Myth => Metaphor

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In the chapter entitled, “The White Whale” Melville engages, by way of Ishmael, an interesting discussion of the varied and ultimately unsettling symbolism of whiteness. As such the entire chapter has to do with mythology and how our intuitions reside within, return to as a safe haven and arise unhinged as a product, as J.C. suggested, of the conflicting energies of the body. We feel both comforted and unsettled by the myths of our own creation and we seem therefore to create myth and allow myth or otherwise experience myth (and most importantly the affecting images of myth) as life. However, it’s not the whole story of myth. Because for those who think myth is nothing more than a fabrication, something otherwise arising from our biology and communicated as a form, ultimately, of self-work or autotherapy in psychological terms – a mostly inessential, spurious product (or entertainment) of our struggle with our predicament that is life, then, well, they’d be ignoring much of the experience. “Can’t claim to understand what it all means,” suggests Graham Parker (in a line from his song “Blue Horizon”), “probably nothin’, but that’s not how it seems.” I’ve quoted this line often enough and it always speaks to the experience of myth and from a perspective of somebody like Parker who doesn’t commit to any contemplative tradition nor does he even commit to identifying what seems to me to be his nagging experience of mythological resonance.

People, that is to say, always have the experience of the Mystery and because of this they more or less seek out existing and resonant expressions of their experience or, if they can’t or won’t find them (no particular myth resonates), or if they prefer the Mystery or predicament to remain as mysterious as it can be, they nonetheless create their own version of myth-resonant life. Even if it oftentimes ends up a mostly jumbled and ineffective and even dysfunctional and schizoid mythologizing. Or perhaps it resembles a mythological expression already existing in antiquity so that they’ve reinvented the wheel, as it where, and wasted all that time living a myth they could have read about. I do this: namely, live (or relive) an experience and its attendant lesson that has otherwise been available to avoid by way of reading about it. Or listening to somebody tell it. Okay, that doesn’t work so don’t do that. No. Too often folks like me say, well, we’re all different and things might work out differently for me. Mostly it doesn’t. But some of us have to live the experience for it to have an effect. The lesson doesn’t resonate, let alone affect our behavior, unless we’ve lived it ourselves. This in itself is a tragedy because it forces too much of humanity to repeat the mistakes of the past because they must be lived and not effectively learned by way of learning history.

I don’t know. I don’t think I’ve captured all that I intended to, well, capture with all this. Except that mostly we’re all the same when it comes to the larger questions – love and hope and sex and dreams, for example – hence our mythologies, the time tested authentic ones at least, are being continually reinvented. And if they aren’t, if the myths aren’t revitalized properly within the times, say, mythological schism – personal or cultural – inevitably ensues and so much time and energy is squandered trying to get back where we all belong. But then that’s part of life: the experiment that can’t be skipped over by way of beginning with its conclusion.

Meanwhile, all mythology resembles itself, of course, in the context of J.C.’s four functions otherwise it isn’t a fully functional mythology. It’s that simple. Within the Mystery there is this lack of one.

What to do? Identify your affecting images, the symbols that most resonate on personal terms (don’t get caught up in what symbols you believe ought to resonate because that’s false) and get on with allowing them to work on you. In other words, name them and claim them and immerse yourself in what they have to teach you even if all that you know at the time is that a thing indeed resonates or draws you to it or seems impossibly compelling if that’s all you can manage to conclude. I don’t know why I like this or that so much, you may say, and then promptly doubt yourself. Perhaps it’s not good that I like this or that so much; perhaps I shouldn’t like this or that. And you begin looking around and seeking the input of others and trying to please and you’re fucked. Instant schism. Your symbols are your symbols. Your affecting images are your affecting images, hence they symbolize your mythology like it or not and whether you understand them at all or not. You must surrender to them. Have that faith if no other.

Faith? Namely, that your symbols are legitimate in their own right; that they have value whether you happen to understand any of their value besides perhaps how they make you feel. Which is to say if not properly alive at first then at least unsettled enough – disturbed enough – or aroused into a wakefulness, desired or undesired, that has been heretofore mostly foreign to you or absent. To live a mythologically resonant life is to live with a quality of vitality and engagement lacking in any other way. And stop confusing bliss with happiness. Bliss in Campbellian mythological terms is, as he suggested, more akin to blisters. You will suffer. But you will experience fulfillment. You will have the experience, however fleeting, of being properly alive. It works. Because living a mythologically authentic life is not an affectation or a trick or a form of gamesmanship against oneself. Rather, when you are true to yourself you reflect the truth in everything else, you right-size yourself, as it were, and you get out of your own way and everybody else’s too.

No; but here thou beholdest even in a dumb brute, the instinct of the knowledge of demonism in the world. Thus, then, the muffled rollings of a milky sea; the bleak rustlings of the festooned frosts of mountains; the desolate shiftings of the windrowed snows of prairies; all these, to Ishmael, are as the shaking of that buffalo robe to the frightened colt![1]

 

A “snip” from WHITE EVENT IV – Wall, 1966, by Norio Imai.

