THE RETURN OF MYTH
THE RETURN OF MYTH
The contradictory processes of de-mythologization and re-mythologization are not unknown to ancient civilizations, in which the old myths are sometimes destroyed (demythologization) and replaced with new myths (remythologization). In other words, herein are the processes of de-mythologization and re-mythologization mutually caused and interdependent processes. They do not call into question the very basis of traditional mythical community; moreover, they are maintaining it current and alive.
Myth, namely – except in special cases of extreme degradation and secularization of tradition and culture – for us, is not a fiction of primitive people, a superstition or a misunderstanding, but a very concise expression of the highest sacred truths and principles, which are “translated” to a specific language of earthly reality, to such an extent which is practically possible. The myth is sacral truth described by popular language. Where the presumptions for its understanding are disappearing, the mythical content must be discarded to let in its place another one.
The dangerous intuitions
Myth is, in traditional cultures, a great antithesis as well, where, as it was shown in the capital work of J. J. Bachofen, Mother Right: An Investigation of the Religious and Juridical Character of Matriarchy in the Ancient World, the two major and irreconcilable principles are confronted: uranic and htonic, patriarchal and matriarchal, and this is projected to all second modalities of state and social order through to the arts and culture.
With the advent of Indo-European, patriarchal invaders on the soil of the old, matriarchal Europe started the struggle of two opposite principles what is highlighted in Bachofen’s study. In the given case, the old matriarchal myths and cults turns patriarchal, through the parallel and alternating processes of de-mythologization and re-mythologization, and traces of this struggle are also found in some mythic themes, which can be understood as a very brief religious-political history, the way Robert Graves interpreted them, in his book The Greek Myths.
In contrast, in Greece, a process of demythologization which reaches its peak after Xenophanes (565-470) is complete and radical. This is not followed by any process of re-mythologization, it is a consequence of a total process of de-sacralization and profanization of the culture, which results in the extinguishing of mythical and awakening of a historical consciousness, when man stops seeing self as a mythical, and begins to understand self as a historical being. This is a phenomenon that has analogies with the two moments in history: first, with a process of de-mythologization brought by early Christianity. To the first Christian theologians, myth was the opposite of the Gospel, and Jesus was a historical figure, whose historicity the church fathers proved and defended to the unbelieving. As a contrast there is the actual process of re-mythologization of the Middle Ages, with a whole series of examples of revitalization of the ancient mythical content, often conflicting and irreconcilable, from the Graal myths and the myth of Friedrich the Second, to eschatological myths in the epoch of Crusades and various millennium myths. It is, without doubt, a much older re-actualization of mythic content and its “dangerous intuition”, which surpasses its causes and it serves as an evidence of the presence of mythic forces of the historical world, which no process of de-mythologization is able to destroy or extinguish.
The consumer mythology. The midnight of history
Another example of radical process of de-mythologization is de-mythologization that begins with the epoch of enlightenment to its peak experienced in the “technological universe”. It is (as above) direct expression of degradation and decline of modern man, who is no longer a mythical or historical being, but a mere “consumer” within the “consumeristic and technocratic civilization” or simply a plug to the technological universe. Heroic impulse of man as a mythical, and historical being, was burnt out. Destructive forces of de-mythologization constantly clean and remove the mythical ingredients from the area of consumeristic civilization and human memory in general, exterminating “dangerous intuitions” that are contained in them. Within the technological universe, which is only a final stage of the fall of (modern) man, the humane horizon is finally closing, because here man has only one power and only one freedom: power to spend and freedom to buy and sell. This freedom and this power, testify about the death of man (known by the myth and history), because within the universe of technology and consumer civilization, anything that transcends this “animal of consumption” simply can not exist. “The Death of Art” spoken about by the historical avant-garde is a simple consequence of the death of man, first as a mythical, then as a historical being.
Of course, the process of de-mythologization can never be completed, for the simple reason that destruction does not touch the very mythical forces. They continue to appear and return through history, whether under the guise of “historical”, or as something that is opposed to history. This is also true for one-dimensional universe of a technocratic utopia. As a result, the consumer civilization real mythical contents are replaced by the mythical simulacrum: wild-growing sub-cultural ideologies and myths, or consumer mythology, whose heroes are comics’ figures such as Superman.
