Stephanie Pope essay, Janus Series: Two Faces, One Coin Part 4: The American Monomyth & The Virtue In The Coin,
myth and poetry

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Two Faces, One Coin Part 4: The American Monomyth & The Virtue In The Coin

I read somewhere the British philosopher Alfred North Whitehead suggests that perhaps one way persons have of understanding a culture is to study the literature a culture produces rooted in the moment. Such literature he thinks presents a cultural snapshot. He calls this kind of cultural literature second-rate opposed to first-rate writing which offers transcendent truths applicable to all times and not merely to those times in certain ―or as is in our case― uncertain times. Shakespeare is an example of first-rate cultural literature.

It is my understanding that newspaper articles have the ability to present me with a truth rooted in the moment and thusly, the newspaper image presents a cultural snapshot of something at work in the culture transforming it through time. But also, I am to keep in mind this is at work for the most part unconsciously as it reshapes cultural identity. Something like the coin with two faces, therefore, is an image metaphorical of something else partly unconscious or completely unconscious and at work in the reshaping of our national soul. The newspaper article that contains this image I am working has fallen into the category of second-rate literature for the purposes of this essay.

I remember also reading that Carl Jung used the images from second rate literature as examples of archetypal energies at work in individual and collective psyche and has been criticized ever since for doing exactly that. Somehow I read this as Jung understanding the articulations of the unconscious, the archetypes of the collective unconscious, as most visible and most viable to conscious interrogation through the way they are at work when we are interacting with lesser forms of literary articulations, i.e. what we are now calling second rate literary expressions.

Sound bites, headlines, newspaper articles written to sell the daily news and even the most popular movies at the box office are examples of second rate literary expressions in this sense of archetypal expressionism.  These forms of expression are ones whose texts are most worth interrogating for deeper meanings and value. Therefore, these forms of expression are important substances for a cultural mythologer’s scrutiny because of their ability to reflect the most powerful archetypal images at work both wittingly and unwittingly in transforming the mythic image we have of ourselves as Americans.

two faces profile optical illusionI also understand that it is very important to grasp these images because the power inherent in them can, if they are misused, wreak havoc unduly. More largely, if what is at work in the image goes unrecognized by a people, those people can be manipulated to produce an evil they never intend and, as individuals, will have found morally reprehensible after the fact.  This latter idea the late mythologist Joseph Campbell calls a misuse of the myth. 

A myth is the story of a people. It is a story the people themselves tell about what happens to them as a people. There is always a story before this story. No matter how far back you go, you cannot get to the beginning of it. You cannot find the first story. In a sense, the first story has never been told.

As a poet with a poet’s eye for telling the story, I have just shared with you what the language of poetry acknowledges about telling the story of a people. Poetry acknowledges that we, the people are always already situated in a story. What poets try to tell is how people are moving through this story, as individuals and collectively, while knowing the story itself is always already in movement and moving them, too. The deep story in movement moving through you and me is a way of describing what mythopoeic movement is and is like.

This kind of penchant for storytelling through the mythopoeic rhythms that are themselves a movement always moving, is what I am calling mythopoetics. Mythopoetics is a kind of storytelling from the perspective of movable centering. Not a
two faces dove optical illusionhere and not a there, an image from nowhere is telling the story the poet-storyteller unfolds.

Minding images caught in the cultural snapshot and carried in the national family photo album is called mythopoiesis. Minding images and mining them for the story they tell is a mythopoetic practice that is iconoclastic in nature. It is also a part of a cultural mythologer’s techne of engagement with images to expose culturally mythic psychological values of people as a people. Mythopoetic practice tries to reveal the hidden uncommon presence or communal ‘soul’ people share in common. Mythopoetics is that capacity that unfolds any two sides to the one coin that is the image in our ideas holding us captive. The one coin has a thousand faces.

Re Capping: the Image That Holds Us Captive

An important awareness established in part one of this essay says that the image the world has of us will eventually come to bear upon our own effectiveness in the world. The collective soul has bearing. Soul operates invisibly upon us to transport a change in us while keeping us intact psychologically as an “us”. The essay also distills bearing as what it means to endure. To endure, part one reminds means to bear and to last as well as to bear to the last our images. The imaginal life in our bearing images is itself an image. The etymological root means both to carry and to bear children. In part one we saw through this image in the coin as opening a space for discourse between materialisms and maternalisms.

