NATURE AND MADNESS by Paul Shepard

NATURE AND MADNESS

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

The city geometry delights only the untrained eye, to which the subtle patterns of the vast viome are simply invisible, the wilderness in disarray, a kind of pandemonium."" With such excess of lamentation, Shepard proclaims the sickness (madness) of Western society, which he traces to the dawn of agrarianism and the settled life. Hardly an original theme, especially for this romantic ecologist whose earlier books (Man in the Landscape, Thinking Animals) expressed similar concerns. For all the exaggerations, however, Shepard does deal with a succession of pivotal times: village life, the desert fathers, the Reformation, and industrialized society. In each instance, he makes some philosophically interesting points relating child development to the prevailing religious beliefs, seeing both as reflections of an underlying attitude of man toward nature. Thus, Earth Mother religions dominated early agricultural settlements, and were accompanied, according to Shepard, by ""trophic"" needs--preoccupation with food and anxieties over nature's caprices. The desert fathers are both the Jews and the early Christian leaders who introduced paternalistic monotheism, substituting abstract divinity for the concerete, interrelatedness of man with the non-human world. The Reformation reinforced a dualism that combined a condemnation of all that was natural with a prurient interest. Finally, industrialism has substituted the artificial and the mechanized, further alienating man from nature. Each stage has succeeded in further infantilizing humanity, reducing adults to the illusory omnipotence of the toddler. . . or creating monsters of dependency. With allusions to Erikson, Eliade, George Steiner, Perry Miller, and others, there are indeed occasional illuminating insights or provocative ideas. But any scheme that presents modern society in monolithic terms, snowballing downward on the basis of synergies of religion, anti-nature ideology, and child-rearing practices, topples from its own grandiose weight.

Pub Date: Jan. 3rd, 1982
ISBN: 0820319805
Publisher: Sierra Club--dist. by Random House