George Clayton Johnson describes the reality of the ‘Twilight Zone’

Poster by postersdepeliculas at Amazon

Poster by postersdepeliculas at Amazon

Fans of both The Twilight Zone and the realm of philosophical, spiritual, religious, and psychological inquiry represented by the likes of books such as Daimonic Reality and Exploring the Edge Realms of Consciousness — the latter featuring contributions from Teeming Brain teem members David Metcalfe and Ryan Hurd — will find much of interest in comments made by science fiction legend George Clayton Johnson in a 2003 interview conducted for the Archive of American Television. (A special thanks to Teeming Brain contributor Richard Gavin for bringing this interview, and this particular portion of it, to my attention.)

At one point during the five-hour (!) interview, Johnson speaks at length about the actual psychological, spiritual, and ontological reality of the liminal zone epitomized by the very idea and title of “the Twilight Zone.” What’s more, he asserts that the series itself can serve as a “tool” and a “consciousness expander” for helping people — especially children — to wake up to realities existing beyond the pale of the mundane world.

In case you’re not familiar with him, be advised that Johnson obtained his “legendary” status the old-fashioned way: by earning it. In addition to writing several episodes of the original Twilight Zone, he wrote the first-aired episode of the original Star Trek series (titled “The Man Trap”), co-wrote Logan’s Run with William F. Nolan, and wrote the story that was the basis of Ocean’s Eleven, both the original 1960 movie and its 2001 remake. He was also a member of the mid-20th-century group of Southern California science fiction writers that included Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, Theodore Sturgeon, Bill Nolan, and Charles Beaumont.

His comments on the real (as it were) Twilight Zone start at 9:58 in the following clip and last until about 18:30. I have queued up the video to launch at the beginning of them. Note especially how, before responding to the interviewer’s question, Johnson pauses for nearly ten seconds and appears not so much to be gathering his thoughts as to be quieting them by entering a brief meditative state.

Also note that if you listen past 18:30, you’ll hear him offering personal opinions on the respective abilities and deficiencies of Rod Serling, Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, Ernest Hemingway, and other authors in dealing with real matters of the imaginal mind.

Transcription of selected sections:

The Twilight Zone is a surreal television series. It deals both with matter and with spirit. It deals with utterly prosaic, undeniable situations that anybody looking at it would know, even though they’re drawn farcically in some cases, are still just reality as we know it. Nobody is pulling rabbits out of hats.”

[…]

“[The Twilight Zone] is a place between this and that. Infinity. Eternity. We’ve got lots of catch phrases [in the series’ famous opening narration and credit sequence]. We’ve got dolls and eyeballs and closed doors and window panes and mirrors floating through endless space with stars. It’s saying, ‘There is a place beyond that which is known to man.’ And we think, are they talking about the Tao? Are they talking about satori? Are they talking about nirvana? All of those are expressions of the absolute, of the boundless. But no, [Rod Serling] is not talking about those. He’s talking about a  place that has a heaven and a hell. Not the kind you might expect, but it has one. So it’s like this place, but it’s this place with a very great touch of strange through this magic, through the power of the wish that comes forth when you read one of these stories.”

[…]

[Speaking on the series’ recurring motif of people’s deepest wishes being granted in ironic and horrific ways:]

“Carried to an extreme, even the most idealist dream becomes a nightmare, and when you’re brought up to that point, now it’s like infinity is facing you. You’re at the edge, and you’re standing at the doorway, and you’ve opened this elevator, and you expected it to be a box, but it’s not a box, it’s just this endless pit into a night sky, and if you stepped across that you would fall endlessly. And you’re looking down and there’s no end to it. And when you get that sense of infinity — ‘My God, there is infinity, there must be such a thing’ — your mind tries to grapple with that concept … It must contain everything. Everything must be out there in this other dimension. We call it heaven. We use various idealizations of it. A place of immortality. A place of infinity. A place where it is timeless. ‘The other side.’ ‘The  next life.’ ”

[…]

“Man’s unknown powers, what are they? Do we have the ‘Midas touch’ and not know it? Are we telepaths if we just align our brains right and think of the right combination of syllables? Or if we manage to touch just the right nerve on our body, could be become transparent? Could we arrange our molecules momentarily, although it’s a great drain on us, so that we could walk through a wall? … The power of the wish: ‘What if? I wish this, I wish that.’ The Twilight Zone is about that.”

[…]

“[With these stories of paradox and infinity,] if the reader goes with that, and for a moment stands on the edge, and teeters, and realizes, ‘I’m alive in this universe’ — my God, just to awaken in the body for a moment, just three minutes, to the fact that you’re made out of meat right now! My God, you’re alive in the twenty-first century, and in no other century. You may know about the others abstractly, but in this place you can touch it. It’s real. It’s not an abstraction. And you’ve got these sensory apparatuses — eyes, ears, tongues — and you’re able to look at history and know that we’re at the very beginning of human history. We call this ‘civilization,’ but this modern, post-modern situation, just wait for 20 years to see what they call it. Wait 50 years and see what they call that period. As we transform ourselves as a culture, [we will use] tools like The Twilight Zone, which are consciousness expanders. They are ways, they are tools, that you can show to children, and when they suspend their disbelief, at that moment they see infinity.”

About Matt Cardin

Teeming Brain founder and editor Matt Cardin is the author of DARK AWAKENINGS, DIVINATIONS OF THE DEEP, A COURSE IN DEMONIC CREATIVITY: A WRITER'S GUIDE TO THE INNER GENIUS, and the forthcoming TO ROUSE LEVIATHAN. He is also the editor of BORN TO FEAR: INTERVIEWS WITH THOMAS LIGOTTI and the academic encyclopedias MUMMIES AROUND THE WORLD, GHOSTS, SPIRITS, AND PSYCHICS: THE PARANORMAL FROM ALCHEMY TO ZOMBIES, and HORROR LITERATURE THROUGH HISTORY.

Posted on January 10, 2013, in Arts & Entertainment, Paranormal, Psychology & Consciousness and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Holy cannoli… what a phenomenal find. Thanks, Matt!

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