“The King and the Beggar Lady” is an Eric Hoffer Awards Category Finalist!

Our new book The King and the Beggar Lady (written by Wim, illustrated by Pat) is an announced Category Finalist for this year’s Eric Hoffer Book Awards! One of the largest international book awards for small, academic, and independent presses, the Hoffer Awards honor “freethinking writers and independent books of exceptional merit. According to the Hoffer Awards website,

The commercial/political environment for today’s writers has all but crushed the circulation of ideas. It seems strange that in the Information Age, many books are blocked from wider circulation, and powerful writing is barred from publication or buried alive on the Internet. Furthermore, many of the top literary prizes will not consider independent books, choosing instead to become the marketing arms of large presses.… The Hoffer will continue to be a platform for and the champion of the independent voice.

The awards are given every year in memory of Eric Hoffer (1902-1983), the American moral and social philosopher who never turned his back on his working-class roots. Dubbed “the longshoreman philosopher,” Hoffer once said …

My writing is done in railroad yards while waiting for a freight, in the fields while waiting for a truck, and at noon after lunch. Towns are too distracting.

Only 10% of entries reach the Category Finalist stage for this prestigious award. The King and the Beggar Lady was in competition with books from smaller traditional publishers, including university presses and well-known literary houses, as well as a multitude of other independently-published books. So we are deeply honored! A hearty thank-you to the Eric Hoffer judges for this affirmation of our work, and also the work of all independent writers, publishers, and thinkers. It means a lot to us.

Anna's World by Wim Coleman and Pat Perrin

Our work has a distinguished history with the Hoffer Awards. For example, our Young Adult Novel Anna’s World was 1st Finalist in the Young Adults category of the Hoffer Awards.

The Jamais Vu Papers

And our new edition of our groundbreaking experimental novel The Jamais Vu Papers received an Honorable Mention in the Spiritual category of the Hoffer Awards. The Jamais Vu Papers was also on the short list for the Montaigne Medal, given by the Hoffer Awards for “the most thought-provoking titles … books that either illuminate, progress, or redirect thought.”

Here on this fleck among the uncountable stars something takes form, eventually to wonder why we are and what to each other.

Those words, my most-often-used artist statement, are about the wonder of life existing at all and how we experience it and what we are to do with it. My fiber works are often a direct expression of the enigma of life itself, and variations on these issues permeate all of my work. The books that Wim and I write deal with the same questions in one way or another.

We just finished hanging an exhibit of my work at the Carrboro ArtsCenter, up through the end of March. Here’s the main area.

Below is the wall of my illustrations for our book pages.

Another wall features small works.

Some closeups on my art page: https://playsonideas.com/pats-artworks/


The Hoax Principle …

“… that fictional ideas, like placebos,
can attain an astounding level of reality
through sheer persuasive force.”

Who would have believed that fictional characters would simply refuse to be remaindered along with physical books? After The Jamais Vu Papers was published by Harmony Books in 1991, it sold a few thousand copies and then seemed doomed to disappear as books did when major publishers lost interest in them. Two decades later, after we got complaints that the book wasn’t available anywhere, we republished it ourselves. A small audience continues to follow our erratic story, and a modest number of copies sell every year. That seemed to be the end of the story.

We did take note that our character Llixgrijb succeeded in walking off the pages and taking on a life of his own, turning up in a variety of guises and languages. Those connections seemed amusing, probably harmless, and again we thought that was the end of it.

But the words of another fictional character from our book have taken on new life today. Imogene Savonarola, a renowned neuroscientist at the Institute of Neuroreality, “determined that the brain possesses receptors for paradox” and hypothesized the existence of a neurotransmitter which she called the “oxymorphin.” Explaining that “The oxymorphin is almost wholly dormant in modern man, except when it is occasionally sparked by direct encounter with a common metaphor,” Savonarola set about producing a chemical equivalent, creating chaotic adventures that make up much of our tale.

In another of her publications, Savonarola discusses a very timely concept: how fantasy can become empirical reality through “The Hoax Principle.”

“Flat-out lies can come true if they appeal
eloquently enough to the credulity
of both sides of the mind/brain.”

She describes false ideas as placebos, those sugar pills or meaningless procedures that can seem to cure disease if the consumer believes they are real medicine. (See Harvard report) Whatever we might think of Savonarola’s scholarship, it does seem that in our own time, an extraordinary consumption of placebos has activated the dark side the process she describes.


Which Came First — The Tool or Its Name?

Here’s some news that amazed me recently, and also got me to asking myself a lot of troublesome questions. Working gears have been discovered in an insect. Scientific American’s video of these gears in action is pretty breathtaking to watch. The story broke just a couple of months ago

The juvenile Issus—a plant-hopping insect found in gardens across Europe—has hind-leg joints with curved cog-like strips of opposing “teeth” that intermesh, rotating like mechanical gears to synchronize the animal’s legs when it launches into a jump.

And so human hubris suffers another body blow from the inventiveness of Natural Selection. Until now, mechanical gears were believed to have a distinctly anthropocentric pedigree. They first appeared (or so it was said) in the “south-pointing chariot,” invented by the Chinese engineer Ma Jun back in the third century CE. But no, the juvenile Issus has been using gears for millions of years. In what seems almost a cosmic practical joke, nature invented gears millions of years before it bothered to invent their human “inventors.”

