Noel, Daniel C. Seeing Castaneda. (Summary part 4)
Don Juan and the Sorcerer’s Apprentice
This early 1973 Time article begins by placing the success of Castaneda’s first three books in the dual contexts of "occult Mexico" and popular culture. "The Mexican border is a great divide," the article begins. "Below it, the accumulated structures of Western ‘rationality?waver and plunge." While above it, the popular culture of young Americans and "middle-class middlebrows" eagerly soak up "non-rational" approaches to reality ?/font> Castaneda’s in particular. In a time of acupuncturists sharing the limelight with Marcus Welby, M.D., and "weeping throngs of California 13-year-olds getting blissed-out by the latest child guru off a chartered jet from Bombay," Castaneda’s agent, Ned Brown, notes that Journey to Ixtlan will make Carlos a millionaire [not to mention earn him a Ph.D. in anthropology from UCLA as a dissertation renamed, Sorcery: A Description of the World, prefaced by a 500 word abstract].
Heady times, indeed. "However, with Castaneda’s increasing fame come increasing doubts. Don Juan has no other verifiable witness, and Juan Matus is nearly as common a name among Yaqui Indians as John Smith farther north. Is Castaneda real? If so, did he invent don Juan?" Well, Carlos Castaneda is real. "At present he lives ‘as inaccessibly as possible?in Los Angeles, refreshing his batteries from time to time at what he and don Juan refer to as a ‘power spot?atop a mountain north of nearby Malibu: a ring of boulders overlooking the Pacific." Anyone trying to probe into his life, however, "finds himself in a maze of contradictions. But to Castaneda’s admirers, that scarcely matters."
"Look at it this way," says one. "Either Carlos is telling the documentary truth about himself and don Juan, in which case he is a great anthropologist. Or else it is an imaginative truth, and he is a great novelist. Heads or tails, Carlos wins."
"Indeed," the article continues, "though the man is an enigma wrapped in mystery wrapped in a tortilla, the work is beautifully lucid." The "superbly concrete setting" is captivating, the "narrative power unmatched in other anthropological studies," and the "utter weirdness of the events that happen in it" are "dense with animistic meaning." Detailing the destruction of a "young anthropologist’s interpretation of the world" and the arduous "education of a sorcerer," the Time writers summarize Castaneda’s experiences with peyote, Jimson weed and Psilocybe mushrooms. Afterwards, the meaning of these experiences is briefly contemplated with regard to the system within which don Juan taught. Personal history, impeccability, seeing, stopping the world, etc., are briefly discussed before continuing on to the subject of sages.
"The essential lessons don Juan has to teach," Mike Murphy, a founder of the Esalen Institute, is quoted as saying, "are the timeless ones that have been taught by the great sages of India and the spiritual masters of modern times." And, quoth the Time writers, "in some quarters Castaneda’s works are extravagantly admired as a revival of a mode of cognition that has been largely neglected in the West, buried by materialism and Pascal’s despair, since the Renaissance." Still, despite such accolades, validating Castaneda’s work as anthropology and don Juan as a real, live informant has not been possible, "there is no corroboration ?/font> beyond Castaneda’s writings." Conventions at the "Brujo Bar-B-Q of the Mescalito Motel," and all the "would-be disciples and counterculture tourists," have come up empty in their search.
Don Juan’s personal history, as recorded in Castaneda’s books, is reconstructed at this point and incongruities between his character and Yaqui culture are noted. The "apparent disconnection from the Yaquis" does not sit well with most anthropologists. "I believe that basically the work has a very high degree of imagination," Jésus Ochoa, head of the department of ethnography at Mexico’s National Museum of Anthropology, is quoted as saying. "But," the article goes on, "Castaneda’s senior colleagues at U.C.L.A., who gave their student a Ph.D. for Ixtlan, emphatically disagree: Castaneda, as one professor put it, is ‘a native genius,?for whom the usual red tape and bureaucratic rigmarole were waived; his truth as a witness is not in question."
In trying to discover some of Castaneda’s personal history, which was in question, the Time writers ran into a problem. "Oh, I am a bullshitter!" Carlos exclaims. "Oh, how I love to throw the bull around!" He warned Time correspondent Sandra Burton, who had spent many hours with him over a period of weeks, that "in talking about his pre-don Juan life he would change names and places and dates without, however, altering the emotional truth of his life." He told her, "I have not lied or contrived. To contrive would be to pull back and not say anything or give the assurances that everybody seeks."
The next few pages of the article cover Castaneda’s version of his personal history contrasted with what the Time writers had dug up on their own. When confronted with "the time and transposition of his mother’s death," Carlos replied, "One’s feelings about one’s mother are not dependent on biology or on time. Kinship as a system has nothing to do with feelings." And furthermore, "To ask me to verify my life by giving you my statistics is like using science to validate sorcery. It robs the world of its magic and makes milestones out of us all."
