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States of Grace: The Recovery of Meaning in the Postmodern Age.

In 1962, Rachel Carson said in Silent Spring, 'The road we have been travelling is deceptively easy, a smooth super-highway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster'. Now, thirty years later, Charlene Spretnak has added a chilling dimension: 'Day by day, people die as victims of this route. The road is getting rougher. At the end lies a cliff. Around us our leaders, good lemmings all, exhort us to stay the course'.

Rachel Carson believed that her book would be harkened to by governments: instead successful attempts were made to discredit it. Charlene Spretnak succeeds in uncovering the intervening cultural structure for the cover-up of such vital information which has led to our current position with thirty years' greater degradation of the ecosystem. Spretnak introduces the useful technique of deconstructionist postmodernism, but suggests that it has a limiting factor.

The deconstructionists, mainly in university philosophy departments, have been revealing 'the card tricks behind the "obvious truth" of rationalist modernity' to their limited audience. Spretnak explains what deconstructionism now entails which will widen its appeal. She regards what it has achieved as praiseworthy and very necessary, but does not accept 'that there is nothing but cultural construction in human experience', and explains what has been overlooked.

Spretnak is known in America for her activist commitment to social change, and thus her scrutiny and what she calls ecological deconstruction dissects the American system, which though given its American context, immediately finds uncanny resemblance to our own political situation. She suggests that, even though we may not support the system, we help to perpetuate it, merely by our acquiescence. She goes on to say, 'Now, as the natural world beyond human society has become critically degraded and dysfunctional, the possibility that the meaning of the human is anchored in the meaning of nature is frightening to many people'. She believes it explains why 'the radical denial of meaning has found widespread appeal'.

Several recent books, such as Philip Sherrard's The Rape of Man and Nature, in attempting to find a way out of the seeming impasse, have suggested the need for people to undergo a metanoia, or deep change of heart. Passive intellectual understanding and agreement are not enough because, without the necessary activating change of heart, nothing can change.

Spretnak's book has the noble distinction of, more than any, enabling that change to occur. She proposes that ecological post-modernism can recover meaning by 'reclaiming the core teachings and practices of the great wisdom traditions'. She is appealing to the bruised spirit of humankind, and believes that ecological post-modernism may itself become a 'wisdom tradition'. She reminds us of Whitehead's Process and Reality, first published in 1929, which concluded that the divine was a process of becoming -- not a noun. She relates the spirit to nature which enables us to understand ourselves in a true light. 'What is human culture but an extension of the dynamic physicality of the planet?' Charlene Spretnak insists at the end of the book. One emerges convinced that the elements in our bodies are the same as those in 'trees, rocks, raccoons and rivulets', and that our subtle inter-connectedness can no longer be doubted, which is surely a great achievement.

This wonderful book is not dedicated to those bemused wanderers in the soul-less technic-economic imbroglio who know not which way to turn, but its power of reconnecting may be magical.
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Author:Aitchtey, Rodney
Publication:Contemporary Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 1, 1993
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