Living Myths: Escape Into Life

immanenceThe art journal Escape Into Life recently ran the full introduction to an upcoming book, The Immanence of Myth. For my part, it picks up where I left off in Generation Hex (Disinfo). I hope you enjoy:

Myths and legends die hard in America.

We love them for the extra dimension they provide,

the illusion of near-infinite possibility

to erase the narrow confines of most men’s reality. -Hunter S. Thompson

Myth is immanent. Myth is alive.

I know the idea of living myth is kind of hard to swallow at first. We think, and this thought is a myth too, that thoughts cannot be alive. What does it mean for myth to be immanent, let alone alive? What is myth, really? That’s where this book began, and I think that — now that it is being prepared for publication — that it has opened up the floor for the discussion of these ideas, more than having proven any of them, which is as it should be.

Where did it begin? Much of the material I first wrote for this book expands on the ideas I first presented in Living the Myth, my contribution to the Generation Hex anthology, published by Disinformation Press in 2005. The idea of “living myth” implies at once two interpretations: that myth is in some way alive, and that we can live it. These two are, to use a cliché, like two sides of a coin.

(Read full article on Escape Into Life.)

This investigation is the type of thing that began as a side-note to the creative work that I was doing, and has since become almost an obsession. I intend to keep up the investigation of modern myth both on the side of the same name, and here on Disinfo, focusing here more of course on how these things crop up in current events, technology, economics, etc.

Thanks to them for running this, and to you for coming along for the ride. -J

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  • Rrauben

    When I first heard Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers break down mythology I swooned at the possibility of it all.

    But then, over the years, as I contemplated the overwhelming barrage of “mythology” (cooked histories, advertising, PR, infotainment, politics masquerading as religion, indoctrination masquerading as games), I came to find it all less empowering: heroics more often than not camouflaging “The System’s” requests for self-sacrifice from its serfs. Not that mythology need be inherently dis-empowering, only that it has become so in a predominating way in our “modern” mass media driven cultures.

    Artistic/poetic inspiration and mythology seem to line along an axis. On one end you have the flash of insight or inspiration that gives rise to an idea or image so trans-personal one’s own ego barely knows what to make of it. That’s a good thing, I think. It leads to personal development as you investigate those mysteries. It has unlimited heart, but not so much financing in our (Western, modern) society.

    On the other end you have the reinforcement of cherished (often traditional) fantasies and delusions. These are the trappings of a control system that has very little interest in your personal well-being– you are just another resource to be controlled and exploited. They are often regarded as “innocent pastimes.” Get into this line of work and there is a lot of money to be made!

    In between lies varying degrees of the essential, and the virtual– the deep, “organic” voice a person cannot happily or sanely live without… and the merely cunning or manipulative, or even… whorish.

    So…

    It seems Curcio is already onto this (if you bother to read him at more length), but it deserves emphasis… so it just doesn’t immediately cruise by like some vehicle with very curious messages affixed to it sides… given a smile now… but almost entirely forgotten within the week.

  • Rrauben

    When I first heard Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers break down mythology I swooned at the possibility of it all.

    But then, over the years, as I contemplated the overwhelming barrage of “mythology” (cooked histories, advertising, PR, infotainment, politics masquerading as religion, indoctrination masquerading as games), I came to find it all less empowering: heroics more often than not camouflaging “The System’s” requests for self-sacrifice from its serfs. Not that mythology need be inherently dis-empowering, only that it has become so in a predominating way in our “modern” mass media driven cultures.

    Artistic/poetic inspiration and mythology seem to line along an axis. On one end you have the flash of insight or inspiration that gives rise to an idea or image so trans-personal one’s own ego barely knows what to make of it. That’s a good thing, I think. It leads to personal development as you investigate those mysteries. It has unlimited heart, but not so much financing in our (Western, modern) society.

    On the other end you have the reinforcement of cherished (often traditional) fantasies and delusions. These are the trappings of a control system that has very little interest in your personal well-being– you are just another resource to be controlled and exploited. They are often regarded as “innocent pastimes.” Get into this line of work and there is a lot of money to be made!

    In between lies varying degrees of the essential, and the virtual– the deep, “organic” voice a person cannot happily or sanely live without… and the merely cunning or manipulative, or even… whorish.

