The Chapel Perilous, a 1920 illustration by Thomas Mackenzie
By Eric Wagner
Special guest blogger
The discussion of Patty Hearst’s “responsibility” for her actions as Tania make think of comparing the novel The Shining by Stephen King with the film The Shining directed by Stanley Kubrick. King has complained that in the film Jack seems firmly responsible for his actions, whereas in the novel the hotel seems at least in part responsible for his actions. One might model the Overlook Hotel as a model of Chapel Perilous, especially at the end of the film. In fact, various models of Chapel Perilous appear in Kubrick’s films, from the ending of 2001: A Space Odyssey to the brainwashing scenes in A Clockwork Orange to basic training in Full Metal Jacket to Tom Cruise’s New York City wasteland quest in Eyes Wide Shut.
Apuleius Charlton pointed out that many of Jim Jones’s victims did not commit suicide; armed followers of Jones forced many of them to drink the poison. I remember seeing part of a TV movie about Jim Jones starring Powers Booth. I thought of that film when I saw Oliver Stone’s Nixon where Powers Booth played Alexander Haig and Bob Wilson’s beloved Anthony Hopkins played Nixon. I contemplated writing a book on the magic of casting called Casting Spells. The movie Nixon seemed rather sympathetic to the character Richard Nixon, but I kept thinking of Hannibal Lector in the back of my mind.
Bob writes of immortalism in this chapter. Someone once asked the physicist R. C. W. Ettinger why, if crygenics provided the chance of immortality, more people didn’t take advantage of it.
Ettinger said, “Many are cold, but few are frozen.”
Exercise 6 in this chapter says to become a Nazi for 33 minutes. I did this; I began by studying a bit of German on Duolingo. I had intended to watch a bit of Wagner’s Der fliegende Holländer I had DVR’d next, but my wife asked me to run an errand. I had a Sonny Rollins CD on in the car, and I found it distasteful in my Nazi head-space. I switched to the classical radio station and felt grateful that they had some German music playing (Mozart’s Thirtieth Symphony). I found it sobering how quickly this exercise affected my judgment.
Jonestown appears in P.K. Dick’s VALIS, just a few pages before RAW gets name-dropped along with Cosmic Trigger. Here are what the PKD alter ego has to say about it: “what happened at Jonestown was the mass running of panic, inspired by the mad god […] For them no way out existed. You must be taken over by the mad god to understand this, that once it happens there is no way out, because the mad god is everywhere.”
Regardless of the slightly different reality of these events as described by Apuleius and Eric Wagner, I find interesting a concept to consider the idea that, when being accepted by a large enough number, one person’s Chapel Perilous can become consensus reality. It probably is not just for the fun of being outrageous or for the sake of a Godwin point that RAW gives the Nazi exercize in this chapter. Especially in light of Eric commenting at the end of his post how easily one can veers towards such extreme.
In VALIS, the Gnostic-inspired reality in which we are trapped is alternatively called the Black Iron Prison or the Maze. A maze is where the ending of The Shining takes place. And to link to the image opening this post, many Arthurian knights got ‘lost in the maze’, trying to find the Grail.
T.S. Eliot, already mentioned in PR for his Four Quartets, has Chapel Perilous appearing in The Waste Land. This poem was written around a time of nervous breakdown for Eliot, and later edited by Ezra Pound. It partly deals with the legend of the Grail and is said to have a disjointed (maze-like) structure.
Oz Fritz, last week you mentioned A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man as an example for human society as a brainwashing apparatus. Here is an excellent lecture on Stephen Dedalus’ intellectual and spiritual development in this book:
Of course, the name Dedalus harks back to the original maze of Greek mythology. Joyce’s following books Ulysses and Finnegans Wake sure feel like literary mazes.
I just realized that Gregory Bateson was the laboratory director in John Lilly’s group of researchers studying dolphin communication. He apparently left before the end, when things became too unscientific for his taste. I had not known of this connection before.
Bill Laswell told me that when he went to the Nova Convention (honoring William S. Burroughs) in 1978 Burroughs walked onstage wearing cowboy boots and a big cowboy hat and began by saying, "I've just returned from Jonestown, everything is going exactly according to plan." Being a very naive person, I always took this literally, but having recently researched it, it seems not true. The timeline almost, but doesn't quite line up, the Jonestown suicide massacre occurred on Nov. 18, 1978 while the Nova Convention began Nov. 30th. Robert Anton Wilson served on a panel there alongside Timothy Leary, Brion Gysin and Burroughs. If Burroughs intended to refer to the mass suicide episode in Illuminatus! that would put an interesting contextual twist on this exercize, but I suspect he didn't know about that (unless Wilson told him beforehand) and that he used the moment as a great opportunity for his black humor.
Taking the pov of a dogmatic Rationalist that the event in the book and the actual reality are "mere coincidence" subscribes to a limited belief system that occludes the unknown. It implies omniscience - "I KNOW it is only a coincidence"
The other end of the spectrum, the pov of a committed Occultist operates with a belief system that KNOWS there must be significance between the two events. What is the message, Wilson asks. From the occultist view I see the message as writers can be visionaries.
My own view on coincidences/synchronicities varies on a spectrum between Rationalist and Occultist. Some coincidences seem mere coincidence. I consider regarding different degrees of synchronicity. For instance a minor synch might be: I meant to post about the Laswell informed Burroughs comment a few days ago, I'm reaching the end of an intense work cycle and haven't had the chance until now. A couple days ago Tom posted a recording from Burroughs from 1989. I also recorded him in 1989 for a Bill Laswell project.
I have to finish this thought later.
Watching Get back, the new Beatles doc led to a synch with perhaps a higher degree of significance. Being a recording studio geek, I watch the engineer, Glynn Johns, as closely as any of the fab. Two evenings ago I caught a different interview with Johns. At the end of it they asked him if there was any song or album he wished to have been a part of. He mentioned the recording of A Concert for George (tribute to Harrison)saying it captured "absolutely amazing" audio. I played the same album earlier in the day driving around on errands. The message I derive affirms the connection with the morphogenetic field (as conceived by Rupert Sheldrake) of sound engineering.
A very significant synchronicity concerns The Beatles. It's widely recognized that their appearance on the Ed Sullivan show broke them in America, contributing greatly to their massive popularity. They got booked on the show because both Sullivan and the band arrived at Heathrow airport at the same time from different locations. Ed saw a throng of screaming girls awaiting their arrival. He told someone to find out who they are, "I want to book them on my show." The rest is history, as they say. The message of that coincidence might be, the world needed this invocation called The Beatles even if it took time for them to mature.
Thank-you for the Dedalus link, Spookah. I agree that Ulysses and FW construct literary mazes or labyrinths. Daedalus, of course, built the labyrinth containing the Minotaur in Greek mythology. By adopting that last name for his younger literary counterpart, Joyce appears to identify himself as a maze builder. Chapel Perilous seems maze-like. E.J. Gold refers to the bardo as a labyrinth/maze. His most esoterically technical book has the title Life in the Labyrinth. Gold has referred to himself as a maze builder. The idea being that the skill gained by solving one labyrinth will help to navigate more complex mazes. Leary said that reading Joyce's last two works helped prepare him for psychedelic spaces. I got inspired to read Finnegans Wake from something Gold said about it in a meeting not long after my dad passed.
Spookah, I'm interested to learn more about Bateson's connection with John Lilly and his reason for leaving the dolphin research group. I never met Lilly, but two of my close friends and mentors were long time students of his so I've heard stories about why Lilly abandoned that research, but not from Bateson's pov.
Post a Comment