Monday, July 14, 2008

Pinchbeck Revisited

Frequent millinerd readers may remember my comment-box exchange with counter-cultural man of the hour, Daniel Pinchbeck. My long promised review of his now paperback book, 2012 , has finally appeared in this month's Touchstone (subscription required). While my fundamental disagreement with Daniel has not changed, what has (I hope) is my tone. This has much to do with our brief meeting in Princeton for coffee and conversation. Our amiable encounter made me feel all the more sheepish for my flippant initial critique. I was, regrettably, well too dismissive in my earlier post, though I quickly learned that in this I was not alone.

After the publication of his earlier book, Breaking Open the Head Pinchbeck was proclaimed some kind of guru, a reputation he still enjoys. But following 2012 there was a degree of concern, even disowning, by some of Pinchbeck's colleagues on the Left. The Village Voice was ruthless:
"We have indeed reached a great precipice if the brightest vision a once progressive critic can offer is anointing himself a culture hero. When those who should be just ahead of the curve blast off desperately into the stratosphere, this is a cause for real - if not apocalyptic - alarm."
The New York Times lamented that whereas William Burroughs once transferred drug effects to prose successfully, Pinchbeck often just resorts to CAPS. "Pinchbeck insists the crisis he's trying to help us solve is global," the review continues, "but throughout '2012' there is ample evidence that the crisis is Pinchbeck's own." As reported in my initial post, Pinchbeck's lifestyle even causes Rolling Stone to play the concerned parent: "Two followers who posted frequently on Pinchbeck's online discussion board - both of whom made pilgrimages to New York to meet him - committed suicide in the past few years." And the kiss of death came from Reason Magazine. "He frequently sounds like that other apocalyptic tribe, the Christian fundamentalists."

While the siren song of the New York Times crowd is nearly impossible for many Christians to resist, it would still be regrettable were we to perpetuate, as I did, this dismissive attitude. Chew-outs from the Left are largely based on Pinchbeck's taking the supernatural seriously. How could any Christian follow suit? Consider this passage, where he relates his disillusionment with Manhattan materialism:
"No scientist, as of yet, had figured out how consciousness emerged in the brain - but we were assured that it was only a matter of time before that last detail was ironed out and our three-pound jelly of gray matter yielded up its ultimate secret. Our best minds were working on it around the clock. We could rest assured, as well, that there was no life after death, no continuity of soul or flight of spirit. All that was superstition. What was not superstition was what was factual, quantifiable, tactile; whether nuclear bomb, body count, or skyscraper. Oblivion was not superstition. It awaited us after the music of our allotted time ended and we sucked our last breath."
To take Pinchbeck seriously is not to suggest every New Age manifesto need be scrupulously refuted, for 2012 is no refried Celestine Prophecy. There is some supernatural disillusion as well. Pinchbeck is as critical of the New Age as he is of traditional Christianity. A few examples: After growing skeptical of his relationship with a New Age healer called - you guessed it - "The Mother," Pinchbeck breaks the umbilical chord.
"I disliked the New Age obsession with healing. Healers... start with the notion that there is a sickness, there is a patient, there would be a long drawn-out process of recovery that might not ever quite end in a cure. It seemed to me that healers took control of the narratives of their patients in this way, stripping them of agency, feeding their egocentrism and fantasies of victimization."
The claim of another New Age priestess to be "receiving transmission from an Arcturian mothership located somewhere around the Big Dipper" was, Pinchbeck admits, "too much even for me."

And then there's by far my favorite passage, where the Burning Man bridges get burned.
"The avowed spirituality of West Coast hipsters, which appeared so glamorous and enticing to me at first, increasingly seemed a shallow lifestyle choice - a new form of congratulatory consumerism, a better way to get laid. Dressing in fake Day-Glo furs and dancing at all-night trance parties was not impressive as a spiritual discipline."
In short, 2012 is largely a book about disillusionment with materialism and spiritualism. What the book leaves us with is a bizarre collage of theories with which Pinchbeck is not yet disillusioned (Jungian psychology, interpretation of quantum theory by non-scientists, the Frankfurt School, Nietzchean desperation, anthroposophy, crop circles, Mayan mythology, alien abductions, Amazonian shamanism, and a pinpointed apocalypse).

If his book tells us anything, it is that Daniel Pinchbeck is on a schedule of disenchantment. This is not an insult, but a compliment. There are many things worth giving up on, and Daniel has a track record of seeing through them. Pinchbeck himself admits that his efforts in 2012 are "perhaps tragically misguided." I'd say he's on schedule for fresh disappointment around the time when he tells us the world will end, December 21st, 2012. Then, and well before, one disillusion-proof deity - who like the plumed serpent Quetzalcoatl claims to unite heaven and earth - awaits.

Incidentally, It would be small-minded of me to exclude the possibility that in finding Christ, Pinchbeck would be fulfilling any and all good he has found in Quetzalcoatl. According to this book on the Virgin of Gaudalupe, the flowers on Mary's mantle
"can be identified with a Nahuatl glyph or symbol for Venus, the Morning and Evening Star. Venus as Morning Star was associated with the god and culture-hero Quetzalcoatl, who after his self-immolation was taken up into heaven as the Morning Star. Quetzalcoatl's teachings were so beneficent and his mythic role so life-giving, that he can be understood as one of the 'seeds' of the Gospel which God has planted in all cultures."
To Christ through Mary? It wouldn't be the first time.