It is written, prior to any author, inscribed across each and every brain, an edict undeniable, so says so many, that elysian sat the lands just past the sun, where the sun is going all the time we can see it, just past the not-yet-developed land not yet conquered back from Lamanite hands, past, also, the place where people go when people go to where the country is, which is itself a gorgeous land full of land when one recalls one’s trips, as a child, out to fields of light and peace too pastoral to recall without embarrassing that portion of mind too developed by a culture spiraling, so like the latter Nephites, in decay, a land truly of beauty but itself only the confirmation of Providence’s promise in this life to a People that walk right and true of limitless expansion and freedom. This is where the meek stop. This is what is etched in the hindbrains of the small and humble, only that there lies a place where things are righter and truer than they are here and all are the same. But there is a better message, which is only for their betters, that past every hope there is a hope that accompanies the sun to the place past the sun, a blinding white hope as manifest as flesh and blood to those for whom it was written, that there is a heaven, for which only the particularly worthy are destined, a kingdom of celestial character, where every patriarch is gifted with a planet and the power of creation, not in his God on this earth’s light, but producing his own for his own children, according to his will.
And Edison was the ur-prophet of the betters: concretizer of what the lucky knew to be true, who brought to this Earth and of course America a box to produce new worlds made of light. The divine and once secret force of lightning’s flash, harnessed at last under his direction, would be his Urim, and his Thummim the culmination of the labors of dozens of secret fruit hung from still concealed branches of Lehi’s tree: twins adroit Georg and Albert the Great, alchemical Homberg, Barbaro in Venice and the Pope’s pectore, Wedgwood with his shadowed glass, Niépce, whose light still lasts, and Ibn al-Haytham, promethean master and progenitor of all, to say nothing of that portion of the numberless neolithic horde to stare, in savage, rapt awe, at some obscure and vaulted hollow in the corner of a cave, where the chance positions of the sun and some hole in the rock marry and make a picture of the quadruped outside jump onto the wall. All this and more, the gradual unfolding of history, from above and looking back, so clearly seems a plan meant to bring humanity here, to the message Edison was meant to bear. The message: a box, or two, actually: one to capture a series of sequential images, another to push those images past a light and throw them onto a wall across the way. Of this simple consummation some would catch the spectacle, reported Moroni, but none would see the meaning. Only gradually would the tool reveal its task and convey to the worthy that came after myriad worlds of white and blue. The images would plasticize, after all, and break from the surface, from the land, out past the breakers of the possible and into the future where the sun is setting, a future that contained also the past, both plastic, neither parallel to their counterparts, but orthogonal as any dream to all reality, everything Edison would open up and let free with just these couple of boxes. Moroni intoned the truth of the ensuing age to Edison at length, and in summation said, “Apocatastasis.”
The Gospel at Fort Lee was called the Kinetoscope, was a message as clear and market-friendly as a gospel could be, and so flew like the light it promised across the lands and into the minds of the few that became many, all of them varying degrees of worthy, ready to take their portion of a new and limitless expanse of imaginary landscape. And these intrepid souls comprised the early flock. Here is a great awakening of light and spirit to be found in dark rooms, the hearts of the hungry muttered back at them, though they did not have the words. Here, their spirits are nourished by new trees with fruit and shade enough to cover all this corner of the old and Eastern portions of the country. Across the Hudson, Newsboys shill the gospel residue, “Fort Lee natives all but bored by new normal! Bands of roving Indians, troops on the river banks, bedlam and every conceivable kind of murder each day at their doorsteps! Read it here, folks! Read it now!” But no recounting in words, no matter their tenor, of any aspect of the works of this new people could succeed at conveying any of the elements comprising the new light. It is true the Kinetoscope collected words, its closest bedfellow among them being C H A O S, and there remains a romance there, among the guts of the gospel; glistening little constituent parts seem notches and holes with spouses to be found in chaos’ oblique body. But chaos is not vaulted, nor is it a cave. Screens like glass moved over the map, promising easy entertainment to all, proselytizing only to the chosen a new life in light and shade.
It is a banal fact that the people who have for this brief epoch called themselves Americans are parched for truth and comfort in a way that never wanes, that those originary Americans, hand-in-hand with those many who have since bought in, call this trait the fundamental human trait. The stories interlocked make a fiction, with stations enough for some to spend their whole lives moving through them, reenacting the thirst, which is true enough, but belies what underpins it: a limitless capacity to find new articulations of the same old want for more and better and purer of that same old life, which is a dream of having always had dominion over all the globe, and more if you can manage. That indefatigable dark in the human chest demands a novel chance at modern salvation, a new story with a new physique. A new trinity revealed itself, in final answer to the dark, and its hearth was Fort Lee: limitless creation and dominion behind the camera, a plastic life forever in front of it, and an ever expanding number of new worlds – ones that make good on their promises, that a person can really see and so be in, that give pleasure, then pain, then catharsis, on a loop – for all the meek and humble in the audience. So, here was a complete way to be, shorn bare of falsehoods, at long last a distinctly modern system, hungry, vacant, and true.
And Edison the prophet was sated, sat in his palatial offices, which hung on a hill over all the little kingdom, unaware that about him all the substance of the worlding about him was near surpassing any dreams he had managed. Shady, green Fort Lee was no world of light; those once acolytes of his with their boxes now were simply ravenous for light, having received the message more clearly than ever the bearer would, and those little bits of filament lightning he so shrewdly had beckoned come were sufficient for living, yes, but theirs were worlds of excess made solely of light, and sufficiency was not yet surplus. Schismatic thirst again would turn the gaze of the rightest and truest away from all obliged fidelities, these being so familial, so worldly and flesh, when here, now, a fetterless heaven is being made, one with no requirement of death, their natural inclinations being so fit for disloyalty, for saying damn even the patents, and taking flight to brighter lands. So then they act as it was written, prior to any author, and turn from the office on the hill to find that where it stood in their sight now is just the sun going, as it does, always to the sun’s land, of course of endless light, where, easterly winds at their backs, they know they’re destined and, as only they, thinks them, appreciate, a formless empty land is waiting to be filled, not by squarehead homesteaders like the plains, who saw a promised land and made the same old goings on of people, but with the multitude of dreams a void so like the limitless interior of fantasy demands. Lands with idyl to be had, yes, even without end, but here is no country house with a creek behind, no stony hearth for wayward son’s to know is waiting on them, no fields to bloom while adolescents who, in tandem, will be blooming walk past and look on as they grow with new hidden knowledges about life in the idyl, here was no identity with the place a person searches when they go out in search of the place they mean to go. That place and all its innumerous kin they would make and raze ad nauseum, but this was not the promise of the land. As those few chosen to stand, forever, amidst the places people, having searched them out so long, would find at last in the dark, are fated for dismantling – not without cruelty but in no way tragic, Alfalfa being still available to love, no matter Switzer’s end – these lands, too, must be, as is inscribed across their throats.
Here was a people with a land to call their own and a way of being, all their worlds products, their companies conglomerated heavens, facing out in proselytization, saying, “Come and be seen” to those with burnt and thirsting throats, those westward walking, worthy few.
Jessi Gaston is a writer and filmmaker based in Chicago. “Hollywood Calls,” like most of their recent poetic work, is from a longer work on the Marx Brothers. A set of pieces from this work were published in We Want It All, an anthology from Nightboat Books. Their first film as a director, Black Pill, has been appearing in film festivals sporadically for the last year. You can find them on twitter @jejesjesijessi