The American Meaning of Charley Manson
Manson calls himself Jesus Christ, but, like Emerson, he also says that every man is Jesus Christ. Every man has the original energy within him. “I am everything, man,” he says, and he means it. But he does not bother to explain when the “I” of his discourse is the person, Charles Manson, or the Universal eye that is the will of God. Thus he tells Rivera, “If I could kill about fifty million of you I might save my trees and my air and my water and my wildlife.”
Taking him literally, and hoping for a good violent soundbite, Rivera responds, “You’re going to kill fifty million people?”
Manson’s answer is instructive. It shows both what he is trying to say and his inability to communicate it. “I didn’t say I would kill anything,” he protests. “I’m reaping the head in thought. I’m Jesus Christ whether you want to accept it or not… I’m reaping it in thought. It’s a thought, a thought,” He taps his fingers on his head to emphasize his point. “Do you see what I’m saying? In other words, the whole world is a thought, and I am in the thought of Peace-on-Earth.”
The point is not simply that Manson is speaking metaphorically. He is doing that, but he is also saying that everything is a metaphor, that our very lives, our bodies, our surroundings, are metaphor; that we live in an illusion if we think this material reality is real. Like Emerson and the earlier romantics, he is a philosophical idealist. He believes that what is ultimately real is not matter but consciousness. This whole thing we call reality, or the universe, is an illusion, a dream. What we call God is the dreamer. And our bodies are no more real than are the strange beings that flit through our dreams at night. The whole world is a thought, and each person’s perceptions are but a series of thought within the framework of the larger thought. As Manson once put it, “everyone’s playing a different game with the thought.” All of the many perceptions of this existence are but dreams within a larger dream. This is where Manson is coming from when he says to the court and the straight world, “I don’t live in your dream.” This is why he says “You’ve got my body in a cell… but I’m walking in forever, man.” He is freer, he claims, to wander among the mountain in his jail cell than if he were struggling to survive in the day-to-day realities of the outside world. From his perspective, to believe that this physical world is the ultimate reality is to be trapped in the illusion; to be aware of the cosmic mind is to be liberated from the illusion.
That is where all the emphasis on life as game-playing becomes important. It is not a question of being brainwashed by the Capitalists’ game, as the Marxists imagine, but of being brainwashed by any game, Capitalist, Marxist, Buddhist, scientific, you name it. All of rational human consciousness is a walking dream from which people need to be awakened. We are all, as writers in the Sxities kept saying, in a movie, trapped in a movie. And the first thing we need is to realize it so we might try to break out of the movie or, perhaps, enjoy it more fully, more consciously, more completely and honestly.
The key to this notion is the same as the key to most poetry; it is the idea of symbolic consciousness. To realize, as Emerson said, that “we are symbols and we inhabit symbols,” is to take the first step out of the common sense perception of reality into a transcendent consciousness. Here, Manson sounds eerily like Norman O. Brown, whom he may have never read. But Brown’s words were abroad in the sixties; he could have picked them up anywhere. Rolling Stone’s article on Manson, written in 1969 and reprinted in Mindfuckers, puts quotes by Brown and Manson back to back. “Words are symbols,” Manson told Rolling Stone, “All I’m doing is jumbling the symbols in your brain. Everything is symbolic. Symbols are just connections in your brain. Even your body is a symbol.” In Love’s Body, Brown writes, “The body is not to be understood literally. Everything is symbolic, everything including the human body.” And elsewhere in the book he writes, “To make in ourselves a new consciousness, an erotic sense of reality, is to become conscious of symbolism. Symbolism is mind making connections (correspondences) rather than distinctions (separations).”
Manson saw the world as a symbolic manifestation, not a literal reality. It is an illusion, a mask, and the things within this illusion point beyond themselves to some transcendent presence. Everything from scripture to sex is a symbolic message from the divine trying to tell us something. We are surrounded by messages we cannot read and locked into game-playing roles we do not understand, all at the mercy of some cosmic game player.