What’s Up History’s Inner Sleeve: Myth and the Fabric of Culture
Dennis Patrick Slattery, Ph.D.
I have suspected that history, real history, is more modest and that its essential dates may be, for a long time, secret. Jorge Luis Borges, “The Modesty of History,” 246.
As I continue to read and absorb his elegant insights into the essential place of a shared and coherent mythos in the life of the individual and of an entire people, and now, of an entire planet, I detect Joseph Campbell’s impulses moving in two directions: into the body and into the natural order in one direction, and towards the transcendent in the other, perhaps even to the transcendent Other that is in fact-tat tvam asi-thou art the other.
In addition, psychic and spiritual energy, though not divorced from matter but actually inhering within it, within Mother Earth, seems to be one of Campbell’s perennial and abiding concerns. This essay will explore these regions in light of C.G. Jung’s insights into the nature of psychic energy. I will sidestep rather than move to the topic that put him on the world map: that of the hero’s journey (1948/2004). For today we would be wise to place the earth’s journey at the forefront of any pilgrimage towards revitalizing the planet.
The “life of a mythology,” he asserts in Flight of the Wild Gander (1951/2002) “derives from the vitality of its symbols as metaphors” (xx). This quality of vitality of the symbolic and metaphoric realms of knowing is at the heart of Campbell’s teachings and one we would do well to retrieve, for it guides us to the proposition that in the active life of the imagination of a culture, language too is crucial, in the way we both disabuse and pollute, or nurture and elevate, the status of words themselves. What we do to words mirrors with exacting frequency what we do to the world. Language and landscape are intimate first cousins. Moreover, both are showing dismal signs of permanent exhaustion, a depletion of energy, vitality and soul life itself. Energy depletion is a core pattern at the heart of the world’s exhaustion.
In his incisive study on the importance of our ancestors, in The Dominion of the Dead (2003), Robert Pogue Harrison observes that “in the age of the new barbarism words lose their moral memory. For even our morality-indeed, our morality above all-depends on the historical resonance of its foundational words:liberty, duty, sacrifice, compassion, equality,” none of which brooks “the false eloquence of the times” (86).
I believe that carelessness in speech, in self-expression, and in writing is directly yoked to a disrespect and indifference to the matter and indeed, the world spirit that the philosopher Georg W.F. Hegel (1770-1831) believed was the nugget resting deep in the core of the earth. Joseph Campbell’s entire work contains a Hegelian impulse; more needs to be cultivated regarding the intimate connections in thought between these two titans. Here is Hegel early in his epic work, The Philosophy of History (1834/1991):
It must be observed at the outset, that the phenomenon we investigate-Universal History-belongs to the realm of Spirit. The term “World,” includes both physical and psychical Nature….But Spirit, and the course of its development, is our substantial object. (16)
Hegel’s insight comes seductively close to a key tenet of Campbell’s reflections on world mythologies as he continues: “the rational necessary course of the World-Spirit-that Spirit whose nature is always one and the same,…unfolds this its one nature in the phenomena of the World’s existence” ( The Philosophy of History 10). Campbell, deploying similar words to delineate an analogous idea, believes, following the Irish writer, James Joyce, from whom he appropriated the term “monomyth,” that all the varieties of world mythologies are inflections of one story. Phil Cousineau, in his Introduction to the revised The Hero’s Journey, writes that “the monomyth is in effect a metamyth, a philosophical reading of the unity of mankind’s spiritual history, the Story beyond the story” (xix ), that everlasting reiteration of unchanging principles and events inflected in particular and unique ways” through what Joyce called a universal monomyth that imbeds itself in the various localities of a specific culture in time. He furthers this revelation at the heart of The Hero With a Thousand Faces by asserting: “to grasp the full power of mythological figures, we see that they are symptoms of the unconscious, but also controlled and intended statements of spiritual principles which are as constant in history as the human nervous system” (257).
In this vein, let us link for a moment both Hegel and Campbell to one more crucial historical figure, Ranier Maria Rilke, who writes in his thoughtful responses to a young poet that “Spiritual creativity originates from the physical; they are of the same essence” (Rilke 38). Furthering the links these two impulses allow for some new creation to enter the world, he reflects that “spiritual creativity is a gentler, more blissful and enduring repetition of physical desire and satisfaction” ( 38), which implies that psyche, nature, and spirit are more aligned than alien to some fundamental hidden unity that perhaps the metaphors of poetry are best equipped with a greater alacrity than other forms of expression, to transmit to a receptive audience. Campbell underscores Rilke’s insight when he coins the phrase “mythic identification” ( 160) to capture the sense of a hidden transcendent unity of truth, substance and energy.
My interest here is then is one of energy, of energic fields of reference that myths guide us towards; they would seem to offer energy to aid our imagination in conjuring forth. Culture, from an energic point of view, is the embodied or incarnational witness to the energy fields that myths constellate. Memory herself is a witness to retrieving the past as an indispensable category of the energy provided by and promoted by myth.
Briefly, then, I want to understand the origin of mythic forms as they arise from psyche, soil, and history by exploring the energic foundations of psyche, history and myth. Consciousness itself is a production of this coagulation of energy fields, embedded, as it were, in archetypal patterns that resonate deeply into the soil of ontology itself.
