Cover image for When the kissing had to stop : cult studs, Khmer newts, Langley spooks, techno-geeks, video drones, author gods, serial killers, vampire media, alien sperm-suckers, satanic therapists, and those of us who hold a left-wing grudge in the Post Toasties new world hip-hop
Title:
When the kissing had to stop : cult studs, Khmer newts, Langley spooks, techno-geeks, video drones, author gods, serial killers, vampire media, alien sperm-suckers, satanic therapists, and those of us who hold a left-wing grudge in the Post Toasties new world hip-hop
Author:
Leonard, John, 1939-2008.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : New Press : Distributed by W.W. Norton & Co., [1999]

©1999
Physical Description:
x, 362 pages ; 22 cm
Language:
English
ISBN:
9781565845336
Format :
Book

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Central Library PS3562.E56 W48 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
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Summary

Summary

Leading literary critic John Leonard is a master at decoding the fears and longings that animate our popular culture. When the Kissing Had to Stop is Leonard at his best, with his reflections on the best new literature of today and what it can tell us about America now.


The conspiracies and fears fostered by the Cold War continue to poison our national psyche. New enemies, real or imagined, have fostered subcultures of fantasy and paranoia, and vertiginous proclamations of doom and transformation. Leonard shows how our great novelists and essayists can help us to find some sense and sanity amid the dull roar of tabloids, talk shows, and the Disneyfication of everything.



Author Notes

Critic John Leonard was born in Washington on February 25, 1939. He attended Harvard University from 1956 to 1958 and later studied briefly at the University of California, Berkeley. He wrote numerous books including Smoke and Mirrors: Violence, Television and Other American Cultures (1997) and When the Kissing Had to Stop: Cult Studs, Khmer Newts, Langley Spooks, Techno-Geeks, Video Drones, Author Gods, Serial Killers, Vampire Media, Alien Sperm-Suckers, Satanic Therapists, and Those of Us Who Hold a Left-Wing Grudge in the Post Toasties New World Hip-Hop (1999). His work also appeared in the New York Times, Harper's Magazine, The Nation, The New York Review of Books, The Atlantic Monthly, The Village Voice and The Washington Post Book World. He received the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Book Critics Circle in 2006. He died from complications of lung cancer on November 5, 2008 at the age of 69.

(Bowker Author Biography)


Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

A weekly commentator on CBS Sunday Morning and a former editor of the New York Times Book Review, Leonard (Smoke and Mirrors) has distinguished himself as a cultural critic over the past two decades with his unabashedly liberal, even leftist, views. His eighth book is a collection of 30 essays, many of them expanded since their original publications in such journals as the Nation and the New York Review of Books. Part of Leonard's ongoing critique of contemporary U.S. electronic and print media, the pieces range from "Lolita Lights Our Fire," a review of Adrian Lyne's film of Nabokov's most notorious novel, to an evaluation of government funding and the arts in "Whose Television, for Which Public?" Leonard is terrific at describing and explaining everything from The X-Files to the current politics of smoking. As a materialist, he locates the roots of current culture in political and economic realities, not any vague millennialism. While his ruminations cut a wide swath, he never strays from his basic theme that post-Cold War America has been overwhelmed and undercut by deeply ingrained paranoia, as well as by a sense of incipient doom. He offers no concrete or radical solutions but hints that a better world beckons in the writings of such artists as Grace Paley, Doris Lessing and Toni Morrison. Often ecstatically urgent, these pieces are highly informed and cogently argued. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Library Journal Review

Cultural critic Leonard (Smoke and Mirrors, New Pr., 1997) has assembled a new volume of reflections on the best new literature and what it has to say about America today. The book is divided into five categories: Going Down with Atlantis, Falling Off the Pacific Rim, Mixed Media, American Identities, and Third World. Along the way, Leonard takes aim at the likes of The X-Files, Don DeLillo, PBS, Joan Didion, Thomas Pynchon, and Toni Morrison, to name a few. Throughout, he shows how great novelists and essayists can make sense of our often confusing and superficial culture. Readers will find a smorgasbord of ideas, sometimes outrageous but always thought-provoking. Leonard should be required reading for all those wanting to make sense of our times. Recommended for all libraries.ÄRon Ratliff, Chapman H.S. Lib., Manhattan, KS (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

