Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The most controversial anthropologist

One episode of a BBC series called Tales from the Jungle on famous anthropologists examines the "shamanthropologist" Carlos Castaneda (d. 1998), appropriately described as the most controversial anthropologist ever.

For those of us who can't watch the Beeb, it is available in segments from YouTube.

There are also episodes on Bronislaw Malinowski and Margaret Mead.

Without Castaneda, there would probably have been no "neo-shamanism." Without Mead appealing to Western notions of the noble--and sexy--savage, the "sexual liberation" of the 1960s would have lost one of its ideological underpinnings. And Malinowski, of course, largely shaped 20th-century ideas of ethnography.

The videos are a little hoked-up--and I wish that the BBC would consistently identify the talking heads on the screen. They do include Castaneda's son and ex-wife, who in the video defend much of his research (although not his actions), and Jay Fikes, an anthropologist known for his work with the Peyote Way in Mexico and the USA, who is more critical.

The video focuses on the cultish last years of Castaneda's life in particular.

For more on Castaneda, read Richard DeMille's two books on him, as well as Dan Noel's The Soul of Shamanism. Also the Sustained Action website.

Via Savage Minds.

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Anonymous Carpenter said...

The bbc doc got something horribly wrong in the first 5 minutes. CC got a PhD from UCLA, they showed stick footage of USC, my alma mater and UCLAs arch rival across town. See the "tommy trojan" shot. If they cant even fact check THAT who knows what they messed up. I mean, it ruins the whole thing for me.

7:08 PM  
Blogger Chas S. Clifton said...

Yes, it was the University of Southern California. Those names probably all sound the same to some low-ranking BBC production assistant.

For my part, I wondered about the scene where the actor playing Castaneda was driving his VW Bug in the desert. The license plate was not 1960s Californian, and I don't think that it was Mexican either. It looked European. So where was that part filmed, Spain?

Still, it was a good series, and I plan to write more in connection with it.

7:21 PM  

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