27 January 2009

I been Holy Modalled, I been Quetzlcoatl'd

8 Bahman - Year 1387

I wanted to like this book a lot, I really did. I enjoyed Pinchbeck's first book, Breaking Open The Head, aside from the couple of tedious Burning Man chapters. It seemed to be an honest exploration of psychedelic states of being by a confused, if well-meaning, Manhattan literary party-boy.

I was excited when I first heard that "2012" was being published. I thought it would be a fresh perspective on the whole "end-of-the-Mayan-calendar"/"herald-of-a-new-age" scenario that was first brought to my attention by Terence McKenna and his TimeWave Zero theory. It seemed as if Pinchbeck were stepping up to the plate and was going to pick up where McKenna left off, after McKenna's passing in 2000.

I skimmed some reviews of "2012 - The Return Of Quetzlcoatl" (as the first edition was called)...and many were middling. Undaunted, I thought it was just the cynical contingent of the mainstream press. I checked some reviews over at GoodReads and it seemed to be the same. Hmmm.... Now I realise that anything with "prophecy" in the title (as stated in the edition I have) has the fundamentalist materialists and dogmatic rationalists reaching for their revolvers, but I thought there would be a lot more praise for the book. I decided to finally give it a go.

In "2012", Pinchbeck has devoted his energies to studying the prophecy that a new age will emerge in December 2012, which the Mayan calendar shows as the end of the world, or just the end of the current age, depending on your view. He jets off to Oregon to hang out with Jose Arguelles, who's created a new calendar based on the original Mayan dates. He visits England several times, specifically the Glastonbury area, to study the crop circle phenomenon. Mexico becomes a destination, so Dan can view the Mayan architecture. He goes to Burning Man again (urgh!), but this time the festival isn't so groovy, man--and finally he journeys to the Amazon rain forest, to learn about Santo Daime, a local religion which grafts the disparate strains of old tribal customs and Romish Catholicism into a peculiar ritual. The participants swallow cupfuls of ayahuasca, then sing and do a two-step dance for up to 6 hours.

All the while, he's having relationship problems with his 'partner'. She's never given a name, she's just his partner--though she is described as 'beautiful and svelte' (Pinchbeck wants you to know he's no chubby-chaser). The couple have a child together, which seems ill-advised, as he relates that their union was a bit unstable from the outset. These bits were really where Pinchbeck lost me. In an afterword to the paperback edition, he states how he included all this personal detail to 'invoke a deep enough response in readers that if might incite a shift in perspective'. Erm..that didn't happen for me, mate. It just seemed a bit voyeuristic to me, his tendency to let his audience in on his somewhat private soap-opera, involving his 'partner', another woman he meets at a psychedelic retreat in Hawaii, whom he insists on referring to as "first priestess" (she doesn't have a name either, apparently) and his little girl (again, no name). One chapter is devoted to the partner's father, for no other apparent reason than to compare him to Pinchbeck's own father. He also can't seem to stop exploiting his connection to the Beats (his mother dated Jack Kerouac at the height of his fame), as if that somehow lends him some extra credibility.

In spite of the more frustrating aspects of Pinchbeck's narrative, I did enjoy parts of the book. I really liked the crop circle bits, though I've never really given much thought to the phenomenon, putting down most (if not all) of the designs down to hoaxers. I found myself looking up the various formations Pinchbeck discusses to get a better idea of what he is describing. He didn't convince me with his various theories, but I did think that maybe hoaxers weren't responsible for all of the circles. Some of the Arguelles chapters had interesting segments - but then Pinchbeck inserts some caustic New Yawk intellectual screed, completely dismissing Aleister Crowley, but he buys most of Arguelles' Mayan reincarnation schtick. His visit to the Hopi reservation seems a bit of an anti-climax, but the words of the tribal chief almost redeem the plodding structure of the chapter. The book ends with an eco-warrior message about humanity's destruction of the environment and a possible redemption in the next 6 years (well, it's down to 3 now). Pinchbeck doesn't seem concerned that all of his jetting about might've added to all that pollution....'cos it was like, for the book, man.

So, for all that, you get a somewhat middling book about 2012 and what may happen. For me, it seems a bit of a wasted opportunity--too much about the author, not enough about the actual phenomenon. When he's not talking about his own foibles, he's borrowing ideas from McKenna, Arguelles, Robert Anton Wilson, crop circle devotees and a host of others. It seems that maybe Pinchbeck started believing his own press and yeah, that Rolling Stone article didn't really help things. It appears that he wants to join the psychedelic pantheon and have his name amongst the greats (Wilson, Leary, Huxley, McKenna, Kesey, etc.)--but I just don't know if he makes the cut. Going by "2012", I think he's got a ways to go.

3 comments:

Singing Bear said...

Yes, I read a few reviews of this recently and wasn't sure what to make of it. It's a fascinating topic but I think that, perhaps, it could do without such self-indulgence.

Crop circles continue to amaze me, even if many of them are hoaxes. Actually, I find it really hard to believe they are all hoaxes. Some are so incredibly complex that I'm sure they are way beyond the skills of s bunch of hippies or art students. Nor sure where that leaves me as a Christian but I'm not one to easily write of all such phenomena. There's a spirit that moves through the universe - I call it God - others may take a slightly different approach. Who knows?

2012? It'll probably be just another mesy year for mankind but, on the other hand...

Singing Bear said...

By the way, I'm half way through 'Breaking Open The Head' and rather enjoying it. You're right about the 'Burning Man' chapters - sounds like tedious Californian bollocks to me.

The Purple Gooroo said...

Nice one, Bear! Crop circles seem really interesting to me. They may be the work of hoaxers - but some of those designs seem to be almost too intricate to be executed by people in the middle of the night with ropes and boards.

You could be right, too - maybe nothing will happen in 2012. I'd like to think that some transformation will take place for the better..but we'll see..

I'm sure "Burning Man" used to be a real, honest gathering dedicated to creating a mini-alternative society--but it's become as commercialised as Glastonbury, the Lollopalooza festivals and any other gathering of that sort you care to name. With the exception of Green Man..but I fear that will turn into another Glastonbury soon.