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?
Marxism has always been a peculiar guide to consciousness. And by “peculiar,” I mean more than just “dialectical.” Cognitive dissonance experts won’t believe their ears, but consciousness resides ontologically at a level greater than mere smoke and mirrors. Part of me wonders, however, if by “greater than,” I mean “prior to.” This manner of thinking about thinking, like a body trying in the midst of practice to pick up and weigh its parts: is there a quality to it that distinguishes it from mere performative noodling? I feel challenged when faced with duplicating my experience of mind via words. Yet language is all that remains when the Cartesian self severs ties to productive agency with regard to that which lies beyond its senses. I prefer active listening. Selective co-production of meaning. When I walk, for instance, I modulate the directionality of my awareness as if I were operating an ambient musical interface not unlike a soundboard. Sound-objects rise and fall, as it were, in the mix. The best moments, though, I tell myself, are when awareness dips and the mix directs itself.
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.
My head expands as I contemplate cotton candy clouds above an elevated highway. Sarah, walking alongside me, speaks into her phone consoling a colleague, when — all of a sudden, daylight fading, phone convo still in progress — this same colleague pulls up on the road beside us and vents about a nightmare situation she’s dealing with at work. Eventually we land at a bar, where I down a Cigar City Maduro. “What value are you adding to my organization?” demands an irate CEO character. Let’s call him “Mr. Pinchpenny.” Miserable, wretched reality. Become instead like the Andy Kaufman self who doesn’t care what anything else is. Pure, solipsistic, free-associating Id. Subjectivity fractures into improvised self and other. Hands reach through bars, as prisoners recall the length of their remaining sentences relative to time served. Can’t we just visualize and manifest our way to freedom? Enter a fugue state, come out a person others want to be. One needn’t worry — the role will write itself. Manifestation of consciousness. Everything around one starts to speak. Out of this chorus steps a lead according to time’s decree. Turn reality on its head — rewrite the narratives by which we live. Rebound affect by and with others. Tell yourself, “Life is an illusion. All of us are under the dome.” If that’s the case, and this is all a story, then one might as well create an avatar and live one’s true self, the self of one’s dreams. See in Jim Carrey some sort of spiritual significance. Sing along to the tune of “End of the Line” by the Traveling Wilburys. A song of counsel. Applicable to all who seek it. See in this life a way forward. Repetition is what the universe is doing now, it’s not ready. Collecting data, assembling the composite for that divine spark fade-out at the end. Develop a theory, awaken belief. Share the word, pass the ghost.
Mike Oldfield sets the scene with “In High Places.”
Let us seek, as Denis de Rougemont did, another order of realities: those involving “the nonillusory multiplicity of persons” united by Love. For “love,” some translations of 1 Corinthians 13 substitute “charity” (King James Version, most famously). Let us treat those terms, then, as synonyms. The dream of the commonwealth founded upon love, or what we could equally call Communism, when spurned, gives rise to songs like Curtis Mayfield’s “(Don’t Worry) If There’s a Hell Below, We’re All Going to Go.” Spurned long enough, and the sentiment sours, the subject resigning itself to shouting, as Greg Graffin did, “Fuck Armageddon… This Is Hell.” Biography accepted as total and continuous creation spirals upward, collecting detritus in its tornado of personhood. Mind sees constellations where before there were stars. Such passions are born of dreams, not doctrines. I stood on my back deck last night smoking, branches drooping, laid low by falling snow. Is it a crime to want to resurrect old myths in order to talk to nature? There’s that word again, I nod. Are we cool with it? Are we monists or dualists? What is nature’s relationship to this Subject that we call “person” or “self” or “mind”? And what about that third category, language, the constituent of all calling, hailing, and naming? A transformer blows a few houses down. Lots of sparks, several loud explosions. Some friends and I grab dinner at a bar up the road while waiting for the energy company to restore power to our homes. Afterwards, while reaping the benefits of that power, like the ability to read and write at night by lightbulb, my cellphone delivers footage of a polar bear’s final hours, the creature’s food supply destroyed as a result of global warming. Of course, neither my ability to narrate my culpability, nor the guilt I feel in consequence, will change the bear’s fate one whit. Our dreaming minds are able to create fully immersive, fully believable semblances of other worlds, so why can’t we save bears in this one?
