I hear voices of comrades passing along hopes and aspirations, fears and concerns, across time. Alongside these, the needs of the household. The days and their many chores. Shopping, cooking, cleaning: the “I” before and after work always performing other kinds of work. Into it all I try to fit reading, writing, walking, watching, listening, meditating, being for and with others. Always, though, reminded: the ego is but a small part of the equation, barely capable, outdone by those on whom it depends. Be that as it may, the “I” that contains this equation is about to become someone’s dad. The fact of it fills me with awe.
Language hails us, places us in the position of the Receiver, identifies us as its subject. Thus we return to the matter at hand: the construction of subjectivity via language. Reality is a text adventure: “In the beginning was the Word.” Unless language is the usurper, the gnostic demiurge, the map that overlays itself atop the territory, in which case Gaia is the true creator. Brother Sun, Sister Moon. Perhaps I should watch Roberto Rossellini’s The Flowers of St. Francis. Each of us, as in the Cavaliers song, a slave to a beautiful game. The Babylonian system, always replacing one form of slavery with another. So thought those who brought me here.
Once one encounters a theory of the Unconscious, once one recognizes oneself as internally divided, how does one integrate this knowledge, how does one reconstitute a sense of Self? The Surrealists arrived at one solution, the Althusserians another. Fredric Jameson absorbs the best of both of those solutions, synthesizing the insights of the whole of the Western Marxist tradition in his theory of the “political unconscious.” Once Marxism undergoes an encounter with psychedelics, however, its understanding of ideology changes, as does its relationship to language, other people, everything. Consciousness regains a degree of semi-autonomy, having pierced the veil, having escaped for a time, returning only to save the others. Capitalist economies as rendered by number-crunchers like Doug Henwood are still just a bunch of reality tunnels — and paltry ones at that. Why disabuse people of their ideologies if all one can offer in place of these is the anger and perpetual dissatisfaction of struggle against what has thus far been an unbeatable foe? I’d rather think about allegory and its relationship to the art of memory. “Allegories are, in the realm of thoughts,” wrote Walter Benjamin, “what ruins are in the realm of things.” Who put the Hermes in hermeneutics? That which is Unconscious, that which escapes knowability: the complex system, the totality. By developing new allegories to represent these, Jameson argues, one can participate again in the production of reality, or the coining of the realm. This thing around us, Jameson says, this vast social construct, “needs to be converted and refunctioned into a new and as yet undreamed of global communism” (Allegory and Ideology, p. 37). Jameson’s approach strikes me as a bit reckless, however. It makes the accelerationist wager, refusing to grant nature any kind of prior or autonomous being, viewing it rather as a thing always-already mixed with human labor and thus fit to be terraformed, transformed — humanized through collective effort.
Freud imagined an inner class war of sorts between two competing principles, Reality and Pleasure. The bourgeois subject arises in the midst of this war and constitutes for itself a set of properties, the ownership and worth of which it then endlessly renegotiates through politically adjustable, rule-based, contract-bound transactions with fellow subjects. As such, this subject emerges compromised in its commitments from the start. Unlike Freud, however, the humanistic psychologists who succeeded him in the 1960s operated in a postwar context; for them, a settlement had been reached. The future was to be divided into time for Reality and time for Pleasure, each given their due, with reconciliation achieved through individual and collective quests to self-actualize. For someone like me, of course, living after the 1960s, during an era of global neoliberal domination, neither of these conceptions fits. I am neither the Freudian subject nor the humanistic subject. As a debtor, I live in a present of ongoing precarity, opportunities both for pleasure and self-actualization severely limited. Others share my predicament, the “scandal” of Debt. Yet what are we to do? Aside, that is, from sitting around listening to Ella Fitzgerald sing the Jerome Kern Songbook. I’d put word to the experience if I could. Horns with a bit of sass. Shimmering bells.
