Sylvia Browne in Two Worlds
Book Review: Fringe-ology, by Steve Volk

Paranormal Aesthetics

I'm halfway through Steve Volk's Fringe-ology, which is excellent (I'll review it here soon).

Outside the gates But something about the cover struck me. Then it came to me: I pulled down my copy of Damien Broderick's Outside the Gates of Science, which I reviewed here a couple of years ago and which in some ways is comparable to Volk's book. The covers are practically identical: an image of a bent teaspoon on a plain white background, and the print pushed to the margins.

Some possibilities:

  1. Blatant plagiarism - the designer was stuck for ideas, so nicked someone else's.

  2. Cryptomnesia - what seemed like an original idea was actually a memory of something previously seen.

  3. Pure coincidence.

(1) is vanishingly unlikely, as surely is (3), except perhaps to sceptics, who happily explain anything as coincidence. (2) can't be ruled out.

I favour a fourth explanation, which is that both designers arrived at the idea by the same creative process, ie: paranormal = Uri Geller = bent spoon.

The fact is, being so abstract the paranormal is desperately hard to illustrate. It's a real headache for cover designers. (I found the spoon motif on two other covers, Dean Radin's The Conscious Universe and James Alcock's Psi Wars, before I lost interest and stopped looking).

Extraordinary knowing

Is there an afterlife Another popular approach is the door to nowhere, usually on a sandy beach, as in Elizabeth Lloyd Mayer's Extraordinary Knowing, or a field, as in David Fontana's Is There an Afterlife. I dare say you could find half a dozen other examples after ten minutes in a New Age bookshop. (Debating Psychic Experience also has a door - see image on the left column)

Then there's the floating bald head, which I think is meant to denote an association with telepathy and other weird stuff that goes on in people's heads.

'Fuzzy and misty' is a popular gambit for conveying spookiness, used to quite good effect in Richard Wiseman's Paranormality.

That's about it.

Many books about the paranormal fall back on the photographs of nineteenth century seances, or those melodramatic line drawings that used to illustrate books about ghosts and weird happenings. Which is a pity, as it makes it look as though paranormal experience only ever happened a long time ago.

I had all this in mind when the question of what to put on the cover of Randi's Prize came up. Forget about trying to convey the idea of the paranormal, I suggested; since the book is about opposing arguments, why not think about the idea of 'controversy' instead. I thought that would be difficult too, since it's equally abstract. But I was pleased when the designer came up with the opposing hands, which I think expresses it rather well.

I do think publishers of books about paranormal experience should try a bit harder. It's such a live, fascinating topic, it deserves to be illustrated with more than sterile clichés.

The same sort of uniformity applies to paranormal websites. An unwritten law requires they must have a black background, and ideally a typeface in a murky brown or purple, to keep light to a minimum and make the text unreadable for anyone over 40.

As if the paranormal automatically equates with fear and darkness. It's time we stopped thinking about it like that, and aimed instead for clarity and light.


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Great post, Robert!

Just looked at my copy of Life After Life by Dr. Jim B.Tucker, and sure enough, it depicts a child opening a door leading to the sky.
Nice artwork, but surely a creative artist could find newer, more compelling ways to illustrate reincarnation.

I hadn't paid attention before, but you're right Robert, there does seem to be a lot of redundancy in paranormal literature covers.

(My copy of psi Wars has a bent gun on its cover but the latsest ed. of Wiseman's "Paranormality" also has the spoon and Birdgstock's "Beyond Belief: Skepticism, Science and the Paranormal" also has a bent spoon on its cover).

I think one of the most beautiful covers would be a human eye with a background of stars, representing the connection between human being and the universe, between mind and matter. Sure there are books with a similar cover but I can not think of any.

Philip K. Dick's

Eye in the Sky.

My favorite book of his -- albeit the only one I've read.

Off topic, but for those intellectually malnourished folks that don't follow Michael Prescott's blog, this link to a hilarious short skit by John Cleese is featured in his current post, courtesy of Greg @ The Daily Grail.

Make your day - Check it out:

Embeddable YouTube Version:

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