Apparent Retrograde Motion: A Way Forward

José Esteban Muñoz finds a way forward through cruising: the gay subcultural practice of seeking sexual encounters in public places or online.

“I know little of my sexuality,” thinks the time traveler. “Catholicism got in there and fucked my shit up years ago – hence these sexless days and nights.”

Is that a thought to be made public or kept private? Fear not, dear readers. Have I any decency? Yes I do.

“Aspects of Love’s Body have been occulted, occluded, hidden from consciousness,” thinks the time traveler. “So, too, have years prior. Trance-scripts of years past have gone unpublished. They appear to me now as I sit here reading them like repressed memories manifesting as pages of old journals – and thus times to which I can journey. Hence the trance-scripts ahead.”

Friday July 2, 2021

Benedict Seymour’s Dead the Ends takes Chris Marker’s La Jetée as its Ur-text. Seymour’s film is a found-footage concoction, and thus incorporates much of the Marker film into itself. But Dead the Ends is also database art, as Seymour pairs these bits of La Jetée with their many echoes in subsequent time travel narratives (Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys, etc.). These works that Seymour reanimates in Dead the Ends all feature romance at their core: lovers seeking each other across time. The narrator of my story, meanwhile, feels growing within himself some similar romantic core. It is there “in the belly of this story,” as Leslie Marmon Silko says of her novel Ceremony. I trance-scribe these texts in the time-stream of the paralogy, but they are words received from another timeline, spoken by a shadow-self whose desires led him West. Or not spoken by the shadow-self, but in dialogue with it. Trance-scribing is not the same as channeling. The shadow-self wants to access the acid diaries of Merry Prankster Stewart Brand, founder of the Whole Earth Catalog. The shadow-self is headstrong — discontented — and then enlivened — reawakened — through an encounter with another. Whereas the paralogical self is a family man: loving father, loving husband. But grown weary from excessive self-silencing, and (given the nature of the karmic cycle) the expectation that he plod on and endure.

Wednesday June 30, 2021

Without yet knowing in advance the form of this narrative, or even whether it is to be a story or a novel, this thing, this experiment in living theater that we’ve method-acted our way into — let us nonetheless speculate as to what it might mean and how it might happen. At minimum, it means a shift in genre. This Work we’re trance-scribing would become a fiction, a fantasy: something other than the author’s lived reality. This despite being tied indexically to that reality through its temporal adjacency. The world contributes, the world participates in the coming-into-being, the trance-scription, of the text’s episodes. It is to the rhythm of the day that the text is sung. What happens is: I realize I’m already in the alternate timeline. The shift occurred with the paralogy of “Wednesday January 6, 2020.” Publish as is and we can continue to remain in this timeline, thinks our traveler. Edit the date and we enter a timeline that occurred otherwise. Or so I imagine as I sit with the idea, the realization unfolding slowly as I water the plants in our garden. “Otherwise how?” I wonder. “What would happen?” We couldn’t know in advance, could we? We would have to become part of the experiment, like seed in soil, attending to the unfolding of each day amid conditions of precarity and love. Yet this we’ve already done by gifting ourselves the paralogy. Swapping the zero with the one would be like looking a gift horse in the mouth.

So begins the tale. Sarah green-lights the production and confirms my thinking about how to proceed. I go live with the paralogy intact mid-afternoon, and encounter several immediate forms of resistance. A troll, for instance, posts a comment proposing that the work has “hit a new level of faggotry,” while someone I care to know better sings out into the void of social media Martha Wainwright’s “Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole.” On a more hopeful note, though, the room (acting collectively here as Greek chorus) replies by sounding the passing of Donald Rumsfeld. Have I succumbed to cruel optimism? Should I have proceeded to the “unknown unknown” of the one? Perhaps the Work moves toward personal and collective flourishing as the one and the many learn to live in fidelity with both love and desire.

Tuesday June 29, 2021

The time travel narrative presents itself as an opportunity waiting to be written. The narrator has been keeping an online blog: transcripts of daily or semi-daily marijuana trip reports. A lag has entered the cybernetic loop of life and text: the author has fallen behind in posting, publishing, beaming forward the message. He hasn’t stopped trance-scribing; he continues to write each day as he always has: longhand, in a series of notebooks. But analog jottings go digital a solstice apart from their occurrence. Thus it comes to happen that the author can edit or revise his account of January 6th. As he thumbs through the notebook and arrives to the day, he discovers a minor error, a curious slip of the pen. He’d dated the entry “Wednesday January 6, 2020“: a fictitious date. 2021 was at that point too fresh to have become a habit as a thing to write, causing the narrator to default unconsciously to the year prior.

Saturday February 6, 2021

Trance-script fed back to the cyber-subject becomes like Tom Phillips’s A Humument: heavily redacted. Synchronicities appear each day pointing ambiguously toward both hope and fear — reality a kind of “waking-dream” therapy. Selection of hopeful passages rather than fearful ones: that’s the task each round, each turn-based move, made easier when we remember that the latter are sweet nuthins. Lou sings it and the subject listens.

that

which

he

hid

reveal I

writes Phillips across his book’s frontispiece. Parquet Courts sings of being “in the chaos dimension / Trapped in a brutal invention.” We don’t want that, do we? So imagine it differently.

Saturday January 16, 2021

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.

