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Reimagination of the World: A Critique of the New Age, Science, and Popular Culture . Paperback – September 1, 1991
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From Library Journal
This book records the talks and writings of Spangler and Thompson stemming from two seminars conducted at the Chinook Learning Center near Seattle during 1988-89. Spangler coined the term "New Age" in the early 1970s. Here, with Thompson, he discusses the definitions and problems of this young movement. Along with a thorough analysis of New Age, the authors study the role of imagination in the transformation of culture. The improvisational nature of the talks mixed with dialogs with seminar participants causes some redundancy. The style is scholarly, yet this work should prove useful in defining and balancing New Age collections.
- L. Kriz, Sioux City P.L., Ia.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Spangler is apparently regarded as one of the founders of the New Age movement - I honestly admit that I never heard of the guy until I picked up this book (he'll be glad to hear it). However, I have heard of Findhorn, a spiritual community in Scotland with which Spangler used to be associated. William Irwin Thompson is a maverick professor and self-professed working-class Irishman who founded the Lindisfarne Association. I admit that I did hear of *him* before picking up this book, probably in some of Morris Berman's books.
I'm not sure what to say about "Reimagination of the World". The book feels like a typical New Age smorgasbord of pretty much everything - and this in a book ostensibly critical of the New Age. Perhaps people who are "in-house" can pick up the vibes, but personally I found it bewildering. Both Spangler and Thompson (a.k.a. David and Bill) are fed up with the commercial, narcissistic, cultic and naïve sides of the New Age. Even Spangler is sceptical, despite being a psychic who claims to have paranormal contacts with spirits. (His ideas sound like a blend of Steiner and Seth.) Both want a more mature and down-to-earth spirituality, less obsession with gurus and "channels", more science (sic) and less Shirley MacLaine! However, their alternative to the New Age is simply another version of...well, the New Age. The whole thing feels like an internal, factional conflict.
Thompson criticizes the general dumbing-down of America and American pop culture, at one point bemoaning that nobody heard of Marshall McLuhan at a communications course he was teaching. A few lectures are devoted to Spangler's ideas about spiritual hierarchies, esotericism, the Cosmic Christ, etc. Spangler also talks about the supernatural entity "John", with whom he has established contact. Both men uncritically support Tibet and the Dalai Lama. The main difference between the two lecturers is that Thompson sounds more "Buddhist" and has greater respect for conventional science than the average New Age believer, while Spangler is more into "Christian" symbolism and sounds decidedly less scientific. At one point, Thompson jokingly refers to himself as "the hard cop", with Spangler being "the soft cop". Otherwise, the two men seem to understand each other perfectly. Both also have a sense of humour, as when Thompson repeats the weird phrase "Study the monochord" several times in a lecture. (According to legend, those were the last words of Pythagoras.)
Personally, I found the anecdotes retold by these two illuminates to be pretty entertaining. And disturbing? Spangler at one point left California, moving to Wisconsin. Since he is "the founder of New Age", the lunatic fringe of the movement interpreted his move as proof positive that California would soon disappear into the sea! Why else would such a spiritual person leave the golden state? In Wisconsin, Spangler met local New Age channels who prophesied the disappearance of *that* state into the Great Lakes... At another point, Spangler was interviewed by a TV reporter in a room painted in bizarre pastels with huge crystals hanging down from the ceiling. The reporter's first question was: "Why are so many fed up with the New Age?" As for Thompson, he is obsessed by paranoiacs, which suggests that he may have met a few of them himself. He also turns out to be on a first-name basis with both James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis, who were Lindisfarne Fellows (not paranoiacs). Otherwise, I must say that Thompson (a professor of literature) is too preoccupied with his Irish working-class background and constantly tries to cultivate a kind of "tough guy image". The book ends with a couple of confused and almost demented reflections on the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Gulf War.
I didn't really like the book, mostly because of its meandering, let's-talk-about-everything-under-the-sun character. It might be of some interest to New Age believers, but probably not to the general public. As already pointed out, the critique of the New Age offered in the book is simply another version of the same thing. I wouldn't be too surprised if the New Age simply assimilates this book into its holistic smorgasbord...
Since I feel charitable today, I nevertheless award this little book the OK rating (three stars).