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Monday, December 3, 2018

BEAUTIFUL LOSERS: my unpublished reviews

Beautiful Losers: Lives of the Saints


For the third time in my life as an ageing child of the sixties, I am reading Beautiful Losers.
The pyrotechnics of this much-acclaimed, maniacally experimental novel obscure the shocking truths it is woven around.
A hidden holocaust
MKULTRA mind control
Nazi experiments on human beings, in particular children
Cohen peppers the novel with references to this tragic story, but uses these horrors as comic triggers. The reader zigzags between heaven and hell, as the amphetamine-gulping narrator gropes for a missing moral centre in a world that has exploded.
When we read it in the sixties, we were shocked, thrilled and titillated. But, as Bob Dylan says, “Things have changed.”
Read in the light of what we know now about the classified goings-on at McGill during the years preceding the writing of this bizarre roman-a-clef, it tends to seem tragic.
Maybe there was even comedy at Auschwitz. I wouldn’t be surprised there were clowns in the barracks, loved for their ability to get a laugh out of the dying and soon-to-be-dead.
Human soap turns up several times in Beautiful Losers, as well. It’s one of those standards of holocaust humour, I guess.
Human soap is really the lighter side of Mengele’s experiments. Almost a euphemism for crimes so unspeakable they are never discussed. Thus the truth slips into the yawning abyss of amnesia, and a whole new generation of mind-controlled patriots are preparing to follow their leaders into Armageddon.
Still — in the light of the documents sitting in Washington, and all that has appeared on the internet and elsewhere over the last few years, as child victims recover their memories and voices and begin to publish their accounts of CIA torture, funded by our governments — Beautiful Losers seems strangely relevant today.

Part of it is set in a Montreal mental hospital, after all, during the days when MKULTRA was running amok in that city.
Other parts are set in the past, when Jesuit missionaries ran equally amok among the Hurons and Montagnais in Quebec. The absent heroine of Beautiful Losers is Katherine Tekakwitha, a Mohawk saint, who survived the smallpox that killed off most of her tribe, and ended up dying as a result of her conversion to Catholicism.
There are references to the orphanage where the narrator, and his mentor F., were raised, and introduced to various forms of rampant abuse.
Leonard was barely thirty when he penned this epic, fuelled by amphetamines and perhaps just a trace of rage, which he disguises behind comedy.
Reading it now, it’s fairly obvious that Leonard knew quite a lot about Ewen Cameron and MKULTRA  and the secret experiments on children, including First Nations children, at McGill. He also knew what happened to people who talked too openly about what they knew.
But how much did he know? Perhaps Beautiful Losers was written from bits and pieces of information Cohen heard, and cobbled together into a novel. Perhaps he did not directly witness these horrors, which he recounts in a hallucinatory stream of consciousness manner — after all, it was 1966, he had done LSD, and read The Lamp of Albion Moonlight,by Kenneth Patchen, a novel some say inspired this one
But hallucinations alone — even very well-informed hallucinations — don’t account for the parallels between the events described in Beautiful Losers, and the real, secret goings-on in behavioural labs at the Allan Memorial Institute, hub of secret CIA experiments on various hapless mental patients, and children.
The Nazi connection, which Cohen flirts with but does not develop, is plain to anyone, and now backed up by thousands of pages of declassified CIA documents. Not that those documents mention children, of course. If they did, my generation would have grown up a lot more quickly. We would have stopped believing in fairy tales a long time ago.
There are no documents that survived past 1973, when CIA director Stansfield Turner ordered his staff to shred every piece of evidence relating to one of the ugliest research programs ever to grace the halls of learning.
But Leonard Cohen mentions them in BEAUTIFUL LOSERS. Oh, not too directly, of course, but he alludes to orphans and pedophile scientists and priests, and paints a picture of a world that, back in those days, seemed like the fantasy product of a mind wasted by drugs.
Cohen, the whistleblower, twanging his Jews’ harp in the ruins of what used to be called The Free World.
Cohen the sly operative, shrewdly estimating the limits of what he could say in print. He knew if he told the simple truth, it would not be believed.
And he was right. Not ONE critic ever got the message. No one connected the obvious dots, or followed the trail of breadcrumbs that Leonard dropped for us in the woods. If they had, the trail would have led to the witch’s door, and straight to the oven.
It’s 40 years since Beautiful Losers was first published in 1996. And it’s time for us to reread it, with a copy of John Marks’ The Making of the Manchurian Candidate by our bedside, and our browsers poised to search for real, true stories of the orphans, children, First Nations children, pedophile priests, cynical politicians, and Nazi doctors… all of whom populate the pages of Beautiful Losers.
In mythic form, of course.
Is it surprising that I’ve tunnelled through libraries for news about victims?
Fictional victims! all the victims we ourselves do not murder of imprison…” p. 7
Still a brilliant literary diversion, this tour de force of style and showmanship is built on the bodies of the “fictional” victims whose graves Leonard graces with a book-length epitaph.
“I’ve poisoned the air, I’ve lost my erection.
Is it because I’ve stumbled on the truth about Canada?
City Fathers, kill me, for I have talked too much.” p. 37

