The Necromantic Ritual Book

Leilah Wendell

A black-and-silver gothic pamphlet with spooky Grim Reaper woodcuts printed in an annoying, hard-to-read, black-letter typeface. The book reminds me of a high school print-shop project by a Propaganda magazine reader. Wendell describes rituals intended to understand, revere and love Azrael, the Angel of Death. That includes “love” in the physical sense of necrophilia (“At this point, do not supress your desires. Give into them and follow their lead”). While there is much talk about purity of heart, sanctity of the “catalyst”/corpse, etc., the ritual involves disinterring a corpse, stuffing an amethyst inside (“If the body is sufficiently decomposed… “), holding its hand, and making love to the corpse if it “makes the first move”! Pray to the angel Mikael for support if your friends don’t understand your elevated desires. Wendell tells us that “the Death energy is meant to be savored slowly like a fine wine, not guzzled like a six-pack of Bud!” Wendell recommends Taylor’s Tawny Port Wine instead. RP

Publisher: Westgate
Paperback: 50 pages

Essays in Radical Empiricism

William James

If one idea characterizes America, it is the “the spirituality of matter” (as Edgar Alan Poe called it in his philosophical dialogues). This theme can be traced through creations considered most American: rock’n’roll, process-oriented jazz and the primacy of the individual's encounter with things (“life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”). Even the much-maligned “Protestant work ethic” becomes less ridiculous when seen in the context of being an attempt to find enlightenment (“salvation”) through an active engagement with the material world (“work”). This idea is also central to the philosophy of William James, the definitive American philospher. James systematically articulates the spirituality of matter by dissolving traditional philosophic distinctions between mind and matter, things and their relations, and facts and values. RP

Publisher: University of Nebraska
Paperback: 304 pages

The Age of Agony: The Art of Healing, 1700-1800

Guy Williams

The art and practice of medicine was “severely retarded” in the 18th century. Call it cruel and unusual healing. Before germ theory, before anesthesia, before magic-bullet pills. Surgery was you, the doctor, a bottle, and a saw. Babies were given opiates to shut them up. Ladies lived with lice in their wigs. Harelips were cut and sewn up while three men held the child down. Smallpox scarred your face for life. And then there was the cure for insanity, a combination of purging, blistering, bleeding, violent sickness, and burning. “In the body, Hippocrates had said, were the four humours. If one or more of the humours were present in excess, mental disturbance would result.” First cure was “the use of drastic purges, or vomits.” If the humour refused to be purged, blood-letting was next, “either by a surgeon’s knife, or by the use of leeches.” Third try was “raising blisters by applying plasters or hot irons to the skin [until] the seared or ulcerated place suffered to run a good while.” Last resort: drill a hole in the head; maybe the humours will escape from the brain. Unless you were rich, failed insanity cures were often farmed out to strangers and “chained in a cellar or garret of a workhouse, fastened to the leg of a table, [or] tied to the post in an outhouse.” Others were cast out into the cold, “like a lost dog or bitch.” RP

Publisher: Academy Chicago
Hardback: 237 pages

Doris Kloster

Doris Kloster

Fashion photographer Kloster’s portfolio of mostly dominant women, with lots of accessories (starting from the top and working down): gas masks, uniforms, rubber, leather corsets, hip boots, stiletto heels, strap-ons. Mostly submissive men being tortured with (starting from the top and working down): suspension, hoods, restraint, whips, pinching. Sections on shoe licking and infantilism. Kloster’s photos have a self-consciously staged look, rather than the heady playfulness of the Klaw/Page pictures, the bewildering eccentricity of Elmer Batters or Eric Kroll, or the scary autism of ritualist amateur photos. RP

Publisher: Taschen
Hardback: 340 pages

Ethnicity and the American Cemetery

Edited by Richard E. Meyer

The American lawn-park cemetery seeks consolation from the idea that the dead have been integrated into a beneficent natural order, represented by the depersonalized, manicured Forest Lawn-scape. This collection of academic essays examines immigrant grave-site ornaments and customs frequently at odds with the mainstream, Protestant-derived memorial park. Italian, Jewish, and brooding Ukrainian monuments seek to preserve the memory of the individual against the dilution of time, rather than celebrating its re-absorption by the natural order, while Gypsy family plots in Ohio are surprisingly restrained and inconspicuous. Also examined are Asian and Polynesian traditions in Hawaiian cemeteries, and assimilated Native American traditions in New Mexico. RP

