May 3, 2020 at 4:18 pm #3042StephenJoined: August 19, 2016Keymaster
Writer, director, artist, teacher, and mythologist Norland Tellez, author of this week’s MythBlast (The Quest of Creative-Being Itself, posted on JCF’s Home Page), joins us in Conversations of a Higher Order for a discussion of this and other essays he’s contributed to the MythBlast series. Please feel free to join this conversation and engage Norland directly with your questions and comments.
Dr. Tellez has graciously consented to help pioneer this new format, joining us throughout the week for an ongoing discussion that begins with the creative process – though no telling where that will lead. I will get us started with a few questions and comments, but it will be your thoughts, reactions, observations and insights that expand this beyond just another interview into a communal exchange of ideas – true “conversations of a higher order.”
Norland has 20 years experience in the animation industry, including work with Walt Disney and Warner Brothers, and has taught at CalArts and Santa Monica Academy of Entertainment and Technology, as well as the Art Institute of California Los Angeles (which just skims the surface of his curriculum vitae). He completed his Masters and Doctorate in the study of mythology at Pacifica Graduate Institute with a dissertation on the Popol-Vuh, a classic of Mayan mythology, and was a recipient of a Joseph Campbell Research Grant in 2006.
Norland, I’d like to begin with the image of the “tortured artist.” Some claim this is an unfortunate stereotype based on a few troubled souls (Vincent Van Gogh, Sylvia Plath, and Kurt Cobain all come to mind), a stereotype that gives rise to an assumption that the greater the torment, the greater the art – but your essay suggests suffering is part of the creative process.
How does one embrace the Dionysian, soul-shattering side of creativity without succumbing to the dark? Or is that a risk every artist has to take: surrender to the process and hope for the best?
tie-dyed teller of tales
May 4, 2020 at 3:52 pm #3048
Dear Stephen, thank you very much for your kind invitation and introduction.
I look forward to developing new links to larger community which our little Mythblasts make possible. As an artist and thinker, I am always thrilled by the chance to engage my thought on the topic of art and the artist. In my contribution this week I begin to touch upon the profound existential commitment that such a life entails, which does involve a kind of descent ad inferos, an embrace of negativity out of the dark roots of passion, which alone will propel our creativity to its greatest heights.
Nevertheless, I do reject the stereotype of the “tortured artist” in the same way we must reject all stereotypes across the board, including the complimentary stereotype, that of the hedonist artist for whom art is only a means for narcissistic gratification, a conduit for sexual exploits, or what in California we mildly call “self-exploration.” In both stereotypes, we are dealing with a rigid, reductive image of the complexity of love as it finds its expression in artistic creativity. For whatever we want to say about the passion of creative being, it becomes indistinguishable from what we might say about the paradoxes of love.
How many “tortured” lovers are out there through no fault of their own? How many who have found bliss in the pleasures of romantic love only to discover that it takes something more than pleasure to make love work?
In the same way, whenever we speak of the language of love, to be sure, we are always taking a risk as we put ourselves out there, vulnerable and exposed, caught in a dire moment of real uncertainty. This is what it means to take a leap of faith into the unknown. In the end, as every lover knows, you don’t have a choice but to surrender to the process for better or worse. You can hope for the best, of course, but hope will not be enough to sustain— or even to begin this journey. Unless it’s the kind of “fool’s hope”—a hopeless hope— which Gandalf talks about in The Lord of the Rings. And although this is hard to realize, it is also a sign that you are on the authentic path of the Hero’s journey.
NTMay 4, 2020 at 9:00 pm #3051MichaelJoined: December 20, 2017Keymaster
Greetings, Norland, and than you for helping us launch this new platform!
This piece is a thinker and no mistake, as Sam Gamgee might put it. Personal reflections: As I read along I found myself labeling various popular artists in a kind of program running in the background, sorting out the canned productions from those that seem, at least from my own perception (and that’s a critical point I think), “genuine” or expressions for their own sake.
And then I thought about myself. I recently went through something of a difficult period in which I found myself writing like mad, both prose and poetry. I thought to myself, “Well damn. I’m a crisis writer.” I also thought about who I am at the age I’m at, almost 64, and the lines from Desperado, ” You’re losin’ all your highs and lows/ Ain’t it funny how the feeling goes away?”; how that seems to be at play as we grow older and the fiery passions of youth fade as we become, as Robin Williams described the Fisher King’s wound in the movie by the same name, “sick with experience.”
One thing seems certain, the Muse won’t be forced to whisper through you.
Anyway… there is one thought I’d like you to discuss a bit further. “Whenever opposites are undialectically torn apart, we are no longer dealing with the reality of true myth but with the alienation of an ideological fantasy.”
I can’t seem to quite wrap my head around that one. lol
Previous incarnation: Clemsy
Rights and Permissions Threshold Guardian
Joseph Campbell FoundationMay 4, 2020 at 11:08 pm #3054allisonstiegerJoined: April 19, 2020Participant
I really enjoyed this piece. As a mythologist and an artist, I’ve been consumed for years with the ways in which myth can inform and inspire us all in our creative processes. I appreciate the distinction between creating just for fun and the demands that truly pursuing the deeper form of art that can involve.
