In the 18th and 19th centuries, colonization of so-called "primitive cultures" by Western countries was the way of the world. Powerful nations sought to increase their wealth and power by subjugating the peoples of Africa, Asia, and the Americas. Now, in the 20th century, cultures once dismissed as inferior have become a source of fascination to Westerners, who perceive in them a heightened spirituality, stronger sense of community, greater reverence for nature--all the things, in fact, that the West fears it has lost. Marianna Torgovnick, a professor and chair of the English department at Duke University, explores the West's modern quest for ecstasy in the provocative work Primitive Passions.
What makes Professor Torgovnick's book so valuable is how wide she casts her net. New Age philosophy, travel literature--even the movie Dances with Wolves--are all grist for her discussion. C. G. Jung, Isak Dinesen, Georgia O'Keeffe, and D. H. Lawrence populate her chronicle as she examines the different ways men and women respond to primitive ecstasy. Primitive Passions is an intelligent and illuminating survey.
From Library Journal
Torgovnick (English, Duke Univ.) successfully elaborates upon her previous book, Gone Primitive (LJ 6/15/90), which dealt with the Western fascination with primitivism. In the first two sections of her new book, she contrasts Western male and female perceptions of the primitive by analyzing the lives and works of intellectuals and artists ranging from Andre Gide to Georgia O'Keeffe. In the third section, she examines the current Western attraction to primitivism apparent in the widespread admiration of Native American culture and traditions and in the attempts of the men's movement and New Agers to imitate what they perceive to be Native American customs or spirituality. Dividing her book this way effectively allows the reader to see a clear difference in how men and women see the primitive and to admit the possibility that the primitive is still valued in today's Western world. A worthy addition to academic anthropology collections that will also be appreciated both by scholars in literature and gender studies and informed lay readers.?Ximena Chrisagis, Wright State Univ. Lib., Dayton, Ohio
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