Moon #27: “A Flaw in Your Judgment”
“The stars are an inhuman thing, but the constellations are ours. We tell the stories that connect them.”
Mike Daisey begins Episode 27 of his 29-part monologue, All the Faces of the Moon, with a sly reference to the government shutdown, which started on the day of this episode’s recording. And as he sets the scene for this episode, everything in New York, in his New York anyway, is shutting down. The series of mystically charged paintings commissioned by Steve Jobs and painted by Larissa Tokmakova are vanishing one by one and reappearing at various points across New York City, where they float invisible to everyone, except those who, like Daisey, are “clued in” to the occult. Each of the paintings represents a trump from the tarot deck, along with one of the worst moments from the city’s past or future.
This sequence reminded me of the scene near the end of Ghostbusters, when all the spirits are released and things just go crazy across New York. As Daisey says while chillingly describing this portentous occurrence, everything is in place and prepared for, just like the moment before the lights come up at the beginning of a play.
But Daisey finds himself at the other end of that metaphorical production, waiting for the curtain to fall. He has foreseen, in one of those same paintings, himself lying dead in a wrestling ring. Clearly, there is no hope that he will survive the Mexican wrestling match to which he has challenged Robert Moses. Moses, the “Small Man” who has controlled New York from the shadows for decades, draws his power from the city’s infrastructure and bureaucracy. Despite the support of his merry band of compatriots – his supportive wife/director Jean-Michele, his clued-in playwright friend Shelia, the gender-transient Dionysian heir Jack, and Burt, whose videos always go viral on the internet – Daisey comes to grips with his fate early in this episode.
But before that, we spend some time with Steve Jobs back in the mid-1990s; specifically at the moment when his second company, NeXT, seemed to fall apart and he decided to enter the world of the occult. From Phil, the man who taught Daisey the ropes about magic, Steve Jobs received the only legit copy of Carl Jung’s “red book.” The red book is a kind of dream journal within which Jung wrote and drew the horrifying things he discovered in the subconscious. In a particularly unnerving passage, Jobs looks within the book and sees an illustration of himself from just a moment before. Daisey magnificently takes a step back to fully appreciate the way the book takes hold of Jobs:
What if I told you that books own you? That every book you read is a spell cast upon you, often by someone long dead. Acting for purposes you don’t even understand, you give them root access to your subconscious. You let them run around in there. You give them all your thoughts and dreams and memories. You let them climb up inside of you. You idiots. But not this book, because this book is a mirror. This book is you. It always was.
When Jobs looks up from the book, he is joined by the Gebbeth – the physical manifestation of all the primal junk Jung unpacked in the book. We have only ever seen the creature, which take the physical form of whomever it is with, as a relentless killer, but because of the book it is under Jobs’ control. It speaks to him for months; coaching him on his every move in the business world and beyond. As Jobs’ success and power grew, we learn later that he set his sights on a higher goal – to change the way that business is done at the “Table.” The Table can be found at the top of the ladder of light in Manhattan. This is where all the bigwigs like Death and Fate sit and play the great game. It’s not Heaven per se, more like Mount Olympus. And Steve Jobs is going to use the nuclear explosion containied in the cigar box to blow it up. Those at the table – the “trumps” – will all be imprisioned in the paintings floating around New York. After that he will be free to bring other corporations to the table. Jobs’ plan is no less than total 21st century overhaul of the very platform of time and space – an iUniverse with him at the center.
One of the more amusing components of these later episodes of All the Faces of the Moon is Daisey’s imaginary biography of Steve Jobs. This narrative draws some raw, compelling power from the fact that Daisey spent a lot of time on the hard facts of Jobs’ life in The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, only to have the veracity of the piece nitpicked. Now, in an arena where he’s in TOTAL control of the information, Daisey has a lot of fun opening and closing the valve between what is real and what isn’t with Jobs. Daisey has convincingly painted the real Jobs as a creep, and here – hilariously – the storyteller will not even afford tech mogul his real-life successes outright. In reality, the late 90s/early 00s resurgence of Apple probably was ill-gotten on some level due to the issues with labor, etc., but here Daisey posits that these successes only occurred because Jobs consulted with – essentially – the Devil. Sure, the red book is a mirror and the Gebbeth represents the evil that was already there within him, but still it’s pretty funny the hardcore lengths Daisey goes to in vilifying this fictional version of Jobs.
Meanwhile, in the present, the Mexican wrestling match looms. After a confrontation between Daisey and Phil, which ends with Phil transforming into a bird and flying into a window, and a touching reunion between Livia and Saul, who at this point has absorbed the Gebbeth into himself, Daisey sets out for the match with Moses. It takes place at the crumbling remains of the 1964 World’s Fair in Flushing, an apt setting considering Moses’ involvement in that event.
Daisey’s appreciation for this site as a symbol clearly runs deep – as I have remarked before, in this narrative Daisey often finds himself faced with opponents who represent decaying institutions or problems left to fester. Here, the mid 1960s vision of utopia has given way to ruin and rust, just a thing we pass on our way in from the airport. With the eyes of all the spirits of 1964 upon them, each of the men dons a luchadore mask and begins the ceremonial posturing. The fight proves to be a quick and effective sequence. Daisey does die, though in Harry Potter style he is dead just long enough to fulfill the prediction of his demise. While dead, he is visited in an apocalyptic vision by Thomas Edison, who helps him see the shape of Jobs’ goal on a reflective black wall not unlike the Vietnam Memorial.
Upon awakening from his vision, Daisey defeats the Small Man by unmasking him while Burt videos it. His anonymity destroyed, Moses’ power evaporates. Jack, whose father was murdered by Moses, jams Berthold Brecht’s stiletto into the Small Man’s chest, vowing not to let him die. Elsewhere, Steve Jobs begins to climb the ladder and everyone feels it; they hear it like a trumpet blast.
Definitely the standout in the episode is the vision sequence, which Daisey communicates with haunting dexterity; the quote about the stars at the top of this write-up is from this section and it is simply spectacular. Here it is one more time:
“The stars are an inhuman thing, but the constellations are ours. We tell the stories that connect them.
I have certainly hyperbolized about Daisey a lot over the course of these 27 posts, but come on. That shit is straight up tombstone worthy. Most of the quotes I’ve pulled throughout this cycle of monologues can be difficult to grasp out of context, but this one is a perfect distillation of Daisey’s aesthetic and the trajectory of this narrative. I love it when things express themselves in miniature. It quite remarkably captures the very human desire to make sense of things much bigger than us and the power we derive from doing so. This is the next level of what Daisey was talking about with regards to books owning you – “the constellations are ours.” When we tell stories, not only do we own the listener, in many ways we own the subject, in much the same way that Daisey owns the fictional version of Jobs here. That’s the real power Daisey is dealing in. That’s the real magic.
Listen to the podcast at mikedaisey.com