Edited by
John Yau
(Four Walls
Eight Windows)
We picked up this one to sneer, and ended up enthralled.

Not necessarily because of the subject matter. As you know, one man's fetish might well turn out to be another man's nausea.

No, it's the excellent writing. Somehow, John Yau, the editor, was able to pull together almost forty writers and have them create fascinating tales, written especially for this collection.

When we (and they) say "fetish," we are not necessarily discussing "an object believed among a primitive people to have magical power to protect or aid its owner." It's more an object of fixation for those of us who don't believe ourselves to be so primitive. (The word comes from the Latin: facticius meaning produced by man rather than by natural forces.)

Some of my thoughts as I delved into it:

  • How damn near anything can be turned into a fetish;
  • Indeed it is possible that most all love is fetish (I may not love you --- but I can certainly love my fantasy about you);
  • Finally, I thought about how little artful writing there is out there dedicated to wonderful, sensual, naked passion --- with or without fetishes.
There is, of course, most of early Henry Miller and D. H. Lawrence; there are the Memoirs of Jacques Casanova de Siengalt, The Story of O, and Richard Burton's creative translation of The Perfumed Garden. We'd have to put Walt Whitman in there somewhere, and Nabokov too (for what was Lolita, after all, but a fetish --- one artfully constructed for and by Humbert Humbert.) There, too, should be a place for Anaïs Nin, and, obviously, the father of all fetish writing, the Marquis de Sade.

Outside of that, it's pretty slim pickings, especially since presentations of contemporary passion have been usurped by the gross pornographers f/b/o the Saturday night VCR onanism set, and, more recently, television. What you see on these Fox TV programs, or what you rent from your local Video Spot, is a low-level vision of obsession, transmogrified into the common vernacular, written and produced by someone who hasn't been there, and who has no idea of the wondrous frightening delirious nut-crushing reach of passion.

What a pleasure, then, it is to pick up a book like this and read about singular, focussed obsession --- whether it's a simple spray can, or a chicken, or old-fashioned whips and spurs (and chicken feathers!). You get here those who have the ability to create magic in their words, to match the magic of a soul crazy over an object (a thing, or a person, or both) as in, for example, "Sex Sphere:"

    Once more the sphere rotated, and I noticed a twinkling brown eye set in her side, just below the crease at the base of her breast. Next to her eye was the delicated shell of an ear.

    "Who are you?" I breathed. "Where do you come from?"

    The fat breast nudged me and I tongued the chewy nipple.

    "Who are you?" I repeated. "Talk to me."

    The smiling mouth came singing around to plant some sticky kisses on my face. The mouth was almost a foot long now. The teeth looked very big and strong.

    "Please shrink a little," I begged. "You make me nervous like this."

    Obligingly she dwindled down to a more manageable size...maybe a meter in diameter. I happened to be holding her breasts as she shrank, and it was a strange sensation...not as if she were a balloon losing air, but rather as if she were sliding out from under me...

    "Thank you," I said, planting another kiss on her mouth. "Please talk to me."

There are some parts of Fetish that are pretty kinky, rather raw. But mostly it's handled with such love (and such a love of language) that one can't fault it at all. Some delights come from the asides, like this from "Crush," about a young Chinese girl, wanting, wanting so badly to be a woman --- what woman hasn't felt like that at some time in her childhood, praying for her first period (which they called in China "seeing a ghost"):

    When would I ever grow up? When would I see my ghost like my sister? She was younger, yet her blood flowed half a year ago. When she first saw the red, she came to me in tears, thinking she was dying from some mysterious disease. We sewed layers of cloth to her underwear to block the blood, until one day mother saw the thickly padded shorts and threw a rubber panty at her. Soon my sympathy turned into jealousy as I watched her waddling to show off what was going on between her legs, her whispering to her friends about her monthly visit by the "old ghost..."

The pleasures here come from the unknown and the famous alike --- from Rudy Rucker and Robert Kelly and Laurie Weeks and Kevin Killian, but also Charles Bukowski, Paul Bowles, John Yau (the editor of the anthology) and, at the top of our list, a delicate fantasy by Guy Davenport, called or "The Haile Selassie Funeral Train:"

    It is incredible now to remember the people who were on that train. James Joyce was there, I was there, ambassadors, professors from the Sorbonne and Oxford, at least one Chinese field marshal, and the entire staff of La Prensa.

