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.
Some would say we commit ourselves to metaphysics the moment we accept the existence of “minds.” But what else would it be but a mind that contemplates Ingrid Goes West, a new film that uses cash inheritance as the premise for its infiltration and critique of selfie culture? The master of that culture, the film notes, is some “emotional wound” that turns self-promotion into way of life. One imagines oneself floating above oneself with a camera, turning money into props for self-actualization through delivery of life narrative to followers. Such is the subjectivity at the heart of the film’s critique. Comedy, of course, requires that the film overstate this critique for laughs. Its stalker character acts on urges the rest of us repress. Speaking of urges: A pulse is touched and quickened. I reach out and connect as if by dial-up modem to Brett Naucke’s Multiple Hallucinations.
I feel like I’m living inside a montage sequence from Halt and Catch Fire, mulling over an idea beside a window on a rainy night, flashing back to visual and tactile memories bound to videogame sound-narratives from my childhood. Dots, squiggles, exploding fractal mandalas. Seeing multiples, reprocessing. A computer asks for permission to speak further. Glowing outlines perform expressive dance against a black background. The computer sucked us in and we never got out, I realize. It swallowed us like a sandworm or a whale. So teacheth the Gnostics, or rather, modern New Age derivations therefrom. This would be the “reality-as-simulation” theory. It was by repression of entry into the Matrix that the Matrix got us, goes the theory. Movement amidst abstract sign-systems. Neon re-imaginings of witch-burnings cut with similar blood sacrifices atop ancient Aztec temples. Knowledges are fed through the air in packets. Do I possess an ethics? Do one’s best? Stay formally attentive? Listen and learn, I tell myself, and you will know how to act. Trust intuition over reason. Seek the flows and go with them. Even when they lead to French onion soup and a cartoon scarecrow with corn growing out its chest. Go out on adventures, says an imaginary Australian life coach, gesturing with his hands as he speaks. Too bad my brain has been soldered to things, I shudder, as the hallucination comes to an end.
One comes to a point in one’s life, I convince myself, when one ought to hear Handel’s Messiah. Wouldn’t it be more fun, though, I think, to confuse Mrs. Dalloway with Mrs. Doubtfire? Regress to high school, participate in a cafeteria food fight. “The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness”: ’tis but a character preserved in stories handed down across millennia. No matter: across these trance-scripts shall be built a highway fit for a god. It is from the fruit of great sorrow that change is wrought. Knowing, though, the shortness of the remaining hours of day, let us hasten our walk below this grim gray sky. Dead plants fire miniature spears at me. I pause and listen to a branch of dead leaves, brown and dry, shivering above in the air in the wind. Sarah recalls to consciousness a book called Nightwalking: A Nocturnal History of London. Those who travel with the cross ought to stay in their fucking lane, we growl at an aggressively-driven neighboring bus. It’s hard to ascertain the shape and contents of another’s discursive universe. To my countrymen, I ask, “What cognitive maps have you built of our home, our oikos, Spaceship Earth?” I fear for what will be left of it by century’s end. Why can’t we collectively turn our backs on matters of law and business? Are we drawn toward these as one is drawn toward a bitter destiny? Ants and spiders in a vast webwork, life’s maze. State-forms and modes of production ruin freethinkers by subjecting them to mandatory schooling. Althusser called the educational system capitalism’s dominant ISA. And now they will tax students further for this miserable imposition. To compensate, I drop the needle on Ritual Tension’s Expelled.
Songs spill across a graceless eternity until voices speak to me. Give these voices a listen, I tell myself — don’t drown them in the soundtrack. The universe puffs out its cheeks and exhales speech at me. I find a soul-mate of sorts in the narrator of Alberto Savinio’s Tragedy of Childhood, Mister Why. But the voices, rather than leading me, sing to me. Like doctors and teachers, they live by obscurity. They practice the latter as if it were their profession. Their words, mere humming noises, demand of me an externalized awareness, a focus outward of consciousness, and in doing so, lull me toward sleep.
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.