Castaneda’s time as a student at U.C.L.A. is briefly described, noting professor Clement Meighan and professor Harold Garfinkel as influences in shaping his academic career, then the article turns to a discussion of reality and the ‘multiverse? Edmund Carpenter of Adelphi College writes, "Native people have many separate realities. They believe in a multiverse, or a biverse, but not a universe as we do." Castaneda suggests a kind of cultural relativism in which another culture cannot be explained in terms of one’s own categories. The crux of anthropology, he says, is the acquisition of real membership. "Most anthropologists," Michael Harner writes, "only give the result. Instead of synthesizing the interviews, Castaneda takes us through the process."
The article concludes by talking about Castaneda’s search for a ‘power spot,?his ducking of the ultimate confrontation with an ‘ally,?his being torn between a commitment to sorcery and the pull of the mundane world, his desire to be a respected writer and anthropologist, his notorious inaccessibility, and finally his confidence in becoming a sorcerer. "Power takes care of you," he says, "and you don’t know how. Now I’m at the edge, and I have to change my whole format. Writing to get my Ph.D. was my accomplishment, my sorcery, and now I am at the apex of a cycle that includes the notoriety. But this [Tales of Power] is the last thing I will ever write about don Juan. Now I am going to be a sorcerer for sure. Only my death could stop that."
Upward and Juanward: The Possible Dream
"Everything happens," Sukenick opens his article, "and everything that happens is a part of the story and everything that everyone thinks about what happens is part of the story and Journey to Ixtlan is part of Carlos Castaneda’s story about don Juan’s story and this is my story about Carlos Castaneda’s story."
Sukenick describes his astonishment at finding "a number of similarities in incident and idea" between the first published excerpt from A Separate Reality and a novel he was completing at the time entitled, Out. The things in Out that most paralleled Castaneda’s book came from Sukenick’s dreams. "How could such a thing have happened, I wondered, unless I were a sorcerer or Castaneda a novelist ?/font> alternatives I have good reason to think equally absurd, Joyce Carol Oates, though I have to admit that the possibility of don Juan being a kind of new Ossian presented itself strongly at first." [From the previous Time article; "Ossian, the legendary third century Gaelic poet whose works James Macpherson foisted upon 18th century British readers."]
Sukenick continued to find similarities when he read the whole of A Separate Reality and later Journey to Ixtlan. Anaïs Nin, who helped Castaneda publish The Teachings of Don Juan, and who, according to Sukenick, "has over the years insisted on the continuity of dream and reality, as does don Juan," invited Carlos to her house so he and Sukenick could meet. The first thing Sukenick discussed with Carlos was the novelistic quality of his books. He described Carlos as a Candide-like character who "looked like someone who had been holding himself together under enormous strain." Due to this demeanor and "signs of a struggling psyche," Sukenick thought it "impossible that anthropological forgery could have been a matter of concern for him or even of attention."
As it turns out, Castaneda was not surprised by the similarities between Sukenick’s novel and his own reportage, "not even at the fact that my main source for them was my dreams. He said that there was a common fund of such knowledge that could be tapped by different people in different ways and that one of those ways was through dreams. He seemed to have in mind something like a lost Jungian race heritage." On this occasion Carlos also told Sukenick stories about don Juan which would later appear in Journey to Ixtlan in "somewhat less intimate detail, and which have the cumulatively convincing smell of experience rather than imagination." Sukenick hence concluded that Castaneda "could not write a sustained work of pure imagination."
Sukenick then admits that some of the grounds for similarities between his and Castaneda’s stories could be found in his experience with a Sioux medicine man that he’d met in South Dakota while writing the novel Out. He had also "been reading about the beliefs and practices of the Plains Indians which are in some ways like those of the Mexican Indians." Having thus supplemented his assertion of dreams being the main source of similarities, Sukenick goes on to defend Carlos as a visionary, and vision as being "beyond category of fact, other than the fact of its having happened at all." Furthermore, "Like a story, it is neither true nor false, only persuasive or unreal, and I think there are few people who would argue that Castaneda’s accounts of his experience are not persuasive, as persuasive in fact as the most accomplished novels."
The similarity of Castaneda’s work with other works and religions "is part of an important subplot in the story of the culture, and in stories, as I said, everything comes together." Sukenick presents the argument that everyone has their stories ?/font> from philosophers and scientists to historians and journalists ?/font> and that they’re only descriptions. "The secret of the sorcerer’s power, it follows, is to know that reality is imagined and, as if it were a work of art, to apply the full force of imagination to it. The alternating descriptions of reality that don Juan works with are possible only by working through, and on, the imagination."
