THE TAO OF SYMBOLS by James Powell


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A pleasantly exotic, mystically misty, semi-pretentious meditation on language and reality. Powell is a sort of freelance Vedic scholar; in this rambling essay, however, he borrows from every conceivable source--Zen, Blake, Hopi legends, John of the Cross, Zeno, Wittgenstein, Chuang Tzu, etc.--in order to elucidate the innermost nature (Tao) of human symbolizing. The material is interesting enough, and Powell's presentation flows agreeably along--but analytically-minded readers will find the whole thing just too facile. In a remark that comes as close as any to being a thesis, Powell says: ""Within the simple syllables and words of which all our conflicting theories, philosophies, and systems of belief are built dwells the immense, infinite power of the Word. It is only among those who do not see the Word beyond words that there is argument and suffering."" The key, then, is poetic-religious insight, and since institutions always shroud such insight in darkness (a dubious maxim, contradicted by some of Powell's own examples), we have to look to the original work of the great visionaries, from Bhartrihari to Wallace Stevens. The problem here is that Powell tends to hit us with quotations (the chapter ""Kiva"" is basically one vast excerpt from Frank Waters' Book of the Hopi) and then run away, leaving behind only a few hasty generalizations. At its worst, this provides us with glib one-liners--like ""Blake's critique is essentially anticipatory of the vision of relativity physics."" At its best, it constitutes a casual anthology of thoughts on speech as an act of cosmic communion. On the whole: a kind of spiritual shopping spree in a Consciousness III supermarket.

Pub Date: Oct. 14th, 1982
Publisher: Morrow