ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



Greeks did not engage in religious wars. . . .they treated one another’s belief system with admirable tolerance and civility. . . .the Western world believes in one God. How could the adherents . . . despise each other so since they all freely . . .worship the same deity.



The Alphabet Versus The Goddess

The Conflict Between Word & Image

By Leonard Shlain


Beauty will save the world. — Dostoevsky 

In laying out the considerable circumstantial evidence implicating the written word as the agent responsible for the decline of the Goddess, I have sought to convince the reader that when cultures adopt writing, particularly in its alphabetic form, something negative occurs. because of literacy’s overwhelming benefits, this pernicious side effect has gone essentially unnoticed. My methods differed from most historical analyses in that I gave little weight to the content of the works of any period, and focused instead on the perceptual changes wrought by the processes used to learn an alphabet. Throughout, as a writer, as an avid reader, and as a scientist, I had the uneasy feeling that I was turning on one of my best friends.

All of my adult life I have lived in two worlds–one dictated by the exigencies of being a surgeon and the other inspired by the imaginary realm of literature. I am amazed at and humbled by the sheer volume of words in the medical textbooks I have read in order to learn my profession. I know that each written statement represents the accumulated wisdom of earlier physicians who had to endure the inevitable blind alleys associated with the imperfect process of trial and error. 

Without a means to organize, clarify, classify, and pass on this gleaned knowledge–not only in medicine, but in all fields–how far advanced would our culture be? But the neatly alphabetized indices appearing in our textbooks and encyclopedia represent only part of the great gift of literacy. There exists another dimension also: the sheer aesthetic pleasure that accompanies reading. 

Breaking the confines of the shell that more or less encases each individual, literature allows readers’ minds to emerge into the imaginations of the most thoughtful writers who have ever lived. I, personally feel deeply grateful, privileged, and ennobled to count Yeats, Plato, Shakespeare, and Dostoevsky among my mentors. I am who I am because of alphabet literacy. To bring this charge against the written word, I had to use the written word to assist me in solving this complex whodunit–an irony not lost on me.

I acknowledge the analytic, linear, sequential skills of my own left brain without which I could never have kept track of the narrative arrow that aligns this work. My left hemisphere’s gift of abstraction has permitted me to discern this connection among seemingly disparate historical events. My scientific side has persisted in badgering me like a pesky gadfly protesting, “yes but” throughout, and that skepticism resulted in a better book.

Perhaps in my zeal to make my points I have overstated that right/left, feminine/masculine, nurturer/killer, and intuiter/analyzer dualities. In individuals, the divisions, the divisions are not so sharp, and there are templates upon human history has helped clarify many complex currents and has made certain patterns apparent that otherwise would have remained murky.

I am aware that I have expended considerable ink bashing the left brain, whose wondrous achievements are celebrated on library shelves filled with the works of geniuses of logic, science, philosophy, and mathematics; I did not think it necessary to extol their contributions further here. The left brain’s essential expression–masculine energy–has crafted many of humankind’s great moments, but it has also informed the worst ones. For every Newton, there has been a Jack the Ripper. A subtheme of this book is that a lopsided reliance on the left side’s attributes without the tempering mode of the right hemisphere initially leads a society through a period of demonstrable madness. it is only after this initial phase passes that literacy begins to work its salutary wonders for a culture.

I have tended to characterize the right-hemispheric attributes as purely positive. But it is no less true that relying on them without the ordering balance which is the forte of the left hemisphere leads to a different kind of disarray and can result in mindless anarchy and sensuous excess. Emphasis on one hemispheric mode at the expense of the other is noxious. the human community should strive for a state of complementarity and harmony.

Another reason compelling me to write this book: I have been troubled since my youth by a question that surfaced as I became entranced by Greek mythology. I do not remember at what point it occurred, but I became aware that the Greeks did not engage in religious wars. Instead, they treated one another’s belief system with admirable tolerance and civility. What then, I asked myself, had changed in human culture? Presently, to be a Jew, Muslim, Catholic, or Protestant seems to inspire suspicion and in many cases hatred of the other three. Growing up during World War II and the Holocaust made finding an answer to my question seem urgent. Nearly everyone in the Western world believes in one God. How could the adherents of the presumably lofty monotheistic belief despise each other so since they all freely acknowledge that they worship the same deity.

If there had been a time in the historical past when people did not kill each other over religion, then why did they start? What factor, i asked myself, could have exerted such a powerful influence upon culture? That I suspect it was the alphabet resonates with the quote from Sophocles I cited on page 1: “Nothing vast enters the life of mortals without a curse.”

I began my query intent on answering the question Who killed the Great Goddess? My conclusion–that the thug who mugged the Goddess was alphabet literacy–may seem repugnant to some and counterintuitive to others. I cannot prove that I am right. I have had to rely on the doctrine of competitive plausibility, arranging the tesserae chips of historical events into a mosaic of many periods and cultures. Any individual chip’s texture and design can be (an has been) explained by local conditions, but when all of them are viewed juxtaposed together, I think a pattern can be discerned showing the shaping influence on culture of writing and particularly the alphabet. the rise and fall of images, women’s rights, and the sacred feminine have moved contrapuntally with the rise and fall of alphabet literacy.

