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.

Love Everyone

That is what happens. We time-travel to the present. Author catches up on publishing, begins live correspondence. Akron/Family balloon the belief. “See through strata,” they sing on their 2007 album Love Is Simple. “Go out and love, love, love, / everyone,” goes the chant — so we do. Love is simple with help from friends.

In so doing we find again things to say. Everything exists internally and externally. We are together nightly — in our beds, in dreams so real. And while sitting, meditating, concentrating on breathing: there, too, we meet. The fixated moment opens to flow and transformation. Old forms crumble. Old roles vanish. Mazeways give way to portals and pathways, ways and means.

Bartleby’s Choice

Author is to a boring legalism led — logorrheic exchange among logos-lovers — when, like Bartleby, he’d prefer not to. “What do I desire instead?” he wonders.

“Audience before a conference of birds,” he answers.

“Transformation of The House on Shady Blvd into an interactive fiction.”

“A door into summer.”

Severance

“If the texts that students and I have been studying this semester are best referred to as ‘portal fantasies,’” thinks the part of me that persists here in the future, “then that, too, is the term to use in discussing the new AppleTV+ television series Severance. Characters in the show pass quite literally through one or more doors between worlds, living two separate lives.”

The show’s title refers to an imagined corporate procedure of the near-future that severs personhood. Those who volunteer to undergo this procedure emerge from it transformed into split subjects, each with its own distinct stream of memory.

As unlikely as this dystopian premise may seem, we can’t fully distance ourselves from it as viewers, given our severed personhood here “IRL,” or “AFK,” as the kids are fond of saying. “Others may not be quite as manifold as me,” admits the Narrator. “But each of us is Janus-faced. Each of us houses both a waking and a dreaming self, with each incapable of full memory of the other.”

And as the show advances, of course, we learn through a kind of detective work that the severance procedure isn’t in fact what it seems. The work-self (or “innie”) battles the home-self (or “outie”) — as do Superego and Id here at home.

Portals

Because of its stained glass, its gaudy chandeliers, its profusion of mirrors, there was always a liveliness, a vibrancy to the Shady home’s interiors. The home’s mirrors were the equivalent of portals. Black Lodge, the occult-themed bar in town, utilized similar décor—though of course, as the name suggests, with the color removed: the Shady home stripped of its shine, replaced with an abundance of black.

Monday January 18, 2021

Do we, sounding out notes, sing for each other? We do. We sing, we write, we whistle. Sarah has arranged plants and wooden animal sculptures delightfully, shrine-like, atop a bookcase that runs beneath our front window, in the midst of which hangs a triangular shard of stained glass. I sit before it and gaze upward, through the triangle of colored light, into the sky — the “up above.” Children of my time grew up admiring skywalkers and jedi warriors, as do children of today. These figures are some of our earliest heroes. Interplanetary travel of the sort imagined by the Star Wars films provided a hopeful vision of technology’s past and future. Counter to it stood the abduction scenario of Poltergeist. With those famous spell-like opening words, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away,” Star Wars opens a portal to the myth-space of the ancient future past. Worlds are places we visit in starships. There’s the danger of Empire — the galaxy’s thanatopic death-drive — but we can fight it by joining the Rebel Alliance. Heroes are abducted from their home planet, swept up by destiny. Star Trek came later for me as an imagination-space, with its Federation-authorized Starship Enterprise, an intergalactic captained battleship. My first meeting with an Afrofuture occurred in my late adolescence or early adulthood, when I happened upon a copy of Funkadelic’s The Electric Spanking of War Babies among records belonging to my grandmother. The album blew my mind, partly censored cover art by Pedro Bell suggesting funk-powered intelligence and humor — psychedelic consciousness of a sort I’d never encountered before. “The kind of style that messes up the program.” The album is a warning about negative vibes.

Friday January 1, 2021

Noisemakers announce the arrival of a new year. Let us breathe sighs of relief at 2020’s passing. The year ended with word of a final casualty: hiphop legend MF DOOM. Let this new year be a year of healing. Let portals open onto novel developments: new courses, new branches of study. What’s this talk about time travel, for instance, in the recent Avengers film, Avengers: Endgame? Dr. Strange makes an appearance — as he will again in due course, in the course I teach this spring. Marvel characters invaded the American national-popular imaginary in conjunction with popularization of psychedelics in the 1960s. Early psychonauts like Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters were, as Tom Wolfe notes, “Super Kids,” turned on by a mix of peyote and Captain Marvel. Jeffrey J. Kripal’s Mutants and Mystics might speak to this conjuncture. And for magic, let us read Alan Moore’s Promethea.

Friday April 17, 2020

The Hippie counterculture can be imagined as a kind of heroic collective subject. History needn’t be told only in the tragic and dystopian modes preferred by the Western hegemon. Picture instead “Evolvers” on the West Coast wearing sunglasses, edgelords opening portals onto virtual frontiers. The internet needn’t be cast only in the role of Dark Side of the Moon. Earth needn’t be distant. Earth and its profusion of life. The Revolution, as Gil Scott-Heron observed, “will be no rerun.” One hero’s fate needn’t be the fate of the character in each of the myth’s retellings. Time to bypass the past, pursue a different path.