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The Malkovich Transformations

The protagonist in the 1999 fantasy film Being John Malkovich is Craig Schwartz, an out-of-work puppeteer. One day Craig discovers a hidden doorway behind some cabinets in an office building where he has landed a temporary job as a filing clerk. Intrigued, he crawls into what seems to be a damp tunnel. Suddenly the entry door slams shut behind him and Craig is hurtled through a space-time vortex that thrusts him into the mind of the film’s namesake, actor John Malkovich. Read more…

Posted in Mirrors of the Mind, News & Views

The Malkovich Transformations

Page one, chapter one, Mirrors of the Mind:

The protagonist in the 1999 fantasy film Being John Malkovich is Craig Schwartz, an out-of-work puppeteer. One day Craig discovers a hidden doorway behind some cabinets in an office building where he has landed a temporary job as a filing clerk. Intrigued, he crawls into what seems to be a damp tunnel. Suddenly the entry door slams shut behind him and Craig is hurtled through a space-time vortex that thrusts him into the mind of the film’s namesake, actor John Malkovich.

Later, back in the office, Craig tells the story of his amazing experience to his coworker, the opportunistic Maxine. She speculates that other people might be willing to pony up for a brief sojourn in a famous person’s head. They place a newspaper ad and soon people are lining up at the portal after work hours with cash in hand. Delivered through the tunnel, the mind travelers delight in experiencing the world through the eyes of a celebrity, even if he is engaged in such mundane activities as ordering towels over the phone, rehearsing lines for a play or flagging down a taxi.

These mind trips are short-lived. The eavesdroppers are again sent flying through the vortex only to come tumbling down into a ditch beside the New Jersey turnpike just outside the Holland Tunnel. Craig retrieves the dazed travelers and guides them back home. These mind ventures seem to have an effect like travel to a foreign country. The sojourners not only have a vicarious experience of another person’s life, they also gain new insights into the existence from which they were temporarily extracted.

Summing up the experience, Craig exclaims to Maxine: “I don’t think I can go on living my life as I have lived it.” For him, the journey “raises all sorts of philosophical questions about the nature of self, about the existence of the soul.”

What we might call the Malkovichian transformation is an exaggeration, or perhaps even a parody, of what can occur when we read a work of fiction, watch a play, study a painted or photographed portrait, or participate in other acts of the imagination. We are released from our current preoccupations and drawn into the life and times of other human beings. We may feel the guilt of Dostoevsky’s Raskolnikov, the sorrow of Shakespeare’s Ophelia, the joy of the figures in Matisse’s painting, The Dance. Characters and scenes stay with us as if etched in memory and come back to us, unexpectedly, in times of struggle or triumph or boredom.

Though it is not quite like reading a novel or looking at a painting, delving into the autobiographical works of individuals who have made the life of the mind their central preoccupation – certain highly influential philosophers – can produce something along the lines of the Malkovichian transformation, triggering for us, as it did for Craig Schwartz, important questions about “the nature of the self, existence of the soul.”

Posted in News & Views, Our Books

How does an expert in ‘creative retirement’… retire?

When Jorvik Press author Ron Manheimer retired in 2009 as founding director of the North Carolina Center for Creative Retirement, he thought he knew how to leap into the next chapter of life. <a title=”How does an expert in ‘creative retirement’… retire?” Read more…

Posted in Mirrors of the Mind, News & Views

How does an expert in
‘creative retirement’… retire?

When Jorvik Press author Ron Manheimer retired in 2009 as founding director of the North Carolina Center for Creative Retirement, he thought he knew how to leap into the next chapter of life.

Heading up this lifelong learning, leadership and community service program at the University of North Carolina, Asheville, he had led countless weekend workshops for hundreds of people considering their next chapters.

He formulated his approach as Ten Keys to a Creative Retirement. One of the keys, “adaptive reuse,” advised pre-retirees to reflect on how they might extend their accumulated talents, knowledge and interests, and project them into new yet related activities. Ron borrows the term from the field of architecture where it refers to restoring an old building to house new functions, like turning an empty warehouse into an art museum or an outdated fire station into a restaurant.

