Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date.

For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.

Coming Into Being

Coming Into Being

3.5 2
by William Irwin Thompson

In his best-selling The Time Falling Bodies Take to Light, William Irwin Thompson intrigued readers with his thoughts on mythology and sexuality. In his newest book, Coming Into Being: Artifacts and Texts in the Evolution of Consciousness, he takes the reader on a journey through the evolution of consciousness from the preverbal communications of


In his best-selling The Time Falling Bodies Take to Light, William Irwin Thompson intrigued readers with his thoughts on mythology and sexuality. In his newest book, Coming Into Being: Artifacts and Texts in the Evolution of Consciousness, he takes the reader on a journey through the evolution of consciousness from the preverbal communications of early stone carvings, to the writings of Marcel Proust, around the monumental wrappings of Christo and up to the rebirth of interest in the Taoist philosophy of Lao Tzu. Owing as much to the rhythmic constructions of jazz as to established methods of scholarship, Thompson plays a riff on biology and culture seeing the birth of the mind in Proust's Madeleine, the displacement of humanity in Christo's wrapping of the Reichstag and, in Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching, the path forward to a new planetary culture. In Coming Into Being, William Irwin Thompson presents a fascinating vision of our past, our present, and our future that no one will want to miss.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“wide-ranging and deep essays...Thompson [is] an adventurous thinker.” —Publishers Weekly
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In these wide-ranging, deep essays, cultural critic and philosopher Thompson (At the Edge of History) continues his investigation of what he perceives to be an emerging planetary culture. An unorthodox, adventurous thinker, he applies Buddhist concepts to map the evolution of life from bacteria to humans, skips from prehistoric Mother Goddess sculptures to Christo's outdoor environmental wrappings, jumps from Proust to the Bible. He wrestles with the emergence of consciousness, the advent of patriarchy and the postindustrial breakdown of literate middle-class culture. For Thompson, anthropological bestsellers like Richard Leakey's Origins and Donald Johanson's Lucy are myth-laden projections by "the men's club of anthropology" onto the African savanna, while the story of Mary and Jesus, deeply embedded in Near Eastern mythology of the dying male, is a retelling of the ancient Egyptian legend of Isis and Osiris. In Taoist sage Lao Tzu's classic Tao Te Ching, with its celebration of anarchic decentralization and the feminine principle, Thompson finds "the road not taken," an alternative to our world of hierarchy and rigid polarities. (June)
Library Journal
Thompson, a poet, essayist, historian, philosopher, and prolific author (Imaginary Landscape, St. Martin's, 1990) who has taught at Cornell, MIT, and other universities, integrates a synthesis of science, the arts, and his New Age faith and philosophy into a prediction of "planetary culture." Thompson maintains that scientific narrative is structured like folklore and a performance of myth, as illustrated by the theories on hominid evolution and their lack of "factual truth" in hominization. He sees contemporary society as a dark age leading to the establishment of the last of "five evolutionary stages or quantum jumps." The narrative is witty at times, especially when Thompson is discussing Zecharia Sitchin, the 12th planet, and Van Daniken's "pot-boiler" space alien theories. Familiarity with basic New Age jargon and concepts is assumed. Those who can move in such philosophical and spiritualizing thought, whether or not they agree, will find his work compelling.Eugene O. Bowser, Univ. of Northern Colorado, Greeley
Fifteen philosophy scholars form a panel of essays answering to the major ideas and thoughts of Hannah Arendt, the influential and often controversial intellectual in the 1930s and through the 1970s. The contributors come from the most central philosophy schools in critical theory, communitarianism, virtue theory, and feminism, covering themes of political action and judgment, ethics and the nature of evil, Self and world, and gender and Jewishness. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Kirkus Reviews
Meandering millennial meditations by a self-described cultural historian, Wissenskünstler, Marshall McLuhanite, and yogic proselytizer.