But the exhaustion of long and destructive processes of de-mythologization does not mean a return to the mythical time.
“We are standing in the midnight of history, the clock struck twelve and we look ahead into the darkness where we see the contours of future things. This view is followed by fear and heavy premonition. Things we see or think that we can see still do not have a name, they are nameless. If we address them, we do not affect them accurately and they escape the noose of our governing. When we say peace it could be a war. Plans of happiness turn into murderous ones, often through the night. ”
In short: “Rough incursions, which in many places convert historical landscapes into elementary ones, hide subtle changes but of the more aggressive kind” (Ernst Jünger: At the Wall of Time).
At the dawn of history
The writing At the Wall of Time by a German author Ernst Jünger conveys about the transition of myth into the history, about the moment in which the mythical consciousness was replaced by the historic one. History, of course, does not exist as long as man: historical consciousness rejects as non-historic the vast spaces and epochs (“prehistory”), and peoples, civilizations and countries, because “a person, an event must have very specific characteristics that would make them historic”. The key to this transition, according to this author, provides the work of Herodotus, through which man “passes through a country illuminated by rays of dawn”:
“Before him (Herodotus) there was something else, the mythical night. That night, however, was not darkness. It was more of a dream, and it knew about a different way of connecting people and events of historical consciousness and its selective forces. This brings rays of dawn into Herodotus’ work. He stands on top of the mountain that separates day from night: not only the two epochs, but also two types of epochs, the two types of light.”
In other words, it is the moment of the transition from one way of existence into something quite different, that we call history. This is the time of the shift of two cycles, which we can not identify with the change of historical epochs – the issue in question is the profound change in the existence of man. The sacral in the manner of previous epochs retreats, ancient cults disappear and into their place come religions, which soon after, by themselves become historical or anti-historical, even when they trigger events and historical plots. Crusader wars, called on by the Western Church, deepened divisions and schisms and eventually gave birth to the Reformation, which began with religious enthusiasm and desire to return to “biblical beginnings”, and then ended with the historical movement which opens the way to unhampered development of industry and technology – unconstrained by the norms of (Christian) tradition, and free of human hopes and desires.
The grimace of horror
World of History, outlines of which we can find in Homer, which were shaped by Thucydides, and which experienced its zenith somewhere at the end of XIX and at the beginning of XX century, with unclear boundaries in time and space, but with a clear consciousness of its laws and regulations, started to collapse; and the vast edifice of history becomes unstable, as a sign of penetration of the hitherto unknown foreign forces. These forces have titanic, elementary character, first seen in technical disasters, which affected hundreds of thousands of victims and then, in the cataclysmic events of XX century, in the world wars and revolutions, the millions were killed and crippled. The release of nuclear energy, radiation and environmental destruction that enormous areas were exposed to, the daily toll in blood, whether it is sacrificed to “progress” in peacetime conditions, whether as a direct consequence of military intervention and conflict, are something that comes out of the framework established by the historical world. Of course, history does not end there, as expected, by Marx or by Fukuyama. What is more noticeable is the acceleration of historical time, which concentrates events and reduces the distance between the key turning points of history. What we are talking about is, however, that here are not only forces operating that we call historical, and that the role of man in these events fundamentally changed: he is no longer able to operate equally with the gods, or to follow them, to stand against them or to even subjugate them, as was represented by myth. He (man) is no longer an active participant in history, guided by the passions or the will of its own, as it happens in mature historical epoch. He becomes the plaything of something unknown, involved in events that surpass him, against his will and outside of his ideas.
The expression of cheerful confidence is gradually replaced by a grimace of horror. Man, who until yesterday considered himself a sovereign and master, acknowledges his weakness. The means that were trusted show as weak or in the decisive hour turn against his creator. Technological systems and social orders have his other sides, his automatic schemes, which do not restrain but encourage destruction, which place man in the position of sorcerer’s apprentice, who released uncontrollable forces. Corruption, crime, violence and terror are rather results than the causes. Political responses, regardless of colour and sign, do not offer solutions but rather increase disintegration. If he would not have found himself in the time of panic, man might gain at least an awareness of his own decline.
