La Folía

On Getting Out of It and Into the Infinite

Artaud in Mexico, a Dualit Toaster, the Red Dirt Behind the Masjid Where Sultan Mahmud II is Entombed, Bodice Rippers, Divination, a Wheezing Nissan 180 Truck, Mevlevi Sufi, Black Holes, Kubla Khan, the Tasman Sea, Luther Vandross, Friesian cows, Butter Biscuits, Quantum Mechanics, Red Gum Trees, Mirror Worlds, Pigface Flowers, Life Itself

Children’s group maypole dancing, 1900-1910. Queensland. 

      oh clack your
metal wings, god,
you are mine now in the morning.

“A Poem for Record Players,” John Wieners, 1958


One of my cousins sometimes fainted. Dr. Wickramasinghe thought being born blue with the cord in a stranglehold around the neck and touch and go for weeks was behind the boy’s syncope, and “He will grow out of it.” My aunt agreed that the fainting spells had something to do with her baby coming out pretty much dead, but she also thought that, at some point in passage from her womb, the infant had gone through a door between two dimensions or two worlds, between here and there, between mortals and angels, and he was still going there and back at the age of fourteen; perhaps growing out of it was yet to come. Sometimes my cousin came back from a faint or whatever it was and told his mother about beautiful lights and being in a place where “I saw everything,” but Dr Wickramasinghe said, “That is only prodromal phenomena.” A week after my cousin’s fifteenth birthday, the first real frost white as salt on the morning lawn and all of us waiting unwilling and shivering for the school bus, my cousin fainted and never came back and later his mother thought, my baby knows everything now, all the time.


See my sister and the girls turning and whirling and spinning themselves around and around like happy tops, giggling until the centrifuge effect kicks in and the giggles stop, and the girls twirl silent now, serious in the sinking, flaming bars of the autumn sunset. The girls turn on grass already pearled with dew. They become dizzy, they feel sick, they collapse and say, “Where am I?” or “Everything is spinning,” and one of the twins vomits Easter chocolate onto her pinafore. The girls turn, whirling, spinning around and around and around and around almost vanishing to themselves. My sister opens her eyes and looks right through me. She weaves across the grass. “I saw black stars in the sky,” she says, and turns again under the indigo dusk. Venus grinds to a halt in the heavens. Time itself hangs idle from the smooth arms of red gum trees, and yet, five-fifteen becomes five-twenty in exactly five minutes and Aunty Snow yells from the bright oblong of the kitchen window “Dinner, you lot!” and the girls stop turning, they pull back from what might have become an irreversible disappearance into something dreadful or wondrous, surely unknown, and they go inside, where, presented with Heinz spaghetti on toast and a grilled sausage, they don’t feel much like eating.

The girls, turning, are dancing. The girls, dancing, repeat the movements of celestial bodies, woozy orbits and nauseating revolutions around and around again, circling toward some dimension on the far side of syncope. Their dance comes from the heart of human being. The girls’ turning comes from Iberian fertility dances, from the entrancing horse dances of Java, from maypole dances, from the embodied disembodiment of dhamaal, that beating, spinning choreography which transports persecuted Sufi mystics and Muslims and Hindus stuck forever in the slums and shantytowns of Sind and Punjab toward God until they faint, Mast Qalandar! The dance of the twirling girls is like the crazy Shrovetide carnival dances Christians used to do. The girls’ turning dance is folía, a little madness, non-liturgical but brimming with belief. It is a relative of the swooning waltz; it is a spinning heard in even the stately proportions of baroque: in Arcangelo Corelli’s Violin Sonata in D minor, Op. 5 No. 12 (La Folia) an adagio progression gives way to violins spiralling faster and faster, twirling on and on through twenty-three variations of the original chords until, not frenzy, but a deliberate and organised ecstatic pattern takes over. The girls turning might be as old as human life itself, around and around until you collapse or rise and things go black.

