wax banks

second-best since Cantor

Category: highweirdness

Futher on difficult meditation.

Note: The post isn’t really about what its opening sentence might suggest, to the sane and normal reader, that it’s about; I didn’t make even the most halfassed attempt to maintain such smallmind-hobgoblin-consistency. It’s all — really all of it; this is how much of a degenerate wordcel I am — it’s all about getting to write and so hear the phrase ‘misery-fuckery’ in the trip-o-let rhythm of ‘jiggery-pokery.’

Thinking this morning about the notion of the ’emotional journey’: spatiotemporal metaphor for a shift in your inner landscape.

A couple of years ago I wrote a book ostensibly or pretextually about the major arcana of the tarot, working through the cards in order — starting and ending with the zeroth trump, the Fool — as if they recorded or allegorized a trip or transformation. I decided over the course of the project that the traditional image of the ‘Fool’s Journey’ was the wrong organizing metaphor, and it was more fertile for me to think of the Fool/querent/seeker/human undertaking errands with the intention of returning each time, if not to where she started, then to the next starting point. The ‘Fool’s Errand’ makes fractal sense to me: coming home changed — and so to a changed home — in order to set out on the next errand in a series, which together make up a deeper project of…y’know, whatever.

This shift — from thinking of the Journey as delivery mechanism for transformative psychic reward, to seeing the Errand as a recurring/ongoing project of engagement with change and uncertainty within and without — played out textually in that book as, if I’m being frank, a maddening fucking inconsistency of tone and viewpoint. Well, it is what it is. But the book was about midlife transition, really, and I’m pleased with the way tone and topic shifted together. Or so I console myself.

A friend who shared a little of what she knows about contemplative pathwork once told me her goal in meditative practice was to ‘realize nonseparateness,’ a phrase and concept which echoes throughout the present work. She was admirably clearheaded about a concept I found intellectually intuitive but at times emotionally forbidding: it was the realization itself, opening and maintaining connection itself, that was of value — not the specific emotional colour/content of the connection or of the thing connected to. ‘Nonseparateness’ was, in the terms of yesterday’s post, a peaceful dynamic of which (inner) conflict is always a part. ‘Peace isn’t quiet’; peace is ongoing resolution and restoration. Conflict can get you there (‘winning the peace’) and in any case conflict is coming.

This seems to me a vital distinction with both obvious and subtle political implications. You ‘realize nonseparateness’ even when what you’re connected to is difficult or painful; there’s a surface analogy to, say, democratic pluralism — which we might call a (possibly doomed) politics of willful nonseparateness, i.e. endless negotiation and compromise — but we should be careful not to stop at the superficial ‘stay connected to people who suck in order to improve/surpass them.’ It seems to me, a disintegrated and basically fucked person, that ‘nonseparateness’ isn’t tolerance. You tolerate someone because it won’t last forever, but I think real connection is undertaken without selfish hope of reprieve: it’s your responsibility to maintain a sense of the Other as fully itself, exactly as real as ‘you,’ even when the Other is a painful imagining or a difficult experience or (say) a dipshit ideologue. Relationship built on outlasting the unwanted will encode a dangerous destructive tension — cold war, so to speak. ‘Uneasy coexistence,’ and incidentally ‘unease’ translates as dukkha

Authentic engagement is both means and end, because — I guess this is one of my foundational assumptions — no one is an island; human minds and bodies being what they are, we realize our full humanity only in ongoing relation with others, and find peace only in peaceful relation (to circumstance, interactor, self, etc.). ‘Not all those who wander are lost’: an invitation not to tolerance but to an affirmative relation to inbetweenness, transit, search, the Errand as its own reason and reward. I have such a hard stupid time recognizing a process or transformation as a reward in itself, and I can hear echoes of this failure in so much misery-fuckery in my own life—

When I can remember that I’m not out to purify my own state or activity, but rather to be more authentic in my participation in ongoing processes at a scale I can’t easily/always perceive, I know I’m happier and closer to peace and ease — irrespective of the difficulty of my work.

It’s certainly possible this is an optical illusion, or One Neat Trick to pull on my easily manipulable consciousness. Any Fool knows that.


On difficult meditation.

Recently I’ve experienced a series of challenging, frustrating breath meditations.1 In the past I’ve come away from such sessions disappointed, hopeless, but these ones have, so to speak, sat differently with me.

