BY HOWARD STEIN, THE UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA PRESS; 1987.
"Alle Menschen werden Brüder," sang Ludwig von
B, quoting Schiller's "Ode to Joy" in his 9th. An inspiring and hopeful
message, until one considers the first recorded story of two brothers in human history. All right, you say the Egyptian Tale
of Two Brothers precedes Cain and Abel? Also a bad ending.
Here is a collection of five essays by an antropologist on psychogeography. Remember geography? Third grade—the mid-Atlantic states—colored in orange on the map—truck farming. Of course they don't grow trucks on farms, stupid! They make them in factories. So what is truck farming? Don’t all farmers own a truck? What is truck farming, Mrs. Marcus? Color in your map, Michael.
Psychogeography I understand. Stein is talking about boundaries, limits, defining ourselves by what we are not. With the perception of others as “other,” there comes fear, hatred, and the image of the enemy. Jews have their goyim, Armenians their odar, and Hawaiians their nã haale.
This book is full of brilliant provocative insights, which range over a broad landscape. Stein is an adventurous and daring explorer. He writes of his clinical work with a migrant population that settled in the Sun Belt in the early 1980's, revealing the multiplicity of problems that result from cultural and spatial dislocation. He then moves to 19th Century Russia, where conflicts between Slavophiles and Westernizers, mirrored in today’s tensions over glasnost, led to chronic distrust betweem Russia and the West. In a somewhat ponderous essay comparing the oedipal similarities and differences of the binding of Isaac (Akedah) and the crucifixion of Jesus, he explores the mistrust and hostility between Christianity and Judaism. The book is brilliantly wrapped up in a concluding chapter on the need of organized groups for an enemy, someone outside, onto whom the group can project its own self-hatred.
There are, to be sure, psychoanalytic excesses: “One does not need to be a committed Freudian to see sexual symbolism in the exhuberant fireworks exploded over and near Lady Liberty at night or in the parade of boats large and small around her during the day (e.g., Primal Scene, incest with mother, orgasms, spermatozoa aswarm in the uterine sea, newborn infants in the broken water beneath the mother)." Lyndon Johnson's need to fight a losing and self-destructive war in Vietnam, and his comparison of Vietnam to the Battle of the Alamo, in which the good guys all perished, are interpreted as stemming from Johnson’s need to be punished for his oedipal guilt over the killing of John Kennedy. These fantasies lend themselves to parody and ridicule, but, for the most part, they are just fun. On the whole, The book is a solid thoughtful treatise on group relations, bringing the best in psychoanalytic and anthropologic inquiry to a subject about which, if we are to survive in the nuclear age, deserves further attention.
This brilliant and pleasing book is enclosed in a gray jacket with a drawing of a brick wall topped with barbed wire. It is further encumbered with a forbidding title that will consign it to the shelf of Required Reading for Social Relations 101b in the University of Oklahoma bookstore. The book deserves both a wider audience and a better designer.