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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences



Men, Women, and the Quest for Ecstasy
Marianna Torgovnick
$26.00, hardcover, 270 pages, notes, bibliography, index, 5 illustrations

According to Torgovnick, the modern quest for ecstasy began during the upheavals of World War I, with a dread that Western civilization had taken the demonic turn. She tells the stories of culture icons such as Carl Jung, Isak Dinesen, D. H. Lawrence, and Georgia O'Keeffe as they discovered—whether with horror or relish—the primitive as a medium for soul-searching and personal change. Such persons have become role models, rousing people today who ache to experience what they sense to be humanity's primary meaningful link to the universe. It is this yearning, the desire to transcend the limitations of the body and western culture, as Torgovoick contends, that motivates an astonishing variety of contemporary practices stimulated by the primitive—such as genital piercing, New Age rituals , and the men's movement.
Torgovnick explores the psychology of our profound attraction to cultures we call "primitive." Whether located in Africa, the South Pacific, or the American Southwest, the primitive has become synonymous in the Western imagination with a range of emotions and experiences thought to be lost in modern life: reverence for the land and for nature; strong communal bonds; sexual plenitude; and, perhaps most intriguing, an ecstatic sense of connection to the universe and the life force. Torgovoick investigates the numerous ways we have turned toward the primitive out of spiritual hunger for such deeply human experiences—a hunger that could once be satisfied within the West's own mystical traditions but that often no longer can be.
Written in a flowing, page-turning style. this tour of early twentieth century infatuation with the primitive utilizes many sources to offer a cultural history that is entertaining despite its lack of theoretical insight into our cultural dilemmas. The volume consists of a laundry list of aspects of our culture. Religion, art, psychology, and literature are exploited for their insight into our ideas of spirituality and gender, and, ultimately, into the hidden but vital parts of ourselves.

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