30 June 2023


Mark Pilkington and Jamie Sutcliffe (Editors). Strange Attractor, Journal Five. Strange Attractor Press, 2023.

Its seventeen years since we last saw an issue of Strange Attractor Journal, and I think few of us ever imagined seeing a new one in the wild ever again, although we were more than happy with the 92 other titles the S A Press has produced in the interim. So, like an unexpected comet emerging from its millennia-long journey around the sun, here is Journal 5.
There is never any kind of logical consistency to the subject of the essays in any issue of Strange Attractor, except that they are usually about topics you never heard about before, and never realised you would be interested in. Magical toads, for instance. And without exception they show a depth of erudition which is lightly worn and easily received.

'Eldred Hieronymous Wormwood' sounds very much like a nom-de-plume to me, but such is the exoticness and diversity of contributors to the Strange Attractor series, that I will give him the benefit of the doubt. Here he is discussing the alchemical properties of toads, which seemed to have been a living pharmacopoeia of lotions, potions and hallucinogens. Unfortunately the processes by which these treasures were unlocked were unspeakably cruel to the poor creatures. Nevertheless “it was a chemical crucible in which were refined the substances required to transcend the mundane”.

Crucifixion is also unspeakably cruel and certainly transcends the mundane, which does rather make you wonder why someone might undertake it voluntarily. Such disturbing practices are usually associated with extreme religious fanaticism in the Philippines, which makes it seem even more disturbing to come across a crucifixion in the upper-middle class and only mildly fanatical surroundings of Hampstead.

Joseph Richard de Haviland (née John Ramineez) was a refugee from the 1957 Hungarian Uprising. He was an illusionist and fire-eater who claimed to be able to bear intense pain. He prepared carefully for the act, assembling the wood for the cross, the nails hammer spade an other paraphernalia and ferrying them to the Heath in a Hertz (geddit?) rental van. Nailed to the cross which was hauled up to lean against a tree, de Haviland lost consciousness, but amazingly did not seem to be bleeding.

Eventually police and ambulance were called by shocked passers-by and de Haviland was taken to hospital where a surgeon declared him in “generally excellent condition”. The main part of the account describes the legal action after the event, which raised such issues as, is it actually a crime to crucify yourself? The location on Hampstead Heath led to a press frenzy as it was in an area known for gay cruising. Sex and violence - the perfect tabloid story at the height of the Swinging London era. Perhaps the ultimate act of sixties' performance art?

We're just two chapters into this collection, and waiting for us is the story of a remarkable house and gallery in Bremen, the Haus Atlantis, built to glorify the occult origins of the German volk. It was sponsored and financed by the founder of the HAG Coffee company, Ludwig Roselius, a wealthy collector of German art and Nordic archaeological artefacts, as well as a passionate supporter of Hitler. But also an enthusiast for then-modern German Expressionist art, something which was definitely on the 'Entartete Kunst' list.

The Haus Atlantis with its wealth of Expressionist symbolism and architectural modernity seemed a strange hybrid construction. Its creator's dedication to Nazi ideals (whilst carefully avoiding joining the Party) was not reciprocated by the Fuhrer, who denounced "Nordic catchwords which begin their thematic research with some mythical Atlantean civilization".

Narrowly missing demolition by the Nazi authorities - who eventually decided to keep it as another example of entartete Kunst - and Allied bombing, it still exists, a part of it incorporated into Hamburg's Radisson Hotel. The remarkable photographs reproduced show its style hovering somewhere between Gaudi, Cubism and Frank Lloyd Wright.

It would take far too much time, and spoil your fun if I were to go through all the chapters in detail, but every piece here, from Jeremy Harte's exposition on phantom dogs, shapeshifting ghosts and humans with animal heads, to Nadia Choucha's unravelling of the labyrinthine connections between Scottish nationalism, Celtic fairy-lore, Donald Cammell's 1970 movie Performance and, of course, Aleister Crowley. I must also mention Robert Wallis's radical interpretation of the Lascaux cave-paintings 'shaft scene', and Phil Lagard's tracking of a working-class magus from an aristocratic Theosophical meeting in fin-de-siècle Prague to a subsistence farm near Warrington. Oh, and Herr Schalkenbach's amazing electric Orchestre du Diable, with 'surprising supernatural effects', in the Edgware Road,

Obviously not every essay in this collection will interest everyone. I rather got lost in the complexities of Ken Hollings screenplay of a film based around the planning of a movie about the making of a 70s Japanese monster film. But if there is anyone who finds nothing in this collection of the strange to interest, stimulate and intrigue them, they must be very strange themselves!
  • John Rimmer

No comments: