The bullies are in charge. That is the principle fact of my world. The semester began on a somber note yesterday in an upper-floor classroom looking out on a gray sky. Through an epigraph by Günther Anders, I led students into a conversation about the war on the utopian imagination. We discussed cynicism as a defensive shell that subjects of capitalist realism raise around themselves, an emotional armor borne of disappointment. Staring at an image of myself on my computer screen in the moments before the start of a WebX interview, I uttered words of encouragement, imagining my attempt to improve my life as a tribute of sorts to Daphne. She would have wanted me to do this, I told myself. Remembering an image of the dog’s pained final hours, though, made me wince. Let us ascend by discarding our bearings. Tell stories of dolphins leaping from crystal seas. Monkeys arrive, as if their being were a plot device introduced to startle the narrative. One tries to re-imagine primate consciousness. Body as rage machine, apprehending the world through a fish-eyed lens. Mind not yet bound by words. Whereas now, we cower, listening as choppers cut lines through space.
Prayer will take us there. We might as well call it that, this act of turning inward, even if there aren’t any mantras involved or words addressed to a higher power. Much of my learning occurs these days through concentration on letting the mind go where it may. I hang back a bit and wait to see what stirs. Hands meet with fingers and thumbs arranged to form a triangle. I hold up to my eyes an inverted, upward-pointed Merkel-Raute or Triangle of Power, tolerating it the right to expand slowly across my field of vision, the gesture crossing outward beyond my peripherals. No more aristocracy of moneyed corporations, I declare to potential comrades. But few heed the call. They look at me askance, shake their heads reprovingly, and return to their sullen pursuit of property, most of them declaring themselves for business, without ever having been taught how else one can be. The Real is that which one feels deeply in one’s mind. Let’s do it, sings the chorus. Now is the time for love. The world has never felt itself so much a totality as it does today — so let us raise glasses instead to the visions in our minds. Let us imagine for one another how else the world may be. We have become more or less completely, more or less obviously, more or less miserably, the dependents of capital — so let us change that. Wildlife, like wildfires, rise up and appropriate thy appropriators! Humanity’s running down the clock, one way of being having come to dominate all the rest. And there’s no longer any imagined purpose to any of it. One is tempted to wish for some chance intervention, some upwelling of otherness. Cast over the soul a luminous spell, craft for it a key that opens doors onto possible worlds. Passion destines its victim, writes de Rougemont, “to contest with every breath everything that officially regulates social life” (73). Weed grants me such a passion; it fills me with words and metaphors, interlacing symbols through which to enunciate a mind in its refusal to adhere to the as-is.
At night, jigsaw puzzles. The doors have been blown off their hinges, the world behind this world revealed in the process of setting the next part of this one into place. Imagine two selves: the planner and the performer. Smoke clouds emerge from our lips. A ball rolls across a wooden floor and my eyes observe bodies burned in the BBC’s retelling of the Gunpowder Plot, this latter formed into images of middle-aged male heads of competing households marching into one another’s rooms and antechambers and exchanging taunts and threats. I hardly recognize history in this meaningless quarreling, this bargaining and scheming, men standing around in elaborate period costume. History is a story of warring families acting their parts in scripted sword-fights. Men go around bullying, torturing, and murdering one another on behalf of ancient, petty, angel-on-pinhead, political-theological grievances. The night confronts me as a blank screen; as opposed to those men of yore, I can do with my nights (though not my days) as I please. I sit on a sunny hill and play a harmonica, gazing downward at the world below. Before I can help it, though, my gaze trades itself for something dazed, stoned, sleepy. I wish instead to imagine communities of mutual care, self-organized into improvised, voluntary, no-rules-but-the-ones-you-and-I-here-and-now-invent-for-ourselves, service-trading commune-congregation-encounter-groups. Behavior in this wished-for place is like that of radical theater troupes of the late 1960s: tentative, experimental, invented on the fly, in absence of any cause for enmity, competition, or hostility. Subjects of such polities get high and love one another. Unless, of course, will to power is not mere arbitrary imposition but rather an inner imperative. ‘Tis a wager we make; but better to make it and fail than to wonder what might have been.
