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The Editorial Function of Myth

  • This topic has 9 replies, 3 voices, and was last updated 2 years ago by Mars.
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  • #72813

    Borrowing from the forum topic The 5th Function of Myth, this is found on page 7 of the 1982 edition of Changing Images of Man (and SRI think tank study co-edited by Joseph Campbell):

    From studies of mythology and past civilizations done by Joseph Campbell, at least five functions stand out as needing to be fulfilled by images, rituals, and institutions of a society. They are the mystical, the cosmological, the sociological, the pedagogical or psychological, and the editorial functions.

    I’d like to zero in on that last function, which doesn’t appear elsewhere in Joseph Campbell’s work:

    In its editorial function, the myths and images of a culture define some aspects of reality as important and credible, hence to be attended to, while other aspects are seen as unimportant or incredible, hence to be ignored and culturally not seen. For example, the anthropologist Malinowski reported that the Trobriand Islanders believe that a child inherits his physical characteristics only from his father. Hence, the Trobriands simply do not observe or notice any resemblance between the child and his mother, although to Malinowski, such similarities were quite evident.

    I believe it would be fascinating to consider how that fifth function applies to contemporary society. What do we in “first world” societies not see about ourselves due to the default setting supplied by our dominant mythologies?

    That’s a difficult question to answer. Hard to see what’s in our blind spot (which is what makes it a blind spot); hard to make the unknown known when we don’t know it’s there.

    What first surfaces for me are matters of gender and race. My parents, for example, were at the tail end of generation upon generation of Europeans with a built-in bias against women. They had no idea they were biased – there were just certain things that it never occurred to them that women could do (like preside over a governing body, or run a corporation). This has cultural bias has been gradually changing, thanks to the concerted effort of women and their allies in securing the right to own and control their own property, the right to vote, even the right to sexual climax (in the 19th century women who enjoyed sex were labelled nymphomaniacs, or hysterics, and considered mentally ill, often finding themselves confined to asylums or being forced to undergo cliterodecotomies – surgically removing the clitoris).

    It was difficult for my parents dealing with this huge societal shift. When San Francisco Mayor George Moscone was assassinated in 1978 by a former city supervisor, my dad seemed less upset by the murder than by the swearing in of Board of Supervisors President Diane Feinstein as the new mayor (the legal order of succession), because women were just incapable of governing.

    Similarly their attitudes toward race. I recall in the 1980s, when my mother was scheduled for an operation, she was dumbfounded to learn her surgeon was black. She wasn’t upset by this, but genuinely surprised (which she expressed often in his presence as she was recovering), sort of like finding out the dog can talk – not a bad thing, but strange and wondrous because it goes against nature. She couldn’t understand why her children were a touch embarrassed by this expression of unconscious racism; she didn’t consider this racist at all – what’s bad about recognizing he is a credit to his race – whereas we thought this as odd as being surprised a doctor is white.

    Go back a few generations, and my parent’s perspective was pretty much the default setting for American society – there were just things we could not see about race.

    But these examples strike me as falling short of how the editorial function operates – in large part because there have been many individuals in our history who did not buy into the dominant paradigm. This seems very different from Malinowski’s Trobriand Islanders: it’s not like there are a few dissidents in that culture who aver there are similarities between a child and her or his mother; rather, no one sees it at all.

    So what are our blind spots? What don’t we see – or can we even discuss this, because we are incapable of seeing?

    #72822
    Mars
    Participant

    “Zero in…” that’s american slang to renullify the datum.
    JC or someone else referred to New Guinea, were all the peoples of that island were completely alienated from others (by speech – another fine discussionn on this platform), and must have developed different mythologies too.
    So, it is not a question in absolute terms (what are the dominant mythologies), but a relative: what influence occured during the last (not so very respectfull) centuries from the then dominant culture upon the more mundaine cultures, still more embedded in tradition rather then the exploration and exploitation of others? And what about the mutual effects? What is changed, or lost? What is preserved and handed through?
    Feynman prooves ultimately that things we consider as going only in one direction (like time) are not bound to our perception of it. This fractional perception is the very cause to all myth. An explanation must be given, or we’re beast. And dog’s do talk, in their own voice. We humans are plus 99.99999% identical, but our temporarely perception, like the people on a remote island, do want to distinguish ‘us from others’, polarise, fight, conquer, adept, live. No one is to blame, it’s our nature, our limitation, constriction. Tales, in their form of communication, more formal embodied as myths, bridges these gaps. Only if we dare to speak alien, if we dare to listen.

