“We’re transforming Old Street,” reads the sign affixed to the construction site, next to which stand a team of bobbies cuffing a bewildered homeless woman, her possessions in plastic bags at her side. I observe and take note from the upper level of a double-decker bus headed to the Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities, Fine Art & Natural History. My thoughts return to the woman throughout the afternoon, part of her lingering in my awareness as I view paintings and illustrations by Mervyn Peake and Austin Osman Spare. Apart from Éliphas Lévi and a small Fabian contingent that included H.G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw, the figures I’ve been reading about at the British Library seem to have left these stones unturned.
After some initial disturbance and distress, observation allows us to welcome a symphony of science and nature, the buzz of subatomic particles entangled with the strings of the Orphic lyre. Birds sail through blue skies as I sit midday after attending a panel featuring poets Anne Waldman, Rae Armantrout, Andrew Joron, Will Alexander, and Amy Catanzano. But wow — so much construction! And amid the allegory, the distant rumblings of mathematics. The deep basso profundo “Om” of the cybernetic Buddha. The American downtown beeps and buzzes, life landscaped and policed for redevelopment. Above it float clouds shaped like turtles, pigs, patient observers. Looped samples instrumentalize me, transform me through the labor of the beat into a receiver of new information, identity no longer fixed upon an avatar but rather dispersed across a domain beyond the barricade of the graphical user interface.
Some dude gets on a mic and introduces my city to Schrödinger’s Cat and theories of parallel worlds as we gather for an outdoor screening of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Downtown appears thoroughly transformed by gentrification, landscaping, redevelopment. But there’s still the excitement, the unrealized potential of the assembly of a local, democratic multitude, one that embraces and tolerates its self-constitution through dance, performance, and play. Man-in-the-Moon arrives as Gwen Stacy reviews her origin story. I imagine myself a moonlit Silver Surfer listening to “Lonely Surf Guitar” by the Surfaris.
“By cutting a pentagram into the air or dancing a wild spiral dance,” writes Erik Davis in his account of Pagan ritual, “the self submits to the designs of human and cosmic powers on a more visceral plane than philosophical conceptions or sermons allow” (TechGnosis, p. 192). Davis stresses, though, that this Pagan use of ritual instrumentalizes the latter’s transformative potential, raising worrying questions when what this “technology of the sacred” operates upon and instrumentalizes is imagination and the unconscious. What ritual possesses, however, and what reason lacks, is fidelity to wonder, reverence, and awe. Pagans, for instance, “seek sacred communion” with Nature. Theirs is a “visionary materialism” (194). I can also relate, though, to the “will to utilize” informing the magical practices of figures like Genesis P-Orridge and his group Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth. Their aim is to use magic to disrupt the spell of the global totalitarian society of the spectacle.