I am convinced we are entering a new Golden Age–one in which the right-hemispheric values of tolerance, caring, and respect for nature will begin to ameliorate the conditions that have prevailed for the too-long period during which left-hemispheric values were dominant. images, of any kind, are the balm bringing about this worldwide healing.

It will take more time for change to permeate and alter world cultures but there can be no doubt that the wondrous permutations of photography and electromagnetism are transforming the world both psychically and psychically. the shift to right-hemispheric values through the perception of images can be expected to increase the sum total awareness of beauty.

Long before there was Hammurabi stela or the Rosetta stone, there were the images of Lascaux and Altamara. In the beginning was the image. Then came five millennia dominated by the written word. The iconic symbol is now returning. Women, the half of the human equation who have for so long been denied, will increasingly have opportunities to achieve their potential. This will not happen everywhere at once, but the trend is toward equilibrium. My hope is that this book will initiate a conversation about the issues I have raised and inspire others to examine the thesis further.

Source: The Alphabet Versus The Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image (1998) by Leonard Shlain

*   *   *   *   *’s 25 Best Selling Books

For July 1st through August 31st 2011  


#1 – Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark #2 – Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree #3 – Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane #4 – Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper #5 – Stackin’ Paper 2 Genesis’ Payback by Joy King #6 – Thug Lovin’ (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark #7 – When I Get Where I’m Going by Cheryl Robinson #8 – Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby #9 – The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 – Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 – Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 – Don’t Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 – For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 – For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 – Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 – The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 – Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 – Purple Panties: An Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 – Stackin’ Paper by Joy King

#20 – Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 – The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 – Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 – Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 – I Dreamt I Was in Heaven – The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter


#1 – Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable #2 – Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans #3 – Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane #4 – Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper #5 – Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You’re Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant #6 – Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey #7 – The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight #8 – The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing #9 – The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 – John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 – Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 –The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 – The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 – The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 – Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can’t Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 – Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 – Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 – A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 – John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 – Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 – Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 – 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino #23 – Chicken Soup for the Prisoner’s Soul by Tom Lagana #24 – 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 – Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

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Blacks in Hispanic Literature: Critical Essays

Edited by Miriam DeCosta-Willis 

Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a collection of fourteen essays by scholars and creative writers from Africa and the Americas. Called one of two significant critical works on Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late 1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of Carter G. Woodson and Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an historical context for understanding 20th-century creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone writers, such as Cuban Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist, and scholar Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the significance of Negritude in Latin America. This collaborative text set the tone for later conferences in which writers and scholars worked together to promote, disseminate, and critique the literature of Spanish-speaking people of African descent. . . . Cited by a literary critic in 2004 as “the seminal study in the field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which most scholars in the field ‘cut their teeth’.”

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Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President

By Ron Suskind

A new book offering an insider’s account of the White House’s response to the financial crisis says that U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner ignored an order from President Barack Obama calling for reconstruction of major banks. According to Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ron Suskind, the incident is just one of several in which Obama struggled with a divided group of advisers, some of whom he didn’t initially consider for their high-profile roles. Suskind interviewed more than 200 people, including Obama, Geithner and other top officials . . . The book states Geithner and the Treasury Department ignored a March 2009 order to consider dissolving banking giant Citigroup while continuing stress tests on banks, which were burdened with toxic mortgage assets. . . .Suskind states that Obama accepts the blame for mismanagement in his administration while noting that restructuring the financial system was complicated and could have resulted in deeper financial harm. . . . In a February 2011 interview with Suskind, Obama acknowledges another ongoing criticism—that he is too focused on policy and not on telling a larger story, one the public could relate to. Obama is quoted as saying he was elected in part because “he had connected our current predicaments with the broader arc of American history,” but that such a “narrative thread” had been lost.—Gopusa

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Source: The Alphabet Versus The Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image (1998) by Leonard Shlain

Leonard Shlain — Surgeon, Author, Educator, Inventor, Speaker — has received many distinctions and awards both as a surgeon and educator.  He began his writing career in the late 1970’s contributing articles to magazines and newspapers including the Los Angeles Times.

In addition to being an author, Shlain is also Chief of Laparoscopic Surgery at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco and Associate Professor of Surgery at UCSF.  He was a pioneer in the field of video-assisted laparoscopic surgery and presently holds five patents for surgical devices. His Art & Physics is presently used as a textbook in many universities, high schools, and art academies.

In a more recent book,  Sex, Time, and Power, Shlain offers carefully reasoned, and certain to be controversial discussions on such subjects as menstruation, orgasm, puberty, circumcision, male aggression, menopause, baldness, left-handedness, the evolution of language, homosexuality, and the origin of marriage. Written in a lively and accessible style, Sex, Time, and Power is certain to generate heated debate in the media and among readers interested in human evolution and the history of sexuality.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery /

George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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update 31 July 2010 




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Related files:  Sex Time and Power  Alphabet Versus Goddes Reviews  Alphabet Versus Goddess Preface Alphabet vs Goddess Epilogue