    To consider the size of the blind spot, a part of my Ego Labyrinth, the Rumsfeld Quadrant (the rational part):
    > Donald Rumsfeld, former SoD and other things, documentary The Unknown Known. Framed in his heritage.
    > A piece of paper, being it Letter size (standard us-ers), or A4 (europs), a palmleaf will suffice too.
    There is a top border, and there is a side border.
    The crossing of both is your aware conciousness, your actual ratio.
    The rest of the upper border is a bit forgotten, your not present memories.
    The rest of the side border is what can be imagined as what cannot be known.
    The rest is the void.
    The void is 90%, your imagination 9%, your memories 0.9%.
    Your left with 0.1% consiousness, your ratio, the very base of all your decisions, acting, caring, loving, hating, telling, being.
    Don’t blame your parents, they were framed in their time. Don’t blame others for your misfortune, as they were not involved at all.
    Blind we are, and maybe better must be so?

    #72821

    (“Zero in,” by the way, is an American idiom for “focus one’s attention”; “nullifying the datum” is an intriguing spin, but if you think that’s what someone means if they say this in conversation, there will be major misunderstandings).

    Your example of  perceiving time as moving in one direction definitely speaks to this question – indeed, seems a blind spot common to most humans, apart from those experiencing altered states of consciousness. That strikes me as more a result of biological limitations than cultural conditioning, but certainly is something we don’t see – though we can imagine it.

    #72820
    jamesn.
    Participant

    Joseph: “From studies of mythology and past civilizations done by Joseph Campbell, at least five functions stand out as needing to be fulfilled by images, rituals, and institutions of a society. They are the mystical, the cosmological, the sociological, the pedagogical or psychological, and the editorial functions.”

    Stephen: “I’d like to zero in on that last function, which doesn’t appear elsewhere in Joseph Campbell’s work:”
    ___________________________________________________________________

    Stephen and Mars; I think maybe (both) concerning your response to his post: especially concerning how “memory” may play into all of this; and I’ll attempt to lay some of this out.

    (Stephen):
    ” (“Zero in,” by the way, is an American idiom for “focus one’s attention”; “nullifying the datum” is an intriguing spin, but if you think that’s what someone means if they say this in conversation, there will be major misunderstandings).
    Your example of perceiving time as moving in one direction definitely speaks to this question – indeed, seems a blind spot common to most humans, apart from those experiencing altered states of consciousness. That strikes me as more a result of biological limitations than cultural conditioning, but certainly is something we don’t see – though we can imagine it.”
    ___________________________________________________________________

    (I had to rewrite the following post because my first attempt was just too unorganized.)
    ___________________________________________________________________

    I think your observation about the biological plays into this but how we perceive and react from the wide range of differences in our individual makeups; physical age, psychological development, and cultural background may vary widely both as to mental, cultural, and biological differences. Why? Because modern demands have become so great that they have altered societies usual interpretation concerning perception of one’s reality; both social and individual. In other words the way something is actually experienced can be from completely different viewpoints in which modern social development has undergone enormous change. And this would have a huge amount of variation concerning reconciling these various realities. Joseph called this: (“a free fall into the future”). To me the bridging of varying perceptions becomes a major concern because the modern world has put such huge demands on interconnecting cross-cultural as well as diverse modes of interplay that the psyche becomes disoriented; and memory without meaning becomes lost without direction.

    (Let me say this another way that Joseph helped to point out.) “Cultural” borders have dissolved and the “myths” that held them together no longer apply. Technology has had such an enormous impact over the decades; and with the ever-increasing population growth and increased complexity of social development that the editorial function has had to absorb; “memory” as well as normal decision making becomes overtaxed in finding meaning, making decisions, and communicating.

    For instance as a point of reference; the orient vs the occident; male vs female, light vs dark, young vs old, are all dualities; opposites that makeup polarity; but there are shades of differences that can be important in application as to their relevance to a problem to be solved or perception to be understood; and if you add technological demands adds further stress to an overtaxed system. So how would technology play into this? The ever accelerating speed of technological growth has pushed through the old boundaries that myth usually informed. Joseph referred to this as the: “airport society” where one could fly anywhere in the world in a matter of hours; and man’s understanding is no longer contained within the cultural boundaries of his older society. After I got through reading my usual “internet” newsfeed I saw so many communication problems concerning so many of these types of polarities; I think Stephen’s topic of a 5th “editorial function” is a big deal. To me I would call this situation: overloaded “cross-pollination” between polarities; which would require a more complex bridging between a larger range of an individual’s memory capacities.

