Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Brief Thoughts 21

This series has reached drinking the legal drinking age. In the states, at least.

The Beginning Was the End by Oscar Kiss Maerth

I can't remember where I first heard about this book. The premise intrigued me, but used copies of it are pretty expensive. I was able to get it easily through interlibrary loan though.

Maerth's thesis is that modern man came into being from cannibalistic apes that ate the brains of other apes. The reason they ate brains, and why they were able to reproduce so much, is because brains acted as an aphrodisiac and increased sexual pleasure. What they didn't know is that eating brains caused their intelligence to increase and caused them to lose their body hair.  The problem is that it made their brains expand so much, it smooshed the brain against their skulls, damaging their brains. This resulted in mental sickness and a loss of the ESP natural to all living beings. This is why modern humans are so miserable and sick in the head.

Yes. He's entirely serious about this.

The first chapter is actually a very well written diatribe about the human condition and discontent with the modern world. In chapter two, it immediately takes a hard turn into kooksville, claiming intelligence can be eaten and that ape brains are an aphrodisiac. The evidence he provides is sketchy at best, things like discussing the importance of head and skull symbolism in many cultures, and ridiculous at worst. One of his claims is that different races evolved from different types of apes, with some races remaining in earlier stages of development than others. His evidence for this a collage of different people of races juxtaposed with different types of monkeys.

Also, there's aliens, because of course there is.

He claims that people like Jesus, Buddha, and so forth were born without brain damage which is what made them such wise men. His solutions to the problem of human's damaged brains are a vegetarian diet, meditation, and trepanation. Okay, not quite. He does argue that trepanation was an early means of relieving pressure in the head and that genetic engineering to expand the skull would be beneficial.

I'm not sure if I should be surprised or not that this book got little attention. The only contemporary review I could find was from Kirkus where the reviewer was obviously shocked by the book. Maerth apparently had a few disciples, but as far as I can tell, a brief pamphlet was the only thing he ever wrote after this. The book does have some notoriety from being an inspiration to the band Devo. They even named one of their short films after the book.

This book is a fine example of crackpottery, but I can see why Devo was inspired by it. It comes up with a pretty original story for humanity's origin and it's a pretty entertaining one. I'd recommend picking this up if you're into oddball theories. Used copies are pretty expensive, but you can get it pretty easily from a library or online.

Buy The Beginning Was the End by Oscar Kiss Maerth here.

Mythologies by Roland Barthes

After HAarlem VEnison told me that my poetry reminded him of Roland Barthes, I decided to take a look at one his books. This one seemed to be the best starting point.

Barthes uses the term "myth" here in a unique way. He refers to the meanings conferred on to things rather than to fictional stories. Though he does consider most of the meaning around things to be a type of fiction. The books is divided into two parts. Part one is a collection of essay about the "myths" of things in every day life like wine and laundry detergent. Part two is a longer essay that analyzes the idea of myth as a part of speech.

The book is surprisingly accessible. It may seem silly to give what amounts to a literary analysis on  things like professional wrestling and steak and fries, but it makes sense. Barthes is concerned with the perceptions that underlie language. The average person is going to deal with laundry detergent more than they are classic literature.

Part two is more difficult than part one, but not by much more. Here, Barthes explores the idea of myth as a part of speech more deeply, as well as how it intertwines with power in society. He uses an example of a picture of young black man saluting while wearing a French military uniform. He breaks down the difference between the picture itself, the young man in the picture, and what the picture represents. He notes how the "myth" of French patriotism in the picture obscures the history of French imperialism. Likewise, he explores how political myths in society develop working from a Marxist perspective.

This is seems like a good starting point for someone interested in the postmodernist view of language. I plan on checking out more of Barthes's work, as well as Ferdinand de Saussure, who was a big influence on this book. 

Buy Mythologies by Roland Barthes here.

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