John Dee, as Imagined in Light of Empire

The British Empire — a thing culled from Arthurian legends whispered between Faerie Queenes and court astrologers — stood for a time as proof of magic’s power. ‘Twas a rabbit pulled from the hat of Elizabeth I’s wizard-friend John Dee. The same rabbit that draws Alice down the rabbit hole to Wonderland.

Enlisted as Her Majesty’s spymaster — indeed, he was the original secret agent, Mr. 007 himself — Dee stormed the reality studio, made Elizabeth a Time Traveler, conversed with angels.

And this thing Dee dreamt into being was of course a terrible thing: an expansionist project armed with ships of fools and launched outward to seize others — other persons, other worlds — for purposes of self-aggrandizement.

Literary greats went on to reimagine Dee just as he himself was a reimagining of Merlin. Shakespeare figures him as Prospero, and against him imagines the colonized subject Caliban. To overthrow Prospero, says Caliban, “Remember / First to possess his books, for without them / He’s but a sot.”

Christopher Marlowe supplies the more influential imagining of Dee, however, by casting him as Doctor Faustus.

Theses on Magic

Despite its protestations to the contrary, Western science is both a literary-artistic experiment and a religion. Upon the doors of its church of realism I nail my theses.

Thesis #1: Magic is a feature of some/most/all indigenous cultures. It predates colonization, and survives the latter as an ongoing site of resistance: spells cast to break spells of Empire.

Thesis #2: Magic is a paralogical retort, a way of knowing and doing that persists and evolves alongside Imperial Science, refusing and contesting the latter’s bid for supremacy.

Thesis #3: Magic is one of the elements most commonly associated with fantasy. Yet it’s woven as well into whatever one might pit against fantasy. It is as apparent in our natures as it is on our screens, equal parts imaginary and real. Cf. Arthur C. Clarke’s Third Law: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

Thesis #4: Science is a subset of magic.

Magico-Psychedelic Realism

The Aleph is what happens when consciousness recognizes the allegory of itself and communicates with itself as through a mirror, world of divinity communicating with the earthly realm, signaling like a satellite of love.

What if Borges had “accounted” for his encounter: his experience of simultaneity, oneness, and infinity? What if he hinted, for instance, that his friend Carlos had slipped him acid: a drug first synthesized in the laboratory of Swiss chemist Dr. Albert Hoffman two years prior, on April 19, 1943? (Borges published “The Aleph” in 1945.) Or, given that the postscript attached to story’s end is dated 1943, perhaps it was mescaline, a synthetic variant of peyote.

Did Borges and other magical realists experiment with psychedelics? How about indigenous plant medicines? Is that why Borges denounces the experience, calling the thing he encountered “a false Aleph” at story’s end? Is its illumination a profanation of the divine?

Forgetfulness wears away at the glimpse of paradise gleaned while high, much as it wears away at Borges’s memory of the face of his beloved Beatriz.

Borges and Huxley pair well together, thinks the Narrator. Both are blind prophets: mind manifesters gifted with inner sight.

Mellow Is the Man Who Knows What He’s Been Missing

My therapist’s office is a short walk away from the house on Shady. A figure in large, loosely-fitted clothing serenades me as I walk, singing “Dress You Up” from a street corner as I crest a hill. Another figure sings to me from a bus stop. The neighborhood has a bit of an edge, always has, air charged with noise. Birds, motorcycles, cars cruising up and down First and Second Streets. Construction work over by the ballpark up the hill. But what was before a desolate field is now a park.

“This park can be a place to perform the Work,” thinks the Time Traveler. Birdsong relaxes him as he sits at a table gazing toward the house on Shady. Walking the bend of the park, he reads a plaque about the 1778 Salem Waterworks, part of the park’s past. A waxing ¾ moon appears in the sky above the dome of the most notorious of the city’s landmarks, the one referred to by locals as the “Phallus Palace.”

5:55 turns up again as I rise from one of the park’s benches and continue on my way. Same numbers, same time of day, two days in a row. And there in the sky, the moon, near full. What of it? What of the tape on the telephone pole flapping in the wind? Or wind chimes in a neighbor’s yard, sounding like gamelans? Or wind in the trees? The air is cold, my walk brief.

I communicate with loved ones as best I can, sending and receiving valentines and giving thanks. Yet come evening I’m alone again in my flat, listening to Love’s “Alone Again Or,” cooking dinner for one. Spaghetti and meatballs. Wishing it were otherwise. “Yeah, I heard a funny thing,” sings Arthur Lee to flamenco swells, nervous violins.

Up on the stereo afterwards rumbles Richard & Linda Thompson’s “I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight.” “I wanna be dancing and rolling on the floor,” thinks the Traveler, “I want it to be me and you.” Temperature rises, food cooks as I dance to Ananda Shankar’s cover of the Rolling Stones song, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.”

It’s that time of my life, I guess, when all of these feel right: Shuggie Otis’s “Strawberry Letter 23,” Link Wray & The Wraymen’s “Rumble,” Suicide’s “Dream Baby Dream.”

