December 5, 2020 at 1:07 am #73801
Writer, director, artist, teacher, and mythologist Norland Tellez, author of “In the Stillness of Love’s Madness” (which you can read here), is our guest this week in Conversations of a Higher Order to discuss this latest entry in JCF’s MythBlast series.
I will get us started with a few questions and comments, but no telling where the conversation will go from there. It will be your thoughts, reactions, observations and insights that make this a communal exchange of ideas. Please feel free to join this discussion and engage Dr. Têllez directly with your questions and comments.
Thank you so much for your reflection on the interplay (and identity) of libido and todestrieb (death drive), drawn from Joseph Campbell’s prologue to The Inner Reaches of Outer Space. I especially appreciate how you illustrate this mind-bending motif manifests in “the voracious alien creature” of John Carpenter’s classic sci-fi flick The Thing (an “image to cancel all images,” to borrow Slavoj Žižek’s words).
Joseph Campbell references kindred depictions in his work The Mythic Image (published 12 years prior to Inner Reaches), including Kīrttimukha, a lion-headed demon summoned by Shiva that devours itself from the feet up, leaving only “the Face of Glory” (which Campbell describes as “the epitomization of the the self-consuming mystery that is life”), the t’ai-t’ieh mask in ancient Chinese art and lore, and a jaguar image, carved c. 800 BC on a jade and limestone sarcophagus from the Olmec culture in Mexico.
But even decades before that he plays with this theme at length in a 61-page offering titled “Voracious” (found in The Mythic Imagination, the collection of Campbell’s short stories), penned three years before The Hero with a Thousand Faces was published; that his fascination spans his entire public career underscores how central this concept is to Joseph Campbell’s mythological perspective.
Considering The Inner Reaches of Outer Space is the last completed book Campbell published before his death, I tend to think of it as a distillation of his life’s work. Opening with the discussion you describe, it concludes with a chapter entitled “The Way of Art” – which brings me back to the end of your essay.
Though so many associate Joseph Campbell with Jung’s ideas, if I understand correctly you are suggesting the Freudian concept of death drive describes the passion of creativity. Would you mind fleshing that out a bit further for us?December 7, 2020 at 9:20 pm #73820
Such a pleasure to begin to engage with you and our wider circle of readers. This is of course a topic that not only drew me to Campbell but which has remained central for me in my own career in mythological studies given my background in art and animation.
Notwithstanding the stereotype of the “tortured artist,” I would like to cite one of the greatest artist in the history of the West, one whose unparalleled figurative art was and remains central to my own artistic endeavors, Michelangelo Buonarroti, whose poem “The Artist” fleshes out the appropriateness of the notion of death drive to describe the transcending movement of Art:
Nothing the greatest artist can con-
That every marble block doth not
Within itself; and only its design
The hand that follows intellect can
The ill I flee, the good that I believe,
In thee, fair lady, lofty and divine
Thus hidden lie; and so that death
Art, of desired success, doth me be-
Love is not guilty, then, nor thy fair
Nor fortune, cruelty, nor great dis-
Of my disgrace, nor chance nor des-
If in thy heart both death and love find
At the same time. And if my humble
Burning, can nothing draw but death
from thee.December 8, 2020 at 12:30 am #73819
Rumor has it Michelangelo did know a little something about creativity and art. His poem not only adds clarity, but brings to mind a parallel observation by Campbell:
There’s that wonderful picture of Death playing the violin to the artist, by a Swiss painter named Böcklin. The artist is there with the palette and brush, and Death is playing the violin. That means that the eyes should be open to something of more cosmic import than simply the vicissitudes and excitements of your own petty life. Hearing the song that is beyond that of your own individual life cycle is the thing that opens you to wisdom. You can hear it in your life, interpreting it, reading it, not in terms of the calamities or boons of your individual existence, but as a message of what life is.”
“Mythic Reflections: an interview with Joseph Campbell,” by Tom Collins, which appeared a little over a year before Campbell’s own passing.
