Overweening Generalist

Friday, August 9, 2013

Books: Passing Remarks On Select Titles, Fictional, Non-Fictional and Nonexistent

Not long ago I was nosing through Sally Wade's The George Carlin Letters. She was Carlin's love the last years of his life. Before they got together she was in Dalton's bookstore in Santa Monica and overheard his distinct voice: "I'll take Our Culture and What's Left of It, The Anatomy of Dirty Words, and Rationale of the Dirty Joke...if you can get 'em to me by Friday," he says to the clerk who's helping him, "I'll give ya a tip to buy yourself some weed." These titles may sound like they were made up in the mouth of Carlin, but as you can see by the links (which I do not profit monetarily by citing here; I'm merely a cheerleader for Book Kulchur), they're real. And I'm sort of surprised Carlin didn't own two of those already: Sagarin's Anatomy  and Legman's Rationale. They had long been in his wheelhouse. (Maybe he lost his old copies?) I looked up Our Culture and it's by Theo. Dalrymple, of whom I've only read a few articles. This one seems reactionary, no? But I don't know; haven't read it.

Sagarin was influenced by Benjamin Lee Whorf and was one of the intellectual founders of the modern gay rights movement. What a fascinating figure and unsung hero! He was a pioneer in using sociological analysis to show that laws that persecuted people for "obscene" language or other behaviors the dominator culture labeled as "deviant" were unjust laws; these "deviant" behaviors and utterances were legitimate expressions and should be protected and not prosecuted.

Legman was one of the great lone archivist-intellectuals. I own a copy of Rationale and it's a stunning, thick work of readable deep scholarship about a "taboo" subject. Note the line from folklorist Susan Davis about Legman's term "Hell Boxes": they're "a substrate of material that almost everybody knows is there, but can't talk about in polite circles." Legman was all about mining the Hell Boxes, which seem a level or two "above" what Frobenius and Pound called the paideuma

Robert Anton Wilson told me that the function of a good comedian was to touch on these subjects, because they discharged pent-up energy about the subjects into laughter.

Legman's archival bend reminds me of Ed Sanders, who supposedly has just an unbelievably large archive (500 banker's boxes? Wow) somewhere in upstate NY near Woodstock. In one of his books he mentions he was writing or had written (I lost my notes!) a history of surveillance by Authority of artists, poets, and other Thought Criminals. I have never seen it, and don't know of a library that owns it (a library I could borrow from). Here's a link to something called Sanders' Report: Surveillance Stories of the 60s and 70s, but I'm not convinced this - whatever it is - is the epic "surv" (as Sanders writes it) book from him. I hope something really huge comes from him, culled from his massive archive. As Charlie Parker blew, "Now's The Time."

This reminds me of a review of a book I haven't read: British Writers and MI5 Surveillance: 1930-1960, by Smith. The idea that intellectuals and poets were/are a threat to the existing order: artists seem to devoutly wish it were true, the evidence seems sketchy, and the spies and cops that persecute the artists, as Orwell points out as quoted in the review, don't know what the ideas "are" that has them arresting/harassing/bugging the "red" artist. The leader of the Communist Party in Great Britain considers the intellectuals "less than nothing of their value to the party."

Speaking of which: has anyone written an actual book called Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism? O'Brien, et.al in Orwell's 1984 wrote it; now seems the time to write an actual version. I'd read it if it came out, probably right after The Grasshopper Lies Heavy (a book by Hawthorne Abendsen in Philip K. Dick's The Man In The High Castle), or The Bawdy Humor of Noam Chomsky (a sarcastic in-group joke title by McCawley, Lakoff and other of Chomsky's ex-students, as found in Randy Allen Harris's excellent Linguistics Wars).

While I'm on this stuff: William F. Buckley wrote The Wit and Wisdom of Vlad the Impaler in Robert Anton Wilson's Schrodinger's Cat Trilogy. RAW has to be in the Top 20 of authors who loved to make up titles of books; his books are stacked with fictional fiction and fictional non-fiction, usually in his own fiction. Wigner's Friend by Timothy Leary (a fictional non-fiction book - about the epistemological underpinnings of quantum mechanics - by a non-fictional person); Little People With Big Ideas by Markoff Chaney is a non-fiction book, presumably, by a fictional character who's related to the family that produced Lon Chaney, but Markoff is a midget  (or "Mgt"), or "little person." His fictional name is a pun on a mathematical concept that I think I "grok" but maybe not. The idea that a "simple random walk" is an example of a Markov Chain...and this is related to Brownian motion, chaos theory, and Monte Carlo? Maybe I don't grok it yet.

