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Cold Reading
January 21, 2011 1:56 PM   Subscribe

Cold Reading - A rationalist ghost story by Alan Moore.
posted by Artw (50 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
he he.
posted by leotrotsky at 2:11 PM on January 21, 2011


I saw the ending coming a long way off. But still enjoyed it.
posted by caution live frogs at 2:27 PM on January 21, 2011


I"m actually confused by what happened. Someone please explain, thanks.
posted by empath at 2:34 PM on January 21, 2011


Don't explain til I'm done with it damn ye!
posted by Mister_A at 2:37 PM on January 21, 2011


Huh. I liked it up to the ending...the plot seemed to crash to a halt there.

A much older rationalist ghost story: H. G. Wells' "The Red Room."
posted by thomas j wise at 2:47 PM on January 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


It was over in a second when I realised it was just a garden spider come indoors out of the cold, what had been camouflaged against the dark bits of the photo

"What had been camouflaged..."? WHAT had been camouflaged? Is this Alan Moore channelling Ernie Wise? Jesus, I don't think I can read any further after that.
posted by Decani at 2:50 PM on January 21, 2011


Okay, he's in character. I get it. God, I'm so impatient sometimes.
posted by Decani at 2:55 PM on January 21, 2011


I"m actually confused by what happened. Someone please explain, thanks.

SPOILER:

As far as I can tell, he was visited by the wrong brother. That's why it's so cold in the house, and it's the reason for the line about the childhood incident with the Fanta. If you read back through, much of the brother's dialogue reads two ways ("But then, you know that already. Mr. Sullivan, to think that you could bring up a beloved childhood pet like that...you’re truly unbelievable. If I had any doubts about what kind of man you were before I came to see you, they’re all gone.")

"If either of us were in any trouble or had someone picking on them, then the other would be on it like a ton of bricks"... oops.
posted by vorfeed at 3:01 PM on January 21, 2011


okay, well that was my interpretation as well, and I read it that way all along, but then it's not really rationalist then.
posted by empath at 3:15 PM on January 21, 2011


MORE SPOILER:

Yeah. Colour me confused. Not getting the Fanta reference at all. So this guy asked him a question his dad asked him when he was a kid? Huh? Perhaps I'm being dim. Unless... when his dad asked him that question it was after seeing the....double reflection in the window! And this guy is the double of his brother! And he's.... a real ghost!

Oh, Mr. Moore, that was quite crafty. Possibly.
posted by Decani at 3:16 PM on January 21, 2011


then it's not really rationalist then

Agreed, but that's how it reads. If anyone has a rationalist reading of this, I'd love to hear it.
posted by vorfeed at 3:22 PM on January 21, 2011


SPOOO-OOOO-KY SPOILERS

Decani, I think it's simpler than that -- the ghost is just pulling the medium's own trick on him by saying something he (the ghost) would need knowledge of a dead loved one to understand. Presumably, however, the ghost gleans this knowledge because ghosts can read the minds of the living, or because all the ghosts hang out someplace together and swap stories about the times they traumatized their children or, you know, something along those lines.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 3:51 PM on January 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I thought it was a pun. The vengeful apparition is the rationalist, not the story itself. A specter of Dawkins-quoting physics pedagogy avenging itself on an (until the last beat) unapologetic cold reader is thus a "rationalist-ghost" story.
posted by kid ichorous at 3:53 PM on January 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Or it's actually Ghost Dad. Or he's MAD. Or he's been dead all along.
posted by Artw at 3:53 PM on January 21, 2011


On second thought, perhaps it's "rationalist" not because it's remotely rational, but because it's so blatantly one-sided. A ghost story for "rationalists", if there could be such a thing, rather than a ghost story which is rationalist.

To Serve Man, etc.

Or it's actually Ghost Dad. Or he's MAD. Or he's been dead all along.

Fuck, he's Bruce Willis, isn't he? Isn't he?!
posted by vorfeed at 3:55 PM on January 21, 2011


One of the people in this thread is actually the devil.
posted by Artw at 3:56 PM on January 21, 2011


hi
posted by kittens for breakfast at 3:57 PM on January 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Good story!
posted by limeonaire at 4:01 PM on January 21, 2011


I'm trying to think of a clever comment but all I'm coming up with so far is 'squeee!'

Thanks for posting this.
posted by motty at 4:03 PM on January 21, 2011


Of course, the best thing about it is that it's not in fucking caveman speak.
posted by Artw at 4:05 PM on January 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


MORE SPOILERS

Anyway, you couldn't really have this story and not have a ghost in it. I mean, unless at the end the medium rips off the ghost's mask and discovers it was actually mean old Mr. Crabgrass trying to scare everyone away from the Space Needle or whatever. I'd love to read a ghost story without an actual ghost that somehow wasn't incredibly disappointing, but it's hard to imagine one...which is probably the biggest part of why people like our antihero exist.

