Like the world itself: looked at from the angle of meaning, the world is thoroughly disappointing. From the angle of appearance and detail, it is perfectly self-evident. 1
All things can be seen as being interchangeable within the sphere of meaning. There is something about the way that meaning always manages to escape any accountability that causes an inherit disappointment on behalf of the spectator. Beyond meaning there are the actual appearances that betray nothing of their origins and never misrepresent themselves, because taken at the level of that which is superficial, there exists nothing beyond it for which it stands for as representation. That superficiality stands for nothing—something from which all information has been deleted—is somewhat of a truism, but what is seldom accounted for is an inherit complexity within the realm of superficiality. If one takes complexity to be a polar opposite of superficiality—whose main point of ontological description is a lack of information, that does not imply that complexity necessarily holds information as a virtue of itself. Within the system(s) of the complex, information can also be deleted. What cannot be deleted from it, but can, on the other hand, be suppressed from superficiality, is similar enough to information so as to cause a certain amount of confusion. This would be detail. The concepts that would make up a hermeneutic circle that produces a synthesis can actually be defined by their relationship to detail. One in which there is a surplus of such (complexity), and the other where there is a distinct lack thereof (superficiality).
The nature of a hallucination is useful to the understanding of the equation in which all information has been deleted. It is popular knowledge that it is precisely sensory depravation that presents the possibility of causing hallucinations. This presses the point of the particular nature of information to be second priority when it comes to the actual sensing of phenomena, since when nothing is to be sensed, the mind simply casts its will to a very specific perception, unto that nothing that it does not see. The patterns of its own thought could in this way exist independently in the form of a projection, though under most circumstances it would prefer to cast its perceptions unto a thing which can support its supposition. The thing perceived then acts much like a host which would be its form, but only to the extent that it is superficial. Else it might be contaminated by the access of meaning which the form of the host would provide. It is important to bear in mind that this kind of hallucination is the positive kind. The negative hallucination is simply that of not seeing something that indeed is there to be seen. If a positive hallucination can be caused by lack of sensory information, then a surplus thereof can effectively produce the negative kind. When deposited in the sphere of perception of (visual) understanding, it can be dubbed incomprehension (unfathomable). At the same time the supposition is an oversimplification, because an excess of information can also cause the negative hallucination. If one takes the example of snow-blindness as an analogy of a negative hallucination, one might quickly assume that the shutdown of senses happens because there is too little information. The false assumption however lies in there not being any information in the colour white, when in fact, it could just as well be an excess of whiteness in the form of information overload that causes the shutdown.
One can choose the aesthetic appeal of the psychedelic to illustrate a sense of reference within a more classically defined form of hallucination. Though it is only possible to guess as to what external influences and collective mood swings produce a general shifting of style, psychedelia is unique in that it can be taken literally by its very definition. Its point of origin is within the culture-production tied to the taking of psychedelic drugs, in which the hallucination is an integral part. Interestingly enough, the style can thus pose a double problematic of authenticity. The adjective psychedelic has two definitions: one of a style that derives from the actual drugs; the other as that of imitating the effect, and actually degenerating into section 2b of the dictionary of simply having “colours and a swirling pattern”. The relation between an authenticating experience and the details of its particular sensory manifestation thus leaves a strange drift between themselves. What is interesting about the sense of defining an external agent that causes hallucinations is that even if one were to imitate the effects rather superfluously, the very nature of the source’s twice divorced point of descriptive originality remains that of a pattern rather than a manifestation, i.e. swirling but without reference to any subject. Besides that of having colour, its qualities can be defined more as repetition of that which swirls rather than any actual swirl. The other stylistic trait psychedelia encompasses, is a sense of overemphasis on the details of its manifestation. This sense of detail is twofold; one is the already defined sense of detail that is inherit in any complex pattern, but the other is more evasive, since it is that which produces the sense of pattern as opposed to the manifestation of a whole form. It insinuates that no whole is necessary to fathom, because the whole too exists in each detail of itself. Thus, besides having the details that produces a pattern, it leaves the impression of having detail within the details of itself. The visual equation is more than just a Russian doll, but a whole army of them who then line themselves up to form the shape of a really big doll. But following the logic of a style being an appearance, psychedelia celebrates the space it occupies, and it is in contrast to the doll analogy, because it merely gives the illusion of volume while safely staying on the surfaces of representation.
