Wednesday, October 31, 2012

#107. Retirement-summer Mini-reviews

ARCHIVE. For a list of all my published posts:

This post is 7th in a series of blog entries beginning with #101-- a collection of notes and essays from my files all dealing in one way or another with the emerging new religious consciousness. They are mostly things I've written over the last decade to clarify my own thoughts but which I now want to make available for anyone who might be interested.

Post #107 is a dozen or so mini-reviews of books I was looking at in the summer of 2000, in between preparations for a trip to Dillon, MT (for an annual Lewis and Clarke gathering) and a two-week retirement-celebration trip to New Zealand. They are little more than rough notes, but about important topics.

If you have questions and think I might help, you're welcome to send me a note:


1. Title: Mythography : the study of myths and rituals

Author: Doty, William G., 1939-
Imprint: University of Alabama Press, c1986.

29 July 2000: This is the most thorough book I’ve ever seen on myth and ritual. Most of it, alas, is strictly academic and quite dull. It would seem that most of the scholars of M&R have never taken part in an authentic life-giving ritual. Pathetic stuff. I will look to see if there is an updated version of this, or a successor with a later date.

Later: There is! Found it on In explaining the revised edition (May 20, 2000) the author (I think) says: The second edition of this work, originally published in 1986, took several years, and is much more than simply a tweaking and updating. The entire work has been reconceived and, I'd estimate about 5/6th rewritten. There are many additional features, especially designed to be useful to students and researchers: annotated subject bibliographies, a glossary, and the 75 pp Works Cited from both editions. The great sales of the first edition, and the anticipated sales of the second, have enabled the Press to produce a paperback for $25. what most people who see the huge size anticipate will be priced at $45-60.

To give an example of the revision, the definitional chapter, very frequently reprinted under permission fee, has now become the entire first Part, with a new introductory chapter, the complex field definition now split into chs. 2-3, and a fourth chapter ("Why Myths seem Declassé Today") that argues for attention to the "primitive" and reports on new work in classics and in the study of biblical mythology.

An evaluation of the book by an author unfamiliar to me, Daniel C. Noel's: "The earlier edition of William Doty's Mythography was the best overview we had of the fascinating variety of approaches to the interpretation of myths and rituals. This thoroughly revised and updated new version is even better! It is a triumph-- and an indispensable tool for all explorers of the mythic."

The jacket resume: "William Doty's popular text has been hailed as the most comprehensive work of its kind. Extensively rewritten and completely restructured, the new edition provides further depth and perspective and is even more accessible to students of myth. It includes expanded coverage of postmodern and poststructuralist perspectives, the Gernet Center, mythic iconography, neo-Jungian approaches, and cultural studies, and it summarizes what is new in the study of Greek myth, iconography, French classical scholarship, and ritual studies.... Presenting all major myth theorists from antiquity to the present, Mythology is an encyclopedic work that offers a cross-disciplinary approach to the study of myth. By reflecting the dramatic increase in interest in myth among both scholars and general readers since publication of the first edition, it remains a key study of modern approaches to myth and an essential guide to the wealth of mythographic research available today."

Reviewer Elena Chandler from Austin, Texas: William Doty's Mythography: The Study of Myths and Rituals is an interesting analysis from the standpoint of content. It draws extensively on various traditions, particularly the Jungian tradition of interpreting myths as universal. Regrettably, the author's attempt to make the book accessible to a non-academic public impedes readability and sacrifices clarity. The book is peppered with references to popular culture and intrusive biographical detail about the author. Rather than situating the material in an ostensibly more easily understood milieu, the references frequently seem spurious, not particularly closely connected to the point being made or illuminating of it. The first chapter, entitled Myth Around the Clock, for example, claims to examine the universal and timeless nature of myth, the "long term nature of things mythical", but the musical reference overtly refers to a radical break in musical tradition. Dangerous generalisations are made, based not upon any heterogenous trend than anecdotal evidence (e.g. the authour's claim that "the Tanach now begins" with a progressive reference to the gods...) Certain frames of reference, such as the "ReadMe" file at the introduction of the text, are so disconnected from the content as to be glaringly irrelevant. Despite the fact that it is published under the auspices of a University press, I would not recommend the book for serious work on Mythography, because of the intensive filtering and interpretive process required to get at the content, which is in itself not poorly thought out. Within a more casual context, however, the book may be enjoyable. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.


