with artwork by Frank Pietronigro
White Crane Press, $29.95 paper
Reviewed by Toby Johnson
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Arthur Evans would probably have been a professional philosopher but for the revolution in thought that swept through America in the late 1960s when Evans was a student at Columbia University in New York City. Radicalized first by "the Movement" and the effort to stop the war in Vietnam and then by Gay Liberation, Evans abandoned academia.
An important character in the development of American gay culture, Evans helped direct the course of the Gay Activist Alliance in New York and then later Bay Area Gay Liberation in San Francisco. At B.A.G.L.'s Page Street building, Evans gave a series of lectures in 1976 that explained gay liberation as a modern day expression of a "countercultural" tradition that has survived underground throughout Western civilization teaching an anti-establishment, anti-ecclesiastical, magical humanism. These ideas appeared in the book Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture and helped influence the Radical Faerie Movement. Using the pseudonym The Red Queen, Evans critiqued and commented on the evolution of gay culture in San Francisco.
In the late 70s, he created a brief gay media stir when he was quoted as grousing that if he had known what gay capitalism was going to turn the movement into, he'd never have given up his career as a philosopher.
While a little intimidating with its textbook-like layout and its free-ranging discussion of some of the most obscure questions of academe, Arthur Evans' recently published Critique of Patriarchal Reason is a delightful and surprisingly readable explanation of how philosophical and scientific rationalism in the West has led civilization in the wrong direction.
Still calling for a life-positive, body-positive, sex-positive compassionate humanism, Evans shows how the "patriarchal" (read masculinist) quest for power and control has resulted in modern technological, technocratic, anti-ecological society.
Most refreshing about this detailed and occasionally difficult discussion is the author's presence as a gay man, making the kind of insightful observations about historical and sexual dynamics that the gay perspective makes possible. We all know, in the terms of the cliche, that gay people tell it like it is. The most specific example is Evans' analysis of the effect the homosexual philosopher of science Ludwig Wittgenstein's homophobia had on his thought, rendering him personally alienated, obsessively "logical," proto-fascist and anti-human.
Critique of Patriarchal Reason is not light reading. It's not "gay philosophy." But it is an intelligent, stimulating and challenging survey of ideas about the dominance of science and rationality, explained from a gay perspective. It's also a presentation of an appealing worldview, a well thought out explanation of how the modern world got to be the way it is and, maybe, how it can be brought back from the brink. In that sense, one can imagine the Red Queen's plaint about gay capitalism applied to the entire modern predicament. Critique of Patriarchal Reason demonstrates that Evans never really gave up that initial calling to be a professional philosopher. It seems like the world would be a better place if more philosophers (and moral and political leaders) thought like him.
Critique of Patriarchal Reason is published by White Crane Press, the publishing venture of Robert Barzan, founder of White Crane Journal. White Crane Press and White Crane Journal are now entirely separate entities.