Art by Dr Louzou.

[…] by common accord they glide towards one another underwater, the female shark using its fins, Maldoror cleaving the waves with his arms; and they hold their breath in deep veneration, each one wishing to gave for the first time upon the other, his living portrait. When they are three yards apart they suddenly and spontaneously fall upon one another like two lovers and embrace with dignity and gratitude, clasping each other as tenderly as brother and sister. Carnal desire follows this demonstration of friendship. Two sinewy thighs press tightly against the monster’s viscous flesh, like two leeches; and arms and fins are clasped around the beloved object, while their throats and breasts soon form one glaucous mass amid the exhalations of the seaweed; amidst the tempest which was continuing to rage; by the light of lightning-flashes; with the foaming waves for marriage-bed; borne by an undersea current and rolling on top of one another down into the unknown deeps, they joined in a long, chaste and ghastly coupling!… At last I had found one akin to me… from now on I was no longer alone in life…! Her ideas were the same as mine… I was face to face with my first love!

I always loved this sulfurous description of the intercourse between Maldoror and a shark, found in the second chant of Lautréamont’s masterpiece.
It came back to mind when a friend recently suggested I look up Malcolm Brenner. You know you’ve found an interesting guy, when Wikipedia introduces him as an “author, journalist, and zoophile“.
Malcolm, it seems, has a thing for dolphins.

Now, zoophilia is a very delicate topic — I tried to address it in this post (Italian only) — because it doesn’t only touch on sensitive areas of sexuality, but it also concerns animal rights. I’m returning on the subject in order to tell two very different stories, which I find particularly remarkable: they are both about sexual encounters between humans and dolphins.
The first one is, indeed, Brennan’s.

I advise you to invest 15 minutes of your time and watch the extraordinary Dolphin Lover, embedded below, which chronicles the unconventional love story between Malcom and a female dolphin named Dolly.
The merit of this short documentary lies in the sensitivity with which it approaches its subject: a man who was abused at a tender age, still visibly marked by what he believes has been a wonderful sentimental and spiritual connection with the animal.
Viewing the video certainly poses an intriguing variety of questions: besides the intrinsic problems of zoophilia (the likelihood of inter-species love, the validity of including zoophiliac tendencies within a pathological spectrum, the issue of consent in animals), some daring points are made, such as the parallellism that Malcom puts forward with inter-racial marriages. “150 years ago, black people were considered degenerate subspecies of the human being, and at the time miscegenation was a crime in many states, as today inter-species sex or bestiality is a crime in many states. And I’m hoping that in a more enlightened future zoophilia will be no more regarded as controversial or harmful than interracial sex is today.

The documentary, and Brenner’s book Wet Goddess (2009), caused some stir, as you would expect. “Glorifying human sexual interactions with other species is inappropriate for the health and well being of any animal. It puts the dolphin’s own health and social behavioral settings at risk”, said expert Dr. Hertzing to the Huff Post.

But if you think the love story between Malcom and Dolly is bizarre, there’s at least another one that surpasses it in weirdness. Let me introduce you to Margaret Lovatt.

Margaret Lovatt. Foto: Matt Pinner/BBC

When she was younger, Margaret — who has no inclination or interest in zoophilia at all — was the target of a male dolphin’s erotic attention. And there would be nothing surprising in this: these mammals are notorious for their sexual promiscuity with trainers and other humans who are swimming with them. At times, they even get aggressive in their sexual advances (proving, if there ever was any need to, that consent is a stricly human concern).

In other words, the fact that a dolphin tried to hit on her is anything but unusual. But the context in which this happened is so delightfully weird, and her story so fascinating, that it deserves to be told.

Virgin Islands, early 1960s.
Doctor John C. Lilly was at the peak of his researches (which, many decades later, earned him a way cooler Wiki description than Brennan’s). This brilliant neuroscientist had already patented several manometers, condensers and medical meters; he had studied the effects of high altitude on brain physiology; he had created a machine to visualize brain activity through the use of electrodes (this kind of stimulation, still used today, is called “Lilly’s wave”). Intrigued by psychoanalisis, he also had already abandoned more conventional areas of scientific investigation to invent sensory deprivation tanks.

