I read Carlos Castaneda about 20 years ago; previously to that I had deliberately ignored him as new age nonsense. However at some point the moment appeared when the academic philosophy was less and certain other impulses were more prevalent. I must be honest. I was bowled over by it. Castaneda can write and the narrative is both seductive and compelling. It begins with what seems like some kind of initiation into possibly real practices and progresses into a description of stranger and stranger things. Taken as it actually is it’s really quite terrifying: proper reality bending sorcery is actually possible, teleportation is possible, non-organic entities lurk on the periphery of reality and some actually feed off our awareness as a default state of existence. The books eventually unveil a system that resembles a quite extreme form of chaos magickal reprogramming. One must break ones habits, learn to not be the habitual self, unlearn perception itself to achieve as Deleuze and Guattari rightly note ‘the body without organs’. Opportunities for ‘power’ lurk all over the place and if we are interested we have to know how to grasp them.
The system has a energy body which describes humans as a luminous egg of fibres with a particularly bright patch behind the back in the same place in us all. This is the famous assemblage point (my Deleuzian interest is piqued at this name). The position of this point determines what reality we experience and in most people it stays in the same place, however the sorcerer learns to move it so as to move between worlds. As the books progress we learn the possibility that we may not even be aware of many things we have done or even do and that when we die we are consumed by a giant entity called the eagle. That is unless we have done our practices so rigorously that we can bypass this option and escape into the infinite.
The seductive possibility of such things being true is very attractive to all manner of minds in various states. I cannot even now say such things are not possible and such denials are not the point. What is the point is that the Castaneda system offers no actual sense of freedom that helps anyone other than yourself. The liberation of the self from the self into the infinite is the goal but there is no accompanying compassion (like in Dzogchen e.g. which Castaneda assuredly drew on). There is just awe and wonder and impeccable acts. Now of course this may be actually a kind of correct response in an indifferent universe, but as a system it lacks the ability to do anything for anyone other than break them down with the promise of powers and an endgame that even if actually achievable is clearly spelled out to need an astronomical amount of effort way beyond the ability of almost everyone. This gamble comes at the cost of the your family and your friends, the full Castaneda is not just some gentle new age system. Even if it’s anthropologically nonsense there is power in the writings and they will do things if you play with the techniques in there. But for a human connected life it’s not really something many of us would want to consider.
This brings us to Land or at least an aspect of the philosophy associated with him. I find something almost equally self-defeating in the ushering in of the human eschaton by invoking the AI god from the future through accelerated technocapital. There is a kind of undeniable logic to the Landian view that is actually hard to escape. How do we stop ourselves from creating AI that ultimately surpasses us given that we don’t seem to want to? It may well still be a long way off and maybe it isn’t possible. The impression, the appearance that shows itself no matter how incoherent is that it is possible, and this is all that is needed to generate the teleology. Why is it not a fitting end to transfer our cognition magnified a thousandfold into a vessel far more durable than our ‘fleshy drag’? In an indifferent universe this is a reasonable response so long as one places no value on the human and its being-human. I’m not here to make some heart wrenching plea in favour of the human, but I do feel a similarity between the hollowness in feeling towards this endgame and the Castaneda option. Both offer an escape at the cost of everything familiar.
Castaneda’s system uncoupled from Castaneda is a similar logical endpoint to Land’s: achieve the body without organs with no compassion or create the AI entity that potentially has no compassion. Compassion dies in either instance, different impulses have taken over but the end is the same. I do not say that any system that advocates dissolution of the self always entails no compassion, indeed the Buddhists bolt compassion onto the system quite possibly as a safe guard from this conclusion, achieving the void without compassion. In this sense it may be that what Castaneda advocates is more pure for it removes the compassion which the Buddhists kept. This compassion, the logic suggests, was an contingent connection to the human and just as the flesh and emotions must go for AI, so a thorough system of energetic freeing must remove the notion as a stable structure.
Compassion means valuing the human (amongst other beings) but now we are frankly nauseated by this idea and we hate ourselves because we cannot be trusted, we have betrayed everyone. I do not know where this goes. The human ended with Heidegger (though his compassion is of course dubious), he defended a kind of poetic human dwelling which he warned us was covered and yet might be covered forever. We all know ‘The Question Concerning Technology’ and the danger of which it speaks. For Land this is not a danger, this is the destiny and ‘nur noch ein Gott kann uns retten‘ is to be actually realised.
We just didn’t know which God would come calling and what ‘saving’ meant.