Recently in an interview, Cohen called Beautiful Losers a long “prayer.” Strange, how religion tends to blur distinctions and wipe out memory: much like those drugs MKULTRA was giving out to all and sundry.
I hope you’ll go out and find an old copy, or buy the new edition, and decide for yourself.

UPDATED, December 2018

Yes. Unbelievably, I'm reading Beautiful Losers for the fourth time since I first read it sometime in the late sixties or early seventies.
"More of a sunstroke than a novel" is how Leonard described it ...
I've never loved it although I used to defend it on grounds that it was about something important that had happened in Montreal, my home town which back in the eighties needed defending. What exactly those events were - other than the more or less well known history of the Jesuits and the original peoples, and in particularly the Mohawks who gave the Church its first Amerindian saint, Keteri Tekatwitha. A story well worth telling, that I had never learned about in the English Protestant schools I attended, and on the face of it this is what Beautiful Losers is about. Except that it's not. It's actually more about the relationship between the nameless narrator, whom critics have named "I." and his talkative, domineering, sociopathic friend F. Although it begins with a coda in praise of Catherine Tekatwitha, giving the impression it really might have something to do with her, and eventually gets around to recounting details and scenes from her biography, C T never really comes to life as anything more than the tiny votive statue that to this day stands barely visible in a display case in the church of Notre Dame du Havre, where Leonard probably first saw her. Miracles have been ascribed to her, but the "I." of Beautiful Losers is no believer - more of a masturbator - a failed scholar in love with his love for the martyred Iroquois saint - and probably more in love with F. - a mysterious mentor-like monster who contracts syphilis and ends his days in a mental hospital from which he pens an interminable letter to "I." in the next to final chapter.
I hope I've got all that right. Despite the fact that this is my fourth time reading this 'novel' - to be honest I've never been able to overcome my boredom with the narrator and his never ending struggle to be funny. The fourth time around, this is even more obvious, especially in the long passages of sophomoric dialogue which even in 1966 must have seemed forced and silly to many readers. The truth is, I never liked Beautiful Losers but that doesnt stop me from thinking about it and rereading it, over the decades. I'm not the only one. It seems hundreds of critics have attempted to decode this novel. I've read very few of these critics but I know Stephen Scobie edited an entire volume of essays devoted to it - back in the 1980s - and I once skimmed it, but I'm just not interested in what critics have to say about it. The last one I came across explored the text in terms of its relationship to post-humanism and the modern technological era first described in depth by McLuhan in Understanding Media.
For my own part, I keep rereading Beautiful Losers to find something that is not there: a story, a true confession. Against all evidence, I seem to think I can penetrate the text with my X-ray vision and find the core that Cohen threw away when he wrote it, back in 1964 I think it was, on Hydra, on speed, with Marianne putting flowers on his writing table in the morning and making him little snacks to keep him going. Generally speaking, it was a lot of work and hot air for very little reward. He once told me he no longer had the strength to write another novel - the process is just too strenuous and exhausting and having written two or three myself, I agree with him -
People still read Beautiful Losers and since his death it has come out in a new edition which appears to be selling more than ever. And I notice, just as before, people are baffled and confused by it, and either hate it or love it - I'm much too old to be in the camp of the lovers and haters. But after all these years I do have a few things to say about it. They will no doubt fail to impress the professional critics who, unlike me, have been through the text with a fine tooth comb numerous times extracting every single flea, every clue, every imagistic pattern and motif, and whose thoughts are so profound I wont waste my time and theirs attempting to decipher their long-winded arguments. You can do that for yourself sometime when you have a few spare weeks or months to throw into that black hole.