    The point I’m attempting to describe is it was only after thinking on this subject for the last few days that the it struck me how all these different variables could be tied together into one topic issue; which both of you are exploring concerning this 5th “editorial” function. Now whether any of this could be tied to affecting a mental disorder such as: schizophrenia, dementia, psychosis, neurosis, or some other “psychoid -factor” since they all deal with perception and “memory” I have no idea. But because from a Jungian viewpoint these would have “archetypal” influences and might also include the “shadow” as well as the normal functioning ego I think possibly it might. I’m am not a medical doctor nor an analyst but I would think  from what I interpret of Joseph’s views because now you have Jungian as well as the wide range of psychological dynamics that he saw this sort of thing as a coming concern because humans need meaning when navigating chaos. So now you have Joseph’s idea of a “personal myth” as navigator as opposed to a “cultural” myth.

    I hope this is a little clearer than my last unorganized attempt.)

    #72819
    jamesn.
    Participant

    One last thing I meant to mention concerning the 5th editorial function that myth is suppose to serve. Michael Lambert; who served as moderator on the old CoaHO created a special thread on discourse where he explored some of these issues in tremendous detail; and one of the points he continually brought up was that of the “little editor” we all carry in our head that filters anything that it’s exposed to. This editor decodes data it receives from the other systems in the psyche which is expressed by certain reflexes into different forms; emotional, mental, physical, and a response is triggered. Now to me this “little editor” would play a huge role in some of what we have been talking about; and what first struck me so profoundly about the connection between our sense of what we experience and what happens after that within our psyche.

    ____________________________________________________________________________

    An addendum; I realized after reading over this rather confusing collection of material perhaps an example or two in story form might help. So let’s envision the “little editor” is a hero character thrown into some kind of mystical situation where there are all kinds of different creatures and characters and cultures this (editor) must “assimilate” to navigate this strange new landscape he or she finds themselves in. Well; because there are many “once upon a time” tales to choose from you could start off with fantasy fairy tales like: “Alice in Wonderland” or the “Wizard of Oz”; or you could look at Science Fiction like: “Star Trek” or “Star Wars” or the mythical world of Tolkein’s: “Hobbit” or “Lord of the Rings” trilogy; or any number of others. But my point has to do with (assimilation of a wide range or assortment of data to put into a coherent whole); the “little editor” does this by “instinct”; (How is that?); it’s because it serves a certain “function”.

    #72818
    Mars
    Participant

    (jamesn):
    Joseph called this: (“a free fall into the future”). To me the bridging of varying perceptions becomes a major concern because the modern world has put such huge demands on interconnecting cross-cultural as well as diverse modes of interplay that the psyche becomes disoriented; and memory without meaning becomes lost without direction.

    “Cultural” borders have dissolved and the “myths” that held them together no longer apply. Technology has had such an enormous impact over the decades; and with the ever-increasing population growth and increased complexity of social development that the editorial function has had to absorb; “memory” as well as normal decision making becomes overtaxed in finding meaning, making decisions, and communicating.

    Joseph referred to this as the: “airport society” where one could fly anywhere in the world in a matter of hours; and man understanding is no longer contained within the cultural boundaries of his older society.

    that he saw this sort of thing as a coming concern because humans need meaning when navigating chaos. So now you have Joseph’s idea of a “personal myth” as navigator as opposed to a “cultural” myth.

    _______________________________

    Jamesn, your very close to this zero!

    Overtaxed or overloaded are many already. With lost grounds, without references anymore, everybody is in need of a beacon. Cast in these waves of technology, without being able to swim. I’m educated with technology, know how to cope with the old and the new, both firm and sure on both traditions, comparing with memories and adapting – editing to the future. But save those roaming this site, and the priviledged, so many are hopelessly lost. One buys a awry saw in a diy shop and you’re your own master, equal, no even better compared to the tradies.
    Is this the demand by the masses for a shining watchtower, either religious or political, polarized to the extreme? The brighter is shines, the more flies it attracts.

