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Book Review:

The Exit Collection
(1984 - 1994)

Edited by George Petros


Review by,
Tracy Twyman

I know that I am too young to remember Exit magazine’s reign of terror. But I am not too young to appreciate it. The effect that this heavy-handed visual and literary attack must have had upon the pacified, heedless, distracted ignoble vulgus - that plebeian multitude, gluttonous, greedy, self-righteous and sanctimonious, self-loathing yet self-congratulatory - must have been like that of setting off a can of roach fogger in a crowded bar. This is not for the inferior masses, those insipid, unremarkable, somnambulating zombies of mediocrity, ignorant of anything that is unpleasant to think about, any concept that is uncomfortable to hold in the mind, anything that contradicts the humanistic and egalitarian idealism that we’ve all been raised to soothe ourselves with. Aleister Crowley wrote in Book 4 that, “the majority of the people in this world are ataxic; they cannot coordinate their mental muscles to make a proposed movement. They have no real will, only a set of wishes, many of which contradict others. The victim wobbles from one to the other... and at the end of life the movements cancel each other out. Nothing has been achieved...” This is exactly the kind of mild-as-milk bourgeoisie mentality that Exit was created to combat. This is not your garden variety self-indulgent nihilism of your ordinary radical propaganda rag for rebellious teenagers, ineffectual and purposeless. This is a magazine that steadfastly rejects any attempt to put a damper on the potency of the human spirit, the Great Blond Breast that is screaming to get out. The Exit weltanschaunng is simple and direct. They live in a land where might makes right, where vigilante justice rules and only the fittest survive, with no thought for morality or sentiment. It is brutal and cutthroat, a place where strength is rewarded and weakness is crushed. Minderwertigen (beings of inferior value) are eliminated swiftly before their pestilence is allowed to spread. Exit has been accused of being sympathetic to the Third Reich, a charge evidenced by their liberal use of the crooked cross and the terrible likeness of der führer’s mustached face. Indeed they are Nazi-like in their use of occult symbolism as a means to an end, a subliminal strike at the delicate psyche of the unsuspecting reader with images and ideas they are scarcely prepared for. They use disturbing words and pictures to shock you awake into the light of day, exposing human beings for the mechanistic automatons and insatiable animals we are at core while at the same time proclaiming our enormous potential to become more than human. As Nietzsche therein is quoted as saying, “Man is something to be surpassed.”

Exit relied upon a number of patented formulas for communicating its message of truth and hate, which Editor George Petros describes in the introduction, the first of which is “Serial Art”, using “time lines, graphs and diagrams to show changes and processes and the flow of situations.” This accounts for many of the more clever and educational bits in this ten-year compendium. Petros himself was responsible for many of these, along with his “co-conspirator”, Adam Parfrey, including “A Graphic Survey of Science” and “A History of Astronomy”, summarizing the life span of scientific endeavor from its beginning to modern times, and a little bit beyond. Art is also used for education in Petros’ “My Role in the History of War”, apparently from the point of view of Lucifer, for he introduces himself, “I am a star who has been thrown down into the world of things and power.” Adam Parfrey utilizes graphic models from the 1950s high school textbooks for his serial social commentaries “Action” and “What is Democracy?” (sample answers: “Justice by Numbers”, “Overpopulation”, “liberal bourgeoisie” and “rampant pedastry.”) David Paul uses the serial method for his retrospective look at the “Electro-Magnetic Spectrum”, and for his horrific fantasy entitled “New Animals”, illustrating the evolution of computer technology from vacuum tubes and information theory to artificial intelligence, cybourgs and self-replicating machines. Robert N. Taylor uses a similar method for his fascinating and instructive “A History of Pi” and “The Swastika, Sacred and Profane”, showing you every permutation of this symbol in the known universe. It is perhaps also possible to classify as serial art, “Creating and Destroying”, by Robert Luther 267, which is an interesting trip through the mind of God during the Big Bang, a God who says “I create you because I love you. I destroy you because you are imperfect.” Throughout each of these pieces, science is held up as the greatest example of human achievement and at the same time one of the greatest threats to our well-being when put into the hands of those with no understanding. This idea is certainly communicated in a number of almost-convincing fake New York Times front pages with headlines like “Meteor Storm Ravages Europe”, and “Soviets Find Evidence of Life on Mars”, which get more and more ridiculous as you progress through the book.

The other patented method used, according to Petros in the introduction, is “Propagandart”, which, as he describes, “utilizes principles of advertising and propaganda to manipulate emotions and play with opinions.” This is the style that is most abundantly used throughout the magazine. Sex, Satan and Social Darwinism are sold through arresting drawings, collages and words that scream out at you from the page. Images of Hitler, Himmler, Manson, the Swastika, dead bodies, naked women and foul language are sprinkled about casually like bacon bits on top of a tossed salad. For instance, Adam Parfrey’s “Book of Charlie” is an illustrated essay on Charles Manson in which Hitler is juxtaposed with the Beatles, along with a disclaimer that says, “It is not my intention here to impugn the spirit of Hitler and Manson by placing them in the same room as those vulgar simpletons known as “The Beatles”, but it is difficult to dismiss the historical importance of the harbingers of Helter Skelter.” Hitler’s shining face is also used in Parfrey’s “The Virtue That Makes Small”, containing graphically attended quotations from Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra, and Manson’s wild-eyed stare is co-opted for Boyd Rice’s “Love Opened My eyes”, comparing the words of Charles Mason to those of the esteemed composer, Richard Wagner. Blatant anti-Semitism is expressed in the cartoon “Read the Contact”, by Raymond Pettibon, which shows the profiled silhouettes of big-nosed, swarthy-looking men saying things like “All my multiple personalities are Communist”, “I hate the American side of me”, “The niggers are uprising”, and “We’ve got the goods on Hoover.” A similar attitude is expressed in Jim Blanchard’s surrealist “The Execution of Carl Jung”, which shows the famous psychologist testifying at the Nuremberg Trials for Crimes Against Humanity while tripping on LSD, beautifully and psychedelically illustrated. Finally, Michael Andros contributes two well-done collages attacking the ethics and bad habits of hippies, one titles “For the Fits of Children”, and another called “They Made it Bad”, about how the drug culture was ruined by hedonism, excess and licentiousness, “pop psychology, pseudo-occultism and egocentric propaganda”, calling Peace “the psychedelic sellout” and Love “a dis-ease of the bourgeoisie.”

