Thursday, 20 May 2010

Clock of the Heart


A basement room lined with junk, dimly lit by two lamps. Old stereos, televisions and countless anonymous boxes sit on metal shelves.

In the centre of the room is a table at which Tomas sits, smoking a cigarette. He is in his mid-thirties, with an anguished expression. There is an old tape recorder on the table with a microphone attached. He picks up the mic and presses Record.

Tomas Ok, ok. This is tape three. Have to keep going. Tape three. I had this idea,
you know, for a collection of quotes we liked, but, it seems so…fuck.

He switches off the recorder and sits in silence for a few moments, stubbing out the cigarette on the tabletop.

Tomas This is crazy. I’m scared. So, so scared. I couldn’t admit that to anyone
but you.

Immediately he switches the tape recorder back on, speaking into the mic.

Tomas This one is from The Unnameable, by Samuel Beckett. You remember? Those little yellow Post-Its. (He laughs) I hated those things, all over the house. But I memorised it. My English was damn good. Your Spanish was awful, but you always tried. I’m not alone here, by the way. I keep seeing him. He has strange eyes, like he’s seen the end of something. Like he knows us. I already hate him. You’d probably say that he’s an angel. Those stories that you love. Anyway… (He pauses) “If only I knew if I’ve lived, if I live, if I’ll live, that would simplify everything, impossible to find out, that’s where you’re buggered, I haven’t stirred, that’s all I know, no, I know something else, it’s not I, I always forget that, I resume, you must resume…” Always loved that quote. They’re just stories, Anna. Comfort for the anxious animals. They’re beautiful stories though. I’ll admit that. The outside is creeping in. I can feel it. Can’t hold it at bay. I’m so afraid.

He tosses the mic onto the table, switching off the tape recorder.

Tomas Are you alone, Anna?

He presses his hands to his face, then puts his hands in his lap and closes his
eyes.

Shafts of morning light begin to enter the basement from two small windows high in the wall, as though time has elapsed. Tomas is asleep in his chair. The crackling hiss of radio static comes from somewhere in the room. Snippets of barely audible voices are heard, as though the invisible radio is trying to tune itself to a particular station.

Tomas awakes, orienting himself to the sounds. He tries to listen. Finally the white noise settles and two voices are heard over the frequency.

Male voice Sweetie?

Female voice Ok, yeah. Wow, it looks delicious.

Male voice Hope it tastes as good as it looks.

Female voice Smells good too.

Tomas gets up and starts searching the room for the hidden radio.

Male voice Well, thought I’d try something different.

Female voice Oh, Tomas, thank you for doing all this. Mmmm, man of many talents.

The sound of knives and forks and clinking wineglasses.

Male voice Talent was all in the recipe book, baby.

Female voice (laughing) Modest, modest.

Tomas continues to search, growing more frantic.

Female voice Did you call Nicholas back about the manuscript? That guy’s relentless.

Male voice Well, you know. We’re stuck in the editing. I don’t blame him.

Female voice (with surprise) Oh!

Male voice Baby?

Female voice Sorry, sorry. I just felt him kick. Tough kid. (laughs) Maybe the
food’s too spicy.

Male voice Hey, maybe it was a kick of approval.

Finally Tomas finds the radio on a shelf and rushes back to the table. He turns the device over in his hands, searching for the Off switch. Finding it, he dumps the radio on the table next to the tape recorder. Silence.

Tomas backs away from the table, pressing himself between two shelves. He slides to the floor. For a while he just sits there.

Tomas Fuck it. All right, I get the idea. (laughs bitterly) High School student
bullshit. Fine.

He gets to his feet, stalking back to the table. Raising his voice, he addresses someone.

Tomas Ok, the guy with the strange eyes. I know you’ve been here. I want to speak
with you this time.

Tomas glances around the room, as though expecting a response. Nothing. Angrily, he continues.

Tomas I went looking, you know. It’s not like I sat on my ass and did nothing!
I looked!

Still there is no response. Tomas slumps into the chair again, pressing his palms to the table. He remains motionless for a while, eyes closed.

Tomas Ok, ok.

He opens his eyes, picks up the microphone and starts recording again.

Tomas They’re doing it to us, Anna. Those beautiful stories of yours – mine.
Beautiful stories of mine. Jesus. I thought I’d have more to say. To you.

He violently shoves the tape recorder from the table and it crashes to the floor, broken.

Tomas I thought there’d be more to say.

Tomas gets up from the chair and retrieves a box of tools from the shelves. He sits down on the floor with the broken tape recorder. He attempts to fix his mistake.

While he works an evening twilight begins to filter through the basement windows, as though time has elapsed. He uses a screwdriver to finally replace the machine’s plastic casing. He gets up and takes the tape recorder to the table.

Apprehensive, he sits in the chair and hits Rewind for a few seconds. The tape squeals. He lets it play.

Recorded voice …of yours – mine. Beautiful stories of mine. Jesus. I thought I’d have more to say. To you.

He hits the Stop button.

Tomas Stupid son of a bitch.

He picks up the mic and tries to record again.

Tomas Testing, testing. One two, one two.

He rewinds his words and plays them.

Recorded voice Testing, testing. One two, one two.