Research Fellow of the Royal Society and Biologist Rupert Sheldrake is perhaps one of the most recognized names in morphic field research, a landscape that has everything to do with the psychic fields of experience that the sub-atomic physicist ,Wolfgang Pauli, and C.G. Jung antedated and broke new ground in the patterns of psyche, patterns that they concluded, revealed common identities between matter, psyche and spirit. More on them in a moment.
Clearly, Sheldrake’s exploration of biological development, what he calls “morphogenesis” (“Mind, Memory and Archetype” 4) is and remains controversial; imaginally, however, it is a rich fertile arena by which to think of where myths may have, in some measure, their origins. Briefly, this biological model posits “form shaping fields” which are both in and around growing organisms. He offers as one illustration the flatworm, each of which parts when severed from the original, grows into a full organism. Each section contains as it were, a memory of the whole. Each field of, say, a human body, contains “fields within fields” (5) so that within biological organisms, there are built-in memory “derived from previous forms of a similar kind” (5). A human liver field is shaped, he suggests, by the forms of previous livers through morphic resonance which connects that field to those harboring similarities. He calls these structures “morphic fields” and the “influence of like upon like” he labels morphic resonance. Now I sense something mythic lies in the folds of this theory of biological similarity.
Memory, therefore, seems to be a crucial part of organisms, something not shared in the mechanistic model previously dominant as the way to explain the universe’s workings. What Sheldrake understands about the creation of a new morphic field is that it is difficult to create it the first time, for there is no memory attached to it. So to create, for example, a new compound and crystallize it, there will emerge no morphic field the first time the compound is made. But, if done somewhere else in the world a second, third and fourth time, the field emerges with the repetition and the memory of the first crystallization. So too does this same phenomenon occur in the areas of behavior in their forms, patterns and repetition, for the pattern begins to be imbedded in “the collective memory” (6) of the species.
At this juncture I want to question: Does such a phenomenon help us to understand the nature of an arising new myth, the retention of old myths, and their collective connection to history? Well, not just yet.
I want to bridge this conversation on morphic fields, myth and memory to C.G. Jung’s exciting insights into the nature of “psychic energy,” the title of a key chapter in Volume 8, The Structure and Dynamics of thePsyche. Previously, Jung had written that myths and fairy tales give expression to unconscious processes; retelling these stories caused those processes to come alive again and be re-collected, thus reestablishing the connection between consciousness and the unconscious ( Jung and Christianity 58). Right here, I believe, is a juncture between bios, mythos and mimesis. Mimesis itself is a mytho-poetic form of a morphic field with its own energy outlay, its own power on the psyche to realign the way it perceives the world and one’s mythic place within it. So, for example, in the morphic fields of poetry laid out so brilliantly in Louise Cowan’s genre wheel, which many of us have been turning to for decades in our classrooms, lectures and conferences, the energic charge of Tragedy differs quantitatively( and perhaps in quality?) from that of Epic; the force field designed by Comedy is distinct yet related, connected to the morphic resonance typical of Lyric.
What makes each energic field, a poetic kinesthesis say, is the way each penetrates and influences the energy flow of psyche herself. The archetypal pattern activated is in fact an energic response to the poetics of psyche contained, harbored, stewarded by such energy flow, which gains its strength through patterns of likeness. Pattern as energy field; pattern as indicator of morphic resonance. In Southern California lexicon, one says: “I can resonate with what you just said.” Perhaps too much sunlight is our weakness. A generic and poetic theory of energy flow begins to assume the outlines of possibility here.
Furthermore, if the archetype has its strongest analogue in the instincts and is in fact the imagination of the instincts, then body, psyche, mythos and poiesis are indeed of a piece in a similar or shared morphic field of resonance and meaning. Jung confirms such a possibility in footnote 9 in his lead essay in volume 9,1, “Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious.” It runs like this: One must, for the sake of accuracy, distinguish between ‘archetype’ and ‘archetypal ideas. The archetype as such is a hypothetical and irrepresentable model, something like the ‘pattern of behaviour’ in biology” (5). Later, deep into this seminal chapter of his entire work, Jung comments: “The nixie is an even more instinctive version of a magical feminine being whom I call the anima” (25). Joseph Campbell frames it a bit differently in a chapter heading: “Bios and Mythos” (27). What I am leaning on here is the unity of force or energic field, biology, mythology and psyche.
I am of course predicating the above on the notion that stories might best be apprehended as archetypal energy flows between itself and the reader, whose own latent mythic energy field is activated, evoked, provoked in the reading, reading understood, borrowing from Louise Rosenblatt’s studies on reading, (The Reader, the Poem, The Text), as a transactional exchange of energy between reader and text-wherein the mythos that is the energy core of the nuclear reactor of the poem has many correspondences with the energy flow of the reader’s mythic substrata. A particular narrative has universal appeal as much because it has created or amplified, and certainly enriched a morphic field, an aesthetic morphic resonance in the soul that has universal import; this same energy pattern may indeed be part of the cosmic as well as the communal order of being. Implied here is an idea from Joseph Campbell’s work, namely, that myths are mesocosms that link the microcosm of the individual to the macrocosm of the larger created order.