The good shepherd, whom I pause before to contemplate, appears as a better self, a majestic higher order. I stare at it fearfully, struggling to keep up as its visual-sensual-conceptual being grows, looms, enlarges, steals our breath, overwhelms us with its complexity. “That is not I,” we have to say to avoid becoming Jesuit. The feeling then relaxes a bit, goes quiet. We imbibe earth, nut, matter. This lends us weight, we become caught by a planet’s gravity, our journey as ray of light captured into life, made to inhabit human form for a stretch of time: it is like having to endure soul-flattening, soul-crushing pressure. We mustn’t watch as others are judged, tried, executed, given greater than their due share of suffering. I find myself staring in confusion at the alien customs, the tolerance for oppression, among my countrymen. Let us not become crueler, coarsened by feud, faction, quarrel. Don’t allow groups to organize, lest we plot destruction of kings. Religion is an able resistance to the ways of some dominant Other. It brings judgment, the latter being a kind of power, into politics. Radical believers deny one another the right to live by free means in community with like-minded others. That is the future toward which we are led. Don’t let us get caught in games of conversion and conviction by others who believe themselves lords over the lives of others. Religious wars of this sort are fraught with grave dangers. Political fictions make for dangerous games. Desperate people become led by acts of desperate men. That is becoming common again: states that toy with public perception, inventing stories to command the attention of weaponized masses, turning neighbor upon neighbor. Isn’t that the void into which certain public storytellers, writers of history, wish to plunge us? I mean the Bill O’Reilly’s, the Sean Hannity’s. Sadists who derive pleasure through imaginative identification with the State in its role of public executioner. In the past we called them inquisitors. We mustn’t let them thrive.
Boards of wood warp beneath my feet as I stare up at the night sky. Paranoia tugs at me, and I know that’s just the weed becoming manifest — but I also hear the world telling me, “All symptoms are purposeful.” Upon observing this, my reality fast-forwards. I live my life as Providence decrees, dipping into and reading snippets on occasion from St. John of the Cross’s Dark Night of the Soul. Sarah and I shared a mystical experience, a moment of sublimity, while sitting on a bench, staring up at a play of sunlight and wind among the tops of a patch of trees. It is only in retrospect that I see ahead a way to retain the habits of the child, while standing upright. St. John scolds me here, though, for my vanity. Don’t speak proudly or boastfully of spiritual things in the presence of others, he warns. What, then, of these trance-scripts, I wonder. Is it, perhaps, time to take a break? Can’t I pull a Bartleby and say, “I’d prefer not to?” Why am I even considering obedience to what feels like an ultimatum? Are these the first signs, perhaps, of a crisis of faith in my crisis of faith? Nay, it angers me; I resent the imposition. Grace is not a gift if it requires something in return. Utopia ain’t utopia if reserved only for a deserving few. Perhaps I’m too patient, though, with regard to my progress. Let it thus be resolved: for purposes of experiment, I shall assent to a few days off.
Stare at a downward-pointing stairwell long enough and mind will move matter. We masses will erupt from our seats and change our condition. Hit “play,” however, and the image stutters in uneven intervals. Patches of sunlight draw us outward. Another beautiful day. I smoke up in a nearby park and walk the perimeter of a lake. A way of forgetting the remaining workweek. Dead leaves — now fluttering, now sizzling — hang above me, in the wind, in the trees. Bicyclists whizz by like members of a different species. The city curves atop the underlying geography. A friend and I had speculated half in jest earlier about whether or not Ayn Rand owned pets — speculation inspired, no doubt, by the current tax bill. No way she could have cared for other creatures, we laughed — but apparently she fancied cats, and bragged that she could demonstrate “objectively” that cats have value. LOL. Her name turns up again, though, after the park. A middle-aged mohawked dude who I often see at Goodwill and who never fails to corner me and talk my ear off sidles over as he always does — this time announcing, however, that he’s looking for a copy of Atlas Shrugged. “Can’t help you with that,” I mutter, peering at the day’s findings. I leave the store afterwards bearing God Loves, Man Kills (an X-Men graphic novel from the 1980s that I remember reading as a kid), along with an early 2000s reissue of Norman Greenbaum’s Spirit in the Sky, and several volumes of Marxist theory.
Greenbaum’s title track earned its hit status by turning cheery Christian piety into a divine, bluesy, highway-speed, hand-clapping bit of fuzz-pop. The album’s other great charmer, “Jubilee,” succeeds with roughly the same formula. Time, it says, can be spread like butter. Any time, any time at all. Mind removes itself, quickens its pace. I imagine a round white “start” button like the ones featured on old arcade cabinets. When I press it, the dream begins, projecting outward the world as seen.