2) Author: Doty, William G., 1939-

Title: Myths of masculinity / William G. Doty.
Imprint: New York : Crossroad, c1993.

17 July '00: This is a very thorough and dense book. Heavy material and lots of it, but quite good. The author simply has too much to say, and says it in a condensed form. One funny thing: He mentions (in terms of American machismo) that some group has offered $5,000 to anyone who can “show a 10 inch dick,” but the money has never been claimed. 

The chapter (9) on the Navajo Holy Twins, as a reconnection of active and passive masculinity and as being the only way balance/hozho can be established, is very helpful to me. Also, the simple fact that hozho is shalom and the OSB “pax” as well as the NA “All My Relations” is delightful. He has VERY positive things to say about James B. Nelson’s work (about it being so healthy even though coming from a Christian religious context!).


3) Author: Nelson, James B.

Title: Between two gardens : reflections on sexuality and religious experience / by James B. Nelson.
Imprint: New York : Pilgrim Press, c1983.

17 July 00: An excellent book, despite the fact that it came out in 1983. Still highly relevant. Excellent analysis of the religious right (ch 9) as being motivated by fear, exactly like the fascists in the book I reviewed a few summers back. The second chapter is the best: reflections based on “body theology.” How christology messes things up, limitations of limiting divinity to one person, etc. Good basic views; nice to see them expressed so well. Amazing that they were expressed back in 1983. (?Where was I then?)

I hope to get Nelson’s book Intimate Connection, that Doty says is the best stuff on masculinity-issues coming from a religious perspective.


4. McGinn, Bernard The growth of mysticism /, (Crossroad, 1994).

30 July: This is vol 2 of a three or four part series on mysticism in the Christian tradition. This volume goes from roughly St Benedict to the beginnings of scholasticism. Much interesting stuff. I hope to see the previous and subsequent volumes as well. 

Christian mysticism began with the desert monks from a combo of Jewish and Pagan Greek ideas; operates within a cultural context of and really limited to the bible; heavily influenced by Augustine: “God available via Christ, Christ needed to save us because the world and human nature are sinful. Christ available via eucharist and office, not much access outside monasticism...” All makes me think again and again: what would a non-fall/redemption mysticism look like? A non-fall/redemption Christianity? I’m not doing justice to the book here. I do have some journal notes that should not be ignored if wanting to know what I thought of this book.


5. Gilkey, Langdon Brown, 1919- Shantung compound: the story of men and women under pressure, New York, Harper & Row [1966]

30 July 00: I really enjoyed this book. A young (early/mid 20’s) American teaching in a college in China is interred in a Japanese-run concentration camp for several years of WWII. Really interesting observation on human nature, on male-female differences, on Catholic vs Protestant missionaries, and many other fascinating topics. The author comes across as a likable young man, more capable than he implies; one of the most enjoyable books I’ve read in a long time.


6. Knight, Sirona. Greenfire: Making love with the Goddess. Llewellyn, 1996

30 July 00: A really poorly done book. Some/much just doesn’t make sense, and even of much that does I ask, “What’s the point?” I am thinking I probably shouldn’t bother anymore with Llewellyn books. They’re just not any good.


7. Placher, William Carl The domestication of transcendence : how modern thinking about God went wrong . 1st ed. Louisville, Ky. : Westminster John Knox Press, c1996.

30 July 00: The author looks at specific views of Th Aq, Luther and Calvin with regard to what we can know about God (nothing!), then shows how these views got lost. Interesting stuff about the Trinity, good and evil, and some other interesting things. Awfully difficult working through of historical concepts to get to where the author does. Too inbreed theological yakking for my tastes. I’m not interested in hearing any more discussions of the faith vs works ideas.

The contrast between all this stuff and the Cistercian’s obsession with the Song of Songs and Alered of R’s ideas about friendship, etc. are on another planet from Placher’s yakky-yak. Hard to think both are dealing more or less with the same subject. Makes me appreciate more and more how sensible the modern “scientific” method is.


