Noel, Daniel C. Seeing Castaneda. (Summary part 2)

2. A Separate Reality
Further Conversations with Don Juan

The first review in this section is by Duke University professor Weston La Barre, author of The Peyote Cult, "one of the works," Noel notes, "to which Carlos refers." Like Spicer and Leach, La Barre is an internationally prominent anthropologist. His review was paid for by the New York Times Book Review, but never published. In it La Barre goes beyond Leach in his criticism of Castaneda’s work, seeing it, in Noel’s words, "as an ego trip only."

"Contrasting sharply with La Barre’s negative reaction is the review by Robert Buckout, a psychologist at City University of New York. A comparison of the two pieces clearly reveals a basic difference of criteria in the reviewers." Namely that Buckout allows for the fact that "Castaneda violates the rules of the game of science" by "getting ‘too close? to his subject in a very successful effort to enlighten his audience."

Weston La Barre
Stinging Criticism from the Author of The Peyote Cult

"One can be sympathetic with other world-views and yet ask the question: Is not the endless quest for a guru in fact diagnostic of the authoritarian personality, a sign of eternal adolescence in the seeker?" La Barre makes very clear at the outset that when it comes to "comparative culture studies" he has no time for "individual daisy-picking over the problem of ‘what can a man believe,?quot; or the search for cosmic truth "with the aid of drugs," maintaining that "this epistemology is too noodleheaded and naïve to merit comment."

Noting, as in previous reviews, the lack of any contribution to Yaqui ethnography in the first book, La Barre goes on to say that, "The long disquisition of don Juan and the detailing of each confused emotional reaction of the author, in the present volume, imply either total recall, novelistic talent, or a tape recorder." And further, "the nourishment of it all hardly matches that in Jello." La Barre laments the public’s taste for such "plastic flowers of science-writing" and states that "both books together advance our knowledge of peyotism not one whit."

"But perhaps it is unfair to expect this of an ego trip. Everything is smarmy with self-important and really quite trivial feelings and narcissistic self-preoccupation." Furthermore, La Barre asks, "is a toxic state of the brain any earnest for the existence of another ‘reality?" And finally, "The book is pseudo-profound, sophomoric and deeply vulgar. To one reader at least, for decades interested in Amerindian hallucinogens, the book is frustratingly and tiresomely dull, posturing pseudo-ethnography and, intellectually, kitsch."

Robert Buckout
On Being Chained to Reason

"The psychologist who has overlearned logical positivism," Buckout begins, "will be both frustrated and enlightened by taking this voyage into the personalized ethnography of a sorcerer. The voyage involves the conscious suspension of a social scientist’s well-developed standards for credibility of evidence and a period of participative education that is usually only theorized upon."

"These books," Buckout concludes, "will disturb the psychologist, the philosopher of science, and any ‘rational man.?They must be read and experienced; I cannot convey their impact in a review . . . I can only urge that you catch up with some of your students and ponder, if you will, the words of don Juan, Sorcerer: ‘A phony sorcerer tries to explain everything in the world with explanations he is not sure about . . . and so everything is witchcraft. But then you’re no better . . . you’re not sure of your explanations either.?quot;

3. Journey to Ixtlan
The Lessons of Don Juan

Paul Riesman, a Carleton College anthropologist writing for the New York Times Book Review, and Don Strachan, writing for Rolling Stone magazine, contribute the reviews in this section. Riesman, Noel says, "goes a long way toward explaining the challenge of the teachings pointed out by Buckout. In dramatizing some of the shibboleths and shortcomings of the conventional anthropological understanding of alien cultures, Castaneda’s work is for Riesman ‘among the best that the science of anthropology has produced.?quot;

Strachan takes a different approach. "In his view," says Noel, "the don Juan writings are primarily books of practical exercises for the reader." Strachan represents those "who have grown tired of merely intellectual responses to revelatory texts." Strachan, however, "goes on to imply that he doubts the existence of don Juan, and perhaps the true reason it doesn’t matter to him whether don Juan is real or illusory is that as long as the effectiveness of recipes is the main issue, the correct identity of the chef counts for little."

Paul Riesman
A Comprehensive Anthropological Assessment

Riesman begins by asserting that up to that point anthropology had served only to confirm what was already known about "the nature of man, society, the human condition" and that cultural differences were "merely something like different mental images of the same basic reality." Castaneda, on the other hand, in the teachings of don Juan "has conveyed these teachings with great artistry so that they affect us at many levels . . . he shows us the conditions under which the teachings were transmitted to him, and not only makes us feel the relation he had with his teacher, but also reveals something of his personal struggle with standard Western reality whose thrall kept preventing him from accepting don Juan’s lessons on their own terms."

Replica Watches  Replica Watches

Cultures, then, as illustrated by the teachings of don Juan, have their own separate realities, ones that can only be entered into and understood subjectively. "It is not the object we are trying to know," Riesman says, "that makes knowledge scientific, nor is it the kind of knowledge we have about it (e.g. intuitive, quantifiable, dream, etc.) but rather the fact that the person knowing has done the best he could to show others exactly how he came by that knowledge." Riesman concedes that Castaneda should do this more than he has, but goes on to say that Castaneda’s truths "enable us to see that our image of man is just that ?/font> an image ?/font> and that suggests entirely other ways of perceiving man and the world."

