Moon #19: “The Untitled”
“We use fiction that way. We tell a story to animate the past. All our ghosts live that way. We breathe our life into them and they surge to life every time. And that’s the act of knowing them. It’s a great magic. It’s a great magic we all possess.”
The quote above is meant literally with regards to Jack, the somewhat unwilling heir to Dionysus, who, in the Nineteenth Episode of Mike Daisey’s All the Faces of the Moon, uses a combination of his own memories and P.T. Barnum’s mystic hall of mirrors to conjure up a vision of his late father. And yet, as I approach the “back nine” of this 29-hole course, the concept of fiction as magic, as an all-powerful rejuvenating and illuminating force, frequently expresses itself in sneakier ways. Whether it manifests in the re-imagined biographies of contemporary and historical figures, like George Soros and Barnum, or in the enchantment surrounding bizarre artifacts, like the stiletto that was stabbed through Brecht’s heart, in all cases it is the stories – the ones Daisey tells about them – that give them their real power. What a remarkably potent notion in the hands of a capable storyteller like Daisey; almost a kind of abstract for All the Faces of the Moon as a whole.
Case in point – much of part nineteen is spent breathing vibrant new life into the past via Nikola Tesla, the infamous turn-of-the-twentieth-century inventor. We learn early on that the steampunk version of New York that we visited in the previous episode is actually a “bottle universe”; an intricate mystical prison designed by Daisey to hold both Telsa and his more famous rival Thomas Edison. In life, Daisey tells us, Tesla was “THE mad scientist,” citing an earthquake machine Tesla once used on New York (holy shit, for real!) and many other schemes that have since been “rolled back,” which is to say edited out of history by the self-correcting Universe. Cunningly, Daisey never tells us exactly what he went through with Tesla and Edison, but based on their interactions we can infer that Daisey imprisoned them after thwarting some world threatening escapade.
In a sequence that calls to mind both Superman’s Bottle City of Kandor and The Silence of the Lambs, Daisey descends into the micro-universe he created to appeal to his one-time nemesis. He needs to know who let Edison, described by Daisey as a “racist piece of shit,” out of the prison. Daisey’s wife Jean-Michele is sleeping nearby in the steampunk version of Brooklyn, and now we learn Daisey’s plan – he utilizes Jean-Michele’s ability to project her dreams to manipulate the landscape and robotic citizens of Tesla’s New York. Daisey hopes to intimidate the mad scientist into giving up the information he needs.
This swerve into unabashedly nerdy and hardcore sci-fi makes for a fun diversion, especially considering the heavy subject matter Daisey deals with elsewhere in the episode. One of the things about using fiction to animate the past is that in almost all cases, whether intend to or not, you end up bringing the dead back to life. “I love death so much,” Daisey says early on. “All the roads wind toward that black gate.” Daisey, who by his own admission, has approached Death’s door many times, morbidly entranced by the notion of total annihilation. He has literally faced Death and now he is a servant in Death’s employ.
Daisey and Jack aren’t the only one to confront something from the other side of the “black gate” in this episode. Even painter Larissa Tokmakova breaks form with this episode’s offering – gone are the vibrant colors and evocative compositions of all the previous episodes’ paintings. Here, we have a jet black void with something inhuman and unknowable peering out.
But it’s Gibbs, Daisey’s high school magic buddy, who truly gazes into the abyss in this episode. After an epic supernatural fight with the Jungian Shadow to cover Livia’s escape in the far Rockaways, he is hit by a car and slowly dies in the street. In his last moments he speaks through time and animates his own past, uttering the disembodied words that drew him to New York in the first place seven years ago.