by Steven Craig Hickman
The writer does not yet know what words are. He deals only with abstractions from the source point of words. The painter’s ability to touch and handle his medium led to montage techniques sixty years ago. It is to be hoped that the extension of cut-up techniques will lead to more precise verbal experiments closing this gap and giving a whole new dimension to writing. These techniques can show the writer what words are and put him in tactile communication with his medium. This in turn could lead to a precise science of words and show how certain word combinations produce certain effects on the human nervous system. (The Job Interviews)
Burroughs believed language to be the first and foremost control machine. A machine that constructed and shaped the naked ape called man into its present form, and that any future exit from the human would incorporate a breakup of this control machine and its present system of signs. The normalization and comforming of the human child through a series of modulated cycles of cultural and social enducements begins at childbirth. Nothing new here, except that for most of human history this went on unconsciously for the most part, but at some point certain tribal members realized that words harbored power over the minds and hearts of people. These shamans became the keepers of this knowlege of power, inventing relations between tribe and word these dreamkings began to bridge the unknown and known in a linguistic web of power relations that would become the cultural background of a time-machine.
Tracing the consequences of this movement from word control to dream-power is the symbiotic relationship between animals and plants throughout history. The cycles of oxygenation and nitrogen waste have brought these two unlikely hosts together in mutant forms that go unrecognized by most scholars and philosophers. Early on the scattered tribes of naked apes we term human began to gather plants to supplement their diet, and in this process discovered certain as anthropologists and entheogens love to term it “plants of power”. Between the shamanic flight and ecstatic trance societies of northern climes, and the vodoun horse riders of energetics and dances of sub-Saharan populations, the plants of the hallucenogenic cultures would enable a trace run of the noumenal worlds outside the control vectors of normalization that bind a socious together. In this process of investigation certain maps of the cosmos were developed and tabulated within the secret arsenals of these tribal shamans, witches, and practitioners of the arts of power.
What are we really saying here? That plants were central to the spiritual life of humanity, that it was the very material power locked within entheogens that harbored the supposed breakthroughs of vision and ecstasy that surround the taboos of our ancient fears and horrors of the unknown. That specialists in such knowledge and power were set aside, tabooed, given certain rights and privileges to explore these unknown territories of the noumenal realms. Translating this into modern parlance these specialists were the first to break the bonds of the control systems that kept most people tightly enmeshed in a reality system that allowed the group to evolve, enabling the continuation of sex and survival at the core the socious. Culture is a defense system against change, a way for a group to stabilize and defend itself against those powers that seek its demise. Culture has always been an artificial system of defense mechanisms, a time machine to regulate the flows, fluxes, and powers outside its jurisdiction. I use the legal notion because at the heart of this regulatory mechanism is the unwritten law of separation of powers between those who bind and those who unbind it.
Power itself is a measure of the solar economy of energy flows on earth in its cyclic movement from birth, growth, maturity, decay, and death. Humans from the beginning have worshipped the powers of the natural universe and its cycles of growth and decay as natural motions of the interactions of sun, moon, and earth. In his fascinating study of the impact of plants on the brain, David O. Kennedy describes a Neolithic Age dig 20 miles outside Rome at Lake Bracciano:
For the past three decades divers have been slowly sucking away the stubborn but protective mantel of mud that settled over La Marmotta, as the archaeological site is known today. Among the many thousands of artifacts, boats, timbers, bones, and tools that have been retrieved to date from the lake bed there are two finds that are of particular interest. The first comprises several fragments of the polypore fungus Daedaleopsis tricolorfound inside dwelling structures; these fungi were probably harvested for their pharmacological properties and used in ritual or medicine. The second comprises the contents of a single room that contained both the seeds of the opium poppy Papaver somniferum, and, most importantly, a religious “mother” idol. Together these artifacts suggest that these early seafaring immigrants were already growing opium for its psychotropic properties and consuming it in a ritualistic setting.1
The interest here is that this took place some 7,700 years ago in a world that had yet to enter into that state we term civilization or history. This harvesting, organization, and ritual use of a psychotropic substance by a stone age tribe of fishers on the edge of a lake in Italy leads one to believe this was not an anomaly but rather a common practice not only among such tribes as this but across the human populations in various climes across the globe. And, of course, the anthropological literature which seems to fallen on deaf ears in our era of the supposed non-human studies unconcerned with humanity and its ancient practices, religious or otherwise has for years undermined such studies. Most of Continental philosophy and thought has been elsewhere, and yet even in those pioneers of the postmodern malaise as Deleuze and Guattari would plant the seeds of a return and collusion between these ancient primitive sorcerers and schizoanalysis.
