When Lee Siegel went to India to do research for a book on Sanskrit horror literature, a friend in New Delhi told him about an itinerant teller of ghost and vampire tales, a man with clusters of amulets around his neck and a silk top hat with peacock plumes on his head. Siegel set out in search of the old man—called Brahm Kathuwala—to hear his stories and to learn about his uncommon life.
But what started out as a study of other people's stories became a compelling story itself. City of Dreadful Night is an astonishing work of fiction, a tangle of tales that transports the reader from the Medieval India of magicians, witches, and vampires, through the British India of Brahm Kathuwala's childhood, into the chaos and political terror of contemporary India. Vividly recreating Indian literary and oral traditions, Siegel weaves a web of possession, reincarnation, and magical transformation unlike any found in the Western tradition. Flesh-eating demons, Rajiv Gandhi's assassin, even Bram Stoker and Dracula populate the serpentine narrative, which intermingles stories about the characters with the terrifying tales they tell.
Siegel pursues Brahm Kathuwala from the ghastly lights of the cremation ground at Banaras through villages all over north India. Brahm's life story is revealed through countless tales along the way. We learn that he was raised, and abandoned, by two mothers—one the destitute floor sweeper who bore him; the other her employer, a wealthy Irish woman who read and reread to him the story of Dracula. We hear of his marriage to the daughter of a cremation ground attendant, his battles against her demonic possession, and their painful parting. We come to understand the daily life and motivations of this "horror professional," who uses terrifying tales to ward off the evil he himself fears.
This unorthodox book is more than a story; it blends scholarship, fantasy, travelogue, and autobiography—fusing and overlapping historical accounts and newscasts, literary texts and films, dreams and nocturnal tales. Siegel uses imagination to explore the relation of real terror to horror fiction and to contemplate the ways fear and disgust become thrilling elements in stories of the macabre.
This book is the product of Siegel's deep knowledge of both Indian and Western literary and philosophical traditions. It is also an attempt to come to grips with the omnipresence of political and religious terror in contemporary India. Shocking, original, beautifully written, City of Dreadful Night offers readers a captivating immersion in the wonder and terror of India, past and present.
A wide-ranging anthology of experimental writing—prose, poetry, and hybrid—from its most significant practitioners and innovators
A variety of names have been used to describe fiction, poetry, and hybrid writing that explore new forms and challenges mainstream traditions. Those phrases include experimental, conceptual, avant-garde, hybrid, surfiction, fusion, radical, slip-stream, avant-pop, postmodern, self-conscious, innovative, L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E writing, alternative, and anti- or new literature. Conceptualisms: The Anthology of Prose, Poetry, Visual, Found, E- & Hybrid Writing as Contemporary Art is the first major anthology of writing that offers readers an overview of this other tradition as it lives in the early decades of the 21st century.
Featuring over 100 pieces from more than 90 authors, this anthology offers a plethora of aesthetics and approaches to a wide variety subjects. Editor Steve Tomasula has gathered poems, prose, and hybrid pieces that all challenge our understanding of what literature means. Intended as a collection of the most exciting and bold literary work being made today, Tomasula has put a spotlight on the many possibilities available to writers and readers wishing for a glimpse of literature’s future.
Readers will recognize authors who have shaped contemporary writing, as among them Lydia Davis, Charles Bernstein, Jonathan Safran Foer, Shelley Jackson, Nathaniel Mackey, David Foster Wallace, and Claudia Rankine. Even seasoned readers will find authors, and responses to the canon, not yet encountered. Conceptualisms is a book of ideas for writers, teachers and scholars, as well as readers who wonder how many ways literature can live.
The text features headnotes to chapters on themes such as sound writing, electronic literature, found text, and other forms, offering accessible introductions for readers new to this work. An online companion presents statements about the work and biographies of the authors in addition to audio, video, and electronic writing that can’t be presented in print. Visit www.conceptualisms.info to read more.
"How can anyone laugh who knows of old age, disease, and death?"—Buddhacarita
This question, so solemnly posed by the young Buddha, first led Lee Siegel to examine the hitherto unexplored realm of Indian comedy. Laughing Matters is Siegel's account of two intersecting journeys: a search for comic traditions created and preserved in Sanskrit literature and a journey through modern India in quest of a laughter that persists across time and culture.
Hearing a boisterous and bawdy voice from India's past, Siegel has provided original and highly entertaining translations of Sanskrit literature that reveal a sparkling sensibility embedded in the texts. These translations are integrated with a detailed analysis of the types and structures of India's mirth. Siegel develops an original theory of comedy and laughter, applying it to reveal the humor in the ancient works. Defining sacred and profane comedy and the "taste" and "erotics" of laughter, he delineates two main Indian categories of comedy—laughter at others and laughter at oneself—which are roughly parallel to the Western traditions of satire and humor. He examines these categories in all of their forms and functions: satires of manners, social satire, and religious satire; and human and divine comedy. Siegel concludes by presenting his perceptions of humor in modern India as seen through cartoons, movies, books, and social gatherings.
