Saturday, March 19, 2011

Living Your Myth 2: Living And Embracing Ego

By James Curcio
Living Your Myth series.

There is a question that I left floating under the piece I wrote about suicide, Mishima and Hunter S Thompson. It was raised to me by several people, though it was a conversation with Rudy Rauben that got me thinking maybe I should fill in that silence rather than just leave it hang in the air.

(And dealing with it, filling that silence - maybe this is the ego of the writer, which refuses to just shut up and let you take that extra step. And I'll get to that in a second.)

Photo Rachel Reynolds
Why is it so important how they died? We are interested because of how they got there, yet we fixate on the end. Thus we see our fixation on ends; the culmination, finish, or goal, the idealized future, and also the ends to means.

This future-fixation, as I discussed previously, was dealt with in an essay by Alan Dundes. I won't repeat that, especially as I've reworked it in the process of compiling The Immanence of Myth.

But I do want to direct our gaze towards living rather than dying, for those who might interpret what I said as advocacy of suicide. There are, maybe, many people this world could use less of. The likes of Hunter S Thompson and Yukio Mishima are not amongst them.

Maybe the literary nature of the suicides of authors, we can for instance add Hemingway to this list, should not be especially surprising. As every story, we believe, must have a beginning middle and end.

There is the end, and if we are so committed to a particular identity, or if our body simply will no longer bear us forward into a new story, then that end will be literal.

But what about this identification with character?
In a 1978 BBC interview, Hunter S Thompson said,
"I'm never sure which one people expect me to be. Very often, they conflict — most often, as a matter of fact. ...I'm leading a normal life and right along side me there is this myth, and it is growing and mushrooming and getting more and more warped. When I get invited to, say, speak at universities, I'm not sure if they are inviting Duke or Thompson. I'm not sure who to be."
Again, I talk about this a great deal in the book. But I want to talk a bit about this idea of identity and ego. We are prone to talk about someone "having a big ego," or being attached or full of themselves, and that maybe someone is too connected to their ego if they think that they must literally die to move beyond a persona that has outlived its usefulness, or its place, at any rate.

Maybe we mean several different things when we say "ego." The negative aspects of ego don't come about as a result of its "size" or "strength." They come about when it becomes opaque, either to the outside or to itself.

That's, I think, where so much shallowness arises from. I can't imagine that any person is inherently any more "deep" than a shrill-voiced sorority girl. People aren't more or less "deep" by nature, though some are prone to introspection, some are prone to vanity, etc.

In fact, in my experience, the people we often accuse of having a "big ego" simply can't see under their own surface, they are opaque to themselves. I imagine I have a big ego, I just try to not be attached to it and to be able to look down into it or through it, if that makes sense. Let's count the number of times the word "I" or "me" shows up in a sentence. Why should we be ashamed of that?

(Funny thing about the "sorority girl" thing- once in college I went to a party, and got bored. Which is never good. There was kind of a quinessential sorority girl there who for some reason wanted to talk. I kept directing things beneath that surface I was talking about. Whatever she saw there scared her enough that she broke into tears and became convinced I was some kind of "witch." I'm a Warlock, bitch! All I'd done is put up a mirror. Oh well. She ended it screaming "who am I?" and running out of the building. Certainly felt like I'd done a magic trick. But I can't believe in her whole life no one had ever asked her to reflect on...anything.)

What looks like a big ego, one that's stuck on itself, in a person or a culture, is really one that's opaque. Opacity makes it "small," in a way. It makes it hungry and confused. While one like of a supposed Zen master, say, is huge. It encompasses everything. Maybe it doesn't grasp so much as many "smaller" egos, especially when operating out of fear. But anyone who would ever go by "teacher" or "master" etc and simultaneously claim to be without ego... well that's just absurd. The teachers that claim they have transcended ego and through that "know reality" are the ones I'm wary of. Like Adi Da. That guy is a nut. "I know what everything is." And you've transcended ego? Come on, now.

I'd prefer an Osho, if we're going to talk about egos and gurus. Sure he had a billionty cars and tons of lovers. But he's out and open about it, and supposing he actually was how he presented himself, it's — "why not have these things? one day I won't." "Tomorrow may cancel this day completely, and I'm ready to go with life with no hesitation."

Preach it, Osho. I'm not buying,  but I can laugh with him. And those who crave a guru so badly that they want to give him money or sleep with him, have at it. (Though he died in 1990 so you might have a difficult time.)

I'm dubious of transcendence. Acceptance, while maintaining passion —  not just going limp, you know —  that seems attainable and worthy of it.

Life isn't to be transcended. It is to be lived.

Pre-order a copy of The Immanence of Myth, published by Weaponized in July 2011.

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating! The ego of a sorority girl cliche and a zen master cliche is priceless and so telling. It's almost like the idea of being self-serving, and the further you explore being self-serving, the more you tend to serve others for "yourself."

    Good readin', sir.



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