Deleuze/Guattari: Primitive Cure and Schizoanalysis
Our definition of schizoanalysis focused on two aspects: the destruction of the expressive pseudo forms of the unconscious, and the discovery of desire’s unconscious investments of the social field. It is from this point of view that we must consider many primitive cures; they are schizoanalysis in action.3
In a Thousand Plateaus they’ll describe,
Doubtless, we see operations of rigidification and centralization take shape here and there: all of the centers must collect on a single circle, which itself has a single center. The shaman draws lines between all the points or spirits, outlines a constellation, a radiating set of roots tied to a central tree. This is the birth of a centralized power with an arborescent system to discipline the outgrowths of the primitive rhizome. Here, the tree simultaneously plays the role of a principle of dichotomy or binarity, and an axis of rotation. But the power of the shaman is still entirely localized, strictly dependent upon a particular segment, contingent upon drugs, and each point continues to emit independent sequences.4
In fact they’ll see in the same book they write of the controversial Carlos Castaneda and his symbolic narratives of the sorcerer’s cure, mutation, and metamorphic heritage:
“Carlos Castaneda’s books clearly illustrate this evolution, or rather this involution, in which the affects of a becoming-dog, for example, are succeeded by those of a becoming-molecular, microperceptions of water, air, etc. A man totters from one door to the next and disappears into thin air: “All I can tell you is that we are fluid, luminous beings made of fibers.” All so-called initiatory journeys include these thresholds and doors where becoming itself becomes, and where one changes becoming depending on the “hour” of the world, the circles of hell, or the stages of a journey that sets scales, forms, and cries in variation. From the howling of animals to the wailing of elements and particles.”
Deleuze/Guattari on Becoming and Multiplicity:
Thus packs, or multiplicities, continually transform themselves into each other, cross over into each other. Werewolves become vampires when they die. This is not surprising, since becoming and multiplicity are the same thing. A multiplicity is defined not by its elements, nor by a center of unification or comprehension. It is defined by the number of dimensions it has; it is not divisible, it cannot lose or gain a dimension without changing its nature. Since its variations and dimensions are immanent to it, it amounts to the same thing to say that each multiplicity is already composed of heterogeneous terms in symbiosis, and that a multiplicity is continually transforming itself into a string of other multiplicities, according to its thresholds and doors.
The word symbiosis pops out at me of late, since from the beginning there has been this symbiotic relationship between plant and animal kingdoms, the cycles of oxegenation and nitrogenation in symbiotic transfer between waste systems of both species. This interlocking mesh of plant and animal, a delicate balance that has probably been part of the core basis of many of the so to speak Extinction events, with the upsetting of this cycle between the two kingdoms due to internal or external events. We are in the midst of such an event now, and the balance between animal and plant life is being unbalanced by the one species that lives by delusion and illusion rather than any form of realism. Humanity. We blindly forget our debt to the plant kingdom and go our own foolish way as if it did not matter. None of this has a thing to do with us, or our moralisms. It is beyond good and evil, it is a facticity we cannot escape or exit. It just is… not is some substantive way, but in the becoming cycles of the energetic flows of the solar economy this planet has brought into play.
William S. Burroughs: The Sickness of Society
What is a hallucinogen? A drug that expands consciousness and increases awareness of surroundings and bodily processes. I would suggest the term consciousness-expanding drug be substituted for hallucinogen, because, for one thing, it is very difficult to pronounce. Actual hallucinations are rare, and no precise definition of a hallucination has been formulated. Under the influence of LSD, mescaline, cannabis, the subject is acutely aware of colors, sounds, odors, and the effect of the drug may be said to consist in this phenomenon of increased awareness, which may be pleasant or unpleasant, depending on the content of the awareness. Colors and sounds gain an intense meaning and many insights carry over after the drug effects have worn off. Under the influence of mescaline, I have had the experience of seeing a painting for the first time, and I found later that I could see the painting without using the drug. The same insights into music, the beauty of an object, ordinarily ignored, carry over so that one exposure to a powerful consciousness-expanding drug often conveys a permanent increase in the range of experience. Mescaline transports the user to unexplored psychic areas, and he can often find the way back without a chemical guide. I will describe a simple experiment that will make the distinction between sedative and consciousness-expanding drugs more precise. (The Job Interviews)
In fact Burroughs would add,
The use of sedative drugs leads to increased dependence on the drug used. The use of consciousness-expanding drugs could show the way to obtain the useful aspects of hallucinogenic experience, without any chemical agent. Anything that can be done chemically can be done in other ways, with sufficient knowledge of the mechanisms involved. (ibid.)
