14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Enthralling book, but only until you realize it was all fantasy,
This review is from: The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge (Arkana) (Paperback)
That might not come from reading this book alone, as it is the most believable of the series. When I was a student, I like many others I know who will confess to having read a Castaneda book or two when pressed, went through a couple of years of Castanedism, reading the 8 classics 2 - 3 times each, and even the later four, quite different books a couple of times. Being someone who likes to give the benefit of the doubt until conclusive evidence proves otherwise, I must admit to only getting suspicious by Journey To Ixtlan, the third book. The second book, A Separate Reality, picks up on the supernormal happenings, but these are still within the realms of possibility when one considers Spiritualist literature. By Tales of Power, when at the end Carlos throws himself off a cliff and only survives by becoming pure perception, bouncing elastically back and forth 17 times between the two inherent realms of all creation, the tonal and the nagual, the game was up. In Carlos' terms, my assemblage point had just experienced a considerable shift into the realms of disbelief. The cocoon had burst. I read the remaining books still interested, but with the growing realization that I'd been had. Bizarre ideas not found in any other spiritual traditions, such as the necessity for people on the path of knowledge to kill their children to reclaim the power they'd lost to them, plus fill in the holes in their cocoons the children had caused, made me wary. This was surely not a philosophy the whole world should turn to, or else we'd be living in a fearful, lonely world with every man for himself.
However, this would be fine if the books weren't made out to be non-fiction. While I have seen these books placed with science fiction books in many libraries, in most bookshops they're still sold with real, non-fiction 'Mind, Body, Spirit' books. The reason I give this book such a low rating is that an intensive study of his works, the books by his various colleagues, plus Richard De Mille's intelligent criticisms, can only lead to the conclusion that Castaneda, the writer, used Don Juan and Carlos, two fantasy characters, to verbalize his own beliefs, which were culled from his own spiritual and academic experience. That there are not some useful nuggets of wisdom, or advice in these books I do not deny. That is their very attraction, plus the belief that it all really happened, and is a new spiritual revelation. But as these are mixed up with increasingly bizarre assertions and beliefs (by the Art of Dreaming it seems all pretence at non-fiction had been given up), it is doubtful whether a lifetime devoted to these practices (as opposed to say, real shamanic practices) would lead to spiritual improvement. If you must have a Castaneda book in your library, rather get The Wheel of Time, a selection of the spiritual highlights of the first eight books, but consider it rather 'The best of the personal philosophy of Carlos Castaneda' than anything to do with Don Juan or Shamanism. This understanding may not have the romantic mix of wild Mexican deserts, ancient wisdom, wise old men and naive westerners which captures the hearts of so many, but it is a lot closer to the truth.
The anonymous ghost-writer at Simon and Schuster who corrected Peruvian immigrant Castaneda's English for at least all of his earlier works (a sample of his writing from 1969 reveals it was still far from perfect, not like what is in books), giving the books their special character, certainly deserves more credit than he or she gets. But they are not written well enough to succeed as fiction, hence their continued classification as non-fiction, besides the intense academic embarrassment it would cause copyright holders UCLA to have to admit such a dramatic change in classification, from fact to fantasy, after having previously given the author a doctorate for his work! I give this book one star on the basis that any book claiming to represent the truth which is later found to be fraudulent deserves no stars by definition, so I must give the minimum rating allowed. The day this book is reclassified as Fiction, I will up my rating to 3 stars though, as it is a quite entertaining and authentic piece of fiction-posing-as-non-fiction.
At this point many a true believer will try play the only card they have left - the allegory or metaphor card, with the implication that the critic is not deep enough to have gathered that by now. However, there is a vital difference between a Castaneda book and an allegory - the latter always make it perfectly clear at the start that what follows is not to be taken as fact. A misunderstanding would mean losing the effect of the allegory. The Castaneda books, on the contrary, always start out with the reassurance that what follows is definitely fact. As UCLA Library stack request records prove that Castaneda was sitting in the library on the exact dates when he was supposed to be hanging out with Don Juan, it is thus fair to say that these books are neither factual nor allegorical.
If you have bought the book already, I might as well warn you not to waste any time on the Structural Analysis at the end. That was only placed there to make a point for Castaneda. Coming after the gripping narrative of the Teachings, the impossibly dry and intentionally unreadable analysis in academic jargon is merely meant to score points for Castaneda's one-time anthropological field of phenomenology, which is basically scientific reporting of the first-hand, direct experience type. Hopefully no true believers have fallen for Castaneda's joke and wasted time actually wading through it - I doubt it'll have done you more spiritual good than throwing yourself off a cliff.
