The Minimal Self

Christopher Lasch

“In a time of troubles, everyday life becomes an exercise in survival. People take one day at a time. They seldom look back, lest they succumb to a debilitating ‘nostalgia’; and if they look ahead, it is to see how they can insure themselves against the disasters almost everybody now expects. Under these conditions, selfhood becomes a kind of luxury, out of place in an age of impending austerity. Self-hood implies a personal history, friends, family, a sense of place. Under siege, the self contracts to a defensive core, armed against adversity. Emotional equilibrium demands a minimal self, not the imperial self of yesteryear. Such is the thesis, in its simplest form, advanced in these pages.”

Publisher: Norton
Paperback: 317 pages

The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy

Christopher Lasch

“Once it was the ‘revolt of the masses’ that was held to threaten social order and the civilizing traditions of Western culture. In our time, however, the chief threat seems to come from those at the top of the social hierarchy, not the masses. This remarkable turn of events confounds our expectations about the course of history and calls long-established assumptions into question… Today it is the elites, however—those who control the international flow of money and information, preside over philanthropic foundations and institutions of higher learning, manage the instruments of cultural production and thus set the terms of public debate—that have lost faith in the values, or what remains of the values of the West.”

Publisher: Norton
Paperback: 276 pages

The Devil Drives

Fawn M. Brodie

“Though Burton scoffed at all forms of religious superstition—whether the fetishes of the Fan cannibals or the death ceremonies of his own Church of England—he dwelt fascinated upon all things accounted devilish in his own time. Once he even contemplated writing a biography of Satan himself… But Burton’s preoccupation with things Satanic was only one aspect of the man. In the catholicity of his interests he seemed to have been a true man of the Renaissance. He was soldier, explorer, ethnologist, archaeologist, poet, translator, and one of the two or three great linguists of his time. He was also an amateur physician, botanist, zoologist and geologist, and incidentally a celebrated swordsman and superb raconteur… And in a world where there seemed to be very little left to be discovered, he sought out the few remaining mysteries… But Burton’s real passion was not for geographical discovery but for the hidden in man, for the unknowable, and inevitably the unthinkable. What his Victorian compatriots called unclean, bestial or Satanic he regarded with almost clinical detachment. In this respect he belongs more properly to our own day.”

Publisher: Norton
Paperback: 390 pages

Outrage: The Five Reasons Why O.J. Simpson Got Away With Murder

Vincent Bugliosi

All right, you’re a vain, megalomaniacal celebrity nut case addicted to the fuzzy approval of an adoring public. Then, one night, after eating some fast food, you fly into a psychotic rage and brutally murder your estranged wife along with a hapless waiter who just happened to stroll onto the scene of the crime. You’re busted. You’re tried amid a three-ring global media circus of truly mind-boggling proportions. It looks bad, real bad, but wait—in one of the most staggering miscarriages of modern jurisprudence, you’re acquitted by a jury of your “peers” despite the veritable Mt. Everest of incriminating evidence tying you to the slayings. The rationally minded of the world reel in disbelief. How could this happen?
Somebody’s got to make sense out of all this, and who better to analyze the botched case against the vain, megalomaniacal, celebrity nut-case murderer O.J. Simpson than the vain, megalomanical, celebrity former Manson Family prosecutor and all-around media gadfly Vincent “Helter-Skelter” Bugliosi? Not a guy to shy from the public eye, Bugliosi claims he didn’t even want to write this book but was compelled to by the sheer weight of civic responsibility he felt in the wake of the verdict. Getting over his initial shyness, Bugliosi spares absolutely no one as he excoriates the tactics of the defendant, the “Dream Team” defense, the prosecution and the power-mad judge for their various roles in this travesty. So vociferous is Bugliosi that he’d have you believe that in the old days he could’ve single-handedly strapped O.J. into the gas chamber faster than you could say “Let’s have a sidebar.” And he could do it without all that pesky DNA business! And who knows, with a career record of 105 felony convictions out of 106 cases under his belt, maybe he could. Ask Charlie. AD

