Paranoia is a heightened state of awareness
October 9, 2008 8:07 PM   Subscribe

The fringes of knowledge Amok publishers specializes in collecting the finest of esoterica. Back before the Internet had everything, people with deviant tastes would have to rely on mail order catalogs such as Amok. It has published a compendium of bizarre books known as Dispatches since the 80s.

I managed to bump into this book at the University library. I also wasted half a day savoring the ridiculous annotations and drawings. Here are some reviews that hype it:

"The Amok catalog is required reading for all information junkies, mutants, lunatics and anybody else interested in exploring worlds and ideas never seen... A side effect of reading the Amok catalog is that it could make you reconsider the very nature of imagination, freedom and possibility." – San Francisco Chronicle

"Amok is the research guide to all the sordid thoughts you'd never discuss at lunch... the index of all that we hold obscure, perverse, and dear." – Esquire

"You think you're postmodern. You give to your local National Public Radio station. You write letters on behalf of prisoners of conscience. Jesse Helms makes your knee go into involuntary spasms. You are primed for First Amendment battles and believe you stand squarely on the side of the purists. Until you start to leaf through the Amok Fourth Dispatch." – Publisher's Weekly

"The benchmark sourcebook on deviant literature." – Vanity Fair

"An impressive collection, absolutely definitive in many ways – one can almost say that there's no need to read anything that isn't in this catalogue." – J. G. Ballard

"A reading list from Hell that is a must for any serious oddball bibliophile." – John Waters
posted by bodywithoutorgans (26 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Their conspiracy book link is 404.

Of course.
posted by longsleeves at 8:25 PM on October 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

This post isn't Pepsi Blue. It's like Moxie Squant that's sat untouched since the days of OK Cola.
posted by eschatfische at 8:28 PM on October 9, 2008 [2 favorites]

Ah yes, Amok, without whom the 1980s truly would have been that godawaful parade of bad fashion, bad hairstyles, bad music, bad movies that current POP culture seems to think it was.

The RE/Search catalogue is also worth a look if you want to really know what was going down in and around the fringes. WARNING: no Thompson Twins, Flock of Seagulls or Wang Chung.
posted by philip-random at 8:35 PM on October 9, 2008

Didn't they have a bookstore in Los Feliz in the mid 90's? I think I went a few times.
posted by jfrancis at 8:37 PM on October 9, 2008

There's a guy sells these (and a crapload of old paperbacks) from his garage down the street every Saturday. Apparently he used to work for Amok. I've been trading a fiver for weird science fiction covers every once in a while; maybe I oughta pick up one of those zines.
posted by carsonb at 8:38 PM on October 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

Alternatively titled Amok Fifth Dispatch: Stuff You Probably Shouldn't Pay For With a Credit Card.
posted by Roman Graves at 8:42 PM on October 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

I have the fourth dispatch lying around somewhere. It is really, really excellent. The one drawback is I bought it used and it smells kind of funny.
posted by one_bean at 8:50 PM on October 9, 2008

See also the Loompanics catalog ("hard to find, controversial, unusual books") -- click on the categories on the left. (Previously, with a mention of Amok, as well.)
posted by vitia at 8:53 PM on October 9, 2008

I cherish my Fifth Dispatch! I bought it from the store in Los Feliz; I had lusted after their "dispatches" for a long time, after many years of hearing about them in 'zines.
posted by Asbestos McPinto at 8:58 PM on October 9, 2008

I love AMOK. Back when it took some effort to appreciate or partake in transgressive action the catalog was required reading. Anyhow good post. Amazed Amok hasn't come up here before. But glad it did. The internets are so over, books are where it's at. Except for this post of course.

and Metafilter.
posted by Skygazer at 9:43 PM on October 9, 2008

AMOK Journal Sensurround Edition is made of delight and wonder. Infrasound, lycanthropy, and autoerotic asphyxiation, oh my...
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:46 PM on October 9, 2008

This is great. Thanks for posting.
posted by homunculus at 11:55 PM on October 9, 2008

The first Amok bookstore was in the Silverlake district. I remember going in and digging it, already having been a huge Loompanics fan. Soon I was on the phone to Stuart Swezey, talking about weird forensic science stuff. I had written an article for Loompanics on autoerotic asphyxia, and we hit it off well.

Stuart and Jon Reiss stayed with me when SRL performed here in Seattle in about 1990. I've got a photo of Mike Hoy and Stuart Swezey, but I don't have it handy to scan and upload.

The last time I saw Stuart was when he and Jon Reiss were in Seattle promoting Better Living through Circuitry.

