For the extremely active Jesuit Athanasius Kircher – collector of the exotic itens from the Past, Egyptian hieroglyphs peculiar descrambler, prodigious instruments designer – the play of light and shadow that simulates the movement and the life, that trick or effect that one day will be called Cinema, was very more than a base trick to deceive the senses. It was, rather, a peculiar way to interact with reality: something that was called at that time magic – the ways to access the positive or negative forms of Wonder and Nature. In the Dutch city of The Hague, not far from the home of Father Kircher in Rome, Christian Huygens, a notable Scientist in the fields of Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy created a new way to project skeletons and ghosts in animated sequences – an exciting new game room with lights and images made by light. Both, Kircher and Huygens, were opponents located at the points of the sphere of knowledge ranging from Science to Quackery. Even so, in the case of the invention whose paternity is attributed to both, the magic lantern, the path traversed by either are the evil, death, and grotesque way, a possible uncontrollable route. The emblems of Kircher becomes dance of death in Huygens, imagination and Science conceptualization converge in grotesque images. This union of paradoxical facets, however complementary in some way, building a wonderful, technological, worthless and evil instrument emerges as central leitmotif of the new book by DP Watt, The Phantasmagorical Imperative & Other Fabrications. In this extraordinary book, each narrative emerges marked by tension between the prodigious and terrible, between the simple beauty of the obsolete/rare object and apocalyptic imagerie, between the elegiac evocation and ironic red smile, often soaked with blood.
The D. P. Watt fiction is a new life form for an old insight that struck Heraclitus of Ephesus, for example: the awareness that there is a terror and a latent horror in the flow of dead objects that we believe are our objects and tools. Endlessly unable to break the chain of continuous metamorphoses, we suffered with the definitive loss of a solid identity that we believed so sound just a minute ago. So, the narratives that we find in The Phantasmagorical Imperative, superficially, could be seen as the collection of a beautiful and elaborate cabinet of curiosities. We have prestidigitation and metamorphosis, inanimate objects that come to life and vice versa, heavenly music from infernal instruments, photographic effects, and audio-visual transitions, faery landscapes from dreams and nightmares. But all this wild parade is just opening to the Watt real entertainment. These short stories protagonists – usually both witnesses, victims, executioners –, outsiders who have something moving: dissatisfied with the limitations of life, they found in some objects, instruments, miniatures and mirages new possibilities, perhaps what seems to be the only solution to the tedious cyclic continuum of the existence. Indeed, these objects these objects go far beyond the everyday, but not in the way our protagonists thought and this ironic solution summarizes the phantasmagorical imperative. Eugene Thacker mentioned in the afterword of the book, the Kantian notion of categorical imperative: the notion that we must act only according to a maxim which formulation is such that we want it to become Universal Law. That is an awesome and eerie resonance, a game of make-believe which aims to apply to the Ethics reign the made of steel invariable/intolerable and universal laws like those of Mathematics. Watt constantly reproduces the ambitious Kantian formula with some distressed and sinister results.
The book The Phantasmagorical Imperative is a beautiful and fascinating object. The Egaeus Press exquisite edition evokes a refined object, although worn by use, found in the corner of an antiquarian. This effect is caused by the clever use of contemporary print reproduction technologies applied to a simulacra of the corrosive effects of time, an illusory game that anticipates those we see in the Watts plots: for example, there re, at the cover composition, the dimmed and toxic taste of obsolescence (the flower image, the typography), and the same happens with pagination and layout. The images reproduced in the edition are found objects, in the best Surrealist tradition, apparently torn photos and graphics (belonging to other books? Found on the street or anywhere else? Edited in software to look old and torn?). The history of this imagerie are truncated and finds a kind of mirror in the narratives – more than occasional illustrations, but comments linking the stories to fortuity, the usual way of mutation. The path that Mr. Watt chose to follow in his ferocious stories, to the endless reader delight.