Publisher: Norton
Hardback: 356 pages

Recovery From Cults: Help for Victims of Psychological and Spiritual Abuse

Edited by Michael D. Langone

Having myself been deemed notorious, and occasionally despicable by one of the rather less-than-objective or deductive segments of the ignorance-aligned “vociferous minority” (I presume that’s the opposite of a silent majority, please correct me if I am wrong), I approached this tome with a decidedly voracious appetite.
My own personal crime had been to experiment “for its own sake” with the generically agreed upon dynamics of a “cult” by the simple strategy of reversal of each implicit common quality normally proposed by analysts, commentators, survivors and vested-interest right-wing (often fundamentalist Christian) “cult” groups in their profitable protestations. The research and conclusions that I later reaped from my foundation of an “anti-cult” clearly confirmed the ease with which even an existential surrealist can rapidly attract a devoted and compliant group to an admittedly sexy idea.
Unfortunately, what it demonstrated even more vividly was that being a part of, or administrating, or feeling obliged to constantly feed the group mythology is incredibly time-consuming and boring. The majority of those attracted to any “cult” or “anti-cult” are basically emotional cripples. Which is in no way a denigration, for I would insist that we are all equally crippled, and lost seeking a means to con ourselves into feeling life is innately benign and worthwhile. Equally distressing is the discovery that those who aspire to be part of any “superior” alpha or omega hierarchy are measly dullards with delusions of their own grandeur pretty much without exception.
These observations are not so surprising to most of us. Much more surprising, however, is the apparently universal conviction that the “divine” essence of the “cult” or “anti-cult,” initially followed with absolute allegiance in a highly submissive manner, comes to be perceived later by the more neurotic, devout “members” as in fact a privately inspired and unique product of their own process of spiritual and moral epiphany.
A deep confusion and psychotic resentment can build up if the original “leader” chooses to amend, adapt or in any way change and evolve the original teaching or texts of revelation and salvation. It is fanatically believed, because of the very success of its limitless integration into the personality of the devout “member,” to have become their property. Their holy mission. Their immutable and infallible philosophy of life and immortality. All self-esteem and peer-group status come to rest entirely upon the unassailable and unalterable original source.
This leaves everyone in a double-bind, only if, of course, they truly do seek after wisdom; after compassion; after creativity; after truth; after a new, improved yet individually separate identity fulfilling their most laudable and altruistic aspirations; after fun, laughter, respite and having a good time in the bargain. These real seekers after inspired religious speculation and neo-moral dialogue are confronted with an insoluble problem.
Being “in charge” is the worst nightmare possible and contradictory to any liberating and radical idea or agenda. Being “a disciple” is equally the worst nightmare possible of self-subjugation to a radical idea or agenda that by the very nature of this beast can only atrophy and stagnate by mindless repetition and the dogmatism of the weaker willed.
So you are damned if you do live the “cult” life and damned if you don’t. Everyone else outside your personal “cult” is damned too. Schisms, suicides, murders, confrontations with other “cults” ensue, and misery and existential helplessness engulf all.
Recovery From Cults could have looked at the pros and cons of all cults. Instead it simply trots out the same old, same old lists. A cult is only a cult if it has this or that specific list of attributes. All psychotherapists are either good (i.e. anti-cult) or bad (i.e., not educated in the authors’ and contributors’ rigid and inarguably correct view of the dastardly phenomenon). “Cults” are assumed to be localized aberrations. Christians are good and understand. Christian cults are not Christian cults at all and, of course, “Satanic” cults probably don’t exist, but we’ll allude to their nonexistence as much as we can to play down the vicious, sadistic, warped and foul Christian cults. You see, dogmatism and lack of self-esteem are the same monkey whatever they wear, and whilst I am sure there really are cases of indescribable, altruistic self-effacement and service to the greater good, hey, as the old joke goes:
What is the name of the “cult” where the members have to shave off their hair; give up their clothes; take a number instead of a name; be physically abused and beaten daily; suffer forced marches; have their food controlled; be trained to murder even their own family for their leader without thought or question; use a “cult” slang; be numbed with sleep deprivation and so on and so on? The U.S. Marines, of course.
None of this ambiguity or institutionalized “cultism” is addressed at all. This is, after all, a society where control is violently enforced with deep conviction by state “policing cults.” Where other more unsavory intelligence cults, or even actual cult cults are mobilized, exploited and franchised according to opportunism and the “greater GOoD.” Where even this abomination of depersonalization and sacrifice of individuality is overtly and covertly countenanced only to maintain the illusion of a “bogey-man.” A bogey-man whose nature is so apocalyptically terrible and terrorizing that suspension of disbelief and veracity of perception are voluntarily surrendered to the societal “cult.”
America is the most successful “cult” ever. It is comprised socially, politically, economically and religiously by layer upon layer of “cults.” Not surprising when one considers that the first settlers were themselves fanatical “cultists” escaping disapproval and persecution. The biggest and best “cults,” like the Mormons, the Democrats, the Jesuits, Death Row Records, Bloods and Crips, sports teams, the Nation, etc. poach members from each other, and all unify in reviling the smallest or the weirdest. Often, accessing money is paraded as proof of corruption and bad intention by rivals and newcomers. Most of them will use force, political clout, even assassination to attain and sustain their preeminence. A cult is a cult is a cult. Show me the child and I’ll show you the cultist.
So what can we conclude? No thanks to this book. Well, let’s concede: sad fucked-up lives are sad, and fucked up. Emotional cripples abound and lots of them are lonely and vulnerable to strong pseudo-parental authority. Usually parents bemoan their lost, confused and maliciously misled children, oblivious to themselves as the cause of the alienation. The ultimate, archaic “cult” of the filial family imposes its will above all else, demanding the return of those who have “accidentally” gone astray or run away. Just bear in mind, refugees flee tyranny, famine (emotional as well as literal), isolation, violence, occupation and fear.
Let everyone flee back and forth like headless chickens to join any “cult” they want, I say. It’s unavoidable. For the redundant sleeping masses there can be no life after “cults.” There can be no life outside “cults.” If they want to squabble over possessing certain people, so be it. If they can “retrieve” and “deprogram” or reprogram each other to suit their own ends, so be it. If this process is relentless, unstoppable, cruel, painful and endless for them. If the strongest win. If the omnipotent “cult” of bureaucracy and governmental control reigns supreme… What did you expect ? I have no sympathy for any of them.
For myself, I took apart a “cult” like you would take apart a model engine, to see how it worked. It was never my intention to put it back together again to make it work. My intention was a skeptical act of self-conscious rebellion so that I could detoxify my SELF of the omnipresent and oppressive “cult” pathogen. It was an abjurative act of scornful personality inoculation. A disdainful declaration of infinite and unspecific flux and the repudiation of any tainting of my character by, or experiential vulnerability to, any and all manifestations or interpretations of all possible and impossible forms of inherited “cult” systems. So there! GPO