My notes from the most recent sit read, in part:

5/10/23 — 15-20m sit (turned off timer) … caffeinated, head full of attractive fantasy, pulled repeatedly out of restful focus. after ~10min some words entered my noisy head: ‘i can’t manage my concentration — i can — i am.‘ process not result. then relaxed into the difficulty; the rest of that time felt like surfing, or floating down a crowded sidewalk: effortful, mental muscles working, grateful acceptance of chaotic oscillation

Experienced meditators doubtless recognize this as a 101-level realization, a knight’s-move expressed in ‘legacy’ egoic terms: first the lateral shift from despairing of ever attaining some outcome (successfully ‘managed’ concentration), to accepting both its possibility and the limits of my own perception/projection, and then a step further in, to a (temporary) new relationship to the meditative work which responds to the realness of the process rather than the desirability of the outcome. No sign of breaking the doomed imagine/desire/satisfy cycle here, just a local detachment of a certain imagining from a certain experience.

What’s interesting to me this morning, as a semi-experienced but very low-skill meditator, is the mindset — the mind-as-process — which opened up after I turned this corner several minutes into a sit. ‘Effortful…acceptance of chaotic oscillation.’ In other words: ‘surrender to the (turbulent) flow.’

One of the purposes of breath meditation is to realize (not ‘understand’) freedom from identification with the endless stream of mental activity, the burbling polyglot discourse of what my old professor Marvin Minsky called the ‘society of mind’ and Buddhist tradition calls ‘monkey mind.’ Heads are noisy places, the concerted work of mind emerges from a noisy knotty crosshatch of contradictory and coincidental impulses, and peaceful clarity or ‘awakening’ is both a natural state and a fleeting, rare one — e.g. look at everyone who’s ever lived. One of the states (processes) that open up in ‘successful’ breath meditations is a calm ego-detached awareness of the contingency and transience of such mental activity; the popular view mistakes this peaceful resolve for quiet, a standard dumb fuckup for human beings across experiential domains,2 but the ‘content’ of my sitting realization can be reduced/expressed as, ‘Whether or not this experience is “managed” isn’t a matter of quiet output but of persistent undertaking.’ Once I imagined myself participating in the activity, rather than imagining myself failing to ‘succeed’ at it, I was able to embody a new mode of relation between self and act, and between act and circumstance and outcome.

Again: yes, the fictional self-provision remains. But after all it was only 20 minutes of sitting down in an unused office at my workplace; we shouldn’t expect miracles in that setting, at that rate.

This is akin to going ‘off the grid,’ psychologically speaking, if only for a few minutes: after that moment of reframing, I was still working hard without satisfaction, still conscious of the fact that my mind would not quiet the hell down. (Yes, sitting down to meditate is hard work.) But that awareness and lack of satisfaction temporarily stopped generating that familiar emotional cocktail of self-loathing and despair — instead of the meditative work being a pretext for going into a tailspin, it felt like its own reward; it was real in itself.

Of course this echoes the Buddhist practice of referring to seated meditation as ‘sitting’ per se.

From that point in the session onward — and here I’m conscious of, but can’t be bothered to avoid, certain tiresome therapeutic/’productive’ connotations of the word session — I experienced the same ‘failed’ submergence/surfacing cycle that’d been pissing me off previously, the rise and fall of attentional waveform and whatever others. But instead of judging this oscillation, I was simply there for it. What ‘quiet’ occurred was a quality not of the mental ‘stream’ (which never quieted at all) but of the observing/judging faculty, the egoic ‘I.’ That relinquishing of judgment/control was unconscious despite my Beckettian internal utterance (‘I can’t, I can, I am’), but afterward I was no less aware of what was going on. Nothing like no-mind or no-self here, only a clearer sight of my set, setting, volition, activity.

For years I’ve told writing students and mentees, ‘All edits are clarity edits.’

