Where Do We Get Our Gods?

Somehow, Dennis Hopper got me in his car. Not the Easy Rider or the Waterworld Hopper, either. This was the Frank Booth version. Straight out of Blue Velvetor Hell—unbridled libidinal aggression and all. The unholy father, ruler of the eponymous American underworld. That weird, sadistic sex-mongrel motherfucker. That Frank Booth. The one that cried ‘Mommy’ between Isabella Rossellini’s open legs. A wolf in Lynchian clothing:

But sitting there in that car, it wasn’t Dennis Hopper playing Frank Booth. It was Frank Booth, who is Dennis Hopper, who is Frank Booth. I had no stars in my eyes. Those were tears. Booth wasn’t play-acting. There’s no faking those pulsing neck veins or those bloodshot eyes, pupils the size of pinheads. Booth had his hands wrapped white-knuckle around the steering wheel, the accelerator jammed through the floor. We were careening down a road, straight as an arrow. No trees, no mile markers, no lights, save for the dim headlamps and the glowing dash. I couldn’t read the time. It was the witching hour—that’s all I knew.

His mouth was open and beastly laughter billowed out of it. I covered my ears, yelled. His was a sort of chthonic mania, like the demon in his gut was playing his throat like a trumpet. Booth kept turning his head to look at me, and whenever he did, I became paralyzed, unable to pull myself from his gaze. It saw into me and his gaze upturned the nothingness inside me. I wanted to vomit. He saw it in my eyes and laughed even louder, drove even faster.

Then we stopped. It was a soft transition. One minute we were careening down the road, and the next, we were in a parking lot. But there were no buildings, only a solitary sodium-vapor lamp sizzling high above. I was sweating and trembling, and Booth killed the engine. Everything was silent save his breathing, which was heavy and perverse. The windows fogged from the heat his skin emanated. He turned towards me and grabbed my thigh, caressed it, using his other hand to unbuckle my seatbelt. “I am going to rape you,” he said, growling. His hands were rough with invisible barbs. Where he was touching me burnt like fire, like my blood was boiling under my flesh.

Though the terror was real, I realized then that I was dreaming. Only, I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t get out. Hopper’s hand was moving higher, his face was moving closer (like Hopper as Koopa in the Mario Brothers movie), and the more I struggled the louder he laughed. He wasn’t going to just rape me, he was going to subsume me. I was going to be subsumed by him. His was an infinite libido. His devilish benediction a la Blue Velvet“I’ll fuck anything that moves!” It made no difference that I was a man. His presence emasculated me. I would be destroyed. I screamed, but without sound. He breathed on my face. I was going to die.

When you realize you’re in a dream, it usually isn’t long before you wake up. If anything, the realization “I’m dreaming” is a synaptic glitch, as if half of your brain returns to waking consciousness before the other half can catch up. You’re not supposed to know you’re dreaming. You’re supposed to go to sleep and wake up. If you realize you’re dreaming, sometimes you can play with this twilight purgatory, and control it (lucid dreamers spend years perfecting this), but most often, the waking mind is more powerful—or at least more readily accessible—than the dreaming mind. The reality construed by dream consciousness does not correspond to the reality construed by the waking mind.

But what happens if you can’t get out? What happens if the dreaming half of the mind can’t catch up with the waking half? What if Frank Booth is about to decimate you? What if you can see your dead body laying in your bed? What then?

I began to mouth the words: “Jesus, save me!” I was weeping. I repeated the mantra again and again. I just wanted to live. Eventually, the words became audible, and that dark world began to fade. I felt myself drifting away, still repeating these saving words as a totemic gesture. And in an instant, I awoke. My eyes opened, and without meaning to, the words, “Jesus, save me!” escaped from me again, quickly absorbed by the whirr and drone of my window AC unit struggling against the midnight August heat.

I was trembling, covered in sweat, and my heart was racing. I knew it was ‘just a dream,’ but I felt that I had just barely gotten out of it alive. And on top of all of these things, as I turned on all of the lights in the room, drank a glass of cold water, and tried to calm down, I began to feel foolish. What can the Jesus Christ of the Mind do against the Frank Booth of the Mind?

