Dune: Breakthrough as Breakdown of the One

Each month, we explore a theme through weekly MythBlasts, curated works, quotations, etc. This month's theme is Breakthrough.

Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet) explores the confines of his new home on Arakeen, capital of Arrakis. Courtesy of Warner Bros.

The release of Denis Villeneuve’s remake of Frank Herbert’s influential sci-fi novel Dune has its entire fandom reflecting back on what made the novels great, thus bringing to mind the mythic dimension of the Dune universe. 

When Dune appeared on the scene in 1965—two years after the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring—it was well received by its audience as a counter-cultural narrative that helped boost a modern environmentalist movement, while warning us against the dangers of digital technology and autocratic rule. The fact that Frank Herbert was himself deeply conservative, decidedly a Republican voter and operative, did not stop Dune’s own mythic universe from carrying certain progressive elements. At the same time, the intensely anti-government propaganda—especially on display in the last books of the saga —is a definite echo of Herbert’s own politico-ideological commitments. 

Nevertheless, in spite of its spiritual ambiguity, Herbert famously said that he wrote the Dune Chronicles “because I had this idea that charismatic leaders ought to come with a warning label, ‘may be dangerous to your health.’” Or more poignantly still, he wrote, “No more terrible disaster could befall your people than for them to fall into the hands of a Hero” (Dune), because Herbert himself believed that “superheroes are disastrous for humankind.” 

Continue Reading the Mythblast

The Mythic Dimension: Selected EssaysSimilarly, Joseph Campbell was aware of the danger that such heroic men of action represent with their mono-maniacal single-mindedness, for clearly they “are not the ways and guides to freedom, but the very nets, and the wielders of those nets, by which the seeker of freedom is snared, entrapped, and hauled back into the labyrinth.” (Mythic Dimension 243) The net that Campbell is talking about here, the net that curtails our spiritual freedom, is none other than the mythic web of ideological phantasies.

Appearing at first sight as the saving thread of Ariadne to help us navigate the labyrinthine darkness, positivistic ideology, like a crutch, is sometimes a necessary condition. But if we try to cling to fixed ideas, fetishizing them as final answers to life’s unanswerable questions, then we get caught in the web of an ideology. After all, Ariadne’s thread only helps us retrace our steps backwards, to run away from the danger zone, but does not teach us to fly away, upwards towards the Sun, despite new dangers. For that we need the artistry of Daedalus, what Campbell liked to call “the Wings of Art.”

On a broad philosophical level, there is a striking similarity between the Dune saga and The Lord of the Rings trilogy: they both affect a kind of “transvaluation of all values,” a fundamental critique of the mythology of the One and its hyper-masculine heroic attitude. Where the masses are programmed to worship superheroes and bow before “the One,” both of the greatest epics of fantasy literature are there to warn us against the dangers of Its rise.

So rather than dismantling the supremacy of the One from the outset, as Tolkien does in The Lord of the Rings—where he re-brands it as the greatest evil and pits it against it a Fellowship and not a singular hero—Dune fanatically asserts the singularity and genetic supremacy of the One. Affirming the messianic hope of the superior Kwisatz Haderach, Herbert wants to allow all the disastrous—indeed, genocidal consequences that follow from the One’s brutal imposition upon the collective. 

The imperialism of the One is easily accommodated within Dune’s feudal sociological vision, which is like Game of Thrones in space. This game of imperialism seems to be the critical target Herbert had in mind when he wrote Dune. Nevertheless, we can still ask if he ultimately succeeded. Did not Dune end up inadvertently strengthening and propping up the very thing it was supposed to take down: the naturalization of an imperialist ideology?

It is true, there are at least two ways of undermining or subverting a given ideological edifice: one is by deconstructing it directly, in diametrical opposition to it, and the other is by agreeing with it all too strongly, believing in it all too literally, and proceeding to act accordingly. Where the former is a straight confrontation against the other, the latter brings out into the open its unspoken absurdity. Where Tolkien took the first path against the dominion of the One, Herbert chose the second option.  The question still remains, however: did he succeed in tearing down imperialist ideology or did he not end up glorifying it and justifying it in the end?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and further comments on the mythic dimension of Dune—especially when we take Frank Herbert at his word and attempt to read this space saga as a cautionary tale against the emergence of heroes. Join me and my good friend Stephen Gerringer as we delve into another amazing COHO (Conversations of a Higher Order), this time, centering around the mythology of Dune. I look forward to it!