Nico climbs atop the stack, bums me out with “These Days,” until Arthur Lee returns to remind me of how good it feels to always see your face. Songs replace songs as posts replace posts, but the music never changes, and I never quite learn the words I sing.

The Aleph on Shady Blvd

Having enjoyed my stay in Borges’s Labyrinths, I hasten to board another of his books, The Aleph and Other Stories. Before long, I find myself there again at the House on Shady Blvd, imagining it now as an Aleph, or what Borges’s friend Carlos calls “the only place on earth where all places are — seen from every angle, each standing clear, without any confusion or blending” (23). Hence also a kind of time machine. Is that not the ineffable core of my story? There I am again, sunlight shining, moonlight glinting amid stained glass windows, glass chandeliers, large mirrors. “I saw a small iridescent sphere of almost unbearable brilliance,” writes Borges. “The Aleph’s diameter was probably little more than an inch, but all space was there, actual and undiminished. Each thing (a mirror’s face, let us say) was infinite things, since I distinctly saw, close up, unending eyes watching themselves in me as in a mirror; I saw all the mirrors of earth and none of them reflected me […]. I felt dizzy and wept, for my eyes had seen that secret and conjectured object whose name is common to all men but which no man has looked upon — the unimaginable universe” (27-28).

Yes to Everything

The current tenant is friends with several colleagues. “Might that I could meet her,” wonders the Traveler: “what would I say?”

“Care not in advance,” counsels the Narrator in reply. “Such things happen or they don’t. Let it be aleatory, these encounters with others. Polycules, co-ops, happenings, Be-ins. Meetings with fellow heads. The utopia is there in us being together, living in common with others, sharing bodies and balm of laughter, listening to music, dancing, getting stoned.”

Togetherness with others keeps life an adventure. This flesh is all we have to offer, writes poet Diane Di Prima in “Revolutionary Letter #1”:

“this immediate head, what it comes up with, my move

as we slither over this go board, stepping always

(we hope) between the lines.”

Does the world have it in for us? Or is the world giving? The answer to any either/or is always “yes!” Become a technician of the sacred, a master of ecstasy. Chefs feed us as we struggle with our ascent. Yet what tonight’s chef hands me comes bagged up: no diggity. Kendrick Lamar says I’ll be alright.

Returning to Shady

Clock reads 5:55. Across the street from my apartment — indeed, visible out my window — an office tower with its street address printed in large lit signage upon its side:

500

W5TH

Time to visit Shady Blvd, thinks the Traveler. He pictures the current tenant, hopes they meet. Hope begins by returning to the site of the story. A friend recommends Chris Ware’s Building Stories. Traveler resolves to grab it. That and House of Leaves. For the Shady story, if it is to be made into a book, must be of that sort: the story of a house. Tenants of multiple eras in the home’s history interact with the home’s energies, repeat the home’s patterns: the time loops impressed there. Unless it isn’t a repetition. Time is like aletheia: an unfolding, a revealing. A process of disclosure. Let each one’s story be told.

All Because of a Couple of Magicians

Twenty-first century subjects of capitalist modernity and whatever postmodern condition lies beyond it have up to Now imagined themselves trapped in the world of imperial science. The world as seen through the telescopes and microscopes parodied by the Empress in Margaret Cavendish’s The Blazing World. That optical illusion became our world-picture or world-scene — our cognitive map — did it not? Globe Theatre projected outward as world-stage became Spaceship Earth, a Whole Earth purchasable through a stock exchange.

Next thing we know, we’re here.

Forms from dreamland awaken into matter.

Ghostly Desire

I hope to sit at a wheel and spin, “throw,” practice the art of pottery. One can take classes in town. It’s as simple as enrolling in a beginner’s workshop, as has a friend. Otherwise I read M.C. Richards’s thoughts on pottery as a craft, her descriptions of her work as a potter in her book Centering, and I think Ghost (1990), a romance starring Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore. Swayze’s ghost and his former lover achieve erotic paranormal union round a wheel, hands wet with clay. ‘Tis the most memorable scene in “one of the most memorable romantic films ever,” “winner of two Academy Awards,” etc. I was maybe 12 years old when I first encountered the scene — and already at 12, I was a sucker for ghostly romances. (Hence another of the films I liked in those years: The Heavenly Kid.) Those are what came first to my adolescent consciousness. Audio-visual tone poems visited upon me in my youth. From them I came to know desire as a longing across distance. “A passion of the lonely soul,” as a character says in Arthur Machen’s story “The White People.” A thing one suffers as a ghost. Years later I would hear the cost of this in “Catholic Block,” and in the mmms and bells of Russell Atkins’s “Night and a Distant Church.” Can I trust myself to let go and have fun? “When a body is filled with stresses, the nervous system is so busy handling them that its potential for attaining higher states of consciousness is very limited,” writes Itzhak Bentov in Stalking the Wild Pendulum: On the Mechanics of Consciousness. Through meditation, however, we can self-stimulate pleasure centers and calm our way toward joy.