He stops the tape and presses his hands to his mouth in relief, shaking his head.

Suddenly Tomas realises that someone is standing in the far corner of the basement, Stage Left.

The figure approaches the table. It is a young man in his mid-twenties, dressed in black. The young man has strange eyes. Tomas looks angry and resolute.

Strange Eyes You got it working again.

Tomas You expect anything less?

Strange Eyes No.

Tomas So, these stories…

Strange Eyes Yeah.

Tomas Is that why you’re here? Fiction?

Strange Eyes You asked-

Tomas (fiercely) Don’t. Don’t fucking dare.

Strange Eyes Ok. Ok, Tomas.

Suddenly Tomas rises from the chair, peering intently across the table at the young man. His words are bitter.

Tomas A name I can use with you?

Strange Eyes Many of my friends call me Lucas.

Tomas Is that your real name?

Strange Eyes No, Tomas, it’s not.

Tomas You have a real name? Anything real in what you are?

Strange Eyes Yes.

Tomas Tell me.

Strange Eyes My real name is Strange Eyes.

Tomas (laughing) This is ridiculous. I feel sick.

Strange Eyes It’s meant to make you laugh. It’s a joke, Tomas. I don’t mind baring it
as my name. I chose it.

Tomas Great. Just great.

He turns his back on the young man, unable to hold his gaze any longer.

Tomas Was it you doing the radio?

Strange Eyes No. I wouldn’t fuck with you like that.

Tomas Supposed to think you’re an angel, right?

Strange Eyes All of us, we imagine that we live. We can’t imagine without some
help. I think that’s where it begins and where it ends.

Tomas But…it doesn’t end.

Strange Eyes No, it doesn’t. But it doesn’t have to be a horror.

Tomas turns sharply and walks round the table, now face to face with the young
man.

Tomas Horror? Do you know what horror is…?

Strange Eyes The parts of us that we don’t understand, that we’re afraid of. I can
answer most of your questions.

Tomas Most? Always a catch.

Strange Eyes I have limits, like you do, or I could not imagine.

Tomas (hatefully) And you imagine that you live.

Strange Eyes That’s right.

Tomas When I was a boy, those shapes in the garden…you’ve come to tell me now that those shapes were in my head. I saw them. Feeding. Anger, perversion. Food to them. We were nothing but food. But I got scared, got crazy. I wasn’t a dragon slayer.

Strange Eyes Tomas, the whole world exists inside our heads. Your third novel was a bestseller in Madrid, for months. People connected with it. That’s why they bought it in such numbers. They loved it. And that love, that connection – that’s all that reality is.

Tomas presses a hand to his mouth, desperately trying to fit the young man’s
words into his mind. He nods.

Tomas But then, those things were real in some way. They told me they loved me,
loved the sickness inside me. And I believed them.

Strange Eyes Everything has a heart of darkness. Everything. Staring into that heart
is like staring into the sun. You can be reborn. Or you can go blind.
Those shapes made you recognise that heart too early. You were not a
monster, Tomas. You were just a child.

Tomas Food.

Strange Eyes Yes. But more than that, so much more. An infinite wonder.

Tomas I should never have told her. I should have lied. She went because of
me. Three years is a long time to search in vain. I spent everything I had
trying to find her. It just hurts when you stand here like this, calm as you are,
telling me I shouldn’t blame myself. I wonder how you can look me in the eye.

Strange Eyes (nodding sadly) I’ll go.

Tomas Please don’t come back this time.

As they stare face to face the lamps begin to flicker incessantly. Strange Eyes
steps backwards into the shadows, Stage Left, until he is gone.

Tomas is alone now and the lamps cease flickering.

Tomas Arrogant son of a bitch.

Tomas grimaces and returns to his chair at the table. He sits motionless for a while. Carefully he picks up the mic and stares at the tape recorder.

Tomas Baby, I cringe when I think about my first manuscript, despite all the nice
things you said. It was pretentious, naive, overwrought; all the things I didn’t
want it to be. But it sold well for a first novel, I guess because it was
confessional. Nicholas said they would lap it up. He was right.

Tomas puts the mic back down on the table, sighing.

Tomas I don’t think I can tape this. I have no insight really. It’s a gag, a trick. I hated
being interviewed, I hated the book signings. I kept thinking they would see through me. Maybe you were the only one who ever did, and you loved that fucking book. I should never have told you. I should have let the book say everything. But, I thought that secrets would kill us in the end, and the baby was coming, and...I just wanted to give you something real. It was too much. This is not blame, Anna. I’m not blaming you. You had a crisis, I think. You thought, ‘Is this the life I have to lead now? Sleeping every night next to a guy who thinks he can see through the world?’ I think I understand why you ran.

Tomas presses his hands to his eyes to stop himself from sobbing.

Tomas I’d have run too.

Suddenly one of the old televisions on the basement shelves blinks on. A square of white noise hisses on the large screen.

Tomas peers at it, uncertain and afraid.

Tomas Stop it. Please stop this...

The image of a pretty young woman in her underwear appears on the screen. A forest is
behind her. She has bled profusely from between her legs. Her panties are
soaked and her palms glisten with menstrual crimson. She presses her hands to her belly.

Tomas Oh Jesus, no...Anna.

