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May 22, 2022 at 11:05 pm in reply to: The Boundary-Blurring Nature of Myth,” with Bradley Olson, Ph.D.” #74857
No apologies necessary, Sunbug.
Disillusionment seems to me to require disappointment, some degree of emotional pain, and in that is, i think, the main thing that differentiates it from detachment. It may lead to detachment, but I think, as you mentioned, it’s much more likely to lead to cynicism.
Thank you for your energetic engagement on this topic!May 6, 2022 at 12:57 am in reply to: The Boundary-Blurring Nature of Myth,” with Bradley Olson, Ph.D.” #74860
I think disillusionment necessarily implies a letting go, giving up belief or the struggle to believe. Disillusionment, from my perspective, is more of a detachment, while a blurring or fuzzing keeps one engaged, keeps one wrestling with the idea or the image. Through a prolonged, or an intense, engagement, the epiphany is evoked. It’s a bit like Jung’s Transcendent Function: the tension between opposites must remain, or be held, for a considerable time (and when you’re the one holding the tension, even short periods of time seem unending.
This was a great conversation and I’m grateful for the interest and participation!May 6, 2022 at 12:49 am in reply to: The Boundary-Blurring Nature of Myth,” with Bradley Olson, Ph.D.” #74862
Yes, Sunbug, I think you’re right; insisting on the disconnect creates the disconnect.
As for parks, I think that the number and placement, or location, is one way that citizens can gage how the city cares for them.
The Central Park is, I think, the best example, and it gets more beautiful every year. I love it. It’s not accidental that it’s surrounded by art museums, including the Natural History Museum. I don’t think I go too far when I say Manhattan is simply not a sustainable proposition without Central Park.
Thanks for commenting, Sunbug!May 4, 2022 at 12:10 am in reply to: The Boundary-Blurring Nature of Myth,” with Bradley Olson, Ph.D.” #74866
The business of inner work is always unique to the individual. Therefore, I find the entire self-help section a waste of time. And to those people who pick up a book (based on Jung, or Campbell, or not) that purports to give them THE answer, they will often be more than disappointed and feel a deeper sense of failure, a deeper sense of marginalization, because they’ve been given the answers and still can’t manage to be happy.
As far as reading and bibliotherapy is concerned, one can’t go wrong with poetry. Mary Oliver, Wallace Stevens, Anne Sexton, Stanley Kunitz, and of course, Rilke.
There are no better psychologists than Shakespeare, Tolstoy, or Virginia Wolfe, and Thomas Mann. Reading them is to open to all sorts of insights about the world and human nature.
Thanks for your participation as well!May 3, 2022 at 5:16 am in reply to: The Boundary-Blurring Nature of Myth,” with Bradley Olson, Ph.D.” #74869
You’re welcome, James, and thank you.May 3, 2022 at 4:52 am in reply to: The Boundary-Blurring Nature of Myth,” with Bradley Olson, Ph.D.” #74870
Sunbug, it’s nice to hear from you. First, let me express my appreciation of your nice comments on the essay. Second, there’s a lot in what you’ve written to unpack. Let’s see if I can do it justice.
You’re right to say that myth is timeless and ageless; in fact, one of the fundamental aspects of myth is its ability to blur boundaries of time and space. I also agree that nature–which is, I think another word for the élan vital, the life principle, or as Campbell sometimes referred to it, “the dynamism of being”–is life itself. Somewhere along the line, we got tired of being “playthings of clouds and wind,” as Goethe put it in one of his poems, and decided to take matters (matter) into our own hands and separate ourselves from the natural world, an ultimately doomed project, I think. As you point out nature encroaches on our “civilized” boundaries all the time. But here’s the thing: I think nature is both the wilderness, the rivers, the seas, etc. and at the same time it is the city, the farm, the clearing made for the cottage. Human beings are products of nature, and it follows that the productions of human beings are also natural. The mistake we humans make is in the forgetting of that actuality.
So once again we find ourselves, as you note in your next comment, in the position of irony and its double vision, and paradox. Whenever we encounter paradox we can be sure the archetypal is at work. It is my position that myth is often paradoxical, and always ironic, and the way to deal with it is not so much a dismantling or a relegation to the dustbin of human imagination, but instead to see it through the eyes of wonder, to see it through the lens of play, to be amused at the irony and awed by the paradox.
