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Reply To: Don’t Look Up: The Doomsday Dilettante,” with mythologist Norland Téllez”


    Thank you Stephen for steering us back to Joseph Campbell and to the myth at hand.

    It really is difficult to resist the temptation to talk about myth, to talk about “sticking to the image,” instead of actually doing it and learning to speak within it. This “talk about” is always taking place in the modes of external reflection, where we can put into play our pet theories “about” myth, only to impose them on our material, without noticing we have lost the essence of the thing. Evidently, external reflection comes much more naturally to us; it corresponds to our everyday mindset in dealing with external objects.

    To that effect, I also love the quotes from Giegerich which Robert has brought as these very quotes are also running in the back of my mind:

    “Above all, don’t let anything from outside, that does not belong, get into it, for the fantasy-image has ‘everything it needs’ WITHIN ITSELF”

    I absolutely agree. And if I am bringing Christian symbolism is only because we can find it WITHIN the film. And I totally agree that the point of amplification is to serve as a mode of intensification which should lead to the releasement of a certain archetypal truth—and that is exactly what bringing the Christian myth does. But I would not go on and start talking about Adonis or Osiris and fall into an infinite regress of archetypal models of “dying and resurrecting Gods”; all such piling on of parallels indeed would not advance our understanding one bit. But it’s another question to ask what the Christian symbolism means which makes it irreducible to any other previous myth. This is what Jungians cannot grasp, fond as it is to reducing the present and future into the past: what makes a myth a true breakthrough, irreducible to what has come before.

    I should think that the image of the final prayer should make the importance of the presence of Christian symbolism as plain as can be. The only question is whether or not we want to think about it. The analogies to the Last Supper are significant, including the Christian prayer placed at the most deeply felt moment of pathos of the film. And the fact that it is understood in the frame of a Thanksgiving ritual.

    Now, it is true that I no longer subscribe to the psychologistic reduction of myth which is taught at PGI, something which, up to a point, Giegerich and Hillman also criticize. So I totally disagree with the psychologistic reduction of Christ as a symbol of a personal individuation: the God-man, the completed individual, etc. From my viewpoint, this kind of interpretation of Christ is more akin to what Isherwell symbolizes: a kind of privatization of the collective power of myth for one’s own ego-centric desires.

    I have had to shift my position from when I started at PGI away from such Jungian psychologism, and have moved instead towards the notion of mytho-history, as you all well know, for this was the notion which my dissertation on the Popol Vuh drove all the way home.

    Of course, archetypes are never identical with themselves across their temporal manifestations. If they were, they would not be archetypes but stereotypes. When this non-identity within identity is lacking, and their temporality is divorced from their “eternal” nature (sub specie aeternitatis), then you know we are dealing with a stereotype. The mercurial fluid of archetypal reality, on the other hand, is always going through a process of transformation and change.

    This is another fundamental lesson I learned from studying Maya culture, in which temporality is not external but intrinsic to archetypal reality. As is well known, the Maya are famous for having developed some of the most beautiful and accurate, marvelously complex calendric systems (a topic for another day!).

    The way I understand it, “To stick to the image” simply means “learn to abide with it,” learn to tarry with the paradoxicality of its absolute negativity, so as to grasp the collective ground of the mythic structure from within itself, from within its own archetypal imagination, as a universal form of mytho-historic consciousness.

    So I love the quote by Campbell on symbolism, but I’d like to give it a slight twist away from psychologism in order to suggest that this “consciousness of the beholder” in which the “ground of meaning and being” resides is not necessarily the kind that belongs to an ego-centric, individualistic form of consciousness. Campbell himself qualifies it with an awareness that, while you’re in this form of consciousness, you are “part of the being of the world.” It is just as much a collective as it is an individual form of awareness—which surely would include our social reality, our being embedded in a network of relationship with others, as well as being involved in the media landscape, network of institutions, and systems of government, etc. That is my twist, which I am well aware goes against the grain of conventional Jungian wisdom, the wisdom of a mysticism where it is me and myself alone “at one” with the oceanic universe. I think a form of “mysticism” that leaves out all of that, the social as well as our political “oneness” with the collective unconscious, also leaves out the psyche’s existential weight, falling “short” of true myth as mytho-history. With this in mind, reading the quote once again:

    “I’m calling a symbol a sign that points past itself to a ground of meaning and being that is one with the consciousness of the beholder. What you’re learning in myth is about. If it talks not about you finally, but about something out there, then it’s short.”

    Whereas true myth makes me aware of my embeddedness in a collective reality, I read the privative instances that Campbell mentions, instances when it comes “short,” as examples of “personal mythologies,” i.e., the realm of “private truth” or pure ideology, which Don’t Look Up brilliantly depicts as something that lies at the heart of the conflict.