Briefly let me share three thoughts which guide me as I trace the poetic revolution in America operating in literary life beginning in 1970 with the publication of Harry Slochower’s Mythopoesis: Mythic Patterns in the Literary Classics. The first is my sense that mythopoesis is that terminology used to designate a mythic, poetic and literary mode of seeing―anything. Secondly, it is this mode of seeing that yields a form of soul perhaps best modeled by Stanley Romaine Hopper’s phrase, “poetry in extreme.” Lastly, I surmise it is along this edge mythopoetics develops a poetic perspective in which one continues the confrontation with depth layers of soul begun in heroic fashion by Freud and Jung at the onset of the 20th century.
I am indebted to the work of David L. Miller for insights into the matter of mythopoesis particularly his Panarion address of 1976 in which he states such things as “the revolution in poesis imagines killing” and “its mode is sacrificial”.1 Plainly he means poetic perspective begins in the killing off of the point of view of conscious sides to take on a poetizing view of unconscious things. As he says it, one is seeing beyond all imitation of ego claims “to take on one’s own view of things held deep within the imagination of psychical images themselves.”2 David suggests this is the remembering of one’s own individuality.
And so I will share in the body of the narrative that follows a moment in 1970 when I experience a poesis of alienation, a feeling of tension and angst as if a fish out of water. In retrospect, I realize this moment of alienation is what Joseph Campbell in the hero cycle will refer to as “the call.” The call seems to come in a moment of darkness. When Campbell says you enter into participation where things are darkest and there is no path, and, if my own experience is an example, I can assure you, he means it!
Unknown to me embarking on my own life path there is already the move from a narrative mode of story-telling to a mythical mode of story-telling introduced into the larger body of American culture. This short paper revisits mythopoesis as a mythical method beginning with Slochower’s book followed by the work of theologian and poet, Stanley Romaine Hopper and various artist-scholars and scholar-artists central to helping my own shift from a literal to a literary method of seeing and storytelling from a point of reference deep―within the imagination of psychical images. I have italizied those words to emphasize the metaphoric space as a form of soul. It is that psyche which yields Hopper’s phrase, “poetry in extreme.”
THE MYTHOPOETIC VIEW OF MYTH
Should you set about gathering literature on the term mythopoesis, you discover very quickly its introduction into literary discussion by Harry Slochower in 1970 in a book by the same name. William Doty suggests Slochower has in mind “situations where meanings of mythical accounts had been re-visioned, the original literal tellings of myths and stories transformed into symbolically new versions."3 (italics mine)
The space of desire in such an account or what is not said is that the word/image “myth” in the Doty quote above is a zero, a placeholder standing in for something going on in the 1970’s in western culture i.e. a “death of god” in which the literal beliefs inherited and handed down in the translations of mythic images of former societies are fast becoming no longer believable in the society of 1970 literally. This is the year I graduate high school and I remember experiencing this alienation. No wonder I take an instant liking to the term when I encounter it during post graduate studies years later! In other words, finding the literal interpretation of mythic images intolerable requires the move I and many others make in 1970 toward a symbolic application of the literal telling of myths. Consequently, there is now a mythopoetic view of myths.
The move from myth to mythopoesis is a move from the literal to the literary.4 One attempts the depth, or hidden work of images through poetry and fiction, through poetizing and fictioning. One cannot say “mythopoesis” and not gather into this space of desire such notions as identity and imagination, logos and mythos, word and image.
So what Doty notes is that Slochower references neither myth nor mythologies when he employs the word, “myth” to denote the subject matter of his book. The subject matter of Slochower’s book is not mythic plots (stories) but what so seizes the imagination it initially causes the classical writers to continue to develop the pattern’s metamorphoses transforming their various accounts into “a unified work of art.”5 Now what do you suppose it is that has seized the imagination like this? If the word, “image” or “imagined form” or even the notion of both word and image written as word/image comes to mind, you are thinking what I am thinking.
SO WHAT IS MEANT BY “IMAGE” ANYWAY?
My late colleague, cultural mythologer Maggie Macary gave one of the best descriptions in one of the last blog essays she would ever write for what is meant by image.
An image is a weave of subtleties that encompass texture, emotion, content. An image is not what we look at; it is what we see through, as seeing through a lens or a mirror. It has the ability to change us, emotionally, psychologically, perhaps even spiritually. It gives us emotion and context and supplies us with the textures of the world around us.6
If I say to you, “I am holding a cup of coffee,” and you hold this in your mind, it points to what the word, “image” does not refer. But if I point to my cup and say, “I’m holding a cup of sorrow and I will drink it to the dregs,” now you are holding in your mind a picture such as the word “image” refers. Identity (I) is making a connection to an image in the imagination and not to the cup I literally hold. Image carries a symbolic significance through a process that is imaginal and a mode that is creative.
