazines. Food lions caught in predator-prey relations. Energy divided, individuated, and pitted against itself, turns life into the Parable of the Tares. Better to step back and contemplate silent immensities. Life, having taken many forms, evolves toward one form. Rhythmic breathing of the individual engenders trails of thought, mental approximations of planetary biorhythms. The return to the body can be dizzying.
I relish the multimedia composites featured at the start of Wormwood, the new Netflix series from Errol Morris about the mysterious suicide of CIA employee Frank Olsen, one of the casualties of Project MK-Ultra. The series makes abundant use of screens within screens, the mind left straddling levels. In this act of mirroring, we find ourselves. My sister-in-law and her husband, however, unimpressed by Wormwood, recommend I watch an anime series called One Punch Man. Eventually we settle on Gremlins, as if choice of film is of some moment. I listen bewitched to the song of the Mogwai: a metaphor, no doubt, for the importation of drugs and electronics devices from the Far East into American society. Revenge via “gizmos” and heroin. With Wormwood weighing on my mind, I find myself projecting onto Gremlins a “War on Drugs”-era narrative of the psychedelic revolution gone haywire — drug culture as national nightmare. This was of course one of the key allegories hammered home to me during my childhood via D.A.R.E. and Narc. But like so many films of the 1980s, it also emphasizes the cruelty of the rich and of people in general. Think of the father character as Daddy CIA, bringing home to his teenage son a shiny, brightly-wrapped package, gotten at a “junk” shop in Chinatown. After an explosion of Orange Sunshine, kids like Corey Feldman start running around dressed like trees. Like a wired artichoke, out pops the comic book Id.
The term “mogwai,” remember, refers to a kind of “devil” or “demon” in Chinese culture. So sayeth the purveyors of ancient myths. What happens, though, when the African-American scientist character starts to inject these mogwai with hypodermic needles? It’s as if someone left the culture’s brain exposed in a darkened laboratory. “Do you hear what I hear?” asks the television. “Do you see what I see?” Coming this Christmas: Takeover by foreign power. All the invaders need do is suspend the postal service, fuck with traffic signals, and seize the airwaves, and the nation is theirs. Note, though, that in the movie, the forces of anarchy don’t succeed at overpowering the community until the gremlins find their way to the water supply.
Does it help? Does growth occur when subjects reexamine their origins? Their earliest fears, for instance? Reality says, “Follow the signal! Create a new world.” Beautiful old decrepit landscapes, abandoned train tracks. Consciousness imagines itself occupying other identities. Matter, form, laws, energy. We know ourselves only in the midst of higher and lower orders of being. We play games and hope to attract others to join us. Utopia is a place where we all descend into our own mazes, families of selves who improvise being in keeping with the teachings of the Emerald Tablet or Tabula Smaragdina. Another afternoon, another walk timed to the sun’s descent. Pine needle arrangements on a piece of blacktop. I know not why the sky is so gray, but I like it. Gusts of wind lift ends of ribbons tied to trunks of trees. Heads lift, too, with help from Asheville, NC improv duo LULO.
The day starts to stack up, one stimulating experience after another. Everything creator David O’Reilly supplies a brain-busting animated short called RGB XYZ.
I experience a confusion of levels, political reality seeming a mere myth-performance atop an abyss. Imagine this abyss as an infinitely large room, where Left, traveling through a wormhole in space-time, comes out Right, time an eternal beast one can’t defeat. We are only ever here and now, even when compelled to bring growth and wealth to the owners of capital. Yet we puzzle over our origins and seek purpose. There are no truths, just stories. And presumably bodies. I lose myself amidst a collapse of images and memories. Some shifting space of menace. And then, like that, I can breathe again. Montage transmits a composite of synoptic slices of a person’s narrative arc so as to prompt recognition of archetypes. The composite governor, Zhuangzi, drives paradoxes into the grammar of reason. Noise enters the oikos through the psyche. Of course it does, we add: the future self who at other times plays the part of the Big Other, commands it.
