Sunday, January 25, 2004

Some updates

While I wait for some uploading issues to be sorted out, here are follow-ups to two recent posts.

First, I mentioned on January 1 the book Nightmare Alley as possibly inspiring or prefiguring Anton LaVey's Church of Satan in the 1960s.

I have now read Nightmare Alley, and the short answer is, I don't think so. It certainly is not the blueprint for the CoS that Stranger in a Strange Land was for the Church of All Worlds at about the same time. Nightmare Alley does involve a shrewd, glib carnival mind reader who becomes a fraudulent Spiritualist minister, and it is appropriately cynical about the human condition, however.

Second, Mary Beard's The Invention of Jane Harrison, mentioned on January 14, disappointed me, perhaps because I was hoping for more of an intellectual biography that assessed Harrison's study of ancient Greece and also positioned her--as Ronald Hutton briefly did in The Triumph of the Moon, as one of the foremothers of today's Pagan revival.

Instead, the reader gets more of "who had a spat with whom in 1889." Beard, who teaches Classics at Cambridge University (in Harrison's footsteps, so to speak), offers some interesting light on how Classics as a field was presented and was evolving in late-Victorian and Edwardian Britain. She also spends much effort in a sort of meta-biography, writing about the problems of writing a biography of Harrison. And she dances around the topic of sex, saying several times that we cannot impose the term "lesbian" on the Victorians; but, on the other hand, was she or wasn't she?

As a study of the rise of academic celebrity--Harrison as a sort of public intellectual--it is interesting, and Beard's style is fluid and entertaining.


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