Thanks for playing along!May 3, 2022 at 4:27 am in reply to: The Boundary-Blurring Nature of Myth,” with Bradley Olson, Ph.D.” #74872
I can’t really speak coherently to the issue of quantum physics, so I’ll leave that to you and others more schooled in that discipline. But it does possess an interesting quality in that phenomena that at first appear blurry, become more clear the more we develop the ability to observe it. That’s a powerful lesson for me. It teaches me not to form an opinion too quickly, not to be too sure that what I observe is the reality I’m being presented with. It’s a useful metaphor. And as you are about to see, I will quickly disregard it :0 (not really, but I am aware that the ice I’m on is getting thinner.)
Here’s where the QAnon and some similar, so-called New Age thought goes off the rails for me. First, I find it riddled with sophism and, to a large degree, solipsism. These approaches to living are not really interested in anything remotely like consensual truth (admittedly, when we start to talk about truth, we’re already on a slippery slope), informed conversation–let alone debate, or constructive reconciliatory strategies to better, not just their own lives, or their own country, but other lives around the planet, too. For these and other reasons, I just can’t take them seriously.
Movements like this are especially appealing to those who long to be other than who or what they are; they want to be rid of an unwanted life, an irksome existence, a too weighty humanity; they have failed in terms of finding the ability to create the kind of life they think they should have been able to live, and they find no hope of life being different for them in the future. These sorts of movements appeal to those who feel cheated by life, that they have been prevented from succeeding by hypothesized outside forces or some massive conspiracy instigated by minorities, a secret, wealthy cabal, or a “rigged system.” The indispensable book to read on this is Eric Hoffer’s True Believers. “The fanatic,” writes Hoffer, “…is usually an unattractive human type. He is ruthless, self-righteous, credulous, disputatious, petty and rude.” He is willing to “sacrifice much that is pleasant and precious in the autonomy of the individual […] The true believer is eternally incomplete, eternally insecure.” Movements like these are the only way for some to quiet the inner voices of doubt and uncertainty, and by joining a mass movement they hope to lose their frustration and seem to give themselves a new self, a new identity, and a different, less problematic life.
You put it best when you wrote, “Further separation is not the answer to the problem. We need to borrow a page from nature, get out of our conceptual and psychological separation wagon, which some may argue is but an illusion (but with teeth) and begin to bridge boundaries.”
Thank you very much for your contributions to this thread. You bring important perspective and issues to the table!May 3, 2022 at 4:07 am in reply to: The Boundary-Blurring Nature of Myth,” with Bradley Olson, Ph.D.” #74873
You wrote, “Each of us has a story, and Joseph’s idea of a ‘personal myth’…” and it’s in this “each of us has a story” business that boundaries really start to blur and adds to the stew of confusion regarding the self. The story isn’t clear at all, and often there are many (and many conflicting stories) that we hold at once that seem to tell us who we are. And personal myth is something that I’ve written a lot about over the years. It’s something I think Campbell gets right, but it’s not generally understood this way in the myth community. Personal myth is, in the final analysis, the working on us of the archetypal. The archetypal begins deep within, in the unconscious aspects of the psyche, and moves (and moves us) out into the world through symbol, metaphor, and (often bitter) experience. Often people talk about archetypes, but they don’t speak to the archetypal, and instead speak in stereotypes, which come from the generalized outside into the particular inside of people. The stereotypical is much too bounded an experience. The archetypal begins with a barely defined form, a mere skeleton that is filled in by experience, self-reflective thinking and personally resonant images. The archetypal images and the personal mythology that results from them are generally not found by the individual experiencing them to be very “sexy,” nor do they generally tell our story the way we would like other people to see us. For instance, the densely muscled bodybuilder ego, for instance, might like to identify with Herakles or Adonis or Achilles, but in reality the muscle serves as armor to protect a weaker, lamer, inefficacious, yet sensitive and creative Hephaestus-like nature.
This may have been a bit of the mark as it addresses your response, and I’m so sorry to hear of your family’s experience with depression and suicide. Things are, as you say, getting better, but there is still so much stigma and self-loathing attached to these kinds of illness that we don’t encourage and help the suffer to learn how to see in the dark (as you have done, by the way) and let go of the idea that we need to be whole and unbroken. We become more whole when we are able to accept our brokenness; and we can then begin to build the ladders and supports that help us when we find ourselves in these places from time to time.
