The Rebirth of Wisdom

The Passion of the Western Mind by Richard Tarnas
Review by: Sean M. Kelly
The San Francisco Jung Institute Library Journal, Vol. 11, No. 4 (Winter 1993), pp. 33-44
Published by: University of California Press on behalf of The C.G. Jung Institute of San Francisco
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The Rebirth of Wisdom
Richard Tarnas. The Passion of the Western Mind. New York,
Harmony Books, 1991. New York, Ballantine Books, 1993
Reviewed by Sean M. Kelly
"The owl of Minerva," writes Hegel, "spreads its wings
only with the falling of the dusk." (G.W.F. Hegel, Preface,
Hegel)s Philosophy of Right. Oxford, Oxford University Press,
1976) I take this to nlean that only with the passing of an age,
of a hitherto dominant configuration of the world spirit, does
it becoIne possible to discern figure fronl ground, to rise to an
overarching perspective and trace the convergence of paths lead-
ing to the present. While it is nearly two centuries now since
Hegel, in the wake of the French Revolution, articulated his
speculative "Science of Wisdom" and announced the "end" of
history, from the owl's perspective it has been but a day. Al-
though Hegel also presaged the coming da\vn, he did not foresee
his own eclipse with the triumph of nineteenth century mate-
rialisln and positivisIn. Nor did he foresee the extent to which,
in the light-and growing darkness-of our own catastrophic
century, his speculative vision, and all silnilar attempts to think
through, and fron1, the Whole, would be increasingly scorned
or simply ignored. There have been exceptions, of course-one
thinks ofArnold Toynbee and Teilhard de Chardin, and, or more
recently, of Ken Wilber. But given the persisting don1inance of
anti-speculative sentilnent in most contemporary acadenlic
circles, it was with surprise and delight that I greeted the recent
appearance of Richard Tarnas's The Passion of the Western Mind.
For not only has Tarnas succeeded in producing a "coherent
account of the evolution of the Western mind and its changing
conception of reality" (Tarnas, p. xi), but he has dared to do
The San FranciscoJung Instittlte Library Joumal, Vol. 11, No.4, 1993 33
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so in terms of an overall "archetypal dialectic . . . one long
Inetatrajectory . . . culnlinating before our eyes." (p. 440)
It is difficult to overpraise what Tarnas has accomplished.
To begin with, he manifests a Protean capacity to enter into the
mindset and world view of the figures and movements under
consideration while skillfully highlighting the most significant
implications for the ongoing argument of the book. Secondly,
and most iluportantly, Tarnas has produced a much needed
contemporary "guide for the perplexed," a cOIllprehensive yet
readily accessible map of the potentially bewildering territory of
Western intellectual history. While this map, or nletamap, recalls
the grand design first adumbrated by Hegel, it is by no nleans
a mere copy, but a creative extension of the same speculative
vision to the moving threshold of the present.
Dialectic can be defined in general terms as the generation
of new forms through the play of opposites. "Without Contrar-
ies," as Blake put it, "is no Progression" (The Marriage of
Heaven and Hell). In a similar vein, Jung spoke of the tension
of opposites as essential to all that lives: "Life, being an energetic
process, needs the opposites. For without opposition there is, as
we knO\V, no energy." (C.G. Jung, "A Psychological Approach
to the Dogma of the Trinity," in Psychology and Religiotl) Col-
lected Works) Vol. 11. Princeton, Princeton University Press, par.
291) The dialectic at work in the Passion is complex and operates
at several different levels or degrees of inclusiveness. It is only
as the arguinent reaches its clilnax that the deepest and most
inclusive levels are fully revealed, and witll them the archetypal
ground upon which the entire process rests. Before turning to
this archetypal ground, I will try to give a sense of the overall
structure of Western intellectual history as Tarnas sees it, focus-
sing on the play of opposites within and between the succession
of worldviews leading to the present.
Tarnas adopts the traditional division ofWestern intellectual
history into three broad periods-classical, nledieval, and mod-
ern. The classical is dominated by the Greek world view, and here
the fundamental dialectic is generated from the tension between
the ideal and the real, sometimes understood as eternity and
time, sometiInes as reason and experience. According to Tarnas,
this tension found "paradigmatic expression in the richly anl-
biguous figure of Socrates ... vivid contrapuntal expression in
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the Platonic dialogues . . . and seminal compronlise in the
philosophy of Aristotle." (p.7l) Conlmon to all three of these
dialecticians, and to the Greek world view as a whole, was "the
uniquely Greek affirmation,' often only inlplicit, that the final
measure of truth was found not in hallowed tradition, nor in
contemporary convention, but rather in the autonomous indi-
vidual human mind." (ibid.)
