Tag Archives: Mythology

Traditionalism & Twentieth Century Legends (A speculative piece for debate and discussion), by Tim Pendry

Politics over the last hundred years has been highly resistant to mythic or legendary considerations.

Legend may be used tactically for propaganda in a crisis or enter into the perceived history of a nation but, despite the influence of legend on nineteenth century romantic nationalism, most modern politicians most of the time like to avoid irrationalism.

Similarly the distinction between mythic and legendary narratives allows us to place to one side faith-based political ideology – notably that of the Shi’a but also the now much reduced, except in the backwoods of America, biblical fundamentalist narratives about race and providence.

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Non-Dogmatic Filmmaking – A Manifesto of Sorts on the Relation of Film to Greek Tragedy, by J.M. Magrini

Film should aspire to the condition, or effect, of ancient Greek drama, which displays a philosophical approach to art. Uniting moral seriousness with the Hellenic imagination for myth, tragedy probes and forges a unique conceptualization of humanity, nature, and philosophy. Ancient drama explores the network of seemingly inexplicable, contradictory forces that govern the order of human activity by stressing the communion between artist, art, and spectator. Tragedy works toward resolving the most difficult problems of existence through a philosophical method of aesthetic-existential inquiry, or analysis.

Tragedy elicits pathos on a grand scale, arousing fear and pity through audience involvement within the emotionally charged atmosphere of the mimetic spectacle. Tragedy seeks to resolve its conflicts by way of the illusory world created by artist and actor. The pleasure-cum-pain of tragic katharsis, that is, the purification of emotions occurring at the sublime, dread-inducing moment of the protagonist’s down fall, is possible only through audience identification and involvement within the events of the play. Thus, tragedy works only as the interplay of perspectives. As spectators, we witness our own Being within the existential plight of such characters as Oedipus, Antigone, and Electra. Through the optics of the tragic-aesthetic, we perceive and experience the world through a common attunement.

The tragic experience of sight, sound, and symbol uncovers “truth,” or more accurately, attunes humanity in such a way as to enhance its receptivity to a new form of fundamental intuitive knowledge, which is revealed within a collective psychical-physiological moment of supreme clarity. The truths of tragedy are never purely theoretical in nature, that is, formable truths with the undisputed veracity to serve as rigid “eternal” principles for a system of knowledge. Rather, these truths emerge from an intuitive capacity within humanity, facilitating the recognition and understanding of life’s “ultimate situations,” i.e., the acknowledgment that such phenomena as death, suffering, fear, and fragility cannot be surmounted, for these conditions alone guarantee the possibility of revealing the authentic meaning of human life and freedom.

Tragedy’s authentic influence is expressed within this communal, non-dogmatic, philosophical approach to art as a legitimate form of existential inquiry, which is to suggest that it is the experience of art that defines the essence of both the artist and spectator, situating them in a relation to truth’s uncovering. This important concern with “spectatorship” is expressed within the modern films of Pier Paolo Pasolini and Derek Jarman. As opposed to predicating their films on the axiomatic conception of truth, offering up rigid and absolute solutions to life’s most complex problems, they instill within the spectator a reverence for truth conceived as an ever-changing, communicable phenomenon, i.e., a living expression of the universality of humanity’s Being. Recognizing that only in connection with the Being of Others are we truly living and fulfilling life, both filmmakers demonstrate an acute awareness of the importance of interplay between art (film), artist, and spectator. They envisage communicability and discourse as essential elements to the understanding of art, truth, and the awareness of human essence.

Pasolini’s films are often categorized as works of “neo-realism.” We experience the visceral immediacy of his inventive storytelling as it unfolds within an experimental, narrative framework. Conversely, Jarman, whose more adventurous works embrace the spontaneity of the creative moment, is perhaps best described as a flamboyant “expressionist”. Although their filmic styles differ, the method by which they approach aesthetics and life remains strikingly similar. Working to modify the dominant Western attitude toward truth and reawakening the mythic sense of wonder at the vast complexities of existence, their films call us to enact our lives philosophically. Their works often focus on the many problems engendered by “theoretical optimism,” which is humanity’s overconfidence in the ability of ratio-scientific-logic to categorically explain the world, e.g., the blight of political absolutism and the tyrannical victimization of the marginalized, disenfranchised segments of the populous. Tracing the innumerable, distressing social conditions, which haunt our experience of freedom, to the negative influence of rationalism, both filmmakers portray the search for, and reclamation of, authentic Selfhood within a harsh and segmented world where human identity is lost amid gender-metaphors and asymmetrical struggles for power.

