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New Age "Asiatic" thought ... is establishing itself as the
hegemonic ideology of global capitalism. (Zizek)

Sunday, March 9

Finding Your Own Myth

I am barely awake. I know I risk the titters of the enlightened for saying such a thing. "Ah, he is slumbering in the otter darkness." Or perhaps I mean outer darkness. But the typo is felicitous, even fateful, for when I go haring off to Google Images to find an appropriate Otter, where do I find this one but on a site called The Interpretation of Dreams. This was not intentional, I assure you, but does serve to underscore the ubiquity of what I set out - after such a long hiatus - to discuss today. The page where I found this furry water sprite says:
If in a dream you see, how otters peacefully dive and lap in transparent water, in reality to you the happiness and good luck are prepared. For bachelors such dream promises successful marriage. 
The page is festooned with astrological sun signs and other assorted paraphernalia of the psychic prediction business. To me, the happiness and good luck are prepared indeed, because what I was meaning to discuss was precisely this sort of magical thinking. However, the Otter was merely a gift from Source, as Marianne Williamson might say. I wasn't really shooting for such low-hanging fruit as broken-English dreambooks.

No, I was shooting for some version of this thing Carl Jung once said...
It struck me what it means to live with a myth, and what it means to live without one... so, in the most natural way, I took it upon myself to get to know my myth, and this I regarded as my task of tasks.
Now it turns out Jung wrote that in Symbols of Transformation, in the edition that appears in the Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Volume 5. I found the quote on something called Hero's Journey Foundation on a page about...

But what gets lost in the ellipsis is this...
...I suspected that myth had a meaning which I was sure to miss if I lived outside it in the haze of my own speculations. I was driven to ask myself in all seriousness: "What is the myth you are living?" I found no answer to this question, and had to admit that I was not living with a myth, or even in a myth, but rather in an uncertain cloud of theoretical possibilities which I was beginning to regard with increasing distrust. I did not know that I was living a myth, and even if I had known it, I would not have known what sort of myth was ordering my life without my knowledge. So, in the most natural way, I took it upon myself to get to know "my" myth, and I regarded this as the task of tasks...
If I were inclined to be kind to old Carl - something I'm usually not so ready to do these latter days - I would interpret this as meaning he realized he was, as we say, "laboring under an illusion." That's not what he meant, though, and it's certainly not what the boundless world of Joseph Campbell-driven bliss followers thought he meant. What he meant was that he longed for some higher-level - oh hell c'mon, let's call it mystical - principle that would invest that random and "uncertain cloud of theoretical possibilities" - that haze of his own speculations - with something like meaning.

But here be dragons, sportsfans. Let's say that, after casting about a bit, you decide your myth is that of Atlas. And perhaps you then conceive an overwhelming need to shrug. Can this cause you problems as an individual? You bet. Can it destabilize an entire civilization? Ask Paul Ryan, Clarence Thomas, Alan Greenspan, Rand Paul, his aged dad, and - god help us - Pamela Geller. Because they are still living the myth, and as Stevie Wonder so presciently told us long ago: when you believe in things that you don't understand, then you suffer. No, superstition ain't the way. But it sure as shit is popular these days!

That's an unusual example, though, coming as it does from a right-wing tweaker with a dime-store Nietzsche complex. In the more typical case, the myths are provided by what Jung called archetypes of the collective unconscious, like the Bermuda Triangle, UFOs, and how Mayans invented television. Say you read Amor and Psyche by Jung's disciple Erich Neumann, and now you think you're an especially deep kinda chick being subjected to various cosmically meaningful tests by some cosmically meaningful invisible hand - maybe Marianne Williamson's "Source," who knows? You sure don't. Or perhaps you read Joseph Campbell's Hero With a Thousand Faces, and you think you're on some sort of, you know, quest - maybe involving Magic: the Gathering, or to save a big pile of Bitcoin from the fire-breathing NSA dragon. That'd be exciting, right?

Jung himself wrote about the dangers of such psychic inflation in his "Two Essays On Analytical Psychology" (Collected Works of C. G. Jung, Volume 7).
I... showed that to annex the deeper layers of the unconscious, which I have called the collective unconscious, produces an extension of the personality leading to the state of inflation.
And by this, he didn't mean something good. What he meant was megalomania. Despite the warning - which has served as more of a come-on - the goal of Jung's Analytical Psychology was a little number he called "individuation," the integration of the collective archetypes into the Self. He nearly always capitalized it because we're no longer talking about that random and "uncertain cloud of theoretical possibilities," which he was "beginning to regard with increasing distrust." In contrast, the Self could be something solid and certain, something brave, courageous and bold. Something meaningful. And this idea has caught fire with the mystic bourgeoisie: that you could live in a wonderful multicolored miasma of signs and portents, of foxy shamanic babes and powerful magic heroes, insulated at last from any reality except the one you weave around yourself, one that makes infinitely greater and more delicious sense than the quotidian cardboard world of mere human beings.

btw, my various googlings today first turned up the above quote, which is all over the fucking internet. I found it attributed to Jung's Memories, Dreams, Reflections, but it's not in that book - I checked - and there's no evidence Jung ever said it. It is, however, an excellent indicator of what so many hope for: to be what they want to be... on Cloud Nine.