Plus News and Notes
These days I basically no longer use Twitter, or X, or Twix. I have been on the platform since around 2010, when I decided not to ever get on Facebook, but wanted a social media space to play in. These were the years when, if I told people I was not on FB and so did not have a handle, they would sometimes argue with me angrily, as if I was insulting them. This happened multiple times, and compelled me to double down in my resistance to the Zuckbook. As a freelance writer, it was kind of a dumb move, and I certainly missed out on many cool events over the years; for a while my social and cultural life felt like it floated thinly through a palpable vacuum of information.
I liked Twitter. I cultivated my garden, shared my stuff, gained a decent number of followers, and used Tweetdeck to more closely follow my friends and colleagues. I never put it on my phone, and I was never addicted to it. I liked the fact I could go away for a week and nobody seemed to care. With a few exceptions, I avoided vexed “political” arguments on a platform that was obviously geared for flame wars and tedious grandstanding. I would unfollow at the first whiff of strident militancy. When I drew the occasional troll, I mostly turned the conversation, either by not letting them get my goat, or by immediately addressing all the readers of the attack, speaking of the troll himself in third person (I will leave the exclusionary gender there). This tactic mostly worked, though occasionally mean people said cruel things that hurt or irritated for days.
I read through a lot of links in my feed, which I appreciated then but have little use for now, when I am intentionally shifting my “media diet” away from the screen. I followed some intelligent conservatives, and watched the rise of cancel culture. As a tried-and-weird Gen X subculture denizen, this new policing did not please, but it did not seem like the end of the world. When a fellow gently but sincerely took me to task for posting a Chogyam Trungpa quote in 2019 or so, given the alcoholic guru’s behavior with women, I realized Twitter was not the place to try to hash out shifts in generational sensibility around crazy wisdom, excess, and spiritual risk. I just moved on. It was a sad and disappointing development, but so is the gradual loss of the historical and cultural context that shaped you.
Mostly I just forwarded stuff and shared cool links, a curating function I picked up as a music and culture critic in the 1990s and have always loved. But that culture started to collapse when Eldritch Musk took over the platform. Reading the writing on the wall, I tried to download the immense record of my personal tweets over the years and failed after numerous and varied attempts. (If ya know a backdoor that won’t take a week of hacking, don’t be a stranger.) This embittered me. When Twitter officially became Twix, and the algos started getting seriously fucked with, the vibe was no longer fun at all, even as the platform became a less reliable broadcast mechanism for announcing my doings. When I learned that links to Substacks were being aggressively marginalized, I realized it was basically over for me. Fuck that shit.
Substack has its own problems. While the pushy commercialism is growing more galling, and many of us have reached the ceiling on the number of Substacks we want to follow, I still feel positive about the basic mechanism of a revenue-producing newsletter. I realize that it deepens the silos we increasingly inhabit, and that some of those silos are nasty-ass. But as platforms become more like utilities, it becomes less useful to pressure them as if they were newspapers of record. I suspect that Nazis make calls and swap texts on their iPhones.
So here’s what I am gonna do. I am going to turn to Burning Shore more frequently, posting the occasional monster essay but also offering up shorter and chattier posts that take up some of that old curatorial function, maybe even some best-of lists, and of course information about my writings and appearances. I will also regularly announce Alembic events I had a hand in programming, many of which can be streamed for those not in the Bay. After some internal wrangling, I have also decided to turn the paid subscription function back on, though I have no plans at the moment to offer subscriber-only content. We will see.
(•) The Three Stigmata of Philip K. Dick
This is a reminder that tonight, Tuesday January 23, I will be starting up a five-part weekly lecture series on Philip K. Dick at the Alembic. I will be taking on one of Dick’s most mind-bending and harrowing books, 1964’s The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, reading it as a prophetic precog flash on our present meta-crisis. The first evening will serve as an introduction to Dick, his personal and psychological trials, and subsequent nights will work through the book in 50-60 page increments per week (read the Vintage edition if you can). Topics include: virtual reality, consumer psychedelics, Barbie dolls, space-faring billionaires, transhuman augmentation, global warming, Mars colonization, the Eucharist, the cosmic “Outside” (H. P. Lovecraft and Olaf Stapledon), the Gnostic demiurge, the bardo, the nature of evil, the genre of horror, and the breakdown of consensus reality.
Remote viewers will be able to access the lecture portion of the evenings after signing up, but I will continue my practice of not recording the Q&A portion of the evening. Click here to sign up.
(•) David Gill on PKD
For those hankering for a more thorough survey of PKD, I can absolutely recommend “The Total Dick-Head’s Guide to Philip K. Dick,” a forthcoming webinar taught by my old pal and fellow Dickhead David Gill. Gill is a brilliant, scrappy, and superkind dude, and he knows this material inside and out. He loves PKD, and he finds him terribly troubling as well. Gill has enlisted a dynamite list of guests for this 16-week deep dive, including myself, novelist Jonathan Lethem, biographer Gregg Rickman, PKD friends Tim Powers and Linda Levy, and a number of supercool scholars, including Sam Umland, Umberto Rossi, and Gabriel Mckee. Plus the course is hosted by Morbid Anatomy, one of my favorite weird culture outfits. The only crappy thing about the webinar, which starts January 30, is that it runs on Tuesday nights like mine, but both our classes are available for later watching. More info.