MYTHOPOESIS: RE VISIONING MYTH POETICALLY
Slochower titles the preface to his book, “Mythopoesis: The Tradition of Creativity.” And this is the mythic space I think we are talking about today when we think or say “myth.” We are talking about a creative space of the imagination where we begin to think with a tradition of re-visioning myth poetically. That isn’t going to produce a poem necessarily. Arriving here will have produced a way of seeing. And this will be a way of seeing anything. Call this a poetic seeing of the metaphor. “The Word,” says the poet, “is not words, it is wording.”7 That is one of the changes I think is taking place. Today everyone’s a poet, or they could be.
At his Chautauqua Lectures in 1974 when Professor Stanley Romaine Hopper addresses metaphors of alienation and the changing way in which language functions in the western consciousness, he introduces the thought of the recently deceased French philosopher, Gaston Bachelard. Quoting Bachelard, Hopper elucidates, “because of this, a new definition of a poet is in view, which is ‘he who knows, that is to say, who transcends, and names what he knows.’”8 It seems to me what is said is not just that it is the language of poetry that is valid but that poetic language is a way of seeing metaphorically the way our metaphors see us and this way of seeing is what in our day has once more become valid precisely because it is open to everyone.
There is a second reason this insight is valuable, however. It concerns dissimilar realms of force and thinking in western psyche in language usage. Professor Hopper frames this beautifully that day in his lecture on metaphors of alienation by juxtaposing two kinds of thinking, “the logical, propositional type of thinking” and “this more imagistic and metaphoric type of thinking.”9
The matter is taken up again in 1981 by Charles Winquist who writes
The problem is to understand the oxymoronic state of affairs at the very heart of our being-in-the-world. There is a hinge between the unsaid and the said, economics and semantics, force and meaning, that is by its very nature necessarily a disjunctive conjunction. The dissimilar realms of force and meaning conjoin at what must be the ontological equivalent to metaphor. This trope in the order of being is at the origin of our experience of consciousness….10
This space of desire, this “disjunctive conjunction” or the desire to bring back into what is said that which is left out and what remains unsayable is what Professor Hopper has noticed. Hopper indicates already in 1974 and long before Winquist formulates his insight, the “disjunctive conjunction” is a shrewd observation, one in our times reminted from a quote by Robert Browning to read “Man’s reach must exceed his grasp or what’s a metaphor.” It points to where metaphor occurs in the large sense, “at the point where man’s analytic reach begins to exceed the analytic grasp, and then he resorts to another kind of thinking.”11 This kind of poetizing move is what I think has happened in the move from myth into mythopoesis.
It seems to me myth provides a creative context for man’s identity to be explored. So where I am attentive to this matter when we think about how it is now and how we moved from the modern to the post-modern literary period, I think we have to include both identity and imagination in the conversation. Slochower says as much when he writes, “The myth addresses itself to the problem of identity…. In mythic language, the problems deal with Creation, with Destiny and with the Quest.” And a little bit later he writes, “The myth also contains the tradition of re-creation.” 12
If what mythopoesis is circumscribes a re-visioning of mythic tellings and in so doing creates a tradition of reprocessing older material, one will also note when Slochower writes this word to provide us its definition, he writes it this way: “Mytho-poesis” and he accents in italics that notion “poiein” which in Greek means “to make” and this is how William Doty can say mythopoesis is a term built from the Greek verb mythopoiein when he also acknowledges it may derive from the noun mythopoia, the making of story or myth.13 (Earlier spellings of “mythopoia” are mythopoeia, Latin and mythopoiia, Greek).
If myth was formerly our narrative method, mythopoesis replaces it as our mythical method. And this is to what the term “fictionalize” then refers. You see we are breaking away in our western dualism of thought. Hopper in his 1974 lecture is noticing this mythic shift.14 And likewise, Slochower may be noticing what earlier poets were already doing.
