- Last night I hung out with Lara, treating her to a late birthday dinner and exchanging gifts – circumstance dictated that we missed one another’s big days, so we made up for it in time. I got an excellent live performance of theletterr’s “Tea with Death” (with Lara on accordion), we had dinner at Thai Oscar where I had this incredibly delectable Thai bubble tea, and I was gifted with two books I’ve wanted for ages: Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore and George Saunders’ Civilwarland in Bad Decline. It was a swell evening, as it always is when I’m spending time with the two of them.
- In aid of this article I’m writing, I’ve been deeply immersed in Holy Blood, Holy Grail. I have to admit, the thing is compulsively readable – I never wanna put it down. Which is pretty much the approach I have to a lot of nut literature: as long as I don’t pretend to hold it to any kind of standard of evidence, and approach it like a novel, it can be pretty compelling as long as it’s not insulting, poorly written or internally inconsistent. (Which this book is not, on any level.) It doesn’t really matter to me if their claims are almost all bullshit – which, see below, they most certainly are; the cover blurb says “more revealing than any fiction”, when it should probably read “more fictional than any fiction”. As long as it’s well-written, intriguing, and doesn’t make me feel like the writer thinks I’m an idiot, I’m game for any kind of batshit pseudohistorical speculation. After all, that’s what a lot of my favorite novels and comics are; that’s what ezrael specializes in, and his book is downright excellent.
Unfortunately, there are two problems: (a) I’m writing this piece for a history magazine, which means I need sources that are more about actual historical evidence than speculative non-fiction; and (b) these guys present their stuff as real, authentic, genuine, bona fide history. They appeal to scholarly review, historical record, and verifiable claims of authenticity. Which is why it’s a shame that as history, the book is a really good golf instruction manual.
They specialize in a handful of gimmicks, pretty common to this ‘THE BOOK THAT WILL TOTALLY CHANGE THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT, OH MY GOD, WE FUCKING PROMISE’ genre:
1. Assume that if there’s nothing that explicitly states that something didn’t happen, then it probably did happen. If it’s even remotely possible that something could have taken place, then it did. (Ex.: “There is no compelling evidence to suggest that Mick Jagger didn’t marry Margaret Thatcher in a secret Masonic temple rite in 1976.”
2. Give everyone the benefit of the doubt, except legitimate historians. (Ex.: If someone writes a self-published pamphlet distributed in local candy stores that suggests that the Romanovs are still alive, accept it without asking for evidence of any kind. If fifty different scholarly historians write books that suggest they are dead, nitpick every single one of their sources to death.)
3. If something seems like bullshit, but is surrounded by a thin sheen of plausibility, then state that the bullshit must be true because the other stuff is true. (Ex.: If someone writes a well-researched, detailed biography of John Lennon, and then in chapter 16 writes that he was actually the son of an alien lizard-sorcerer, it must be true, because how could he be right about all the other details and wrong about the lizard thing?)
4. If something seems like especially fragrant bullshit, state that it must be true, because why would somebody lie about such a thing? (Ex.: “At first glance, it might not seem likely that Jimmy Carter is a government-constructed android. But what would Jose von Krackpott have to gain by lying about such an important matter? What possible reason could he have?”)
5. This one is my favorite: if you have no evidence whatsoever to prove that something happened, just ask a rhetorical question that suggests that, hey, maybe it did, why not? Erich von Daniken, in particular, loved this trick. (Ex.: “IS IT POSSIBLE that a superintelligent race of gorillas actually constructed the pyramids? MIGHT IT NOT BE LIKELY that the Queen of Sheba was secretly a man named Rudy? COULD IT BE that the carvings of bird-headed gods on the interior of the Pyramid of Cheops indicates that Egypt’s greatest Pharoah was actually Hawkman?”)
Again, don’t get me wrong: the book is absolutely fascinating. It’s well-written and intriguing, maybe the most interesting book of crypto-history I’ve ever read. I can’t stop reading it. It’s just that, as a work of history, it’s pretty fuckin worthless.