We bear the image of the coin; as in carry it as our visible characteristic; as in our moveable center, the soul of “us” everywhere that any one of us is. “I am an American,” I say, even though I am living in Peru.

We bear the image of the coin; as in how we are to account for something (the way we behave as Americans) and remain accountable (as Americans) to something, an image of ‘god’, we trust. This image of god is invisible to us. Since it is embedded within our ideas in the story we are telling, we cannot really see our own mythic image of this god we trust at work.  We are a people of faith, we say.

In part three we discover images are not substantial materialisms but immaterial substances that are mirrorlike. Part three also acknowledges that the archetypal activism inherent within images cannot be seen working because, although images form and shape our ideas, they are also buried deeply within our ideas. We will only see our mythic images if they are dug up and rendered in abstraction.

To bear the mythic image of the coin so that it’s inner activism shines forth, our essay digs up the images within the words to bear and to endure.  Where we bear the two faces George Dubyas & the mirror trickmaterial image inherent in the coin as metaphoric of something in mythic terms, we attempt to get at its imaginal meaning. This essay attempts to show where we bear, endure, stand for, support, abide in,suffer through and tolerate the image of the coin, the image holds us captive and bound to our own cowboy resolve, to working it and to working through it and to One Coin, Two Faces: Two Dubyas Mirror Trick
maturity and together what we are as a people. We are a cowboy nation. The cowboy image belongs to our national myth. It is our monomyth, the face of our national soul. The cowboy myth relives the myth of the American hero.

forbearance, christmas trees and holidaysFurthermore, holding the binding tension of the coin draws out of us through what is lacking in our resolve, a sense for what virtue our virtue as people our peopling demands.

This absence in the coin that the coin suggests I would like to suggest we call forbearance.

Trees have forbearance.

(particularly Christmas trees)

Forbearance is no void. It is a call to presence. The absence of forbearance in the image of cowboy resolve early on in the Bush Doctrine parades like a coin with two faces before us in a way that must make its own imaginal sense. It asks us to see what it is to endure our freedom that is lacking in the earlier image of our cowboy resolve we examined in part two of this essay. Where this essay tries to see into the imaginal sense the images display in themselves, the essay uncovers forbearance as an antidote to what ails us. 

The image of cowboy resolve appears suddenly from nowhere during the March 17, 2003 presidential address to the American people and announces Hussein and his sons have 48hrs to get out of town. Bush is playing cowboy for real, exploiting the image to delineate and position America for war with Iraq. Many people now regard this move as a misuse of the national myth.

Forbearance, on the other hand is the imaginal coin in the pocket of the synthetic cowboy. Remember that cowboy? That is the one we are being in the face of our provocations while holding those tensions in the majesty of our own emotions based on what we have experienced, lived, felt, reasoned, and envisioned with regards to our resolve what never lived that must come into being now.

coin toss animationForbearance is the virtue that contains both senses of the maternal being in the material imagination of the image in the coin. Forbearance is our quality of patience, tolerance and restraint applied when confronting the face of provocation. Forbearance is the deep face in the coin.

The coin is tossed onto the airways of the national news broadcasting system just before the elections and is paraded before us, albeit invisibly, leaving us with our own senses for what the images are, that is, what the images are being and what they want in their sudden appearance before us here and now. The soul in the coin is the nature of the coin’s many faces and its reason d’etre.

The myth of the cowboy persists as part of our national character. The image of the cowboy is paradoxical. It harbors an abiding love for freedom, a hidden desire to be violent, a capacity for reckless engagement in violence and a sense of integrity in heroism. The line between the good and the bad cowboy is ambiguous. Cowboy resolve attracts admiration as readily as it repels in disdain. The resolve to act violently, moreover to act alone and violently is experienced as an honorable trait just as often as it is seen as reprehensible and as an exceedingly immoral application of national aggression.

in two weeks, Part 5: One Coin, Two Faces cont.

Two Faces, One Coin Part 1
Two Faces, One Coin Part 2
Two Faces, One Coin Part 3

mythopoetics mythopoesis
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