Study takes me on psychogeographical walks each day in the company of my partner, my coworker, my beloved comrade. Working together, playing together, we improvise our speculative collective practice. Others organize themselves into tribes, teams, and crews, where the many act as appendages of a director-subject’s creative process. A friend over dinner describes his willingness to invent himself anew each morning: “no mistakes yet,” he says of each day’s promise. Dreamers float atop a calm, reflective surface. Companions along a journey embody resistance to tyranny as they pass through gossamer veils. Succumbing to hunger, however, the couple lands in a local fast-food restaurant. The walls of the place bombard them with Christofascist propaganda: a father lecturing his daughters about Jesus, bible-themed Jeopardy!, “The Message” beamed at captives via satellite. To cleanse myself, I retire to a pinewood room, bathe myself in soft pink light, and listen to Concrete Beach by Toasted Focus, one of four new cassettes received by mail yesterday from Baked Tapes.
Next thing I know, I’m watching a goofy 80s horror film called Brain Damage. A growling creature curls a cesta-shaped tentacle around my head. Vaporwave cinema avant la lettre, the film, released at the height of the AIDS epidemic, invents from an alien parasite narrative a gritty post-punk psychedelic grotesque. The film’s “Elmer” parasite, as destructive as a dirty needle, turns its protagonist into a sociopath every bit as repulsive as American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman. Neither here nor there, the film plays in the space between.
Scratches, marks, grids painted over to form a black and purple twilight. Contemplate the addition of fireworks. Half past. Articulated into body and religion, given outfits, gear, we become something we are not. 18,000 feet, naked. The voices we hear belong to many: snippets, phonemes, syntagma, broadcasts, transmissions. Magnetoreception kicks in; we possess cryptochrome eyes. Then we return again to our walking bodies. A mockingbird flies past and lands itself atop ground cover at the base of a neighbor’s lawn. After flying a figure-eight formation, bluebirds in a pair come to rest in a blooming dogwood. All of this by way of the day’s migration. I amble about in a magical space-time: pure sensation, innocent of any distinction between reward and punishment.
Eve Essex interrupts to announce that she accepts my “satisfaction theories.”
According to these theories, power is to be sought not to acquire wealth or to gain dominion over others, but to manifest the unknown and to gather meaning. It is the duty of the humanities to cultivate and preserve this power. Sarah recounted on our walk yesterday a dream she’d had the night prior involving a grape gazpacho. Nature in this way calls to humanity, beckons, as with bulbs beset with the breaking virus during Tulip Mania, history’s first speculative bubble, in the midst of the Dutch Golden Age. These calls upon us have been growing louder lately. Through a pair of binoculars I observe what appears to be either a Brown Thrasher or a Wood Thrush arriving with a great flutter of wings to scavenge beneath a bird feeder in my yard. For these appearances I am grateful.
I think my talents are being wasted on tasks to which I’m ill-suited. Trigger mechanisms release pent-up energy. I stress constantly about work and finances. “One misstep and game over,” I tell myself. But then I smoke and walk through my neighborhood and find joy amid simple things: birdsong, observation of budding trees, conversations with friends. “Everyone carries a piece of the puzzle,” Leary once said. “Nobody comes into your life by mere coincidence.” People in my neighborhood are out relaxing on their porches, their time late in the afternoon and early in the evening theirs to use as they please, not just as it pleases capital. As bad as it’s gotten, I can still glimpse seeds all around me, particularly on weekends, of futures worth fighting for: utopias robust enough to house gatherings and partings, innumerable adjacent paths of solitude and community.
I imagine Sarah as Wonder Woman, jetting invisibly through the sky above Metropolis. We tour old neighborhoods with our nieces, sunlight flickering through the branches of an ancient tulip magnolia. Afterwards, I sit beside a staticky baby monitor, hypnotized by its bursts of low-volume noise, sensing in the experience some foretaste of life ahead. A portal opens, out of which emerge the drones, hisses, and pulses of The Von Einem Tapes. On the other end lies Robert Stillman’s Portals.
Dive into one of these, and George Orr and Dr. Haber, the characters in The Lathe of Heaven, appear as components of a single mind. The “improver,” animated by an ever-increasing will to power, enslaves the dreamer, turns the latter into an indentured Jinn.
Life is an insubstantial thing, an élan vital, wearing all substances as its veil. Minutes pass. The gameworld, operating in “neighborhood” mode, supplies the subject with new inputs, and with those inputs, new decision-trees. I walk a path and savor ambient soundscapes filled with interacting wind chimes. Small birds root among dead leaves, then perch atop a chain link fence. When I close my eyes, the sounds intensify. As one ages in the game, one advances in level. The alien is all-present: a coherent totality, the “all but me.” I relax some of my defenses and, through receipt of found or “gifted” sense-data, attempt to learn its language. I imagine beneath me hundreds of little concreted over creeks and streams. The unconscious: earthen, mythic center of being. It dreams us, and then we run away, reinvent ourselves, project ourselves into mind-made constructs. Dual time-tracks, time-sense surrendered to serial eternal presents peppered with patterns discoverable among arrangements of images and sounds.
I practice silently the names of plants in my neighborhood. Star magnolia, tulip magnolia, hyacinth. Rows upon rows of daffodils. A massive weeping cherry tree atop a hill. The first-person perspective shots in Maryam Goormaghtigh’s Before Summer Ends fuse me in an unprecedented way to a trio of Iranian male protagonists, vacationing on the coast of France. By these ways, we forge new ties, bonds, interests, empathetic capacities, across and despite traditional national-linguistic boundaries. Alas, life runs through our fingers; let us make haste in our imagining a beyond. Screw in the corners of a hammock. Relax, lie back, light up, read a book. Lincoln in the Bardo comes to mind. It and High Maintenance present themselves as clue-bearing reference points within a secret network, a kind of “Head Underground.” The joint effort of assembling art from jointly sent and jointly received sets of signs.