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R Jess "Raymond Jess" (Limerick, Ireland.)

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Culture Jam: How to Reverse America's Suicidal Consumer Binge, And Why We Must
Culture Jam: How to Reverse America's Suicidal Consumer Binge, And Why We Must
by Kalle Lasn
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 12.26
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Divisive yet insightful, April 12 2004
Kalle Lasn's 'Culture Jam' is indeed a call to arms for a 21st century generation that seems more distracted than ever by the pervasive power of mindless consumption. Adbusters magazine has been at the forefront of consumer critique, developing a manifesto that obviously strikes a chord with a growing readership, given its current circulation of over 120,000.
In the opening introduction Lasn makes some rather remarkable statements: "For us feminism has run out of steam" p.xii; he then goes on to state "The old political battles......- black versus white, Left versus Right, male versus female - will fade into the background" p.xvi. This is an ignorantly optimistic conjecture in a world where aparthied still existed in Africa's largest economy less than a generation ago, a world where the vast majority of women are denied the same political rights as men and in the U.S. where they don't even have a universal healthcare system. Lasn seems to suffer from the same illusions as his heros the situationists, that somehow, in the West at least, basic human needs have all been satisfied i.e. freedom from poverty, hunger and homelessness. This may not be a wild idea in Canada where Lasn and Adbusters are based. Consistently touted by the U.N. as the best country in the world in which to live, Canada's reputation for higher standards of living is in part due to the pioneering campaigns of noted left-wingers like Tommy Douglas. Douglas, a former premier of Saskatchewan brought in a cheap and affordable healthcare system for his province in the 1960's, which soon spread throughout the rest of Canada thereafter.
It is true to say that much of the time identity politics operates in a postmodern culture obsessed with diversity in and of itself, rather than any notion of universal revolution. A position which plays into the hands of largely right-wing libertarians who see greater diversity as an opportunity to develop new markets. But to believe that gender, race and class are no longer issues that affect the first world gives those on the right too much comfort.
Other dubious assertions include Lasn's belief that daily exposure to media violence shapes the way we feel about crime and punishment "even though I can't prove it with hard facts" p.18
On the more postive side of the book, there's an interesting piece on how we in the West are increasingly finding it more difficult to appreciate our immediate surroundings without framing it with a camera viewfinder. Lasn also uses the example of a poet who read his poems at parties and no one listened to him, but when he played recordings of himself, everyone listened (shades of David Cronenberg's 1982 film 'Videodrome').
Where Lasn is at his strongest is in his study of the development of corporate power under American law. The 1886 ruling by the Supreme Court in the U.S. which granted the private corporation the rights of a 'natural person' under the U.S. Constitution, has had profound effects on American political and economic culture since then. Unlike most individuals, corporations have huge financial resources and as a consequence have a much greater say in the running of the economy, greater stamina in the courts and greater access to the media (which they probably own anyway) than any individual could hope to have. Globalization is the effective spread of this corporate disease throughout the rest of the world.
Another important area that Lasn tackles is how we measure prosperity. Classical economists seem to believe that there is no shortage to the Earth's natural resources and even if we did deplete all of them we should still be able to develop the technology to provide for everyone on the planet. The problem with classical economics is that it is not a science i.e. it is not concerned with an understanding of nature, but simply with an understanding of models. The best example of which is the concept of GDP, which increases everytime money is put into the economy for whatever reason; war, illness, cleaning up environmental damage and so on. A better way of measuring prosperity would be the ISEW (Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare) which takes into account factors such as pollution, depletion of nonrenewable resources and industrial related health costs.
Despite his attacks on the traditional Left, Lasn seems perfectly happy to hold true to explicitly Marxist sentiments such as living not as an object of history but as a subject: "That's about as good a working definition of the culture jammers ethos as you'll ever hope to find" p.100. Lasn also makes a welcome attack on the Slacker generation whose disdain for any kind of earnestness in politics has become the apathetic norm. We should use our irreverance pointedly but a surfeit of irony contributes to social corrosion and a general malaise in putting the effort in.
It is in the media world where corporate power has its most obvious influence, especially in the U.S. It's almost impossible to find objective news on American commercial T.V. The only reason that CNN runs Adbusters' commercials for Buy Nothing Day is that Ted Turner likes to think of himself as a bit of a liberal in comparison to his arch-nemesis Rupert Murdoch. Lasn's difficulty in getting airtime elsewhere for his Adbustes' commercials shows an open ideological bias at work within media conglomerates, whose primary function is not to provide news but to sell advertising space.
Lasn's tract is useful in highlighting the increasing hegemony of corporate power in America. Although his lefty-bashing has less impact for many of us in Europe where left-wing governments can still initiate large and meaningful changes. However, American foreign policy influences the whole world and 'Culture Jam' makes us more aware of the forces that shape it.