The woman on the screen walks towards the camera until her face fills the frame. Tomas looks on from his chair, horrified.

The woman herself is now seen in the basement, entering from the shadows Stage Right, behind Tomas. She is also dressed in underwear, and bloody. The counterpart image onscreen does not move her lips.

Lookalike I’m not your Anna. This is a mask.

Lookalike moves to behind Tomas’ chair. He keeps his eyes fixed on the television screen, as though he doesn’t sense her actual presence.

Tomas Oh dear God...

Lookalike It’s not that she didn’t love you, Tomas. I wouldn’t even attempt to get you
to believe that. She loved you desperately, and she feared you. She didn’t
love herself enough, that’s the thing. Not enough to feel like she could be
responsible for your seed, your child...a son. In her mind that developing
life was already an image of you. So she ran, and she cut it out of her
womb.

Tomas begins a silent sobbing. He shakes, his face twisting with tears.

Lookalike leans forward slightly and places her hands on Tomas’ shoulders. There seems to be no malice in her words, just curiosity.

Lookalike She did it with the help of a surgeon’s knife, and the flair that those hands
possessed. Tiny pieces. There’s an elegant method, you know, an icy
brilliance in properly deconstructing a foetus.

Tomas Oh, fuck you... Jesus Christ, leave me alone...

Lookalike I’m not Jesus Christ. But I’m not your enemy either. I never hated you,
even back then in your mama’s garden. You hated. I whispered and kissed,
that’s true, but you did all the hating. I tasted you, and you tasted like fate.
At least in my imagination. Walk like a monster, Tomas, or you’ll be
trapped in these opposites you create. You know that your God is a fiction,
a story, and one I think you no longer enjoy. Broaden your fiction. Do you
really think there’s anything that doesn’t have its image inside you? I love
your little morality-play, because you suffer in it, and I enjoy watching you
suffer. But Strange Eyes offers you his hand, a poet’s hand, and you
confuse him away. You seek a surgeon’s hand instead, and I would offer
you mine as substitute.

Tomas (with anguish) Please...don’t show me these things. Oh fuck, Tomas...I hate
you...I fucking hate you...

Lookalike Would you rather I dressed as a serpent? Do we have to play those games
now? I thought you were smarter than that.

Tomas You wear my Anna’s face...you mock me...

Lookalike Then continue compiling your library of interesting quotes.

The television screen blinks off and only the lamplight illuminates the basement.

Lookalike takes her hands from Tomas’ shoulders and recedes into the shadows,
Stage Left, until she is gone.

Tomas stares at the blank screen, still sobbing silently. Finally he clambers from
the chair and sinks to his knees. He doubles over, pressing his palms and his
forehead to the floor.

He gives in and begins making awful, violent sounds of anguish. His helpless
sobs continue for some time.

Eventually his cries subside and he remains motionless on the floor as the early
morning light penetrates through the small basement windows. It is as though
time has elapsed.

With a renewed focus he rises to his feet and glances around the room. He circles the table, looking up at the high basement windows. He takes his chair and brings it to the wall. Climbing up onto the chair he peers through the windows at things unseen.

Tomas Soy un hombre valiente? (Am I a brave man?)

Tomas jumps down from the chair and drags it back to the table. He sits down, picks up the mic and starts recording on tape again.

Tomas Baby, I don’t think you’ll be listening to this any time soon. I don’t think
you’re here with me. But maybe, somehow, it’s important that I say these
things. I can’t stand the idea that your love for me just went away. I spilled my
soul, and within a few weeks you were gone. Are you happier? Maybe you’re
carrying another man’s child. I want you to know that you have my blessing.
In stories, sometimes loved ones visit each other in their dreams. I
hope...maybe...

Tomas stops recording, peering back up at the windows and the early morning light.

Tomas Madre en Cielo, necesito a amigo. (Mother in Heaven, I need a friend)

Tomas sits and waits, his hands clasped together in prayer.

From Stage Left a young man dressed in black emerges from the shadows. It is Strange Eyes. Tomas does not see him at first, lost in prayer.

Strange Eyes Tomas, I’m here.

Tomas jerks up from his prayer and peers at the young man. He is still afraid.

Tomas El diablo vino a mi. (The devil came to me)

Strange Eyes I know. A fiction in your soul, a fairy-tale close to you.

Tomas Un hada-cuento que vive y respira. (A fairy-tale that lives and breathes)

Strange Eyes Yes, as all stories do. You and I, Tomas, we live and breathe, and we’re
just stories among many.

Tomas How many?

Strange Eyes Countless. We dream ourselves into existence.

Tomas ( with fear) Don’t tell me that. Please...

Strange Eyes It’s what a friend would tell you.

Tomas Then tell me....Santa Maria; does she imagine that she lives? Is she...does she
hear me?

Strange Eyes Yes. You’re afraid that your faith is a fiction, and it is, and so it lives
within you, immortal. Santa Maria is listening to every word we speak.

Tomas Does she love me still?

Strange Eyes Forever.

Strange Eyes approaches the table and presses his palms to its surface, peering across at Tomas.

Strange Eyes Does it scare you, that she loves you so?

Tomas presses a fist to his closed mouth, as if to push back the answer.