This sense that the body is a biochemical factory that acts on certain triggers to enable the production of certain effects within the brain is well known. So pervasive is the relationship between humans and psychotropic plants and fungi that they have played a major part in shaping mankind’s history. The most obvious and all-encompassing role has been in the development of religions. The popular etymology of religion among the later ancients (Servius, Lactantius, Augustine) and the interpretation of many modern writers connects it with religare“to bind fast” (see rely), via notion of “place an obligation on,” or “bond between humans and gods.” Maybe we should update this as a bond between humans and plants rather than gods.
For instance, plants have been associated with their own gods in many cultures; the “Poppy Goddess” of Crete, a figure with a trance-like expression and a crown of moveable poppyshaped pins; the ancient Greek goddess of fertility and the harvest, Demeter, whose emblem was an opium poppy4 ; the Celtic god Bel, the Norse/Germanic god Thor, and the Roman god Jupiter, all associated with henbane (Hyoscamus niger); the Germanic goddess of love Freya, inextricably linked to cannabis (Cannabis sativa); and the Germanic god Odin, associated with opium, deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna), and fly agaric (Amanita muscaria). The drugs themselves have also often been attributed with being a direct personification of a god or goddess and have been deified accordingly,—for instance, the kykeόn, a mysterious drink deified by the cult of Demeter and Persephone and used in their “Eleusinian Mysteries” initiation rite; soma, or haoma, a psychotropic drink deified in Hinduism and Zoroastrianism, respectively4 ; and the Egyptian god of spiritual rebirth, Osiris, who was putatively the personification of the hallucinogenic Psilocybe mushroom.5
Much of the earliest archaeological evidence of psychotropic plant use is open to interpretation. Deposits of opium poppy seeds found at La Marmotta (5700 bc), or in Neolithic and Bronze Age settlements between the Jura Mountains and the French/ Swiss Alps (4000–3000 bc), or interred alongside poppy heads in a grass bag found in a burial cave (2500 bc) in Granada, Spain, may well simply reflect the alternative uses of the opium poppy as a source of oil and food. Similarly, Taiwanese and Chinese pottery bearing the imprint of hemp cloth and rope, dating as far back as 8000 bc, might simply reflect the practical use of tough cannabis stem fibers. However, the first unequivocal written evidence of mankind’s enduring relationship with psychotropic plants is provided by clay tablets bearing the “cuneiform” script, indentations of abstract patterns made by pressing a wedge-tipped stylus into damp clay. These clay tablets originated in the Sumerian civilization that flourished from the 4th to the 1st millennia bc in Mesopotamia, the region between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers in modern-day Iraq. The tablets, dated to the middle part of the 3rd millennium bc, record the use of some 250 plants, including the opium poppy, mandrake (Mandragora officinarum), and deadly nightshade. The use of the opium poppy is seen most clearly in tablets from the settlement of Nippur, an important seat of worship, in which the plant is denoted by the ideogram “Hul Gil,” translated as “joy plant.” The text includes reference to the cultivation and harvesting of opium, and given that the “Hul Gil” ideogram had cropped up in texts dating to the 4th millennium bc, it seems likely that opium use was well embedded in Sumerian society, at least in terms of ritual or religious use. Similarly, several tablets among a vast horde found among the ruins of the Royal Library of Ashurbanipal in the city in Nineveh attest to the popularity of cannabis. While the debris was a result of the sacking of Nineveh by the Scythians in 612 bc, the tablets are thought to contain the collected knowledge that the Sumerian and Akkadian civilizations had accumulated over the preceding 2,000 years.6
We can trace the ritual use of entheoginic hallucinogens in cultures as wide ranging as Hindu, Egyptian, Mesopotamia, Minoan, Greek, Roman, et. al. During the Mycenaean period many of the ancient myths and legends, many of them incorporated from other regional cultures, underpinned the religious beliefs of the later ancient Greek civilization. Psychoactive plants feature prominently. For instance, Hecate was the underworld goddess both of witchcraft and poisonous plants and was associated with specific plants such as wolf ’s bane (genus Aconitum), mandrake, opium, and deadly nightshade, whereas Circe, a minor goddess and witch, administered a poison that was probably deadly nightshade to the crew of Odysseus’ ship. The antidote, described as moly, that then saved Odysseus was most likely to have been a member of the snowdrop family such as Galanthus nivalis. b, Deadly nightshade was also associated with one of the three mythical “fates,” Atropa (after whom the plant is named), who severs the thread of life at the point of death, and it was used by the Greek cult of Dionysius (Bacchus to the Romans). Likewise, opium was associated with the mythological twins Hypnos and Thanatos, representing sleep and death, and had its own deity, Demeter, the goddess of fertility and the harvest, whose emblem was an opium poppy; and henbane garlanded the wraith-like spirits of the dead that roamed the banks of the river Styx at the entrance to Hades. One further notable psychotropic