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Issue 124

Ideal Syllabus: Mark Pilkington / Strange Attractor

In an ongoing series, frieze asks an artist, curator or writer to list the books that have influenced them

BY Mark Pilkington in Critic's Guides | 12 JUN 09

Mark Pilkington is a London-based writer, publisher and musician. He runs Strange Attractor Press, is publisher of Strange Attractor Journal (2005–ongoing), Medical London (2008) and Welcome to Mars (2008), amongst other titles, and also the CD label, Further. He makes electronic music with groups including Disinformation, Raagnagrok and The Asterism.

I have lived much of my life convinced that there were worlds beyond our own. Now I know it to be true. These 13 books of fiction, non-fiction and the wide-open space between, represent some of the ways in which these worlds can be safely and rewardingly explored.

Arthur Machen
The Hill of Dreams (Tartarus Press, Leyburn, 2008; first published 1907)
Machen’s vision seethes with non-human, partially human and entirely inhuman intelligences, many drawn from the folklore of his Welsh childhood. The Hill of Dreams is a dream-like, semi-autobiographical account of his first years lost in London.

The Complete Books of Charles Fort
The Book of the Damned (1919), New Lands (1923), Lo! (1931), Wild Talents (1932) (Dover Publications, New York, 1998)
Four dense tapestries of science and satire that are often illuminating, sometimes exhausting, but always entertaining. Fort’s barrage of damned data critiques, amongst other things, the transient nature of much of what passes for scientific knowledge: ‘I conceive of nothing, in religion, science, or philosophy, that is more than the proper thing to wear, for a while.’

David Lindsay
A Voyage To Arcturus (Gollancz, London, 2003; first published 1920)
Lindsay’s kaleidoscopic metaphysical fantasy explores the multiple life-forms and cultures of the planet Tormance. A dark, cosmic and elegant meditation on life and death, this might well be the most psychedelic novel ever written. The haunting opening, set during a seance, is perhaps my favourite in fiction.

J.W. Dunne
An Experiment With Time (Hampton Roads, Charlottesville, 2001; first published 1927)
In spring 1902, while serving with the British Army in Africa, Dunne experienced a detailed precognitive dream about the devastating 1902 volcanic eruption of Mount Pelée on Martinique the following October. This lead him to question the notion of time as a unidirectional phenomenon, and to recommend dream states for experiencing temporal slips. It only takes one such dream to force a radical rethink of our current ideas about time – and it has already happened. The book has a cameo in Gaspar Noé’s film Irreversible (2002).

Alexandra David Neel
Magic and Mystery in Tibet (Souvenir Press, London, 2007; first published 1932)
In 1924, this remarkable French-Belgian explorer, radical and mystic disguised herself as a male pilgrim and journeyed to Lhasa in Tibet, then closed to foreigners. There she witnessed many beautiful and strange magico-spiritual practices and learned to materialize her own tulpa, a spirit being. A classic of mystical ethnography and a vivid account of life in an alien world.

H.P. Lovecraft
Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos (Gollancz, London, 2008; first published 1929–36)
Eldritch projections of his own hypochondria and xenophobia, Lovecraft’s greatest tales embody a universe so monstrous and so rich that it has spawned countless other fictions and several occult orders.

Philip K. Dick
Valis (Gollancz, London, 2001; first published 1981)
Dick’s autobiographical masterpiece documents his visionary experiences of February and March 1974. Dick (as alter ego Horselover Fat) endures hallucinations, prophetic visions and a dual existence lived simultaneously in 1970s California and the first century Roman Empire. Somehow the answers lie with an orbiting machine intelligence Dick named VALIS: the Vast Active Living Intelligence System. 

Patrick Harpur 
Daimonic Reality: A Field Guide to the Otherworld (Arkana, London, 1995) 
A sage exploration of the myriad forms of otherworld encounters – from angels, faeries and aliens to bigfeet, big cats and other denizens of the phantom universe. Extending notions of imaginal space developed by Henri Corbin and Carl Jung, he posits the existence of a third realm that is neither entirely mundane, nor wholly imagined, and proposes that these spectres, or daimons, are its inhabitants. 

Erik Davis
Techgnosis: Myth, Magic and Mysticism in the Age of Information (Serpent’s Tail, London, 1999)
Davis barrels us down the double helix of mysticism and technology, from the ancient gnostic cults of the Middle East, via the contemporaneous births of the telegraph and Spiritualism in the West to the new dualism of the globalized information age. En route he demonstrates that mysticism always has been, and always will be, the ghost in the cultural machine. A dazzling synthesis that is as mind-expanding as any chemical brew.

Ronald Hutton
The Triumph of the Moon (Oxford University Press, 1999)
This radical history of witchcraft in Britain focuses on our nation’s sole but hugely influential contribution to religious history, Wicca, which has its roots not, as once thought, in ancient Europe, but in 1940s Hampshire.

Mike Jay
The Air Loom Gang (Bantam Press, London, 2003)
Madness is, unfortunately, one of the surest ways to experience alternate realities. This true and faithful account of 18th-century tea broker and mind control victim James Tilly Matthews is as lucid, sympathetic and engaging a book about mental illness as you will find.

Trevor Pinch and Frank Trucco
Analogue Days (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 2004)
Making music is one of the most satisfying ways to explore altered states, and for an untrained musician like myself, hardware synthesizers guarantee easy journey to other planets. This wonderful history charts the parallel developments of Robert Moog’s synths on America’s East Coast, and Don Buchla’s on the West.

Dean Radin 
Entangled Minds (Paraview Pocket Books, New York, 2006)
An excellent primer on contemporary parapsychological research by one of the field’s leading lights. Exploring the full range of psi phenomena from telepathy to remote viewing, Radin presents a grand vision of the universe in which all intelligences are connected.