Feet of Clay: The Power and Charisma of Gurus

Anthony Storr, Author Free Press $24 (272p) ISBN 978-0-684-82818-3
""The wisest men follow their own direction and listen to no prophet guiding them,"" wrote Euripedes. Storr (Music and the Mind), a psychiatrist, uses this ancient caution as the epigraph to a fascinating yet frustrating investigation into the appeal of guru figures. He analyzes the lives and works of the destructive, unbalanced cult leaders Jim Jones and David Koresh, and he uses their symptoms--isolation, narcissism, paranoid delusion--to take the measure of other, generally more respected, ""gurus,"" including Gurdjieff, Freud, Jung, Rudolf Steiner, Rajneesh, St. Ignatius, even Jesus. While insisting that none of these latter can be described as insane, Storr considers their authoritarian certainty an ominous sign. Stressing that there can be a charisma based on goodness and genuine devotion to truth rather than on the power of personality, Storr warns against teachers who claim to know what he judges no single person can know: ""No one knows in the sense that Gurdjieff or Rajneesh or Jung believed that they knew and were supposed to know by their disciples."" But Storr's elegantly written account is tarnished by his own unacknowledged authoritarianism. He never entertains the notion that there may be states of consciousness--states of knowing--that exceed customary bounds, so that a strange cosmology like Gurdjieff's might be understood not as a paranoid delusion or mere belief, but as a challenge to habitual modes of perception and cogitation that is composed with a clockmaker's care. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 07/29/1996
Release date: 08/01/1996
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Paperback - 272 pages - 978-0-684-83495-5
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