Publisher: Norton
Paperback: 410 pages

Dictionary of Symbols

Carl G. Liungman

“The intention of this book is that it should function as both a reference work in Western cultural history and as a tool for those working with ideograms, e.g., logotype and trademark designers, those engaged in advertising, interior designers, researchers in communication, art historians, art and history teachers, etc.”
This is an amazingly well-conceived book. Dealing with non-iconic symbols (defined as pictures not easily recognized as depictions of objects), it breaks down hundreds of possible combinations of shapes into their most basic component aspects and lists any meanings which they might have in a broad range of Western cultural contexts. These symbols range from technical, astrological, alchemical, mathematical, elemental, to even a “hobo sign.” The categories have such titles as: “Asymmetric, straight-lined, open signs with crossing lines” and “Multi axis symmetric, both soft and straight-lined closed signs with crossing lines.” But if that doesn't compute with the side of the brain the reader uses, there is a chart in the back for visually locating symbols and the page numbers where their meanings appear. The signs can have a meaning which might be of a different context than a reader might have considered, making this a fun book to sit and read, even though its organization would suggest that its major application might be as a reference book. SA

Publisher: Norton
Paperback: 596 pages

Night: Night Life, Night Language, Sleep and Dreams

A. Alvarez

“Nothing is definite, nothing precise,” Alvarez says of The Dark; even the author's negotiation of night itself, promised to unfurl with “a face of crumpled linen” and “a horrible smell of mould,” falls prey to random electric surges, dissolving finally into Freud's erotic interpretations of violets. Flowers in the night? Have we hit the REM stage yet? Alvarez, whose precocious indulgence in sex and food “lasted perhaps a dozen years and then was usurped by a new obsession: sleep,” drags us to his sleep lab by the hair, forcing us, Clockwork Orange style, to watch him dream, stumble over Freud and Coleridge, and inspect a “rosebud”-mouthed East Village whore. “The root cause of crime is poverty,” he quotes, until we howl between the sheets. Our bedtime prayers beg to deliver the moral of the story: Don't attempt to look for answers once the light has been turned off. JS

Publisher: Norton
Paperback: 290 pages

An Outline of Psychoanalysis

Sigmund Freud

“It was Freud's fate, as he observed not without pride, to 'agitate the sleep of mankind.' Half a century after his death, it seems clear that he succeeded far better than he expected… In June 1938, at 82, Freud began writing this terse survey of the fundamentals of psychoanalysis. He marshals here the whole range of psychoanalytic theory and therapy in lucid prose and continues his open-mindedness to new departures, such as the potential of drug therapy.” In three parts: “The Mind and Its Workings,” which embraces the development of sexual function and explores dream-interpretation as illustration; “The Practical Task,” focusing on the technique of psychoanalysis; and “The Theoretical Yield,” which explains the psychical apparatus of the internal world and its effect on the external world. GR

Publisher: Norton
Paperback: 113 pages

On Dreams

Sigmund Freud

“I have attempted in this volume to give an account of the interpretation of dreams; and in doing so I have not, I believe, trespassed beyond the sphere of interests covered by neuropathology.”—Freud.
Includes “The Relation of Dreams to Waking Life,” “The Method of Interpreting Dreams”, “Distortion and Dreams”, “The Somatic Sources of Dreams”, “Embarrassing Dreams of Being Naked” and more.

Publisher: Norton
Paperback: 736 pages

Maria, or the Wrongs of Woman

Maria Wollstonecraft

A Vindication of the Rights of Women in fictitious form, written with great candor and an unbounded frankness by a female who had the audacity to challenge rigid English marriage laws, and to unabashedly proclaim that women harbored the “same capacity for rational thought and intellectual development as men.” Where in Vindication, Wollstonecraft (the mother of Mary Shelley, who wrote the novel Frankenstein) gave the first ray of hope for a different, more egalitarian form of marriage, Maria paints a bleak picture of women who are pummeled down mentally, spiritually and physically by tyrannical husbands. Very much ahead of her time, Maria asks the painfully rhetorical question “Was not the World a vast prison and women born slaves?” GC

Publisher: Norton
Paperback: 138 pages