I finally finished the book(trilogy?) tonight and have to say I'm left impressed if a little baffled. Now that I've read it, I googled the book a little and the Wikipedia entry for it is, well, illuminating. The article says of the narrative style "The plot meanders between the thoughts, hallucinations and inner voices (both real and imagined) of its many characters, as well as through time (past, present and future)—sometimes in mid-sentence. Much of the back story is explained via dialogue between characters, who recount unreliable, often mutually contradictory, versions of their supposed histories. There are even parts in the book where it actually reviews and jokingly deconstructs itself." It makes it mesmerizing and maddeningly difficult to follow. Forget 1st person and 3rd person narrative, the book briefly uses the 2nd person, which I hadn't even thought possible. For all my griping, though, there are some real gems in the book. Here's one last one I'll share:

A monopoly on the means of communication may define a ruling elite more precisely than the celebrated Marxian formula of "monopoly of the means of production." Since man extends his nervous system through channels of communication like the written word, the telephone, radio, etc., he who controls these media controls part of the nervous system of every member of society. The contents of these media become part of the contents of every individuals brain.

Thus, in pre-literate societies taboos on the spoken word are more numerous and more Draconic than at any more complex level of social organization. With the invention of written speech - hieroglyphic, ideographic, or alphabetical - the taboos are shifted to this medium; there is less concern with what people say and more concern with what they write. (Some of the first societies to achieve literacy, such as Egypt and the Mayan culture of ancient Mexico, evidently kept a knowledge of their hieroglyphs a religious secret which only the higher orders of the priestly and royal families were allowed to share.) The same process repeats endlessly: Each step forward in the technology of communication is more heavily taboo'd than the earlier steps. Thus, in America today (post-Lenny Bruce), one seldom hears of convictions for spoken blasphemy or obscenity; prosecution of books still continues, but higher courts increasingly interpret the laws in a liberal fashion, and most writers feel fairly confident that they can publish virtually anything; movies are growing almost as desacralized as books, although the fight is still heated in this area; television, the newest medium, remains encased in neolithic taboo. (When the TV pundits committed lèse majesté after an address by the then Dominant Male, a certain Richard Nixon, one of his lieutenants quickly informed them they had overstepped, and the whole tribe - except for the dissident minority - cheered for the reassertion of tradition.) When a more efficient medium arrives, the taboos on television will decrease.


Considering the book was first published in 1975, this is remarkably prescient. TV has indeed become less taboo'd. Pay cable and now even basic cable have few content restrictions left and the 'more efficient medium', the Internet, is the primary cause of concern for moralists, fear-mongers and statists. Amazing how well this has held up over nearly 35 years.