Asking what a story “is like,” opens up the “as if” sluice of psyche and that quality of “likeness” is energic in origin, mythic in scope and imaginal in content. Rereading, reteaching, rehearsing the same story—white whale, mutilated back, epic shield, scarred thigh-are corridors of energy that open up the reader to the scoriations of likeness. How important is it? Laurens van der Post has written of the Australian bushmen who knew that without a story, one has no nation, culture, civilization, no identity. And we can add, no memory (Jung on Christianity 66). What is most sacred to the preservation of their spirit is the sustained energy field of their morphic story.
Their stories animate their collective psyches with an energy not unlike the kind that drives the engines of a morphic field. With repetition it grows in psychic stature. No stories, no myth; no myth, no values; no direction; no direction, no meaning; no meaning, plenty of violence as a desperate attempt to pathologically reinstill meaning into the empty reservoir of daily experience, where the energy has gone flat, south, sour. Myths, then, might be inflected as energy motion systems that need continual repetition and renewal in much the same way Dante’s terza rima structure is an energy system that folds back in memory in order to renew what has been towards the future. I cannot develop this terza rimic diversion here except to say that the structure of the poem’s third rhyme sequence is in fact an energy system for making the pilgrimage hold more, not less, promise of achievement.
I think as well that the terza rima structure is, while not the exclusive energy pattern of psyche, one that is often dominant. It is, in its spiraling back on itself, the motion of psyche herself as she seeks in mythic-memory the future path. Terza rima is a complete energic feedback loop for understanding now through a return to the future.
It is no less profound an energy structure than is, for example, a patterned rock carving on the side of a granite wall at Chaco Canyon, in which the Pueblo archeologists claim that the drawing’s presence is more important than the building which it decorates. It is a drawing that captures the dagger of the sun at a particular time of year during the winter solstice at noon, wherein the sun’s ray pierces through the center of this spiral; I believe it is in pictorial form a mythogenetic zone that coagulates energy across an image and thus imbeds the cosmos in the aesthetic spiral pattern. It is like a poem carved into the rock that captures the mythic association of sky and earth in the building, an artifice that blends the two worlds, much as a myth has the capacity to engender. It is a cosmic performance of motion, and motion is at the center of psychic energy flow.
The function of the poet, Campbell asserts, is “to see the life value of the facts round about, and to deify them, as it were, to provide images that relate the everyday to the eternal” (Pathways to Bliss, xvi). The symptoms of literalism’s malady include an arresting or blockage of psychic energy’s flow, which Jung observes in Mysterium Coniunctionis in a section entitled “An Alchemical Allegory,” “is the source of your fantasy, the fountain of your soul….You would like to make gold because poverty is the greatest plague, wealth the highest good” ( 191). Jung believed, in this last book completed in his eightieth year, that the image of “the ever-flowing fountain expresses a continual flow of interest toward the unconscious, a kind of constant attention or ‘religio,’ which might also be called devotion” (CW 14 193).
Perhaps in entertaining the hero’s journey, we have read it too literally. I say this because there is implicit in the metaphor of this journey the possibility that the hero is an encompassing metaphor for the life energy itself that flows, becomes sidetracked, end-stopped, decreased, increased, diluted, or polluted. The hero may be imagined as energy itself, as a metaphor for morphic energy renewal, the life force that permeates all matter, but which finally shares a universal origin, a common source, even a mythic heritage.
At the heart of the hero’s journey is this proposal: “The effect of the successful adventure of the hero is the unlocking and release again of the flow of life into the body of the world” (The Hero With a Thousand Faces, 40). Campbell reveals in his writing how both the world’s material, its physicality, and its metaphorical or symbolic resonances, matter: “myth is a constant regeneration, an identification with the life process” (The Hero’s Journey, 8). What for Campbell is the life process comprises for Hegel the World Spirit that animates and informs the World soul and for Jung outlines the animated presence of psychic energy. Thus, the vitality and energy of the metaphors and symbols we create to describe the ineffable bear directly on what intensity of value the divine lives within and among us.
Here please allow me a brief excursus into Apache country and into Apache story telling. Keith Basso writes brilliantly of the way the Apache people create their history: by place-making. He underscores how their sense of history may be more spatial than temporal. Yet “place making is a way of constructing the past” (7). The power inherent in stories for the Apaches is not divorced from the above discussion thus described. Place-making, that is, establishing one’s self in place, in a terrain or landscape, is a “historical phenomenon. In story telling, an Apache recreates his history with another in order to create a new place” (8, my emphasis). Stories have such a complex webbing in themselves for they at once “establish place, space and time” (9). Stories have the capacity to settle one somewhere and in so doing creates one’s identity. Stories, Basso writes, “are a way to name a place and to establish a community of place” (10), not unlike, I would suggest, what we attempt to do in a classroom with the poem, the text itself, which I liken to a community fire, around which the tribal members of the class circle and gaze into, as together we establish place, space and community. The soul, both individual and collective, both creates and finds a home in the energic presence of the text as communal space.
