My countrymen turn to one another. “Is this the apocalypse?” they ask. “I thought it would be a bit louder.” They see the world entranced, fragmentary mirror images morphing and quivering as in a kaleidoscope. Observation of beautiful forms. Symmetry is a special kind of doubling. The repetition begins at an imaginary center point. “Somehow it’s all connected,” we tell ourselves. We just don’t know how. We need keys to unlock other parts of the game-board. Study maps, search for Ariadne’s thread. Do we wish to escape our prison, or do we wish to know ourselves to be bound to a plan, our every step designed? All I know is, 4:20 comes around and it’s like I’ve leapt levels. The mind-world is mine to do with as I please, or so it seems, the object-world confronting me but for money like a floor laid out with puzzle pieces and Legos, or like a playroom, an amusement park from my youth. Or better yet: a forest or a beach or a library. As part of me rejoices, however, another part of weeps, for the world melts and drips. I take action upon reading Denise Levertov’s “The Unknown.” “The preparations,” she writes, “are an order one may rest in. / But one doesn’t want to rest, one wants miracles.” So out I go for a walk. Some part of me announces, “Any politics that has recourse to Law is of no interest to me.” I gasp for breath at times, the pressure of my workload crushing me. I feel better about being alive, though, upon watching the 11-minute Oscar-nominated trailer for a new videogame called Everything.
Players toy with object-oriented ontology, a mix of identification and detachment as one directs one’s focus among multiple scales of being. I feel it may be time for me to learn about the game’s creator, David O’Reilly. We have arrived at the precipice of a new teaching, now that we’ve devised a way to think it: the Interactive Nature Simulation. Philosophy’s new frontier.
I sometimes pray silently to the equivalent of a program, a ghost in the machine, in hopes that it will take pity on me by unlocking invisible doors onto other quadrants of the game-board. And it does, language leading me to Ian Bogost’s “The Metaphysics Videogame.” Finally — a theorist of videogame ontology. Weed is a kind of rhetoric that delivers its arguments not with words or images or programs but through chemical reprogramming of neurons. It alters perception so as to dodge any system the General Intellect might try to impose onto Being. I wish to operate free of rules devised by others. This is why I’m writing and blogging. Games too often feel to me like a distraction from whatever aspect of Nature is described in terms like grounded, earthy, and wild. My fellow Marxists don’t take the Romanticist theory of Nature as seriously as they ought to. Even if just for the sake of personality and mental health. I like sunlight. I like sitting outdoors. Dr. Andrew Weil takes me on a “sonic journey to where healing happens.” Profound states of relaxation lead listeners down into a realm Weil calls “the Deep.” Of course, it’s all just schmaltzy classical music. A total betrayal of psychedelia’s revolutionary beginnings, the latter co-opted and, in true bait-and-switch fashion, replaced with something tacky and false. I want videogame theorists who, rather than trying to sell me on games, are instead able to help me better understand how videogames have influenced the way I think. The warring halves in me cause my ego formation to vacillate back and forth between an outdoor nature associated with public pools and summer camps, and an indoor nature associated with comic books, paperbacks, and videogames (but also movie theaters, roller rinks, and malls). Against both of these natures stood the culturally imposed tedium known as “school.” That boredom I experienced in classrooms as a kid makes me deeply cynical about my profession. If corporations weren’t the ones funding it and shaping the content, I would happily watch Viceland’s “The New Classroom” and say, “Yes, we should all integrate VR technology into our classrooms.” But really I’m more of a back-to-the-lander. I like to sit in the woods and read books.
Beyond the edges of the game-space runs a single, circular backdrop, a projection. I no longer have access to the polis, I think to myself, the space where the coding occurs. My only access points are ideology and everyday life. The rest of it lies beyond the game-space: visible, but inaccessible, and thus, for all intents and purposes, immutable. I dread most nights having to wake up the next day and work. I despise that capitalist society compels me to dispense by its means my daily labor-power. That shit ought to be mine to hoard or spend as I wish. Each of us should be free to act in accordance with whatever chemicals we wish to add to humanity’s neuro-cultural evolution. The hero has no parents and has to invent through testing an identity in relation to the ever-reloading, ever-renewing game-world. Others, in their mere being, pose for us the question: “Which rules shall we let be of consequence?” What keeps us from devolving into mere rage monsters? Predators who reduce others to roles as props or prey. Games reveal the limits they impose on being only through their play. And since we can only ever be within games, these limits can only ever appear for us as neither necessary nor contingent but both-and. I’m bitter. I don’t like this game! I seek everywhere for some way to rebel. How do we convince our fellow players to grant us freedom to think, while they bend, lift, haul dirt? What is “consciousness,” when those are one’s conditions? Rapt attentiveness to objects and material processes. Rules learned, tasks assigned, one does as one’s told. To reverse this, one would have to step out of character — the ultimate risk — and convince others, in a church-forming act of assembly, to do the same.