"Castaneda makes it clear," says Riesman, "that the teachings of don Juan do tell us something of how the world really is, and I feel that this is knowledge of great value."

Don Strachan
The Word from Rolling Stone

Strachan’s humorous review begins with himself at age 12 trying to fly off the end of his bed after seeing Peter Pan and progresses on to a mouse appearing at his feet while he’s reading about Carlos finding that spot on don Juan’s porch. "Being now a culture-bound 29, had not Mescalito’s little brother been floating through my frontal lobe, and had I not heard a voice in the dark after finishing A Separate Reality, I might not have recognized this rodent as an ally. Forewarned by don Juan not to look him head on, I crossed my eyes at him. After about 15 minutes, a balloon exploded behind my eyes. I looked for the writing but it was blank. The ally minced off toward the kitchen and my frontal lobe ached."

Concerning Journey to Ixtlan, Strachan says, "Juan rocks with the laughter of superiority from cover to cover, at one point has Carlos walk three paces behind him, and regularly scares the shit out of his apprentice to prepare him for his cryptic gems of resonant wisdom." Strachan ticks off several of the gems then says, "Juan is a master of yin-yang, or what Carlos calls the paradoxical unity of opposites," and asks the question: "Is don Juan a real live Peter Pan who grew up or just a literary flight in the Never-Never Land of Castaneda’s imagination?"

"Not that it matters," Strachan concludes, "the books convincingly erase the line each of us draws to separate ‘reality?from ‘illusion? ?/font> but I’ll believe don Juan is a breathing entity when I see him on The Dick Cavett Show. (All right, I’m over 30.)

4. Tales of Power

"The publication of Tales of Power, the fourth volume of the tetralogy, late in 1974, prompted another extremely favorable reaction in the New York Times Book Review. Elsa First, a New York psychoanalyst interested in the relation between Freudian and Buddhist therapies, feels that Castaneda’s unique contribution is to have ‘placed us inside the shaman’s consciousness.?quot; Noel comments that, "Even more than Robert Buckout, Elsa First appeals to the experience of ‘altered states?to explain what happens to Carlos."

"Reviewers who do more than merely quote from Castaneda’s tetralogy," Noel says, "are hard pressed to accept the unwonted in it at face value. But in the five and a half years between Spicer’s article and Elsa First’s, they helped see to it that the don Juan writings were accepted as serious works worthy of attention by even the most sophisticated reader."

Elsa First
Don Juan is to Carlos as Carlos Is to Us

First begins by pointing out that "the scientific study of altered states of consciousness has given us a new perspective on the history of religion and in particular on shamanism." No longer do anthropologists see shamanism as "a socially sanctioned form of schizophrenia. We can now see that shamanism is not just magic but metaphysics: it maintains that this world ?/font> the world of everyday appearances ?/font> is not more real than the other world ?/font> the world of powers, energies, demons and gods ?/font> because this world is only the ‘lie?which our minds construct in one particular state: ordinary waking consciousness."

The four books Castaneda has published, First says, "have been widely acclaimed for their vividness, and increasingly widely suspected for the evident art Castaneda uses to shape his picture of shamanism from the inside." For First, however, "Castaneda has devised a powerful literary strategy" wherein ‘non-ordinary?experiences are related subjectively as they occur, then sorted out rationally afterwards through dialogues with don Juan. In these dialogues, "the terms of the discussion are those of don Juan’s world, not ours."

First’s answer to questions concerning the similarity of don Juan’s teachings to many aspects of the world’s great religions is ?/font> ‘natural mind.?"At this point," she says, "all we can say is that Castaneda’s reported experiences closely resemble much cross-cultural data ?/font> and this could well be explained by the fact that the ‘natural mind?everywhere perceives similarly."

Regarding Tales of Power, First marvels that, "Never has Carlos shivered, puked, lost control of his bowels or fainted so often in terror. The systematic derangement of Carlos’s senses goes farther than ever. Tales of Power could well be read as a farcical picaresque epic of altered states of consciousness." Don Juan appears in a business suit. Don Juan whirls Carlos through an office to a market a mile and a half away. Don Genaro sends forth a double of himself. He and don Juan split Carlos’s consciousness by whispering in his ears. Carlos jumps off a cliff and his awareness shatters, making him realize he’s a "cluster." Carlos and don Juan engage "in some simple and elusively concrete conversations" over restaurant tables and sitting on Mexico City park benches.

"What happened? Where?" First asks. "Inside, outside, it really doesn’t matter. In the course of Tales of Power, Carlos learns how to accept the unwonted ‘at its face value.?Confronted with the inexplicable, a warrior simply responds, don Juan explains, without either pretending that nothing has happened or pretending that he understands." Eventually Carlos learns "the warrior’s stance of ‘believing without believing,?a kind of metaphysical aplomb."

"Castaneda," First concludes, "is doing to his audience exactly what don Juan and don Genaro do to Carlos from the moment they begin rambunctiously teasing him out of his wits with the possibility that he is seeing their ‘doubles.?In teaching his readers to ‘believe without believing,?Castaneda enlarges his achievement as the chronicler of ancient methods for restructuring the sense of reality. He has brought us closer to understanding the teaching behind all the magic. In don Juan’s words, ‘Life in itself is sufficient, self-explanatory, and complete.?quot;

To Seeing Castaneda summary part 3