As an example, Ron points to a former banker with a love of classical music who became the treasurer of the non-profit board of a civic orchestra.

But instead of following his own best repurposing advice, Ron headed elsewhere. “For a truly creative retirement, I decided I should try to come up with activities that would be unprecedented for me,” he says.

Not much of a gym guy, he found a personal trainer, developed an exercise program, lost 25 pounds and took up hiking. Apprehensive about death, he became a hospice home visitor. A longtime grant seeker, he joined the board of a foundation that funds other people’s projects.

“I loved these new ventures but then I started running out of inspiration,” he says. “I still had lots of time on my hands and, though I was beginning to feel anxious, I didn’t want to fill up my time just to keep busy.”

Ron went back to his keys to a creative retirement and took another look at adaptive reuse. “I thought, how can I extend the things I’ve done for many years and make them fresh again?”

An author of several books and a raft of scholarly and popular articles, he came across a deferred book project. “Clearing out some old computer files, I discovered the chapters I had put aside. Work and family demands had halted any progress on the book several years earlier.

“But I felt the spark of intellectual excitement still alive in those pages. It was about how philosophers portray their own life experiences and realize their most noteworthy ideas.

“I loved tracing how thinkers who have had such an important impact on world history described their own life-changing experiences. What if I could put myself into the mind of a Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a Simone de Beauvoir, or someone I admired as both philosopher and social activist, Mahatma Gandhi? Where could that take me and take my readers? Maybe I could hitch my midlife transition to their self-transformation.”

Find out for yourself how the project turned out. Buy Mirrors of the Mind here, or order it from your favorite bookstore.

Ron Manheimer lives in Asheville, NC and is available to talk about his new book and the creative retirement process that led him to write it.

Posted in Mirrors of the Mind, News & Views

Mirrors of the Mind

Mirrors of the Mind

Imagine you could sit down and talk personally with the greatest philosophers of all time. Imagine having coffee with Augustine or Rousseau or Kierkegaard. Ever had a fantasy about chatting with Sartre and de Beauvoir in a Paris cafe? Well, read the chapters in Ronald Manheimer’s book and you will have the ‘feel’ of being in the presence of these and other thinkers. This is a one-of-kind book in which masterful scholarship is concealed behind a delightfully readable text. It can be recommended both to those with an academic grasp of philosophy and those coming to the great philosophers for the first time. The book is irresistible and not to be missed. — Harry R. Moody , Co-author, The Five Stages of the Soul

The field of philosophy is a formidable one, even for the well-educated. Its self-referential technical vocabulary and abstract discussions may seem remote from the issues and experiences of everyday life. Yet, in our own ways, each of us is a seeker of wisdom. We may wonder how our life experiences influence our ideas and values, and vice-versa. Can we find our place among the seminal figures of the great philosophical traditions, both east and west? Mirrors of the Mind aims to help bridge this gap.

Readers drawn to philosophy often find the standard histories and introductions distant from their personal lives. Many are more curious about how historically influential thinkers actually lived. Could there be a connection between the general truths that a school of philosophy asserts about the universally human and the particular flesh-and-blood truths of the philosopher’s life?

Delving into the newly identified genre of the philosophical autobiography, Dr. Ronald Manheimer’s Mirrors of the Mind takes both the neophyte and the initiated on a unique literary and philosophical journey through the works of important thinkers. This guided tour of the life of the mind covers self-reflective narratives ranging from fourth century Augustine’s Confessions to 20th century Simone de Beauvoir’s The Prime of Life.

Mirrors of the Mind looks into the private lives, made public in narratives by important thinkers who have changed the world or, at least, how we perceive it. The focus is not highbrow gossip or sordid revelations about a philosopher’s life, but rather a search for the creative embodiment of thinking and being – the architecture of the soul.

These first-person narratives serve as the loci in which philosophers’ lives and the ideas that have animated them are joined or paralleled. The philosophical autobiography is a literary space in which the thinker turns his or her analytical mind and the tools of the trade on his or her remembered past.

