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September 19th, 2007 Paige Richmond | Headout
 

2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl

Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.

     
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Pride can be dangerous. In ancient Greek literature, men met their downfall on account of hubris, an exaggerated kind of self-confidence: The titular character of Sophocles’ Oedipus the King kills his father over a quarrel and then unwittingly sleeps with his own mother. He gouges out his own eyes when he realizes the abomination.
    But hubris is more than inflated ego—it’s arrogance without the knowledge to back it up. In the part-memoir, part-philosophic dissertation 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl (Tarcher, 416 pages, $26.95), Daniel Pinchbeck hypothesizes that a psychic shift will occur when the current cycle of the ancient Mayan long-count calendar ends on Dec. 21, 2012. He contends that this corresponds to the myth of Quetzalcoatl—a half-bird half-serpent Meso-American deity who represents the union of spirit and matter, and whose return will bring about a new age of civilization. The book is also filled with theories on how psychotropic drugs, shamanism, crop circles and the collective unconscious point toward that “shift in the nature of the psyche” when the Mayan calendar ends. He mentions the ideas of German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, the Global Consciousness Project at Stanford University and French postmodern critic Jean Baudrillard as proof that mankind will inevitably spiral toward destruction unless they reach the same psychic awakening Pinchbeck achieved by tripping balls. He reveres Terrence McKenna, a writer and professed user of psychedelic drugs who posited that man evolved from apes by eating hallucinogenic mushrooms.
    It is a difficult premise to swallow, but the most gag-inducing aspect of Pinchbeck’s (and McKenna’s) theories is a singular reliance on personal experience to prove his points. Pinchbeck has virtually no education: He’s a college dropout who admits in his book that he landed jobs writing for Wired and Village Voice because his mom, beat poet Jack Kerouac’s former girlfriend, had “editorial connections.” After a hundred pages—wherein Pinchbeck has only mentioned the Mayan Calendar twice—it becomes clear that 2012 is really about his own psychedelic-drug use and quest to understand what he call his “psychic wounds,” and not about an impending apocalypse.
    The problem is not that Pinchbeck’s theories are completely crackpot, but that he makes claims while admitting he lacks the knowledge to justify them. Early in the book, he writes that he is unable to find a Bible passage from St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, confessing to being “a Biblical illiterate.” Several chapters later, he argues that the “Book of Revelation is...disjointed, doom-riddled, insufferably self-righteous annoyingly priggish.” And rather than prove this assertion with Biblical quotes, he uses someone else’s (here, psychologist Carl Jung’s theory of archetypes) to loosely defend his point.
    At best, Pinchbeck wants to be the next Terrence McKenna; at worst, he’s looking to be the new Nietzsche—and this is why 2012 fails. Pinchbeck should stick to what he knows: tying other people’s ideas together and composing descriptions of tripping that rival Tom Wolfe’s stories of dropping acid with Ken Kesey in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Attempting to wax philosophic based on some hallucinogenic visions is more hubris than even Oedipus Rex could bear. PAIGE RICHMOND. 
Daniel Pinchbeck reads from 2012: The Return of Queztalcoatl tonight at Powell’s City of Books, 1005 W Burnside St., 228-4651. 7:30 pm. Free.
 
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