Sometimes I’ll walk down a bustling sidewalk and experience an intoxicating stillness, keeping my head still relative to the sidewalk (like a camera on a dolly) while moving my body ‘around’ it to compensate. My subjective experience — not just in its visual aspect, the camera-eye, but in terms of the kinesthetic music of my whole mind/body system — remains smoothly and pleasurably continuous even while something akin to automatic error-correction goes on handling navigation duties. You can see the same effect in the flight of a bird whose body continually adjusts its movement so that its head can remain still enough to pick out prey on the ground far below, or indeed in surfers whose centers of mass move smoothly across wavetops while their legs pump irregularly to compensate for the dynamic curvature of the water below. Stillness not motionlessness — peace not quiet. The air and water and the madding crowd don’t stop flowing by in their chaotic turbulence; these bodily practices seeking stillness do not quiet the world’s noise. But in each event, the body that makes the mind — remember that the Spanish for ‘to make,’ hacer, also translates as ‘to do’ — ‘rests transparently’ in its moment, it experiences a reconciliation of set and setting.

Sometimes the V7 chord is exactly how you feel and not just a tool for getting back to the superegoic I.3

An altered relation to effort, and thus between effort and its output, isn’t a precursor to this experience of clarity — it’s it. In Alcoholics Anonymous they say you can’t think your way to right action, only act your way to right thinking; this is a pragmatic and sober articulation of our perhaps more abstract, fanciful notion that they’re the same thing.

  1. The proximate causes of the difficulty are irrelevant here. 
  2. See also the democratic realization, ‘Peace is not the absence of conflict but its resolvability.’ 
  3. This use of ‘I’ is one of those jokes that probably incurs a clarity-cost but I can’t bring myself to cut it. ‘Superegoic I’ is meant to play ironically after the earlier ‘egoic “I”‘; the idea here is that prefab psychological resolution is a social convention, etc., etc., and we come back to ego-pattern partly because there’s no room for other shit. But as primed by the notation ‘V7’ earlier in the sentence, ‘I’ also means the tonic major chord — harmonic ‘homebase’ so to speak, the resolution of the V7 and, in Western music, the fulfilling contrast-move that gives V7 its meaning, makes it OK. In jazz and other 20C western musics you’re surrounded by unresolved seventh chords, internal tritones allowed to both embody and signify ambivalence, i.e. those musics open up a new unconventional subjectivity that doesn’t just collapse mindlessly to the (egoic) I. See?! I went to graduate school, motherfucker!! This is way, way, way too much pressure on what’s ultimately just a coincidence of notation, and I’ll stop here. Thank you for reading this footnote. I went to graduate school. 

temporary autonomous imaginative zone.

Quick thought on Hakim Bey, Robert Anton Wilson, and hip phrases with ‘ontology’ in them.

Bey’s approach to all belief-systems, including anarchism, is to seek to channel their vital energy — their ‘life-forces, daring, intransigence, anger, heedlessness’ — while discarding their spooks, or fixed categories. This leads to an approach in which he loots or appropriates from different theories and traditions, without endorsing their foundational assumptions. Bey terms this ‘cultural bricolage’, or as ‘thieving’, or ‘hunting and gathering’, in an informational world. He takes, for instance, passion from revolutionary socialism, grace and ease from monarchism, self-overcoming or higher awareness from mysticism.

This description immediately brings to mind the other Wilson’s (RAW’s) ‘guerrilla ontology,’ that writing/reading-practice of taking what you need from an ontological frame but coming away immediately with (1) whatever contents are good to/for/with you, and eventually with (2) a deep active sense of the provisionality and transience of even ‘foundational’ concepts and states. The purpose of ‘guerrilla ontology’ isn’t to convince you of any particular idea, but to alter your relationship to convincing, i.e. to freedom.

Lately I’ve been mulling over this analogy:

place : space :: polity : population

A ‘polity’ isn’t a group of people, it’s a collectively imagined and centrally organized process they enter. A multi-user shared hallucination, as we used to say. By analogy, I’ve lately been using ‘place’ to mean something like ‘situation,’ mixing that latter term’s situationist and jazz-improvisatory senses: both circumstance and its conception, a moment bound more or less tightly to a space (as to a time). I’m trying to account for, among other things, the way ‘sacred spaces’ lose their power when the ritual-memory that impregnates them with meaning is lost — it makes sense to me to think of them as ‘sacred places,’ which combine what psychedelic culture calls set and setting, i.e. mental and physical circumstances. A space is sacred while and how you’re in it.