The transition from the classical Greek to the medieval
Christian worldview took place in the crucible of Hellenistic
culture. With the establishment offirst Alexander's, and then the
Roman, empire, the Greek world view was not only promulgated
but exposed to a multiplicity of different perspectives. While the
creative impetus of Greek philosophical and scientific endeavor
was continuing, well into Roman tilnes, Hellenistic culture was
increasingly open to influxes of Middle Eastern religious ideas.
Chief among these was Christianity, whose mythic core served
as dialectical counterpoint to the logos of Greek thought.
The dynamic tensions of the Greek world view were quickly
assimilated to, and alnplified by, the already highly charged
contraries within the early Christian community's central myth.
These opposites, though sYlnbolically and singularly fused in the
ilnage of Jesus Christ as the God- Man, generated two compli-
mentary perspectives, which Tarnas calls "Exultant" and "Du-
alistic" Christianity. Exultant Christianity saw itself as "an al-
ready existent spiritual revolution that was . . . progressively
transforming and liberating both the individual soul and the
world in the dawning light of God's revealed love." (p.l20)
Dualistic Christianity, by contrast, "stressed the futurity and
otherworldliness of redemption ... the need for strict inhibition
of worldly activities, [and] a doctrinal orthodoxy defined by the
institutional church...." (ibid.) If the former was "rapturously
optimistic and all-embracing" (ibid.), the latter manifested "a
pervasive negative judgenlent regarding the present status of the
human soul and the created world, especially relative to the
omnipotence and transcendent perfection of God." (p. 121) The
dualistic perspective tended to dominate in the first phase of
Christian ascendancy-the paradigmatic figure here being
Augustine-but the full flowering of medieval Christian culture
embodied a happier synthesis of both perspectives. This
world-and-soul-enabling synthesis found expression theologi-
cally in Aquinas's Summa) poeticaJly in Dante's Divine Comedy)
and artistically in the great Gothic cathedrals.
Richard Tamas, The Passio'fI Of the Western Mind 35
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It is immediately follo\\ring these seemingly transcendent
high-points of medieval Christian culture that the lineanlents of
the modern world view begin to constellate. The transformation,
once begun, is remarkably sudden. "Within the span of a single
generation," as Tamas notes, "Leonardo, Michelangelo, and
Raphael produced their masterworks, Columbus discovered the
New World, Luther rebelled against the Catholic Church and
began the Reformation, and Copernicus hypothesized a helio-
centric universe and commenced the Scientific Revolution." (p.
224) The Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Scientific
Revolution bear succeeding witness to a profound redirection of
the Western mind's fundamental orientation, a shift in eIDphasis
from the vertical (epitomized in the Gothic spire) to the hori-
zontal (voyages of discovery), from God to man, Church to state,
from mythos to Logos, and from Heaven to earth. In Aion (Colleaed
Works, Vol. 9, pt. ii), Jung invokes the principle of unconscious
compensation to account for this redirection, seeing it as an
overall reaction to the onesidedness of early Christian spirituality.
Such compensation would not be a mechanical redistribution or
loading, but an organic expression of the Western mind's inten-
tion to nlove toward wholeness, an individuation of its spirit.
Tarnas, as we shall see in the following section, makes a similar
appeal to the principle of wholeness when addressing the
"metatrajectory" of the Western nlind. For the mOIDent, it is
sufficient to note that, while Tarnas assumes a traditional view
of IDodernity as "rooted in the rebellion against the Catholic
Church and the ancient authorities," he stresses that the olodern
can equally be seen as "dependent upon and developing frOOl both
these matrices" of our civilization. (p. 282)
As he demonstrates, the driving spirit throughout the first,
inflatedly optimistic phase of modern Western thought-frool
Copernicus and Descartes to Newton, Laplace, and Kant-found
self-conscious formulation in the Enlightenment ideal of rational
autonooly. The characteristic expression of this was the mecha-
nistic "natural philosophy" with which the search for self-libera-
tion became associated. By the turn of the nineteenth century,
the Enlightennlent had levelled the medieval Christian world
view, which enlphasized dependency on God, and the conse-
quent disenchantnlent of the world had sparked the
countercultural protest of Romanticisnl. Now in place of the
abstract ideal of rational autonomy, the Romantics celebrated
feeling and inspiration, informed by a divine or semidivine (he-
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roie) background of unconscious striving. Where the Enlight-
enment scientists and philosophes saw an inanimate, clock-work
universe, the Romantic Naturphilosophen saw a divine, symbol-
laden and soul-pervaded organism.