Laughing Matters is both a serious and a hilarious study of the Indian comic sense of life—a vision formed in the convergence of the bitter insight of satire and the sweet outlook of humor. Past and present, the contextual and the universal, scholarship and the picaresque, are all interwoven in this original treatise on the aesthetics of comedy and the psychology of laughter.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” begins one chapter of critically acclaimed Lee Siegel’s new novel, Love and the Incredibly Old Man. “In the beginning” starts another. What else can a novelist do when hired as a ghostwriter by an elderly, irascible, conquistador-costumed man claiming to be the 540-year-old Juan Ponce de León? The fantastic life of that legendary explorer—inventor of rum, cigars, Coca-Cola, and popcorn—is the frame for Siegel’s fourth chronicle of love, lies, luck, loss, and labia.
Summoned with cold hard cash and a pinch of flattery, a professor and novelist named Lee Siegel finds himself in Eagle Springs, Florida, attempting to give form to the life of the man who, contrary to popular and historical opinion, did indeed find the Fountain of Youth. Spending humid days listening to the romantic ramblings of the old man and sleepless nights doubting yet trying to craft these reminiscences into a narrative that will satisfy the literary aspirations of his subject, Siegel the ghostwriter spins an improbable tale filled with Native Americans, insatiable monarchs, philandering cantors, deliriously passionate nuns, delicate actresses, androgynous artists, and deceptions small and large. For de León, and for Siegel too, centuries of conquest and colonialism, fortune and identity, are all refracted through the memories of the conquistador’s lovers, each and every one of them adored “more than any other woman ever.”
Comic, melancholic, lusty, and fully engaged with the act of invention, whether in love or on the page, Love and the Incredibly Old Man continues the real Lee Siegel’s exuberant exploration of that sentiment which Ponce de León confesses has “transported me to the most joyous heights, plunged me to the most dismal depths, and dropped me willy-nilly and dumbfounded at all places in between.”
Love in a Dead Language
Lee Siegel University of Chicago Press, 1999 Library of Congress PS3569.I377L68 1999 | Dewey Decimal 813.54
Love in a Dead Language is a love story, a translation of an Indian sex manual, an erotic farce, and a murder mystery rolled into one. Enticing the reader to follow both victims and celebrants of romantic love on their hypertextual voyage of folly and lust-through movie posters, upside-down pages, the Kamasutra: Game of Love board game, and even a proposed CD-ROM, Love in a Dead Language exposes the complicities between the carnal and the intellectual, the erotic and the exotic and, in the end, is an outrageous operatic portrayal of romantic love.
"Rare is the book that makes one stop and wonder: Is this a literary masterpiece or do I need my head examined? But such is the alternately awe-inspiring and goofy thrall cast by Lee Siegel's Love in a Dead Language. . . . His work stands out as a book that is not simply a novel but its own genus of rollicking, narrative scholarship . . . it is just the cerebral aphrodisiac we need." —Carol Lloyd, Salon
"Immensely clever and libidinously hilarious. . . . [T]he most astonishing thing about Love in a Dead Language is its ingenious construction. Insofar as any printed volume can lay claim to being a multimedia work, this book earns that distinction." —Paul di Filippo, Washington Post Book World
"Now along comes Lee Siegel, who mixes a bit of Borges with some Nabokov and then adds an erotic gloss from the Kama Sutra to write Love in a Dead Language, a witty, bawdy, language-rich farce of academic life. . . . Whether it is post-modern or not, Love in a Dead Language is pulled off with such unhinged élan by Mr. Siegel that it is also plain good fun, a clever, literate satire in which almost everything is both travestied and, strangely, loved by its author." —Richard Bernstein, The New York Times
"Love in a Dead Language deserves space on the short, high shelf of literary wonders." —Tom LeClair, New York Times Book Review
1999 New York Times Book Review Notable Book of the Year
Vast like the subcontinent itself and teeming with outrageous and exotic characters, Net of Magic is an enthralling voyage through the netherworld of Indian magic. Lee Siegel, scholar and magician, uncovers the age-old practices of magic in sacred rites and rituals and unveils the contemporary world of Indian magic of street and stage entertainers.
