The World-Self, vacillating between corollary states of waking and dreaming, and the Mimoid God, the “imperfect god” of Solaris: both are explicable as the equivalents of small children, improvising existence, psychically divided due to faulty memory, each being seeing itself as “either/or,” one or the other of two opposing forces, rather than “both/and”: the text and its author. Observers might say upon study of this World-Self that it is not yet ready to put away childish things — or not yet convinced change is possible. Out of it grow hardline anthropocentric types, men who plant flags, their selfish encroachments and annexations acts of profound cosmic indifference, a violence that radiates outward irrespective of other species.
My favorite part of Solaris is its foray into imaginary intellectual history. The book’s narrator, browsing in his space station’s library, recounts for readers the history of “Solaristics” as a field of study. Paranoia sets in, though, the moment I gather up and attempt to understand the state of my own discipline, variously defined as “literary studies,” “cultural studies,” or “English.” “This time, open up,” I tell myself. “About breathing, knowing, all those round things, echoing, sighing, dying.” Always resisting, always tensing my neck when I ought to float. Last night I paced the house trance-scribing voices. Okay, it wasn’t scary or anything: just me tapping notes to myself on my phone. By observing ants crawling along grit between tiles, my mind started to imagine lines, a tradition of literature, some of it Communist blank verse, but other parts constituting work that works at the limits of language, teasing at the Unknowability Thesis, reopening the case on that old canard about there being an insurmountable barrier between knowledge and experience. Solaris leads us to contemplate the telos of this thesis: overshoot, solipsism, regression. In evolutionary terms: the end of the line.
Preface: in which a moth flies past my head, and in so doing, shocks me out of self-recognition, as terrified of me as I’d be of it, I imagine, were I suddenly to find myself in the presence of an unknown superior power. The Homeostat finds its way back to a sense of comfort, of course — but not unchanged, consciousness adjusted now to accept a fuller sample of its environment. One returns equipped with what alleges to be a means of Summoning Lesser Demons. One adds after the briefest pause that one intends by that, as did Maxwell, the mediating, rather than malevolent, connotation of the word.
Body: Tsembla’s “Gravitating Bones” accompanies me on an afternoon stroll to a park, clouds parted finally to reveal the sun after a heavy morning rain. Birds sing rounds from the upper branches of adjoining rows of trees.
Postscript: “all this represents a body of incommunicable knowledge. Transposed into any human language, the values and meanings involved [in the psychedelic experience] lose all substance; they cannot be brought intact through the barrier” (Lem, Solaris, p. 172).
Larry Wish mines 90s videogame soundtracks and stretched-taffy jewelry box melodies on his new tape, How More Can You Need?
Where once I imagined the emergent complexity of the New Sentence, now I hear only an artfully arranged confetti. Siring forth, wavering, slurring. Give me the equivalent of “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring,” demands the philistine, or I want my money back. Pain short-circuits the philistine’s ability to reason. He suffers back pain, he self-medicates, that stuff packs a punch, he imagines himself not just as a body but as an indwelling spirit, lives happily ever after. The rest of us know, though, “for a certainty,” as Lem says toward the end of His Master’s Voice, “that when the first emissaries of Earth went walking among the planets, Earth’s other sons would be dreaming not about such expeditions but about a piece of bread” (178). Let me clarify, then: I object to the Larry Wish tape neither because I think oppressed creatures like myself undeserving of fantasy, nor because I prefer more sighs and halos, but because, like Marx, I’d rather “throw off the chain and pluck the living flower.”
My teachings, I decide, draw heavily on Freud, though mainly by way of the Freudo-Marxists and their rebellious late-60s successors, combined with touches of Psychedelic Utopianism and Jungian Gnosticism. Worlds are always readied for one by presumptuous church fathers. For fear of some savagery, they say — just as local ecosystems have been modified, subdivided into units of practico-inert matter, a socially-constructed objectivity, leaving one little space by which to live. By which I mean something like “self-actualize,” so long as that also entails recognition of a coherent narrative or at least arrival into a meditative garden, a temple of sound, in companionship with others. Whereas everywhere under capitalism, the land unadorned awaits the fall. Neither happy nor splendid. At which point His Master’s Voice (by which I mean the Stanislaw Lem novel) begins to speak to me. “What can be done,” asks the novel’s narrator, “when an important fact is lost in a flood of impostors, and the voice of truth becomes drowned out in an ungodly din? When that voice, though freely resounding, cannot be heard, because the technologies of information have led to a situation in which one can receive best the message of him who shouts the loudest, even when mostly false?” (22). This is our predicament in that moment in the history of capitalism known as the era of Trump, is it not?