Chapter One Dreaming the Republic You get off a boat and onto a mule, after which it's a thousand steep feet up from the black beach to the white bungalows, the blue Byzantine church, and a pink disco. You rent a cave in the pumice cliff overlooking the caldera, and the mind falls down like Icarus. This is Santoríni, the southernmost of the Cycladic islands. Thirty-five hundred years ago, it was Thera, a merchant-princely suburb of Minoan civilization. On its walls, Bronze Age artists painted bulls and birds, lilies and dolphins, bare-breasted women, brown boys boxing, and ... blue monkeys. "Don't go too far," Don DeLillo warned us in The Names . "There's the Minotaur, the labyrinth. Darker things. Beneath the lilies and antelopes and blue monkeys." He's hinting at human sacrifice. But what does DeLillo know? He can't get from Linear A to Linear B any more than the rest of us who have puzzled the hieroglyphic Phaistos disk. Suppose we need to go too far? If there was ever an Atlantis--or any other lost city, golden age, republic of dreams, utopian community, subverted matriarchy, Eden, Arcadia, Mu or Macondo, Wonderland or Neverland--wouldn't it be nice to think that it consisted of this elegance and delicacy, this bygone playfulness? Blue monkeys!     When Sir Arthur Evans dug up Crete at the turn of the century, he found a blue monkey on a fragment of fresco in the palace of Knossos, although at first he mistook the figure for a "blue-skinned boy" gathering saffron. Then he rubbed some more and saw that the boy had a tail. Seven decades later, on Santoríni, no sooner had Spyridon Marinatos sunk his shovel into the ruins of Akroteri than he discovered an entire wall of blue monkeys cavorting like children in a progressive preschool. Also frescoed were griffins and a sphinx. But these blue monkeys weren't mythological. From the white bands on their foreheads, they were obviously long-tailed guenons, Cercopithecus mitis , probably brought back as pets from Africa to Knossos and Thera by sailors in the Minoan fleet. As much as lilies and dolphins, they seemed to embody a cheerful, inquisitive, gregarious race of dancers and acrobats whose language we still can't read but whose images speak of gardens and games. And then they vanished, like Minoan civilization itself, sometime between 1628 and 1480 B.C., in volcanic upchuck, seismic shock, killer tsunamis, poison gas, falling ash, and repressed memory.     Or did they? Richard Ellis, a marine artist and fluent scribbler of books on legends of the sea, prefers to believe in Imagining Atlantis that blue monkeys were still around in the Aegean as late as 430 B.C., and to blame for the Plague of Athens that knocked off Pericles, as their close relative, the vervet or green monkey, is responsible for the spread of the Ebola virus in Zaire and the Sudan. Ellis wants to believe this because, in seeking to debunk the whole wonderfully weird literature of Atlantology, before he can disenthrall us from the Thera-was-Atlantis thesis (all that bull-jumping monkey business, gone up in smoke or down in salty solutions), he must demystify the Platonic dialogues that got us fantasizing in the first place.     According to Plato, he heard about Atlantis from his maternal uncle, Critias the Younger, who got it from his father, Critias the Elder, who was told the story by a peripatetic Solon, who'd picked it up from a couple of priests in pharaonic Egypt. According to Ellis, Plato made the whole thing up. What he really felt bad about was the decline of his very own Athens, after the Persian wars, the Peloponnesian victory of the Spartans, and the dreadful plague. To add some color, Plato threw in a Temple of Poseidon that sounds an awful lot like the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus later described by Pliny, and the same sunken-city stuff that would show up subsequently in secondhand accounts by Strabo and Pausanias of the 373 B.C. earthquake that glub-glubbed Helice in the Gulf of Corinth. Atlantis, for which Plato is the only extant source, never happened.     Oddly, this speculative argument comes at the end of a book at great pains to rebuke every author who claims to have located Atlantis anywhere in the world, from the Azores to Antarctica, from Scandinavia to the Sahara, from Ireland to Peru. They're all wrong, says Ellis, because they've twisted Plato to suit their own fixations, ignored his coordinates, and fiddled with his arithmetic. And so they have, like medieval Kabbalists. But if Plato was just allegorizing promiscuously, why should we care if later generations of Froot Loops like Edgar Cayce and Immanuel Velikovsky played fast and loose with the details of a Critias that's fictitious anyway? He made up his cave, too. And who'd want to live in Plato's own dreamy Republic, where a stand-up guy like Democritus would have been bent, folded, spindled, banned, and burned?     