Dr Tellez, I wonder what you think about this idea. I’ve felt for years that Jung’s quote from MDR about the gods coming down from Mount Olympus and lodging in the solar plexus is about more than just the generation of psychological symptoms. It seems to me that experiencing “true” art has an effect on that part of the body as well. I’ve noticed for most of my life that when I was standing in front of a painting that moved me, or if I read a novel or watched a film that was transcendent, I would feel the effect of it in my gut. My reaction to the art was creating a feeling that happened in my gut. So, if the gods did come down off of Mount Olympus to lodge in the gut, that we could look at art as being something that is outside of the ordinary world of the human, that belongs to the world of the gods. Thus, it makes sense for those of us who aspire to create art to look to any interactions that humans have with the world of the gods in myths for guidance.May 5, 2020 at 2:37 am #3055
Greetings Dr. Tellez; so nice to have you at the forums. There is something Stephen mentioned that struck me about the inner struggle of the artist that informs whatever they do that I think is this sense of what Joseph mentioned as: “Tat tvam asi”; or (thou art that). To me this comes out of the core of their expression contained within a kind of context that says: “this is my interpretation of this thing I’m trying to address”. And whether through music, visual art, writing, or whatever form you are using it’s message must have some kind of connection to this interior place within. However; having said that to Michael’s point we all are at different emotional places of reference within the context of our individual lives and may see this same thing differently than at other times; and indeed possibly differently from someone else.
James Hillman had an interesting point he raised in his book: “The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling”; that might apply to Allison’s point about the God’s concerning the individual’s: “Daimon”; (a spiritual companion that accompanied a person through life and informed them of their calling and purpose). This idea I think would fit well within this discussion since it would apply to an individual’s unique sensibilities and life story; but you may have other thoughts to add on this.May 6, 2020 at 3:55 am #3065
Thank you so much for your responses and thoughtful questions. It always gives me great pleasure to engage my readers and the thoughts that may have been provoked by our mythblasts. Of course, that there are artists among our readers is all to be expected given that myth-making is, after all, our very trade.
So, to be sure, Allison, that feeling in the solar plexus being physically involved is totally right on point, the point at which an overlap between body and psyche glows with excitement. I think the effect Art has on our psyche shares the same “psychoid” (a term Jung proposed to designate this curious overlap between matter and spirit) origin that inspired the artist to create the piece. But I also think that this is always true of living bodies as such (as opposed to dead matter)—both much more a part of our everyday experience and a miracle that defies comprehension at the same time…
NTMay 6, 2020 at 4:04 am #3066
And yes, James, I do think that Hillman’s elaboration of the concept of daimon would be totally relevant here, specially touching on the nature of what we often call “genius” or “inner sense of destiny.” Of course, there are a lot of false myths and stereotypes to be avoided as we enter this realm of “helpful spirits” but a genuine connection to the archetypal background of the mind is always unmistakable in the great works of art.
In this connection, we could also take up the figure of Philemon in Jung’s own psychology, a figure which Jung attributed “superior insight” and guide for his soul (psychopompos).
NTMay 6, 2020 at 4:07 pm #3070
I love this Mythblast. It is so rich and layered. Here are some of my thoughts/responses. I am sure I could write more, because this article elicits so many thoughts and feelings in me.
Tellez begins, “It is easy to glamorize the gifts and benefits of artistic creativity, the unique sense of transcendence it brings to mind, a kind of panacea to cure all the ills of life” (para.1). This rings familiar. The creative act often comes to us as an urge, often as if urgent. For some artists, artistic expression can feel like the drive of the life impulse. When that impulse for some reason is not fulfilled and the artist cannot do his or her art (such as being in a writer’s block), it can feel like, “If only I could write what wants to come out, I would feel so much better.” Often I have found (in myself and others) that a writer’s block (or a musician’s block, or a painter’s block, or a dancer who feels in a slump and like he or she cannot dance at a given time) can put the artist in a state of dis-ease, a malaise. When the artist cannot do his or her art, all is not well in his/her world. However, this type of expressive relief that brings a sense of satisfaction or happiness with one’s life is not to be confused with people who want to make art just to achieve happiness in and of itself, as Tellez tells us at the end of this article; this is to be applied to the true artist, who is an artist because it is as if it is in his soul’s code—a term which is the title of a book by depth psychologist James Hillman. The true artist will stay true to his work even if it becomes somehow painful or sacrifices arise.
