Mythic Thinking, or: e-mail flow about Disney, nostalgia, and lots of other good stuff

It’s very rare that I run into someone who shares many of the same questions and wonder that I do, at least who lives in my physical community. His name is Adam, his blog can be found at blatner.com/adam/blog/, and he’s my dissertation’s external reader, which means that he’s not part of my school’s immediate community. Back in December 2010, we had a fun e-mail exchange and decided to post them to our respective blogs so the purposes to preserving/expanding the conversation. Feel free to comment in either place. Or not, as the case may be.

Dec 16, AB:  Hi Priscilla, just saw Disney’s Tangled… thinking of Disney Mythos…

I had written to you about the nostalgia of rolling coins for the bank, to cash in little packages for paper money—before change machines made these obsolete.   But to your email question: re missing rolling coins: You wrote: > It seems that the grief that comes from no longer rolling coins comes from a type of nostalgia for a little nugget of humanity that has been greatly overshadowed by other nuggets. So I’m curious, what is the fine line that separates “aesthetic indulgence” from nostalgia?
AB: Good question: In the realm of mind, things are fuzzy. What weight shall we give to certain memory-emotions? Shall we savor them as sweet? But if they are painful, perhaps re-framing them as unnecessary suffering, to be seen through as indulgence.
As I warm up I mean by that term that part of me wants everything and wants to pay nothing. The world seemed to offer that in one universe, the universe of pre-paying-for-your-own-candy 4 year-old-ness.
Much attaches to the sheer sweetness of routine, much that is regressive. Much is okay to savor ritual, for that is what’s happening, and no one is the worse for wear.
Many conflicts arise when new traditions, new generations, wanting to do the Mass in non-Latin, or with contemporary liturgy!
Or turning it sideways, when is nostalgia kind of nice to have and when does it get to be a bother?
What if a little bit overlaps with poignancy, the bitter-sweet element in grief? Without it perhaps we are not human enough.
Do you know of my theory of optimal ranges? http://blatner.com/adam/consctransf/controlsurrender.html
or    http://blatner.com/adam/psyntbk/littlebit.htm ?

– – –

P   December 18, 2010 Re: nostalgia, aesthetic indulgence, balance

Wasn’t Tangled fabulous?

AB: I’m not sure it was that great; my son thought it was. I thought it was sort of ordinary, but it does carry forward a gentle theme of re-empowering women that we saw not only recently, but through the emergence of thoughtful and empowered women in Mulan (Chinese), Pocahontas, etc. A number of women have had more fire since the more traditional and wussy qualities of Snow White or Cinderella.

PH: I think what made it fabulous is that Disney owned up to the fact that they were taking a plunge and doing a hefty rewrite of the story and in so doing, made a coming-of-age journey not only for the princess but also for the thief. It has multiple readings because it has multiple heroes.

PH2  On nostalgia: It seems to me that nostalgia becomes a bother when it becomes a neurosis. For example, I think it’s okay periodically to indulge one’s inner 4-year-old self and reminisce on those pre-paying-for-your-own-candy days because those kinds of memories arise when they do for a reason, either something in the unconscious has remained unresolved (and the best way to communicate the need for some resolution is through the exploration of said memory) or maybe something in the current timeline parallels the memory thus bringing it to the surface.

AB: The stimulating point you make is the idea that things can be “resolved.” I want to challenge that, to some extent. I think our mental tensions can be relieved in many ways:

— the perplexity that emerges when a situation doesn’t make sense, and then the connections are made, resulting in a light catharsis, aha, insight,

— the connection of past and present, the naming of the feelings

— the re-owning of a thought, idea, or feeling that had been disowned, often a sense of vulnerability, perhaps also the degrees of resentment or rage, whatever is repressed..

…but, for other things, and sometimes including the aforementioned but on a different level, there is no resolution, and the goal of resolution is misleading. It implies the ah, that’s-taken-care-of feeling.

