Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Joan D'Arc's "Conspiracy Geek": Book Review

Talking to an inmate my wife and I visit regularly, we mused about why so many prisoners gravitate towards conspiracy theories and esoteric reading. My wife mused that perhaps they need an explanation that goes beyond themselves and where they've wound up, to explain that more sinister or powerful forces have manipulated or impelled them and those who lack clout in society. I thought about this as I read "Conspiracy Geek" by Joan D'Arc.

Her interviews and articles roam into panspermia; "truther" 9/11 counterclaims; alien probes and a woman who presents herself as a survivor of such; government plots (Pearl Harbor, spies, Freemasons, mafia); hoaxes about the moon landing, UFOs--tying in Giordano Bruno in a typically wide-ranging stretch--; alternatives to Darwin; anomalous radio signals (fascinating); JFK; and her father's WWII experience on a minesweeper in the Italian landings.

While I remain a skeptic by nature and thus one for many of the arguments elaborated herein, I found her explorations entertaining and thought-provoking. She interviews calmly her colorful array of characters, interjecting her own familiarity with the topics, and possessing what seems to me admirable patience and a steady direction, given the material that might provoke those less skilled to either total incredulity or utter acceptance. Her journalistic skill, in my perusal of her work gathered here, remains her forte. (P.S. Great cover art.)

The publisher's information gives you a sample of the panoramic, and microscopic, scope. My favorite piece was her interview with Barbara G. Walker, a feminist scholar of early religion and myth. As a college instructor in Comparative Religions, I found that the aversion to blood among many faith traditions, as opposed to its elevation by some pagan and Wiccan groups, provides a case study that interests some braver students. Walker and Joan discuss "womb envy"--and how the patriarchy's emphasis on logos, seizing control of the means of reproduction, the inversion of the ancient "primacy of blood," the obsession and worship of "seed" all complicated the transition from female to male dominance in this field, when the "secret of conception" had not yet been fully comprehended by the sky-god priests and the powers who wanted to be.

This plays off the other entries on panspermia, by the way--such cross-references are exactly why I wanted more of a framework to match up these inclusions. The reader may make such connections, but if the editor herself had lent a hand, the structure would be easier to comprehend. Those in the know, I suspect, will need less assistance, but for even those versed in such a diversity of topics, I predict some will be totally new.

One aspect that would have strengthened this anthology is her own story. A first-page blurb on her background only whets one's appetite to want to know more. (I note she is my "friend" in the Facebook realm and I requested a review copy.] If there had been an introduction placing these varied entries in context, and if each had been prefaced with her own editorial perspective, this would have enhanced the value of the collection. Interviews follow up with a biographical paragraph on the interviewee and his or her whereabouts, unknown or known. However, if a preface or afterword had been given for each, and the reason they are placed in the order they are, the book would serve as an easier guide. It's challenging to simply open this and plunge in, given the mind-spinning contents and the giant leaps from one obscurity to the next demanded. Maybe that's the point, the fun of the encounter, akin to what you'd find if you opened up what she's co-edited, Paranoia Magazine?

At my technical-business college, I teach humanities. So, I often encounter happily "geeky" students with similarly disparate interests, who listen to Alex Jones or visit Prison Planet types of sites. This book will be a recommended purchase for our library and them, so I can refer inquiring minds of a doubting and skeptical (or believing?) bent hither. And, some behind bars may find liberating thoughts in these pages, too. (Amazon US 10-24-12)

P.S. Speaking of FB, I append this to add the author's comment posted there 11/7 about this review:
Thank you {...}. You know, several years ago my Chinese fortune cookie told me that I had a very unique point of view and that I should share it with others. I usually forget just how unique it is, which would explain my lack of explanation or context. I apparently overlooked the fact that mainstream readers would have no map, no guide, no flashlight, no template, no dictionary, no crumbs on the ground ... And although this was purely an oversight, I think I'd willingly do it again, except perhaps, as another reviewer suggested, including the dates on which the interviews took place or the articles were written. Other than that, I can't explain my point of view. I was advised to share it, not explain it!

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