By Ben Boruff
In his 1974 book Anarchy, State, and Utopia, philosopher and Harvard professor Robert Nozick offered his now-famous Experience Machine thought experiment as a critique of hedonism. Nozick imagined a machine that could provide unending pleasure to any individual willing to experientially submit to it. The thought experiment suggests that if human beings desire only pleasure, humans would willingly use the machines. Nozick argues, however, that human beings may avoid such machines because humans ultimately desire "actual contact" with a "deeper reality." In other words, we value real experiences over pleasurable ones.
But what if there was a machine that offered both real and pleasurable experiences? And what if that machine was your washing machine?
In Crawl Space, author and artist Jesse Jacobs seems to flip Nozick's conclusions, suggesting that navigating a new experience as an "indeterminate blob," as Nozick calls it (and as Jacobs visualizes in his comic), is better than standing still in a dull, grey reality. Crawl Space is about the otherworldly shenanigans of two students, Daisy and Jeanne-Claude, who explore the kaleidoscopic "higher planes" of reality that are "typically reserved for highly enlightened beings" by crawling into Daisy's household appliances. Though Daisy is initially hesitant about her connection to the Wonderland-esque realm—"I just don't want that stuff defining me"—she eventually merges emotionally and physically with the shapes and colors of her psychedelic Narnia—and readers get to experience every bizarre panel of Daisy's hallucinogenic transformation from black-and-white existence to prismatic ubiquity.
Crawl Space is one part surrealism, one part Romanticism, one part existentialism, and four parts Phil Spector's Wall of Sound. Multicolored panels burst from each page, offering an almost overwhelming visual experience. Reading Crawl Space is like listening to Wizzard's "Angel Fingers" with your eyeballs. Add the colors of the Wachowskis' Speed Racer to the plot of The Matrix, and you have a version of Jesse Jacobs' Crawl Space.
Like Carlos Gonzalez's experimental comic Test Tube, Crawl Space encourages readers to appreciate and explore unfiltered beauty—and it offers a warning to those who don't. Beauty (or just detachment from banality) is portrayed in Crawl Space as a "spiritual realm," and this other realm can "serve as a passage into a deep and endless chasm of terror" if it is "approached with impure and negative emotions." For Daisy, this other world offers a wealth of new and pleasurable experiences. For other characters, Daisy's household appliances are portals to a nightmarish (though still colorful) world that fights back against vandalism and disrespect. Like the subconscious worlds of Inception and the imagination-fueled parables of The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, the technicolor environments of Crawl Space react accordingly to the actions of visitors, thus the comic's connections to Romanticism. As notably portrayed in J. M. W. Turner's famous Romantic-era painting Snow Storm: Hannibal and his Army Crossing the Alps, nature can be both innocent and dangerous, and this theme, as it exists in Crawl Space, creates tension between Daisy and the comic's secondary characters. Only those "particularly pure and innocent beings" like Daisy can interact successfully with the unfiltered possibility of Crawl Space's dreamlike ecosystems. All other individuals find themselves at odds with those environments and are eventually relegated to grey, limited existences.
Most of us want to believe that we are like Daisy, but few of us are. That said, all of us can appreciate Daisy's story, and I encourage you to do so.
Writer/Artist: Jesse Jacobs
Publisher: Koyama Press