was the secret ingredient of kykeόn, a mysterious potion to which was attributed godlike properties; it was reputed to engender an ecstatic experience of death and resurrection. The drink formed the cornerstone of the Eleusinian Mysteries, the initiation ceremony of the cults of Demeter and Persephone, which survived right through from the Mycenaean Age to the Roman Empire and counted among its members many of the notable members of Greek and Roman society. The identity of the kykeόn is shrouded in mystery, but it is known that the ingredients included flour and mint, and it seems likely that the active ingredients were hallucinogenic, water-soluble lysergic acid amides from the fungus ergot, which grows symbiotically on cereal in the region around Athens. With the exception of the kykeόn, these plants, along with other plants such as hemp and mandrake, also featured extensively in the burgeoning medicine of the Greeks, along with their many ceremonial and social roles. Indeed, opium was generally regarded as the drug of choice for the populace. (Kennedy, pp. 7-8)
It was only with the advent of the monotheistic religions and the control mechanisms put into place over the centuries of Jewish, Christian, and Islamic religious rule that such knowledge was lost to humankind in the Western traditions of our Eurocentric world. With the advent of these institutions the age of entheogens came to an end as it was forced underground and into counter-cultural practices of medicine and magical belief systems that would be hounded by inquisitorial practices in one form or another throughout the past two thousands years.
I’ve barely begun to explicate this unique history of the symbiotic relation between human and plant kingdoms. My interest in the entheogens was due to my obvious participation during the sixties of the emerging culture of hallucinogenic or psychedelia culture. Having ingested a multiplicity of alkaloids from psilocybin, mescalin, peyote, LSD and other derivatives over a period of fifty years my own experience attests to this strange and bewildering biochemical experiment in such transitional zones of brain transformation. Having long ago abandoned religious explanations due to my utter disgust with Bible Belt Christianity that impose itself on my early life, I’ve gone obviously overboard in the opposing atheistic forms of thought and feeling based on secular world views. Only in the past few years have I come to a new point that sees both religious and secular views as part of a culture of control and normalization, capturing human desire and shaping it to the mastery of central command systems we term culture and civilization. Having tried to exit one system I fell hook, line, and sinker into the other trap. Now I’ve begun to retrace the path back to the beginnings knowing full well this, too, may be illusion and delusion. Being bound in a brain that is itself blind to its own processes precludes full disclosure of anything close to a truth of our interactions with ourselves and the world, and yet we continue as we must to do with what little we are and have. It’s all we can do, while acknowledging how little that is.
Most current philosophy seems to preclude any investment into such worlds of scholarship. I’ve see in recent times a certain segment of scholarship into these areas trying to bring it back under the fold of religion, which to me is also erroneous. When will we escape the old and invent the new? Why do we revert to the well-worn control mechanisms that seek to tame the wild? Books on the entheogens seem to want to recapture these ancient systems of experimentation and fold them into religious scholarship. To me that’s once again to retread the old paths of metaphysical thought we’ve anathematized. Why not explore these ancient human / plant symbiotic relations under a new framework devoid of either secular or religious ideology, behavior, practices, or scholarship? Humans seem fearful to enter the unknown no holds bar, instead the need their symbolic baby blankets to carry them into the dark. The darkness is not fearful, it is rather the light that harbors the evil we are. The shadows bring with them the unknown and unknowable that is still just beyond the horizon of language and its capture systems. To enter the dark without one’s mental defense systems is to brave the new and its unfolding truth.
Addendum: Time, Calendars, Control
For Burroughs the ultimate control system was Time itself, the Calendar:
The ancient Mayans possessed one of the most precise and hermetic control calendars ever used on this planet, a calendar that in effect controlled what the populace did thought and felt on any given day. A study of this model system throws light on modern methods of control. Knowledge of the calendar was the monopoly of a priestly caste who maintained their position with minimal police and military force. …
The priests then could calculate precisely what reactive commands had been or would be restimulated on any date past or future and these calculations enabled them to reconstruct the past or predict the future with considerable accuracy. They were dealing from a stacked deck. Calculations of past and future calendar juxtapositions took up a good deal of their time and they were more concerned with the past than the future. There are calculations that go back 400,000,000 years. These probings into the remote past may be interpreted as an assertion that the calendars always existed and always will exist. (All control systems claim to reflect the immutable laws of the universe.)
