A lifeguard blows her whistle and shouts “Pool break!” Better that than a trumpet. Families return to their seats. Some pack their things and leave for lunch, never to be seen again. A boy-child trails behind one such family mewling a bit, shouting “I want pizza!” Others arrive thereafter and take their place. My dissertation reckoned with these and other visions of the future, from the utopian to the apocalyptic. “How do such visions fare,” asks the one to the other across time, “in light of the consciousness revolution, the Revolution of the Eternal Now? How many or how few present what Esalen psychologist William C. Schutz calls ‘thoughts and methods for attaining more joy’ (Schutz, Joy, p. 10)? Must the Eternal Now be an eternal capitalist present, as per neoliberal ideology — as in books like The End of Ideology and The End of History? Or can we use the present to figure forth the Commune, beloved ones all living together in common, as per the slogan ‘Full Communism Now’?”
Frankie’s down for a nice nap after a morning at the pool. Sarah saw to matters related to the air unit — so I remove my feet from my socks and think. The narrative we write is important, yes? For narrative is the stuff of which cosmologies are made. World-pictures. Cognitive maps. The shape of the world is determined at the quantum level, much like Schrödinger’s Cat, by the struggle to determine the shape of the world-picture. Unless, of course, struggle and determination are not part of that picture. By “shape of the world” I mean the mutable present’s arrangement toward the imaginal realms we call “past” and “future.” Origin and telos. The present’s mode of appearance alters according to the previous night’s dreams, and the previous night’s dreams are shaped by memory and desire. Those who wish to steer the world toward Utopia take these latter as the prima materia of the great work. Kim Stanley Robinson, meanwhile, steers us back to work of a more literal sort. The climate crisis demands reorganization of labor. Certain chapters of Robinson’s 2020 novel The Ministry for the Future are written in the style of “notes,” “minutes” kept by an international working group: the Ministry, the book’s actant or protagonist. Work thus finds its way back even in our hours of leisure, as this is what we read when we read by the pool. The book itself is work; its utopia begins with a disaster, a heat wave that kills several million people in India. From this disaster come a pair of nova: the Ministry itself, of course, but also a direct-action group called the Children of Kali. This latter group intrigues me, given its alignment with the famous Hindu goddess of time, creation, destruction, and power. After the disaster, it is she who speaks to us: “I am a god and I am not a god. Either way, you are my creatures. I keep you alive” (13). Kali is the persona Robinson dons to give voice to Nature. Kali, with her long terrible tongue. Kali, with her necklace of severed heads. Several of the book’s experts prognosticate “civilization kaput” before century’s end (55). It’s all rather bleak: countless species facing extinction in the years ahead. Against the backdrop of that abyss, the book conjures its hyperstitial alternative future of geoengineering and rewilding.
Work occupied only a few of us-two’s hours back in time immemorial, in our cultures of origin. Following our confinement in settlements, these hours increased. To call the prior arrangement “primitive” (as do Marx and Engels with their use of the phrase “primitive communism”) is to do it a disservice. First and last are in no sense as easy to discern as was once supposed. There are temporalities other than the ones proposed by the West. There are “the expansive temporalities of Afro Diasporan people,” for instance, about which Moor Mother speaks on her new track “Zami.” “No more master’s clock,” she pronounces, while beside me sits Kim Stanley Robinson’s weighty new tome, The Ministry for the Future.
Kim Stanley Robinson has written far too many books of a similar nature to be of much interest to me here in 2021, I think to myself as I survey the many books of his that I’ve purchased and read these last twenty years. I read Red Mars in a graduate seminar in the first years of the new millennium. His Mars trilogy was the focus of the final chapter of my dissertation. Is there a way to salvage that older project? Could I write a preface introducing it as a document retrieved from a time capsule? The author-self writing in 2021 is “a person of the future” compared to the version of me who wrote the dissertation. I live amid the time about which he wrote, in a world other than the ones he and others imagined. And Robinson, meanwhile, has only grown in the time since more boosterish and grotesque in his optimism about science and technology. His commitment to “science fiction” leaves his imagination bereft of magic.
