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Wandering God Paperback – February 17, 2000


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 364 pages
  • Publisher: State University of New York Press (February 17, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0791444422
  • ISBN-13: 978-0791444429
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.8 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,030,581 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In Wandering God, counterculture scholar Morris Berman goes counter-counterculture, taking on such hallowed figures as Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell. Following the lead of Bruce Chatwin's Songlines, Berman discovers the natural state of humanity in our nomadic origins, taking us back not to the early civilizations and their myths but to our Paleolithic ancestors. While debunking Jung and Campbell, Berman draws on a range of anthropological studies to show civilization itself to be pathological, and religion and mysticism to be a coping response. What is natural, he says, is living in paradox, with a heightened sensitivity to our surroundings, in the timeless uncertainty of moment-to-moment living. Leaning toward what one might consider a Daoist or Zen sensibility, Berman serves up persuasive arguments, and his use of sources from Bernadette Roberts to Ludwig Wittgenstein are nothing short of virtuosic. However, his entire theory seems to stand or fall on whether one accepts the immense causal influence of the Freudian notion of infantile attachment, which, if not subject to the same types of methodological criticism he aims at Jung and Campbell, is at least vulnerable to a Wittgensteinian disentanglement. Berman admits that his theory is preliminary, and Wandering God should be read in that spirit. --Brian Bruya

From Kirkus Reviews

paper 0-7914-4442-2 Promising, vivid speculations on the evolution of mental states and varieties of consciousness from Berman (Coming to Our Senses, not reviewed). In this third volume of his trilogy on the paths of consciousness, Berman traces the societal movement from horizontal, egalitarian relations to vertical, hierarchical ones. Lost in the transition, according to Berman, was the magic of everyday life, the hunter-gatherer's alertness that captures the eternal in a moment of permanent ephemerality. The integration of the universal into the particular through the acceptance of (and the revelation of living in) the world as it is also tamps the pain of alienation following in the wake of recognizing a separate self. Berman draws upon research to refute the interpretation of the Paleolithic period as myth-drenched; instead, he tenders the possibility it was marked by paradoxan utter watchfulness within the numinous landscapein which children ``cathected the whole environment'' to mend the split between self and world. Whereas human beings are hard-wired to be on the movemovement is the physiological substrate of the paradoxical experience''sedentism and agriculture have been ``forced upon us by a combination of external circumstances and a latent drive for power and inequality.'' Openness to experience faded, certainties and absolutes replaced our need for uncertainty and surprise, paradigms follow paradigms as ultimate (and ineffectual) fixes. Unfortunately, we can't just superimpose nomadic spirituality over our verticalities. As Wittgenstein recognized, and Berman concurs, ``there finally is no way of jettisoning the transcendent without drifting into incoherence.'' But paradox can be a gadfly, challenging our notions of destiny, heroism, and certainty, exposing ourselves to the congruence of hunter-gatherer life, and, Berman suggests, ``if our culture does have a future, it may well depend on the development of the dialectical possibilities that exist between horizontal and vertical aspects of life.'' Gilgamesh understood the paradox; it glimmers in works from Alice Miller to Ortega y Gassett to Bernadette Roberts; and Berman lets it loose to humble authority and hierarchy. (illustrations, not seen) -- Copyright ©2000, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Customer Reviews

This book's extremely thought-provoking and definitely a keeper.
Joseph Deal
So much so that we cannot imagine doing anything else; so much so that we project backwards and assume that humans have always done it.
GregJS
If you disagree, or if you think Dr. Berman's colloquial arguments lack depth, you'll find much to criticize.
Jon L. Albee

