Carlos Castaneda: Countercultural Icon and Budding Postmodernist
My research also draws attention to another important and neglected source of Castaneda books’ skyrocketing popularity: an emerging post-modernist mindset on American campuses. Using the texts of his Don Juan experiential novels, memoirs of his associates, and oral interviews I conducted with his colleagues, I argue that the core message of all of Castaneda’s books was an intellectual revolt against positivism and determinism. Through his flamboyant lifestyle and workshops and through the Don Juan character himself, Castaneda repeatedly emphasized that there was no reality proper and that it was individual people, gender, and cultural groups who constructed their own “realities” and discourses. Although hardly controversial today, in the 1960s, this message had yet to become a common intellectual assumption. I further argue that the ability of Castaneda to tune his “field experiences” with the Native American shaman to the budding post-modern intellectual culture explains the incredible durability of his “Don Juan” books that survived not only the 1960s counterculture and psychedelic revolution, but also fraud accusations and the culture wars of the 1990s.
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