But I will tell you what Beautiful Losers is not about: it's not about the truth. That's why it fully deserves to be called an elaborate fiction. But neither is it pure fiction as it uses facts as a springboard for the narrator's long monologue. It is a long evasive digression that I believe is intended to lead us into an unspeakable truth.
Behind the curtain of the text there stands the Wizard at the typewriter sweating on the terrace of his house on Hydra and likely stinking of amphetamines that he takes to fuel his writing. He doesnt want to be telling this story - he would like to be writing something closer to the truth. But he cant. The dedication hints at this: Steve Smith...  and his dates. Who was Steve Smith? I have heard he was a poet. Why did he die age 21? Was it suicide? Or some other kind of death?
What drove the typewriter Wizard to Greece and before that England in 1959? What made him decide to sit down and weave this not very convincing hallucinatory prose poem and pass it off as a novel? Barrie Wexler claims BL was based on Kenneth Patchen's The Lamp of Albion Moonlight. The Beats were writing similar kinds of novels -- Kerouac's On the Road... Brion Gysin's The Process ... 
So much for the style -- but there has to be more, a deeply buried theme, an overarching motif, driven by a burning desire to make sense of oneself ... or atone for something.
I think Cohen was atoning -- he was an atoner from Day One. Born on the Day of Atonement or close to it. A natural at it.
And personally i think he was atoning for his first novel, Ballet of Lepers. Which shares the same first letters as Beautiful Losers. Is there something to that? I think I read that Ballet of Lepers was the precursor to The Favourite Game. But I'd take a wild leap and say although it directly preceded TFG, Ballet of Lepers has more in common with Beautiful Losers -
The only way to read Ballet of Lepers is in manuscript form, at the Fischer Library. It's stored in a couple of folders in Box 2 (I think) of Cohen's archives. I spent an hour or so reading through it in the spring of 2017, and I have a fairly strong recollection of at least parts of it. I would call it enhanced autobiography written when Cohen was in his early 20s. Real people from his early life appear: his mother, grandfather, and the wife of a McGill professor whom he calls "Marian". Is this Marian Dale Scott, wife of poet and law professor F.R. Scott? And as an undergraduate did Cohen have an affair with her, with her husband's full knowledge and approval? And were the couple involved in, and did they induct young Leonard into a bizarre Crowley-ian cult (possibly linked to The Process Church) that met in Westmount mansions and held torchlight rituals on Mount Royal? And why are three pages missing from what appears to be an important scene in the middle of the novel?
Given all these questions, and the fact that I would probably not be the only one to recognize the characters and wonder what was going on at McGill when Leonard was a student -- I doubt Ballet of Lepers will ever be available in published form.
If it were, I think readers would make the same connections I am making between "Marian" and Marian Scott, and her eminent law professor husband, who in Ballet of Lepers is the leader of a bizarre pagan cult operating secretly at McGill -- and draw paralles between the situation of the married couple in Ballet of Lepers and the love triangle in Beautiful Losers involving 'I' Edith and F. And then they might hypothesize that this is one and the same triangle, and the same characters, viewed from the perspective of ten years later, with some new twists added e.g. it is F, who sleeps with the narrator's wife Edith - instead of the young Leonard-character who has an affair with the professor's wife. Not a difficult switch to pull, fictionally, and a way to throw the reader off the autobiographical trail.
 People have tried to guess the identity of F. over the years. F. may well be a composite -- but he bears a strong resemblance to Leonard's mentor Frank Scott, commonly known by his initials F.R.
A mystery solved and a can of worms opened...
If F. is Frank Scott - and there are many reasons to think he is - then Beautiful Losers is less a confession than an accusation, although it is both. And it's a crime scene, not a comedy.

