ESSAYS: Colin Dickey, Anna Journey, Anna Merlan, Sarah Moss, Emily Ogden, Adam Morris
FICTION: Kathryn Davis, Masande Ntshanga, Keziah Weir, Paul LaFarge
POETRY: William Brewer, Elisabeth Houston, Brenda Hillman, Matt Morton, Javier Zamora, Vanessa Angélica Villarreal
ALSO FEATURING: Kristen Arnett, Dodie Bellamy, Fernando A. Flores, Maya Gurantz, Zoe Tuck, Aaron Winslow
I’ll start with a ghost story. When I was about nine years old, I traveled to Scotland with an uncle of mine and his family. We stayed in an old hotel, and on that first night I had a dream in which I was wandering around a basement. A disembodied voice told me that I would meet “him” in three days. The next night, I fell asleep and again found myself wandering the same empty basement. The voice said I would now meet “him” in two days. This happened again the following night. Finally, on the fourth night of our stay, I fell asleep, and this time, I found myself in the same basement but in a laundry room. My aunt was pregnant at the time, and she was in the dream, folding clean laundry. I started to help her but realized that there was a pair of gray doors behind me, one opened and one closed. The voice then said that I would meet him tonight and I realized that the “him”, whoever he was, was behind the closed door and would soon step into the open doorway. Just before he did, I forced myself to wake up. There was a man, who was also not quite a man, standing at the hotel room window. It was more of a force in the shape of a man but still clearly visible. Long blonde hair, dark purple jacket. I looked around the room — everything was as it had been. I looked between the man and my cousin, who was lying in the bed next to me. I kept looking at her, trying to will her awake, though of course, that didn’t work at all. The man approached my bed, and I, in a total panic, hid myself under the covers. I must have fallen asleep. Everything was fine in the morning.
I tell this story not to insist on any truth or reality, but to think about the occult as a subject and as a mode of storytelling. It can really splinter an audience in a way that almost no other subject can. The occult raises issues around belief, as well as the systems that we think govern the universe. It walks the line between the possible and the impossible, the genuine and the feigned, the authentic and the phony. The occult pushes us to accept that different worlds can exist within or beside one another. Indeed, that maybe our world isn’t quite what we thought it was. The occult can be a way of challenging our accepted forms of knowledge, both of ourselves and our surroundings.
This issue of the Los Angeles Review of Books Quarterly Journal is dedicated to exploring these dynamics. Colin Dickey writes about the Satanic Panic in the 1980s, when parents were convinced that daycare centers were performing satanic rituals on their children. Emily Ogden writes about Charles Durant, a 19th-century balloonist who set out to debunk clairvoyants, examining the thin line between belief and doubt. Paul La Farge writes a short story about a professor and his ghost Anna, connecting the occult to a long history of race relations. Fernando A. Flores imagines a border ruled by corrupt possums, who keep getting book deals.
The occult, or what is categorized as the occult, can be a tool to reexamine what is real. It’s a fun house mirror — disordered and unusual, and yet, still somehow accurate.