The Drowned World

All the way down the creek, perched in the windows of the office blocks and department stores, the iguanas watched them go past, their hard frozen heads jerking stiffly… Without the reptiles, the lagoons and the creeks of office blocks half-submerged in the immense heat would have had a strange dream-like beauty, but the iguanas and basilisks brought the fantasy down to earth. As their seats in the one-time board-rooms indicated, the reptiles had taken over the city. Once again they were the dominant form of life.

Already many of the surrounding buildings had disappeared beneath the proliferating vegetation. Huge club mosses and calamites blotted out the white rectangular faces, shading the lizards in their window lairs. Beyond the lagoon, the endless tides of silt had begun to accumulate into enormous glittering banks, here and there overtopping the shoreline like the immense tippings of some distant goldmine. The light drummed against his brain, bathing the submerged levels below his consciousness, carrying him downwards to warm pellucid depths, where the nominal realities of time and space ceased to exist. Guided by his dreams, he was moving back into his emergent past, through a succession of ever stranger landscapes centered on the lagoon, each of which seemed to represent one of his own spinal levels.

Each man is an island unto itself" - Strangman

His unconscious was rapidly becoming a well-stocked pantheon of tutelary phobias and obsessions, homing onto his already over-burdened psyche like lost telepaths.

If you like, you could call this the psychology of total equivalence, let’s say neuronics for short, and dismiss it as biological fantasy. However, I am convinced as we move back through geophysical time, so we reenter the amnionic corridor, and move back through spinal and archeopsychic time, recollecting in our unconscious minds the landscapes of each epoch, each with a distinct ecological terrain, its own flora and fauna, as recognizable to anyone else as they would be to a traveller in a Wellsian time machine. Except that this is no scenic railway, but a total reorientation of the personality. If we let these buried phantoms master us as we reappear, we’ll be swept back helplessly in the floodtide like pieces of flotsam.

Just before dawn, when the pain became unbearable, he took one of the morphine tablets and fell off into a loud, booming sleep, in which the great sun expanded until it filled the entire universe, the stars themselves jolted by each of its beats.

(Logically–for what had a more gloomy prognosis than life?–every morning one should say to one's friends: 'I grieve for your irrevocable death,' as to anyone suffering from an incurable disease, and was the universal omission of this minimal gesture of sympathy the model for their reluctance to discuss the dreams?)

Nothing endures for so long as fear. Everywhere in nature one sees evidence of innate releasing mechanisms literally millions of years old, which have lain dormant through thousands of generations but retained their power undiminished. The field rat’s inherited image of the hawk’s silhouette is the classic example - even a paper silhouette drawn across a cage sends it rushing frantically for cover. And how else can you explain the universal but completely groundless loathing of the spider, only one species of which has ever been known to sting? Or hatred of snakes and reptiles? Simply because we all carry within us a submerged memory of the time when the giant spiders were lethal, and when the reptiles were the planet’s dominant life form.

Nothing endures for so long as fear. Everywhere in nature one sees evidence of innate releasing mechanisms literally millions of years old, which have lain dormant through thousands of generations but retained their power undiminished. The field-rat’s inherited image of the hawk’s silhouette is the classic example—even a paper silhouette drawn across a cage sends it rushing frantically for cover. And how else can you explain the universal but completely groundless loathing of the spider, only one species of which has ever been known to sting? Or the equally surprising—in view of their comparative rarity—hatred of snakes and reptiles? Simply because we all carry within us a submerged memory of the time when the giant spiders were lethal, and when the reptiles were the planet’s dominant life form.

Overhead the sky was dull and cloudless, a bland impassive blue, more the interior ceiling of some deep irrevocable psychosis than the storm-filled celestial sphere he had known during the previous days.

Strangman shrugged theatrically. "It might," he repeated with great emphasis. "Let's admit that. It makes it more interesting—particularly for Kerans. 'Did I or did I not try to kill myself?' One of the few existential absolutes, far more significant than 'To be or not to be?', which merely underlines the uncertainty of the suicide, rather than the eternal ambivalence of his victim." He smiled down patronisingly at Kerans as the latter sat quietly in his chair, sipping at the drink Beatrice had brought him. "Kerans, I envy you the task of finding out—if you can.

That wasn’t a true dream, but an ancient organic memory millions of years old. The innate releasing mechanisms laid down in your cytoplasm have been awakened. The expanding sun and rising temperatures are driving you back down to the spinal levels into the drowned seas of the lowest layers of your unconscious, into the entirely new zone of the neuronic psyche. This is the lumbar transfer, total psychic recall. We really remember these swamps and lagoons.

The brief span of an individual life is misleading. Each one of us is as old as the entire biological kingdom, and our bloodstreams are tributaries of the great sea of its total memory. The uterine odyssey of the growing foetus recapitulates the entire evolutionary past, and its central nervous system is a coded time scale, each nexus of neurones and each spinal level marking a symbolic station, a unit of neuronic time.

These are the oldest memories on earth, the time codes carried in every chromosome and gene. Every step we’ve taken in our evolution is a milestone inscribed with organic memories. From the enzymes controlling the carbon-dioxide cycle, to the organization of the brachial plexus and the nerve pathways of the pyramid cells of the mid-brain. Each is a record of a thousand decisions taken in a chemical crisis. Just as psychoanalysis reconstructs the original traumatic situation in order to release the repressed material, so we are now being plunged back into the archaeopsychic past, uncovering the ancient taboos and drives that have been dormant for epochs.

The slower a clock, the nearer it approximated to the infinitely gradual and majestic progression of cosmic time - in fact, by reversing a clock's direction and running it backwards one could devise a time-piece that in a sense was moving even more slowly than the universe, and consequently part of an even greater spatio-temporal system.

The trouble with you people is that you've been here for thirty million years and your perspectives are all wrong. You miss so much of the transitory beauty of life.

To use the symbolic language of Bodkin’s scheme, he would then be abandoning the conventional estimates of time in relation to his own physical needs, and entering the world of total neuronic time, where the massive intervals of the geological timescale calibrated his existence. Here, a million years was the shortest working unit, and the problems of food and clothing were as irrelevant as they would have been to a Buddhist contemplative lotus-squatting before an empty rice bowl under the protective canopy of the million-headed cobra of eternity.