Retreating to Hydra to write his novel, Cohen took copious amounts of speed and did his best to write an experimental novel that would be stylistically innovative, shocking in content, and harbour a continous thread of documentary evidence of MKULTRA

It's not hard to imagine a young novelist taking on such an explosive project

especially if he had lived through the era described by MKULTRA survivors

of which he was one of the "success stories"

It's also not hard to imagine the reaction -- given that Canadian literature has been, in many ways, a creature of military intelligence
(PROVE -- give examples)

BL was attacked and praised

Not unlike the work of Arthur Lipsett, whose "obscure" films are a collage of details which are much more readable when considered in the light of experiments he must have known about, and possibly was part of (given his own history of schizophrenia, LSD)

BL is widely thought to be an avant garde work of imagination

Cohen's earlier novel, The Favourite Game, is a fairly autobiographical and only mildly unconventional coming of age story

If BL was a work of imagination, and if imagination were the motivating force behind Cohen's writing, we might expect him to have written a third and a fourth

After BL, Cohen wrote no more novels

Was he disappointed by the mixed response (and mediocre commercial success) generated by BL

Or by the public's inability to read through the surface and grasp the subtext: a Darwinian world populated by insane psychiatrists, a pedophile protagonist who is also bisexual and masochistic

In my opinion, LC's work was never driven by imagination

He has a healthy fascination with the mundane, current events, politics, and religion

Critics assume he invented the world of BL and some of his farther-out poems

I think this is part of the cultic mystery and fascination that surrounded him since the beginning of his career

In his poetry, Nazi doctors walk the halls of Montreal hospitals -- giving rise to the belief that he is a surrealist, a gifted fabulator, a master of black humour

He was all of these things of course, and many more

Monk, millionaire, man of action

What Cohen actually did was record a slice of subterranean life in Montreal
 - not just his own, but a collective experience at the time which was carefully hidden

He then brought it out into the public and rode out the reaction.

Someone revealing carefully guarded secrets is in a precarious position and can expect various responses:

1 rejection
2 ridicule
3 threats
4 offers

Witness Julian Assange.

Whistleblowers can be blackmailed, or become blackmailers

Other details of Cohen's biography are highly ambiguous: in particular the Cuban adventure. But also his appearance as a ready-made media star ca. 1966 when the NFB presented him to the world (narrated by Don Britten) --

The MKULTRA program is into the third generation and appears to have been a more widespread phenomenon than we thought

It is clearly high on the list of Canadian taboos, but the internet is changing that.

Because it really happened, it deserves our urgent attention

We will be learning more about it in the days and years to come

Someone's post about the banality of evil reminded me of a classic Leonard Cohen poem:


NUMBER OF FINGERS:………………………….Ten
NUMBER OF TOES:………………………………Ten

What did you expect?

Oversize incisors?
Green saliva?


from Flowers for Hitler (1964)

Monday, June 4, 2018

Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining" - Decoded

Stanley Kubrick's The Shining has been called the greatest horror movie of all time. It's also probably the most misunderstood. Four decades after its release (on Memorial Day, 1980) there's still no compelling consensus on what it's about. Yet people wont stop talking about it.
On the surface, it's about Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson), an aspiring writer and recovering alcoholic, who accepts a position as the off-season caretaker of the isolated historic Overlook Hotel in the Colorado Rockies. Wintering over with Jack are his wife Wendy Torrance (Shelley Duvall) and young son Danny Torrance (Danny Lloyd), who possesses "the shining", an array of psychic abilities that allow Danny to see the hotel's horrific past. After a winter storm leaves the Torrances snowbound, Jack's sanity deteriorates due to the influence of the supernatural forces that inhabit the hotel, placing his wife and son in danger.

The film closes with a close up of a ballroom scene dated July 4, 1921 -- with Jack at the centre, in a tuxedo, arms extended like the State of Liberty, or the Babylonian goddess Semiramis. Or Baphomet. 

 Of course Jack Nicholson's face - grinning demonically -- was airbrushed into an old photograph replacing an unknown man who looks like a Jewish entertainer. The ballroom appears "Egyptian" and is likely a diplomatic gathering -- men and women are equally represented, The man at the centre seems to be taking a bow for the camera.

Given Kubrick's Jewish background - he's been described as a "self-hating Jew" - it seems significant that he used this photo to end the film - as if it were the key to the whole puzzle.
What was happening in the spring of 1921 that might have interested Kubrick? Winston Churchill was touring the Middle East, staying in grand hotels like the Semiramis in Cairo, drumming up support -- building up hoopla -- for the Balfour Agreement which had been signed four years earlier. And you can bet this British Freemason was participating in rituals and orgies. This looks like it could have been one of them.

