The Experiment

“I look forward to next week’s experiment in sobriety,” announces the Wizard, “required for 4-5 days after wisdom-tooth extraction.”

“Do you, though?” wonders the Traveler. “Is this ‘experiment,’ as you say, truly a thing you look forward to? Or do you dread it?”

“Part of me is apprehensive,” admits the Wizard. “I have but one such tooth. Parting with it feels like a big deal, though of course it needn’t be.”

Having come from the future, the Traveler replies, “No worries. You and I know full well that, despite its fondness for rhyme, history refuses to repeat itself.”

As Narrator, I interject here to add, “Both characters are acquainted with science fiction writer Philip K. Dick’s infamous VALIS experience. 2-3-74. That, too, occurs after a wisdom-tooth extraction.”

The characters relive the event for a moment as if it were a flashback. They see before them the young delivery woman, bearing pain meds from the local pharmacy, arriving at Dick’s door. Sun glints off an ichthys hanging from a band ‘round the woman’s neck. The ichthys is the Greek fish symbol that was worn by the early Christians. Dick, blinded momentarily by a pink beam of light, receives in that moment a rapid download of gnosis directly into his consciousness.

Imagine, says the Narrator, something like what Lagunitas suggests on cans of their Hazy Wonder IPA, like the one from which I sip here as I write: “It always starts nebulous. A reflection of a refraction in the back of your frontal cortex. Then before you know it, you just know it…”

Overheard scraps of language. “Natty progress.” “Ferrari, Ferrari, daddy gets me minutes.”

“Imagine all of that happening,” says a girl, “in a bird’s tummy. Or a bear’s. Or the tummy of a fish. Or something with eight tentacles. A spider, an octopus: take your pick. A kind of spider-verse. The one who spins it occupying a space in the middle. The Laguna Pueblo people call this being Spiderwoman.”

The characters pause in their dialogue-via-montage and ponder this for a moment.

“No one need tell Spiderwoman, ‘Off the ropes! Off the wall!’,” adds the Traveler. “Life for her is like ‘The 59th Street Bridge Song.’ All is groovy.”

“Indeed,” concludes the Wizard, in transit now with the Traveler. “‘Groovy’ means knowing how to hang, how to float, how to surf. ‘Float free, in a meditative trance,’ the emblem teaches, ‘and all is well.’”

Thursday January 21, 2021

A new semester approaches. Altered states of consciousness and perception: let us consider religious raptures, drug-induced ecstasies, “peak experiences” and the like as phenomena central to human activity as evidenced by literatures of many cultures and historical periods. A narrative forms as we travel Bill & Ted-style among ancients, medievals, and moderns. We detect patterns; the texts of different places and periods constellate in a kind of cyberspace of meaning, speak to one another as allegories of a transhistorical process or project: the attempt to get free. Confronted with the disruptive power of gnosis, we’re left wondering: “Red pill or blue pill?”