Most filmmakers are oblivious to the important role of the spectator within the process of art. In rare instances when a filmmaker does consider the audience, more often than not, that filmmaker wrongly interprets the artist’s role as one whose duty it is to think for the viewer. Before clicking off one frame, most directors know exactly what their film will say and where it will transport the viewer emotionally and psychologically. Hence, the spectator becomes a mere “thing,” an impersonal entity to be manipulated, denied participation in, and access to, the opening of truth within the genuine experience of film, which is the aesthetic dialogue growing out of the philosophic relationship of artist and spectator – the true spectacle of cinema. When reading our own history within the greater context of the historicity of humanity as a whole, we come to understand that truth is never found in the isolation of a solipsistic moment, within the interiority of a closed individuated, consciousness – Truth happens only as a result of our worldly communications!

Philosophical analysis is demanding. It is never simply a process of question-and-answer. First, it requires the identification and diagnosis of a problem. Next, it requires reflection on the most effective way in which to address the problem. Finally, it requires asking the appropriate questions. Authentic thinking is a careful and thorough methodological process of arduous reflection. When thinking philosophically, we simultaneously discern and clarify the problems while perfecting the line of inquiry we follow in search of answers.

With such understanding, we must be highly skeptical of the filmmaker who believes to have categorically answered the questions that first gave rise to the film. In such instances, we are right to ask with skeptical concern: Around what conception of truth is the film organized? Is the film asking the “right” questions, the important questions, those concerned with value, morality, human worth, aesthetics, and secular spirituality in an era descrying the fall of onto-theology? These are philosophical matters, the type of quandaries that elude easy answers and defy complete explanations, the very problems that push hard against the limits of our understanding and drive us to the periphery of the circle of knowledge, the point at which “hard” logic annihilates itself.

When an artist believes to have adequately solved such problems, advertising a privilege to the unquestionable notion of universal truth, she is, in a dogmatic manner, corrupting the art of film. For neither our questions nor answers to life’s most important problems arrive in neatly wrapped packages. Accordingly, any attempt at marketing and selling truth, as a ready-made, commodity of an absolute nature, is a seriously misguided and dangerous endeavor. Yet this is precisely what the commercial film industry is doing, and worse.

With this in mind, the cinema would greatly profit from the insight of Nietzsche and Heidegger, the celebrated non-dogmatic philosophers. Both thinkers vehemently opposed any form of systematized, absolutist thinking, and instead employed a hermeneutic methodology, stressing intense and ongoing inquiry. They adopted a mind-set in which every assertion was open to assessment and reassessment. Truth became a malleable concept within their works – a multi-perspectival interpretation of life. Viewing the world as a chaotic, irrational, “monster of energy,” forever in a state of change and flux, they found naive the belief that theoretical-rational inquiry alone could produce anything resembling a secure and definitive account of existence, as truth was conceived as a process rather than a destination – a temporal movement of humanity’s destiny towards the perfection of its spirit, or Being. As opposed to the formulaic knowledge of dogmas or articles of religious faith, truth for these thinkers sprang from the historical context of the lived experience.

To embrace such an unconventional and radical philosophical attitude toward the pursuit of truth opens one to the possibility that at any moment within the filmmaking process something new might be discovered, something more primordial might manifest. If an artistic model exists for the filmmaker, it must oppose any categorical declarations of eternal truth, which is to say, taking formulaic truths for exclusive truth. According to film scholar Ray Carney, filmmaking represents an attempt to learn something new, forcing us out of our “everyday” mental and emotional ruts. If this is so, filmmakers would do well to draw “artistic” inspiration from the works of directors Pasolini and Jarman while reflecting on the problems of existence in a more “philosophical” manner, i.e., with a critical mindset that embraces the enigmatic aspects of life, in the tradition of Nietzsche and Heidegger. To approach life in such a way, is to understand that authentic existential inquiry asks more questions than it can ever hope to answer, and that the answers it does uncover, can never serve as ready-made, dogmatic solutions to life.

When aesthetic creation is enacted as “perceptive” philosophical discourse, the uncovering of truth’s phenomenon is elicited, thereby broadening, deepening, and enhancing our authentic understanding of life as an evolving, dynamic process of growth. So, as the film’s closing credits roll, amidst the deafening applause of its glamorous premier screening, the quest for “knowledge” has really only just begun.

James Magrini teaches Western philosophy and ethics at College of Dupage in Illinois and publishes on philosophy, art, and education in such journals and periodicals as Philosophy Today, Philosophical Writings, Education, Philosophy, and Theory, and American Atheist.



This is the world where Raven stole the Sun for us all: A Critique of the Fantasist, by Zac Odin

As we, as a culture or as a counter culture, attempt to reclaim our past, our worlds, our realities, we are turning quite rightly to myth.

This is an obvious and admirable decision; the searchers look and the searchers define but it seems as if they are often looking in the wrong places and defining the wrong things.