Broadenings are sometimes later discovered to have been narrowings. Linguistic parts dropped off in transit. On certain nights, I hear it better than on others. Liquid goes down a wrong pipe, so I drink some water to clear my throat. At length, I feel awakened. The automatic self accepts its demotion to a mere infernal device running its engine out back in the garage. Words will not go wanting after that one, though it’s so hard to shake the sense that there are right and wrong ways to write. I pause and scrutinize too often. I lock myself in a spartan linguistic universe. I wish I could see — and not just see but enter — the landscapes depicted in the Kay Sage painting, “I Saw Three Cities.”
Daily life is too often that from which I want to wake. Become the Godhead; cross beyond the Proscenium Arch. I’m kind of liking this website Melt: “an archive of esoteric and contemporary culture.” But then I realize it contains dead links; the content I request is unavailable. In his final, four-part video “Parallel I-IV,” Harun Farocki narrates the invention of the first houses and trees within virtual reality.
The virtual, I think to myself, has always existed alongside the actual as a component of Being. Social constructs always borrow from both — and yet, the entire mode of representation also evolves in leaps across changing material platforms. “Water in motion made from dashes and dots.” In general, though, when it comes to digital imaging, I suppose I prefer symbolic forms rather than filmic realism. Those of us hunting for the apex predator of contemporary psychedelia need look no further than Nmesh’s Pharma
, a 42-track double-cassette monolith released earlier this year on Orange Milk Records.
Imagine a sped-up maximalist vaporwave version of DJ Spooky’s Songs of a Dead Dreamer. Midway through, a voice intrudes, echoing forth through the void, the planetless space, to ask, “Does the world exist if I’m not watching it?” It appears out of emptiness, and to emptiness it returns. Is the world generated by the gaze that falls upon it? These are all names for the virtual creations of an alien-human Other. Who are we in relation to this Other-projection? A storybook made of videogame parts. Is that how the pre-Hellenics viewed the world? Games haven’t just become more realistic — they’ve also become more abstract, overlaid with graphs and maps and floating perspectives. Farocki’s Parallel videos reveal piece by piece an entire metaphysics of virtual worlds. “Google that shit, homes,” I tell myself, whispering inwardly for the self below.
Go deep into consciousness-diminished-to-swirling-mandala-made-of-mealworms trance-state with Healing Sounds by Dr. Christopher Hills & the University of the Trees Choir.
(Check out the Wikipedia page for Hills, by the way: sailor, commodities trader, Rastafarian, mystic, natural foods advocate. Quite a character!) I use cassettes like that to recharge myself after a grueling day at work. “The more you attempt to contain consciousness,” Hills argued, “the more you limit yourself.” As the universe, so on earth. All becomes clear and simple. What do games like DOOM do to consciousness? Heads link up and react upon the same virtual world. A technologically assisted version of what “indigo children” claim to do unaided. Am I a producer of ADHD prose? They try to medicate those of us who think differently than the majority. On days when I’m free from work, I sometimes cut out mid-afternoon and play Thymme Jones, a new tape on Unifactor by Luminous “Diamond Ben” Kudler.
Precision-made videogame tones soundtrack imaginary force-beams, fires, and explosions; also, occasional jump-sounds. Afterwards I contemplate the tape’s capacity to foster psychological projection into sonic avatars. Before listening, I too often and without thinking tended to limit my conceptualization of avatars to two kinds: objects encountered IRL, and icons seen onscreen. I had forgotten that sound, too, forms a distinct third kind. Scores can be entered into through performance by players. This entering into and drifting amidst is not unlike use of a park. As for instance, last night: talk of autopsy tables at the kudzu park. Kudzu forests, kudzu valleys. A friend recommended Tales from Moominvalley and Moominvalley in November, two books by Finnish author Tove Jansson. Our shadows extended upward over the path ahead of us as we ascended the side of the quarry. I am the world’s head browser and chief ontologist. Let me take for a ride an imaginary Airstream, while the monster who heads my country threatens to “totally destroy” whole nations. The Hell’s Angel now drives a truck.