In bed that night, my sister hyperventilates. Our mother enters, soft. She hands my sister a little medicine glass half full of warm water stained with tobacco-colored drops of Chlorodyne which, in 1958, is not yet considered addictive even though its principal ingredient is tincture of opium and too much can send you right into a black star or permanently oblique like Mrs. Moller in the red brick corner house whose regime of Rothman’s cigarettes and Chlorodyne turned her into an unmoving sage given to utterances like, “You are not meant to be here,” her eyes permanently focused somewhere else. Chlorodyne is a chemical version of the turning dance. It induces a kind of syncope, it makes the lights smear and go out, it takes you somewhere, and it bears my sister down a darkening slope into silence. Going, she says, “When I was turning, I saw Dad in heaven. It was all black, not like they say, golden,” and then she’s gone and the night on the farm is at last still but for the song of an insomniac willie wagtail floating up to the house from the creek paddock and that resentful susurration all burgled country makes, get out, get out, get out. I get up in the dark and find the bottle of Chlorodyne in Aunty Snow’s bathroom cupboard. I squeeze three drops onto my tongue, that anise flavoring, and faint away.


Effects of Opium

We cannot withhold the record of an extraordinary case of delusion, occasioned by an opiate, in the person of a gentleman with whom we have the pleasure of being most intimately acquainted. To relieve a laryngeal cough with which he was troubled, he sucked, one night, prior to going to bed, a few morphia lozenges, he could not exactly say how many. He remembered to have retired and undressed himself as usual, and to have attended to all the particulars of the toilet, in which he was especially neat; for, though a plain man, he had all the vanity of a handsome one. He placed his night-lamp on the mantel, and got into bed. He lay looking, as was his wont, at the taper, until it became slowly surrounded by a halo of thinnest mist, which gradually filled the whole room. At the same time he felt himself growing by degrees lighter, until at last he fancied himself to float upon the very wings of ether. He could move in any direction, and variously tried the action of his limbs, but every effort gave him a further and more fertile idea of his imponderosity. Shortly, the notion possessed him his head was off. 

—(Scientific American, Vol. 3, No. 11, December 4, 1847, p. 86)


What do the girls, turning, see and feel, and where are they trying to go? Do they lose their heads and come upon their own imponderosity or are their turning experiences cinematic in the way that Antonin Artaud meant cinematic: a total reversal of values; a complete disruption of optics, perspective, and logic; an ecstatic condition that is almost, but not quite, another dimension altogether in which the girls do not exist there and also do not quite exist here on the farm on that Easter Sunday evening? Gone but not gone, turning away the girls are, like Harry, who went through a time when he spent hours almost every day in one of those flotation tanks. “It is not like Vipassana sitting,” he said, “which brings you to yourself. Flotation takes me away somewhere, it is water, but it could be the sky, another world.”

How Harry felt about flotation is how I once felt, working in hospitals and every kind of narcotic and sleeping drug right there, great brown jars of white, scarlet, purple, royal blue, green and black, candy pink pills and caps, hypnotics and barbiturates lined up on white shelves, one for the patient, two for me and later. On my days off, I swallowed pills in even numbers, four, six, even eight, and then, after I read somewhere, perhaps in Mishima Yukio’s novels, that odd numbers are preferred in Japan, where I had never been but intended, I took five, seven, nine, sometimes only three, and went to bed to seek what I thought of as the void. Sometimes I went so far out I almost made a landing and stayed away so long that M or whoever was with me in those times began to worry, she’s dead, she’s trying to kill herself, she is so damaged by all that tranny stuff, call an ambulance, but I was not damaged, or not damaged enough to seek death, I was turning, I was fainting for answers, not to the unanswerable question incessantly put to trans people—what the fuck are you?—which is another story and not for here, no, I wanted to know what was possible. I wanted a glimpse of other worlds, other dimensions, the fifth dimension at least, which Oskar Klein thought too lightless and too small to be visible to the human eye and likely to curl in on itself like an infinitesimal armadillo upon the approach of strange matter. I sought the sixth, seventh, and eighth dimensions, where, according to string theory, one may traverse the planes of possibilities and witness every permutation of what can occur in multiple futures and what could have occurred in multiple pasts. I strove for just a fly-by of the ninth dimension where all universal laws of physics and the conditions in each universe become apparent, how wonderful, and in my ambitious moments, I yearned toward that ultimate dimension, toward what must surely be the real heaven, the tenth dimension, where everything becomes possible and imaginable.