Of all of the nightmares I’ve had, this one has stuck with me the most. I saw the gods in my head.

While there is a common thread in the international narratives of near death experiences (“a bright light, etc.”), the characters/archetypes that appear along the river vary. Different faces, same types. The transition to death is itself a dream, which is not unreal, but rather, a different type of reality. Perhaps, because it is so affecting, it is more than reality. It’s the realm of the gods. The gods, of course, don’t exist outside of the mind, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. In the metaphysical world, archetypes are universal. We’ve inherited the archetypes as tools for understanding the discrepancies—and miseries—of reality.

My archetype had the face of Frank Booth. I can only suppose that this is the face I’ve given to evil. And from this, I can only suppose that David Lynch might be a diviner—but that’s not a very original observation. David Lynch is a diviner, which is what makes his films so terrifying—or affecting. Blue Velvet (and Mulholland Drive, Eraserhead, Inland Empire, and Lost Highway) are dreams on film, and have informed the way my dreaming mind comprehends its own lucidity.

When I had this dream, just a few years ago, I was still new to David Lynch. I was still in that worshipful, neophyte mode, and I had mind of a young disciple. I absorbed everything, but I didn’t know how deep it would get into my headspace. Some of this was heightened by Slavoj Zizek’s experimental extrapolations of Lynch in his hard-to-find Pervert’s Guide to Cinema. Zizek uses Lacanian psychoanalysis to dissect the various tropes in Lynch’s films, such as the recurring presence of the Absolute Father (Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet, Robert Loggia in Lost Highway) or its malignant lack (Mulholland Drive, Eraserhead). Zizek depicts Booth nee Hopper as an unregulated id. Booth is Desire without checks and balances. Booth is id; the universal human idSome people have different names for it; Satan, Lucifer, Set, golem, evil, etc. In my head, on the precipice of an imagined death, my name for it was Frank Booth.

Jesus Christ, in this case, was intoned as the presence of something good (‘good’ as the opposite of ‘evil’ in the Western spiritual binary). But not an extrinsic power, or force called upon to escort Booth out of my brain. A combatant signifier. An illiterate floor scrubber living on the streets of New Dehli might have this same kind of dream, only without Frank Booth and Jesus Christ (though I don’t know if the ability to dream-conjure these figures is a sign of privilege, or is it symptomatic?).

I grew up in a Christian home. Jesus was put in my head at a young age, and he’ll probably show up there again someday. Our consciousness applies a metaphysical framework for our waking reality. It’s the only way we can make sense of things; Existence, Being, Tragedy, and so forth. In the same way, our subconsciousness has its own metaphysical framework; its own symbols, analogues, devices. Like the knowledge possessed by our subconsciousness, our access to this sub-metaphysical framework is slim. Dreams give us glimpses of it, but it’s beyond our conscious ability to manipulate it. The gods roam free. Unless the architecture of my mind undergoes a serious reformation (lightning strike, acid trip, etc.), Frank Booth will probably show up again. The real spiritual question: how do I prepare for his second coming? Can he be stopped?

It was only a few months after my dream (May 2010) that Dennis Hopper died, though Hollywood has forever immortalized him. In cinema, Frank Booth is eternal. David Lynch didn’t create a monster—he found one.

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3 Comments on “Where Do We Get Our Gods?”

  1. joshcovell
    June 13 2012 at 8:51 pm #

    This is just terrific, love the exploration of the ying and yang in various forms (good/evil, dream state/waking state). It’s terrifying (literally) and fascinating (psychologically) that you may have just had the standard Christian experience of running from the devil toward salvation, all in one sleep cycle.

    • Anobium
      June 13 2012 at 8:56 pm #

      I think that the real terror here—and subsequent feelings of foolishness—was that, however much I yearned for salvation, I couldn’t get it.

    • joshcovell
      June 13 2012 at 9:28 pm #

      Which I think is probably the more common and honest Christian experience.

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