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The Secret Life of Puppets Paperback – October 8, 2003
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From Library Journal
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
A wonderful, unlikely, necessary book which links high and low and pop culture, the sacred and the profane, into a magnificent webwork of pattern and gnosis--it is erudite, irreverent, and profound. Just read it. (Neil Gaiman, author of American Gods)
The Secret Life of Puppets is one of the most important and inspiring books I've read in many years. Ranging widely in the imagination of Western culture, it shows wisely how the human soul went into eclipse, where it remained hidden, and how it might return. The language is fresh, the ideas original. Each page has at least one summary sentence, beautifully compact, that offers a way out of the scientism and displaced notions of transcendence that have chased the life out of modern experience. Drawing on a largely neglected tradition of Neoplatonic and magical thought, it opens up key themes of religion and literature that lie hidden in popular culture and high art. (Thomas Moore, author of Care of the Soul and The Soul's Religion)
Much more than intellectual history and literary criticism, Victoria Nelson's The Secret Life of Puppets is a provocative, important and exciting thesis about why organized Western religion is no longer the residence of religion. In a convincing series of essays, Nelson demonstrates how the sacred and our yearning for the transcendent has now reappeared in art, film and all manner of simulacra--yes, and even in puppets. This is required reading for any serious student or teacher of religion. (Rabbi Lawrence Kushner, author of God Was In This Place and I, I Did Not Know, Invisible Lines of Connection and other books.)
This is a book of powerful psychic allure: it consistently engages and challenges; one is pushed into new intellectual spheres by its very oddity and force. It is also spectacularly well-written on a sentence-by-sentence level. Nelson is a prose stylist of sometimes lyric and touching penetration. (Terry Castle, author of The Female Thermometer and The Apparitional Lesbian.)
Nelson plots an illuminating journey through a carnival funhouse...Unlike many similar, wide-ranging culture studies, Nelson's book arrives with no agenda, blaming no one; instead, she offers a learned, exciting ride through a phantasmagoric landscape filled with dark mysteries. (Publishers Weekly 2001-12-02)
From Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, A. I., and X-Files, to the genre grotesqueries of Child's Play and The Puppet Master, so much of our popular storytelling concerns forces and phenomena our culture firmly insists aren't real and cannot exist...In a dizzying and fascinating alternate history scored with subterranean connections, Nelson presents alchemists, Platonists, Gnostics and magi in their own terms and contexts...In this rich work of erudite charms, Nelson convincingly argues that the cultural pendulum is swinging back to the platonic side. But because our rigid scientific materialism doesn't allow us to take any of this seriously, we are left with mostly unconscious expressions that overemphasize the sensational and horrific dark side, with a little sentimental New Age nod to the latent good. (William S. Kowinski San Francisco Chronicle 2002-01-26)
In the opening chapter, Victoria Nelson issues a caveat that deliberately echoes the warnings that preface tales of horror. Do not expect to emerge unchanged. To read this book is akin to entering an ancient grotto, the ante-chamber of the otherworld. Since the Enlightenment, says Nelson,, Western culture has dismissed the supernatural as mere superstition and displaced these religious impulses into popular entertainments such as fantasy and science fiction. The emergence of new grottos such as cyberspace are signs that we are entering a new era of sensibility, in which the Platonic and Aristotelian world view can coexist. As a diagnosis of the role of the supernatural in modern secular society, this is a work of extraordinary originality, erudition and flair. Read it and be transformed. (Fiona Capp The Age 2002-03-16)
Freud theorized that modern civilization (the one in which he lived, anyway) repressed our sexual instincts. In her provocative new book, The Secret Life of Puppets, Victoria Nelson contends that modern civilization has repressed our spiritual instincts. And these, she argues, like all repressed instincts, have come back to surprise us in strange new forms. (Merle Rubin Christian Science Monitor 2002-03-14)
Translating ancient thought systems into contemporary terms, finding equivalents of the old in the new, Nelson skillfully manages to thrust the sphere of academic research headlong into popular culture, making this both accessible and erudite...In a dizzying journey that opens with a Renaissance grotto and concludes with The Truman Show and virtual reality, we are taken on a rollercoaster ride through the underside of western mysticism. As Nelson herself warns the reader, when crawling out from the "hole of this book", whatever emerges "will not be the same as what went in." (Aura Satz Financial Times 2002-02-23)
