What's up with "The Burning Shore"?

The Burning Shore, no. 1

But first…some upcoming events

• This Sunday, in support of the Bicycle Day celebrations that will restage Dr. Hofmann’s wild ride through wormholes in the space-time continuum, I will be leading a special online BICYCLE DAY DARSHAN. We’ll show some trippy video to get into the mood, and then I’ll dive into the subject of “LSD: Still a Problem Child.” I’ll be talking about the ways that, despite the overhyped rise of microdosing, acid—the Sacred Molecule of the Postwar West—remains helpfully “out of joint” in our current psychedelic renaissance. The Darshan is sponsored by Psychedelic Sangha, and will take place on the Zoom at 2 pm PT/5 EST. We are asking 10 bucks, which we are donating to plague relief.

• The Monday after Bicycle Day, I will be in conversation with author A.M. Gittlitz about his fascinating and spunky new book I Want to Believe: Posadism, UFOs, and Apocalypse Communism. Posadism was a blazingly sci-fi variant of Trotskyism that has become an ironic (?) meme in some contemporary radical environs, and I will write more about the book in my next Blast. The whole event will be streamed on Twitch.tv/theantifada, and will last from noon to 2:30 pm PT / 3 to 5:30 pm EST. I’ll be on at the appropriate hour of, yes, 4:20 EST.

• On Tuesday, April 21, I will be participating in the AWAKENED FUTURES SPEAKER SPOTLIGHT, a taster for the full AWAKENED FUTURES SUMMIT that will take place over the first weekend in May, and that I will also be taking part on. On Tuesday, from noon to 2pm PT, speakers will interview one another in a quick, interlinked chain; I will be on from 1:10 to 1:30 pm PT. The meeting number on the Z is 995 2173 4281.

• My Los Angeles Yoga Club buddy Spiros Antonopoulos have been having a wonderful time with CINEMATIC MEDITATIONS, an intimate hourlong virtual gathering on the Z every Thursday at noon PT/ 3pm EST. The gathering features meditation, discussion, and the sharing of a short piece of poetic, magical, trippy cinema. We will be doing it for another month or so at least. Join up for free.

So why “the Burning Shore”?

This is my second Substack issue. A few of you, paying too close attention perhaps, will notice that I have retitled this thing “The Burning Shore” from “Erik’s Trip.” Since the meaning, aims, and content of this stream of text are an ongoing work in progress, I thought I would share my thoughts with you about the name change—in part to clarify the reasons to myself.

As a writer, speaker, and podcaster, I have always had a difficult time identifying my overall project, interests, and approaches. I am interested in too many things, I know a little about too much, and I can’t help tying it all together in interesting ways only to encourage it to unravel. I also enjoy writing and speaking in different registers, from dense “theory” to historical scholarship to straight journalism to slangy rock criticism to druggy librettos to the occasional gonzo plunge into the full weird (One language I don’t speak, however, is thought leader.) Unconsciously I have been following Jerry Garcia’s advice my whole career, which is not to be the best at what you do, but to be the only one who does what you do.

Careful what you wish for. My inconsistency makes me a publicist’s nightmare, and when I try to play publicist for myself, the nightmare gets meta pretty fast. I am constitutionally unable to think in terms of a “personal brand”—I am of that X generation that will always resist “selling out,” even though the very idea is now anachronistic and needs to be explained to younger people. At the same time, the reality of being a freelancer and an independent, non-institutionalized scholar these days almost requires crafting a pushy avatar. But whenever my identity as a writer with a certain beat or a thinker with a particular expertise begins to congeal, I start looking for escape routes.

When my old friend and intellectual crony Marcus Boon wrote the foreword to my essay collection Nomad Codes a decade ago, he called it “Erik’s Trip.” On top of the psychedelic echoes, the title underscored my nomadic drift through topics and genres. It also alluded to a cool Sonic Youth song on Daydream Nation, an album I wrote about for Spin back in the day—and in a very “Erik Davis,” PKD-fried way. Thurston didn’t like the review much back then, but I think it’s aged well.

Marcus’ title was great for Nomad Codes, which collects some of the jewels of my younger freelance career (which was really more of a careen through the mutant media possibilities of the 1990s). But the title didn’t sit as well with me here. It seemed too youthful and wayward, and too dismissive of one of my aims here: which is to find myself writing in a region that is also beyond myself, in a Zone—as Pynchon might call it—that I am both discovering and mapping and yet, in some paradoxical sense, have never really left. So though I still don’t know exactly what direction I am heading as a writer, either here or in future projects (at least besides the ones already cooking), I’d like to posit an orienting image for the trip.

That image is the Burning Shore. The phrase comes from the late-seventies Dead song “Estimated Prophet,” whose lyrics are by John Perry Barlow, who I meme-swapped with back in the cyberdays. Like High Weirdness, the song concerns those characters who get sucked into the maw of visionary experience, and get over-cooked in a ripe vat of archetypal phantasms, psychotic reactions, and prophetic enthusiasms (and maybe an angel or two as well). So on one level, “The Burning Shore” concerns my continued fascination with these outlandish, transformative, and troubling experiences that mark the lives of so many of us.

“Estimated Prophet” is also about California, that rootless place where my own roots go back five generations. While I have written a lot on culture, consciousness, architecture, and technology in the Golden State—most notably in my book The Visionary State: A Journey’s through California’s Spiritual Landscape—nearly all of my work, including High Weirdness and much of Techgnosis, is focalized through this beautiful, catastrophic, and banal land, which our current governor sometimes names a “nation-state.” The North Bach poet Lew Welch called it “the last place,” which I interpret to mean the phantasmic End of the West, that apocalyptic shore whose cultural, spiritual, and technological innovations, mediated and commodified, helped initiate the globe’s new virtual sense of placelessness.

To think of California as “the Burning Shore” is to see it as a place of fiery transformations, of final boundaries and the often wayward attempt to overcome them. But today it is also demands a more literal reading. Between demonic fires, hyper-techno-capitalism, and a changing sense of its identity, California is on fire. In those flames we can see flickers of those even more radical shifts that are coming, and that are already here, on the Left Coast and across the world. I hope to capture some of those flickering intimations here, following that ancient craft of glimpsing spirits in the blaze.

—Erik Davis

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