Uncle Matt’s New Adventure

“What about Oculus?” wonders the Narrator. “My nephews acquired an Oculus as a ‘family gift’ from Santa this past Christmas,” he explains. VR is here: available for those who can afford it. Off-worlding, world building: that’s what rich people do, rapturing themselves away like rocket scientists. “‘When in Rome…,’” mutters the Narrator, with scare quotes and a shrug.

“I could smoke weed and try it, setting out as Uncle Matt on a new adventure. A portal fantasy inspired by Fraggle Rock.”

Indeed, he could, notes the Author — but does he?

‘Tis a story as much about perception’s limits as about its doors. Writing is the site where an ongoing bodying forth occurs: where forms and objects arrive into the realms of the audible and the visible.

Let imagination have a crack at it, thinks the Narrator. Let us immerse ourselves in fantasies. Let us adopt together the practice of reading works of fantastic literature and watching works of fantastic cinema.

Our approach will be by way of “portal fantasies”: works that involve acts of portage, passage, portation, as through a door or gate connecting previously distinct worlds. The OED defines a portal as “A door, gate, doorway or gateway, of stately or elaborate construction.” The term enters English by way of French and Latin with the Pearl Poet’s use of it in the late-fourteenth century. Henry Lovelich uses it soon thereafter in a Middle-English metrical version of a French romance about the Arthurian wizard Merlin. And Milton uses the term in a remarkable passage in Paradise Lost:

Op’n, ye everlasting Gates, they sung,

Op’n, ye Heav’ns, your living dores; let in

The great Creator from his work returnd

Magnificent, his Six Days work, a World;

Op’n, and henceforth oft; for God will deigne

To visit oft the dwellings of just Men

Delighted, and with frequent intercourse

Thither will send his winged Messengers

On errands of supernal Grace. So sung

The glorious Train ascending: He through Heav’n,

That op’nd wide her blazing Portals, led

To Gods Eternal house direct the way,

A broad and ample rode, whose dust is Gold

And pavement Starrs, as Starrs to thee appear,

Seen in the Galaxie, that Milkie way

Which nightly as a circling Zone thou seest

Pouderd with Starrs.

Note how Heaven’s gates are “blazing,” as is the world in the first of our readings this semester, Margaret Cavendish’s The Blazing World. Cavendish and Milton were contemporaries. Cavendish published The Description of a New World, Called The Blazing World in 1666. Paradise Lost appeared one year later.

Friday October 27, 2017

I feel strangely related to the “Uncle Matt” character on Fraggle Rock, as if he and I were kin. “I’m traveling on my greatest adventure,” writes the bearded ethnographer toward the beginning of the show’s first episode. “So much to explore.” Part of me wishes to adopt as my handle from today onward the name “Traveling Matt.” After all, the first creature this character discovers along his journey into “outer space” is a four-legged beast named Sprocket. A light bulb goes on in my head: Fraggles are post-scarcity acid-heads! Characters like Gobo are like me. They seek advice not from the I Ching, but from a conglomerate entity known as the “Talking Trash-Heap.” Isn’t this similar to my use of the bins at the local Goodwill? (Trash-Heap, by the way, would be the Halloween costume to end all Halloween costumes.) Consider, though, the many psychedelic dimensions of Fraggle Rock: the Fraggles themselves are all stoners and acid-heads, their hair tie-dyed and frazzled. The Beast is asleep, whispers Gobo as he tiptoes past the upstairs inventor’s canine companion. Dogs, by some synchronistic logic, keep cropping up everywhere I turn. The show, I either realize or decide, is the script of my auto-psychobiography. I watched many of its episodes multiple times as a kid. Each episode begins with the mobile prosthetic consciousness known as the “camera-eye” gliding invisibly through the glass threshold separating exterior reality from its interior. Like Plato’s Cave Allegory, in other words, the show’s narrative unfolds across multiple levels. In Episode 2, a bongo-playing Fraggle sings about migration of consciousness via the magic of the jump-cut along that looped, ‘Möbius-Strip’ continuum that lesser minds divide into discrete domains denoted by the terms “here” and “there.” I know, too, from Brian Jay Jones’s biography that Henson “enjoyed a little grass” from time to time. Henson is also reported to have taken acid once, in the company of his friends Don Sahlin and Jerry Nelson — though he claimed in retrospect that the drug never took effect. Jones notes that the musicians featured in Henson’s short film Youth 68 praised acid’s positive effects when Henson interviewed them. After seeing Marty Balin of Jefferson Airplane (the long-haired dude with the toy pistol) suggest, mid-film, that the baby boomers will have to “do an Oedipus on their fathers,” I believe it.

The book also recounts how Henson planned to create a psychedelic nightclub called Cyclia in the late sixties. The idea for it came to him, says Henson’s wife Jane, “during the first wave of psychedelia. Jim went to see Jefferson Airplane and he was very intrigued with it — the light shows and the psychedelic graphics.” The nightclub, which Henson imagined housing in a geodesic dome or an inflatable structure at the foot of the Queensboro Bridge, was to have walls, floor, and ceiling “broken into faceted, crystal-like shapes onto which films would be projected” (Jones). Alas, none of these plans ever came to fruition — but I like to think that there’s a parallel universe — an “outer space,” so to speak — where they did.