For Basso’s Apaches, the past, where the first people originated out of, disappears; but now, in the present, it must be constructed anew, even imagined with the aid of historical material; one refinds the original footprints of the ancestors through telling once again of their first movements. By tracking back to WHERE the first events occurred, one establishes WHEN. Answering the question: What happened here? Is subjective, personal, varied, liquid, elastic, changing. History, for the Apaches, should “excite, evoke, arouse wonder so to captivate, engage and so further the identity of each member of the tribe (33). Such is history’s intimate tie with myth, place, origin and sense of identity in one organic whole cloth: story’s powerful energy flow among a people.
Campbell insists that “the life of a mythology springs from and depends on the metaphoric vigor of its symbols…which can convey some realization of the infinite” (Thou Art That 6). A new mythos must therefore be both diligent and dedicated to preserving speech as well as preserving species. The death throes of the soul reveal themselves in, among other venues, the anemia it experiences when the vitality-read psychic energy of its metaphors that comprise the bedrock of its mythos–loses all presence. The result: beliefs and values that once sustained the individual or a larger collective decompose like quickly rotting cadavers strewn around us everywhere: in clichés, slogans, worn out phrases, vulgarity and profanity, empty words, strict denotation, newspeak, sound bytes, knee-jerk responses and a general lack of vitality or originality in self-expression.
Jung and Psychic Energy
I sense that myth is that structure or field of consciousness, a resonance of awareness that is seeded and grows from two tectonic plates that begin to aggravate one another: 1. an imagination rooted in history; 2. a history that carries a large segment of its life force in imagining certain motifs and images that matter, that appear as and in matter. Here Jung’s insights into the field of psychic energy are indispensable. Published in 1928 as “On Psychical Energy,” it appeared in Contributions to Analytical Psychology (1928). Not Jung but Von Grot was the first to propose the concept of psychic energy (see quote). The essay is enormous in its content and in its implications for exploring the connective tissue between psyche, myth and poiesis. I will introduce only a couple of his ideas as they relate most specifically to the charge of this talk and its relation to “Myth, Memory, and Culture.” Jung’s thesis here, one among many, in effect suggests that the psychic and the physical realms are not independent parallel processes but connected through reciprocal action-yet we do not, he writes, “know what this relation is ( 33).
Part of Jung’s not knowing, I wish to suggest, is answered by the energy field that makes possible a viable transportation system between psyche and soma, between mythos and poiesis: metaphor. Metaphors I understand as energy constellations that bridge the morphic fields of psyche and soma. Myths, too, as complex and extended metaphors in story also span worlds here; their linguistic and poetic power is sufficient to make and shape a new reality grounded in this initial relation. Metaphors are, in addition, energy fields that flow between consciousness and unconsciousness-so we must introduce the idea not only of the soma of a poem, but its underlying, unconscious realm, in addition to history’s unconscious strata: both contain unconscious fields. With many readings, or fewer astute readings, one taps this unconscious reservoir of energy-psychic energy imbedded in the fabric of words that comprise the plot. I imagine metaphors then as energy transfer systems, a psycho-poetic transfer via equivalence of one part of reality with and for another.
Years later, in 1957, Jung returns, as he did often, to the idea of energy, this time in relation to the fantasies we use to engage and interpret the world, for like the buildings around us, he argues, “fantasy has a proper reality….It is of course not a tangible object, but it is a fact nevertheless. Which leads him back to thoughts of energy: “It is like a form of energy, despite the fact that we can’t measure it. It is a manifestation of something….So, psychic events are facts, are realities, and when you observe the stream of images within, you observe an aspect of the world, of the world within.” He goes on to reveal how the “psyche, if you understand it as a phenomenon occurring in living bodies, is a quality of matter, just as our body consists of matter. We discover that this matter has another aspect, namely, a psychic aspect. It is simply the world seen from within. It is just as though you were seeing into another aspect of matter” (302-03).
He then returns to” the writings of Democritus, who introduced the term spiritus insertus atomis, the spirit inserted in atoms” (303).
Is not Nietzsche pointing us in this same direction in his Preface to Thoughts out of Season when he begins with a quote from Goethe: “I hate everything that merely instructs me without increasing or directly quickening my activity” (qtd. in Nietzsche 217). This quickening I am equating with the psychic energy transfer that is carried in the DNA of knowledge itself. Nietzsche then writes inside the grooves of Goethe’s insight: “We need it [history] for life and action, not as a convenient way to avoid life and action, or to excuse a selfish life and a cowardly or base action. We would serve history only so far as it serves life” (217). Philosophically considered, both writers lead us once again to the energic quality inherent in mythos, history and, finally I sense, the construction of culture itself.
Metaphor is a method of transferring libidinal energy from text to imagination of the reader. The act of interpretation may be understood as an energy transfer phenomenon. Metaphor operates by carrying from one part of it to the other some of energy of the first, so that one’s energy field is divided, then integrated through the metaphor-a new thing. Metaphor as energy field created by both extension and intensity of energy-psychic energy.
Jung goes on to suggest that there is an equivalent psychological extensity factor: one cannot pass into new structure without carrying over parts or characteristics of previous structures with which it was connected. So, here is body and soul of metaphor: body in physical energy and soul in psychological extensity. Complimentary energy fields are created in body-soul response. Together they comprise and bear witness to the power of imagination to hold both body and soul at once, and to transfer energic fields between them. Poetry, to my mind, but also let’s entertain history itself and mythos that fabricates its inner sleeve, as myth is the inner sleeve of the poetic field, is an aesthetic model of this psychological extensity. Poetry as metaphor carries (vehicle) energy from one state of creation, the work, to another, the reader.