Authenticity of hallucination
I know very well, and I think I knew from the moment that I was a child, that knowledge can do nothing for transforming the world. But if I refer to my own personal experience, I have the feeling knowledge can’t do anything for us, and that political power may destroy us. All the knowledge in the world can’t do anything against that. All this is related not to what I think theoretically (I know that’s wrong), but I speak from my personal experience. I know that knowledge can transform us, that truth is not only a way of deciphering the world (and maybe what we call truth doesn’t decipher anything), but that if I know the truth I will be changed. 2
The art critic Dave Hickey describes in an essay called “Freaks” a certain ethics of psychedelic vision along with its aesthetics, where he takes into account the emergence of post-structuralism. It includes a critique of Foucault's first encounter with psychedelic drugs as documented in the controversial The Passion of Michel Foucault, where James Miller “offers at least one hypothesis about Foucault's intellectual development which, although it is set forth plainly as fact, is outright laughable: the insinuation that one 'trip' on the hallucinogenic drug LSD in 1975 was singularly responsible for a major reconceptualizing of the project Foucault was working on at the time.”3 As one reads the description of these experiences, one must confess a perverse amusement by the very fact that Foucault saw the sky fold and the stars fall in 1975 as Hickey also admits to having seen in the same chapter, back in 1963. Hickey, however, found Foucault’s experience all wrong. Quite simply, Foucault’s acid experience lacked originality. Or more precisely, authenticity: “Too late! […] Too Euro, and too Castañeda. Bad place! Wrong music!”4 In addition to the timing, Hickey’s insinuation lies in that Foucault’s choice of having a desert as a backdrop to the experience implies that it is a reference to the psychoanalytic metaphor of consciousness. This in Hickey’s view is a psychedelic faux pas because it intellectualizes that which is supposed to be a democratic ritual. The insertion of a representative agent is seen to have the effect of nullifying the nature of the experience’s complexity, because it takes away the aesthetic aspect of the particular components of the visual pattern being only incidental to its making. By noting that even such peripheral forms of references as psychedelia can be subject to an archaeology of institutionalised signifier such as authenticity while bearing in mind that this is a critique by an art critic—not of the works of Foucault as a theorist, but of his lived experiences, attention can be brought to the way that the construction of meaning is secondary to the very bizarre fact of existence. By reasons that are beyond any person’s intentions, things tend to come together in patterns of repetitive perception. Foucault’s stars fall to earth just like Hickey’s, whose description in turn bears an uncanny resemblance to the John the Divine’s apocalyptic falling of stars in the Revelations.5 In all three cases of these spontaneous falling of stars, they are promptly accompanied by the folding together of the sky itself “thereby giving me a vertiginous glimpse into the abyss that divides the world from our knowing it.” 6
One can name this string of internal occurrences a coincidence, but that does not necessarily imply the need to dismiss its point of interest as being a thing that happens, as opposed to rationalizing the reason that it does happen, i.e. the repetition of motif. The amusement of the facts themselves consists in Foucault, Hickey and John the Divine having seen the same phenomenon at these different times and spaces. Since the instance of viewing the stars fall is internal, and is in this way opposed to the desert scenario, it can be considered as the most authentic form of coincidental repetition because the possible corruption of conscious imitation becomes minimal.