Here I will go back to the idea of the creative act: Tellez writes, “[…] there is magic in it, a grace we can’t control, which in one stroke seems to make us equal to God” (para. 1). To be creative is to be a creator–as God is regarded as a creator. Often a creative urge or idea seems to come from outside ourselves, as if from a god or a muse. When we receive a call to create as if inspired by the magic of the muse, I (and other artists I know) usually experience this type of inspiration as pleasant. There is an uplifting feel to it, and the lack of ease (writer’s block, e.g.) in one’s being is gone. Tellez writes that when we engage in our art we are “allowing our shadows to fly in the infinite light of the spirit” (para. 1).
Sometimes, when this type of inspiration strikes, these are the poems that seem to write themselves without any effort of one’s own or are the songs that “pop” into one’s head while driving down the road, while falling asleep, or in a dream. They are usually unexpected and surprising. In any case, they “flow” out from the pen or the paintbrush, or if a dancer, the movement flows out from spirit or a sense of soulfulness, the soul full of whatever the ness is. When “ness” does not flow, life can feel instead like a mess. Too it often happens that the initial idea for a work of art comes pleasantly like this and uplifts us, and later we encounter hurdles upon our path to its completion. This can be where part of the suffering comes in for the “suffering artist.”
Tellez continues, “Nevertheless, if you ever wanted to be an artist, you must be careful what you wish for. After all, gods are designed to be flayed and dismembered before they can be brought back to life — if they’re brought back at all” (para.1). Here I am reminded of Icarus wanting to fly within that “infinite light of the spirit” (para. 1) and then he gets so close to the sun that his wings melt and he falls back to earth. Here I am also reminded of the book Dreaming with Open Eyes: The Shamanic Spirit in Twentieth Century Art and Culture, by Michael Tucker, in which an artist is revealed as comparable to a shaman, bringing visions to the society in which he or she lives. In many old shaman traditions, it was known that the shaman had to go through a severe trial of dis-ease: many a would-be shaman succumbs to illness prior to being ceremonially initiated as shaman, and some have experienced pain of dismemberment or at least torn flesh (whether in the awake-world by animals or in a dream)—Sundancers of the Native American tradition self-inflict this type of sacrifice so as to be overwhelmed by Spirit. And throughout the centuries, people have heard many stories about suffering artists and the various ways in which they suffer, whether as a “starving artist;” a tortured artist (condemned to death for his/her vision when a society claims it sacrilegious, such as Salman Rushdie); or, a “crazy-mad artist” (an obsessed/possessed artist whose work or life drives him/her mad, who “feels too deeply,” such as Vincent van Gogh). Those who are truly an artist, just like those who are truly a shaman, just as Tellez tells us, are not in it, simply to be happy. Most artists I know say they write/paint/sculpt/dance/compose or perform music because they “have to.” Instead of choosing it, it has chosen them.
As for the difficult part of one’s art, I see an image I have seen some summers along Lake Erie where I live. There are many marinas and boat basins here, and sediment (sand from the lake and erosion from soil) gathers at the bottom and shallows the water making it more difficult for the boats to pass in and out of the basins. So they need to be dredged. And the dredges and the dredgers show up and you see these big metal claws plunging into the depths of the basin with all this sediment pulled up–and pulled out, to be tossed back into the lake or whatever other fate awaits it. This is the reminder that while sometimes an idea comes from outside of the artist, a lot of the process nonetheless has to come from within as one does the actual work and that sometimes it is a deep and difficult process. If it is not a quick poem that writes itself, then some of the continuing work that we have to do on a larger work (can you imagine writing a Finnegan’s Wake of your own or a War and Peace?) has to be dredged up from inside ourselves. The sediment we bring to the surface can be residue from yesterday or from a thousand yesterdays ago. It can be an ancient pain as much as an ancient joy or yesterday’s sorrow as well as yesterday’s joy.
Thank you, Dr. Tellez, for sharing this with us.May 6, 2020 at 5:29 pm #3075
What a terrific articulation on this topic Mary; I especially like the summation at the end. And Dr. Tellez’s reference to Jung’s Philemon I think is spot on!
(I’m going to add an addendum quote I came across which I think is from: “Memories, Dreams and Reflections”; (although I couldn’t find the exact page location); since so many people think of the Red Book painting of Philemon.)
“Philemon and other figures of my fantasies brought home to me the crucial insight that there are things in the psyche which I do not produce, but which produce themselves and have their own life. Philemon represented a force which was not myself. In my fantasies I held conversations with him, and he said things which I had not consciously thought. For I observed clearly that it was he who spoke, not I. He said I treated thoughts as if I generated them myself, but in his view thoughts were like animals in the forest, or people in a room, or birds in the air, and added, “If you should see people in a room, you would not think that you had made those people, or that you were responsible for them.” It was he who taught me psychic objectivity, the reality of the psyche. Through him the distinction was clarified between myself and the object of my thought. He confronted me in an objective manner, and I understood that there is something in me which can say things that I do not know and do not intend, things which may even be directed against me.”
On a footnote at the bottom of page 235; there is mention of this below inscription at Bollingen which clearly shows the esteem of Philemon that Jung held for him:
“Jung’s attitude is shown in the inscription he placed over the gate of the Tower: Philemonis Sacrum—Fausti Poenitentia (Shrine of Philemon—Repentance of Faust). When the gate was walled up, he put the same words above the entrance to the second tower. —A.J.”