(Really, though, if you think you can do it, go for it. I'm fighting hard enough with the story I'm supposed to be writing that I'm almost...yeah, no, I'm not; not really.)
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:18 PM on January 21, 2011


It was all just a fluctuation in base level cosmic background weirdness. Or a dream.
posted by Artw at 4:19 PM on January 21, 2011


unless at the end the medium rips off the ghost's mask and discovers it was actually mean old Mr. Crabgrass trying to scare everyone away from the Space Needle or whatever.

Oh, there is so much I could say about how Scooby Doo cartoons like to have it both ways and contain so much stuff that cannot be rationally explained which they then just handwave away with the rubber mask thing.
posted by Artw at 4:22 PM on January 21, 2011


If only Scooby Doo cartoons ended with the bad guy getting eaten by real Deep Ones or whatever and the kids leave when the mystery just solves itself and stops happening.
posted by GuyZero at 4:27 PM on January 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


It was all just a fluctuation in base level cosmic background weirdness. Or a dream.

Oh, man, have you ever seen the Dr. Thirteen stories from the '70s? Dr. Thirteen is a skeptic who investigates all these supposedly supernatural happenings and discovers they're all hoaxes perpetrated by thieving murderers and stuff. This works for the first few episodes, but the stories have to get increasingly elaborate so as not to be completely repetitive, until eventually you have murders that seem to be committed by ghosts but are actually the doing of an invisible space alien, which Dr. Thirteen somehow vanquishes. And then without any evident irony declares it another triumph for science and rationality...because he knew it was space aliens all along. Not ghosts! Because that would be ridiculous! Because he exists in the same universe as superheroes like, I dunno, Zatanna and the Demon, he comes across as kind of the one-man Flat Earth Society of the DCU, which -- while I don't think it was the creators' intent -- is kind of awesome.

Oh, there is so much I could say about how Scooby Doo cartoons like to have it both ways and contain so much stuff that cannot be rationally explained which they then just handwave away with the rubber mask thing.

I watched every episode convinced this would be the week the monster would be real. I'm not kidding. The one that still kills me is the ep where the girl turns into a vampire and is chasing the gang around trying to bite them. She was hypnotized! Into believing she was a blood-thirsty vampire. Even at the age of six, I knew that was some bullshit.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:32 PM on January 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure why they labeled it a "rationalist ghost story", either, unless it's because [SPOILERZ AHOY] Dennis was a rationalist with his rantings against quacks and frauds, and is angry at Ricky because he's a fake; even though there quite obviously really are ghosts (well, at least one), Ricky isn't talking to them.

Quite a nice little find, Artw. I recently picked up a few issues of Dodgem Logic, but not this one.
posted by Halloween Jack at 4:33 PM on January 21, 2011


kittens for breakfast: have you read Doctor 13: Architecture and Morality? It has the Doc, his daughter (Traci 13), and some of the more ridiculous DC comics characters battling some DC comics writers (Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, and Mark Waid) for the right to exist.
posted by Halloween Jack at 4:41 PM on January 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Am I the only one who was irritated that the technique the main character uses is in fact hot reading, not cold reading? Hot readers research their target, cold readers take advantage or their target's natural incredulousness and lack of understanding of probability to make educated guesses.
posted by PercyByssheShelley at 4:42 PM on January 21, 2011


kittens for breakfast: have you read Doctor 13: Architecture and Morality? It has the Doc, his daughter (Traci 13), and some of the more ridiculous DC comics characters battling some DC comics writers (Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, and Mark Waid) for the right to exist.

There is no part of that description I do not like, and I will obtain this book at once.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:44 PM on January 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh, that was delightful.
posted by Catblack at 4:48 PM on January 21, 2011


Anyway, you couldn't really have this story and not have a ghost in it. I mean, unless at the end the medium rips off the ghost's mask and discovers it was actually mean old Mr. Crabgrass trying to scare everyone away from the Space Needle or whatever.

Sure you could. Someone's coming down the stairs. They're coming down the stairs! It's... it's...

