MYTH AND SEXUALITY by Jamake Highwater


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Following in Joseph Campbell's well-worn footsteps, Highwater (The Primal Mind, 1981; The Sun, He Dies, 1980) conscientiously traces the interaction between western attitudes toward sexuality and the cultural and religious myths that have formed the basis for those attitudes from ancient to modern times. Highwater's premise--that there is a symbiotic relationship between the myths of western culture and that culture's everyday assumptions regarding sex, gender, and the role of the body (and, by extension, nature) in the scheme of things--is by now a foregone conclusion. Here, though, Highwater proposes to trace the gradual transformation from the primitive Greeks' view of body/soul unity to modern man's present sense of alienation from self and from nature, searching for the causes of our present malaise. In simple yet convincing prose, he lays the blame for modern body-fear at the door of the ancient Greeks, who abandoned their original egalitarian culture and began suppressing women as part of the process of establishing a new form of civilization; he then goes on to discuss increasingly unnatural concepts of the body--as sinner in the Christian Middle Ages, as lover during the medieval romantic period, as machine in the Industrial Revolution, and as weapon in today's urban culture. Highwater concludes with a lyrical description of a quasispiritual experience of his own, watching the 80-year-old dancer Ruth St. Denis descend a stairway. Her familiarity with her own body is, he claims, what we have lost in handing over our bodies' (and nature's) mythical power to the rational mind. His hope is that our culture can find its way back to a more unified concept of body as indistinguishable from the soul. An accessible introduction to the subject--both inspiring and entertaining.

Pub Date: Feb. 26th, 1989
Publisher: New American Library