Siegel's journeys take him from ancient Sanskrit texts to the slums of New Delhi to find remnants of a remarkable magical tradition. In the squalid settlement of Shadipur, he is initiated into a band of Muslim street conjurers and performs as their shill while they tutor him in their con and craft. Siegel also becomes acquainted with Hindu theatrical magicians, who claim descent from court illusionists and now dress as maharajahs to perform a repertoire of tricks full of poignant kitsch and glitz.
Masterfully using a panoply of narrative sleights to recreate the magical world of India, Net of Magic intersperses travelogue, history, ethnography, and fiction. Siegel's vivid, often comic tale is crowded with shills and stooges, tourists and pickpockets, snake charmers and fakirs. Among the cast of characters are Naseeb, a poor Muslim street magician who guides Siegel into the closed circle of itinerant performers; the Industrial Magician, paid by a bank, who convinces his audience to buy traveler's checks by making twenty-rupee notes disappear; the Government Magician, who does a trick with condoms to encourage family planning; P. C. Sorcar, Jr., the most celebrated Indian stage magician; and the fictive Professor M. T. Bannerji, the world's greatest magician, who assumes various guises over a millennium of Indian history and finally arrives in the conjuring capital of the world—Las Vegas.
Like Indra's net—the web of illusion in which Indian performers ensnare their audience—Net of Magic captures the reader in a seductive portrayal of a world where deception is celebrated and lies are transformed into compelling and universal truths.
Listen to what I am about to tell you: do not read this book alone. You really shouldn’t. In one of the most playful experiments ever put between two covers, every other section of Trance-Migrations prescribes that you read its incantatory tales out loud to a lover, friend, or confidant, in order to hypnotize in preparation for Lee Siegel’s exploration of an enchanting India. To read and hear this book is to experience a particular kind of relationship, and that’s precisely the point: hypnosis, the book will demonstrate, is an essential aspect of our most significant relationships, an inherent dimension of love, religion, medicine, politics, and literature, a fundamental dynamic between lover and beloved, deity and votary, physician and patient, ruler and subject, and, indeed, reader and listener.
Even if you can’t read this with a partner—and I stress that you certainly ought to—you will still be in rich company. There is Shambaraswami, an itinerant magician, hypnotist, and storyteller to whom villagers turn for spells that will bring them wealth or love; José-Custodio de Faria, a Goan priest hypnotizing young and beautiful women in nineteenth-century Parisian salons; James Esdaile, a Scottish physician for the East India Company in Calcutta, experimenting on abject Bengalis with mesmerism as a surgical anesthetic; and Lee Siegel, a writer traveling in India to learn all that he can about hypnosis, yoga, past life regressions, colonialism, orientalism, magic spells, and, above all, the power of story. And then there is you: descending through these histories—these tales within tales, trances within trances, dreams within dreams—toward a place where the distinctions between reverie and reality dissolve.
Here the world within the book and that in which the book is read come startlingly together. It’s one of the most creative works we have ever published, a dazzling combination of literary prowess, scholarly erudition, and psychological exploration—all tempered by warm humor and a sharp wit. It is informing, entertaining, and, above all, mesmerizing.
Who Wrote the Book of Love?
Lee Siegel University of Chicago Press, 2005 Library of Congress PS3569.I377W48 2005 | Dewey Decimal 813.54
Who Wrote the Book of Love? is acclaimed novelist Lee Siegel's comedic chronicle of the sexual life of an American boy in Southern California in the 1950s. Starting at the beginning of the decade, in the year that Stalin announced that the Soviet Union had developed an atomic bomb, the book opens with a child's first memory of himself. Closing at the end of the decade, when Pat Boone's guide to dating, 'Twixt Twelve and Twenty, topped the bestseller list, the book culminates just moments before the boy experiences for the first time what he had learned from a book read to him by his mother was called "coitus or sexual intercourse or sometimes, less formally, just making love." Between the initial overwhelmingly erotic recollection and the final climactic moment, all is sex—beguiling and intractable, naughty and sweet. Who Wrote the Book of Love? is about the subversive sexual imaginations of children. And, as such, it is about the origins of love.
Vignettes from the author's childhood provide the material for the construction of what is at once comic fiction, imaginative historical reportage, and an ironically nostalgic confession. The book evokes the tone and tempo of a decade during which America was blatantly happy, wholesome, and confident, and yet, at the same time, deeply fearful of communism and nuclear holocaust. Siegel recounts both the cheer and the paranoia of the period and the ways in which those sentiments informed wondering about sex and falling in love.
"Part of my plan," Mark Twain wrote in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, "has been to try to pleasantly remind adults of what they once were themselves, and of how they felt and thought and talked." With the same motive, Lee Siegel has written what Twain might have composed had he been Jewish, raised in Beverly Hills in the 1950s, and joyously obsessed with sex and love.