Willing to Learn
Writer and educator Mary Catherine Bateson is best known for the proposal that lives should be looked at as compositions, each one an artistic creation expressing individual responses to the unexpected. This collection can be read as a memoir of unfolding curiosity. It brings together essays and occasional pieces, many of them previously unpublished or unknown to readers who know the author only from her books, written in the course of an unconventional career.
Bateson's professional life was interrupted repeatedly. She responded by refocusing her curiosity - by being willing to learn. The connections and echoes between the entries in her book are as intriguing as the contrasts in style and subject matter. The work is grounded in cultural anthropology but shaped by the observation that, in a world of rapid change and encounters with strangers, individuals can no longer depend on following traditionally defined paths.
Willing to Learn is arranged thematically. The longest section focuses primarily on the contemporary United States and deals with life stages and gender. Bateson argues that because women's lives have changed most radically, women are pioneers of emerging patterns that will affect everyone. Another section includes a sampling of writings about Bateson's parents, anthropologists Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson. The most anthropological section deals with belief systems, conflict, and change, especially in the Middle East, and the final section with different ways of knowing. Bateson is a singular thinker whose work enriches lives by bringing fresh, original ideas to subjects that affect all of us. Willing to Learn is at once an articulation of and an enduring testament to the artistic creation Bateson has produced pursuing her own life's work.
Praise for Mary Catherine Bateson's writings:
Composing a Life
"Composing a Life has been such an inspiration because it gave me a framework. She has kind of an anthropological and multicultural view of women's lives and was very encouraging of me to do a lot of the work I do on women and children."
Reading "Composing a Life" made me gnash my teeth and weep. I scribbled all over the margins, turned down every other page corner and underlined passages with such ferocity that my desk was flecked with broken-off pencil points. All in all, a surprising reaction to a book that is written with such measured thoughtfulness, with such excessively extended reflection, that it might well have been titled "A Composed Life."
"I can't imagine a man writing an autobiography by including himself as an equal with four of his friends and exploring the intertwining of all their relationships, all of their lives, for the sake of discovering patterns and themes that emerge from from all women's and men's lives. But surely if a man did such a thing as well as Mary Catherine Bateson has here, the book would be hailed as a masterwork of rare breadth and particularity, encompassing all the rhythms of five lives and friendships, and interweaving their stories in ways that reveal grand social truths and peculiar personal graces. . . I want to hail Bateson for finding - creating, really - a literary form that reflects the way that women commonly reason and talk. "
"Ms. Bateson unleashes some very powerful ideas in this book. There are flashes of brilliance on every page. She is a seminal thinker and this is far more than a women's book. It cuts right to the marrow of the society we live in. "
Peripheral Visions: Learning Along the Way
Here [Bateson] turns the beam of her ardent, disciplined mind on the crucial and often misunderstood process of learning. . . she also frees "multiculturalism" from its superficial and political trappings and altogether invigorates her readers with her faith in our adaptive abilities.
A wise and liberating book…Bateson brings fresh perspectives to concepts of beauty, the self, competition vs. cooperation, parenting, rituals, the division of labor between women and men.
Bateson…takes us on strange journeys that inevitably result in surprising revelations.
"The author's vast experience and eclectic knowledge continue to provide incisive perspectives on a variety of contemporary issues, ranging from international politics to ecology and education."
Full Circles, Overlapping Lives
Gender and age are the two factors that make up the bulk of Bateson's subject matter. ''Full Circles, Overlapping Lives'' is this anthropologist's look at a society that has ''arrived at a necessity for interdependence and empathy that goes beyond any selected for during evolution.'' . . . Bateson sets out to articulate and analyze the problems and opportunities created by this new reality. She succeeds through a combination of impressive intellect, broad knowledge and genuine sensitivity. . .this book grows steadily more engrossing through the final page. It will leave readers feeling as though they're finishing a conversation with a wise and learned friend: satisfied, thoughtful and hoping to hear more from this perceptive observer of our continuing cultural transformation.
"Mary Catherine Bateson has examined lives across races and cultures and has produced a wise and beautiful book. Anyone - from parent to policy maker - who needs to know how human beings tick will be richly rewarded by what Bateson has thought through so carefully and presented so elegantly."
"Provocative and surprising, Full Circles, Overlapping Lives has Mary Catherine Bateson's unique signature: her uncanny ability to find the strange in the familiar, the ordinary in the exotic. With insight, grace, and generosity, Bateson witnesses the cross-generational dialogue in a classroom at Spelman College where young African-American women and their elders search for meaning and understanding in each other's life stories."
"With her customary wisdom and subtle wit, Mary Catherine Bateson helps us think about the great divide that we all live with but few discuss: the enormously different life experiences of members of different generations. Drawing on the deeply personal and self-revealing stories both of young women just starting out and of women who have lived long, varied lives, she takes us on a stirring journey through the wonder and challenge of life and self in our fast-changing world."
"A wonderfully knowing and engaging book by an anthropologist who has learned a lot from her students and tells us what it means to be an American-and how a nation's citizens vary in accordance with their age, their particular experiences."
[Bateson] writes from a dense cloud of unknowing, like Carol Gilligan and Deborah Tannen and all of those academics who have ventured out to help us behave better, love more wisely and live longer.