Last summer I did my first end to end reading reading of Deleuze and Guattari’s ‘Thousand Plateaus’. Previously I had only read sections here and there and fragments of other works (of theirs) so this was an edifying experience. As I read I began to notice the Castaneda references. These grabbed my attention as I had previously read Castaneda’s books some 20 years ago. Prior to reading them I had always avoided them assuming them to be some kind of new-age claptrap, however when I did read them I found them compelling and beautifully written (or at least most of them). I played somewhat with the techniques and found they actually did things. This was something of a revelation as my prior interactions with meditation and western style magic seemed to get nowhere. However interest waned, other things happened and slowly I forgot about this time.
So reading Thousand Plateaus was an incredible experience for two reasons. Firstly it was fascinating to engage with this book properly and secondly it seemed interesting how many Castaneda references were in it. To review these, they are:
i) In ‘On Several Regimes of Signs’ he is mentioned in relation to combating solidified mechanisms of interpretation.
ii) In ‘How do you make yourself a Body Without Organs’ Castaneda’s experience is cited in relation to the construction of the BwO, this too relates to the breaking down of interpretation and construction of flows and becomings. In the same chapter we also have a mention of the tonal/nagual dualism set up in Tales of Power where the tonal is everything cast under an organising principle of intelligibility (quite like pneuma in the accretive system variously detailed throughout the site) whilst the nagual is simultaneously everything but from the position of flows themselves, an ineffable a-signification that (arguably) also potentially, obliterates the restraints of space and time (this would correlate to the umbratic in the pneuminous system).
iii) In ‘1933: Micropolitics and Segmentarity’ the works are mentioned again in relation to the obstacles that Don Juan says stand in the way of becoming a ‘man of knowledge’. Don Juan here is given the illustrious comparison of Nietzsche’s Zararthrustra. The obstacles are: fear, clarity, power and disgust (old age in Castaneda). Fear here seems to be fear of existence of flows/becomings etc. Clarity is comprehension of the same. Power is dangerous as once clarity is achieved and movement is possible between rigidity and flow and second kind of rigidity re-emerges as threat, the power to control the flows at this new level. The last danger concerns the lines of flight and the possibility that they will not connect to other lines but instead will end in abolition. One might hazard a guess that the chance that the line of flight ends in death increases with age.
iv) In ‘1730: Becoming-Intense, Becoming-Animal’ in ‘Memories of a Sorcerer III’ Castaneda is invoked again. Here he is used to illustrate the progression of a sequence of becomings; becoming-dog, becoming-water, becoming-air. It also mentions an incident of Carlos being pushed through a door and reappearing in a totally different place.
v) In the same chapter Castaneda is credited with having effected a ‘broad synthesis’ of earlier 20th century comprehension of mind altering drug effects. In this way he makes a key contribution to the ‘drug assemblage’.
This Deleuzo-Guattarian connection gives Castaneda a connecting line to philosophy. This is the starting point for Parasol 6. It doesn’t mean that we want only DnG/Castaneda papers but here is the bridge. A beautiful synchronistic connection is of course the English translation of the the French agencement: assemblage. This brings immediately to mind what Castaneda no doubt thought his most important concept in his later work: the assemblage point. The assemblage point supposedly determines the reality we experience by lighting up a certain set of human luminous fibres at a time. The point is normally fixed, sorcery, dreaming, power plants etc move it and hence alter our experience of the world. The two concepts may not be directly connected -but on the pneuminous plane they are.
We must also remember that there are many non-philosophical adherents to the ‘system’ still in existence. There is a reasonable sized subreddit that seems to have some of Castaneda’s old students in it. There is a heavy focus in the group on a practice called dark room gazing. This basically entails silencing the mind and staring into pitch blackness for a long time. Many practitioners report results, often involving purple smoke but many other phenomena. Interestingly the criterion for the reality of the experience seems to be to test whether or not any coloured lights/smoke can me touched and manipulated. Participants seem to frequently report being able to grab such lights/smoke.
The big question here is of course, does it actually do anything? One could potentially explain most of the subreddit participants activity by saying that they are inducing hypnogogic images of a powerful nature. This is all very well except it does leave us again in a rather agnostic disjunctive situation. That is, smoke/lights that appears in the dark may be adequately described as a hypnogogic effect however this is identical to the appearance of the same phenomenon that is actually some kind of energy as described in Castaneda. We might at this moment recall another previous Parasol topic who reported almost exactly the same phenomenon. Wilhelm Reich claimed orgone could be seen by staring into the dark and that it would appear as a blueish mist. Such a description of course is not far from the darkroom gazers purple smoke. The agnostic disjunctive point (like in the synchroncity argument) is that in order to privilege the hypnogogic explanation we must know that this version of reality is correct. Since both accounts are simply what it would look like for that to be the case we cannot be certain that the hypnogogic one is correct, so when (as many do) they simply thing dismissal is easy they beg the question by assuming a version of reality in order to dismiss the phenomenon. The big question of ‘does it do anything?’ then is partially rendered inert by the agnostic disjunctive observation insofar as being able to induce such experiences in a sense does count as doing something (it has the appearance of some experience commensurate with the descriptions in the books).