    James Joyce, and I had not seen him! The world in 1939 was quite different from what it is now. I knew that Apollinaire was on board. I had seen him in his crumpled lieutenant's uniform, his head wrapped in a gauze bandage, his small Croix de Guerre caught under his Sam Brown belt. He sat bolt upright, his wide hands on his knees, his chin lifted and proud.

    A bearded little man in a pince-nez must have seen with what awe I was watching Apollinaire, for he got out of his seat and came and put his hand on my arm.

    --- Don't go near that man, he said softly in my ear, he says that he is the Kaiser.

--- R. R. Doister


How We Got
Into This Mess and
How We Can
Get Out

Mike Gray
(Random House)

There's one question about drugs and drug policy which almost never gets asked. In fact, it's so simple that practically everyone misses it.

It is:

    Why are we Americans so frightened at giving people the freedom to do what they want with their own bodies?

Indeed, is not our attempted (and failing) control of drugs interrelated to our attempted (and always failed) restrictions on abortion? In both, regulations of our desires for personal freedom leads to chaos and hideous pain --- for all of us.

Anyone with monkey sense can see what this latest in our continuing series of Civil Wars is doing to us.

  • It's making quite a few rapscallions very rich: the drug wholesalers --- both national and international --- as well as those who are in the business of selling matériel to further the war effort (those who, for example, supply drug-testing paraphernalia, police accoutrements, and prisons --- our late 20th Century version of the Merchants of Death).

  • In the last ten years, it has quadrupled our prison population.

  • It has decimated whole black communities, for almost a quarter of the black males are in jail, on trial, or on probation --- most charged with buying or selling drugs.

  • It has contributed to a further split between the races: according to Gray, a study by two researchers from the University Of Michigan found that since 1985, the number of whites shown on television as cocaine users has dropped nearly 60%, while the number of blacks shown has risen by the same amount.

  • It's victimizing the old and sick, those who need narcotics for pain control. Those with terminal cancer or other gross illnesses can't get the medicine they need because doctors are concerned that if they are seen as being too generous in prescribing pain-killing medicine, they lose their licenses to practice.

  • It is destroying the Bill of Rights: a recent article in The New Yorker quoted a lawyer as saying that in the strange world of drug prosecution, the First Ten Amendments to the Constitution no longer exist.

  • It has put us under seige, building fortress communities, killing the life of our streets --- largely from the fear created by television's lurid portrayal of the world of drugs and drug-dealers, combined with the criminalization of a whole sub-class of people.

  • It is destroying the infrastructure of several nearby --- once stable, self-contained --- countries like Mexico, Columbia, and the Dominican Republic.

  • Strangest of all --- it has done nothing to dry up the pervasiveness of drugs, merely made the market forces, and the actual drugs used, far more vicious (because of interdiction, the price of the "soft drugs" has risen so much that those who want to get high are forced to go to a cheaper, and much more ugly, substitute --- crack cocaine, PCP, or speed.)

You'd think after eighty years of failure, that our legislators would rethink their stance on drugs, but the opposite seems to be true: each year, we get more prisons, more enforcement, more laws --- to such a point that those who love our country fear for its future. Anyone who needs to be convinced of our collective madness should read Drug Crazy. Any who have even a small touch of hope that we will find our way out of this morass should buy a dozen copies, send them off to those who make our drug policy.

Mike Gray --- the man who wrote The China Syndrome --- has created a series of brilliant and irrefutable arguments for legalization.

For one, he points to countries who have had better sense than to force prohibition: Holland, Switzerland, and England. He has shown that these countries now know that drugs are best regulated by laws that neither absolutely prohibit, but don't open the doors either:

    ...the demand curve for forbidden fruit is not linear --- it's U-shaped. If drugs and alcohol are too freely available --- or if they are prohibited --- you increase consumption. "Free markets promote use; prohibitions pedal use..."

Drug Crazy ends with an "Activist's Guide" on how you and I can begin the long process of reversing this lunacy. Gray says that it is obvious that change will not come from the federal government (he cites the Shafer report of 1972 which saw marijuana as neither dangerous nor one that led to addiction to other drugs; President Nixon immediately disowned it. And he was the one who appointed the commission).

The best hope for change, he says, will come from state initiatives. Individual citizens in Arizona and California have now approved use of marijuana for medical purposes, and we are treated to the sight of lawyers, sheriffs, and judges sitting down with pro-pot activists to formulate a workable policy.

