Reply To: The Blessing of Spiritual Poverty,” with Mythologist Norland Téllez, Ph.D.”
Thank you Stephen, as always, deeply appreciative of your thoughts and insights. This is what makes these conversations of a higher order, and sometimes you and I share the impetus of Icarus, especially when we ere young, where we like to go as high as thought and imagination take us.
From my perspective, after attending Pacifica set a blaze by Hillmania, I have to say that to me Hillman’s “monotheistic” criticism of Jung and Jung’s own understanding of Christianity share a common source in the same fallacy which points to the failure to recognize what is authentically new and groundbreaking about the Christian myth. From this point of view, the whole “monotheism vs polytheism” perspective slides out of relevance.
My problem with Hillman, however, is this dualistic ideological framework he deploys, setting monotheism against polytheism as if they were external opposites—esoecially in the face of a religion in which One is also Three or even Four as Jung would have it. Christianity is the sublation of polytheism, already having internalized the polytheistic form within it. In other words, Jung at his best touches upon the essence of the dialectical process, but Hillman slips down into ideology, i.e., into a “polytheistic” fundamentalism of his own.
This is a problem with reducing everything to empty universal models for an understanding of myth; always reducing everything to the old makes us overlook the phenomenon of radical emergence, the idea that this very world of archetypes itself is subject to time and thus subjected to the evolutionary laws of life, i.e., the notion that the archetypal world is capable of radical transformation as a whole. Archetypes are not atemporal “eternal” patterns frozen in time, but forms of the very movement of mythic history across the ages.
In order to understand what is unique in the Christian myth, I think Rene Girard’s work is indispensable together with Pascal, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, the last two sharing a peculiar affinity for the modern world. That is why I wrote:
The spiritual revolution inaugurated by the Christian eon is the thing that will not permit us to adorn ourselves with the false riches of borrowed pride. Rather than presenting a new myth, however, Christianity presents the usual mythic form in a kind of reversal of the direction of spiritual history which had been caught in mechanisms of victimization and sacrifice. With the Christian myth, breaking through the uroboric logic of the soul, allows the symbolic flesh of myth eat itself in the execution of new historic forms. For this spirit is so rich as to lose itself, rubbing against the metaphysical nakedness of the Real at the heart of the world.
This shift in the mythic history of the soul reflects the “mythless” status of modern consciousness, its loss of Meaning in the capital sense, which has emerged from the womb of myth, born naked and fragile, utterly dependent on others, into the metaphysical nakedness of the world.
This metaphysical nakedness expresses the meaning of spiritual poverty. It is the acceptance of the death of Gods and Symbols. Jung himself had a notion of this death of a symbols which expresses a key insight into the dialectical nature of the mytho-historic process:
“So long as a symbol is a living thing, it is an expression for something that cannot be characterized in any other or better way. The symbol is alive only so long as it is pregnant with meaning. But once its meaning has been born out of it, once that expression is found which formulates the thing sought, expected, or divined even better than the hitherto accepted symbol, then the symbol is dead, i.e., it possesses only an historical significance. We may still go on speaking of it as a symbol, on the tacit assumption that we are speaking of it as it was before the better expression was born out of it. […] For every esoteric interpretation the symbol is dead, because esotericism has already given it (at least ostensibly) a better expression, whereupon it becomes merely a conventional sign for associations that are more completely and better known elsewhere. Only from the exoteric standpoint is the symbol a living thing.” (Psychological Types §816 )
This is a passage above was quoted by Wolfgang Giegerich in his essay the End of Meaning and the Birth of Man into which Giegerich elaborates his own thesis:
“Here, concerning the meaning of a symbol, Jung operates with the images of pregnancy and birth, and concerning the interpretation of a symbol, with the ideas of exoteric and esoteric standpoints. The symbol is only the unfinished embryonic form of a given meaning. As long as the symbol is alive its meaning is still unborn, has not fully seen the light of day. The birth of the meaning at once means the death of its former embryonic form, i.e., the death of the form of symbol, and it means that this meaning has received a better expression. The death of a symbol, inasmuch as it amounts to the birth of the better formulation of what it is about, is thus by no means to be viewed as an intolerable catastrophe. It is a transformation that, to be sure, goes along with a loss, but ultimately is a gain, a progress, just as in the case of the transition from biological pregnancy to birth. It thus is precisely the meaning’s destination to be born out of its initial enveloped form of mere pregnancy (implicitness, Ansichsein).” (End of Meaning 11)
Of course, what Giegerich has in mind is the totality of the symbolic order as the womb of myth:
“For the “symbol” that we are talking about now is meaning as such, Meaning with a capital M; it is myth, the symbolic life, the imaginal, religion, the grand narratives—not this myth or religion or grand narrative nor this meaning, but myth or religion pure and simple, Meaning altogether. And the “meaning” (lowercase) that has been born out of this “symbol” (i.e., out of Meaning capitalized) is Man himself or consciousness as such, human existence at large. Because consciousness has been born out of them, myth as such, religion altogether, higher meaning at large now possess only historical significance; they still exist, but in the plural, and shrunk into the reduced status of commodities—dead meanings. If they are nevertheless still used today to hold consciousness in their sway and thus to create a new secondary mystique or aura, a new sense of in-ness, then they can function this way because they now have the status of (spiritual) drugs used to benumb consciousness or to give it its highs.” (End of Meaning 12)