When it comes to the simplicity of a coincidence — that several autonomous things occur in such a similar fashion — it is possible to be objective about the very meaning of a coincidence and use a quantum theorist’s analysis of the phenomenon:
I call one type objective coincidences and the other subjective coincidence. Subjective coincidences are those where I don’t know why a specific thing happens (for example, if I meet you by chance in the street), but afterwards I can reconstruct the situation and understand why things took place the way they did; or when I throw a six, which happens because I turned my hand a certain way, because of the nature of the table and son on. I can give a reason for what happened, or at the very least, a reason is conceivable. Objective coincidences have to do with a chance event for which there is no cause, not even a hidden one. In quantum mechanics we are familiar with these objective coincidences. Here we are dealing with something that arises and cannot be traced back to a cause in the past; it is completely new. It has been termed an elementary act of creation.7
The concept of coincidence now becomes highly suspect, because even if one were to limit oneself only to subjective experiences, its terminology seems to denote that everyone subliminally has some profound belief in randomness as an underlying virtue of reality, even if it can secretly be held accountable if it were ever to be completely reconstructed. Or, on the other extreme, it seems to denote that there is some kind of mystic sense of autonomy in all events. The third element that risks being overlooked in terms of coincidences is the fact that a lot of people (re)pass each other on the street all the time. It is only called a coincidence when there is a sense of meaning given to an encounter on behalf of the participants, or indeed anyone else privy to the details of their interconnections. An example of this would be how it is only possible in retrospect and with accumulated information to see a connection in the internal vision of three people. But to what extent does the claim towards the existence of an objective (authentic) coincidence coincide with the nature of the hallucination, which claims that form supports a predefined supposition in the form of a host?
The first-person stance doesn’t so much invalidate science or classical objectivity. It is about a larger understanding of objectivity where it’s not only your view from the outside, manipulating measures, that constitutes objective knowledge. These interact with first-person accounts to become inter-subjective.8
Since in practicality one is more at the mercy of the first definition of subjective coincidences—in which a reason is conceivable when it comes to accountable forms of relevance—it is possible to see how the complex works in a set of logical equations that are the at the same time fathomable and unfathomable. They obey rules of consequence, yet it is by virtue of details that it is not possible to grasp all the different factors that make up the outcome, though they tend to tease one into thinking that one can. The chance encounter on the street can be reduced to the web of logic that led a person to leave his house at a certain time. But such a thing could, to name a random example, be reliant on the length of time it took for a cup of coffee to get brewed, which might rely on details of the manufacturing of a coffee machine, which in turn is the product of a huge system entering into the specific economic matrix that produced the engineering. Almost any attempt to trace the origin of an event would lead to a very complicated matrix of cause and consequence. That which is information in this case only serves as a veil to perceive that which is the existence of intricate pattern. As with snow-blindness, the disability lies in the inability to perceive white, i.e. the overemphasis of information produces the 'coincidence', which in turn produces a sense of interpretation which is almost random.
Surplus interpretational value
When it comes to an external (and surplus) existence of meaning deprived of patterns that multitude coincidences provide such as interpretation, one’s attention can drift to the manifestation of the production of institutionalized validation of cultural products. Such an example, that at the same time forms a sense of relevance to the essence of superficiality, comes from the realm of popular culture, usually foreshortened to just “pop”. More specifically though, is the realm of qualification of modern day popular music in the form that has come to be known as rock criticism.
I bet he really does a good job if he could find something to do, but it’s too bad it’s just my songs, ‘cause I don’t really know if there’s enough material in my songs to sustain someone who is really out to do a big job. You understand what I mean?9
The conundrum of surplus interpretational value as a cultural by-product of the product tends most often to be dismissed more than it is resolved. The argument being that a complexity does exists in a work of quality, though the author himself might not have known or intended it. It would then be through the autonomy of the work that it would in itself deserve the analysis which leads to interpretation. In theory it is easy to accept the claim both of the autonomy and the authentic quality of the works, but the sense of tainted intention on part of those to pursue these poetics often comes through in the form of having a disproportional stake in justifying the investment of it being something more then just popular entertainment. When the analytical meaning of the concept actually becomes quantative enjoyment, why is there the attempt of translating that which everyone understands anyway?
It is hardly possible to dismiss the merits of the analysis of a pop song as completely overindulgent, but the conundrum it poses is that their authors generally tend to claim that their works do not have the original thoughts that are ascribed to them by the professionals of rock criticism. This is precisely an example of the juncture between the superficial and the complex, because it is by a shifting of the use of a technique that is usually reserved for literary analysis onto a phenomenon, as if by mere habit of interpretation. It would be best not to dismiss the complications which this implies: Though it can be granted that a work can be autonomous and that a degree of complexity can exist in and of itself that does not necessarily imply that everyone is free to simply interpret their own meaning out of a thing and assume that as an entity, meaning can float biasedly between all poles as long as there actually exists or ever has existed an author to it.
