Thursday, December 16, 1999

Q&A Susie Bright: Girl Sloth

First appeared in the Boston Book Review.
(Date approximate).

Susie Bright is a performance artist, author of books about sexual politics and sexual mores, editor of anthologies of erotica, and columnist for Salon, Her newest book is "Full Exposure Opening up to Sexual Creativity and Erotic Expression."  

   Titillation makes an art form out of teasing  -- and teasing is perfectly sweet, but it can never be called satisfying eroticism, because its very nature is to withhold what we dream of and place it permanently out of reach.  . . .
   Commercial titillation has the gimmicky personality that fits perfectly with our obsession with making real sexual pleasure either an enigma or a sham. Titillation is the American standard: first offer a peek, then slap the hand that seeks to touch.
    "Full Exposure Opening up to Sexual Creativity and Erotic Expression."

Wednesday, December 15, 1999

Q&A Robert J. Lifton: Gurus

Originally appeared in the Boston Book Review
(Date Approximate)

Robert J. Lifton's new book, "Destroying the World to Save It: Aum Shinrikyo, Apocalyptic Violence, and the New Global Terrorism," is a study of the Japanese group that attacked the Tokyo subway system with poison gas in 1995. Previous books include "Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism; A Study of Brainwashing in China," "Death In Life: Survivors of Hiroshima" and "The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide."

Altered states resulted from intense forms of religious practice -- especially from the oxygen deprivation bought about by yogic rapid-breathing exercises -- and, later on, from the use of drugs like LSD. But they were all attributed to the guru's unique spiritual power and so were considered indicators of one's own spiritual progress. There was nothing more important to disciples than to hold on to those mystical experiences, for which purpose they could numb themselves to immediate evidence of violence around them -- or join in that violence.
   "Destroying the World to Save It"

HB: "Destroying the World to Save It" seems to be a kind of culminating work for you. It brings together so many of your concerns.

RJL: It isn't that I decided that now I'll do a culminating work; it was rather my encountering Aum Shinrikyo and sensing very quickly it seemed to live out all the horrors that I've been studying in one way or another.

HB: How well-known in Japan was Aum Shinrikyo prior to the poison gas?

RJL: It was very visible and, at the same time, not well-known at all. It was visible in that it was aggressive and dramatic, and Asahara was a television personality who had various brushes with the law. On the other hand, when the sarin attack on the Tokyo subway took place, Japanese scholars were inundated with phone calls and requests for information and very few them knew much about the group.

Wednesday, December 1, 1999

Q&A Wendy Kaminer: Seance and Sacrament

Originally appeared in the Boston Book Review.
(Date approximate).

   Some atheists will make the . . . argument that religious rituals endorse and encourage irrationalism. You can hardly praise religion for keeping people sane, they say, when it sanctifies their delusions. But that wrongly assumes that it is possible for us to rid ourselves of all supernaturalism. I'd treat religious cravings homeopathically. The cure is the disease, in small doses.
   "Sleeping with Extra-Terrestrials: The Rise of Irrationalism and Perils of Piety" (1999)

HB: We've had calls for a new spiritualism for a long time now. Do you think it might be time to call for a new anti-spiritualism? Do you think this country has enough religion?

WK: Obviously, we've been in a revivalist period for the last ten or fifteen years and what is frustrating about it is the media really has put a kind of tacit ban on being critical of religion.

Q&A Janet Malcolm: Daydreaming

Originally appeared in the Boston Book Review.
(Date approximate).

Janet Malcolm's books include "Psychoanalysis, the Impossible Profession" (1981), "In the Freud Archives" (1983), and "The Journalist and the Murderer" (1990). Her latest book, "The Crime of Sheila McGough" (1999), tells the story of Sheila McGough, a lawyer who has been convicted, wrongfully in Malcolm's view, of working with a client in a swindle.

 I know I have never before behaved so badly to a subject. I have never before interrupted, lost patience with, spoken so unpleasantly to a subject as I have to Sheila -- to my shame and vexation afterward. I have never before dreaded calling a subject on the telephone as I have dreaded calling Sheila. To my simplest question she would give an answer of such relentless length and tediousness and uncomprehending irrelevance that I could have almost wept with impatience.
     "The Crime of Sheila McGough"