Perhaps it is unsurprising, then, that this book is more stream-of-consciousness than history of consciousness, as Thompson (The American Replacement of Nature, 1991, etc.) jettisons such Western prejudices as order and coherence while he whimsically skips from Proust to Earth Goddesses to the Rig Veda to comparing translations of Lao Tzu. When Joseph Campbell engages in such dazzling eclecticism, it usually works. Here it seems misconceived. Electrified by the constructed significance of the year 2000, Thompson also succumbs to an apocalyptic variant of the Whig fallacy of history. Instead of viewing the present as the grand culmination of centuries of meliorations, he sees it as the beginning of a final transformation of humanity involving "the recovering of the feminine, the deconstruction of the patriarchy, the deconstruction of capital-incentive economies of scale run by military-athletic-entertainment-industrial complexes with their shadow economies of drugs, arms traffic and crime; and a general resistance to medibusiness taking over the human body." If we do not throw off all these old bonds, if we do not subjugate science to ancient wisdom, Thompson predicts a violent, long-drawn disintegration of civil society, "darkness and entropy in a war of each against all." In any book so fruitcake-rich with ideas and theories, you're bound to find at least a few tasty morsels, and Thompson does not disappoint. He offers some provocative—though unoriginal—ideas on the evolution of consciousness, and his discussion of the limits and fallibilities of academia and science is first-rate. But the healthy skepticism he shows here completely vanishes when it comes to matters more mysterious and arcane.

Things must be in a pretty bad way if science and reason cannot save us, and we must cast ourselves instead on Thompson's haphazard ruminations.

Product Details

St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.00(d)

Meet the Author

William Irwin Thompson is the author of At the Edge of History, The Time Falling Bodies Take to Light and Imaginary Landscapes. He lives in Switzerland.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Post to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews

Coming Into Being 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Reading this book is a bit like watching a Baz Luhrmann film like 'Moulin Rouge' or 'William Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet.' Although the text, superficially, is the printed record of a 1992-1994 lecture series, the lectures themselves were not designed as a linear narrative exposition, but in Thompson's words, operated as a form of mind-jazz -- an improvisational riff on ancient texts.++++++++++ The texts function in the book very much the way an archetypal storyline does in Luhrmann's films -- as a structural anchor for a great whirl of pop references and images that have no temporal relationship to one another but are perceived to occupy the same ideational space. When this strategy works, the results are exhilarating. ++++++++++ Thompson's focus is the living interaction of consciousness and communicative form -- the way in which a consensual instrument of communication serves as the performance of tacit assumptions about what it means to be human. Influenced in this enterprise by the theories of Marshall McLuhan, Thompson demonstrates in diverse communicative fields -- art, literature, religion, myth, history, archaeology, poetry, pop imagery -- how new possibilities for meaning take hold in a culture, relegating displaced forms to folk art, and setting in motion fundamentalist movements in which the frankly archaic returns nativistically, a vocabulary wielded by those disenfranchised by the process of ideational change. +++++++++ Thompson has been taken to task, in this respect, for the so-called Whig fallacy of history -- that is, for treating past social orders as though they'd been groping along, step by step, to reach our own point of conscious development. But these reviewers are equally irritated by Thompson's multidimensional approach to his subject, regarding it as a rejection of western narrative convention. ++++++++++ It seems to me that the book's structure is more profitably understood as a deliberate reflection of the thesis that Thompson is advancing: that all variants of a conscious perspective exist at once as performances of that perspective, whether or not they served to reflect or influence the society in which they found expression. This thematic consistency both unifies the material and allows for expansive variation, much as an ostinato binds a musical composition while allowing for constantly changing contrapuntal parts. ++++++++++ Although some of his ideas are certainly familiar from post-modern theory, Thompson rejects the nihilism and political utilitarianism that so often attend a deconstructionist perspective on great literature. He appeals, rather, to the reader's imagination, that intermediate psychological ground between matter and spirit, where language serves as a form of currency: a means of exchange between the sensorium and dimensions that lie beyond its direct perceptual acquisition. ++++++++++ This felicitous analogy allows Thompson to introduce the evidence of texts that are not usually understood to have relevance in a technologically oriented society. Like a marriage contract, whose value is not in its material existence as a piece of paper, some texts operate as a 'consensual instrument,' allowing, as Thompson puts it, a domain of meaning to come into play. ++++++++++ Like Thompson's other books, this one is not an easy read. It's in the business of limning texts as performances of the worldview in which they were generated, determined not only by culture but by gender and adaptive context. And it attempts, by its very form, to invoke as well as to describe what Thompson calls a hermeneutic of the imagination. ++++++++++ Understanding our current state of cultural organization as a bifurcation point, a time in which the traditional forms of literate civilization are undergoing an electronic meltdown, Thompson regards the present communicative medium as the concrete performance of a state of consciousness that is collective rather