Anyway, Markoff Chaney also wrote a book called Reality Is What You Can Get Away With. (citation: see the omnibus edition of Schrodinger's Cat Trilogy, p.538). This fictional character Chaney wrote a book about ontology, or how and what constitutes "reality" or Being-ness. Later, the writer that wrote Chaney's Being-ness into...some ontological status? himself wrote a book by that same title. There is no way to tell if both books "are" the same book, as one is a non-fiction book (maybe?) in a fictional work, while the other appears to be a "play" of some sort that includes a lot of non-fiction, but most librarians would consider it a "fictional" work...unless they classified it as "Screenplays - United States," which I'm not sure is a "real" Dewey or Library of Congress classification term or not...At any rate, "Robert Anton Wilson" appears to have written two books of the same title, and my educated guess is that the books are quite different. I hope I haven't lost you here, Dear Reader. The version with more ontological status seems HERE. Buy your own copy (more ontological status?) HERE. Do not confuse all this with something about Terry Gilliam!

A book that RAW seemed to have made up, but I found out was real, was Oral Sadism and the Vegetarian Personality, written and/or edited by Glenn C. Ellenbogen. RAW thought the book was a terrific parody of academic Psychology. I have not read the book, but when I need that sort of laff (PDQ), I'll seek it out.

Pseudo-Explicational Omnibus is the title of my own nonexistent book about certain writings by Borges, Pynchon, Tom Robbins, Robert Anton Wilson, and Stanislaw Lem. To give you an idea of what the book is about, see Lem's book A Perfect Vacuum.

Here's a book: Universal Ecstatic Tautology, by Alejandro Favian. This appears to exist. I found it in a book on that fabulous weirdo-genius-scientist-Egyptologist-Jesuit Athanasius Kircher. The title would sound like a satire on Kircher, but it was written by one of his greatest admirers, and it's in five volumes, totaling 3000 pages, and like Kircher's books, it's about everything.

3000 pages is nothing, really. The other day a few of us were talking about documentaries we'd seen that knocked our socks off. I struggled to recall the name of the documentary, but when I mentioned it was about the Outsider Artist Henry Darger, someone came forth with In The Realms of the Unreal, directed by Jessica Yu. (HERE's a trailer.) Darger invented his own world and painted it. The expansion of the mythos of his world, The Story of the Vivian Girls, In What Is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinnian War Storm, Caused By the Child Slave Rebelllion, allegedly runs to 15,145 pages. I have not read it.

Medicine Chest Against All Heresies sounds like something Wilson made up (to me), but it was written by the orthodox early Christian, Epiphanius of Salamis. When I first saw the title it seemed like something parodical about fundamentalist materialists, Ayn Rand followers, or far-right-wing Christians. It appears Epiphanius was on the ep and ep.

The Etymologicon was a book Giambattista Vico imagined, and if he'd had the support of Readers, he may have written it. It was a book that would give all the deepest roots of every word in every language, so the reader could travel back to the Beginning of human language. I found out recently that Mark Forsyth had written a book by that title (2011), with the intriguing subtitle, "A Circular Stroll Through The Hidden Connections of the English Language." It's only English, but I think Forsyth has me with "hidden connections." I'll get to it soon, or at least take a "stroll" through it.

One of my favorite thinkers, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, doesn't like business books much. Neither do I. NNT gives us advice on reading: "With regular books, read the text and skip the footnotes; with academic books, read the footnotes and skip the text; and with business books, skip the text and footnotes." Bed of Procrustes, p.46. Also: "What we call 'business books' is an eliminative category invented by bookstores for writing that has no depth, no style, no empirical rigor, and no linguistic sophistication." (op.cit, 47)

I'd like to end yet another blog on books spew by returning to Prof. George Carlin, who thought a book called Doorway to Norway would be a good idea for a travel book to that country. (See Napalm and Silly Putty, p31)


Anonymous said...

this is the kind of thing that leads
to imaginary authors of imaginary
books and the reason such things are
necessary for our own imagination.

It also adds a wide tapestry in the
background of other works. The reach
of the cthulhu mythos in modern days
as just one example.

Just an odd question I've been in
the process of mulling over:
Does the embassy closing mean we
lost the war on terror, it was to
drive us out of the Islamic world ?

I also notice the Syrian rebels
all seem to have shiny new weapons.
Are we buying them so we can point to the horrible threat they are
to us ?

Can we get the fundamentalists to
move to Russia to continue their
anti-gay pogroms ?

Inquiring minds want to know. :^)

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

Here's a sentence from Philip Jose Farmer's novella, "Riders of the Purple Wage":

" 'Sexual Implications of the Charge of the Light Brigade' is so fascinating a book that Doctor Jespersen Joyce Bathymens, psycholinguist for the Federal Bureau of Group Reconfiguration and Intercommunicability, hates to stop reading."