Mean Streets [Import]
Mean Streets [Import]
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars But what's a 'mook'?, April 1 2004
This review is from: Mean Streets [Import] (VHS Tape)
Martin Scorsese's most autobiographical movie bestows an energy and a vibrancy that hasn't diminished in the 30 years since it was made. Part of this wonderful energy is created by Scorsese's use of music, a cinematic trait he has continued to use successfully in all of his best movies. In fact in 'Mean Streets', Scorsese's use of 2 different styles of music, Italian and rock, can be seen as an expression of the divergence between the older and younger members of the Italian-American community in which he grew up. Scorsese himself valued the use of music so much, that he was willing to fork out $30,000 just for the rights to use the 2 Rolling Stones songs in the picture and this in a movie which cost $750,000 to make.
Another powerful aspect of the film is the acting. Along with the intense charactarizations created by the actors, there also seems to be quite a lot of improvisation used (especially in the backroom scene where DeNiro tries to explain his losses to Kietel). This creates an air of pathetic authenticity, a welcome attribute in most of Scorsese's films.
Ironically despite the fact that the film is set on the 'Mean Streets' of New York, all the interior shots were filmed in L.A. with a different camera crew than the one that shot the exterior shots in Manhatten.
The film is also a visual document of the decline of Little Italy, much of which today is just an extended part of Chinatown.
A 'mook' by the way is Neapolition for bigmouth.

Last Tango In Paris
Last Tango In Paris
3 used & new from CDN$ 9.87

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Gives a wry smile!, April 1 2004
This review is from: Last Tango In Paris (VHS Tape)
Brando's performance in this film is full of vim and vigour, always bordering on the comic, especially in the scene with his dead wife. Bertolucci had begun psychoanalysis just a couple of years before and his penchant to indulge Brando seems to be a direct result of this.
In retrospect much of the film's theme could be interpreted as misogynistic, there's certainly a lot of female fear aroused as a direct result of male aggression whether by Brando or Schneider's boyfriend. In fact 30 years down the line Maria Schneider has disowned this film, citing it as 'exploitative'. Nevertheless the film was considered quite bold for its time, even if what makes audiences uncomfortable about this film now is not quite the same as what made them uncomfortable 30 years ago. After feminism, Aids and the 60's backlash that was the '80's, 'Last Tango In Paris' looks shockingly naive in its view of sexual relationships. I think a lot of women today would find the Schneider character slightly embaressing in her vapid earnestness.
You have to give it to Brando though, he does get a digit probing by Maria Schneider, now thats true dedication to his craft! I can't imagine a Grade A Hollywood actor of today such as Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt or Tom Hanks engaging in such thespian devotion, too much of a 'masculine' image to maintain. Which just goes to show how little risk mainstream Hollywood actors are prepared to indulge in nowadays compared to just a generation ago.

Guy Debord and the Situationist International: Texts and Documents
Guy Debord and the Situationist International: Texts and Documents
by Tom McDonough
Edition: Hardcover
15 used & new from CDN$ 28.79

