Noel, Daniel C. Seeing Castaneda. (Summary part 3)

Correspondence and Controversy

5. Anthropology ?/font> or Fiction?
Two Letters

This short section concerns two letters from the novelist Joyce Carol Oates; one to the New York Times Book Review and one to Daniel Noel. The one to the New York Times Book Review expresses bewilderment over Paul Riesman’s review of Journey to Ixtlan. To her, Castaneda’s books are obviously fiction and she wonders aloud if any other readers or professionals in the field share her bewilderment at them being treated as nonfiction. Noel wrote back to her: "My letter expressed the opinion that the Castaneda volumes could well be nonfiction, but that in any case their ambiguity in this regard might be an important part of their impact."

The following part of Joyce Carol Oates?reply to Noel ends this section: ". . . I only read Carlos?first two books about 3 weeks ago ?/font> enjoyed them immensely. But now that it’s a ‘hoax?I doubt I’ll read the third; for me Borges has done this sort of thing so beautifully, and I must confess a temperamental preference for the ‘seeing?of ?/font> let’s say ?/font> a Dr. Suzuki, if one desires a guru. Or Dr. Laing . . ."

6. An Interview, An Expos? A Story About Stories

"At about the time Joyce Carol Oates?note to me arrived," writes Noel, "the December, 1972, Psychology Today carried an article by Sam Keen in which he interviewed Castaneda himself and tried to get to the bottom of the controversy." Keen’s interview, though "a serious conversation about some of the most esoteric concepts of don Juan’s teaching," failed to resolve the controversy. "The fact is," says Noel, "after the interview we still do not know the truth in the anthropology vs. fiction dispute, but Castaneda’s careful responses to all the philosophical parallels Keen proposes are instructive."

"A few months after the Keen interview-article came out," Noel continues, "the importance and impact of Castaneda’s trilogy in American popular culture were certified by a Time magazine cover story. If the Psychology Today piece at all supported Castaneda’s protestations of anthropological accuracy, Time’s attempt at an expos?certainly rekindled the controversy."

This section contains Keen’s interview-article, the Time magazine piece, and a piece written by Ronald Sukenick for the Village Voice which was published in between the first two. Sukenick is "the author of a critical study of Wallace Stevens . . . and several books of experimental fiction." With regard to the ‘controversy? Sukenick writes, "These are works of art, Ms. Oates, to answer your questions directly, but works of art don’t have to be novels." In Sukenick’s "storyteller’s judgment," Noel comments, "the crucial thing for Castaneda’s account is not that it be ‘true?rather than ‘false? but that it be ‘persuasive.?quot;

Sam Keen
Sorcerer’s Apprentice

"Sorcerers are not fond of statistics, verifiable knowledge or established identities," Keen begins his article. He goes on to comment on the ancient tradition and esoteric knowledge of sorcerers, and the strangeness of their way of life. After meeting don Juan, Castaneda went from anthropologist to disciple, and in the process became more and more elusive. "Carlos Castaneda," Keen says, "erases his personal history and deliberately withholds information that would destroy the anonymity he needs so that he can wander freely in whatever worlds there are or may be."

The above is from the first part of the article, Prologue. Subsequent parts are ?/font> Cool, Crow, Coyote, Consensus, Condition, Change and Charisma. ‘Cool?takes a brief stab at establishing some of Castaneda’s personal history. ‘Crow?discusses Castaneda’s experiences as a crow and the worthy attributes of crows. "Their wisdom," says Keen, "consists in the ability to tell when things are moving too fast, too slow and just right." ‘Coyote?covers a few of Castaneda’s "looking glass" encounters ?/font> the hundred foot gnat, la Catalina, Mescalito.

‘Consensus?posits that the tricks in ‘Coyote?are minor compared to the overall effort of don Juan "to develop in Carlos the ability to see the everyday world with wondering eyes." Don Juan "knows that the world of common-sense reality is a product of social consensus." In guiding Carlos to ‘bracket?normal ways of perceiving, don Juan takes him beyond that social consensus.

‘Condition?develops the theme of ‘Consensus?further by introducing the story of the piece of ebony that once sat on Edmund Husserl’s desk which a student of his later gave to Castaneda, who subsequently gave it to don Juan. Don Juan, as the story goes, fondled it, as Husserl had done a generation before, and "gave it an honored place in his treasury of power objects that are used for conjuring." Keen considers this "wholly appropriate" because Husserl "sought to escape from the subjectivity and solipsism that was the legacy of Descartes?definition of man as a rational being enclosed within the certainties of his own mind."

‘Change?relates how Journey to Ixtlan "shows that it was more the realistic than the fantastic aspects of don Juan’s teachings that convinced [Castaneda] that there was no other way to live an exuberant life." When the knowledge that he had to die became a reality for Castaneda "he was able to change, to become more decisive, and to be less governed by the expectations of others and by ordinary social routines. He accepted the ideal of the life of the warrior who must discipline his body and accumulate personal power. By experiment with living impeccably Carlos discovered the paradoxical unity of opposites. Discipline and abandon, realism and fantasy, secondary- and primary-process thinking go hand in hand. There need be no enmity between sanity and ecstasy."

‘Charisma?is the longest part but can be summed up by its first two sentences. "Every age discovers or creates the heroes it needs. Ours has a strange bunch." The article ends with Castaneda coming back from being a crow. "For a time he did not know whether he was a professor pretending to be a crow or a crow pretending to be a professor. Then he laughed and knew that literal truth and poetry can never be separated. What is important is to fly high and return to earth."