Yours,

Norland Tellez, PhD

Norland TellezNorland Tellez is a visual artist and teacher as well as writer and mythologist, combining the art of story-telling with the power of philosophical thought. He is both a visual development artist and a writer, as well as a story analyst in the realm of Mythological Studies. He attended CalArts and graduated from their character animation department in 1999. Norland went on to pursue his masters and doctorate degrees at Pacifica Graduate Institute, graduating in 2009 with a dissertation on the Esoteric Dimensions of the Popol Vuh, the Sacred Book of the Quiché-Maya.

Find more at norlandtellez.com


Weekly Quote

Star Wars deals with the essential problem: Is the machine going to control humanity, or is the machine going to serve humanity? Darth Vader is a man taken over by a machine, he becomes a machine, and the state itself is a machine. There is no humanity in the state. What runs the world is economics and politics, and they have nothing to do with the spiritual life.

 

-- Joseph Campbell
From “PW Interviews Joseph Campbell, by Chris Goodrich” Publisher's Weekly (August 23, 1985, p.74 - 75)

Featured Work

The Mythic Dimension

The Mythic Dimension

These twelve essays explore the topic for which Campbell was best known: the many connections between myth and history, psychology, and everyday life. Drawing from such varied sources as Thomas Mann, the occult, Jungian and Freudian theory, and the Grateful Dead, these dynamic writings elucidate the many ways in which myth touches our lives, our psyches, and our relationship to the world.

Book Club

“The Mwindo Epic from the Banayanga is a classic Nyanga tale about a confident young hero named Mwindo and his search for the father who wronged him. As we follow Mwindo on his journey from the depths of the Underworld to the zeniths of Space, we see that this is more than a hero’s genesis story; it’s a tale that examines the very meaning of heroism. Traditionally told orally, and in this iteration led by our narrator, Rureke, The Mwindo Epic, uses song, voice, dance, and the narrator’s personality to make this a myth that feels alive and dynamic every step of the way.

“A classic of African literature, The Mwindo Epic from the Banayanga is a poetic tale of adventure, heroism, humility, and the rich culture of the Nyanga people.”

Torri Yates-Orr
Editorial Advisor Group
Joseph Campbell Foundation

Monthly Gift

Theology, Love, Troubadours, and Minnesingers (Esingle from Romance of the Grail)

Our gift to you this month is eSingle. Access this download for free until the end of the month.

The twelfth-century in Europe was a time of change, growth, and conflict. The Western individualistic tradition of romance and heroism challenged the norms of medieval society, as poets and singers attempted to find a middle path between love (amor) and orthodoxy (Roma).

This short ebook is a chapter from. Romance of the Grail: Magic and Mystery of Arthurian Legend.

News & Updates

On the 24th, Sikhism solemnly observes the martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji, ninth of Ten Gurus since the founder himself.

On The Day of the Covenant, November 25, Bahá’ís recall the appointment of ‘Abdu‘l-Bahá, son of Bahá’u’lláh, as the true spiritual designee, or Centre of the Covenant. Two days later, on the 27th, his ascension is observed at 1:00 am.

This year, Thanksgiving will be celebrated throughout the United States on November 25. Despite the commercialism (In 1939, Roosevelt moved the date up by a week to lengthen the Christmas shopping season.)  and the questionable narrative of amity between colonists and Native Americans, the observance remains touching, sincere, and aspirational for countless American families.

In the Western Church, the countdown to Christmas begins November 28, the first Sunday of Advent. Seasonal music often becomes more austere, reflective, and quiet. In a sense, it is a festival of light, signified by the use of a four-candle sconce, each lit individually from first to fourth Sunday culminating in the Nativity.

This year, the 28th is also the first day of Hanukkah. Jews will be lighting the Menorah in commemoration of the Maccabean victory against the Seleucid Empire in the 2nd Century BCE. This Hebrew tradition, like the Advent ceremonial above, also dictates the lighting of the candles in precise sequence.

In November, we have seen the world turn to the symbol of light, from candles for the dead on All Souls, Diwali’s “row of lamps,” the lighting of the Christian Advent wreath and of the Menorah among the Jews.

Featured Video

Joseph Campbell--The Birth of Mathematical Mythologies

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