4.0 out of 5 stars Revolution In The Service Of Poetry., April 1 2004
The Situationist International has retained a certain cache in postmodern thought. Guy Debord's concept of 'spectacle' is now widely bantered about in any discussion on the nature of consumer society. Ironically, in the eyes of the traditional left, the situationists have been seen as variously elitist, nihilistic and childishly utopian. Yet their central focus, on how consumer capitalism affects the most intimate and mundane aspects of our everyday lives, brings us right back to the essence of Marx's theory of alienation.
This book gathers together previously unpublished texts and acts as a useful supplement to 'The Situationist International Anthology' edited by Ken Knabb. Fortunately for the art historian Tom McDonagh (who edits the book) and the other art historians who add complementary blurbs on the back of the jacket, most of these previously unpublished texts were written when the SI still had an enthusiasm for art. Post '63 the political came to dominate their work. This was almost a realization that they were on the defensive, that in the socio-political world of the mid-60's art as a means of authentic experience had been pushed to the margins. 'The poetry of the streets' was the only sure-fire way of taking back everyday life. This form of aggressive poetry eventually culminated in the events of May '68 in Paris.
California it seems was the nemesis of the SI's Latin Quarter. The radicalism that evolved from the Beat Generation in the U.S. is dealt with by nothing but contempt by Debord and his cohorts. Freudian psychology: "We know that the unconscious imagination is poor, that automatic writing is monotonous"p.33; ecology: "...a greater domination of nature, a greater freedom."p.42; and eastern spirituality: "...the mental infirmity of American capitalist culture has enrolled in the school of Zen Buddhism"p.80 This searing revulsion of American hippie culture may have been one of the reasons the SI was so attractive to certain strains within the punk movement from Malcolm McLaren to the Gang of 4 (who's 'Natural's Not In It' is the best distillation of situationist ideas set to music).
What also sets the situationists apart from the radicals within the U.S. was their unbridled enthusiasm for technology. This might seem like evidence of their utopian strain, a throwback to pre-war surrealism. But a belief that technology will eventually relieve us of unnecessary toil is an idea that goes back as least as far as the 18th century. As far as I can deduce from the early texts included here, the most impressive and imaginative of the early situationists was not Debord or even Asger Jorn, but the Dutch painter Constant Nieuwenhuys. His 'A Different City for a Different Life' is fascinating in its vision of a situationist city in a post-capitalist world. New Babylon would be constructed above ground level with most of the traffic condemned below. Moving walls, changeable spaces, climate-controlled communities, neighbourhoods designed for different individual emotions and the creation of a variety of environments to facilitate chance encounters. What could be a greater experimental realization of Marx's dictum that consiousness is shaped by environment?
Constant's early technological optimism contrasts sharply with Debord's later political pessimism. For by the mid-60's it was clear that not only would imaginative and non-alienating uses of technology not be on the horizon, but that a stronger defensive must be made for existing environments that were about to be totally consumed for capitalist techne. One is reminded of New York's Parks Commissioner Robert Moses and his hubristic schemes to run expressways through every borough of New York. When it finally came to running one through bohemian Lower Manhatten, an anti-Moses action group was formed to put a stop to the idea of motorwaying old communal neighbourhoods into the ground. As such maybe 'derives' are still possible in Lower Manhatten?
In Mustapha Khayati's 'Captive Words', there seems to be a slight acknowledgement of some structualist arguments that were bandied around at the time, "Power resides in language, which is the refuge of its police violence."p.174 Detournement - the situationist subversion of the signifier - was probably the most powerfully striking method of conveying dialectical conflict in the later 20th century. Khayati looks back to the dadaists in whom "the innocence of words was....consciously attacked."p.175 The situationists sought to challenge traditional signifieds by constant subversion of popular signifiers. This attack on comfortable images provoked an immediate questioning of received meanings. Their natural artistic sympathies were with the European avant-garde but they also disavowed much of it due to its often political ambiguity and its sometime outright reactionary nature. In the words of Greil Marcus "The situationist program....came down to Lautreamont and workers councils."p.14
Of the essays on the SI, Jonathan Crary's 'Spectacle, Attention, Counter-Memory', proved to be more than a little contentious, if all the more illuminating for it. He takes a sentence from Debord's 'Comments on the Society of the Spectacle' written in 1988 in which he states that when he wrote the original back in 1967, the spectacle was barely 40 years old. Crary then theorizes on what Debord meant by placing the beginning of the spectacle in 1927 or around the late 20's. He gives a number of insightful reasons, including 1: 1927 saw the technological perfection of television; 2: 'The Jazz Singer' premiered in 1927 and saw the birth of synchronized sound; 3: The rise of facism in the late 20's and its emphasis on using all available mediums to propogate its ideas.
I leave you with Theo Frey's vision of our Internet future written in 1966(!) "Henceforth a universal communication network supresses the distance between things while increasing the distance between people, the future solution will consist in making people circulate less and information circulate more. People will stay at home, transformed into mere audiovisual 'receivers' of information."p.170

