Friday, August 28, 2020. What to create? What’s the difference between writing anything you want to write, writing for its own sake and writing to be read? I’ve already discussed my conclusion that writers (and all artist-craftsman for that matter) write to be read, everyone creates with the intention of communicating and communication necessitates an appreciator. It’s a two-way street, art-craft and the person receptive to it. Make noise and you make it to appeal to somebody. Or at least to get a reaction which in the end is the same thing, namely, communication. The idea that anyone creates anything without regard to communication, even if it’s creation within Joycean terms – pornographic art that intends to inspire somebody to do something (versus experience aesthetic arrest which transcends the doing) – hate it, for example, or buy it, destroy it, collect it, what have you – is bosh. In this sense all art-craft is a form of performance. But what it really is, if it is authentic, is mythological. So that if one’s work is mythologically based, arising intuitively, naturally, from one’s personal and cultural mythology, authenticity is the inevitable result.
I’m not discussing quality. Issues of quality have to do merely with the interplay of unconscious and conscious mastery. Unconscious mastery is merely a rendering of an unconscious personal mythological vision or image spontaneously without regard to technical skill. Hence, children without technical ability in an art-craft form render art-craft in spite of themselves, as it were. Reason and rational thought – overthinking something as they say – tends to dampen mythological resonance because self-consciousness has to do with being liked or disliked and authentic mythology is rather self-generating; it arises from within sans outside influence, at least from other people, let alone ideas of a marketplace or monetized environment. Art-craft that becomes too aware of critique is pornographic and, while oftentimes useful and appealing, ultimately lacks mythological substance.
My point, poorly described, is that questions regarding what art or art-craft is – whether a work qualifies as such – are rendered moot, irrelevant, beside the point so long as the artist-craftsman functions out of his or her mythological center or ground. Because our individual or personal mythological ground, our personal mythology, is merely an iteration of a cultural or common or universal, even archetypal mythology. Mythology – true fiction – can be said to be instinctual by way of its freedom from acquisition. We don’t need to seek and acquire what amounts to our biologically inherent aptitude for recognizing mythic images (including narrative that references the images). That is to say, we are born with a psychological architecture, variously mature in people, to create and respond to mythology, mythic images and mythological narrative. The affecting image is nothing more, then, that a bio-psychological trigger in all of us; an inescapable sixth sense, as it were, for myth, for mythology, for the mythic wherever we find it. And when we cannot find it, when we experience a lack of mythology we spontaneously create it. Over and over again, throughout history, the myriad iterations of the hero round, for example, are replayed, retold, regenerated, reinvigorated, reestablished, recreated, reinvented, eternally refreshed. Nothing is new at the same time as everything, in mythological terms, is new.
Create from your mythic center, as best you can, and if nothing else your work will possess and maintain that recognizable mythological therefore human authenticity and relevance. It may be an unconscious experience, both on your own behalf as the artist-craftsman or on behalf of the observer or appreciator. I don’t know what it is about this thing; I don’t know why I like it…. You like it, you’re drawn to it, affected by a thing because its mythology resonates with your own. And some works will be more universally, more culturally mythologically resonant than others. So be it. Many works are very quirky mythologically; they may require connoisseurship so as to recognize, appreciate or otherwise draw out and describe the mythology. I’ve said nothing new. I’ve rendered nothing here that others, Campbell, say, haven’t communicated more effectively.
A connoisseur is not a so-called pretend critic, an attitude apparently pervasive in the eighteen century. Neither is an authentic connoisseur a snob. Certainly self-awareness, comedic or merely mindful, is required to balance connoisseurship – the connoisseur must laugh at his devotion so as to keep it relevant and vital hence of use to others. A connoisseur so acutely remote within his own specialty, so withdrawn into his specialized world that it becomes a world unto itself has lost the point. We appreciate so as to communicate, propagate and perpetuate appreciation. Connoisseurship, then, is perhaps inherently pedagogical although, as with any valuable pursuit, appreciation can function as an end in itself, albeit, as with anything pursued or indulged in as an end in itself, the outcome is exile.
There remains, then, curiously, the condition of what you are compelled to create and what people want you to create – the work you must do, hinged to your position in time – your age and experience – compared to what people require of you. When the two things do not or no longer coincide, as an artist-craftsman you suffer. Oftentimes mightily. One’s inspiration changes. One’s naivete and inexperience – one’s lack of conscious mastery – may have been just the thing that allowed for the public appeal of your art-craft. Gain experience, diffuse your naivete and, too often, the so-called magic or vibe or essence likewise diffuses. She no longer writes compelling books, songs or paints compelling paintings. His films after this or that period suck. The band never again approached the excellence of their first record. And all that.
Is lousy, self-aware, market driven art-craft indeed suffering from the muse having fled? Is lousy work inauthentic? Are you trying to hard as an artist-craftsman? Are you faking it? Are you relying on skill versus inspiration? Yes. Now I’m an author. Now I can’t write a decent novel to save my life. The arrival can destroy the means by which you arrived. Your canoe sinks the moment you gain the shore. It happens. And you can’t go back. And you have to let it go.
