Forum Replies Created
July 31, 2020 at 11:54 am in reply to: The Ripening Outcast, with Mythologist Norland Tellez #3700
I keep being assailed by the delight and depth of our conversation—truly worthy of the name of our forum! I only regret not being able to answer all the salient points that have been provoked by my little piece. But I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge Stephen’s wonderful condensation of what was brought up by the term “archetypal psyche” and “collective unconscious”—the latter in particular, as Stephen mentioned, being rather out of touch with our present reality. Of course, to put it even stronger, one can say that this critique extends to the whole of Jungian psychology, which strikes most readers outside its sacred circle as right down reactionary or ideologically backwards.
Although I don’t want to open a can of worms or get off topic, we can point to the existence of Jordan Peterson as a prime example of where you might end up if you were to swallow Jungianism whole, that is, without putting Jung himself in the alchemical fires of critical transformation: a staunch defender of Capitalism’s status quo and its grotesque hierarchies of power. I don’t want to develop this line too much further but only to answer aloberhoulser’s plea to anchor this piece to the historic NOW present—our current hierarchies, with their grotesque inequality and double standards, very much resemble the hierarchies of the ancient Indian caste system. THAT is the background of my essay in terms of its relevance TODAY. Of course, the lowest of the low today are unmistakably immigrants, especially brown-skinned immigrants, not just here in the USA, but also all over the world. Poor immigrants today have effectively become our very own “untouchables,” whereas the shudra are easily homologous to the African American community and the BLM movement, which Malcom X would have characterized as he did the Civil Rights movement: a kind of “slave revolt.” James Baldwin was fond of this redefinition of a protest movement by a group of the population not considered true citizens.
There is no doubt to anybody with a clear sense of history that there is nothing “natural” or “biological” about the existence of such hierarchies, including our own, but that at each moment in history there have been powerful mythologies that have sanctified them to make us believe that they are “divinely ordained,” or ordained by “Nature” as apologists of the status quo would have us believe today—since Science plays the role of the “divinely ordained” for most modern people.
This brings me back to Stephen’s wonderful paraphrase which I think is worth repeating:
“If I understand correctly, you are saying that a living mythology isn’t something one believes in, like choosing a religion today, but is experienced simply as “what is” – part of the warp and woof of a culture – what a member of that culture knows to be true, perhaps akin to the way we experience gravity or know the world to be round.”
This is exactly the way people have experienced the workings of the global capitalist system up to now. And of course, this mythology, which largely constitutes our true mythology, has held on for many decades, even centuries, at the price of untold violence and bloodshed—forms of violence which are now resurfacing within the continental USA as if they were familiar strangers.
Nevertheless, today we are experiencing a tectonic shift in the collective psyche that is truly unprecedented. Such moments of “crisis,” when the system itself is made to feel, to realize once again, its own brittle ideological foundations—the fact that the divinely ordained itself is ordained by the human, all too human “nature”—we are at the same time witnessing the sign of a new mythology struggling to be born in freedom. Perceptible only when we dare to delve in the contradictions of what is, unafraid to sift through the rot of the system and to take a stand against it, can we speak of true mythology in the making. This is what gives me hope and keeps me going in the face of so much despair and suffering and literal bloodshed.
It is important to underscore the fact that this sense of hope cannot stem from “what is” in the self-consciousness of our present age, that mode of apologetics that would have us “naturalize” the fatal contradictions of our global system, even as it tramples on the lives of the majority of the world population—a fact, once again, in spectacular display with this pandemic in the USA.
The hope I’m speaking of is rather like a message in a bottle which has been sent from the future of what could be, from what is not-yet here: a new Rising Dawn illuminating a future form of collective consciousness.
It is just as Marx put it in a wonderfully psychological way (a quote that has been ringing in my ears for the last few days):
“Just as our opinion of an individual is not based on what he thinks of himself, so can we not judge of such a period of transformation by its own consciousness; on the contrary, this consciousness must be explained rather from the contradictions of material life, from the existing conflict between the social productive forces and the relations of production.” (Preface of A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy)
This may seem like an obvious insight but it is quite true that what a person thinks of himself or herself—our own “personal mythology,” or, as Stephen pointed out, the many idiosyncratic religions we might choose in a whim—that these “myths” are mostly false narratives we tell ourselves to make ourselves feel good, and to justify our actions—or to cover up what we truly believe in. (Imagine trying to understand the Trump phenomenon based on what Trump thinks of himself!)