My father’s dead name is Schrödinger. He is at once deceased and present, gone, not gone, in two dimensions or states or worlds or places at the same time. The not gone of my father may dwell in one of those string-theoretical dimensions between five and ten, going on as a dark particle version of who he is before he runs his MG roadster into a telephone pole on the road from Nowra; who he is before the impact tosses him onto a field of emerald grass where he lies with a jutty of brain matter poking from a crack in his skull, and the Friesian cows, who are often terrible busybodies, rest their cuds for a moment and make elaborate cow eyes at the accident, and briny mist drifts in from where the Tasman Sea bludgeons the beach, foaming almost to the sandy toes of dunes covered in thickets of banksia and pigface: dead on arrival, and the death unlikely to have been lyrical for my father. My mother decides not to inform me of my father’s death, “The child is so young and can’t possibly understand it, what is the point, Christmas is just around the corner.” Nor am I allowed at my father’s funeral, the cremation, his ashes cast into Botany Bay. I am parked at the house of Great-Aunt Clarice Willoughby, who writes bodice-rippers and has always doubted my parents’ marriage and is happy to stay at home with the child, a glass of Amontillado, and a pack of Tarot cards. She says she saw this coming, look, The Tower. I already prefer The World with its image of a naked woman pink and floating above the planet, and that is close to what I finally get.

Almost seventy years after, when the night does not move and the Southern Cross stands above the downtown teeth of Naarm, I hear my father’s little car stuttering outside the house. He has travelled from wherever dimension, whatever world, to be with me. I feel his eyes through the glass, and the smell of my father, which is the smell of salt and ozone and fresh wood shavings and dust and eucalyptus and avgas and, unaccountably, anise, drifts in. He is there but he cannot speak to me. I cannot see him, yet I feel him, can he feel me? His little car rumbles, his scents turn in the night air. He is come from some enigmatic where, but has he come bearing messages from another dimension or are these encounters with the father only instantiations of what Maria Török says is the fixated child’s unwavering hope that one day the object would once again be what it was in the privileged moment? I don’t know.

Jean-Marie Saget, 1973


I am flying into the unknown, Jean-Marie Saget tells France-Soir before he climbs into the cockpit of the Dassault Mirage 4000 twinjet fighter aircraft prototype, I am going to the other side! There is some chance Saget may not return from the unknown, but in the end it is the Mirage 4000 itself that vanishes forever into obscurity since the only serious order for the type comes from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which cancels when the United Kingdom agrees to accept oil as payment for a fleet of British Aerospace Tornado fighter jets, and the single Mirage 4000 prototype which had taken Jean-Marie Saget to the other side is turned into a Dualit toaster or something else shiny. Maybe my father simply flew too far to the other side to properly return and that is what death is: too far to come back as yourself, I don’t know, but I do know that Martin Heidegger knew that no matter how close to death you get, the living cannot be more than alongside the deaths of others. I never really know what death is, let alone where it is, and maybe it’s not important, gone is gone even when it is not gone in some part of me or not gone in some other place I’ve yet to know.


Fairy consults some Moroccan shaman in Switzerland. She returns from some suburb of Basel to tell me that losing a parent so young is like some train accident. The locomotive slams into an oncoming train. The collision sets off a chain of damage as the carriages behind collide horrendously into one another, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang across time and generations. “You have been reading Sigrid Weigel,” I say, “that télescopage stuff,” and Fairy looks at me with oceanic eyes and tender like she sometimes is, and she says, “Not that, only that nothing ends, and I’ve heard you crying over that Luther Vandross song about fathers,” and she is right, that song does make me cry. And she is wrong. Every life and every thing do end or at least transubstantiate. It is only dimensionality that is eternal. Time and what time contain do not end, and all times are equally real: December 13, 1954, my father alive and making clever jokes; December 14, 1954, father turned an injured lilac color on a steel table at the morgue. Then might be as real now as it was then.

I’m in a club then near Calle Hamburgo at three in the morning with Cuauhtémoc. We are working through thirteen different mezcals drawn from bottles lined up on the glittering bar. I’ve been down in San Cristobal de las Casas for three months about a year after the Zapatista rebellion and everybody in Chiapas holding their breath, especially the Maya people, who wait to be punished by the state as they have usually been punished by the state. In the mornings, mist from cloud forest fingers the zocalo, and the days are short and cold at that elevation. I grow afraid of something; so fearful do I grow I exercise my privilege and fly away and go to this club in the Zona Rosa where Cuauhtémoc’s lips are upon my ear, and he tells me we live in a kind of cosmic painting. “Everything is teotl,” he says and a lot more I don’t understand then or even now but much later when I am back in the Green Mountains and snow falling in sheets outside the windows of the library I read: There are no absolute beginnings—or absolute endings, for that matter—in Aztec metaphysics. There are only continuings. Death, for example, is not an ending but a change of status, as that which dies flows into and feeds that which lives. All things are involved in a single, never-ending process of recycling and transformation. There is furthermore no time prior to or after teotl since time is defined wholly in terms of teotl’s becoming. Nor is there space outside of teotl since space, too, is defined wholly in terms of teotl’s becoming. I take this to mean that in some way I fail to properly understand, all times and all spaces—the fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth dimensions, here, there, then, now, tomorrow, that black hole—exist as themselves and exist also at a point at which their particular temporal and spatial distinctions vanish. The mask makers of Tlatilco and Oaxaca sell double-faced masks, one half a living face, the other a skull. There is no opposition in them, however, no alive versus dead, no good against evil. Although death, life, good, and evil are present in the two-faced masks of Tlatilco and Oaxaca, they are teotl; death and life and good and evil do not exist in polarity to one another but in a kind of swirling rotation, a teotlizing that spins us all into wisdom.