Strange Eyes It’s ok to be afraid, Tomas.

Tomas Tell me about my Anna. I need to know. Please, it’s killing me.

Strange Eyes It’s killed you.

Tomas Tell me everything. Please, Strange Eyes.

Strange Eyes ( nodding ) Of course.

Strange Eyes walks around the table and sits cross-legged on the basement floor. He motions for Tomas to join him.

Strange Eyes Come relax with me. I’ll tell you everything I know.

Cautiously, Tomas leaves the chair and joins the young man on the floor in front of the table. They sit only a few feet apart, face to face.

Tomas takes a long deep breath, glancing back at the morning light through the basement windows.

Tomas Ok.

Strange Eyes You think she ran from your madness, but she believed every word you
told her. That’s why she ran. Not from a psychotic boyfriend, Tomas.
She ran from a darkness that she felt in you – in the only man she ever
really loved.

Tomas nods and presses his face into his hands.

Strange Eyes She was so afraid of those possibilities, you see, and sensed truth in
them. Perhaps not like it was for you, but a metaphorical truth. A poetry
that was alien but real somehow. She packed her things that morning and
left. She’d emptied her bank account over the week, and she bought a
plane ticket back home. She stayed in London for a few days. She sent
her father an email and swore him to secrecy.

Tomas I knew he was lying, I could feel it. I almost beat it out of him.

Strange Eyes She never contacted him after that. She went to stay in Wales with an
old university friend. She looked for someone to terminate the
pregnancy. They told her it was illegal to terminate at such a late stage.

Tomas The baby was kicking by then...

Strange Eyes Yes, and she was afraid of it. The life growing inside. She couldn’t bare
to keep it. She found a skilled doctor who was willing, for a price.
There were unforeseen complications. She lost a lot of blood and nearly
died. But she survived, recovered, and the baby was no longer a terror
to her. She’s still living in Wales and she works as a substitute teacher
at a school in Cardiff, supplemented by her photography. She’s engaged
to a compassionate man who knows her secret. He loves her, never
judging.

Tomas Is she - ?

Strange Eyes Yes. She was very lucky. At first she thought she’d be unable to
conceive. But she and David are expecting a girl. Alice.

Tomas I wish that child all the love in the world.

Strange Eyes I know.

Tomas Tell me the truth, Strange Eyes. Are you...my son?

Strange Eyes I know that you wanted me to be. I feel your hurting to the extent that
I...I toyed with the idea of pretending to be, if only to give you some
release. But I will not deceive you, as stark as the truth may be. I won’t
fuck with your perceptions.

Tomas Where is he...my son? Does he even know what’s happened?

Strange Eyes He is a child, but he understands. It’s different here. Also, there are
friends and guides around him. Spirits who tend the children.

Tomas Spirits who tend the children? That’s a beautifully sweet idea. It’s something I
wish were true. I don’t know if I can believe it.

Strange Eyes We love the idea as well. We try to make it real.

Tomas Mama and papa? Are they nearby?

Strange Eyes They’re only as close as you imagine. Or as far.

Tomas Does he have a name...my son?

Strange Eyes He has a name the guides have given him. Cameron.

Tomas Cameron. I like how it sounds.

Strange Eyes Time works differently. It’s just a filter we use to understand ourselves.
Cameron has a plan, I think.

Tomas I think I need to be alone now.

Strange Eyes Tomas, there is no judgement, or hell, save that which we imagine for
ourselves. I swear it to you. And this place where we sit, it is the Reloj del Corazon.

Tomas (laughing) Clock of the Heart.

Strange Eyes We all have one.

Tomas Please go now.

Strange Eyes nods and carefully rises to his feet. He smiles at Tomas and turns, walking towards the shadows, Stage Left. At the last moment he glances over his shoulder.

Strange Eyes Te quiero. (I love you)

Strange Eyes seems to melt into the darkness and is gone

For a long while Tomas remains sitting on the basement floor, glancing around the room, occasionally rubbing his face and pressing his hands to his eyes.

Eventually he rises to his feet and sits back down on the chair at the table. He picks up the mic and presses Record on the machine.

Tomas Ok, this is still tape three. You’re never going to hear this, are you? I miss you,
baby. I can imagine how guilty you must feel sometimes, but I’m happy that
you’re with a guy who won’t judge you for it, someone who’d try to
understand. That person isn’t me. I have some things to say to you.

Tomas sighs and presses his forehead to the tabletop. For a moment he stays that
way and then straightens himself again.

Tomas I want to thank you. For every kind word. Every tender embrace. Every kiss.
Every fuck, every blowjob, every film we watched together, every book you
ever gave me. Never tell Alice about me. I think Strange Eyes, this creature,
I think he’ll come again. Maybe this time he’ll bring me some books. Te
quiero, Anna.

Tomas hits the Stop button on the tape recorder. He hits Rewind for a few
seconds. The tape squeals and then he lets it play.

Recorded voice ...Strange Eyes, this creature, I think he’ll come again. Maybe this
time he’ll bring me some books. Te quiero, Anna.

The hiss of blank tape is now heard on the machine. Tomas turns up the volume.
The static hiss fills the basement, almost like the sound of softly running water.