Our actions speak louder than our words, indeed, for these actions often speak of a set of ideas that are quite different from what we “officially” believe. On the other hand, our true beliefs, the level of true mythology, is often far from our lips and their faithful service to our ego consciousness. And as Marx points out, the same is true for the entire collective and its prevailing mythologies.
NTJuly 28, 2020 at 12:10 am in reply to: The Ripening Outcast, with Mythologist Norland Tellez #3660
Thank you all for your thoughtful comments and contributions—thank you Mary and James, it delights me to see so much fire struck by our mythblasts! I think it is a testimony to our shared passion for mythological studies!
Despite myself, I will have to keep this first reply brief but I hope to the point, especially addressing Stephen’s question about my use of the term “archetypal psyche” and “collective manifestation,” which he rightly brought attention to, for it can be a contentious issue even within the Jungian community. And yet Stephen challenges me to put it in the simplest way possible for those not familiar with archetypal psychology or Jung’s notion of the collective unconscious, which Jung advanced in contradistinction to the “personal unconscious” falsely attributed to Freud. I say falsely attributed because Freud already knew what later feminists would make into a rallying cry for women’s rights, namely, that “the personal is already the political.”
This is my contention with the emphasis on “collective manifestation” when it comes to archetypal data. In line with Jung’s original idea, I want to broaden our view of the psyche as an encompassing reality well beyond the confines of an individual consciousness. Part of the problem with accepting this notion, I think, is the fact that it gently pushes against the ideological fantasy that underpins our belief in rugged individualism. Although it should have been obvious to most jungians, as it was obvious to Jung despite himself, the manifestations of the collective psyche are in spectacular display everyday on the broad stage of history, not necessarily always hidden in the bowls of an individual consciousness.
So the simplest term for the collective manifestations of the archetypal psyche contains the hyphen of a mystical union of opposites: it is mytho-history, which is, of course, a favorite term of mine, derived from my study of the Popol Vuh and Maya mythology. Sometimes contracted into mythistory, as Joseph Mali does in his book titled Mythistory: The Making of Modern Historiography. This is an apt term in this context since it contains both the material and symbolic dimensions of the psyche, in its individual and collective manifestations, as an integrated whole of human co-existence on earth.
NTMay 29, 2020 at 12:07 am in reply to: The Quest of Creative-Being Itself, with Mythologist Norland Tellez: #3224
Good to see that the conversation keeps going and going, which is precisely what we want given that we are attempting to break into the archetypal ground of creativity, which is ceaseless and unrelenting, again obeying the “compulsion to repeat” which attends the constellation of every archetype. Archetypes are after all patterns of historical repetition, the reason we say that “history repeats itself,” and not platonic ideals of perfection that live somewhere in heaven. That is why the true nature of the archetype is not sub specie aeternitatis, as we used to say, but thoroughly MYTHO-HISTORIC in their none-essence. Unless of course you want to fall prey to the trap of essentialisms that are fixed transhistorically as stereotypes.
Stereotypes are truly “timeless” in the sense that no process of becoming enters into them, whereas archetypes in their concrete universality are quite the opposite: they ARE this very process of becoming and historic change. Of course, in terms of creativity, stereotypes and cliches are not only rejected but in a sense “murdered” by the breakthrough of the New. Originality is always the killer of fixed notions and ideological fantasies. It “deconstructs” such notions and breathes soul in motion back into them. This has to do with the metaphysical violence of creativity, the aspect of death-drive I tried to highlight in my contribution.
In this connection, then, I could see a link between this psychoanalytic move with the hero’s “call”—for the adventure can only begin once we are brave enough to reject the palliatives of conventional wisdom and its fixed stereotypes…
NTMay 9, 2020 at 5:24 am in reply to: The Quest of Creative-Being Itself, with Mythologist Norland Tellez: #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 8, 2020 at 2:37 am in reply to: The Quest of Creative-Being Itself, with Mythologist Norland Tellez: #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 6, 2020 at 4:04 am in reply to: The Quest of Creative-Being Itself, with Mythologist Norland Tellez: #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 3:55 am in reply to: The Quest of Creative-Being Itself, with Mythologist Norland Tellez: #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 4, 2020 at 3:52 pm in reply to: The Quest of Creative-Being Itself, with Mythologist Norland Tellez: #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.