a collaborative genealogy of spirituality

automatic writing

by Darryl Caterine

Advertisement from the June 1924 <i>Popular Mechanics</i>.
Advertisement from the June 1924 Popular Mechanics.

The author is a doppelganger. Even better on the screen, lit up, big-time circulating word-wide, worldwide, s-i-m-u-l-t-a-n-e-o-u-s-l-y m-a-n-i-f-e-s-t-i-n-g. Illusion of coherence, this: neat and tidy on the screen, a well reasoned argument.

I sound my barbaric YAWP over the roofs of the world, and I remember Nadja.

Nadja, four-times removed: 1. Somebody—which is to say, some body, allegedly—female in Paris, purportedly mad, institutionalized, the object of Surrealist André Breton’s obsession; 2. the main character in Breton’s 1928 novel Nadja, and by that fact immortalized, big-time circulating, simultaneously manifesting; 3. the ghost that haunted (in bodily time) or haunts (in doppelganger time) André Breton—either in Paris, or in the novel, or both—after he breaks off their 10-day rendezvous because Breton can not live with the thought of her as some body; 4. an introductory trope to this reflection (on automatic writing) that took on a life of its own the moment I began to yawp over the roofs of the world.

Qui suis-je?

Who am I?

Who wrote that?

Breton—transfixed by Nadja’s stream-of-consciousness, allegedly irrational, thought-words/thought-worlds—as the opening sentence of Nadja—and now “I”, coming to here underneath this blinking cursor that no longer exists as you read about it now on the big screen lit up (once upon a time, which is to say before time as we now experience it, I could have written on the page—which is to say, on the way to nowhere in particular, or everywhere in general, but here we are now, whatever this might mean, exactly.)

Good question, this qui suis-je. And might we not add as well, ? Where are we, exactly, now, anyway, tossed about, swaying side-to-side, undulating in the midst of this chaotic sea of words, electronic information, simultaneously glowing gigabytes, white hot, magic discourse, published or perished or polished or not?

Here are our thoughts, voyagers’ thoughts,
Here not the land, firm land, alone appears, may then by them be said,
The sky o’erarches here, we feel the undulating deck beneath our feet,
We feel the long pulsation, ebb and flow of endless motion,
The tones of unseen mystery, the vague and vast suggestions of the
briny world, the liquid-flowing syllables,
The perfume, the faint creaking of the cordage, the melancholy rhythm,
The boundless vista and the horizon far and dim are all here,
And this is ocean’s poem.

But where was I? Breton likened his own fascination with Nadja to Dr. Theodore Flournoy’s infatuation with Hélène Smith (née Catherine-Elise Muller), that automatic writer (and Surrealist darling, and Spiritualist medium, and later Christian visionary) who left her body in flights to Mars, bringing back the Martian language to Earth, speaking to Flournoy in Martian, writing down the alphabet of Mars for scholars to ponder.

Advertisement from the August 1925 <i>Popular Mechanics</i>.
Advertisement from the August 1925 Popular Mechanics.

And who wrote that?

The psychologist Flournoy wrote about Smith and her Martian travels in his Des Indes à la Planete Mars—“From India to the Planet Mars”—published in 1900. No automatic writer he, Flournoy shielded us all from Smith’s madness by explaining the visions—i-n-f-a-n-t-i-l-e r-e-g-r-e-s-s-i-o-n—mercifully providing an illusion of coherence, which is to say a reason, for all of the babble. Thanks to Smith’s own magic, the wily Flournoy entered into the stream-of-printed-consciousness as a rational doppelganger-subject.

Cease now the endless flow of motion!

But it is far too late for that. The automatic writing has been mushrooming, fragmenting, overwhelming, and recombining for a very long time now. I remember John Ballou Newbrough, who in 1880 saw a strange light envelop his hands as he held them over a manual typewriter. The next thing he knew, a manuscript began to write itself. It was Oahspe: a New Bible in the Words of Jehovah and his Angel Embassadors [sic]. (A Sacred History of the Dominions of the Higher and Lower Heavens of the Earth for the Past Twenty-Four Thousand Years, together with a Synopsis of the Cosmogony of the Universe; the Creation of Planets; the Creation of Man; the Unseen Worlds; the Labor and Glory of Gods and Goddesses in the Etherean Heavens; with the New Commandments of Jehovah to Man of the present Day. With Revelations from the Second Resurrection, Formed in Words in the Thirty Third Year of the Kosmon Era.) I remember Andrew Jackson Davis, who in 1845 lapsed into mesmeric trance at the hands of his operator S.S. Lyons. Two years later, the paradigmatic made-in-America metaphysical text appeared in print, “by and through” Davis. It was entitled The Principles of Nature, Her Divine Revelations, and a Voice to Mankind (In Three Parts. Part First. Any theory, hypothesis, philosophy, sect, creed, or institution, that fears investigation, openly manifests its own error. Part Second. Reason is a flower of the spirit, and its fragrance is liberty and knowledge. Part Third. When distributive justice pervades the social world, virtue and morality will bloom with an immortal beauty: while the Sun of Righteousness will arise in the horizon of universal industry, and shed its genial rays over all the fields of peace, plenty, and HUMAN HAPPINESS!) I remember the Admiral of the Ocean Sea and the pre-1492 oikoumene cosmic-world-map before it exploded, supernova-like, into a multitude of worlds. I remember Johannes Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg and the Word before it erupted, Vesuvius-like, into a googolplex of words.

I write, “I.” Scribo ergo sum: the only way to be, coherently, worldwide, amid this raging molten meltdown.

Advertisement from the September 1926 <i>The Rotarian</i>.
Advertisement from the September 1926 The Rotarian.

You vapors, I think I have risen with you, moved away to distant
continents, and fallen down there, for reasons,
I think I have blown with you you winds;
You waters I have finger’d every shore with you,
I have run through what any river or strait of the globe has run through,
I have taken my stand on the bases of peninsulas and on the high
embedded rocks…

Neat and tidy on the screen, some semblance of form still remains, which is to say this glowing white rectangle, this body of yours slouched in a chair, my body nowhere to be found in this doppelganger-ether-ghost, automatic-Martian-author-voice, simultaneously-manifesting, which is to say, now is as good as any time to break from the stream, the other doppelgangers notwithstanding, and may automatic writing be praised forevermore.