Brian George, Archaic Weapons, 2004
Student at Rochester University: "Was the bomb exploded at
Alamogordo during the Manhattan Project the first one to be detonated?"
Dr. Robert Oppenheimer: "Well, yes. In modern times,
It would be hard to communicate to someone growing up today just
how widespread was the fallout from the threat of the Atomic Bomb.
From July 16th, 1945, when the first bomb was tested over the Jornada
del Muerto Desert, its occult light had continued to throw shadows
from each object. The danger was not abstract; it was imminent, and it
changed our whole way of looking at the world. At any moment, a
chain-reaction might reach out to take us by the hand, and there was
no telling where we would end up. By the time that we got there, our
hands might no longer be able to grasp objects. Our minds might be
blinded by their own illumination, which was said to be brighter than
10,000 suns. Our vision might no longer go where we directed it;
instead, it might plummet to the far side of the planet. We might not be
able to distinguish the brain of Einstein from a cloud, or from the folds
of the shockwave that had spread out from Ground Zero, or from the
elegant simplicity of the equation that he dreamed. Which direction
would be "up," and which would be "down"? Our feet might get no traction on the sky.
I vividly remember grammar school nuclear holocaust drills in the
early 1960s: Get under your desk, put your head down on your knees,
then put your hands on your head. (!?!) Yes, that should work, much as
closing your eyes would make you invisible to the rest of the human
race. The mind boggles at such unintentional comedy, in which the
punchline is the city going up like flash-paper. Such unintentional
comedy was not a laughing matter! We did not consider laughing, yet
how was it possible to do anything else but laugh?
In retrospect, I can see how truly small we were. Our lineage was
obscure, and deliberately so; we were not left with the flicker of an
idea about our strength. At the end of the last ice age, a war had
rearranged the whole surface of the Earth. Cities popped like bubbles.
Words became armies and chants destroyed empires. Millions died.
Suns ate each other. Mirrors fought against their own reflections.
Whales left their bones on the Andes. Gigantic chunks of our memory
were wiped out. When we crawled out from our net of subterranean
tubes, there was not much that we recognized. We were few in number,
and hungry. Our eyes were hypnotically fixed on large objects in the
foreground. Space, somehow, had become opaque, and even the laws
of physics had been altered.
In 1962, we were only just starting to remember how to say our ABCs.
We were the interchangeable extras in an internecine drama, whose
stage-sets we saw, but whose scripts were directed from the depths of
the Unconscious. Use us once and throw us away. We were caterpillars
whose chrysalises would not have a chance to develop. Instead of
wings, we would have Thalidomide-style flippers. It didn't really
matter if we were crouched beneath our desks or playing in the
schoolyard. At best, when the blast took us, we might leave the
imprints of our shadows on a wall. Looking backwards over our
shoulders, these would seem as poignant to us as 18th century cut-out
paper silhouettes. Steam would leak from them, due to pressure from
trapped oceans. Then tiny lightning bolts would flash, decalibrated.
Our DNA would unzip. We would see the light, an artificial one, yet we
would not know if the light saw us, and our voyage into it would seem
more terrifying than staying where we were. Yanked back through our
navels, we would wake up neither here nor there.
Brian George, Bird with Vortex and Primordial Bow, 2004
We had too much unfinished business. We would not be able to move
smoothly to the outer edge of light, and then into the space beyond. A
network of past actions would confront us, of which we were, until
then, almost totally unaware. Our primal forms would get stuck. A
great stadium would unfold out of a storm-drain, towering through the
void, just as that storm-drain had unfolded from a pinhead.
There, in that turning stadium, where the too-bright light was broken
by dark gulfs, a supernatural Olympiad would be held. Banners would
flap in the epileptic breeze. With four limbs or eight, and screaming for
our blood, the best of the interspecies champions would appear. They
would pop up from their periods. We would first have to determine
how many hands we had. Also, why did none of them hold weapons?
With a hiss of electricity, we would move straight into our targets, like
boxers that had landed punches on the chin of the Beyond, only to find
that they were miles from the fight. In the meantime, as we watched,
our opponents would have cut us limb from limb. They would eat our
hearts and flatten out our force-fields. The records of our passing
would be less clear than a Rorschach blot. Runes would comment on
our ambiguity. Sailors tangled in Sargasso wrecks would wag their
fingers in judgment, as they boasted about the progress they were
making. The human sculptures from Pompeii would mock us for our
lack of "significant form." In 5000 years, if our relics were to be shown
in a museum, the curators would have to install electron microscopes,
through which visitors could observe the haunted skid-marks that we left.
We were fetal nebulae. We were seers who could not read their
instruction manuals, yet we could not do without them, and we chewed
on them like pacifiers. 12,000 years ago, we had turned to run from the
Lords of the Scalar Flying Guillotine, and we only just noticed that a
flash had wiped them from the Earth. What a joy it was, to discover
that the vitrified city that stretched before us had belonged to someone
else. It was the purest of good luck that such a thing had happened. We
were wide-eyed children, who would not hurt a fly.