Crucified, as it were, between these rational and irrational
poles of the modern sensibility, is the pivotal figure of Hegel,
whose overriding impulse, writes Tarnas,
was to comprehend all dimensions of existence as dialec-
tically integrated in one unitary whole. In Hegel's view, all
human thought and all reality is pervaded by contradiction,
which alone makes possible the development of higher
states of consciousness and higher states of being . . .
Through a continuing dialectical process of opposition and
synthesis, the world is always in the process of completing
itself. (p. 379)
Given the key role of the dialectic in Tarnas's argunlent,
it is clear that he regards Hegel as pivotal to the overall devel-
opment of the Western mind, especially in its phase of mounting
self-reflection that has culminated in our own psychological era.
This, of course, was Hegel's own view of the matter, which is
reflected in his conviction of having attained "absolute kno,v-
ing" and being the first to announce the end of history. While
it is obvious that the evolution of the Western mind did not stop
with Hegel, it does appear to have reached, in his speculative
Science of Wisdom, a degree of coherent self-comprehension
that has yet to be surpassed. In the short run, however, it was
surpassed, and in a manner consistent with the dialectic itself.
For Hegel's synthesis, as Tarnas points out, "was eventually
submerged by the very reactions it helped provoke-irrat-
ionalisIll and existentialisIll (Schopenhauer and Kierkegaard),
pluralistic pragmatism (James and Dewey), logical positivism
(Russell and Carnap), and linguistic analysis (Moore and
Wittgenstein), all movements increasingly reflective of the gen-
eral tenor of nlodern experience." (p. 383)
The second phase of modern Western thought-from the
eclipse of Hegel to the present-has been donlinated by two new
pairs of contradictory trends. On the one hand, beginning with
the first pair, the spectacular success of the Cartesian-Newtonian
paradigm throughout the 19th century seemed to vindicate the
earlier optiInism of the Enlightenment (the conviction that rea-
son could set "Man" free) and encouraged a widespread embrace
of materialism, positivisIll, and scientisn1. If the foundations of
Richard Tamas, The Passion of the Westertl Mind
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this paradigm were shaken by the new physics in the early 20th
century, there was no doubting the ever-increasing power of
science and technology to explain and master the natural world.
On the other hand, with the mounting recognition of the human
as also subject to the laws of nature, the very success of the
modern scientific project seemed, with every advance, to render
more problematic the Enlightenment ideal of rational autonomy
that had originally motivated it. For, as Tarnas phrases it,
The more man strove to control nature by understanding
its principles, ... to separate himself from nature's necessity
and rise above it, the more completely his science metaphysi-
cally submerged man into nature, and thus into its mecha-
nistic and impersonal character as well.... Thus it was the
irony of modern intellectual progress that man's genius
discovered successive principles of determinism-Canesian,
Newtonian, Darwinian, Marxist, Freudian, behaviorist, ge-
netic, neurophysiological, sociological-that steadily attenu-
ated belief in his own rational and volitional freedom, while
eliminating his sense of being anything more than a periph-
e r a and transient accident of material evolution. (p. 332)
The second pair of contradictory trends can be seen as
radical responses to the fading of the Enlightennlent's dream in
the face of the recognition that human beings are not only a
limited but a potentially self-cancelling species. Both are mani-
festations of the "post-nlodern" mind which, in contrast with
the dogmatic imperialism of the Cartesian- Newtonian paradigm,
stresses the virtues of "pluralism, complexity, and ambiguity" (p.
