Thursday, April 29, 2010

quoting from a blog that is resonating tonight:

I was reminded this morning of Joseph Campbell, the brilliant mythologist whose Hero With a Thousand Faces, and his interview with Bill Moyers The Power of Myth, have been so influential in our understanding of the importance of mythology in culture. I'd like to quote extensively from the book The Hero's Journey: Joseph Campbell on His Life and Work, edited by Phil Cousineau. On page 45, Campbell, in his discussion of Jung's "collective unconscious," says that
"mythic symbols come out of [the unconscious that each one of us shares], not out of the personal depth at al. Every mythology is, of course, oriented to a historical situation; it comes out of this people, this province, and that one and the other. And so there is that local inflection. But what is inflected are the deep energies of the total id."
He then goes on to discuss anthropologist Adolf Bastian, who called those common themes of the collective unconscious "elementary ideas." However, Campbell reiterates, "they always come to expression in specific social environments and it's historically and geographically differentiated. [Bastian] called those differentiations Volkergedanken, or ethnic or folk ideas."

Campbell then goes on to discuss the same idea as it appears in the art criticism of India, in which "these same two aspects of images are recognized. The folk aspect, which simply has to do with people and things in stories and time and space is called desi, which means local, popular. On the other hand the elementary ideas, when the diety is represented, are called marga, the path."

Campbell, as is the case in all of his writing, finds the common ideas, the "marga," the "elementary ideas," the "collective unconscious" that lie beneath the "desi," the "Volkergedanken." The structure of the hero's journey is one of these margas, a structure common to many, many hero myths.

To say that a hero myth from the past or from another culture is "universal" is to evoke the marga. However, the marga is clothed in the language, the images, the ideology of the time and place in which it is created. Marga "is from a root word mrg, which refers to the footprints left by an animal," Campbell continues. "So following the elementary idea, you are led to your deepest spiritual source." Once one recognizes the underlying myth in the story being told, no matter how foreign it is to your contemporary mind, it is possible to tap into the power of the myth itself. In fact, Brecht would probably note that the defamiliarization of the past or of another culture actually makes us able to see the marga more powerfully, since it is not caught up in the fog of contemporary issues and ideology. (Thus the settings ofThe Good Person of Setzuan and The Life of Galileo.) So those who point to the universality of past masterpieces are correct in referring to their presentness, their contemporaneity.

Nevertheless, marga-stories all wear the clothing of their place and their time. Their images are drawn from the vocabulary of the people to whom they are meant to communicate. While their clothing would have been transparent to those for whom the story was written, to us the clothing is opaque, something that must be explained and stripped away in order to connect to the story beneath.

This process of decoding requires a certain level of education (assuming that said education is oriented toward learning the great ideas of past cultures), and to that extent the process excludes those who do not possess the skeleton key that will release the genii.

No comments:

Post a Comment