Virtual Tibet: Searching for Shangri-La from the Himalayas to Hollywood

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9780805043815: Virtual Tibet: Searching for Shangri-La from the Himalayas to Hollywood

The Dalai Lama meets The Player-from the Himalayas to Hollywood, a fantastic journey into the West's longstanding dream of Tibet.

What has made remote, mountainous Tibet and its only real celebrity, the Dalai Lama, so abidingly fascinating to the West? From Marco Polo's vision of Tibet as a land of enchanters to James Hilton's dream of Shangri-la in Lost Horizon, why have Westerners projected their yearnings onto that inaccessible place as onto no other corner on earth?In Virtual Tibet, Orville Schell, one of the preeminent experts on modern China and Tibet, undertakes a strange and wondrous odyssey into our Tibetan fantasies. He recounts the spellbinding tale of the Western adventurers, explorers, and spiritualists who for centuries were bent on reaching forbidden Tibet and the holy city of Lhasa. At the same time, Schell leads us on a riveting present-day journey from Hollywood dharma study groups and Beastie Boy "Free Tibet" concerts to a re-creation of Lhasa in the high Argentine Andes, which was the extravagant set of Seven Years in Tibet, starring Brad Pitt. As the past and the present, ancient customs and the superstar culture collide, Schell sheds light on the danger of blurring virtual and real worlds.

A fabulous spectacle, peopled by celebrity Buddhists and Tibetan bonzes, Yak wranglers and high-powered publicists, Steven Seagal and the Dalai Lama, Virtual Tibet is an elegantly written work of extraordinary charm, power, and insight.

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About the Author:

Orville Schell, Dean of the Graduate School of Journalism, University of California, Berkeley, is the author of Mandate of Heaven, Discos and Democracy, The China Reader, and twelve other books. His articles have appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, and Newsweek, among others. He lives with his wife and children in the San Francisco Bay Area.

From Kirkus Reviews:

Schell (Mandate of Heaven, 1994, etc.) explores ``the depths of our collectively imagined Western version of Tibet as it seemed on the brink of reemerging in popular culture'' through the myth-making of overheated reports sent home from travelers and in the technicolor fantasies of Hollywood. Schell concentrates on the two vehicles that he believes have delivered a virtual Tibet to our modern consciousness. One is made up of the narratives written by visitors to the rooftop of the world (``a corpus of romantic transferences''); the other is Hollywood's confection as served forth in such films as Kundun and Seven Years in Tibet. Schell's historical overview, not surprisingly, is terrific: a light-footed, sentient presentation of material from first colonial and missionary contact to Alexandra David-Neel and the adventures of Heinrich Harrer. Each produced descriptions that spun an illusion of paradise built on a yearning for the poise, dignity, and spirituality that Tibet supposedly counter-posed to the travails of modern Western life. This is the Tibet of Lost Horizon and Shangri-La. Hollywood's version, as experienced by Schell primarily through his attendance on the set of Seven Years in Tibet, reeks of glamour, tawdry sensationalism, and narcissism. By his own admission, Schell is sucker-punched by the glitter machine: at one point he is as eagerly awaiting Brad Pitt to be ``revealed'' to him as the Dalai Lama was revealed to Tibetan commoners way back when. Schell fortunately keeps on his feet long enough to explain just how little celluloid and the real Tibet have in common. Schell's reality check will surely spoil lots of sincere, if vapid, dreams out there, but if Hollywood is indeed the dream merchant (as Schell acknowledges even by his own star-crossed lights), that can't be all bad, or bad at all. -- Copyright ©2000, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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