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The Secret Life of Puppets Paperback – 5 Dec 2003

3.4 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (5 Dec. 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780674012448
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674012448
  • ASIN: 0674012445
  • Product Dimensions: 15.5 x 2.5 x 23.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 975,952 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description


Nelson has written an eloquent, exciting, memorable, important book. It is alive and disturbingly truthful.--Harold Bloom, author of The Western Canon and Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human

A wonderful, unlikely, necessary book which links high and low and pop culture, the sacred and the profane, into a magnificent webwork of pattern and gnosis--it is erudite, irreverent, and profound. Just read it.--Neil Gaiman, author of American Gods

The Secret Life of Puppets is one of the most important and inspiring books I've read in many years. Ranging widely in the imagination of Western culture, it shows wisely how the human soul went into eclipse, where it remained hidden, and how it might return. The language is fresh, the ideas original. Each page has at least one summary sentence, beautifully compact, that offers a way out of the scientism and displaced notions of transcendence that have chased the life out of modern experience. Drawing on a largely neglected tradition of Neoplatonic and magical thought, it opens up key themes of religion and literature that lie hidden in popular culture and high art.--Thomas Moore, author of Care of the Soul and The Soul's Religion

Much more than intellectual history and literary criticism, Victoria Nelson's The Secret Life of Puppets is a provocative, important and exciting thesis about why organized Western religion is no longer the residence of religion. In a convincing series of essays, Nelson demonstrates how the sacred and our yearning for the transcendent has now reappeared in art, film and all manner of simulacra--yes, and even in puppets. This is required reading for any serious student or teacher of religion.--Rabbi Lawrence Kushner, author of God Was In This Place and I, I Did Not Know, Invisible Lines of Connection and other books.

This is a book of powerful psychic allure: it consistently engages and challenges; one is pushed into new intellectual spheres by its very oddity and force. It is also spectacularly well-written on a sentence-by-sentence level. Nelson is a prose stylist of sometimes lyric and touching penetration.--Terry Castle, author of The Female Thermometer and The Apparitional Lesbian.

In a remarkable scholarly book, The Secret Life of Puppets, Victoria Nelson argues that our sense of the supernatural and yearning for immortality has been displaced from religion to such expressions of popular culture as superheroes, robots and cyborgs.--Francisco Goldman"New York Times Magazine" (11/28/2004)

Nelson plots an illuminating journey through a carnival funhouse...Unlike many similar, wide-ranging culture studies, Nelson's book arrives with no agenda, blaming no one; instead, she offers a learned, exciting ride through a phantasmagoric landscape filled with dark mysteries.-- (12/02/2001)

From Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, A. I., and X-Files, to the genre grotesqueries of Child's Play and The Puppet Master, so much of our popular storytelling concerns forces and phenomena our culture firmly insists aren't real and cannot exist...In a dizzying and fascinating alternate history scored with subterranean connections, Nelson presents alchemists, Platonists, Gnostics and magi in their own terms and contexts...In this rich work of erudite charms, Nelson convincingly argues that the cultural pendulum is swinging back to the platonic side. But because our rigid scientific materialism doesn't allow us to take any of this seriously, we are left with mostly unconscious expressions that overemphasize the sensational and horrific dark side, with a little sentimental New Age nod to the latent good.-- (01/26/2002)

In the opening chapter, Victoria Nelson issues a caveat that deliberately echoes the warnings that preface tales of horror. Do not expect to emerge unchanged. To read this book is akin to entering an ancient grotto, the ante-chamber of the otherworld. Since the Enlightenment, says Nelson, Western culture has dismissed the supernatural as mere superstition and displaced these religious impulses into popular entertainments such as fantasy and science fiction. The emergence of new grottos such as cyberspace are signs that we are entering a new era of sensibility, in which the Platonic and Aristotelian world view can coexist. As a diagnosis of the role of the supernatural in modern secular society, this is a work of extraordinary originality, erudition and flair. Read it and be transformed.-- (03/16/2002)

Freud theorized that modern civilization (the one in which he lived, anyway) repressed our sexual instincts. In her provocative new book, The Secret Life of Puppets, Victoria Nelson contends that modern civilization has repressed our spiritual instincts. And these, she argues, like all repressed instincts, have come back to surprise us in strange new forms.-- (03/14/2002)


In a tour of Western culture that is at once exhilarating and alarming, Nelson shows us the distorted forms in which the spiritual resurfaced in high art but also, strikingly, in the mass culture of puppets, horror-fantasy literature and cyborgs: from the works of Kleist, Poe, Musil and Lovecraft to Philip K. Dick and virtual reality simulations. At the end of the millennium, discarding a convention of the demonized grotesque that endured 300 years, a demiurgic consciousness shaped in late antiquity is emerging anew to re-divinize the human as artists like Lars von Trier and Will Self reinvent expressionism in forms familiar to our pre-Reformation ancestors. Here as never before, we see how pervasively but unwittingly, consuming art forms of the fantastic, we allow ourselves to believe.

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3.4 out of 5 stars

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25 March 2004
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