Ahab defies the mask, the veil. Ishmael becomes tortured by the whiteness. For me it’s the sea. That Moby Dick is the sea. Or that the sea is the whale’s natural environment, his home. When the whale is a mammal like us yet at the same time so impossibly alien. That he sounds to such depths for food, that he yet surfaces to breathe and meanwhile cruises at speed within his chosen depth – the white whale to me symbolizes – makes vividly unsettling and affecting – the experience of negotiating the waters of our own mostly unfathomable unconscious.

Though neither knows where lie the nameless things of which the mystic sign gives forth such hints; yet with me, as with the colt, somewhere those things must exist. Though in many of its aspects this visible world seems formed in love, the invisible spheres were formed in fright.[2]

Mystic sign. Or mythic sign. Where lie the nameless things of our unconscious? As Jungian archetypes within a collective unconscious? Perhaps. It’s the best explanation, in my opinion, so far devised; namely, that we and the animals are born with genetically transferred psychological triggers waiting to be triggered. And the most powerful mythic images, the most universally affecting are those which once discovered or created or unveiled strike at the heart of all that we know to be true.

 

I’m a big Godzilla fan. I don’t trust anyone who isn’t. I fell in love with him sitting at home watching Godzilla vs. Mothra…. I loved the world building – every part of Japan and its surrounding seas had these different creatures, and you got the sense of this deep well of time that all these creatures had sprung from. I wouldn’t say I understood it this way at the time, but it felt like watching a subconscious spit out ideas.

I also simply loved the joy of pure destruction. Even the modern Godzilla movies make the woeful mistake of spending all this time on human beings. Kids love Godzilla so much. They really identify. We have two boys, seven and nine, and our older one will say sometimes, “Dad, can I goon on you?” I’ll say, “Okay,” and he just comes at me like Godzilla trying to wreck a mountaintop power station. I let him attack the power station for a minute or two, and he walks away happy, like Godzilla swimming back into the ocean until his power is needed again.[3]

Swimming back into the ocean. The pure joy of destruction. The deep well of time. All well said. And Godzilla is a mythographical life’s work and a great topic for another post.

***

November finished with a bang – a USA paperback sale on both the 29th and 30th! That it’s the biggest month for the novel seemed obvious even before I finally delved into some Ingramspark data, which I rarely check because so often there isn’t any data. Which is to say apparently I’ve been misinterpreting the no sales data, otherwise assuming that the two hardcover sales from September that I made to make certain I was consuming the last of the first state iterations (I almost immediately fixed some typos and increased the font size of the running heads so that the book is currently in its 2nd state, and found that yes, they are not stockpiled at Amazon), were not the only subsequent hardcover sales. That is, I sold two hardcovers each in October and November for a total of four books outside of Amazon.

Where did they sell? I’d love to know but no other retailers besides bookshop.org makes any sales data available or even bothers to rank a book like Amazon does. Oh well, perhaps someday my tribe will make themselves known. Otherwise, thanks to those hardcover book appreciators because while I prefer to tote around a paperback there will always be something irreducibly more permanent or substantive in terms of bookishness about a hardcover. So long as a particular novel is somehow well expressed as a hardcover, for it’s not a given that a book comes off well in that format. I’ve owned hardcovers that seem too slapdash in either substance or print quality to be a hardcover – books can be too physically light, the boards can be notoriously warped or the binding too stiff or the format too large or small (there are many different dimensions available besides 9” x 6” even for the indie author). And I suppose the book’s substance doesn’t matter either: the book either feels right and good in your hand as a hardcover or it feels odd and irritating and wrong. Who cares? Hey, I’m not even a printed book connoisseur but I get it: to some of us it matters.

My point is only that I’m heartened to know that some folks preferred to order a hardcover of Time Crime, good for them, thank you. Nevertheless, the paperback is tons of fun and has its own charm. And frankly I earn $5 in royalties from an Amazon paperback versus anything out of Ingramspark, paperback or hardcover where my royalties are considerably lower. In fact I only make something like $1.90 from an Ingramspark paperback and just over $2.00  from a hardcover. It’s just the cost of doing business via Ingramspark. So that I cannot lower the price of either format through Ingram without approaching selling books at a loss. Such is the nature of the business. But the streak of at least a sale per month since publication continues with a USA paperback sale here in the beginning of December! All good.

Meanwhile, there is a dismal quality to things lately that I’m struggling against. Perhaps others are too – I sense a lot of tension and latent frustration in folks lately, as if the inevitable holiday anxiety has been further stretched taught by, well, I hate to legitimize the cause of our cultural oppression this year by even naming it. But a dismal, bound, oppressed sense, yes. This even after the heartening books sales of November. It’s always the case that after twenty-four hours of no sales, as I’ve probably mentioned, I’m plunged into harsh funk and an unsettling sense that I’ll never sell another copy. I’m ashamed to admit that my faith in things is desperately fragile.