At its best, the philosophical autobiography helps us to see great minds as real people who wonder and suffer, analyze and romanticize, communicate both bliss and darkest despair. The accounts they give of their lives show that many of their most famous ideas occurred in moments of sudden illumination that would take them a lifetime to explicate. These works demonstrate that analytical judgment may go hand in hand with acts of imagination; that calm, cool, reason may intersect with an impulsive leap of faith.

Through such authors, the reader shares exemplary instances of a thinker’s emerging sense of purpose, engagement with the critical issues of his or her time, perceived threads of continuity through a life of change, and the search for integration of ideas and experiences. Getting to know philosophers through their life stories helps to dispel the impression that great thinkers lived only in their heads.

For readers who wish to explore the subject further, each chapter ends with suggested reflexive writing exercises and philosophical fieldwork.


Mirrors of the Mind will teach. Students are drawn to philosophy because in order to live the life worth living – the examined life – the ideas of the great thinkers connect with their own. To explore the lives of these thinkers who have helped construct our intellectual world, using narrative, metaphor, whimsy and rigorous philosophical argument is a delightful way to invite students into the search for wisdom. Manheimer has crafted an original work, the result of decades of his own philosophical autobiography. — Katharine Meacham, professor of philosophy and religious studies

Mirrors of the Mind is an excellent introduction to philosophical autobiography and, in certain ways, to philosophy in general. Manheimer is like one of those masterful guides, who knows all the best spots – the twin gardens of Augustine, Rousseau’s country lane, and many more besides. First-time visitors to philosophy may find themselves wanting to stay, while locals will surely be surprised by the resources right under their noses. — David Hart, philosophy professor

Posted in Mirrors of the Mind, Our Books

When a Psychopath Falls in Love

When a Psychopath Falls in Love

Herbert Gold’s new novel is a funny, sad romp through the San Francisco he has staked out as his primal territory, filled with flimflam artists, lost summers of love and, most of all, fathers on the run, looking for a little bit of mercy and poetic meaning to their lives. — Jerome Charyn, Author

The intriguing new story from prizewinning author Herbert Gold, his twentieth novel in more than six decades, takes us on a journey of lost souls seeking attachment, revenge and redemption at the edge of San Francisco Bay.

When impoverished court translator Dan Kasdan lets lawyer and con artist Ferd Conway suck him into a shady property deal in Haiti, he’s unprepared for the life-changing complications that follow. First, an unknown daughter has just turned up at Dan’s door in the Tenderloin, nineteen years after a forgotten encounter in the Summer of Love. She, her half-employed husband and their disabled baby son need his care, attention and cash. All this just as Dan’s swollen prostate is confronting him with his own mortality.

It’s bad enough when his cohort manipulates Dan into a love affair with Petal, a young woman his daughter’s age. But when Ferd starts pursuing Dan’s daughter as lover and would-be father figure, Ferd’s sleazy disloyalty changes Dan forever.

If a psychopath really can fall in love, it had better not be with the wrong person. That could lead to murder among old friends.


Reviewer comments on the author’s previous work:

In the course of an impressive career as a writer, Herbert Gold has demonstrated many gifts, among them his talent for making high drama of ordinary events, ordinary people. Chicago Tribune Book World

Herbert Gold gives his stories a wry, bright air of wonder – he is a born storyteller. New York Times

One of the most gifted writers in America. Detroit News

Books by Herbert Gold


Birth of a Hero
The Prospect Before Us
The Man Who Was Not With It
The Optimist
Therefore Be Bold
The Great American Jackpot
Swiftie the Magician
Waiting for Cordelia
Slave Trade
True Love
Mister White Eyes
A Girl of Forty
She Took my Arm as if She Loved Me
Daughter Mine

Short Stories and Essays

Love & Like
The Age of Happy Problems
The Magic Will: Stories
and Essays of a Decade
Lovers and Cohorts:
Twenty-Seven Stories