Although I have nowhere near the background in this area as you do; to me this shows clearly the similarity of relationship between Jung and Hillman to their guiding spirit; muse; or however you would frame their idea of this perspective; (whether consciously aware or not). Perhaps the collective unconscious as a source? Maybe you can offer some extra insight on this; for at this point I’m out of my depth.
It’s so wonderful to see new life coming back to these long missed discussions again; and these posts are a perfect example of what went on back then. Now it’s time for new memories to be made; and many thanks to the foundation and forum staff for making this happen.May 8, 2020 at 2:37 am #3091
Thank you Mary for your thoughtful response. It gives me great pleasure to see and hear about the connections that I tried to make in my blast. Everything you’ve written is exactly on point.
And I’m glad that reference to the sacrificial dimension of art (after all, to “sacrifice” also means “to make sacred”) does not imply that artists are gluttons for punishment pure and simple, or that we suffer from a particularly masochistic proclivity. That is why I opted for highlighting that, at a very basic level, this willingness to make sacrifices is not some kind idiosyncrasy but quite simply what it takes to achive professional world-class standards in any field. Be it art, sports, science or what have you, there is a point in which the quest takes us beyond ourselves and our limited sense of subjectivity.
As I wrote in a post on my site about “What is Art”, it is primarly the subjectivistic ego-centric bent that must be avoided in order to give way to the archetypal objectivity of the creative process. This is why often as artists we feel to be merely an instrument and not the final end and purpose of our creative endeavors. As I elaborated on that said post:
Friedrich Nietzsche had already warned us about the subjective self-encystment that preys on the unconsciousness of the would-be artist, concluding that:
“to us the subjective artist is simply the bad artist, and since we demand above all, in every genre and range of art, a triumph over subjectivity, deliverance from the self, the silencing of every personal will and desire; since in fact, we cannot imagine the smallest genuine art work lacking objectivity and disinterested contemplation.” (The Birth of Tragedy 37)
Although the personal aspect can play a positive role in the creative process, the very transcendent nature of art forces us to look beyond the dimensions of personal feeling, to open up our private selves to an archetypal realm of universal human experience. Failing to transcend the personal, art simply becomes an instrument of ego, an accessory of my selfish goals and private interests.
As every artist knows, however, the experience of the creative force is quite the opposite; it is quick to turn the tables on ego and its sense of alienation. As my habitual self-centeredness dissolves and becomes an instrument, operating out of a center that is not my own. It bends my personal will to fulfill—not mine but its own—unknown goals and objectives. This is what characterizes most the effects of the creative spirit on our precious self: the sense of being “transported” or “displaced” (ékstasis) by the transcendental experience of creative being itself.
Carl Jung—who famously distinguished between the personal and collective unconscious as the difference between the subjective and objective psyche—also develops this general insight into the profoundly impersonal nature of art and its peculiar mode of transcendence:
“What is essential in a work of art is that it should rise far above the realm of personal life and speak from the spirit and heart of the poet as man to the spirit and heart of mankind. The personal aspect is a limitation— and even a sin—in the realm of art.”(CW15: 101¶156)
Going further, it is only when art becomes a purely personal affair that the opinion of a psychologist becomes increasingly relevant:
“When a form of art is primarily personal it deserves to be treated as if it were a neurosis. There may be some validity in the idea held by the Freudian school that artists without exception are narcissistic—by which is meant that they are undeveloped persons with infantile and auto-erotic traits. The statement is only valid, however, for the artist as a person, and has nothing to do with the man as an artist. In his capacity of artist he is neither auto-erotic, nor hetero-erotic, nor erotic in any sense. He is objective and impersonal—even inhuman—for as an artist he is his work, and not a human being.”
I think Jung’s statements above also dovetail with James’ quote from MDR and the objectivity of the psyche. Although I wouldn’t discount the role of eros in this process as Jung seems to do, using Freud’s insistence on eros as if it were a mistake for the artist. This is typical Jungian propaganda against Freud, unfortunately, criticisms that literally nobody holds outside tightly knit, dogmatically sealed Jungian circles. I can’t think of any artist getting behind the idea that eros plays no role at all, even when we are elevated into the realm of the objective psyche. After all, eros is an archetypal force—perhaps THE archetypal force of the psyche— and thus an intrinsic part of that psychic objectivity which Jung is otherwise correct in highlighting.
Best wishes to all of you and thank you very much!
NTMay 8, 2020 at 4:54 am #3092
Norland; thank you so much for taking the time and going into such great detail in sharing your thoughts on these concepts. They are extremely insightful; and speaking for myself; cleared up much I was in question about; especially concerning Jungian applications to these ideas.May 9, 2020 at 2:49 am #3096
Hi James, and thank you for your kind response to my response. I really like that you brought up the quotes of Jung’s and about him and Philemon, and including Hillman in it. This is such a vast topic–I left out a bunch of Jung’s quotes I initially wanted to include and discuss more.
