Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Shaver Mystery Interlude

Lunacy and Lucre, Madness and Money

My friend Hlafbrot has been reading my series on the Shaver Mystery and brought to my attention another odd manuscript, this one from the Middle Ages. It's called the Voynich manuscript, and it has defied understanding for centuries. Hlafbrot sent me links to two articles, one on Wikipedia, the other on the website of the New York Times Review of Books. That second article is called "Secret Knowledge--or a Hoax?" and it's dated April 20, 2017. (Click here to read it.) It's a fascinating article on a fascinating case. The author, Eamon Duffy, gets to what I have been writing about recently (or I'm getting to what he wrote about last year). The following paragraph, in which the author considers the Voynich manuscript as a hoax, leapt out at me:
Why might such a hoax have been perpetrated? The sheer scale, expense, and complexity of the Voynich manuscript would seem to preclude the notion that it was assembled as some kind of joke: it's hard to imagine a punch line that required so elaborate a buildup. That leaves lunacy or lucre as possible motives. Madness can't entirely be ruled out: mania takes many forms, and a well-to-do obsessive convinced he (or she) held the key to great secrets might drive the production of such a compilation. [Emphasis added.]
An "obsessive convinced he (or she) held the key to great secrets"--that phrase precisely describes Richard Shaver and countless men like him. (And they're nearly all men.) Like the author of the Voynich Manuscript, these men (and a few women) work out in exhaustive detail their entire systems. This the most ambitious and driven among them commit to writing, calling it Mantong and "A Warning to Future Man," The Communist Manifesto or Progress and Poverty, Isis Unveiled or Worlds in Collision, The Book of Mormon or Dianetics. Some of these works are more interesting than others, more entertaining than others, more readable than others, more successful than others, but all amount to the same thing: the obsessive--mad or not--who believes he has found "the key to great secrets" and wants the world to know about it. The idea that they might be hoaxes is a non-sequitur, for the obsessed author has no interest in jokes or hoaxes. He doesn't even know what those things are. He is instead driven by his vision and his discovery. He has seen the light and he wants you to see it, too. (He might also want you to come across with the cash, but that's the subject of the next paragraph.)

Here is another phrase from the quote above, the phrase that gets right to my point from yesterday: "lunacy or lucre as possible motives." Mr. Duffy makes an either-or proposition. But what if it's actually a both-and proposition? What about both lunacy and lucre as a motivation for these things? Both madness and money? Europeans may not always be good at this combination, for they tend to be mired in the past, in ancient and medieval institutions of power and culture. They're not forward-looking enough nor perhaps energetic or obsessive enough to make a go at it. Only in America do we have the free-wheeling, anything-goes attitude that allows for the legitimacy of a person's ideas to be measured by the size of his bank account. Maybe Americans are the first people (or the only people) to perfect the combination of lunacy and lucre, madness and money. Maybe it took Puritanism or Calvinism afoot in a New World or a strange mixture of salvation and success, Reason and Romanticism, Utopia and the Millennium before this new man could emerge. That's what I was trying to get at yesterday with my terms the commercial crackpot and the earnest conman. They're still not the best terms. I'd like to find something better. But I think this is an American type, and the combination Richard Shaver-Raymond Palmer gives every appearance of having been of that type.

Copyright 2018 Terence E. Hanley

No comments:

Post a Comment