Tomas gets up from the chair and circles the table, listening to the hiss of blank
tape. He presses his hands together and then crosses himself.

Tomas Bringer of light, come to me now. Come to me.

A pretty young woman in bloodied underwear appears from the shadows Stage Left,
approaching Tomas from behind. It is Lookalike. She seems cautious, almost
afraid.

Tomas doesn’t turn to face her. Instead he peers down at the floor.

Lookalike Mi amor? (My love?)

Tomas There was this time once, in my mama’s garden. I was maybe six or seven
years old. I think it was the first time I ever heard you. You were singing. I
remember you had a beautiful voice. It chilled me. It went, ‘My love is
leaving, and I am afraid. My love is leaving, and I am afraid.’ Over and
over.

Lookalike (with fear) A foolish song.

Tomas No. No, I think I understand now. I’m beginning to understand.

Lookalike comes up behind Tomas and slips her arms around his waist, pressing
her cheek to his back.

Lookalike You don’t have to stay here. Even I wouldn’t ask that of you, Tomas.
There’s life and poetry outside this room. There are witnesses.

Tomas I know. Sing it for me again, please. It’s been with me for so long. I could
never edit it out of my stories.

Lookalike (singing softly) Mi amor se esta yendo, y estoy asustado. Mi amor se esta
yendo, y estoy asustado.

Tomas Go away now. And if you come back again, bring me pen and paper.

Lookalike withdraws from Tomas and moves backwards into the shadows Stage
Left. Tomas is alone in the basement room.

Tomas I have a heart. I am alive.

A red light begins to fill the basement until the entire room is bathed in it.

Blackout.

**********************************************************

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Inner Republics: Religion, Magic, Science and Synthesis as we approach 2012



Now we are here, now we are conscious, we make a difference. Our presence changes everything[1]
- Philip Pullman, republic of Heaven lecture

Introduction

The truth is a hard thing to pin down. We know the world is nothing like the oligarchs would have us believe. We know there are dark secrets still buried beneath the lie of official history. But how can we really know the secret truths of our world and the agendas of our supposed masters who tirelessly attempt to control our imaginations, thoughts, beliefs and every conceivable aspect of our lives? If they have indeed created a spiritual prison for us, then how do we break free?

Eventually every truth-seeker must attempt to find a synthesis between polarised modes of perception in regards to their beliefs about alternative knowledge, the occult, conspiracy research, religion and science. As a fairly perceptive and open-minded writer I have always found myself attracted to fantasy stories, especially stories concerning the possible existence of other worlds. Some of the examples that most intrigue me fall into the broad classification of children’s literature. Lewis Carroll’s Alice novels, L Frank Baum’s Oz series, C.S. Lewis’ Narnia tales, J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan – all of these texts have nourished my own imagination. For me, these books seem filled with a wonderfully rich and sometimes disturbing humanity. I have always found them to be a good place to start thinking laterally about the hidden truths of our times.

I have also always had an interest in magic, religion and science; all vast subjects that often seem conceptually at odds with each other, and yet strangely interdependent. I’m deeply curious about how humans create systems of meaning furnished with intricate symbolisms. In combining my love of fantasy stories with my intellectual interest in philosophy, religion, metaphysics and conspiracy research I hope to present a personal but thought-provoking post.

Religion and Dissent – questioning the spirit

There are a labyrinthine variety of religious opinions, dogmas and concepts that can be found throughout human history. There are innumerable factions and offshoots and interpretations of any religious system, creating an immense complexity surrounding something as potent as religious belief and the wealth of conflicting opinions that one can hold about it. I would suggest that this is part of the plan.

If such beliefs are not treated with sensitivity then violence and scorn and oppression can erupt, as history attests. It seems that humans often kill for their beliefs about the divine, or kill because another’s beliefs were different. Do the institutions of religion have culpability in the long bloody history of holy wars? Most ‘free-thinking’ individuals might be forgiven for massaging away such a question by suggesting quite rightly that ultimate responsibility for our actions lies with each individual. Yet, the role that the Catholic Church in particular has played in various acts of degradation, corruption and genocide is a little known but inarguable fact of history.

In Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series of novels, the author doesn’t shy away from the awkward questions concerning the culpability of religious institutions. Whether the trilogy’s nightmarish parallel-version of the Church is simply a literary caricature envisioned in broad strokes, or something more sinisterly truthful (and illuminated), it is still a bold choice by Pullman. I suspect the lack of status attributed to children’s literature allowed him to go further in this direction than would have otherwise been possible. Fantasy stories are often seen as lacking in literary seriousness, especially fantasy writing that is ostensibly written for children. The literary critic Jean Webb comments on this in her essay ‘Genre and Convention’ when she writes:

One wonders whether Philip Pullman’s critique of religious systems in his
trilogy His Dark Materials would have reached publication had he been
“aiming” at an adult market. Would he have been “allowed” to blow up
God? Interestingly, the forthcoming film version has removed this radical
element[2]

It is partially this overlooked quality that continues to draw me to the realm of fantasy literature, especially children’s fantasy literature – where prose is often more succinct, and themes appear more luminous and engaging than in much adult fiction. Kimberley Reynolds is another critic who agrees with this basic assessment and argues that there is ‘abundant textual evidence suggesting that addressing a child removes some of the censors and filters that come in to play when writing for adults’.[3] She goes on to argue that dream-logic, the imaginary and fantasies are all associated with the young and are ‘seen to be more permissible than the rationality assigned to adulthood’ and that children’s literature ‘not only tolerates but embraces genetic mutation’.[4] If Philip Pullman’s partial intent was to satirise and expose Church hypocrisy then he couldn’t have found a better arena in which to do so than children’s fantasy literature.