MYTHOPOESIS: THE FUNCTIONING OF A LIVING MYTH
One of the first poets to suggest the notion in literary writing of a “mythical method” is T.S Eliot. Commenting in 1923 on James Joyce’s Ulysses, Eliot states
In using the myth, in manipulating a continuous parallel between contemporaneity and antiquity, Mr. Joyce is pursuing a method which others must pursue after him. They will not be imitators, any more than the scientist who uses the discoveries of an Einstein in pursuing his own, independent, further investigations. It is simply a way of controlling, of ordering, of giving a shape and a significance to the immense panorama of futility and anarchy which is contemporary history. [...] Instead of narrative method, we may now use the mythical method.15
Mythopoesis acknowledges individual creativity experienced, realized and held and when, as Joseph Campbell indicates, communicated at some level of depth and import, this communication itself will function as a living myth. But this is true only if one’s recognition and response to the mythic images are uncoerced.16 Campbell goes on to express the characteristics of this communication carries “a mythological canon, symbolically organized, ineffable in import by which the energies of aspiration are evoked and gathered toward a focus.”17
That seems to me to be a little description of what’s going on. When a mythopoetizing is underway, if the individual experience can be communicated at some level of import and degree of depth, the mythopoesis itself is functioning as a living myth. A lot of what mythopoesis invokes involves the work of demystifying one’s own beliefs to dissolve illusions and challenge one’s own tacit presuppositions about the nature of the real.
MYTHOPOESIS: FROM LITERAL TO LITERARY TELLING
Hopper’s later work at Syracuse is a forerunner to a group of scholars of religion looking to novelists and poets, not to mention philosophers, for indications of religious movement in culture, thinks Robert Moore. Moore, who studied religion and literature with Hopper at Syracuse University, quotes Hopper as saying that ours is a time when the myth sustaining us is weakened. And Moore continues
What he meant in part, is that our sense of the divine is no longer as externally placed as in former times….We are breaking away from the dualistic world of inner and outer, mind and matter, and even fact and imagination.18
This may cause culture to attempt to reinstate the myth. I think something like that is going on right now. But, it doesn’t have to move this way. Moore, again writing of his days of study with Hopper, says we attempt this kind of cultural movement thinking it will be the only thing that will hold us together.19 We might invent new myths or develop counter myths turning us toward the opposite vision of the mythic dominants favored by those wishing to reinstate the status quo. The latter move furthers cultural fragmentation, violence, further destruction and feelings of hopelessness; the former fails us in its level of depth inspiration.20
One begins more and more to see how important the image is to making the move from a literal telling of myth to a literary telling of myth and that a crisis in mythological consciousness takes place not outside poetic consciousness.
MYTHOPOESIS: THAT WHICH MAKES US SEE, SEES!
Yet, if at first it seems inside the poet, not to the poet themselves is it happening but rather a change is happening in language usage, wording― poesis!21 And the power of the poetic image is what has an impact on and changes the way the poet sees. The poet, seeing through the image begins to see the way the image sees. And this is the form of soul that sees how things themselves see. This form of soul, David Miller suggests, reflects “transparency of soul” and David employs Professor Hopper’s language calling the strategy “poetic in the extreme.” Miller means metaphor turned diaphor. This, he says, implies “a certain transparency both within oneself and toward all things.”22
MYTHOPOESIS: THAT WHICH MAKES US, MAKES US SEE IT
Psychoanalyst and cultural mythologer Bradley Olson adds remembering to the mix of notions we’ve been examining as mythopoesis and in a very early internet blog sums things this way:
Gaston Bachelard has written, “Everything that makes us see, sees.” Not only that, but I would add that everything that makes us, makes us see it. The interplay of memory and poesis forces one to see through images and events, to see diaphorically what it is that breathes me–and this is mythopoesis.23
Brad’s image narrative reaches back toward David’s image of metaphor turned diaphor, a “poetry in extreme” showing that remembering signals a stepping back to see from the point of view of where one previously stood. (meaning understood!) This is actually how my paper begins and where it begins. It begins in my own remembering of how it is for me in 1970 when Slochower’s book on mythopoesis is first published. I am stepping back from my thinking then to begin making the move from literal seeing and telling down into the word/image, “mythopoesis” and getting in touch with the metaphors of alienation the way I carry them forward. I am thinking, too, about how they show up and are themselves undergoing metamorphoses the way they are at work now. But, there is a caveat here. With the advent of the ballooning of internet communications media, mythopoesis moves not into some distant future to come but is moving from now into extended nows causing mythopoesis to operate through an aesthetics in expression from within a continually expressing “now” or “now” continuum.
MYTHOPOESIS: RE VISIONING THE SYMBOLIC APPLICATION
This brings me to the last portion of my essay. The shift from the literal to the literary method of seeing and telling that begins in the last part of the 20th century with the introduction of the term “mythopoesis” into culture and Western language in the publishing of Slochower’s book suggests seeing by way metaphor changes the eye. It necessitates a movement into our psychical “belowness.” And it’s indicating our recognitions are coming from here at a moment the world sounds an apocalyptic note. Sounding the apocalyptic end note marks the beginning of depth, of soul. It is the recognition of this psychological desire for the making of new meanings at work and recognition of the faith one has (consciously or unconsciously) in the method that makes meaning possible in the 21st century.