The Eagleton Reader
The Eagleton Reader
by Stephen Regan
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 64.99
26 used & new from CDN$ 15.56

4.0 out of 5 stars The direct wayward path., April 1 2004
This review is from: The Eagleton Reader (Paperback)
Terry Eagleton's own career path has followed a similair dialectical trend to his Marxist espousal of history. Not seen as a particularly original thinker within the realms of cultural theory, he nevertheless has done more to popularize its existance through the almost mandatory assigning of his book 'Literary Theory' to every B.A. English course in Britain. Alienated within the cultural stagnation of Oxbridge for over 30 years, he gladly packed up his belongings and moved across the Irish Sea without a morsel of regret. His current position as Professor of Cultural Theory at the University of Manchester gives some indication of his own (and indeed academia's) shift from English Literature to theoretical discourse.
'The Eagleton Reader', edited by Stephen Regan was published in 1996 and so unfortunately doesn't cover Eagleton's more recent work in which he blurs the distinction between academic theorist and creative critic - I'm thinking of such books as 'The Truth About The Irish' and 'Figures of Dissent'-. 'The Eagleton Reader' gives a broad view of Eagleton's work from Catholic leftist of the 60's to postmodern debunker of the 90's. In terms of his own engaging style however, Terry really doesn't hit his stride until the 1980's. Most of the work featured here before that decade reads like the dry doctoral thesis of an industrious and serious-minded postgrad with a mundane enthusiasm for prefunctory Marxist criticism. Since 'Literary Theory' though, Eagleton has made a name for himself in relating cultural theories to everyday social and political practice and it is in this arena where he truely shines.
In 'Estrangement and Irony in the Fiction of Milan Kundera', he points out the paralysis of communist Eastern Europe, where paranoia about state survelliance reigns. In this claustraphobic enivironment every signifier holds within it the potential for a multiplicity of signifieds. This overreading of signs leads to impotent paranoia. Coincedentaly, this absence of stable meaning is one of Eagleton's main criticisms of much postmodern theory. In the chapter on 'Ideology' he further lambastes the postmodern theorists for their political vaucity. A vacuousness that 'reflects their customary distance from the world in which most people have to live, mistaking the media and the shopping mall for the rest of social reality'. His own Marxist beliefs see him trying to hold on to those Enlightenment values which challeneged ancient fantasies by pointing those values towards the new fantasies of the media and consumerism. This illuminating chapter also covers the enduring contrast between the British academic world which Eagleton inhabited and the continental thinkers whom he drew most inspiration from. The 18th century Enlightenment saw the beginnings of this battle between the pragmatist and the ideologist. The French Revolution brought with it the cries for a society ruled by reason. But within the social upheaval that brought the Revolution about, much of the political establishment in Britain saw a vision of a universal social order that was fundamentaly flawed. To them human beings are much too uncertain in their thoughts and actions, too spontaneous and intuitive to be rendered under close critical analysis. These doubts about the motives of human intentions inevitably lead to a conservative politics. The rise of English Literature as a subject of academic inquiry is closely related to this divergence between Britain and the continent. The English championed literature as an 'alternative to systematic enquiry, not an object of it'. As such, traditional literary criticism in perfidious Albion has shown great resistance to 'ideas'.
In what is probably the most significant chapter in this book, Eagleton rips into England's traditional conservative and liberal critics such as Carlyle, Arnold, Eliot and Leavis. In fact 'The Crisis of Contempoary Culture' - his inaugural lecture as Wharton Professor of English at Oxford in 1992 - is probably the best distillation of his cultural stance to date. He holds the New Right to account for the obvious paradox of their political position, colluding with a form of economics which by its very nature 'drains value and purpose from social life' and then decries the loss of absolute value that results.
In a clever essay on Arthur Schopenhaur from 1990's 'The Ideology of the Aesthetic', Eagleton highlights Schopenhaur's central thesis that human beings are slaves to their wilful desires. This corresponds nicely to 19th century bourgeois society's belief that capitalism is desire personified. But by allowing our desires free rein, do we not then become enslaved to its all-pervasive objectives? This resurfaces in one of Eagleton's works on Irish culture, 'Heathcliff and the Great Hunger'. In it, he recognises the traditional adjectives used to contrast 19th century Ireland and England. Ireland is naked, unbridled Nature in comparison with England as ordered, cultivated Culture. However, when one focus's on the lassiez-faire economics embraced by England at the time with the contempt it held for traditional Irish ways and customs, that dichotomy can easily be turned on its head.
We learn a little something about the personal past of Terry Eagleton in his heartfelt obituary to his Cambridge mentor Raymond Williams. Eagleton, as a short working-class northerner, felt ill at ease in the University Common Rooms of Cambridge where every student seemed to be over 6 foot, 'brayed rather than spoke and addressed each other like public meetings in intimate cafes'. In his introduction to his play 'Saint Oscar', he suggests that Wilde has helped him not only come to terms with his own Irish roots, but also helped him to develop a synthesis between his creative and critical writing. Despite the historical and political upheaveals of his own time where he has seen Marxism cross from being false but relevant to true but superfluous, he nevertheless maintains 'there is no reason why this sobering thought should change what one strives for, which remains true and valuable whether or not it is realised in the here and now.'

