The Double

When Mr. Daguerre and others at long last discovered the proper alchemical formula (mercury, silver, sunlight) for impressing a picture of light on metal and later celluloid and paper, it is as if a dimensional doorway opened between two universes, and in the course of this century our entire reality has been sucked into the virtual realm of the image like air being sucked into a vacuum. When these manufactured images were assembled in sequence the element of time was captured, and the spell was complete. This was one of the greatest works of magic ever produced by the hands of a human being. In hermetic terms Daguerre opened a doorway to the astral worlds, the world of dreams, and in the process the species began to lose its ability to distinguish between the world of dreams and the consensual world we call reality.

Perhaps this was not such a new thing. Perhaps the alchemy of the industrial age simply returned us to the ancient world of shamans and sorcerers. In terms of the methodologies of these ancient practitioners we created a "double" and transferred our awareness and a large part of our spirit to the double's realm. We constructed a mirror of our world, called "Popular" or "Mass Culture," made of the shapes, colors and sounds that trigger our collective longing to belong. Perhaps this is the Smoking Mirror of the great Aztec God Tezcatlipoca, who gives eternal battle to his rival Quetzalcoatl. The Smoking Mirror of science and illusion has achieved such a detailed replication of the outer world that it is difficult, or maybe impossible, to distinguish a border where one world begins and the other ends.

We worship the double. For a vast number it has taken the place once claimed by religion. We shuffle into dark halls or gather around an electronic screen and open ourselves completely to what is revealed. We talk about movies and television shows with the passion and emotion once jealously reserved for the sacred.

The essential nature of the double is that it can travel backwards and forwards in time. Indeed, it can invent time, manipulate time, create illusions of time passing or standing still. Time, as it were, is the basic building block out of which the sacred is wrought. Time is the substance of ritual, the framework of bars and stanzas upon which emotion and perception is woven.

Like a prayer wheel we turn our wishes into images and send them out into the world like trial balloons taking readings of our future. Like Jekyll's Hyde we invest the double with our most extreme appetites and fears and send them out as counterspells to collect and then to dissipate their destructive effect on reality. Like Mr. Hyde we have gotten tangled in a weird struggle for power, over the very facts of our own future.

When we look into the mirror what is it that we see? If we don't like what we see do we just flip the channel? Ultimately the machineries of the spectacle only serve our spoken desires. Desire is the magic word. When we look around at the world we have summoned out of the Smoking Mirror we must ask ourselves what we truly desire. Is it death? Is it self destruction? Is it total transformation? Are we driven by dreams of guilt? Or dreams of hope? Who is this we see? Is it really us or is it only the double?

In my fantasy, as we approach the final times, the time comes when we become conscious enough to perceive the mechanisms of our self-deceit and possibly to throw them away. A great silence settles over the televised horizon. We finally ask ourselves whether we have the patience to sit through something over which we have no real influence or control. Perhaps we want to find out what it's like to come from somewhere, to live somewhere, to have parents, family, friends, cultural ties, ancestors, guardian spirits, all the things that the spectacle takes away.

In my fantasy we finally turn away from the mirror just in time to avoid hitting the mountain. We break the spell of the double and take it back inside of ourselves and for the first time in generations we set our eyes once more upon the world.

Ralph Melcher is a freelance editor and essayist living in Santa Fe, New Mexico.