One can only assume that meaning, as a construct, needs a certain sense of validation, else all perception would be a hallucination as opposed to what meaning as knowledge strives to become: inter-subjective. 10 A validation of meaning as construct can then either be qualitative or quantitative. The popularity of the genre of pop has as its validation, in the most obvious way, the quantitative approval of the masses—though usually relying on a heavy sense of ambivalence towards itself as to what concerns specific meaning in the form of lyrics. One might presume that the qualitative aspects need to be addressed, but that would be a contradiction to the idea of pop, i.e. popular music. The aspect of value of a mode of meaning production, on the other hand, does pose a problematic when it comes to the qualitative model. Taken to its logical conclusion of analysis as a collective force of habit, there is the extreme of the numerous examples where a popular song is considered to consist of a somewhat secret innuendo or coded meta story. The most simplified example of such would be Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, whose initials actually produce the acronym LSD, and it has been assumed by most that the song is indeed a conscious celebration of the experience which the substance would induce. The author, on the other hand, claims that he simply had no idea of this coincidence until after it had become common knowledge.
Where meaning is concerned, how can one possibly dismiss the fact that for the public the song does bear these initials and simply means that for which it stands, i.e. Lucy really being and not meaning the letter ‘L’. The origin of a particular coincidence becomes completely irrelevant to the production when it passes to the sphere of the validation by the quantitative collective. One can instead proceed to look at the aspects that forms coincidences to the degree that they cannot be separated from their referential, i.e. “Though John [Lennon] was certainly ingesting inordinate amounts of acid around the time he wrote ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,’ the pun was indeed sheer coincidence”11
The assassination of John Lennon
As the author of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”, one can take John Lennon as an example to illustrate the supposition that there is a relation between coincidences and their referents. As mentioned in the (mis)readings of the song, he can be defined as an author of a body of work that have embodied the theory of hallucinating unto the superficial, so as to reveal the complexity of a thought that leads to the absolute surface of reality. The reason for this being that he is (as persona) in the forefront (at the receiving end) of both the emergence of rock criticism but is also the modern version of collective persona worship if only by virtue of the coercion of the power structure behind those who took part in it i.e. Western/white/middle-class emerging agents of the late capitalist era. The conclusion of the hallucination, passing from the collective to the unique of a single person, has in this case led to a position of martyrdom. Possibly for the sole reason that more people “are” able to hallucinate onto him than someone else, whose sphere of connections is limited to a more anonymous existence.
“A man who dies at the age of thirty-five,” Moritz Heimann once said, “is at every point in his life a man who dies at the age of thirty-five.” Nothing more dubious than this sentence-but for the sole reason that the tense is wrong. A man-so says the truth that was meant here-who died at the age of thirty-five will appear to remembrance at every point in his life as a man who dies at the age of thirty-five. In other words, the statement that makes no sense for real life becomes indisputable for remembered life. The nature of a character in a novel cannot be presented any better than it is in this statement which says that the “meaning” of their life is revealed only in their death. But the reader of a novel in fact looks for human beings, form whom he derives the “meaning of life.”12
“I’m […] not the product of other people’s imaginations,” says John Lennon in an interview from 1971, with Jan Wenner of Rolling Stone Magazine.13 The article is the first in which he, or any other former Beatle, openly expresses his opinions of the group after the band's break-up. The context of the quote is a reply on the subject of over analysis of specific songs, as well as generally unqualified attention to his persona as a popular fetishized icon, but more specifically the unrealistic expectation placed on him to live up to an image that is fabricated. In what Wenner would later describe as the most important and peak of the whole concept of a Rolling Stone Interview,14 Lennon goes through the history of himself as a thing represented, both as an artist and as a person, and includes with it a fair amount of bitterness about the position; a common thread being that of equating a generation of youth who wants to read mysticism into the phenomena of secret messages within popular songs, to rock intellectualism. The conclusion is almost self-evident: “They live vicariously.”15
Everything has already begun before, the first line of the first page of every novel refers to something that has already happened outside the book. Or else the real story is the one that begins ten or a hundred pages further on, and everything that precedes it is only a prologue. The lives of the individuals of the human race form a constant plot, in which every attempt to isolate one piece of living that has a meaning separate from the rest - for example, the meeting of two people, which will become decisive for both must bear in mind that each of the two brings with himself a texture of events, environments, other people, and that from the meeting, in turn, other stories will be derived which will break off from their common story.16
