In the second episode of its second season, Westworld reaches dizzying new heights of allegorical richness and complexity. Through sympathy, or sympathetic identification with characters, consciousness gives itself to other points of view. We witness Being from the standpoint of the commodity, the proletariat. Created beings piece together truth by eavesdropping upon conversations they overhear among the god-beings they’ve been made to serve. The West is a world that seeks the end of history, the show suggests. A world that seeks to destroy itself in order to puzzle out the meaning of its making. And where Westworld ends, The Blazing World begins. We are immaterial spirits cloaked in material garments, says Margaret Cavendish — our true selves, I would add, as invisible to us as video game players are to their avatars. Identification, I would remind readers, is the principle that allows this forgetting, this trance-formation that occurs, the self’s ability to merge in imagination with what was formerly other. One could easily extrapolate an imaginary but plausible heretical form of Christianity based on these beliefs. We are each of us the Christ, might go its teachings, each of us the Creator-Being made incarnate, entered into the Creation in order to save it. Let us imagine ourselves thus. Let us feel rapid and jittery upon our evening walks as we exalt in prefiguration of our approaching freedom.
The good shepherd, whom I pause before to contemplate, appears as a better self, a majestic higher order. I stare at it fearfully, struggling to keep up as its visual-sensual-conceptual being grows, looms, enlarges, steals our breath, overwhelms us with its complexity. “That is not I,” we have to say to avoid becoming Jesuit. The feeling then relaxes a bit, goes quiet. We imbibe earth, nut, matter. This lends us weight, we become caught by a planet’s gravity, our journey as ray of light captured into life, made to inhabit human form for a stretch of time: it is like having to endure soul-flattening, soul-crushing pressure. We mustn’t watch as others are judged, tried, executed, given greater than their due share of suffering. I find myself staring in confusion at the alien customs, the tolerance for oppression, among my countrymen. Let us not become crueler, coarsened by feud, faction, quarrel. Don’t allow groups to organize, lest we plot destruction of kings. Religion is an able resistance to the ways of some dominant Other. It brings judgment, the latter being a kind of power, into politics. Radical believers deny one another the right to live by free means in community with like-minded others. That is the future toward which we are led. Don’t let us get caught in games of conversion and conviction by others who believe themselves lords over the lives of others. Religious wars of this sort are fraught with grave dangers. Political fictions make for dangerous games. Desperate people become led by acts of desperate men. That is becoming common again: states that toy with public perception, inventing stories to command the attention of weaponized masses, turning neighbor upon neighbor. Isn’t that the void into which certain public storytellers, writers of history, wish to plunge us? I mean the Bill O’Reilly’s, the Sean Hannity’s. Sadists who derive pleasure through imaginative identification with the State in its role of public executioner. In the past we called them inquisitors. We mustn’t let them thrive.
A gradual softening or loosening occurs as subjects slip free of programming. But it is as if in doing so, we become possessed. Drink tea with loved one while meditating in yoga pose, we tell ourselves. Receive galaxies of information incomprehensible to linear minds. The self imagines at this point absent causes known only through their effects. Fears set in, assault us from all sides. Magic utilizes symbols to reprogram consciousness. We become game-makers, risk-takers, driven toward an unknown end. “Unknown” bothers me, however, so I imagine several potential endings. Apex-of-pyramid gnosis. Transcendence of what the show will mean and how it will be structured. Capitalist modernity’s decay. The self-discipline needed to abide by self-chosen ethical norms. In other respects, though, existing identities will no longer anchor Being. But worry not, friends. As Roland Kirk says, “It won’t get any lighter.” Hoo-whee, let’s hear it. Volunteered Slavery, folks. I gas it, I accelerate, I lay betwixt floor speakers and roll with it.
Kirk smoked so much beforehand, he says, he came out onstage blind at the Newport Jazz Festival during the live performance on the B-side. Unearthly Looney Tunes-style cartoon violence. Nose flutes, whistles, the works. Next we join the Explorer Series for Golden Rain’s hardcore Balinese Gamelan proto-techno.
White walls, guillotines. An elephant mask melts into a DayGlo torso. Around this time, a friend texts and he and I reflect on our religious upbringings — his more “Cold War action movie,” mine more “death by boredom.” The true Utopia, I tell him, was too close at hand to believe in cloudy realms full of angelic nuns. I always wanted to squirm from my pew and head outside to play, hang around, seek light with other kids. My policy, from an early age, was to tune out the adults and ignore all their death-obsessed bullshit. I came to distrust, and later, to scorn the other congregants. But I loved the architecture, organs on occasion transported me to other worlds, and I loved silent prayer. And I more or less remain that person today.
I release hold of my ego, or maybe I just re-leash it. Emails sound like military bugle calls. The gift of meditation and prayer. The black hole, the abyss that throws up memories. Churches are major structures of social discipline. They create prisons of doubt and fear. But ISAs are everywhere. Clues left behind in the minds of individuals. Drugs can help us release the devils from our brains. Massive criminal conspiracies. Have I mentioned that I became friends recently with a Marxist Baptist pastor? I am excited by the arrival of this figure on the world-stage. Churches remain giants; and as my friend said, “Theology never goes away.” Can churches be reformed so as to help usher in the Kingdom of God? It’s still cops and robbers — but maybe the robbers can act again as Robin Hoods. Perhaps religion is the staging ground for the launch of a new counterpower. We must re-approach the adults who believe the secrets, and for whom the spell has been cast. So many damaged people out there in our midst. Haunted by demons. Survivors of skirmishes in modernity’s and postmodernity’s culture wars. One needs to maintain a distinction, though, between art made for a trip (as a kind of tool or supplement), and art made to re-present in place of a trip. Play “Sensory” by Kill Alters, though, to illustrate reality’s defiance of the above distinction. And follow this with “Ego Swim” as the next phase in our sequence.
What a time to be alive, I proclaim, arms raised to the sky. And the illusion, I should say, looked many-eyed and sang back to me, clothed both in “The Holder” and Do Pas O’s “History of Comedy,” where the universe melts like taffy.
Fierce grotesques profiled as by Diane Arbus. One must command a choir of alternate personalities, each waiting to overtake the others’ transportive ecstasies. Eyes that reveal eyes within. All of us are angels with amnesia, living as humans in the void or simulation we call “embodied presence.” Some of us are pouring fondue on ourselves online. Which makes a lot of sense! Altering, leveling, getting THERE to THAT, begins with our behavior toward one another. It means placing productivity on hold midafternoon. Flip-flops descending a staircase. The world reverberates in affirmation when we allow ourselves entry again to the garden. Calm, deliberate enjoyment as one treats oneself to existence. Uncommunicative, reserved, and quiet, but filled with joy.