A Plasm

Posted October 9, 2009 by rvm
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A desire to live as more than one species is a protest against the stinginess of genetic inheritance, but how feeble. Fine to imagine myself manbat or merman, and stitch words and surgeries to make a multicarnal carnival, but natural law in the end forbids the survival of hybrids. Strange, because if our souls could step out into view for a minute, take a turn on stage, we could see a whole life history written there in the form of spiritual gills, spines, brains, tails, coattails.

Perfectly fitted inside my plasm, my physical cavern, is my ghost, translucent as Casper. Not actually a perfect fit because the head is antlered, in honor of the diversity of life and in apology to the several deer (not a lot) that my father shot down in the mountains of Utah and we ate at the kitchen table in Salt Lake. From such celebrations it’s not hard to move down the path of shamanism (in my case via mormonism and magic) to the Gundestrup Cauldron and its depiction of the horned god. My own spiritual antlers are newer than that, still in ghostly velvet, but are growing, growing, heliotropic, rooted in the brain.


Lucifer Chiropter

Posted October 3, 2009 by rvm
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No meditation on cave mythology can continue without a discussion of the Christians’ Hell and their eidolon, Satan, who presides there in a form that appears half human and half bat. The topic is suggested by the calendar, with Michaelmas falling this last week. Michael, in Revelation 12:14 at least, is the one who casts Lucifer out of heaven and so inaugurates the general Satanic revenge narrative. Now, the wings of archangels and the lower angels appear to be modeled on the wings of storks, and Lucifer must have sported this style in Heaven. However, at some point, and it’s not exactly clear when, he trades these in for, or they are spontaneously replaced by, bat’s wings, though they are necessarily so large that they might be better thought of as dragon’s wings (and indeed in depictions of Michael’s triumph his adversary is either a leather-winged anthropoid or dragon).

On modern occasions of masquerade there is a clear preference for feathery over leathery wings, even though natural history neutralizes both, and teaches us reverence for both birds and bats. The only explanation for this persistent post-Christian prejudice is a simplistic bat/cave metonymy. Even though there are birds who live in caves and bats who live in trees, the “hellishness” of caves perennially brands our innocent bat friends with a mark of murky evil.

To combat this bias I intend a plastic surgery in which the skin of my back will be carefully and partially flayed, and left to soften and cure while a new layer regenerates. The free layer is then divided in two, and stretched with the aid of bone-like struts into the shape of chiropteran wings. Such appendages are easy to hide beneath clothing when not needed, but unfold with a fiercely benevolent magnificence when the occasion demands.

Caves and Pools

Posted September 19, 2009 by rvm
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According to the ancient story, King Ixion commits horrible crimes and is punished with madness. Yet, for reasons that are unclear, Zeus takes pity on him, and transports him to Olympus, to mingle with the gods. Delirious Ixion, however, shows gratitude for his host’s clemency by attempting to seduce Hera herself, and earns the wrath of her jealous and of course omnipotent husband. Zeus first decides to play a prank, and creates an ersatz Hera, identical to his wife but composed of mist, and sends her to Ixion. The king loves and makes love to this gynecomorphous cloud, which afterward retains its form long enough to give birth to the Centaurs. Then the true punishment begins. Zeus orders Ixion to be bound to a winged and fiery wheel which must spin in the underworld for all eternity, pausing only when Orpheus, playing his lyre, wanders by.

Both Aeschylus and Euripides wrote tragedies based on the downfall of Ixion, but the plays are lost. To fill the gap, I’ll compose a less tragic narrative, set in the present day. Ixion and his Hera-cloud, a rich mixture of anima and carnality, energy and form, pursue their unlikely romance for months or even years, both profoundly in love, neither truly understanding the transitory nature of mist. When the  fog clears, Ixion is condemned to torture in certain caves, but this too lasts only a little while, and in time he emerges to join his children, the astonishing Centaurs, liminal beings suspended between gods, clouds, beasts, and earth. These hybrids in turn mate with Satyrs and other hybrids, and so on and so on, each generation of Ixion’s grandchildren more complex than the last, until there are no real boundaries among the species, life consists of life, nature of nature, and, to quote Bataille, “every animal is in the world like water in water.”

