Dark Oases

Nov. 14, 2016

Whenever “reality” becomes depressing, I seek solace in works of imagination, particularly the dark oases provided by speculative, metaphysical, psychological horror literature, movies, and TV shows. The television series Black Mirror, Channel Zero, and Westworld especially invigorate my creativity. I am thankful for these intellectually stimulating, labyrinthine explorations of the psyche, dream worlds, cybernetic consciousness, and dystopian prophecies. More than ever, it seems, television programs, at least non-mainstream cable or Netflix shows, dare to challenge, confound, disturb, illuminate rather than to placate or numbly entertain. I was pleasantly surprised a few weeks ago when Westworld made perhaps the first television reference to a rather obscure scholarly work, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes, which I read many years ago. This revelatory work theorized that consciousness evolves, that the inner voice we now realize as being part of ourselves used to be perceived as something external, a voice of the gods. Whether or not the theory is true, it is thought-provoking. It makes one focus on the process of thought, opening up a mirror maze of self-reflective paradoxes and awakening the nightmare of solipsism I first encountered when reading Mark Twain’s “Mysterious Stranger.” Black Mirror, likewise, offered an enthralling paradox in its episode “San Junipero,” proposing the possibility of consciousness encoded in a virtual reality where paradise is an eternal state of mind. Although unlike Black Mirror and Westworld, Channel Zero is set in the past and present instead of an imaginary future, it also focuses on the relationship between consciousness, electronics (in this case, TV), and the unleashing of phantasmal monsters. I take joy in these fantasy worlds whose darkness offers at least some wisdom.


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Writings by Alison Armstrong