Pullman’s views on the subject of culpability are decidedly passionate. While he borrows heavily from Christian lore in creating the cosmology of His Dark Materials and obviously finds such imagery beautiful, he is aware of the darkness that religion has wrought upon the earth. He presents the stark truth of this quite economically when he discusses religion in non-fictional terms:

Every single religion that has a monotheistic god ends up by persecuting other
people and killing them because they don’t accept him. Wherever you look in
history you find that. It’s still going on[5]


This is a statement with which I thoroughly agree. Again I would attest that this is part of the plan, yet like Pullman I am still drawn to religious imagery and beliefs for their beauty and I am fascinated by the allure that religion has for so many people.

In Pullman’s addition to the literature of Christian dissent, he reveals the Authority as a being who was once a power-crazed angel – the first angel born into existence by the sentient Dust, the very particles of infinite consciousness and possibility. In The Amber Spyglass the Christian Authority is portrayed as a grim and obsolete pretender who at last is allowed dissolution into pure formlessness. With this in mind, I can understand why so many people might have such a problem with Pullman’s series. As with Milton’s Satan in Paradise Lost many of the characters are engaged in a seemingly heretical battle against the Christian God, intent on toppling a monarchical kingdom and building a democratic republic in its place. But perhaps there is more here for those interested in topics such as conspiracies, metaphysics, spirituality and indeed the entire ‘truth movement’ that seems to be growing as we approach the mysterious year of 2012.

In Pullman’s novels the heroine, Lyra, has a father named Lord Asriel. He is a provocative depiction of a satanic hero; glamorous, attractive, fiercely intelligent and willing to transgress any and all limitations even at the expense of an innocent child’s life. Towards the end of the first book in the series, Northern Lights, he explains to Lyra that an immensely powerful energy is released when children are cut from their daemons (their souls, anima or animus), but that the Church-appointed General Oblation Board ‘mistook it for shock, or disgust, or moral outrage, and they trained themselves to feel numb towards it. So they missed what it could do, and they never thought of harnessing it’.[6] Asriel wishes to break free of all forms of control that might tether him, and proves willing to kill a child to achieve this – yet it is his amorality combined with his rare flashes of vulnerability that make him such a darkly attractive character. As Lyra muses after listening to Asriel’s revelation, ‘She didn’t love him, she couldn’t trust him, but she had to admire him, and the extravagant luxury he’d assembled in this wasteland, and the power of his ambition’.[7] In his desire for freedom and the forbidden fruits of cosmic knowledge, Asriel murders Lyra’s friend Roger by killing his daemon and succeeds in opening a portal through the Aurora Borealis into another material world. Though his actions are damaging and selfish, he is the character in the series through which readers can explore their wildest, perhaps darkest feelings.

Personally, I see resonances in this character with regards to humanity’s fervent desire to break free of the spiritual, mental and emotional prison that the world’s Elite have created for us. We want tyranny to end, to be utterly free of all sinister influences, and some of us are willing peer into the Abyss in hopes of achieving this. In simpler terms we wish to be sovereign, to shock our slave-masters, to look the monster in the eye. Some of us might become monstrous in the process. We might flirt with darkness when it suggests freedom, strength and emancipation – a way to transcend the duality on which the spiritual prison is built – but we must do so carefully.

Dialectics and Synthesis – recovering the spirit

Taking a very suspicious view of all religion in general, I am nevertheless indebted to them for helping to inspire or shape so many wonderful stories and forms of art. Recognising this fact, I am thus aware of how entangled a binary-system of opposites can be. As literary critics such as Julia Kristeva have acknowledged, it is the liminal area between opposites, where polarities appear strangely interconnected, in which questions are most frightening and alluring. Do I love or hate, am I good or evil, self or other, or somehow both at once? Kristeva highlights a salient fact concerning our internal construction of dualistic oppositions. In Strangers to Ourselves she writes:

By recognising our uncanny strangeness we shall neither suffer from it nor enjoy
it from the outside. The foreigner is within me, hence we are all
foreigners. If I am a foreigner then there are no foreigners[8]


In a spiritual context it is here that the author Philip Pullman might point out that the potential for both sides of a dichotomy exist within us, and that we choose which aspect of the polarity we manifest. Are many of us simultaneously angry with religion (and its illuminated architects) for its monstrous control while attracted to its stories that help shape our inner worlds? I suspect Pullman, like myself, is one of these people.

