As a kind of essayist — one who writes to think, to find out, to endeavor — I often look for meaning, associations, correspondences, in that upon which I gaze. A friend lends a note of caution: some of what we find, he reflects, might be projected, phantasmatic rather than cloud-hidden. Of course, fantasies are not purely illusory. Psychoanalysts encourage us to think of them, rather, as scenes that stage unconscious desires. Lacan reads fantasy as a defensive formation assembled by a subject to veil the enigmatic desire of the Other. Fantasy hastens an answer to what can never be known, like one’s face or the back of one’s head, that which can never enter directly into the field of one’s perception. Fantasy pretends to solve what Lacan calls the mystery of “Che vuoi”: “What do others want from me? What do they see in me? What am I for others?”
Calling all Lacanians: assist me in grappling with the implications of the work of Robin Carhart-Harris, Head of Psychedelic Research at Imperial College London — the cat Michael Pollan discusses in How to Change Your Mind. On the one hand, I regard Carhart-Harris as a justifier of hierarchy by way of the language-game “neuroscience”; on the other hand, I hear him reinventing the Freudian repression hypothesis, and with it, a way of theorizing the potential liberatory political effects of LSD. By ruse of reason, he thus lends capitalist-science ammo to the cause of Acid Communism. It’s as simple as telling a story and heads begin to change. A combination of new science and secret history. One can transmit alterations of consciousness via language. Spread by words, truth changes. This is the key linking psychedelic consciousness-raising and revolution. As Carhart-Harris puts it in the Pollan book, “a class of drugs with the power to overturn hierarchies in the mind and sponsor unconventional thinking has the potential to reshape users’ attitudes toward authority of all kinds” (as quoted in Pollan 315). We can use psychedelics to grow new organs and redraw cognitive maps. Heads are in this one sense, at least, what the Whole Earth Catalog people always said they were: tool freaks, evolving an anti-authoritarian brain chemistry into the nature of being. Tinker with the default mode networks of enough language-users and the world that we imagine to be received via the senses will appear transformed.
I perform a mind game wherein I imagine a psychoanalytic interpretation of Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, a novel not just seen through the eyes of its half-Native American narrator, Chief Bromden, but somehow also set in the character’s head, his paranoid delusions causing him to hallucinate — by which I mean “literalize,” or “externalize” — the internal struggle between his Superego and his Id as a struggle between the characters of Big Nurse and Randle Patrick McMurphy. Then again, instead of psychoanalysis, we could sub in Marxism as our master discourse and read the novel as a Cold War allegory and/or a satire of the postwar order. Like all good political allegories, the work can be read on several levels or scales of being: the personal, the spiritual, the national-historical, and the world-historical all somehow homologous. The Nurse’s effort to cast aspersions on McMurphy’s motives resembles the progressivist critique of industrial robber-baron capitalism, just as the incident in the shower room represents the Zoot Suit Riots. If interpretation of this sort places me in the camp of the novel’s wheelchair-bound WWI veteran Colonel Matterson, so be it.
Sarah and I raced through the streets a few days ago chasing rainbows at the tail end of an afternoon sunshower. And sure enough, after just a few minutes of searching, we found one, water droplets interacting with sunlight in order to form for those who perceive it a thing of great beauty, a sign of grace arcing downward as if to join with matter, as if to meet the very pavement at our feet. This is a certain kind of intensity. Deliver the good news. Become one with it. We are not “the Individual” of liberal thought. We are Santa Clauses magic-circling the earth in our sleep. It is the subject, as Lacan says, who introduces division into the individual. Our dreams and our relationships to our bodies have social consequences.
Scrubber Fox’s “inserted chip punches (revised),” a composition that uses an Atari Lynx as its primary instrument, recalls for me the beeps, the explosions, the full array of apocalyptic sound-stimuli of my childhood. Clues to the riddle of the ego lie buried, perhaps, in that primal scene. It’s time to complete the analysis.
Petting a neighborhood cat, admiring the color of its coat, rescuing a spider cricket from permanent incarceration in my basement by cupping it in my palms and carrying it outdoors, dancing in my office to the sound of “Nature,” a fast and easy shuffle from a James Brown album released the year of my birth, giggling with Sarah over a children’s book by Remy Charlip: to these and all of the other events from my day I say, “I love you, each and every part.”
The further I advance in Écrits, the more convinced I am of Lacan’s role as “vanishing mediator” in the lineage of my arrival to thought. With my kaleidoscope eyes, I repay the debt I owe him by redoubling my attention. At the heart of my pedagogy is the basic Lacanian belief that, in today’s society, most human subjects are spoken, authored into discourse by a Big Other, instead of being granted time and space with which to think their own liberated parole. And then there’s Lacan’s actual prose, loaded with purloined letters, clues hidden in plain sight. From a page in Écrits, for instance, I’m led to an illustration on my phone depicting a structure from Neolithic times. In this structure, which archaeologists call a “cursus” monument, I recognize a level from Rygar, an NES game I used to play as a child. The imprint from Rygar strikes me now as would a remediated memory from a past life. From these memories, and from the prose that spurs them, rises the potential to form a groupuscule — a community of belief, one as much at variance from hegemonic reality as were the cursus-bounded ceremonial spaces of the ancients.
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.
I listen to David Van Tieghem’s These Things Happen while reading selections from Lacan’s Écrits. I intuit in the latter an abiding belief that humanity’s primary tormentors are images of aggressivity, or “imagos of fragmented bodies” formed during childhood. My reading leads to an objectification of prior experience via the concept of “autoscopy.” This concept names experiences whereby individuals perceive themselves or their surrounding environment from positions outside their bodies. Isn’t there an element of autoscopy, though, in precisely that “subjectless” discourse that calls itself “Science”? As evidence of the latter’s utter theoretical inadequacy, its insufficiency at the level of the human subject, I’ll just note here that neuroscientists attribute experiences of autoscopy to “abnormal higher-level self-processing at the temperoparietal junction.” Notice how the self-exiled objectivity of the body predominates in that formulation. Notice, too, the normative heavy lifting performed by the unexamined, unjustified labeling of such experiences as “abnormal.” What about me, though? Aren’t there still traces of science woven into the semantics of these trance-scripts? What aggressive intentions, I wonder, might cause me to self-sabotage my attempts to dialogue with others? That’s probably the main question psychoanalysis asks us to register, is it not? In this way, we take consciousness for a ride, we elevate it.