Publisher: Bowling Green
Paperback: 239 pages

Cloak and Gown: Scholars in the Secret War, 1939-1961

Robin W. Winks

Few institutions demonstrate America’s changing role in world affairs as vividly as the Central Intelligence Agency. In the 1930s, America did not even have an organized intelligence network. The Office of Strategic Services was mobilized as America prepared for war, eventually including separate branches for Research and Analysis, Secret Intelligence, and Counter-Intelligence (with the cool moniker “X-2”). After World War II, the OSS was disbanded for fear that in peace-time it would create an American Gestapo. R and A was reassigned to the State Department, SI and X-2 were re-assigned to the military and later spun off into the Central Intelligence Agency. Given this precarious start, it is surprising that the CIA is the Cold War institution to out-live and prosper beyond the Soviet threat, while nuclear arsenals and military bases choke on their own moth-balls.
Winks’ history of “scholars in the secret war” is in unique contrast to the monolithic inevitability of the CIA today. He presents an almost anecdotal account of Yale’s involvement in the OSS, in the process showing how this involvement and the resulting intelligence agencies were shaped by the specifics of Ivy League academia. His first chapter, “The University: Recruiting Ground,” provides a sympathetic, yet still critical, insider’s description of the privileged mores of Ivy League campus life. Most significantly, Winks describes how the English-style “college” system, by which Yale organizes students into schools overseen by a headmaster, facilitated professors’ channeling of promising students to the OSS Likewise, Yale alum and University Press editor Wilmarth Sheldon “Lefty” Lewis, developed the Central Information Division’s data-card filing system, using minutiae-honed skills from editing the complete correspondence of Horace Walpole, originator of the Gothic novel (a 42-year project not completed until 1983, four years after Lewis’ death). The resulting system was unmatched in its detail and complexity, serving as the basis of intelligence analysis for decades to come.
Unfortunately, Winks does not print a sample of this information-science marvel, which is less to the point of his book than the fact that Lewis got the assignment “because he was having lunch with the Librarian of Congress one August day in 1941 at the MacLeish home in Conway, Massachusetts.” Such observations are not entirely flippant, but demonstrate the casual way the modern CIA came into being. Winks’ wanderings through social clubs, campus fraternities and faculty luncheons are perhaps his book’s greatest assest, the means by which he secularizes the CIA’s pre-history, removing it from the mythical realms of conspiracy cabals and returning it to the world of real human actions. RP

Publisher: Yale University
Paperback: 607 pages

Stalin and the Bomb: The Soviet Union and Atomic Energy, 1939-1956

David Holloway

Using recently declassified Soviet documents and interviews with many of the Soviet scientists who participated in the USSR’s nuclear program, the author presents a behind-the-scenes account of Soviet nuclear policy from 1939-1956. Professional hand-wringers wonder if the arms race could have been avoided had Stalin been informed about the U.S. atomic bomb before it was dropped on Hiroshima, so that he would not take its existence as a threat to the Soviet Union. Others fantasize that the escalation of the arms race to thermonuclear levels could have been avoided if the United States did not proceed to develop the hydrogen bomb.
The author doubts if such changes in American policy would have resulted in reciprocal changes, given Stalin’s “malevolent and suspicious personality.” Stalin did not expect a major war in the short term, nor did he fear an imminent atomic attack on the Soviet Union by the U.S. In the long term, Stalin wanted nuclear (and later thermonuclear) weapons to fight an anticipated crusade against the west. In the short term, he wanted nuclear weapons to resist political pressure from the United States and its allies in shaping the post-World War II peace settlements.
As early as 1955, Soviet leaders understood that a Soviet-American nuclear war was suicidal, and realized that Western leaders knew this too. Nevertheless, Stalin’s command economy diverted resources away from rebuilding the war-torn USSR and into a “catch up and overtake” arms race with the U.S. Stalin’s decision was doomed, as this grueling war of attrition could only be won by the far more wealthy U.S., which had enough dough to build a nation-wide suburban culture and still spend circles around Stalin. RP