After first reading His Dark Materials in its entirety I found myself attracted to the theological idea that Pullman utilises; that humanity’s fall from grace was a fortunate one. The heroine Lyra is thus figured as a liberating Eve, a bringer of consciousness rather than sin. For me, as someone who does not subscribe to Christian dogma, the idea of Eve eating the apple from the tree of knowledge has always been thrilling and courageous – a good thing for humanity in the sense that we must lose our innocence in order to cultivate wisdom through experience. A writer named Millicent Lenz echoes this sentiment when discussing the influence of William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell on Pullman’s trilogy. Lenz argues:

Pullman also draws heavily upon William Blake’s dialectic of contraries:
innocence/experience, heaven/hell, as well as what this dialectic implies – that
the soul must pass through the fallen world to achieve its salvation in a new,
higher innocence, thereby fitting it to enter the New Jerusalem of the redeemed
imagination[9]

We might figure this idea in more psychological terms, as facing the possible shadow-self that may exist in an underworld of denied experience. We must face the shadow, or death, or exile from the garden, (or the Illuminati, or the alien force they may serve) in order to know who we really are. Perhaps this is important in achieving a sense of internal synthesis and self-governance. As the psychologist James Hillman comments:

If we do speak in opposites, there is only one absolute material opponent to any
position in life, and that is its death. If we deliteralize that statement
we are saying that death is the way through the opposites, that is, it is the
self-regulation of any position by psyche, by non-literal, metaphorical
perception[10]

When I was a child I sensed that the Eden story was somehow a powerful and disturbing idea, and while not fully understanding its symbolism, I felt that eating the forbidden fruit was the only logical thing for Eve to do. To my young mind it seemed Adam and Eve were prisoners in the garden; that they were owned by a god (whatever a god was) who thought of them as slaves, or worse, as pets. I was secretly glad they ate the apple. This interpretation of the Eden myth is entirely my own, based on a vague childlike intuition that I was not being told the unvarnished truth. I simply did not believe in the existence of the cold, joyless God that seemed implied by the story. Millicent Lenz quotes the theologian Mathew Fox, who succinctly argues:

Joy beyond measure is a part of everyone’s potential experience. It is
part of recovering an erotic God who plays, takes pleasure, births, celebrates,
and feels passion. Eros and hope are part of the blessings of existence[11]


This is a view that resonates with me personally. Surely this above all else is what our illuminated masters fear the most – because a slave who feels joy will soon take pleasure in questioning authority, will not fear death or the whip, and will eventually rise up and take back his sovereignty.

Magic and Science – the indeterminacy of the spirit

There is a vast canon of magical lore that is worldwide and thousands of years older than the patriarchal Christian God. There is much evidence to suggest that Christian imagery and concepts have their genesis in far older forms of occult mythology. When most westerners think of paganism they could be forgiven for imagining ‘primitive’ fertility cults or ‘uncivilised’ forms of nature-based ritual. Pantheistic belief-systems are often scorned at this time in human history when monotheism has such a powerful hold.

There were many magical traditions that viewed the universe as a sentient multidimensional consciousness – including Wicca, Taoism, the I-Ching and many forms of tribal shamanism. Even in monotheistic religion we find echoes of this idea in mystical religious sects – the Christian Gnostics, the Jewish Cabbalists, the Islamic Sufis; all of which discuss a general philosophy of interdependence and an underlying unity to all things.

This living consciousness was seen as fundamentally connected to the individual and collective psyche. In His Dark Materials Pullman figures this unitary consciousness as Dust itself – the subatomic interconnection from which all possibility is generated. In The Amber Spyglass the ex-nun turned quantum physicist Mary Malone finally recognises this awesome truth; that ‘the whole universe was alive, and that everything was connected to everything else by threads of meaning’.[12] Mary realises that the magic of antiquity and the theoretical scientific possibility of dark matter are the same thing, different belief-systems recognising the same process. She comes to understand what will happen without the life-giving action of consciousness:

Thought, imagination, feeling, would all wither and blow away, leaving nothing
but a brutish automatism; and that brief period when life was conscious of
itself would flicker out like a candle in every one of the billions of worlds
where it had burned brightly[13]


Is this the Endgame for those who endeavour to control and enslave us? I’d imagine it is something very much like it. With Philip Pullman’s concept in mind, we could argue that the dominance of monotheistic theology brought about a fundamental internal schism within each and every one of us. The responsibility for producing individual and cultural meaning slipped from our hands into the stead of an externalised authority. The pantheon was suppressed and a singular presence ruled in its place (the Vengeful God, the Illuminated Insider, the Eye at the apex of the Pyramid). If the interdependent pantheon of older gods, goddesses, spirits and archetypes served some valuable psycho-symbolic function in the minds of men and women (in a similar vein to Pullman’s Dust), then it’s conceivable that a period of disconnect, confusion and desperation has indeed followed such a loss.

Perhaps recent discoveries in the cutting-edge field of quantum physics are a manifestation of humanity’s attempt to recover what was lost, much like Mary Malone tries to do in Pullman’s epic tale. A quick internet search will reveal that the subject of quantum physics is becoming more pertinent on websites dedicated to conspiracy research and occult/esoteric subjects. Just how deep does the rabbit hole go? Much of quantum theory is based round the EPR correlation and Bell’s theorem; the mathematical suggestion of an unavoidable synthesis that exists at the subatomic level of matter, a mysterious interconnection in which everything is linked to everything else in a way that negates space and time.[14] This is sometimes referred to as ‘non-locality’, or the ‘wave/particle duality’. At a subatomic level the particles that compose physical matter also possess a wave function – these supposedly fixed, discreet units can also smear themselves across the entire continuum of space and time like a wave of non-physical energy. How and why this non-locality occurs at the subatomic level is a subject of furious critical debate. There are various interpretations of quantum theory, including the many-worlds hypothesis utilised by Philip Pullman in His Dark Materials series, and the Copenhagen Interpretation which suggests that nothing exists without consciousness creating it through the act of observation.[15] The debate rages on in the field, but the implications are clear – there is perhaps a closer connection between the mysticism of antiquity and the discoveries of modern science than we may have thought possible.

