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Reply To: In the Stillness of Love’s Madness, with Mythologist Norland Têllez


Yes, Stephen, thank you!

These are important questions and they are a wonderful place to go further. The question about the “practical” purpose of such knowledge rests on presuppositions that I find even more wonderful. I often marvel at the way praxis and theoria are split as if they were external or mutually exclusive opposites. That may be the case in certain fields, perhaps, but when it comes to this particular mode of transcendental “knowledge,” they certainly are not. Theory and practice are dialectical conjugates just as one finds in the alchemical notion of the laboratory, composed of both manual “labor” and contemplative meditation or “oration,” connoting the act of reading out loud. In other words, the type of knowing that Art produces is not possible without relentless praxis. It is indeed an experimental mode of knowledge which brings the mind of the artist to the Primal Matter, or in Michelangelo’s language, the marble block that hides within it the design of transcendence. And this is clear at the beginning of Michelangelo’s poem where the phenomenological knowledge of the hand, having become an extension of mind, turns into an instrument of vision out of the Primal Matter:

Nothing the greatest artist can con-
That every marble block doth not
Within itself; and only its design
The hand that follows intellect can

Now, to the second question: does everyone or the public at large have any use for this type of knowledge? Absolutely they do. There is a multi-million dollar industry whose sole purpose is to create fictions and thus transmit, albeit in an unconscious manner, the mythic knowledge of the transcendent One.

Campbell might say that the answer to the general question about the “practical” necessity of Art or myth should be obvious: it has none and that is the whole point! That’s why Campbell loved the formulation of the aesthetic experience as the experience of “divinely superfluous beauty.”

Nevertheless, in the archetypal forms of myth and art, as in the entertainment industry and the culture at large, this special “knowledge” remains unconscious, and thus in a peculiar epistemological state to say the least. Early on, psychoanalysis faced criticism for the audacity of the paradox involved in the notion of “unconscious knowledge.” But so it is. In the collective mind of the culture at large, this “knowledge” or gnosis remains hidden, in exactly the way Michelangelo understood it, waiting to be released from the Primal Matter of the Stone—hence the “practical” need for the Artist  in society as the one who “knows” consciously how to set it free!

I don’t want to get far afield but the parallels to alchemical philosophy and the hermetic tradition are quite remarkable here and I can hardly refrain to mention further parallels. Let Jung drop us a hint of the phenomenological background of these psycho-physical processes in the very act of the creative imagination:

“The imaginatio, or the act of imagining, was thus a physical activity that could be fitted into the cycle of material changes, that brought these about and was brought about by them in turn. In this way the alchemist related himself not only to the unconscious but directly to the very substance which he hoped to transform through the power of imagination.” (CW12¶394)

As we can see, this is where depth psychology has already entered the picture. In the general sense of making the unconscious conscious, depth psychology shares the same psychic space of mytho-historic creation, “for every act of dawning consciousness is a creative act,” as Jung wrote in Psychology and Alchemy (CW12: ¶29).