Nothing exists, except atoms and empty space. (Democritus) I review Atlantis books once a decade, whether they need it or not. First up in 1978 was The Secret of Atlantis by Otto Muck, a German scientist predisposed to Spenglerian rinse cycles. Muck went up (working on the V-2 rocket) and Muck went down (inventing the U-boat snorkel). In between, he theorized an Atlantis on the Azores hump in the Atlantic Ridge, populated by seven-foot Cro-Magnons who spoke Basque and were kind to eels. It was destroyed by a giant asteroid that messed with the earth's axial rotation, punched holes in the ocean's floor, and sent up vapor clouds into a smog ball that lasted two thousand years. Its sudden sinking caused the Flood that made Noah famous, ended the Ice Age by allowing the Gulf Stream to lick the tenderloins of Europe, embarrassed many woolly mammoths, accounts for the migratory nuptial urge of eels to lay their atavistic eggs in the Sargasso Sea, and explains the heretofore mysterious Mayan calendar, said by Muck to mark the moment when Atlantis went down--at 8 P.M., on June 5, 8498 B.C. I told readers of The New York Times : "I believe every other word of it."     Paleontologist/astrobiologist Charles Pellegrino doesn't. In Unearthing Atlantis (1991) Pellegrino gave us the Big Picture, from weather reports in the Old Testament and classical literature to the latest chitchat on volcanology, glaciology, paleobotany, oceanography, and particle physics to deep readings of ice caps, acid layers, pottery clocks, carbon clouds, dinosaur teeth, clam bed fossils, Irish peat bogs, and California bristlecones. Instead of being hit on the Azores by an asteroid in 8498 B.C., Atlantis/Thera vanished in the fall of 1628 B.C. in a volcanic whoosh more powerful than a simultaneous explosion of 150 hydrogen bombs. Fifty cubic miles of rock became "as vapor in the heavens, death rolled into Turkey on the tongue of a tsunami," plagues came down on Egypt, and the Red Sea parted, after which the Minoan dancers disappeared, leaving behind an ornamental vase or two, rumors of bull worship, and not a single bone, until archaeologists began the disinterring of Akroteri that will take another three hundred years.     Actually, Unearthing Atlantis was supposed to come out in spring 1990, when I reviewed it from galleys. But difficulties between Pellegrino and the Greek government postponed publication for more than a year, a parenthesis in which I heard a lot from the excitable author. He will talk your head off anywhere, on top of the "smoking cathedral" of a volcano or underneath the sea where giant sandworms inhale sulphides and entire continents grind or drift from the pull of moon on bedrock. His is the view from Krakatoa, Pompeii, and Mount St. Helens, Stonehenge and Glomar , a Book of Numbers and a Book of the Dead. He sees a culture of genius in business for fifteen hundred years before the roof blew off: "In the Minoan world, every island had the Aegean for a moat. Competition was inevitable, universal control impossible." Thus the first navies and first condos; flush toilets and other technologies not recovered till the Islamic Middle Ages; brave men hunting bulls with ropes, beautiful women drinking the blood of those bulls from gold cups, and artists who painted monkeys instead of monarchs. Because of that explosion, vulgar Mycenaeans took over Club Med and Moses bunked from Egypt, after which, in Palestine, his People met these displaced Therans and Cretans, whom they called Philistines.     This is the Big Picture with a vengeance. In Imagining Atlantis , amused by Muck, Ellis is almost furious at Pellegrino: If Plato had been thinking about Thera, he would have mentioned a volcano! Besides, Pellegrino should have credited James Mayor, who beat him to the Santoríni punch by a quarter of a century. Fair enough, except that Ellis and Pellegrino are equally in love with Minoan civilization. Both would rather write about labyrinths and courtesans, bulls' horns and octopus shields, striped dolphins, silver daggers, and a Goddess of Wild Goats than twenty pages of dead Greek. They'd even rather write about volcanoes and tsunamis. What Pellegrino does to fudge the flimsy evidence is go all the way back to the Big Bang. What Ellis does is make fun of Atlantologists. What neither acknowledges is that, from the beginning, we've finessed Plato's cautionary tale about a powerful and prosperous principality undone by corruption and arrogance because we'd rather use Atlantis to think about something else--to dream a republic in the impossibly nostalgic past or to imagine a utopia in the always radiant future, but in any case to posit an improvement on what we've got.     I'm not just talking about the oddball monomaniacs and their eccentric tangents that Ellis finds so entertaining, although they are suggestive: Atlantis and the Amazons (Diodorus Scilus); Atlantis as Tartessos (Rhys Carpenter, via Herodotus); a South Seas island (Francis Bacon) or between Casablanca and Agadir (Félix Berlioux), with a pet leopard named Hiram (Pierre Benoît); in Friesland (Albert Hermann), Yorubaland (Leo Frobenius), Andalusia (Ellen Mary Whitshaw), or Libya (Otto Silbermann); the Bahamas, the Crimea, the Yucatán, and the Bermuda Triangle, unless it's the Sahara (Count Byron Kuhn de Prorok), the Antarctic (Rand and Rose Flem-Ath), or Schleswig-Holstein (Jürgen Spanuth); as the Gardens both of Eden and the Hesperides, next door to the Elysian Fields, the Temple of Delphi, the Asgard of the Eddas and Mount Olympus (Ignatius Donnelly); Lemuria's sister city (Madame Blavatsky) and the "prehistory" and "collective unconscious" of mankind (an anthroposophical Rudolph Steiner). At one time or another, Atlantis has been associated with the cult of Osiris and the Popol Vuh, the Hurrian Song of Ullikummi and the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Toltecs and the Tao. And this is to scant novels by Bacon, Donnelly, Jules Verne, Arthur Conan Doyle, H. G. Wells, and Ursula Le Guin, and to forget entirely about such films as Warlords of Atlantis , in which Cyd Charisse starred as Atsil, Queen of an Atlantean master race who saucered in from Mars and would have evolved into Nazis if they hadn't been nibbled on by pre-Spielbergian velociraptors.     