Artificial Supernatural Sublime
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With the exception of our skin, none of our organs have ever been exposed to light. Everything inside of us is in the dark. We are breathing shadows.
In 1933 Bob Switzer was in college, studying to become a doctor, when he was injured while working at a loading dock. He fell off of one of the docks and landed on his head. This injury left him in a coma for several months, and he suffered from seizures and double vision afterward. He had to heal in the dark. At the same time, his younger brother Joe was an aspiring magician working on black art illusions, which rely on the use of black backgrounds and parts of objects painted black to make them disappear. Together, the brothers began to study ultraviolet light, searching for pigments that would make this light visible. They took a UV lamp into the storeroom of their father's drug store and found an eye wash that glowed under the light, and used this discovery to make a magic trick that won first place at a local magician convention, generating interest in the paint they created.
You look down to see you are clothed in a glowing yellow gown. Ahead of you is a full theater, and the audience is watching expectantly. Your nerves surge as you hear the tinkering of a xylophone. You begin to sway from side to side, and the crowd looks on intently. You move more fluidly and confidently as the music becomes louder. You blink, and look down. Your body, along with the stage and the rest of the auditorium, are several feet below where they ought to be, and are continuing to sink. You realize you are not a graceful dancer, but the audience isn't paying attention to that anymore.
The earliest clients of the Switzer brothers dealt in illusions and spirits. Joe's magic act with the Balinese dancer was sold to other magicians. Chorus girls were dressed as dancing, glowing skeletons. Spiritualists used Day-Glo, the fluorescent paint the brothers invented, to create ectoplasm and write messages from the deceased. The brothers developed an embalming fluid with the same pigments, and the resulting corpses glowed under UV light.
Death is defined by its irreversibility. It is easy to declare a person dead when she has been decapitated, more difficult when she is in a coma. Doing little but sleep is a half-hearted attempt at returning to nothing. Our narratives are punctuated by the limitations of our bodies.
The transformation starts at your neck, and quickly moves to your heart. You can feel it spread through your veins like ice water, making the circuit from your organs, legs, arms, and flowing back into your heart. Your brain waves begin to slow, elongating thoughts and sensation. Time takes longer, but you're not sluggish. You become hyper-aware of every blink, which has gone from a minute flicker in your vision to a jerky, interrupting transition like a slide projector.
At first it's like you've achieved a brighter complexion, the type they boast about in cosmetic ads, but as the light outside begins to dim you realize that your skin is actually emitting its own light. You look at your hand and remember how as a child you would wrap it around a lit flashlight and marvel at the veins inside, how you glowed soft and rosy from within. Now it seems sickly, green and cold.
The brightest points on a body are the most sensitive: mouths, nipples, genitals, bruises, wounds. All are easy targets against the neutral background of skin. The animals most secure in their environments are the ones that can get away with donning themselves in bright vulnerability. There are two strategies at play here: these colors either serve as an advertisement of how toxic the animal is (or pretending to be) to predators, or as a testament to the creature's survival skills. Monarchs are orange because the milkweed they eat pigments their wings. Bluejays can't eat milkweed, so they can't eat monarchs. They stay orange. Birds get to wear their bright colors for as long as their other traits allow them to avoid becoming a meal to a predator.
One day you stop. You were working and busy before, but you have to stop now, because everything you do has become too much for you. All action requires energy, but for you, an extra tax has been tacked on. You wake up with your entire body sore, though you didn't do anything yesterday. This ache has been growing for some time, and today is the day you can no longer ignore it.
So you're lying in bed. The beeping of your clock tells you it's eleven. Ambitious. No one is expecting you to be out of bed for at least another hour. You close your eyes and begin imagining places and people you would rather be. Within your own mind you are able-bodied and flying.
You descend deeper into your imaginings when the change happens. The space you occupy is different, like whatever makes up your consciousness was liquified and poured into another vessel, something much smaller. Where your fingers and toes once were you feel new, nameless extremities. You flex, testing the movements of your new vessel, and you notice the unknown appendages where your fingers used to be are now tipped in bright blue. Your toes are invisible beneath your rounded body, but you can feel something razor-sharp at the end of each.
Satisfied with these discoveries, you examine your surroundings. You're perched on something leafy, a bush, that is surrounded by other flowering plants: daisies. They are tipped with glowing, unknown colors. A flutter catches your eye. An orange butterfly lands on the daisies.
You're back on your bush, with the monarch in your mouth. Throwing your neck back, the butterfly's wings crumple and slide down your throat easily, making for a quick meal. Your mouth fills with bitterness, and your stomach lurches. There's a tickle in the back of your throat.
Days have been waning with your energy. You have things you're supposed to do, but your bed is warm and your body is melting into the sheets. Even being a barfing bird is better than being in your own body.
The world is different through the eyes of birds. Fruits, seeds and insects have pigmentation that is only visible in the ultraviolet spectrum. Birds can see these pigments stand out from foliage. Under the right lamps, we can also see birds covered in glowing markings, a language to which humans are otherwise blind and dumb. It's hard to say whether the world glows for the birds as it does for us under UV light. The only way we have of understanding their vision is through ours. We can only translate the things we can't see into something we can. Our personal universes are limited by the capacities of our vessels.
I will never know what it is like to be you. Your eyes are structured differently, and interpret light in a way that will always be foreign to me. We can argue about whether or not we see the same blue, but it's lucky that we can still agree this yellow and that red look good together.
At one point we were all huddled and then something happened and everything expanded. Now we are separate, and we can't merge back. Electrons keep our atoms from touching. All we feel is varying degrees of resistance. If my atoms could touch your atoms, they would fuse and everything would be obliterated.If living beings are a way for the universe to know itself, that knowledge can only be realized by humans through dissection and classification. Art is a way of discovering the universe that is beyond this logic, working instead through amplification of experience. Art is comfortable knowing we will return to nothing with an incomplete understanding of the true nature of the universe.
Pigments eventually fade away, too. Unless they are hidden in the dark, light will keep exciting their atoms and they will keep releasing light to stabilize until nothing is left to excite. Someday your body and mine will reach a point beyond repairs and stitches.
The wall above you is illuminated by a cold glow from the corner, gridded like a radiator. Your comforters press down with reassuring weight, sheltering what little body heat you produce, but the cold remains in your bones. Nobody expects you to leave your bed anymore, and nothing else exists but you, your bed, and the light that bathes it. If time persists, it has slowed down to a point at which it will never run out. You're free to slip in and out of your dreams, immobile in your body but everywhere in your head, constant and constantly transforming.