This is one in a series of essays about enthralling books. I asked my friends and colleagues to recommend a book that took over their life. I told them the book didn't have to be a literary masterpiece. The only thing that mattered was that the book captivated them and carried them into the world within its pages, making them ignore the world around them. I asked: "Did you shirk responsibilities so you could read it? Did you call in sick? Did you read it until dawn? That's the book I want you to tell us about!" See all the essays in the Enthralling Book series here. -- Mark
Towards a Poor Theatre, by Jerzy Grotowski
I had not heard of Grotowski until 1977 when I witnessed a film document of his Polish Theatre Lab's performance of Akropolis. As I left Berkeley's Pacific Film Archive screening, I wandered the streets in shock and awe. Though I had eight years' experience performing, writing, and directing experimental theatre, nothing could prepare me for Grotowski's visceral explosive and revelatory "paratheatre." I immediately walked down Telegraph Avenue to Moe's Books and found a copy of Grotowski's book, Towards a Poor Theatre. Sitting there on the floor in the Theatre section, oblivious to the world, I was enthralled and astonished by what I was reading. Grotowski's radical premises were so dynamic, yet so clearly pragmatic, they advanced the culture of theatre beyond the previous gold standard of Stanislavki's method. My young 25-year old heart, mind, and body was on fire! Read the rest
This week, Boing Boing is presenting a series of essays about movies that have had a profound effect on our invited essayists. See all the essays in the Mind Blowing Movies series here. -- Mark
Mind Blowing Movies: El Topo (1970), by Antero Alli
The first film to truly blow my mind was Jodorowsky's El Topo, which I saw soon after its release in the early '70s. Up until then I assumed that all films were made for entertainment purposes only. However, as a twenty-something, former acidhead living in Berkeley, California, my young mind was freshly imprinted to remain open to the symbolic levels of existence. Whether the "meaning" behind things whispered cosmic secrets to me or whether I made it all up mattered very little; what mattered to me was the freedom to not take everything so literally.
In the first ten minutes of this movie, I saw right away that if I viewed El Topo in any literalist way, I would experience it as a mediocre spaghetti western, softcore quasi-snuff film. But after I shifted into a more symbolist way of seeing, the film unfolded before my eyes like an animated magical Kaballah.
The main character was now The Ego on a spiritual journey to encounter and defeat four "masters," which revealed themselves to me as Body, Heart, Intellect, and Spirit. In this story, the Ego defeats the first three masters but is unexpected and indirectly defeated by Spirit. The Ego undergoes a death and awakens underground inside a hollow mountain filled with deformed humans that I saw as the Subconscious filled with distorted repressions of our human condition. Read the rest
The Summer of 1979; Berkeley California. The back story of how I got here is far and away too convoluted to explain but here I am sitting on a couch in Robert Anton Wilson's living room, dumbfounded by the rapid-fire laughter and brain power of the intelligentsia bouncing off the walls around me. At 26, I was clearly the youngest person in the room, the baby of this illuminati of scientists, authors, mathematicians, magicians, and discordians. The person who stood out beyond all the other lights in the room was Bob’s wife, Arlen, a wizened red-haired, full-bodied woman with a bawdy sense of humor and an astonishing literary intellect. There was something about Arlen that was simultaneously severe and merciful, critically observant yet very kind. Arlen was also clearly Bob's muse.
Bob was in fine form that night reading excerpts from his as of yet unpublished book, The Trick Top Hat, from his Schrödinger's Cat Trilogy. I sat there astonished by the highly compact, information-rich writing style he had developed. It was as if every other word triggered a different chemical in my brain. Bob had this unique way with words that acted on my ear-brain loop just like drugs. I remember thinking to myself, "This is what writing is all about! Writing is all about magick." Certain books can change your life and Bob’s masterpiece, The Cosmic Trigger, changed mine. Though it was not the first book to blur the lines between "reality" and "fantasy", it was the first one to suggest that no such lines existed beyond my beliefs in those lines. Read the rest