Biafra Goodbye
My Last Two Thousand Years
A Walk on the West Side:
California on the Brink
Travels in San Francisco
Best Nightmare on Earth:
A Life in Haiti (
reissued as Haiti:
Best Nightmare on Earth)
Still Alive: A Temporary Condition
(reissued as Not Dead Yet)
Bohemia: Where Art, Angst, Love,
and Strong Coffee Meet


Posted in Our Books, When a Psychopath Falls in Love

Dear Luise

Dear Luise

An unintended event. This was the bland phrase used to describe Luise’s sudden death in the psychiatric ward at Amager Hospital in Copenhagen, Denmark. She was 32. Dear Luise is a mother’s deeply personal account of her struggle to ensure her daughter’s survival through 20 years of treatment in the Danish mental health system. It is an alarming – and thoroughly documented – exposé of the abject failure of the medication-based treatment regimen routinely imposed on vulnerable psychiatric patients. This book is also a poignant tale of love and hope, brimming with tender memories of the creativity, originality and wry humor of a very capable, intelligent young woman.

Behind Luise’s ultimate fate we see the smug certainty of mental health professionals, both doctors and caregivers, and the concomitant dehumanization of their patients through indifference, harassment, coercion and the use of force. In this tragic case, the mother’s investigation also reveals a shocking trail of incompetence and dishonesty – repeated misdiagnosis, professional collusion, “missing” official records, falsified hospital charts, victim-blaming, and a complete lack of accountability.

Her mother’s ill-fated trust in Denmark’s healthcare system led an 11-year-old girl with misunderstood adjustment problems into a doctor-mandated drug hell. First she was wrongly diagnosed and dosed with powerful anti-epilepsy medicine. Then the severe side-effects were treated with antipsychotics that caused even more serious adverse reactions, both mental and physical. Complaints from mother and daughter ran into a stone wall, and all meaningful dialogue was cut short. The system had only one response – increase the medication.

Luise’s tragedy is far from unique in Denmark – or indeed any other “advanced” industrialized country. Towards the end of her life she knew what was happening to her. Luise told her mother: On my gravestone I want it to say that it was the medicine that killed me.

Posted in Dear Luise, News & Views, Our Books

Black Crusader

Black Crusader

Black Crusader is the story of how a young man from a small North Carolina town who dreamed of becoming a poet was transformed into an archenemy of the US power structure. At school and in college, in the US Army and Marines and in his home town in the 1950s, Robert Franklin Williams witnessed the scourge of segregation, exploitation, beatings and even murder.

He soon decided to apply his combat training, intelligence, organizational skills and fearlessness to take a stand against the race hatred he saw around him. Williams became the first black liberation militant to advocate armed self-defense. But in 1961 an explosion of government-supported racist violence – and a trumped-up kidnapping charge – forced him to flee the country and seek refuge and support among America’s Cold War adversaries, in Cuba, the People’s Republic of China and finally in newly independent Tanzania.

Included in these pages are historic events such as Williams’ talks with Fidel Castro and Mao Zedong, details of the infighting in the Cuban Communist Party, his meeting with Che Guevara, and his impressions of life in China during the first years of the Cultural Revolution.

This biography is based on five weeks of interviews by filmmaker and author Robert Carl Cohen conducted in Dar-es-Salaam in the tumultuous summer of 1968. Detailing the first 44 years of Williams’ life, as told in his own words, it is the story of an enigmatic and charismatic natural-born leader who was pursued in vain for almost a decade by the FBI and CIA.

Williams’ talent for leadership extended to book writing, newspaper editing and managing Radio Free Dixie from exile. Though his message was totally suppressed by the US mainstream media, he was a friend of revolutionary leaders, inspired a generation of civil rights activists in the US, and was admired by millions around the world.

Black Crusader concludes with the bizarre circumstances of Williams’ return to the US in 1969, after which all state and federal charges against him were quietly dropped without explanation. This was followed by the mysterious suppression by mainstream publishers of the first two versions of this book, now republished in full in this new illustrated edition.

Posted in Black Crusader, Our Books

Taking the Piss: Did Shamans Really Drink Reindeer Urine?

