Category Archives: collective unconsciousness

“A Punch in the Gut” from Tom Robbins

My religious background has given me an appreciation for the “prophetic function” in which “outliers” in a culture have the gift of seeing what others cannot see and being so brazen as to announce it.  Reiterating what I’ve said before, I think that in our present day this “prophetic function” often appears from the “outliers” who are artists, musicians, and writers.  Religion does not offer us this “prophetic function” in most cases as it is so often a tool of the culture, having imbibed of the essence of the culture and became a purveyor of its values.  I stumbled across the following wisdom from novelist Tom Robbins on Facebook this morning, cutting right to the heart of so many of our country’s deep-seated issues:
Have you risked disapproval? Have you ever risked economic security? Have you ever risked a belief?… Real courage is risking something that might force you to rethink your thoughts and suffer change and stretch consciousness. Real courage is risking one’s clichés…Curiosity, especially intellectual inquisitiveness, is what separates the truly alive from those who are merely going through the motions….Love is the ultimate outlaw. It just won’t adhere to any rules. The most any of us can do is to sign on as its accomplice. Instead of vowing to honor and obey, maybe we should swear to aid and abet.

“Real courage is risking one’s cliches” really is a punch in the gut.  We have no idea we are merely mired in a world of cliches until we find the courage to toy with the notion that maybe we are.  And we always are more so than we wish to think.  Poet Adrienne Rich once noted, “Until we know the assumptions in which we are drenched we cannot know ourselves.”  This is true individually and collectively.  Our country at this present historical moment has an opportunity to look at some of its most pernicious assumptions.

 

 

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Thomas Mann Offered Prophetic Word to the U.S. in 1947

Literature can be a portal into the human soul.  As the current political and cultural drama continues to unfold in my country, it has been so interesting to stumble across observations from ancient…and not so ancient…cultures whose insights were so relevant to what is unfolding now in the American psyche.  The human soul is constant.  It never changes.  Oh yes, the historical moment changes but the human response to circumstances of any moment always reveal common themes.  Here I wish to share a lengthy excerpt from Thomas Mann’s 1947 novel, “Dr. Faustus,” which is very relevant to present day America:

We are lost…the war is lost; but that means more than a lost campaign, it means that in very truth WE are lost: our character, our cause, our hope, our history.  It is all up with Germany, it will be all up with her.  She is marked down for collapse, economic, moral, political, spiritual, in short all-embracing, unparalleled, final collapse.  I suppose I have not wished for it, this that threatens, for it is madness and despair.  I suppose I have not wished for it because my pity is too deep, my grief and sympathy are with this unhappy nation, when I think of the exaltation and blind ardour of its uprising, the breaking out, the breaking up, the breaking down, the purifying and fresh start, the national new birth of ten years ago, that seemingly religious intoxication—which then betrayed itself to any intelligent person for what it was by its crudity, vulgarity, gangsterism, sadism, degradation, filthiness, ah how unmistakably it bore within itself the seeds of this whole war!  My heart contracts painfully at the thought of that enormous investment of faith, zeal, lofty historic emotion; all this we made, all this is now puffed away in a bankruptcy without compare.  No, I surely did not want it, and yet—I have been driven to want it, I wish for it today and will welcome it, out of hatred for the outrageous contempt of reason, the vicious violation of truth, the cheap, filthy backstairs mythology, the criminal degradation and confusion of standards, the abuse, corruption, and blackmail of all that was good, genuine, trusting, and trustworthy in our old Germany.  For liars and lickspittles mixed us a poisonous draft and took away our senses.  We drank—for we Germans perennially yearn for intoxication—and under its spell, through years of deluded high living, we committed a superfluity of shameful deeds, which now must be paid for…with with despair.  (Thomas Mann, “Dr. Faustus”)

Epistemic Closure in Poetry

The political impasse in my country with the hijacking of the Republican Party by hyper-conservative voices has brought to my focus the topic of epistemic closure.  This is the idea of an idea, or group of ideas, that so captivates a group that any disagreement is forbidden as it would threaten their unconscious need for certainty.  Carried to an extreme this phenomenon always produces a figure head, someone extremely immune from feedback from external reality like Donald Trump.

This morning I ran across a beautiful poem in the Times Literary Supplement which illustrates this phenomenon.  It then brought to my mind two other poems, all three of which I will now share:

Sleeping Dogs by Stephen Dobyns

The satisfied are always chewing something;
like eternal daybreak their smiles remain constant.
They think they travelled far to get here. In fact,
it was two or three steps. Their definitions
surround them like a kennel contains a hound.
Let’s say you rattle their gate. Let’s say you became
a flea nibbling the delicate skin of their belief.
One eye rolls up, a raised lip reveals a tooth.

