When the trance-script writes itself, it writes the following:
More must be said, too, of Devin’s book, Precipitations: Contemporary American Poetry as Occult Practice. ‘Tis a book of criticism prepared by Devin based on a dissertation he wrote under the supervision of Robert von Hallberg and Saree Makdisi at the University of Chicago. I am grateful Devin wrote it — for with its overview of prior acts of trance-scription by the likes of poets Robert Duncan, James Merrill, and H.D. comes the potential to retell the backstory of what I’ve done. It sits with me here as I write.
Suffice to say, we had some weird occurrences there at the home we rented on Shady. None of it seemed malevolent in intent — just a bit weird. I developed a writing practice during my time there involving self-induced trance states, similar to the surrealist practice of “automatic writing.” I experienced auditory hallucinations, where it felt like I was hearing voices. Some of this was admittedly disconcerting at first. I realized almost immediately, however, that I could write some of it down. I could take notes like a kind of sleuth. And so, a Text began to germinate — one I transcribed gratefully, in a state of silent absorption as I listened.
Hence these trance-scripts.
As for the house, Frank sold it when we moved out — and from what I’ve heard, he tempered the decor when preparing to put the place on the market. Thankfully, however, I have some photos of how it looked when I was there.
I have the photos…and I have the Text.
I receive the gift of a solitary afternoon at Durant-Eastman Beach in Rochester, NY on the south shore of Lake Ontario. The stretch of beach across from where I park is closed, so I walk to the right toward an anchored sailboat. Along the way, I discover a seagull lying dead in the sand. I hesitate for a moment upon sight of it, and in this act of hesitation offer it my condolences. Giving it wide berth, I continue on my way. A dune buggy crawls past and retrieves the bird soon thereafter. Setting myself down into a beach chair, I stare out toward the horizon and long and pine for an unknown unknown. Desire’s many-tendrilled, dendritic — stopped only by awkwardness on account of fear. Speaking of fear: pitbulls on leashes get in scuffles mere feet from my feet. Female owners yank at the leashes until, calmed of whatever caused them to behave as they did, the dogs are allowed to lay together again in peace. Waves crashing I give listen to Muhal Richard Abrams’s Levels and Degrees of Light (1968).
There it is, as if in answer to my ministrations: “The Bird Song.” Lauren Berlant & Kathleen Stewart recommend it in their book The Hundreds. The authors collaborate through “hundred-word units or units of hundred multiples” (ix). The form of their book emerged through obedience to this capacious, generative constraint. Words set toward description of affect-events through scanning of object-worlds for vibrant tableaux. I feel adjacency to this form. “Everyone has their own version,” they write, “of the glimpse of a long-forgotten realm of possibility suddenly intruding into the real like a splice of light captured in a photograph” (9).
There have been times in my life when writing is simply an ongoing process, happening alongside other happenings, author scribing in notebook, looking around, listening, learning. Connecting, transmitting. My scale is small. I’m no Vertov. But sometimes life happens in such a way that the hand moves. One evades capture in silence and solitude by conversing with others, mourning the passing of the great free-jazz drummer, gardener-philosopher, and healer Milford Graves. He and Derek Jarman inspire me. To them now I appeal. And like that, with eyes closed, I see the following. A wall of circles like the speakers at the center of the Grateful Dead’s Wall of Sound, the public address system through which they played. “Time fer some music,” shouts an announcer through the speakers. Henry Cow, innit? Aggressively proggy. Sarah arrives and trains me on the air fryer. Hurrah, hurrah. Delivery arrives with sandwiches. Hurrah, hurrah.
Neighborhood cats greet me as I pull up in front of my home upon my return from Des Moines. We exchange hellos, after which point the cats go back to lounging on their sides. Settling onto a couch, bags only partly unpacked, I begin to think again about these trance-scripts. The best I can say about their origins and effects, I tell myself, is that through them I seem to be speaking to myself across time. And yet, in saying that, I find myself immediately wanting to add, I don’t just mean I write so as to be read by myself in the future. That much is obvious. What I mean, rather, is that some future version of myself is the one seeding these trance-scripts, communicating backwards, bootstrapping itself into being. I grant the paradoxical, seemingly impossible nature of that claim — but paradox or not, it remains to my mind the hypothesis that comes nearest to truth, and that thus best approximates my condition.
