Introduction to a Malign Fiesta
What is the function of the carbon-based units?
— Star Trek: The Motion Picture
Don’t worry, I’m only kidding—not!
— Truth or Dare
When I think of the external or “historical” events of my childhood, everything seems like faded old newsreels of the Great Depression. Worried faces, run down buildings, violent strikes with cops smashing workers upside the head with billy clubs: all have that grainy look and that bad sound quality of NEWS ON THE MARCH—which always served us kids as a signal to run out and buy our candy so we wouldn’t miss the cartoon coming next. Maybe poverty always looks that way, in memory. Maybe they invented the newsreel just to leave a suitably sub-standard film record of those malnourished days. Strange that some of these awful images come, in fact, not from newsreels but from things I actually saw.
But when I think of the internal, and therefore more vivid, memories of my childhood, everything comes into sharp focus and high contrast, full of artfully meaningful blends of light and shadow. The great horror movies of the ’30s live on and on in the labyrinth of my consciousness, turning up in the most unexpected places: my reflections of Buddhism and physics, my thoughts about war and pacificism, names of minor characters in my novels. Those films carved a trace in the mind; the newsreels just represent the accidents of existence. I can still see Maria Ouspenskaya, with all the art and craft of the great European theatres where she had worked, solemnly reciting to a tormented Lon Chaney, Jr.:
Even a man who is pure of heart
And says his prayers by night
May become a wolf when the wolfsbane blooms
And the moon is full and bright
I can’t remember a single Roosevelt speech, or even a single Huey Long speech, as well as I remember those lines of cornball genius. And all the other dark memories flood over me at the very mention of—wolfsbane….
Ah, Wolfsbane: if you say it just right, with the proper rise and fall, you have mastered Step One in a good Bela Lugosi imitation.
Oh, Bela the Magnificent… I can never forget him as Igor, who although hanged by the neck (“Because I robbed graves—they said.”) remained alive. And I especially remember him telling Basil Rathbone (Baron Wolf von Frankenstein—what a name!) that the—the—thing—on the slab was in a sense his, Frankenstein’s, brother: “Your father make you, your father make heem! But lightning was his mother!” God, did anybody ever combine total malignancy and demented overacting with such deep sincerity as Bela and cap it with such poetic flair? He always seemed to think he spoke high Shakespeare, and at his best he made you think you had just heard Shakespeare.
And the others, also great: Boris, the mute gaunt suffering monster, looking sadly at the little girl, wondering what to throw in the water after he ran out of flowers… Boris again, saying to the forgotten heroine of The Mummy, “No man has suffered for love as I have.” (He’d survived 3900 years of undeath in a coffin, because he stole the magick scroll to make her immortal.) The Calypso singer, smiling insinuatingly as his song hints, and hints, and hints, but never says clearly what horror hangs over the Harlan family, in I Walked with a Zombie. Robert Armstrong standing by the dead body of the Big Fellow intoning the Most Certainly Immortal Line in Film History—the line that may someday serve as the epitaph for Rush Limbaugh, if he has a stroke during one of his erotic-sadistic spasms about Hilary—“It was beauty that killed the Beast.” The Wicked Witch of the West soaring through the sky and writing in letters of fire:
Yes, yes: those moments, and hundreds like them, made up the true fabric of my childhood: their “trace in the mind” (a phrase I purloined from Ezra Pound) registers real lines of psychic force in the collective unconscious—or if you prefer a more neurological metaphor, these moments aim directly at receptor sites in the brain where the stimuli that carry raw power imprint themselves in circuits of association and networks of poetic myth that boys and girls, and men and women, have experienced since we became human, or maybe even before that…
Somehow, out of 60 million years of primate psychology, humanity has emerged as the beast that knows its own dark side too well, and would prefer not to know. But we love to look at that dark side, safely projected into the proper realm of myth and fantasy.
Because that which we find within remains always and only a reflection of that which we also find outside.
To say it another way, that which we perceive outside contains only what we can perceive inside.
Hermes proclaimed that before I did, of course: “That which is above reflects that which is below.” Phil Dick suggests that Hermes meant to say the universe has a hologrammic structure, i.e., the information of the whole appears in every part. You can hang on to that metaphor if you find it helpful.
Gort, klaatu barada nikto.
— The Day the Earth Stood Still
And take your cold companion with you!
— Arsenic and Old Lace
Yes: the creatures of these great old films, and of the book you hold in your hands, always co-exist with us, for, to paraphrase H.P. Lovecraft, they appeared in somebody’s dream last night and they had names and images farther back than garden-girdled Babylon. And we spend eight hours out of every day in their company, even though most of the memories of those adventures fade before we have our first cup of coffee brewed.
Do they also influence history, as some of these stories suggest? Carl Jung thought so: he regarded Nazi Germany as a nation possessed by an archetype—a metaphor different in content but not in structure from the simple Christian notion of that nation as one possessed by demons. Archetypes, demons, stimuli that trigger weird brain circuits: use the language grid that best suits you. The only error would lie in denying that they—“night’s black agents”—exist in some form, or refusing to realize that they track us every minute of every day.
That arrogant 19th Century error, fortunately, does not have many adherents any more. Not after Auschwitz and Hiroshima and Vietnam and Oklahoma City 4/19/95… We know better, now. We know that every bus, every car, every bicycle that enters our street may carry the demonseed, the spirit that wills annihilation, chaos and Mother Night. We know, even if we wish we did not know, that even the worst of the Camp Classics, even Frankenstein Meets The Wolfman, comes closer to the inner life of humanity, and its increasingly externalized frenzies, than any “sensitive” and “ironic” New Yorker story about adultery in the suburbs.
I perhaps push my thesis too far? I hyperbolize? Consider the figure on the bottom of this page.