The conscise and logical writing is superb. It is also disturbing --- but the charts are even more so. Between the end of prohibition in 1934 and 1960, the U. S. Murder rate dropped from ten homicides per 100,000 to less than five. Since then it has shot up again to a rate equal to that of the good old days of Prohibition.

--- Ignacio Schwartz

A Good
Christian Be
A Good Lawyer
Witnesses, and

Thomas E. Baker and
Timothy W. Floyd, Editors
(Notre Dame)
Well, it's somewhat of an oxymoron, right? Good Lawyer? Good Christian? Now, we find them all together, in the same bed, at the same time. The editors have ferreted out twenty-one lawyers who are also practicing Christians, they tell us --- and give them space so that, in light of their committment to the Divine, they can defend their faith and their lawyering.

Fifty years ago, a treatise like this would have been unthinkable, because, back in those innocent times, it would have been assumed that most lawyers in the heartland were "Christians," meaning that they attended church from time to time, didn't cheat on their wives, and --- when they stole --- at least they would have a small attack of conscience. But with the legal profession being, now, such a hot-bed of opportunists and scoundrels, a book like this can be considered necessary.

The prejudice of the editors is demonstrated by the selection of their contributors: most of these attorneys (and judges) are mainstream --- Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist (quite a sprinkling of Southern Baptists), one Mormon, and a passel of Catholics. No fire-breathers out of the Four Square Gospel or Pat Roberts; no Quakers nor Christian Existentialists.

And, after toiling through the volume, damn little life.

They all agree being a legal Christian is a regular bother because when they meet someone and say, "Yes, I am a Christian" --- the question is always, "How can you be a Good Christian and a Good Lawyer at the same time?"

Still, with all this, there are a couple of surprises tucked away here and there. One Ashley T. Wiltshire, Jr. (great name!) quotes from Rev. Roger Thwackum in the novel Tom Jones:

    When I mention religion, I mean the Christian religion; and not only the Christian religion, but the Protestant religion; and not only the Protestant religion but the Church of England.

Great quote, but out of the mouth of one of the great religious fools in all of English literature: Thwackum was Fielding's revenge on all the Anglicans who had bothered him over the course of his long life.

Marcus G. Faust (great name!), the sole representative of the Latter Day Saints, spends a great deal of his essay (and our time) telling us what a wonderful Christian he is, and how much he's done on behalf of Utah during his time in Washington. It seems that Christian humility and Christian meekness (and voluntary Christian poverty) are not the strong suit of Faust, nor of the LDS.

On the other hand, how nice to find Nancy Miller-Herron, Catholic, who gives us a touch of whimsey, with a list of "things that seem urgent to me lately now:"

  • Clearing off my desk...
  • Dealing with some fairly fallen powers and principalities: the Courts, Wall Street, the U. S. Government, and the Church.
  • Clearing off my desk.
  • Writing this essay.
  • Coordinating my child care.
  • Clearing off my desk.
  • Changing diapers.
  • Billing hours.
  • Clearing off my desk.
  • Collecting for the hours I billed...
Etc., etc.

The big surprise in the volume is a lawyer who bills himself merely as "Christian," and writes the essay entitled, "Christian Life and the Law:"

    The Christian perspective in particular demands of us qualities and characteristics that at first blush seem inconsistent with lawyering skills, but reflection and experience convince me that the two are cheerfully compatible. Above all, Christian lawyering means treating one's collegues and adversaries with a profound sense of respect for human dignity...Turning the other cheek translates into not stooping to engage in sharp or questionable practices. It means respect for truth and a singleminded commitment not to play fast and loose with the truth.

Emphasis ours.

The author?

Kenneth W. Starr.

--- Lolita Lark


And Other
Medical Marvels
Robert and Michèle

We reviewed the hard-back copy of this in RALPH a few months ago, and we want to confirm, yet again, that it's a fine and funny book, filled with all sorts of cures that they used centuries ago --- leeches, blood-letting, dogs licking your sores, hot mineral baths, urine as a liquid refresher in the morning --- and the authors go on to prove that some of these may have been quite efficacious in the days when they didn't have access to Viagra or Xanax. It's still a wonderful book --- but now it only costs $13. The Washington Post said that it was "considerably beyond chicken soup." Right.

Go to the original review.

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