    In the addendum of #4257, the escapism of the last 20 odd years towards faries, parallel myth’s and scifi (I read them all with pleasure, but there’s good stuff, prophetic even {*} and crap), one can see this as the shadow of technology. So easy to believe, the final redemption. Polarities made clear to understand, the good and the bad. Us or them. And from the screen to the living room to the mind. But what is the actual editing power of this little editor? What is within the individual horizon, memory and imagination, and what remains in the void? What is a great editor?

    Zero as a focus… curious. Leaving everything out to aim at the center only. A singular gain.
    {*} High Rise, Ballard, 1975

    #72817
    jamesn.
    Participant

    Wow Mars; such a beautiful articulation concerning much of what I was attempting to describe! To me Joseph’s insights reveal that much of man’s mythological realizations have to do with how they are read or interpreted; they have for whatever reason become concretized or personalized as factual instead of metaphorical; that they are referring to the deep spiritual mysteries and powers that lie within us.

    On more than one occasion he pointed out that many of these historical mythologies will work just fine if read another way; (for instance concerning Christianity); he suggests: if read metaphorically this represents a spiritual transformation within you; not something up in heaven or that there is an old man with a not so pleasant disposition telling you what to do because the devil will torment you in hell. No; it’s about the awakened compassion of the heart-life within you; suffering with others as if their pain is your own: “participation with joy in the sufferings of the world; finding within you the rapture of being truly alive; finding your bliss; your greatest joy and following that; not acquiescing to the guilt and shame of some: “thou shalt” system.

    One of the things Joseph mentions is thinking of this brief moment of existence we are given as: “participating in a wonder”; but that wonder as Joyce says is also a nightmare from which we are trying to awake; and the way to do that is to participate in the game of life. You play your part in this Grand Opera joyfully and willingly even though you realize it’s going to hurt; (sometimes deeply); and the final end of this great play is death. Religion should point toward a metaphoric way of living; not a command by some imaginary deity with a book of rules that says you are unworthy unless you follow them. These should be interpreted as spiritual insights, not something that demeans science unless it agrees with you. This planet is being torn apart by what Joseph called: “sanctified misunderstanding”.

    So here is where this: “little editor” comes in; it’s a discriminating factor within the individual that one uses to distinguish what these finer nuances are that may be directing us without us knowing it. (Click here for an example of that discriminating factor we are discussing where Joseph talks about the difference between a “sign and a symbol” as relates to this 5th editorial function; or “little editor” we all have.) Jung is in there as well as so many of the great spiritual masters who left behind deep insights of these great mysteries that have come down to us through the ages; and this realization we are talking about absolutely includes “Science” as well. Joseph mentions these insights as something we build on and there is a new version each season.

    My point was these new changes are accelerating so fast that man can hardy keep up; and Joseph refers to this new reality we now have to navigate as this: “free fall into the future”; and that many of these old myths have to be read in a new way; and that each individual is a free agent; not a slave. This idea of a “personal myth” is what he is referring to; it’s saying God is within you; and that “little editor” helps you to navigate this powerful mystery we are all riding on. In the DVD documentary about Joseph Campbell: “The Hero’s Journey”; there is a discussion section with a small group of people sitting on the floor where Joseph goes into great detail about this; (he doesn’t actually say “little editor”; but he is making this case quite seriously and provides examples that reveal these finer distinctions in a very accessible way.

    At any rate; this was my feeble attempt at this description; and I thought you articulated some of these things really well.  I would heartily recommend the DVD and the companion book as well because they continually help me in fleshing so many of his ideas where normally I would be just lost in the forest. My apologies for my earlier post attempts since I had to keep going back and rewriting them; and I’m still not quite satisfied with these results I’ve put down here; but that’s what having these discussions are all about; and Stephen has been doing such a tremendous job in getting these new Forums off the ground! (He or others may have some new things to add; so I’ll stop here.)

    #72816
    jamesn.
    Participant

    I want to add one last thing about this editorial aspect that may or may not be relative to what we are addressing. For me a lot of what Joseph talks about is concerning our inner landscape and how we interpret it. So much of our lives he suggests from what he found about myth is that many of these experiences we have are constant themes that seem to repeat themselves throughout human history and our inner editor helps us to deal with them. And whether it be through religion or story or motif we are seeking to know who we are and to bring that thing to either fruition, assimilation, or resolution.

