wax banks

second-best since Cantor

Month: February, 2023

On ‘flow’ and the distinction between spaciousness and emptiness.


Think of ‘flow states’ not as forebrain-free experiences, but rather as those in which thought, meta-reflection, and action are experienced as integrated. This might not be the right model in terms of neurobiology but experientially I think it makes sense. You act, think, think about thinking, conceptualize — and the different frames of experience seem to align. This is the prize. In flow you’re not just empty: you are spacious.

This superposition of experience is also known as the ‘oceanic’ feeling: borderlessness, fluidity. This is the nature of that specific heightened state, in which imagination is in alignment with outward/physical experience. It’s the (sometimes) poetry of psychogeography.

The setting (the City, say) is a somatic component of the spell; the spell is cognitive in fundamental nature.


The spaciousness/emptiness distinction is an important one. In flow states we don’t experience empty mind, but rather an inexplicable facility — we know where the ball is headed before the opponent hits it, we hear the next phrase before our musical partners play it, we improvise entire stanzas instead of individual verses. This is obviously not empty-headedness! Nor is it as simple as ’emptiness of ego’: we’re aware of our bodies, our minds. We have self-consciousness…but not ego-attachment.

(Recall DFW’s observation about Roger Federer and what it means to be perfectly in command of your instrument, about the tennis ball looking to him like it’s as big as a basketball. The world slows down for you, but it doesn’t hollow out in doing so — you can just take it in, seemingly without effort.)

In a flow state, the world is positively full of spaciousness. What’s ‘missing’ is barrier and imposition. But so much more is present — even as we sense that there’s suddenly so much more room.

Again, note that this is a description of experience, not neurobiology. I’m only talking about the subjective experience of flow. You really do feel perfectly capable, alive to the moment. What you don’t feel is the vestigial attachment to the idea of the moment — or to the past, the self, imagined futures never to be — holding you back from the present. ‘Single-point awareness’ isn’t necessarily simple. The moment is complex, awareness the same.


All spells are cast on the caster.

Because magic spells fail, magic is widely and incorrectly understood to fail. But all magic spells work on the magician — and on the others in the circle, connected to the working. Parts of (because party to) the transformation.

A magical working is a fiction. (Reader-response!) Is ‘paracosm’ the right word? Ludocosm? Thaumatocosm? Ugh, maybe. It creates a space in which new practice is possible. This is why you wear a mask and practice improvisation: radical listening. Radically intense experience of that private fiction. The privacy it affords makes it possible to explore something deeply, to access impulses and inhabit personae.

The fictionality unthethers the context, the surroundings, from the binding consensus-reality — but also untethers your own actions and their effects. Within the fiction, magic can work. The spell is the fiction.

We keep two sets of books; we can live inside a fiction, many fictions. That’s what fiction is for. It begins with radical acceptance in the reader/listener/magician: agreeing to the premise, the provision, the proffer. Letting yourself be welcomed (answering the Campbellian call to adventure, with the final/ultimate adventure being living toward death). That’s the outset of the Errand, of course — choosing to set out, accepting limitation. Becoming foolish, becoming the Fool. You have to get humble (fuck around!) before you can find out.

All magic spells work on the magician. Which is to say: one way or another, they all work.

‘Git gud’ and the hero-journey, because why not.

‘Getting good’ means having your reality tested, not just by you — putting others in a position to measure you and judge you. Your cosmos is no longer private. That’s horrifying as you’d expect, but necessary: it’s how we become people, real people. It’s the threshold to the imaginal realm, for one thing, the boundary between (1) parochial experience which naively favours the atomized ego and (2) experience that acknowledges, and supports the development of, the macromind. ‘Getting good’ — the gamer-asshole’s ‘git gud’ — is part of heroic development, in other words. The fact that gamers experience this in the lamest, most egotistical possible terms is just one of the bad things about that subculture.

This is why risk and failure are such important parts of adult development: to ‘self-actualize’ you have to strive to be good instead of less bad. ‘Good’ is a quality beyond, straining at category. Heroism is exceptional.

Zen in the art of not being great at anything in particular.

Today I saw a once-‘notable’ blogger refer to his ‘one-on-one coaching practice’ — basically productivity tips and some Marie Kondo shit — and was forcefully reminded that I subconsciously choose to fail…then comfort myself with the idea that I’m an unusually talented failure.

‘Gifted and talented,’ as they used to say.

I wonder what my life would be like if I spent the next year of it trying to become not a good writer but a rich one. I wonder whether I could enjoy that pursuit.

Squand(er) goals?

I come to the office early every Saturday/Sunday morning to write for a few hours. As sometimes happens, today’s felt like a waste — I set myself the task of writing about $frustrating_complex_topic and have realized, too late, that I don’t know precisely what I think. Which is to say it’s actually been a useful morning, as well as a stupid frustrating one. Fuck this vocation! I wish I’d been called to be something easy, like the Vice President of the United States of America.

No Bambi, no wanking.

From the long work in progress. –wa.

