Post Your Opinion
by Birk Sproxton

IN The Secular Grail, Christopher Dewdney presents short essays, reflections, and fragments that set out to demonstrate and provoke an active reading of the world. Throughout his text, Dewdney opens up and reworks communication theory. What he seeks - and what we all must seek, he suggests - is an ongoing perceptual awakening, a constant shifting of the paradigms that govern perception. Dewdney`s prose is clean and incisive, the essays punctuated with quotable aphorisms. His basic unit of composition is the sentence. At times he encloses aphorisms in boxes, a device that sets the aphorisms apart from the surrounding prose, and therefore interrupts the reader`s progress through the essay "containing" the box. Sentences lie within boxes within essays within short chapters within the book, which itself is rectangular and edgy with a multitude of openings and closings. Such an organization offers many points of entry or exit, and reminds us that any book lies edge to edge with others in a potentially end. less proliferation. Since the aphorism is a form of definition, Dewdney frequently uses linking verbs and achieves the "objective" cast and flatness of tone we associate with science writing. But he subtly modifies this seeming flatness with puns, syntactical variations, metaphors, oxymorons (as in the title), and careful repetition of words and sounds. The result is wit, insight, and a keen-edged burnout. The book`s design provides a brief illustration. The embedded box device, for example, appears on chapter title pages, each of which is framed with a solid line. The words of the title appear at the top of the box, and at the bottom, inside a smaller frame, sits the letter "L." As we move forward through the book, the letter opens into other letters and eventually becomes the word "LIFE." This movement is gradual, a paradigm of the perceptual process, for only part of a letter reveals itself at a time. Near the mid-point of the book the word "LIE" has its moment on the page. Only at the end of the book does "LIFE" appear. "The end of the book is life," we might say, to answer Freud`s maxim, "the goal of life is death." The Secular Grail provokes such perceptual events. Once you have perceived the lie in life or the (unstated) pun on end, you do not easily unperceive them. Dewdney`s pieces on cities and psychopaths (the "mascot" of the city), cash registers and telephones, editing and writing all sparkle with wit, but he tempers the wit with compassion. For me, this is especially true of his essays on the personal conflicts (and frequent illnesses and suicides) within the psychoanalytic movement. Dewdney rereads the lives of several individuals, drawing especially on letters between Freud, Jung, and others, and reveals a personal dimension to abstract and complex ideas. The Secular Grail invites and rewards repeated rereadings. It belongs on the shelf with Norman 0. Brown, Marshall McLuhan, Roland Barthes, and Umberto Eco on one side, and volumes of poetry, including Dewdney`s, on the other.

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