If nothing else attracts you to The Exit Collection, it will be the long list of familiar names attached to it, a veritable Cannonball Run cast of underground celebrity cameos. Artist Kim Seltzer contributes erotic and avant-garde cartoons that explore esoteric themes through the use of occult symbols, extracted from the tarot and the Tree of Life, with characters that look like they are caught mid-way through a transformation between man and beast, or man and The Next Step. At the end she gives us Part One of a three-part series called “Nazion”, which theorizes about a union between Nazism and Zionism, with the motto: “The best thing about a race war is that both sides are right.” David Ouimet’s “Good Heads” gruesomely depicts the true story of cannibal killer Edmund Kemper III, including very disgusting moments of decapitation, disembowellment and necrophilia. Joe Coleman’s “The Dance of Death” is just what you’d expect from him: pictures of ugly people with decaying bodies captioned by quotations from the Old Testament. Mark Mothersbaugh from Devo gives us “The Dangers of the Liberal Mind”, a series of postcards with a not-quite-decipherable message about the nature of consensus reality. And towards the back of the book you will find illustrated Nietzsche and Mason quotes from people like Jim Thirwell, Nicholas Schreck, Zeena LaVey, Peter Gilmore, Steven Cerio, John Aes-Nihil, H.R. Giger, Eva O, Genesis P-Orridge, James Mason, Timothy Patrick Butler, Henry Lucas, Richard Ramirez, Liers in Wait, Cop Shoot Cop, Killing Joke, Michael Moynihan and Marilyn Manson.

For the more literary-minded among us, Exit published a number of well-researched essays on obscure topics, and I applaud them for their daring use of large amounts of text and very small type, especially on paper that is nine inches wide and twelve inches in length. In “Take This and Eat, This is My Body, Which will be Given Up for You”, by Salvator Canzonieri, the history of human cannibalism is explored, in which the author points out that in ancient times people have entertained “a magical belief that eating living creatures was a way to absorb their inherent qualities.” He then theorizes that humans may have evolved from apes who ate the brains of other apes, thereby causing their own brains to grow in size. In “I am Proud of Belonging to the Cultivated and of No Longer Being a Wild Man”, the same author remarks of slavery that “some individuals preferred their situation to ‘freedom’”, and that it could “well become the humanitarian thing to do, being the most practical way to care for the billions of destitute left to come.” An even more shocking report comes from author Robert Luther 267, called “Altered People, Cultivated Monsters, Sex Machines: The Ultimate Expression of Teratological Art.” This one contains stomach-churning descriptions about how human begins have altered the bodies of either themselves or others for various cultural reasons over the years. Most difficult to handle are the adventures of the Comprachios, a band of Spanish pirates from the 18th Century who used to kidnap children and make them into a “mermaid” or a “cyclops” using not-so-sophisticated surgical techniques, such as grafting the legs together or boring a hole through the skull between the victim’s eyes. Elsewhere, in China, Siamese Twins were artificially made and sometimes “joined in such a way that they could be made to fuck each other.” They also created “wax people” by raising them from birth with no exposure to light and feeding them only fat. “Over time”, writes the author, “their skin became almost transparent.”

One of the most interesting articles in the book is Adam Parfrey’s “Eugenics: The Orphaned Science”, about the short-lived history of this much-maligned endeavor for “the practical application of genetic theory to strengthen the genetic material of the human species (positive eugenics) or eliminate genetic dross (negative eugenics.) The article contains quotations on the subject from people like Thomas Malthus, Charles Darwin, Madison Grant, Bertrand Russell, and Sir Francis Galston, who states that, “If a twentieth of the costs and pains were spent in measures for the improvement of the human race that is spent on the improvement of the breed of horses and cattle, what a galaxy of genius we might not create.” As is this expression of thoughtcrime is not incendiary enough, the people at Exit also published a guide to terrorism which instructs you in the use of cyanide, nitroglycerin, ammonium nitrate, napalm, and other fun stuff, as well as an anonymous treatise “On Starting a Race War.” Alas, the only frank discussion of spirituality only comes at the very end with an essay called “L(aw) S(cience) D(isorder)”, by Carlo McCormick, and the response by Spider called “The Dark Age of Holism; or The Hole Age of Darkism”, both exploring the relationships between modern physics and our current spiritual crisis.

It is doubtful that Exit will survive the book burnings of the next totalitarian regime, for it will end up like all revolutionary mouthpieces - betrayed by the revolution it sought to bring about. George Petros will end up hanged and quartered in a public spectacle, feeding the frenzy of populist hysteria that will no doubt be sweeping the nation in an effort to eradicate individualism. Renegade art and literature that is so brazenly proud and life-affirming will never get past the Ministry of Truth whose job it is to eradicate the will to power in a freethinking man. But there is hope. In those days, if just one copy of Exit manages to survive, it will provide for its reader what exits are supposed to provide in such crisis situations: a way out.

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