In its final scene, the Netflix television series Russian Doll allows its time-looped protagonists, Nadia and Alan, to reunite as their best selves amid a parade of party people waving red flags of revolution. Given our current slime-pool polis, it seems reasonable to regard the show’s Groundhog Day purgatory as an allegory of that era of reaction since the defeat of the Sixties that Americans on the Left took to calling “neoliberalism.” The show boldly imagines that those who wish to live will one day get it right. In it I see a spirit similar to the one that animated Mitchell Goodman’s 1970 anthology The Movement Toward a New America, a book I wish I could somehow integrate into my classes. Let’s be straight with ourselves. “The Movement,” as Goodman defines it, “is the act of getting ourselves together. Clarity. Coherence. Community. It is also a vision” (vi). As if hearing a voice speaking out of myself, I read passages written by a man once known as Peter Marin. He tells me, from the future, to look for a book of his called The Free People. At the start of an essay of his featured in The Movement Toward a New America, Marin offers a description of a method of composition eerily similar to the one animating these Trance-Scripts. “Shuffling through my notes,” he writes, “I feel like an archaeologist with a mass of uncatalogued shards. There is a pattern to all this, a coherence of thought, but all I can do here is assemble the bits and pieces and lay them out for you and hope that you can sense how I get from one place to another” (vii). Like Marin, I am “impatient with transition, the habitual ways of getting ‘from here to there.’ I think restlessly; my mind, like the minds of my students, works in flashes, in sudden perceptions and brief extended clusters of intuition and abstraction — and I have stuck stubbornly to that method of composition” (vii).
A parallelogram of forces swerves around a refrigerator drawer. I kneel and pat a patch of moss. Fields glow with thousands of yellow daffodils. ‘Tis the season ’round these parts. Is the universe trying to cultivate or diminish consciousness? Out of the blooming buzzing late capitalist totality comes Darren Angle’s reply: “The long hall of consciousness / makes room for shit like hot dogs.” Let us not abstract ourselves of particulars. Reinteriorize the different moments of exterior causation. Reintegrate chance with historical necessity so as to allow for synthetic progression. Otherwise, we’re just looking through bloodshot eyes.
Prayer will take us there. We might as well call it that, this act of turning inward, even if there aren’t any mantras involved or words addressed to a higher power. Much of my learning occurs these days through concentration on letting the mind go where it may. I hang back a bit and wait to see what stirs. Hands meet with fingers and thumbs arranged to form a triangle. I hold up to my eyes an inverted, upward-pointed Merkel-Raute or Triangle of Power, tolerating it the right to expand slowly across my field of vision, the gesture crossing outward beyond my peripherals. No more aristocracy of moneyed corporations, I declare to potential comrades. But few heed the call. They look at me askance, shake their heads reprovingly, and return to their sullen pursuit of property, most of them declaring themselves for business, without ever having been taught how else one can be. The Real is that which one feels deeply in one’s mind. Let’s do it, sings the chorus. Now is the time for love. The world has never felt itself so much a totality as it does today — so let us raise glasses instead to the visions in our minds. Let us imagine for one another how else the world may be. We have become more or less completely, more or less obviously, more or less miserably, the dependents of capital — so let us change that. Wildlife, like wildfires, rise up and appropriate thy appropriators! Humanity’s running down the clock, one way of being having come to dominate all the rest. And there’s no longer any imagined purpose to any of it. One is tempted to wish for some chance intervention, some upwelling of otherness. Cast over the soul a luminous spell, craft for it a key that opens doors onto possible worlds. Passion destines its victim, writes de Rougemont, “to contest with every breath everything that officially regulates social life” (73). Weed grants me such a passion; it fills me with words and metaphors, interlacing symbols through which to enunciate a mind in its refusal to adhere to the as-is.
The change in mood or disposition is nearly instantaneous. I pause to investigate being, even as I continue to review sentences under my breath. I exist, take stock of myself and my surroundings, and then, following the way an exhale follows an inhale, I dictate silent sentences in response, the inner “I” reviewing words according to a learned social rubric. Once satisfied, I trance-scribe the results by hand into a marble, college-ruled Mead composition notebook. I establish these as conditions on which I work. Let all take note. Add to that the poetic cocktail of substances I ingest each day. Compared to Hunter S. Thompson, though, I remain quite the minimalist.
Rock stars, meanwhile, were Joan Didion’s ideal subjects, since they lived a disorder to which she could respond with horror, allowing the dissociative, detached bourgeois self to co-exist in a common story with its time. “The story unfolds,” Didion once said, “as you write it.” Personal phobias and superstitions intersect with the affect of one’s historical moment. One can tell and examine the story of one’s time. The emotional life of late capitalism. Illumination of peripheral detail. Corroboration of the aural through the gestural. There is, alas, a faint delay to be heard, perhaps equivalent to that which exists between an object and its shadow. We try to trust fully in life as would a singularly blessed and accepting child. We observe the embroidery, worked into the day’s pattern to lend verisimilitude. When we look into the light, we’re rearranged, our faces melt, mountains become plains, a foot slips on a banana. It helps when we imagine ourselves in a library. Light shines instead out from behind a cloud; the crowd goes wild.