‘Arrival’ – Denis Villenueve
“Myth has something very direct to say. Many of the stories we need now arrived perfectly on time about 5,000 years ago. Old mythologies contain not only stories about our place on the Earth, but have the Earth speaking through them, what the Islamic scholar Henry Corbin termed the mundus imaginalis – where the human imagination is open to what David Abram describes as the more-than-human world. So with myth, you are working not just with imagination but with the imaginal, what many aboriginal cultures would call the Dreamtime. In other words, as we turn ideas around in our head, we’re not just thinking but we are getting thought.”
Colleen Wallace Nungari
“It’s very hard to talk about the imaginal in conventional language. The most fitting language to address it is poetry or imagery or mythology. If the language is too psychological it reduces the mystery. It makes the mysteries containable and safe.”
‘Paterson’ – Jim Jarmusch
“Myth is a robust and ancient way of addressing a multiplicity of consciousnesses that abide in and around the Earth. What is so powerful about an uncolonised imagination, a mythic intelligence, is that it connotes but does not denote. It doesn’t tell you what it is. Its images have a radiance that reveal different things to whoever is beholding them.”
“The days of conventional hero myths are not serving us. What is being called for now culturally is a word you find often in Ancient Greece: metis. Metis is a kind of divine cunning in service to wisdom.”
“We can’t be naïve in times like this, because we are in the presence of underworld forces that will do one of two things: they will either educate us, or annihilate us. And in fairy tales whenever the movement is down – and the movement culturally is down right now – you have to get underworld smart, have underworld intelligence, underworld metis. I have a strong feeling that a lot of what wants to emerge through many ancient stories is a kind of wily, tough, ingenious and romantic force that needs to come forward at this point in time.”
S u s a n S e d d o n B o u l e t
“…in Corbin’s expression of this ancient Sufi philosophy, the material world which we take as real is in fact totally enveloped by a spiritual reality which influences (or perhaps even determines) it.
The reality of the mundus imaginalis communicates itself to human beings through images, so that the act of imagining then becomes an act of connection to it. But we’re not just talking about any old imaginings; as Corbin said:
We must be careful not to confuse it with the imagination identified by so-called modern man with “fantasy”, and which, according to him, is nothing but an outpour of “imaginings”.”
“This is an important point: Corbin differentiated between the simple everyday acts of daydreaming and fantasising (which are what we often mean when we speak about ‘imagining’) and the reality of this world of archetypes and visions. To stress this point again: the forms and figures which occupy the mundus imaginalis have a real – and the key point here is that ‘reality’ is not just restricted to the material – presence. The mundus imaginalis is the place from where all spiritual and transcendent experience derives. It is the source of synchronicities, ‘psychic’ experiences and creative insights. This world penetrates into our dreams and other visionary experiences, including the places we visit during deep meditation or imaginal journeying.”
“An awareness of the Otherworld, then, in our own native traditions (which are so potent, and yet so often neglected in favour of cosmologies from other parts of the planet) is an awareness of the power of the Earth itself. The Otherworld isn’t just a pretty place in a fairy tale: it is the source of life and inspiration. The powerful Otherworldly woman in the oldest of our stories isn’t a mere fairy mistress, or a pretty muse in a poet’s dream: she is the moral and spiritual authority of the earth, the anima mundi personified. The Otherworld is more than just a myth; the mundus imaginalis is real. As Corbin’s work suggests: the material world which we take as real is in fact totally enveloped by a spiritual reality which influences (or perhaps even determines) it.
We ignore it at our peril.”
‘Moonlight’ – Barry Jenkins
“If you look at the last five hundred years in the West, you see the steady growth of a mindset that denies the validity, even the existence, of anything that exceeds the grasp of human cognition. As a result, our environments, physical and psychic, have become increasingly human, increasingly artificial. There is a pseudo-gnostic vein in modern thinking that seeks to place humanity at the centre of the universe. This is why I believe that the recognition of radical mystery as an intrinsic quality of the real is both the most important move we could make and the most repugnant to the existing power structure. Art confronts us with a more expansive view of reality in which humans are peripheral and mystery is inescapable. This is pretty obvious when you consider a weird fiction writer like Lovecraft, but I think it’s also true for Van Gogh, Shakespeare, or Emily Dickinson.”