PH: “Resolve” and “Resolution” are two words with fairly loaded meanings. They suggest a finality, which is — unfortunately — expressed in the models of psychology and to an extent mythology and the Hero’s Journey. In my own visualization, I imagine the circular Hero’s Journey  (and it’s many different uses) as being more spiral shaped: at the end of every cycle is a new one that builds upon the other. Some doors have to be closed to make the climb to the next stage, but those same doors provide the foundations for every single experience to follow. If there’s something that’s not allowed to become that support, then the possibility exists that the spiral will be instable. For example, if there was a particular trauma during one cycle that is carried through to the next cycle, then the first cycle is missing a key element that makes it a stable foundation. Like the game of Jenga.

AB: There are negative thoughts, temptations to negative or primitive or immature desires, such as having-it-all, or obliterating-the-past, that just cannot in reality be resolved. They must instead be contained. Some negativity is contained by turning away from it, focusing energy, attention, value to the “light” rather than the “dark side.” Jesus said, “Get thee behind me, Satan.” He didn’t say, “Let’s work this out.” There’s a place for just dropping it, turning away from it, refusing it—which is not repression. It’s more suppression, a conscious act, a decision from a higher point of consciousness.

PH: Perhaps Jesus’s “Get thee behind me” was what was appropriate for the time and place, in a world with more daily evils facing each and every person. Perhaps Jesus was suggesting a repression of the evil in order to give people the strength to move forward. With the evils we face today being more or less imaginary (with exceptions, many of the more heinous evils are reduced to news bits broadcast to most of the population who can only take the news companies at their word), the relationship to those negativities have also changed, but our psyche still wants to believe in the “black or white” model. For example, when the time came, Darth Vader protected his son from the Emperor and his son, in turn, rescued him from the Death Star and gave him a proper burial. This wasn’t just an act of “redemption,” but the graying of the black and white. Even in Harry Potter’s world, the dark wizards have compassion for their own families. The ones who didn’t, didn’t survive the story.

PH2  However, there are a number of people who seem “hung up” on a particular memory that they keep trying to relive it daily to the point that they forget to live in the here and now.

AB: Yes, repetition compulsion replaces “get a life, already!”

PH Now, I’m supportive of dreamers — I think I made it through high school on daydreams rather than hours upon hours of studying — but there’s a point where the dreaming poses a disconnect from the conscious world.

AB: You made it through high school because you were so smart that you didn’t need those extra hours to study. Those with less brain power find that their daydreams generate F marks. So the question is whether or not you can multi-task effectively. In your case, yes. It’s one of your charms. In most folks’ case, no.

PH: I caught an NPR headline this morning reporting on a study that says that playing video games helps develop the multi-tasking ability. What are video games but today’s dreams?

PH For example, are you familiar with the film Napoleon Dynamite? There is a character in that film who keeps reliving his 1985 high school football season, hoping to one day get the chance to make up for a failed season (I can’t recall if he just missed an important play or if he somehow was injured). He couldn’t connect with Napoleon in that he couldn’t understand how the times have changed..

AB: The first part I addressed before, about daydreams and repetition compulsion.

PH. Similarly, this nostalgic neurosis plays out in the fear of the past. I think this is especially the case when critics contemplate over the Disneyization of this or that, from “Snow White” to Times Square. Nostalgia is perceived as a hindrance to progress, as opposed to a small step back as one prepares for the gigantic leap forward.

AB: I see it as a necessary struggle between Senex and Puer, between the forces of Puer’s “Wow, what a great, new, shiny idea!” and Senex’s “Whoa, now, there, lil’ buddy, there are prices to pay, downsides, trade-offs, and that idea will need some amendments!”

I see the best of Senex in the best of Conservativism; the best of Puer in the best of Liberalism. Unfortunately, a significant part of those political leanings includes those who reflect the worst, not the best, of those two complexes:

Excess Puer: Let’s use liberal doctrine to fulfill our dependency gratification, to get taken care of, to make loopholes that poor people like us can take advantage of.

Excess Senex: Let’s use conservative doctrine to justify our holding on to power, to oppress, to make loopholes that rich people like us can take advantage of!

PH: Which is why there’s an entire chapter of my dissertation devoted to this duality. As the Baby Boomers inherit the country, it seems that we are passing it over to the Puer. Of course, the latent Senex is manifesting through the conservative backlash, which has resulted in — yet again — a severe black and white dichotomy in our country. However, the Puer is still dominating with each generation and the Senex has lost its container. The dichotomy happening in our country today is ridiculous, if not completely absurd, because our society is slowly unlearning how to handle the Senex.

