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March 15, 1987|ALEX RAKSIN

The Transformation, George B. Leonard (Tarcher: $8.95). This 1972 attempt to find a counterculture philosophy that would endure beyond encounter groups, "rolfing" and other 1960s fads has become a seminal text for the New Age movement and has drawn praise from such Eastern literati as Joyce Carol Oates, who calls it "a small encyclopedia of inevitable changes in humankind." It's being reprinted now in part because the author believes we've reached " kairos ," which he defines as a time "alive and crackling with tensions and possibilities." More literally, kairos derives from a Greek word meaning "moments of sudden unfolding," as contrasted with kronos , or "steady time." In this thoughtful though ultimately jumbled book, Leonard assails kronos as "artificial and mechanical" and argues that its dominance in advanced Western nations is inhibiting. Leonard sees an alternative in a culture that combines pre-industrial spirituality (where "a web of kinship" stretches between people and the land) with a post-industrial future in which machines free man from mechanistic work.

Unfortunately, Leonard never spells out how this synthesis will occur, alluding only to vague "changes" that will "drastically alter . . . modes of human relationship." In fairness, it must be said that much of Leonard's ambiguity is quite deliberate, for he believes that "a social system derives from a staggering number of variables, and we can rarely discover which are most important." This view, however, is simply too rootless to serve as the foundation for an enduring social movement. Leonard predicts that "the need for glory, honor and duty (will become) irrelevant when we learn to flow with the rhythm of existence." But such slogans are actually the stuff of the Old Age, for these basic emotions are un1818848101discovery that "the stargate is in our foreheads."

The U.S. Constitution for Everyone, written and illustrated by Mort Gerberg (Putnam's: $4.95). At 64 pages, this guide doesn't compare with the more scholarly works that have been published recently in honor of the Constitution's bicentennial. It remains unique, however, for rather than simply explaining the meaning of the articles and amendments, as the somewhat patronizing title might suggest, it offers a behind-the-convention look at how our "traitorous" Founding Fathers haggled to create what Alexander Hamilton called "a bundle of compromises." The author's emphasis is offbeat, reporting on James Madison's protests against the section that allows representatives to set their own salaries ("It was an indecent thing and might in time prove dangerous"), overviewing gender issues (women are never explicitly denied office in the Constitution, nearly all of which avoids the generic "he"), and pinpointing popular misconceptions (nowhere, for instance, does the Constitution speak of separation of church and state).

Mr. Noon, D. H. Lawrence (Penguin: $7.95). Part diary, part travel adventure, part novel, this book reveals passion and prejudice in a way that is unusually direct even for D. H. Lawrence, no doubt because most of it is a rough draft. Initially known as a short story about a young schoolmaster who becomes entangled with a girl and loses his job, "Mr. Noon" continued, in a manuscript found in 1972 and first published in 1984, to chronicle a love affair loosely modeled on Lawrence's own with Frieda Weekley. The theme is vintage Lawrence, with Mr. Noon striving to become more "alive" through sex, "the closest of all touch" and through a vagabond flight from our "stultifying" adherence to progress, which is symbolized by a small town in part one: "cheerful as a grave," the town experiences a "frantic burst of life" after chapel. Critics attempting to categorize this 1920-'21 work are still in conflict, but it seems best dubbed autobiography, which is both its greatest strength--allowing Lawrence to create vivid, memorable characters that distract us from a wandering plot--and most marked weakness, encouraging Lawrence to share his frustrations about the lackluster plot: "Oh, Deus ex machina ," the author cries, "get up steam and come to our assistance."

The Cult of Information: The Folklore of Computers and the True Art of Thinking, Theodore Roszak (Pantheon: $7.95). The author, a history professor at Cal State Hayward, thinks we've carelessly come to call our era "The Information Age." Previous ages--Faith, Reason, Discovery--at least reflected trends and values, Theodore Roszak believes, but what do we mean by "information"?: "Thou shalt not kill?" "Phillies 8, Dodgers 5?" "Twas brillig and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe?" The futurists who coined the catch phrase view "information" as "empowering knowledge" and argue that with new computers and communications technology, we will have more of it, and thus more "power."

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