Familiar looking, wouldn’t you say? Well, if you belong to the shrinking minority that does not find him familiar, you have managed to avoid most of the UFOlogical literature of the past twenty years and the hottest controversy in modern psychology—“repressed memory syndrome,” the fashionable disease, or delusion, which increasing numbers of psychologists do not believe exists.
This creature looks exactly like one of the “Greys,” a race of alleged extraterrestrial sex fiends, or bio-researchers—as you will—who abduct humans and perform sexual assaults or genetic experiments upon them. Literally thousands of people allege that they have suffered these Alien rapes or genetic alterations. The number of such alleged victims almost equals the number of those who claim their parents once forced them to participate in Satanic rituals involving human sacrifice, cannibalism and more scatological fantasy than a grade school lavatory wall.
Some (few) psychologists believe these “repressed memories.” The majority very seriously doubt them. I say (once more) that we live with these creatures eight hours a day—in the realm where we also encounter mome raths, Dali’s melting watches and things, in Joyce’s words, “like gnawthing unearthed.”
The important thing about this particular “Grey”: the sketch does not derive from any modem UFO abduction story. Not at all. The occult drug guru Aleister Crowley drew it way back in the early 1920s. He said it represented an “Enochian entity” (a being from a “higher” astral plane than ourselves). Crowley even knew its name—LAM, which looks to me like mal the Latin root for evil backwards, and also suggests the Holy Lamb of God in Blake’s visionary poetry….
Let’s not get drawn into a dispute about whether LAM really comes from an “astral” or an “extra-terrestrial” realm. We know where he comes from, if we trust our guts and don’t get entangled in verbal cobwebs. The hypnotists who find him in “repressed memory” and Crowley, who found him in drug-drenched magick ritual, both opened the same gate, the gate to the antipodes of the human mind.
We’re in moderately bad shape down here.
— The Abyss
Life’s a bitch, and so am I.
— Batman Returns
As the Magus Linaweaver wrote (in a book so terrible I dare not mention its name), “Monotheism is the slippery slope to atheism.”
A limited god does not really fit the idea of “god” at all; any “god” must transcend every limit and exceed all boundaries of every sort. Thus, only the advaitist (non-dual, pantheistic) concept of “god” remains free of contradiction and oxymoron. But nobody, least of all the pantheist, can distinguish the pantheist “god” from the “All” invoked (in “All is One”) by all those New Age bliss-ninnies with their vacant eyes and empty smiles (what “archetype” or “entity” possesses them? I wonder…). And this “god” which equals “All” differs very little from the giant clockwork of atheism, except that it allegedly has feelings.
(But why shouldn’t a mechanism have feelings? Didn’t Frankenstein show us that any automaton that acts alive must feel alive?)
Emerson’s Brahma, who says “I am the slayer and the slain,” presumably enjoys the slaying even if He-She-It also suffers the pain of the victim. This view really implies a cosmos consisting only of a god playing with itself (Transcendental Masturbation) or playing hide-and-seek with itself (the view of Alan Watts and all Gnostic conspiracy buffs in the Phil Dick tradition). Take out the poetice metaphors and this view quickly collapses into atheism, as Linaweaver told us.
Thus, Nietzsche ultimately realized that “There are gods but there is no God—and this alone is divine.” Beyond the advaitist/pantheist/atheist mythos, the real universe always shows what the Irish call an orderly chaos.
A phalanx of intelligences and powers, all differentiated, some cooperating and some competing—the view of the ordinary person about ordinary day-to-day reality—ultimately describes the cosmos better than any monotheistic or atheistic oversimplification. We can call these intelligences and powers “gods” or “goods” or “demons” or “evils,” if we will, but those remain merely our own prejudices. Each entity has its own view of the situation—just as an old rat, in Burroughs memorable phrase, has decided opinions about wise guys who stuff steel wool into rat holes.
In other words, one and zero do not differ by very much—one god or no god, who really cares?—but infinity and zero differ very greatly. And we seem to live in a world of infinite complexity, infinitely many intelligences, infinitely competing and cooperating entities, very few of whom give a fried fart about human hopes and prayers.
In such a world—once described by Crowley as “a practical joke by the general at the expense of the particular”—super-Darwinism reign. To put it simon simple: such a world contains AIDS and cancer. Any god who created it with purpose appears monstrous to clear judgment; any god who did it in “play” (as the Orient claims) appears idiotic; but a phalanx of often competing intelligences could easily have created just such a chaotic whirligig, with its accidental moments of sheer ecstasy thrown in along with its equally random terrors that walk by night and stochastic tragedies that stalk us by day.
If this seems arcane or (God forbid) “mystical,” let me restate it more simply. None of the critters in this book, or in my favorite old movies mentioned earlier, scare me as much as several recent American presidents have; certainly, none of them has a record of mass murder equal to that of our most recent presidents. Just as we “elect” our presidents, we “select” our maps or models of the world. Whatever we elect or select, if it does not include murderous Evil, it does not fit the world that the majority of our fellow humans have collectively elected and selected.
Looking at the current Congress, for that matter, I would feel greatly comforted to think that some of them have as many flashes of almost human pathos as, say, King Kong had, or the Frankenstein monster had when (and only when) Karloff portrayed him. It would even feel good to think they had the wit and empathy of Hannibal Lecter, M.D.
But I see no sign of such redeeming qualities in politics. Perhaps, ultimately, the real pleasure provided by the great horror stories consists in giving us a world, unlike our own, in which even the most destructive creatures have a human side we can recognize and pity….
Robert Anton Wilson
4 May 1995
(anniversary of the Haymarket bomb, 1886;
Holmes‘ final confrontation with Moriarity at the Reichenbach Falls, 1891;
the Kent State massacre Of American boys and girls by American troops, 1970)