Built in 1954 and initally intended as a way to study brain neurophysiology in the absence of external stimuli, isolation tanks had unexpectedly turned out to be an altered-state-inducing tool, prompting a sort of deep and meditative trance. Lilly began to see them as spiritual or psychic vessels: “I made so many discoveries that I didn’t dare tell the psychiatric group about it at all because they would’ve said I was psychotic. I found the isolation tank was a hole in the universe.” This discovery led to the second part of his career, that saw him become an explorer of consciousness.

The early Sixties were also the time when John Lilly began to experiment with LSD, took interest in aliens and… in dolphins.

The scientist was convinced that these mammals were extremly intelligent, and he had discovered that they seemed able to replicate some human sounds. Wouldn’t it be nice, Lilly thought,if we could communicate with cetaceans? What enlightening concepts would their enormous brains teach us? He published his ideas in Man and Dolphin (1961), which instantly became a best-seller; in the book he prophetized a future in which dolphins would widen our perspective on history, philosophy and even world politics (he was confident a Cetacean consulting Seat could be established at the United Nations).

Lilly’s next step was to raise funds for a project aimed at teaching dolphins to speak English.
He tried to involve NASA and the Navy — as you do, right? —, and succeded. Thus Lilly founded the Communication Research Institute, a marine secret laboratory on the caraibic island of St. Thomas.

This is the context in which, in 1964, our Margaret began working with Peter, one of the three dolphins being studied at Lilly’s facility. Margaret moved in to live inside the dolphinarium for three months, in contact with Peter for six days a week. Here she gave English lessons to the animal, for instance teaching him how to articulate the words “Hello Margaret”.
‘M’ was very difficult […]. I worked on the ‘M’ sound and he eventually rolled over to bubble it through the water. That ‘M’, he worked on so hard.
But Peter also showed to be curious about many other things: “He was very, very interested in my anatomy. If I was sitting here and my legs were in the water, he would come up and look at the back of my knee for a long time. He wanted to know how that thing worked and I was so charmed by it.

Spending so much time on intimate terms with the dolphin introduced Lovatt to the cetacean’s sexual needs: “Peter liked to be with me. He would rub himself on my knee, or my foot, or my hand.” At that point, in order not to interrupt their sessions, Margaret began to manually satisfy Peter’s necessities, as they arose. “I allowed that. I wasn’t uncomfortable with it, as long as it wasn’t rough. It would just become part of what was going on, like an itch – just get rid of it, scratch it and move on. And that’s how it seemed to work out. […] It wasn’t sexual on my part. Sensuous perhaps. It seemed to me that it made the bond closer. Not because of the sexual activity, but because of the lack of having to keep breaking. And that’s really all it was. I was there to get to know Peter. That was part of Peter.

As months went by, John Lilly gradually lost interest in dolphins. He increasingly committed himself to his scientific research on psychedelics, at the time of great interest for the Government, but this eventually became a personal rather than a professional interest:  as recalled by a friend, “I saw John go from a scientist with a white coat to a full blown hippy.”

Psychedelic counter-culture icons: Ginsberg, Leary & Lilly.

The lab lost its fundings, the dolphins were moved to another aquarium in Miami, and Margaret didn’t hear about Peter until a few weeks later. “I got that phone call from John Lilly. John called me himself to tell me. He said Peter had committed suicide.
Just like Dolly in Malcolm Brenner’s account, Peter too had decided to stop breathing (which is voluntary in dolphins).

After more than a decade, in the late 1970s, Hustler magazine published a sexploitation piece about Margaret Lovatt and her “sexual” relationship with Peter, which included an explicit cartoon. Unfortunately, despite all attempts to put her story back within the frame of those pioneering experiments, Margaret was marked for many years as the woman who made love to dolphins.
It’s a bit uncomfortable,” she declared in a Guardian interview. “The worst experiment in the world, I’ve read somewhere, was me and Peter. That’s fine, I don’t mind. But that was not the point of it, nor the result of it. So I just ignore it.

