Landscapes of the Soul: The Loss of Moral Meaning in American Life

By Douglas V. Porpora | Go to book overview

Chapter 1
The Caterpillar's Question

To many, it is not given to hear of the Self. Many, though they hear of it, do not understand it. Wonderful is he who speaks of it. Intelligent is he who learns of it.

Blessed is he who, taught by a good teacher, is able to understand it.

—The Upanishads


Social Space

When she tumbles down the rabbit hole, one of the first characters Alice meets is the Caterpillar. Reclining dreamily on a mushroom, the Caterpillar stops smoking opium long enough to ask a disconcerting question: “Who are you?

To her surprise, this is a question Alice finds she cannot answer. Part of the problem, surely, is that by the time Alice meets the Caterpillar, she is no longer quite the same person she was when she began her day. At the time of their encounter, Alice has shrunk to roughly the same size as the Caterpillar. A more fundamental problem, however, is that Alice and the Caterpillar do not share the same social space, the arena of personal connections and relationships. It is through social space that we first begin to identify who we are.

I once posed the Caterpillar's question to Aaron, a thirteen-yearold boy about to make his bar mitzvah. “Who are you?” I asked.

-25-

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Landscapes of the Soul: The Loss of Moral Meaning in American Life
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Landscapes of the Soul *
  • Introduction 1
  • Chapter 1 - The Caterpillar's Question 25
  • Chapter 2 - The Further Geography of the Soul 57
  • Chapter 3 - The Emotional Detachment from the Sacred 95
  • Chapter 4 - The Meaning of Life 131
  • Chapter 5 - Heroes 167
  • Chapter 6 - Callings, Journeys, and Quests 201
  • Chapter 7 - Resources of the Self 237
  • Chapter 8 - Communities of Discourse 273
  • Chapter 9 - The Human Vocation 297
  • Appendix A - Theory 311
  • Appendix B - Tables 313
  • Notes 317
  • References 335
  • Index 347
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