Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Time Falling Bodies Take to Light

Wendell Berry in his blurb to William Irwin Thompson's 'The Time Falling Bodies Take to Light: Mythology, Sexuality and the Origins of Culture' remarks that Thompson would be uncommon if he only knew as much as he does yet more uncommon still because he can think with and about what he knows in such a way that it both helps us makes sense of our experience and makes it as incongruous and as difficult as it is. To which I can only offer a quiet 'Amen'!

Since I neither know as much nor are as imaginatively gifted, I am going to simply comment on one (deep) aspect of the book's methodology in its exploration of 'origins' from the midrashim of Jewish creation myth, through Gnosticism, science, the origins of language, symbol, agriculture and culture, rounding off with an illuminating account of the myth of Isis and Osiris (as a prelude to the consideration of Christianity) (All in a miraculous 254 pages)!

This is taking counsel from Levi Strauss that it is a futile task to try and discover the 'original' core of a myth, you must take all its extant components into consideration in order to create a gestalt of the whole from which interpretive springs can fall; and, that the reality of myth is that it can be a bearer of multiple meanings, its polyvalent, a fugue. It may carry confusion either of conception or transmission as it travels through time but it is itself an act of intelligence (not a muddle headed way of saying something that could be explained in more linear, orderly and 'rational' terms). One of the brilliant aspects of the book is showing how even our 'scientific' stories of origin reflect a grounding in myth. Every human product is a product of culture and culture is born in and carried by myth, consciously or unconsciously.

"A mythic narrative works through a system of correspondences, so a god is at once a principle of order, a number, a geometrical figure, a dancing measure, a mantram, a special plant, a heavenly body. If one put together the analyses of Jung, Levi Strauss, von Dechend, Neumann, and myself, one would still not have all the dimensions of the myth drawn out."

Yet we persist in fantasizing that 'our' interpretation is not only correct, which it may be, but the only one (or, if we are more humble, the only line down which the one true interpretation will be found). It is a curious malediction that is, as we can see from the daily practice of our own lives, fraught with difficulty. It yields neither fair understanding nor pragmatic success.

I found myself wondering what, for example, Christianity would look like if we took all its variant accounts into consideration, opened up the canon to historically parallel determinations, and allowed Jesus to breath in a deeper, wider matrix.

Two things, at least, might happen. First, we might be enriched by dialogue with the unfamiliar, swinging into the unknown to know ourselves better. Second we might learn to hang loose to our interpretations. They may be, at once, deeply treasured ways of seeing, that we inhabit and through which we might greet the divine presence but not the only way of seeing. Other ways, owing family resemblance rather than fixed allegiances, would be permissible, even welcomed and potentially loved. It would be to come to Christianity with the eye of a poet - an eye at once truthful and creative and that lives in the fidelity to unfolding multiple stories.

We might hope, sometime, to evolve to this place.

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