Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Pg. 69: "Phantasmagoria"

Marina Warner is a prize-winning writer of fiction, criticism and history; her works include novels and short stories as well as studies of female myths and symbols. Her latest book is Phantasmagoria: Spirit Visions, Metaphors, and Media.

In the Independent (UK), Steven Connor wrote that "Phantasmagoria is a cabinet of familiar wonders: a jetting, generous, humane spree of thought, richly quickened by the life it finds within us and abroad, in our media and machineries of mind."

I asked Marina to apply the "page 69 test" to her book. Here is her reply:
My p 69 is blank! It is the last page of the chapter on 'The Breath of Life' before the turn to the next chapter. It falls in the middle of Phantasmagoria's section on Air, so its emptiness is a kind of visualisation of the invisibility of spirit, my topic, and in many ways perfect symbolism. The page faces a tailpiece image of an Egyptian Ba - the hieroglyph of the Bird-Soul winging its way to the afterlife - and some wonderful airy lines about an angel from Wallace Stevens. On the back, on p 70, which you can just see through the paper, is a naked Mary Magdalene carried aloft in ecstasy by puff cloud cherubim, drawn by Luca Cambiaso with pen and ink. It's odd that a book that is perhaps overstuffed and overrich should be represented in this light and abstract way but I quite like the paradox. Other sections, on Wax, Light, Shadow, Mirror, Ectoplasm, Film, etc., are material and palpable as I wrestle towards understanding how questions about soul and spirit have been put since the end of the eighteenth century and into our own third millennium. We have become more haunted, more populated with spirits, and they are present through many different media in powerful ways. Phantasmagoria explores this throng, from waxworks to zombies.
Many thanks to Marina for the input.

Click here for a book description and to read the Table of Contents.

Lisa Jardine lauded the book in the Financial Times:
Marina Warner has made herself mistress of the uncanny and the supernatural as they interweave with European culture. In her latest book she explores the paradox that the Enlightenment and modernity did not put an end to the peculiar attraction to the human mind of “the super-natural and miraculous,” and the desire to explain its mystery. “Curiosity about spirits of every sort and the ideas and imagery which communicate their nature have flourished more vigorously than ever since the 17th century,” she writes. [read the entire review here]
In her Guardian review, Hilary Mantel wrote:
Since the Enlightenment, though many of us have abandoned belief in God, we still believe that something distinctive, something essential, animates human beings and makes them more than the sum of their parts, more than very complex machines. Soul is irreplaceable, it is unique, it is beyond description, and yet if we can't describe it, how can we talk about ourselves? Phantasmagoria is about the words we find for the things that aren't quite there. It is about the images we choose, to bulk out with an illusory form what actually lacks substance, and about the metaphors we use to embody the bodiless. It is about the ways that the dead live: on film, in wax, in those Victorian spirit photographs, so clumsy that nowadays they wouldn't fool a child. It takes us from Dante to JK Rowling, Peter Pan to Jean-Paul Marat, Aristotle to Magritte. It is about fog and smog and celestial clouds, doppelgängers and vampires, magic lanterns and Rorschach blots; it is a book of wonders, with the seductive interest common to the work of our foremost mythographer, and it is a generous book, which sends the reader to other books, to philosophy and poetry, to the history of science and to theology. [read the entire review here]
Click here for links to more reviews from the major British papers.

Several of Marina Warner's stories and excerpts from her books are available here.

Click here to learn more about Marina's many other publications.

Previous "page 69 tests":
Bill Crider, A Mammoth Murder
Robert W. Bennett, Taming the Electoral College
Nicholas Stern et al, Stern Review Report
Kerry Emanuel, Divine Wind
Adam Langer, The Washington Story
Michael Scott Moore, Too Much of Nothing
Frank Schaeffer, Baby Jack
Wyn Cooper, Postcards from the Interior
Ivan Goncharov, Oblomov
Maureen Ogle, Ambitious Brew
Cass Sunstein, Infotopia
Paul W. Kahn, Out of Eden
Paul Lewis, Cracking Up
Pagan Kennedy, Confessions of a Memory Eater
David Greenberg, Nixon's Shadow
Duane Swierczynski, The Wheelman
George Levine, Darwin Loves You
John Barlow, Intoxicated
Alicia Steimberg, The Rainforest
Alan Wolfe, Does American Democracy Still Work?
John Dickerson, On Her Trail
Marcus Sakey, The Blade Itself
Randy Boyagoda, Governor of the Northern Province
John Gittings, The Changing Face of China
Rachel Kadish, Tolstoy Lied
Eric Rauchway, Blessed Among Nations
Tim Brookes, Guitar and other books
Ruth Padel, Tigers in Red Weather
William Haywood Henderson, Augusta Locke
Jed Horne, Breach of Faith
Robert Greer, The Fourth Perspective
David Plotz, The Genius Factory
Michael Allen Dymmoch, White Tiger
Patrick Thaddeus Jackson, Civilizing the Enemy
Tom Lutz, Doing Nothing
Libby Fischer Hellmann, A Shot To Die For
Nelson Algren, The Man With the Golden Arm
Bob Harris, Prisoner of Trebekistan
Elaine Flinn, Deadly Collection
Louise Welsh, The Bullet Trick
Gregg Hurwitz, Last Shot
Martha Powers, Death Angel
N.M. Kelby, Whale Season
Mario Acevedo, The Nymphos of Rocky Flats
Dominic Smith, The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre
Simon Blackburn, Lust
Linda L. Richards, Calculated Loss
Kevin Guilfoile, Cast of Shadows
Ronlyn Domingue, The Mercy of Thin Air
Shari Caudron, Who Are You People?
Marisha Pessl, Special Topics in Calamity Physics
John Sutherland, How to Read a Novel
Steven Miles, Oath Betrayed
Alan Brown, Audrey Hepburn's Neck
Richard Dawkins, The Ancestor's Tale

--Marshal Zeringue