On a steaming day of the 1943 monsoon season in the second year of the Japanese occupation, in what is now that part of Malaysia just across from Singapore, dimensions and spaces suddenly overlap like the imbricated parts of a Venn diagram. Three soldiers of the Japanese Southern Army grab Mariam Johari from the fruit stall in the market at Plentong where she sells durian, jackfruit, rambutan, mangosteen, little sugary bananas, star fruit as yellow as lemons but sweet, and anything else she can get. The soldiers put Mariam Johari and her fruit, except the durian, into the back of a wheezing Nissan 180 truck where there are already a dozen other young women, most of them local Teochow Chinese by the look of them, but three Malays. Mariam Johari makes four. She is gone.

The abduction itself goes unmentioned by the grandparents with whom Mariam Johari’s three small children, two girls and a boy, now live. The grandparents dread to speak of Mariam Johari at all for fear that their neighbors and the kampung imam will say she has gone to fornicate with Japanese kafirs which is a terrible sin even if the fornication is without consent. For the children, it is as though their mother has gone to another dimension, another world, and after a few weeks, they don’t even look along the lane which skirts the rubber trees to see if she might be coming home. Yet, come home their mother eventually does, appearing in the rain of another monsoon in November, 1945, like a visitor from a distant planet, her hair uncovered, wearing a Chinese style dress of peacock blue satin, lips as spiked and as red as the husks of lychees, and something has happened to her eyebrows. Mariam Johari reappears to her children in the company of a young soldier wearing a khaki uniform stripped of insignia. “He is not Japanese,” she tells her father, “but Korean.” This means nothing good to the father. He turns his face away and leaves the veranda without speaking. The Korean soldier offers coffee-flavored candies to the children, who pop them into their mouths and suck them silently and watch Mariam Johari have a conversation in hisses with her mother, whose message seems to be you can’t stay, they are killing women who did things with the Japanese, you had better go away. “I am going away,” Mariam Johari says to her children. She tells them that she will return with coconut butter biscuits, and then she is gone.

The children wait for their mother to appear again. They wait until they are adults and parents themselves with houses and mangosteen trees of their own near Kota Tinggi, not far from the tomb of Sultan Mahmud II at Kampung Makam, Village of Tombs. The children wait for their mother and the coconut butter cookies until they are grandparents and old, and still their mother does not return, nor any letter, well, she can’t read or write, but no message passes from mouth to mouth either. When it comes up, they say, “Oh, our mother is dead, the war,” but they don’t mean it. Rather, they feel as though their mother has removed to somewhere unimaginable and unknowable and in that other world is now somebody or something else.

The son sees a news story on 8TV about a Korean Broadcasting System television producer from Seoul who is in Singapore looking for the children of Mariam Johari. The son calls the number on the screen and within a couple of weeks the children who are now grandparents are in Seoul where they have two reunions with an old Korean woman called Kim Soon Ae who wears traditional Korean dresses shaped like bells and is also, apparently, their mother. The first reunion is almost intimate in the green room at KBS studios. There are tears, although not from the eyes of Kim Soon Ae. The second reunion occurs under lights and before cameras on the set of Love in Asia, a popular television series about romances between Koreans and foreigners. “Come home now, ibu,” they say to Kim Soon Ae who is also their mother, but she doesn’t seem to understand Bahasa Malay, and she has a Korean son, a Korean grandchild, and nobody in Seoul refers to her as Mariam Johari, it’s only Kim Soon Ae.

