Sobriety is a Witch’s Virtue

If you read around Deleuze and Guattari’s Thousand Plateaus, you see all kinds of weirdness that, superficially, looks like a blanket endorsement for ecstasy. The talk of deterritorialization, war machines, strange masochistic acts, solar anuses, wolf men, sorcerers, lines of flight (‘the witch’s flight’), demonic alliance, romantic love, Burroughs’s heroin addiction, lobster God, and the undoing of the mesh of concepts that sustains specific ways of perceiving subjects and objects, all sounds pretty darn ecstatic.

However, they make equally clear that ecstatic strategies are unstable, prone to seizing up, and oftentimes only come to fruition through the application of a clear-headed sobriety that follows after them. Oftentimes, the line of flight opened through ecstasy has to be taken up by someone else because the ecstatic breaks themselves opening and following it. At the very least, the ecstatic has to sober up before they can proceed to realize the possibilities opened by ecstasy.

In large part that has to do with the nature of ecstatic perception. Ecstasies of all sorts radically alter the way we perceive both in terms of how we pay attention and how we interpret what our attention yields. This radical alteration in perception tends to suspend our habitual self because that habitual self is a reflex of the world of objects that ecstasy transforms.

The difficulty comes after the ecstasy, when that reflexive habit body returns but its naturalness has been thrown into question. There are so many pitfalls that can open up here, including:

  • the failure to fully re-establish the habit body so that ecstatic perception begins to impinge on daily experience,
  • the failure to re-identify with the habit body such that daily experience becomes hollow, even alien, often leading to a constant seeking after ecstasy to escape the hollowness,
  • a revulsion in the face of ecstasy, leading to a retreat into the habit body and a withdrawal from pleasure

The difficulty, however, does not necessarily lead into the pitfalls. The difficulty is a key part of ecstasy in the witch work and the means of realizing its promise. The conflicts that emerge between the two modalities is where spiritual work takes place.

Sobriety provides the basis for navigating the fertile difficulty and manifesting between the habit body and ecstatic exprience a proper way of life that opens onto a wider horizon of objects and experiences. What is undertaken under the auspices of sobriety is a careful exploration of the habit body and the means of modulating it to encompass other forms of experience.

This is where we find the peculiar exploration of gesture and voice, play and rite, body and world, vision and spirit, that defines the witch work. This is the place where the formless forms are at play with the inchoate substance and our being begins to ramble, rumble, stammer, stumble, whirl, sink, bloom, wind, slither. It is at this point that the witch must explore what affects can and can’t be transmitted, and the means of modulating that transmission.

It is not just a matter of having reasons but of discovering reasons, not just a matter of having principles but of fashioning them. Because reasons and principles follow in the wake of the objects and experiences to which they relate and in the witch work, those objects and experiences are in flux and remade. The will finds itself at the mercy of something else that it cannot fully grasp and so begins to discover the joints of fate and destiny that determine it.

(As an aside, this helps get at the way in which ecstasies are both pleasant and unpleasant.)

And, again, the witch work isn’t the only work that can be done along this terrain. There are numerous ways to situate yourself in this place that shift the focus of the work done. Sweeping traditions have their beach heads in this land, extracting from it according to strict principles and regulations, according to specially prepared habit bodies.

But the witch work is becoming a perpetually out-of-context context, the cut that opens the surfaces of life to each other with and without expectation.

And the witch work is just that:  a kind of work. It is something you can circulate out into and back from. You can spend your life in the desert or you can spend a startling afternoon. You can set yourself willfully toward it or spiral out into it by accident from the borders of an established practice.You can set out into the witch work with the intention of securing from it for some other work, or you can seek it out for its own sake.

Still, however you find yourself out in it, sobriety will serve you well. Whether you are just trying to make your way back to stable ground or seeing how far you can go.

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6 thoughts on “Sobriety is a Witch’s Virtue

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