But Atlantis as blue-monkey business has many more resonant meanings. Sonia: "I don't believe in a perfect world, but I believe in a better Zimmer: "My poor baby. You've become a liberal." (Robert Stone, Damascus Gate ) We used to dream of utopian republics in both directions, past and future. An Atlantis frame of mind could be radical--dialectical materialism, Zionism, relativity; Blake's prophetic books, Godwin's Enquiry Concerning Human Justice , and Mary Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Woman ; Tolstoy's What Then Must We Do? and Gandhi's Hind Swaraj ; Hildegard von Bingen's Illuminations and Paul Goodman's Communitas . Or reformist--Mennonites and Shakers, Oneida and Brook Farm, Fourier and Owen. Or moony--El Dorado and Prester John; Agapemone and Micomicon; Shangri-la and Camelot; Arden and Cockaigne; Altneuland or Herland ; Brideshead or Bomarzo; black forests, sacred groves, Druidic roods, Yggdrasil, and Walden; morris dancing in Tannhäuser sandals. One thinks as well and almost at random of Erewhon, Télémaque, Christianopolis, Looking Backward , and pantisocratic Coleridge; Buckminster Fuller and Sabbatai Zevi; Ascona, Ticino, Los Alamos, and Aztlán; English garden cities, Israeli kibbutzim, Gary Snyder's Zen-Wobbly Kitkitdizze, Kurt Vonnegut's volunteer fire brigade, and Gene Kelly's Brigadoon.     To which I'd add personal favorites like Walter Raleigh's The Discoverie , Aby Warburg's Mnemosyne , Sigmund Freud's Moses and Monotheism , Italo Calvino's Mr. Palomar , Spinoza, Darwin, and the I Ching ; the dreaming of astronomers in black holes and superstrings, of astrophysicists in heliopause, of Mandelbrot in fractals and of Mike Davis about Los Angeles. Dream republics of another sort can also be read in the fossil beds, ice caps, and carbon clouds of Baudelaire's Paris, Joyce's Dublin, Svevo's Trieste, Musil's Vienna, Döblin's Berlin, Konrad's Budapest, and Bely's St. Petersburg, as they are archaeologized in the Buenos Aires of Borges and Cortázar, the Havana of Cabrera Infante, and the Mexico City of Fuentes--the city as cinema, starring change , greed, riot, gossip, jazz, blur, quake, zoom, zap; dissolving into multitude, solitude, trajectory, and vertigo. About a benzene ring of urban ghosts--Joyce, Einstein, Lenin, and Trotsky--gathering at the Odeon in Zurich, Thomas Pynchon reminded us in Gravity's Rainbow : Whatever it was they all had in common: whatever they'd come to this vantage to score ... perhaps it had to do with the people somehow, with pedestrian mortality, restless crisscrossing of needs and desperations in one fateful piece of street ... dialectics, matrices, archetypes all need to connect, once in a while, back to some of that proletarian blood, to body odors and senseless screaming across a table, to cheating and last hopes, or else all is dusty Dracularity, the West's ancient curse.     Likewise Atlantological-utopian (and wistful thinking) was the millennia-long quest by theologians and philosophers for God in His own scattered Words--what Umberto Eco calls The Search for the Perfect Language , by which Eco does not mean glossalalias, xenoglossias, jargons, bricolage like pidgin, fictitious lingos like Rabelais's and Tolkien's, or the "oneiric" babble of the mystic and the loon, but the original or universal discourse, believed to have fled from us after the Tower of Babel swoon-song, somewhere anterior to Latin and Greek, on the other side of mother tongues like Hebrew, Egyptian, and Chinese, by whose fiery signs we read the world's grammar and the will of God. There isn't space to track through all of Eco's witty permutations, from Dante (proposing his vernacular as superior to Hebrew and himself as superior to Adam) to Nicholas of Cosa (insisting that the names by which the Greeks, Latins, Germans, and Turks designate divinity all derived from the same Hebrew tetragrammaton) to Guillaume Postel (who suggested that the second Messiah would be a woman, which may be why the Inquisition judged him "not guilty but insane"). But we skywrite on past Gessner, Kircher, Hobbes, Vico, Luther, and Leibniz unto Paracelsus, Pico della Mirandola, Giordano Bruno, Jakob Böhme, and the Rosicrucians--via ancient Persian, Aramaic, Sanskrit, Gaelic, Etruscan, Hungarian, Norse runes, Cyrano's birds, and the Celto-Scythian Hypothesis; through Orphic hymns, Chaldean oracles, hieroglyphs, glottogons, and astral magic; all the way to necromancy, steganography, alchemy, and theosophic or ecstatic Kabbala--till the philosophers decide in the eighteenth century that since they can't find the prototype or Original Stencil, they will have to invent an artificial substitute, a Sweet'n Low Panglossia to bind up (or, at least, to Christianize) the wounded world. Which clears the throat for international auxiliary languages like Volapuk, Tutonisch, Esperanto, BASIC, Pascal, and whining.     