Amok and Loompanics represented some of the best databases of extreme weirdness before the Internet became king.
posted by Tube at 1:31 AM on October 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Remember that strange looking woman with the crazed look on one of their covers. She had me going.
posted by doctorschlock at 4:41 AM on October 10, 2008

Is Loompanics still in business? Last I heard, the proprietor was retiring.
posted by localroger at 5:28 AM on October 10, 2008

Amok: for hipsters who know that they'll never be able to afford a John Wayne Gacy clown painting.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:21 AM on October 10, 2008

Wow, I hadn't thought of Amok in years! Great post.
posted by malocchio at 7:58 AM on October 10, 2008

Is Loompanics still in business? Last I heard, the proprietor was retiring.

Afraid so. How curious, though, that Amazon would kill Loopanics but not Amok, even though the latter apparently still only takes orders via snail mail.
I used to order from both catalogs way back when, and as memory serves, Loompanics was a lot more reliable than Amok both in terms of product availability and speed of service. The latter's catalog was all kinds of win, though, and I did score a gorgeous art book on NSK/Laibach from them.
posted by The Ardship of Cambry at 8:25 AM on October 10, 2008

The Amok 5th Dispatch was one of those watershed resources for my adolescence, a book that I picked up on a whim in 9th grade that totally revealed an entire new world of weirdness. It was literally life-changing- if I hadn't become mesmerized by the cover painting, I'd be a much different person today. I'm on my second copy now, a replacement picked up at New York's Alabaster Bookstore. At risk of chatfilter, what books, magazines, films, albums, etc. cracked open your world?
posted by 235w103 at 8:36 AM on October 10, 2008

I had the Fourth Dispatch, but I never ordered through it. I heard that they had few of the books in stock. Perhaps others know different?

Buying books through it seemed almost beside the point at the time: it was enough to know this material was "out there" (in several senses), leave it on your coffee table or in your bathroom or whatever in the hope of freaking out visitors. Later, I decided that it formed a canon of hipster arcana as conservative and predictable as the Norton Anthology of Literature - which is unfair to both collections, but you would see a lot of the same names circulating through RE/Search, Loompanics, Headpress, Variant and so on.

But what a document of nineties bookselling: anyone else remember seeing the Anarchist Cookbook in Waterstones?
posted by GeorgeBickham at 9:54 AM on October 10, 2008

I also used to go to the Amok bookstore in Silver Lake (it was on Hyperion just S of Sunset Blvd.) It was a great store... Timothy Leary would always drop in. There would be book signing events with Robert Anton Wilson and the RE/Search folks. Videos from Survival Research Labs. All heady stuff for the late 1980s. Heck, Amok was the first place I ever heard a Can record.

Amok later moved to Los Feliz and eventually changed it's name to Koma (Amok spelled backwards) when the retail Amok split off from the Amok publisher. Koma bounced around to different locations in downtown LA before going to web-only sales. They're still online at
posted by quartzcity at 12:07 PM on October 10, 2008

AMOK is simply wonderful.
posted by jason's_planet at 12:54 PM on October 10, 2008

235w103: This is my first post and I'm new to Metafilter but I couldn't resist compiling a list of things that cracked open my world. Most of this stuff would be filed under "Experimental". A lot of this is stuff off the top of my head without organization. I don't know what chatfilter is but hopefully this is topical:
Movies: The Holy Mountain, Begotten, Persona, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, Visitor Q, Blue Velvet
Music: Steve Reich-Music for 18 Musicians, Oval-94 Diskont, Ryoji Ikeda, Maryanne Amachar-Sound Characters, Bach via Glenn Gould-Goldberg Variations, Pygmy Music, Unit Structures-Cecil Taylor, I am sitting in a room- Alvin Lucier, Shri Camel-Terry Riley, Gesang der Jünglinge-Stockhausen, St. Luke Passion-Pendercki,
Literature: Maldoror-Comte Lautreamont, Hopscotch-Julio Cortozar, Lolita-Nabokov, Godel Escher Bach-Hofstadter,Knots-R.D. Laing, Anatomy of Melancholy-Robert Burton, House of Leaves-Mark Danielewski, American Psycho-Brent Ellis
Philosophy: Ecrits-Lacan, Capitalism and Schizophrenia-Deleuze and Guattari (See handle), Capital-Marx, Empire-Negri and Hardt and other Italian Autonomist Marxist stuff, The Selfish Gene-Dawkins, Consciousness Explained (and other proponents of eliminative materialism)-Dennet, Churchland, et al., Cool Memories-Baudrillard, Beyond Good and Evil-Nietzsche, Against Method-Feyereabend, Understanding Power-Chomsky, Sublime Object of Ideology-Zizek
Math: Cantor's infinities (never intuitive), Godel's incompleteness theorem, algebraic topology (trying to understand, at a snail pace , what Grothendieck was up to!), counterexamples in topology(for pathological spaces)

and of course, LSD and the opposite sex!
posted by bodywithoutorgans at 1:01 PM on October 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

I was twitterpated enough by the Amok catalog to be photographed holding it.
posted by Tube at 5:12 PM on October 12, 2008

The Amok - Loompanics connection.
posted by Tube at 10:20 PM on October 12, 2008

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