The Daily Grail
Posted by Greg at 01:46, 11 Sep 2012

Anyone who has studied shamanism in any detail will have heard statements to the effect that shamans imbibed the potent Fly Agaric mushroom (Amanita muscaria) in a rather odd, idiosyncratic manner Read More…

Posted in News & Views, Sacred Mushroom/Holy Grail

Comitatus review

“… As an artifact of modern medievalism, Sacred Mushroom/Holy Grail may actually tell us a great deal about how that legend has been modified and imported into modern cultural imagination.”

Comitatus: A Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies
University of California at Los Angeles

Terry Atkinson, Sacred Mushroom/Holy Grail (Portland: Jorvik Press 2013) 167 pp.

I note at the start that Terry Atkinson’s book is not necessarily intended for a scholarly audience; Atkinson himself admits in his introduction that Sacred Mushroom/Holy Grail may be “one of those “crackpot’ books” that follows in a similar vein as Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh’s 1989 Holy Blood, Holy Grail, which concluded that the real Holy Grail or Sangreal was actually a bloodline, the “sang real,” of Christ’s familial descent. Despite the clear reference to his predecessors in his title, Atkinson distances himself from Baigent and Leigh by noting the hoax upon which their theory was based as well as making a concerted effort to ground his inquiry in literary evidence. His euhemerization of the Holy Grail ultimately attempts to extract it from its more familiar literary and religious trappings and instead to identify the amanita muscaria mushroom and its hallucinogenic effects as the Grail’s real origin.

Atkinson’s background is in entertainment journalism and his treatment of the literary evidence is basic. As such, it is perhaps more productive to treat his inquiry as a medievalism reflecting the popular conception of literary scholarship as a kind of chivalric quest in search of sacred icons. Toward the end of his introduction, Atkinson asks his readers “like a knight entering the deep, dark, but promising forests of the Grail stories – to sally forth a while before coming to any conclusions” (4). This approach punctuates the whole of Atkinson’s book as he traces a speculative history of the Grail from Chrétien backward. Perhaps this kind of literary questing represents an attempt at identification with a Grail knight like Perceval. Rather than as a revealing piece of scholarship, as an artifact of modern medievalism, Sacred Mushroom/Holy Grail may actually tell us a great deal about how that legend has been modified and imported into modern cultural imagination.

Atkinson’s quest begins in Chrétien de Troyes’ twelfth-century romance Le Conte du Graal, often hailed as the first Arthurian iteration of the Grail Questand a narrative that offers Sacred Mushroom/Holy Grail an embarkation pointfor what becomes a reverse chronology of Grail lore. Atkinson also considersthe role of other prominent contributions to the Arthurian Grail canon, includingcontinuations of Chrétien’s quest, Robert de Boron’s Joseph d’Arimathe,and the Old French Vulgate Cycle, as well as older non-Arthurian Celtic andpagan sources. However, Atkinson looks primarily to Chrétien for the basicstructure of the Grail Quest and is particularly concerned with the Grail’s connectionto food or to a consumptive moment that leads to a loss of narrativetime. He finds this loss indicative of a mystical experience that is specificallyconnected to ancient shamanistic practices and the consumption of a hallucinogenicmushroom. Much like Baigent and Leigh, Atkinson treats his sources asintentionally hiding the truth about shamanistic practice, although he does nothave as clear a sense of the cultic purpose for these secrets having been hiddenin literary allusion. From this point on Atkinson, Alice-like, plumbs the vastdepths of a rabbit hole that opens upon the consumption of a certain magicalmushroom.

The fungus in question is known as the amanita muscaria and is perhaps the most recognizable mushroom in fantasy narratives with its white-flecked red cap. Atkinson delves into early cultural traditions of shamanism and ritualistic consumption of hallucinogens and finds this “sacred mushroom” to be hidden at the heart of a number of ancient pagan spiritual rites. Influenced primarily (and almost solely) by Jessie L. Weston’s seminal From Ritual to Romance (1957) Atkinson creates a causal theory that accounts for the obfuscation and transformation of the ancient image of the mushroom into the eucharistic cup that we know now through the lens of medieval romance.