Much of this may sound ditzy--no wonder Atlantis crops up so often in their treatises--but the impulse was heroic, the mind-set utopian, and the thinkers every bit as smart as those of us who are so postmodern that we're paralyzed. When, frightened by the Thirty Years' War in the seventeenth century, Johann Valentin Andreae, Tommaso Campanella, and Guillaume Postel all took time off from looking for the perfect language to draw up projects for an ideal republic to ensure a universal peace, maybe their idealism had more to recommend it than the predatory behavior of our own trilateral commissioners and globocops, who long ago put to sleep such childish notions as a Greek polis, a Roman Republic, and a Christian charity. Or of our sullen plebescitic classes, who vote down government and taxes every chance they get. Or of the twerpy trillers of our literary vanguard--talk about your ecstatic Kabbala!--who have assured their graduate students that there's no such thing as causality, continuity, history, rational planning, standardized knowledge, coherent representation, or intelligent action, only semiotic showbiz. Human brain-stuff hasn't changed in five hundred years, or in fifteen thousand; it's culture that metastasizes. Even in the fevered present, parents and teachers try to raise children to ethical principle and purpose, Third World writers compose epics of emancipation, and entire peoples, many of them as dark and Asiatic as the Minoans, still engage in the Enlightenment project, quite as if they never got the bad news from the French front. It also seems to me that the artists of Thera--or Lascaux, or Altamira--could teach even Picasso a trick or two about jouissance . Like Allen Ginsberg explaining "Eleanor Rigby" to a public-television audience, let me dream a couple of republics--one fictional and the other, gloriously, not. Everything we want in a society is what we find brought out in the moment of insurrection. Spontaneity! Spontaneous hierarchy! Self-sacrifice! Staying awake all night! Working until we drop! Audacity! Camaraderie! The carnival behind the barricades--what it feels like when the police have just been kicked out of your quartier! Free eggs, free beer.... And don't forget what it feels like to throw open the gates of the prisons! What a great moment! This is the moment the true socialist worships and thinks will be incarnated in the society on the morning after. (Norman Rush, Mating ) So much goes on in Rush's prodigal novel about true love, star-crossed anthropology, and rural development in southern Africa that we almost forget about the morning after. The morning after is Tsau--"something very avant-garde, supposedly very major and massive, a whole new village built from the ground up, in point of fact, somewhere in the north central Kalahari," an experimental matriarchal "New Jerusalem," "solar democracy," and "city of the sun." Tsau has been planned in the Botswana desert by the famously sardonic radical decentralist Nelson Denoon, an amalgam of Paulo Freire and Ivan Illich, after having acquired at previous projects an "entire sequence of truths ... such as controlling the scale, working in the vernacular, cutting expatriate staff to near zero, locating yourself remotely enough to avoid premature disruption, balancing collective and individual incentives, basing your political economy on women instead of men--his theme song. Every female is a golden loom." And it's described in brilliant detail.     In the night, in the desert, first you hear the wind chimes and the blue-green glass bells suspended from chains in the crowns of albizias. Then you see, like flashing sequins of reflected light, the flanged cylinders in the windmills on the koppie; a pair of horns on the glazed ceramic water tank; the cistern fed by polyvinyl chloride tubes; spiral-channeled disks strung from torii-like crossbars ("a corridor of darling crepitation"); waist-high hedges and thatched rondavels; cloud trees, thorn trees, and goats. Later, in the blaze of daylight off of solar panels, you'll pick out the cement octagon and the plaza terrace; workshops, net houses, primary school, infirmary; mealie fields, kraals, and kilns; moccasins, pantaloons, and parasols; tracking mirrors for the solar ovens and turtleshell-shaped mud stoves for boiling water; dung carts pulled by children who earn credits for the delivering of messages and goods; plenaries, parlementes, carved lintels, spectrum-colored crockery; chess tournaments, ostrich farming, abacus lessons, menarche parties, kickball, Snake Women, death masks ...     Never mind the Mother Committee and the Lamentations, the sunflower-oil economy and the deliberative judicial system. As Rousseau knew only too well, "The problem is to find a form of association which will defend with the whole common force the person and goods of each associate, and in which each, while uniting himself with all, may still obey himself." At Tsau, women are deeded their houses and plots; ownership entitles you to voting membership in the voluntary labor credit system; inheritance is restricted to female offspring and collaterals. At Tsau, there aren't supposed to be motorcars, guns, alcohol, abortions, witchcraft, or any other religion. But there are, of course, tensions. After eight years, isn't it time for bwana Denoon to cease promoting sauerkraut and croquet and get on with the rest of his life--maybe launch his long-promised crusade "to make bank secrecy illegal everywhere"? Anyway, "Who cared if he was willing to say of himself that he was wellknown to be gung ho for half measures and that if he had been in the October Revolution he would have been saying some power to the soviets?"     