After 15 years of teaching, all I can say with confidence is that education dooms itself to the circular reproduction of an empty formalism the moment it becomes compulsory. To extract myself from complicity with these and other compulsions, I walk alone on a sunny day, and whenever else the spirit moves me, listening to “Catfish Blues” by Alexander.
Crows and squirrels appear into consciousness and greet me on my way. As I crest a hill, I imagine myself happening upon a serene alpine lake. Plants offer me high fives, along with other, as-yet-unnameable signs of congratulation. Aye, crow, I hear ye. Greet me here in my true guise, the god of layaway and roustabout. Itinerant wanderer, upswept in a quest narrative that, through its inward-pointedness and self-invention, defies the tropes of conquest-oriented heroic fantasy. I look down at a pile of papers I’m supposed to grade and wonder, “Why am I here, again?” “Before being a worker,” I exclaim, “I am a person, perplexed by an alien imposition, the compulsion to work. Why should I complete tasks imposed by others, given this society’s open, gun-brandishing contempt for the only freedom that matters, the freedom from want?” To my students who complain only of Isis, of terrorism but not the terrorism of capitalism, I want to reply, “Relax. You are a non-subject, a non-event. A non-player character. History operates despite you.” Other students, thankfully, mine included, are organizing as we speak. OUT OF THE SCHOOLS AND INTO THE STREETS.
Walking has been a theme of late. Sarah and I on a walk delight in a burst of edgeworthia that edges a sidewalk in our neighborhood. Walking brazenly onto our campuses, meanwhile, alt-right groups push, harass, assault Marxist professors. Let us care not that these self-styled “alphas,” the members of white supremacist organizations Kool Kekistani Kids (KKK) and Identity Evropa, think us “betas.” What care we what they call us, as this mind-murdering culture of ours steers us into a setting sun? Let us rally, though, to demonstrate solidarity with those comrades of ours who have been assaulted in their places of work. Darkness now. Binaural beats transport me to enchanted lands, where voices sing to me with flute solos and light percussion. Waves are heard crashing, seagulls crying. A violin and a cello duel one another as per the anxious pace of animated film composer Carl Stalling. Lightning-quick odes to speed. My mind, hanging like a weight behind the back of my head, hears snippets of voices interspersed with the sound of a finger compressing a rectangular plastic button on an old car stereo. Did the flickering lights of old video game cabinets stimulate Dreamachine-like hypnagogic states? Video games and cartoons: because of how, when, and where I was raised, these are the languages of my unconscious.
“And…(wait for it)…we have liftoff.” Sarah and I, toward the end of a beautiful, sunny afternoon walk through a park, arrive upon a patch of ground covered in a thick carpet of green mosses ornamented with tufts of lichen. Elsewhere on our way we cross paths with dogs, runners, old men operating radio-controlled aircraft, mountain bikers conversing in a forest. Our hunger for time outdoors not yet sated, we stroll the neighborhood, kneeling to admire newly flowering purple crocuses. Like Ginsberg to Carl Solomon, to ashes I whisper, “I’m with you.” Live ambient pick-up. Voices popping high in the mix, ignored, give way to shouts and clanks. Rattling chains. I close my eyes and persist nervously in an unpredictable sonic universe. Flotation tanks allow us to question not just what Erving Goffman called the presentation of self in everyday life, but the nature of the self in the absence of sensory input.
My mind feels caught between rival epistemes or paradigms. Minds, by a certain age, possess sedimented layers of knowledge — and everywhere, paths not taken, blind alleys among the forking paths of unfinished text adventures. Errant wanderings of restless hearts. But isn’t the indistinct picture, the blurred concept, often exactly what we need? Consciousness needs avenues down which to scheme and hatch itself. The same is true of communism. Inventing communism means inventing a game and convincing others to play it. “Today,” Sarah says, “is all about feeling like we’re trespassing.” How many years are we talking? The mind exaggerates the details. Cut to the straight-toothed grin of a southern white park official as he scolds us for disobeying park rules and walking on lands not ours.
I fell asleep the other night listening to a “past life regression” CD plucked from a bin at Goodwill. I woke up afterwards feeling a mild sense of confusion, but otherwise remembered nothing from the experience. What if I’ve been brainwashed, I worried. Had Dick Sutphen, the founder of Valley of the Sun recordings, succeeded in hypnotizing me?
Although the experience wasn’t the “ultimate altered state of consciousness” that the CD had promised, it did weird me out a bit—especially when my post-hypnosis buzz morphed into a raging headache. As I allowed for time to pass, however, this, too, vanished without a trace. I find myself instead in a new scenario, one where I trudge alone through the streets of my neighborhood, shaking off stress, exhausted from a full day’s work. I amuse myself by observing houses, assessing them as expressions of class. One wonders: How much of one’s facade is really ‘chosen’ in this society? For me, housing is paid into simply as a kind of happenstance. Trapped at all points in my life a mere renter. Always and forever, under another’s roof. To compensate, I listen to “Tree Vision” by Rambutan and stare into the depths of a mirror-night, reflected on the surface of a puddle.
Soggy bamboo hut versus cardboard cutout. Suboptimal work-life synthesis. Walk it off. Beware of laws that march ever onward, urged by unthinking decree. Like remaining always in pursuit of points and dollars. The future as highly suspect temporal form. Think instead of the means of production internally, “pulsating and available, like a brain-sprawl in waiting.” Is it, as Franco “Bifo” Berardi would say, as simple as clearing the head of any further illusions of the future? Berardi’s book After the Future offers suggestive commentary along these lines — particularly the section of the book titled “Zaum and Technomaya.” The best parts of my day, though, are when I put aside such things and walk. Parks, neighborhoods: I enjoy them all. Upon receiving word from on high of my fate, I bow in darkness and give thanks to the ones I love. Parts of narrative click into place. Parts of my childhood begin to make sense. A paper waits to be written on science fiction and the psychedelic revolution. Ahead of me lies the mystery of an unexplored, newly-unlocked segment of the gameboard.
Lines in a VHS reproduction of a motion picture waver in and out of focus. Let us demand from Charles and Ray Eames an ascent by powers of ten. We are bodies containing within us outer orbits. Passing between scales causes us to lose familiarity with our surroundings. Skulls appear, each of them covered with microscopic pollen: bits of ancient thistle, spiria, and hollyhock. The most complex structure in the known universe looks about itself in awe. I lean forward and whisper, “I am ready to embark on l’avventura.” Sarah and I walk through a distant neighborhood, her recitation of the Norse creation myth interrupted by and postponed on account of other inputs: yipping dogs, passing cars, the buzz of a circular saw. I despise all forms of imprisonment, but long for silence and solitude. Otherwise we’re just organizing behavior in pursuit of points. Dumb competition, a brake upon potential, stripping us of right-of-way.