Castaneda’s Journey by Richard de Mille

‘Castaneda’s Journey: The power and the allegory’ by Richard de Mille was originally published in 1976. This review was based on the 1978 edition. Richard de Mille is a scholar and writer whose study of philosophy, religion and science drew him to Castaneda’s books (as well as his daughter who provided copies of the first four books and urged him to read them.)

De Mille’s goal in writing the book was to debunk some of the non-fiction authenticity claims of Castaneda (and what was a growing army of devout followers at the time) and to examine possible academic sources that Castaneda had leant on for material. In de Mille’s own words:

“Castaneda laboured 49 years to become the complicated, superficially inconsistent, deeply constant man who wrote Tales of Power. I have laboured one year to unfold him. Where I have gone astray, others will stay on the path. Where I have hit the nail on the head, many whose thumbs are throbbing will stoically deny it” (1978: P.25)

Throughout the analysis, which is structured in a pseudo-epic manner (no doubt in order to reflect Castaneda’s own taste for grandiose themes,) de Mille displays the ability to slip easily between more serious insights and “witty” conclusions. The overall effect is very engaging but it does work against him when tackling some of the more complicated issues; like metaphysics. He is also restricted somewhat in his analysis by exacerbating the authenticity point.

Having said this, he uses some very interesting techniques to examine both the books and the man. Immediately, de Mille declares that he will be using the names “Carlos” and “Castaneda” to mean two different people. When he ascertains facts pertaining to the author then they belong to Castaneda. When the facts are provided in conjunction with the literary works then they belong to Carlos.

Using this dual-character method he quickly identifies how very little is known concretely about the author and how timelines between the his real life and literary life are not always in sync. De Mille does maintain however, that the timeline in the books, though confusing sometimes, are consistent with one another. But his primary goal remains authenticity and by using this method he brings to light contradictions, which provide damning evidence against them being pure works of non-fiction.

What gives “Castaneda’s journey” some credence as important periphery reading for psychedelic literature is De Mille’s examination of not what is true in the strictest historically objective sense but what is true, or original, in the world of ideas. Writing at a time when Castaneda’s books had found an audience with the new-age and spiritual movements he needed to confront truth as a subjective coherence.

“The words that come out of his mouth or typewriter are charged with an essence that makes things happen in both separate and boss realities. Some of these things may be beneficial. He is not lying, we can say, because the meaning we get from his allegory is more important than his secret preparations.” (1978: P.169)

Although De Mille, who states that he is a scholar interested in philosophy, science and religion, pays service to the truth as allegory; he’s reluctant to tackle Castaneda from a religious perspective and instead concentrates on, firstly, questioning how the academic foundation of the books arose and secondly, examines the subjective truth through the goggles of analytic philosophy.

Whilst I believe he was successful in extrapolating ideas from Castaneda, he was less successful in applying them; largely due to his philosophical approach. A continental analysis would have been more applicable and would certainly have reaped more academic reward. He is though, if nothing else, consistent with the text – especially in his reading of the metaphysics of nagualism:

“The tonal is what happens when the nagual gives birth. The tonal is what exists. More properly, it is people’s perception or imagination of things. The idea of the nagual is part of the tonal, but the nagual itself is not part of the tonal. Everybody has a tonal but the nagual has everybody. When something ceases to exist – like an ocean wave, a life, or a tonal – it returns to its potential state in the nagual..” (1978: P.138)

In his analysis of sources there is a constant recourse to Wittgenstein and his magnum opusTractatus Logico-Philosophicus. Though this fits into the popular trends of Anglo-saxon philosophy at the time (and still nowadays) it lacks the methodological equipment  to engage with much of Castaneda’s ontology. Though slightly hampered by this, de Mille still manages to point towards several interesting insights and lay the foundations for future philosophical discourse though.

Overall, this is a very worthwhile read for anyone interested in the underpinnings of both Castaneda’s work and psychedelic literature in general. De Mille manages to put both the author and his works through a clear looking-glass and although his academic contextualization is limited, it is none-the-less valuable.

Several years later, in an effort to further condemn the beliefs of those people who understood Castaneda’s education by don Juan as pure non-fiction, he wrote a second book on the subject. Titled ‘The Don Juan Papers: Further Castaneda Controversies’

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