Friday, November 12, 2010

Camp Concentration by Thomas Disch

Kris says thinks this look like a painting
created by a damaged 13 year old 
The back cover has no description.

Avon Books. 1972 (second printing of that year). $1.50 cover price. 175 pages. 

Camp Concentration is written in the style of a journal—inside it are the thoughts and feelings of Louis Sacchetti, an overweight, self-loathing, lapsed Catholic poet who has been sentenced to a prison term for objecting to a war in which the United States is using 'germ warfare.’ If that sounds pretentious as shit, well, that's because it is.

After a few set-up paragraphs in a standard prison environment, Louis is transferred to camp Archimedes, a military compound in which an experiment is being conducted on AWOL soldiers and conscientious objectors. Prisoners are injected with  Pallidum, an incurable form of syphilis that ravages the brain and is eventually fatal, but grants the infected with a profoundly higher intelligence for the last months of their lives. General Haast, the man in charge of this experiment, is using the collected genius of the test subjects not for the military matters required for his funding, but to discover the secret of immortality via alchemy. Yeah, you read that right. 

The plot itself wouldn't be all that terrible if it wasn't in Sacchetti's whiny, often incomprehensible diary. Disch goes out of his way to throw in every dark and dreary literary reference he can muster (lots of Faust), which does nothing to further the story and often bogs it down, especially when the last two paragraphs are in fucking Latin or French. I am not opposed to literary/sci-fi crossovers, but Camp Concentration ends up being little more than a pretentious mess. Especially towards the end of the book, the artistry nearly becomes gibberish-

“The sin of death spares the sons of David. Hope is a swampland under a glouting sky. A prehistoric wilderness of island-nights. Hinges of cell-mud. Hell grows, joylessly, out of the testes of the dying.” (page 116)

Yeah, I know this is supposed to portray Sacchetti's descent into Pallidum madness, but it’s absolute garbage and nearly incomprehensible. I think you can tell that I didn't like Camp Concentration much. Also—glouting isn't a word, since glout is already an action (actually glout can turn into glouting, just like swim can be swimming. It’s a gerund. But it’s insane that he even used the word, it’s so archaic!- Kris). There are dozens of made up words in Camp Concentration, all of them very annoying, none of them necessary.

Interestingly enough this novel was chosen by Philip K Dick as fuel for his constant letters to the FBI.  Check out these lunatic rants to the bureau involving Neo-Nazi's and Disch's supposed involvement with them:

Letter #1
October 28, 1972

Federal Bureau of Investigation
Washington, D.C.


I am a well-known author of science fiction novels, one of which dealt with Nazi Germany (called MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE, it described an "alternate world" in which the Germans and Japanese won World War Two and jointly occupied the United States). This novel, published in 1962 by Putnam & Co., won the Hugo Award for Best Novel of the Year and hence was widely read both here and abroad; for example, a Japanese edition printed in Tokio ran into several editions. I bring this to your attention because several months ago I was approached by an individual who I have reason to believe belonged to a covert organization involving politics, illegal weapons, etc., who put great pressure on me to place coded information in future novels "to be read by the right people here and there," as he phrased it. I refused to do this.

The reason why I am contacting you about this now is that it now appears that other science fiction writers may have been so approached by other members of this obviously anti-American organization and may have yielded to the threats and deceitful statements such as were used on me. Therefore I would like to give you any and all information and help I can regarding this, and I ask that your nearest office contact me as soon as possible. I stress the urgency of this because within the last three days I have come across a well-distributed science fiction novel which contains in essence the vital material which this individual confronted me with as the basis for encoding. That novel is CAMP CONCENTRATION by Thomas Disch, which was published by Doubleday & Co.


Philip K. Dick
3028 Quartz Lane Apt. #2
Calif 92361.

P.S. I would like to add: what alarms me most is that this covert organization which approached me may be Neo-Nazi, although it did not identify itself as being such. My novels are extremely anti-Nazi. I heard only one code identification by this individual: Solarcon-6.
Letter #2
November 4, 1972

Inspector Shine
Marin County Sheriff's Office,
Marin County Civic Center,
San Rafael,
Calif 94903.

