Margulis and the Psychedelic Eucharist

Here is Prof. Corey Anton lecturing on the recently deceased Lynn Margulis’ bio-philosophy.

Towards the end of her book (co-authored with Dorian Sagan) What Is Life?, Margulis offers an  analysis of the role of psilocybin in the evolution of mammalian consciousness.

She brings up the usage of psychedelic fungi in ancient mystery cults just after sharing Socrates’ warnings about the drug-like effects of writing. I’ve written about the relationship between psychedelic (al)chemistry and Plato’s/Socrates’ views on language as a pharmakon recently. I draw on Richard Doyle’s thesis in Darwin’s Pharmacy: Sex, Plants, and the Evolution of the Noösphere that psychedelics have functioned as “rhetorical adjuncts” in the history of human evolution, carrying natural selection and sexual attraction beyond themselves into religion, and from religion on into scientific discovery and artistic creation. Altered states of consciousness have always been at the generative core of human civilization. Art, religion, and science are novel modes of production never before seen in the history of earth. Humans are doing something new now. Which doesn’t mean we aren’t still things. We are things with powers unheard of in the world until now. We are the thing that thinks things (science) and things thinking (art), and that can, under special circumstances, think itself thinging. Almost always, we remain unable to think ourselves thinging, unable to catch the “I” in the act of  “am-ing.” We simply act without knowing how or why, making up our reason for acting afterwards depending on the moods and emotions that happens to be coursing through us when the need (social/legal or moral/psychological) for a justification of some past action arises. Much institutional religion (in its modern forms, Christian televangelism and the civil religion of 24-hour cable news) seems to function sociologically by providing us with hope and solace despite the existential shame and guilt we feel as a result of knowing we don’t know how or why we act the way we do. We are each of us liars since the first words that came out of our mouths. “I am”? But who am I? The special circumstances that allow the “I am” to experientially concresce (that is, allow the substantial self to emerge and dissolve fluidly–to flow through and across its own and others boundaries freely) are cultivated by carrying ourselves into philosophical modes of mind. Philosophy is a way of life and a way of writing. Increasingly, due to the invisible divine hand of the market, it has been reduced to a way of writing without life, publishing for pay. And often we don’t even get to own our own writing! Philosophers are lucky enough even to finds jobs at all in these waning days of capital.

Yes, we are still things. But we are not just heads of cattle, not just anything. Nothing is just anything. A cow, a blade of grass, a clump of soil, a star in heaven–each is radically different and yet still rhyzomatically the same. Nobody knows what a thing is, how it works, or why it works that way. “No-one knows what a body can do” (Deleuze‘s Spinozist formula).

Margulis quites Maurice Blanchot on page 189 of What is Life?:

Yes, happily language is a thing. It is a written thing, a bit of bark, a sliver of rock, a fragment of clay in which the reality of the earth continues to exist.

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3 Comments Add yours

  1. Adam Robbert says:

    Classic video. Thanks for posting.

  2. mary says:

    matt, very nice post… so it seems that Deleuze’s “double capture” has a history back to protozoa and beyond, wherein, as I Stengers explicates, and Adam posted awhile back, “,…the bee and the orchid both presupposing the existence of the other in order to produce themselves….toward a creation of concrete, interlocked, asymmetrical, and always partial graspings.” Stengers was speaking of cosmopolitics, while Margulis speaks of primal biological processes. Yet somehow the images are not incompatible, held in conceptual expansion and contraction of imagination, illustrating a cosmotheandric triunity of the divine, the human, and nature. I think of how similar Keat’s negative capacity turns out to be to an essential condition for life processes themselves….life in one definition as the ability to suspend entropic processes for the sake of more subtle and creative possibilities. With so many philosophy departments in universities being absorbed into the entropy of an abject practical-to-market orientation, such negative capacity has never been a more needed mode of being.
    When i read Margulis, the artist Odilon Redon comes to mind. He is sounding like Deleuze somewhat when he writes “My drawings inspire, they are not to be defined”…(from the wiki entry)
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Odilon_Redon
    ( the last quote is particularly accurate of art processes)….
    His beautiful delicate pastels are images that often restate the fascinating relationship between plant forms and the human mind; through colour and open composition, he illustrated the mystical co-presence of the transcendent and immanent through the sharing of being, human and plants, for the sake of enhancing a negative capacity to allow for the potencies to express and partake of concrescence, as if, as if it could be said that all of life was to give itself over to the becoming, a telos of becoming, in which the “I” is necessary for the divine and such altered states quicken the negative capacity for such awakening by dissolving the entropy of the “i” for the sake of the cosmos.
    here are three of his works:
    “underwater vision”

    “animals of the sea”

    and “the mystery” ( i think is the title)

    He combines the tree and the rhizome in the use of space of his composition; he floats the blooms aspacially, neither below, nor above, but in a poem of presence and contemplation.
    Another reason i think Margulis would have loved his work…perhaps she did…. is because he was so fascinated with the strange lifeforms that became visible through the microscope;

    http://www.sciencemag.org/content/299/5603/49.full

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