Do Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, the heroes of Tolkien’s fictions, pass through portals? Their home in the Shire features a circular door, through which they step when they begin their journeys. ‘Tis a magic circle, of the kind theorized by Johan Huizinga in his book Homo Ludens. The world in the circle is the realm of Faerie — or what Huizinga would call the realm of play. “Play is not ‘ordinary’ or ‘real’ life,” writes Huizinga. “It is rather a stepping out of ‘real’ life into a temporary sphere of activity with a disposition all of its own” (8).
Tolkien, as one of the preeminent figures of twentieth-century fantasy, shares Huizinga’s interest in this other, “temporary” sphere born of play. That the worlds that result from this sphere are temporary in nature leads Tolkien to assume them “sub-creations” — “secondary” worlds, as he says in his 1938 essay “On Fairy-Stories” — but not in a way that diminishes their value. In keeping with his Catholicism, he believes that humans are handiwork of a single god, a single divine creator. And therein lies our magic, he argues. Created in that being’s image, he says, we too possess a capacity to create. We who are “created sub-creators” in one reality get to be creators of worlds of our own.
So sayeth the Fantasist.
“But what if, instead of distinguishing these worlds as ‘primary’ and ‘secondary,’” adds the Narrator, “we opted rather to call them ‘partner worlds,’ or ‘corresponding pairs’ — as in the Hermetic saying, ‘As above, so below’?”
“What if, in so doing,” replies the Traveller, “we followed the paths of the Alchemists and the Surrealists? What if, as Magico-Psychedelic Realists, we brought them together, allowed them to merge?”
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.
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.
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).
Are we genres of people, as Jamaican writer Sylvia Wynter argues? Or do we contain multitudes, selves morphing and genre-shifting? Could capitalist realism reality-shift? It could become a romance: a “scientific romance” as per Wells, with a time machine. And it could do this with or without the horrors of weird fiction. It could be a detective comic. It could be a portal fantasy. It could be all of these. Even at times, under game-like conditions, a dungeon-crawl. Let us remake ourselves as magical realists. The story that contains is a story of love. It can get smutty, as Sarah says of Bridgerton. Persons in their many phases, including altered states of consciousness: some higher, some lower. Let us imagine time machines, war machines, starships. Revolution occurs, a revolution of consciousness. Heads awaken to higher states: romantic comedy, utopian fantasy. Genres combine, as do gods and archetypes in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. Paradise is both the third book of the Divine Comedy and a novel by Toni Morrison. The latter begins with a call to sobriety.