    So…

    It seems Curcio is already onto this (if you bother to read him at more length), but it deserves emphasis… so it just doesn’t immediately cruise by like some vehicle with very curious messages affixed to it sides… given a smile now… but almost entirely forgotten within the week.

    • http://hormeticminds.blogspot.com/ Chaorder Gradient

      I’m not sure if its just me, but the more controlling, and devious a tale that is being told, the more obvious it is to me. As an example, you brought up indoctrinating games, well sure, some are, but I’ve never in my life played any of the Call of Duty series because its pretty damned obvious (its mostly funded by the government for one.) However other games which are still common if you look for them, where the mythological symbol for “the evil” is left open because they are just defined as pure evil.

      Bringing up the TV issue, mythology is alive and thriving; it is just a little more hidden. A big clue is in the TV mythology world, money is what the evil creatures are searching for. Zombies? they exist.. they are mindless, they walk around aimlessly doing relatively repetitive tasks, some people have figured out how to employ them for scraps teaching them something simple to do. However all zombies really want are some brains (they want to learn how to think…) Vampires? there is a reason the zombie mythos and the vampire mythos are almost never on the same screen. Notice they are always a little bit older than major characters, they had to “sell their soul” or inadvertently had it stolen from them. They are always healthy and regenerate from mortal wounds as nothing happened, they always are beautiful and have perfect skin(eg. they have access to healthcare and in some cases when necessary, plastic surgery). Slow down your temporal perspective from things, any time anything magical happens, imagine it happening over years time with hidden intervention, and things commonly make more sense. I’ve come to believe that there is no such thing as “just a story”.

      I know theres many more examples, (go back in time, why was there simultaneously running Flintstones and the Jetsons; i was raised on those long ago). The indoctrination IS the mythology, and the zombies eat it all up like it’s reality.

      The biggest and scariest TV myth I’ve seen that has been running for a long time is the so called “american family” myth. There are many permutations, but kids are raised on them. Hell its many a family tradition to sit down for a TV watching ritual day in the life of all the american families where you sit down every Sunday and watch in order: Simpsons, American Dad, Simpsons, Bob’s Burgers, Family Guy, and The Cleveland Show. This 3 hour segment is the Sunday night mass of the church of the United States

      • Liam_McGonagle

        Maybe it’d help to share an explicit definition of the word “myth”. Or maybe even scrap it and start all over with a new one if we don’t think we can overcome its pejorative use as “fictional narrative designed to advance a political programme”.

        That description rings true enough for most of the narratives we encounter on a daily basis, but it kind of alienates us from the socially redeeming character possible of other, non-literal narratives.

        But it’s pretty hard to articulate any “socially redeeming” narrative without implying disruption to the existing order, and incurring an ironic counter-charge of political propoganda. I’m still groping towards appropriate language, but I think working criteria might be: “any narrative that strikes a respectful balance between the agency of the individual and their interdependence within the group”.

        Everyone wants sharp edges, well-defined boundaries. But any real social commitment should recognize that is only relatively (i.e., not absolutely) possible.

        Can anyone do a better job and give this a fair articulation that doesn’t sound like it came out of the sterile confines of an ivory tower?

        • http://hormeticminds.blogspot.com/ Chaorder Gradient

          I think any fair assessment of the definition of myth will always smell of ivory

        • Rrauben

          I like the way you put it, myself.

        • http://twitter.com/agent139 James Curcio

          The first challenge of the book is to deal with this. (“Maybe it’d help to share an explicit definition of the word “myth”. Or maybe even scrap it and start all over with a new one if we don’t think we can overcome its pejorative use as “fictional narrative designed to advance a political programme”) But doing away with the word, especially if you’re going to replace it with an awkward sentence, helps nothing. You face a similar challenge if you want to talk about magic/k. I’ve more or less given up on using that word, for a long variety of reasons – one of which is that you can actually get it, not just theoretically and philosophically but also DIRECTLY – through myth. Which is one of the more covert reasons this avenue of exploration occurred.

          This was recorded in 2005, but it’s the Generation Hex launch we did at Alex Grey’s Chapel of Sacred Mirrors. For me, kind of a stepping off point away from “occultism” as such and towards myth, though of course my interest and study of myth started long before then. http://www.jamescurcio.com/music/genhex-cosm.mp3

          • Rrauben

            Perhaps we could talk in terms of something like an “active metaphor (or analogy).”