Tuesday July 30, 2019

Neighborhood cats greet me as I pull up in front of my home upon my return from Des Moines. We exchange hellos, after which point the cats go back to lounging on their sides. Settling onto a couch, bags only partly unpacked, I begin to think again about these trance-scripts. The best I can say about their origins and effects, I tell myself, is that through them I seem to be speaking to myself across time. And yet, in saying that, I find myself immediately wanting to add, I don’t just mean I write so as to be read by myself in the future. That much is obvious. What I mean, rather, is that some future version of myself is the one seeding these trance-scripts, communicating backwards, bootstrapping itself into being. I grant the paradoxical, seemingly impossible nature of that claim — but paradox or not, it remains to my mind the hypothesis that comes nearest to truth, and that thus best approximates my condition.

Thursday February 22, 2018

I wonder sometimes about the ongoingness of declared feeling that results from the ritual nature of these trance-scripts. According to Thee Psychick Bible, though, ritual is “the concrete expression of experience…the foundation of awareness.” Ritual is the only way to approach the ideal of a complete and coherent cognitive map of experience. But do we need such a map? For what purpose? I consider abandoning communication altogether after skimming Henry Flynt’s execrable essay “The Psychedelic State.” Are proponents of “Ordinary Language” or “Natural Language” philosophy always as arrogant and as petulant as Flynt? Author, you are no proper author. Time relays itself into an ontological structure shaped like a cantilevered staircase. Weed-huffing is a healthy, low energy way of moving between floors. One is lifted. Consciousness spins itself off into spontaneously assembled wisps of trance-script, a consequence of subject-object entanglement.

Saturday November 4, 2017

The impenetrable landscape: action verbs! action verbs! “It is distinctly possible,” warns Joan Didion, “to stay too long at the fair.” Thought is the sequential computation of meaning. The only order I can conjure is the order of the random — trust is how I comport myself. Intuitive being. The media tell us bad people exist, thus pitting the people who do exist against one another. Take all parties of others and re-imagine them as condensed, coiled prose poised to strike. So different from the world-picture as it appeared even just one year ago. Back then, angels used to sing to me when I smoked. By “angels,” I mean (as Blake did) “facets of psyche.” Yesterday didn’t really begin for me until I arrived home near day’s end. The rest of it a teeth-grinding blur, but for a student introducing me to Wayne Koestenbaum’s The Pink Trance Notebooks. How I managed to escape knowledge of this book prior to yesterday, I have no idea. Reading a brief summary, I realize it sounds like it grew out of a process similar to the one informing these trance-scripts. And I have an opportunity, if I want, to join Wayne for dinner sometime next week. What is this power that works through me, joining together and fating into collision right things? After yesterday’s dinner (more ramen!), a Dungeon Master friend invited us over for some tabletop play. D&D night: it is you, a voice says, but you are not it. High luck grants a bonus in particular situations. When you burn your luck, though, kick-ass karma. Are we able to understand the puzzle? Random number Jesus.

Monday August 7, 2017

I need to design some new courses. What are some topics worth teaching that won’t make me want to blow my brains out? “Literature and the Practice of Everyday Life,” with generous helpings of Thoreau and the Situationists; maybe a sprinkling of documents from the New Games movement of the 1970s? For New Gamers like Andrew Fluegelman, Pat Farrington, and others, writes historian Fred Turner, “to play New Games meant to imagine and perhaps to create a new social order. […]. The arrangement of players and observers on the field, the construction of rules (or the lack of them), the deployment of technologies and techniques in and around the space defined for play — for the New Gamers, to rearrange these elements was to rearrange the structure of society itself.” The course could be titled “Games People Play: Literatures and Practices of Everyday Life.” Of course, if I actually tried to teach this, students would probably stage a mutiny. And so it will remain but a dream. Best to just keep teaching courses on Utopianism, music, and drugs. This is the world as it appears imaginatively to a still firmly embodied consciousness, not just to some Google Street View camera parked across from one’s address. But then, the “outlaw” quality is part of this lifestyle’s appeal. The writer is bumping up against real internal and external censors and is plotting and practicing transgression. The idea is that one could open doors in consciousness so that others could follow, accreting pleasure-seekers like iron flakes to a magnet. Each day’s entry is becoming more and more like pulling back a string and releasing it, firing off the daily arrow. Should the project of collective self-realization feel like Zen in the Art of Archery? If I were to pursue a thought experiment whereby I answered in the affirmative, then it would follow that the trance-script is realized only when, “completely empty and rid of the self,” I become one with the perfecting of my technical skill along a trajectory that appears asymptotic. D.T. Suzuki’s comment in his introduction to Herrigel’s book would serve for me as a proper model for Marxism’s future as a practice of everyday life. “While it never goes out of our daily life,” he wrote, “yet with all its practicalness and concreteness Zen has something in it which makes it stand aloof from the scene of worldly sordidness and restlessness.” Marxism should be an “everyday mind” fired into every direction and every field of activity. To become childlike Utopians again, we must train in the “art of self-forgetfulness.” Imagine it as a slow but deliberate collapse of the self out of capitalist reality, one’s robes falling to the floor as Ben Kenobi’s did in Star Wars. Our thinking, freed via mind-expansion from the prison of capitalist realism, unfolds “like the showers coming down from the sky” and “like the waves rolling on the ocean,” even indeed “like the stars illuminating the nightly heavens.” The picture we will paint with our lives — once redeemed through the psychedelic sacrament — is called “History.” Let me try to rephrase all of that: I am trying to give account of why my attempt to live in fidelity to my Utopianism has led me to a writing practice infused with weed and Zen. I am at all times trying to figure out what it means to live well, as a Marxist, in a society that denies that possibility. To me, an urgent task of our time is to remind alienated productivists of the passion and joy of unproductive play. E.P. Thompson saw in Utopian writing of the past a way to teach others “to desire better, to desire more, and above all to desire in a different way” (William Morris, p. 791). But to know how to educate in this way, I would add, today’s Utopians must find a way, against all odds, to practice what they preach.