Towards the end of his career, John Lilly became convinced that some gigantic cosmic entities (which he visualized during his acid trips) were responsible for all inexplicable coincidences.
Appropriately enough, just as I was finalizing this post, I stumbled upon one of these coincidences. I opened the New York Times website to find this article: a team of scientists from the University of Chile just published a paper, claiming to have trained an orca to repeat some English words.

So Lilly’s dream of communicating with cetaceans lives on.
Brennan’s dream, on the other hand, is still controversial, as are zoophile associations such as the German ZETA (“Zoophile Engagement for Tolerance and Enlightenment”), who believe in a future without any sexual barrier between species.
A future where one can easily make love to a dolphin without awakening anyone’s morbid curiosity.
Without anyone necessarily writing about it in a blog of oddities.

(Thanks, Fabri!)

Progetto MKULTRA

Gli Americani saranno anche dei paranoici cospirazionisti, sempre pronti a vedere intrighi e misteriosi “progetti” dei servizi segreti ovunque; ma bisogna ammettere che questa loro paura non nasce dal nulla. Di cospirazioni e di strane operazioni occulte ne hanno viste e vissute parecchie.

Anni ’50, inizio della Guerra Fredda. Stati Uniti e Russia cominciano a cercare freneticamente nuove armi per essere sempre un passo più avanti del loro avversario. E, in aggiunta alle ricerche batteriologiche e al perfezionamento delle armi atomiche, la CIA decide che ci sono i presupposti per iniziare un’operazione un po’ differente, sperimentale, e soprattutto illegale.

Sotto il nome in codice MKULTRA, il nuovo programma di ricerca segreto si propone di studiare e scoprire dei metodi per controllare la mente delle persone. Vi ricordate il nostro articolo su José Delgado? Ecco, la CIA vuole fare un ulteriore passo innanzi. D’altronde, pochi anni prima, aveva utilizzato l’Operazione Paperclip per reclutare i “migliori” scienziati e criminali di guerra nazisti, comprando le conoscenze acquisite durante gli esperimenti umani nei campi di sterminio, in cambio dell’immunità dai processi. Alcuni di questi scienziati avevano studiato tecniche di lavaggio del cervello, interrogatorio e tortura.

L’intento della CIA è quello di capire se esiste la possibilità di indurre, ad esempio, una persona all’assassinio programmato; se c’è un metodo scientifico per attuare il lavaggio del cervello o estorcere informazioni durante un interrogatorio; se si può alterare la percezione degli eventi nei testimoni, e via dicendo. Va da sé che per raggiungere questi risultati occorrono cavie umane. Così, se molti dei soggetti studiati dal progetto MKULTRA sono consenzienti, i ricercatori comprendono subito che per ottenere delle analisi precise e delle prove inconfutabili serviranno anche soggetti ignari… cavie che non sappiano di star prendendo parte all’esperimento. Anche in questo risiede l’illegalità dell’operazione, coperta quindi dal massimo segreto. E, sempre in massimo segreto, vengono investiti milioni e milioni di dollari in un progetto che a posteriori si può tranquillamente definire aberrante e criminale.

La maggior parte degli esperimenti relativi a MKULTRA hanno a che fare con le droghe. Si ricercano sostanze che alterino la mente in tutti i modi possibili: dalle sostanze più innocue che favoriscano la concentrazione, o che si dimostrino efficaci come rimedio per il dopo-sbronza… fino ai metodi chimici per creare confusione, depressione, paranoia e shock prolungati in un soggetto, per inibire le menzogne, per creare uno stato di ipnosi, per indurre lo svenimento istantaneo o la paralisi degli arti. Insomma, droghe “positive” che possono potenziare le truppe americane; e droghe “negative”, destinate a controllare e alterare la forza mentale del prigioniero o del nemico.

Gli esperimenti di MKULTRA meglio conosciuti sono quelli legati alla sperimentazione dell’LSD. Sintetizzata per la prima volta nel 1938 da Albert Hoffman, la dietilamide-25 dell’acido lisergico (LSD) era ancora sconosciuta al grande pubblico.  Gli agenti di MKULTRA decisero di comprendere i suoi effetti su una serie di cavie ignare, e nella famigerata Operazione Midnight Climax misero a punto questo sistema: dopo aver installato dei finti specchi in alcuni bordelli di San Francisco, con la complicità delle prostitute facevano in modo che al cliente venisse servito un drink in cui era stata disciolta una potente dose di acido. La “sessione” veniva quindi filmata da dietro lo specchio.

