Posts Tagged ‘Mythology’

Ominous - Nicholas Roerich, 1901

Ominous – Nicholas Roerich, 1901

I think prophecy is an important part of writing, at least as important as technique or form. I think there are magical processes going on in writing. Like this raven thing. I’d been writing using the raven myth, and when I went up to Sitka in Alaska, the ravens disappeared. It was very unusual. Then the day before I left they all returned and flew around the totems. It was a strange experience.

Ishmael Reed, in an interview with Jon Ewing for The Daily Californian, 1977
(from Shrovetide in Old New Orleans, 1978)

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[mild, vague spoilers]

If Superhero Movies are our new mythology, Birdman makes our new mythology feel like crumbly newsprint and warped videotape. Not that Birdman will or should render Superhero Movies obsolete or anything. I still like, and still expect to enjoy, Superhero Movies. But Birdman reaches certain levels of truth, buried deep in the middle of an inescapable labyrinth, that might make it impossible for me to see our new mythology Superhero Movies the same from now on (at least until a movie comes along that can out-Birdman Birdman).

Things like “universal themes” and “timeless stories” are great, but I know now that I need more blood, more  super-realism.  Larger Than Life with more Life. If Superhero Movies are Led Zeppelin, Birdman is punk rock.

Darren Aronofsky dabbled in this kind of mythology with The Wrestler and Black Swan (before he got all Biblical with Noah). But where those two films hurtle towards death, Alejandro González Iñárritu & his co-writers wallop Aronofsky’s artistic defeatism with an optimism that’s more transcendent than anything I’ve experienced with a Superman story. Icarus need not be a tragic figure. There’s a Birdman in all of us.

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Kneeling breast feeding mother - Paula Modersohn-Becker, date unknown

Kneeling breast feeding mother – Paula Modersohn-Becker, date unknown

When the breast withers away to a vanishing point, other oral and maternal values are also drying up and atrophying; when the breast spouts forth again, these values are also returning.

By no accident, the most admired poem among American intellectuals in the 1920s was T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land; although actually dealing with his adopted country, England, his symbols spoke very eloquently to American sensibilities also. The withdrawal of the breast is suggested in Eliot’s images of wandering in the desert, of thirst, of the failed crops in the land rules by an impotent king, of sterility in general. The most famous of Eliot’s images– e.g., “lilacs out of dead land,” “The Hanged Man,” “the Unreal City,” “the corpse you planted last year in your garden,” “rock and no water and the sandy road”– all revolve around the theme of life struggling to survive without nourishment. The final section, in the mountains (breast symbols, according to Freud), brings the promise of rain and renewal. If all poets seek to summon the mother goddess in her guise as Muse, Eliot in a very real sense is calling for her to appear as wet nurse.

Robert Anton Wilson, Ishtar Rising

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This is the song that popped in my head when I heard Pete Seeger died:

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Be careful out there: The Devil’s everywhere, according to Benjamin Christensen’s Häxan: Witchcraft Through The Ages:

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Let The Right One In explains why vampires only come where they’re invited:

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The Tetons and the Snake River, Ansel Adams, 1942

The Tetons and the Snake River, Ansel Adams, 1942

Here he was, Yoreitone, my chief, sitting and telling me a story and looking at me with his one eye as he looked upon his family, his body full of gentleness, a finger now and then resting on my knee, and when he had finished the tale and sat there simply within the aura of its meaning, with no movement of any kind, it was as if he had opened his arms to welcome a child to his breast, and I cannot help but wonder who this man is, with his wrinkled face and eye that speaks to all of past and future, and I cannot help but wonder where within him lay the murder of that family that sent Wassen to the mission. Once, in childhood, an old man with a skull cap covering a bald patch, and a long grey beard with curls at its ends, used to sit at a kitchen table in the back of my father’s grocery store, teaching in Hebrew the Five Books of Moses. With each of my mistakes he cracked a thumb and finger on my head, and I left those books forever with no feeling for God, but only full of stories that talked of vengeance, hate, and war. Yoreitone, within my hearing, had not yet talked of death or war, but always he told of hunting trips for monkeys and birds, and other creatures that lived and stalked within the forest, tales of spirits that inhabited deer to feed the jaguar and therefore could not be tracked to kill, and tales that wandered in time and space and seemed to me no legend or symbol but did no more than tell of walks to new rivers and trees. Later, I asked Yoreitone what he thought of the white upon the mountains far in the distance, the mountains that could only be seen on the clearest of days, the mountains that reached up to twenty thousand feet and more. “Flowers,” he said. “They are white flowers.’

from Tobias Schneebaum’s Keep The River On Your Right

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Prometheus Carrying Fire, Jan Cossiers

Prometheus Carrying Fire, Jan Cossiers

Thomas Jefferson developed his view that “all men are created equal” from the perception of the infinity within each of us, which he learned from the Scottish philosophers, Reid and Hutcheson. (It was also from Hutcheson that Jefferson got his idea of “unalienable rights,” which Congress in the interest of stylistic elegance altered to “inalienable rights.”) The Scottish Enlightenment, like the French and English Enlightenment, was the beginning of the materialization and manifestation of the Judeo-Christian vision of the Heavenly City.

