• Enthralling Books: The Emigrants, by W.G. Sebald

    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

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    The Emigrants, by W.G. Sebald

    A few days before the news of W.G. Sebald’s sudden death in a car accident in 2000, I had decided I was going to send him a letter. I have written about two letters to authors in my life, and I would do it more often if I thought there was way to go about it that didn’t by design come across as fannish and gushing. But the work of Sebald, particularly his 20th century masterpiece The Emigrants, had such a profound affect on me, I felt compelled to let him know.

    Word of his death was a blow. Sebald was just starting to get the wider recognition he deserved with the publication of Austerlitz, which received the National Book Critics Circle Award. I felt as though something important had been taken from the world, something that was essential to helping us understand what it means to be human beings agents of history, and how history works on us. This is what Sebald’s work is about: None of our lives exist within a vacuum, that we are all part and parcel of historical forces that shape us, batter us about, and in our attempts to fight against them, we often lose.

    I had discovered the novel The Emigrants by chance. It was weekday afternoon, browsing the literature section of the bookstore. I often scan by logos on the spines, looking for independent publishers in the hopes of discovering authors or books I have never heard of. I spied the New Directions mark on a book, pulled it from the shelf and read the back. I had never heard of Sebald, but thought it looked interesting enough. I bought it and took it home.

    I was not quite prepared for what happened next. Almost like a state of self-hypnosis, I could feel some part of my reader’s consciousness shift. I read books as if I understand books, as if I know about genre and time-periods, know what to expect from science fiction, from crime noir, from Kafka, from Vonnegut, from Roth. Of course I’m surprised at times by language, plot, and a character that comes alive in a way I never thought possible. But I am rarely thrown off course by a book, never have I had to renegotiate the very act of reading. That is, until I read The Emigrants.

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  • Mind Blowing Movies: Village of the Giants (1965), by Peter Bebergal

    Mm200This 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

    Village of the Giants (1965), by Peter Bebergal

    [Video Link] My parents were pretty good about indulging my obsession with monster movies. My father would pick me up Famous Monsters Of Filmland when he saw it at the drugstore. Across the street from his clothing shop in Waltham was Mr. Big's, a toy store that stocked all the Aurora models. Being a business neighbor my father got to know "Mr. Big" pretty well, and a few times he sold us the window display version of one of the models, a perfectly painted and glued version given to him by the distributor. Monsters movies were my life. Every Sunday morning I woke early, got the newspaper from the front stoop, opened it up to the middle and dug through the flyers and other loose inserts to where the television guide was nestled. Then I flipped to end to see what the following Saturday's Creature Feature would run. The mid to late 70s was a golden age when the rights to old monster movies must have been dirt-cheap. In the span of a year or so I saw every great Universal, Toho, and Hammer film. But every so often there was a movie that didn't appear in the index of my movie books, whose stills never showed up in the pages of Famous Monsters.

    One of these was Village of the Giants, released in 1965 from the weird imagination of director/producer Bert I. Gordon, and starring a very young Beau Bridges. Gordon had an obsession with normal sized things becoming unnaturally large: The Amazing Colossal Man, War of the Colossal Beast, Earth vs. the Spider, and the weird and creepy Food of the Gods. (To be fair, he did have one movie about normal sized things becoming unnaturally small, Attack of the Puppet People.)

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  • RAW Week: "Some of this stuff might be bullshit," by Peter Bebergal

    "My function is to raise the possibility, 'Hey, you know, some of this stuff might be bullshit.'" — Robert Anton Wilson

    201201241605I like to think of myself as a believing skeptic, someone who relishes in the ideas, the imagery, the arguments, the theories, and the literature of the occult and the paranormal, but accepts little of it as valid in a phenomenal sense. I love that small publishers such as Ouroboros Press and Fulgar Limited put out beautiful magical texts and that many current underground and avant garde musicians incorporate occult ideas into their work. But beyond its power as a method for art and imaging, I recognize much of the occult as woo. On the other hand, I accept that the human imagination is something magical, and very powerful and that we know little about human consciousness except how malleable it really is. It's a precarious position, however, and I often need to remind myself of smarter, more articulate thinkers who shared these views.

    So it is with great respect and admiration that I celebrate the life of Robert Anton Wilson during this memorial week by remembering that he was the great believing skeptic, someone for whom the collection and curating of all that is weird was his life's work, who reminded us always to question everything, while recognizing that we should never stop exploring. I sure wish RAW was alive today, especially at a time when there is something like a real Occult Revival going on, from the psychedelic explorers who see 2012 as a great trans formative event, to the huge increase in the membership of organization like the O.T.O. and Freemasonry, and by extension a whole load of conspiracy theories. RAW warned against any idea, group, or person that claims knowledge of the "Real" Universe, echoing Umberto Eco who wrote in Foucault's Pendulum we should be mindful of turning metaphysics in mechanics.

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