The Entertainment Bomb

Colin Bennett

This is a rare treat indeed; a lot of really interesting ideas in a well-written delivery vehicle. The star of this book is a latter-day grotesque named Dr. Hieronymus Fields. Aside from his food-stained clothing, lurid diet and trademark grease-stained paper bag, he is best known for a book called Starpower. It postulates that the human need for deities, saints and points of reference (in both geography and time) will be met in the future, by celebrities. What gives this book its particular edge is that the good doctor works for the British Secret Service. Thus we see how an agency that wishes to manipulate and shape public perception interacts with these theories, and, we are made to wonder if this is not already taking shape out here in consensus reality.
“Entertainment State was now a muscular and questing animal, thirsty for depth-propaganda, desperately anxious that its liberally scattered first spores fell on fertile ground. Passing by him now was a gaggle of shifty pink-rinse lecturers in the now-approved Pop Culture courses at colleges and universities… He was glad to know that if Jimmy James and Tommy Trinder and Bo Diddley and Sharon Stone were to be seriously studied to the same depth as Einstein and Shakespeare, then a hell of a lot of resistance had still to be broken before the worn-down middle ground was captured and secured.” SA

Publisher: New Futurist
Paperback: 274 pages

Loompanics’ Golden Records

Edited by Michael Hoy

This is a great bathroom book. It is full of amazing little pieces on a wide variety of topics, which are for the most part quite compelling. (All but two of these pieces are reprinted from the Loompanics catalog.) It can prove maddening if one is hoping for a logical progression from piece to piece or even a loose grouping of articles into subject categories. The design lacks consistency and occasionally even feels padded. But if one takes the short-attention-span route, skipping around it like a magazine, the yields can be most rewarding and suitable for a variety of moods. The writing is consistently competent and frequently excellent.
The subjects that are covered include: things to know if you are planning to serve on a jury, how to survive in prison, covering your tracks if you are using a fake ID, drug testing, how the tabloids operate and how they effect the “mainstream” press, an assortment of cyber issues, home schooling, renegade WW II GIs, energy farming and other Green stuff, class struggle, Holocaust survivors with guns, war as entertainment, National Health Care, 12-step mania, assorted fiction and a whole lot more. A piece on the Jim Rose Circus and a short story by convicted serial killer G.J. Schaefer were commissioned especially for this book. SA

Publisher: Loompanics
Paperback: 200 pages

The Art Strike Papers/Neoist Manifestoes

Edited by Stewart Home and James Mannox

These two titles are published back to back, upside down in the manner of the old two-fer pulps. The Neoist manifestoes are republished from Smile magazine which Home called “the official organ of Generation Positive, a movement so avant-garde that it consisted solely of myself.” In 1984, Home joined forces with a Dada-influenced group calling itself the Neoists. As far as can be gleaned from the manifestoes, it would appear that starting art movements as an end in itself is a sort of 20th-century art form. The writing in the actual manifestoes is by turns silly, and occasionally, actual ly brilliant. The influence of Tristan Tzara is especially in evidence, and one manifesto suggests that “Neoism is not a philosophy at all, it is an illegible note that Tristan Tzara allowed to fall from his breast pocket prior to a performance at the Cabaret Voltaire in 1916.” It should be noted that these writings are among the first public offerings from a very young and prolific writer.
The Art Strike notion has been floating around the art world since 1968. During martial law in Poland, artists refused to exhibit their work in state galleries, leaving the ruling class without an official culture. Home writes,”what’s important are the questions that something like this poses. Hopefully it is as much about triggering doubts as anything else.” The Art Strike that occurred from 1990 to 1993 came about largely as a giant mail-art event and consisted of this series of essays by various people which raise, among others, the question of how effective such a declaration can be in a free marketplace. The standout among The Art Strike Papers is a piece entitled “Art and Class” by Home. The publication of these two titles as a single book allows us to see Home’s growth as a writer and theorist over a crucial decade in his development. SA

Publisher: AK
Paperback: 100 pages

The King of the World in the Land of the Pygmies

Joan Mark

Patrick Tracy Lowell sailed to Africa in 1927 as part of a three-person anthropological expedition from Harvard University. The nature of anthropology was changing but Mr. Lowell wasn’t. He remained a New England gentleman for the entire duration of his 25-year stay in Africa. Although he was considered a failure as an anthropologist when he died in 1953, he was certainly a success in the “life is art” category. This book gives one of the great eccentrics of the 20th century his proper due. He created a home away from home in northwest Zaire, and his hospitality enabled a number of anthropologists a chance to study the region and its people and publish their findings, in the process providing a glimpse of a world where there were still outposts of purity, untrammeled by civilization. SA