Both brothers, neither of which is actually dead, along with Channel 3's Fraud Busters. This week's report sponsored by Fanta!
posted by vorfeed at 4:57 PM on January 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'd love to read a ghost story without an actual ghost that somehow wasn't incredibly disappointing, but it's hard to imagine one

I thought Ringu did this pretty well. The early movie does play out as a classical ghost story - a lost child to be found, an improper burial to be set right, and so on - but it's all just the windup to categorical error. The ring (of the book and the first movie, at least) is not a girl who wants to be found, but a rumor that wants to be duplicated. Unlike a ghost its motivations are not human, ritual, or divine, but viral; its only business with humans is that it needs them to reproduce. I think its closest horror analogue is the xenomorph of Alien.
posted by kid ichorous at 5:03 PM on January 21, 2011


"Don't you wanta, wanta phantom?"
posted by Eideteker at 5:04 PM on January 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Over the last few years, I've realised Scooby Doo is all about helping children deal with fear. The monsters could fly, split in half and recombine, or whatever you like, but it's the rubber mask that reassures kids it's OK and wasn't real and that there isn't any real "monster".

It's a safe, scary ride; there's no way that little kids could tolerate watching a horrible creature chase Scooby Doo and Shaggy around in the dark without the ultimate revelation of the rubber mask, prat falls and musical numbers not withstanding.
posted by stinkycheese at 5:51 PM on January 21, 2011


Very good. "I'm sorry, but" has become the cloak of the British cockweasel in recent years, and Moore's lampooning of it here more than justifies the reading time. The ghost story is pretty good too. It is just a ghost story, in the end, but with some sinister implications.

I think the repetition of inaccurate duplicates is what is discomforting. The double in the window, the child mimicking the dead father to the mother, the twins who may or may not exist, the repetition of the "Fanta" line. It's a nicely creepy piece of work.
posted by howfar at 5:55 PM on January 21, 2011


Halloween Jack - Would you reccommend the mag?
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 7:02 PM on January 21, 2011


Am I the only one who was irritated that the technique the main character uses is in fact hot reading, not cold reading?

A fair point, though on the other hand I can really imagine the guy telling himself he's an awesome cold reader while actually cheating like mad at it.
posted by Artw at 7:27 PM on January 21, 2011


Would you reccommend the mag?

From the issues I've read, it's great. Crackling with energy. Seem to get at least one new Moore piece each issue, a dose of askew journalism of some sort and interesting notorious writers like Josie Long and Stuart Lee. The production is a bit hit and miss, but I think that's to be expected in a fairly low-budget, collaborative project.
posted by howfar at 7:44 PM on January 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


This works for the first few episodes, but the stories have to get increasingly elaborate so as not to be completely repetitive, until eventually you have murders that seem to be committed by ghosts but are actually the doing of an invisible space alien,

like LOST?
posted by iamck at 7:44 PM on January 21, 2011


Would you recommend the mag?

If you're a hardcore Alan Moore fanboy and like his nonfiction essays, or enjoy the work of Melinda Gebbie and/or Kevin O'Neill, and/or have an interest in underground and quasi-underground publications in general, then by all means yes. Potential drawbacks include some amateurishness (particularly in some of the cartoonists, in the same way that Weirdo used to feature some stunning work by R. Crumb and Peter Bagge alongside that of cartoonists who really couldn't draw), idiosyncratic design that makes some of the text difficult to read (there's an essay on undergrounds by Moore in the first issue that suffers from that problem), and some strictly Northampton-specific things. I've got issues 1, 3, and 4, and each of them has a nifty insert: 1 a CD of local music, 3 a gorgeous iron-on T-shirt transfer by Gebbie, and 4 a poster. It's marked "for adults only", and in particular the cartoons by O'Neill have some of the most bizarre porn illustrations that you'll ever lay eyeballs on. Heady stuff, to be ingested in small portions.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:48 PM on January 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


I should also note that I got my copies from the awesome Chicago Comics, which has several issues. Some of them had either had their shrinkwrap removed or hadn't had it in the first place, and therefore may have been missing their inserts, but I probably would have bought them anyway if I could have afforded it at the time (they were going for $6-8 per copy; the 'zine hasn't been officially published in the U.S.).
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:56 PM on January 21, 2011


Alan Moore? The Magician (faith, not performing art) Alan Moore?

Not very rationalist at all, there at the end, especially considering that you make your own gods (and by extension, devils) as a Magician.

That said, I want women in micro-dresses and thigh-high wraparound sandals to be MY representatives of the World Beside.

Do-you-wanna-wanna a Fanta-Fanta!
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:20 PM on January 21, 2011


kid ichorous: "I thought it was a pun. The vengeful apparition is the rationalist, not the story itself. A specter of Dawkins-quoting physics pedagogy avenging itself on an (until the last beat) unapologetic cold reader is thus a "rationalist-ghost" story."