            But yea– words like “myth,” “evil,” “love,” “heroism,” and “America” have become so mythologized in so many ways that it almost seems like we have to make a break from all that before we can ever seriously begin to renew a critical dialogue around the meaningful things these words confuse or occlude.

            Anything that may unwittingly promote a servile mentality to an imagined past will probably only hamstring us, or no?

      • Rrauben

        Yea, I love that “American Family” one. And I have loved watching David Lynch and John Waters gnaw on it. It’s right up there with American Exceptionalism, The American Dream, The Myth of Technological Salvation, The Myth of a Classless Society and The Sanctification of the Presidency.

        BUT… evil. Me, I’d have to say the very idea of evil is a very subtle and pervasively dangerous myth (with its backside a mythologized take on “love”). The “good” person is a “loving” one, whereas “evil” resides far away as some sort of inexplicable pathology in an OTHER (than me).

        I’m always amused at how Hitler and Nazis were so –are so– stigmatized, as if that could never happen in our home town. Meanwhile, guess whose coming to dinner folks?

        So, like the Roman Empire fell away
        Let me tell you; we are going the same way
        Ah, behold the Decline and Fall
        All hold hands with our backs to the wall

        It’s the end:
        Why don’t you admit it?
        It’s the same from Auschwitz to Ipswich
        Evil comes
        I know from not where
        But if you take a look inside yourself -
        maybe you’ll find some in there

        Not one single soul was saved
        I was ordering an Indian takeaway
        I was spared whilst others went to an early grave

        [Jarvis Cocker, FROM AUSCHWITZ TO IPWICH ]

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xRGGbyZzuTg

        • http://hormeticminds.blogspot.com/ Chaorder Gradient

          I dunno, you’re right that the discussion of evil in mythology is a confused one, but theres different kinds. Theres the gut-feeling kind of evil where you have say, a story of a guy that spends is days going around punting puppies and small children all the time. You don’t have an evil actor in real life, he just represents evil in a very obvious manner. Then you have the problems of mass-produced myths juxtaposing or putting these sorts of evils in the hands of real beings. Thats the kinda stuff that messes with people. All you have to say on the political scene is say XYZ “dictator” is commuting genocide; and by the pure gut reaction that this is evil, you have the public on your side with just the two words dictator and genocide.

          • Rrauben

            You further emphasize my point.

          • Rrauben

            “Evil” is terribly subtle. It’s at the very root of dualistic, egoistic thinking.

            The guy who kicks puppies and accosts children is certainly deranged… and then incarcerated; but many of “our” social mythologies actually allow “evil” to operate at large within circles of power (disguised as something else). These people can afford the “finest” lawyers (being the “upstanding” civil servants they surely must be), and they justify their noxious behaviors with various (mythologically) endorsed rationales. Shit, a lot of folks endorse them, against their self-interests, just because they’ve had their myths manipulatively twisted around on them (by highly sophisticated PR).

            If people give such leaders a mandate, they become more and more power-mad. So long as there is a recognition that “ultimate power corrupts absolutely” those functionaries can be kept in the service of the people– in the service of Life. Cede that inconvenient responsibility, as a people, and you get…

  • http://hormeticminds.blogspot.com/ Chaorder Gradient

    I’m not sure if its just me, but the more controlling, and devious a tale that is being told, the more obvious it is to me. As an example, you brought up indoctrinating games, well sure, some are, but I’ve never in my life played any of the Call of Duty series because its pretty damned obvious (its mostly funded by the government for one.) However other games which are still common if you look for them, where the mythological symbol for “the evil” is left open because they are just defined as pure evil.

    Bringing up the TV issue, mythology is alive and thriving; it is just a little more hidden. A big clue is in the TV mythology world, money is what the evil creatures are searching for. Zombies? they exist.. they are mindless, they walk around aimlessly doing relatively repetitive tasks, some people have figured out how to employ them for scraps teaching them something simple to do. However all zombies really want are some brains (they want to learn how to think…) Vampires? there is a reason the zombie mythos and the vampire mythos are almost never on the same screen. Notice they are always a little bit older than major characters, they had to “sell their soul” or inadvertently had it stolen from them. They are always healthy and regenerate from mortal wounds as nothing happened, they always are beautiful and have perfect skin(eg. they have access to healthcare and in some cases when necessary, plastic surgery). Slow down your temporal perspective from things, any time anything magical happens, imagine it happening over years time with hidden intervention, and things commonly make more sense.

