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Tuesday, February 21st, 2006

Time Event
12:26a
another book ...
Here's an odd one ... dug out from the nether reaches of my to-be-read shelves, this is a collection of updated papers, whose originals had come out as Institute for Cultural Research monographs, primarily back in the 70's. As noted previously, the ICR was one of Idries Shah's "outreaches", and as such one typically needs to "look beyond the surface" when trying to get a fix on these sorts of books.

Now, Cultural Encounters: Essays on the Interactions of Diverse Cultures Now and in the Past, edited by Robert Cecil (ICR Chairman) and David Wade, does not present itself as a "best of" the ICR Monographs (although it is clearly set out that the papers included had all appeared in that series at one point), and in most cases the authors are given opportunity to update and/or expand their texts for this volume. Such a collection would be a bit odd, anyway, as nearly all of the component papers are still available in the Monograph format. So, why this book?

Frankly, Cultural Encounters is highly uneven in focus and tone ... it is presented in four sections, "Early Eastern Cultures" which has three papers which are primarily historical discussions, "Perceptions of India" which has four papers that range from personal reminiscence to then-current sociology (discussing hippies in various Indian ashrams), "Encounters In The Modern World" which are looks at political development in China, race relations in Columbia, and cultural divisions in Malaysia (quite a mixed bag of socio-political issues), and "Global Imperatives" which are typical 1970's "the sky is falling!" looks at ecology, population, and energy with attitudes more like a UN (anti-Western) subcommittee report than anything else. Why this progression? Why re-publish these papers?

The book "progresses" from a pre-Western East on through warnings of a "post-Western" dystopian inevitability ... hardly the "Sufi message" that I'm used to seeing in books from Octagon ... except for the final paragraph of the final paper which concludes (in a tone much out of place with the rest of the piece):

This alone might give us a little time to get down to the more serious matter of what to do about human nature.
Now, that's a Sufi-esqe message, and part of me wonders that the whole book is simply a set-up for that sentence! After all, the book takes a journey from mystery to "golden age" to stress and conflict and ultimately to unsettling future visions ... only to hit the "punch line" that what we really need to be working on is human nature!

I had, of course, read all of these papers (in their original forms) previously, so I hit these each with varying degrees of recall. I found it interesting that the main "take-away" point that hit my consciousness was one that cropped up in multiple presentations, involving how the Chinese don't "think of religion" the way most other cultures do ... although I can't figure out how that factoid would serve a purpose sufficient to make it a "theme" (which it hardly was, but was notable in its coming up in at least two of these papers).

I enjoyed reading the first two sections, had some intellectual curiosity about section three, and pretty much had to just grit my teeth and plow through section four. Your mileage may vary ... folks who think that Al Gore is sane and that Michael Moore is worth the space he occupies might have a different take on that. This, like nearly all Octagon books, is still very much in print, but like most Octagon books is very pricey ... $35 for a 260-page book ... though you can get copies though Amazon's new/used vendors for a fourth of that, were this something you felt like pursuing.


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