Why does Wells propel his Time Traveler into as distant and bleak a future as the one imagined in The Time Machine? It’s the future as pictured from the standpoint and subject-position of the Traveler himself as he recounts his journey for others. Wells, meanwhile, imagined other futures elsewhere and elsewhen, as during his later years, following his split with the Fabian Society. His political ideal of those later years was the “World State”: a single global technocratic “world commonwealth,” governed by a scientific elite. In his twenties, however, Wells may have interacted for a time with a secret society of a different sort: the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. His run-in with the Order is thought to have occurred in London in 1894, the year prior to the publication of The Time Machine, Wells’s first great success as a novelist. Ithell Colquhoun mentions this run-in in her book Sword of Wisdom: MacGregor Mathers and the Golden Dawn — or at the very least speculates about a “Fabian contingent” within a Golden Dawn splinter group called the Order of the Stella Matutina or “Morning Star.” Colquhoun describes Wells’s 1911 short story “The Door in the Wall” as “in the line of GD tradition” (192). I find myself reading again descriptions of Golden Dawn initiation rituals, like the following from Chic Cicero and Sandra Tabitha Cicero’s Self-Initiation into the Golden Dawn Tradition:
“The goal of initiation is to bring about the illumination of the human soul by the Inner and Divine Light. A true ‘initiate’ is an individual whose Higher Self (or Higher Genius) has merged with the Lower Personality and actually incarnated into the physical body. The Personality is left in charge of the day-to-day routines of living and working, but the Higher Genius is free to look out at the world through the eyes of the initiate. Through this experience, the individual is given a permanent extension of consciousness which is impossible to mistake. Many times a student of the mysteries is drawn to a particular mystical current without knowing it. A series of ‘coincidences’ and synchronicities will often direct (or sometimes shove) a person toward that current through books or through meeting other people who also have a connection with the current. During this time, the student’s psychic faculties are still relatively undeveloped, yet the inner spark has been ignited. However, a full initiation, or dawning of the Inner Light, is evident when the entire aura is illuminated.”
Of course, one can be a solitary magician. One can tap into the Golden Dawn’s magic, as Wells did, without having to become a member of any particular group or organization. But according to Cicero and Cicero, the solitary magician is at a disadvantage, “not having a group of temple-mates to consult if problems arise” (xxvi).
“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.
“The Door in the Wall,” a phrase in The Doors of Perception that Aldous Huxley admits to have borrowed from an H.G. Wells story of that name, suddenly opens for me as I read the gloss of it in acid communist Mark Fisher’s final book, The Weird and the Eerie. In anticipation of watching “Exo,” Sean Curtis Patrick’s short film with Bana Haffar, I imagine a panpsychic narrative involving pulsing battle stations, secret earthy enhancement materials, sorcery.
Up from out of these, I tell myself, rises the specter of the nation-state. Fracture, faction, hauntings, Illuminati. Books turn up in this murk advertising themselves as beacons. “Independent,” “verifiable”: terms like those are bound to anger those of us who pass effortlessly, daily, revolving door style, between monist and dualist convictions. Triangulate, the speech-act tells itself. With fewer voices, more certainty. What we want is not a reversal of thought so much as a jazzed up merry go round, words rapidly unfurled onto the page in the style of 70s fusion, with trebly guitar and trumpet. “I ought to go back and reacquaint myself with Derrida,” I tell myself as I survey the houses of my neighborhood and war internally over their merits, trying to suppress the voice inside me thinking none of them need carry over into my Utopia. Over it prevails my Superego: a humbling voice, a voice of caution reminding me that, like all others, I, too, see through a glass darkly. Trapped in the planet’s gravity well, stuck to the walls and slid to the ceiling of the Gravitron, we easily lose our bearings. We become standpoints, Subjects. We ontologize the historical. And yet, to wish oneself free of one’s determination by History: is that not the great Gnostic temptation, the dream of transcendence?