Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Inhabitants of Mythology

- part 1 in a triptych february 2014

People we meet seem human. In fact, they are often the best approximations we have of human beings. Ourselves? Not so much. We'll never know if we are monster, god, illusion, parasite, host, world, "creative nothing"... ("They say I'm human. That surprises me." "Je est un autre")
    Usually, people we meet act autonomously. They do interact with us, so we can (in a wide sense) manipulate them, but their actions are partly unpredictable. They act partly out of chance and objective necessity, and partly out of something called "free will"; their groping self-understanding and self-rationalisation, strategical (usually careerist) "life choices" and various narcissistic needs for achievements, revenge and acknowledgment/confirmation.
    Sometimes they invade our imaginary world. One notices in dreams and reveries. There, they don't act out of their own shortsighted motives. They act partly out of our needs, but mostly out of the inner dynamics of their character. They have a particular meaning and a particular striking potential.
    In our imaginary world they tend to become part of mythology.
    Still, this population have particular problems. Especially since the relationship between the biographical person and the imaginary person is underdetermined. The imaginary person is separate, has a life of its own, but since it is based on a largely intuitive assessment of the potential of the biographical person, then increased knowledge about the biographical person, as well as real changes in relationship brought about by the biographical person, may either be integrated into a revision of the potential and actually change the imaginary person, or it may be considered irrelevant to that potential and ignored.

Perhaps the most widespread "method of mythologisation" consists of looking for and developing mythological implications of the people met. Under dramatic circumstances in life this is remarkably easy, and indeed people will very willingly act out their "hidden identities" as gods and witches and vampires and secret agents; this is one of the basic mechanisms in paranoia and accessible to everyone. Fantasy stories based in the contemporary world very often rest on this idea, and ETA Hoffmann was basing an implied metaphysics on it which runs through many of his stories. Modern followers have often focused on the paranoid idea that some of the people in our surroundings are gods in fetters or in disguise. I don't know much modern fantasy, but famous examples are Jean Ray in "Malpertuis", Jack Kirby in the "Eternals" saga, Neil Gaiman in "American gods" and in the "Eternals" relaunch, China Mièville in "Kraken". But note also for example "Häxprocessens åskbetingelser" by yours truly.

 Then there are other recruitment bases for mythology than the people we meet.
    One is the spontaneous characterisation in dreams. Through means of creativity that are unconscious yet considered normal, one creates human beings, partly out of fragments and interpretations of people met.
    Another one is the character galleries of novels and classic mythology; of newspapers, ads and various other superficial appearances of celebrities. These do not have the physical appearance of real human beings, but their distinct determinations and lack of privacy makes it easy to imagine their realness, if so desired their humanity, and they may start developing imaginational autonomy and become mythological. (And, as we already noted, they might merge with people we meet, or at least occasionally possess them.)

On one level, this is of course how characters in classic mythology are mythological as well as modern celebrities, by having this combination of simpleness and significance to them, they are readily available as projection surfaces for desires and identifications on a collective level. And wherever that is realised, they therefore tend to transgress their simpleness which might be seen as only a trap.
    In fact, they work very much according to the same mechanisms as symbols. In principle: they are sticky peaks in the imaginary landscape which our fantasies, desires and associations tend to bump into, drawing from their potential to produce meaning, new connections, and emotional intensity, beyond the exhaustible and serving as something like a combination of beacons and stepping stones in the imaginary world and therefore in our orientation in the world on the whole. In fact, the relationship between symbols and mythological characters is far from elucidated. Perhaps mythological characters is just a particular class of symbols. Or a parallel case. I don't know how to circumscribe the realm of symbols.
    In many individuals, the action of the mythological characters is limited to very unsystematic, brief and pedestrian fragments of reverie, and support in rational and semi-rational modelling. People with a particular interest in the imagination or in fetishism will probably cultivate a pantheon with a little more effort, and pay more attention to the instances where characters "break through" to seemingly deliver a "message". In some people this means collecting the characters as idols or pinups or perhaps as specimens in an inner museum which itself becomes a zone of possibilities. Or an imaginary "reference group" to consult for even practical choices in life ("voices-in-the-head"-style, very useful up to the point where they start having a treacherous agenda without that being obvious). In other people, systematically developing them through experimental means such as surrealist games. In yet others, they will be utilised in the production of extensive narrative. Within this area, there is a fundamental difference but in practice pretty much of an uninterrupted continuum between on one hand free-roaming reverie, where events disenvelop entirely according to their inner dynamics, and on the other hand literary fiction, where the author imposes a more linear storytelling by sticking to an overall plan and limiting the character gallery as well as the behavior of the characters to what is considered rational as well as congruent with the plan.
    I'm sort of a novelist; weaving daily continuations and variations to reveries and dreams into an ongoing polyphonic world of imagination which seems no less real than the life biographically acted out. Occasionally I write such stories down but usually I prefer not to, partly because it takes a lot of time, but mostly because it is a nuisance to have a lot of book manuscripts lying around that people nag on you to work hard to try to get published or equally hard to publish yourself. Nevertheless, this particular method of fantasising is something that could be looked more closely upon as an example in this context: but that would be an essay in itself. Ok, I have started writing it, but I don't know if I'll finish.