Publisher: Yale University
Paperback: 464 pages

Carnival, American Style: Mardi Gras at New Orleans and Mobile

Samuel Kinser

While some of the author’s critical apparatus might be goofy, he nonetheless takes a distinctive approach to Mardi Gras. He disputes commonplace thoughts about the roots of carnival traditions in rural pagan rites; judging them fallacies of the nationalistic “folk spirit” ideologies prevalent in 19th-century Europe. Instead, European Carnival is seen to be a 14th-century, urban, courtly response to the meatless fasting and sexual abstinence of the 40-day Catholic Lent preceding Easter.
Carnival as practiced in New Orleans, and in Mobile, Ala., takes many of its prominent features from these 15th- and 16th- century European celebrations, as filtered through the fantasies of the 19th-century imagination: pseudoclassical origins and decorations, Renaissance attire and secular acceptance of human folly. Mardi Gras’ faux aristocracies and courts are seen as fantasy enactments by elites who saw their political and social power slipping away in the industrial and political changes leading up to and following the Civil War. The more rigid racial divisions in Mobile created a “ceremonious carnival” that reaffirmed existing social barriers, while the more diverse population of New Orleans generated a “carnivalesque carnival” that titillated itself with transgressions. Certainly food for thought when one is passed out in a New Orleans alleyway, face-first in a half-eaten King Cake. RP

Publisher: University of Chicago
Hardback: 415 pages

The Cocktail: The Influence of Spirits on the American Psyche

Joseph Lanza

Lanza’s Elevator Music was an appropriately quirky and hypnotic history spiraling from Orpheus to Brigadier General George Owen Squier to Angelo Badalamenti. The Cocktail is also like its namesake: a pleasant, glittery prelude to more substantial fare, such as Barnaby Conrad III’s Absinthe.
Here the author glances at many etymologies for “cocktail” (ranging from a salute to the feather in George Washington’s hat to a “cock’s ale” made from raisins, mace, cloves, ale and the blood of the losing contestant in a cock fight!) before lounging into a medley of liquor-related topics: speakeasies, crooners, and glamorous pre-A.A. dipsophiliacs. The author eschews detail in favor of color and sweeping strokes. His account of the temperance movement’s poisonous blossoming into full-tilt Prohibition is particularly interesting, given today’s promiscuous political liaisons between liberal and fundamentalist elements with a common penchant for anti-glamour legislation. Also charming are descriptions of famous watering holes past, and some present: the flapper-era El Fey in New York, Hollywood’s original Brown Derby, Trader Vic’s and present-day New York’s refurbished Royalton. The last chapter summarizes the Cocktail Renaissance, providing an enticing apéritif to further investigations in lounge aesthetics. RP

Publisher: St. Martin's
Hardback: 168 pages

A Trip to the Light Fantastic: Travels With a Mexican Circus

Katie Hickman

Two kinds of people write books on the circus and carnivals: those who are with it (like Dan Mannix or Jim Rose) and those who wish they were. This is a better example of the latter category. British travel writer Katie Hickman and her photographer husband, Tom, joined a small Mexican family circus, Circo Bell, that traces its origins back to an illegitimate son of the famous clown Richard Bell. Their logo is the label for Bell’s Whiskey, and they recycle Raiders of the Lost Ark soundtracks for their theme music.
The troupe includes clowns, aerialists and an equilibrista (balancing act), and Katie eventually joins in as an elephant rider. Few of the acts are described in any detail, as Hickman is less interested in the circus-as-performing-art and more interested in the circus as an articulation of the Mexican spirit. The prose sometimes tries too hard to mimic Marquez’ and Paz’ magical realist style, but Hickman manages to recover with vivid observations. She describes a country of startling contrasts: a casual circus troupe without schedules and a time-obsessed Lacandon Indian, contemporary urban professionals and the last survivor of Pancho Villa’s Dorado honor guards, ancient pyramids and Mexico City shopping mall parking lots, and the circus’ respected matriarch and a maliciously raped dancing girl. While Hickman’s initial goal is to describe Mexico, Circo Bell’s wanderlust, self-sufficient community and quixotic commitment to performance illustrates the universal nature of the circus itself. RP

Publisher: HarperCollins
Paperback: 308 pages