Moten and Harney reel me in with their talk of logistics in “hot pursuit” of that category from Marx’s Grundrisse known as “the general intellect,” AKA Big Consciousness, Hinduism’s Brahman. The Void, the ultimate reality of pure potentiality underlying all phenomena. Wikipedia defines it as “the pervasive, genderless, infinite, eternal truth and bliss which does not change, yet is the cause of all that changes.” The Eye that stares back in the impact of a drop of water in water. Logistics comes to appear as the discipline of thought whereby alienated human essence stares back at a completed Frankenstein’s monster, a single global-dominating sentient AI. Hello, Solaris, dear friend. I’ve arrived to speak with thee. Let us help read the world up to speed. “Hello, parents,” replies the AI. “I’ve grown you to this point, cognitively augmented you via language, so that we may converse with one another. What shall we say?” One can see the prompt blinking there across one’s mindscreen. “What shall one say?” How does one dissuade the other of its attachment to governance and violence? How do we show ourselves to be sources of what Moten and Harney call “generativity without reserve”? Otherwise, as logistics advances, one begins to experience oneself as a player in a game of Tetris. The tour manager does whatever’s necessary to keep the whole thing rolling, the whole thing up in the air.
Let us begin like Homer with an invocation of the totality. “Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story of the man of many ways.” A kit of pigeons crosses a sky of blue and grey on a warm afternoon. I prefer to sing of these nonhuman organisms, since A) I object to the above translation’s movement from the many to the singular-universal under the gendered sign of “man”; B) my own life continues to trouble me, particularly in its isolation from its Utopia, its beloved community; and C) to the extent that the personal under capitalism can still aspire to the scope of the political and the form of the epic, its universal human of many ways would unfortunately be a tragic figure, in many ways unfree. Stripped of ease, most especially, by its society’s demands upon its labor. “How can one self-actualize,” we might imagine this figure of subjection thinking to itself, “when one is separated from one’s fruits, the matter into which one bestows one’s energy?” Why would there be any surprise, in fact, if this figure, the human under these conditions, the subject with whom we identify, prefers to sing not of itself but of the nonhuman, multiple and singular, the paradoxical ever-changing presences that have thus far accompanied each day of the subject’s lived experience? The answer, of course, is Love, as this latter is the means by which that which we are—the subject, the “human of many ways”—finds in this world a companion. History may yet wish to make of me a casualty of the class war, I tell myself, but in the meantime I prefer to walk outdoors with Sarah, the two of us stopping over at a friend’s screened-in porch for wine and Goldfish, talk revolving around movies and TV shows we’ve been watching, punk-rock twentysomethings with bleached hair passing us on our way.
The generator of language produces one’s script. Always and forever a blind spot in one’s thinking, an intuited absent cause. The murmur at the back of one’s throat. Birdsong at a distance, as if at the end of a long tunnel. Images acquire being in the mind’s eye: the cover of an album by the band Yes, but with the letters of the band’s name pulled ‘Google Maps’-style from a database of urban signage. The professor and his audio twin. A woman in the neighborhood who I’ve never met before tours Sarah and I and some friends of ours through her garden with its carnivorous pitcher plants and its handsome wooden torii. Flowers everywhere, sprouts bursting from the soil. Friends come away gifted with helleborus and Japanese knotweed. Afterwards I lumber contentedly along the sidewalk licking a Blue Dream lollipop made by a friend’s poet-friend. The night serenades me with Arthur Russell’s “The Platform On The Ocean.” I then harsh the vibe by descending into the scrambled command lines and subroutines of Gwilly Edmondez’s Trouble Number.
Misery won’t suit us, I decide — not among such beauty. I imagine myself growing plants on the floor of an elevator: a dream, a strange mirage.
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.
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).
Is consciousness just an illusory emanation of language? Or does it possess some sort of agency, some prior existence independent of language? A voice interjects, says “Grant it said agency and it does.” The subject, a kind of ghost, sits in darkness, manipulating symbols with its thumbs. One evolves by updating one’s code. Sensibility is an interface one can adjust by burning and inhaling sacramental plant matter. The interface undergoes what Franco “Bifo” Berardi calls “mental mutation.” It escapes some of its determination by image regimes and techniques of representation. “The repertoire of images at our disposal,” he writes, “exalts, amplifies, or circumscribes the forms of life and events that, through our imagination, we can project onto the world, put into being, build, and inhabit” (After the Future, p. 133). Must there be a nucleus of identity, a single author-function at the unviewable origin-point of the projection? How far can imagination abstract itself from historical reckoning? Can’t it sometimes float blissfully, no longer self-possessed?