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Wandering God: A Study in Nomadic Spirituality Hardcover – January 1, 2000
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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 --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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.
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Top Customer Reviews
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. Berman's arrogance, because he is quite sure of his conclusions. If you agree, you'll think he's a modern-day prophet. If you disagree, or if you think Dr. Berman's colloquial arguments lack depth, you'll find much to criticize.
All in all, it's difficult to come away from this book unconvinced. It's difficult to read it and not think that Dr. Berman has his fingers (and mind) on the truth, as much as it may offend.
This book is a constructed argument for a politico-economic standpoint, not an overview of nomadic spiritual belief systems.