Now, because I’m intellectually irresponsible and into New Age synthambient music, I’ve also (thus) been thinking about ‘guerrilla ontology’ — RAW’s textual practice of serially springing textual traps to engender a radically skeptical reading-posture — as the establishment and dissolution of what we might, borrowing Bey’s terminology, call temporary autonomous imaginative zones: cognitive playspaces to be taken in (by), explored, and drifted from or been kicked out of, Eden-style. Inner landscapes, leaning heavily on the psycho- part of psychogeography. Here I’m turning over the idea of a ‘textual situation,’ a fictional proposition be picked up like Yorick’s skull, looked at, laughed over, thought through, and then cast back into the grave…

Which is partly to say I got introduced to reader-response theory at a tender age and it’s still latent at the base of my spinal cord, like herpes.

OK but now put on your Generalization Hat if you haven’t already: mindstates are temporary autonomous zones. They come and go — minds come and go, ‘mind’ is to the content of thought as place is to space — and in each passing (subjective) moment you’re able to live out certain forms of freedom but only temporarily, transiently, limited by the provisions of set and setting. The fictional proposition constrains imaginative response and/but affords, offers, an opportunity to realize a form of imaginative freedom outside otherwise-existing category.

Of course, this describes not just Bey’s subject but his own intellectual practice: the encounter with an idea, or indeed with a megatextual tradition, generates tools (affordances) for imaginative free play, which are taken up and put down according to a private associative logic which we sometimes call (creative) vision. The ‘foundational assumptions’ of an intellectual/wisdom tradition include its own originating set/setting, which are unrecoverable but in any case remain peripheral to the meaning we make with it — the reader’s vision isn’t itself the text but it dominates the textual encounter (well beyond whether it’s a ‘good time’). What Bey describes in quasi-mystical terms as ‘ontological anarchy’ is the realization of true autonomy, ecstatic and tragic and drawing meaning from its unsustainability:

The logic of Passion leads to the conclusion that all “states” are impossible, all “orders” illusory, except those of desire… [B]etween the lonely awakening of the individual, and the synergetic anamnesis of the insurrectionary collectivity, there stretches out a whole spectrum of social forms with some potential for our “project.” Some last no longer than a chance meeting between two kindred spirits who might enlarge each other by their brief and mysterious encounter; others are like holidays, still others like pirate utopias. None seems to last very long — but so what?

RAW’s ‘guerrilla ontology’ exhorts an analogous nomadic reading practice, and HB’s pirate-sociality shares with RAW’s pirate-textuality a model of playful mind passing through thought-structures the way the situationist passes through the city-structure in the dérive, engaging with one ambience and then an adjacent/overlapping other.

The process is harmolodic.

Irreal Life Top 10, February 2023.

Focusing on the mundane this month, with the sublime never all that far off, as you’d maybe expect from the title of this recurring ‘feature.’ –wa.