This is no ordinary work of intellectual history...This is New Age prophecy at its most verbally sexy and literarily savvy. It is fun, enticing, and chockfull of brilliance. (Laura Bass Washington Times 2002-04-14)
Some books are fated and fêted for cult status. They have a particular feel and fervency about them. The Secret Life of Puppets by Victoria Nelson, a writer on writing...seems like one of those uncanny, unclassifiable books that break the mould and promise to have a market appeal across disciplines and hobbies, among sober seekers after enlightenment as well as cranks...Nelson's breathtaking jaunt through the underground of Western culture is certainly illuminating and sometimes intoxicating...Expertly researched, forcefully written, magnificently produced, The Secret Life of Puppets is a haunting, highly charged book that leaves a strong after-image of worlds within worlds. (William Keenan Journal of Contemporary Religion 2003-01-01)
The Secret Life of Puppets explores the hauntings, possessions, and other uncanny phenomena proliferating in literature and entertainment (and by no means only on the margins); she argues strongly, through vivid and original readings of H. P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe and many artifacts in a variety of media, for a new approach to the uses of fantasy and to the relationship between material and immaterial phenomena. (Marina Warner Times Literary Supplement 2002-12-06)
In a remarkable scholarly book, The Secret Life of Puppets, Victoria Nelson argues that our sense of the supernatural and yearning for immortality has been displaced from religion to such expressions of popular culture as superheroes, robots and cyborgs. (Francisco Goldman New York Times Magazine 2004-11-28)
Top Customer Reviews
Two topics Victoria Nelson covers that are of particular interest to me are Gnosticism and Noir. If you like these topics, then another book you'd like is Eric G. Wilson's The Melancholy Android: On the Psychology of Sacred Machines and Secret Cinema: Gnostic Vision in Film. Wilson is directly influenced by Nelson. There aren't many books that look at the religious aspects of Noir, but another one is Thomas S. Hibbs Arts of Darkness: American Noir and the Quest for Redemption. Somewhat oddly, a major connection for these authors is that they all discuss Philip K. Dick who is a favorite author of mine.Read more ›
If you've ever entertained the idea that popular films such as The Matrix, or TV shows (X-Files) might be saying something interesting about ideas in today's world at some deeper level, but you're not really sure what it is, this is the book to read. Nelson shows how Robocop, the Terminator and so on are just the latest puppets standing in for a certain way of thinking about the world, even a 'religious' way of thinking, that in fact is very ancient in Western society. It's been driven into eclipse by our modern, scientific, and materialistic society, but becomes strangely ascendant the moment we walk into a movie theatre, read a Stephen King novel, or listen to a conversation about an 'interesting' movie at the water cooler. Why? Well, buy Nelson's book.
I could imagine this book being misread as an attack on conventional religion, but it really has nothing to do with that. I could also imagine that some readers, not accustomed to slogging their way through terms such as 'Platonism', 'demiurge,' and so on, might miss out on finer moments in Nelson's work, when she casts off the robes of the academic (which don't really suit her, anyway) and speaks in plain language about her ideas.
In any case, this is a fine book well worth a careful reading in my opinion.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Returned this book because the Kindle quality was terrible...you could not adjust the line spacing; could not change the font, and changing the font size it went from small to... Read morePublished 14 months ago by David S. Wellhauser
This is an amazing work, insightful and properly argued, giving an explanation of our imaginative lives and art through how our society represents and understands simulacra and... Read morePublished on June 19, 2014 by Terry
Victoria Nelson must not think the genre she is writing about is worthy of accuracy. Just off the top of my head I found three mistakes in a single chapter. Read morePublished on June 19, 2012 by J
I recommend this book for anyone curious with the trends in popular media in using facsimiles of ourselves in the form of robots, aliens, etc.
Very interesting read. Read more
I may be hopelessly low-brow, but I really don't know what to make of this book. At the end of Chapter 1, the author writes:
"But caveat lector, those in the know view... Read more
Nice way to connect wide range of topics. It has a typographical error or two, but it's a very good read.Published on April 10, 2003