(The Job Interviews)
In our age of mass media of newspapers, radio, television, magazines, and the Internet form a ceremonial calendar to which all citizens are subjected. The “priests” wisely conceal themselves behind masses of contradictory data and vociferously deny that they exist. Like the Mayan priests they can reconstruct the past and predict the future on a statistical basis through manipulation of media. It is the daily press preserved in newspaper morgues that makes detailed reconstruction of past dates possible. How can the modern priests predict seemingly random future events? (The Job Interviews) And the heart of the matter:
Admittedly, two model control systems, the Mayan and the Egyptian, were based on hieroglyphic writing. However, these control systems were predicated on the illiteracy of the controlled. Universal literacy with a concomitant control of word and image is now the instrument of control. An essential feature of the Western control machine is to make language as non-pictorial as possible, to separate words as far as possible from objects or observable processes. (The Job Interviews)
We’ve seen over the past century the divorce of image from word, the pure movement from sense word associations and ties to the abstract horror of complete sign systems floating in a void. We are locked in a nihilistic prison house of non-meaning where the natural world has disappeared and been replaced by a simulacrum and copy based on mathematical calculation. Cut off form past or future, isolated in a free-zone of accelerating speed of financial capital we are the artificial citizens of a non-world devoid of any truth or reality. Total immersion in a syncopated world of timeless fragmentation where the more we learn the stupider we become. As if reading a Chomsky’s book, Burroughs tells us:
Opinion control is a technical operation extending over a period of years. First a population segment—“segment preparation”—is conditioned to react to words rather than word referents. You will notice in the subsidized periodicals a curious prose without image. If I say the word “chair” you see a chair. If I say “the concomitant somnolence with the ambivalent smugness of unavowed totalitarianism” you see nothing. This is pure word-conditioning the reader to react to words. “Preparations” so conditioned will then react predictably to words. The conditioned “preparation” is quite impervious to facts. (The Job Interviews)
Political Correctness is a Control System that has over the past twenty years under both reactionary and ultra-progressive systems become this very type of propaganda system controlling human behavior and patterns through Word Technics and Technology. Communications tyranny.
Our modern computer was at first designed as a Control Machine. The word ‘cybernetics’ is derived from the Greek ‘kubernetes’ (meaning ‘steersman’). As a selfreflective theoretical discipline, cybernetics dates back to 1948, when it was formulated by Norbert Weiner as “the science of control and communication in animal and machine”. It sought to combine the emerging science of information and new electronic computing technologies with a disciplined attention to feedback mechanisms, which provide the key to the self-regulation of behavior. By adjusting its activity in response to sensory feedback, a biological or technical machine was able to ‘home’ on a targeted state.7
As Land describes it at first there were governors installed on these systems to prevent viral runaway processes from occurring, but that’s all done now:
As cybernetics matured and expanded to encompass ever-larger and more intricate ‘objects’ – typically under alternative names, such as ‘general systems theory’ – it increasingly encountered very-long-range trends to continuous acceleration, bound only by weak and transient limits. Through application to the core dynamics of cosmological, biological, social, and technological evolution, cybernetics shifted its emphasis. Runaway, self-reinforcing processes became the central object of attention, and a ‘second cybernetics’, emphasizing the role of positive feedback phenomena, adopted the principal piloting role. Self-sustaining explosions, rather than dampening mechanisms, were now the primary cybernetic theme. (Templexity)
For Land the control systems have become totalized dominion systems. “Modernity and hegemony are Urban Future obsessions… It addresses itself to the international dominion of the Gregorian, Western Christian calendar, and the sensitivities of those who, whilst perhaps reconciled to the inevitability of counting in Jesus-years, remain determined to dis-evangelize the accompanying acronymics.”8 Or, “Christianity’s global Calendric Dominion is paradoxical — perhaps even ‘dialectical’ — in this regard. It provides the governing model of historical rupture and unlimited ecumenical extension, and thus of total revolution, whilst at the same time representing the conservative order antagonized by modernistic ambition.” (Land, KL 186) As Land concludes:
The world is locked into a story it scarcely understands, which entangles it all the more tightly for that. … What, then, are the implications of a Calendric Dominion which exceeds its apparent meaning in multiple directions, while integrating the cultures of the world into a single system of numerical attachments? This is a question that has scarcely begun to register. For it to be sharpened further requires time, and time is what it stamps for us. Eventually, this will matter. (ibid.)
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