We land on a word as if by spinning the Wheel of Fortune. What else would minds be if not for input from that part of ourselves that is exterior? The world is the set that contains those trees, and this house, and that house, and this body. But what about me, the Author, the Subject, the voice that posits itself through trance-scription? What is my ontological status apart from my body and my senses? Gnostics are they who know themselves to be caught in the midst of a tragic act of forgetting, the knowing and the forgetting intertwined. Because of its impoverished condition, they argue, humanity individually and collectively knows itself in an impoverished manner, through the art it holds up to itself and the names it applies to things — in short, by imperfect discourses, images, and myths. We must learn to commune again with plants, animals, rocks, and rivers. I find myself drawn with equal force, however, to the school of thought known as personalism, given the priority it grants to inner happenings. “How can anyone know me,” sings Matt Johnson of The The, “when I don’t even know myself?”
Is nature naught but presentations produced in finite minds by the Infinite? Material world as divine language? Why does weed take heads away from materialism toward idealism? We become spooky, ghostly, supernatural, transcendent. Nicolas Berdyaev speaks to us, draws from us assenting nods with the distinction he draws between individuals and persons. “The individual is a naturalistic category, biological and sociological,” he writes, “and it appertains to the natural world. […]. It is an atom, indivisible, not having inner life, it is anonymous. […]. Person signifies something altogether different. Person is a spiritual and religious category. Person speaks not only about man belonging to the natural and social order, but also to a different dimension of being, to the spiritual world. […]. Person is a sundering within the natural world, and it is not explainable from it.” The synthesis between inner and outer that the weeded subject seeks, I realize, is what Berdyaev calls “personalist socialism.” More on this, says the prophetic subject, in the days ahead.
Some would say we commit ourselves to metaphysics the moment we accept the existence of “minds.” But what else would it be but a mind that contemplates Ingrid Goes West, a new film that uses cash inheritance as the premise for its infiltration and critique of selfie culture? The master of that culture, the film notes, is some “emotional wound” that turns self-promotion into way of life. One imagines oneself floating above oneself with a camera, turning money into props for self-actualization through delivery of life narrative to followers. Such is the subjectivity at the heart of the film’s critique. Comedy, of course, requires that the film overstate this critique for laughs. Its stalker character acts on urges the rest of us repress. Speaking of urges: A pulse is touched and quickened. I reach out and connect as if by dial-up modem to Brett Naucke’s Multiple Hallucinations.
I feel like I’m living inside a montage sequence from Halt and Catch Fire, mulling over an idea beside a window on a rainy night, flashing back to visual and tactile memories bound to videogame sound-narratives from my childhood. Dots, squiggles, exploding fractal mandalas. Seeing multiples, reprocessing. A computer asks for permission to speak further. Glowing outlines perform expressive dance against a black background. The computer sucked us in and we never got out, I realize. It swallowed us like a sandworm or a whale. So teacheth the Gnostics, or rather, modern New Age derivations therefrom. This would be the “reality-as-simulation” theory. It was by repression of entry into the Matrix that the Matrix got us, goes the theory. Movement amidst abstract sign-systems. Neon re-imaginings of witch-burnings cut with similar blood sacrifices atop ancient Aztec temples. Knowledges are fed through the air in packets. Do I possess an ethics? Do one’s best? Stay formally attentive? Listen and learn, I tell myself, and you will know how to act. Trust intuition over reason. Seek the flows and go with them. Even when they lead to French onion soup and a cartoon scarecrow with corn growing out its chest. Go out on adventures, says an imaginary Australian life coach, gesturing with his hands as he speaks. Too bad my brain has been soldered to things, I shudder, as the hallucination comes to an end.