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Carlos Castaneda
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Carlos Castaneda
Summary
Carlos Castaneda was an author and anthropologist born in Cajamarca, Peru in 1925. Though he claimed to have been born in Brazil in 1935, immigration papers show he was born in Peru in 1925. There are a great many opinions of Carlos Castaneda and his writings. He burst onto the scene with a popular book about entheogens and the magical world-view as reality in the middle of a time of academic and cultural upheaval.

His stories of a wizened old sorcerer, a man who came from a long line of peyote and mushroom-using wise men with extraordinary powers, captured the imaginations of students, hippies, and scholars. His original book is presented as a "UCLA PhD Anthropology Thesis", but it was a highly radical, postmodern piece of anthropological 'field work'. Castaneda's work was a watershed for critique and thought by cultural anthropologists and brought many new, excited minds into the field.

When the story continued, however, his public supporters changed their opinions and Castaneda went from being the 'most popular anthropologist ever' to 'lying opportunist'. His books have been critiqued and criticized. Many college students study anthropology because they were touched by their stories. In his later years, he went into more bizarre things, including a type of martial art / movement style (tensegrity). There is a cult of personality that is associated with Castaneda; he is sometimes called the godfather of the New Age movement.

But, throughout the debate and whether or not the work is totally a flight of fancy, the books remain an interesting type of meta-fiction: novel, anthropology, philosophy, spirituality.

As Novel: The story is given from the first person perspective of the slow-witted disbeliever in a magical, entheogen-using initiation into the Sorcerer's world view. The style and plot is acceptable, but those are not the strong suits. The reader is carried forward by wondering whether any of this story could be real and by the character development. There are a few points in the series where he captures feelings well: nostalgia, confusion, self-doubt, questioning the nature of reality.

As Anthropology: Anthropology has gone through many changes in the last 100 years, from a colonial English 'erudite visitor from a civilized culture to a prehistoric one', to a more involved visitor like Margaret Mead, to questioning whether it is possible to know a culture that is not your own. Carlos Castaneda died in 1998 at the age of 72.

Author of (Articles)
  • The Art of Dreaming (Psychology Today, 1977)
  • Interviews
  • Castaneda Interview (U.C. Press, 1968)
  • Castaneda Interview (Roszak, 1968)