By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
Photo by Anne FishbeinA growing number of researchers and theorists from different fields appear to be converging on the image of the doughnut -- or "torus" -- as an archetype for fundamental processes at all different scales of Life. Don't believe it? Try a quick search on the Internet. Toss in keywords like torus, attractor, chaos, astrophysics, topology and you'll stumble on a number of sites -- names like the Meru Foundation (www.Meru.org), Dan Winter (www.danwinter.com), Arthur Young (www.arthuryoung.com), Roger Penrose (www.worldofescher.com/misc/penrose.html) and others. Plus stuff on Tokamaks, superconductors, toroidal magnetics . . . not to mention an awful lot of doughnut stores across the land.
In eight years of following the absurd, mysterious (and occasionally mystic) trail of the doughnut, I've gathered a large and snowballing collection of data and theory. All of which has led me to believe that there's something going on here of some significance -- and maybe a lot.
For me, it started back in 1991 when my best friend, Dan Joy, was talking in his sleep. Most of what he said was incomprehensible babble, but for two words, "tribal doughnut." Luckily his lover of the time was there to hear it. It was a great source of amusement for us, wondering just what a tribal doughnut might be. To extend the joke, we even took to naming ourselves after different flavors of doughnut (hence my nom de plume, Cinnamon Twist).
As I had already been looking for some cool conceptual rubric to publish a new zine under, I decided to adopt this admirably surrealist phrase as my own -- a perfect umbrella for a wacky mishmash of chaos theory, psychedelic spirituality and collage art.
Then one day, in the process of assembling the first issue of Tribal Donut, somebody opened a book on magic we had floating around in the living room. The author suggested at length that the universe is doughnut-shaped. Fond as we were of cosmological speculation, this got our attention.
We were starting to suspect that something was up with this doughnut thing. And lo and behold, bookstore browsing one day in the Haight, I stumble upon a complete illustrated history of doughnuts, Sally Levitt Steinberg's The Donut Book, remaindered. As I scanned it on the way home, I found a whole chapter on what I now call "the theory of the doughnut," or just plain old "doughnutology." Steinberg quotes an article from The New York Times Science section:
"If space curves back on itself, doughnut-like, as Einstein contended, what occupies the space in the doughnut's hole and in the area beyond the outside rim?"
Shortly thereafter, a Zippy the Pinhead cartoon appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle. It showed a doughnut floating in space. The universe according to Zippy was not only doughnut-shaped, it was also filled -- with lemon cream!
The batter began to thicken.
Next we find a reproduction of the cover of an old Rudy Rucker sci-fi novel, Spacetime Donuts, a story in which the characters invent a vessel that enlarges itself to the size of the universe, then reduces -- along the surface of a curved space-time doughnut, natch -- to the size of an atom.
Also reproduced is a page from a book by Arthur Young, inventor of the Bell Helicopter, called The Reflexive Universe. Young describes how he drew upon the torus as the inspiration for his theory that the evolution of life and consciousness, and process in general, can be divided into seven distinct stages, based on the seven colors required to define the topological contours of a torus (a sphere requires only four). Young comments, "The torus shape, which is also that of a vortex, occurs widely in natural phenomena: It is the shape of a magnetic field, of a tornado, and of eddies in water. And especially interesting is the fact that it is the only manner in which self-sustained motion can exist in a given medium."
Furthermore, Steinberg quotes another theorist: "The self, in a toroidal universe, can be both separate and connected with the rest of the universe. And the problem is the same for many selves which would constitute more holes; a hole for each but all connected."
Not least among the mind-boggling tidbits in Steinberg's brilliant but now out-of-print tome was a poster by a '60s conceptual artist and poet, Richard Kiersten, Mystical and Metaphysical Qualities of an Average but Unknown Donut. A few of his poster lines:
O donut hole
gateway to Satori
the flow intuitively
knows Cosmic Donut
After long meditation
the words of donut
remembered on waking
Lastly, we learn that, according to Steinberg's research, the oldest known appearance of the man-made doughnut form is in China, a circular object called the Pi, sometimes made out of jade and decorated with dragons: "a symbol of eternal life and other ultimate concerns."
Suddenly, doughnuts were everywhere.
SOMEWHERE IN THE SAME SPACE-TIME COORDINATES, we had a 17-year-old punkette named -- believe it or not -- Universe crashing at our place by the Golden Gate panhandle. Like any proper 17-year-old gutterpunk with leopard-spot hair, our dear Universe couch-surfed and parasitized her way with us for a while, then disappeared owing some money. One day, however, she turned up with a set of three paperbacks by Ralph Abraham, one of the pioneers of chaos theory, in exchange for her past-due couch-rental fees. The books were filled with computer graphics of chaotic attractors in various shapes and sizes, many of them toroidal.