Yet, this little old Korean woman is their mother, and they argue and plead, almost threaten, and a few months later, Kim Soon Ae comes to Kota Tinggi as Mariam Johari in a great circus of publicity for the Korean television network and for the fiftieth anniversary of Malaysia. She stays a couple of weeks. The children who are now grandparents tell the television and newspapers how happy they are to have their mother back and she is home now, but even arrayed in a turquoise hijab, the woman who is their mother seems like matter out of place. She cannot manage a single enunciation of the Shahada: There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah. She wants to go home. She does not want to stay here and tells her children through a translator that the place is bad for her health, and she disappears again, although the children know now where it is she goes in late September 2007, their mother is not here.

Kim Soon Ae who used to be Mariam Johari dies in Seoul. She leaves detailed instructions about what to do with her remains and how to do it, but even so, an ugly fight breaks out over where her remains should be and did she die a Muslim or a Christian? Her Korean son surrenders and again Mariam Johari comes back from another world to her children here who are now grandparents and her embalmed remains are buried in the red dirt behind the masjid where Sultan Mahmud II is entombed, not too far from where the children live, and once a week, the children totter down the road with their arms full of red and yellow Heliconia spears for their mother’s grave and she is still not here and every day they look in the mirror for her but see only their own old, sad faces. The imam’s wife sees the old children attending the headstone. She knows the whole story she thinks, and she thinks, this world, those other places that might not be places at all, my love for our baby boy, that grief of theirs, it is all one God.


This world was meant to bend, says the Igbo spirit within Ada’s body in Akwaeke Emezi’s Freshwater, but only great mass and perhaps great kinesis can make “this world” bend into a curve steep enough to permit movement between here and other dimensions or to parallel universes and mirror worlds. We owe the unfailingly popular theory of multiple worlds to the American physicist, Richard Everett III, who suggested that beyond the physical realities we can observe, the entire universe may be described by a gigantic wave function holding within it all possible realities, including two realities in the future unraveled from one reality and two more realities unraveled from the two unraveled realities and so on until multiple worlds appear. In the multiverse hypothesis, the universe is everything and infinite, but the universe is also only what we can see, and there may be other Big Bangs than our own Big Bang, and thus, other universes than our own universe. Andrei Linde talks about endless universes squeezing and popping out of each other like bubbles in a chaotic and eternal inflation of universes, each with its own laws of physics.Richard Feynman made diagrams of all the possible outcomes of electromagnetic interactions between electrons and photons. These Feynman Diagrams have myriad uses. They also suggest a complex fanning out of multifarious, perhaps endless, trajectories toward realities (outcomes), and only the most probable trajectory, usually the shortest, gets to the universe you and I know as real. Some other outcomes might be M (for mirror) worlds or here we are in O (for original) world. M-worlds may seem to be the stuff of science fiction like the clever television series, Counterpart, but they are a formal hypothesis of quantum mechanics. In Counterpart, a bridge between the O-world and the M-world opens, and the drama begins there, for in the mirror worlds hypothesis, the mirror and the original worlds are symmetrical except perhaps for a pubic hair here but not there, but in Counterpart, one world interferes in the politics of the other world and symmetry is lost with horrific consequences, which are often necessary for television series although not perhaps for quantum mechanics in which mirror worlds may be permanently shut off from original worlds, shadows we and they can never see, never see our shadow selves, never see that mirrored labradoodle.


Amanda Lear removed all mirrors from wherever it is she lives, Paris or somewhere steep and sunlit in Provence or both, though I suppose London is not out of the question. Everywhere Amanda Lear lives she has removed every mirror which seems out of character for the Amanda Lear character until it becomes clear that she has replaced all the mirrors in her homes with video cameras and screens which she uses  to freeze frame herself, face tune herself, edit her images, and stop herself looking anything other than exactly how she wants herself to look. In this way, for Amanda Lear, Amanda Lear’s O-face and M-face are no longer asymmetrical, but the rest of us might ask, which Amanda Lear is the mirror, and do you even know who Amanda Lear is?


Full of visions that might seem hackneyed now but were not then, Antonin Artaud goes to Mexico in 1936, not specifically for teotl but in search of, he says,

a sort of movement deep in Mexico in favour of a return to the civilization from before Cortez

The perfect example of primitive civilization with a spirit of magic

healers and sorcerers on lost plateaux forests which speak and where the sorcerer with burnt fibres of Peyote and Marijuana still finds the terrible old man who teaches him the secrets of divination

The basis of a magical culture which can still gush forth the forces of the Indian earth

the Mexicans of today dressed in the costumes of their ancestors, carrying out real sacrifice to the sun on the steps of Teotihuacan

It could be said that Antonin Artaud goes to Mexico as a way of crossing to another world beyond the world of his unhappy life in France, beyond the workings of his own mind, his disappointment with not-surreal-enough Surrealism, his poverty, and oh, the debts, but what he really goes for is in search of the bridge to another universe or to god.