Neither Michelangelo nor Böcklin had the benefit of psychoanalytic theory; they derived their understanding of the relationship of creativity to death from their own experience. Though Freud may have supplied the terms, the libido and the death drive (aka todestrieb / thanatos / mortido / destrudo, depending on what theorist one references) did not originate with him, but are inseparable from the human experience.
We do seem to live in an endlessly creative universe. One difference between humans and other species, however, would seem to be that we are conscious of (or, perhaps, self-conscious about) the fact that we are going to die.
I’d like to toss into the mix another little nugget from Campbell, excerpted from a yet-to-be-published manuscript I’ve been editing. Asked where myths come from, he responds:
It’s the experience of death that I regard as the beginning of mythic thinking—the actual seeing of someone dead who was alive and talking to you yesterday—dead, cold, beginning to rot. Where did the life go? That’s the beginning of myth.
That’s what happened, I think, in the Paleolithic caves when burials came in. “I thought that was all you were, but now, my gosh, there’s another dimension to this.” And if that can be recognized after death, well, to have it recognized before death, look what it does!
In The Flight of the Wild Gander, that’s what I called the mythological dimension. It’s a little shift of focus, so that you and I sitting here, we are in the foreground of something. Back behind us one life is living in both of us, isn’t it? And consciousness—otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to talk. That’s what’s taken for granted somehow, but in mythology it isn’t taken for granted. The accent goes there, and then all of life takes on new perspective.
It is intriguing that those Paleolithic caves Campbell mentions mark the beginning of a creative explosion, one that continues to propel the human experiment to this very moment.
Another question comes to mind for you. For those of us who may not be artists or mystics, of what practical use is this knowledge? What possible difference does it make to know this? Hearkening back to the beginning of your essay, how does this dynamic relate to one’s personal life experience? Or to the culture at large?
Is this where psychology enters the picture?December 8, 2020 at 11:14 am #73818
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).December 11, 2020 at 3:47 am #73817
Hello Dr. Norland Tollez,
You wrote, “it was Jacques Lacan who settled the theoretical ground of the Freudian vision by clarifying the ultimate identity between Love and the death drive. They are two sides of the same metaphysical coin as the singular force embodying a mortal sense of transcendence.”
The above lines remind me of Oscar Wilde’s love for Alfred Douglas. The kind of love that in Victorian England was not just forbidden but carried grotesque punishment and incalculable injustice – death by any other name.
In a court room trial, where the once revered literary genius said not a word in his defense, chiefly because he was not permitted to speak. Yes, he did say, this: “And I? May I say nothing, my lord? ” With these words, Oscar Wilde’s courtroom trials came to a close.”
“This blind indestructible insistence of the libido is what Freud called ‘death drive,’ and one should bear in mind that ‘death drive’ is, paradoxically, the Freudian name for its very opposite, for the way immortality appears within psychoanalysis.” (62) With this apt description of the passion of the infinite, we come to rest here, in the grip of our creative daimon, where a state of ceaseless productivity provides the ground for a transcendent vision.”
Indeed, driven by his relentless desire to create, Wilde’s soul was not at rest until he found his proper rest in “De Produndis”, his ode to love – his song to the very man because of whom he was sentenced to two years in prison with hard labor for the crime of “gross indecency” with other men.
Inside the prison walls, his writings, took a different turn, from pleasing the English upper classes, he began writing for prison reforms, judicial reforms, and displayed his imaginative and verbal brilliance in the “The Ballad of Reading Gaol”. He now wrote for eternity.December 11, 2020 at 4:27 am #73816
Thank you for your reminder emails that brought me back to this profound topic of which I know very little but would love to explore.