Like a thrown stone imagining it will not fall
their explanations work to keep the world fixed.
And here you’ve come with your trumpet. Did you
think they would like your music? Your accusers
are blameless. They press their paws to their soft ears.
Why share their kennel if you won’t let them sleep?

And here is one of my favorite poems by Emily Dickinson who uses vivid, concrete language to describe the emphatic closing of a mind against any feedback from one’s private frame of reference:

The Soul selects her own Society —
Then — shuts the Door —
To her divine Majority —
Present no more —

Unmoved — she notes the Chariots — pausing —
At her low Gate —
Unmoved — an Emperor be kneeling
Upon her Mat —

I’ve known her — from an ample nation —
Choose One —
Then — close the Valves of her attention —
Like Stone —

And finally here is an excerpt from “New Year Letter” by W. H. Auden who poignantly captures the duplicity of the social contract and the courage it takes to explore beneath its facade:

…only “despair

Can shape the hero who will dare

The desperate databases

Into the snarl of the abyss

That always lies just underneath

Our jolly picnic on the heath

Of the agreeable, where we bask,

Agreed on what we will not ask,

Bland, sunny, and adjusted by

The light of the accepted lie?

 

Daimonic Energy, Creativity, & Families

Eugene O’Neill is one of my favorite playwrights. I just read a book review in the New York Review of Books in which his personal foibles were put on the table, letting us see once again that so many men and women of “the arts” are the “toy of some great pain” as Ranier Rilke put it.  O’Neill’s personal life was often tragic and the tragedy was passed on to his children, two of which committed suicide and another drank herself to death.  This review described him as narcissistic and often physically and emotionally abusive of his wives.  It is as if he was living out the script that his father had left him. (The book is, “By Women Possessed: a Life of Eugene O’Neill” by  Arthur Gelb and Barbara Gelb)

Life is painful.  Most of us hide it well, living out our lives in a pedestrian manner, finding solace in the amusements and distractions that our culture affords us.  We have boundaries that keep the pain beneath the surface, boundaries that I like to describe as the “fig leaves” that God gave us to hide us from our nakedness.  Creative people, those who frolic about in “the arts”, do not have boundaries that are solid and thus daimonic energy flows through them and from that primitive source of all good…and bad…the gods communicate with us.

T.S. Eliot was aware of this daimonic energy in families. In his play, “The Family Reunion” he painted the picture of one very conflicted,  even dysfunctional, upper-class family through whom one particular individual seemed destined to carry the load of these dark forces. And, from his own personal life, he clearly was speaking of himself.  In this selection from the play he describes the “sin bearer” of this family, the scape-goat in a sense, who he described as the families “bird sent flying through the purgatorial fire.”

What we have written is not a story of detection,

Of crime and punishment, but of sin and expiation.

It is possible you have not known what sin

You shall expiate, or whose, or why.  It is certain

That the knowledge of it must precede the expiation.

It is possible that sin may strain and struggle

In its dark instinctive birth, to come to consciousness

And so find expurgation.  It is possible

You are the consciousness of your unhappy family,

Its bird sent flying through the purgatorial flame.

Indeed it is possible.  You may learn hereafter,

Moving alone through flames of ice, chosen

To resolve the enchantment under which we suffer

 

Someone noted, “Always remember when you encounter someone, he is carrying pain.”  The point is to be willing to allow some slack to this individual for you don’t know what is going on with him.  Auden put this eloquently when he noted that all of us, “Wage the war we are.”  Each of us have our ways of handling this duress and most of the times these adaptations are within the pale of social acceptability and everyone is happy.  But people like O’Neill, Eliot, and “the artists” in general, are more open to this pain, this “daimonic” energy, and that is why our culture usually grants them a little more slack.  They bring great beauty and wisdom to us, without which we’d be condemned to live only on the surface of life, missing the breath of fresh air that the gods offer us.

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Two other blogs of mine are listed here which I invited you to check out:

https://anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com/

https://literarylew.wordpress.com/

https://theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com/

 

the surface of life without these breaths of fresh air from the gods.

Shakespearean Wisdom for This Moment

Hamlet is perhaps my favorite Shakespearean character.  He was such a sad, tragic figure allowing what Eckhart Tolle would call his “pain body” to tyrannize him, often moping about the castle with his nose in a book trying to escape through literature.  At one point his mother, Gertrude, noted of him, “Look yonder, the poor wretch comes reading.”

Each of Shakespeare’s characters revealed a glimpse into his own heart and how he saw the world of his day.  Hamlet’s famous lamentation, “The world is out of joint. O cursed spite that I was born to set it right” revealed that in Shakespeare’s astute judgment his world was pretty well “out of joint” and probably always had been.  With Hamlet’s arrogant claim of responsibility to “set it right”, I think Shakespeare was pointing out the silliness and arrogance of anyone thinking he could “set it right.”