I suggest that a text, like history itself, has a libido, possesses libidinal energy that finds its equivalence in psychic activity, as Jung writes of the last observation. What governing pattern is operative that selects, organizes, order, ignores the material presented is predicated on the mythos the individual, the tribe, the citizens, the nation is living out energically.
For Jung, entropy and equivalence are valences of the above behavior. Entropy stops the flow of psychic energy; equivalence balances the two. To effect change, a radically more powerful energy force, perhaps in the form of a new mythos, is essential to break into the static energy field, to unblock it, to bring its flow into another river bed such that the course of the river’s flow is altered into a new direction. Something of the same phenomenon may occur when the mythos of the individual, and the psychic energy contained in it, meets with a radically new form of energy flow in an arresting painting, score of music, poem, text, architecture. We say we are “changed” or “transformed” by such a moment of aesthetic arrest, a term Campbell borrows from James Joyce. But what does that mean from a morphic field perspective? I believe that a new metaphor, with its accompanying energy field, enters the myth of the person, the population, the historical period, to alter its own energic status. Jung believes that what was not noticed is now noticed; notitia, as James Hillman develops that rich medieval concept, is activated, when the energy flow is sufficiently intense to bring the thing to the attention of consciousness. In other words, following Jung, we notice what the energy flow of things allows us to see.
We may respond to this shift in energic intensity in the act of reading in one or more of several ways: by suddenly pausing, underlining the passage, writing in the margins, taking notes on what has just been evoked in us, as a memory, a possibility, something in us finding a similarity where before there was none, or at least none seen or heard, smelled or tasted. We create a new metaphor in this moment of arrest, in an instant of notitia.
Education itself, then, may be adaptation wherein the shift in libidinal energy begins to clot into a new mythos; I sense that one origin of myth’s formation resides in the way libidinal energy is channeled. Jung has a term for such a flow: Libidinal progression, which he claims is the “successful achievement of adaptation” when psyche, always working pairs of opposites, finds a resting place of equivalence. Within my own prejudice I believe that poetry increases libidinal flow and so the poem can behave much as the hero in Joseph Campbell’s mythic canon operates: to appear at times of stopped or clogged libidinal flow, to unblock it, to inaugurate the flow of vitality back into the body of the individual or the body politic. In this intervention both systolic and diastolic actions of the heart quicken. Goethe called diastole libido’s extraversion, which in fact spreads through the entire universe, while systole is the energy that contracts back into the individual, a motion that then desires diastole=the longing to embrace the all.
We are enlivened when the plot of a story flows, when an essay we are preparing finally finds its canalized flow, when our life has a rhythm and a flow, where our own story’s energy is felt as a continuum, not full of blockages, obstacles and swirling back eddies, or at least none that are insurmountable. I like Jung’s idea here: the transformation of instinctual energy is achieved by its canalization into an analogue of the object of instinct, so that just as a power station imitates a waterfall so to gain possession of its energy, so too the psychic mechanism imitates the instinct and can thus apply its energy for special purposes (23).
As Jung and the atomic physicist, Wolfgang Pauli began their client-therapist relation, meeting every Thursday for years, and that turned into a collaboration between physics and psyche, Pauli realized that when Jung described the structure of psyche, Pauli saw in it a description of the atom’s interior. Jung too was startled by such a similarity and believed that “the radioactive nucleus was an excellent symbol for the source of energy of the collective unconscious” (Atom and Archetype 14). Consciousness itself was soon understood by both men as a condition “constantly produced by an energy that comes out of the depths of the collective unconscious” (16). I want to add to this conversation by asserting once again that poetic genres are psychic energy levels of varied capacities. Let’s call this new arena of study “Genre energetics,” or “The Field of Energic Genres.” Its premise is: Each poetic genre carries a different capacity, a particular strength of psyche’s manner and motion. Poetics then, becomes a mesocosm between psyche and physis. In such a psycho-poetic construction, mass and energy find between them a proportional and equivalent relationship that reorders and reorganizes the imagination of the reader or viewer.
Left to its own devices, moreover, the psyche dreams and in so doing, creates its own generic stories. Yet the energy source is the same. Pauli himself relates to Jung his insight that “analytical psychology has been carrying within it an unconscious physics” (109). My own sense is that the further value of analytical psychology is that it carries imbedded in its folds an unconscious poetics. While both men agree, each from his own disciplined fantasies, that “psyche and matter are governed by common, neutral ordering principles” (113), Jung adds a tertium quid: Spirit. He then refers to the three, or the trinity of psyche, matter, spirit as “an archetypal physics, wherein Spirit is a “specific category” of the substance of all phenomena of the inner world; it points to “all contents that cannot be derived either from the body or the external world” (125). If I can intrude poetry back into their discussion: poetry activates the realm of archetypes, experiences them such that physical and psychic are correspondences always in mimesis, in a mirroring in depth through an elaborate, if not baroque, set of analogies mimetically dramatized within the individual, and mythically in a culture.
