Children, playgrounds, beautiful spaces of plenty. There are poles we exist between: abstraction and embodiment. I am at my best as a person, as a companion, when I relax and get loose. These are words I’ve been whispering to myself of late. Sam Binkley shows in his book Getting Loose that this narrative of self-loosening was one of the main working assumptions of the 1970s counterculture. That culture’s “hip jargon,” he argues, “relates a moral universe organized around the opposing values of self-constraint and self-release” (2). Do those of us on the Left who pit ourselves against neoliberalism think ourselves free of the above, in denial of the selves posited by the sentence-form, the master’s grammar? Of course not. We need these to live in community with our friends, our families, our loved ones. Those upon whom we depend at all moments of existence. The single organic and inorganic body with its ever-proliferating, ever-multiplying nested sets of minds. Yet the body that produces garden beds of nigella also produces the Israeli atrocities in Gaza during Monday’s massacre. At which point the high fades and one is left to dwell with one’s anger.
How would one operate a dialectic of identity and nonidentity when that which wields the form of this sentence knows no designation? Alteration of consciousness produces a “before” and an “after” self, the presence staring at the absence as if across a mirror, across the divide of a tablet or a screen. The Unconscious is that which operates the Dream-Work: everything in one’s experience, the entire world, minus that which occupies the place of “I” at this moment in the discourse, the speech act, the trance-script. We become like the siblings in Poltergeist, you and I, even as we also think of ourselves as ones who exist apart from Poltergeist, watching from our chairs in the caves of our minds, each actor, the beings on either end of this sentence, communicating across the glass dividing the one and the other into compartments. “It’s a strange image, and strange prisoners you’re telling of,” says Glaucon. Socrates rushes to add, “They’re like us.” What, then, of those of us there, who find ourselves amid the terms of the allegory? Does one of us just tap the other, saying to that which appears as a splintered, refracted, Legionized symbolic totality, “Rise up, dear reader; time to wake”? My hunch is that if, before we sleep each night, we feed our minds better symbols, we’ll wake to better worlds.
The mind, like a hand, clenches and holds. The unconscious remembers everything: lessons in unmastered foreign languages, the self as inner ear. In a religious idiom, one would speak of minds knowing themselves in the Christ narrative, toggling between one and many. Were early descriptions of psychedelic experience overdetermined by encounters with Op Art, the contemporaneity of the two no mere coincidence? The answer lies buried in Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Inferno, a film that sought to depict visual and spatial disorientation using “Op Art”-inspired special effects. Voices and sounds prompt projections, the more abstract, the more manipulated the perception, the better. Lead and descant chase each other’s echoes. Op Art at the very least shared with the psychonaut population an interest in heightened or intensified modes of perception. Sensations of otherworldly motion, vibration, topological warping. Reality displays itself in some new way, allowing apprehension of something beautiful and bewilderingly complex. Magic circles convert the mind’s eye into a portal connecting distinct ontological realms, from which we catch brief impressions — until, like vapors, these realms disperse.
The Soviet psychologist Lev Vygotsky argued that inner speech, much of it motivational, develops as a silent imitation of external or “social” speech. Although accompanied by and thus correlated with tiny muscular movements of the larynx, and brain activity observable via functional neuroimaging in what cognitive scientists call “the left inferior frontal gyrus,” or “Broca’s area,” inner speech as phenomenological datum remains qualitatively distinct from, not at all reducible to, its correlates. Much the same is true of the self, which we come to know, as Patricia Waugh notes, “not as an endocrine system but an experience straddled across body, mind, environment, language, and time.” After spending more than half a century denouncing inner speech as an invalid object of study, psychology as a discipline is beginning to swing back around again, utilizing “Descriptive Experience Sampling,” for instance, as a method for exploring aspects of inner experience.
One isn’t given much latitude in this society. Let us therefore try to calm the others. Let us relax them, we think — the others among whom we mix. Help them dig their cars out from under mounds of snow. How quickly capitalism compels those of us in the professions to conform to the preferences of our peers: those who, on a whim, determine the value of our labor-power. Absolute occlusion of selfhood demands retaliation. In the meantime, however, let us walk tall and proud among those who have cast us down. The world needn’t be a mere play of shadows upon a wall. Let us gradually become accustomed to a world of light. Do this by making time for pleasure amidst the workday’s dull routines. Behave as if one were a self-propelled wheel. Become the point at the center of Metatron’s Cube.
One becomes more than one person — of two minds — on a snow day. A new future, and with it a more hopeful mode of subjectivity, opens in front of me, fills me with a sense of possibility. A change occurs in my cerebral cortex. The “self”-structure comes to know itself as a mere interface between inner and outer worlds. Oppose to it the state rendered by the Sanskrit term “samadhi.” An enormous forgetting must have occurred of which we know not when or why. The fall into subjecthood through acquisition of language. Consciousness is far greater than that part of it identified with the play of dualities. Through meditation, we can open bridges between characters and actors, avatars and players. The world of time loses some of its bite when one has glimpsed the eternal, the unchanging, the timeless.
Ball of shredded paper with spider legs marches down a street. Rendered with military-entertainment-complex CGI, the same entity reappears as an AI-operated policing unit. Consciousness, ever wary of being locked into someone else’s home (and thus someone else’s rules), launches upward into a cartoon sky. Let it pause here at an airy height, perusing materials and media. The “I” recognizes its oddity, the peculiarity of its rebellion, the hand it was dealt by history. On back of each eyelid, it says, imagine flashing multiples, stacked cubes containing sometimes smokestacks, sometimes candles. Hot air balloons vie for exits in the sky. Consciousness is made, the same way Soylent Green is people. Or else it’s this holy ghost, this transcendent other, this apparition, self-knowing and self-manifesting in language but not of it.