ODE TO AN ARTIST
by Randy Stark (from a post to the SA mailing list)
Lew wrote: "Remember what a wonderful adventure Carlos has provided for us. That is his art and nothing can take that away from the artist. We have two separate things here; Carlos Castaneda the man and Carlos Castaneda the artist. He is a wonderful artist, novelist, writer. And denying that is denying the wonderful adventure we all had with him. It's like saying all of childhood is shit because kids live in a world of make believe. O.K., so probably not a word of it is 'true.' Nonetheless the books stand as adventure, as art, as magnificent flights of imagination."
You put your finger on something here, Lew, that I've been trying for some time to find a way of expressing, namely the positive side of Carlos Castaneda, or what it's been for me anyway. There's no way for me to go back to being the true believer I was, i.e. it's all factual reporting, it's all actually true, but I do have to acknowledge that I benefited in ways from it all ?from reading the books over and over again, from going to WAY too many workshops <grin>.
But how to put it, how to quantify the benefit? Carlos was a kick in the ass, that's for sure, up close and afar, from the magical realism of his fiction through the early movements of Tensegrity. He was an artist alright, a literary con artist who parlayed his skills into fame and fortune, inspiring millions to look more closely at reality. That inspiration is what was and is a positive thing. No other author that I've ever read has evoked as much awe at the mystery of the real world, both seen and unseen, possible and impossible, as Carlos. The irony, of course, is that he managed that not through his skill as a writer but through his assertion of being a reporter.
The story was supposed to be real. This is the advantage he had over better writers. In my opinion, Salman Rushdie blows Carlos out of the water as far as the genre of magical realism goes, but the fact that Carlos maintained to his dying day that what he wrote was nonfiction put his work on a completely different level (not to mention in a completely different area of the library). His books would have had nowhere near the impact they've had if they'd been published as the pure fiction that they are. So, he basically tricked us, and will continue tricking the uninformed for as long as his books are published as nonfiction. But is this necessarily a bad thing? How does one weigh the benefit of being tricked into taking a closer look at the world, at its mystery, against the downside of being duped by a myth?
It's a toss up, I suppose. The downsides are obvious--cultic behavior, yet another syntax to defend, people needlessly cutting themselves off from loved ones, others (Cleargreen) opportunistically taking advantage of people's gullibility and need to believe in Castaneda's myth, etc.--but as John asserts, there's some useful tech mixed into it. The tools may be secondhand composites, or cleverly crafted fakes, but they have nevertheless been worth checking out. I have no idea what 'seeing' is, for example, but the notion inspired me to look further than I might have into the fundamentals of perception. Tensegrity inspired me to explore the dynamics of movement. And so on. For me, Carlos brought together an immensely entertaining bag of goodies that I (and here's the rub) would never have considered looking into, either due to laziness or the inability to plow through tomes as dry as tombstones.
It's no wonder, really, that labeling things was de-emphasized. The myth was an exercise in transforming many different things into one big magical thing ? a separate reality. But now, alas, like Minnie Pearl's hat, all the tags are showing. Phenomenology is one of the biggest tags. All you have to do is intend it to make it so. Change your name, your routines, your personal history, become another person. Make up a myth and intend it to be so. Submit a fictional thesis and back it up with sincerity, charm, and your own total suspension of judgment. Lie your ass off. It's really funny, though somewhat morbid, how Carlos tricked everyone. He was indeed an artist. But the fact that Florinda, Taisha, Nury, Talia and Kylie disappeared immediately after he died says one thing loud and clear to me. Without Carlos, the game is up. That's why the smart ones got out of town (hopefully alive). Those who remain are fools.
But back to the positive. Carlos, for better and for worse, was a messenger and a cautionary example. At best, his message was to explore and love this world, to consider other worlds, to be here now, to be impeccable (whatever that means to you), to not be so damn selfish, to think outside your nine dots, to embrace death and infinity as teachers, to dream the impossible dream, etc., add your own cliche. Even his unmasking has a positive side, I think, which is where the 'cautionary example' part comes in. His death reminds me a lot of the unfinished poem "Elegy" that Dylan Thomas wrote about the death of his father:
Replica Watches Replica Watches
Too proud to die, broken and blind he died
The darkest way, and did not turn away,
A cold kind man brave in his narrow pride
The last lesson of Carlos Castaneda, the one most of us least expected to learn from the example of his latter days and eventual demise, is simply this--honesty is important.