Shakespeare was clearly an idealist and had keen understanding of the heart of man leading him to describe our collective machinations as “a tale told by an idiot” on one occasion.  This wisdom helps me at present moment in my “idiotic” world to remember to “chill out” when I’m getting too over-wrought with the Trumpian lunacy, not even being close to taking the ego’s bait that I “was born to set it right.”

I think that Shakespeare realized that in describing life as a “tale told by an idiot” he himself was part of the fabric he was describing and therefore not spared idiocy himself.  The world at any moment has a “world-view” which is taken to be the valid way of seeing things but Shakespeare was reminding us, “Hey, keep in mind that beneath the surface there is idiocy lurking.”  And that is always true on a personal level as well as a collective level.  With most of us, if we could subscribe to this wisdom, would merely have to recognize occasional internal conflicts which will never become “idiotic” if we simply have the presence of mind, and humility, to recognize their presence.  “Awareness is all” says a bumper stick on the car of a friend of mine.

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ADDENDUM—This is one of three blogs that I now have up and running.  Please check the other two out sometime.  The three are: 

 

https://wordpress.com/posts/anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com

https://wordpress.com/posts/theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com

 

Emily Dickinson & “Internal Difference”

In one of my favorite Dickinson poems, quoted a few days ago, she describes a descent into the interiority of one’s soul where is found “internal difference where the meanings are.” In modern terms this descent is an openness to one’s unconscious which is given us if we start paying attention to the whims and fancies that pass through our mind…including those that are unsavory…as well as to dreams.  It also involves enough “self” awareness to begin to ask, “Why does this always happen to me” as we recognize repeated patterns of behavior in our life and find the courage to tolerate the suspicion that it is not necessarily someone else’s fault. But focus on this subterranean dimension of life is dangerous to those who have spent their life on the surface, busying themselves with the baubles that life tosses their way, “like kittens given their own tails to tease.” (Goethe)

This adventure was described by Dante at the beginning of The Inferno as a journey into “the deep forest” for in the forest conveys a childhood fear of getting lost; and, on this journey one pretty well has to “get lost” at sometime.  Here is an excerpt from a W. H. Auden poem which describes this risk:

Heroic charity is rare;
Without it, what except despair
Can shape the hero who will dare
The desperate catabasis
Into the snarl of the abyss
That always lies just underneath
Our jolly picnic on the heath
Of the agreeable, where we bask,
Agreed on what we will not ask,
Bland, sunny, and adjusted by
The light of the accepted lie.

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ADDENDUM–I am about to diversify with this literary effort of mine.  In this blog I plan to focus more on poetry and prose.  Below you will see two other blogs of mine relevant to spirituality and politics which have lain dormant for most of the past five years.  I hope some of you will check them out.  However, the boundaries will not be clear as my focus is very broad and my view of life is very eclectic/inclusive/broad-based.  Yes, at times too much so!

https://wordpress.com/posts/anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com

https://wordpress.com/posts/theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com

 

Shakespeare and Our Collective Madness

Shakespeare viewed the entire world as “out of its ever-loving gourd” mad.  Thus he would describe life itself as a “tale told by an idiot” as he was a keen observer of the human predicament and was bewildered by what he saw.  Therefore in Hamlet, he lamented, in so many words, “Why bother” in the first place, why “toil and sweat under a weary life” when one could take exit with a “bare bodkin” and escape to golden mansions and streets of gold.

But I think that Shakespeare recognized that he too was mad but took comfort in that he had in his heart “something else” than madness.  His plays and sonnets revealed the presence of “the pauser reason” which allowed him self-awareness enough to own his “madness” but to realize he was not totally mad as was so many people around him who lacked that self-awareness.

I’m curious what he would say today about Donald Trump.  I think he would have a field day as Trump is about as close to “nothing else but mad” as one can be and merit the label “functional.”  But the only thing that gives him this label are his handlers who often appear to be going mad in their desperate effort to make his daily insane behaviors and statements palatable to the press and public.

To illustrate our collective madness, I have read that our world has the resources to eliminate hunger.  If so, why don’t we?  It seems to me that failure to do so is totally irrational yet you can bet your sweet bippy it will not happen in mine and your lifetime.  This is because “reality” grinds relentlessly onward, mindlessly, heartlessly, mechanically like the “tale told by an idiot” toward some unknown end and “chooses” to be oblivious to egregious ills.  But I, like the Bard, do affirm that “There is a Divinity that doeth shape our ends, rough hew them how we may.”