Jack Underwood and the Roller coaster
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
When is a poem like a Rollercoaster? Jack Underwood passes the height requirement and gets strapped in.
I wouldn’t exactly say that I like going on Rollercoasters but my annual trip to a themepark is a recent tradition that I’m keen to uphold. I tend to go in autumn when the queuing time is minimal, the weather especially bracing and I always seem to be hungover. It must be something about mid-October, with its leaf-fudge and back to school realism that promotes an odd craving to feel mortal, vulnerable, uncertain, again. All summer I’ll have been bending my body around the place feeling in charge of it: pleasing its limits with barbecues, drinking indiscriminate booze from midday onwards, falling asleep in chairs for no good reason. I’ll have willfully lied to my body for months, telling it that I know best, and everything is fine. The change in the season announces that the summer lifestyle is unsustainable, so a day of Rollercoasters gets a few facts straightened out.
Rollercoasters (and I mean serious rollercoasters) provoke a sickly, animal terror in me. Especially face-first vertical dropping ones, like Oblivion or SAW. Sometimes this terror-state sends my body into shock (I have gone literally green), whereas other times (and this is preferable) something chemical will give way and I’ll find myself laughing like a cartoon maniac dissolving in a vat of acid. Every ride is a tentative experiment into how my body will react under new and absurd conditions, and while my body is busy deciding which of my vital organs it might shut down first in order to survive, I am somehow able to observe it all cogently, as if from outside of myself. I don’t really believe the mind/body binary because it just sounds like something the mind would come up with to elevate itself. But Rollercoasters do a good job of arguing that we merely inhabit our bodies, instead of being part of them, or a product of them, constructed for their survival – big rides alienate us from our bodies by overwhelming our senses beyond our physical apprehension, and our intellectual comprehension.
This sort of out of body experience can make you philosophical. After all, you are effectively handing over cash to experience the synthesised physiology of near-death, code-red, shutdown. What is that if not Metaphysical? Indeed, that Rollercoasters exist at all says quite a lot about human nature, not least in the context of Western Super-Capitalism and its consumerist barf. Perhaps the Rollercoaster is a monument to the notion of ‘the-experience-as-commodity’? Or the Rollercoaster is a postmodern sculpture self-consciously celebrating our elevation from animalism by dipping us briefly back into it from a great height? I’ve even come to think of Rollercoasters as a kind of poetic ‘language’ of postmodernity, or as poems in themselves. While all this sounds preposterously high-minded, if you can keep your fluorescent blue slushies down, I’ll try and explain...............