Sarah and I rode up to Camden Town last night to see Soweto Kinch perform one of my favorite albums, Pharaoh Sanders’s Karma, at the Jazz Cafe, in honor of the album’s fiftieth anniversary. It was a stunning night, the music heady enough to generate “eyeball movies” all on its own — eidetic glyphs and pulsing pyramids — without need of any chemical assistance. Yet the show’s good vibes didn’t last long. I slept poorly throughout the night, waking several times from panic-filled dreams, one involving an angry giant pushing a cabin off its foundations, causing the structure to tumble down a ravine. Within a few hours of this dream, Facebook announced its plan to launch a new global currency called Libra. In the hours of the morning before the key fit the lock, however, I wandered out by bus and by train into the suburbs of South London to view an exhibition called “Brilliant Visions: Mescaline, Art, Psychiatry” at Bethlem Museum of Mind.
Strolling through Hampstead Heath wondering about the differences between heaths and moors (my knowledge of the latter drawn largely from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s descriptions of them in the third of his Sherlock Holmes novels, The Hound of the Baskervilles), I observe dogs and magpies exploring hills of grass and gorse. A raven issues two sharp calls from a branch above the path. From there it’s just a short walk to Highgate Cemetery and the Tomb of Karl Marx, where I place a small stone worn smooth by time atop the headstone as a kind of offering. The Social Darwinist philosopher Herbert Spencer, who coined the phrase “survival of the fittest,” lies buried just a few feet away from Marx, the two thinkers locked in permanent struggle on the far side of the River Lethe. But no one treks hundreds of miles to leave flowers and light votive candles in honor of shitbags like Spencer. Anticommunists may have dubbed Marx “the God that Failed” during the early days of the Cold War, but like the spectre invoked in the opening lines of The Communist Manifesto, Marx remains an active presence here in the 21st century — a patron saint of the planet’s dispossessed and prophet of the world to come.
Street art adorns every available surface along London’s Brick Lane — tags, murals, stickers, posters, the works. Uniformed schoolchildren file past, their tour guide pointing out to them where the master weavers used to live. Rounding the corner onto Sclater Street, I stroll over to a bar and grab a seat under an awning on the sidewalk. A courier rides by on a bicycle as I sip my lager. What am I to do with these interests of mine? Marxist philosophers, Decadent poets, psychonauts, occultists, members of the New Weird Britain: do any of these figures matter anymore, or has the hour of the counterculture’s final passing come round at last? The success of Strange Attractor Press suggests that there’s still a readership for this material. Let us persist, then, in our faith that these forces can reactivate and work their magic in the years ahead.
A sunny late-afternoon walk along Regent’s Canal observing houseboats and seagulls reawakens a memory of the previous night’s dream: I’ve inherited a boat shaped like a VW Beetle, only the docking point for the boat lies just prior to a small waterfall, causing me to fret about my inability to locate the nautical equivalent of a parking brake. (In the dream, this object that I’m searching for and that fails to materialize is very clearly understood to be a parking brake rather than, say, an anchor.) Yet as I pause to write out this recollection, an owner of a narrowboat — a young dude with Dr. Martens, a thin mustache, sunglasses, and a radio playing Elvis and Hendrix — pulls up beside me and I lend him a hand manipulating the gate of a locks system to help him lower his boat into the lengths ahead. From this, I deduce a provisional ontological scheme or order featuring pairs of successive “stages” or “levels”: the first involving anxiety as preemptive, unconsciously manufactured fantasy-construct, the second involving an overcoming of this fantasy-construct through intuitive acts that instigate learning and growth.
To celebrate J.’s birthday, the three of us board the tube to Kew Gardens. Due to an unexpected station closure at our place of transfer, however, we’re diverted onto an overpacked bus, an old man in the seat by the door loudly berating the driver in Jamaican Patois. “Dis be terrorism,” he complains, pleading with the driver to deny access to further passengers. “Please no let no more people on dis bus.” Upon our arrival at Kew, we promptly run into J.’s friend, the writer Bhanu Kapil — a remarkable synchronicity, we all acknowledge, given that we also crossed paths with Bhanu yesterday at the ICA. In both cases, we had no foreknowledge of each others’ plans. “What does it mean?” we wonder, particularly since Bhanu is here in town to hold a seance a few days from now wherein she’ll be using the Shining Tribe Tarot, an art deck given to her by Rachel Pollack. Bidding leave of her until next time, my companions and I journey out amid Crystal Palace greenhouses, a treetop walkway, a Victorian herbarium, a Japanese pagoda, a pseudo-Roman “folly.” These gardens form a kind of totalizing floral architecture, I think to myself. A literalization of the fruits of empire.
Breakfast at a café near the Farringdon Station, an egg sandwich with fatty bacon and cheese on a panini. Trudging through Jason Louv’s deeply uneven John Dee and the Empire of Angels, I find myself wondering whether Enochian magic isn’t just a viper’s nest full of power-tripping Christofascists. Before I become too entrenched in this opinion, though, my flatmates intervene, commandeering my person for a group trip to the Kathy Acker exhibition at the ICA.
Seagulls trace a figure eight as I stare out the windows of my flat on an overcast evening, a janitor running a mop across the floor of an office across the way. Living amid these upper levels takes some getting used to, so I pop in some earbuds and wander about. Deterred by rain, I board a bus, destination unknown. Headlights catch on rain-spattered panes of glass.