Pauli’s insistence on pushing Jung’s thought regarding the intimacy between psyche and matter led Jung to the following understanding: “The psyche…as a medium participates in both Sprit and Matter. I am convinced that it (the psyche) is partly of a material nature. The archetypes, for example, are Ideas (in the Platonic sense) on the one hand, and yet are directly connected with physiological process on the other” (100-01). 1
What poetry rests on, what a life engages, what psyche has as its chief operating system, is the construction of analogies, which, as Ishmael writes early in the chapter entitled “Loomings,” holds the key to it all. Analogy formation is the phantom of psyche. Listen to Jung’s words in Aion, 414: “Since analogy formation is a law, which to a large extent governs the life of the psyche…” So that, for example, reading a text offers up or yields a certain set of analogies for the imagination to negotiate; re-reading, however, offers up yet further levels and layers of analogy; each time the psyche is filled with enthusiasmos, the emotion of Dionysus, the god, if you will, of energy build-up and release.
That part of the psychic energy field that Jung believes can be diverted from its course is what is transformed at these moments of profound insights; the other, and major quantity of psychic energy, is not usable, seems not to be open to change, remains the same as that energy which “sustains the regular course of life” (34). Symbols themselves are the largest and most potent turbines for this energy transfer; change is not possible without this conduction of energy flow. So, for instance one could speak of Dante’sCommedia as a poetic and memorial pilgrimage in which libidinal energy is transformed by means of grace into a deeper, more comprehensive way of seeing and being. The story itself, with its own energic tension created by conflict is the transfer system’s container. Story, then, is the mother of all resolutions, of a peaceful ending of strife so that a state of equivalence is reached, at least for a time. Equilibrium, however, is a transitory state or condition, open always to renewal and revision.
For Campbell, this metaphorical quality lying vibrantly at the heart of myths and myth-making, begins in the body, in its energic language; it is the interior of flesh, even as it connects us to the natural, physical world at the same time that it clears a space for accommodating the transcendent, to allow us “transparence” to the latter. In allowing the energy of the world soul to permeate one’s own body, one’s own psyche, one opens oneself to the mythic impulse which is to make us “transparent to transcendence,” (2003, p.40), which is another way of asserting that myths promote our “learning to live the divine life within you” (p.40).
Only metaphor has this exclusively powerful quality of allowing us to enter domains not readily accessible to the rational mind. The word “metaphor,” he explains, is from two Greek words: meta=to pass over, to go from one place to another; and phorein=to move or carry. Metaphors carry us from one place to another; they allow us to cross boundaries otherwise impossible; they also transport us past time, space; and they center us in the connotative dimensions of a world that is essentially and furiously denotative (2001, p. xvi).
Within this field of metaphor, which is a mode of transportation, an efficient and very economic delivery system of sorts, for the psyche, myths, according to Campbell, as he writes in The Flight of the Wild Gander, are the texts of rites of passage” (p. 34) having their origins in the energies of the organs of the body, both in conflict and in complement to one another. He furthers this idea in The Power of Myth(1988): “the archetypes of the unconscious are manifestations of the organs of the body and their powers. Archetypes are biologically grounded,… (p.51). A renewed or revisioned mythos might then include an ability to reimagine the relation of spirit, body and earth in a constant but benevolent dialogic tension between the body’s interiority and the world’s matter, mediated by the social customs that comprise a specific historical time and place.
Finally, and to reveal the underlying unity of human embodiment and the cosmos, he asserts in The Inner Reaches of Outer Space that “the energy by which the body is pervaded is the same as that which illuminates the world and maintains alive all beings, the two breaths being the same” (2002, p. 41). A new mythos would gain much energy if it planted Campbell’s observation in the forefront of its assertion as a central tenet of its development.
A key to this web of relationships, even a partnership between energy flows through shared matter, is offered more than once by Campbell when he quotes the 19th. century poet Novalis: “The seat of the soul is there, where the outer and the inner worlds meet” (2002, p.5). Perhaps analogies are birthed right here, in that “marsupial pouch” that for Campbell characterizes in an organic and animal way the place of society where the human body breathes itself into the social matrix, a second womb of sorts, that shapes it and is contoured by it.
Please allow a slight but relevant digression here: in one of his most accessible presentations, this time for the Canadian Broadcasting Company in 1977, and asked to be delivered in English, the structural anthropologist, Claude Levi-Strauss presented his first of four talks on “The Meeting of Myth and Science.” After cataloguing science’s rise at the cost of divorcing itself in large measure from the world of the senses, he optimistically asserts that contemporary science is bridging these two fractured roads today. In his exposition he uses neurophysiology as a touchstone to healing such a fissure. He offers that many of the nerve cells in the retina are “specialized: some cells are sensitive only to straight direction, in the vertical sense, others in the horizontal, others in the oblique, some of them to the relationship between the background and the central figures …” (7), you get the idea. He admits that speaking in English in these talks keeps him simpler and clearer than would French, where he somersaults with delight and sometimes confusion for his readers. Now he states that the problem of experience versus mind may have a solution in the “structure of the nervous system, not in the structure of the mind or in experience, but somewhere between mind and experience” (8) since our nervous system has a marvelous elastic capacity to mediate between mind and experience.