Antonin Artaud (1896-1948). Self portrait, December 1947. 64 x 50 cm. Paris, Centre Pompidou, Musée national d’Art Moderne / Centre de création industrielle, legs de Mme Paule Thévenin, 1994. © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Philippe Migeat. © ADAGP, Paris 2014.

He does not find it. He returns to Paris and predicts the end of dimensionality and reality as we know them and the arrival of a Star which will occupy the entire surface of the air.  He is now thought to be lunatic, and he is forced into the psychiatric clinic of Ste. Anne where he has one session with Jacques Lacan who pronounces Artaud chronically and incurably insane. Lacan is an erotomaniac, Artaud writes, hitting the nail on the head. In 1941, Robert Desnos, who is soon to die in the Theresienstadt concentration camp, has Artaud transferred to the asylum at Rodez, far enough, Desnos hopes, from the German government of occupied France and its plans to cleanse France of Jews and lunatics although, about this risk to himself, Artaud seems indifferent. He sees Adolf Hitler as a divine agent of the destruction necessary for the birth of a new world. At Rodez, Artaud undergoes fifty-one electro-convulsive therapy treatments unmodified by muscle relaxants and a dozen or so insulin comas intended to cure the sickness of his mind by inducing epileptoid seizures and silent coma. He stops writing, but he draws, and in Artaud’s Rodez drawings, the body is often crucially doubled just as life itself and theatre itself are doubled in his earlier writings, as if Artaud is trying to show us a parallel or mirror world, another universe, or to show himself, but we do not see it, and even after the Germans have gone and Artaud is living comfortably in the garden pavilion at the Ivry-sur-Seine psychiatric clinic, hard at work, rectal cancer eating the rest of him, we still do not see what Artaud wants us to see, what Artaud wants Artaud to see, where he wants to be, and Artaud starts screaming, his concern now is with infinity.


As a child, Jeffrey Dahmer played games in which he consigned stick figure people to a black hole, that baffling symbol of all kinds of other-dimensionality, other-worldliness, and cosmic mystery. The event horizon was too much for the poor stick figures. They never returned. This Jeffery Dahmer story makes me worry about myself and my own yearning for the other side and for the alien infinite. Might I be on the slippery slope to cannibalistic serial killer, I wonder. I do like to nip at my lovers, though not to make lunch of them and not in any throe of passion, but to test the meat of them before I go any further, and I do live in a world in which trans women can be depicted as grotesque serial killers—Psycho, Silence of the Lambs, Dressed to Kill. It was hard not to wonder about myself (demon?) although, while Jeffrey Dahmer consigned other people to the infinite, I want to consign myself and not forever, if possible. I imagine returning with fabulously perplexing stories, a travel writer like no other because seeing the infinite, seeing the eighth or fifth dimension, another universe, a mirror world, the far side of a black hole surely transforms everything you do from ordinary to astonishing.


By his own admission, until he saw the other side, Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote didactic poems. The doubled, mirrored, limitless worlds of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and “Kubla Khan” were hidden to him until the milk of paradise, otherwise known as laudanum (alcohol spiked with raw opium), revealed both grandeur and horror in equal measure. In his notebook, Coleridge wrote:

a dusky light—a purple flash

crystalline splendour—light blue—

       Green lightnings—

in that eternal and delirious (misery)

      wrath fires—

                   inward desolations 

an horror of great darkness

         great things—on the ocean
                   counterfeit infinity


Many of the men who painted miniatures to illuminate a manuscript or for collection in private muraqqa albums in fourteenth to sixteenth century Persia caught glimpses of other worlds and other dimensions after eating or drinking opium. If you look carefully at the backgrounds of some Persianate miniatures, you may find hosts of uncanny faces and figures floating in the clouds or embedded in rocks. You may see skulls, a dragon, worm-like creatures watching the foreground of the painting where the main story occurs. Only the beyond ultimately concerns us. The sense of a permanent power of transcendence over all limits—of openness to the infinite—is inseparable from the experience of consciousness, says Roberto Mangabeira Unger, but were Coleridge and the Persian miniaturists working at the opening between limit and limitless or just stoned out of their heads?