PH We’re in a very interesting time right now. Everyone is just skeptical of everything.

AB: Not everyone, dear friend. Most people. But then again, most people are not particularly reflective; and most of those but not all have retreated into complacency, or, if oppressed, into the passivity of the slave mentality, and most of those have allowed themselves to be seduced into their complacency and oppression by a plentiful supply of the “bread and circuses” spoken of by the Roman power elite—i.e., the incredible distraction machine of television and other media.

PH: Bread and circuses has been replaced by fast food and reality tv…

PH It seems that more and more people are finding ways of retreating into Other Worlds, rather than face the reality of yesterday, today or tomorrow.

AB: Yes and no. Yes, but some people are finding ways—media creators, producers, inventors, engineers who make video games, screenwriters who come up with scripts, it’s a whole bunch of whole industries finding ways… and there is some but not that much initiative from people themselves in creating their own games and escapist activities. Indeed, seeking re-creation, generating your own music, singing, dancing, and lay participation, is inevitable, not all that escapist. My focus is on the ratio of how much escapism is generated by Industry and how much generated by one’s own participation.

But who does what is secondary: Yes, distraction is a problem as it has undermined civil discourse and genuine social action.

PH: I would even dare to suggest that the realms of social media and iphone apps designed to aid in the recreation are in themselves other worlds. Granted, these aren’t other worlds in the Tolkien sense, but they are nonetheless other worlds not part of the present. There is a need to connect with something, which fuels the need for creation or distraction. But for some reason, that something isn’t part of our every day experience. Perhaps this is the result of the Puer taking over the country and letting us all play without Senex being allowed to tell us when to put it away and go to bed.

PH  In those essays you sent, you suggest that this can be helped with surrender. yet, somehow it seems (to me at least) that the surrender many are reacting with is a surrender to the extreme.

AB: Yes, we must take responsibility to choose what we surrender to and when. I have more thoughts on this elsewhere. Surrender itself can be childish, an abdication of responsibility. Or it can be the wiser road, especially when it is well balanced with taking responsibility for that which we can control, and recognizing fairly accurately, as Reinhold Niebuhr suggested in his Serenity Prayer, what we cannot control.

PH  We’re not a culture whose psyche is programmed for balance, yet we seem able to grock the idea that we need it.

AB: No culture, no psyche, no parts of the cosmos is programmed for balance. It’s all exploratory, over-reach, feedback, adjustment. Sometimes that dialectical process involves in the creation of an unstable star that explodes. Sometimes the tectonic shift generates imbalance that in turn generates geo-cataclysms of earthquake, tsunamis, volcanoes. In music, it gets too loud and pulls back, too soft and pulls back…  It’s not just our culture, but existence itself which operates as a dynamic process, lurching around and getting battered back into enantiodromia.. the pendulum swing of currents of psyche…

PH: Doesn’t the fact that we can imagine balance suggest that it is out there somewhere in the cosmos? Or even that the attraction to Eastern philosophies lies in the fact that they teach balance at the outset?

PH This time of year is an excellent time for bringing out the nostalgia in us all, don’t you think? Something about the holidays and all that comes with it: fires, hot cocoa, Christmas trees and gifts, Santa Claus… It’s a recipe of nostalgia for everyone’s 4 year old self! Well, maybe 8 year old self. That’s the magic age for a lot of the really super “cool” toys.

AB: Yes, why can’t it be like the “golden days of yore” ?  Of course, 94% of that yore was alternately boring or over-stressed, but that part is forgotten. We remember such a small portion, and take away the burning memories of occasions for shame or guilt—which may represent half of our memory—and cling—that’s the key word and dynamic—cling to those bits of memory as golden dreams—and idealize, amplify, expand… and ask in all innocence, “Gee, it used to be so great in the olden days.. why can’t it be like that now?”   Idealization is the psychological dynamic: Attributing virtue or excess virtue to certain things not in evidence based on the memory of certain other associations that were perhaps more true.

PH: Our culture holds onto a golden image of those “days of yore,” but that image is slowly losing its potency as it fades further and further into history. Those of my generation could be clinging to memories of childhood, but the society is constantly rereleasing our childhood on dvd.

And here’s a closing thought:

 

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