"Don Juan shows us that we live in fictions," says Sukenick, "and that we live best when we know how to master the art. Fiction is the master art . . . The sorcerer, the artist, sees beyond any particular form fiction may take to the fictive power itself, and in the absence of powerful fictions in our lives, maybe it’s time for all of us to become sorcerers."
Replica Watches Replica Watches
The next time Sukenick saw Carlos he was "much more together, more animated and cheerful, stronger, and there was nothing of the Candide left in him." Sukenick tried to draw him out on the similarities of his work with "the processes of the imagination in art" but Castaneda’s notion of art was "rather crude." Still, to Sukenick Carlos was an artist and laments, "Must we really wait on the testimony of anthropologists about the value of [Castaneda’s] books? If the anthropological establishment were to rise up and cry fraud ?/font> and since it hasn’t by now one can be certain it’s not going to ?/font> wouldn’t that, in a way, be even more exciting in imaginative terms?"
At one point, Carlos went to a class Sukenick was teaching to discuss one of his books. Sukenick noticed "his great caution in making claims about his apprenticeship to don Juan, or ‘the field work?as he calls it." He was also "stubbornly indifferent to any similarities between his experience with don Juan and Zen or any other discipline ?/font> that wasn’t his concern. Sukenick had a lot he wanted to talk to Castaneda about, but as time went on "he became increasingly elusive," and "notoriously hard to locate." Someone would say he was in Mexico, then someone else would meet him in an elevator at the university an hour later. "Another time it was reported to me that he had abruptly left a line of students outside his office and disappeared, exclaiming that he had to speak to me right away ?/font> I never heard from him."
"The best way to meet him was by accident," Sukenick continues. "And that, in fact, is how I met him last, a few weeks ago, in a coffee shop in Los Angeles (neither of us is teaching now) after coming from a talk by ?/font> we are apparently approaching the end of the story ?/font> Anaïs Nin. However, there was no chance for conversation because it was not the place and because, he said, looking me straight in the eye, ‘I’m in Mexico.?quot;
Beyond Tales of Power, the Controversy Continues
"With the completion of the tetralogy in the fall of 1974," Noel writes, "Joyce Carol Oates returned to the public argument over the books? veracity which her letter two years earlier had helped to spark. Her essay Don Juan’s Last Laugh appeared to be her own attempt to get the last laugh on those who believed Castaneda was telling the truth." Oates states that perhaps it takes a fiction writer to recognize "a fellow artist," but Noel points out that Sukenick failed to see in Castaneda any such fellow artist.
Oates?essay first appeared in the September 1974 issue of Psychology Today.
Joyce Carol Oates
Don Juan’s Last Laugh
Oates briefly summarizes the tetralogy and describes the character of Carlos as "likable, funny, naïve, and occasionally so dense as to be an outrageous parody of Western Academic Rationalism, subcategory Anthropology." She goes on to note that though the books are "constructed around question-and-answer sequences" the dialogue is not quite Socratic because don Juan does not draw answers out of his student. They do, however, provide "marvelous, concise definitions" as well as "offhand remarks that never suffer by being quoted out of context." Oates also notes that the stories have "genuine dramatic tension and development," and that in Tales of Power Carlos seems oddly younger than his actual age, "very nearly childlike, and innocent."
After these observations, Oates brings up the fact that the books are controversial in that "their factual authenticity has been widely questioned, and widely defended. Are these dramatic books really the ‘field notes?of an anthropology student? Theodore Sturgeon, a science fiction writer, included one of them in an omnibus review of new science fiction: he was very enthusiastic, and suggested they represent something new in his field."
Oates reiterates, in somewhat milder terms than in her previous letters, that "it seems to me beyond a doubt that this series of books is art, not mere reportorial observation." After a section titled, Anglo-Saxon Attitudes, wherein she notes among other things don Juan’s use of odd Anglo-Saxon cliches, Oates moves on to, Everyone Writes Fiction. "Art is usually richer than nonfiction, and more valuable, for it deals with layers of experience ?/font> emotional and psychological as well as intellectual ?/font> that nonfiction cannot comfortably touch."
On the other hand, "It is impossible not to feel, having read the don Juan books, that Carlos Castaneda did experience something terrifying, oceanic, ineffable, and finally transforming, and that these books are his sincere attempt at explaining the inexplicable, to himself and to us." In the next section, Evoking Yaqui Culture (though she doesn’t use the word ‘Yaqui?in the section), Oates says, "What is unique about the don Juan books is their evocation of native American Indian culture . . ."
The last part of Oates?article summarizes Tales of Power once again and asks, "Who is don Juan? Why does he speak in so many voices and idioms?" To which Oates replies, "I suggest that Castaneda is concerned primarily with teaching his readers a few general, and very important, truths, and that he will use any means possible to explain the inexplicable ?/font> in which case he ultimately honors the urgency of his vision over its esthetic forms, in the tradition of nearly all mystics."
To Seeing Castaneda summary part 5