Warm regards to you, James.May 2, 2022 at 4:15 pm in reply to: The Boundary-Blurring Nature of Myth,” with Bradley Olson, Ph.D.” #74878
I think you’re right about this, Juan. A boundary can be thought of as a mark, a symbolic declaration that this space, here is this, and that space there is that. It is, essentially, symbolic. Just as the boundaries of nation states disappear as one pulls farther and farther away from the earth. I like your nuanced differentiation of boundaries and separation. Separation creates a rift, a cleft, and functions, it seems to me as a deficit. So yes, I think you’re right that we would have a very different narrative (not just creation, gender, race, etc., but of just about everything) if we thought about ourselves and the world in terms of boundaries (which are often permeable) as opposed to separation or rupture. The latter even sounds painful, doesn’t it?April 29, 2022 at 5:32 pm in reply to: The Boundary-Blurring Nature of Myth,” with Bradley Olson, Ph.D.” #74880
You give, yet again, another great introduction that well frames the substance of my MythBlast on the boundary blurring nature of myth.
You’re right to say that the boundary blurring nature of myth is what gives it its power. I think that endowment is what makes myth, myth. Which is why, I should add, literalizing myth is its death. Myth can’t be myth without being fuzzy, confusing, and ineffable. Because myth is blurry, it quite naturally insists that we turn it over and over and around and even, if we can manage it, inside out; to examine it from as many perspectives as possible in order to generate some understanding of this remarkably abstruse artifact referred to as myth.
I like that you pulled Ed Ricketts’ thoughts into this conversation: “all things are one thing and that one thing is all things…” This is the essence of thinking mythically, and it requires us to develop that double vision I’ve mentioned in past CoHO conversations. When vision and perspective shift, as they must do to compensate for the blurriness, we learn more about “the one thing” to which myth is trying to introduce us. Of course, we never learn enough, never experience enough to say, eureka! We may have those transcendent moments in which we feel we know the mystery, but as soon as we begin to think or talk about it, it’s gone, and we plunge back into ignorance.
You bring up another interesting issue by mentioning that a “sizable segment of American society, a spectrum that ranges from New Age spiritualists on one end to QAnon conspiracy theorists on other, who also embrace a chaotic, blurry vision of the world.” I think that to observers like ourselves, their beliefs, attitudes, and practices seem blurry by virtue of their irrationality, unreasonableness, and ease with which they deny and subvert consensual reality and social contracts. But in fact, from inside those spheres there is nothing fuzzy or blurry at all. Both ends of the spectrum, from New Age gurus to those who insist JFK Jr. is going to return, messiah-like, and assume his rightful place at the right hand of Donald Trump, know for certain that their beliefs are not beliefs at all, but are undeniable facts, and that they have apprehended a deep truth that others are simply not smart enough or too indoctrinated to consider, let alone see. From their perspectives, they see everything with an eagle-eyed clarity and focus. It is a way to avoid the irksome nuanced nature and uncontrollable messiness of life, and it’s not a very long voyage from there to insisting that some sort of authoritarian response is the answer. Just one of the reasons why Campbell insisted that myth was not a toy for children.March 4, 2022 at 7:22 pm in reply to: The King Who Saved Himself From Being Saved” with Bradley Olson, Ph.D.” #74494
Yes, projection is an inescapable phenomenon, and of course you’re right in your assessment of its influence. We humans look out at the world, believing ourselves to be capable of objectively understanding and describing the material world. The reality is, because of the mechanisms of projection, we only see ourselves reflected back to ourselves by the world. Only experience, coupled with the awareness that we might not be correct about what we see, helps us to refine our seeing, and with each successive seeing, more clearly define and expand our understanding of the external world. We always come to the world with a perspective–a pre-existing lens which shapes and colors the way we view the world, just as Ciardi’s Hero comes into this little, peaceful kingdom, with an a priori judgment/perspective that every kingdom with a king is run by a tyrant. “All over his head was his helmet, And in his head was a fight.” We always discover what we expect.