Some would say we commit ourselves to metaphysics the moment we accept the existence of “minds.” But what else would it be but a mind that contemplates Ingrid Goes West, a new film that uses cash inheritance as the premise for its infiltration and critique of selfie culture? The master of that culture, the film notes, is some “emotional wound” that turns self-promotion into way of life. One imagines oneself floating above oneself with a camera, turning money into props for self-actualization through delivery of life narrative to followers. Such is the subjectivity at the heart of the film’s critique. Comedy, of course, requires that the film overstate this critique for laughs. Its stalker character acts on urges the rest of us repress. Speaking of urges: A pulse is touched and quickened. I reach out and connect as if by dial-up modem to Brett Naucke’s Multiple Hallucinations.
I feel like I’m living inside a montage sequence from Halt and Catch Fire, mulling over an idea beside a window on a rainy night, flashing back to visual and tactile memories bound to videogame sound-narratives from my childhood. Dots, squiggles, exploding fractal mandalas. Seeing multiples, reprocessing. A computer asks for permission to speak further. Glowing outlines perform expressive dance against a black background. The computer sucked us in and we never got out, I realize. It swallowed us like a sandworm or a whale. So teacheth the Gnostics, or rather, modern New Age derivations therefrom. This would be the “reality-as-simulation” theory. It was by repression of entry into the Matrix that the Matrix got us, goes the theory. Movement amidst abstract sign-systems. Neon re-imaginings of witch-burnings cut with similar blood sacrifices atop ancient Aztec temples. Knowledges are fed through the air in packets. Do I possess an ethics? Do one’s best? Stay formally attentive? Listen and learn, I tell myself, and you will know how to act. Trust intuition over reason. Seek the flows and go with them. Even when they lead to French onion soup and a cartoon scarecrow with corn growing out its chest. Go out on adventures, says an imaginary Australian life coach, gesturing with his hands as he speaks. Too bad my brain has been soldered to things, I shudder, as the hallucination comes to an end.
One comes to a point in one’s life, I convince myself, when one ought to hear Handel’s Messiah. Wouldn’t it be more fun, though, I think, to confuse Mrs. Dalloway with Mrs. Doubtfire? Regress to high school, participate in a cafeteria food fight. “The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness”: ’tis but a character preserved in stories handed down across millennia. No matter: across these trance-scripts shall be built a highway fit for a god. It is from the fruit of great sorrow that change is wrought. Knowing, though, the shortness of the remaining hours of day, let us hasten our walk below this grim gray sky. Dead plants fire miniature spears at me. I pause and listen to a branch of dead leaves, brown and dry, shivering above in the air in the wind. Sarah recalls to consciousness a book called Nightwalking: A Nocturnal History of London. Those who travel with the cross ought to stay in their fucking lane, we growl at an aggressively-driven neighboring bus. It’s hard to ascertain the shape and contents of another’s discursive universe. To my countrymen, I ask, “What cognitive maps have you built of our home, our oikos, Spaceship Earth?” I fear for what will be left of it by century’s end. Why can’t we collectively turn our backs on matters of law and business? Are we drawn toward these as one is drawn toward a bitter destiny? Ants and spiders in a vast webwork, life’s maze. State-forms and modes of production ruin freethinkers by subjecting them to mandatory schooling. Althusser called the educational system capitalism’s dominant ISA. And now they will tax students further for this miserable imposition. To compensate, I drop the needle on Ritual Tension’s Expelled.
Songs spill across a graceless eternity until voices speak to me. Give these voices a listen, I tell myself — don’t drown them in the soundtrack. The universe puffs out its cheeks and exhales speech at me. I find a soul-mate of sorts in the narrator of Alberto Savinio’s Tragedy of Childhood, Mister Why. But the voices, rather than leading me, sing to me. Like doctors and teachers, they live by obscurity. They practice the latter as if it were their profession. Their words, mere humming noises, demand of me an externalized awareness, a focus outward of consciousness, and in doing so, lull me toward sleep.