As I came across the following lines, ” As Jung himself put it, “The secret is that only that which can destroy itself is truly alive.” (CW12:¶93) Hence the tendency shared by each of these primordial impulses to “become terrific, horrifying, and destructive,” as Campbell observed in Inner Reaches (xv).” Like you, my thoughts went right to ” Kirtimukha” while reading Dr. Norland’s essay where he explores the ultimate identity between love and the death drive, and that which can destroy itself is truly alive. And later I looked at the lives of those who loved and suffered for that love in recent times — Oscar Wilde’s name is second to none in searching for that ” paradoxical and irrepressible sexual energy of Love, the self-generating and self-consuming power of life, bubbling up to human consciousness in the metaphysical boiler of the death drive (todestrieb)”.
ShahedaDecember 11, 2020 at 6:03 am #73815
Thank you Shaheda,
Yes, the tragic ending of Oscar Wilde is an apt example of the way Love and Death hang in the same metaphysical space of the death drive. They represent two fundamental perspectives on the circular movement of the soul’s immortal logic. To that effect, I’ll give you here Jung’s full quote:
“Despite appearances to the contrary, the establishment of order and the dissolution of what has been established are at bottom beyond human control. The secret is that only that which can destroy itself is truly alive. It is well that these things are difficult to understand and thus enjoy a wholesome concealment, for weak heads are only too easily addled by them and thrown into confusion. From all these dangers dogma—whether ecclesiastical, philosophical, or scientific—offers effective protection, and, looked at from a social point of view, excommunication is a necessary and useful consequence.” (CW12: 73-74¶93)
What Jung alludes to, in the end, is the scapegoating mechanism upon which the the experience of the sacred is rooted, not only in archaic cultures but also even in contemporary life. Like René Girard, Jung seems to recognize the “usefulness” of not only excommunication but a fortiori of sacrificial slaughter.
Next month, when we explore Campbell’s Primitive Mythology we’ll have a chance to elaborate this theme which in its turn makes a connection between Death and the Sacred.December 11, 2020 at 11:31 pm #73814
Hello Dr. Norland Tellez,
This is a spellbinding piece, and your invaluable references are much appreciated. Jung writes, “The secret is that only that which can destroy itself is truly alive. ” Question for you:
Could “only that which can destroy itself” include other than love and passion?
What comes to my mind is Joe Campbell’s statement, “Where there is crime, there is life, and where there is life, there is crime.” Hope Joe Campbell really said this, as I do recall reading it somewhere. Could not locate it on the database of Joseph Campbell’s Quotes.
Thank you for another amazing reference that of Rene Girard’s “Death and Sacrificial Slaughter. “I am reading this for the first time, and trying to figure this out. Is he saying that Death Penalty is OK? That it’s a sacrificial ritual? Some rudimentary searches led me to his bio and commentary on his recent works, and that, “….his books and articles have addressed topics in literary criticism, anthropology, and religion. His books, including Violence and the Sacred, The Scapegoat, Things Hidden since the Foundation of the World, and I See Satan Fall Like Lightning, have presented an ambitious theory that purports to explain why violence is a key element in the formation and maintenance of human culture.” His theory seems to link Joe Campbell’s idea too, that of, “Where there is crime, there is life, and where there is life, there is crime.”
I am eagerly looking forward to your explorations into Campbell’s Primitive Mythology, and connecting this theme to Death and the Sacred.
Thank you again for this awesome illuminating piece.