Philemon appeared to Jung first in a dream. Jung then did a painting of him and often engaged in dialogue with him as an imaginal figure. While Jung saw dreams as keys opening the doors to the unconscious and felt they gave vitality to one’s path of individuation, he yet felt that engaging in what he termed “active imagination” was even more effective than dreaming in understanding the unconscious. His reasoning for this was that while most people dream they are not conscious (though I do think there are exceptions, such as in lucid dreaming), but in the process of active imagination (such as consciously engaging in dialouge with a dream figure/imaginal figure) one can be conscious and aware of what is going on and actively participate with the figures and in events that occur. It is like daydreaming, or fantasy. However, Jung did not dismiss imaginal figures as mere fantasy the way most people define fantasy—there is the difference between the imaginary and the imaginal. Jung did believe that imaginal figures can take on a life of their own. He believed there are various strata of the psyche and that some figures in some strata can emerge from what he considered the autonomous psyche (the autonomous ‘layer’ or area of psyche). The autonomous image or figure has an independence of his/her/its (I include it as it can be an animal or a stone, i.e., also, and not only human) own and the figure can become what is called the living image.
Jung felt that Philemon, as a living image, deserved his respect; in interacting with the figure, we have to let go of our ego in wanting to control it or the events we experience with the living image. When we do let go, we can be open to the experience and hear what it has to say and see what it has to show us. Jung advised to not try to interpret the experience at the time of the experience. We can do that later, and while in dialogue with the figure, we can ask it questions. That is one way you can find things out about the figure or why it showed up and what it can tell you; however, in my experience and of others I know, the imaginal figure as you mention above within the quote you provided, James, does often say and do things you do or would not expect, or sometimes show up when you do not expect it! Dreams and imaginal figures in AI (active imagination) often surprise people!
In consideration of all the above (and I did try to be brief), if we tend to follow this mindset, the autonomy of the imaginal figure could very well be an autonomy of the muse—when indeed it is a muse. Depth psychologist Marion Woodman stated, “There is no sense talking about ‘being true to yourself’ until you are sure what voice you are being true to. It takes hard work to differentiate the voices of the unconscious.” (I do not have the source handy at this moment.)
It is interesting to think about from where an experience of creative inspiration comes. Sometimes it seems to come from outside, and sometimes it seems to come from inside oneself. I can usually differentiate this, answer this question, by paying attention to which side of my eardrum the notes are struck (in the case of a piece of music coming to me or a song). If it strikes my eardrum from outside myself, I am often likely to regard it as a muse. If it strikes my eardrum from within as if striking my eardrum from the inside out, then I am less likely to think of the source as the muse. It is then that I am more likely to think of it as something within my own psychic strata such as an inner figure or some other inner psychic source, even an ancestor, which might even be me in a past life, and thus an ancient memory. Usually if I hear a voice (which can be a poem, or a couple words to begin a poem) from within, my psyche provides an echo to go with it. Sometimes if a song comes to me from within rather than from without, it also has an echo. Sometimes when a song comes from without, it has a faraway sound. There is most always a sense of place with this (for me), just as is usual for a poem or story. But then I do have to add here that any or all of this at any given time can come from my own psyche and/or the collective psyche as in collective unconscious and here, made conscious since I can hear it and write it down and play it–so long as I do not forget it.
And yes, I do think that Jung and Hillman are much alike on their ideas and thank you for bringing this up. Jung with his concept of inner imaginal figure and Hillman with his concept of the daimon. Hillman seems to explain one’s daimon or guide (or genius of one’s genii) as if being inside the person, like an inner guide, or a soul as an entity with its own source of intelligence—as you so aptly describe it in your other responses as a “spiritual companion.” The daimon seems autonomous also, yet like an imaginal figure that is a living image, being in relationship with us it is yet in our sphere/atmosphere (as I like to think of it) on some ‘level’ of psychic (psyche’s) strata. For Hillman, what is within usually gives the sensation of “down:” he explains and compares the roots of trees that grow down to the idea that we all need to grow down (and recognize in our content we have roots and seeds) as well as grow up, and compares our unconscious and imaginal realms such as dreams to come from down in the underworld (in a Greek sense rather than the hell of some myths). Hillman’s sense of things seems to be mainly that the images come from within, and that that is the unconscious underworld. Yet it seems he also speaks of the underworld as a place–at least in psychic strata. (See Dreams and the Underworld by Hillman as well as The Soul’s Code.)
I am not so sure Hillman would appreciate my saying that I find him and Jung comparable! That is another story!
–Mary AnnMay 9, 2020 at 3:51 am #3097
Mary; this is an absolutely wonderful description on the interplay of Jungian themes expressed in this discussion between Jung’s Philemon and Hillman’s Diamon. Both you and Norland have shared such terrific responses; (I am held spellbound by both their lyrical quality as well as their informative content).