Vincent Van Gogh
“Artifice denotes the use of aesthetics to manipulate the emotions in a predetermined manner. In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce calls it “improper art” and defines it as art that presents its content in such a way as to induce a state of attraction or repulsion. There are therefore two kinds of artifice. Examples of the first kind include porn videos, advertisements and generic pop songs. All of these are, at bottom, pornographic. The second kind includes traditional propaganda films and shock art, but also any work specifically designed to push a political or social message: slick PSAs, moral fables and concept art that does nothing but voice an artist’s opinion.”
“What Joyce calls “proper art,” on the other hand, uses the aesthetic to reveal things in their original, preconceptual “suchness.” That is, it doesn’t reduce its content to some instrumental end. In doing this, artists end up producing symbols, beacons that point to those vast regions of reality which psychoanalysts call the unconscious. In other words, art doesn’t belong to the conscious world. It belongs on the same plane as dreams, visions and synchronicity. By its nature it calls us out of the trance states that artifice instills.”
‘Knight of Cups’ – Terrence Malick
Martin Shaw –
“I notice that several times a day I go into what you could call a mild trance state. I’m not talking about ouija boards here! I’m just talking about falling under the influence of advertising, or various politically engineered neuroses that might be floating around. But I recognise I have come into a kind of enchantment. And the way I recognise it is that I feel less than grounded. I feel I’m not in the realm of imagination, I’m in the realm of fantasy. So the imaginal is not present; the Earth as a lived, breathing, thinking being is not present. What’s happening is I’m simply fretting – to use my mother’s language – I’m spinning my wheels. And so actually I think stories have a capacity to wake us up.
We are living in a time when we need symbolic intelligence, not just sign language. We are being fed signs, and signs that frighten us, and then paralyse us, and then colonise us. And imagination, through myth, wants to give you symbols to raise you up.”
‘They Live’ – John Carpenter
J.F. Martel –
“Art is in itself a form of resistance to the commodification of consciousness. Every bit of time and energy spent creating or experiencing works of art escapes the grasp of those forces that would reduce us all to a quantity or algorithm.”
‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’ – Nicolas Roeg
“In a sense, asking what art should do to improve society is like asking what the heart should do to improve the health of the body. The heart can only do one thing: beat. It’s up to the body to live in such a way as to allow it to keep beating. Similarly, the only thing art can do is reveal the non-human forces that shape the world. It oxygenates society by infusing it with a more expansive reality than its preconceptions, opinions or beliefs allow for. Art is the heartbeat of a civilization. For that reason, it’s not up to artists to produce works that will change the world. It’s up to the world to organize itself in such a way that artists are able to make the art they’re called to make. While this doesn’t absolve artists of their civil responsibilities as members of society, it does mean that when they practice their art, they ought to have the freedom to be guided by powers that exceed our understanding. True works of art are powerful symbolic constructs, genuine oracles that can give society access to what’s going on below the threshold of collective consciousness. But they won’t do that if artists feel a need to impose a moral or message on the material. For the magic to happen, vision must lead the way.”
‘Only Lovers Left Alive’ – Jim Jarmusch
Links to works quoted:
The Mythos We Live By: Uncolonising Our Imagination. An interview with storyteller and mythologist Martin Shaw by Dark Mountain editor, Charlotte Du Cann.
The psychology of mythology: or, why the Otherworld is just as real as this one. Dr Sharon Blackie: writer, psychologist, mythologist from her blog – The Art of Enchantment.
Reclaiming Art: An Interview with J.F. Martel The author in an interview with Jeremy D Johnson for Reality Sandwich.
Debra’s recent post ‘Our Lady of the Well‘ over at The Ptero Card dove deep into the rabbit hole by asking how can we trust language to communicate especially if we are dealing with matters of the unconscious, as Jung did in documenting his journey into that hidden realm in The Red Book. It is a critical question for her as she tries to navigate through Jung’s book. It is a question that touches me deeply as well as one who participates in creating images, sometimes watching them evolve without knowing where or what they have emerged from or how they are going to end up when they are finished. I have my own interpretation of what these images mean, if anything, but I am always fascinated by how others react to them, positive or negative.
Writing, for me, can be a bit of a challenge as I am such a visually oriented person. I ‘see’ things in a certain light – as a composition when looking through a camera lens or more intuitively when working on other images, wondering what will reveal itself to me as I work through the process of manipulating pixels or paint. But her post caused me to reflect on how communication happens, what alchemical process connects one persons attempt to use words to convey an idea and how does the reader or listener understand or respond to what is being said. Beyond language, what else is happening to evoke this interaction with not just words but other types of expression.
