Articles & Reviews

Review of Christopher Dewdney's The Immaculate Perception

The Immaculate Perception
Christopher Dewdney
Toronto: House of Anansi Press, 1986

Review by Stephen Morrissey
Poetry Canada Review, vol. 9, no. 2, winter-spring 1988

Christopher Dewdney's The Immaculate Perception is not poetry or fiction but "bits, aphorisms, essays and verbal 'takes' ... constellated around a larger theme, which is, roughly, the spectacle of consciousness em-bracing its own materiality. It also deals with the re-verse notion, consciousness being duplicated by technology, matter mimicking mind."

Dewdney's work is concerned with the way con-sciousness works. He presents the latest research into the nature of consciousness and mind, and his conclu-sions are almost mystical; they are religious but without the dead weight of any organized religion. He writes:

That which we call the "self" is purely the product of neurological activity in the brain, an epiphenomenon. Consciousness is to the brain as the shadow is to the body. However, because consciousness can influence itself it transcends the deterministic barrier of pure materialism... When we know this, our natural empathy for other human beings is increased exponentially, for we can totally identify with their existence relative to an absolute reality. We are all the products of a miraculous evolution whose engine was cosmic chance. For when you have stripped yourself down to your original self the universe will become a lattice of information... You will see everything as an occasion, all objects will become events, a rock or planet merely occupying a location & volume for a period of time. You will be able to apprehend the entire being of the men and women you meet. If you look into their eyes you will see everything they have done and who they are.

In a short prose piece he writes:

The sense of self, human consciousness, is like a virtual image; it exists solely by relation to an observer. Its singular disposition is determined by the observer hypothetically observing himself or herself in the act of self-observation... Language is the armature of this congruence.

Our sense of reality is a collective illusion sustained by language. The observer creates the thing he ob-serves; it is an extension of the mind. Can there be an objective perception or is all perception by its nature subjective? William Blake wrote, "If the doors of per-ception were cleansed, everything will appear to man as it is, infinite." Dewdney has a sense of the infinite in his work. His approach to Blake's observation is through science and proprioception, that what we have created (including the feeling of being a separate and individual self) is an extension of our consciousness. These ideas aren't original to Dewdney, but he presents them in an interesting way.

What Dewdney seems to insist on is the indivisibility of mankind. We are not all separate entities, but one organic movement of life. Language encourages this division which is responsible for the conflict and viol-ence in the world as well as in the individual.

It might be Dewdney's accomplishment to make some people aware of the convergence of science and religious experience. The problem with this is that the religious person knows and lives his singularity with the universe; scientific man knows this "undifferentiated unity of the universe" (W.T. Stace) only as an idea, and must live forever divided and spiritually im-poverished in the world of the mind and intellect.

It is here that Dewdney's book ultimately fails to satisfy the reader's aesthetic and spiritual needs. It is the nature of art to speak to the unconscious mind; thus, art often works through dreams, fantasy, myth, and flights of imagination. Dewdney has chosen an intellectual approach to his work; but it fails to satisfy the inner and deeper needs of the spirit.

Take, for example, the following:

Memory can be emotionally 'tagged' in much the same way that a chemical substance can be tagged with a radioactive isotope in order to trace its movements. A memory which has been coloured by an emotion, emotionally 'tagged' per se, will resonate in the paleocephalon even in the absence of a cortical engram, a conscious thought, as a purely emotive resonating loop. This loop will remain activated by reward circuitry until a scanning process presents the correct match as a cortical engram.

I chose this passage at random as an example of the writing of the whole book; The Immaculate Perception contains an abundance of scientific information; this information is at times exasperating and obtuse; it will certainly alienate many readers. However interesting these scientific ideas may be, Dewdney still needs to rethink his approach to writing. Why not just read a psychology textbook as read this volume? You might glean the same information and there would be no ambiguity as to the intention of the author.

Pound wrote that "Only emotion endures"; apart from the occasional wit there isn't a single emotion in this book; but perhaps (and unfortunately) there isn't supposed to be. If Dewdney could communicate his vision through the language of the unconscious mind, through poetry or fiction, then he could engage the reader in an aesthetic experience that would result in a much deeper understanding of his concerns than the present volume can possibly accomplish.

Copyright © 2007 The author