Dear Inspector Shine:

As you may recall, on or about November 17, 1971, my house at 707 Hacienda Way, Santa Venetia, was extensively robbed. The last time I talked to you, during February of this year, you informed me that you had broken the case; a man named Wade (Jerry Wade I believe) had been arrested with the Ruger .22 pistol of mine stolen during this robbery. I have been in Canada and now in Southern California and hence out of touch. Have any more of my possessions been recovered? Have there been any more arrests made? Do you have anything more you can tell me at this date?

While I was in Canada evidently my house was robbed again, during March of this year. I did not know this until what remained of my things arrived down here; my realtor, Mrs. Annie Reagan, had stored them, and at least one entire room of stuff is missing: the bedroom in which the control system of the burglar alarm was located, the one room not covered by the scanner. Obviously it was robbed by someone who intimately knew the layout of the alarm system and how to bypass it. I recall that Inspector Bridges thought that the November 17 robbery was an inside job, at least in part. I believe that this later robbery in March of this year proves it. Only two or three persons that I can recall knew the layout of the burglar alarm system. One was Harold Kinchen, who was under investigation by Airforce Intelligence at Hamilton Field at the time I left (Mr. Richard Bader was conducting the investigation; through Sergeant Keaton of Tiberon he asked me to come in and give testimony. It had to do with an attempt on the arsenal of the Airforce Intelligence people at Hamilton on I recall January first of this year). I have more reason to believe now than I did then that Kinchen and the secret extralegal organization to which he belonged were involved in both robberies of my house, although evidence seemed to point more toward Panthers such as Wade. I say this because this is Orange County where I live now, and I have come to know something about the rightwing paramilitary Minutemen illegal people here -- they tell me confidentially that from my description of events surrounding the November robbery of my house, the methods used, the activities of Harry Kinchen in particular, it sounds to them like their counterparts up there, and possibly even a neo-Nazi group. Recently I've obtained, by accident, new information about Kinchen's associates, and the neo-Nazi organization theory does seem reinforced. In this case, the November robbery was political in nature and more than a robbery. I have thought this for some time, but until now had less reason to be sure.

As to the motive of the assault I'm not sure at all. Possibly it had to do with my published novels, one of which dealt with Nazi Germany -- it was extremely anti-Nazi, and widely circulated. I know for a fact that Harry Kinchen and the Japanese relatives he had through his wife Susan had read it. Kinchen's Japanese-born mother-in-law, Mrs. Toni Adams, had read the novel in the Japanese edition. Beyond any doubt, Kinchen is an ardent Nazi trained in such skill as weapons-use, explosives, wire-tapping, chemistry, psychology, toxins and poisons, electronics, auto repair, sabotage, the manufacture of narcotics. Mr. Bader is of course aware of this. What I did not pass on to anyone, because I feared for my life, is the fact that Kinchen put coercive pressure, both physical and psychological, on me to put secret coded information into my future published writings, "to be read by the right people here and there," as he put it, meaning members of his subversive organization. As I told you in November, he accidently responded to a phonecall from me with a code signal. Later, he admitted belonging to a secret "worldwide" organization and told me some details.

The coded information which Kinchen wished placed in my novels (I of course refused, and fled to Canada) had to do with an alleged new strain of syphilis sweeping the U.S., kept topsecret by the U.S. authorities; it can't be cured, destroys the brain, and is swift-acting. The disease, Kinchen claimed, is being brought in deliberately from Asia by agents of the enemy (unspecified), and is in fact a weapon of World War Three, which has begun, being used against us.

In a recent confidential discussion which I had with my Paris editor, a close friend of mine, this editor ratified my conviction that to allow this coded "information," undoubtedly spurious, to get into print, would be a disaster for this country. These neo-nazis or whatever they are would "break" their own code and make public this phony information, thus creating mass hysteria and panic. There is, of course, no such new untreatable paresis, despite rumors we have been hearing from Servicemen returning from Viet Nam. I have contacted the F.B.I. on the advice of my editor-publisher friend, but I felt I should contact you, too. You may wish to pass this information about the coded information in novels onto Mr. Bader.

I will hope, then, to hear from you. Thank you.


Philip K. Dick
3028 Quartz Lane #3
Calif 92361.

P.S. Harold Kinchen introduced me to only one individual, who asked me to write for his underground pornographic publications; I refused. By accident I recently learned that this man, "Doc" Stanley, of Corte Madera, "was a student of the speeches of Hitler during his college days at the University of Chicago, advocating their doctrines and reading them to people." Neither Stanley nor Kinchen mentioned this to me.

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