ShahedaDecember 13, 2020 at 6:19 pm #73813
Hi my dear Shaheda,
Given these heady topics, I should like to remark on Jung’s statement above from Psychology and Alchemy:
“It is well that these things are difficult to understand and thus enjoy a wholesome concealment, for weak heads are only too easily addled by them and thrown into confusion. From all these dangers dogma—whether ecclesiastical, philosophical, or scientific—offers effective protection, and, looked at from a social point of view, excommunication is a necessary and useful consequence.” (CW12: 73-74¶93)
Jung seems to recognize that ideology has its social usefulness precisely in the institution of the scapegoating system, the system of sacrificial victimization upon which the experience of the archaic sacred rests. Both Freud and Girard point to the archetypal situation of the “primal murder” upon which human civilization is based. Where Freud invents the myth of the patricide of the primal horde, Girard sees in it the blood of sacrificial slaughter. He sees the social usefulness of ancient human sacrifice in precisely being able to channel the communal violence to a single scapegoated victim, one whose elimination from the community would bring about an experience of “purification” or catharsis. As Girard writes:
The victim is not a substitute for some particularly endangered individual, nor is it offered up to some individual of particularly bloodthirsty temperament. Rather, it is a substitute for all the members of the community, offered up by the members themselves. The sacrifice serves to protect the entire community from its own violence; it prompts the entire community to choose victims outside itself. The elements of dissension scattered throughout the community are drawn to the person of the sacrificial victim and eliminated, at least temporarily, by its sacrifice. (Violence and the Sacred 8)
I also suggest listening to Girard’s extended interview on YouTube:
I do find that his work adds some vital perspective on our field of mythological studies. Although many romantic enthusiasts for myth might find Girard’s conclusions incompatible or even hostile, serious scholarship should never close its door to the wealth of insight that’s out there.
And thanks again for your kind words; I’m glad our humble work here continues to find resonance around the globe—be well!
NTDecember 13, 2020 at 10:54 pm #73812
And finally, let me address your first question more directly:
Jung writes, “The secret is that only that which can destroy itself is truly alive. Question for you: Could “only that which can destroy itself” include other than love and passion?
That is a good question, Shaheda, to ask what we’re left with when we take away all human love and passion. The answer is not much. Only rocks and chemical processes, maybe, as we indeed find everywhere else in the known universe. Without love and passion we would also have to do away with life itself. That was Campbell’s point in my article. For “love and passion” give expression to a fundamental property of life which is better expressed by the twinship of death drive and sexuality. Thus the secret of human love and passion is that it transcends the bounds of humanity, giving expression to the inhuman core of our all-too human humanity.December 14, 2020 at 6:19 pm #73811
I apologize to you and Norland for being out of the loop; I’ve been dealing with technological issues that, ultimately, required purchasing a new computer (I’m typing this on my old one, which is on fumes – might be knocked offline for another day or so as I figure out how to migrate data from the old machine to the new).
Thank you for your appreciation (though I can’t take complete credit for the email “reminder” – that’s a function of the forums plug-in: I have been enjoying yours, Nandu’s, and Captsunshine’s comments in the thread on The Ripening Outcast, which began back in July as a discussion dedicated to an earlier MythBlast essay by Dr. Téllez – it is satisfying to see that conversation still in play well over four months later – so I thought I’d let alert participants in a post that Norland had a published a new MythBlast essay; the email was an automatic notification of a new comment in that conversation).
Unfortunately, I’m sorry to report that Joseph Campbell did not say, “Where there is crime, there is life, and where there is life, there is crime.” If you can track down a source, we’ll glad change that position, but as it stands, it doesn’t sound like something Joe would say (“crime” is a legal construct – mammals, birds, reptiles, fish, mollusks, etc. are not bound by human law and so cannot commit crimes).
What you may have heard could have been closer to “Where there is killing, there is life, and where there is life, there is killing” – a very different emphasis. Though I don’t find a source for this statement either, that phrasing seems much more in sync with points Campbell did make.December 16, 2020 at 3:00 am #73810
Hello Dear Professor Norland Tellez,
I apologize for the delay in my response, it was not because of my lack of enthusiasm in the topic, on the contrary, your introduction of Renee Girard and his thesis on “Scapegoating” has only stirred my interest .
As you wrote that “Jung seems to recognize that ideology has its social usefulness precisely in the institution of the scapegoating system, the system of sacrificial victimization upon which the experience of the archaic sacred rests. Both Freud and Girard point to the archetypal situation of the “primal murder” upon which human civilization is based.”