From an academic standpoint there are a number of problems with Atkinson’s book. These issues include the unanswered question of why this secret has been hidden; some rather reaching assertions about the continuance of this tradition of secrecy, even into modern texts like Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow; an unfamiliarity with the techniques of French romancers which causes him to misread Chrétien’s interlaced narrative as “a wild and wooly tale”; his reliance upon dated scholarship like that of Weston; and finally and most concerning, the almost complete omission of the scholarship of Norris J. Lacy, one of the most prominent Grail scholars of recent decades. Interestingly enough, it is Lacy – in “Introduction: Arthur and/or the Grail” The Grail, the Quest, and the World of Arthur (Cambridge 2008) 11 – who offers one of the most profound insights into exactly what Atkinson’s project may represent when he notes of the mythic significance of the Holy Grail that it, “can be anything or nothing, a holy object or a hoax; the quest can be a sacred enterprise that gives meaning to life or it can be a pointless exercise or an absurd waste of time and humanity.” The end goal of the Grail Quest, Lacy explains, is not to find a useful object or even experience intellectual epiphany but rather to partake in a “beatific vision” (6). While the narrative climax of Atkinson’s research may point toward a culminating experience more similar to a psychedelic drug-trip than to a spiritual revelation, if we consider the overall structure of Sacred Mushroom/Holy Grail in light of Le Conte du Graal, we may note some striking similarities between Atkinson’s researcher persona and Chrétien’s Grail knight.

Le Conte du Graal begins when the novice Perceval, raised in a secluded forest and entirely ignorant of chivalric culture, encounters a knight and is inspired to become a part of the Arthurian world. He immediately leaves his home to seek out the court of King Arthur to whom he eventually pledges his service. In true chivalric fashion, he soon departs Arthur’s court, still somewhat ignorant, to experience a quest. Along the way he encounters the aged knight Gornemant of Gohort who trains him in the art of knighthood and sends him back out into the questing world far more prepared. Eventually, Perceval arrives at the Grail castle and encounters the maimed Fisher King. It is here that Perceval first encounters the Grail and, because of a lesson from Gornemant, “whether for good or ill, he did not ask them any question” (Chrétien de Troyes. The Story of the Grail. The Complete Romances of Chrétien de Troyes, trans. David Staines [Bloomington/Indianapolis 1990] 379). This reluctance proves a huge mistake and an indicator that Perceval’s quest has only begun. Chrétien’s tale progresses from this point through a number of adventures and even incorporates Gawain but was not actually completed by the poet, though other poets have added to and even completed the Grail Quest since Chrétien. I only summarize Chrétien’s quest because this very narrative sequence of departure, initiation, revelation, refining, and ultimately achievement undergird the structure of Sacred Mushroom/Holy Grail. Perhaps as a function of Baigent and Leigh’s book or even the cultural impact of Indiana Jones, in the popular imagination literary research seem to be conceived as a sort of treasure hunt or quest. Atkinson begins with the call to quest, is initiated through the Grail romances and the scholarship of Jesse Weston, is given a vision of the grail by entering into deeper pagan mythologies and herb-lore, and ultimately concludes his quest with the revelation of chemically induced ecstasy. The reader may have to do some extra work to see this conclusion for what it is, but it seems an appropriate incorporation of the conceptual Grail Quest into a modern culture that might understand a drug induced vision in much the same way that a medieval reader might consider the beatific vision. In a landscape lacking in chivalric heroes, perhaps the stoic work of the curious researcher follows in the footsteps of Perceval on the quest for the Holy Grail. Atkinson’s researcher persona shares a great deal in common with Chrétien’s Perceval and while his literary approach has left some unanswered (or unasked) questions about the applicability of his theory to further research, perhaps we might read this as an indicator that his medievalistic quest, like Chrétien’s, remains unfinished but in a way that is both celebratory of the Grail tradition and faithful to its quest.


Posted in News & Views, Sacred Mushroom/Holy Grail