Charles Stein: The Speed of Thought, Part One

[The following is text of a talk I gave early this fall at the Philadelphia conference on Psychedemia (C.S.)]

The point is that a thought — any thought —
retards time:
The infinitely rapid rush of transition —
the white susurrus of the immediate movement
from one instant to its successor.
To be possessed of a thought —
it is as if there were a station in time
at which one could have a recess from its passage.
One stops to consider.
One places before oneself
that which a thought contains
in order to elaborate, reflect, develop, associate . . .
while holding the position of the original thought.
Time flies on, but the thought remains...
Sort of.

Actually, the thought decays.
The station does not hold indefinitely.
And under an entheogen,
that decay seems almost instantaneous.
I stop to consider,
but the thought I stopped at
has vanished from the ken. What was I thinking?
Even the question refuses to hold.
Some new thought has taken possession
and it too has passed from the scene.
What scene?
What possession?
What question? 

Robert Creeley begins a poem that possibly attaches to this issue: He says

"Either in or out of
the mind, a conception
overrides it."

 That phrase
"in or out of the mind"
pre-empts a whole range of ontological conditions.
Tripping or not.
Convulsed by delusion
or graced by hyper-cognitive capacities
pharmacologically induced or otherwise arrived at;
indeed, mad or sane.
 
If one is overtaken by a notion of what is so,
there is a conception —
something like an ontological posit —
a thought of how things are —
that frames or grounds,
or as Creeley puts it, overrides it.
 
But consider the situation of such a conception,
how it lodges beyond one's ken,
beyond what one is conscious of,
how it resists or can easily make a fool of —
our devices to control it,
until per chance it announces itself,
in an event of thought,
as if there were a site less fleeting than such an event,
a prospect or perspective,
a ledge in the mind
where cognitive,
that is to say ontological,
powers
exert themselves
over the content of what transpires . . .
 
There are films by the two great experimental filmmakers
Harry Smith and Stan Brakhage
where they paint directly on the emulsion of the film,
each frame,
or what would be a frame,
containing a different painted image.
 
Brakhage painted many of these films, Smith but a few.
But in them —
by both filmmakers —
the following occurs:
 
The frames flash by at one 24th of a second,
so you get something that approximates the speed of neurological flickering
that underwrites some aspects
of some entheogenic journeys —
images —
sparkles and spicules and lines and shapes and colored swatches
 
fly by far too swiftly for cognition to stun them,
stop them,
give them to your mind to peruse,
elaborate, think about.
 
You can only think about them by turning away.
 
On a trip it is not so easy to turn away.
 
Perhaps some of us can do this, but it is not easy, perhaps it is not possible.
Nevertheless,
occasionally,
during the film,
a single image seems to hover, seems to stand there ..
a circle, like a moon,
probably painted over and over again —
 
it isn't completely still, its edges wobble and change —
but it seems to be the same as itself —
a constant object that perdures in its identity
in spite of its wobbling, its flickering.
 
It doesn't stay there very long.
It might be for no more than a half a second,
but a half a second is an eternity when you are watching things fly by
at one twelfth of that duration ....

 That moon and how it suggests its self-identity.
Spontaneously.
You don't have to think about it.
Everything else is still flashing by —
the sparkles and spicules and lines and shapes and colored swatches.
But you see that circle, that moon,
hold its being,
as the same as itself.
Like an object. A Thing.
That's the point.
How it lodges in the mind.
How cognition — how a concept —
lodges in the mind;
how a conception overrides the radically transitory flickering.
How time throws up forms
that countermand its radically transitory flickering.
How there is something
in the streaming of existence
that overrides
radically transitory time . . .
 
[TO BE CONTINUED]