  1. Kailh Copper vs Silver. In mechanical keyboard land it’s important to carefully choose your keyswitches, which determine much of the ‘hand feel’ of the board. After trying Cherry MX Browns — a little stiff for me — I picked up two sets of Kailh switches: tactile Copper (a noticeable tactile ‘bump’ between touching/actuating and bottoming out) and linear Silver (no bump, ideal for gaming etc). The nominal actuation force and key travel are the same for both, but they feel completely different: though the Coppers are noticeably lighter to the touch than the Cherry Browns, they’ve still got that chunky I’m Really Typing feeling that’s part of the core appeal of the mechanical kb; meanwhile the Silvers are so light they go off when you breathe on them. I use the Silvers at home and have the Coppers in the keyboard I bought for work (reimbursement pending). The differences are instructive and, for the kind of fetishist I’ve evidently become, weirdly exciting.
  2. Wallis Buddhist translations. Glenn Wallis’s translation of the short collection of sutras/suttas called the Dhammapada — subtitle: ‘Verses on the Way’ — is one among increasingly many and the best I’ve read, graceful and clear. His collection of Basic Teachings of the Buddha in translation is even better, and certain thoughtful interpretive choices (e.g. his shift in translation of dukkha from ‘pain’ to ‘unease’) open up the latter text in subtly profound ways. But better than his translations are his notes and reading guides, which together constitute a parallel Buddhism 101 that illuminates existing scholarship without ditching the practical for the esoteric. That Wallis has since left ‘straight’ Buddhism behind doesn’t in any way devalue this rigorously welcoming work; as with Robert Graves’s Greek Myths, the ‘primary’ text is the whole slightly mad thing, and I’m grateful for its weird truth-telling.
  3. Sigil and mandala. From my notes, which may or may not reside in a zettelkasten: “Sigil work [making a diagram from e.g. the nonrepeating lettershapes of a written statement of desire, then ‘energizing’ it by thinking hard about it while e.g. jacking off] is about intensely focused engagement with an iconic representation, not so as to ‘do magic,’ but to radically transform your attention in accordance with your intention. The outcome is the same as for any magic: an alternate [not solely post-orgasmic] form of seeing-as. … The difference between sigil magic and mandala practice is one of degree(s). Different timescale, different mode of focusing, different relationship to desire (none of the explosive expression of sigilization), but closely related, and potentially mutually reinforcing. … Crucially, both sigil and mandala work are in a certain sense ‘aesthetic’ experiences — though you might say the latter is a deliberate cultivation and the former a purgation. Earth/water and fire/air. … TODO: Think about the metaphoric role of entropy in magical purgation. Its link to emptiness/spaciousness. Well, if we weren’t hippie dipshits before…”
  4. 76 Patrons. One of the best-loved supplements for the early (indeed primitive) Traveller science-fiction roleplaying game is this short 1980 compendium of ready-to-run ‘patron encounters’ following a simple template: a contact, a job offer, a paycheck, some complications, and a d6 table of twists and answers to the question of What’s Really Going On. Pound for pound, one of the most useful gamebooks ever published, its plots varied and the simple prose keeping the imaginative space wide open for the Referee. The ‘lack of style’ comes to feel like a show of respect, like the book and writer Loren Wiseman know how hard it is to run an improvisatory campaign, have been there before, and know just how to help.
  5. The Fire Next Time. Lives up to its title and reputation right away, but in the climactic sequence — as Baldwin grows uncomfortable with his long conversation with the evil piece of shit Elijah Muhammad, acknowledging the Nation of Islam’s appeal and pull while rejecting its implied criticisms of his own urbane way of life — it surpasses the reductive identitarian reading that’s rapidly become bourgeois orthodoxy. An astonishing work.
  6. The Banshees of Inisherin. I’ve seen Irish viewers criticize its Oirishness, which is fair, as well Irish-British writer-director McDonagh’s weird treatment of the Irish civil war as something inexplicably distant from the seemingly bucolic life of the island. Very well — but this stagey film may as well have been set in the same nonplace as Waiting for Godot, its allegory is so broad and its story so tightly focused on darkly absurd central conflict. Banshees isn’t as good a time as cult-favourite In Bruges, too cruel, but it’s the better film and the more emotionally mature, even if its pseudoprofundity confirms McDonagh as a minor writer with a knack for dialogue. Bit of a dilettante too, maybe. Farrell and Gleeson do their beautiful double act — is Colin Farrell, seemingly a sweetly decent guy with a sound head on his shoulders, our most underappreciated great actor? — but the finest moment of Banshees is Barry Keoghan and Kerry Condon’s scene by the lake, with that one heartbreaking line. A very fine film, but not, I think, destined to become a ‘classic.’
  7. Brooklyn 99. OK, you win. The middle seasons of this middlebrow middleweight are so consistently enjoyable, in their way, that the collapse of the final season into pseudopolitics feels less like a shame and more like a sin. (Bonus: in the moments when they let Stephanie Beatriz do something closer to her real voice, you see how good she actually is; in the moments when they let Andy Samberg try to ‘act,’ you see how far he had to go (with the writers’ help) to be more than the Jerry Seinfeld of the cast.)
  8. Phil and Friends, April 1999. Phil Lesh’s first shows after a life-threatening illness and transplant were an extraordinary moment for the ‘jam band’ community: half of Phish (Trey and Page) joined stepped in to join Lesh, guitarist-ally Steve Kimock, and drummer John Molo in a supergroup for three nights at the Warfield, uniting Deadheads with younger heads and starting to build a bridge between first- and subsequent-generation improvisatory rock musics. They opened the 15 April show with a 34-minute ‘Viola Lee Blues’ that was worth the night’s ticket cost all on its own, then went deep and stayed there (with help from welcome guest and den mother Donna Jean). The final night’s setlist really does open Dark Star > It’s Up to You, Days Between > Dark Star > My Favorite Things, with a 20+ minute Terrapin > Down with Disease at the show’s center and an all-time great Morning Dew at the climax. Lesh is in fine form, Anastasio might be at his career peak, but the whole thing is Zero cofounder Steve Kimock’s coming-out party — this triumphant run introduced what Phil called Kimock’s ‘antigravity guitar’ to the national audience, his passionate melodies weaving through Anastasio’s virtuosic second-lead matrices like air and earth. It’s a shame they haven’t paired again, though Kimock’s subsequent career has been hit-and-miss. (Fans of his performances with Phil will enjoy KVHW and the perfectly named Marijuana Jazz Band.)
  9. Silverview. John Le Carré’s posthumous novel, largely finished at his death a couple of years ago, is a sweet slim valedictory in the mode of A Legacy of Spies, his 2017 farewell to Smiley. Silverview feels like a farewell to everything, though that’s a common theme with Le Carré. Again it’s aging cold warriors looking back on the damage they’ve caused — this time the traumatic wound is inflicted in Bosnia, evoked as distant background rather than fully imagined setting — but this minor book contents itself with personal rather than political accounting. There’s a surprise ending too, quiet and sweet and slightly clunky, as if the master didn’t quite want (or know how) to end on such a hopeful note. I loved that and the rest of this muted autumn novel, which I read in a sitting. (Somewhat against my will and expectations, I recommend reading his son’s afterword before proceeding to the story itself.)
  10. Condensed Chaos. Phil Hine is one of our most humane occult writers, a real model for me, which might be why I’d avoided going cover-to-cover through any of his books before last month. This work, along with recent essay collection Hine’s Varieties, marks him as a lucid, sane, and empathetic practitioner and theorist of magic — two rare things — plus funny, which might be rarest of all in the po-faced world of occult bullshit. The remarkable thing about Condensed Chaos isn’t its accessibility or breezy tone, though, but rather Hine’s excellent pedagogical approach. Beginning with DRAT (discipline, relaxation, attention, transformation) and working his way slowly toward step-by-step instructions for invoking particular ‘chaos servitors,’ he lays out a program of magical self-inquiry and -transformation which foregrounds the practical (Sorcery) but acknowledges, as responsible adults must, that it’s all fundamentally an oblique approach to self-refashioning and imaginative exploration. His candor, pragmatism, and good humour serve a method that takes the Path (but not itself) seriously. And his worked examples of ‘pathworking’ are clear as day. Well, here’s how good this book is: it made me want to do magic in a group of committed practitioners. This is of course madness, but there’s a method to that too.

