Monday, September 1, 2008

Book Selection of the Month: "The Dangerous Joy of Dr. Sex" by Pagan Kennedy

pagan-kennedy.jpg Book Selection of the Month [of Sex] (September 2008): The Dangerous Joy of Dr. Sex and Other True Stories by Pagan Kennedy

My friend Pagan Kennedy (the hip genius behind some ten books now) has a new book out today that’s an anthology of biographical essays about mostly-science-oriented maverick inventors and geniuses and the like — with the lengthy title essay being a biography of Alex Comfort, the guy who wrote (and lived) the revolutionary The Joy of Sex circa 1970, when such things were still taboo for most people despite hippies being everywhere (by contrast, I plan to make this a “Month of Sex” on this site, blogging about related topics for weeks — not necessarily always approvingly, though — and hosting a related Debate at Lolita Bar at 8pm on Sept. 28).

Pagan’s collection of unique, often strange individuals — from noble nerds trying to devise the cheapest imaginable ways to build machines out of scraps accessible by impoverished Third Worlders to a teenage girl weightlifter who can lift over 300 pounds above her head — are to me a more uplifting celebration of America, in all its bizarre, unpredictable richness, than either of this week’s other purported big events: Labor Day and the other big socialist happening, the Republican Party convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul (though I hope my friends there will have fun — especially if they make it to the Ron Paul “alternative convention” on Tuesday [I think I know a guy who was torn between going to that or Burning Man, where there were surely people who have read The Joy of Sex and who might like Pagan's book even more -- hell, everyone at Burning Man should buy a copy on the basis of her first name alone]).

As even canonical conservatives like Burke and Kirk used to say (before the whole political spectrum decided to start marching lock-step straight to hell while muttering about “unity”), diversity is a natural and important part of a healthy, functioning society — and not just diversity in the approved, quota-filling sense that university professors use the term. People are wonderfully varied and weird, in ways that you never would have thought of ahead of time, and not just in ways that fit the approved channels for “extreme” or “cool” behavior, either.

One delightful wacko profiled in this book is a performance artist I would probably find downright annoying if I met him, who goes around claiming to be the Emperor of America, but better a thousand more people like him than one real claimant to such a job. Alex Comfort, who gives the book its title, was something of a Dr. Frankenstein for the hippie era, viewing his every orgiastic escapade as part of a series of experiments necessary for enlarging the entire population’s ability to enjoy sex — and knowing all the while that he might lose his wife and his own happiness in the process. We learn from the successes and failures and ambiguous combinations made possible by a planet of billions of experimenters, even if a necessary part of the process is telling many of them they’re nuts.

And this book contains an actual photo of Pagan being strapped into a cap full of brain-stimulating electrodes by the cap’s scientist creator. You have to love that. And I suspect in the long run, the future gets created by people like this — and chronicled by attentive, curious investigators like Pagan Kennedy — instead of by politicians of any ideological stripe bellowing about “tomorrow.”

As for what tomorrow will bring on this blog: a unique character who adds to the quirky American tapestry in part by disapproving of some of those aforementioned sexual experiments, Dawn Eden.

1 comment:

Todd Seavey said...

[...] But getting back to this month’s main author: Lipsky turns out to be a friend of a friend, namely of last month’s Book Selection of the Month author, Pagan Kennedy, which I honestly hadn’t realized until separately picking them.  The record, I have now learned, shows I am far from alone in being amazed by Lipsky, though, so it’s not just that I like him for being a distant part of my milieu.  Numerous critics praised him for sounding so polished and insightful while still an undergrad and then grad student, and he’s gone on to be a successful writer and editor.  Good for him. [...]