In today’s episode, language blows about the room, the latter’s surfaces pulsing, oscillations occurring in rapid unit time intervals. Nothing works anymore; media bubbles have us quarantined. The ungraspable totality leaves us lost by the river, our hours stolen away from us, leaving us little time to think. Consciousness drops anchor, sinks part of itself down into objects. I’m also trying desperately not to get sucked back into another asceticism. Object-worlds: can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em. (Thanks, folks, I’ll be here all night.) Friends throw shade, say “Take a look at yourself.” None of this happens: I’m just making it up in my head. Isn’t that sometimes a fantasy of ours? The DIY primitivist aesthetic. By Season Four, the characters on Halt and Catch Fire have become the early 90s Silicon Valley types hallucinated into being via Wired magazine. One of these days, I’ll get around to writing something about videogames and their relationship to the psychedelic aesthetic. Osamu Sato’s LSD: Dream Emulator will certainly figure prominently, as will Fernando Ramallo’s Panoramical.
Dig out the hidden, suppressed history. That’s one thing I really enjoy about Halt and Catch Fire
: its historical revisionism. Capitalist education system structured like a pinball table, locking subjects into a downward plummet. I made bad choices, poor decisions. My body failed to comply with my aspirations, and there was no one there to correct me. There is a fundamental tension, Sarah declares, late in the evening and by this point well in her cups, between parental responsibility and truth. No matter how fucked up things are, she says, people have a sensibility that if they tell that truth to their child, they are not a good parent. Your parental responsibility is to give your child a sense that the world is improving, following an upward trajectory. Do you rear a child to think the future is fucked? How do you do both? That’s most people’s only way of imagining they can change the world. When in fact, it’s the way you perpetuate it. We would all be far more radical if we believed
and thus lived
our lack of a future. “Be like Foucault
,” I reply: “Drop acid while camping in Death Valley.”
Mushrooms tolerate me — exert a strange power over me, even — as I bend the knee to pet them. A couple around the corner have a painting hung upside-down in their living room of an Edenic or maybe immediately post-Edenic Adam and Eve, the two figures clutching one another, bodies pale and unclothed. And the co-signer, the Ectoplasmic Lending Center: what about its contribution? These are the kinds of conversations I have with myself, given the magical thinking of my upbringing. “On the charted route,” my friend says, “you usually miss all the cool funguses.” It happened thus: I walked right into them. They announced themselves. My escort surrendered and was marched off, hands and feet in chains. The game-world at this point underwent a reprogramming. Imagine consciousness withdrawing from immersion in events on a screen. Dis-identification, while yet a perspective persists, there to do the leaping between realms. Freddie de Boer calls it “the perspective that does not understand itself to be a perspective.” To what extent is my writing “place-based”? Is “place-based” the same as “starting from and concerned with the everyday”? Or is the best writing that which transports, that which is most at variance with place, if by this latter we mean the “as-is”? No lion need resurrect itself. Call it what it was: expenses paid round-trip. I am becoming a gummy multi-vitamin kind of guy. A piece of bread floats through the frame: I ingest it. One can orbit blissfully through space if one tries. But I barely have time to reconnect my models each morning come breakfast. A podcast I listen to introduces me to Dr. Angelica Ortiz de Gortari, a psychologist who researches what she calls “game transfer phenomena.” These phenomena — digital ear worms, closed-eye visuals — involve many of the same processes that we associate with altered states of consciousness: trance, immersion, absorption, hypnagogia, dissociation, dreamwork. De-realization of reality. How might this complicate our understanding of the relationship between games and reality, and between perception, cognition, and behavior? What happens when language use evolves dialectically with experience, but in ways that evade the user’s desire to communicate — leaving only a kind of meandering amidst fragments? The dream has always been to become authors of our own sensations — lucid to a point of real agency. How else would I ever muster any narrative consciousness, or the ability to perform authorship with a swagger? Sometimes you simply have to trust yourself to wing it. You throw the dice, in agreement that if you lose, you’ll try again. The mind invents an imaginary soundtrack, some echoey, reverby, anxiety-stoking industrial act that never was — so why can’t it invent other such short fictions? I mustn’t let frustration with writing become my content. Remember the haze that overtook vision during the afternoon of the eclipse.