Far Away, So Close [Import]
Far Away, So Close [Import]
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Berlin Ground., Feb. 26 2004
The success of 'Wings Of Desire' must have prompted Wenders to come up with a sequel. It certainly makes a greater effort at garnishing a wider audience, with the addition of Natassja Kinski, Willem Dafoe & Horst Buchholz to the previous cast. The script also has the novelty of being in 4 different languages.
In 'Wings Of Desire' Bruno Ganz's transformation from angel to human could be seen as a desire by Berliners each side of the wall to overcome their imprisonment from each other. In 'Faraway, So Close', the moral confusion that Otto Sander witnesses when he crashes down from above, mirrors the uneasy turmoil of the new united Berlin. Like an East Berliner untutored in the ways of the West, he stumbles about in an unsophisticated way until his new freedoms begin to overwhelm him and he finds his only refuge in a bottle. Despite all this, he tries to find meaning and do good, but finds that in the new Germany, the only options open to an ex-angel (or an ex-communist) is the criminal underworld.
Although the film starts to lose its way in the final farcical half hour, there are some impressive performances here, especially Horst Buchholz (last seen in 'The Magnificent Seven').
Wenders last great film, his talent has since floundered in making movies with the likes of Mel Gibson.

Initials SG
Initials SG
Price: CDN$ 24.60
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Epitome of Cool., Feb. 12 2004
This review is from: Initials SG (Audio CD)
This is undoubtedly the best introduction to Serge Gainsbourg there is out there. The variety of sounds and styles on this album is a testiment to the man's artistic integrity. No other comparable artist can straddle the genres of world music and pop music with such veritable ease.
You've got the nightclub, Vegas sound of 'Intoxicated Man', the subtle sensuality of 'La Javanaise'. The funk groove of 'Chez Les Ye-Ye' (released in 1963 no less!). The Brazilian flavour of 'Couleur Cafe', the pseudo-psychedelic 'Qui Est In, Que Est Out'. The wonderful backing arrangements of 'Ballade De Melody Nelson' and even some folk guitar on 'Je suis Venu Te Dire Que Je M'En Vais'.
You don't have to speak French to enjoy the wonderful songs on this album. Serge's laid-back vocal style (closer to talking than to singing) makes this album the epitome of cool. It says something about the Anglo-American world's lack of appreciation for non-English speaking performers, that an artist as talented as this should go, for the most part, unrecognized in the English-speaking world. Hopefully, discovery of this album will lead others to a greater interest in Serge's work and from there a greater interest in non-English speaking artists in general.