It was also this 18th Century Illuminati circle which introduced the concept of progress— the conscious formulation of the symbolism of Prometheus. This vision has been under so much attack in recent decades that to defend it all will seem archaic and eccentric to many readers.

Nonetheless, evolution is real: quantum jumps do occur throughout the biosphere and throughout human intellectual history. We are riding a mounting tidal wave of rising consciousness and expanding intelligence which is accelerating whether we like it or not.

By and large, most people– and especially most ruling elites– have not liked this acceleration factor. The migration of capital (i.e., ideas) Westward has been largely a flight from oppression, an escapist movement– as critics today describe Space as “escapist.” Everywhere, everywhen, the rulers of society have tried to put a brake on the third circuit, to decelerate the acceleration function, to establish limits on what was printable, discussable, even thinkable.

The Greek myth of Prometheus Bound– the Titan who brought Light to humanity and is eternally punished for it– is the synecdoche, the perfect symbol, of how the third circuit [reason] has been handled in most human societies.

Robert Anton Wilson,  Prometheus Rising (1983)

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(not too spoilery)

I’d love to see a Director’s Cut of Prometheus with 33 minutes of previously-deleted scenes- ideally scenes where we just get to hang with everyone, get to know them better, maybe peer into their professional-looking dream sequences a bit more.  Because for Heaven’s sake, if you’re going to drop dream-reading software into reel one, why not make a whole device out of it?  See what kind of elegantly-staged memories are floating around our supporting characters’ consciousnesses?  (Damon Lindelof wouldn’t just be re-hashing LOST, see, ’cause this time there’s an actual character with the actual technology to see other people’s flashbacks.  So it’s totally germane now.)

I forgave the often-inane logic- after all, it’s called Prometheus, it obviously wants to be mythic, and most myths are erupting at the gut with inane logic.  And yet, I yearned for a larger degree of humanity.  I was eager to befriend the crew of Prometheus, but Prometheus was just like that punk geologist who thought he was on a reality show contest: “I’m not here to make friends!”  (Elizabeth Shaw tried to make friends, yes, but our friendship was weakened by her superficially-explored faith.)  OK fine, Prometheus, be that way.  I was just really hoping I could own it on DVD one day, I’d watch it every couple-three years, and it would remind me how awesome it is to be agnostic- full of wonder, gratitude, and horror for what the universe has to offer.  (Or, as Stanley Kubrick so eloquently said in 2001: A Space Odyssey: “God…how the fuck are we supposed to know?”)

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Flash Fact: Our universe is one of many, grown inside some unimaginable amniotic hypertime.  It may even be a hologram, projected onto a flat mega-membrane, which is, in turn, embedded, along with many others like it, within a higher dimensional space some scientists have dubbed ‘the bulk.’  In the brane model of the multiverse, all history is spread as thin as emulsion on a celestial tissue that floats in some immense, Brahmanic ocean of…meta-stuff.  Got all that?

If cosmologists are right about this (and I’d dearly love to hope they are), the superheroes, as usual, have been here already.

You could certainly argue that Early 21st Century Pop Culture’s Superhero Fixation is little more than a series of risk-averse investments made in response to the billions of dollars grossed by Spider-Man and Batman.  Or, if you’re like Grant Morrison, you could make a pretty compelling argument that our Superhero Fixation is a symptom of something far bigger than box office receipts- as in, the collective, magickal will of humanity sketching the blueprints of the next steps in our own evolution.

That’s the thesis that pops up throughout Morrison’s Supergods, though for the most part the book’s just History Of Superheroes, from the Nazi-Smashing Golden Dawn through the present-day Techno-Terror Renaissance.  A lot of common knowledge for comics geeks more hardcore than myself, maybe, but potentially worthwhile for them too, considering it’s all recounted by one of the best-selling rock star comic-book writers in the medium’s history.  Not only does Morrison offer his inimitable chaos-magick slant on the story of the superhero meme and the role it plays in the human psyche, but he also provides a few illuminating flashes of insider’s perspective on some of the biggest DC & Marvel titles of the past 25 or so years.

Because it’s Grant Morrison, naturally there’s some self-mythologizing that borders on self-indulgence.  Some of the autobiographical passages feel like they’d be better off in an actual autobiography, and he includes several of his own titles in his list of “Essential Collected Editions.”  (I mean I don’t exactly disagree with his choices, but still.)  Nevertheless, it’s hard to stay mad at Morrison’s self-mythologizing, since he spends so much more time mythologizing humanity and our relationship to superheroes, and he does it to an inspiringly optimistic degree.  “We love our superheroes because they refuse to give up on us,” he writes.  “We can analyze them out of existence, kill them, ban them, mock them, and still they return, patiently reminding us of who we are and what we wish we could be.”  Even the most cynical corners of my psyche have a hard time spurning that kind of conviction.

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