I don't believe anyone has ever written "Sexual Implications of the Charge of the Light Brigade" but Farmer himself was the kind of person who might have done it. He loved those kinds of jokes. He wrote "Venus on the Half Shell" by Kilgore Trout, a fictional author in the works of Kurt Vonnegut. He once wrote a short story about "Nick Adams Jr., science fiction writer" and a story about Tarzan, written as if the Tarzan stories were written by William S. Burroughs, rather than Edgar Rice Burroughs.

michael said...


re: Imaginary authors in imaginary books: I think one reason I seem so perennially drawn to this stuff is the whiff or "infinity" (whether it "exists" or not), and a seeming subset of infinity: the infinite regress. There may exist some edifying discourse in a non-fiction book written about our real world, even if that book was written by a fictional character inside a work of fiction. I may have heard about how "good" a "real" book is, but unless I check for myself, it seems to have a similar status as Hagbard Celine's book Never Whistle While You're Pissing, which, even though I haven't read it, I think I can say a few things about what it's about and why it's valuable.

Emptying the embassies means both that we lost the war on an abstract noun yet AGAIN, and that we're all supposed to be as compliant as MSNBC or CBS and feel scared into thinking maybe it's okay to let the NSA put a camera in our pants.

I'm outraged...OUT-RAGED!!! that you would even hint that the Syrian rebels may have copped their weapons from us. Are you saying this, Sir? If you are, have you no shame? I mean, name me one time when the US armed "rebels" only to have blowback on us for it, or to justify a pre-existing narrative for the folks at home?

I'm right there with you on the new threat to good heterosexual Russians by the notorious gays, and I urge every Good Ol' American gay-hater to go over there and JOIN THE FIGHT! Stay until you win! You need to fight 'em over there before they're here...oh wait a minute...

No, but still and seriously homophobes: Go To Russia and help Brother Putin! Do you want me to write a letter to Rick Perry for you, asking for bills and other funding? Just ask. I'm here to help!

michael said...

@Tom: While I was writing the bits about RAW and Chaney I was thinking about PJ Farmar, who I suspect, had even more play with real and imagined intertextuality than Wilson...but I have only read about four or five of his books, all library copies. Thanks for that perfect quote and your example of KIlgore Trout, and the Nick Adams/"Burroughs" nexus; these seem among the very best examples to illustrate all this ludic literary stuff.

michael said...

ADDENDA: in a state of exogenously induced "meditation" I have seen a parallel universe and:

1.) Yes, they do exist, the multiverse is as real as infinity!

2.) An art historian "there" named Ted Sturgeon has written a magisterial work on the surrealist Botticelli and his world called _Venus On The Half Shell_.

Just thought y'all'ed like to know.

Brian Shields said...

I don't think anyone would begrudge you getting a small monetary reward from the sale of books you've linked to.

Another wonderful mindfuck Mr. Johnson.

michael said...

@Brian Shields:

Thanks for the choice vibes.

Google long ago took absurd offense to writing I did about "sex" that they somehow interpreted as being a violation of TOS for AdSense, threatened me, etc. I didn't back down, so no money, no ads. They stole back what money was accruing, because who knows, maybe Google needs it?:


Eric Wagner said...

Great blog as usual. I love Farmer's "The Doge Whose Barque Was Worse Than His Bight," written under the pseudonym Jonathan Somers III, a major influence on Kilgore Trout.

James Branch Cabell whose 19 volume novel included a library of dreams featuring the works Christopher Marlowe wrote after his early death. Cabell influenced Neil Gaiman who included a library of dreams in Sandman. I loved a volume he created by P. G. Wodehouse featuring Jeeves and Psmith.

"Bob" Dobbs borrowed my copy of the Necronomicon at a seminar he taught on "Modernism and Sales or Why Leopold Bloom Was a Salesman" back in 1979, and Dobbs still hasn't returned it.

michael said...


Apparently Wodehouse loved this stuff: Farmer asked PGW for permission to use his character "Felix Clovelly" - who is the nom de plume for the thriller novelist "Ashe Marston" from _Something New_, and PGW answered immediately, "Yes!"

Farmer never got around to it. But just to be clear, in case anyone wants to do it themselves: You write some sort of thriller (or any other Weird Thing?), and use the name "Felix Clovelly." I'm not sure if you still need to ask the PGW estate, but I'd guess yes.

I'd include PGW and Cabell as characters in some way, maybe even Kilgore Trout and Hawthorne Abdenson (sp?), whose book inside PKD's The Man In The High Castle is about multiple realities: the Allies win World War II!

May as well work in Saul Goodman too, and make him part of the "Breaking Bad" Saul and the detective in Illuminatus!. Rebecca Goodman wrote a book about Saul called _I Await His Return_, p.292, SCT omnibus ed.

At some point a Reader might see the name "Clovelly" and sniff a ruse; then they need to Google (how easy it all is now!) and trace it back, assemble step by step the sequence of chinese boxes.

It might be fun to have characters read from _The Haunted Inkbottle_ or Pope Stephens's _Integritas, Consonantia, Claritas_. Bury the bone a tad deeper.

Which "Bob" Dobbs borrowed your Necronomicon by Abdul al-Hazred? There are definitely more than one by that name.

michael said...