Sunday, March 21, 2010

Immanence of Myth: Editor's Introduction

To Be Published by Weaponized June 2011. 

Myths and legends die hard in America. 
We love them for the extra dimension they provide, 
the illusion of near-infinite possibility 
to erase the narrow confines of most men's reality. 
Weird heroes and mold-breaking champions 
exist as living proof to those who 
need it that the tyranny of "the rat race" is not yet final.
Hunter S. Thompson

    My essays for this book, though varying in scope and content, all deal with the overarching concepts of myth and art, and all of the issues that invariably are tied into them: from the nature of representation to issues such as that of initiation and its psychological and social roles.
    Much of this material expands on the ideas I first presented in “Living The Myth,” my contribution to the Generation Hex anthology, published by Disinformation Press in 2005. The idea of “living myth” implies at once two interpretations: that myth is in some way alive, and that we can live it. These two are, to use a cliché, like two sides of a coin. This idea underlies everything else that is to follow.    
    This is a concept that has guided all of the creative work I have done. However, as I have collaborated with other artists over the past decade, I came to realize that I was not at all alone in a mythic approach to art, even if all of our processes differ somewhat. (Ed. note: throughout this book I often use the word “artist” when I mean to include filmmakers, writers, musicians, and so on all under that term, because there is no better common term. The same is true for the term “art” which could just as well mean any myth with an intended aesthetic dimension.)
    This book began as a purely solo endeavor, a collection of essays based around the issues and ideas that arose naturally as I worked on various collaborative, mythic art projects. Eventually, it dawned on me that I should open this process up to others who might contribute their own thoughts on the subject of modern mythology. In retrospect, it is almost self-explanatory that an anthology such as this one would need to come about.
    In many ways this is a sideways glance at an art movement possibly already well underway, which, even with the release of this book, will likely remain somewhat in the shadows. “Man's world is manifold, and his attitudes are manifold,” Walter Kauffman writes in the prologue to his edition of Buber's I-Thou. “What is manifold is often frightening because it is not neat and simple. Men prefer to forget how many possibilities are open to them.” It is for this reason that I expect there will be some who find this exploration frustrating, as I do not present final solutions in any sense. If anything, I seek to open up the floor for more possibilities. Myth is never closed; it is the enemy of intellectual or ideological tyranny, even if it is a tool often used by tyrants.
    Perhaps it has always been underway. All art, except the exceptionally conceptual or technical, is at least partially mythological. Yet, to be blunt, much of the modern art world has lost touch with a conscious sense of this mythological foundation. Instead it wanders endlessly in a hall of mirrors, a kind of neurotic self-analysis. Perhaps it all comes down to a misunderstanding of Duchamp's urinal, “Fountain.” The urinal is not art, unless everything is. The message of the urinal is: the art world is a farce. If you place a piece of garbage in a gallery, it has been magically transformed into art. This comments on the nature of galleries and how we view art as a commodity far more than it does on the actual nature of art. In much contemporary, abstract art, signifier and signified are externally decoupled; the piece becomes completely self-referential, a conceptual ouroborous with no real entry or exit point back into personal experience.
     A piece such as “Fountain” also raises the question, “why does something require a point?” Right now, an artist I live with is building a four foot tall pink penis in the living room. This became the spring-board for the gonzomentary series “Clark.” Everyone is drawn to ask what the motivation behind something like this might be, what purpose does it serve? On the surface, its point is perhaps that it has no point. There is an argument to be made that much art in the past fifty years asks this question, “why do I need a purpose, an underlying narrative? Why can't I just be?” This changes nothing: we still mythologize these pieces and the lives of the artists that make them, even if they exist entirely without inherent purpose or narrative. A purposeless piece of art without a surrounding myth can be of interest to no one. Additionally, no work of art can actually be purposeless any more than any utterance can be. The subconscious plays a key role in the creation process. We'll discuss this at length later.
    An art world quarantined from everyday life is also a myth that may have outlived any imaginable purpose that doesn't have to do with art industry. As I discovered in my gonzo journalistic forays while working as editor of Alterati in 2007, much of the “real” art scene is isn't happening in the galleries. It is often occurring on the street, in seemingly abandoned factories, or behind closed doors in small studios. Art needn't be obsessed over either self-commentary or being terrified into proving its worth in the face of blind industry. There is much more to explore in the psyche, which is where art excels. If there is a universal bias in this work about the nature of art, it is that.
    Though I've gone through an editorial process with contributing authors, and editorial involves some amount of re-writing, I've attempted to preserve their ideology rather than make sure that everything coheres into a single system. As you will quickly discover, that approach would be entirely contrary to our position. Our methodology, tone, the very mission of this work is at once singular and multiplicity. It may be at times too scholarly for the average reader, and at others too congenial or crass for the average scholar. Maybe it was written by and for iconoclasts, although that was not the intent. It is my sincere hope that for many, it reaffirms and expands what you already know, and perhaps gives you a little more courage in the pursuit of your own myths.