The Jamais Vu PapersAll this reminds me of the fictional psychiatrist Hector Glasco’s ill-fated and ill-advised meeting with the real-life New York superagent John Brockman in 1989. The oracular Mr. Brockman held forth about hearts and pumps and such …

We talk about the heart as a pump. It isn’t like a pump. It is one.

Now this is a long-familiar example of nature beating human engineers to the punch. Artificial pumps date back to Ctesibius (no, I can’t pronounce it either), a Greek inventor of the third century BCE. But nature has been manufacturing pumps for as long as there have been hearts with two or more chambers, and hearts have been around for at least as long as there have been fish.

Similar cases abound. During World War II, for instance, around the time when the Allies were secretly developing sonar, scientists happened to discover that bats had been using sonar all along. Talk about security leaks!

It should no longer surprise us that the beautifully intricate mechanisms created by Natural Selection should … well, surprise us. But further paradoxes lurk in the realm of language. Regarding hearts as pumps, Brockman went on to tell Hector …

That metaphor is a human invention.

Indeed, nobody knew that hearts were pumps until William Harvey figured it out in the 17th century. So which came first, the tool or its name?

I suppose, if Hector had thought to ask Brockman this question, he would have answered that words like “sonar” and “pump” and “gear” weren’t around when nature first toyed with echolocation, primordial jumping devices, and throbbing two-chambered movers of blood. Neither were any other words. There wasn’t anything we would call “language” at all. And as Brockman put it …

If it’s not in the language, it isn’t. If you can’t say it, it isn’t.

And so, although little gears appeared in bugs untold millions of years ago, they didn’t actually become gears until we noticed them and called them “gears.” The same goes for pumps and sonar. Hector Glasco might take heart from this. “If it’s not really invented until there’s a word for it,” he might say, “then surely human beings actually did invent gears, pumps, and sonar! After all, aren’t we, and not nature, the makers of words?”

The words of another oracular figure come to mind—Humpty Dumpty in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass


“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”

But according to Brockman, even so lofty a linguistic authority as Humpty Dumpty is wrong, for words are the makers of us—and of everything else:

[T]he words of the world are the life of the world, and nature is not created, nature is said…. I’m talking about the idea that we are our words. We create technologies and tools, and we become the technologies and tools. So, too, with language. All we have is language. All we have is ideas.

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“Astride Occam’s Razor,” the story of Hector Glasco’s encounter with John Brockman, appears in both The Jamais Vu Papers and Jamais Vu VIEWS.

When a Hoax Really Meant Something …

The Jamais Vu PapersFake news stories are all the rage these days. And yes, they can be hard to distinguish from real news. I have friends who were taken in by a recent story reporting that Arizona was implementing a gay-to-straight conversion program in its public schools. I wasn’t fooled by that one, but I have been hoodwinked by two or three others.

This may seem an odd sort of question, but … what’s the point?

Back in 1989, the legendary satirist and Yippies-founder Paul Krassner said to L.A. psychiatrist Hector Glasco,

People are jaded, because of this conveyer belt of information. I already forget what it was that I was so horrified about on the news yesterday. And I was horrified! But you develop an emotional callus to the horror. And a danger satirists can run into is to see the news just as grist for their mill.

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Krassner himself pioneered hoax news stories in his groundbreaking magazine The Realist. But his hoaxes always had a point—for example, his notorious obituary for Lenny Bruce, written two years before the controversial comedian’s death in 1966. As Krassner explained to Dr. Glasco,

I was hanging around with Lenny at the time, and there was almost a competition among police departments to bust him. Nightclub owners were scared. He was not getting work, and his work was his life. So it was as if he were dead. I wanted to pay tribute and expose that harassment while he was alive.

You can read the obituary in The Realist Archive Project. (Is this a great time or what?) There is nothing glib or superficial about it. It is, in fact, an excellent piece of journalism, and the most disturbing thing about it is how much of it was true …

There was a time when Lenny read a lot, from Jean-Paul Sartre’s study of anti-Semitism to the latest girlie magazine. He carried in his suitcase from city to city a double-volume unabridged dictionary. But in his dying days, he carried around law books instead. And he wasn’t as much fun to be with any more.

Or as Lenny explained it to Krassner,

I’m changing.… I’m not a comedian. I’m Lenny Bruce.

The hoax fooled plenty of people. It also moved and enlightened them. The same was not true of a later hoax, in which somebody else wrote an obituary of Paul Krassner. When Hector Glasco asked him about that …

So there’s a distinction between—what? Honest and dishonest hoaxing?

… Krassner replied,

Creative and easy. Having a point or being pointless.

The problem with many fake news stories going around is that they seem easy, uncreative, and pointless. Back when a hoax really meant something, Krassner even took the trouble of asking Lenny Bruce’s permission before publishing his obituary. Lenny cheerfully complied, but also asked,

What makes you think I’m gonna go before you do?

Paul Krassner turned 81 this year—as Groucho Marx once predicted, “the only live Lenny Bruce.”

An abridged version of Hector Glasco’s conversation with Paul Krassner appeared in Pat’s and my 1991 novel The Jamais Vu Papers. Now the full-length original version appears for the first time since 1989 in Jamais Vu VIEWS, available both in paperback and on Kindle.