8. The myth of American manhood / edited and with an introd. by Leonard Kriegel. New York : Dell

8 Aug 00. This is a collection of excerpts from essays and stories that illustrate “models of masculinity.” The author is the self-named “cripple” (from TB at age 10 or so) whose autobiographical book I’ve read recently, but didn’t apparently even bother to make a note about!

Just looked it up. AUTHOR: Kriegel, Leonard, 1933- TITLE: Falling into life : essays / PUBLISHED: San Francisco : North Point Press, 1991.

The “myth” book begins with Cotton Mather’s Life of William Bradford, and includes numerous familiar-sounding names: Daniel Boone, the Deerslayer, U. S. Grant, Herman Melville, Mark Twain, Ernest Hemmingway, James Baldwin, Norman Mailer, et al.

None write a “this is what I understand masculinity to be” type essays, but all presume some form of it and write from those presumptions. Lots of interesting stuff here, but a lot of work to dig out all that’s significant. Matther’s Bradford was a Puritan ideal of masculine simplicity based on the bible; the Daniel Boone presented is one of the most powerful and long-lasting masculinity models: one who wrests his manhood from nature or at least in communion with it (this seems not too clear to me); WW II killed the older “male = provider” ideas; and Vietnam and the 60’s (Beatles, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, et al) simply left manhood in shambles; anti-male feminists finished the process.

The book was published in the late 70’s, just before the Robert Bly interview and the start of the “men’s movement.” All that was nearly a quarter century ago; a new collection of stories, essays, etc., is needed to update the story of the demise of patriarchal manhood and (hopefully) the emergence of new models of masculinity based on non-patriarchal perspectives. As I wrote that I sense what a long-haul it has been already and is likely to be in the future! Sacred earth and sacred manhood go together, and I think will be recovered together. It’s not easy to be optimistic in the face of this collection from literary sources; but again I’d like to see a similar collection dating from around 1980.


9. Author: Nilsson, Lennart, 1922-

Title: Behold man ; a photographic journey of discovery inside the body [by] Lennart Nilsson in collaboration with Jan Lindberg. Text by David H. Ingvar, Stig Nordfeldt [and] Rune Petterson. Translator: Ilona Munck. Imprint Boston, Little, Brown, [1974]

8 Aug 00: An old book but filled with wondrous photos of the insides of the human body.


10. Author: Keyes, Roger S.
Title: The male journey in Japanese prints / Roger S. Keyes.
Imprint: Berkeley : University of California Press, c1989.

10 Aug 00. This is an interesting collection of more than 250 Japanese wood block prints made mostly in the 1600s and 1700s by artists who had been commissioned usually by a verse writer. The prints were made available on special occasions, especially the new year. The editor selected them to represent the stages and phases of a Japanese male’s life as seen in these years when Japan was isolated from the rest of the world and was more or less at peace.

The pictures are often difficult to make out; they are similar to the drawings and art work of central/south American native cultures, in that it’s not easy to know what you’re looking at.

The pictures are meant to capture one moment in time. What we today might call a snapshot of a passing moment. The assumptions are that all things are always changing and that this present moment is to be reverenced. It is unique in the history of the cosmos.

Whether these are useful in helping contemporary men think through what it means to be a man, I don’t know. But they certainly were helpful to the editor. An interesting book!


11. Book of men. The man in me : versions of male experience / edited by Ross Firestone. 1st HarperPerennial ed. New York, NY : HarperPerennial, 1992. Originally published: A Book of men. New York : Stonehill Pub. Co., c1975.

Aug, 2000. This is a collection of excerpts from essays and stories by a large number of men (perhaps 150 or so), dealing with the topics of fathers, brothers, sons, lovers, husbands. Authors range from Merton (!) to Milton Berle and everyone in between. Makes for interesting reading, although nothing leaps out as of great significance.


12) Author: Corneau, Guy.

Title: Absent fathers, lost sons : the search for masculine identity / Guy Corneau ; translated by Larry Shouldice.
Imprint: Boston : Shambhala : Distributed by Random House, 1991.

[From an email note to a friend]: 25 Aug 00. I read this just before leaving for the L&C annual meeting, in Dillon, MT. It’s quite good. Strait talk, down to earth, non-academic, non-clinical, non-theological. The author is Jungian and Canadian, shows the “catholicity” of Jungian views well. He speaks from a personal level, “about things that are important to men.” His overriding concern is that the problems of men need to be talked about, for the sake of their women and children as well as the men themselves. Over and over he says, “It’s time to break the silence.”