Clever catch! That makes a lot more sense -- it's not a ghost story that is rationalist, but a story about a rationalist ghost. A nice use of syntactic ambiguity.
posted by Rhaomi at 9:41 PM on January 21, 2011


Am I the only one who was irritated that the technique the main character uses is in fact hot reading, not cold reading?

I took that to be tongue in cheek humor on Moore's part. After all, the one being read or played here is not who you expect. In fact, you could say the cold reader is so cold, they're cold and buried in the ground.
posted by everyday_naturalist at 10:13 PM on January 21, 2011


kittens for breakfast : "I'd love to read a ghost story without an actual ghost that somehow wasn't incredibly disappointing, but it's hard to imagine one."

There's a play called The Houdini Exposure by Little Earthquake has a subplot that involves a British, C-list celebrity "psychic" in the Colin Fry mould who is horrified to discover, after years of bogus claims, that the dead are actually speaking to him. Over the course of the play, he tries to atone for his years of fraud, but the voices keep getting louder.

Had he not spent his life cynically exploiting the bereaved ur jbhyq unir erpbtavfrq gur cunagbz ibvprf sbe jung gurl jrer naq pbhyq unir tbg uryc sbe gur ghzbhe juvyr vg jnf fgvyy bcrenoyr.

The version I watched was an early draft and not well served by the amount of doubling within the cast, but the dark little morality tale of the TV psychic was a tautly written gem in an otherwise woolly play.
posted by the latin mouse at 7:23 AM on January 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Artw: "One of the people in this thread is actually the devil"

I am not.

I don't exist.

Really.
posted by Samizdata at 9:05 AM on January 22, 2011


I thought it was a pun. The vengeful apparition is the rationalist, not the story itself. A specter of Dawkins-quoting physics pedagogy avenging itself on an (until the last beat) unapologetic cold reader is thus a "rationalist-ghost" story.

and, more to the point

"Don't you wanta, wanta phantom?"

Moore seems to be extremely fond of punning anymore, doesn't he? I dunno how many of you are reading Neonomicon, but

CYCLOPEAN SHIBBOLETHS OF NEONOMICON SPOILERAGE

it seems as though he's having a whole lot of fun with slurred speech/invented languages there (that last part being, of course, to be expected when one does a Lovecraft homage). I've got this feeling there's a key to decoding the Aklo that would completely demystify the whole thing if you could only figure out what that was (I'm thinking here of the statement of Randolph Carter at the top of #3), and more to the point I have a feeling there's some elaborate punnery happening there I'm just missing. It's a little easier to decode when you're talking about the slurred speech of Carcosa and the Deep One, however. This baffling exchange between Merrill and Carcosa...

"What thith ith, ith you're a nun, thee, athian Merry?" "I...I'm not Asian. And nobody's called me 'Merry' since I was at school."

becomes, with a little work, Merrill's misunderstanding of:

"What this is, is your annunciation, Mary."

Which, given what's happening in the book, is kinda, uh-oh. And on a related note, we have the Deep One, um, engaging in water sports with Merrill, and then concluding, "Rrurrl-yurr...Rrurrl-yurr!" which is both obviously "R'Lyeh" and "realer"...which in some oblique way seems to tie in with all the breaking-the-fourth-wall stuff going on in the book. All the characters who have been infected (for lack of a better term) with the Aklo seem to be able to see around (or stand outside) the context of the book, making them kind of metafictional constructs and therefore "more real" than the characters who are confined to mundane perceptions and limitations. So the Deep One is both realizing, I think, that Merrill's expecting a little Cthulhu (hence, R'Lyeh is inside her; or, as he says later on, "you're R'Lyeh"), and that she's somehow outside of the standard context of things, a la Sax and Randolph Carter ("you're realer").

All of which I say to say, Alan Moore is a huge nerd, and apparently I am a bigger nerd for putting this much thought into all this. I'm still not as bad as the guy with the video, though.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 10:23 AM on January 22, 2011


(I should note I'm not the only person to have pieced this stuff together...the decoding of Carcosa's dialogue I've seen a few places now. Hence, I'd say this isn't all totally obscure, but OH DEAR GOD WHY AM I STILL TALKING WHY ISN'T #4 OUT YET IA IA DHO-NA X'E X'XHULHXE IA IA!!)
posted by kittens for breakfast at 10:31 AM on January 22, 2011


Shit, I haven't even seen #3 anywhere.

I'm a little afraid of it, TBH.
posted by Artw at 10:36 AM on January 22, 2011


It's less disturbing than #2, but most things are.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 10:40 AM on January 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


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