Cory Doctorow quotes from David Byrne’s ‘How Music Works’ explaining how Byrne comes up with the lyrics to some of his music, (Bold emphases mine)
” …I begin by improvising a melody over the music. I do this by singing nonsense syllables, but with weirdly inappropriate passion, given that I’m not saying anything. Once I have a wordless melody and a vocal arrangement my collaborators (if there are any) and I like, I’ll begin to transcribe that gibberish as if it were real words.
I’ll listen carefully to the meaningless vowels and consonants on the recording, and I’ll try to understand what that guy (me), emoting so forcefully by inscrutably, is actually saying. It’s like a forensic exercise. I’ll follow the sound of the nonsense syllables as closely as possible. If a melodic phrase of gibberish ends on a high oohsound, then I’ll transcribe that, and in selecting the actual words, I’ll try to try to choose one that ends in that syllable, or as close to it as I can get. So the transcription process often ends up with a page of real words, still fairly random, that sounds just like the gibberish.
I do that because the difference between an ooh and an aah, and a “b” and a “th” sound is, I assume, integral to the emotion that the story wants to express. I want to stay true to that unconscious, inarticulate intention. Admittedly, that content has no narrative, or might make no literal sense yet, but it’s in there — I can hear it. I can feel it. My job at this stage is to find words that acknowledge and adhere to the sonic and emotional qualities rather than to ignore and possibly destroy them.
Part of what makes words work in a song is how they sound to the ear and feel on the tongue. If they feel right physiologically, if the tongue of the singer and the mirror neurons of the listener resonate with the delicious appropriateness of the words coming out, then that will inevitably trump literal sense, although literal sense doesn’t hurt.”
As Jung recorded his entries into what would be known as The Red Book, he used not only words but created images such as this one
Does this illustrate some deeper archetypical connection with what he was going through (I think yes). His illustrations deepen the effect of the words, making it a richer experience.
What is going on here? What is being communicated to Jung, or through Jung. What energies are flowing in and through any of us when we are having a crisis, or feeling joy, or having any number of things happen to us? Are we the only ones inhabiting that experience? David Abram in an essay discussing Gary Snyder’s ‘Mountains and Rivers without End’, explores the Aboriginal concept of dreamtime. Dreamtime he explains
“is a kind of time out of time, a time hidden beyond, or rather, within the manifest presence of the land. It is that time before the world itself was entirely awake — a time that still exists just below the surface of wakeful awareness — that dawn when the totem ancestors first emerged from their slumber beneath the ground, and began to sing their way across the land. The earth, of course, was still in a maleable, half-awake state. And as the Dreamtime ancestors — Kangaroo Man, or Tortoise Woman, or Honey-Ant Man, or Wallaby Woman — as they first wandered, singing, across the surface of the earth, they were shaping the land as they traveled, forming valleys where they laid down, creating creeks or waterholes wherever they urinated, and forests where they kicked up dust, etc.. So today, when an aboriginal man goes walkabout, travelling along his ancestral dream tracks, he chants the verses originally sung by his dreaming ancestor, singing the land into view as he walks through it. And, in this manner, he renews not only his own life, but the very life of the land itself.”
This brings me back to Jung’s circumstance. What was it in his unconscious that was speaking to him. What was it that drove him to courageously dive into the darkness and then out again in his experience that would become The Red Book? Is there some deep mystery like an underground river that Jung tapped into? David Abram again,
“it is not humans alone who dream, and not just the other animals and the plants, but rather the land itself dreams, continually. The Dreamtime is not something that happened once and for all in the distant past; rather the Dreaming lies in the same relation to the open presence of the land around us as our own dream life lies in relation to our conscious or waking experience. It is a kind of depth, ambiguous and metamorphic. Indeed, it is a sense of both the past and the future not as dimensions that reside somewhere else, but as realms that are hidden, secretly, within the depths of the present moment. A sense of time as depth. Deep Time.”
All of this makes me wonder, in our communication with each other and within the whole sphere of life, is it just us in our limited capacity of thought and language that is speaking? Or is it something greater than ourselves? Are we tapped into an unknown or unseen reality and is it in fact possible to know and experience that something that is just as real as what our waking senses can communicate to us? What is happening to us when we ‘hear’ words in our head as we are writing them or ‘see’ images in our mind as we are creating them? Are we in some dream state while awake or is something dreaming us as we move through our experience? And if each of us is being dreamed, ‘lived by the powers’ as James Hillman says in another of Debra’s posts, then how does that connect each of us – to ourselves, to each other, and to the whole possible sense of reality that confronts us. And what responsibility do we have in this regard?
…In the comfort of the world
In the arms of my big nurse
From the science of the heart
To each animal and plant…