This is my impression of these kinds of practices too, the satisfaction of them is that they generate such experiences which then can be interpreted in light of the Castaneda system or reduced to hypnogogic hallucination. The Castaneda system makes one thing abundantly clear though. If one wishes to develop these kinds of things into full blown weirdness there is no place for the agnostic disjunction. One must be committed to accepting the weirdness and not dwelling on its ontological nature as only under this condition will it properly be able to develop. And this is reasonable really, one can imagine that if reality really were sensitive to mental/bodily activity then one must temper the mind to maximise the result.
In the books Castaneda is pushed beyond any level of agnostic disjunction by events so bewildering he has no choice -people flying, teleporting, producing energy doubles. These kinds of events are not reported as replicated in the subreddit and of course one can quickly think, ‘because they aren’t possible’ and probably they aren’t. However there are plenty of mentions of phenomena similar to astral projection/OBE’s which, through the Castaneda system are interpreted as ‘accessing the double’ and there are plenty of reports of such phenomena successfully interacting with the world (not necessarily from the CC camp). This suggests that there may indeed be a kind of progressive link between smoke like phenomena and the ‘double’. This furthermore (to me at least) suggests a kind of open end to the phenomena that we may not know the limit of.
With regards to scepticism, the system suggests there is a kind of protective mechanism built into extreme weirdness for it is repeatedly said (when Castaneda asks such questions) that when an ordinary person observed such a phenomena they would not be able to see it. We may take this to be a convenient or plausible explanation in a similar agnostic disjunctive manner.
Two more points spring to mind in this area. The first concerns that well known topic from various strands of neo-materialism, speculative realism, hauntology etc.: the outside. The exit to the outside is an idea that comes up a lot. The outside itself can be split into a strong and weak version. The weak one being the scientific outside which potentially allows for at least our comprehension and possible somehow greater interaction with fields beyond the human whereas the strong Kantian version prohibits our ability to ever make contact with the noumenal realm. Sorcery (the Castaneda system) seems to suggest a third option. Sorcery would seem to align itself basically with Kant except that transcendental categories and pure intuitions would only be pseudo-transcendental. That is, the transcendental status would be true for every human unless one took the trouble to dismantle the categories/intuitions using sorcery. Then it would be possible to experience something beyond them. This experience in Castaneda’s terms is indeed the experience of the noumenal realm. That is, it suggests that the exit from the human security system (to Coin Land’s phrase) is possible, it’s just it takes more than copious amounts of amphetamine to achieve this. Secondly I think no matter how stable and functional our current scientific paradigm looks, we have to put aside our prejudices about anomaly in general, listen to the phenomenological picture, override the tendency that comprehension of things is within easy reach and consider our understanding of reality may yet be extremely primitive by standards yet to come. The appearance of spatio-temporal solidity may yet turn out to be erroneous as a flat earth.
Another aspect of the whole Castaneda affair that we equally cannot ignore is exactly the claims of invention. We do not raise these in the tired sense of lambasting him for lying -as Deleuze and Guattari point out, it scarcely matters if he did. No one can tell how much of any of it is real. This in itself is an incredible achievement. Castaneda may have pulled off one of the greatest hyperstitional ever. The power of the writing, the strangeness of the events, the endearing natures of Don Juan and Don Genaro all go to making an incredibly attractive world that people want to be real. The work minimally exists as possibly real which means it essentially is hyperstition. It’s a whole canon of potentially largely invented work that exerted and continues to exert a powerful effect on reality.
What my wandering writing here is trying to get at is that there are many good angles from which to write/create upon this topic. There may be more but I offer here:
i) Deleuze and Guattari as a philosophical entry point -though I can see non-philosophy can work quite well here too.
ii) Considerations of the practical aspect of the practices and the ontological/epistemological implications
iii) Possible connections to other theories (e.g. Reich).
iv) The meta-fictional/hyperstitional aspect of the work.
v) Considerations of Castaneda’s work in relation to the outside.
vi) Ontological implications of treating such work seriously -even without practical engagement.
Submissions should be sent into firstname.lastname@example.org
There is no deadline as yet, though 2021 itself roughly marks the boundary of submissions.