Publisher: University of Nebraska
Hardback: 272 pages

The Spears of Twilight: Life and Death in the Amazon Jungle

Phillipe Descola

The Jivaro Indians who reside around the border of Ecuador and northern Peru were perhaps most famous for the hunting and shrinking of human heads. Because of this tradition, their villages and culture remained largely unspoiled by outsiders well into this century. In the late ‘70s the author went to live among them and earned their acceptance and trust. The picture he paints of them is a knowing insider’s look at their customs, beliefs and daily life. The text exudes anthropological scholarship, and the translation from the original French is excellent.
The book’s main weakness is that the Jivaros aren’t really very interesting. They build huts and survive all manner of hardships. By the time the author has arrived, they already have rifles and headhunting is something that nobody has done recently. Their culture isn’t visually rich or myth-laden. If one is seeking a well-written portrait of a primitive people eking out a living in a harsh environment, this is about as good a telling as one could hope for. SA

Publisher: New Press
Hardback: 459 pages

The Way of the Masks

Claude Lévi-Strauss

Explores the cultures of the various coastal peoples of British Columbia and Alaska. Even though this might seem a relatively small and specific area, the diversity of these cultures is boundless. This book focuses on the aspects of ceremonial masks and the meanings they depict. The masks, as they are used to communicate with neighboring tribes, provide a context for assessing their comparative belief systems. Most interesting is that so little geography can yield such a diversity of myth, ceremony, values and beliefs. Maps and charts scattered throughout the text showing the relative proximity of the tribes to each other and to natural resources further serve to illustrate this point. Much of the lore and artifacts are relatively recent in the greater scheme of world history but spring from sources that date back to prehistory. SA

Publisher: University of Washington
Paperback: 249 pages

Spoken Maya for Travelers and Students: An Audiocassette

Recorded by Fernando Ojeda

This tape was submitted for review without a study guide or other text. The cover of the tape indicates that this is Maya as it is spoken on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. It sounds like Danish being spoken by a Native American. Unlike Danish there seems to be an emphasis on words that deal with sunshine and warmth and corn. This tape can prove especially interesting to anybody who has ever wondered what the rich and fertile pictograms of the Maya sound like as a spoken language. 30 min. SA

Publisher: University of Texas
Audio Cassette

An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural

James Randi

This book contains information on a wide-ranging variety of subjects, but the tone of it is so snide and dismissive of them that one wonders why the author even bothered to write the book. The author is an escape artist like Houdini, and in the tradition of Houdini he likes to debunk faux magic. This attitude is fine when exposing things like the levitation of tables, spirit writing and other parlor tricks. It gets a little wearing when used to describe historical or traditional things. Writing of the I Ching the author states: “… it is probably as a form of self-administered pop psychology that the system finds any value whatsoever.” The single-page synopsis of the entire Bible is funny in ways that perhaps were not intended. When the author is not being glib and clever it can be a useful resource. One place where the humor is absolutely on target is a closing appendix on “Forty-nine-End-of-the-World-Prophecies-That-Failed.” SA

Publisher: St. Martin's
Hardback: 284 pages

Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia: An Illustrated Dictionary

Jeremy Black and Anthony Green

Ancient Mesopotamia is credited with the invention of written language and the development of sophisticated urban society. The period covered by this book is from about 3000 B.C. to the Christian era. It is organized like an encyclopedia with alphabetical entries and looks to be about as definitive as any layperson would ever need. This is the sort of reference work that invites a cover-to-cover reading. It is copiously illustrated with drawings, maps and photographs (of artifacts) and is cross-referenced with a clear eye to affording the reference user as much information as possible. Preceding the encyclopedia portion is an overview divided into three sections: people and places, art and iconography, and periods. SA

Publisher: University of Texas
Paperback: 192 pages

Secrets of Magical Seals

Anna Riva

This has the look of one of those books that is mostly sold at the local botanica. It might be equally at home in a Sanrio store in the “Let’s Magic” section. Most of its loopy charm is derived from its attempt to be really completist about the subject of seals and shields and talismans. To its credit, it doesn’t claim to be definitive and it doesn’t urge the novice to attempt dangerous things. In fact, it sort of explains magic seals in such a way that if somebody were to dabble with the information provided here, they might end up visually customizing something to suit their own idiosyncratic needs. Among the pages and pages of visual offerings are: symbols of the planets, the seals of Solomon, Egyptian symbols, Gnostic seals, Islamic talismans, Chinese seals and seals of the saints. SA

Publisher: Indio
Paperback: 64 pages