Philosopher Kenneth Smith prepared to write his 1997 book of philosophical parables, Otherwise, by writing two essays to clearly state the nature of Mythos cultures in contrast to our own. He then converted these ideas into the more gnomic, poetic form of his “100 parables, paradigms, and paradoxes on the reality alongside us.”
Monday, 2020-11-30 we’ll explore the first of those two essays, Myth, Soul, Earth.
Smith contradicts the Modern orthodoxy that “myth” can only mean lies and foolishness. Drawing on Prehistoric, Ancient, and Medieval traditions as well as Hegel, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and others, he argues that human life cannot be guided toward health or wisdom solely through abstract education and information. That Modernist, ultra-Apollonian deification of conscious choice overlooks the debt the conscious mind owes to its preconscious or unconscious mind, the ocean of drives, emotions, stories, dreams, and cultural formatting that steers our intellect and “free will.”
Aristotle wrote that all who study the fate of empires comes to realize that everything depends on the education of children. A human being old enough to take responsibility for their own thoughts has already been formatted, framing their choices lifelong. The unexamined power this has over our future thoughts is a huge blind spot of Modernism that convinces even the most slavish ego it is utterly free, even when it has been pre-formatted to make its human subject profitable, inexpensive, and manipulable.
Mythos cultures used potent, value-saturated mythology to encourage self-awareness, meaningful freedom, and the pursuit of virtue. The Greek mythic mind was a product of deliberate Hellenic anthropoculture, the planned cultivation of human beings who the Hellenes hoped would not repeat the disasters that caused the Archaic Greek Dark Age.
Let’s explore together some of the ways the mythic perspective sees the world differently.
From the essay: “…we can see it, reborn like an incandescent phoenix from century to century, in our geniuses: in a Kierkegaard or Nietzsche, a Kafka or Blake, a Yeats or Joyce, a Calvino or Bruno Schulz or Borges, we see mythopoeic imagination reincarnating itself, futilely trying to teach us that ‘mind’ is not the effete and brittle thing we imagine. To see beyond accepted convention, to see and think in an original way, is to see the world as mythic mind saw it: a world in which myths are not made but given as the natural effluent of reality copulating with human intelligence. Mind abstracted from nature is an onanistic spectator—it becomes mere intellect, mere consciousness no longer overrich and charged with nature’s fecundity. Mind abstracted becomes a voyeur abstractly gratified; even when it forces nature into the Procrustean bed of controllable laboratory conditions still it is only abstracta that will be extorted from the evidence—quantitative data, the geometric profile of their concordance. We do not know what it is like to live in a world that can be loved and wondered at, the way mythic reality can; a world in which mysticism and experience have not grown divorced, as they have for moderns. Never again since the Age of Myth have human beings been so utterly at home in the world. It was the honeymoon of civilization.”