Is Levi-Strauss’ observation a further and more scientific riff on Novalis’ insight about the soul’s seat right where mind and experience are mediated by the nervous system? Is then the nervous system that midwifes experience with mind and allows us to be mindful of lived experience a locale where myths are birthed—nervous system as interstices between mind and experience, Janus-faced and facing both? Is the nervous system’s specialized capacity the origin of mythic consciousness, if not imagination itself in that the nervous system computes, imagines, perceives and shapes the raw and often chaotic data of consciousness interfacing with the world into meaningful experience? If so, if you will allow such, then Levi-Strauss’ grasp of myth as bodily-centered offers another level to Campbell’s grasp that bios is indeed mythos, that mythos emerges as chrysalis from experience constructed a particularly inflected way.
I offer the following wobbly neologism to capture something of such a partnership: mythophysiology-a mythos of flesh, the body, which my colleague Robert Romanyshyn has eloquently described as “a gestural body, [which is] a magnetic, gravitational, erotic field…” (2002, 93).
Campbell intuited something profound about the body’s relation to myth and meaning but chose not to pursue it in depth. Nonetheless, he did observe that “mythos and dream are motivated from a single psycho-physical source. The human imagination is moved by the conflicting urgencies of the organs-including the brain, of the human body” (2002, xiv). He called these “bioenergies, which is the essence of life itself; but when unbridled become terrific, horrifying, destructive” (xix). Human embodiment, like mythology generally, for Campbell, has its own organizing structures; learning to read the body as metaphorical of something beyond and within itself constitutes an angle of perception in the construction of a revitalized myth in order that an individual or an entire people, grasp in a sensate way an intuition of place and of belonging to something beyond themselves.
This is not a new myth but a reclaimed one, and we can here highlight the indispensable place of a historical imagination in retrieving the humanity of our species. Human history may then be understood as a biography of an entire species, as well as a record of the pilgrimage of humanitas, which Robert Pogue Harrison tells us, citing the work of Gimbatisto Vico, who reveals that the word “humanitas in Latin comes first and properly from humando, burying” (2003, p. xi)….The human is bound up with the humus and is why burial figures as the generative institution of human nature, taking the word nature in its full etymological sense (from nasci, ‘to be born”) ( x). A new or revitalized mythos, then, would seek to reclaim the wisdom of the dead, for the quality of being connected to ancestry has been muted considerably in today’s future-obsessed consciousness, whose mythos is surcharged with planned obsolescence, not reverent obeisance and respect for ancestry. A new mythos would exchange hubris for humus.
James Hillman, undoubtedly influenced by Vico, writes in Healing Fiction of the central importance of history’s qualitative hold on psyche. He argues convincingly against the preoccupation with the “historical ego,” whose organizing impulse is to remember and reflect unconsciously “the history which formed it and which its continuity would uphold…” (60). By contrast, each of us is influenced by “history’s hundred channels” which “show culture at work in the channels of the soul. The land of the dead is the country of ancestors, and the images who walk in on us are our ancestors….They are the historical progenitors, or archetypes, of our particular spirit informing it with ancestral culture” (60). So, perhaps less an emphasis on historical events and facts at this juncture, and more on the nature of a historical sensibility imaginally kindled that arouses one’s soul within a larger fabric of meaning and intentions may assist us in reclaiming the ancestral imagination to allow for a fuller vision of our place in historical time.
By the same token, a new or renewed mythos would also ideally push against the blind obsession with theindividual in order to allow one to see that a myth of a communal, global order is necessary and must take precedence over the rights and appetites of the seemingly autonomous self. Campbell writes in Flight of the Wild Gander that “myths and rites constellate a mesocosm, a mediating middle cosmos through which the microcosm of the individual is brought into relation with the macrocosm of the universe” (123 ). Given such a connection, life on earth “is to mirror in the human body the almost hidden, yet now discovered order of the pageant of the spheres” (130); such an observation rests on a fundamental premise in all of Campbell’s musings on world mythologies: “the highest concern of all myths, ceremonies, etc, is to get people to identify with something outside of themselves” (130).
In such a relationship, “nature is transformed into narrative,’ as Richard Kearney develops this idea in a powerful little book, On Stories. There the nature and structure of the narratives we tell, are in a sense homologous-and perhaps even holotropic?-of the structure of the world we inhabit. Nature and narrative grow like seedlings from the same plot of ground, are fertilized by the same principles that organize and order the cosmic as well as social and individual orders. In such a paradigm, a full and authentic mimesis, or imitation of a psychic action, that Aristotle discovered in the 5th. century BCE in Greece, would finally reach its fullest expression. Both Joseph Campbell and Stan Grof would find a strong partnership in the observation expressed by the latter writer in The Holotropic Mind (1990):
New scientific findings are beginning to support beliefs of cultures thousands of years old, showing that our individual psyches are, in the last analysis, a manifestation of cosmic consciousness and intelligence that flows through all of existence. We never completely lost contact with this cosmic consciousness because we are never fully separated from it. (202-03)
Let me turn in the last part of this excursus to the realm of poetry, to the process of poiesis that only the human being is fully equipped to create. For the Greeks, poiesis is a making or a shaping of something that has been apprehended; its praxis is to create by analogy a mimetic representation of some vision, some insight that has particularly powerful mythic resonances. As such, poetry is capable of producing an organic mythology, a mythology of organs and origins, for poets do not eschew the world so much as they enter it more fully than the rest of us may be capable of. They are the figures in the culture to whom we turn, for, as the poet Wallace Stevens observes, in writing of Allen Tate and John Crowe Ransom, two southern poets of the last century, “the poets’ sensibilities have large orbits” (1997, p. 711). And from that penetration through the boundaries that might inhibit or resist the rest of us in our tracks, the poet is a partner in the hero’s journey who, having suffered through the concrete world in a unique way, returns with a boon that is worth contemplating as we tend to the right measure of our own voyage.