    I think in many ways our dreams speak to us in a language of symbols and images that remind us this process is what is taking place within our inner life only we are not aware of it; and Joseph’s work recounts this in many ways such as through the historical motifs and patterns he found from a lifetime of studying the worlds mythologies. From the paintings in ancient caves to the texts of the many religions to the incredible art they have left behind so much of this material speaks to this realization of the transformative of the transcendent elements and aspects that may be at work in our lives if only we can see it and become aware of it. And this editor aspect of this 5th function is addressing much of that. Carl Jung said that we as human beings are in a constant state of becoming whether awake or asleep; and these issues and dynamics are constantly at work informing our lives.

    I remember Joseph using a metaphor once concerning the psyche and our unconscious and how our conscious awareness is like the captain that steers his craft across the sea and we are doing our best to navigate this great ocean of life we are riding on. At least this is what this editorial function seems to be serving to me.

    #72815
    Mars
    Participant

    jamesn’s contributions will not condense into conciseness, but no single line there is found to omit, not even the one last things.

    About this editorial functions, small and great, Stephen’s topic. The small being our wonderings about actual life and how to cope with it in life and time, the large how to explain the movements on the worldstage that influences our humble life. So, this little editor is our private tube, our fashioned goggles we pierce through, focus (‘zero’) the multiplicity of the real world into a manageable summary (sounds familiar, not?), currently in action while reading this. The other, the father, big brother, rescuer of our tragic life, is the storyteller comforting us in singularity. It is a polarising view but it appears to me that it matters from which side of the telescope you’re looking through: amplifying or reducing? With the first, you’re not aware of the borders (but they are there nonetheless) so you’re forgiven, with the latter the perspective is out of reach or for martyrs only.

    #72814
    jamesn.
    Participant

    Mars; if I understand what you are saying we may have to agree to disagree on some of this; but my thoughts are still a work-in-progress so I appreciate your thoughtful perspective. The (editor) is a metaphor for a particular function that is being served within the individual; and as I mentioned earlier I’m not quite satisfied with my conclusions and I certainly do not claim to be an authority on this; but these are my impressions so far and of course I’m open up for more “clarity” concerning (Joseph’s) particular theme if you have it to offer.

    ____________________________________________________________________________

    I want to add an addendum to Stephen’s opening question about what may be informing our blind spot; (which to me seems to refer to the Jungian: “personal unconscious”. I may be off track but I also think this (editor) might have a connection to the “collective unconscious” as well.

    From Daryl Sharp’s Lexicon:

    “Personal unconscious. The personal layer of the unconscious, distinct from the collective unconscious.
    The personal unconscious contains lost memories, painful ideas that are repressed (i.e., forgotten on purpose), subliminal perceptions, by which are meant sense-perceptions that were not strong enough to reach consciousness, and finally, contents that are not yet ripe for consciousness.[The Personal and the Collective Unconscious,” ibid., par. 103.]”

    (and concerning the relationship to the: “collective unconscious” also taken from the Lexicon):

    “The collective unconscious-so far as we can say anything about it at all-appears to consist of mythological motifs or primordial images, for which reason the myths of all nations are its real exponents. In fact, the whole of mythology could be taken as a sort of projection of the collective unconscious. . . . We can therefore study the collective unconscious in two ways, either in mythology or in the analysis of the individual.[“The Structure of the Psyche,” CW 8, par. 325.]

    The more one becomes aware of the contents of the personal unconscious, the more is revealed of the rich layer of images and motifs that comprise the collective unconscious. This has the effect of enlarging the personality.

    In this way there arises a consciousness which is no longer imprisoned in the petty, oversensitive, personal world of the ego, but participates freely in the wider world of objective interests. This widened consciousness is no longer that touchy, egotistical bundle of personal wishes, fears, hopes, and ambitions which always has to be compensated or corrected by unconscious counter-tendencies; instead, it is a function of relationship to the world of objects, bringing the individual into absolute, binding, and indissoluble communion with the world at large.[The Function of the Unconscious,” CW 7, par. 275.]

    ______________________________________________________________________________

    I’m not completely satisfied with all of this yet; but it seems to me to suggest that much of what we don’t know about how we as individual’s perceive our world around us and our reactions to things may be pointing in this direction concerning our blind spot and how we react to things. “Emotion” of course takes this subject to whole other level; (especially where the Shadow is concerned because much of this processing has to with repressed psychic content and what stimulates it as well. And our editor is right in the middle of this processing of material by filtering data and helping in the decision making by assigning meaning it.

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