Hollow Earth Society member and frequent Observatory alumnus Ted Enik reviews strange, new books for us:
Cultural critic Mark Dery’s new collection of essays, I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts
The Ludovico Technique is a form of compulsory deprogramming featured in both the book and film A Clockwork Orange. It consists of forcing a patient to watch horribly graphic murders, rapes, and other severe brutality while under the influence of an addictive, nausea-causing drug. The therapy’s intent is to train the patient to reflexively respond to violent impulses, acts—even thoughts—by undergoing debilitating nausea, thereby discouraging antisocial behavior.
In the title sequence of the stop-action animated series Robot Chicken, a mad scientist straps a cyborg chicken to an electric-chair, pries both her real eye and her Borg-red eye open, and forces her to watch a wall of tiny TV screens: an onslaught of pixelated pop culture.
Essayist Mark Dery regularly volunteers for both treatments.
Unblinkingly, Dery examines America’s Bizarro-World facets, taking notes on what must an asbestos keyboard. His stickleback-funny collection of diatribes is an incredibly satisfying disemboweling of an array of topics which—although disturbing to most of us in a vague, “that’s just wrong” sort of way—warrant examination by just such an acidic—encyclopedic mind.
Here’s the book’s equivalent of a mission statement: [Dery has…] “…the unshakable conviction that, while some beliefs may be ethically indefensible, morally repugnant, or universally unpopular, no subject should be ruled out of bounds, no thought forbidden; intellectual freedom is unimaginable without the right to think the unthinkable.” Hear, hear.
It’s a very wild ride; the reader is often left breathless. Dery’s critiques remind me of a rogue scientist engaging in some para-ethical experimenting-for-experimentation’s sake. “Let’s see how the gerbil responds to extreme cold, a strobe light, smell of sulphur, being shown a picture of Nosferatu, listening to Churchill speak, being hit on the head with a sage sachet.” He shines an assortment of litmus-lights on an assortment of topics, and the result is something dense, ornamented, and wise—and often spit-take hysterical. Here’s a random handful of my fave quotations:
The New Age sentimentalization of the dolphin as a guardian angel with a blowhole.
Hitler’s demonic talent for graphic branding reminds us of Walt Disney, the mediocre cartoonist and self-described benign dictator of the Happiest Place on Earth…
…These are the people who brought you Saint Bartholomew, the flayed martyr with his skin flung jauntily over his shoulder, like Frank Sinatra on the cover of Songs for Young Lovers, and the beatified truck-stop waitresses Saint Lucy and Saint Agnes serving up their plucked-out eyeballs and severed breasts on platters, like blue-plate specials.
Where most hetero-guy porn sites obsess over double-D cups, the Fantasy Decapitation Channel rejoices in double decaps…
Pretty great stuff. There’s tons more.
As I’ve already egregiously flirted with mixed metaphors above, I’ll just give in to the impulse and say that reading I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts feels like:
- Agreeing to compete in a hot-pepper tasting contest
- Sitting in a room fully of flea-bit taxidermy
- Learning how to say “You have a fatal illness” in all the world’s dying languages
- Sprawling spread-eagle on the hood of your friend’s car—going 40 on a summer night—and enjoying the bug buckshot
- Wearing bubblewrap undergarments
- Trying to ignore that creepy portrait’s eyes following you across the room
- Giving in to a Harryhausen “emerging tentacle” fantasy at the gravesite of your best friend’s husband
- Reading your parents’ dirty loveletters
- Having a nun wake you at 3 AM by shining a flashlight in your face
- Realizing you have the opposite of Alzheimer’s
- Yelling “Eureka!” Then bursting into tears
I love lists—and Dery’s variegated, kaleidoscopic, clever new book.
When you procure your own copy, tape your eyes wide open and have a notebook handy. Or a razor blade—if you’d rather take permanent notes on your arm.
—April 2012, Ted Enik