Glenn Arbery’s magisterial study of poetry in Why Literature Matters addresses at its “No Conclusion” chapter what theory has left out of the discussion: “the experience of form as the poetic mode of knowledge, the essential pleasure in world becoming word, the intelligence of feeling, and revelation literature affords that reality is polysemous…ultimately disclosing an anagogical meaning” (215). His study, both analytic and lyric, tradition oriented and modern-seeking, looks to aesthesis, a showing forth of beauty in the pause of poetry, in its exterior infolding. Its aim is transport one out of self into a more vibrant communal cosmos.
Poets are the antithesis of those souls caught in hell. For Campbell, “Hell, properly, is the condition of people who are so bound to their ego lives and selfish values that they cannot open out to a transpersonal grace” (2001, p. 100). In other words, these souls are landlocked, even dry docked, such that they find it impossible to leave their safe harbors and sail towards the transcendent. When asked about the experience of the transcendent and how one might achieve its status, Campbell reflected on it in a “Discussion” transcribed at the back of Thou Art That, and drew this conclusion: “How does the ordinary person come to the transcendent? For a start, I would say, study poetry. Learn how to read a poem, You need not have the experience to get the message, or at least some indication of the message” (p. 92).
If, then, myth constitutes the inner sleeve of history, then a poetic sense occupies the inner sleeve of myth. A poetic sense resides at the core of depth and archetypal psychology. I believe it also occupies a crucial space in history. History reveals what events, left to themselves, conceal: their own poiesis. Far from events being understood as “relics” of the past, as Jacques Le Goff reveals in addressing the qualities of memory in the Middle Ages (71), history illustrates the vital and energetic presence of the dead guiding and shaping our trajectory towards the future, to what is just now stirring into life.
I have written an extensive review of Atom and Archetype that might interest the readers. “Atom and Archetype: The Pauli/Jung Letters. The San Francisco Jung Institute Library Journal, Vol. 22, No.1,2003. 5-11.
Arbery, Glenn C. Why Literature Matters: Permanence and the Politics of Reputation. Wilmington, Delaware: ISI Books, 2001.
Basso, Keith. Wisdom Sits in Places: Language and Landscape Among the Western Apache. Albuquerque: U New Mexico P, 1996.
Bush, D. (Ed.). Selected Poems and Letters by John Keats. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1959.
Campbell, J. Creative Mythology. The Masks of God, vol. 4. New York: The Viking Press, 1968.
Myths to Live By. New York: Penguin Publishing, 1972.
The Flight of the Wild Gander: Explorations in the Mythological
Dimension. Novato, California: New World Library, 1990.
The Hero’s Journey: Joseph Campbell on His Life and Work. Novato, California: New World Library, 2003.
The Hero With a Thousand Faces. Bollingen Series XVII. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1973.
The Inner Reaches of Outer Space: Metaphor as Myth and as Religion. Novato, California: New World Library, 2002.
The power of myth. (B. S. Flowers, Editor.) New York: Doubleday, 1988.
Thou Art That: Transforming Religious Metaphor. Novato, California. New World Library, 2001.
Pathways to Bliss: Mythology and Personal Transformation. Novato, California. New World Library, 2004.
Grof, Stanislov. The Holotropic Mind: The Three Levels of Human Consciousness How They Shape Our Lives. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1993.
Psychology of the Future: Lessons from Modern Consciousness Research. Albany: SUNY Press, 2001.
Harrison, Robert Pogue. The Dominion of the Dead. Chicago: U Chicago P, 2004.
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Jung. C.G. Mysterium Coniunctionis. Trans. R.F.C.Hull. Bollingen Series XX .Princeton: Princeton UP, 1989.
Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche. Trans. R.F. C. Hull. Bollingen Series VIII. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1960.
Kearney, Richard. On Stories. New York: Routledge, 2001.
Levi-Strauss, Claude. Myth and Meaning: Cracking the Code of Culture. Foreword by Wendy Doniger. New York: Schocken Books, 1995.
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Redford, Robert. Natural Resources Defense Council Pamphlet on the Environment. New York: NRDC Publications, 2004.
Rilke, Ranier Maria. Letters to a Young Poet. Trans. Joan M. Burnham. The Classic Wisdom Collection. Novato, California: New World Library, 1991.
Romanyshyn, Robert. Ways of the Heart: Essays toward an Imaginal Psychology. Pittsburgh: Trivium Books, 2002.
Rosenblatt, Louise. The Reader, the Text, the Poem: The Transactional Theory of the Literary Work.Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1978. Sheldrake, Rupert.
Stein, Murray (Ed). Jung on Christianity. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1989.
Stevens, Wallace. Stevens: Collected Poetry and Prose. New York: The Library of America, 1997.
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