This article was published in 19 Magazine on May 5th 1973.
Text is by Mick Brown and photos by Jean Kisch and John Tibera
EVERYTHING ABOUT EVERYTHING
If you're the slightest bit interested in yourself, your body, the planet you inhabit and anything connected with it, you should be interested in a publication scheduled to appear in October. Titled The Catalogue: An Index Of Possibilities, it is basically a reference work on everything you ever wanted to know. The publishers responsible for collating 'the whole extent of human knowledge' (their words, not mine) into the five volumes which constitute The Catalogue were all formerly connected with the late, lamented underground paper Frendz. John May was editor, John Trux business man-ager and Mike Marten and John Chesterman were occasional contributors.
The Catalogue's inspiration was the American Whole Earth Catalogue (the last volume of which is available here in Penguin), which established itself as an indispensable aid to Americans on a back-to-the-land kick, giving practical advice on everything from where to buy specific tools to methods of growing food organically or building geodesic domes:
The Whole Earth Catalogue was fine, for America; but, because there isn't the land here to get back to, and most of the tools listed were only available in the States anyway, the book was of little practical use to British readers. The Catalogue, claims Mike Marten, is more concerned with information than tools, and is part of a more radical philosophy than frontiersmanship alone.
"It comes down to the fact that the information you need to change anything, even your immediate environment—where you live, what you do—is very difficult to get hold of in this country, and it's made more difficult because, although we're only a small country, there seems to be greater resistance by people who have in-formation to disseminate it.
"If you take societies, such as the British Astronomical Association, everything is very tight — it's old colonels, old astronomers and the like, all sitting fuddy duddily together in Piccadilly, watching the skies. If you ring them up or write to them they regard you as an intruder —it's almost a closed shop.
"In the States, on the other hand, where it's a part of their philosophy to be as outward about everything as possible, a similar institution would probably deluge you with piles of information —the opposite extreme."
"What The Catalogue will do is give as much information on the subjects we cover as is practically possible. We'll review books on the subject, and organisations devoted to it—ranging from governmental to the cranky to the alternative; we'll list films and video-cassettes which can be bought or hired, on the subject, details of further education classes readers could take." The Catalogue will be published in five parts over three years.
The first volume concentrates on power and energy systems, also dynamics and forces —both physical and metaphysical. The volume progresses from the theory of relativity and nuclear physics, through the power and energy systems of the earth and body to those of the mind and, finally, to God and the numerous religious interpretations.
"As The Catalogue is intended as a working book wherever possible, practical information will be listed —the open days at Jodrell Bank Research Station, techniques of dowsing, how to construct water wheels, even how to cast astrological charts."
Volume Two deals with structures. "Social structures, business structures. We're going to examine very closely just what organisations, such as The National Health Service, do and how people can get the most from them . . ." Volume Three deals with communication, knowledge and dialogue. Volume Four is Down To Earth—"farming, flowers and beasts". Volume Five is inventions, discoveries, explorations and games.
As well as serving to broaden people’s interests The Catalogue will act as a sort of information pool, firstly generating interest in subjects, making reader’s aware of their own possibilities for further involvement and finally, listing the facilities by which they can do so.
“We’ll explain the essence of a subject first,” says John May, and then examining it in a number of different ways, all the time leading from the theoretical to the practical, so you get people involved in the ideas of the subject, capture their imagination, then they turn over the page and there’s the address and phone number of people who are actually doing it. It places the onus on the reader so if they want to find out more they can actually do it themselves.”
“The real hope,” says John Trux is that people will use The Catalogue as a tool for getting into all types of a radical activity. A lot of good thins are happening with small groups of people but the only media outlet for hem at the moment is the Alternative Press and the occasional piece in other publications. A lot of radical ideas are feasible if enough people are into them. At the moment, there is either scattered groups of people or not enough people aware of what's happening. We're going to say 'This is happening; if you're interested these are the people to contact."
The American Whole Earth Catalogue started out with a minority, predominantly freak readership, and finished up as one of America's best-selling paperback books in years. John May hopes much the same thing will happen with the British Catalogue. "We're not just aiming at young people, or people in communes, or whatever. We hope our audience will be as varied as our contributors who are a strange mixture —old-age pensioners, lecturers, students, people in mundane jobs who have information on interest-ing subjects to pass on."
By making The Catalogue factual and accurate he aims to set a precedent, which other 'alternative' publications will follow, and also break down the prejudices people have against the underground Press in general.
"Up until now, the whole alternative underground Press scene has been very much 'Wow, man, that's really far out' — all rhetoric and no facts, no careful, critical examination of things."
"The Catalogue will have the minimum of rhetoric and will examine things such as gurus and psychic phenomena —or any of those sort of fashionable things —carefully and says, 'These are the facts'; not 'Wow, isn't it freaky?'
"As long as people dismiss information and ideas as hippy bull-shit, the longer it'll take to change things. At the moment, it's when The Sunday Times does an article on drugs that people read it and say, 'Yes, that must be the truth'. If they read it in IT they just say, 'Oh, that's them hippies . . .'
We aim to establish ourselves in such a position that when we come up with something startling about, say, social structures, it will be credible, people will believe us. Above all, we aim to make The Catalogue as interesting as possible, so that people do respond and get involved. I don't know how many will actually use it. We hope a lot."
Work on volume one of The Catalogue has already begun, but John May needs information and people willing to recycle it for subsequent volumes. Anybody with anything to offer—even if only help in the office — should contact John May at 2 Blenheim Crescent, London W11 (01-727 4712). •