Portals, Circles, and Worlds

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?”

Theses on Magic

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.

Monday August 10, 2020

Magic is a narrative device deserving of reinvention. Realism may be capitalism’s reigning mode — but it, too, is no more than a genre, and like all genres, emerges embedded in a particular historical narrative. Realism, in other words, is not reality; it can be supplanted through reemergence of magic. This reemergence hinges upon invention of the future by way of remembrance of a forgotten past among oppressed and colonized peoples. But the potentials available in forms of magic other than technology frighten Westerners into disbelief. Is there a way for disbelievers to be healed of this disbelief?

Thursday March 8, 2018

Passive Status’s “forest” uses sound to transport consciousness to an elsewhere. A murky cosmic dungeon.

The beam of the mind’s eye blanks in and out during vertical retrace, at the end of each scan of the proscenium and the great beyond. Aldous Huxley called this beyond a “luminous living geometry.” The self in its cat’s cradle, its Metatron’s Cube. The god-mind as it precipitates into objects. Forms appear as clear as daylight, awaiting incorporation into being. Bands, spectrums, vibrational fields. Clusters of energy. Patterns. Particles communicating across the Planck length. Seeds of life spinning into tube tori. “Mentation in s-sleep,” writes Ursula K. Le Guin in her novel The Lathe of Heaven, “is like an engine idling, a kind of steady muttering of images and thoughts. What we’re after are the vivid, emotion-laden, memorable dreams of the d-state.” What if, from this point forward, however, ancient rules of epic narration were to be faithfully observed? Answers would have to come with their own questions attached, with the whole designed to reveal reality for what it is: stroboscopic, multi-sensory class warfare.

Thursday March 1, 2018

Let us presume an underlying unity of purpose guiding seasons and souls. At the same time, let us declare that any discourse that validates itself by claiming on its behalf its actuality, or allies itself exclusively with the natural, is a cop out. Admitting into a fiction the paradox of its reality is like designing into a mask a clue to its wearer’s essence. And yet, when we pause our telling, it’s there again, this “nature.” Even when apprehended as soundscape alone, this universal commons, this host-body upon which we feed, is of a secret order greater than that of any made by craft or techne. Slip off, then, slip free of, one’s headphones. One need only pronounce into this wet evening air the words, “In the story, it is written.” So begins the tale of the tale that tells itself into being. The Tale of the Algorithmic Universe.