As I mentioned earlier my background in this is somewhat lacking; but I’ll try and bring a few thoughts to add to what you have already brought to this later. In the meantime for those not familiar I’ll leave a copy of a short piece on the Diamon that might be helpful to this ongoing conversation. (Unfortunately it does not list the author; so there may be disagreement as to it’s accuracy.)
(From the website: “The Academy of Ideas”):
James Hillman: The Daimon and the Search For a Calling
Posted on February 26, 2016
“Sooner or later something seems to call us onto a particular path. You may remember this “something” as a signal moment in childhood when an urge out of nowhere, a fascination, a peculiar turn of events struck like an annunciation: This is what I must do, this is what I’ve got to have. This is who I am.” (The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling, James Hillman)
There is an idea, prominent among some thinkers, that we all possess a personal calling, a destiny unique to us alone. Our primary purpose in life, according to this idea, is to follow this calling and fulfill our destiny.
This idea has ancient origins; Plato weaved it in mythic form in his Myth of Er. Before we are born, so the myth goes, our soul chooses a purpose for us to fulfill on earth. Prior to birth we pass through the forgetful river at Lethe and, drinking from its waters, emerge into life ignorant of the fate our soul had chosen for us. Yet we are accompanied on this earth by a daimon, a spiritual companion, who acts as a “carrier of our destiny” and ensures we fulfill the fate our soul had chosen before birth.
The notion that a daimon accompanies us in life as a “carrier of our destiny” has a long and rich history. Heraclitus, prior to Plato, stated that “a man’s daimon is his fate”. The daimon for Heraclitus, was a sort of force or indwelling law which determines the course of one’s life.
In more recent times James Hillman used the daimon to account for the urge we all feel to discover and align our life with a personal calling, unique to our individuality and interests, and which we can passionately devote our life to.
Hillman conceived the daimon as a psychological complex or force existing in everyone, whose function is to help us find our personal calling, and provide us with the motivation to follow it.
In line with this idea, Robert Greene, author of the book Mastery, noted that throughout history many geniuses have spoken of a daimon, or inner voice, who accompanied them throughout life:
“For Napoleon Bonaparte it was his “star” that he always felt in ascendance when he made the right move. For Socrates, it was his daimon, a voice that he heard…which inevitably spoke to him in the negative—telling him what to avoid. For Goethe, he also called it a daimon—a kind of spirit that dwelled within him and compelled him to fulfill his destiny. In more modern times, Albert Einstein talked of a kind of inner voice that shaped the direction of his speculations. All of these are variations on what Leonardo da Vinci experienced with his own sense of fate.” (Mastery, Robert Greene)
For the majority of us this inner voice is most pronounced in childhood and adolescence, becoming less prominent as we age when the requirements and duties of adult life become a concrete reality:
“Among his various possible beings each man always finds one which is his genuine and authentic being. The voice which calls him to that authentic being is what we call “vocation.” But the majority of men devote themselves to silencing that voice of the vocation and refusing to hear it. They manage to make a noise within themselves…to distract their own attention in order not to hear it; and they defraud themselves by substituting for their genuine selves a false course of life.” (Jose Ortega Y Gasset)
One of the reasons people silence the “voice of vocation” is due to the perceived risks of following it – one must sacrifice short-term comfort, status, and wealth, and engage in work where the outcome is uncertain. Yet to repress this inner calling is destructive, and often leads to the formation of what may be called a silent rage: “the absence, the anger, and the paralysis on the couch are all symptoms of the soul in search of a lost call to something other and beyond.” (Hillman). The individual who loses touch with their daimon becomes an empty shell of the person that could have been:
“Present in body and absent in spirit, he lies back on the couch, shamed by his own daimon for the potentials in his soul that will not be subdued. He feels himself inwardly subversive, imagining in his passivity extremes of aggression and desire that must be suppressed. Solution: more work, more money, more drink, more weight, more things.” (The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling, James Hillman)
To ensure we don’t decline into such a lifestyle it is essential to tune into the call of fate which emanates from within, and learn to glimpse the inner workings of the daimon – using its signals and signs to help us live a more purposeful existence. This can be accomplished by looking back on our life and searching for a pattern amidst the apparently chaotic path our life has followed, as well as by attending to the inner voice and yearnings , often subtle, which seem to impel us toward a given direction.