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

60 of 64 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 18, 2001
Format: Paperback
A paradigm addict's worst nightmare, "Wandering God" eschews everything from the intellectual dishonesty of Deconstructionism to the reassuring but ultimately flawed cross-cultural Comparativism of modern-day idols, Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung.
Third in his trilogy on Human Consciousness, W.G. is Berman's leanest and most densely packed argument so far. The book abounds with scintillating insights on diverse subjects, such as the role that child-rearing has on modern life, and boldly rejects the conventional thesis that Ludwig Wittgenstein's "lost years" were actually so. What on this good green Earth do these two subjects have in common? More than you think.
But this brief and quixotic description is putting the cart before the proverbial horse.
Berman's main focus is in articulating the difference between traditional hunter-gatherer and sedentary consciousnesses, how both are part of our common heritage, and how vestiges of the former (horizontal, paradoxical) collide with the dominant zeitgeist of the latter (vertical, power-driven).
Many have been attracted to this book by the Idries Shah-like cover, a desert caravan image, or lulled into thinking W.G. is another in the endless junkpile of New Age tomes with the word "spirituality" in its sub-title. Those of us who know Berman's work can already see beyond the lamentable dust-jacket design. "Wandering God" moves adroitly across precise, scientific vistas into uncharted terrain - the depths of the human mind and body. By the book's end, one has witnessed, and participated in, the eruption of an intellectual volcano.
Some reviewers have been put off by Berman's unwillingness to neatly package and tie off his theses, and stake his academical prize.
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30 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Stanley Krippner on September 6, 2001
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Morris Berman's masterful book, Wandering God, argues that humakind lost its way once agriculture and sedentary life styles set in. Even though humans have the same brains and bodies that characterized their prehistoric ancestors, they worship a vertical god (in the "heavens") and arrange their societies in vertical hierarchies. Berman touts the advantages of horizontal, egalitatarian relationships and spiritual practices, even though it necessitates living in the paradoxes that come with self-awareness. Although he depends too much on the Freudian notion of "infantile attachment" to make his case, Berman's message is provocative and visionary.
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32 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Charles D. Hayes on October 30, 2000
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Morris Berman has had a profound effect on my thinking during the past decade. "Wandering God," I've concluded, after long deliberation, is my favorite of all of his books. I shied away from it at first because of my aversion to books with the word spirituality in the title. The term is used so often and in so many ways that I'm never certain what it means. I should have know better in Berman's case. This is a fascinating read, and it raises questions about the history of consciousness which should have been aired decades ago, were it not for the tendency of scholarship to converge into group-think. One thing for sure, Berman is always out in front, ahead of the group. His complete confidence and maturity of thought enables him to lay out paragraph after paragraph of serious thought and then wrap it up with a personal statement that shows he respects the reader more than the institutions that rein over serious subject matter. If you want to read something that will give you food for thought for years to come, read "Wandering God."
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36 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Jon L. Albee TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 27, 2002
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If you know Dr. Berman by way of The Twilight of American Culture, hit the reset button, for this is a far different animal. This book is his masterpiece, and is a work of comparative anthropology. The thesis here is far too complex for summary, but suffice to say that it is forcefully argued and thoroughly researched. I imagine that this work is less popular with academic philosophers, psychologists, and anthropologists than it perhaps should be for several subjective reasons. Its central argument is based on Freud's concept of the self, which has become deeply unfashionable in recent years. Also, Berman offers an iconoclastic interpretation of Wittgenstein that steps on the toes of quite a few important philosophical thinkers. You'll also find elements of Camus' concept of absurdity and William James' pragmatism (i.e. truth, independent of empirical evidence, is what "works" rather than what "is"), though I don't believe the similarities are intentional. The author has a tendency to bend the evidence to his conclusions and can, at times, piece elements of others' works into a collage of quotations and statements that appears to offer little original thought, but those cases are exceptional rather than the rule.

Dr. Berman has written an enormously important history of human hierarchy that all subsequent writers have taken for granted.

Basically, Dr. Berman believes that human discovery of a "self," rather than simply as as physical entity, introduced hierarchy into civilization. All religion today is based on a hierarchy, spiritual to earthly. Is this just an accident? How did civilization, and its promotion of sedentary life, contribute to a social hierarchy that dominates our culture today, worldwide?

You'll have to fight yourself with Dr.
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