Singularity | Commentary

There are many cranks out there, with many strange, unfounded convictions. Some of them get published (or publish themselves). But there are the rare few, a special breed, the Pure Crank, and sometimes their fevered writings offer a unique brand of transcendence . . .

High on Cranks by Jack Womack

“We know very little about some aspects of human behavior.”

This quote — from the case study known in the autoerotic asphyxiation literature as “The Love Bug” — is the guiding belief which informs the Womack Collection.

Not all crank books are Pure Crank. The common lot focus on one clearly expressed idea: pi is actually 3.1; blue glass possesses a healing power which clear glass lacks; JFK faked his own death, and three years later appeared incognito at Truman Capote’s Black-and-White ball at the Plaza Hotel. Fine and well, but limited. Once you decide that the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel were, in fact, dinosaurs, there’s not much more to add. Everybody has known, at some time, someone possessed of a crank idea.

Good chance they weren’t Pure Crank, however. Pure Crank works come from two kinds of authors: those whose minds are — well — troubled; and those whose minds are not of this earth.

A good example of the former is a book called Crook Frightfulness, self-published (in two editions) in the late 1930s. The author rather apparently suffered from paranoid schizophrenia: Although his text is lucid on a surface level, the narrative he tells is that of having been chased from England to New Zealand by evil ventriloquists. Ultimately, there is no joy or enlightenment to be taken away from its pages.

The other kind of Pure Crank, however, provides (however inadvertently) glimpses of some truly alternate world (within which the author gives every indication of living quite happily). Let’s examine When the Dead Arose No One Saw Them, by Patrick Loughmane (“Printed in Ireland in the Year of the combined Pharaonic-Celtic and Roman Calendar, two thousand and forty seven (2047)”, by which I gather 1992 is meant).

When cranks have money, they spend money; and Mr. Loughmane plainly has (or, I suspect, had) money. A quarto, weight at least two pounds, heavy coated paper, full-color plates and black-and-white photos throughout — a lovely volume. A photo of the author on the rear flap shows a ruddy-faced middle-aged gentleman, looking quite pleased with himself, and wearing a silk ascot. You read the caption underneath the auctorial photo, and realize that all is not as it should be: “Prime moved maker through an unknowable compelling force but believed to be of the most ancient Celtic psyche because of where I was born.”

You read the text, and realize that the entire book is in this unique narrative style. You realize the full-color plates are quality reproductions of postcards of Egyptian relics and ruins purchased in Cairo tourist-stalls. You see a photo of the author’s car — a Jensen Interceptor — and gather, from the text, that it represents something — circumcision, or Spain, or a difficult day with Mother. The author is quite concerned with atomic power, and Majorca, and the pyramids; but the nature of his concern exists, well, beyond the usual definitions of sanity and insanity. Mr. Loughmane is somewhere else. It’s impossible to say if you’d want to be there, or not; but I don’t think he’s coming back.

I first came across this title in Donna Kossy’s wonderful and highly recommended zine Book Happy. Soon after, of course, I found a copy. With luck, you will too! You won’t be sorry — I’ve found little else that so easily renders our always-interesting modern world normal, by comparison.

About the Author

Copyright © 1999 by Jack Womack and Event Horizon Web Productions, Inc.