    I know theres many more examples, (go back in time, why was there simultaneously running Flintstones and the Jetsons; i was raised on those long ago). The indoctrination IS the mythology, and the zombies eat it all up like it’s reality.

    The biggest and scariest TV myth I’ve seen that has been running for a long time is the so called “american family” myth. There are many permutations, but kids are raised on them. Hell its many a family tradition to sit down for a TV watching ritual day in the life of all the american families where you sit down every Sunday and watch in order: Simpsons, American Dad, Simpsons, Bob’s Burgers, Family Guy, and The Cleveland Show. This 3 hour segment is the Sunday night mass of the church of the United States

  • Liam_McGonagle

    Maybe it’d help to share an explicit definition of the word “myth”. Or maybe even scrap it and start all over with a new one if we don’t think we can overcome its pejorative use as “fictional narrative designed to advance a political programme”.

    That description rings true enough for most of the narratives we encounter on a daily basis, but it kind of alienates us from the socially redeeming character possible of other, non-literal narratives.

    But it’s pretty hard to articulate any “socially redeeming” narrative without implying disruption to the existing order, and incurring an ironic counter-charge of political propoganda. I’m still groping towards appropriate language, but I think working criteria might be: “any narrative that strikes a respectful balance between the agency of the individual and their interdependence within the group”.

    Everyone wants sharp edges, well-defined boundaries. But any real social commitment should recognize that is only relatively (i.e., not absolutely) possible.

    Can anyone do a better job and give this a fair articulation that doesn’t sound like it came out of the sterile confines of an ivory tower?

  • http://hormeticminds.blogspot.com/ Chaorder Gradient

    I think any fair assessment of the definition of myth will always smell of ivory and

  • Rrauben

    I like the way you put it, myself.

  • http://twitter.com/agent139 James Curcio

    The first challenge of the book is to deal with this. (“Maybe it’d help to share an explicit definition of the word “myth”. Or maybe even scrap it and start all over with a new one if we don’t think we can overcome its pejorative use as “fictional narrative designed to advance a political programme”) But doing away with the word, especially if you’re going to replace it with an awkward sentence, helps nothing. You face a similar challenge if you want to talk about magic/k. I’ve more or less given up on using that word, for a long variety of reasons – one of which is that you can actually get it, not just theoretically and philosophically but also DIRECTLY – through myth. Which is one of the more covert reasons this avenue of exploration occurred.

    This was recorded in 2005, but it’s the Generation Hex launch we did at Alex Grey’s Chapel of Sacred Mirrors. For me, kind of a stepping off point away from “occultism” as such and towards myth, though of course my interest and study of myth started long before then. http://www.jamescurcio.com/music/genhex-cosm.mp3

  • Rrauben

    Yea, I love that “American Family” one. And I have loved watching David Lynch and John Waters gnaw on it. It’s right up there with American Exceptionalism, The American Dream, The Myth of Technological Salvation, The Myth of a Classless Society and The Sanctification of the Presidency.

    BUT… evil. Me, I’d have to say the very idea of evil is a very subtle and pervasively dangerous myth (with its backside a mythologized take on “love”). The “good” person is a “loving” one, whereas “evil” resides far away as some sort of inexplicable pathology in an OTHER (than me).

    I’m always amused at how Hitler and Nazis were so –are so– stigmatized, as if that could never happen in our home town. Meanwhile, guess whose coming to dinner folks?

    So, like the Roman Empire fell away
    Let me tell you; we are going the same way
    Ah, behold the Decline and Fall
    All hold hands with our backs to the wall

    It’s the end:
    Why don’t you admit it?
    It’s the same from Auschwitz to Ipswich
    Evil comes
    I know from not where
    But if you take a look inside yourself -
    maybe you’ll find some in there

    Not one single soul was saved
    I was ordering an Indian takeaway
    I was spared whilst others went to an early grave

    [Jarvis Cocker, FROM AUSCHWITZ TO IPWICH ]

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xRGGbyZzuTg

  • Rrauben

    Yea, I love that “American Family” one. And I have loved watching David Lynch and John Waters gnaw on it. It’s right up there with American Exceptionalism, The American Dream, The Myth of Technological Salvation, The Myth of a Classless Society and The Sanctification of the Presidency.