You don't want to know what happens to Denoon. You may want to know what happens to Tsau but Rush isn't telling, except to hint that it will have to accommodate the slow subversions of booze (secret shebeens), prostitution (male, in a matriarchy), sectarianism and, alas, guns. The excuse for guns at Tsau is--surprise!--a sudden population explosion of vervet monkeys. Gaviotas isn't a utopia. Utopia literally means "no place. "In Greek, the prefix "u" signifies no. We call Gaviotas a topia , because it's real. (Paolo Lugari) When Paolo Lugari, whom Gabriel García Márquez has called the "inventor of the world," first visited the vastation of the llanos of eastern Colombia, sixteen hours by jeep from Bogotá, what he saw was something other than a steambed seething with malarial mosquitoes, a caramel-colored plain of muck as flat as a leaden sea and four times the size of Holland. "The only deserts are deserts of the imagination." He saw the future of civilization fashioned out of grass, sunlight, and water; Third World solutions to Third World problems; "a living laboratory" to which he would bring "pioneer-technicians" and "engineer-dreamers," chemists, botanists, geologists, anthropologists, mathematicians, architects, and astronomers; coffee and carnations; windmills and water buffalo; a musical-instrument factory and an enchanted forest made for singing.     That was almost thirty years ago; the community he huffed, puffed, and enticed into being thrives today astonishingly, in spite of the army, the death-squad paramilitaries, the narcotraffickers, and the guerrillas; in spite of the buying and selling of governments in Bogotá and the dumping of cheap grains and other foodstuffs from giant U.S. producers on Colombia's "free trade" market; in spite of the leached soil, the poisoned rivers, and the shortage of women. It is this story that Alan Weisman, on assignment with a team of journalists to produce a series for National Public Radio on the search for solutions to social and environmental problems, must have been delirious to discover. His splendid book, Gaviotas: A Village to Reinvent the World , has been mostly ignored by the mainstream press. And why not? It will only save our souls.     What the dreamers in the desert did, with a couple of grants from the United Nations and a workforce of Guahibo Indians, was to make fiberboard from grass and gaskets out of palm leaves; put up a nonpolluting tannery and pave roads and runways with their own Inca-like bricks; turn palm oil extraction residues into bovine feed supplements; build windmills and hydroponic nurseries and a "giant condom" irrigation system stitched together out of plastic garbage bags; invent solar motors, solar water heater panels, micro-hydro turbines, biogas generators, and every manner of water pump from a ram to a sleeve to a wheel mounted on a floating oil drum, not to mention solar grain and clothes dryers, a pedal-driven cassava grinder with a bicycle drive-train, a one-handed sugarcane press, a one-man manual cement mixer, a cork-screwing manual well digger and a rotating-drum peanut sheller--all of which they refused to patent.     They also put up a hospital you'd want to send your mother to, and when the government closed it down in a managed-health-care seizure, they turned the building into a research facility for medicinal plants. They contracted with the banks and the government to install solar heating for public housing projects in Bogotá and Medellín, and hired street urchins to make the collector panels, as they taught a squatters' colony in the capital city how to plant hydroponic farms on their rooftops--so successfully that soon a women's cooperative was supplying lettuce to a grocery chain. They created a community with no jails, judges, cops, crime, or locks, not much marriage and even less smoking. And it sits there, celebrating the Day of the Bicycle and the Day of the Birds, in the middle of a comeback rain forest, much of it Caribbean pine whose bark fairly oozes with a natural-gum resin Gaviotans sell to manufacturers of paints, enamels, varnish, newsprint, soap, ink, and incense--and to rosin the bows of violins, made right next door to their factory for harps and cuatros. Not only is the forest good for the ozone layer, but it has also brought back tanagers and oropendolas, nightjars and lapwings, gray hawks and whistling herons, butterflies and parrots. And the acoustics are perfect for concerts.     Enough. I'll end as sappy as a Caribbean pine. Imagine finding Atlantis in Colombia--as if the idea of a dream republic, like the equally abused ideas of sanctuary and asylum, had been hiding out all along inside a magical realist novel, ready to contradict every ugly Western idea of space--of golf courses and theme parks, private beaches and company towns, restrictive covenants and armed response, gated communities and strategic hamlets, panopticons and bantustans--and I haven't even mentioned my favorite Gaviotan invention, which is a sleeve pump attached to a seesaw so that children playing at recess might supply the water for their own school. Think of that. Plato didn't, in his cave. Now, for those children on the seesaw, substitute blue monkeys. Copyright © 1999 John Leonard. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

