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Record Type: Review   ID: 349

Where the Wasteland Ends: Politics and Transcendence in Postindustrial Society

Roszak, Theodore

 This work, first published in 1972, is being reviewed at this late date because Roszak is very good at observing the urge for transcendence in the midst of secular life, especially politics and popular culture. I think the seeming rise and importance of exceptional human experiences in the West may be the leading edge of the sacralization of the secular. Roszak has mapped the beginning of this process with his book on the counter-cultures of the 60s and glimpses of a major turn toward transcendence in this work. He documents how science and technology reduced us to single vision. He sees the rise of science as idolatry triumphant. There is no God—the biocomputer God is. Nature itself has been desacralized and we have replaced it, for most people, with an artificial environment. With Chapter 7, "Science in Extremis: Prospect of an Autopsy," he documents the beginning of the Turn of Waste in Civilization in "the slow death of the reality principle" (p. 220). As he puts it, "Science, for so long regarded as our single valid picture of the world, now emerges as, also, a school: a school of Consciousness, beside which alternative realities take their place" (p. 222). The last of three sections is "A Politics of Eternity," and in 5 chapters he describes the counterpoint to science provided by romanticism, the poetic imagination, including Blake’s "fourfold visions"; vision-flight; rhapsodic intellect, or noetic visions; his view of "The visionary commonwealth. On the supposition that view of reality might undergo a revolution, he considers what kind of political program might result. He begins with deurbanization, the development of work that is "a personal project...done in community" (p. 420), which has elements of what we call "projects of transcendence"; the visionary commonwealth would be "a confederated community of communities" (p. 431), many if not all of which would be rooted in the need for self-realization and personal integration. Roszak says that for guidance they have little choice but to turn to "the rich religious disciplines of self-realization, since there is no improving on these" (p. 425). Here I disagree. Perhaps his book was written too soon to be aware that the great change he could see was breaking through was not so much a matter of doctrine and principle based on visions of the past but an amazing array of new visions embedded in exceptional human experiences. They would serve as the guides, although religious, literary, artistic, and even performing arts traditions could also provide wisdom. At base, he calls for and points to the necessity for experience of transcendence, which "alone can give meaning to our historical project: the eternity that seeks its reflection in the mirrors of time" (p. 465).
Publisher Information:Berkeley, CA: Celestial Arts, 1989. 492p. Chap. notes: 466-492
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