Mevlevi Sufi


Those Mevlevi Sufi in Konya spin themselves into the infinite. They whirl and turn in the sema, that dance and song attributed to Rumi, but not Rumi. Around and around they go, pale skirts and tall hats, ecstasy just beneath the skin. Those Mevlevi Sufi pivot on the left foot, lift the right leg, put one hand up to heaven and one hand down to earth. Their heads do not move so that syncope does not get them. They do not fall down; they do not vomit like turning little girls in an Australian gloaming fall down and vomit. Those Mevlevi Sufi in Konya spin for an hour, and in that turning, they extinguish who they are here, and they enliven who they are there in another dimension. Their tall black hats signify the tombstone, their black cloaks connote the tomb, and their flaring skirts mean the shroud, but those Mevlevi Sufi at Konya are not dying, they are life itself stretched across two dimensions, the mundane and the divine, this world and that world, and around they go, how they do turn, twirling off the lip of the planet, spinning beyond the limit of the circle which is not set at the edge but at the utmost center where truth and purity barely move at all.

Watching those Mevlevi Sufi at Konya turning and turning and turning you cannot but want to turn and turn too and follow them to wherever it is they go, and if you have a spare couple of hundred dollars, thirty-thousand yen, eighty pounds sterling, one hundred euro, you can learn dervish turning too. For a fee, you can spin until things seem better or at least different to here, for isn’t that why so many human beings scan the far horizons, what we wonder about and long for now at the end of the world: a new dimension or another universe; a world much like this world only disentangled from the past of our world; a world not on fire, not drowning, not riven by injustice and greed, not dancing to the song of more, kaboom, more, ka-ching, more, more; a home not subjected to the sight of nauseatingly wealthy men paying hundreds of millions of dollars to ride a rocket into near space as though their own excitement and the spectacle of priapic machines nuzzling up to the lips of the void might be enough to save us?


It’s a fight to get out past the shore break. I don’t know what I am doing. The waves slap me down and the local guys on their boards give me that you-fucking-stupid-haole-chick look but not necessarily nasty, and I pretend I am not really there until a thick, smooth wave swells up just right and I catch it just right and it’s that liquid surge I’m riding until I am not, until the wave stands up and crashes over me and I lose the boogie board and the wave sucks me under, drags me out toward Mexico, rolls me back toward the shore, crashes me, bangs me on the bottom, turns me, lashes me, flogs me, spins and twirls me, and I am astounded, I am shocked, delighted. I don’t fight it. I want the ocean to transport me far, to make me better or at least different, to lose me in some submarine universe. I am right at the sublime here, in the way that Tsang Lap-Chuen means sublime: beyond Kantian sublimity and images of the Crucifixion; past art to sublime as an instance of a transcendental limit-situation, not accident but an extreme encounter chosen and met for its potential to bend this world, to put me on the bridge between here and there. Yet not yet, for the wave hawks me suddenly up onto the beach like a piece of pink rubbish, and my skin burning as if some re-entry scorches me. Teva Siu stands in the sun with my board. “That shore break here. You nearly lost it,” he says, but I think I nearly found it. That night we go to Kahala Beach and make out on the sand. I look up to the heavens where Perseid meteors streak the sky with silver fire. Teva Siu puts his lips on my breast which is so hard and round a planet might be in it. He whispers, ‘Nous sommes poussières d’étoiles.’ Those Tahitians, I think.


Krishna opens his mouth when Yashoda asks it of him. He has nothing to hide from his mother. She peers in, and there, beyond Krishna’s cerulean lips, his little white teeth, and his shining pink tongue, she sees endless universes, each with its own heaven and hell and every plane in between. Krishna’s mother sees in her boy’s mouth innumerable firmaments above continents, islands set in infinite oceans. In her son’s mouth, Yashoda sees storms, winds, toppling clouds and daggers of lightning, moons, planets, suns, and stars, black holes and coral reefs, vast nebulae and cosmic clouds, webs of energy. She sees everything probable and all possibilities and every hope and disappointment. She sees herself. “What am I seeing?” Yashoda wonders, “Can this be real?” and as soon as she thinks the question, she forgets what she has seen within Krishna’s pretty little mouth, and she puts the child on her knee and tells him to stop eating dirt.

With many thanks to Lucca Fraser and Jackie Ess.

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