And Zero at the Bone

Posted September 11, 2009 by rvm
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My first book of snakes did not inform me of Medusa and her serpentine hair. But all such amalgams, with their heads sprouting snakes, feet ending in hooves, shoulders sprouting wings, and so on, are too deeply submerged in archetype for science. They call us instead to a different kind of insight, the hard-to-remember truth of our root animal glory. Still, with each of these aforementioned manimals, along with angels, centaurs, mermaids, werewolves, gill men, et al., the admixture seems tentative, conceptually stingy.

I feel in myself, and want to physically conjure in myself, a more generous division, as in the chimera (lion-goat-snake) or the fenghuang (rooster-swallow-snake-goose-tortoise-stag-fish). “Full fathom five thy father lies,/Of his bones are coral made/Those are pearls that were his eyes.” So sings Ariel and the song,  if  continued, might lead toward a marine Arcimboldo, and then toward me, toward personal bones of coral (alive at night with polyps), eyes of pearl and oyster, heart of pulsing jellyfish, sea snake intestines, lungfish lungs, lobster hands and, for a brain, the wise octopus, with his tentacles for hair. Assembled, we will rhythmically drift in the shallows, separate a little, gather, separate, over and over, until the last sigh, and last dispersal.

Human Behavior

Posted August 22, 2009 by rvm
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There comes news of a wonderful discovery in northern Mexico, the Cueva de los Cristales, where selenite crystals grow to enormous size, dwarfing the orange-suited explorers in the photos provided in the National Geographic story. Those photos, especially the one reproduced above, take me back to Pope’s Grotto and the beautiful sets created for the film Fantastic Voyage. In the Mexican cave, though, the effect is more pronounced, much more what I had in mind for scenes that unfold inside the diseased, hunchbacked body of the author of “An Essay on Man.” In my film, the anatomical structures may appear gigantic, but it is the explorers who are the size of homunculi, and their task is to impose an Augustan symmetry on the messy, romantic sublime we find both in great caverns and human cavities, rearranging things so that when the explorers emerge, and Pope awakes, he stands straight and tall, as physically commanding as he is philosophically adroit. History is rewritten: the Age of Reason has its hero, and the Enlightenment Project is completed before the irresistable illogic of human behavior has a chance to postpone it forever.

The Empire of Spines

Posted August 9, 2009 by rvm
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The headline that appears this week, “Giant Jellyfish Invade Japan,” familiarly positions something in nature as an external force, an enemy that crosses an established truce line and runs riot in zones that are presumably free of such abominations, zones that are thought to lie entirely within the guarded empire of human regulation. However, this kind of rhetoric does not apply in all such cases. Whales, as I mentioned below, also have a tendency to beach themselves, to enter “our” space, but such entries are never referred to as “invasions.” The difference, perhaps, is the spine. The Nomura jellyfish are invertebrates, and therefore alien, untoward, unwelcome. I recall an artist’s conception, from many years ago, of the surface of Jupiter, which included speculative life forms: giant jellyfish that drifted in the planet’s heavy atmosphere, tentacles hanging down toward the Great Red Spot. Typically enough, the aliens in the current film, District 9, have a distinct underwater invertebrate look to them, and I believe are even referred to derogatorily as “prawns.”

My own answer to this issue is to recognize and renew my affection for my own vertebral column, which keeps me safely enrolled in the more privileged and, sadly, much more invasive of the two kingdoms. As They Might Be Giants ruefully puts it, Spines/Gonna make you cry/Gonna make you crawl/Gonna make you fall in love again/Spines/Gonna make you beg/Gonna make you plead/Gonna make you fall in love with spines.

Music After Death

Posted July 31, 2009 by rvm
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Two themes of this blog, caves and lyres, come together in the figure of Orpheus, who charms his way into the Underworld by virtue of his virtuoso harping. Deep underground, Queen Persephone weeps to hear his music, which after all must sound more beautiful there than on the surface, given the cavernous, mineral acoustics. A modern echo of this moment in mythopoeic time is provided by the Great Stalacpipe Organ, an instrument in Luray Caverns, Virginia, that is really more percussion-based, given that each key, when depressed, causes a hammer to strike a stalactite, producing the appropriate note. The resulting music is reminiscent of a giant marimba, or vibraphone, or some of the extravagant musical instruments created by artist Tim Hawkinson. On my own trip to the Underworld, presumably unable to bring along any kithara or guitar, I will have to hope that a grand stalacpipe organ is already there, waiting for new arrivals to sit down and perform, and perhaps in that way I could charm the current Queen of Hell, whoever she may be, into sending me back above, or letting me stay on as her beloved.