Moon #9: “The Hierophant Plays it Loose”
“The museum is where the wondrous goes to die. You know that once it’s in a museum, it’s over.”
Mike Daisey kicks off Part Nine of All the Faces of the Moon, which took place on Friday September 13th, 2013, by examining where all the superstitions about this unluckiest of days came from. It’s one of his more manic intros, zigzagging at lights-peed through a couple of topics – from the curse of thirteen to the way virgins and unicorns interact to the global diminution of wonder, which he likens to the climate crisis. We’ve excavated the wonder from the world and sealed it up in museums, he believes. One other point sticks out: the number thirteen came to be seen as unlucky in the twentieth century not because it was inherently bad, but because twelve was such a blessed and holy number. Adding one more to twelve is seen as an intrusion; an encroachment of the profane upon the sacred. Daisey wonders what this says about our culture – why not see the additional number as an honored guest? Why must the someone new always be an enemy?
Daisey brings two new guests to the table in this episode, but whether they are enemies or allies remains to be seen. First there’s “The Turk,” an ageless black market trader trapped in the body of a 10 year old boy. His name originates not from his race, but from the old “mechanical Turk” fortune telling machines, which were controlled by diminutive people from within. Operating out of a pawnshop on the Lower East Side and flanked by bodyguards, this Turk is obviously a major player in the occult world, a wheeler and dealer. Daisey’s old friend Gibbs has gone to him with a big ask: can the Turk transfer the mark that Death put on Daisey to Gibbs? It’s a touching offer from the typically cantankerous Gibbs, and the Turk will need something big in return to even consider it. Gibbs produces an grimy old Poland Springs bottle that contains a human soul. Gibbs assures the Turk that the contents of the bottle — like a museum in miniature — are wondrous and important. The Turk says he needs time to think about it.
Daisey refers to the other new character as “The Professor,” but we eventually learn that his name is Ren. After the Steve Jobs scandal, Daisey audited one of Ren’s courses at NYU and the two have since become friends. They meet in a pointedly average French bistro just after Daisey has told his wife Jean-Michele about his encounter with the specter of Death – a conversation he simply calls “difficult” without elaborating much further. Jean-Michele thinks he needs help – a different kind of help than his old magic buddy Gibbs. But Daisey has come to talk to Ren about what’s going on. Ren is an interesting addition to the “deck of cards” considering his focus is on “creative nonfiction.”
Daisey devotes a little time to one of the books Ren has written. A quick Google indicates that Ren is probably based on New Yorker contributor Lawrence Weschler, and his book, Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder, is real. It’s a real book about a real place that makes fake things seem real. The Museum of Jurassic Technology actually exists in Los Angeles, a self aware institution where fictional exhibits are dappled in with real ones. Visitors can try to guess which is which, but that’s not really the point. The point is that sometimes things that aren’t real — like a collection of Stereographic Radiographs of flowers or an exhibit about bats that can fly through walls — can still make you feel something true. And so in this one museum, perhaps the wonder lives on a little.
The fact that Daisey devotes so much time to it is almost like an artist’s signature. After all, isn’t All the Faces of the Moon Daisey’s own Museum of Jurassic Technology? In Daisey’s self-deprecating landscape of real people, memories, and super natural figures, the point is that they all feel equally true in Daisey’s telling of them. Following his difficult public confrontation with truth and fiction, Daisey now carefully weaves a fantastic landscape where the two cannot always be peeled apart easily — but why on Earth would you want to?
The episode ends at 3:47 pm, when Daisey’s eyes begin to bleed.