What I want to consider here is the term ‘power’ as used by Castaneda and consider how this fits with various other types of experience. To qualify my use of treating Castaneda with this level of seriousness I would point out that I do not naively take the contents of the books to depict actual events, though neither do I deny that they might. What I do find important in the books is the way in which (to me at least) concepts like power make a massive amount of sense. This feeling though, as we shall see, serves as a ambiguous kind of evidence for the general thesis.
Power in Castaneda is both an impersonal and personal force. Basically it is what is responsible for any incredible things occurring. Persons wanting to cultivate occult ability need to acquire ‘personal power’. The chief manner in which this is achieved is through ‘impeccable’ living. This simply means doing ones best at everything and not wasting time on endless thinking about what to do, thought is functional so that it leads to action and it should lead to action (not more thought). The notion is that by tidying up ones life one stops leaking ‘power’ and becomes able to retain it. The distinction between the personal and impersonal is something of a false one. Incredible things that occur are ‘for’ specific people insofar as they brought them about themselves. Jungian synchronicities could be seen as examples of such phenomena though events in the books are far more extreme. Power can present itself as something that might seem incredibly impersonal, yet the possibility of viewing the event at all turned on whether one had enough ‘personal’ power to do so.
Another key feature of power is the ability of more powerful individuals to lend power to others. Don Juan frequently tells Carlos that some of the things he is able to witness are only because of his (DJ’s) power and not Carlos’. Some entities that Carlos sees in the hills and Carlos’ initial dreaming success are both ascribed to Don Juan’s power and not Carlos’. It is this feature of power that has captured my attention.
This notion of acquiring power from others seems related to a common experience people have when reading texts, or even reading about texts. Certain texts to certain individuals can feel so persuasive that they feel overwhelmed by them. In the case of philosophy this may result in becoming ‘a Heideggerian’ ‘a Deleuzian’ ‘a Wittgensteinian’ etc. This kind of acolytehood no matter how temporary can be seen through the above lens in two ways: i) as the power of the author to bring you under their fold ii) as the power of the individual to comprehend the text. The second interpretation features in a similar manner in CC’s work. There are instances of certain explanations that are literally impossible to understand without a certain level of ‘personal power’.
I tentatively want to argue for a heuristic division of ways in which texts strike us. This split I would label as rational and intuitive (for want of a better word). Furthermore this division is not intended as always occurring in an absolute manner, all instances will no doubt be blurred. Neither should we think that the rational understanding of a text is denigrated. This is the attempt to understand the arguments presented and follow the authors steps through to their conclusion. I am not saying that this results in truth; lurking underneath this tendency are still affective factors -as suggested here.
What I am suggesting though is that it is when an intuitive tendency takes over, that one is more open to the double motion of being-controlled and suddenly-grasping. Being-controlled is as such,, only insofar the author has exerted power through the text. Being-controlled is the sense that the work is so powerful that one must push this agenda and adhere to it. This is what elsewhere referred to as being-an-agent, that is even if it is not for a particular thinker, one might be an agent for e.g. idealism. As someone ‘persuaded’ of this truth, one works for idealism, to further its status in the world etc. Suddenly-grasping can be separated from being-controlled insofar as it does not entail that one agrees with what one has suddenly grasped. Whilst I could also concede that suddenly-grasping does not entail that one has suddenly-grasped correctly, in the sense of power that we mean here, in a way it does. Suddenly-grasping as an act of power is an actual comprehension brought about fluidly from the text in a very natural unfolding as opposed to hard cognitive work.
Let’s be clear, this is an occult thesis offering a parallel interpretation to more normal ways in which we think we understand things (we read something, we take in the information and weigh up). Power is not understood to have an agenda, the actions of power are completely mysterious. Why was a given person suddenly able to understand the text? Simply because they had enough power to receive that information. End of story. We can render power in this sense, slightly more cogent by thinking that unconscious forces in operation are motivated towards certain ends and as such will reveal text that suits their ends.
Being-controlled can be thought of in a similar way, though it can also be comprehended as being literally taken over by an alien conceptual body. The thoughts that we have that agree with, (indeed argue for) this stance seem like our own but really we are simply being partially controlled through lines connected to the relevant theory accretion/psychic structure. Whilst, at first this suggests a sense in which there was a ‘me’ that is now partially controlled in its theoretical doings by an external accretion. A more sensible way of looking at it would be that there was either no or very little ‘me’ and in fact all the thoughts present in this region were just the external plugins of all manner of different kinds of accretions. The ‘me’ could be better understood as the system of filtering rather than the ideas themselves, as it is the system of filtering that actually is local whereas all the ideas are essentially out there and in this case very literally ‘out there’.
Another instance of this kind of usage of ‘power’ is a therapeutic one. We can conceive of a therapist as someone who lends some power to their patient. This is a specific kind of action in a sense. It is not the kind of action that normal healthcare uses as the modern western system externalises power into the action of the medicine and not the healer and psychologically increasingly the the technique and not the therapist.
A psychological type therapy though is the best kind of relevant example as the aim is very similar to the Don Juan/CC relation, that is, one seeks to alter the way of perceiving things of the other. In the therapeutic setting, if we allow for an occult concept like power to have force, then the action is literally one of lending some power to the patient. Now the being-controlled notion takes on a different edge. Here being-controlled would be a deliberate allowing oneself to be-controlled. The therapist plugs the forces for which they are an agent directly into the patient. ‘Power’ here is ability to do so, to lend your ‘stable’ mind to the patient and attempt to nuture autonomy of the stability-implant so that the connection can be eventually mostly severed. This would also suggest that power is the power to control ones own filtering system and other people’s filtering systems.
Lest this sound too reasonable statement, the extreme version of ‘filtering system’ here would be the alteration of seemingly solid reality. The line between what looks like simply perceptual alteration and actual ontological change would also be totally blurred.
The meaning of the ambiguous force of Castaneda’s own works as evidence for the thesis is probably fairly clear now. The ambiguity is of course our old friend the agnostic disjunction -is power ontologically real or purely psychological? On the strong (occult) interpretation CC’s works themselves are capable as a power source capable of altering the filtering system of readers. This is certainly a common enough effect of reading the books just as being infected by the 23 phenomenon is with RAW/Burroughs’ work. Power in this way operates in a certain circularity. Its comprehension requires sufficient power itself. This is almost the strangest heart of agnostic disjunctive territory for only by allowing power to be power could it show itself in this wise. A constant refusal to do so will reveal it only in its psychological dimension which will view its occult counterpart as total bunk. This does not even say the psychological reading is wrong, it is consistent within itself.
It is not called an agnostic disjunction for no reason.