402), along with the "conviction that no single a priori thought
system should govern belief or investigation." (p. 395) Despite
these shared assuIllptions, however, both trends remain pro-
foundlyantithetical. On the one hand, we have (to adopt David
Griffin's helpful distinction [David Griffin. The Reenchantment
ojScie1lCe. Albany, State University of New York Press, 1988, p.
x]), the "deconstructive" variety of postrnodernism which cur-
rently enjoys much favour in academic circles. Adopting various
forms of the "henlleneutics of suspicion" (in the tradition of
Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud), deconstructive postmodernism
seeks to unluask, deflate, and explode any pretentions to "truth,"
and has a particularly virulent antipathy toward anything smack-
ing of traditional metaphysical categories, such as God, the Self,
or the Whole. Despite its espousal of radical openness, however,
deconstructive postmodernislll, as Tarnas makes clear, fails to
deconstruct itself, and is sometimes "prone to a dogmatic rela-
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tivism and" a compulsively fragmenting skepticism...." (p. 402)
"Constructive" postmodernism, on the other hand, while
honouring the virtues of openness and complexity, is motivated
by the aspiration to\vard "radical integration and reconciliation."
(p. 407) The task of the constructive postmodernist, as Tarnas
sees it, is to meet the "dialectical challenge" of evolving "a
cultural vision possessed of a certain intrinsic profundity or
universality that, while not imposing any a priori limits on the
possible range of legitimate interpretations, would yet someho\v
bring an authentic and fruitful coherence out of the present
fragmentation, and also provide a sustainable fertile ground for
the generation of unanticipated new perspectives and possibilities
in the future." (p. 409) This new vision is still in the nlaking,
yet it was first glinlpsed by the ROlnantics and received its first
draft, as it were, at the hands of Hegel. In our own century, the
vision has been rekindled by evolutionary thinkers like Rudolph
Steiner and the later Jung. Among contemporaries, Tarnas re-
serves a particular esteem for the work of Stanislav Grof, for
reasons we shall presently explore.
It is only in the climactic Ept'logue that Tarnas makes explicit
the archetypal ground of the successive dialectical transforma-
tions he has so skillfully guided the reader through in the body
of the text. As the most superficial level of this grollild, Tarnas
invokes the figures of Saturn and Pronletheus-the mythic
embodiments of the opposites of order and change, authority
and rebellion, control and freedom, tradition and innovation,
structure and revolution. The "dynanlic tension" between these
opposites can be seen as the principal "dialectic that propels
'history.'" (p. 492) Tarnas compares this Saturn/Prometheus
dialectic to Kuhn's understanding of the relation between "nor-
mal" science and conlpeting paradigms. Every paradigm-shift, in
Tarnas's view, would signal the victory of Prometheus over
Saturn. While this seems to fit quite nicely with the emergence
of the classical Greek world view and the shift, following the
Renaissance, to the Cartesian-Newtonian paradigm, the shifts to
the nledieval Christian and the "constructive" postmodern do
not, to Iny mind at least, suggest the handiwork of Prol11etheus.
Whether it Inight be more appropriate here to invoke, as Hegel
does, the figure of Christ Of, following Nietzsche, that of
Dionysus, I leave to the archetypal psychologists to decide.
Richard Tamas, The Pass;01I of the ",estem Mi11d 39
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Tarnas himself sees the Saturn/Prometheus dialectic as one
pole only of a still "larger overarching dialectic involving the
feminine or life." (ibid.) "For the deepest passion of the Western
mind)" he writes, "has been to reu'nite with the grou1'ld of its
The driving impulse of the "Vest's [predominantly
Promethean] masculine consciousness has been its dialec-
tical quest not only to realize itself, but also, finally, to
recover its connection with the whole, to come to terms
with the great feminine principle in life: to differentiate itself
from but then rediscover and reunite with the feminine,
with the mysteryoflife, of nature, ofsoul." (Tarnas, p. 443)
In such a passage Tamas clearly manifests his affinity with
the Romantic tradition, and in particular with (the early) Hegel
and (the later) Jung. According to this perspective, the alienation
of the tnodern mind-and even perhaps of "mind" per se-nlust
be seen as an inevitable (though hopefully not permanent)
consequence of the differentiati011 of consciousness from its
otherwise unconscious ground or matrix. In this way, Tarnas, like
Jung before hinl, nlakes sense of the patriarchal dominance of
Western intellectual history. Given the synlbolic association of
the collective unconscious, as the "matrix mind," with the ar-
chetypal preserve of the Great Mother, repression of (and alien-
ation from) the "feminine principle in life" can be seen as a
defensive tnaneuver on the part of a fledgling consciousness,
which despite its heroic posturing is highly vulnerable. And, as
Jung and his post-Jungian followers insist, the further actualiza-
tion or individuation of consciousness must entail reunification
with "the feminine, with the mystery of life, nature, soul." One
finds essentially the sanIe argument in the works of Erich
Neumann (The Origins a'nd History of ConsCiOttS1'ICSS. Princeton,
Princeton University Press, 1973), Edward Whitmont (The
Retunl of the Goddess), Ken Wilber (Up from Ede1'J. Boulder,
ShanIbhala, 1983), and Michael Washburn (The Ego and the
Dynamic Ground. Albany, State University of New York Press,
1988). But no one has managed to demonstrate the implications
for history better than Tarnas.
