The Risen: A review by Kieran Wyatt, contributor to i-D magazine and a freelance photographer.
Rationality is deconstructed in Peter Whitehead's 'The Risen', the '90's first bona fide cult novel.
Shamanism, the primal belief system that pre-dates organised religion by tens of thousands of years, centres around the ultimate trip, the last great adventure left to humankind, the journey within oneself. In a modern context, it's a useful tool for honing and planing our spiritual selves in such a way as to interact better with dimensions of the sacred, something we in the West, in particular, have lost contact with. It's also a fundamental theme of 'The Risen'.
The novel, a revelational rollercoaster ride into a world of psychedelic smart drugs, religion, lucid dreaming and cyberspace, charts the investigations of crystallographer Matthew Sutherland into the life and works of physicist manque John Faulkner, and uses his explorations as an analogy for the shamanistic experience. Sutherland trawls through 'the network' of Faulkner's computer files in an effort to understand, and hopefully eventually locate, the missing scientist. The further Sutherland delves into the work (and thus mind) of Faulkner, the further his perception and understanding of reality and rationality become altered.
What makes the novel even more fascinating, and neatly illustrates its multi-layered design, is the way in which the written narrative mirrors Faulkner's electronic compositions. In effect, the words in the book become the words on Sutherland's computer screen. The spiritual metamorphosis that Sutherland undergoes as he reads Faulkner's missives can be seen to be the paradigm of what Whitehead hopes will happen to the reader, with the reader experiencing what Sutherland experienced. Sutherland's attitude to Faulkner's legacy is like editing a movie, except this time the movie is editing him.
Whitehead is a thrifty gatherer of stray narratives and elaborates on a number of other interesting themes and arguments. By utilising a writing style that is at once informative but also atmospheric, he produces a highly readable tale embracing concepts such as David Bohm's idea of holographic structure of the mind and Rupert Sheldrake's theory of morphic resonance. Stephen Hawking's notions of time, space and chaos are explored side-by-side with suppositions about the use of psychedelic chemicals to access the unconscious, all the while beguiling the reader with a ripping good yarn. Again, this exemplifies the multi-layered and holistic strcuture of 'The Risen'. In the hands of a lesser author, the story would have been hampered by potentially over-complex scientitif theory.
The construction of 'The Risen' parallels that of the Internet. The book is not a linear story, but rather can be read on a number of different levels. You plot your way through the book, much in the same way you journey around the global electronic village, taking up the viewpoints of different characters and thus coming to all number of potential conclusions. Essentially, the book is what you make of it.
Above all, 'The Risen' is a book that makes you think, something that so few seem able to do these days. By drawing people in on their own terms and then gradually eroding them away with a bit of seductive writing, Whitehead dares to tackle some of the fundamental questions at the heart of human existence. He's trying to restructure reality in a sacred way and get the reader to think "That could happen to me." As Whitehead testifies, you can let go and survive, but you need to prepare yourself. And there's no better preparation for the ultimate trip, the one within yourself, than The Risen.