Part 1 Going Down with Atlantisp. 1
Dreaming the Republicp. 3
Killing the Philosophersp. 16
Spooking the Horses of the Apocalypsep. 41
Lolita Lights Our Firep. 58
Knee-deep in the Alien Cornp. 68
Tropic of Cancerp. 81
Part 2 Falling Off the Pacific Rimp. 87
DeLillo's American Jittersp. 89
Revenge of the Poisoned Twinkiesp. 103
California Screamingp. 117
Didion Does NAFTAp. 129
Cyberpunk Rocksp. 142
Pynchon's Crazy Age of Reasonp. 156
Let's Hear It For the Ludditesp. 165
Part 3 Mixed Mediap. 177
All the News That Gives Me Fitsp. 179
Editors Anonymousp. 192
American Cassandrap. 198
Whose Television, for Which Public?p. 207
Part 4 American Identitiesp. 223
Mary Gordon's Father Runs Away from Homep. 225
Underground Gassp. 233
Amazing Gracep. 240
Morrison's Paradise Lostp. 246
Part 5 Third Worldsp. 255
Said's Culture and Imperialismp. 257
Doris Lessing Goes Back to Africap. 273
At Oliver Tambo's Funeral, 1993p. 284
Discovering David Grossmanp. 295
Meeting David Grossmanp. 305
Amos Oz in the Desertp. 318
Garcia Marquez, at War on Drugsp. 330
Eduardo Galeano Walks Some Wordsp. 346
Epiloguep. 349
Happy Bastille Day!p. 351

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