The book’s content is more positive than the title indicates: those things older males need to offer younger males, so that the younger ones may fully live their manhood. It’s deceptively simple. Often zen-like statements make gongs go off in my head and heart. (The book seems especially valuable for anyone whose father has died recently and/or who has adolescent son(s), and I thought of you repeatedly.) 

Especially valuable for anyone who has adolescent son(s). In chapter 2 the author describes 10 types of lost sons. As I read them-- the Hero, the Good Boy, the Eternal Adolescent, the Seducer, the Homosexual, the Feminist, the Wounded in Love, the Rebel, the Desperate, and the Addict-- I kept saying to myself, “No, that’s not me” and thinking, “Maybe I don’t fit any of the patterns.” But sure enough, there I was, in the very last category. (I don't mean I'm a drug addict, but I definitely fit the personality type. The Addict seems to be what the shamanic personality degenerates into if it doesn't receive the blessings of what it needs from older males.)

The Addict’s focus is counter cultural rejection of conventional values. (I've fit that pattern since I was six years old.) Corneau describes him as wanting to attain new states of consciousness, to be in communion with the ultimate. (To which I respond, "But doesn't everybody?)

The Addict wants to contact infinity, to attain new states of consciousness, a son of Dionysus (god of ecstasy, who presides over intuitions and transformations; is killed, dismembered, and reintegrated, in a metamorphosis [= transfiguration]). This takes place via magic rites which require the suppression of ordinary consciousness and put us in contact with the beyond-the-human spirit-world, beyond surface appearances to the deepest meaning of things. (Sounds good to me!)

Author says addicts pursue change at any cost, incorrectly, and following a self-destructive impulse. Drugs are a devouring dark mother.

Some of the things he mentions about this type of male personality sound awfully familiar in terms of the adolescents I worked with over the years. This personality type needs constant oral gratification; needs to be nourished and attended; needs to be center of attention; easily becomes disappointed and hostile; needs sense of power and well being, of independence especially of feminine. Fear of feminine leads to self-punishment and aggression; macho over-compensation for feelings of weakness, dependence and passivity. 

He also mentions that sociologists say this type especially appears in societies of conquered peoples, who are neither patriarchal nor matriarchal (and offers French Canadians as an example; I think inner city blacks are a closer-to-home example). Also, he notes that after divorce, fathers need especially to help sons resist oral cravings and aggressive impulses.

The rest of the book (beyond chapter 2) deals with intimacy, male energy and grounding. It’s very good stuff. I hope to re-read at least the chapter 2 if not the whole book sometime soon. Minimally, to reflect of the Addict personality type.


15. The Philosophy of John Scottus Eriugena : A Study of Idealism in the Middle Ages by Dermot Moran (Cambridge U Pr, 1989)

21 Aug 2000. I ordered this via ILL because it was referred to in one of the Bernard McGinn volumes and sounded especially significant, but I can’t remember what the specifics were, now. It contains some very interesting material. I found chapter 5, The Meaning of Nature, especially interesting. Four points grabbed my attention.

1) The Mystery is always and everywhere making itself known to us: everything is theophany, symbol, sign, image, exemplar, sign, mysterium, sacramentum. Not a new idea, surely; I just like the collection of terms.

2) The degree to which we recognize things as revelations or manifestation of the Mystery depend on our point of view and perspective: where we are located in space and time and history, and our moral/spiritual development.

3) Things are manifestations of the Mystery not-other than itself; while to us they are objects of knowledge/perspective (as above). The point of this distinction is that it makes sense of there being no intermediaries between creator and creation. To God, things are God; to us, they’re not (until we learn to see them correctly).

(This means, too, as I see it, that we ourselves are also nothing other than God manifest, so that the more developed we are in our self-understanding, the more we know ourselves as not-other than the Mystery.)

4) p.268 “All manifestations are limited and point to the infinite darkness which is their origin and ground.”

“By negating everything fixed and static, and becoming one with the non-being above being (ie, with the pleroma of reality, parenthesis mine); by becoming one’s own best self; we can cast aside our limitations and enter into the infinite darkness.”


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