Gnostic beasts blow smoke in my face. They draw their fangs and whisper in my ear. I posit the existence both of a subliminal language and of those who speak it. I know not, however, this subliminal messenger-class’s intent. “What art thou,” I ask blindly, “friend or foe?” Friends and I must try to make the Commune into the outcome of history’s likely progression. Put utopia back on the map. Marxism needs to stop its “museum roaring with crowd of sober patrons” act. The grain of sand must become the pearl. No more molding of behavior to accord with the words of the patriarch. Dress instead to celebrate life. Become like the wild animals who, even as we converse, continue to roam the countryside. The change from good to brutish happens, though, in every child, warns Wilhelm Reich. It is here and now, in one’s inner grace, that one attains one’s godhood. No more entrapment of consciousness in identification with the as-is. Go instead for weed-supplemented walks with friends. Pass a grey-and-white cat nesting in a batch of monkey-grass. When friends and I stomp through a park amid the murky air of a purple and orange dusk, a cacophony of chirping bird-speak erupts from an evergreen, and squirrels root around in dead leaves at the base of tall, bare shadow-trees. A friend recommends I read Argentinian author Samanta Schweblin’s new novel Fever Dream. I direct my head toward knowledge acquisition, but nothing happens — the system’s fried. All I can picture are skies filled with slaughterbots. Autonomous drones. Makes no difference whether we’re ‘tiny house’-owning minimalists or OCD hoarders. They’ll declare open season on all of us. Tech will empower authoritarian capitalism to precision-strike its foes.
I have trouble imagining, both at present and in hindsight, the views of me held by others. Friends, students, coworkers. My students seem quite impressed, though, when I confess to them my involvement in Occupy. I’m like a metal dreadnought. Either that, or I’m a figure aboard one, ready to mutiny ship and go pirate. I think they respect that. Teachers must also be persons of action. Persons who rediscover a center for themselves in their bodies by listening to Charles Lloyd’s Nirvana.
Of course, work can also be an enjoyable lot, as when I sweep pale autumn leaves from a back deck on a windy weekend afternoon. Nature writers are great ponderers of the seasons. Their journeys inward keep kin with Thoreau. My utopia is like their utopia, except mine includes machines in its gardens. The computer-mind amidst earth and sky, enjoying colors, lights, and sounds. I prefer a nature that remains simple in its speech. After all, who needs countrymen when so many are mere appendages of the State? AI-controlled NPCs. “A man is rich,” wrote Thoreau, “in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.” The books I assign students ought to be imagined as gifts. “Congratulations, students. Today I give unto you Walden. Thou shalt remember it as a momentous occasion. This book will become part of the vocabulary by which you think.” Is it proper to draw a distinction between animal-persons and spirit-persons? The dachshund on its leash and its master? I think not. I think there are insides to the reality of both. Yet I sometimes think the same of all things. Leaves blow up and down the street as if Nature were setting them into position for a new drama. I listen for voices, eyelids weighed down. The scene before me so peaceful, you would think it a picture. A tree of paradise, hung on the line of a high-tech hippie commune. When I try to pin my bow to a location in reality on which to unfold this dream, however, my lack of real estate sinks my ship. Landscapes have to be believed in order to be seen. Politics begins the moment there are disputes over land.
All of us contain within ourselves fragmentary shadow selves. Drink it up, knock it back. If illustrations of butterflies are not your thing, turn instead to Search For the Vanished Heaven, an at-times-morose, at-times-pagan 2016 triple cassette by Irish multi-instrumentalist David Colohan, performing under the alias Raising Holy Sparks.
The plague, the Black Death: perhaps some future version of our side went back in time somewhere ‘Carmen Sandiego’-style and planted it. As of this moment, the Capitalist State has already broadcast two failed reality TV shows where participants are tasked with building a new society: Utopia, which FOX pulled from the air in 2014, and Eden, which ran for nine episodes last year on Britain’s Channel 4. Of course they failed, right? How else would such texts arrive at a sense of closure? All the same, though: are there lessons of a more productive sort we might draw from these ventures, like “hey comrades, don’t entrust television production companies with the power to select the members of your intentional community”? Of course, this assumes that we have some choice in the matter, which we don’t. Regardless of my views about utopianism, for instance, I’m still stuck showing up to my classes on Labor Day and having to perform for shitbag conservatives who slouch in their chairs at the back of the class and sneer, “Beggars can’t be choosers.” I squeeze below the bridge of my nose in an I attempt to relieve some pressure. Life of a wage slave. We must despise and resist all enslavements. “The Reagan Show!” announces my cellphone, as if to troll me: “A CNN Film, Tonight, 9PM Eastern.” And elsewhere, like a little bee in my ear, dueling AI predictions tossed between Elon Musk and Vladimir Putin via Twitter. Words don’t do justice. They’re distractions. The two figureheads of large entities are just drumming up attention to attract investors for competing ventures. Capitalism is thy name, thy will be done. What a fucking shitshow. My partner and I, meanwhile, sighing and groaning. All we do is work, as our bodies decline and falter. The cars beneath the screen at the drive-in look like carefully stacked rows of coffins. Oh shit — PHINERY just dropped some cassette-tape craziness. Jesse Sparhawk’s What Winter Was?
Hit that. Get on that pronto. Lever harp is a great instrument, I say determinedly, as if wanting to give a fist bump, or some similar symbol of approval, before soaring clean out of sight.
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.