Charles Stein: The Speed of Thought, Part Two

(continued from earlier posting on Poems and Poetics)

I wish to suggest a rather subtle shift
in the way we think about our trips,
and indeed, our experience in general.

Of course one can and often does
simply become lost in the colors of the phenomena
that produce themselves for us.
But equally frequently, for many of us,
the trip is fraught with ontological issues.
The matter of the reality of what is going on
and what we are experiencing:
the reality and nature of the entities we encounter;
the nature and reality of the apparent narratives we are the part of.

We seem both poorly equipped
and inescapably compelled
to negotiate the ontological terrain;

and more than that,
the way we dispose ourselves ontologically —
that is, the way we are disposed to understand what is real —
seems to condition what occurs
and what we experience.

Ontology is performative
quite in the magical sense of the term:
what we take to be
is a project or performance
of what we do with our minds
or what our minds do with us.

Motto: Being is One ; ontologies are many.

Many because our cultures are many
and all cultures come equipped
with their own spectrum of ontological possibilities —
their range of ways
reality itself
comes
to seem
to be.

Many because we ourselves come equipped
with a range of ontological possibilities:
ways in which we are each prepared to receive, acknowledge,
and indeed invent
what comes to seem to be.

And it is as if every trip were overwritten by its own ontology.

So instead of asking —
when the little beings appear within our ken;
when the phenomenal field breaks open
and hyper-dimensionalities devolve upon us;

instead of asking :
was it real?
what is happening? —

as if we were cognitively equipped before, or after, or during the experience
to adjudicate the reality
of that which our judgments themselves
are at least in part determining —

instead of asking what is real?, what is happening?

perhaps our inquiry should be more like: 

what is the operant ontology of this trip?

what is (or was)

the concept that remains constant
while the trip flashes along!

Not what is real —
these beings we encounter,
these phenomena that befall us —
this thing that it feels like we become —
but —
given that we meet entities
with such and such characteristics,
things to communicate —
given that we experienced such and such phenomena —
what would the over-riding conception of Being have to be —
for such things to occur?

One might feel that during some trips
one enters a territory where no such question applies,
where Creeley is wrong,
that no such concept overrides.

But that itself should be a question.
If conceptions in the ordinary sense no longer apply,
does Being disposes itself in some other mode?
And how can that mode and its variations be dealt with?
Is there an intelligence,
before or after or during the fact,
that exceeds the conceptual
but remains ontological?
Or does the matter of Being itself
dissolve with the concepts
that I want to say
cover it?

Being itself
gives itself
through the covering
of concepts, images, intuitions,
that tells us not only what things are
but what Being itself
Is.

In any case,
such a shift in ontological frame —
from "what is it?" to
"what must being be like
for it to seem to be? —
might be applied as preparation,
invoked along the way,
or worked on after the fact.

And the result would not be at all
that such an inquiry would answer
in a unique way the question of the nature of Being in general;
but rather to add to the repertoire of possible ontologies.
For Being itself would not be given by any of its coverings;
but rather be taken
as that which allows such coverings to occur.

We would be providing ourselves
with the grandest of magical implements.

For in our time
magic is no longer the subject of,
as a famous magical theorist proposed it —
the transformation of reality according to will —
technology has pretty well proven itself competent to handle that —
but rather the production of coverings
for being itself.
The magical will does not manipulate material things and circumstances,
but goes directly to the matter itself,
and manifests transformations
in the covering of Being.

The point would be
to open ourselves ontologically,
to expand our ontological repertoires,
to open for ourselves and our time
something like a new age in which Being itself
were no longer determined by a narrow repertoire of conceptual possibilities,
but become in fact unlimited, infinite, actually:
for Though Being may be One —
it is never the case that any one ontology —
or even any one assemblage of ontologies —
can truthfully Cover What Is.

Once the matter of ontology
has been thoroughly transposed in this matter,
I propose three or four categories
for dealing with what occurs
that become open to one's disposition
or one might say dispossession
of Being:

The Real and The Unreal

The Surreal

The Irreal.

Under the disposition of the Real and the Unreal,
one is disposed
to wonder whether what one is undergoing
is real as it presents itself or illusion.
The common state of things.
One remembers Casteneda's quandary in the first of the Don Juan books,
in which he is made to experience himself as a flying crow.
The quandary that haunts him
and continues to haunt
through many volumes:
did I really fly Don Juan?
Casteneda is under the ontological disposition —
possessed one might say —
by common consensus and its contradiction—
of the ontological conception : Real and Un Real.

Under the disposition of the Surreal,
one system of reality — one ontology
is simply replaced for another.
Other dimensions disclose themselves.
The door in space has opened.
You are inside the mountain, inside the stone.
You encounter counter-dimensional entities.
The powers of cosmic vegetables are made manifest.
Mushrooms dance between your fingers
with an indissociable sentience and vitality.
Another ontology than the one that possesses you under common consensus is accepted, at least for the duration of the trip, or the part of the trip.

The final category.
The irreal.
This is a word that people occasionally deploy
when they want to step outside of the conundrum of reality —
either to affirm or deny or replace it.
Here one doesn't propose reality at all.
Another system of apparencies crops up and one goes along with it.
Not in the mode of the "as if" —
not that one is holding onto a firm grip of one's quotidian sense of being
while teasing oneself with principles and possibilities
beyond the common zone of things — quite the contrary.
That firm grip has long slipped away.
And not as if one were asserting,
with what one might hear as the aggression of the surrealist
an alternative reality
or demanding of oneself that one accept an alternative sense of reality —
but that one has dropped ontological pretension altogether.
That which comes to appearance — is simply that.
Here it is.
It has stepped aside from the matter of ontology altogether.

Now this latter possibility is extraordinarily interesting,
because it might be quite impossible.
Creeley's conception that overrides it
might be lurking in the wings or behind the scene,
determining all sorts of things about what appears in this domain.
And it just might be the case that the very structure of apparency
brings along with it
the assertion of being for what appears.
That would be the question.
But there is a kind of stance —
not unlike the pataphysical
side-stepping or side-swiping of the pretensions of the real altogether —
and it would be from the position of this stance
that the matter of ontology itself might be cogently put under investigation.
Is it possible to side-step the question of reality
in order to uncover a mode of apparency
that is so thoroughly creative
that the matter of Being does not arrive at all?

Well, it's a thought.