Here I am once again reading Allen Ginsberg’s “A Supermarket in California,” a poem I’ve been reading for most of my adulthood. Today, though, is the first time I see the supermarket through which the poet wanders as both sacred and profane: a supermarket of neon and concrete, certainly, but also a supermarket of the spirit. Ginsberg wanders amid Whitman’s “enumerations” and “penumbras,” the catalogued universe of American consumerism — but he dwells there with his ancestors, in an afterlife like the one imagined by the ancient Greeks. Whitman is addressed and invoked throughout the poem. Ginsberg questions him as if Whitman were an American Virgil leading Ginsberg through the inferno of the American Century. The poem travels from the bright light of the new postwar supermarket to a lonely American night. The Spanish poet Federico García Lorca shops here, too, apparently. Ginsberg wonders what Lorca was doing there “down by the watermelons.” Lorca was executed by fascists during the Spanish Civil War. Ginsberg follows these figures, though he also imagines in a somewhat paranoid manner that he himself is being followed or trailed by “the store detective,” as if the poet were a character in one of the era’s films noir. All of this thinking occurs on the night of a full moon. It’s a “weird” poem, is it not? Weird as in the way Erik Davis uses the term in his book High Weirdness. The supermarket is as much in Hades as it is in California. I read it now while tending a small fire in a fire-pit in my backyard. Whitman seems dismayed by the country’s development in the half-century since his passing. The “lonely old grubber,” who always said he was immortal, appears in the poem eyeing and questioning the grocery boys. “Who killed the pork chops?” he asks. “What price bananas? Are you my Angel?” The questions suggest confusion, suspicion, bewilderment, and indignation. Why do we find ourselves in this world, he seems to be asking, rather than “the lost America of love,” the one we dream? Why, though, does the poem end beside the waters of Lethe? Perhaps that is where the poet locates America spiritually and psychogeographically.
Reading High Weirdness is a bit like reading Dante’s Inferno. Davis performs admirably as the book’s Virgil, poking around amid radioactive embers while touring readers through the literary remains of various occult ground zeroes and psychedelic Superfund sites of the 1970s. Like the weird fictions it analyzes, the book activates one’s internal Geiger counter. Readers are warned at the outset to proceed with caution — and rightly so, as what follows provides cause for both awe and dread. I can think of no other book that resonates so readily with the opportunities and perplexities of our moment.
My wish is to write something that blurs the lines between fantasy and reality, a story that re-enchants everyday life, sending readers out on weird walks through landscapes rich with clues. Let there be a well in one of these landscapes — or even just a spigot. Let there be precious stones and warp zones and portals to other worlds.
Foreknowledge enabled by weed weirds me out, burns me bad as I hear a metaphor I trance-scribed Sunday night, one I thought my inner voice invented, echoed the following evening in an episode of Atlanta. Perhaps the voice that speaks to me is merely a friendly neighborhood Poltergeist. The unconscious behaves uncannily. I find it helpful in such situations to think on my feet. I discover a profound moral fear stimulated by love of another. I am awestruck by its power. The belief in the concept of the “unconscious wish” is a terrible responsibility to bear, because the moment the unconscious spends time around pain, it evolves intricate panics, fearful blind alleyways of thought. But the desire to remain centered as a person also awakens in this moment — the moment one encounters paranoia. The bad trip is to be shown one’s greatest fear, and it inevitably leads toward panic. Reason takes over in this instant. One feels an intense need to search for it, to posit it. Find it in oneself: the experience of self-confidence and self-love — and through these, the capacity to love others. I need to be able to trust myself. Ride this out and we will go back to normal. Between guns and roses, I say to myself, I choose roses. Between “Welcome to the Jungle” and “Paradise City,” I choose “Paradise City.” Better yet, I choose the goddess in the garden.
What are the main differences in terms of form or orientation that distinguish the psychedelic from the weird? Both refer to anomalous modes of experience—but the psychedelic is the more utopian of the two sensibilities, is it not? Let us pursue this as our working hypothesis. Where the weird ruptures the circular selfsameness of consensus reality in a way that generates, as Erik Davis says, “a highly ambivalent blend of wonder and horror,” the psychedelic skews instead toward a more fully joyous cosmology, one that allows for ecstatic realization in the unconcealed immediacy of the here and now of what others might call the utopian, the eudaimonic, and the sacred. Speaking of which: The universe tosses me multiple 23s as Sarah and I drive with a friend of ours to visit an iris farm. So many varieties: Shaman, Catalyst, Closed Circuit, Lime Fizz, Desert Thistle. Petals hang in the sun, fluttering gently in the breeze. Before leaving, I’m drawn to a final flower. “Hidden Message,” reads the placard on the ground beside it. “How appropriate a name,” I think to myself, despite a certain skepticism, a reluctance to trust the world’s signage, not least because of a painful self-consciousness regarding the partiality, the incompleteness, and thus the potential incorrectness, of my conceptual inheritance. “By what means might we seek to inquire? And if hidden, by whom?”