Wednesday, June 12, 2013

"The Process," Brion Gysin: "all trips from here to there are imaginary"

“As no two people see the world the same way, all trips from here to there are imaginary; all truth is a tale I am telling myself.” 

The Process is a book about journeys, and of becoming, with the Desert serving as grand metaphor. Brion Gysin's 1969 novel of drugs, magic and the Desert is part fantasy, part veiled memoir, and part guidebook, and has become the most readily available Gysin work -- if also his most artfully mystifying. 

The reader may find it confusing at first read, and it's certainly not a straightfoward story in the conventional sense. There are many twists in this fictional tale of Ulys O. Hanson of Ithaca College, not the least of which is the thinly-veiled life story of Gysin himself as he discovers and embraces the music and culture of the Sahara.

The novel itself moves from west to east -- it begins with a quote from Shakespeare and ends with an epilogue from Kashf Ul-Haqa'iq, a 13th-century Persian mystic. The story also gains centifugal force as it spins around the rituals and music of Morocco's master musicians of Jajouka. Late in the novel Gysin/Hanson speaks it plainly: "You see what I'm getting at, don't you? We are, all of us here, in an extreme situation -- between birth and death, you agree?" Seldom does a novel put the life force itself at center-stage.

The story is full of secrets, but In one aspect it can be read as Gysin's own diary of actual people and events. Gysin was operating the 1001 Nights restaurant in 1954, and some of Tangier's international social set -- L. Ron Hubbard for one -- are characters in the novel. The novel is an opening to culture, an acceptance to the unfolding of "what is," by the narrator himself -- in this the character of Hanson is the opposite of Paul Bowles' parade of mis-understanding Americans, who are often consumed by the desert cultures without the slightest idea why their fates are so unalterable. Imsh'alla ... if God wills it.

It is also a manual filled with answers and, more to the author's point, questions that western culture seems to have abandoned to Sufi mystics and desert revelators. The novel is indeed trippy, but in the grandest sense; and like life itself The Process is full of marvellous confusion, the considerations of fate, and not a little pain. 

“I am out in the Sahara, heading due South, with each day of travel less sure of just who I am, where I am going, or why. This desert is so long, it can take a lifetime to go from one end to the other, and a childhood to cross its narrowest point. I made that crossing in another continent.”

For those who are ready, the Process is already clear, and fate is obscured or revealed daily depending on one's view. Burroughs, who knew a thing or two about levels of reality and fate, puts the confounding nature of Gysin's tale simply in a contemporary review:  "It will tell you what is happening in present time. How things are made to happen or not to happen. In Present Time. It is also first class entertainment. Start to read it and you will find that it reads itself."

Fate is, after all, something one contradicts with hubris or accepts with humbling awe. The promise of Othello's "round unvarnished tale," at the novel's beginning, gives way to Ul-Haqa'iq's "unveiling of realities." At journey's end, of course, there is always the question all of us will face: "Why were you in such a hurry to get here, when the Desert gets us all in the end?" 

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