Asylum Arcanum is a ruthless, disturbing glimpse into the scarred history of insane asylums. The book itself is heavy and informative, despite several grammatical errors. Photographs document the rise and demise of “Kirkbride” asylums. These asylums were infamous for such practices as lobotomies, electroshock therapy, and forced sterilizations. The book offers some insight into the doctors who instigated such notorious treatments, and their tragic stories of good intentions gone awry. Once their revolutionary methods were criticized, of course they rabidly defended their life’s work to the bitter end, performing more and more appalling treatments in vain attempts to prove their effectiveness. What resulted was a vicious cycle of corruption and reform.
Morbid curiosity is one thing, but Asylum Arcanum delves deeper than that. The authors (W. Cummings and J. Schwartz) had not only interest, but a profound respect for the lives of the otherwise forgotten inmates of such establishments. Immortalized by this book, these people retain a semblance of dignity of which they were deprived during their lifetimes.
The accompanying CD features a variety of tracks ranging from rhythmic noise with soft soundclips (think Pink Floyd’s “One Of These Days”) to painfully high-pitched xylophones and bells (think Ozzy’s “Mr. Tinkertrain”). Overall, the CD is ambient, atmospheric, and (dare I say it?) arcane. Although the music complements the text and in fact enhances the reading experience, the whole CD lasts under 30 minutes and indeed becomes tedious if played any longer than that. Needless to say, these aren’t exactly party jams either. The CD is best listened to in solitude, as it embodies a sense of claustrophobic loneliness.
Asylum Arcanum is an experience, both visually and audibly, and it often proves to be too-close-for-comfort. However, as dark and disturbing as the past may be, acknowledgement and even reverence for it, has it’s rewards. Five stars outta five.
(Unfortunately, I can't find any info on this book on the internet. Also, I am too drunk to figure out how to upload audio samples.I'm also pretty sure that uploading the text is illegal. You will be content to gaze into the mediocre photoshop skills which comprise the CD art, and the track list from the sleeve. But the whole thing exists, I swear! Unless... uh oh.)