cover image The New Society for Universal Harmony

The New Society for Universal Harmony

Malen Lenore, Lenore Malen, Nancy Princenthal. Granary Books, $29.95 (150pp) ISBN 978-1-887123-67-9

Pulling a cerebral stunt in the tradition of David Wilson's Museum of Jurassic Technology, artist Malen imagines a New Society for Universal Harmony which ""seeks solutions for spiritual dislocation through symbolically mediated magnetic treatments."" Headed by the enigmatic and elusive Dr. F.A. Mesmer, the New Society rekindles the 18th century ideas of the doctor's eponym, Franz Anton Mesmer, who promoted the use of magnetism for a variety of mind-body therapies. The book is based on a clever conceit, a heavily photographic pseudo-memoir of Malen's time and self-discoveries amongst the Society's lost and eternally soul-seeking ""Harmonites,"" at once celebrating and poking gentle fun at this seemingly harmless New Age community, but ultimately the book fails to live up to its promise. While the text amusingly blends real history and whimsy-masquerading-as-history, the staged illustrative b&w photographs (e.g. a prancing nudist, hot springs bathers, people in the grip of mysterious gadgets) are hokey, the narrative is limp, and the humor often falls short of its wry ambitions. That said, it is still a curious and interesting document, thanks in part to the book's additional contributors, including Jonathan Ames, Geoffrey O'Brien, Irving Sandler, Jim Long, Barbara Tannenbaum, Pepe Karmel and Nancy Princenthal, whose fictional testimonials and pseudo-historical essays occasionally rise to the level of farce demanded by the idea behind the book.