99 - Erik Davis on How to Navigate High Weirdness
This week’s guest is Erik Davis – one of my great inspirations, someone who has influenced me and this podcast in immeasurable ways since I first encountered his amazing criticism, histories, and “seen it all” visionary cool – I still recommend his first nonfiction book (Techgnosis: Myth, Magic, and Mysticism in the Age of Information) on a near-daily basis, and his show Expanding Mind has got to be my number one most-listened podcast of all time.
Erik is a native Californian Gen X mystic who played no small part in the explosive West Coast visionary cyperpunk scene in the 1990s alongside folks like Terence McKenna, Timothy Leary, RU Sirius, Doug Rushkoff, and Jaron Lanier. But he’s taking a profoundly different stance these days, with a Religious Studies PhD in hand and a new book at the printers, drawing on his thirty-plus years experience investigating modern life’s weird marginalia to help us navigate a world in which the weird’s no longer marginal.
High Weirdness Drugs, Visions, and Esoterica in the Seventies by Erik Davis
"A study of the spiritual provocations to be found in the work of Philip K. Dick, Terrence McKenna, and Robert Anton Wilson, High Weirdness charts the emergence of a new psychedelic spirituality that arose from the American counterculture of the 1970s. These three authors changed the way millions of readers thought, dreamed, and experienced reality— but how did their writings reflect, as well as shape, the seismic cultural shifts taking place in America? In High Weirdness, Erik Davis—America’s leading scholar of high strangeness—examines the published and unpublished writings of these vital, iconoclastic thinkers, as well as their own life-changing mystical experiences. Davis explores the complex lattice of the strange that flowed through America’s West Coast at a time of radical technological, political, and social upheaval to present a new theory of the weird as a viable mode for a renewed engagement with reality."
"Erik Davis is an American journalist, critic, podcaster, and counter-public intellectual whose writings have run the gamut from rock criticism to cultural analysis to creative explorations of esoteric mysticism. He is the author of Techgnosis: Myth, Magic and Mysticism in the Age of Information, The Visionary State: A Journey through California’s Spiritual Landscape, and Nomad Codes: Adventures in Modern Esoterica."
Enacting the weird through media
The 1970s understood as the sort of beginning of our darker, weirder time - capitalism, consumer credit, surveillance, paranoia, density, historical dread…
“The occult, conspiracy theory, a dark dreamlike character…is now central…the way fictions become operational as quasi-truths to navigate the post-truth environment…the popularity of psychedelics…”
Key literacies for navigating Our Weird Future
Slender Man as operationalized fiction, as a kind of “tulpa” or thought-form activated into quasi-life
The intermarriage of reality and the hoax
HP Lovecraft’s modern distance from his horrors vs. Phil Dick’s postmodern intimacy with his horrors
The Coming Age of DNA Monsters and Routinized Weirdness
“We are called upon to analyze our resistances to all variety of shifts, mutations, couplings – and unless we want to go reactionary and hold onto certain ideas we have about how humans should be, or how the world should be, we’re in a situation of a strange kind of embrace with the other.”
Distrusting the Apocalypse
Figure-ground collapse in the impression of planetary hyperobjects into our immediate awareness
Neuroplasticity and neoteny – becoming childlike in order to surf accelerating change
Future shock and getting drawn into (right-wing, fundamentalist, fear-based, racist, boundary-defending) stories as a bid for solid ground
“Not knowing who we really are is part of the game. In fact, it’s one of the great opportunities of our moment.”
Plasticity vs. Flexibility ~ Will or Flexibility
The discipline of transforming subjectivity - religions as practical algorithms for self-transformation, not as collections of beliefs
Everything you do is a self-engendering practice
“I look at the 20th Century, and the most important thing that happened in the 20th Century is cybernetics – both the concept and the operationalism of creating communication feedback loops that begin to generate their own processes.”
“The further I go into a cybernetic model, at least for me, it needs to be ground out in a deepening relationship with animals, with weather, with food, with plants, with plant wisdom, and definitely with those peoples – in whatever traces, in whatever mutations we can encounter them now – those groups, those societies, that had a very different relationship that’s not really mediated by the machine.”
The return of the nonhuman, cultural retrieval, the archaic revival, “reanimism”
Intelligence is Everywhere
Present Shock & the collapse of history & Jurassic Park
The future of time - metaperspectival time
Zizek’s critique of Buddhism and how mindfulness has been coopted by neoliberal surveillance capitalism