This is what one could imagine happens in 1970 just at this moment where there is this aesthetic re-cognition and re-membering of the symbolic application of a literal telling of myth coming into being in-between that mythic literalism previously held over and against Western psyche’s own language predisposition toward propositional understanding. This symbolic application of mythic re-tellings is what we are calling the move into a mythic model of re-visioning myth or “mythopoesis.”
At the same time we are moving this way we are moving between two eras, the end of the mechanical era of linear communications and beginning of an electronic era of simultaneity which Hopper notes McLuhan calls “hybridization.”24 Hopper suggests this term and the phenomenon of simultaneity refer not merely to the arts, language and thinking but also to culture.25 Hybridization acknowledges the boundaries separating modes of mythic experience are smashed and for the first time everyone can instantly experience from their smart phones and laptops the modes of experience of other cultures such as the Native American, Chinese, Japanese, Iranian, African, etc..
Professor Hopper says the mode of awareness of such others is one of immediacy opposed to our own more analytic and speculative mode of seeing.26 It is an experience coming from everywhere at once. And because these are modes of seeing over and against our own they tend to produce anti-environments and counter-environments27 which force in our own mode of thought this step back and down. And a third step must necessitate, a step through to dissolve metaphors of alienation by way transparencies of instantaneous recognition that defer meaning and display meaning difference. This brings out into the open the hiddenness of our own uniquely held image/idea more and more just the way Olson says the image makes us see it.
The space where Dr. Olson, myself and many other cultural mythologers are working includes the virtual. There is something about the internet culture that helps change the eye and helps make us aware instantly of the anti-environments, the kind of space we are in, the subtle metaphors of movements within our environments, our culture, family, community― our world. The internet itself has become our tech and technique of discovery.
Just like myself, many other cultural mythologers, not all of whom are poets, have chosen to encounter our collectively held images virtually and to entertain working with them through the mythic and poetic literary mode of seeing, mythopoesis.
1 Miller, David L.. Mythopoesis, Psychopoesis, Theopoesis: The Poetries of Meaning Part One, Panarion Conference, 1976. C.G. Jung Los Angeles, 1976.
3 Doty, William G.. Mythography: The Study of Myths and Rituals. Alabama: University Alabama Press, 2000. p.20.
4 For Slochower the word, myth, derived from the same root as mystery and mystic, designates “ a pictoral hypothesis”; myths do not exist but enable us to explain an empirical event or predict events in the empirical world. See Mythopoesis, Michigan: Wayne University Press, p. 19.
7 Hopper Stanley Romaine. Why Persimmons and Other Poems. “When I Was Small In Becoming.” Georgia: Scholar Press, 1987, p. 75.
8 Hopper, Stanley R. “The Relationship of Religion To Art And Culture: The Metaphors of Alienation”. Lecture given at Chautauqua Institution Chautauqua, New York, August 13, 1974.
10 Winquist, Charles E.. “The Archeology of the Imagination: Preliminary Excavations”. JAAR Thematic Studies 48/2. Michigan: Edward Bro., 1981. p. 65.
14 Moore, Thomas. Hanley, Joan. Original Self: Living With Paradox and Originality. New York: Harper Collins, 2000, p 138.
15 T.S. Eliot. “Ulysses, Order, and Myth,” The Dial, November, 1923, 483.
16 Campbell, Joseph. The Masks of God: Creative Mythology. New York: Penguin, 1968. p.4.
18 Moore, Thomas, Original Self, Ibid.
21 Referencing a poetic achievement of failure calling into being a new mode of understanding , David L. Miller notes Hopper quotes Friedrich Schelling: “The crisis through which the world and the history of the gods develop is not outside the poets; it takes place in the poets themselves; it makes their poems…it is the crisis of the mythological consciousness which in entering into them makes the history of the gods. See “Theopoiesis: A Perspective on the Work of Stanley Romaine Hopper”, Internet Archive May 23, 2008 http://web.archive.org/web/20080523221911/http:/www.mythopoetry.com/dialogs/miller_theopoiesis.html accessed August 29, 2011.
24 Hopper, Stanley R. “The Relationship of Religion To Art and Culture: Psyche and the Golden Rams of the Sun.” Chautauqua Lectures, Chautauqua, New York, August 14, 1974.
Nominated in the community generated category #mythopoetics, Mythopoesis in the 21st Century
Or "Poetry In The Extreme", a part of the top ten nominated pages from this issue, finishes competition on 2/18/14 with an overall standing in position ***37*** among more than 3,500 nominees. Congratulations to Stephanie Pope on this fine achievement.
*** **** ****** *** **** **** **** *** ****** *** **** ***