I listened attentively to the videos and his chats with Kennedy and Prof from the University of Montreal. Yes, Girard says something identical to what Jung said, that is, ‘culture begins when people unite against a single victim…. all against one” In this case my example of Oscar Wilde is indeed more than apt. Oscar Wilde was scapegoated for the cultural changes within the society.
In his poem, “The Ballad of Reading Goal”, Wilde expresses the same thoughts as Girard, viz., that ‘ culture begins when people unite against a single victim..’:
And never a human voice comes near
To speak a gentle word:
And the eye that watches through the door
Is pitiless and hard:
And by all forgot, we rot and rot,
With soul and body marred.”
How every single person that comes in contact with the convict, treats him as all others do.
“They stripped him of his canvas clothes,
And gave him to the flies;
They mocked the swollen purple throat
And the stark and staring eyes:
And with laughter loud they heaped the shroud
In which their convict lies.
The Chaplain would not kneel to pray
By his dishonored grave:”
Let’s just take a minute to think of “Saddam Hussein”. Army Generals and the media all agreed that Saddam Hussein had WMDs. Kaddafi’s fate was very similar.
Yes indeed very true, “The sacrifice serves to protect the entire community from its own violence; it prompts the entire community to choose victims outside itself.” Here I am thinking of scapegoating ‘immigrants’ or ‘blacks’ in predominantly white communities. It might not be racism or anti-immigrant hysteria, but this basic human instinct of ‘scapegoating’.
Now, I’ll move onto his other videos and discuss them, as time allows. One thing, though, on his theory of “imitation”, I seem not to see his point, especially on ‘love’.
Thank you again for this amazing piece.
ShahedaDecember 16, 2020 at 3:10 am #73809
Hello Dear Stephen,
Thank you for the clarification on the fake Joseph Campbell quote: “Where there is crime, there is life, and where there is life, there is crime.” It’s definitely not something that Joe would say, I feel like an idiot, but glad we have a database now, and a learned community that can correct these mistakes. I think I came across this somewhere in early 2004, on the internet. And, now I can not find it to quote from again!! Ha ha.
ShahedaDecember 16, 2020 at 3:17 am #73808
Hello Dr. Noralnd Tellez,
“That was Campbell’s point in my article. For “love and passion” give expression to a fundamental property of life which is better expressed by the twinship of death drive and sexuality. ”
Or as Wilde expressed,
” Yet each man kills the thing he loves
By each let this be heard,
Some do it with a bitter look,
Some with a flattering word,
The coward does it with a kiss,
The brave man with a sword!” (The Ballad of Reading Goal)December 17, 2020 at 7:21 am #73807
Beautiful—thank you for the Oscar Wilde tour de force. I am also a great fan of his work. It’s a tragedy he had to go the way he did. Love and Death in every case belong together as they both represent primary modes of transcendence in time.
As you will see in Primitive Mythology, Campbell recognized the unity of these two forces under the rubric of the Love-Death mythologem, which covers all myths encapsulating the primal murder that constitutes the original act of cultural creation.
“One version of the mythological event at the beginning of time which supplied the model for this rite tells that as the goddess Tlalteutli was walking alone upon the face of the primordial waters —a great and wonderful maiden, with eyes and jaws at every joint that could see and bite like animals—she was spied by the two primary gods Quetzalcoatl (the Plumed Serpent) and Tezcatlipoca (the Smoking Mirror); whereupon, deciding that they should create the world of her, they transformed themselves into mighty serpents and came at her from either side. One seized her from the right hand to the left foot, the other from the left hand to the right foot, and together they ripped her asunder. From the parts they fashioned not only the earth and heavens, but also the gods.” (Masks of God: Primitive Mythology 224)
And if you listen to the Girard interview all the way through, you will realize that his approach is not “anti-mythology,” as some might think, but a fundamental recognition of the way in which mythology deconstructs itself while giving [re]birth to itself in the noumenality of time. In other words, Girard is a great exponent of the uroboric logic of myth, always latent within the manifest content of the collective psyche.
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