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This article is taken from PN Review 14, Volume 6 Number 6, July - August 1980.

Devil and Angel Bernice Martin


Did Our Best Moment last-
'Twould supersede the Heaven-
A few-and they by Risk-procure-
So this Sort-are not given-

Except as stimulants-in
Cases of Despair-
Or Stupor-The Reserve-
These Heavenly Moments are-

A Grant of the Divine-
That Certain as it Comes-
Withdraws-and leaves the dazzled Soul
In her unfurnished Rooms

Emily Dickinson (c.1862)


A DECADE of puzzling over the cultural upheavals of the late 1960s has convinced me both of the central importance and of the equivocal nature of the mystical quest in human culture. It was widely agreed at the time that the aspiration to permanent ecstasy was one of the salient features of what used to be called the "counterculture", although with hindsight it looks more like the latest (though hardly the last) offshoot of Romanticism. As a sociologist I offer here some reflections on the search for transcendence and transfiguration in human culture. What follows is part of an attempt to understand the legacy of the Sixties and in particular the proliferation and sacralization of the symbolism of disorder which was the most notable bequest of the romantic "counter-culture".

The first point to make quite clear is that I am not working with the vulgar sociological heresy (or professional hubris perhaps) which assumes that culture-language, religion, the arts etc.-is merely a reflection of some "harder" and more fundamental social "fact". The first ...


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