Wednesday, December 26, 2012

An Excess of Abstraction

Or In Praise of Mythology. All of my heroes have significant flaws—as in they, too, were human—but my admiration for them arose in the first place because they had wonderful insights. I was reminded of that this morning when by happenstance a post here about a year ago—about the Zuni world conception (“The Dance Hall of the Dead” link)—came to mind. I read it again. Now there is a mythological view of the transcendental. And in light of that a post of mine yesterday, about a “science of the spiritual,” fell into better focus. The thought arose: We suffer from an excess of abstraction. We also, of course, suffer from an excess of technology, brittle noise, unnatural flickering motion on millions of screens. That all this should suddenly be forcibly present to me this morning next reminded me of Carl Gustav Jung and his theory of compensation: our greater mind, which he, unfortunately, named the Unconscious, acts as a corrective to the busy working of our conscious mind—and in sleep, in dreams, it reminds us of the Bigger Picture. So I might have dreamt something, although I don’t remember it.

Fleshing this out a little, I am reminded that through vast ages past humanity lived in nature—not in the artificial monstrosity of urban aggregations. Books were nonexistent for most of those times. Collective culture took the form of myths, great narratives, poetry, images. Even after books had come to be, the masses could not read. Here, for instance, a verse by the French poet François Villon, attributed to his mother (1461)†:

I am a woman poor and aged,
I know nothing at all; letters I never read;
At my parish monastery I saw
A painted Paradise with harps and lutes,
And also Hell wherein the damned are boiled:
One gave me fright; the other joyfulness.

Even in this day and age of ridiculously excessive abstraction, real religious feeling continues to be expressed in mythological forms, even on the flickering TV. CNN, for instance treated us to a rich tapestry of images in its re-broadcast of The Two Marys*—images which, in effect, overwhelm the decidedly modernistic message of the accompanying voice-over.

Not everything is concept. And to call all that remains mere emotion is also quite wrong. In the mythologies of humanity a magical fusion takes place of the many facets of soul-experience. And in the next world over, no doubt, we shall once more live “in nature,” not in the calculator our heads have become.
A History of Reading, Alberto Manguel, Viking, 1996, p. 105.
*See also The Two Marys: The Hidden History of the Mother and Wife of Jesus, by Sylvia Browne, Penguin Group, 2007.

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