Faith in what things? Arrivals. Momentum. The future. Faith is nothing if not assuredness on behalf of the future and who among us really has any idea what’s coming? Envisioning the future helps assuage the anxiety born of indeterminacy. And oftentimes it seems that envisioning a thing indeed creates it. Never accurately but at least recognizably. Time loops. Retro-causation. The influence of the present, if there can be said to be such a thing, upon the future and the past. For isn’t life – the experience of it – unavoidably poised within both? There really isn’t an identifiable, quantifiable now. Nick Cave is publishing a The Little Birthday Book, modelled after, as he says, the Victorian versions that contained Biblical quotations for each day of the year accompanied by space to note people’s birthdays. https://cavethings.com/products/the-little-birthday-book?variant=34318853439628

Cave’s version contains his own aphorisms and lyrics and poetry. Of note, for the January 7 page:

“We are the broken metaphors of a cosmos that is beyond our comprehension.”

The devoted reader will recognize here my interest in metaphor. And the following formula which I describe as the unidirectional congruence (it’s not an emoticon) between myth and metaphor:

Myth => Metaphor

Which is to say that a myth is always a metaphor but not every metaphor is a myth. And I agree with the definition of a metaphor as the comparison or, more accurately, the identification (one with the other) of two otherwise disparate things that, when most successful, generates an unforeseen and affecting Third Thing. As a simple example I usually reference Campbell’s anecdotal account of his fraught encounter with a radio interviewer who insisted that a myth was a lie. By which the man apparently meant that a myth was a falsehood. Campbell responded that a myth was rather a metaphor and when his interviewer still insisted otherwise Campbell resorted to asking the man for an example of what he thought a metaphor indeed was. “He runs like a deer,” suggested the man. “No,” said Campbell, “that’s a simile – the metaphor is ‘he is a deer.’”

An image inevitably comes to mind and, again as Campbell himself suggests, there is no mythology without an image. So that I would say we arrive at the kernel or the otherwise indivisible nucleus of myth.

Hence, Cave’s assertion that “we are broken metaphors of a cosmos that is beyond our comprehension” becomes a multifaceted, multilayered, very densely populated, as it were, identity, image, comparison of two (or more) otherwise disparate things and unforeseen Third Thing. What is the identity? Perhaps that each of us is the cosmos both known and unknown to us. What is the image? It’s a difficult one, akin perhaps to the universe contained within a grain of sand and likewise, for instance, the theophany I reference in Chapter 26, “The Return” of Time Crime; namely note 74 on page 367 :

Within the context of astrophysics, a singularity is a point in space-time, such as a black hole, at which matter has infinite density and infinitesimal volume and the curvature of space-time is infinite. Also called gravitational singularity. Also, the author entertains a mythological reference; that is to say, a singularity as theophany – the appearance of a deity to a human. A particularly dramatic example is the witnessing of the Hindu Vishvarupa (Universal form, Omni-form), encompassing all aspects of the universe, the infinitude of being, the play-of-opposites (beneficent and wrathful, light and dark, etc.). This form is described as terrible and only people blessed with divine vision are deemed capable or worthy of withstanding the sight. As such, an HDT arrival sequence is understood to encompass both science and the reality of mythology (spirituality, cosmology, sociology, psychology), if only as a precaution – not everything about HDT is understood therefore risks are significant – and the Captain, well-versed in HDT theory, follows protocol and averts his gaze lest he risk madness or annihilation.

Here, then, is an image that cannot be regarded as such, which begs its own paradox. For what is an image that cannot be regarded except a logical impossibility? Moreover, what indeed is it that can be termed “incomprehensible?” The Deity being regarded in many mythologies, of course, as that which cannot be named or rendered as an image so that a name or image is assumed to fall short of the reality that is somehow beyond our experience of reality. I’ll stop there, for there isn’t any escape from the ensuing philosophical spiral. Words fail, as they say. Likewise images. And then again, they don’t in the sense that perhaps a flawed or incomplete or “broken” image => metaphor (namely, each of us) indeed functions as a so-called window unto transcendence. Indeed, each of us is and is not, troublingly, unsettlingly, impossibly and absolutely the cosmos in body and mind.

***

The image at the head of this post happens to be a photograph of the very same God’s Eye, so-called, currently hanging on my kitchen wall, that inspired the scene within Time Crime where Mr. Z. initiates his extended mind experiment. He focuses upon this object as a means or psychological tool – an affecting image – to project himself or rather to project his intuitive self, his inner vision, across space-time. He engages in hyper-dimensional travel without ever leaving his chair (until he falls off it!)

[1] Herman Melville, Moby-Dick…, 202.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Victor LaValle, “Destroy the Reader,” Locus, November 2020, 11.