Nothing scared us more than the mile-long shadows that stretched out
from our feet. Some day we would figure out the best way to remove
them. There were bad people out there. To teach them a lesson, we
would suffer. The rumors of our death had not been greatly
exaggerated. The horror was prodigious. Few had ever observed such
suffering as ours! Yet mistakes were made. We were weather balloons
that had crash-landed on the sky. If we saw the light, then there was no
reason we would have wanted to experience such a thing. There were
presences within it, protean ones, who seemed all too familiar, and the
light itself looked painful. Rituals would be held, or so we had heard, in
which they would force us to confront our ancient fears. There was one
thing that did not add up, however: that these protean presences
trembled at the thought of our return. We were just the tiny children of
the Jornada del Muerto Desert, with wide eyes that we did not dare to
open. We were ciphers in training. We would have left the one world
just to prove that we were impotent in the next.
Brian George, Black Sun with Descending Skeletons, 2002
Sides had been chosen, an age ago. It was 1962. There was no way to
avoid the confrontation that was coming. There was no way to sidestep
the jagged ruins in the foreground, whose spectral light illuminated the
darkest corners of the Psyche. Still, "Duck and Cover" may have been
as useful a strategy as any other, and I can appreciate the thought
behind these Vedic Neo-Dada preparations.
Ritual gesture can have an impact on a multitude of levels, and to "go
through the motions" is at times the only practical course of action.
Duck and Cover was, I think, a legacy from the Second World War,
during which the U.S. government launched massive rubber and scrap
metal drives, which, as it turned out, were designed more to improve
public morale than because the government didn't have access to
rubber and scrap metal. The principle seemed to be: It is always better
to do something rather than nothing. In the face of an invasion by the
Absolute, we must see to it that we died in the proper crouching pose.
My memories from the year of the Cuban Missile Crisis are quite
strange and, I would say, almost wonderful. The emotions that it stirs
are bittersweet and complex: An ache starts in my solar plexus and
spreads upwards to my heart. The crisis happened in October, about a
month after the start of the school year. In Worcester, Massachusetts,
where I lived, it seemed as though the leaves were just beginning to
change color—red and gold—and yet, already, there were many on the
ground. Still, I can hear them crunching underfoot as I walked to
school at 7:30 AM, and still, I can see them floating from the trees.
With each foot that they fell they seemed to move ever slower, coming
almost to a stop, until that morning became a memory of itself. Then I
fell into that memory. I have not stopped falling since.
This was probably the first time that I became aware of the possibility
of my own death, as well as of the possible destruction of the rest of the
human race and the planet. But the sensation was that of the Japanese
Cherry Blossom Festival. A sense of the beauty and the transience of all
things washed over me—or perhaps I should say blew over me. Behind
the wind, there was another and much bigger wind that seemed like it
was always just about to blow. This wind was the wind of our own
depth of coiled energy, an alchemical wind, which for aeons had been
sealed in its althanor. We sensed that we were guilty; we did not know
of what. We were just kids on our way to school. We were only trying
to get away with staring out of the window! Why should we be
expected to pay the price for the dismantling of the third dimension?
Still, it seemed that we were somehow in this up to our ears.
As we stared at our hands, it was easy enough to tell that our solidity
had been compromised. They flickered, at times, like a TV signal that
was not quite coming in. There were many questions that we did not
think to ask. Among these were the following: If we were the receivers,
then from what station was the signal being broadcast? Was only the
bull's-eye of the circular test pattern real, and why did it remind us of a
nuclear alert? Would the late night hum continue to get louder until it
shook apart the atoms of each set? Just who was in control of the
vertical and the horizontal axes? There was information missing. We
should probably have worn our adjustable antennas! Then again, there
was no one left who could be trusted to adjust them. Our teachers only
added to the metaphysical static. Our parents were the servants of a
technological pod. They were not really our parents. In any case, they
were dealing with their own pre-programmed problems with adjustment.
We knew too much, by far, without knowing that we knew anything.
Just recently, we had decided to take our powers out of storage, and
our ignorance was a danger to the cosmos as a whole. In our toy ships,
with shovels in hand, we would set sail from our sandbox! With our
miniaturized brains, we would boldly go where no man had gone
before! The path was not a straight one, however, and the arc of our
discovery bent towards the Abyss.
We had stepped into the last act of a drama that had been set in motion
years before our births, in the springtime of the world. Then, war was a
game that the omnipotent seers played; death was an adventure, and
the ocean was a vast but comprehensible text. Not only could we read
the glyphs inside each atom, we could also read the emptiness on
which they had been written. The gods were our contraptions. We had
little respect for the authorities that would bar our access to "junk"
DNA. We were living mirrors, from whose backs the mercury had not
yet been removed. An oath prompted us to throw away almost
everything we had, recklessly, and to cover our tracks by destroying the
horizon. How infinitely strange it was to be a leaf that somehow did not
know it was hanging from a tree. At last, we had tied the year into a
perfect figure eight. October, as predicted, had arrived.
Brian George, Autumnal Leaf-Head, 2004
It was the 14th of October, 1962, and the Doomsday Clock was reading
at 12 minutes before 12:00. As we made our way to school, with our
book bags on our shoulders, we could hear the newly fallen leaves
crunch underfoot, like the bones of ancient warriors, like the husks of
derelict gods, and we were struck dumb by the wonderful stillness of
the moment. The beauty of the flame-like foliage was a harbinger of
the descent of actual flame; the gentle falling of the leaves was perhaps
a prelude to the imminent vaporization of our bodies, and to the gentle
descent of our ashes through the air.
This article was originally published in
Metapsychosis: Journal of Consciousness, Literature, and Art