Here’s an exercise: Where’s Bambi, in all of Disney World? The death of the titular fawn’s mother has infamously been a traumatic rite of passage for American children for 80 years, one of the most recognizable of the company’s stories and characters. Plus Bambi’s pal Thumper is goddamn adorable. Yet you’re hard pressed to locate Bambi imagery at the Resort. Why’s that? Even if there’s some banal copyright-related answer, we note that Bambi’s story is unassimilable to the vibe of The Park, in which no one suffers and nothing ends, meaning nothing begins. At Disney World, you might hear the ‘Circle of Life’ — a classic Disney song supposedly about natural cycles1 during which, we note with some disappointment, nothing is born or dies — but the rude facts of bodily existence aren’t permitted into the Magic Kingdom or its offshoots. The same goes for Disney’s ever-growing portfolio of sub-mythic ‘intellectual property’: George Lucas’s Han Solo unquestionably fucked his way across the galaxy a long time ago in a cultural environment far far away, but Disney’s Han Solo 2.0, Poe Dameron of the miserable sequel trilogy, comes no closer to sexual desire than a raised eyebrow at a woman whose face is entirely covered in a mask — who dismisses him for a last lame laugh. (This is of course preposterous; even I couldn’t say no to Oscar Isaac.) And the Marvel movies, full to overflowing with bare-chested male actors grossly inflated on steroids and female performers chastely hiding their bodies from view, are comprehensively sexless — ex-Troma filmmaker James Gunn snuck a masturbation joke into his Guardians of the Galaxy, but even in that intensely juvenile movie there’s a character right there onscreen to remind us that jacking off is disgusting. Of course it is! Unsanctioned production is strictly against the rules.2

No Bambi, no wanking: same thing. Yes, really. Sex and death move time forward, and the magic of Disney World is precisely its timelessness, perfect stasis.

Which is why Disney ‘magic’ is no magic at all: magic is transformation, inner and outer worlds overlapping to materialize thought and impregnate sense with dream. Its energy is both programmatic and improvisatory, in both cases free — magic is imaginative freedom — and in the Magic Kingdom, nothing is free.

It’s a Kingdom, after all.

  1. The fact that The Lion King figures natural order as dynastic political succession, and misuses its fantastic ‘Circle of Life’ opener/closer to mark the announcements of two royal heirs, is just one of those ordinary stupid Disney things. Disney movies’ equation of authoritarian political order with sanity is gross when wrenched from their folk-narrative origins. Well, that’s capitalism innit. 
  2. You needn’t actually read Raquel Benedict’s 2021 online essay ‘Everyone Is Beautiful and No One Is Horny,’ which goes no deeper than the obvious implications of its title — yes, there’s a section about the psychosexuality of 9/11, no it’s not good — but the title is a perfect expression of an invaluable insight, a line good and true enough to have entered culture-politics discourse as a ‘Must we remind you…?’ aphorism. 

The strange slow curve against the mainline.

MULDER: I didn’t think anyone was really paying attention.

MAX FENIG: Somebody’s always paying attention, Mr Mulder. (X)

something true about it. being recognized at a distance. that feeling, open fields, featureless. you’re the feature, the blot: you the stain. inexplicable black shape against wheatfield offyellow.

you listening to the shortwave alone at night. you playing the guitar alone at night. you alone at night. you alone.

Electric Miles.

Facets: Keyboard-washed transition from acoustic quintet (Jarrett/Corea/Zawinul primary colours), guitar-driven rock toward Agharta/Pangaea mountain (Cosey!!), 80s return and diminuendo, lyrical and worn then out. Brew is the standard, Silent Way the secret, but On the Corner is the key: blackest music he ever made, i.e. the most futuristic. It’s all there. Every step lost on horn he gained as bandleader; few great 20C artists stewarded group creativity so well. Each post-1965 sessions box holds wonders, particularly proto-ambient Silent Way. Oh: hear Isle of Wight set immediately. Few 20C bands even come close.


Artist-avatar of self-purification and its cost — maybe the deepest jazz musician of all, surely the most singleminded: deranged, devoted. His final quintet w/Alice is that familiar paradox, the lesser ensemble attaining purer expression of an earlier idea. The Jones/Tyner/Garrison quartet is the heaviest band in recorded jazz, maximally intense while swinging deep, not yet out to pure transhuman ecstatic vibration. Trane was complete with them in dark molten blue but sought light not earth, found it in formless union. A Love Supreme is the American hymnal; Interstellar Space should be his last word, or ours.

Silly notions. Speech is music. Music is live.

The following propositions are dubious at best. I had coffee this morning which I’m not used to, I’m a tea drinker, coffee makes my ideas jittery. I don’t believe what I’m saying and neither should anyone else, ever. –wa.

Of course speech is elaborated birdsong — but we evolved to duet not monologue. Writing potentially purifies the lone melodism of an individual’s speech but cuts us off from our discursive (social-cognitive) apparatus for mutual regulation/revision. This language of course ties us back to love (per the General Theory): music (Art more generally you might say) is one of the mechanisms by which we conduct the intersubjective limbic business of love, at a distance. Writing, not so much. Music intensifies the effects of speech among its other effects, that’s why we set the lyrics we need to remember to melodies, but music is meant to be heard. Writing’s proximity to music is actually undercut by the fact that by definition, the only writing we ‘hear’ is recorded. Lifting writing out of time strips it of certain intersubjective aspects — i.e. mediates the exchange, at some cost.

Music is live. It’s an event, an exchange.

Recorded music is its own peculiar thing.

All of which is to say that writing suffers when it’s divorced from its origins in musical duet, i.e. in live discourse. Writing doesn’t simulate speech, it simulates the musical cognition which occurs in speech — but it strips out the musical cognition that we engage in as we listen and respond. Yes, there’s an element of ‘response’ in writing, e.g. to our impulses and what we realize(!) about the images in our head. But we’re at our best, as improvisers and composers (insofar as those are different), when we’re collaborating and connecting and responding. We are incomplete. Writers work to overcome that incompleteness but it’s always a simulation — dragging behind speech, not behind monologue but rather dialogue. The coupling that completes us.

Writers need people. That’s all I’m saying really.

(Derrida’s ‘critique’ of ‘phonocentrism’ is mostly bullshit and can be left aside — we take an evolutionary view of human speech as a rich variant of birdsong and see no point in his stupid ahistorical ‘primacy of writing’ thing even as a dialectical provision.)

(I’m not sure I buy any of this except the opening sentences and the pissing-on-Derrida.)