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.

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.

Ong’s Hat isn’t a place, it’s a world.

Stating what should be obvious:

Ong’s Hat — not the ghost town in New Jersey but the fictional town-story overlaid on it by Joseph Matheny and later collaborators/followers — isn’t a place, though it’s certainly tied to one. Rather, it’s a way of experiencing a place: once again we’re recasting supposed discrete form and substance as modes of relation. Understanding story-system, meaning-system, ideological system, etc. as perceptual filters, you might be better able to imagine how they stack and interact, and how they seem to alter experiences deeply but not so predictably and not at all consistently.

Ong’s Hat doesn’t need to make sense, only to perturb sense — it’s ‘true’ in the way any filtering functioning is ‘true’: it does what it does to how you see. It un-senses you.

Seeing the transmedia project in this way we can avoid the twin traps of (1) reducing it to ‘just’ a game/story and (2) treating it like a set of fact-claims. ‘You determine your own level of involvement.’ As with so many conspiracy theories (not only explicitly, intentionally fictional ones), the fiction offers entry to a feedback loop between new/fictional thought, new/provisional belief, and new/exploratory action. All three arcs of the circle might be termed ‘generative’ — creative. Fiction, provision, exploration.

And of course bullshit.

It’s nice to be pleased with a paragraph of your own writing.

If Sandover is ultimately an artistic failure — debatable but let’s humour the boring consensus for a moment — in what sense, by what standard, does it fail? What is Merrill supposed to be doing? Litcrit rules are dumb and dangerous but the time for circumspection is past: in Sandover, Merrill fails in an attempt to become transparent, to socialize his (and Jackson’s) vision. A long literary work ‘teaches you how to read it’ when its early movements provide the tools for accessing the more difficult later material: an API or access-language. Sandover‘s later movements, though beautiful, are a taxing read because they sacrifice clarity for purity.