Of contemporary post-Jungians, it is, as I stated earlier, to
the work of Stanislav Grof that Tarnas appeals for a deeper
understanding of the archetypal ground of the Western nlind's
dialectical quest. The fruit of over three decades of research into
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the nature and therapeutic potential of non-ordinary states of
consciousness, Grors full-spectrum "cartography of the human
psyche" (see, in particular, Beyond the Brain: Birth, Death and
Transcendence i'fI Psychotherapy. Albany, State University of Ne\\!
York Press, 1985) includes three main realms or levels: the
personal (or "recollective-biographical"), the transpersonal
(which includes the archetypal as one of several experiential
dimensions), and (his own discovery) the perinatal. In keeping
with Grofs own estimation of the matter, Tarnas thinks that it
is the perinatal level which holds the key to the "deepest passion"
of the Western mind. As he explains, it is in the process of being
born that each of us is initiated into the world of the separate-
self sense, an initiation which, though occasioned by our birth,
is experienced as a death to the "original consciousness of
undifferentiated organismic unity with the mother...." (p. 430)
It is to the traulllatic residues left in the wake of this earliest
initiatory death that one must look for the ultimate experiential
source of "the fundamental subject-object dichotOllly that has
governedand defined modern consciousness...." (ibid.) At the
same tillle, however, it is also here that one experiences the first
liberation, however ambivalent, from ego, and from the pain and
constriction of a self waiting to be born. As a complete Gestalt)
therefore, the perinatal process constitutes the experiential
matrix of the psyche's future dialectical quest. Generalizing from
Grof's clinical data surrounding experiential reliving of the birth
process, Tarnas notes that
the archetypal sequence that governed the perinatal phe-
nomena from womb through birth canal to birth was
experienced above all as a powerful dialectic-moving
through an initial state of undifferentiated unity to a prob-
lematic state of constriction, conflict, and contradiction,
with an accompanying sense of separation, duality, and
alienation; and finally moving through a stage of complete
annihilation to an unexpected redemptive liberation that
both overcame and fulfilled the intervening alienated
state-restoring the initial unity but on a new level that
preserved the achievement of the whole trajectory. (p. 429)
Despite the archetypal character of this dialectical
sequence-a sequence which, as I have argued elsewhere, is
fundalllental to the structure and dynamics of the Self as complex
whole (see Sean Kelly, Individuatt'on and the Absolute: lung)
Hegel) and The Path Toward Wholeness. Mahwah, NJ, Paulist
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Press, in press)-Tarnas considers "the Promethean movement
toward human freedom, toward autonomy from the encompass-
ing 111atrix of nature" to be "an overwhelmingly masculine
phenomenon." (pp. 432, 441) Nowhere, however, does he give
any indication as to why this should be the case. This is one of
the few failures to include a feminist sensibility into this otherwise
sensitive text. According to such felninists as Dorothy
Dinnerstein and Nancy Chodorow (see Catherine Keller, From
a Broken Web: Separatiorl, Sexism, and Self. Boston, Beacon Press,
1986), the roots of the masculine "separative self" lie in the
different ways males and females emerge out of the primal re-
lationship to the mother, via the Oedipal conflict, to a gender-
linked ego-identity. To the extent that girls, as girls, retain an
ego-syntonic identification with the mother, their sense of self
is forged on the basis of an enduring sense of continuity with
the prilual luatrix. Boys, on the other hand, whose gender-
identity is ego-distonic relative to the mother, experience them-
selves as "other" than, and thus more fully separate fronl, the
primal matrix with which they were once more or less identified.
