Perspectives on the Next Age
Edited by Daniel Pinchbeck and Ken Jordan
351 pages. Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin. $16.95.
“One night in Mexico, in Manzanillo, I took some acid and I threw the I Ching,” Ken Kesey says in Tom Wolfe’s “Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.” Kesey continued: “The great thing about the I Ching is, it never sends you Valentines, it slaps you in the face when you need it.”
Kesey always was attuned to bad rumblings in the cosmos. So are Daniel Pinchbeck and Ken Jordan, the editors of “Toward 2012.” Their anthology of New Age essays is organized around the notion that, not to put too fine a point on it, the world as we know it might end on Dec. 21, 2012. Talk about a slap in the face.
If you don’t know about 2012 doomsday predictions by now, you don’t have enough woo-woo friends. That year is said to mark the end of the Mayan calendar’s Long Count, when a great epoch will come to a close. The winter solstice that year is also a day when, Mr. Pinchbeck intoned darkly in an earlier book, “the Sun will rise within the dark rift at the center of our Milky Way galaxy.”
To some, all this portends the apocalypse, now. Others predict something less drastic — some kind of seismic shift, possibly even a groovy one, in human consciousness. What do actual anthropologists and astronomers think about 2012 mania? They’re laughing so hard it’s tough to tell.
In a previous book, “2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl,”Mr. Pinchbeck seemed to want to have it both ways about earth’s fast-approaching deadline. He didn’t entirely dismiss the possibility of Armageddon, but he used his book as an occasion to urge humanity to come together to stop global warming and heal the planet in other ways. Maybe, you know, we can head this bad juju off at the pass. Mr. Pinchbeck also wrote about crop circles, alien abductees, experiences with poltergeists, ingesting psychedelic mushrooms and practicing “new ideals of erotic freedom,” but never mind.
Mr. Pinchbeck and Mr. Jordan operateRealitySandwich.com — the name comes from an Allen Ginsberg poem — where most of the material in this collection originally appeared. Both have genetic countercultural credentials. Mr. Pinchbeck is the son of the writer Joyce Johnson, who dated Jack Kerouac and wrote a classic memoir, “Minor Characters,” about the Beat era. Mr. Jordan’s father, Fred Jordan, was editor in chief of Grove Press and editor of Evergreen Review.
Mr. Pinchbeck has the marquee name here. Over the past decade or so he’s become the closest thing this era has to a Timothy Leary. In photographs his face, framed by long hair and chunky eyeglasses, appears burdened with the freight of his visionary knowledge, as if he were channeling William Hurt in “Altered States.” Mr. Pinchbeck is a regular on the lecture circuit; he’s done “The Colbert Report.” He gets Sting to blurb his books. If you want a sound bite about shamans in 2009, he’s the man to see.
The essays in “Toward 2012: Perspectives on the New Age” cover a rainbow array of topics, from astrology to hallucinogens to yoga to (go figure) the “mystical, even shamanic” core of Stanley Kubrick’s movies. This volume is, or should be, one-stop shopping for anyone interested in the vanguard of New Age — excuse me, Next Age — thought.
A few of the essays here are sprightly, newsy and crunchy, in an Utne Reader kind of way: Erik Davis on the bummers of trying to keep Burning Man pure; Jill Ettinger on the politics of organic soap; David Rothenberg on how whales musically pass information to and fro; Erik Knutzen and Kelly Coyne on urban homesteading and pirate gardeners. (They like to lob “seed bombs” into vacant lots.)
Far more of the essays in “Toward 2012,” though, are patchouli-scented and divinely inane; they’ll tempt you to set your yoga mat on fire and permanently avoid certain aisles at Whole Foods.
Mr. Pinchbeck, for example, contributes a think piece suggesting that a good deal of the current problems in the United States may be caused by “spirit possession on a mass scale.” We may be, he writes, “looking at situations in which unappeased demons and aggrieved ancestor spirits are overtaking people.” That’s one way of looking at Bernie Madoff.
Stella Osorojos writes about sprouting wings during meditation and longing to spendNew Year’s Eve with Shirley MacLaine and Dennis Kucinich. Adam Elenbaas describes a psychedelic experience in which he sees “images of fire, explosions, and black holes” and (oh no, dude) envisions “burning my secular music collection.” John Major Jenkins tells us that “the Milky Way is the Great Mother, and the dark rift is her vagina or birthplace.”
Other essays in “Toward 2012” will, inadvertently, put a big goofy smile on your face. Charles Eisenstein contributes a piece that claims we may be entering, and let’s hope this name sticks, “The Testicular Age.” The era of “upward thrusting,” he observes, is nearly exhausted.
I’ll let Mr. Eisenstein explain the rest: “The testicles, lying quiet underneath the penis, represent the masculine Yin. The testicles are the generative reservoirs of the seed, the life-essence. Unlike the penis, which is given to occasional action, the testicles’ function of producing, storing, and conserving harks to male Yin qualities like patience, steadfastness, supportiveness, solidity, stability, reliability, and resourcefulness.”
In the essay “Transforming Repression of the Divine Feminine,” a “tantric bodyworker” named Wahkeena Sitka Tidepool Ripple asks us to “imagine if the world was filled with juicy mamas who love to be loved, and love to get loved on.” (O.K., I’m imagining.) “We would live,” she proclaims, “in a world where we wouldn’t need prostitutes.”
Ms. Tidepool Ripple’s lusty essay aside, what’s missing from most of the essays in “Toward 2012” is a sense of playfulness and wily anarchy. The best thing here is a two-decade-old interview with Abbie Hoffman, recorded a few months before his death in 1989. His coruscating, menschlike good humor makes you realize what’s missing in this book.
Hoffman recounts a bunch of savvy old war stories, including the Valentine’s Day in 1967 when he and some friends mailed 3,000 marijuana joints to 3,000 random names plucked from the Manhattan telephone book. Jimi Hendrix, Mr. Hoffman says, picked up the tab.
Where have you gone, Abbie Hoffman? By the time you finish “Toward 2012” one of the lines from the Hoffman interview may still be ringing in your ears: “If you’re fighting for liberation, why shouldn’t you enjoy it?”