Castanedarama: 2 By James Yeager Bowed by the weight of Time magazine, I set out to lean once again on Carlos Castaneda and his Journey to Ixtlan together we \(Time million books and together we judge Castaneda important even for that reason alone. That is where the agreement ends, however. It is well to note that Time tries to defictionalize author Castaneda and skimps the “character,” don Juan. Earlier, it pursued the spoor of Howard Hughes with .equally useless abandon. One lesson of Ixtlan and the previous two Castaneda books is that physical fact is something to forget. It doesn’t matter if there is no Howard Hughes and it certainly doesn’t matter if there’s no Castaneda, though some evidence points otherwise. Since don Juan is in the books, he exists rather more strongly for me than does Castaneda, whether he has a blood type or an address or not. Shakespeare’s comment on another apparent breaker of natural laws, Hermione in Winter’s Tale: “If this be magic, let it be an art/As lawful as eating.” Castaneda’s problem with the magic is not with experiencing it, but with living the tenets that make it possible. Ever since Castaneda was a graduate student ten years ago he has visited don Juan intermittently and made notes on the happenings. Don Juan, a Yaqui Indian, wanders from the southwestern U.S. to northern Mexico with a stolid disdain for borderlines drawn by men who can read. Carlos’s notes make him laugh. Castaneda has published two previous books about the Indian’s teachings, one in 1968, the other in 1970. The conversations abridged for the books take place on desert hills, or on the porch of don Juan’s adobe house. Castaneda, in his youth, covets the knowledge of plants, of hunting and, ultimately, of human character which don Juan, in his age, possesses. Carlos wishes to learn how to transcend the fallibilities of the flesh; don Juan counters that they must be trained. IN THE first book, Conversations with Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge, Castaneda finds that the desert before one’s eyes is alive with invisibility. In the second, he learns the importance of “seeing” what cannot be seen. In the present, he actually can “see.” The process requires seer to accept those things about himself he hates, to change them and to keep his mouth shut about the whole thing. Castaneda writes anyway. As in all sequential discussions, significance pivots upon a verb: in this act, James Yeager is a freelance writer who has worked for Pacifica and Space City! in Houston. it’s “to see.” An extract from all three books might slag out the definition, “a process, rehearsed in dreams, wherein the eyes are deliberately unfocused and social agreements are relinquished, which results in sensations unrelatable to the immediate environment.” So don Juan is not your Starr County laborer, nor a blanket concessionaire in Santa Fe. In fact, Castaneda never sidles away from anthropology into such awkward economic questions as “Where does this Indian get the means to buy his groceries?” As a Peruvian born American , student from LA, the author may have wished to protect his academic standing stay respectable, you know, don’t go off on any wild tangents just in case he wanted to use that degree after all. Can’t sit around on the porch passing gab, time and the pipe all day. Castaneda has lately been promoted to professor, so some calculation somewhere paid off. But while Castaneda conforms more closely to the stereotype of his occupation group than don Juan does to that of his race, conformity is only tangentially at issue here. As don Juan is at pains to point out to our fledgling sage: “For a sorcerer, the world of everyday life is not real, or out there, as we believe it is. For a sorcerer, reality, or the world we all know, is only a description. Ah, pity Castaneda, who intended in 1961 to capture an “authentic Indian” in his notebook, and bear back to UCLA a little thesis-germ. The thesis sprouted an Apologia, or extended “procedure followed” section, which the author prudently bound separately under the title Conversations etc. Carlos then thought that the whole packa cards with the “sorcerer” was in DRUGS! Oh, peyote! wow, psylocybin! CASTANEDA CONFESSES at the beginning of Journey to Ixtlan what he began to manifest in A Separate Reality, the second of the three books: a conviction that the drug phenomena are as peripheral to sorcery, or “seeing,” as is the sex or nationality of the seer. The change in force assigned to drugs is the central difference between the latest book and the previous two. The desert remains a constant among all three. In Journey Castaneda abandons the leaky shelter wherein enlightenment is given to one, as a drug is given. Rather, he realizes that enlightenment is the result of one’s actions. He has been looking for a procedure to follow, but he now understands that he must formulate his own. He shifts from the realm of anthropology to that of psychology. You don’t receive, you conceive. Here’s Castaneda, a jaw-me-dead fella out to reave secrets from the land with no sharper tool than his ability to ask, honed occasionally by a whine. Sometimes it seems like too much sharpening and too little cutting. He meets don Juan in a bus station; a kind act or two later and the Indian makes him the enemy of a witch reputed by no less reliable a witness than the narrator to be able to cross fifty feet in an eyeblink’s stride. Her intentions are not honorable, and the pair are only saved by don Juan’s “impeccable will” and an itinerant crow. Castaneda keeps thinking the visions he sees are Don Juan’s manipulations! Howzzat? When one guy thinks a lotta guys are jivin’ him, that’s paranoia; but when one guy takes the other guy in, why can’t they both be right? It takes a while for the new consensus to penetrate Castaneda’s reason, and he never quite loses his awe at some of the apparitions. Don Juan, for instance, shows himself simultaneously to five apprentice sorcerers, in a different guise for each. Castaneda is leery of such freedom of personal image. For selfhood is of prime concern to Carlos, who is a dutiful child of our century; it is a concept at once to be ridiculed and venerated by don Juan. The Indian reproves its manifestations in Castaneda and praises them, with winning modesty, in himself. Now, Don Juan does do his pupil the courtesy of including a sort of “Old Nixon” figure loosely called “Don Juan’s former being before he learned to ‘see’ and to be a ‘man of knowledge.’ ” This ragdoll is included in Juan’s scorn so that Castaneda won’t feel lonely, but it doesn’t help. Don Juan is too much an Indian to be a Catholic, and Castaneda too much a Californian to be a Christian; so they both have man-centered universes. While don Juan’s happens to have vaster boundaries than Castaneda’s, the observer is the chief element of each. Carlos’s aloofness from all around him is as that seen in the stares of drowning men; don Juan’s steady detachment from it is far from being so March 16, 1973 23
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