Obviously the birth experience is equally traumatic (or
exhilirating) for 111embers of both sexes, but the subsequent
course of ego development will, in each case, diverge significantly
with respect to what degree the psychic organization will favour
or impede the processing and integration of the residual trauma.
With these' differences in mind, one can proceed to a more
nuanced reading of the "sacrifice" and "ego-death" which
Tarnas feels "the masculine" must undergo before the Western
mind can finally experience its "triunlphant and healing re-
union," 'with the fenlinine. (p. 444) If Grof is right, then the
death in question-the one the Western mind has so long re-
sisted, and yet in a sense also passionately desires-has already
in fact taken place, at the moment of birth, but has generally not
(for men especially) been properly integrated. In this sense, the
"Man" that "must be overcome" (p. 445) is "he" that has yet
to be born. (Such, perhaps, is the deeper inlport of the contelu-
porary men's nlovenlent.) It is only following such a birth, or
rebirth, that one can envision a true "marriage of the luasculinc
and fenlinine." (p. 444)
"The onset of the new Spirit," writes Hegel, "is the product
of a widespread upheaval in various forms of culture, the prize
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at the end of a complicated, tortuous path and of just as var-
iegated and strenuous effort." (Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit.
Oxford, University Press, 1981, par. 18) While this Spirit has
yet fully to emerge from "the labour of its own transformation"
(ibid.), something of its lineaments are already in evidence.
Tarnas draws particular attention to "feminist, ecological, ar-
chaic, and other countercultural perspectives" (p. 444), includ-
ing transpersonal psychology (especially lung and Gro£) and the
so-called "new science" (Bateson, Bohm, Lovelock, Sheldrake,
among others), all of which have something to contribute to the
birth of what many now refer to as the "New Paradigm." In
contrast with the fragmented, reductionistic, and alienating
trend of the hitherto dominant spirit of modern Western
thought (which includes not only the modern Cartesian-
Newtonian paradigm, but the "deconstructive" variety of the
postmodern), the spirit of the New Paradignl is typically oriented
toward the notions of healing, wholeness, and the holy.
It is in this sense that Tarnas, echoing lung in Answer to Job
(Collected Works) Vol. II), points to the archetypal images of the
hierosgamos and the divine child as the guiding symbols of the
dawning era.
Rather than seeing the various manifestations of the New
Paradigm as expressions of the archetypal "Iuarriage of the
masculine and feminine," however, it would perhaps be more
appropriate to see this marriage as one aspect-albeit a critical
one-of the overall movement toward wholeness which the New
Paradigm, in its many forms, seeks to enlbrace. For, as we have
seen, it is only from the perspective of a yet unregenerate
masculinity that such casualties of modern alienated conscious-
ness as the body or nature, the archaic, or the divine, can be
subsumed-through the logic of projection-under the sym-
bolic rubric of "the feminine" as lost "other." Thus, if (as Tarnas
states in a rueful reflection on the language of Western philoso-
phy) "Man" is something that nlust be overconle, so too must
"the feminine," at least to the extent that each term, in uncon-
scious symbolic opposition, continues to subserve the dichoto-
mizing trend of the old paradigm. This is admittedly a fine
distinction, but one, nevertheless, that is more consistent with
the overall spirit of Tarnas's .project, a spirit wherein, as he
hilnself puts it, "Each perspective, masculine and felninine, is .
. . both affirmed and transcendended, [and] recognized as part
of a larger whole." (p. 445)
Richard Tamas, The Passion of the Western 43
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-ROBERT A. JOHNSON author of He, She, We, and Inner Work
$15.00 paperback 6 photographs
GRACE AND GRIT Spirituality and Healing in
the Life and Death of Treya Killam Wilber
Ken Wilber
A moving personal account of a couple's struggle with cancer,
by the well-known author of books on psychology.
"A deep and searing look at living, loving, death and resurrection. "
-M. SCOTT PECK, author of The Road Less Travelled
$15.00 paperback 11 photographs
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Shambhala Publications, 300 Massachusetts Avenue, Boston MA 02115. or call 617-424-0228
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