Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Ghosts of bygone days

Ahem. After getting all mushy when I wrote the last blog entry, I feel the need to be serious in this entry. We shall talk of serious things. Like the ghosts of ancient times.

Well, maybe it's a little hard for me to take this week's Affordable and Interesting item seriously:

But maybe I should! Because, according to the website devoted to his memory ...

Harry Price is one of the most controversial and famous psychic researchers and authors in the history of spiritualist studies. He is particularly famous for being maligned by many of his peers but simultaneously becoming extremely popular with the public due to his fascinating studies on haunted houses, psychic activity, mediumship and other supernormal phenomena.

He lived from 1881-1948. And this book, "Confessions of a Ghost Hunter", is his autobiography. (It was originally published in 1936; our copy is from 1974.) According to the dust jacket:

In this delightful book he has set down some of the most extraordinary cases of mediumship, haunting, and other paranormal phenomena he encountered during a long lifetime of ghost hunting. He also writes about the fakes and phoneys he found. Here he describes some of his outstanding investigations. These include poltergeists, hauntings, revelations from the planet Mars, automatic writing, spirit photography, mentalism, fire-walking, eyeless sight, the Indian Rope Trick. His chapter on "How To Test a Medium" is an excellent guide for all would-be investigators, and his exposure of "spirit" photography is a warning to the gullible.

You saw it here first, folks. Well, maybe you saw it elsewhere first, but you saw it here ... today. And you could see a lot more of it if you buy this book for $9.00! Maybe I should buy it myself. It could make a believer of me.

Now on to a different kind of ghosts. An actual serious topic, like I promised. Much more important ghosts: the terrible things that can haunt us forever. A simple white cover encloses this week's Favorite, and it contains mostly pictures:

The Nazi Drawings are a 1966 collection of works by the artist Mauricio Lasansky. They're disturbing, as one might anticipate, but I also find them beautiful. Here's a close-up from another:

I don't even know how to begin analyzing this imagery, aside from knowing it hurts me to look at it. I think I know that there's something terribly unnerving about teeth in the place of eyes, especially when the teeth are strung along the page, over from a darkened skull. But there's so much more to this than mere description.

Mauricio Lasansky was in charge of the Printmaking Department at University of Iowa when he created these pictures; born in 1914, he has been resident in USA since 1943. The Nazi Drawings were released in 1966 after years of work. This book, likewise published in 1966, is a compilation of both those images and an essay by the writer Edwin Honig, who notes:

Lasansky is a survivor who is still there, in the Nazi camps, so that we view his works as a continuing rehearsal of the drama of what it means to have that experience. We see it with him in the demonic halflight between living and dying -- and this is the central condition in all the drawings -- where there is little difference between being alive and being dead.

Honig also has his own analysis of each picture, which is helpful for me, since I find them strongly affecting but difficult to interpret. For this slender volume of both images and essay, we ask $30.00.

This week's Collector's Item may be haunted, or may not be. It is certainly antique:

A lovely bell-and-chain -- and, in fact, a delicate belt. Witness:

The metal looks bright in that picture, illuminated with a blazing flash, but more often the belt looks to be a quieter kind of silver. I've seen some attractive chain belts in my time, but this one takes the cake and I'm sure it's worth every penny of $125.00. I would wear it ghost-hunting, personally. I've read that bells have ritual ghost-hunting associations; one website notes that you might want to test for breezes, perhaps by using a small flame, before using bells to seek ghosts. (Hence one medieval spirit-seeking mantra was "Bell, book and candle.")

The long nights of winter lend themselves to a fear of hauntings, and I'm thinking of that as we emerge into a freezing dim morning. Keep the lights on, gentle readers, and we'll talk again soon.

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