- Paperback: 425 pages
- Publisher: Seattle Writers' Guild (May 1, 1998)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 096641683X
- ISBN-13: 978-0966416831
- Package Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.3 x 0.9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 9 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,202,014 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Coming to Our Senses: Body and Spirit in the Hidden History of the West
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"This is one of the most important books that will be written before the third millennium begins." -- Larry Dossey, M.D., dust jacket blurb, "Coming to Our Senses"
"[Berman has] stepped beyond intellectual history to become our foremost historian of experience" -- Guy Burneko, World Futures, vol. 30, 1990
"a thought-provoking, boldly original book" --Alex Raksin, Los Angeles Times, 14 May 1989
About the Author
Morris Berman is a poet, novelist, essayist, social critic, and cultural historian. He has written eleven books and more than one hundred articles, and has taught at a number of universities in Europe, North America, and Mexico. He won the Governor?s Writers Award for Washington State in 1990 for Coming to Our Senses, and was the first recipient of the annual Rollo May Center Grant for Humanistic Studies in 1992. In 2000, The Twilight of American Culture was named a ?Notable Book? by The New York Times Book Review, and in 2013 he received the Neil Postman Award for Career Achievement in Public Intellectual Activity from the Media Ecology Association. Dr. Berman lives in Mexico.
Top customer reviews
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After two distinctly scruffy chapters attempting to introduce us to the concept of somatic awareness (LOL), Berman tells us the fascinating history of four big historical heresies and suggests they were initially movements in the awakening of said awareness through ecstatic experience, experience that got killed off as the ensuing embodiment was abstracted back into mind by the powers that were, which then exploited the abstracted form to their own ends.
He then falls into an embarrassing heap with a one-sided look at balance followed by a vague dismissal of most of the last 500 years of western art as some sort of disembodied psychosis erupting violently out of our inability to deal the same non-existence ("nemo") at the core of our being that was allegedly re-installed by the failure of each of the aforementioned heresies. Apparently other cultures don't have this problem, but exactly where their art comes from goes unexplored.
What's missing throughout (but especially in those last two rather telling chapters) is Imagination.
Without Imagination, the part of us that Jung says constructs reality everyday, I'm not sure how mind or spirit can experience the somatic awareness filling the body. Without Imagination I'm not sure how somatic experience can end anywhere but abstracted as an inexplicable concept, because the only function we have capable of holding anything complex or plural un-reductively (as somatic awareness would appear to demand) is Imagination which, by the way, is indistinguishable and inseparable in perception from somatic awareness (if I've read Merleau-Ponty correctly).
It is hard to avoid the conclusion that, viewed in the context of his own thesis, by implicitly excluding Imagination (no doubt due to his contraindicated use of Lacan) Berman is perpetrating his own heresy against somatic awareness in the manner of the [historical] establishments he inveighs against. He encourages somatic awareness but denies us (by implication) the only way to experience it: through imagination, leaving us lost somewhere down the nemo in the collective couch, without escape, transcendence, or even a little art for comfort, enslaved to mind and spirit by this ultimate betrayal of body.
Presuming I haven't misunderstood, it's all rather insidious...
In the end I suspect "nemo" is not the soul-crushing abyss it's described as, but just another troll invented by an ego consciousness trying to protect itself from engagement with Imagination, the body, and the subject of perception (not unlike the 19th century European view of the allegedly terrifying "unconscious"). The alchemists warned us the work reflects what we bring to it, something all too apparent here. If you approach the limits of consciousness with fear you'll always find something scary, which the author does, and perhaps I did too as I wrested with this fascinating but ultimately flawed work by an accidental heretic? :)
The core of the book is an exploration of four different periods in Western history---the origins of Christianity and Gnosticism, the Cathar/Albigensian heresy in Southern France, the rise of modern science from the practice of alchemy, and the modern phenomenon of Nazism. Berman investigates how these periods relate to the suppression of the body in favor of the abstracted intellect and to the return of that suppressed somatic experience in different forms (e.g,. Gnostic mysticism, romantic love, scientific abstraction, and Nazi mass murder).
Finally, Berman looks at our prospects for the future. Since the abstraction/experience split and our attempts to smooth it over are still going strong in modern Western societies, Berman fears the potential for a resurgence of fascism. (Given the tenor of the 21st century so far, it would seem that his fears are well founded.) Instead of advocating another mystical or political attempt to heal over the split and to fill in the nemo, Berman discusses the possibility of a "gesture of balance"---learning to accept the split and the feeling of the nemo without being compelled to fill it in or smooth it over. This radical acceptance of the gap might be the key to "resolving" the gap altogether.
In short, this is a book that demands serious attention from students of history, politics, religion, philosophy, psychology, and also for those dedicated to pursuing a spiritual path.