Time: an odd phenomenon in light of the way it communicates, deposits emblems, plays hide-and-seek with consciousness. “Let Your Dreams Set Sail” says one such emblem, printed on the wall above the bed in which I’ve slept of late. A box on the ground displays the Paramount logo, a mountain pointed toward an outer sphere, like a Bucky dome lined with stars. Outside the sphere pokes SpongeBob SquarePants: the Flammarion engraving rejoined or reversed.
SpongeBob disrupts the first sphere’s fourth wall, smiles at consciousness, injects among solemnity a spirit of mirth set free to roam the cosmos. He, too, partakes of the image’s directionality, the vertical ascent narrative involving spaceships: the thing toward which the parts of the emblem incline. Let us imagine among these ships of possibility that which is prophecied in the mythology of the Dog Star — black anti-slave ships, lines of flight like Marcus Garvey’s Black Star Line. Nathaniel Mackey fuses these symbolisms in his poem “Dogon Eclipse.” The poem ends “as if by then I’d / been thru / Hell / and back.” As if the “I” of the poem were Orpheus, the poet of ancient Greece, founder of the Orphic mysteries. Orphics revered Dionysus. He, too, is said to have descended into the underworld and to have returned. Through his poem, Mackey initiates those who read. So sayeth Michael S. Harper in his preface to Eroding Witness: “These poems are about prophecy and initiation.” Poems like “Dogon Eclipse” hint at mysteries; they transmit a secret knowledge. Other poems in the collection conjure loas from Voodoo and Vodou. Loas are the “mystères,” “the invisibles.” They act as intermediaries between worlds.
Nap-time on a rainy afternoon, rain a surprise, though no bother, for we know it, too, will pass. Plus it affords the occasion for the baby to nap and for me to write. I look back at Samuel R. Delany’s The Einstein Intersection and study his depiction of telepathic communication between mutant beings, posthumans who have grown new organs and developed special powers, abilities that reveal themselves over time. Why does a Christ figure, a character named Green-eye, ride peripherally in this narrative, his life and death a mere subplot? And why does another of these mutants, a character named Spider, evoke the ideas of two twentieth-century mathematical philosophers, theoretical physicist Albert Einstein and logician Kurt Gödel? One expresses mathematically how “the condition of the observer influences the thing he perceives” (111). The other introduces uncertainty back into systems, phenomena in excess of all immutable laws, logics, and equations. When Einstein and Gödel intersect, says Spider, humans disappear into another continuum. Something else arrives to take over: the mutants, the posthumans. (Delany, by the way, deliberately avoids both of those terms.) What are we to make, though, of the fact that the character who informs us of this is Spider, the novel’s Judas Iscariot? And why is Lobey, the novel’s protagonist, both Orpheus and Ringo Starr? In a 2017 reassessment of “the fourth Beatle” for the Guardian, Ben Cardew claims that the public viewed Ringo as “a non-musician who got lucky, a journeyman alongside three musical geniuses.” Perhaps Ringo is meant to serve, then, as the “faux-Orpheus” within the symbolism of Delany’s novel, making Lobey neither Orpheus nor faux-Orpheus, but some irreducibly “different,” variant, third term, uncapturable by existing terms or by any binary logic that precedes him.
Songs from baby toys replay in my thoughts as I think about Samuel R. Delany’s character Lo Lobey, the Orphic hero in his novel The Einstein Intersection, who performs songs telepathically overheard from the minds of those around him. Delany’s novel is set in a far future among beings who have replaced humans of ancient times, but who inhabit and perform the roles, live out the narratives and myths, of those past peoples. Delany interrupts this narrative with excerpts from a “Writer’s Journal” kept during a several-month tour of Mediterranean cities in the fall of 1965. Why is the Orpheus character of ancient Greece reinvented, re-imagined, reinterpreted as Delany’s character Lo Lobey? Orpheus is famous for his musicianship and his poetry. He’s one of the Western tradition’s archetypal figures, portrayed and alluded to in countless works of art, music, and literature across the centuries. Why does Delany reactivate this figure on a posthuman Earth of the far future? What might this setting tell us about what we can now recognize in hindsight as Delany’s emerging Afrofuturist sensibility?