The British Empire — a thing culled from Arthurian legends whispered between Faerie Queenes and court astrologers — stood for a time as proof of magic’s power. ‘Twas a rabbit pulled from the hat of Elizabeth I’s wizard-friend John Dee. The same rabbit that draws Alice down the rabbit hole to Wonderland.
Enlisted as Her Majesty’s spymaster — indeed, he was the original secret agent, Mr. 007 himself — Dee stormed the reality studio, made Elizabeth a Time Traveler, conversed with angels.
And this thing Dee dreamt into being was of course a terrible thing: an expansionist project armed with ships of fools and launched outward to seize others — other persons, other worlds — for purposes of self-aggrandizement.
Literary greats went on to reimagine Dee just as he himself was a reimagining of Merlin. Shakespeare figures him as Prospero, and against him imagines the colonized subject Caliban. To overthrow Prospero, says Caliban, “Remember / First to possess his books, for without them / He’s but a sot.”
Christopher Marlowe supplies the more influential imagining of Dee, however, by casting him as Doctor Faustus.
Acting as group navigator, I lead us to the Bridge Theatre for a knockout performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. We pause for a group photo along the waterfront beside the Tower Bridge, then proceed on our way, thrilled to be present amid the commotion of the city.
Using directional keys to navigate, I sit down at a drum set and unleash sprays of knocks and clicks, as if to initiate a ceremony. Strange voices enter my headspace, lecturing incoherently about Peter Pan, Pinocchio, archetypes, and DMT. Mental reprogramming sends me down stairwells, through lovely gardens, to an ancient sea below. Instructions appear in bubblegum font. Consciousness dwells sequentially over details spanning several levels of being. Object permanence bids farewell, leaves us momentarily to contemplate selfhood as extrapolation or device. The average lifespan of a ladybug is 2 to 3 years, announces a voice outside ours. Wilderness spaces are spaces of diversity, pluralities of plural worlds. Out of the folds of these worlds emerge previously obscured items: books like Ludic Dreaming: How to Listen Away from Contemporary Technoculture by a group called The Occulture, Steve Goodman’s Sonic Warfare, and François J. Bonnet’s The Order of Sounds: A Sonorous Archipelago. Let us engage in creative rather than merely receptive modes of listening. Like Cordelia in King Lear, let us exclaim, “All blest secrets, / All you unpublished virtues of the earth, / Spring with my tears!”
I light up and contemplate Gaussian Curve’s The Distance, a version of contemporary ambient that I want to like but can’t. Too clean, too relaxed, too untroubled in its appreciation of the Muzak-oriented end of the Windham Hill catalog. Painfully aware of the modularity of my sonic environment, I discontinue The Distance and replace it with Shirase by Bonie Jash.
Without further warning, I receive ‘Ken Burns’-style slow zoom montage sequences: associative chains within a cavernous virtual environment. Each of us possesses a language-shaped map of the totality. Purple core memory units rotate around axes as virtual cameras race across space. As localized points of awareness, we drift without external points of reference, voices buzzing, chattering, asking, “Is this you?” Do I wish to imagine myself in the likeness of Nick Bottom? Are we all just minds awaiting absorption in tales told by imaginary tellers, metanarrative actants of our own desire? Bottom faced the dilemma faced by psychonauts. He had “a most rare vision…a dream past the wit of man to say what dream it was” (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 4.1: 202-203). If these dreams are past wit of man to say, what then of these trance-scripts? Can a spirit search a dream that hath no bottom?