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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 16 Apr 2010 13:25:30 BDT
As an appendix to this review, and courtesy of Wikipedia:
'Serious analytical criticism of Castaneda's books did not emerge until 1976 when Richard de Mille published Castaneda's Journey: The Power and the Allegory, in which he argues, "Logical or chronological errors in the narrative constitute the best evidence that Castaneda's books are works of fiction. If no one has discovered these errors before, the reason must be that no one has listed the events of the first three books in sequence. Once that has been done, the errors are unmistakable."
The most damning instance of this, according to de Mille, is Castaneda's relations with a witch named 'la Catalina.'
"In October 1965 Carlos-One went through an ordeal so unexpected and disturbing that he sadly withdrew from his apprenticeship and avoided don Juan for more than two years. The ordeal was a night-long confrontation with a powerful enemy who had assumed don Juan's bodily form though not his accustomed gait or speech....
Curiously, when Carlos-One begged don Juan to explain what had happened during the "special" event, 'the conversation began with speculations about the identity of a female person' (Castaneda's emphasis) who had snatched Carlos's soul and borrowed don Juan's form. The lady was not named, and the reader was left to wonder whether the galvanizing impersonatress was in fact a certain 'fiendish witch' called "la Catalina," who had been mentioned briefly on 23 November 1961, four years earlier. At that time don Juan had said he was harboring certain plans for finishing her off, about which he would tell Carlos-One 'someday.' Poor Carlos-One had to wait ten years to learn about those plans in Tales of Power, but Table 2 reveals that Carlos-Two, traveling a parallel time track, carried out those plans with moderate success in the fall of 1962, when he met the magic lady six times in a row, once as a marauding but indistinct blackbird, once as a sailing silhouette, and four times face to face "in all her magnificent evil splendor" as a beautiful but terrifying young woman. Reacting to those encounters, he felt his ears bursting, his throat choking, his hands frozen, his body chilled, and his arms and legs rigid. The hair on his body literally stood on end. He shrieked and fell down to the ground. He was paralyzed. He began to run. And he lost his power of speech.
Here we are asked to believe that a flesh-and-blood anthropologist who enjoyed this tumultuous supernatural affair with a glorious witch in 1962 did not recall her name in 1965, did not make the connection between the last meeting and the previous six when sorting through his field notes in the safety of his apartment, did not put it all together when naming her in his first book, but found the memory "as vivid as if it had just happened" on 22 May 1968, a few pages into his second book. Even if we could credit this uncharacteristic amnesia, we would still have to account for don Juan's equal failure to name 'la Catalina' in 1965. The puzzle is easily solved by switching from the factual to the fictive model. The abrupt, unsatisfying ending to The Teachings is not a symptom of ethnographic battle fatigue, for our campaigner has already survived six such battles with colors flying. It is only a serialist's preparation for the next episode, a cliffhanger that makes us hungry for another book.
On these showings, one thing is certain. "The Teachings of Don Juan" and "Journey to Ixtlan" cannot both be factual reports. 
In the The Power and the Allegory, De Mille compared The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui way of Knowledge with Castenada's library stack requests at the University of California. The stack requests documented that he was sitting in the library when his journal said he was squatting in don Juan's hut. One of the most memorable discoveries the De Mille made in his examination of the stack requests was that when Castaneda said he was participating in the traditional peyote ceremony -- the least fantastic episode of drug use -- he was not only sitting in the library, but he was reading someone else's description of their experience of the peyote ceremony.'
This is one piece of evidence among many that show without a doubt that the Castaneda books are fantasy - on those dates you read in his books when he was supposedly wandering around the Sonoran desert with Don Juan, he was sitting comfortably back home in LA, or was in the UCLA library researching material for his next book.
In reply to an earlier post on 6 Nov 2010 14:53:54 GMT
So because you were gullible enough to believe the events were real, this was a bad book? Don't persecute the book because of the fact you were duped. If anything that should warrant 5 stars because it was effective in its intent.
In reply to an earlier post on 11 Nov 2010 19:52:59 GMT
Last edited by the author on 11 Nov 2010 19:53:49 GMT
You'd give Mein Kampf 5 stars? You sure have a bizarre understanding of what makes a good book, and I can assure you that no-one with any intelligence supports you on that one. Besides, the book is NOT written well enough to dupe anyone. It's only the author's promise in the introduction, plus it's classification as non-fiction that misleads people.
In reply to an earlier post on 14 Jan 2012 22:52:58 GMT
gille liath says:
I too find the books less plausible as they go on, and I agree it matters whether they are billed as documentary or fiction; but do you have any actual evidence that it is *all* made up? After all, it's perfectly possible that most of this first book might be for real, even if the others aren't.
Note that the inconsistencies you mention would not be present if this had been envisaged at the outset as a fictional series. My hunch is that there is at least some factual basis to the first book and, after its success, Castaneda concocted the sequels.
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