 Then let's go into a completely different sphere to see another mythological recruitement base, in surrealist research: game suggestions, chance suggestions, interpretation.
    Sometimes we are looking for phantoms, imaginary friends, new members, helpful spirits, talker ghosts, ouija board broadcasters, etc; sometimes they tend to take shape when we are not looking. These are a particularly interesting category because it is not just their utilisation but also their origin which is fundamentally collective: one sees all the early steps in "autonomous entities assuming shape". Being early steps, they are very often not subjectively or emotionally convincing, they are scraps of spirits being born.
    Very often it is just a particular constellation of external characteristics or determinations. Indeed the spirit is usually shown not in its directly palpable form but only through a particular set of attributes which seems to presuppose a spirit and therefore might effectively conjur up a spirit. A bundle of traits which suggests a certain necessity; it may be the subjective necessity of the visionary paranoid, the methodical necessity of the surrealist at play, or the hidden but obvious necessity of poetry, which breeds this spark of autonomous life within these sketchy borders.
    While those, indeed fewer, entities who are more insistent may intrude in our lifes with an autonomy that makes them sometimes subjectively very scary, and this indeed one of the things that are called ghosts in everyday language.

 Yet another recruitment base to mythology, remarkably powerful, is film. Similarly to novels and celebrities, the determinations are made particularly distinct and privacy is abandoned, but similarly to people we meet, film characters appear real. That's why film characters often are the most powerful mythological candidates today. They are real and mythological, just like gods and heroes are said to have been for people in antiquity. They have flesh and movement and atmosphere and one must assume they have a history and a sense of autonomy. And there is certainly a trace of truth (as long as we don't stay to elaborate on it or expect the analogy to be very detailed!) in the popular slogan that film is still the major form of collective dreaming or collective fantasy.
    Of course, a realised film character is realised only through a script and through an actor (as Christian Andersson pointed out in passing in his brilliant essay about the Emma Peel character); the two of them are less important in forming the personality of the character, but they need to live up to it to bringing it to life. But the major components are not the same as the basic components: the major components are the components of imaginary and mythological life: realness, atmosphere and dynamics, the ability to invoke a completely convincing personality (often far more distinct or far more available than the neurotic constructions of personality in biographical humans), a completely convincing history (which may or may not be referred to), and a completely convincing extraordinary (surreal, or supernatural, if you like) significance to their appearance and actions and future; a significance which may be one that ties in with concerns, wishes and fantasies that are present and take them further, or one that seems exemplary in reminding about the greatness of scope of the reasonable tasks and the greatness of implications of everyday actions as an inspiring critique against many petty everyday civil concerns.
    But then of course it is only through one's creative response that some of this potential mythological life starts being realised, and that needs to be triggered by some specific correspondences, usually in the form of intermingling with ongoing analytical or emotional processes elsewhere in biographical or mythological life, and very often in the form of a specific attraction, which will sometimes be very similar to everyday passionate attraction, or, as some try to put it as bluntly as possible, erotic object choice.
    This difficulty is further emphasised by all those film characters which seem to follow the actors that play them rather than the named characters in the script. Many of the most powerful mythological characters from film are indeed actors who are such oracles that it seems like regardless of what role they play, they actually incarnate one and the same character, who is a spirit they're channeling, a character that lends itself to playing all these different characters in different films (similar or dissimilar). The character may even follow the actor in his/her civil life, who knows? (Nobody knows, because it is intensely uninteresting to follow actors in their daily lives.)
    My major uncertainty is where to draw the line to sift away some of the fixations that appear to be perhaps more of actual long-distance love interest than mythological sensitivity. But isn't it on a mythological level that this type of long-distance love interest makes sense? Obviously, yes, I don't know where to draw the line. There is a line. Some attractive actors are just interesting to see because they are attractive and seem real. But then, what is attraction actually? Could we turn it the other way round? Is it perhaps the case that many instances of everyday attraction too are rather cases of sensibility to mythological potential and passionate curiousness in this potential than personal attraction aiming for romance, sex or pair bonding? I can easily recall instances of passionate interest in people where such responses would seem irrelevant. So are there even instances where one would gladly follow any dynamics of events triggered into romance, sex or pair bonding even though the passionate interest is more that of mythological curiosity than personal attraction? Isn't that one particular aspect of the general phenomenology of love, and one that is commonly exalted in surrealist or other concepts of romantisation or erotisation of everyday life?
    I see a lot of film. I'm exalted by characters and actors which can be preliminary grouped for example under the following headings:
    Fully formed mythological beings
    Haunting amoeba-like unknown creatures
    Revelations from outer space
    Utopian playmates (including those imaginable in family terms)
    Human overloads
    Revelations of overwhelming beauty
    Demonic surrealist characters
    Incarnations of aspects of the self
    Examples? You want examples? That's an essay of its own. Ok, I have started writing it, but I don't know if I'll finish.


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