The Secret Life of Puppets
is a complicated and fascinating study that incorporates analyses of literature, film, esotericism, philosophy, and culture in general. The central thesis is that our fascination with the supernatural - frowned upon by mainstream secular/rationalist culture - has been driven underground, but is resurfacing in the popular cultural expressions of film, genre literature, etc.
The book incorporates a vast amount of cultural study, ranging from authors as diverse as Umberto Eco
, H.P. Lovecraft
and Bruno Schulz
to the study of films like The Truman Show
and Dark City
. At the same time, the author manages to place the themes of these works in the context of a very broad spectrum of religious and philosophical tendencies.
At times it is difficult to keep track of the central line of reasoning of this book; the title is represented by an analysis of the evolution of 'the puppet' as an archetype, embodied in the robots, androids and cyborgs of modern day popular culture. The amount of references in the book is large and diffuse, and aggravated by an opaque note and reference system.
However, I do believe Nelson is on to something significant with this excellent study: that the (Neo-)Platonic/supernatural and Aristotelean/rational are two modes of thinking that both permeate the very fiber of our culture. In different periods, one may have the upper hand, just as mainstream Western culture currently celebrates the 'victory' over superstition and religion, but there is reason to believe that the most interesting things happen at the intersection of these two, I believe ultimately compatible, ways of thinking.
This is a book that I'll be returning in the future, as I'm sure there will be much more to discover upon its rereading.