A poco a poco gli effetti della droga si manifestavano, e i clienti cominciavano ad essere preda di violente e incontrollabili allucinazioni; come si sa, l’LSD è fra le sostanze psicoattive sintetiche più potenti, con effetti che ad alti dosaggi possono spingersi ben oltre le 12 ore. I poveri clienti, arrivati con la modesta speranza di una seratina piccante, si ritrovavano di colpo scaraventati nel baratro della follia, in quella che aveva tutta l’aria di essere una crisi psicotica. Non capivano, non potevano capire perché di colpo vedessero le dimensioni della stanza alterarsi, il tempo distorcersi e la carta da parati pulsare come fosse viva. Si convincevano di essere impazziti di colpo, e il terrore si impadroniva di loro. Una volta esauriti gli effetti della droga, gli agenti si palesavano e intimavano alla vittima, ancora sotto shock, di non rivelare nulla di quanto era successo. Se avessero raccontato la loro storia, si sarebbe anche saputo che frequentavano il bordello… Alcuni dei soggetti non si ripresero più, e finirono ospedalizzati, e molti ritengono che diversi suicidi siano imputabili a questi esperimenti senza scrupoli.

Oltre alla somministrazione di droghe, il progetto sondò anche le diverse possibilità offerte dalla deprivazione sensoriale, dall’ipnosi, dalla privazione del sonno e dagli abusi verbali e fisici. Che tipo di osservazioni scientifiche si potevano trarre da simili esperimenti? Che valore aveva questa ricerca? Quando la CIA ammise pubblicamente, fra il 1975 e il 1977, l’esistenza del progetto MKULTRA e offrì le sue scuse, confessò anche che tutte queste ricerche non avevano portato ad alcun risultato concreto.  Gli agenti a capo degli esperimenti, si scoprì, non avevano nemmeno le qualifiche necessarie per essere degli osservatori scientificamente attendibili. Quindi la massiccia operazione, dal costo stimato di più di 10 milioni di dollari, e che aveva coinvolto numerose multinazionali farmaceutiche e distrutto la vita a molti civili divenuti cavie, non era servita a nulla.

Nonostante la declassificazione di molti documenti, iniziata nel 1977, e le ammissioni della CIA, c’è chi è pronto a giurare che la “confessione” sia un ulteriore depistaggio, e che il progetto MKULTRA non sia mai stato chiuso: continuerebbe ancora, sotto diverso nome, per mettere a punto metodi sempre più perfezionati di controllo della mente.

Ma la cosa forse più curiosa è un effetto boomerang che la CIA non poteva prevedere, e che cambiò la storia. Come ricordato, non tutti i soggetti degli esperimenti di MKULTRA erano vittime ignare. Fra i volontari che si sottoposero ad alcuni test con l’LSD in California, c’era anche un giovane studente della Stanford University. Questo ragazzo, sconvolto dal potenziale della droga, decise che avrebbe cercato di promuovere l’LSD anche al di fuori di MKULTRA. Lo studente era Ken Kesey, autore di Qualcuno volò sul nido del cuculo, che di lì a poco avrebbe fondato i Merry Pranksters e girato gli Stati Uniti portando follia e buonumore su un furgoncino multicolore, dispensando dosi gratuite di LSD a chiunque volesse provare. Grazie a Kesey cominciò la rivoluzione degli anni ’60, la pacifica ribellione hippie, e la cosiddetta psichedelia che cambiò volto alla società, alla musica, alla politica e alla cultura.

Da un terribile progetto segreto militare per il controllo della mente, quindi, nacque paradossalmente un movimento che in pochi anni conquistò il mondo; milioni di ragazzi cominciarono a predicare la liberazione della mente, l’espansione e l’allargamento della coscienza, l’uguaglianza dei diritti, il sesso libero, la convivenza pacifica e l’affrancamento da qualsiasi organizzazione militare o politica. Non esattamente quello che i vertici della CIA, con tutte le loro sofisticate conoscenze, avevano sperato di ottenere.