One knew, in some rarely visited region of the psyche, that it was bound to happen. When the Age of Aquarius (wrongly identified) zipped past in the American fad-stream, could the Millennium be far behind? And when notice was taken of that impending Thousand Year Anniversary, was it not inevitable that all the props and traps, archaic rubble and demented impedimenta of Year One be dragged out to trick it up? Yes.
What sort of novel is "Ancient Lights"? Imagine one work combining the delicacy of Rabelais' "Gargantua," the crisp logic of Norman O. Brown's "Life Against Death," the startling clarity of Charles Reich's "The Greening of America," the whimsical tenderness of Hugh Selby Jr.'s "Last Exit From Brooklyn" and the raw intellectual power of Elbert Hubbard's "Little Journeys to the Homes of Famous People."
The book is a fantasy set in 1992, in an America taken over by TRUCAD, a kind of super-cartel of international business interests that dominate the world.
The narrator is one Fifi Leech, whose mind seems to be a catch basin for every cliche', platitude, truism and fatuous utterance of the past two centuries--what oft was thought, but ne'er so ill-expressed. When Fifi is not musing--how else say it?--on her public parts (she couples incessantly with men, women, dwarfs, dolphins), she relates the mournful saga of her father, one Sweeley Leech, an archetype of the Two-Thousand-Year-Old man, but far less funny than Mel Brooks' version.
Sweeley, in an earlier incarnation, had played John the Baptist to Criste--not to be confused with Christ, who is a mere simulacrum created by the Church. Death is also present in the person of Judah Samphire, ringing a tambourine obviously filched from Bob Dylan. Fifi, her father and a cast of dozens drawn about as forcefully and entertainingly as the figures in Spenser's "Faerie Queene" attempt to recreate the "Criste Lite," a kind of psychedelic representation of the "true" gospel--as opposed to the false version foisted upon us by the Church. The attempt miscarries, Sweeley is crucified on an aluminum electrified cross, but is immediately reincarnated in the profligate womb of Fifi, who hasn't a clue as to which of her legion lovers may have caused the impregnation.
Along the way, we have talking turtles (representing St. Paul, so far as one can tell), an ancient clock that doubles as a time-space machine, a diamond called Face to Face (cribbed from St. Paul), a mob of unruly lesbians called variously the Cazzo Nostra or the Goody Two-Shoes, nursing on whale-teats, unwieldy imitations of "Alice's Adventures," sprites, fairies, Mr. Moto, the first foreign-born American president from Japan (the country is run by corporations, get it?) who affects a country-western vocabulary, and an essay on the meaning of flatulence.
But all this is merely filler for the string of slobbering aphorisms that appears to be the raison of the book. To wit:
* "It is our contraries that make us alive. Sin and Love warring."
* "Man is Eternal."
* "Macho male is, indeed, the most effeminate of creatures; the Macho woman--that woman trying to be what she imagines is Man--is the most androgynous."
* "Yes, the death of what men have called Christianity--the takeover by Satan--began when it was organized and the individual, the lonely Criste-crazed individual, was banished to the deserts of the human spirit."
* "Religion . . . is not so much the opium of the people as its Librium and Valium."
* "The single candle of man's imagination . . . That is all the light that is left. It is the last star in heaven. Because it was the first."
* "The strongest force in the universe--the force of Love."
Lest it be thought that these silly sutras be reduced in their meaning and amplitude by being taken from context, I can only assure that the context, in general, is much worse.
There is, however, something to be learned from the book. More specifically, from the dust-jacket blurb, in which we are told that "Ancient Lights" "teems . . . with gnostic Christianity." It would appear that "gnosticism" is the latest buzz-word among the helots who make copy for nonbooks. Be prepared for "chiliasm," "hermetic" and "apocalyptic" to follow. For as the Millennium looms and as other forms of perversity lose their savor, it may be that superannuated Aquarians with thinning hair and minds vacated by drugs will pick up on rumors of the Second Coming as a gas or a giggle.
But synthetic imbecilities on the pattern of "Ancient Lights" are not antidotes to the equally gnostic purveyors of mass murder and repression; they are merely the precursors of it. Intellectual disarray, febrile sentimentality hold the door ajar for yet another Golem with its face of bronze and hands of bleeding steel upon whose forehead is written emeth--life--but who brings only meth--death.