John Dee, as Imagined by Derek Jarman

Among the more fearsome of the precursors to what follows is John Dee, the great Renaissance spymaster, court magician and inventor of the British Empire. Filmmaker Derek Jarman is just one of several artists to have made much of Dee in recent decades. In fact, Dee appears repeatedly throughout Jarman’s oeuvre. We first meet Dee, for instance, in Jarman’s 1978 film Jubilee, where he operates as a kind of early-modern Doc Brown. At Her Majesty’s behest, the Dee of that film works up a spell that sends Queen Elizabeth I 400 years into the future–i.e., to London in the age of punk. And what begins in Jubilee continues in the films that follow, with Dee cropping up again the very next year by way of Shakespeare’s famous magician character Prospero. The latter wields a wand modeled upon Dee’s Monas Hieroglyphica in Jarman’s adaptation of The Tempest (1979). Nor is this the last of Dee’s appearances in Jarman’s catalog. He also turns up as muse, for example, in a film named after Dee and Kelley’s famous scrying experiments, The Angelic Conversation (1987). Nor was Jarman alone in thinking highly of Dee. The latter captured the imaginations of several of Jarman’s contemporaries. To mention just two examples: Dee appears as a character in Michael Moorcock’s Gloriana, or The Unfulfill’d Queen; and comics artist Alan Moore wrote a libretto about him. For Jarman’s own reflections on his interest in Dee and in related topics like alchemy, see his memoir Dancing Ledge.

Wednesday November 8, 2017

“How to them I appear, so to me,” I tell myself when told I’m adorably stoned. Another warns, finger wagging, “Don’t stop! the clock is ticking.” The sound of a head scratch appears high in the mix. I receive instructions: “Cause the mind to change channels.” Unfold into action. Even if just taped comedy and commentary. The universe in the form of my loved one extends to me a clue: a page in Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta where two characters talk around Arthur Koestler’s The Roots of Coincidence. I become transfixed, I become transfigured. None of this is mere coincidence. Do I feel angry and concerned about the continued stockpiling of arms among my enemy countrymen? Indeed, very. The center disperses ever faster into two contending camps. The nation-state as real-dimension Pong, with computer-controlled opponents. It is no mere coincidence, I repeat under my breath on my way to a talk by Masha Gessen. Daphne’s death continues to weigh on me, especially on gloomy, rainy days midweek. On such days, I sometimes let paranoid musings get the best of me. I take pleasure in the sensation of web detection. A friend of mine introduces Gessen, who speaks on “Democracy in the Age of Trump and Putin.” World leaders who each wish to become “king of reality.” I establish that she and I are both acutely aware of the things that scare us. But all she does is revisit for the audience (in a packed auditorium, by the way) points from her piece “Autocracy: Rules for Survival.” What we must do, she says, is “other” for others the reality in which we live. Point to the autocrat; reveal him as such. But reveal to whom? Gessen can speak only to a public that reads the New York Review of Books. A group nearly devoid of influence in our new reality. The reality of concentrated power, limited only by the pressure, she says, applied by civil society upon the judiciary. “It’s really hard,” she says, “to think hard in Trump’s America.” All of us are suffering from a kind of “future shock.” As she states this, my eyes are pulled to the right and peer with suspicion at a figure, an intense-looking young white man, who arrives late clutching a mysterious bundle in his hands and who sits up front beside the podium. Spider sense tingling. Have I stumbled inadvertently into an Event, I wonder? Thankfully the suspicion proves baseless. But such is the emotional / affective texture of our time.