Now myth, and all great literature really, is the antidote to projection. I know that may sound odd or counter intuitive, but hear me out. The literature of myth asks us to understand itself as metaphor. We tend to literalize myth–concretize it, as you said–so it doesn’t always (ever?) work this way in practice, yet the metaphoric point of view is what myth relies upon, it opens myth up. The metaphoric point of view is skeptical, and skepticism urges a deeper, closer, reading. A metaphoric perspective is threatening to established narratives or interpretations precisely because it is in this way so destabilizing. Metaphor reminds us that the ice we walk on, as Louis Menand says, is never not thin. Metaphor may be seen as the via negativa because the nature of metaphor is to deconstruct anything substantive, assuming that what is meant is more than, or other than, what the words literally say. Thinking mythically (thinking metaphorically) has a built-in feature that serves to remind us to question our own expectations, biases, and assumptions–what reportage on the Ukrainian conflict fails to consider.
Another thing the projections obscure is the very nature of Mr. Putin himself. He has always told us who he is, and apparently few listened. Addressing parliament back in 2003, he stated,
A country like Russia can live and develop in its existing borders only if it is a great power. In all periods when the country was weak – politically or economically – Russia always and inevitably faced the threat of collapse.
Functionally, Putin operates like the head of an immense mafia family rather than a head of state, and he seems to greatly enjoy it, as any successful Don would. One can reasonably conclude then, that Mr. Putin felt Russia was somehow becoming weaker or perhaps irrelevant, and he had to move to consolidate political power (perhaps with the goal of reconstituting the old Soviet Union) and stave off political and economic collapse.
Of course, we can never escape projection, but if we are able to remind ourselves that we are always projecting we can become more adept at withdrawing those projections and see deeply into whatever we might be experiencing or observing. To put this in Platonic terms, there is no such place as “outside the cave.” Myth, philosophy, psychology, even life itself, boils down to working with shadows.
Thanks for such an enthusiastic engagement on my little essay. I’m very grateful for you and the time you spent engaging Stephen and myself, and for your support of the Joseph Campbell Foundation.March 3, 2022 at 3:59 pm in reply to: The King Who Saved Himself From Being Saved” with Bradley Olson, Ph.D.” #74499
Very well put, Stephen.
You’re right to focus on the Ukrainian people, everyday folks for the most part, who are rising up against overwhelming odds. It does illustrate the “accidental” nature of heroism, which I think is rising up and facing existential threats squarely. It is, as I mentioned earlier, an artifact of the will to survive. But there is a catch here, too. I think that one’s own physical survival is less important than the survival of one’s dignity, honesty, one’s sense of justice, one’s sense of the humane. How we live is more important than that we live. At least that’s how I see it. Dignity, compassion, humility, and all those qualities of a noble life may well be the only aspects of a human life which are eternal. The refusal to have those elements of life stripped away is as good a reason as one can have for which to die; these qualities and their safeguarding are what give birth to true heroism.March 1, 2022 at 3:32 pm in reply to: The King Who Saved Himself From Being Saved” with Bradley Olson, Ph.D.” #74501
James, thank you for your warm welcome back!
Thank you as well for your thoughtful comment. First, on the issue of the Hero’s manual, yes I think that many people are only able to think in terms of check listed steps or formulae, which result in living the kind of bureaucratic life that Campbell was appalled by. When one has a checklist, formula, or a blueprint already laid out, one lacks the adventure element of the journey. After all, the unexpected, the sudden twist in fortune, the intrusion of overwhelming forces, are what offer the opportunities for heroic responses. Developing algorithms to minimize surprise or randomness seems to corporatize heroism. Unfortunately, I think The Hero With a Thousand Faces has all too often been used as just such a manual, and people become obsessed with understanding what stage of the journey they’re in rather than experiencing the adventure organically.
I really enjoyed your references to Daryl Sharp and his work, someone with whom I’m not familiar and seems to, like Hillman, value the human experience more than theoretical orthodoxy. Not wishing to be conscious is, it seems to me, the default setting for being human. The job of the analyst is much like that of Virgil guiding Dante through the Inferno: “Wisdom is earned, not given.” In other words, don’t get lost in your own story, you want to contextualize and understand your trauma rather than erecting memorials to it, and don’t forget this is, in some important way, a game, and that you are already what you seek.
Thank you again, James, for your kind words and warm welcome. It is a pleasure and an honor to be able to offer something that resonates with a reader.February 26, 2022 at 12:30 am in reply to: The King Who Saved Himself From Being Saved” with Bradley Olson, Ph.D.” #74503
Thanks, Stephen, for your always thoughtful comments.