“For the daimon surprises. It crosses my intentions with its interventions, sometimes with a little twinge of hesitation, sometimes with a quick crush on someone or something. These surprises feel small and irrational; you can brush them aside; yet they also convey a sense of importance, which can make you say afterward: “Fate.””(The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling, James Hillman)
Yet even if we find our personal calling we have the freedom to choose to follow it or ignore it. If we choose to ignore it we can be sure our “inner voice” won’t go away. It will be there whether we are aware of its presence or not, pushing us in the direction of our destiny until our final hours:
“A calling may be postponed, avoided, intermittently missed. It may also possess you completely. Whatever; eventually it will out. It makes its claim. The daimon does not go away.”(The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling, James Hillman)May 9, 2020 at 4:33 am #3098
Hi Norland, and thank you for going into all the furthering(s) on your thoughts, including in regards to my response. I particularly like this that you wrote: “Although the personal aspect can play a positive role in the creative process, the very transcendent nature of art forces us to look beyond the dimensions of personal feeling, to open up our private selves to an archetypal realm of universal human experience.” Perhaps it is that for great art to be great, it must have that archetypal element to it and not just the deliberate employment of all the right motifs and techniques inasmuch as it cannot have too strong a personal subjectivity that would prevent its universality, its gift that makes it resonate with others. While our individual lives all have archetypal content, for art to be great en masse and not just to the artist him/herself, it cannot be so peculiar (subjective) to ourselves that it fails to reach the archetypal content with which others also resonate, for then it fails the universality and universal appeal.
On “Carl Jung—who famously distinguished between the personal and collective unconscious as the difference between the subjective and objective psyche—also develops this general insight into the profoundly impersonal nature of art and its peculiar mode of transcendence.” I do feel that the collective psyche can at times be subjective and not only objective or that the psychic pool can be affected by subjectivity, such as in a social or ethnic complex (re: Jung’s complex theory). By “objective” I see the collective as an “object” under which the personal unconscious is “sub” (as in “sub”-jective) or “submerged” or “under.” I see this object as an archetypal pool, so that when we take our selves, our persons, for a dip in the pool we are submerged in the watery pools of the Neptunian archetype. After all, when we are subjected to something we are made to experience the subject. So I see the subject matter if we have experience with it is something with which we can in a roundabout way have more subjectivity.
I tend to like the zest of the personal within the art world and some of the quirks that make things different; unless it is a painting in the genre of super-realism, for instance, it is the personal interpretation of the archetype which so often makes the work of art unique; it is as if we can then see an object through so many different eyes and hearts, yet there will be something archetypal within each still life painting of a bowl of pairs that that one pair of eyes or one heart will win the best film or what have you award, due to the largeness of the archetype. I tend to not take away from the value of the personal flair or eye for things. I could stand next to Dali and paint a clock and mine will not have the wonderful personal touch and flair his famous wilting clocks do. Even if I tried to make my clock wilt (now this is beginning to look/sound like a Dr. Suess book!) it will not wilt with such style. However, we are able to say that his type of genius may have came from the daimon and not from him personally, and so sometimes I see this as a matter of semantics. The daimon came through him — then we need to ask, is talent his or is it the daimon’s and is the daimon the guide assigned to his soul? I do not believe that Eros is often objective in the sense of intellectual objectivity. Maybe there is the love object Eros can sometimes be obsessed with–which is not very objective, but subjective. I like how you mention that Eros might be the force which runs through psyche–since Psyche loves Eros so as she struggles through so many obstacles to be with him she has him always on her mind!
I also see this also as a matter of semantics, then–because I also see what you are saying about not making it overly personal. I suppose that is what we have journals for–however, when people are famous, those get published also!
Thank you so much for an interesting read!May 9, 2020 at 5:24 am #3099
Again, thank you Mary. Reading your response, I am reminded why it was that Freud rejected the pseudo division between the collective and the personal unconscious: it is a rather artificial distinction. For Freud the “personal unconscious” was already populated by archetypal forces. That is why Freud had no use for Jung’s schema and saw it as muddying the waters rather than clarifying things.
Virtually, every time I take up the Jungian line, as Hillman does in his opposition to personalism, and I talk about the “objectivity” of the Art spirit—corresponding to the stated objectivity of the archetypal psyche—I always seem to get a push back from people, artists in particular, in defense of personalism, the subjective, or even the ego. And my reaction to this reaction is always to be in agreement to a certain extent while not losing the point of psychic objectivity which Philemon taught Jung: there are things and events in the psyche that I cannot attribute to myself.
So to an extent, you are absolutely right: it is a question of semantics. The thing with artists is that we use the word “personal” often as code for the archetypal and suprahuman, whereas the word “objectivity” tends to conjure up abstract images of math or some form of rigid intellectualism.
This is why I also appreciate Campbell’s application of James Joyce and the latter’s elaboration of Aristotle on the difference between “proper and improper” Art which has already been brought up. We also have to reckon with the tradition in aesthetics which even Nietzsche refers to in the fact that: “we cannot imagine the smallest genuine art work lacking objectivity and disinterested contemplation.” (The Birth of Tragedy 37). There is another word which might rub us the wrong way: “disinterested” which at first might seem preposterous to the lay understanding. How can you say that what artists are engaged in is “disinterested contemplation” when all their soul and passion is being poured into their work?
The misunderstanding is mostly due to lack of context. By “disinterested” we should rather think about being in the service of the “proper” function of Art, which is not to be “interested” in anything else (as for example, money, fame, followers, being liked by millions, etc…). All those are “extrinsic” motives, which would essentially corrupt the proper object of Art.