    We will be exploring this subject from many angles, through articles, essays, and interviews from a variety of people actively engaged in mythic work and research. As our exploration progresses from chapter to chapter, we will move from a rather abstract view of myth as an existential dimension to increasingly specific instances of personal myth. Much as with the experience of viewing a painting, at twenty feet, ten feet, five feet, and up close, our experience will vary. It may even seem that the painting changes forms, as you'd see with an impressionist like Monet. This methodology and format will also shift to match our ongoing change of perspective. Keep this shifting scale in mind as you read through, as it should provide a frame of reference.
    The book is broken into four parts. In part one, we will take on a big picture exploration of immanent mythology as a philosophical concept. Many of these investigations will come from the initial materials I prepared for this book. In part two, we will take a look at  examples of modern myth in a variety of fields. Part three will open up yet more personal perspectives on immanent mythology, and the final section of this book is composed of conversations that I've had with artists and other would-be myth-makers.
    As you progress, you will likely discover that many of us have similar perspectives, framed in slightly different ways. Some of us may, on the other hand, flat out contradict one another. (Though, amongst the contributors of this volume, this happened so infrequently that it seems worthy of note.) Though the purpose of this introduction is to comment on the book itself, rather than myth, it seems an opportune moment to make this preliminary point. Variety is the nature of myth. Myth is naturally idiosyncratic. No one can expect a truly homogeneous tradition to arise, as myths naturally do, from life experiences in one location, and then another. The task of building a homogenized syncretism from a diverse tradition like Hinduism is not a mythological impulse, even if it's the bureaucrat's dream.
    All of this answers why I organized and wrote this material. Next, of course, is who is it written for? That's where you come in. The Immanence of Myth was written for anyone who wants to explore the possibilities myth provides, but especially for creative artists who, like myself, wish to inform their work with knowledge of the internal world that myth connects us to. It is this internal current that I hope to both amplify and emphasize. Together we will explore some of the endless possibilities provided by myth as a creative dimension, even if an essay must necessarily remain in the field of didactics. For those that work in some creative medium, it is my intention to assist you in shaping genuinely mythic experiences for your audiences.
     The next and final question that follows from our reportorial trinity: what is mythically inspired art? What is myth? That's a great deal more difficult to answer. At the outset let me say this: let's propose that everything we know about myth is wrong, or at least, subject to re-interpretation. Mythology is itself a myth. Admittedly, this is putting the cart before the horse, but it is the only way that we can resurrect what so many seem to consider dead.
    We are nowhere with this word “myth” until we can determine what its personal and cultural function is, and where the points overlap between these various elements. In other words, we need to build a map of a cognitive terrain that is not necessarily a “where” or even a “when," and so this book is dedicated towards exploring an ideological topology of myth. You might even say that such a topology might serve as a rough map of the potential elementary ideas of divinity. Even if, to that extent, a book such as this can only serve as a doorway rather than a destination. From these fragments we can begin to piece together the Gods of our image.
    It is worth noting that many books already exist which provide a systematic philosophical analysis of the history and function of myth. Though in various ways this work is indebted to those, my ultimate mission is not to explore what myth has been, except inasmuch as that can shed light on what its function is at present, nor is it to merely further the thesis of these works.  Indeed, there is no system at all. Rather, it is my aim to continue a movement already well underway, namely, the re-legitimization of myth and myth-making as one of the principal — if not the principal — means of human creative representation. (Borrowing in part from the scholarship of many that you will find quoted and alluded to throughout this work, including Jung, Campbell, Eliade, Kerenyi, and many others.)
    The approach we take nevertheless flies in the face of the majority of scholarly works in comparative mythology in the past. That is, in part, because the intention of this book is contrary to a historical, anthropological approach to the subject. It is invariable that some will encounter this work and write it off much in the same way Jaan Puhvel writes of Claude Levi-Strauss,
"The obvious danger is that the approach is by nature generalist, universalizing, and a-historical, thus the very opposite of text-oriented, philological, and time conscious. Overlaying known data with binaristic gimmickry in the name of greater “understanding” is no substitute for a deeper probing of the records themselves as documents of a specific synchronistic culture on the one hand and as outcomes of diachronic evolutionary processes on the other. In mythology, as in any other scholarly or scientific activity, it is important to recall that the datum is more important than any theory that may be applied to it."
    This leaves no room for differing intentions, and presupposes only one method of inquiry. His research in Comparative Mythology has been of use to me, but this is a different endeavor. I am not interested in a broken record written in cuneiform on a block of clay unless it can be used to shed some greater light on who we are right now, and furthermore add a deeper understanding to our own understanding of the world. It would appear that most of the contributors to this volume would agree with me. The chronological view of comparative mythology is not the only approach one can use to engage in a study of myth, though it is a valuable one.
    What you have before you is something quite different: an unconventional whisper in a dark room or the amplification of a movement. Only time will tell.

James Curcio, March 21, 2010. 

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