Here begins the interview with Castaneda, whose first reply is strikingly similar to one he would give 22 years later in an interview with Keith Thompson (New Age Journal, April 1994). The 1972 and 1994 questions and answers are reproduced below.

Sam Keen: As I followed don Juan through your three books, I suspected, at times, that he was the creation of Carlos Castaneda. He is almost too good to be true ?/font> a wise old Indian whose knowledge of human nature is superior to almost everybody’s.

Carlos Castaneda: The idea that I concocted a person like don Juan is inconceivable. He is hardly the kind of figure my European intellectual tradition would have led me to invent. The truth is much stranger. I didn’t create anything. I am only a reporter. I wasn’t even prepared to make the changes in my life that my association with don Juan involved.

Keith Thompson: Your friend don Juan teaches what is, how to know what is, and how to live in accord with what is ?/font> ontology, epistemology, and ethics. Which leads many to say he’s too good to be true, that you created him from scratch as an allegorical instrument of wise instruction.

Carlos Castaneda: The notion that I concocted a person like don Juan is preposterous. I’m a product of a European intellectual tradition to which a character like don Juan is alien. The actual facts are stranger: I’m a reporter. My books are accounts of an outlandish phenomenon that forced me to make fundamental changes in my life in order to meet the phenomenon on its own terms.

Replica Watches  Replica Watches

The Keen interview goes on to cover questions concerning Castaneda meeting and becoming an apprentice of don Juan; don Juan not being an isolated phenomenon; whether don Juan hypnotized Carlos; sorcerers ‘building up different expectations and manipulating cues to produce a social consensus? sorcery teaching a new system of glossing; ‘seeing the world as a wondering child? Wittgenstein and don Juan; whether one can get beyond interpretation using psychedelic drugs; the difference between the ordinary world of Western people and that of sorcerers; being ‘united with the world, not alienated from it? Norman Brown’s idea that some people are ‘aware of things and of other people as extensions of their bodies?compared with don Juan’s ‘fibers of light that connect?the solar plexus to the world; dropping ‘arrogant assumptions?about being ‘the only comprehending and communicating form of life? talking to animals . . .

Sam Keen: What animals make better friends?

Carlos Castaneda: Snakes make stupendous friends.

[T]hanking animals that one kills; whether Carlos was on peyote when talking to the coyote ("No"); was the experience more intense than ones induced by psychotropics ("Much more intense"); does don Juan live in this state of awareness [that of stopping the world] most of the time ("Yes"); is it lonely ("I think so"); did don Juan consciously stage allegories ("Yes"); how does Carlos place psychotropics in the teachings now; does don Juan regularly use them ("No"); did the fact that they weaken the body come as a shock; people saying Carlos has mystical feet like Jesus, is stoned all the time, committed suicide and died in several places; people knowing too little about Carlos; what the important elements of don Juan’s teachings are to Carlos and how they’ve changed him; ‘Heidegger’s definition of man as being-toward-death? existential discussions of responsibility usually following discussions of death; the sorceric view of death being a long way from psychedelic utopias; how don Juan taught Carlos to be decisive; just the act of deciding being important; parallels with existential philosophy; Nietzsche and Sartre; the heart and body having reasons that reason knows not; don Juan’s dream training; whether stopping dream images is like stopping the world ("It is similar") . . .

Sam Keen: Of the many techniques that don Juan taught you for stopping the world, which do you still practice?

Carlos Castaneda: My major discipline now is to disrupt my routines. I was always a very routinary person. I ate and slept on schedule. In 1965 I began to change my habits. I wrote in the quiet hours of the night and slept and ate when I felt the need. Now I have dismantled so many of my habitual ways of acting that before long I may become unpredictable and surprising to myself.

Sam Keen: Your discipline reminds me of the Zen story of two disciples bragging about miraculous powers. One disciple claimed the founder of the sect to which he belonged could stand on one side of a river and write the name of Buddha on a piece of paper held by his assistant on the opposite shore. The second disciple replied that such a miracle was unimpressive. "My miracle," he said, "is that when I feel hungry I eat, and when I feel thirsty I drink."

Carlos Castaneda: It has been this element of engagement in the world that has kept me following the path which don Juan showed me. There is no need to transcend the world. Everything we need to know is right in front of us, if we pay attention. If you enter a state of nonordinary reality, as you do when you use psychotropic plants, it is only to draw from it what you need in order to see the miraculous character of ordinary reality. For me the way to live ?/font> the path with heart ?/font> is not introspection or mystical transcendence but presence in the world. This world is the warrior’s hunting ground.

Here again, at the end of Keen’s interview, is an answer Castaneda would echo 22 years later in Keith Thompson’s interview.

Keith Thompson: If you could do it over again, would you ‘just say no?

Carlos Castaneda: My path has been my path. Don Juan always told me, "Make a gesture." A gesture is nothing more than a deliberate act undertaken for the power that comes from making a decision. Ultimately, the value of entering a nonordinary state, as you do with peyote or other psychotropic plants, is to exact what you need in order to embrace the stupendous character of ordinary reality. You see, the path of the heart is not a road of incessant introspection or mystical flight, but a way of engaging the joys and sorrows of the world. This world, where each one of us is related at molecular levels to every other wondrous and dynamic manifestation of being ?/font> this world is the warrior’s true hunting ground.

To Seeing Castaneda summary part 4