Paris, Texas
Paris, Texas
2 used & new from CDN$ 22.00

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Moored and broken., Feb. 10 2004
This review is from: Paris, Texas (VHS Tape)
It's not surprising that Wim Wenders production company is called 'Road Movies'. In the vast majority of his films geography is just as important as characterization and plot. So it is with 'Paris, Texas', where the remarkable vista shots give some sense of the awe and wonder the average European must feel when confronted with this vast American landscape. Originally, Wender's vision was much larger in scope. He wanted the Harry Dean Stanton character to zig-zag his way across the entire country hoping to capture the enormous contrasts of the landscape. In the end though screenwriter Sam Shepard persuaded the German director to base the core of the movie in Texas as this could easily represent the U.S. as a whole.
It's rather unusual to see America through the eyes of a European film crew. The film has a slow, observant quality that contrasts sharply with prevailing American dramas where constant close-ups try to make you feel more involved with the characters. In 'Paris, Texas', Wenders lets the quality of the acting speak for itself without recourse to sentimentality.
The last part of the film was unscripted and tends to drag a bit, but Stanton's understated performance keeps you glued to the screen as the story unfolds. Ry Cooder's score adds a traditional American soundtrack that somehow manages to be something much more ethereal. A poigniant score that colours the film's theme of hope and longing.

Eli And The Thirteenth Confess
Eli And The Thirteenth Confess
4 used & new from CDN$ 11.85

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Remarkably fresh., Feb. 3 2004
It may be a travesty of justice that someone with such original songwriting talent should have remained a cult figure throughout her lifetime. She remains so today, a number of years after her death, but her popularity is steadily rising.
At the infamous 1967 Monterey Pop Festival she was booed off stage, her tightly harmonic song structures must have stood in stark contrast to Jimi Hendrix's wildly loose improvisations. While her summer of love sentiments were pure (e.g. 'Stoned Soul Picnic' and 'The Confession' where "Love is surely gospel"), grand pianos would always be out of step with the hobo, outlaw acoustic guitar or the violent excess of the electric one.
What may have contributed to Laura'a lack of commercial success during her career was her unique talent to harness surprise and unexpectancy. Each individual song she wrote was more melodically mobile than most other artists' entire albums. The breathless tempo changes of 'Luckie', the extraordinary vocal diversity of 'Lonely Women', the constant reinvention of 'Eli's Comin' where, like the rest of her work, you don't know from bar to bar where she's goning to take the song. She may have taken influence from Motown, but as a songwriter she had more in common with Captain Beefheart, totally disregarding any sense of conventional song structure.
It's a sad testiment to today's music that over 35 years later 'Eli and the 13th Confession' still sounds remarkably original. It's a pity that groups like Coldplay obviously haven't listened to this album, they might learn something about developing a dynamic melody.

Until the End of the World [Import]
Until the End of the World [Import]
2 used & new from CDN$ 79.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Dreamscapes, Jan. 12 2004
I can understand why some would want to see the full 5 hour version, for in this 2 and a half hour cut, you get the feeling that there's a whole story in the background that we should have been clued in on. Such is the need for a narrator I presume. Although I'm sure the uncut version would slow things down a bit and we would lose some of those logic-defying jump cuts that make this shorter cut so unintentionally unusual.
A present culture's vision of the future says more about it's present than it does about it's future. But this film takes it one step further by looking 10 years into the future and making it look like the 10 years previous. For even though it was set in the year 2000, it was made in 1991 and everybody in it looks like they were at a New Year's Eve party in 1982.
The premise of the film is interesting, Wim Wenders has often talked about the sociological aspects of his art-form and the West's fascination with images. Who wouldn't be curious to see their own dreams up on screen? This idea is taken to it's predictable extreme in the Max Von Sydow character who wishes to see the only remaining images that the eye cannot. For the Aboriginies who work with him, this is one step too far. In our eyes the cinematic stereotype of the megalomaniac mad scientist is for them just another over-inquisitive Westerner working to take all the mystery and wonder out of life. This abuse of images becomes a disease for the remaining dream specimens, a disease which is notably cured by reading.

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