"I cannot live without books." -- Thomas Jefferson

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Francis Wheen Peers Into The Golden Age of Paranoia

Francis Wheen, author of How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World: A Short History of Modern Delusion, has returned with another book chronicling the 1970s entitled Strange Days Indeed: The 1970s: The Golden Age of Paranoia.

One of my favorite non-fiction books of the 2010...

Within you learn that retired British Generals had formed private armies 'to save the country from anarchy,' industrialists plotted coup d'etats and how E. Howard Hunt had described the Watergate break-in seven years before the incident in his novel On Hazardous Duty. It turns out that in 1946 Hunt beat out both Gore Vidal and Truman Copote for a Guggenheim Fellowship to finance his novel Stranger In Town. What the fuck? Of course, there is plenty of Nixon. How Nixon enjoyed a private screening of Patton, not for pleasure, but according to Wheen, for "business." Five days later Nixon announced the American and South Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia, promising the nation "We will not be humiliated... We will not be defeated." He must have really enjoyed George C. Scott's monologue.

In many ways this book is a non-fiction companion piece to works of fiction like Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow and Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea's The Illuminatus Trilogy, or even the work of Kurt Vonnegut.

One of my favorite excerpts from the book is Wheen paraphrasing Carl Oglesby (former student leader) writing for Ramparts magazine in the article 'In Defence of paranoia.' Wheen writes:

"[Oglesby argued] that recent events had demolished the assumptions of Stone and Hofstadter: instead of leading to political madness, the paranoid style might be the necessary prerequisite for retaining one's political sanity--an echo of the 'anti-psychiatry' popularized at the time by R.D. Laing, who held that schizophrenics and paranoids were the only people sane enough to see that the world is deranged."

How do ape descendants get to the point where the ordering structure of society produces paranoia? Fascinating.


Clarence Carlyle said...


Nice post. Came to it while looking for reviews on the books that can be kept in our office library.

Being an avid reader, I think the world of books is the most remarkable creation of man. Nothing else that he builds ever lasts. Monuments fall, nations perish, civilizations grow old and die out, and after an era new races build others. But in the world of books are volumes that have seen this happen again and again and yet live on, still young, still as fresh as the day they were written, still telling men's hearts of the heart of men centuries dead.


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