All this was unthinkable in the ripe age of history because then, man still ruled by himself, and thus history as well, and therefore history could have no sense of direction other than the one given by man himself, his own deeds and thoughts.
Each concept of “meaning of history” is the concept of beginning of man, while in the classical historical time man is not created but he is. Question about the “meaning of history” was a meaningless question, and it is indeed not found in classical writers, from Herodotus onward. Question about the “meaning of history”, which is always found outside of man, becomes possible only when the history and the focus moves out of man, either in the social sphere, whether in the sphere of technological relations.
Modern man is too late to reveal his own weakness, but his breakdown does not accuse myth or history, but precisely the weakness and cowardice of modern man. World of “civilized values”, the historical world in general, which he himself had created, is showing much weaker than we used to believe – structurally weak, spiritually and ethically. At the first sign of alarm, he begins to shatter, exposing, in fact, internal readiness to capitulate modern man.
This is a “midnight of history”, which will soon be replaced by something different, and that moment is marked by the spread of titanic forces, requiring the sacrifice of blood.
Towards post-history: The Awakening of the Myth
History, we should repeat it again, does not last as long as man on Earth. But the consciousness about it occurs late in history, perhaps only at its end, when the boundaries of time and space are changing: on one side, by discovering distant past of man, with lost civilizations, then past of the planet and the universe, and on the other side, with exploration of cosmic spaces, depths of the oceans, or the interior of Earth itself, through the archaeological and geological layers, in almost a Verne’s way. New perspectives cause dizziness. Prehistory and post-history gain in importance only when history becomes a crumbling edifice. But turning man from history to something that he has not been able to determine yet or clearly perceive, now reminisce of the flight.
In one way or another, the technological universe and the consumer civilization will come to an end, in the same way as classic historical epoch ends with technocracy and with a totalitarian order in its complete form, which arises neither from the courage nor strength but from cowardice, weakness and fear. It is impossible to say how long this will take. It is irrelevant whether this will happen due to an internal attrition, an overstrain or a disaster, or with all of these together. But in each of these cases, the collapse is only a consequence of man’s inability to further dwell within the historical world, and to rule it as a sovereign-supreme being.
The return to myth, however, is not possible in terms of return to the state of “pre-history.” Mythological forces remain present, as it was during the entire historical period, but they can not establish a previous state because it lacks the preconditions, in the first place, a missing “substrate”, a fertile ground. Modern man is too weak for that, in the spiritual, psychological and even “physiological” sense.
Together with the history, the culture gradually disappears as well, in its current meaning, which is basically just an instrument of social engineering. In a technocratic utopia (as opposed to the culture in the historical period), mass culture is just one of the ways that channels the energy and drive utopian fantasies and desires of the masses; the elite culture, which constantly wanders between conformism and negation, between skepticism and denial, between skepticism and irony, and back to conformism, essentially remains a tool of de-mythology (or deconstruction of mythology) and destruction of dangerous intuitions contained in myth, which allows more or less seamlessly integration into the technological universe, with the illusion of free will. The appearance and the awakening of dangerous intuitions and sleeping archetypes, on the margins of the technocratic social mechanism, creates a situation of conflict and leads to delays in its functioning.
In the region beyond the technocratic utopia, culture will need to take more traditional role than the one it has in the consumer civilization. The disintegration of the historical world in its late stage, which we are just witnessing, allows us to see something of it.
For much of the historical period, culture is a privileged area of sacred and mythical powers. This is one of the ways in which mythical forces again penetrate into the world historically, realizing themselves in history, unlike the technological universe, where they usually manifest themselves through the uncontrolled elements of folklore subcultures, and often distorted to the unrecognizable as simulacra of mythical, and not as his credible expression.
They more testify about the eternal and unquenched need of man for mythical content, than they represent a sign of their real presence.
Culture in post-technocratic era will be very closely related to the reestablishment of mythology, in terms of recognition and the awakening of true mythical content, marked by innovation and revitalization of the ancient and traditional form, rather than, as hitherto, their exorcism. Meaning and purpose of the process of de-mythology, by contrast, must be limited to the one it had in traditional societies: the cleaning of degenerate “folklore” mythical forms, as to let into their place those who credibly represent the tradition.
Translated by: Zinka Brkić