When it comes to John Lennon’s death, one is always cast back to that state of mind beyond any rationalization, of it simply happening—that someone believed (at least for the moment it took to execute the deed) that he should not be alive and took action. That which is unfathomable has much to do with the official explanation of the assassin being deluded with hallucination of the original and inexplicable kind. It is presumed that one can never understand the doings of a person beyond the norms of sanity, though one might sense an undue sense of silence for the mere sense of complicity of anyone who had placed slightly too much importance on the persona behind the work instead of the music itself, i.e. a fan. But there is, as there always is, a complexity in terms of what might have been the motive behind the historic event. Mainly that the person who confessed to the crime might not necessarily have been the one to have pulled the trigger. Within the realm of popular analysis (impossible to ignore within this reasoning) is the theory of it being a governmental conspiracy. There are details of the event that makes it a reasonable assumption, but in this context it has no effect on the underlying motives as being practically identical: hallucinating onto a person an over-estimated importance. In the form of political assassination the same applies, since the importance of the person is seen as a threat because he has the capability of swaying the minds of the masses. In that case however there is an introverted sense of redundancy since it seems that their minds had already been swayed. At least enough to convincingly frame an anonymous fan as a culprit. The timing on the other hand, is attributed to Lennon’s emergence from a five-year period of reclusion, coinciding with Reagan having been elected only a few months earlier. Between the two possibilities however, it can again be seen as a question of authenticity since the hallucination of one man without any motive seems more so than the collective hallucination of the necessary conspirators who need a defined motive for the execution of the plan. Added to the simplicity of the double-edged blade of logic that claims simultaneously that Lennon’s death is the outcome of accountable multidimensional factors and that his death is completely non-sensical, there is also the implication of the time span between the infamous proclamation of the Beatles stating that they were bigger than Jesus, to the time when an aspect of literal worship started to take place:
“When did somebody first come up to you about this thing about John Lennon as God?”
“About what to do and all of that? Like “You tell us, Guru”? Probably after acid.
Lennon’s first acid trip was in 1964, a year after Dave Hickey's and eleven years before Foucault's.
These things can be ascribed to a sense of detail that makes the fabric of complexity. And yet it is precisely this sense of complexity that cannot survive without superficiality, since in forming the connections that reveal a morbid irony, one would have to ignore every underlying knowledge of the workings of the world so as to perform an abstraction, else the density of their interconnectivity would render them incomprehensible.
The assumption of depth
Presuming that one defines the pattern of interconnectivity as three-dimensional, it can be argued that it would thereby be a question of fathoming the depth therein, so as to perceive the essence of volume, where it would thereby relinquish its unfathomableness. Yet the act of perceiving is only that of looking at the contours of a thing. Space can be perceived, but depth is not a virtue of perception but of assumption. We only guess at what lies behind the surface of each thing even to the degree of being able to account for its existence through a collective assumption or by surplus meaning.
I don’t really believe that we are always speaking through representation or living the moment through it. I think the first-person approach, the hands-on, actually doing, exploring mind and what you find through it, shows that the living present has a depth, which is just that. It’s not representing anything. Within that living present, we can also have a discourse or a narrative: who you are, what you’re doing, whatever. In that sense, of course, linguistically meditated, it has the quality of representation. But I think I have genetic problem with “representation.” The word almost means anything. The content of my experience is not a representation of anything. It’s a presentation.17
It seems that the habit of interpretation is the forced outcome of the depth that exists but is only possible to represent. The gap that exists between that which is represented and that which presents itself, can be likened to the manifestation of the by-product of nature such as a rainbow. It inherently means nothing though it is the result of something, in this case weather conditions. It begs the point of the hallucinatory essence of meaning because its psychedelic qualities are not non-real and are at the same time the perfect recipient for anyone’s projection of actual meaning because of the transcendental nature in which it stands in no particular place but moves as the viewer does. Added to its renewable sense of novelty, it has the paradoxical nature of having no depth or volume but instead seems to want to compensate for it by taking into its apparition all colours. When there is a need to produce meaning, the rainbow can quite literally and in the oldest sense of a communal abstraction, be the symbol for the contract between God and man after the great flood. The complex announces itself in the double vision of a contract renewed every time a rainbow appears while at the same time meaning nothing in itself. As in reality it exists both as a concrete phenomenon and as a stand-in host. In terms of representative meaning, each rainbow announces the end of a storm rather than the beginning of one. But since the rain has inevitably stopped by the time it appears, one might say that it is literally stating the obvious.