Let me take up the inner/outer distinction first; perhaps for the sake of clarity I’ll try to address your thoughts in the same order in which you’ve laid them out here.
Inner and outer are subjective distinctions we make, usually about the world as we, ourselves, experience it, and which are to a surprising degree, arbitrary. M. Merleau-Ponty, in Working Notes argues that “Meaning is invisible, but the invisible is not contradictory of the visible: the visible itself has an invisible inner framework, and the invisible is the secret counterpart of the visible.” And James Hillman makes this observation in his book, The Soul’s Code:
Your visible image shows your inner truth, so when you’re estimating others, what you see is what you get. It therefore becomes critically important to see generously, or you will get only what you see; to see sharply, so that you discern the mix of traits rather than a generalized lump; and to see deeply into dark shadows, or else you will be deceived.
So, one may begin to understand what I mean when I suggest that the distinction between inner and outer is subjective and arbitrary. The great deeds that are accomplished in the dimensions of time and space often pale in comparison to the achievements of becoming who, as Nietzsche put it, one is. And who one is, to elaborate on Hillman above, makes oneself known in the world, has real world consequences–for good or ill.
I think your remark, Stephen, about the hero not knowing he’s a hero is really important. Fundamentally, the hero is in service to something greater than itself. The Greek word that we’ve borrowed for therapy is therapaeia, which means “to wait upon” in the same way a nurse or a tender care-giver attends to suffering: with a watchful, compassionate presence; not doing too much or too little, and trying to avoid contributing to the suffering. Perhaps this is the animating sentiment of the hero, one is moved to act out of compassion. But once you have decided that you’re a hero, that only you have the answers and the power to implement them, the idea of service takes a back seat and it becomes about you and your heroism. An inflated identification results, and heroism becomes a profession rather than a calling, a service. As you know, Stephen, I was once a police officer, and if I happened to do anything remotely heroic, it was simply out of my own unconscious instinct for survival. I think heroism is generally accidental; “It seems that destiny has taken a hand,” as Bogey says in Casablanca.
I wasn’t entirely conscious of it before I wrote that last sentence, but perhaps Casablanca is the movie we should be watching right now. It’s impossible to ignore the events of the past several days, which show us a Mr. Putin who apparently believes that he is acting in an heroic manner, but like Ciardi’s hero, he is saving the Ukraine in two. Berthold Brecht wrote in his The Life of Galileo, “Unhappy is the land that needs heroes.” Because the land that needs a hero suffers on two fronts, first from the circumstances that evoke its cries for deliverance, and secondly, large portions of the land and its people themselves will suffer from the Hero’s acts of “saving them.” The hero business is always a rather messy one. For people like Mr. Putin, and Mr. Trump who is unabashedly cheering him on, looking inward is apparently an act of which they are not constitutionally capable. Their own inner space is the place at which their courage falters; the inner world of such men, true to some degree of all humankind, is the place that holds all the dangers, the dragons, and the paralyzing terror.
There is an old Islamic proverb, “If thou can’st walk on water, thou art no better than a straw. If thou can’st fly through the air, thou art no better than a fly. Conquer thy heart that thou mayest become somebody.” (Anasari) In Japan there is an old saying, “He stands on a whale, fishing for minnows.” These adages suggest that it is extraordinarily difficult to see ourselves or our situations with any sort of clarity or objectivity, or have the courage to do battle with our own demons. That inner space is really the place that requires our measure of heroic courage.
Lastly, putting on my psychoanalyst’s hat, it’s easy to forget how seductive power is. Henry Kissinger once remarked that power is the ultimate aphrodisiac, and if one is confident one has the power to act heroically in the world, it may be safe to say that one isn’t likely to act heroically, but is rather acting out in the world a destructive, unconscious auto-erotic fantasy.October 16, 2021 at 4:26 am in reply to: Myth: The Grammar of Creativity,” with Bradley Olson, Ph.D.” #74094
Stephen, what a delightful memory! I too remember that feeling of excitement, that sense that here were people whose eyes weren’t glazing over when I/we spoke of things we were, and still are, passionate about. Leigh’s Fool’s Gatherings were always so great, and I miss those. I look forward to a time soon when we can gather together again, laugh, debate, explore the depths and bonds of mythology and friendship. Thank you for your very kind words over the course of this thread, and I look forward to virtually seeing and chatting with you soon.