I first dreamed up the word “cryptoscatology” in the Spring of 1996. I chose it as the title of an essay written specifically for a Comparative Literature class on Surrealism taught by Dr. Roland Bush at CSU Long Beach. That Surrealism course was—without a doubt—one of the best classes I ever took as an undergraduate at CSULB. Without that class, certain aspects of my life probably would not be the same today. In fact, that class inspired my soon-to-be-published short story “The Advertising Man” (see previous post).
Upon studying various surrealist works, including Marcel Duchamp’s infamous 1917 readymade Fountain, it seemed clear that the artists who called themselves surrealists were scatologists at heart, but scatologists of a special order—an exclusive society obsessed with dreams, telepathy, synchronicities, the ancient art of alchemy, etc., preoccupations considered to be worthless (i.e., “shit”) by the gentle folk who subscribe to consensus reality. Here’s a synchronicity for you: At that time I just so happened to be immersing myself in various books about the much-maligned field of cryptozoology, including Tony “Doc” Shiels’ obscure (and highly recommended) autobiography entitled Monstrum! in which the author identifies himself as both a cryptozoologist and a surrealist. That’s when it struck me: The surrealists weren’t just interested in normal everyday shit, but in secret shit, hence my invention of the word “cryptoscatology,” which simply means the study of cultural trends and phenomena considered to be valueless by consensus reality.
And, thus, a LEGEND was born!
My intention at that time was to publish my “Cryptoscatology” essay in the pages of Paranoia, but that magazine went on hiatus for a time roundabout 1999, and the article apparently got lost in the shuffle. Several years later it was supposed to appear in an early issue of Mysteries Magazine, but the editor (“nameless here for evermore”—“The Raven,” Edgar Allan Poe) mangled the piece so thoroughly that I can state with all honestly that it was no longer the article I had originally composed. The editor altered the title to something uninteresting and mundane, and the word “cryptoscatology” was removed from the text.
In 2002 I toyed with the idea of making Cryptoscatology an ongoing comic strip à la the old one-page Ripley’s Believe It Or Not comic. Its main purpose would have been to spotlight a different conspiracy theory each week. A cartoonist who worked for Paranoia Magazine agreed to draw the first strip. A few days after he received the script, however, he accidentally stabbed his own eye with the sharpened edge of a plastic nametag he was forced to wear at the video store where he worked part-time. As a result, he could no longer see well enough to doodle much less draw a complete script. (Believe it or not!)
A couple of years ago a student in my Literature of Science Fiction class at CSULB named Matthew Fuller asked if he could take a crack at resurrecting the abandoned script. Curious to see if Matthew’s eye would split open while drawing it, I said, “Sure, feel free!” Fortunately, this time no serious injuries occurred, and this was the final result:
I was amazed that Matthew was able to fit so many damn words into panel 6. (Maybe that was the real reason the other artist plucked his own eye out—he was just trying to avoid drawing that particular panel!)
At last, my original “Cryptoscatology” article appeared—unexpurgated—in the pages of Fortean Times #286 in April of this year and the full-length book, Cryptoscatology: Conspiracy Theory as Art Form, followed about a month later. My next goal, of course, is to get the word into the Oxford English Dictionary.
Next week: A Brief History of Radium!