Incorporating as a metaphor the most concrete vision of reality, one can say that knowing the surface of the planet is really all there is to know. No one has seriously claimed that knowing the material of the core of the earth, equates some deep understanding of life on earth. No one has placed his vision of divinity in the materiality of the substance. Quite the contrary; down has never been good on a level of morality and down stays permanently down even if one is on the opposite side of the planet. The centre bears no detail, is not complex but is—by very definition—not superficial. The stars, however, are always above, though they sometimes fall to the ground.
1 Jean Baudrillard. The Perfect Crime. London and New York: Verso, 1996, p. 84.
2 Michel Foucault interviewed by Stephen Riggins in Ethics. Essential works of Foucault 1954-1984. Volume 1, ed. Paul Rabinow. London: Penguin Books, 1997, p.130.
3 Herculine Guibert. “Foucault’s Virtual Passion,” Ctheory (www.ctheory.net/text_file.asp?pick=248), 3 January 1995.
4 Dave Hickey. Air Guitar. Essays on Art & Democracy. Los Angeles: Art Issues Press, 1997, p.92.
5 The Revelation of St. John the Divine 6:13 & 8:12
6 Dave Hickey. Air Guitar. Essays on Art & Democracy. Los Angeles: Art Issues Press, 1997, p. 95.
7 Anton Zeilinger in interview with Hans Ulrich Olbrist. Hans Ulrich Obrist Interviews. Volume 1. Milan: Edizioni Charta, 2003, p. 962.
8 Varela, Francisco in interview with Hans Ulrich Olbrist. Hans Ulrich Obrist Interviews. Volume 1. Milan: Edizioni Charta, 2003, p. 548.
9 Bob Dylan in interview with JannWenner in The Rolling Stone Interviews. 1967-1980. Talking with the Legends of Rock & Roll, ed. Peter Herbst. New York: St. Martin’s Press/Rolling Stone Press, 1981, p. 84.
10 Francisco Varela in interview with Hans Ulrich Olbrist. Hans Ulrich Obrist Interviews. Volume 1. Milan: Edizioni Charta, 2003, p. 548.
11 Pete Shotton and Nicholas Schaffner. The Beatles, Lennon, and Me. New York: Stein and Day, 1984, p. 245.
12 Walter Benjamin. Selected Writings. Volume 3. 1935-1938. Cambridge, Massachusetts, and London England: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2002, p. 156.
13 John Lennon interviewed by Jann Wenner in The Rolling Stone Interviews. 1967-1980. Talking with the Legends of Rock & Roll, ed. Peter Herbst. New York: St. Martin’s Press/Rolling Stone Press, 1981, p. 145.
14 Jan Wenner. The Rolling Stone Interviews. 1967-1980. Talking with the Legends of Rock & Roll, ed. Peter Herbst. New York: St. Martin’s Press/Rolling Stone Press, 1981, p. 128.
15 John Lennon interviewed by Jann Wenner in The Rolling Stone Interviews. 1967-1980. Talking with the Legends of Rock & Roll, ed. Peter Herbst. New York: St. Martin’s Press/Rolling Stone Press, 1981, p. 144.
16 Italo Calvino. If on a winter’s night a traveler. San Diego, New York and London: A Harvest/HBJ Book, 1979, p. 153.
17 Francisco Varela in interview with Hans Ulrich Olbrist. Hans Ulrich Obrist Interviews. Volume 1. Milan: Edizioni Charta, 2003, p. 555.