It strikes me that aside from the challenge of dismantling accusations of being a pretend critic – someone who only pretends to possess the acumen, perspicacity, insight, experience, knowledge and mastery to evaluate, regard, critique or otherwise discern something for what it is (instead of what it may, on the surface, appear to be) – and likewise its establishing a thing’s historical, contemporary and future value, the vocation of connoisseur bears the risk of exile, of a kind of second sight that is unique, or perceived as unique by others. That is to say, by way of one’s connoisseurship, be it in regard to paleolithic cave imagery (so-called cave “art”), cuisine, the contemporary plastic arts or within any of the sciences (physics comes to mind necessarily by way of its requirement for theorizing), one’s sight, which amounts to a peculiar insight, when it fails to communicate itself to anyone else, even a single other person, one transcends or slips away from humanity. The exiled genius, perceived as not as a genius but as a village idiot, for example. Well, he might be on to something but whatever it is, it’s of no use to any of the rest us, not now anyway. So, well, fuck him.
Campbell’s assertion, then, mostly described within Pathways to Bliss, and a topic I have discussed at great length previously within various volumes of the DOP, that when the boon is won and brought forth – delivered from the realm of dream and vision into the world-of-action – it is received in one of only three ways; namely, (1) that of undisputed welcome, (2) that of indifference, or (3) that of the middle ground (the three star rating, so to say); whereby long term, patient pedagogy can serve to enlighten folks to what amounts to their own heretofore unsatisfied, unrealized requirements, needs, mythological substance, what have you. It’s not, then, that the audience isn’t there for a new novel, say, but that people aren’t ready for it. Hence, the idea of a work being ahead of its time. Or, in lieu of such a ponderous assessment (or, more accurately, preassessment) it may be regarded as a so-called acquired taste. These, as Campbell rightly declares, are the options.
Perhaps the work simply sucks. Perhaps it’s just a terrible, untalented, unaccomplished piece of hackneyed dross. Can’t that be the case? Yes. Hence the need for connoisseurs. You will always, I hereby suggest, find someone, somewhere with the means to evaluate and discern a thing’s value. I do this, for example, with myth and mythology: I discern the presence and accomplishment of the mythology within things. Moreover and furthermore, I see life in mythological terms. Campbell eschewed this effect of his connoisseurship, claiming somewhere – it may have been within the Larsen’s biography – (and I’m paraphrasing liberally) that he addressed the idea of his mythological vision, perspective, myth-awareness or mythic orientation skewing his otherwise workaday or pedestrian experience. Implying, strangely to me, that he chose to remain suspect of his vision. Then again, given the nature of his public career, perhaps he valued the infusion, if only on the face of things, an academic remove. In private, if he was anything like me and I dare say anyone else whose VAPM (veritelically authentic personal mythology) is indeed the scholarship and experience of mythology then he could not escape it. Wild horses can’t tear it apart. Tear what apart? The lived mythology. The experience, when one is having the experience of being properly alive, of participating in the mythic-ness of life; in its pervasive, essentially unavoidable imminence. I didn’t say eminence – that is, mythic living isn’t higher (which implies superior) than non-mythic living; rather, it’s the alternative perspective, the ever-available option. Myth is for everyone. It arises and is perpetuated by everyone. Myth couldn’t resonate with everyone, each in their idiosyncratic way, unless it was indeed a universal truth. A universally true fiction.
For the imagination is not an escape, but a return to the richness of our true selves; a return to reality.”
George Mackay Brown (GMB) never seemed to refer to his mythic vision as such. Neither did he refer to his poetry or prose in mythological terms, unless obliquely. In this he reminds me of Joseph Conrad, another author who communicated and advanced mythology (created new mythology) without making a point of acknowledging such. Hence, I could merely rephrase GMB in humble service of my point: For mythology is not an escape, but a return to the richness of our true selves; a return to reality.
It may require, then, a connoisseur of mythology to discern the mythology within the work of someone who chooses to ignore it, finds it irrelevant or simply remains ignorant of the fact of it. Imagination, after all, while a vital component of mythology, neither serves to define nor fully express it. There are many flavors of imagination not all of which, of course, possess mythic relevance. The job of the artist-craftsman, unarguably, has never been to understand let alone communicate all the aspects of his work. Indeed, heaven help us when that happens. We don’t require our creatives to also be critics; rather, we allow and even prefer when their inherent connoisseurship remains, if not always unconscious, then at least unspoken. At best, when an artist-craftsman writes or speaks about his work, we may encounter an enlightening nugget, a choice piece of wisdom ; at worst, well, as Campbell suggested: ask an artist to explain his work and if he doesn’t like you, he will.
 Maggie Fergusson, George Mackay Brown: The Life, (London: John Murray, 2007 ), 167. The quotation is GMB’s.