An old friend and I smoked together a few evenings ago in his beautiful downtown LA penthouse. As the weed kicked in, the friend mentioned Milton Rokeach’s The Three Christs of Ypsilanti: a book-length psychiatric study of an experiment of dubious ethicality involving a group of men suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. As the title indicates, Rokeach’s experiment brought together three patients with seemingly incompatible belief systems, each man convinced he was Christ, in the hope that these confrontations would cure them of their delusions. In the minutes and hours that followed in this friend’s penthouse, some sort of spiritual-metaphysical mythos or meaning-system crystallized for me around that detail. Next thing I knew, I had tumbled down a rabbit hole into a paranoid fantasy: a weird, apocalyptic tale woven around my soul, and thus discernible only by me, with plot points borrowed from The Stand and Miracle Mile — stories this friend and I encountered together and bonded over as teenagers. Milton’s Paradise Lost figured in there as well. Sarah was present through all of this, pleading my case with me, but I couldn’t shake the intuition that I was in the presence of some high-stakes decision tree. There I was like Adam, lacking the knowledge of good and evil needed to discern friend from foe, but convinced (because of what? the weed? my economic condition? my Catholic upbringing? my fear of dying?) that someone must be a foe, someone must be scheming to steal my happiness. Given this conviction, it seemed inevitable that I was damned either way, buckling under the strain of an impossible choice, an impossible demand. Perhaps, though, I’ve tried to tell myself afterwards, it is by this conviction and it alone that Satan is hypothesized and granted being. Or as Sartre once said, “Evil is making abstract that which is concrete.” Once we choose, of course, the paranoid condition evaporates. We become whole again, the psyche no mere compromise-formation Jerry-rigged by characters installed through socialization, the ones Freud called the Superego and the Id. The Real in which these characters are nested needn’t be defined as a tragic one. Behave lovingly and one is saved.
The phrase “Libra sapphire glow stick” comes to mind as I walk beside a park remembering pleasures, abstractions, noise shows attended by the hundreds. Selves today would never permit themselves such latitude. High Maintenance uses its pot-dealer protagonist to motivate its posing of the problem of cognitive mapping in terms at once political, economic, aesthetic, and existential. Viewers get to ride in a sidecar as Ben Sinclair bikes across the metropole. Cognitive mappers should add to their reading lists Bertolt Brecht’s The Life of Galileo. Where might weed fit in a practice of orientation able to connect the abstractions of capital to the sense-data of everyday perception? It allows us to conduct our research furtively, I tell myself, hidden in imagination along a mosquito coast composited from bits of psychoacoustic space.
Does it help? Does growth occur when subjects reexamine their origins? Their earliest fears, for instance? Reality says, “Follow the signal! Create a new world.” Beautiful old decrepit landscapes, abandoned train tracks. Consciousness imagines itself occupying other identities. Matter, form, laws, energy. We know ourselves only in the midst of higher and lower orders of being. We play games and hope to attract others to join us. Utopia is a place where we all descend into our own mazes, families of selves who improvise being in keeping with the teachings of the Emerald Tablet or Tabula Smaragdina. Another afternoon, another walk timed to the sun’s descent. Pine needle arrangements on a piece of blacktop. I know not why the sky is so gray, but I like it. Gusts of wind lift ends of ribbons tied to trunks of trees. Heads lift, too, with help from Asheville, NC improv duo LULO.
The day starts to stack up, one stimulating experience after another. Everything creator David O’Reilly supplies a brain-busting animated short called RGB XYZ.
I experience a confusion of levels, political reality seeming a mere myth-performance atop an abyss. Imagine this abyss as an infinitely large room, where Left, traveling through a wormhole in space-time, comes out Right, time an eternal beast one can’t defeat. We are only ever here and now, even when compelled to bring growth and wealth to the owners of capital. Yet we puzzle over our origins and seek purpose. There are no truths, just stories. And presumably bodies. I lose myself amidst a collapse of images and memories. Some shifting space of menace. And then, like that, I can breathe again. Montage transmits a composite of synoptic slices of a person’s narrative arc so as to prompt recognition of archetypes. The composite governor, Zhuangzi, drives paradoxes into the grammar of reason. Noise enters the oikos through the psyche. Of course it does, we add: the future self who at other times plays the part of the Big Other, commands it.
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.