Similarly, the “personal” in this context should be understood as an “improper” use of Art, as when it is courting desires and exploiting sentimentality or other commercial and ideological ends. It does not mean that Art is not “personally” motivated, but that the meaning of the “personal” has been skewed and redirected in the direction of the archetypal.
NTMay 18, 2020 at 6:15 pm #3145StephenJoined: August 19, 2016Keymaster
Such a rich conversation, and so much I’d love to respond to everyone – but rather than just tossing out a stream-of-consciousness word salad (my default setting – Gemini, you know), I’ve been letting my thoughts simmer in the back of my brain.
What keeps coming to the surface for me, Mary, is something you said that sparks a personal memory:
This is the reminder that while sometimes an idea comes from outside of the artist, a lot of the process nonetheless has to come from within as one does the actual work and that sometimes it is a deep and difficult process. If it is not a quick poem that writes itself, then some of the continuing work that we have to do on a larger work (can you imagine writing a Finnegan’s Wake of your own or a War and Peace?) has to be dredged up from inside ourselves. The sediment we bring to the surface can be residue from yesterday or from a thousand yesterdays ago. It can be an ancient pain as much as an ancient joy or yesterday’s sorrow as well as yesterday’s joy.
“The sediment we bring to the surface” takes me back almost three decades, to a year when I roomed in a house owned by a local artist (we’ll call him Chris, just in case someone on COHO is from my hometown). Chris painted primarily in pastels, but also oils, created prints, etc. At the time I was staying there Chris hadn’t made the leap to full time artist; he was running a company his father had left him, but every waking moment not spent on taking care of business (and many waking moments that should have spent on that), he was sketching, drawing, painting. Every bit of wall space in Chris’ home was covered with his paintings – some 50 of them – and he had an inventory of hundreds of pieces..
I often helped hang and re-arrange those paintings, which is when I noticed something intriguing. All of his paintings connected visually – not in terms of subject matter, but when I would place two or more paintings next to each other (or above and below), if I slid the paintings slightly one way or another, the bands of color at the edge of the frame would eventually connect, as if planned. This worked regardless of content (whether the image of a teakettle boiling on the stove, or cats asleep on a couch on a covered porch, or a train speeding through the night) or medium (oils, pastels, prints); they all flowed one into the other, the way dream images do.
At the time I was deep into Jung and company and doing a lot of dreamwork (that hasn’t changed); I found myself thinking of Chris’ images as archetypal expressions of the collective unconscious filtered through his subjective experience of psyche – or, more simplistically, as pictures of his insides.
This perception was reinforced after I moved out, as Chris faced a deep and traumatic psychological crisis (one that mirrored my own experience a few years earlier). As executor of his father’s estate, Chris was not only running the family business, but administering the family trust, which quarterly dispensed significant sums to multiple extended family members (aunts, uncles, cousins, as well as siblings), neither of which was Chris’ bliss (in the Campbellian sense of following your passion). Life would have flowed so much better if he had handed those responsibilities off to others and focused on his art – a step he wasn’t willing to take. Eventually, the business failed and the trust fund dried up.
This triggered a dramatic break with reality. I’m not sure what the eventual diagnosis was; over time he made less and less sense as he fell into psychosis – a slow, gradual process that took many many months to fully manifest.
When I would visit Christ during that long, slow descent into madness, not once did I find him working on new art (which had been his constant mode for years). Instead, he would take paintings off his walls and re-work them, then re-work them again, and again. It wasn’t unusual for Chris to touch-up his some of his paintings before then, but now the process trended toward oblivion: bright red colors would deepen into a cherry red, then gradually morph into a mahogany, then brown, until many of his best canvases finally faded to black.
Chris’ art wasn’t therapy – quite the opposite. Once he had slipped all the way into the abyss, all intentional creativity ceased (including the “touch-ups” that covered entire canvasses in black). It was as if the collective unconscious had swallowed up all his artistic expressions.
Much more to the story involving lots of drama – restraining orders, police actions, court-enforced therapy, and such – that isn’t really relevant to this post. It took a few years for Chris to return to any semblance of “normality.” Over time he became involved with NAMI (National Association of Mental Illness), and served as an advocate for those suffering from mental illness – but even then, it took another couple years of doing the inner work before he started painting again. Today, he is a versatile artist who is widely recognized in our local community; he is far from wealthy, but makes a living doing what he loves (I’ve purchased several of his pieces).
I wouldn’t describe Chris as a “tortured artist” – he suffered the way we all suffer when out of sync with psyche. What fascinates me, though, is how his art seems to mirror unconscious dynamics – that which is “dredged up from inside.” Today in his artistic expressions he is more aware of and in sync with those stirrings within – an ongoing process.
Thanks, Mary – I appreciate the way your own reflections triggered this chain of associations. Do they strike you as relevant, or have I wandered down my own personal rabbit hole?
tie-dyed teller of tales
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