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Original Essays | August 20, 2014

Julie Schumacher: IMG Dear Professor Fitger



Saint Paul, August 2014 Dear Professor Fitger, I've been asked to say a few words about you for Powells.com. Having dreamed you up with a ball-point... Continue »
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    Dear Committee Members

    Julie Schumacher 9780385538138

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Daniel Raphael has commented on (13) products.

The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft by Ronald Hutton
The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft

Daniel Raphael, August 20, 2006

Wiccan fundamentalists of whatever stripe won't like this book, but most witches will welcome the author's methodical, painstaking research and analysis. It is a real gift, to have information that is based on something other than opinion or powered by personal animus. Mr. Hutton examines the origins of the various myths that have underpinned contemporary Wicca, and judiciously separates the tangle of lies, half-truths, and confusion that have often been twined with the real roots of the Craft.

He recognizes that England has given to the world an entirely new religion, and traces the development of the Craft from shifting cultural images to literary creation to its actual foundation by Gerald Gardner. He carefully identifies the various elements from Masonry and ceremonial magic that were integrated into the practices and creed of Wicca. One of the most important things he does is to utter words almost never heard by his detractors: 'I don't know.' Like any conscientious scholar, he is less interested in the outcome of his research than that he be faithful to the facts as he has uncovered them.

At times, this can make for dry reading. If you aren't emotionally invested in the sifting of evidence and his correspondingly conditional evaluations thereof, you might want to scan that portion of the book. For those who wish to do their own research or to pursue specific factual points, his punctilious care with documentation will prove real benefit.

Mr. Hutton has provided us with an academic, nonpartisan inquiry based upon years of first-hand acquaintanace with individual witches and covens. We can be grateful that this supplements his extensive analysis of extant literature, for it likely accounts for the sympathetic tone of his concluding musings. He is no patsy and not taken in by charlatans of whatever stripe; it is to his credit, then, that he has retained a sense of humanity and real understanding of the need that Wicca meets in the spiritual life of a growing number of human beings.
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Man Ray
Man Ray

Daniel Raphael, August 7, 2006

If you like Man Ray's work, this book is an outstanding bargain. The book is large, hardbound, and provides a good sampling of all his different "phases" and types of subjects. All the photographs are in black and white, and the text appears in French, German, and English.
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Dialogue with Nietzsche (European Perspectives) by Gianni Vattimo
Dialogue with Nietzsche (European Perspectives)

Daniel Raphael, June 12, 2006

This is both a reflection upon and a close reading of Nietzsche's texts, especially those of unpublished and less-well-known writings. As such, it offers interesting perspectives on Nietzsche's work, though the author's approach is rather "airy" and occasionally lacks definition.

This is essentially a postmodernist treatment of Nietzsche, though never explicitly named as such. Characteristic of such a treatment is the high degree of abstraction--so much so, that to read this account of Nietzsche, one might forget that human beings are in the first and last account, embodied in a world. There is much discussion of history and the Nietzschean understanding of time, but never is there a really existing human "project" requiring sustenance, shelter, and sanitary facilities. One might almost think that philosophy is purely a matter of arranging words on a page--that it's "all text," and nothing to do with the messy distraction of life lived. Why, to read this, one might almost think that nature itself was only a thought:

Instinct and prejudice, on which belief in truth as evidentness is grounded, are in their turn no more than historical constructs. To establish a link from philosophy back to instinct does not, for Nietzsche, in any way mean linking it back to ?nature?: what we call nature is also a construct (of science), an interpretation no more entitled to advance claims to objectivity than any other construct.

Ah yes, 'constructs'--and they, in turn, are...well, constructs...of constructs...which proceed from...the brow of the Zarathustrian Zeus! There's a problem here, Houston, and it isn't with Nietzsche.

Still, for those who don't mind such massive absurdities and the abstraction unto dissolution of every phenomenon, this literary meditation may prove interesting. The analysis of The Eternal Recurrence is especially engaging, proposing that history is the contemporary creation of the philosopher/creator.

But I assume that such a being must be merely a construct.
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Tantra: Path of Ecstasy by Georg Feuerstein
Tantra: Path of Ecstasy

Daniel Raphael, June 8, 2006

This is the first book I read about Tantra, though I'd encountered many references to Tantrism via secondary sources. A Tantric priestess recommended this author to me as one whose perspective could be trusted.

I already knew enough of Tantra to realize that the typical association in uninformed Western minds was 'Indian-style sex,' or something of the like. The internet is filled with "tantric" retreats, weekends, workshops, etc., and there is an extensive literature promising a Bigger O if you just do it like the gurus do. To this, Feuerstein comments:

The paucity of research and publications on the Tantric heritage of Hinduism has in recent years made room for a whole crop of ill-informed popular books on what I have called ?Neo-Tantrism.? Their reductionism is so extreme that a true initiate would barely recognize the Tantric heritage in these writings. The most common distortion is to present Tantra Yoga as a mere discipline of ritualized or sacred sex. In the popular mind, Tantra has become equivalent to sex. Nothing could be farther from the truth!

I think that correctly frames the matter, so those who are looking for sex books with an Eastern coating will want to move along, nothing here to see. For people wanting a basic introduction to what Tantra is--especially in the Hindu frame, which is the approach presented by this author--this volume will prove informative.
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Blind Oracles: Intellectuals and War from Kennan to Kissinger by Bruce Kuklick
Blind Oracles: Intellectuals and War from Kennan to Kissinger

Daniel Raphael, May 9, 2006

This is a short book, and just as well. It is written in the way that academics and others impressed with their own vocabularies indulge when they are speaking to others of their own class. I can't recall ever having used 'clerisy' or 'belletristic' before...but I'm sure my life has been enhanced by my looking them up.

Lest you think this an isolated symptom, consider that throughout this text, the author refers to "my intellectuals," and while the meaning is clear, so is the conceit. The writer continually editorializes by saying that this or that individual was wrong with regard to X or overstated Y, but these authorial assertions are never backed up with proof. This is ironic, given the observation near the end of the book that "The social expense of expertise was great. The men of knowledge did well by their society, yet their actual knowledge was minimal while their sense of self-regard and scholarly hand-waving was maximal."

He ought to know.

If you are looking for a sketch of the political culture of the RAND corporation and its decades-long role in American politics, or for brief sketches of people such as McGeorge Bundy, Henry Kissinger, Robert McNamara, and the like, you may find this volume of some interest. However, it appears to me largely an exercise in authorial self-indulgence and accordingly of little utility.
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