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Reply To: The Power of the Personal,” with Mythologist Dennis Slattery, Ph.D.”


    Hello my Dear Dennis, “art thou that Virgilius”?

    As I read your mythblast I was transported to our unforgettable classes at Pacifica Graduate Institute, hearing your cadence and ponderous tempo deliver your sweet discourse, “that fountain [of myth] Which spreads abroad so wide a river of speech” (Inferno 1). Art thou that Virgilius? Where you write:

    “I have sensed, as have other lovers of Campbell’s work, that his rich mythodology is syncretistic, gathering and clustering, then ultimately clarifying the connective tissue between disciplines to uncover the vast complexity of the human and world psyche on their arc towards unity.”

    This is where I was first forced to pause and wonder, spontaneously recalling MLK’s phrase: “We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”

    I was struck at once with the image of this archetypal arc of the universe and our ability to know its fundamental tendency in time, in precisely the mytho-historic terms you describe: “Which persuades us to glance with double vision at both myth and history, one inside the other, one connecting and transforming the other.” As you well know, this was the first lesson I had to learn in my dissertation on The Esoteric Dimensions of the Popol Vuh (2009). Myth and history are dialectical poles of the self-same reality of human existence on this earth in time.

    Temporality is the thing that gets lost in a view of myth sub specie aeternitatis, that is, as fixed constellations of “eternal” and static archetypes. I think we both agree that it would be a mistake to pin myth against history as if it were the Manichean war of the literal vs the symbolic, the “spiritual” vs. the material, etc. But do you not find precisely such a Manechian frenzy in the archetypal-Hillmanian approach to myth?

    In the work of James Hillman no less than in Campbell, the literal seems to be cursed with the Midas touch of soullessness, making the “tough-minded” dimension of concrete existence a symbol of privation and starvation of the soul’s psychic reality. In the guise of “religion” and its institutional force, the same disdain for the “literal” can be felt in both writers. The literal interpretation of reality is branded as an enemy of “soul-making” and imagination rather than as a vital part of the process of mytho-historic creation.

    This is my first question, if you will. Or, actually, my second question. I rushed past the first prompted by the image of the arch of the universe and its drive towards unity, as you suggest. So I’ll ask my first question last and let my last be my first. That is, after all, letting the dialectical play of opposites play into our texts!

    So my first question would have been about the implications of this drive towards unity between the human psyche and the world soul. As we know, especially with Jung’s concept of the Collective Unconscious, the human psyche is viewed as already containing within itself the collective dimensions of the world soul (anima mundi). In other words, what we experience subjectively as our “personal psychology,” in the Jungian view, is precisely the very union (or disunion) between the personal and the collective psyche, which Jung came to refer to as the difference between the subjective and the objective psyche. I like that latter formulation as it lays stress on the collective objectivity into which our subjective mind or personal “soul” is embedded—our precious “personality” having everything to do with the performance of the persona rather than some hidden unreality.

    When I think about this transcendent drive towards unity, I am implicitly endorsing the notion of the universe as opposed to the specular and multitudinous phenomenality of the open world otherwise known as the epic cosmos. Be that as it may, I still want to know what a complete unity of subjective and objective psyche could possibly mean in time? What would the ultimate unity of conscious and unconscious mind mean in the course of mytho-history? Or is it perhaps a moral question we should ask with MLK as to whether it matters if this posited unity is just or unjust? Or are we simply leading up to some kind of Nirvana of total extinction?

    Similarly, do we lean on the Freudian notion of the death-drive—the psychoanalytic notion of mortal transcendence—which Freud defined precisely as the desire of the psyche for the eternal return of life to its original state, namely, its “unorganized” inanimate state. Life as desiring death in order for death to come alive?

    But is such mythic unity the ultimate goal of history?

    Having no access to a “metalanguage” outside of history, I ask myself, from what perspective is it even possible to envision such a goal? I cannot entirely suppress a doubt that we are dealing with an ideological construction rather than a real existential possibility. To quote Karl Jaspers on The Origin and Goal of History with my brackets at end:

    “Who ever turns to history involuntarily adopts one of these universal viewpoints, which reduce the whole of history to a unity. These viewpoints may be accepted uncritically, may even remain unconscious and therefore unquestioned. In the modes of historical thought they are usually taken as self-evident presuppositions [i.e., ideological phantasies]. (xiv)

    Nevertheless, despite his critical attitude and mine, Jaspers encourages us to think further while being honest enough to admit his own bias of ignorance:

    “My outline is based on an article of faith: that mankind has one single origin and one goal. Origin and goal are unknown to us, utterly unknown by any kind of knowledge. They can be felt in the glimmer of ambiguous symbols. Our actual existence moves between these two poles; in philosophical reflection we may endeavor to draw closer to both origin and goal.” (xv)

    What do you think and feel? Are we with Jaspers on this or can we think even further?