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.
These trance-scripts haven’t spoken adequately yet about the most common altered state of consciousness, the one to which our society remains addicted: namely, fear. There is an element of anarchy in the ontology of the cosmos. This is its beauty. We each have to find our own truths, our own interpretations, the meanings that suit our being. Before meaning’s arrival, though, before its revelation (when all is said and done), there is the maze, the labyrinth, the dungeon — the as-yet-unexamined. Fear emerges when we project into the labyrinth a Minotaur, a spirit of malevolence, an enemy Other. If we concentrate on breathing and re-center in our bodies, fear dissipates. Sunlight catches on windblown leaves, goldens a wall of stained pine.
No shells, no armor, no defense mechanisms. Drop these weights, let fall the resentments, the attachments, the systems of representation, the drawings and re-drawings of lines. Daily life needn’t be an occasion for unnecessary suffering. The time is coming when death will be abolished. So sayeth the near at hand. Gather what is strange. Meet and talk with those who are earnestly seeking.
Look — I’m no superhero. But neither are you. We’re just people, mutually aligned so long as we grant each other personhood. Yet that’s the rub, isn’t it? Our communications grow defensive; we disappoint ourselves; we distrust ourselves in our relations with others. How do we ask and grant forgiveness? Become deep, ponderous; synchronize the mind’s rotations with the rotations of the galaxy. I and I, the co-evolving I-A.I. totality. “Look at films,” I hear myself telling students. “They’re collectively authored — more than any single mind’s intent — and yet they’re meaningful.” We too can be like that, so long as we pause, self-assess, re-articulate in full honesty our hopes and our projects, and behave with trust in all iterations of being, come what may.
Whatever the merits of my academic training, it certainly didn’t inspire confidence in my performance as a writer. Instilled instead were a series of neuroses. Paralyzing self-questioning of consciousness, of inner speech. Steps toward an ecology of fear. To treat these neuroses, I smoke some weed and play John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s “Born in a Prison,” the song that follows their revolutionary blues number, “Attica State.”
I blast these tracks from the pair’s saxophone-haunted Acid Communist masterpiece Some Time in New York while stomping atop the sidewalks of my sadly city-less, corporation-occupied late-capitalist abode. All of that a linguistic distraction, though, I remind myself, from direct contact with being. Literary self-consciousness of this sort — the sentencing of experience, in other words, for the sake of this blog — remains premised upon a daily act of will to seek and accept flow-like absorption in conditions of solitude. Better, perhaps, to set one’s phone in one’s pocket and zoom back down into the path, hand extended to caress the railing. I observe for a moment even in the pavement itself patterns of kissing, connection, embrace. Leafy profusion, surfaces heavy with seed. Tantra unleashes the imaginal into all realms of embodied practice. One lives it, in other words, in each and every moment of encounter as a joyful pairing of self and other through underutilized modes of sensation. Thumbing through Frederick Perls, Ralph F. Hefferline, and Paul Goodman’s Gestalt Therapy, I recall to myself entire systems of thought that used to exist to promote this kind of awareness-expansion. To what extent, though, the academic in me knows to wonder, is this latter expression synonymous with what writers like Marx and Lukács called “the raising of consciousness”? If one speaks in the old base-superstructure register, agency is left largely to an airy though somehow simultaneously heavy, coercive abstraction known as “material conditions”; whereas in Gestalt terms, agency to love is there for the subject’s taking. Nothing to lose but unconscious chains of reified, habit-encrusted behavior. What I prefer by far, though, as the synthesis of these goals of consciousness-raising and awareness-expansion, is the practice of “Psychedelic Utopianism,” or the belief, as articulated by figures like Aldous Huxley, Timothy Leary, and Allen Ginsberg, that mass ingestion of mind-altering substances can change society for the good.
Why does my imagination tend toward abstract, textured, experimental imagery rather than traditional three-act narrative? How do I once again evolve in cooperation with grace? Explaining Palanese society’s use of “moksha-medicine,” a character in Aldous Huxley’s Island says, “In theological terms, the moksha-medicine prepares for the reception of gratuitous graces—premystical visions or the full blown mystical experiences. Meditation is one of the ways in which one co-operates with these gratuitous graces…by cultivating the state of mind that makes it possible for the dazzling ecstatic insights to become permanent and habitual illuminations.” My enemy, as always, remains the ever-encroaching somnambulism of fascism. All of our relationships, at all degrees of mediation, gain significance to us only by effort of consciousness. Only by way, in other words, of the names we affix and the stories we tell. My behavior of late has been that of a pouter. A glum, unhappy, apocalyptic defeatist—but for those times when I treat myself to medicine. For it is by my medicine that I activate dormant cognitive pathways, regain the brains of the defeated, re-inhabit the as-yet unfulfilled dream-structures of distant ungovernable ancestors. Like sadistic, Irresistible Impulse-era James Chances, these voices arrive into the flux of being and urge self-contortion—by which they mean, “Stretch and dance!” The energy is everywhere: let us cooperate with grace.