In a rare interview, Kubrick discusses his fondness for "allegory": for superimposing one story on another to enhance it meaning. Stephen King's horror novel provided a plot for a story Kubrick could not address directly. It had to be important, for Kubrick to go to the trouble of making it, changing details to suit his own purposes, which he kept secret.
One such detail is Room 237 in the film - where the 'crazy woman' attacks Danny. In King's novel, Room 217 is the focus of evil. It's been suggested Kubrick changed it to '237' to reference the Apollo moon mission: old textbooks give 237.000 miles as the distance from the earth to the moon.
I read it as 23/7 -- July 1923 -- the crucial month the Balfour Agreement was threatened with abrogation, as the British Conservatives reconsidered their support for the new Jewish nation, but the plan was rescued and today we see the results of that 100-year-old deal. Incidentally, July 23, 1954 is also the date of the Israeli false flag operation known as the "Lavon Affair."

The Shining is the coded story of Israel, founded by British Freemasons and European Zionists. The ballroom crowd are toasting Independence, and ironically America's loss it. Who was the ball for? Balfour? 

Kubrick took Judaism seriously enough to see the lie at the core of the Zionist enterprise. That's why he chose "Horror" to reveal the past and predict the outcome. The Overlook hotel sits on a native burial ground, the scene of past genocide. Notoriously reclusive, he gave few interviews and once told a friend "almost everything" Hitler had said about the Jews was right.
The opening scene of the film shows Jack driving his yellow Volkswagen Beetle up the mountain road ("The Road to the Sun") to the Overlook Hotel where they will spend the winter. The VW harkens back to Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. It mirrors the Egyptian scarab beetle beloved by Freemasons.
In the film, Kubrick adds a topiary maze in which Jack's wife Wendy and son Danny get lost. The spirit-possessed Danny may stand for the 13th "lost" tribe of Dan in the Bible. The Overlook is Israel - including Jerusalem, "the shining city on the hill" -- a "light unto the nations" -- overlooking devastation, and doomed to repeat the past until it awakens from its hypnotic state of somnambulence

In an early scene, blood pours from the elevator. The hotel's decor is almost entirely red, a reminder of mass murder. Murder is everywhere at the Overlook - the previous caretaker murdered his wife and children. Under the influence of its ghosts, and his own demons, Jack turns into a homicidal maniac.
As the Jews were set up to repeat the holocaust in their "Promised Land," Jack's plunge into insanity parallels the nightmare that Israel has become. Wendy's senseless screaming mimics  western nations as they fail to stop the ongoing massacres on helpless Palestinians.
Wendy finds Jack's manuscript with its endless repetition of the same sentence:  "All work and no play make Jack a dull boy." Propaganda and repetition have made Israel a nation of soldiers, dull boys, tools of a geopolitical scheme to control the Middle East and the world.
An unwitting patsy in a blood-soaked dream-scape populated by ghosts, Jack finally meets the ghost of Grady, in the blood-red men's room, In a marked British accent. Grady tells Jack  'You have always been the caretaker." This makes no sense to Jack, who knows Grady preceded him and is supposed to be dead. Grady adds "I have always been here." He tells Jack he needs to "correct" his family - setting him off on a killing spree after putting him into a hypnotic trance.

REDRUM  which Danny writes on the wall with his finger, spells MURDER backwards - but it sounds like "Red Room" - most of the rooms are red in The Shining, almost as if they belonged in Buckingham Palace.

"Honey, I'm home!" shouts Jack, as he smashes through the door with an axe. In their new 'homeland" of milk and honey, the Jews are homicidal puppets of their invisible masters, the British architects of the region and its inescapable maze of deceit.
An insider to the alphabet agencies, Kubrick knew the state of Israel was one gigantic psy-op and was headed for a controlled catastrophe, planned by the brilliant minds including Lord Balfour (who incidentally also founded the Society for Psychical Research – The Shining is about “the paranormal”). And Freemasons still travel to Cairo to participate in black magic rituals inside the Pyramids.  

These are just a few reasons why this horror movie refuses to go away, and why Kubrick deserves the post-humous label of Righteous Jew.