There has been recent discussion of science fiction and fantastic literature as the repository of our living mythology.  This is a mistake; world-building fantasists are not engaging in real myth, but an empty rather truncated form. Myth is the Reality in which the culture lives.  It is Reality.  Period.

Do you think that the Kwakwaka’wakw of Canada’s Pacific Coast (http://www.civilization.ca/cmc/exhibitions/aborig/nwca/nwcam25e.shtml and http://www.umista.org/) thought they were involved in some so banal as world building?  No.  Obviously they were (and are once more) participating in the mythical world, a world more real, a foundational world, a world that built their world.

The dance is a supernatural dance, mythical beings representing abstractions of realities (supernatural birds, ‘The Listener’ from the Dance of the Forest Spirits – making physical abstract concepts) and solidities (bear, other forest animals – abstracting and mythologizing the physical), and all the people were seeing it as it was.  Real.

This is not cosplay; there is no suspension of disbelief here, no LARP emptiness, but pure Reality.  Because this is the world in which they lived.  The Listener was in the Forest Dance because the Listener really is in the Forest.

This is the world where Raven stole the Sun for us all.  The people saw Raven every day as a constant reminder of the mythological foundation of their world, the First Time was a different time, celebrated in myth.  It was a time when animals and humans were indistinguishable from each other.  It is this world:

“I will talk about the middle between our world and the upper side of what is seen by us, the blue sky where the sun and moon and stars stay, that is what I mean, the names of the various birds of the Rivers Inlet tribe, the Crooked-Beak of Heaven and the Huxwhukw of Heaven and the Screecher of Heaven and the Ugwa’xta’yi, and many others whose names I do not know, the various birds above the clouds”. (http://www.umista.org/)

And it is this world at exactly the same time.  There really is no difference.

So where are our myths?  I don’t think we can find them in the world building of science fiction.  Our myths are so much a part of our reality that we are unable to disentangle them enough to study them.  But sometimes, if you look hard enough, you can see.

In this case the impulse that leads us to play at world creators is mythic, not the world that has been created.  Just because Tolkien references the Jungian Shadow with Sauron does not make The Lord of the Rings mythic on a level like the Kwakwaka’wakw dances.  Not even close.

That which leads us to create worlds, that drives us to be Apes of God, is the Myth. It is playing at Demiurge, every writer an Ialdabaoth.  That is the Myth not the content.

When was the first time…

…you remember being introduced to the slippery slope of esotericism?

I’ve been digesting odd material since I was quite young. Jim Henson’s collaborations with Brian Froud on Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal, along with his Storyteller series caught me early. By the time I was 7  I spent much of my allotted library time digging through the folklore section and breaking the spines on titles like Encounters With the Invisible World Being Ten Tales of Ghosts,Witches and the Devil Himself in New England, Myths and Legends of the Celts, and Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival. Standard childhood fare…

This singleminded focus lead my parents to get me a 3 book promotional pack from the Time Life Books series Mysteries of the Unknown one Christmas. As I remember it, one book focused on ‘Mysterious Places’,  one on ‘Mysterious Creatures’ and one on UFO’s.  Pouring over every detail in those books I encountered a world that went far beyond the folk tales I’d been devouring.

Here was Aleister Crowley on his wedding night at the Great Pyramid, spiritualists with ectoplasm oozing and weird lights over distant hills. My youthful mind was glowing with possibilities.

All of this was brought back when Lisa Trudeau at Red Wheel/Weiser mentioned they had a cute YouTube promotional for their Field Guide series.  I can only imagine where my mind would be if the Field Guides had been around to add to my instruction.

Reveiling the Tradition

What’s it take to get people motivated for change? William S. Burroughs once mentioned that he was working on creating a mythology for the space-age.  His works were allegorical tales to help guide intreprid travellers into the new age of inner & outer space.

So what about today? Who will be the tale bearers for our struggle to maintain a viable ecology, sustainable social structures and more intelligent and ethical business models? Burroughs and his visions of Nova are wonderful for tearing down old infrastructures, but a time comes when we’ve got to start building again.

Now is a time to rediscover what we’ve left behind, to reintroduce ourselves to the truths that remain unchanging and to drop the pretense of innovation and realize the words of the Kohelet:

“The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.”

- Ecclesiastes 1:9

“If you don’t have the Master’s presence within,
You will not attain acceptance in God’s court,
Useless is all prayer, futile is all chanting.
You can fast, you can pray the whole night through,
To supplement your daily prayer;
You can also perform numerous acts of charity;
But if your heart is not purified, You will not feel God’s presence within.
If you have not died before your death,
chanting in group prayers will avail you nothing.”

- Kalam Hazrat Sultan Bahu