The psychologist Carl Jung pre-empts this discovery of non-locality when he discusses the phenomenon of synchronicity as ‘the simultaneous occurrence of meaningful equivalences in heterogeneous, causally unrelated processes’ and goes on to suggest that ‘it follows either that the psyche cannot be localised in time, or that space is relative to the psyche’.[16] Jung adds enigmatically that ‘it is not only possible but fairly probable, even, that psyche and matter are two different aspects of one and the same thing’.[17]

For me, the idea that consciousness is the mysterious potential from which psychological and physical reality both arise is a delicious one. Perhaps the field of conspiracy research and the ‘truth movement’ will finally blossom when enough people can digest and comprehend such potentially liberating ideas. I would suggest that for those we call the Illuminati (or their alien/demonic masters), any potentially liberating idea will be thought of as dangerous. I for one am happy to be thought of as a dangerous slave, until the shackles come off for good. I don’t believe that we are slaves, but the architects of this prison certainly do. Let’s surprise and frighten them, and show them that we’re not house-niggers any longer.

Conclusions

In fields of enquiry as vast as conspiracies, religion, magic and science, what can we really know in absolute definitive terms? It seems that recent discoveries in science are threatening the ontological certainty of material realism itself. If there is some aspect of physical matter that is ‘unreal’, or non-local and holographic, then what does this mean with regards to the human imagination and the power it seems to possess? Perhaps the human imagination is intimately linked with the realm where dreams, magic, spirits and archetypes were said to reside (and perhaps aliens and angels and demons) – and perhaps what we think of as material reality is simply our conscious reflections of that fabled realm. I think that we as individuals and as a society need to explore this basic indeterminacy of meaning. While it may be unsettling to some, I suspect it is a healthy and necessary part of conscious life. I would suggest it is enriching to push against the limits of any intellectual, religious or spiritual absolute, to transgress close-mindedness so that we might become more inclusive and insightful individuals. For me, when I read an interesting essay or an enjoyable piece of fiction I realise that I am separate and yet connected to something much larger than myself. In these moments I sense that there is an almost mystical unity behind the vast process of life and perception.

As Lyra ponders with awe in The Subtle Knife, ‘What were these mysteries? Was there only one world after all, which spent its time dreaming of others?’[18]

[1] Quoted in Nicholas Tucker’s Darkness Visible – Inside the World of Philip Pullman (Cambridge: Wizard, 2003), p. 175.
[2] Jean Webb, ‘Genre and Convention’ in Charles Butler, ed., Teaching Children’s Fiction (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), pp. 60-84, p. 75
[3] Kimberley Reynolds, Radical Children’s Literature: Future Visions and Aesthetic Transformations in Juvenile Fiction (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), p. 16.
[4] Ibid., p. 16.
[5] Quoted in Nicholas Tucker’s Darkness Visible – Inside the World of Philip Pullman (Cambridge: Wizard, 2003), p. 128.
[6] Philip Pullman, Northern Lights (1995; London: Scholastic, 2005), p. 380.
[7] Ibid., p. 380
[8] Julia Kristeva, Strangers to Ourselves, trans. Leon S. Roudiez (Hemel Hempstead: Harvester-Wheatsheaf, 1992), p. 192.
[9] Peter Hunt, Millicent Lenz, Alternative Worlds in Fantasy Fiction (London: Continuum, 2001), p. 125.
[10] James Hillman, The Dream and the Underworld (New York: Harper & Row, 1979), p. 79.
[11]Peter Hunt, Millicent Lenz, Alternative Worlds in Fantasy Fiction, p. 137.
[12] Philip Pullman, The Amber Spyglass (2000; London: Scholastic, 2005), p. 454.
[13] Ibid., p. 457.
[14] For a more complete account of these concepts I would suggest John Bell’s ‘On the Einstein Podolsky Rosen paradox’, in Physics, 1 : 195-200, and J. Clauser, A. Shimony, ‘Bell’s theorem: Experimental tests and implications’, in Reports on Progress in Physics, 41 : 1881.
[15] For a thought-provoking exploration of these ideas I would suggest reading Werner Heisenberg’s seminal works The Physical Principles of the Quantum Theory (New York: Dover, 1930) and Physics and Philosophy (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1958), together with Niels Bohr’s Atomic Physics and Human Knowledge (New York: Wiley, 1963).
[16]Carl Jung, in J. Campbell (ed.), The Portable Jung (New York: Viking, 1971), p. 518.
[17]Ibid., p. 518.
[18] Philip Pullman, The Subtle Knife (1997; London: Scholastic, 2005), p. 77.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

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