New Scholarship?

A friend of mine recently sent me an e-mail that contained the following question:

I have been thinking a lot about this statement you made on your blog over the summer:

And, while I’m happy to be a book-thumping mythologist and an arm-chair psychologist, it’s time to get some new scholarship published that isn’t just reciting or repackaging the same old theories that have been tossed around for 100 years now. In other words, stop theorizing and start doing. I’m still working on my plan of action for this step.

Have you figured out a plan of action yet?

Since this is a very appropriate question, especially as I slough ever closer a conclusion (to my dissertation, that is), I took a moment to jot down and answer. And here it is:

I’m not sure I have a specific answer, especially since somehow suggesting an answer seems to me to be a major act of hubris. But, as I read the Tweets about the Occupy movement, I’m more convinced that something needs to happen. The Occupy movement is great in that the youth are finally doing, but it falls short in that they don’t have a unified front of what they are protesting, which is what I’m afraid is going to happen when all the mythologists start doing something. "Saving the world" is an awfully big challenge.

It seems to me that the best course of action is for each mythologist to identify a particular aspect of "the world" s/he wants to see fixed and utilize the tools available for them to move in a direction of healing. For example, I’ve become fascinated with the idea of the Cold War instigating a paradigm shift in American myth and how our response to it constructed the environment we’re currently living in, one based on Baudrillard’s concept of hyperreality. So then, my question is whether we can break down the simulacra and restore groundedness in some sense of reality without totally shattering America’s idealistic, Romantic, utopian views. My current tool, since I’m not formally published in many places, is to blog my thoughts, but to also construct lectures in my classes that invite students to think about these very questions and consider plans of action. Granted, only a few students actually walk away with any semblance of a plan, but I hold to the ideal that if I can sink into a couple of them, then they will spread the word and so on. I’m not expecting a quick fix, which is definitely not what we need–though I do think we need a mythic Band-aid in the interim as we realign our thinking, and that’s what really great myths these days are providing, such as Harry Potter or LOTR or Star Wars or whatever. They make us think about good and evil, love and hate, and model for us how to handle those emotions.

I once saw a Pacifica dissertation defense for a project constructed around using myths to help children of soldiers cope with their parent’s injuries (physical and mental). This student constructed a puppet stage play with the container of children asking an old wounded vet about why Daddy acts weird or why he had to lose a leg, and the old vet would respond with an older myth that answered the question, but the myth was used in the context of getting the children to connect their own situation with the myth and figure out for themselves the solution they were asking for. This particular model works great for younger kids, but I wonder how well it would work for older kids and adults. My concern with this latter example is that it pulls myths out of time and place (which is the point, according to the laws of archetypes), and I find that mythologists who use this practice ignore/overlook America’s own mythology altogether. I know this is a matter of opinion (and possibly national pride?), but overlooking American myth (not the same as Native American) reinforces the hyperreality by constructing a false relationship to myth that ignore the fundamental aspects of American culture.

I’m not really sure yet what overlooking American myth means yet. In the majority of my readings, the idea of American myth is something relatively recent, so maybe this is also something that will turn around.

Mythologists who toe the line between technology and myth are in a unique position. I think there is a lot of promise for a fusion between the two, but I haven’t yet figured out what that end goal should be. Pacifica recently launched the Study of Myth, which is supposed to be a discussion forum for all things myth, with a preference for the same conversation within the already established (ruts) discussions happening at Pacifica, the Opus Archives and the JCF. But discussion forums only go so far. Somehow, I almost wonder if an "Occupy Myth" movement is the next way to go. Except, rather than occupy a park, we occupy liminal space and democratically vote on our list of demands from the Cosmos and develop ways to take myth out of the discussion/educational forum and make it practical to everyday life. And to move away from the "Hero’s Journey" formula, because that formula cannot apply to everyone’s personal experience.

This is as far as I’ve thought. What are your thoughts, Dear Reader?

2 thoughts on “New Scholarship?

  1. Hey, this is Gary from First of all, I think your argument and thesis are quite plausible based on the uncertain times we live in. In my opinion, rather than looking at myth as an approach to healing the psyche, one should look at myth as a cyclical affair meant to rouse the inner primal connection to myth that seems to have been lost in the twenty-first century. In Carl Jung’s “Civilization in Transition”, Jung hints that a loss of faith is a loss of direction (92). Personally, I believe that the human psyche grows through cycles involving the evolution of the psyche in relation to the natural world. This is to say that like Tomas Love Peacock, the human psyche is changing with the natural world. Peacock states in “The Four Ages of Poetry” that poetry and the world have four stages, being the age of iron, gold, silver and brass. According to his theory, we as a civilization are in the brass age (or the ironic/satirical world) nearing the revisitation of the iron age which is the completion of the circle where I believe we will begin again and return to the primal of our origins set in creation of new myth and romance. Again, this is only my theory as a synthesis with Peacock, but I believe the human psyche is ready for a new age… perhaps a post-post modernism, the rediscovery of an old myth or the creation of a new myth.


    P.s. I am very interested in possible study for my Masters and Doctorate in Mythological studies at Pacifica after my Masters in English Literature here at Centenary College. Can you email me with your personal impressions of the program, how the classes, lectures, papers are set up and how big the classes are as well as how flexible the program is to a student of literature and philosophy such as myself?

    1. Hi Gary, I completely agree that myth is a cyclical process. Especially given the number of ancient mythologies that point to a cyclical cycle for humanity. Many of the same issues we experience today, such as Jung’s observation that a loss of faith is a loss of direction, parallel previous events in history. A similar loss of faith can be found towards the fall of the Roman Empire or in the transition period between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, for instance. This suggests to me that the current phase of disillusion (and despair) is really a reflection of some kind of paradigm change. This seems to be the psychological power of myth (following the claim that myth is a voice of the collective mind). When time comes for an old myth to step aside and a new myth to take its place, a collective wave of destabilization occurs. I also agree that we are moving into a new age (I’ve heard post-technologism thrown around a couple times). Perhaps we may see a melding of old myth with the creation of a new myth. So what happens next?

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