Metaphor and Tom Robbins

jvV ebook 180In yesterday’s post, we announced the publication of Jamais Vu Views, the long-awaited companion to our underground classic The Jamais Vu PapersIt is available in paperback and Kindle. Both books include jamais inter-views with real people participating in a fictional story. Our first-ever inter-view was with author Tom Robbins in 1987.

At the time, we were fascinated by the role of metaphor in Story (with a capital S). We felt that metaphor was more that just figurative speech, more than just analogy. What was the power of metaphor? We decided to play around with a fictive and admittedly silly idea: that metaphors are literally true, and that you could conceivably make a drug out of a metaphor.

The Jamais Vu Papers began as a newsletter that told the story an addled Los Angeles psychiatrist named Hector Glasco. He was treating a jaded celebrity patient named Hilary, who was suffering from a chronic and potentially fatal case of déjà vu—that condition, of course, in which one has the weirdest feeling that one has been here before. The cure, it seemed, was to instill a sense of jamais vu, a mysterious feeling that one has never been here before—not in this world, this life, or the most familiar circumstances.

So Hector Glasco tried to cure his patient with a dose of a mystery drug called “M”—the chemical equivalent of a metaphor. Disaster ensued, and Hilary escaped from his office on a flying carpet and disappeared. The newsletter itself was Hector’s desperate plea for help; he needed insights into the nature of metaphor. We hoped that this premise would shake loose some interesting thoughts. We were right.

Tom Robbins was our newsletter’s first subscriber/participant. He wrote to us, agreeing to send us 8 answers if we’d send him 7 questions. Naturally, Hector asked him:

As a master of figurative language, what do you think are the transformative and evolutionary properties of metaphors?

Robbins gave this lovely answer:

When we say that “Johnny runs fast,” what have we said that anyone except Johnny’s mother is apt to recall? When we say that “Johnny runs like a deer,” we have provided a memorable totemic image to which our notion of Johnny’s speed might conveniently be stapled. Should we say, however, that “Johnny is a deer,” we have eternalized Johnny, fitting him with antlers and hooves from the unyielding deep forest of primal unconsciousness.

Glasco pushed on, concerned about the use of such a powerful tool:

What will happen if chemical metaphors hit the streets?

Robbins replied:

My suspicion is that chemical metaphors may not belong on the streets. In ancient Greece, the fungoid metaphors dispensed at Eleusis were restricted to those who were deemed spiritually and intellectually evolved enough to benefit from them. Public discussion of the M(ysteries) by initiates was forbidden under penalty of death. That’s probably a sound idea. The problem is, who decides who is or who isn’t qualified for the experience? Certainly, it’s a bit elitist, but as Hermann Hesse pointed out, “The M(agic) Theatre is not for everyone.”

Our Storied discussion was off to a flying start.

Jamais Vu Views

It’s finally out in both paperback and KindleJamais Vu Views, the companion to our underground classic The Jamais Vu Papers.

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Some of you have been waiting for this book for two decades or more.

Others of you have no idea what we’re talking about.

So let’s go back to Los Angeles in 1987, for the birth of a crypto-legend …

The two us lived in a little house at the base of Mount Washington; at the top was perched the Self-Realization Fellowship. Its gardens are lovely, tranquil, and open to all. We loved to walk up there to retreat from that intense city, rest, and meditate. One afternoon, we were walking down Mount Washington after some especially stimulating meditation. As we headed home, ideas started flowing, and we talked and talked and talked. And so we started our own newsletter—the jamais vu papers, a monthly publication with a fictional storyline that included far-flung, far-fetched, and far-sighted ideas. (BTW, we got married the month the first issue appeared.)

Publishing a newsletter wasn’t easy back in those days. Does anyone remember waxers and paste-ups? We put the pages together in our little house and took them to a copy shop for printing. We sent free copies to as many people as we could get addresses for. We started asking other people to participate.

Real-life thinkers eagerly pitched into our fictional world, changing the story itself as it galloped waywardly forward, sideways, upward, downward, across parallel realities, and every which way. We interviewed Tom Robbins (our first-ever subscriber), and also María De Céspedes, Fred Chappell, Daniel C. Dennett, Jamake Highwater, Paul Krassner, Timothy Leary, and Fred Alan Wolf. Because these interviews took place in a peculiar no man’s land somewhere between fiction and reality, they became known as jamais inter-vus.

When the New York superagent John Brockman got wind of what we were up to, he signed us up with Harmony Books to rework our material into a novel—and he took part in a jamais inter-vu as well. The novel came out in 1991. Even after it went out of print, copies kept circulating until The Jamais Vu Papers became a bona fide underground classic. As copies grew scarce and zanily expensive, we published a new edition in 2010.

But alas, the novel could not contain nearly everything we’d put in the newsletter. A lot of great material had to be left behind, including jamais inter-vus with Stewart Brand, Jean Houston, Russell Jacoby, Charles Johnston, Russell Targ, and Robert Theobald.

Now, at long last, we’ve compiled Jamais Vu Views, which includes all of the original interviews—those that appeared in the book, and those that haven’t been seen since our newsletter was discontinued in 1991. If you are already a fan of The Jamais Vu Papers, you’ll be delighted by what you have jamais (never) seen before. And if you have jamais (never) experienced the reality-bending phenomenon known as The Jamais Vu Papers, this new collection is a great place to start.

Check it out at Amazon.com—in paperback or Kindle.