    BUT… evil. Me, I’d have to say the very idea of evil is a very subtle and pervasively dangerous myth (with its backside a mythologized take on “love”). The “good” person is a “loving” one, whereas “evil” resides far away as some sort of inexplicable pathology in an OTHER (than me).

    I’m always amused at how Hitler and Nazis were so –are so– stigmatized, as if that could never happen in our home town. Meanwhile, guess whose coming to dinner folks?

    So, like the Roman Empire fell away
    Let me tell you; we are going the same way
    Ah, behold the Decline and Fall
    All hold hands with our backs to the wall

    It’s the end:
    Why don’t you admit it?
    It’s the same from Auschwitz to Ipswich
    Evil comes
    I know from not where
    But if you take a look inside yourself -
    maybe you’ll find some in there

    Not one single soul was saved
    I was ordering an Indian takeaway
    I was spared whilst others went to an early grave

    [Jarvis Cocker, FROM AUSCHWITZ TO IPWICH ]

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xRGGbyZzuTg

  • Rrauben

    Perhaps we could talk in terms of something like an “active metaphor (or analogy).”

    But yea– words like “myth,” “evil,” “love,” “heroism,” and “America” have become so mythologized in so many ways that it almost seems like we have to make a break from all that before we can ever seriously begin to renew a critical dialogue around the meaningful things these words confuse or occlude.

    Anything that may unwittingly promote a servile mentality to an imagined past will probably only hamstring us, or no?

  • http://hormeticminds.blogspot.com/ Chaorder Gradient

    I dunno, you’re right that the discussion of evil in mythology is a confused one, but theres different kinds. Theres the gut-feeling kind of evil where you have say, a story of a guy that spends is days going around punting puppies and small children all the time. You don’t have an evil actor in real life, he just represents evil in a very obvious manner. Then you have the problems of mass-produced myths juxtaposing or putting these sorts of evils in the hands of real beings. Thats the kinda stuff that messes with people. All you have to say on the political scene is say XYZ “dictator” is commuting genocide; and by the pure gut reaction that this is evil, you have the public on your side with just the two words dictator and genocide.

  • Rrauben

    You further emphasize my point.

  • Rrauben

    You further emphasize my point.

  • Rrauben

    “Evil” is terribly subtle. It’s at the very root of dualistic, egoistic thinking.

    The guy who kicks puppies and accosts children is certainly deranged… and then incarcerated; but many of “our” social mythologies actually allow “evil” to operate at large within circles of power (disguised as something else). These people can afford the “finest” lawyers (being the “upstanding” civil servants they surely must be), and they justify their noxious behaviors with various (mythologically) endorsed rationales. Shit, a lot of folks endorse them, against their self-interests, just because they’ve had their myths manipulatively twisted around on them (by highly sophisticated PR).

    If people give such leaders a mandate, they become more and more power-mad. So long as there is a recognition that “ultimate power corrupts absolutely” those functionaries can be kept in the service of the people– in the service of Life. Cede that inconvenient responsibility, as a people, and you get…

  • Rrauben

    “Evil” is terribly subtle. It’s at the very root of dualistic, egoistic thinking.

    The guy who kicks puppies and accosts children is certainly deranged… and then incarcerated; but many of “our” social mythologies actually allow “evil” to operate at large within circles of power (disguised as something else). These people can afford the “finest” lawyers (being the “upstanding” civil servants they surely must be), and they justify their noxious behaviors with various (mythologically) endorsed rationales. Shit, a lot of folks endorse them, against their self-interests, just because they’ve had their myths manipulatively twisted around on them (by highly sophisticated PR).

    If people give such leaders a mandate, they become more and more power-mad. So long as there is a recognition that “ultimate power corrupts absolutely” those functionaries can be kept in the service of the people– in the service of Life. Cede that inconvenient responsibility, as a people, and you get…

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