Wednesday, September 01, 2004
The Mythos in the Logos
Mythos and Logos--with these terms we denote the two poles between which man's mental life oscillates. Mythic imagination and logical thought are opposites. The former is imagistic and involuntary, and creates and forms on the basis of the unconscious, while the latter is conceptual and intentional, and analyses and synthesizes by means of consciousness. ( Wilhelm Nestle, From Myth to Reason? Studies in the Development of Greek Thought)
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For a while now, I've been contending that myths and mythic imagination are an anti-terrorist weapon. That may sound a bit radical - but stick with me for a bit. Myths and mythos are a way of seeing the world, a way that is traditional and narrative, employing imaginative movement to give a sense of structure and meaning to life itself. Logos is a progressive, logical, mechanical means of viewing anything. Nestle contends (as have many philosophers over the course of the centuries) that the primitive mythic imagination of the earlier Greeks finally *grew up* and was replaced by logos - logical, rational thought that reached its pinnacle in the philosophical discourse of the Sophists, Socrates, Plato. Of course, this was written in Nazi Germany over 60 years ago in which Nazi's "used myth" in order to advance their agendas.
There is a polarity in this culture which insists that mythos and logos are irreconcilable dualities and that one type of knowledge is superior over the other, that in fact myth is a lie (this connotation seems to be the most popular usage in pop culture).
But dualities and polarities are always an illusion. Hidden deep within their constructs is always a mediating way, a third thing (non datur) that is the secret that energies the solution of a polarity. In the case of mythos and logos, that third thing is mythology.
Now some may say that mythology is "the logical, structured study of stories". But why do we have to interpret the word that way? Can't we twist it around a bit and say that mythology is the imaginative study of logic - the way life is structured and organized? There are always stories in the logos, hidden lenses and biases, and belief systems that impact the constructed reasoning's of our lives.
Exploring the logic of a situation from a logical point of view, presents a diagram of how thought is put together. Studying the mythos of the logic brings one into an imaginal space in which logics become once more a part of a story and the story reveals the hidden reasons behind the structure.
From a cultural perspective, every experience in culture is both a mythical and a logical experience. Culture is a work of fiction, that is it is inventive and contrived (i.e. formed together). One can examine the fictions in culture by examining its logics.
For instance, Elizabeth Dole delivered a speech at last night's Republican Convention. She said:
Two thousand years ago a man said, 'I have come to give life and to give it in full.' In America, I have the freedom to call that man Lord, and I do. In the United States of America, we are free to worship without discrimination, without intervention and even without activist judges trying to strip the name of God from the Pledge of Allegiance, from the money in our pockets and from the walls of our courthouses. The Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. The right to worship God isn't something Republicans invented, but it is something Republicans will defend. (NYTimes, September 1, 2004)
What is the mythos in this logic? It is a biblical myth, the United States as the New Jerusalem, the holy city that is now a holy country, blessed and sanctified by Yahweh.
And I John saw the holy city, New Jerusalem coming down from God out of heaven... and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them..." Revelation 21:2-3
Woven beneath the logics of Mrs. Dole's speech, is the idea that the founding fathers envisioned a Christian nation in which freedom of religion meant freedom for Christian religions, religions that abide by the myths and logos of Christian philosophy. Under those logics is a myth of a jealous and intolerant god who says:
The victor will inherit these things, and I shall be his God, and he will be my son. To the cowards and the unbelievers and the corrupt and the murderers and the fornicators and the wizards and the idolaters and all who are false, their portion shall be in the lake that burns with fire and sulphur, which is the second death. (Revelation 21:4)
Sorry, but that quote was like waving a red flag in front of this little mythic bull this morning. Statements like this reveal the mythic underpinnings of a country that never seem conscious, but get revealed in terms such as "compassionate conservatism". A country which believes itself to be godly and compassionate.
One can also examine the mythos in the logos of their own lives. We think our lives are made up of historical facts, but the fantasies, the dreams, the twists and turns of one's imaginative life, hold a secret underlying pattern that drives our logics.
The work of this mythologist is discovering the mythos in the logos - the hidden stories that make up our culture and our lives. So how is that anti-terrorist? Remember that the 9-11 Commission basically called the intelligence failures in this country, "a lack of imagination." How we imagine the world is how we will live and die in it.
When the polarities divide us and seemingly there is no reconciliation - what is required are acts of the imagination, narrative stories and the remembering of dreams. Those myths combine with the logics of the situation and offer new perspectives.
Myth-ology is not merely a looking at the past - it is the key to the future.