Secret history: like the one Greil Marcus tracks in Lipstick Traces. That’s what a friend sees me working toward in these trance-scripts. The “Gnostic” in me is drawn to the detective role entailed by such a tale: the “postmodern sleuth” who explores the maze of the contemporary, ever-skeptical of the machinations of the simulation, the Spectacle, the construct. The Gnostic responds to History with cosmic paranoia. History is a Text upon which one exercises an hermeneutic of suspicion. Or in the best versions of Gnosticism, as in the work of philosopher Ernst Bloch, an hermeneutic of hope, with dream or Imagination the absent Messiah deconcealing itself across time. The conservative philosopher Eric Voegelin warns that hope of this sort prompts a reckless utopianism, a desire to “immanentize the eschaton.” For a Christian like Voegelin, the eschaton is a day of judgment, whereas for the Gnostic, it’s the resurrection into joy and the dawn of a New Age. The Catholic trembles while the Gnostic revolts. I think of Allen Ginsberg on the back cover of his book Kaddish, asserting the “triumphancy of Self over the mind-illusion mechano-universe of un-feeling Time.” By “Self,” Ginsberg means the defenseless, open, original self we all share in common, not the mere individual of liberal ideology, the monad disaggregated from the whole. Time is revealed as mind-illusion as we conduct our secret history. Events share affinities and those affinities arrange themselves into stories. The best Gnostics are the ones who become bricoleurs.
We gather with colleagues on several occasions to celebrate completion of classes, abandonment not yet a fait accompli. There is a shared exhaustion that many of us bring to these events. This has, after all, been a long and difficult schoolyear. We’re fatigued by Zoom – but we all show up, knowing summer’s arrival is but a week away. Summer is time away from Zoom. Time ours again to cast amid the sea of the possible. Time for reading groups, and vinyl nights, and visits to Hades for drinks with friends.
The Unconscious talks across the divide. Through dreamwork it produces aspects of itself, events and encounters of each day “affected,” given to rise amid the lifeworld of the Ego, the Cogito, the “Subject.” Facets of the Akashic records surprise as they arise like flowers from the soil of routine. The process I’m describing is a bit like “hyperstition,” CCRU’s term for the way fictions make themselves real. (One could also liken it, though, to those acts of “time-walking” or “time-spinning” practiced by the creatures in the Deborah Harkness-inspired TV series A Discovery of Witches. Bodies of past selves inhabited by future minds.)
My eyes travel across spines of books, searching, seeking ways to proceed. Parenting, though, leaves little time to read. As Mark Fisher notes in Postcapitalist Desire, “In order to raise consciousness, you need time” (265). Time is the terrain of struggle. Time is what capitalists steal from those who labor. Stolen time equals stolen consciousness.
Time: an odd phenomenon in light of the way it communicates, deposits emblems, plays hide-and-seek with consciousness. “Let Your Dreams Set Sail” says one such emblem, printed on the wall above the bed in which I’ve slept of late. A box on the ground displays the Paramount logo, a mountain pointed toward an outer sphere, like a Bucky dome lined with stars. Outside the sphere pokes SpongeBob SquarePants: the Flammarion engraving rejoined or reversed.
SpongeBob disrupts the first sphere’s fourth wall, smiles at consciousness, injects among solemnity a spirit of mirth set free to roam the cosmos. He, too, partakes of the image’s directionality, the vertical ascent narrative involving spaceships: the thing toward which the parts of the emblem incline. Let us imagine among these ships of possibility that which is prophecied in the mythology of the Dog Star — black anti-slave ships, lines of flight like Marcus Garvey’s Black Star Line. Nathaniel Mackey fuses these symbolisms in his poem “Dogon Eclipse.” The poem ends “as if by then I’d / been thru / Hell / and back.” As if the “I” of the poem were Orpheus, the poet of ancient Greece, founder of the Orphic mysteries. Orphics revered Dionysus. He, too, is said to have descended into the underworld and to have returned. Through his poem, Mackey initiates those who read. So sayeth Michael S. Harper in his preface to Eroding Witness: “These poems are about prophecy and initiation.” Poems like “Dogon Eclipse” hint at mysteries; they transmit a secret knowledge. Other poems in the collection conjure loas from Voodoo and Vodou. Loas are the “mystères,” “the invisibles.” They act as intermediaries between worlds.
Can a text become a time machine, a weaver of strange loops? Where does free jazz fit in the machine’s equation, as Moor Mother says it must? Is the text composed through spontaneous play with others? Have we been living “atemporally,” as Bruce Sterling suggested? The form of these trance-scripts is both-and. One can scroll vertically through a stack of days. Or one can proceed rhizomatically, inputting keywords into a search of the site’s invisible index. Search for Willis Harman, for instance, and read about SRI and LSD. Harman was a square — an electrical engineer who, after getting turned on, turned on others. He became a pivotal figure in the human potential movement. He also coauthored a book with Wired affiliate Howard Rheingold called Higher Creativity: Liberating the Unconscious for Breakthrough Insights. Beware this talk of “liberation,” though. Harman’s research may have been CIA-funded. Something occurred there. Our time-traveling psychedelic detective needs to investigate SRI. If one wants to make it weird, sprinkle into the plot a secret order of time-traveling Hashishins — followers of Hassan i Sabbah. Have the detective find among his case files Michel Jeury’s Chronolysis and Daniel F. Galouye’s Simulacron-3.