(•) Deconstructing Yourself
I recently appeared again on Michael Taft’s excellent Deconstructing Yourself podcast discussing the aforementioned question of transgression in spirituality. (He also just dropped an episode with my dissertation advisor Jeffrey Kripal.) We talked about the power of partaking in the forbidden, and the loss of power and wonder when formerly forbidden things become normalized, particularly in the case of psychedelics. We also wrestled with Tantric and Christian modes of transgression, power relationships and gurus, hedonism, “crazy wisdom”, the desire for safe sacred spaces, the role of risk in spiritual development, and the human difficulty in assessing risk in general. Spotify, Apple.
More Alembic Events
This next month will be a doozy at the Alembic, which will host a number of events I had a hand in programming and am very excited by. We are at 2820 Seventh St, Berkeley.
(•) Psychedelic Sangha
This coming weekend, the New York-based Psychedelic Sangha crew is in town, led by the indefatigable dharma bum Doc Kelley. On Friday, January 26, Doc will be hosting Lama Mike Crowley, a twinkly-eyed elder who will drop science on psychedelic Buddhism, the subject of his recent book, called Psychedelic Buddhism: A User’s Guide to Traditions, Symbols, and Ceremonies, which Mike will be signing afterwards. (tix) On Saturday January 27, the PS crew will stage two Bardo Baths featuring an “eyes-wide-open death meditation” and the heavenly vibraphone work of Chris Dingman, at 3pm (tix) and 7pm (tix).
(•) Intensive Auditions and Unconscious Colors
On Friday February 2, at 7pm, Alembic will be hosting our third Expanded Listening, a series of consciousness-bending programs of recorded music and sound. Tonight we will be featuring a super-sharp duo from Los Angeles, artists and musicians Tim Leanse and Sam Rowell. Tim will be presenting Intensive Auditions, a selection of avant-garde music and contemporary compositions (with commentary) that compel listeners “to consider the very act of listening.” Sam will perform Special Collections, a sound collage that weaves material from academic archives, scientific research, field recordings, and other audio obscura into impossible imaginary soundscapes. Tickets.
On Saturday February 3, at 7:30pm, Sam Rowell will return with Indeterminate Perception and the Color Unconscious. Using a site-specific installation of lights, and an array of audio electronics, Sam navigates trips through undulating fields of color, flurries of flash, and patches of pitch darkness. Simultaneously improvising sequences of deep hues and alien soundscapes, hers is an expansive practice of perceptual play and subtle sublimity. Tickets.
(•) Lalon’s Bengali Songs for Heart, Soul, and Life
I met Dr. Keith Cantú at Esalen, where he was teaching a class on Tantra with my friend and Rice colleague Sravana Borkataky-Varma. Besides being a top-notch younger scholar of South Asian religion and Western esotericism, with a number of languages under his belt, Keith is also a student of Baul music and culture. (He is also a Thelemite, but that’s another story.) On Sunday February 4, at 1:30pm, Keith will be offering a workshop on Lalon, a 19th-century Baul musician who left an incredible body of non-sectarian sacred song and esoteric lore. The day’s celebration of Lalon's music and ideas will rely on Bengali Baul folk musical instruments and cultural performance. Everyone will be welcome to take part, whether through playing along on the instruments, singing, discussion, or sitting in quiet reflection. Keith is also a beautiful and talented singer, and will be offering a performance of Baul songs at 7pm, which can be attended separately from the workshop. Tickets.
(•) Kat Harrison
I often say that I am way less interested in psychedelic experiences than in psychedelic people. Kat Harrison is one of my favorite psychedelic people. Her work explores the relationship between plants, mushrooms and human beings—particularly in the realms that are often hidden: cultural beliefs, personification of species, rituals of healing and initiation, vision-seeking modalities, and artistic creations that illustrate the plant-human relationship. She also co-founded Botanical Dimensions with her then-husband Terence McKenna, and provided illustrations to the McKennas’ world-changing book Psilocybin: Magic Mushroom Grower’s Guide.
On Wednesday, February 7th, at 7pm, I will be speaking with Kat onstage at the Chalice, Alembic’s monthly psychedelic salon. You can purchase tickets here; get’em while they last. The following weekend, on February 10th and 11th, Kat will be presenting a two-day workshop on Big Botanical Beings: Ways of Seeing the Long History of Psychedelics. Through her decades of fieldwork, study, garden wizardry, and personal exploration, Kat has developed her own way of thinking with and about these “botanical beings.” This weekend workshop will introduce us to the stories of three powerful species that have acted both as teachers and as change-agents to many of us in Western societies: Peyote, Psilocybe mushrooms, and Ayahuasca. Relying on Kat’s unique and entertaining blend of historical insight, creative speculation, and personal storytelling, participants will unearth new ways to think about the deep and complex relationship humans have with these magical plants. Tickets.
I hope you enjoyed this flicker of Burning Shore. I have started up paid subscriptions again, though for the moment will not be offering any subscriber-only content. You get what you get. You can also support the publication by forwarding Burning Shore to friends and colleagues, or by dropping an appreciation in my Tip Jar.