Black Iron Prison



“Once, in a cheap science fiction novel, Fat had come across a perfect description of the Black Iron Prison but set in the far future. So if you superimposed the past (ancient Rome) over the present (California in the twentieth century) and superimposed the far future world of The Android Cried Me a River over that, you got the Empire, the Black Iron Prison, as the supra- or trans-temporal constant. Every¬one who had ever lived was literally surrounded by the iron walls of the prison; they were all inside it and none of them knew it-except for the gray-robed secret Christians. That made the early, secret Christians supra – or trans-temporal, too, which is to say present at all times, a situation which Fat could not fathom. How could they be early but in the present and the future? And if they existed in the present, why couldn’t anyone see them. On the other hand, why couldn’t anyone see the walls of the Black Iron Prison which enclosed everyone, including himself, on all sides? Why did these antithetical forces emerge into palpability only when the past, present and future somehow – for whatever reason – got superimposed?

“Maybe in the bushmen’s dream-time no time existed. But if no time existed, how could the early, secret Christians be scampering away in glee from the Black Iron Prison which they had just succeeded in blowing up? And how could they blow it up back in Rome circa 70 C.E., since no explosives existed in those days? And now [sic], if no time passed in the dream-time, could the prison come to an end? It reminded Fat of the peculiar statement in Parsifal: “You see, my son, here time turns into space.”

“During his religious experience in March of 1974, Fat had seen an augmentation of space: yards and yards of space, extending all the way to the stars; space opened up around him as if a confining box had been removed. He had felt like a tomcat which had been carried inside a box on a car drive, and then they’d reached their destination and he had been let out of the box, let free. And at night in sleep he had dreamed of a measureless void, yet a void which was alive. The void extended and drifted and seemed totally empty and yet it possessed personality. The void expressed delight in seeing Fat, who, in the dreams, had no body; he, like the boundless void, merely drifted, very slowly; and he could, in addition, hear a faint humming, like music. Apparently the void communicated through this echo, this humming…”

Philip K Dick, Valis.

Pics: Claire Healy and Sean Cordeiro, Life Span, 2009. VHS videos, silicone, 625 x 320 x 524cms.


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