Extra-cultural reviews by synaesthetes, symbolists, and strangers.
A slightly “off” one-of-a-kind Tarot-like deck of cards stands at the center of John Crowley’s novel Little, Big –- or perhaps it would be better to say those cards fan out from one end of the novel to the other, though there is nothing random or happenstantial in their fall. Samuel R. Delany’s Nova also makes extensive use of Tarot lore. Italo Calvino’s The Castle of Crossed Destinies, which I haven’t read, is built explicitly around a Tarot deck, whose cards are reproduced as part of the text; what I don’t know is whether Calvino built his tale from casting those cards, as Crowley and Delany surely did not for theirs. Philip K. Dick famously cast the I Ching at every major plot-point in The Man in the High Castle, and wove what he skried into his story’s further unfolding.
I recently watched the first several episodes of the superb but short-lived HBO series Carnivale. Its opening credit sequence uses Tarot cards as so many doors, and the camera’s eye soars through them, entering other realms through some, backing out through others. What is painted and what is seen transmogrify into one another; neither is originary. The effect is ravishing.
Alexa D’Avalon read my cards in 1988 and recorded the session, which I later transcribed, and damned if her insights don’t still apply today. Her cards, or rather her words about their once-upon-a-time fall, are still doorways, or jambs anyway, frames that, the twice-a-decade I revisit her reading, allow me to see the changing changeless landscape of my life and soul in a uniquely revealing light. Amazing.
I think what Tarot, like I Ching or any sophisticated, highly nuanced divination system, “reads” is the insatiable fractal complexity of the present moment — the present moment in motion, a now short or long. But that complexity is not capturable on a level of one-to-one correspondence, and so the divinatory signs become pale — if highly suggestive — reflections of both its arrangement (vis a vis the diviner or divinee) and trajectory. Certain elements of that complexity are changing faster than any eye could follow, others are measurable only in aeons, while most fall — or rise — between.
And perhaps that’s all storytelling is as well, however different the instrumentality: an engine, and we the fuel, and the quality of each together makes all the difference as to the nature of the resulting combustion. “Unlimited mythopoesis”, perhaps? Or “unlimited semiosis”, as Delany would have it? “Only in the intertwine / with others of unlike mind.”
Two great novels of story-as-engine are John Crowley’s Engine Summer and Samuel R. Delany’s Neveryona, or: The Tale of Signs and Cities. Elsewhere, in Section 9.82 of his short novel The Tale of Plagues and Carnivals, Delany disembowels storytelling’s monsters – and yet still they roam, demons packed tightly into every dark. Crowley recently said to me that storytelling is the only magic there is. Dare we hope it’s true? Or should we fear it’s so? I wonder.